Arsenal’s 90 Minutes in Hell and What They Can Do to Avoid A Recurrence

“If this was a boxing bout, the referee would have ended it a long while ago.” – Match commentator, Liverpool and Arsenal.

This comment came on the heels of the #MayweatherMcgregor fight in Las Vegas wherein the referee had to end the fight in the 10th round to save Mcgregor all the “Floyd punishment” he was receiving.

It was the perfect description of Liverpool’s dominance on the day at Hellfield, Anfield.

A match that was dubbed the pick of the weekend unfortunately became a one-sided affair when Liverpool controlled the proceedings from the beginning of the encounter till the blast of the final whistle. As one tweet captured it,

To equate the Liverpool player with the Algerian born French maestro was not an exaggeration on the evening going by his performance.

So, what went wrong for the Gunners – or is it the Gooners?

Make no mistake about this, Arsenal is not a bad team. A team that boasts of world class players and internationals in their own rights like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Shkodran Mustafi, Olivier Giroud, Alexandre Lacazette, etc. is not a small team. Why is a team packed with World Cup winners struggling to make an impact in the Premier League and the Champions League? The only problem I think is leadership.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal affairs since the year 1996 and did achieve a lot of great things for the club; including a 49-match unbeaten record in the league that is yet to be replicated by any other team since.

A glorious 2003/2004 season if you ask me it must be said. But after their heroics of getting to the final of the Champions League in 2006, there has been a downward spiral for the club. It was as if the exit of the last notable “invincible” Thierry Henry, started a free fall for the club.

Apart from the four FA Cups won during since then, Arsenal has never looked like worthy challengers for the Premier League crown, talk more of the Champions League where they have failed to cross the last 16 hurdle since 2009 when they were defeated by a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Manchester United.

The statistics just show that it has been the case of a diminishing returns for the club. It is also a sad fact that Arsenal for 13 years have not been able to lift the Premier League crown even though they are the only team to still have consistency in terms of being managed by the same man for over two decades.

The past few months have not been exactly great times for Arsenal fans. They know it and they’ve never hidden their displeasure, expressing it with their frequent #WengerOut on social media.

It is just obvious that the hunger has disappeared from Wenger, a one-time feisty manager who was not afraid to get into a war of words with Sir Alex Ferguson in their days of rivalry and not too long ago, with Jose Mourinho while he was still at Chelsea.

The last game against Liverpool showed a man who was not bothered about the fortune of the club because even while his team was 3-0 down, he just sat in his chair and chewed on his fingernails. This is not the case for other managers that will want to salvage something from the game and will continue to charge their players to attack and play better.

Some readers might say that I have gone for the obvious by taking cheap shots at the man but in all sincerity, the buck stops at Wenger’s table, no matter how we want to look at it.

arsene_wenger_cham_3492459b.jpg

Arsene Wenger needs to do more if Arsenal are going to improve.

I think Wenger has lost the team and it will take a miracle to psyche them up for the coming campaign that will see them compete on four fronts. To salvage something for himself and the club, Arsene has to make some hard decisions. Making such hard decisions for the team is one problem that he has always had.Right now, these decisions have become a necessity.

First, there are too many unsettled players in the team. To keep them against their wishes is to create a sense of complacency and a nonchalant attitude in the team. Sanchez, Chamberlain – now reportedly off to Chelsea, Mustafi, Ozil, Bellerin and so many others are all unsettled.

While some want to leave the club to where they can win trophies, some want better contracts and some others are not comfortable with their current positions on the pitch. These issues have made the team look like they lack the focus and hunger to carry out their professional tasks.

It must be said that although the players are paid to do their jobs, it is the job of the manager to motivate, unite and psyche them up for the overall interest of the team. This job also extends to knowing which players fit the various tactical approaches to be employed on the field of play. Unfortunately, the body language of the Frenchman has said a whole lot of other things.

It is absolutely unnecessary for the club to try to run down the contract of a player that is no longer happy to play for the club. Alexis Sanchez in today’s market is worth over £90m. Isn’t that incentive to sell him off already?

With one year to go and the high probability that he will not sign a new contract, it will be better to sell him off NOW and get a hungrier player to replace him. It has to be a player who will be focused on the job and will want to make a name for himself.

Arsenal still has the players that can confidently replace him in the team. Maybe not adequately, but they will do a good job. It is now left for the manager to tweak the team in a way that the team will get over him. No player is indispensable.

Manchester United last year signed a 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic and albeit performing above expectations, his role was more in the dressing room than on the pitch. It was for the same reason that Jose Mourinho brought back Didier Drogba for one year to help him win the title on his return to Chelsea.

While citing names like Ozil, Sanchez and Cech, club legend, Patrick Vieira, pointed out that the team does not lack leaders. Maybe he’s right. But what he has failed to point out is that, out of these three, two of them whom the team depends upon the most are unsettled. How can they lead when they see their futures outside the team?

Arsenal needs a leader now more than ever.

Futhermore, there is another weakness that Wenger has exhibited for some time. This is the loyalty syndrome which he bears for his older players. X-raying the team against Liverpool, Bellerin played the left wing back role even though he is a right footer and has played the right back role for over two years.

It was a wonder to see Kolasinac who has impressed since coming to Arsenal on the bench. In the same vein, what was Ramsey and Welbeck doing on the pitch while Coquelin – a much more defensive minded midfielder – and Lacazette – a deadly finisher – were sat on the bench.

Even though some will want to go with the argument of Wenger wanted to play familiar foes, you do not keep your AK 47 at home and go to battle with a revolver. It is Arsene Wenger’s team and he alone bears the responsibility.

I was also shocked that Arsene Wenger who is a world class manager, played the high line against an attack that boasts of runners like Mane, Salah and Firmino who can hold their own against Usain Bolt. It also means that Wenger’s tactics are actually questionable and even at 2-0 down before Salah went on the solo run to score, there were no answers forthcoming.

Wenger has become a legend in Arsenal and the rule of diminishing returns has set in. I do not see Arsenal getting better under his tutelage and unless the Arsenal Board of Directors want to continue being self serving in their decision making, the best time to let him go is now to allow for another manager to bring hunger, drive, vibrancy and new ideas to the team. To continue with Wenger is to continue with mediocrity and complacency.

Wenger does not believe that his actions are costing the team even as the continue to go down the doldrums. The time for the board to act is now, to save the fans of the continuous misery and shame that they have been through in recent times. He does not need to be sacked, he should be asked to save face, resign and go on vacation. It is not too late to do the right thing.

 

Author

Victor Ndulewe

Video Technology in Football: What I Learnt

On Tuesday night, we were treated to another controversial topic in our “sacred sport,” Football. I deliberately use the word sacred because to some people, football is a religion to some people who rever it and guard it jealously.

As the saying goes for the English, “football is not just about life and death, it is more than it.” This is a strong indication that to the billions of people on the face of the planet, football is more than just a sport.

The game between France and Spain last night re-awakened an old controversy: the use of too much technology in the beautiful game of football. In that game, the compatibility of using a video referee to scrutinize critical decisions in a football game was put to the test.

This was a perfect platform to look at the strengths and weaknesses of that technology and its compatibility with the flow of the game. After the game and the many reactions that followed, here’s what I learnt.

The first goal scored by Antoine Griezmann for France was correctly ruled for offside. I must appreciate the fact that at least it was great to finally get justice when we watch football matches, something we have also seen with the use of the goal line technology thus far.

This was a laudable achievement going by the injustices that have been experienced overtime in the sport- there have been so many of them and these decisions have always kept tongues wagging at every incident. These decisions have divided fans amongst different lines.

However, on the other hand, did anyone take notice of how long it took for the referee to listen over his ear piece and pronounce the appropriate decisions? I think this should form the basis of this argument for or against the compatibility of the proposed technology.

As a fan and a proud one at that, I had to take a look at the video at least not from the Director’s box- as I am no bourgeoisie, and definitely not from the technical room, but from my television and device and I took notice of the time it took to get the decision on both occasions.

Griezmann’s disallowed goal was scored with 47:15 showing on the clock. Of course the linesman ruled it as a goal but the referee stood static and paid attention to his ear piece while the Spanish players surrounded him. On the near side of the pitch, the French players were already celebrating.

When the clock showed 47:59 and Griezmann was returning to his own side of the pitch, that was when we – Griezmann and I – discovered that there seemed to be a problem. Then the waiting continued until 48:09 when the referee gave the correct ruling with his hands raised to signify a free kick.

Simply put, it took 54 seconds to make that decision. Do not miss the part that the linesman actually gave the goal.

Then came the goal scored by Deulofeu, which was Spain’s second, assisted by Jordi Alba and scored with 76:23 on the clock. In this particular incident, the assistant referee (linesman) ruled offside while the referee waited – yet again – for signal from the video room.

Gerard Deulofeu had already accepted his fate and was returning to his position for the free kick to be taken having seen the flag for offside. It was until the 77:10 when the referee got the signal and gestured towards the halfway line that it was a goal.

That took 47 seconds.

The first thing that comes to mind is the time taken, in the course of discussions between the main referee and the video referee, to take these decisions even though some persons were trying to say that it took place while the players were celebrating the goal.

Okay then. What if the scorer does not celebrate and picks up the ball to run back to the half way line based on the fact that he is trailing the other team? Does that remove the window for discussions between both referees? We are talking about 54 seconds + 47 seconds= 1 minute, 41 seconds for just two incidents. That is enough time for a team to score two goals which we have seen many times in football.

Another fundamental issue is that the technology is actually a threat to the Assistant Referee’s position and if it is implemented, we might also not see that individual running down the lines with a yellow flag any more. This is because their decisions where actually clashing at both times the video technology came into play.

Furthermore, while video technology thrives with tennis, cricket and others, football is different because it has to do with a lot of psychological factors – like who is on the ascendancy in the game? Who is pressing? Who is likely to get a goal soonest? Who has got the momentum?

Someone might then ask, when does all these big big grammar happen in a game? Have you stopped to think of the reason why managers make substitutions at some critical parts of the game? Why players also feign injury because they want the scoreline to remain the way it is and to also kill the morale of their opponents?

These are critical questions that whoever is reviewing the technology should put into consideration.

Finally, football is about controversies, banter, trolling, etc. To take these parts of the game away is to demystify the game and make it ordinary and less appealing.

In the midst of all the controversies, football following has increased astronomically for the past two decades. A demystifying of the sport could bring about a decline. Wrong decisions or not, the biggest teams on the planet have always succeeded and this part of the game should not be reason enough to restructure the beautiful game.

The idea of this new technology does not remove the human factor because judgement calls will still be made at each incident, only slower and with adequate video evidence.

Therefore, it suffices to say that the video referee, after seeing the video, can still make a wrong call because of our different criteria for awarding a penalty, free kick or a red card. Why not? He’s human too!

 

About Author

Victor Ndulewe is a freelance football writer and a football analyst/pundit on radio (The Beat FM 97.9 Ibadan).You can engage him on Twitter @vicndulewe

There is Something Mysterious About the 2016/2017 Premier League Season

Enigma!

Enigma!

The Premier League, on any good day, is an interesting league, one of the most exciting (if not the most exciting one). One moment, you know what’s coming. The next, you’re left in awe of what just happened.

The Premier League is majorly a standout league for one reason: any club in the league, size and league table position regardless, can come visiting and steal 3 points from right under your nose, sometimes effortlessly, sometimes with the last kick of the game.

This, and not the famous English Fourth Estate (they play their part too) is what makes the league notoriously exciting. But the 2016/2017 season has been different.

No, I’m not talking about that 5000/1 kind of different. I’m talking about the 6th-position-for-months, Conte-nious-table-topping-performances, Pep-ppered-on-all-sides-by-Everton-and-Bravo kind of different.

Chelsea’s rise, Pep’s choice of Bravo despite those dangerously negative statiatics, Arsenal’s ‘upandan‘ season, Spurs, the Leicester blow-up, to mention but a few, have been mysterious and unexplainable!

There’s “almost” been more than enough excitement this season (enigma too!). Every week and matchday seems to have it’s own special surprise for all and sundry.

And in this article, I’ll be focusing on this week’s episode of mysteries served up by a mysterious season.

1. KARMA

It is believed that the world is run by a set of people, that keep the world in balance to prevent her from shutting down. For every good, there must be a bad, For every bad? A good. Its what keeps the world okay. It may seem a farce but, it is a reality which Jose Mourinho must come to terms with.

The 54-year old stormed out of his post-match TV interview apparently disgusted at the result, but it was one which had his own blueprint. Hull sat deep, refused to be bullied and had answers to all the questions United asked of them.

It was a classic Mourinho print, one reminiscent of his Inter days. He shouldn’t have been angry. He was simply being paid with his own kind of coin. His team had done the same earlier this season at Anfield.

Often times, snatching a win could be the sweetest thing in football but you being the victim? Leaves scars. However, it wasn’t the case here. Maybe Mourinho should applaud Hull’s resilience and be proud of them than putting up hypocritical behavior.

Mysterious Record: Welcome to a weird Premier League season

Mysterious Record: Welcome to a weird Premier League season

Have I mentioned the 6th place mystery? It’s been so enigmatic that I’ll just let this infographic emphasize how deep this mystery is.

 

Pep's Strongest Manchester City side yet?

Pep’s Strongest Manchester City side yet?

2. SANE, WILLY & JESUS, Guardiola’s Saviour

It doesn’t come everyday, the chance to say how much a goalkeeper saved Pep Guardiola on a Matchday. It’s usually the Spaniard’s frontment wrecking all the havoc and breaking down barriers.

But in recent times, just like a wardrobe malfunction, a “goalkeeping malfunction” has not saved Pep. It has made him look surprisingly terrible. Don’t get me wrong. The tacts have been fine.

Jesus comes from Brazil, gets a goal, an assist, runs away with the Man of The Match award and comfortably fills in the shoes left by Kun Aguero’s absence – all on his first Premier League start.

Sane’s trickery, run-ins, innovation and youth makes Man. City look alive again! I mean, Sterling is being greatly helped by the young German.

So, It’s obvious the Pep Tacts are intact. But no team can hide, for long, the pain of a bad (actually, terrible’s the word) goalkeeper.
And the Philosopher had been suffering this pain for some time. So, he decides to take a pill to alleviate his pain by replacing Claudio Bravo with Willy Caballero. The result?

Manchester City beat West Ham 0-4! No goals were conceded. Mysterious treatment of that “goalkeeping headache.”


3. THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY

Man is often said to be his own worst enemy. The architect of his downfall. And Arsenal are edging towards that spectrum.

Disastrous decision making in the stands courtesy Arsene Wenger, moments of naivety courtesy the Arsenal defence and a twirl of fate all combined to perfection against Watford. They lost the game

Being Arsenal, a loss to Watford may not entirely be a mystery. But, isn’t the mystery of CONSISTENTLY losing the “title ambitions” steam around this time of the year mysterious enough?

Season after season, the story has been the same: September to November, an Arsenal side that’ll kill all in sight. From Santa’s arrival, to his departure and the first month of the new year inclusive, you have an Arsenal side that just can’t help themselves from caving in.

They often play as if they are scared to win and while they have scored the most late goals this season, they must realize fortune will only favour the brave. It won’t hurt if they grow more cajones and played like champions. They already have the core!


4. ThE OTHER MYSTERIES

Chelsea fans have to forgive me for adding your beloved club to this list, instead of making it a point on it’s own.

Well, it seems no one else is interested in catching up. Since that unbeaten run, the only thing that can be a mystery is Chelsea losing. I’ve adjusted to this “type” of Chelsea. Nothing new to see – erm, can I mention that mysterious David Luiz goal?

Mysteriously, Liverpool were able to slow down that Chelsea train whose next stop sems to be the Premier League title. Mane is back. As such, the poor run of form should stop now.

Peter Crouch is still a prolific scorer. Scoring 100 Premier League goals is a mystery because not many made it that far. But Crouch did and celebrated the feat with his famous Robot Celebration.

Leicester’s season has been so confusing. It’s like the force of overcoming a 5000/1 odds is still with them, but this time, in a negative form.

The relegation cloud is hovering dangerously and that, my friends, is a mystery for a club that is the reigning champ.
Did I omit any other “mysteries”? Do you have some of yours? Please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’d love to talk football with you. 😉
About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

Thoughts on the First Set of Premier League Games in 2017

Arrrggghhhhhh: Alexis Sanchez is seen expreesing his frustration during Arsenal's 3-3 draw against Bournemouth

Arrrggghhhhhh: Alex’s Sanchez is seen expreesing his frustration during Arsenal’s 3-3 draw against Bournemouth

January kicked off in grand style. While it’s safe to say the race for the title has started, there was quite the drama on display in the first Premier League games of the year. Some teams did a good job in starting the season on a high while some others stuttered even though it may not mean much if they can bounce back from the points already dropped.

In this piece, we’ll be looking at the various talking points and goals that made those Youtube highlights worth watching.

 

Watford v Tottenham – 1-4 (Jan 1): Two English sensations turned up to give us quite a show. Going into the game, there really wasn’t any doubt considering how both teams have fared this season . Pochettino got the team sheet right this time, making four changes, something that is always hard to do to an already set side. Dele Alli is always a joy to watch especially when he hits top gear and in my opinion, Kane is becoming too good for Spurs (I could be wrong but it’ll be fun to see how his career grows).

Spurs resting in fourth and leapfrogging Man. City, is only a forecast of the things to come over the second half of the chase to the Premier League title. Watford, on the other hand, need a lot of work to be done. You kind of get the feeling that their fairytale season is slowly coming to an end. They may not relegate but then again, they’re much trouble anymore, unlike the Watford that was a year ago.

 

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – 2- 0 (Jan 1): Yet another North London side doing what was expected of them, with Olivier scoring a potential goal of the season and the wonderkid Iwobi getting on the score sheet. The Gunners started quite well as they hope to get their title-winning hunt back on track. Still 9 points behind league leaders Chelsea, it’ll be a thing of joy to actually see how Wenger and his army can overturn that and get something off a season that has been full of surprises.

I still tip Arsenal to go far this season; a second/third placed finish probably, but it’ll be more fun if they can get in the mix and at least get Conte’s men to eat a little bit of their heart. Palace on the other hand, well their woes just keeps on getting compounded and honestly I doubt if the “ Big Sam to the rescue” method would work this season else, they just might be joining Swansea in the bottom mix.

 

WestBrom v Hull City – 3-1 (Jan 2): Lol, not the scoreline I expected, even though I expected the win. But it must be said, Tony Pulis and the Baggies have sprung a few surprises this season. Although it’s too soon to say they are turning their season around but, if that is what they’re up to, way to go! Even though they started slow in the game against Hull City, even even letting Hull take the lead, it was nice seeing a few tweaks and tricks and then the rain of the goals (that’s their second consecutive comeback victory).

Seeing them in eighth and the way they’re playing, maybe an European spot is not as far as we think again, provided they can keep this momentum. But then, the reality check is: The Premier League is harsh and you can never tell. You just might be riding high only to crash hard. Hull City really need a to get a grip, a brightly powered team is really draining, I gave them no chance at the beginning of the season, but when I saw them unlocking defenses and doing things, I felt they were here to pull another Leicester on. But with Phelan now sacked, maybe they need to start planning for football under new management, something that could go either ways (see Swansea and that American coach, can’t remember his name).

 

Sunderland vs Liverpool —- 2-2( Jan 2): Okay, this one had me turning my phone up, down, sideways just to see if I was not reading the wrong scorline. This is not what you would expect from a title contender. Surely some points will be dropped but then again you have to be wary of when you drop it.. As mentioned earlier, the Premier League is harsh, but notwithstanding, certain teams are meant to be chew out and spit out other teams.

I must confess, at some point seeing Liverpool playing ding dong with Sunderland was really annoying. On the bright side, it was great to see Sturridge getting his groove back. That being said, if Klopp has any plans of getting to the top, he has to first find a solution to the back 5 (keeper + 4 defenders). The middle pack looks okay but sometimes I blame the men from Anfield for lack of concentration. Sometimes I feel the problem with Liverpool is the confidence in knowing that they can score when they want and how much they want.

As for the black cats, oh well, Moyes has really surprised me so far. I actually felt that by now, he would be out of the job. But he’s done a good job feeding Defoe from the fountain of youth and even though he has been given very little to work with he has made a decent turn around at the Stadium of Light.

 

Joyous Pep: Pep Guardiola seen celebrating

Joyous Pep: Pep Guardiola seen celebrating

Manchester City vs. Burnley —- 2-1 (Jan 2):  Wasn’t able to see the game, just the highlights and the first question that popped was, “Dear Pep, what were you thinking with that lineup?” For the Spaniard, it has been a strange run of few games happening in fewer days than normal. And maybe that’s why Pep decided to rest certain players. But then again, there some times when you dare not rest certain players, no matter the log of fixtures lying in wait for you.

As for the Fernandinho part of the story, maybe it’s time he’s let off the hook by City. He is becoming a menace to a coach for whom one of his top priorities is fair play. City with all that money can easily find their way into the mart ang get a decent replacement for him. City are gradually losing touch with the leaders and if they are not careful, they just might be out of the title race, considering the steady improvement of their next door neighbours.

Well Burnley did well and they deserved at least a point from the Etihad, but then again that’s football, if you don’t score, you can’t win and they had a lot of chances begging to be buried. Well it was nice seeing a rare Clichy goal. I’ve always liked the lad.

 

Everton v Southhampton —– 3-0 (Jan 2): An inspiring one man show from Enner Valencia and a joy to watch. Truth be told, this game was a pain to watch until Valencia came on. Everton have been disappointing this season, looking at the table, considering how this season has been and how fun it has been to watch, you would think they’d be in the top 5 or 6 mix by now (they ain’t far behind but still not expecting them to be keeping West Brom at bay either).

But then again, giving that a host of other teams have been disappointing this season, maybe the Everton case is understandable. I feel Koeman still has a lot of decisions to make considering team selections and he needs to be rash sometimes as a lot of folks need to be benched while a lot need to go.

The Dutch man has been too merciful and that has cost him very dearly this season.  Southampton on the other hand, is another team that hasn’t been much of a joy to watch. Even though they started this season brightly, it seems as if their light has just faded away. Maybe Dirk and Redmond have been the few who have been exceptional others are not just in tune this season. Both teams need to get a grip least dey get dragged further down.

 

Boro vs Leicester – 0-0 (Jan 2): The dullest game in this article save for the last 10 minutes. There’s actually not much to say on this one… so I’ll just move on.

West Ham vs Manchester United – 0-2 (Jan. 2 ): Probably the most controversial match of the season so far as regards refereeing calls, officiating, and tempers flaring . I felt the game would have been much more interesting for Hammers if Feghouli hadn’t been sent off inside 15 minutes, a sending off that caused West Ham to lose touch and balance in the game.

Mike Dean has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this season, and the FA really has to start checking and rechecking all the officiating officers. Some re-orientation has to be done. That kung-fu-like Zlatan’s goal should have stood. But it was great to see United getting back on track, level with Spurs on fifth and one behind Arsenal in 4th.

Maybe it’s safe to say José and his men are back in the mix. Maybe it’s too soon to say but if that’s the plan (to be back in the mix), then they are on the right course. The Hammers on one hand, are another disappointing daddies. Looking back at last season, one won’t be faulted for tipping them as European football contenders this season, but Bilic can’t seem to find the solution to their problems, and time is running out fast.

 

Bournemouth 3-3 Arsenal (Jan 3): One of the games of the season. The Gunners failed to pick up three points when it mattered again and often times it is these games that determine who wins what. Alexis Sanchez’s body language said more than enough, He was disappointed. For 70minutes, the Cherries ran them ragged and gave them a solid run for their money.

This kind of mentality, the one that saw Olivier Giroud slide away like they had just earned three points when he netted the equalizer is not one Champions exhibit, it’s for mediocre. And Arsenal must not think that way. The solution might probably have lying in the opposition dugout as Eddie Howe is doing the unthinkable. Bournemouth have earned their spur against all top teams in their two seasons in the Premier League and it is the never-say-die, bullish, we-can-beat-anybody attitude that has helped them thus far. Anyone who thinks Bournemouth will be relegated needs to think again.

 

Fun time: It was hard to resist the urge to make some fun out of Chelsea after their winning streak came to an end.

Fun time: It was hard to resist the urge to make some fun out of Chelsea after their winning streak came to an end.

Spurs vs Chelsea – 2-0 (Jan 4):  Had a tiny argument with my dad on this one. The old man had facts but I just couldn’t see how Chelsea was going to lose this. 13 and counting, it seemed like a sure 14th for me. I’d even predicted a 1-3 scoreline, but alas, I had to eat my words. I have watched the game twice and streamed highlights off youtube, trying to see what went wrong.

They (Chelsea), on the day, seemed to have forgotten their scoring boots, as they misplaced passes, and at some point I could have sworn I saw a few moments when they ran out of steam. Although insignificant, the loss is bitter to swallow and they have got to pick up and dust themselves. They’re still on top as regards who will win this year’s Premier League title as they’ve done well so far this season.

But if they lose the next game, (it’s a bad thing to lose when you’re on an amazing run of form) then maybe the Blues faithful can start worrying. Kudos to Mauricio who got things right. Walker and Rose were wonderful marking out Alonso and Moses. Eriksen was a beauty to behold, with all those mathematically-calculated passes and dare I mention Alli.

This spurs team have been impressive for the 3rd year running, and it’s high time they begin to be recognized as title contenders. It’ll be fun to see how they see out the rest of this season. But I tip them to be around for a while.

 

About Author

Bamgboye Ayodele, is a freelance writer who writes for ForTheGoals. You can catch up with him on twitter Lord_obote.

Akwa United vs Rangers International: A Beautiful Game, Beautiful Goals, A Determined Rangers Side and more… #WhatILearnt

image

It was a match that will go down as one of the most interesting in Nigerian Professional Football League’s history.

Victor Ikpeba admitted it was the most exciting NPFL game he had ever seen in all his NPFL-games-watching career. And when a pundit speaks like that, you know a lot went down during the game.

A five-goal thriller, the game between Akwa United and Rangers International was a very open one. Back and forth the action swung, with both clubs threatning to score with every move in the opposition’s direction.

There were flicks and kicks. Tackles and dribbles. There was a display of deadly attacking prowress by both sides and some outstanding goalkeeping by the goalies who did not want to be victims the whole 90.

But what did I learn?

– Rangers Came To Win
The Enugu-based side were the visitors in this encounter. And they had one thing in mind: take all three points back home. They were second on the log, behind Wikki Tourist and they wanted that top spot so badly.

They took matters into their own hands in the second half after Lady Luck smiled on them and caused Harrison of Akwa United to score an own goal. Let’s just say they scored two goals in the second half… one more than their counterpart in the half.

They looked shaky towards the end of the first half and in the early stages of the second half. But they showed what strong stuff they’re made of by recovering well.

An ambitious team this Rangers side, they want to win the league title. And they played like it. They smell blood and are going in for the kill. Watch out Wikki Tourist!

– A Fixture of Beautiful Goals
The NPFL has gone way past the days where players just scored goals. These days, the players play CONFIDENTLY and score BEAUTIFULLY. And this game in Akwa Ibom was not left out.

Asides the simple tap in of an own goal that Harrison scored and Omoniwari’s second goal, the rest were beauties to behold.

Fortune Omoniwari equalized for Akwa United with a powerful header after a beautiful cross-in from Friday.

Then Egbuchulam scored the best goal of the day. Receiving a cross from his left, he controlled the ball with his right foot in the opposition’s 6-yard box. Deciding against shooting directly even though the goal-scoring chance was good enough, he switched play to his left foot, leaving the goalkeeper for dead and scoring an amazing goal.

Morris Chebem’s goal wasn’t as beautiful as the build-up to it. First a cross into the box (another cross?), then a chest-control of the ball by a Rangers player killed the momentum of the ball and placed it in fine position for a bullet shot from Morris who had just come on as a substitue.

– Akwa United Have Potential but…
… they seem to not know how to use it yet. (Or maybe I’m the one seeing things wrongly?) While chasing the equalizer in the dying minutes of the first half, they played LIKE A TEAM. The passes were perfect. The run-ins were deadly. The inter-changes were exceptional. Every move forward seemed to be accompanied by a potential goal. And in the end they got their goal.

In the second half, they started from where they stopped. They made the Rangers players quiver in fear. Their moves caused the Rangers defense to be “at sixes and sevens” according to the match commentator.

Then they slept off. They eased up on applying the pressure. And the rest is history. During this time, their midfield seemed to not provide enough cover for the defense and was not productive going forward. Names like Omoniwari and Friday were trying but the others weren’t helping.

Cooreman, coach of the Akwa Ibom side, needs to take note of this and make sure to bring his players to the awareness of the fact that a game is only won after 90 minutes (+ whatever minutes the ref decides to add on), not during a 10-minute long spell.

Worthy Mentions
The Rangers coach (or technical advisor), Imama Amapakabo was the most animated of the two gaffers on the day. His glasses reminded me of Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp. His acting too. Though his armless top made him look like he was heading to war. He looked fierce. Even after his team scored 3 goals, he wanted more!

He may have taken things too far with his “passion” as he was seen yelling at the fourth official while trying to express himself. There seemed to be some pushing too!

No matter how passionate you are, player or coach, I think the referee SHOULD BE RESPECTED! Football is a contact sport and a game of emotions, I know, but the “RESPECT” has to be respected (pun intended)

A side that can score three in an away game in the NPFL should be taken seriously. A team that wants to win the league, scores three goals in an away game and takes all three points home should be taken EVEN MORE SERIOUSLY!

Rangers International mean business. They want Enyimba’s trophy. Beware!

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (Eight Become Four)

image

Bel-GIONE: Wales celebrate after knocking Belgium out of the Euro 2016

It was a fitting end to the Quarter finals of the Euro 2016.

A quarter-final that had it all: The birth of a star, the late awakening of another. The embarrassment of yet another nation. The end of an era, and the end of a cycle; one which ended in tears… or maybe not?

It re-ignited an argument that was born the moment the first game of the tournament ended: “Is this the most interesting Euros yet?”

For the doubters who were against the idea of an expanded tournament, Michel Platini had being vindicated… albeit a bit too late.

But wherever the Frenchman was on Sunday night (most likely in his living room or most likely entertaining more questions from investigators), he would have being proud of himself and his achievements.

An European tournament like none other.

image

What a tournament!!

He called it his own Euros when France got the hosting rights, claiming it was the perfect place for the new cycle to begin.

He was right. Spot on! The cycle of unforeseen surprises (the Icelandic fever and those Portuguese), broken jinxes (Angela Merkel must be very proud), and the big Whales (Wales).

Monseuir Plat must have peeked into the future!

Euro 2016 has been a blockbuster of a competition far. And while most fans seem to have been surprised enough, you’ll agree with me that more’s coming.

More surprises… especially with the way Portugal seem to be crawling to the final.

While we await the semi-final matches, how about a rewind?

So far, so good:

image

Pole-less Euro: Portugal celebrate after beating Poland on penalties

When You Can’t sPORT UR GAL en route to the Final
Coming into the tournament, they seemed primed for it. They had the luck of the draws and many expected them to roll over their opponents in the group.

If they had done so, they would have faced Belgium and… that would have been game over (or maybe not?)

Many blamed them when second place seemed certain with only two minutes of their last group game remaining. But then, it never came through.

Iceland somewhat created a fairy tale by scoring perhaps the deadliest counter-attack at the tournament, one which demoted them to third place.

Had they finished second, England would be lying in wait. Cross the English hurdle and France would have been patiently waiting for them.

However, fortune favours the brave (if I am permitted to say so). Ronaldo and co now have the final in their sights… without even hitting second gear!

It might seem bad, but look on the bright side: there was the birth of a certain Renato Sanches, the lad that said no to the club some call the biggest in the world. The sizzling goal he scored to cancel out Lewandowski’s strike was one which had Cedric Soares written all over it, the Southampton right back selling out.

Fernando Santos would be wise to reinstate Vierinha to that position against Wales due to the You-Know-Who effect. Portugal have managed to come this far by making little mistakes, a key component of every title winning side.

They might not be scoring but they aren’t conceding either. When they do, they find ways of cancelling out the deficit without giving much away, yet another key component for winning trophies. If in doubt, ask Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

It’s time the emphasis on the collective is reinforced and they get a way to coax the best out of their star men. It is a shame that they have no No.9 who can score effortlessly which increases the work-load on Ronaldo, who likes to score, but then is losing his legs and his no longer as young.

If there was any time for them to hit second gear, it’s now! And they would need every help they can get. Ronaldo stepped up against Hungary. Rui Patricio was the reason they hung on against Croatia. Renato Sanches came to the fore in the quarters.

However, it goes way beyond that now. Otto Rehaegel who masterminded Greece’s win in 2004 in Portugal’s backyard would say, “While being the underdog can be good, it could be extremely dangerous and leave you vulnerable.”

Portugal are playing that part well, but they would be wise to let the world take them serious and set themselves up for the final with the right morale.

image

The winning penalty: Hector takes the penalty that sends Germany through at the expense of Italy

The Bells Rung
When Eden Hazard said he felt fresh for Euro 2016, it meant good news for the Belgian fans. Many felt their time had come. The golden generation had matured.

However, they (or us?) got it all wrong. Belgium was just a bunch of individuals with talent, one which was showcased by Radja Nainngolan’s unbelievable goal.

The flashes were there, but they never became electricity. They were like a circuit that twitched, but never came alive. Sadly so.

Aaron Ramsey on the other hand showed what talent in a well-oiled system would do. Two assists helping his side to a victory. And even when he’ll miss the semi-final, he will with a mind that his replacement would be just as good. An audacious team.

In the opposition dressing room, they were coming to blows, Thibaut Courtois revealed in the mixed zone. It was a case of the fleet wanting a new shepherd. Someone with the tactical discipline. Not the man in charge.

While he might be right, he is just as wrong because, he only came to the fore after the first game, a match in which he contributed to their failures. They were doomed from the outset, the loss to Italy had set the tone for the remainder of the tournament such that they had already being eliminated even before they took to the field against the Welsh.

The 4-nil win over Hungary aside, they left a lot to be desired and never needed to change gears to win games, something that should be the norm and not the exception.

The bells have rung and they have done so clearly, he who has an hear let him hear or else they would end up just like England’s failed class of 2000-2006.

A MACHINE AND A CHICKEN
I might have wished Italy won against Germany (but I still honestly do and Antonio Conte would be feel the same). The less said about Simone Zaza’s spot kick, the better.

Italy’s elimination had a sense of unfairness in it, just like that of the Icelandic and the Polish teams. However, their’s felt the most unfair. The cruel nature itself was just as unfair as every missed German spot kick felt like Italy would score their next.

It’s their second spot kick elimination at this stage since the turn of the millennium, one which brought back memories of Euro 2008. Gli Azzuri’s spirit, one embodied in their coach, Antonio Conte, had endeared them into the hearts of many. One Body, One Soul, One Spirit.

It was typical of the man and the team, even after going down to Ozil’s neat finish, they stuck together and got the reward. It however exposed the failings of the Italian game, the spot kicks in particular.

At some point, it felt like we were watching a Principals cup penalty shootout. While the Germans did have their version of poor penalties, the Italians’ were the worst. Names like Graziano Pelle, Matteo Darmian appear. Simone Zaza in particular, whose spot kick is still making waves on social media was a joke.

Giampero Ventura has a big job on his hands. He has to retain the mentality that Conte has instilled in this team of fighters. Conte admitted Italian football was at its lowest ebb and they would need a miracle to win the Euros.

Well he was right. The miracle didn’t happen. And while Germany stroll on, the Machines would hope they have enough left in the tank to see off Les Bleus, who dispatched Iceland.

This was France’s best game all tournament, they chose to hit top gear at the right time, given whom they have in sight in the semis.

And while Iceland might have seen their fairytale come to an end, they would go home knowing that they have reached out to a whole continent and preached the gospel that is, football.

About Author
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez

CAF World Cup Qualifiers: The Major Problems of Nigeria’s Super Eagles

IMG-20160624-WA0002

This is more of an open letter containing jabs, discussions about Nigeria’s failing state of football and some bit of advice.

I have been around long enough on the continent Africa (not as long as your mind is thinking) to be forever concerned about the state of Nigerian football and the Nigerian Football Federation (abi shey na association them be).

Things have gotten so complex these days that there’s now usually a long list when talking about the problems of Nigerian football.

And when solutions are proposed (of course everyone usually has an idea), there’s an even longer list than before.

A long list of problems. An even longer list of solutions.

You can understand my plight when I ask, “Where do I even begin?”

First off, Nigeria’s Super Eagles, AGAIN, failed to qualify for yet another African Cup of Nations. It is now the first time we’ve failed to qualify for the tournament back-to-back and the third we’ll be missing out on out of the last five organized.

We refused to go to the 2012 edition. The Super Eagles (Super Chickens maybe?) as defending champs, decided against qualifying for the 2015 edition in Equatorial Guinea. And now, they won’t be taking part in the 2017 edition in Gabon.

Why?

Let’s blame it on the Pharaohs of Egypt who killed us off with the one-all draw in Kaduna and then a lone goal victory in Alexandria.

But really, how did we get to this sorry state in our football history when just three years ago we were African champions?

To back-date a bit, Atlanta ’96 may be a bit foggy but I read about it and watched a few clips. I must say, a few of the matches were glorious and beautiful to watch then. The memories. The tears that came to your eyes then were those of “oh, what a beauty” and not “Jesus Christ! what in the heavens did I just watch.”

From findings, Westerhoff was gone then and on came Bonfire JO (lol its Bonfrere Jo actually, but I like to think he was the one who set the fire to our team). After then Naija began to hire and fire coaches at will sometimes even re-hiring fired coaches sef (Bonfrere Jo, siasia, amodu etc).

Maybe one of the reason Nigeria’s football has been so unstable is the chronic instability as regards coaches.

Once outsted from a competition, the mandate is that the coach must follow. He’s shown the exit door. No time to build rappport with the players.

Another steps in, with a new management and a new style. The players have to adjust in such a short time.

Rinse and repeat.

Of course that’s one way the NFF has failed me as Nigerian football fan.

Another is poor funding which, has been responsible for why our home-based football clubs are finding it difficult to match others in North Africa and elsewhere and hence can’t produce players who can compete in the national colours.

Can’t blame people for watching the EPL and other leagues more than the NPFL when the moment you start to watch a Nigerian Professional Football League match, the environment alone kills your morale. The equipments cause backaches (talking of the stadium chairs) and the pitch just has the “save me” cry.

Only 3 of the 20 clubs in the topflight, IfeanyiUbah FC, MFM FC and Ikorodu United are privately owned. The rest are funded by state governments.

Before the down turn in the country’s economy, most states never really considered these clubs as big businesses that should be managed as big businesses. Instead, they were given to politically-correct persons to run.

End result?

A back-log of owed salaries with players playing half-heartedly.

The ripple effect follows the players when called up and are in the midst of guys that have just flown in from all parts of Europe. The international ones. By this time, they’re not even motivated enough to give them a run for their money.

The lazy ones get the starting berths and the even lazier ones get the bench role. The home-based ones can only watch from home. Nigeria struggles to beat the likes of Sudan and the cycle continues.

But if the international ones have become too big (more on this later) and the local ones are feeling too inferior to step up to the plate, the younger ones should give it a shot right?

I wish they could. The failure of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to encourage football academies, check the activities of football agents and monitor the progress of super kids (see Germany) has helped the free-fall of the Super Eagles.

The total under-development of our football academies/ U-17’s, U-20’s. I recall the likes of Mikel Obi, Osaze Odemwingie, Kelechi Iheanacho and, of late, Kelechi Nwakali coming through the junior national teams.

Nigeria is feared in every world U-17 or U-20 football tournament as we never cease to produce great kids. Yet, it’s still so difficult to produce great footballers for our generation.

But the kids, no matter how good they are, can’t get to play until that lousy politician’s cousin, without skills or talent whatsoever, is done playing.

Grooming the young and giving them a shot is the model most teams in the EPL and in Europe at large use. They all have decent-enough football academies that are responsible for grooming footballers of the future. And it works for them.

If only the same could be said about our nation.

The NFF need to focus more on trying to get the most out of the many talents we’ve got in Nigeria instead of wasting time analysing how lesbianism has caused the downfall of the Super Falcons (the joy of Nigerian football).

What has a person’s sexuality got to do with how a person plays her football? Of course we’ve all got different stances on the issue but… if a gay player plays better than a straight person, biko why not let her play?

Talent over sexuality!

Afterall its about Nigeria and it’s to the benefit of all. Abi when they win the trophy, no be all of us go celebrate?

Wages are not paid early. Due tournament bonuses are withheld. Training facilities remain the same without improvements. Yet you can blame their sexuality?

How comprehensive!

Back to the international ones. On one hand, in the on-going EURO 2016 tournament, you see players extremely pleased and dedicated about playing for their nation.

Men and boys playing their heart and soul out in a bid to bring glory to their nation. Countries trying to “out-sing” the other whenever their anthems are played (welldone Buffon).

On the other, you have Nigerian players who have a different idea to National Loyalty. For the nation, IT HAS NEVER BEEN ABOUT THE MONEY. I don’t think there is any nation that pays its players better than what the clubs pay so, grow up! Play with heart! If you can’t, don’t heed the call.

IMG-20160624-WA0002

Of course I’m scared of the next WC Qualifiers. Truth be told , I am on the side of those who believe Nigeria won’t make it.

Call me pessimistic but I look forward to what Mahrez and co. would do to us. I doubt we can even pick up a point against Cameroon. Perhaps we would get to finish above Zambia, but then, the Super Eagles are known to disappoint so maybe we shouldn’t expect too much.

Bottom line: Let’s play this WC qualifier in preparation for Qatar 2022 because we aren’t going to Russia.

Let’s look for a good coach, and improve our tactics and dedication to the nation’s football spirit.

Although I refuse to give up on supporting Nigerian football, I am tired of the whole permutation process we as fans have to go through during qualifications like this. Letting our fate be decided by the results of other teams and all.

The coach change and leadership of the football federation is the BIGGEST CONCERN of all.

Nigerians are known to be spiritual, so I am calling on my God in heaven to save us and help us.

GOD BLESS NIGERIA.

About Author
Bamgboye Ayodele is a writer of all genres, passionate sport analyst and a freelance game blogger. You can keep up with writing and also engage with him on Twitter @LORD_Obote.

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (After the Group Stage)

Portugal-v-Austria-Euro-2016

Guns have been holstered in the Euro 2016. Swords have been sheathed… temporarily. The men are taking a well-deserved break, before moving on, after being seperated from the boys.

A break before moving on to the next round of battles for glory.

The group stages of any football competition is usually the most boring part of that competition. Have you noticed?

This is so true that, if you think it’s not, just cast your mind back to the UEFA Champions League group games you’ve seen.

You see?

Even the Copa America (Centenary edition), on-going in the U.S.A, has lived up to this expectation. Several boring games up until… erm, the final? (Chile thrashing Mexico 7-0 in the quarter-final and Argentina whooping USA by four unreplied goals in the semis don’t exactly count as exciting).

The dilemna of the group stages of football competitions.

But the case has been an entirely different one in this year’s European Championship.

As a matter of fact, it’s been so exciting in France that there’s been a whole lot to talk (write, gossip, tweet, facebook, instagram, whatsapp) about here, there, and everywhere.

It’s been breath-taking! Catching up with the fanciest of goals and the most-surprising of results has been quite the job.

And as far as I can remember, the games have just begun. Imagine what will happen in the Knockout round… (let your imagination run wild for a minute…)

So you see… the party in France hasn’t even started. There will be more last-minute, heart-breaking goals. There’ll be even more surprises, heart-aches and games tighter than before.

I know you can’t wait. I can’t too!

But, while we’re waiting, let’s look back at what happened in the Third Round of the Euro 2016, shall we?

So far, so good:

Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

– The “Extra Four” Made This Euro Even More Exciting!
The Euro 2016 had a twist to it: The “Extra Four.” You can also call them the “Best Losers” or the “Lucky Ones.” (ironic right?)

Four countries, from the six groups, “survived” and qualified for the knockout stages along with the 12 that got automatic qualification.

Teams like Slovakia, Northern Ireland and even Ronaldo’s Portugal could only manage to qualify as best losers.

But before, during and after the third round, calculations and permutations were going on all over the place. Who would qualify?

For teams like Italy and Spain, it was more of the case of topping the group as they had already qualified. But C. Ronaldo and the gang were calculating. “What if’s” became the order of the day.

Of course this made the third round of group games a delight to watch as players like Cristiano Ronaldo finally came alive, one team stepped up to beat Spain and Iceland pulled a rabbit of their hat in the last-minute.

Lol.. too much to handle Ronnie?

Lol.. too much to handle Ronnie?

– That Awkward Moment When…
… teams like Hungary, Croatia, Wales top their respective groups after the three rounds of games. Who would have thought?

Of course it wasn’t strange to see England finish second in their group. That’s just English football’s way. With the way Portugal played, it was more awkward than surprising to see Hungary finish as the group leaders.

Though the Russians failed to qualify and, expectedly, with their fans gone back to Moscow or St. Petersburg, there were still more fan troubles. Some fans even got arrested.

Of course the fan troubles part wasn’t awkward. I mean, fan troubles has been part of the tournament before it even began right?

So much for being Portugese. Phot credit: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

So much for being Portugese. Phot credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

– Ronaldo ALONE Cannot Save Portugal
Some might argue that this is me trying to beef up my short article with another story of CR7’s performance at the Euros so far.

But since everyone’s talking about him (and criticizing too), I’d rather talk about how Ronaldo ‘s teammates are more of a burden than a blessing to the legend.

Portugal, as a team, could only manage three draws in the group stages. It wasn’t because C. Ronaldo did not step up to the plate. It was because players like Quaresma were busy scattering while Ronaldo and Moutinho were gathering.

Even when they needed to win against Hungary and they finally scored three goals… they still MANAGED TO CONCEDE THREE!

Jeez!

It’s more than obvious that Ronaldo is NOT the only solution to the problems of the Portugese national team. What more can a player do for a team if, after scoring two, his team-mates go on to successfully concede not two, but three goals?

With the way they’ve played, the Portugese team are not expected to go far in this tournament. But if their going far is one of the surprises the Euro 2016 has in store for us the fans, we obviously don’t mind right?

The Portugese national team had better stop overly relying on Ronaldo and start supporting him by being better team players before it’s too late.

– Amazing Knockout Matches: A Fan’s Delight!
Like I said earlier, the men have been seperated from the boys. Now it’s go big or go home!

For a tournament that has already amazed fans well enough, the football gods have put some icing on the Euro 2016 cake: even more mouth-watering fixtures!

Hard-running, counter-attacking Croatia will take on Portugal while host-nation France will be more-than-ready to take on Ireland. I’m half-heartedly expecting a battle when Germany take on Slovakia and I literally can’t wait for the Italy vs Spain game (Forza Azzurri!)

England faces Iceland (easy one there mate?) while there’s a tasty clash in the works between Hungary and Belgium (both teams to score maybe?) Bale(s) and Wales take on Northern Ireland (some more UK drama. Leave or Remain? In or Out?) while Switzerland and Poland will slug it out.

Worthy Mentions
It’s interesting to note that no team won all of its group games. The closest any team got to nine points was two wins and a draw. That’s how competitive Euro 2016 has been so far.

Denmark-v-Sweden

It’s also note-worthy (nose-worthy?) to pay tribute to Swedish legend, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played his last international match for Sweden against Ireland. Much much love Ibra… I won’t forget that in-the-air, over-head goal against England in a hurry (you remember it?).

Of course don’t forget to share your thoughts with me and other readers in the comments section.

So far, so good, who do you think will win Euro 2016? What have you noticed in the tournament so far? Which team will fail to make it past the second round?

Iceland? But did you really mean Iceland or England?

Let me know what you think.

Sharing is caring! Don’t forget to share this article with your friends. They’ll thank you! 😉

Images credit: Mirror

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Belgium 0 – Italy 2: 5 Tricks Antonio Conte Is Bringing To Chelsea

Antonio-Conte-679547

The UEFA Euro 2016 game between Belgium and Italy was described by many as a winner-takes-all game.

That, in other words, meant that whoever won the fixture, would be in pole position to top the group after the group stages of the competition. And whoever lost the game risked being behind (and being knocked out too) in a group that seemed so complex.

So much at stake.

In the end, Italy won the game thanks to plenty of teamwork, great tactics and a great first half of football.

One name was behind the scenes, successfully pulling all the strings that made the Italian puppet outperform its Belgian counterpart. His name?

Antonio Conte.

Antonio-Conte-679547

The Italian, with his usual 3-5-2 formation, was on top tactically throughout the first half. His formation successfully frustrated the Belgians during the period, forcing them to make shots from outside the box.

In anticipation of his move to Chelsea, I’ve analyzed the tactics Conte used against Belgium and how it can be implemented/utilized at Chelsea.

Belgium-v-Italy-Euro-2016-Group-E_2

– Plenty of Dynamism & A Compact Defense
Against Belgium, the Italian players moved around the pitch as a unit, especially in the first half. When going forward, there was always that support play. Defensively, he seemed to assign two players to one Belgian, anticipating every second move made by the Belgians. The players covered for each other with names like Giacherrini and Candreva dragging back to defend. This made the Italians HARD TO BREAK DOWN. And even when they were broken down, they made sure they CROWDED OUT the opposition player in their 18-yard box. Throughout the first half, the Italians forced Belgium into making shots from outside their 18-yard box. With this kind of technique, they were caught on the counter ONLY ONCE!

Belgium-v-Italy-Euro-2016-Group-E

– Loads of Wing Play
Emanuele Giaccherini and Antonio Candreva were Conte’s wings men in the 3-5-2 formation. They were also his tool of rattling the Belgian defense. These two players troubled Ciman and Vertoghen while freeing up space for Eder and Pelle (and Immobile when he came on). A run-in behind the opposition defense by Giaccherini made him to score the opening goal.

– Counter-Attacking Football
The Belgians came out firing on all fronts in the second half, trying to get the equalizer. They were now applying all their strength and numbers on this stubborn Italian defense system. They bolstered their attack line and ignored their defense, leaving them vulnerable. Instead of bringing in another defender to complement his team, Conte brought on Immobile and De Sciglio. Fresh legs to take advantage of the Belgian defense. This move paid off within minutes as Immobile’s first shot on target forced Courtois into making a save. In the 90+3 minute, 4 Italians were up against 3 Belgian defenders in a counter-attacking play. The end result? Pelle scored the second goal of the game in style, dashing all hopes of a Belgian comeback.

– Defenders…
…who are great passers of the ball. In the build-up to the tournament, several key names in Italy’s midfield got injured. Veratti, Montolivo. Pirlo was absent. It seemed the Italians would not be able to connect defense to attack. But Conte had other ideas: defenders with an eye for defense-splitting passes. Their responsibility would be to thread balls over the top of opposition defenders and into the path of strikers (or any player available) who would have found their way behind the last line of defense without triggering the offside flags. Their first attempt at this technique led to the game’s first goal.

– A Striker That Won’t Stop Running At the Opposition
This in a way was some sort of “counter-attacking” play. Antonio Conte, in his 3-5-2 set-up, fielded Pelle and Eder up front. Eder was given a mandate of running at the Belgian defense whenever they had the ball. This was to unsettle the Belgians and force them into launching the ball into the air, thereby turning their ball-possession into a “free-for-all” possession. Then the Italians would either win possession or “bully” the Belgians into giving it up. By the time Eder was exhausted, Conte subbed him off for Immobile to continue the running.

Even though it was Antonio Conte’s first game at the Euros as a coach and Belgians like Fellaini made things easy for the Italian, Conte has showed signs of how much he’s bringing to the Stamford Bridge.

Now imagine a Chelsea side with NO EUROPEAN COMMITMENTS and ALL THOSE TRICKS UP THEIR SLEEVES…

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Four REALLY GOOD Reasons Why Pep Guardiola Is NOT A Failure

3110312_heroa

After losing the first leg of his UEFA Champions League semi final tie with Atletico Madrid, the stakes were raised even higher for Pep Guardiola.

He was now tasked with the responsibililty of finding a way past a superb defense mechanism and also qualifying for the finals.

Maybe it was all the pressure that cause him to say, “If I don’t win, you can kill me.” The pressure must have gotten to the philosopher.

On Tuesday, he completed only one of those tasks. He unlocked the Atletico defense,  went on to win the game but failed to qualify for the final thanks to the highly dreaded “Away Goal” rule.

His team got knocked out and different statistics started showing up of how he had failed to make it past the semi finals for three consecutive seasons and so on and so forth.

The social media stratosphere pounced on the trend and called the Philosopher a failure. Because he failed on the big stage, Pep has been called out and labelled a failure by most.

But is Guardiola, after crashing out for a third consecutive time, a failure?

I don’t think so and here’s four reasons to prove my point:

image

– But Luis Enrique and His MSN Gang Lost To This Same Set of Iron Men Too…
… and were not labelled failures. The media did not throw stones at them. Why is Pep now being branded a failure? One of the most dreaded trio in football history gave their all (plus all the referee favours) and still lost to this awesone set up of a team. It just did not work for them. They, in the end, weren’t regarded as failures. For this same reason, Guardiola is NOT A FAILURE. He played against a compact, very disciplined team whose defense system alone aroused fear in other teams. He played against a side better than his. And Pep knows what it feels like to be the coach of the better side. He has seen coaches quiver with trembling hands (cue Sir Alex Ferguson in that Champions League final) at the sight of a team FAR BETTER than theirs. His team. He knows what it feels like to be in TOTAL CONTROL. Now, the roles have been switched. His team, against Atletico Madrid, was second best (although the scoreline may be deceiving). And the Philosopher must definitely understand this better than anyone. Only one team can win. Losing to a better team just sends you back to the drawing boards and scheming sheets  and blueprints. It doesn’t make you a failure.

3110482_heroa
– Destiny Is TOO Powerful…
… and by destiny, it was just Diego Simeone’s time! Of course I’m not a seer or a fortune-teller but this one was completely out of Pep’s hands. You may not agree with me on the validity of this point and that’s okay. But you’ll agree that football requires plenty of luck. The kind of luck Ramos needed to be in the right place at the right time for that header in that Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. The kind of luck Shevchenko did NOT HAVE that cost him that penalty against Liverpool and ultimately the trophy. The Terry slip against Man. Utd? It’s an endless list and Pep just signed on to this list; The Luckless Ones. But luck equals opportunity plus preparation you may say. History tells me Guardiola was prepared for this opportunity to qualify for the Champions League final. How? He always finds a way to produce a master-piece after losing the first legs of encounters like this. Games against Porto and Barcelona come to mind. So what happened? He was simply unlucky. Or, to put it better, he has just been unlucky with Bayern. It’s obvious that no matter what he tried at Munich, the Champions League trophy would have eluded him still. Why? Because HE HAD TRIED ALL THAT A COACH SHOULD! All that a coach could. He shuffled formations and even benched Muller. If you were the Philosopher, what else could you have done to qualify? I thought as much. It just wasn’t part of destiny to win the Champions League with the Bavariansimage

.
– Carlo Ancelotti’s Announcement Caused Pep To Falter in Europe
Although he (Pep) may not admit it, this affected him in a number of ways. It couldn’t have affected his Bundesliga dominance because Bayern owns German football. So the effect showed up in his European campaign. Allow me to propose a theory to prove my point. The past two seasons before this current one, Guardiola had failed in Europe. Although Bayern dominated the Bundesliga, it was too easy there. And the Bayern executives were bored. There was a sharp hunger amongst the executives to win another Champions League trophy. At least that’s why they employed the Philosopher… to win the ultimate prize again so that they could show off to clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona as fellow European power houses. And for two years, they were patient with Guardiola. But Pep failed to accomplish what he was signed for. And at a big club like Bayern, two years is a long time. So they set out to look for a household name in Europe; a name synonymous with winning the Champions League. They found Ancelotti and made the “mistake” of announcing the Italian. Pep must have felt bad. He must have seen the appointment as a “thank you for coming, you’ve tried but failed” note. And like Pellegrini, no matter how much Guardiola tried, Bayern’s “Carlo move” was always going to hunt the Spaniard. And hunt it did.

– What If He Didn’t Win Anything At All?
Of course this is a completely unreasonable point to make given that Pep was a coach at a club as good as Bayern Munich. But what if? What if, in his three years in Munich, he constantly got beaten to the league title by Dortmund and Leverkusen and co.? There’s a reason why I added this point to my article. Furthermore, there’s a  reason why I made it the last point of the article. Here’s why. According to the book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion: “There is a principle in human perception, the contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another.” The book goes on to explain how much difference it makes which point is made first or which fact is presented last. In this case, to buttress my point, I’ll like to present Guardiola’s three Bundseliga titles as the final exhibit in my defense of the Philosopher. My Lords (dear readers), what if he didn’t win those titles? It would have been a disaster right? But he did. The only trophy that eluded him was the Champions League and the Super Cup and maybe the Club World Cup. When compared, Guardiola won some and lost some. Now that doesn’t make him a failure does it? I rest my case.

It’d be great to hear from you. What do you think? Kindly share with me in the comments section below.

About Author:
Rotimi Daramola is a full time footballing polygamist that loves watching football and is in love with writing about the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and engage him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn