Ligue 1 Roundup: Week 10

 

  • The second international break has passed us by, which means that we’re back to discuss the actions and controversies that occurred in week 10 for Ligue 1. The first week back has delivered 23 goals from the 10 games, with four of them coming in the Friday matchup between Lens and PSG. 3 red cards occurred in the match including one from Edinson Cavani, who after getting a yellow card for his trademark celebration following his penalty conversion got a second yellow card right after for grabbing the ref. Two more red cards followed in quick succession which reduced Lens to 9 men. PSG won the match 3-1 with Yohan Cabaye scoring his first goal in Ligue 1 for PSG, but the main talking points from this match were the red cards given out: 

PSG are back in sole possession of 2nd place in Ligue 1 but still remain 7 points back             from league leaders Olympic Marseille. Bordeaux are next up but the matchup on Nov         9 versus Marseille will be a must watch.

  • Speaking of must watch, Olympic Lyon now move to fourth place in the table following an intoxicating 5-1 victory over Montpellier. It was a bit closer than the score indicates, with Montpellier having two great opportunities to cut Lyon’s 3-0 halftime lead down to 3-2 following Siaka Tiene’s beautiful FK that went past Anthony Lopes. Yohan Gourcuff scored his first two goals in nearly 10 months for Lyon, the second one coming off of a beautiful pass from Christophe Jallet. It was another intoxicating performance for Hurbert Fournier’s side, who’ve demolished Lorient, Lille and now Montpellier in recent weeks. Lacazette has scored 7 non penalty goals in 10 games this year, and Nabil Fekir scored a delightful chip for his 4th goal of the season. Lyon will get to truly test their mettle with a home date versus league leaders Marseille next Sunday at the Stade Gerland.
  • Marseille stay seven points clear of second place PSG with a 2-0 victory over Toulouse. Andre Pierre Gignac scored his 10th goal of the season (9th of the NPG variety). The last two previous matchups produced two draws but enough of that, let’s watch Marcelo Bisla versus Random Assistant Who Put a Plastic Cup of Coffee Without Biesla knowing: 
  • Bordeaux drew 1-1 with Caen after their goalie Cedric Carrasso took the worst angle possible for the Caen equaliser: 
  • Nantes also drew in their match versus Reims 1-1. Johan Audel scored the opening goal of the match off of a dead ball assist from Jordan Veretout in the 13th minute. Reims equalised in the 58th minute from a Diego FK which denied the hosts a chance to be in 4th place, a remarkable achievement considering they were banned in the summer transfer window from making signing and are also banned for the January transfer window. They have two exciting prospects in playmaking midfielder Veretout, one of the fastest wingers in Ligue 1 in Georges-Kévin Nkoudou Mbida and have posted the 4th best Total Shot Ratio through 10 games at 0.596, a solid statistical indicator for future success.
  • Other Scores: Lorient 0-1 Saint Etienne, Lille 1-2 Guingamp, Monaco 2-0 Evian Thonon Galliard, Nice 0-1 Bastia, Metz 0-0 Rennes
  • Next week in Ligue 1 comes the first installment of the Choc des Olympiques between Olympic Lyon and Olympic Marseille. Two teams who have been by far the most aesthetically pleasing to watch through ten games. Both teams having prolific goal scorers in red hot form and a host of creative midfielders who can supply their strikers with beautiful through balls. Marseille have slowed down a bit from their torrid goal scoring streak a few weeks ago while Lyon have won three of their last four, scoring 12 goals in the process. This is the best matchup Ligue 1 has seen so far this year, which means the game will be a total dud.

 

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The Edinson Cavani Dilemma

His transfer fee in the summer of 2013 cost €64 million, but you wouldn’t have guessed it if you watched Edinson Cavani’s performance last Sunday at the Parc de Princes. The man affectionately called “El Matador” has looked out of sorts since the heel injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Four games have passed since Zlatan’s last game, the 1-1 draw versus Lyon, and Cavani’s yet to produce a goal. This wouldn’t be an issue in of itself. Attacking players of relatively top notch quality (Messi and Ronaldo don’t count seeing as they are androids seeking world domination) have their goal scoring droughts, so it shouldn’t be too worrying a sign.

But this is a bit different than other cold streaks, going past the expensive price tag. Cavani’s previous gripes with PSG’s modified 4-3-3 formations are well documented, and with the injury to Ibrahimovic, this should’ve been the opportunity for Cavani to snatch at. PSG without Zlatan have abandoned the 4-3-3 in favor of a diamond 4-1-2-1-2, similar to Olympique Lyon’s set up. Pastore has moved from a weird left sided central midfielder into his favored #10 position (and has looked spectacular in the process) and Lucas Moura has played on the right side in the front two. You can do much worse than have someone like Javier Pastore or Verratti feeding passes.

And it hasn’t been for a lack of effort either. Just watch his performance versus Monaco last Sunday. He played on the left, he played centrally. He did a lot of industrious things, including a couple of back heels and solid target man play but when he had his shots, including a prime opportunity in the second half, It just looked like a man devoid of confidence:

Now far be it for me to use narratives like that to describe a player’s current form. I generally don’t like to use narratives period unless they’re backed up with statistical data. Trying to predict a footballer’s emotions and state of mind is as difficult a task as becoming a Quantum Physicist. Thankfully though this is one of those times where the data complements the eye test. Edinson Cavani so far is having one of his worst seasons as a professional footballer. He’s only scored 3 goals in domestic play registering a Non Penalty goal rate of 0.348, which is Shane Long levels of mediocrity. His overall shot data has been in decline since his 2012-13 season in Napoli, and he’s taking the least amount of shots in the penalty area over the last five years:

Cavani

It’s troubling to see this type of decline, doubly so if you paid €64 million for his services not too long ago. Last years’ numbers are explainable to some extent. Cavani had to share with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (and in almost any situation in life, what Zlatan wants, Zlatan gets), being relegated at times to being a pure winger. It’d be difficult to register the same shot data as he did the previous season but it still fell in line somewhat with his other two seasons in Napoli.

It’s much harder to explain why Cavani’s numbers have tanked to the extent that it has this season. This is as good a scenario as he ever would’ve envisioned. Yes he’s not playing with Marek Hamsik as his #10, but Javier Pastore (when in his natural position) in comparison ain’t chop liver. Verratti is one of the best at long looping balls over back lines, something Cavani can take major advantage with.

Could this just be a cold streak that’s come in the most inopportune time? Quite possibly. Football is a fickle mistress that makes us all prone at certain times to look like bumbling idiots. By January Cavani could be sitting at 11-14 goals and make this article look obsolete. It’s the things that come with being a football writer.

Or maybe, just maybe. We’re seeing the start of the decline of Edinson Cavani. Edinson Cavani has played a lot of minutes in the last 6-7 season. In fact in his last 6 completed seasons, Edinson Cavani has played 16768 minutes of domestic football. That’s 500 minutes more than Zlatan has played in the same duration, 1751 more minutes than Robert Lewandowski, 2250 more than Wayne Rooney, and over 4000 more minutes than Karim Benzema. On the whole a figure like 2250 minutes may not seem like much, but that’s pretty much one seasons’ worth of minutes right there without factoring European football.

Cavani might be 27, but it’s an old 27. There are a lot of miles on Cavani’s legs and perhaps we’re finally seeing some of the effects of that. If that’s the case then this is a major issue that PSG need to rectify. It’d be tough for PSG to get a Cavani sale around €64 million with the way Cavani’s played, but even selling him at 40-45 million wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for PSG’s bank accounts. Whatever the case maybe Edinson Cavani desperately needs a goal from open play as soon as possible, because his struggles are part of the confusing web that has been the 2014-15 Paris Saint-Germain season.

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Two Sides to Every Coin

 

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The silence was piercing.

It was one of those nights for Arsene. The darkness of the bedroom seemed even more pitch black, Annie laid on the opposite side of the bed, and it seemed more of a chore to close his eyes than a relief.

He tossed, he turned, he counted as many Vieira’s as a manger could dream up, and still nothing. So he went out to the living room and leaned on a wall – there was moment where punching that wall came across his mind but he knew it was all for naught.

He pulled out his phone and hit the number that was his most recent phone call.

“Okay, where do you want to meet? My backyard? What? You’re already here…”

He paused to listen to the other end.

“I’m not sure that I’m okay with this. How do I know you won’t try to hurt me?”

He let out a sigh of desperation, knowing that his only options were to unsuccessfully try to sleep and actually meet the man who had been bugging him for weeks.

“Alright I’m coming out, but just so you know, I have security on the premises. Any funny business and they’ll rush to my aid.”

He took a few seconds to collect himself after hanging up. Who was this person and why did he so desperately want to have a meeting? Wenger contemplated again just creeping back into his room, but his curiosity grew to be too much.

The night was stale, like it usually was for this hour. With absolutely no wind, the only thing breaking the silence were the bugs. Wenger kept marching on, however, until being met by the silhouette of a man under the shade of a tree.

“I didn’t think you were actually going to come, Arsene,” the man said in a familiar voice.

“What’s so important that it needed to be resolved at this hour?” Wenger quickly fired back.

“Ah, direct and to the point. How unlike you,” the man said with a halfhearted chuckle. “Well Arsene, I have just one thing to shed light on…”

“Remember when you were the cutting edge manager? Remember when you were young and would mop the floor with your older rivals with new fangled tactics that got all of Europe buzzing? Remember when you won the Premier League and even went Invincible.”

Arsene looked at the ground, then back at the man, “I sure do but I don’t see where this is going…”

“Oh cut the bullshit,” the man fired back. “You and I both know that it’s not the same. We know the act has gotten stale, that we manage scared, that you use the press as a tool to make a pile of excuses when things don’t go our way.”

“We also know that there are guys out there like Klopp who manage circles around us…”

Once again, the silence was piercing.

After a few seconds the man, grasping at whatever could get Arsene to speak, simply asks, “What? Cat got your tongue?”

“How do you know me and my tactics?” Arsene asked, already on the defensive. “How do you somehow know that I’ve become one of the stale older managers? And what makes you so sure there are guys out there ‘managing circles around us?’ What makes you so sure you know me?”

The man laughed for a brief moment. “Well Arsene, that’s because I am you.”

Revealing himself, he looked exactly as Arsene did ten years ago to the day.

“It… Can’t… How…”

“Please, let’s not get into how I got here. You need to listen to me. You need to cut out all this shit if you’re ever going to win again. If you keep getting stuck in this cycle, either Arsenal is finally going to cut it off with you or you’ll retire a loser.”

“How do you figure I do that?”

“You’re smart. Start with tomorrow and build your way to something new and different for a change. Remember, you used to be just like me.”

He started laughed as he walked off into the darkness.

“Oh, and stop playing Ozil on the damn wing.”

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La Liga Roundup, Week 7: A Statement of Intent

This La Liga season has been bonkers already: Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring everything, Barcelona have yet to concede a goal, and Eibar looks like the most impressive Basque club in the league. So what did we learn this week? Plenty.

Valencia 3 – Atletico Madrid 1: In our preview, we said  that this game was a statement game for Valencia. With a new owner, new manager and a host of new faces, Valencia can make a statement against the league leaders and show that there is a top 4 in places other than England. (I admit that this is slightly hyperbolic, but I am a Liga-stan.) And make one they did, as they raced out to a 3-0 lead after thirteen minutes. The usually solid Miranda was at fault for all three goals, scoring the first, losing Andre Gomes for the second, and failing to mark Nicolas Otamendi on a corner for the third.

Atletico tried valiantly to fight back, scoring one off a Mario Mandzukic header, but this game was over when Diego Alves saved Siqueira’s weak penalty effort at the stroke of half time. The Brazilian has now saved 13 of the 31 penalties he’s faced, with only 15 getting into the back of the net. (The rest were either wide or off the crossbar.) Quite the statement game from Los Murciélagos, who are still missing Alvaro Negredo through injury.

Cristiano-Ronaldo

Real Madrid 5 – Athletic Club de Bilbao 0: Cristiano Ronaldo cannot stop scoring. The Portuguese forward added 3 more to his tally in the game at the Bernabeu, equalling the marks of both Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano and former Bilbao player – and La Liga goal record holder – Telmo Zarra with 22 in his career with Los Blancos.

Karim Benzema, who contrary to Real Madrid fans’ assertions does score, chipped in with two goals of his own while the other member of the BBC strike force added two assists.

Barcelona 2 – Rayo Vallecano 0: Fresh off a Champions League loss to Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona headed to the Estadio de Vallecas with some question marks. It was after the game against Rayo last year that Tata Martino started facing questions (a game, I might add, that Barcelona won 4-0 but made the grave error of having less than 50% possession for the first time in five years), so this felt ominous. Luckily, Rayo Vallecano and Paco Jemez are one of the only teams left that try to play football with Barcelona.

Jemez set his team up in a high line, and Barcelona gladly took advantage of it. After a tense 30 minutes full of offsides and defenders settling in to deal with the high forward press, a through ball over the line and into the path of Lionel Messi by Gerard Pique – who was left out of the lineup in Paris – opened up the scoring. Barcelona doubled up the lead less than 30 seconds of game time later, after a Marc Bartra pass found its way to Munir, who squared it up for Neymar to finish. It was 2-0 in less than a minute, and had Barcelona – particularly Messi – brought their shooting boots, it would have been worse.

We’re on a break from club football because international play is set to ruin our lives for the next two weeks, but after seven weeks, here’s how the teams look:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.10.13 PM

 

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Bundesliga Roundup: Week 7

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Like everyone else, the German league is on a fortnight’s recess for international qualifiers. Which is unfortunate, but them’s the breaks. Let’s round up the league’s recently-completed seventh round.

-Jurgen Klopp said Saturday that his side hit rock bottom, and I’m inclined to agree with him after Hamburg shocked Dortmund 1-0 at Signal Iduna Park. Wracked by injury and inefficiency (three shots on target out of 17 fired at Hamburg keeper Jaroslav Drobny’s goal), Klopp’s battered lads sit 13th in the table at the much-needed international break. Hamburg won with only 36% possession and can largely thank its dominant center-back pairing of Johan Djourou and Heiko Westermann (31 clearances and 14 aerial duels won between them) for the three points.

-The champions were back at it Saturday too, and they produced a vintage display in a 4-0 whitewash of Hannover. Pep Guardiola stuck Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, and Xherdan Shaqiri up front (because fuck you, that’s why), and it pretty much worked out; the first two accounted for all four goals (a brace apiece), while the latter tallied an assist. Robben also completed eight take-ons. Oh, and Mario Götze and Thomas Müller didn’t even play. Bayern ran their record to 5-2-0 and coasted four points clear of Hoffenheim at the top.

-Speaking of Hoffenheim, the Rhein-Neckar club kept pace with the leaders and saw off ten-man Schalke, 2-1. The hosts were up two within 30 minutes after goals from Tarik Elyounoussi and Adám Szalai, and didn’t concede again after Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s goal seven minutes from time. Schalke now sit a disappointing 11th in the table, with just eight points from seven games, while Hoffenheim, without European commitments, have to love life in second, with three wins and four draws to this point. Man of the match: none other than Roberto Firmino, who set up both goals, created five chances, took five shots, and put two on target. (UPDATE: Schalke sacked manager Jens Keller on Tuesday morning.)

-Remember Paderborn? Early-season darlings? A 4-0 rout in Munich put an end to that stay atop the table, but the Bundesliga new boys still provide plenty of fun, as evidenced by Saturday’s 2-2 draw away at Leverkusen. Süleyman Koç (who is quite the interesting story) opened the scoring 20 minutes in, but Lars Bender equalized for Bayer three minutes before half. In the 72nd minute, Paderborn midfielder Marvin Bakalorz saw red for a tackle from behind (and subsequently received a two-game suspension from the DFB), yet that did not deter the visitors. Three minutes from time, Moritz Stoppelkamp scored to put Paderborn in position for a famous win. But Karim Bellarabi had other ideas. The Berlin-born winger secured the draw at the death, as he converted via a lovely finish to the keeper’s left from six yards out.

-Other results: Hertha Berlin 3-2 Stuttgart, Werder Bremen 1-1 Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2 Köln, Wolfsburg 1-0 Augsburg, Mönchengladbach 1-1 Mainz (Max Kruse scored the goal of the week in that one)

Here’s the table after seven weeks:

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Weekend Preview, Round Two

We have a lot of exciting games coming up this weekend in the world of football. I don’t know why that is, but I’m gonna say it’s because stupid international football is back after this weekend to take away all this excitement. (I really hate international week.) Without further ado, let’s see what we have on tap this week.

Chelsea – Arsenal: Arsenal head to Stamford Bridge to face league leaders Chelsea, who demolished them last time the two teams played in the Andre Mariner Game. While Jose Mourinho downplayed that game’s impact on this one,  his (nemesis?) Arsene Wenger is still pissed about losing 6-0 in his 1000th game and said that his team is out for revenge.

This game is also significant because of Cesc Fabregas. The Chelsea midfielder, as you all know, used to play at Arsenal and was slated to come back until Wenger said no, because apparently he didn’t think Cesc and Mesut can play together. This game is full of subplots upon subplots. The EPL: More drama than TNT.

Valencia – Atletico Madrid: With Diego Simeone back on the sidelines, Atletico Madrid are a different beast. Fresh off of pulverizing Sevilla last weekend, Atletico took care of business in the Champions League, beating Max “Look, ma! Hands” Allegri’s Juventus and finally getting back on track in their group. Valencia, meanwhile, look to welcome Alvaro Negredo, set to make his debut for the club after his move from Manchester City. Valencia getting a result here would be a strong statement of intent for their expectations under new owner Peter Lim, while the reigning champions will set out to prove that they are no one season wonder.

Tottenham – Southampton: The Mauricio Pochettino Derby promises to be a barn burner. Pochettino leaving and Liverpool raiding their squad was supposed to destroy Southampton, and yet they come into this game doing better than they were last season. Ronald Koeman has picked up right where Poch left off, improving the squad with quality purchases from the Eredivisie. Graziano Pelle’s hold up play and scoring prowess is reminiscent of a North London striker with great hair, while Dušan Tadic has been a better player than the player Brendan Rodgers paid £25 million for. Spurs, meanwhile, are gonna Spur. While Pochettino has made some notable strides in Tottenham’s style of play, the results are yet to come. Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen have been brilliant in flashes, and other midfielders like Nacer Chadli and Ettiene Capoue have also improved. The strikers, though, remain as Spursian as ever.

Roma – Juventus: Under Antonio Conte, Juventus have enjoyed a reign of dominance in Serie A, winning the last three scudettos. Conte is gone, replaced by Max Allegri, but La Vecchia Signora still finds herself at the top of the table. The strongest challenge to that dominance so far has been Rudi Garcia’s Roma squad, who have the same number of points but are behind on goal difference. They come into this game without possibly four starters, including Daniele De Rossi, perhaps their most important player. That hasn’t stopped Totti and company from getting a positive result and drawing 1-1 last week against Manchester City at the Etihad, which is more than I can say about Juventus. Still, the odds are slightly in favor of Max and his squad, if only because I can’t see Roma’s midfielders handling Pogba and Vidal without DDR.

Dortmund – Hamburg: If this isn’t Dortmund’s best chance to get back on track in the league, I don’t know what it’s going to take. Jurgen Klopp’s side beat up on Anderlecht midweek to get themselves back on track, but they’re winless in three in the Bundesliga. So this is an interesting fixture from that angle. American fans may want to pay attention to this game because of Julian Green, who may start for a…not-good Hamburg team.

PSG – Monaco: If Monaco weren’t so boring, this team would probably get more mention. The fire sale at the principality club has shed the team of practically all its talent, and PSG, fresh off beating Barcelona, come in on a high.

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The Player and Manager behind the Legend

It seems endless words are written about Francesco Totti, but you can’t blame the scribes. Totti has been playing for over two decades for Serie A’s Roma, and he’s been incandescently brilliant from day one. Yesterday he scored his first goal in England, which coincided with him becoming the oldest Champions League scorer in the modern history of the tournament. He’s been so good for so long that the words and narratives write themselves.

Yet in this twilight, it seems Totti the physical football player is largely ignored. Whenever he scores, creates chances, or tries one of his famous back heels passes, it’s looked at as another brick in the wall of a career that looks more and more like the Great Wall of China each passing day. Yet who he is on the pitch is equally fascinating.

Francesco Totti is a savant. A freak. A prodigy. He’s truly one of a kind, and a special specimen that’s largely lasted due to his talents. This largely ignores the tactical brilliance that goes on around him. Francesco can find a way to be a destructive force on the opponents defense while staying rooted to a single area of the pitch, for the most part. The game today is getting pacier and pacier around him, yet every time he’s on the ball time seemingly slows down, and Rudi Garcia is the one aiding the sands of time to drop at3 a slower speed than before.

Even in a seemingly opposite role, Totti mans the false nine in a similar manner to how Andrea Pirlo is cast as the CDM. He acts as a hub, collecting the ball from various spots and quickly pinging it back to his teammates. No Roma build up happens without number ten being involved, and by now the players have become accustomed to working around him. With no defensive responsibilities that he would possibly still have as a traditional ten, he’s solely focused on on creating. And that’s allowed him to age so gracefully.

He’s still Roma’s most important player on offense, doing most of his work in a thirty meter box, hardly ever rushing in head on to attack himself. This allows Roma to be such a dominant force in possession. Having that hub reminiscent of a deep lying playmaker that deep in your own half allows for the other players to focus on making runs and finding lanes for Totti to pass to. If nothing is there, he simply can give it back to Danielle De Rossi, who can simply knock it right back and start the process over again. And more times than not Totti eventually finds a break through.

As described, it seems so simple, yet the closest example we recently had was Barcelona’s Xavi against APOEL, and Xavi doesn’t have the shooting talent Totti has to play that role against big clubs.

Compare Totti to Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard. The English twosome seemingly can’t turn back the clock in a similar fashion. Even with Lampard’s fine form as of late, they both are seemingly running out of grains of sand faster than their Italian rival. Is it due to managerial ignorance? Or is there something there indescribable? More than likely, it’s both.

EPL managers are daft – Brendan Rodgers was lauded for transforming Gerrard into the “English Pirlo” in 2013-14, and that was just because he started playing him as a deep lying playmaker. (Taking a concept that was already a decade old and being described as cutting edge is something that actually happens in England. It’s the biggest knock on an otherwise great league.) While Brendan’s efforts with Gerrard are commendable, he falls short in comparison to the job Rudi Garcia did with Totti and Antonio Conte did with Pirlo in that both managers devised a system to take advantage of their playmaker’s talents, while Brendan basically slotted Stevie back there with only Jordan Henderson as his shield.

It’d be a bald-faced lie to say Totti isn’t truly one of a kind. He scored a goal at 38 years and 3 days old (apparently inspired by a tweet from the Manchester City account), and the first reaction many had was “he’ll be back next year.” Hell, he’s crazy enough to be talking contract extensions on top of the current deal that will see him out to three months before he turns the big four-zero. But it’s impossible to ignore the tactical genius that keeps the hourglass pouring, in that system it’s not as dumb to say he could play another five years with Roma as it would to say about his younger rivals. That’s the beauty of it all.

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