Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Messi’

Report: Messi, Alves give Barca edge over 10-man City

“MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Goals by Lionel Messi and Dani Alves saw Barcelona take control of their  Champions League last 16 tie against Manchester City with a 2-0 win in Tuesday’s  first leg.”

My AFP report on a night of regrets for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium can be read here.

Reaction: Pellegrini turns on referee as Man City lose to Barcelona

Pitchside Europe: European Team of the Season

“Zlatan Ibrahimović enjoyed his most prolific season to date with Milan, Bayern Munich’s Mario Gómez plundered goals with remarkable consistency, and Falcao shot Atletico Madrid to Europa League glory, but Huntelaar outscored them all. The Dutchman’s sparkling partnership with Raúl fired Schalke to Champions League qualification and with 29 goals, he trailed only Messi, Ronaldo and Robin van Persie in the running for the European Golden Shoe.”

Pitchside Europe signed off for the 2011-2012 campaign by selecting a team of the season from players plying their trade outside the English Premier League. You can see the team (and then vent your spleen about my preposterous selections) here.

Pitchside Europe: Why do Messi and Ronaldo score so many goals?

“Last season they both scored 53 goals for their respective clubs. Since Ronaldo joined Madrid in 2009, he has scored 126 goals in 127 games. Over the same period, Messi has scored 150 goals in 151 games. The diminishing goals-per-game ratio at the World Cup — an established barometer for long-term football trends — proves that the sport is becoming more defensive, and yet Messi and Ronaldo are scoring at a faster rate by the season. So what’s the secret?”

My latest Pitchside Eurosport blog for Eurosport, on why Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are able to score goals at such a strikingly anachronistic rate, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: European team of the season so far

“With Europe’s major leagues closing down for the winter break, Pitchside Europe selects a team of players who have distinguished themselves in the season to date.”

My final Pitchside Europe blog of the year 2011 looks at the stand-out players from the first half of the 2011-12 season in Europe’s major leagues. You can read it here.

The 2010-2011 Season: Five tactical observations

Despite being prefaced by a World Cup that was characterised by stodgy, unadventurous football and which produced the lowest goals-per-game ratio (2.27) since the notoriously defensive 1990 tournament (2.21), the 2010-11 European football season was generally a positive one for teams that sought to keep the ball on the deck and play an expansive game. Football Further examines some of the tactical trends that have emerged in the continent’s major leagues over the last 10 months.

1. Keepers with good feet
The recent retirement of Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar has drawn attention to the value of goalkeepers who can set attacking moves in motion by distributing the ball in an intelligent and enterprising fashion. In a masterful piece for the Financial Times last week, David Winner explained how van der Sar’s coach at Ajax, Louis van Gaal, made a priority of developing his ability with the ball: “Van Gaal… had something more sophisticated in mind: to turn van der Sar into the first ‘sweeper-keeper’, the pivot of his new, high-speed ‘circulation football’ (which became, among other things, the precursor to the current Barcelona style).”

With teams better organised defensively than ever before and attacking players more and more adept at pressing opposition defenders, a goalkeeper who passes the ball well can be a priceless commodity. Victor Valdés provided a superb recent example in the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. With the score 0-0 early in the second half, Valdés used a goal-kick to play a one-two with Gerard Piqué – positioned near the right-hand corner flag – that lured Real’s attacking players up the pitch. Upon receiving the return ball from Piqué, Valdés curled a risky but perfectly executed first-time pass to Dani Alves on the right flank, taking five opposition players out of the game and setting up a counter-attack. Seconds later the ball was in the net, and Barca were on the brink of the final.

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Goals of the Season 2010-11

We’ve got halfway-line lobs! We’ve got net-ripping volleys! We’ve got… speculative shots from near the right-hand corner flag! Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes on Football Further‘s Goals of the Season 2010-11 (goals presented in purely chronological order):

1. Ciro Capuano (Milan 1-1 Catania, Serie A, September 19)

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2. Romain Poyet (Lille 3-1 Brest, Ligue 1, November 7)

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3. Edinson Cavani (Napoli 1-0 Lecce, Serie A, December 19)

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Goal of the Week: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi (Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona):

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Honourable mention(s): Nenê (Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 Valenciennes); Juan Vargas (Fiorentina 5-2 Udinese)

Goal of the Week: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi (Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal):

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Honourable mention(s): Xavi (Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal)

La semaine en France: Week 26

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Exactly a month ago, Football Further speculated that, were Lille to fail to win Ligue 1, Dariusz Dudka’s late equaliser in their 1-1 draw at Auxerre would be pinpointed as a key turning point. Should they go on and triumph, however, Pierre-Alain Frau’s 91st-minute winner at Marseille last Sunday could be seen as the goal that changed the course of the title race.

As so often in recent weeks, the fixture list meant Lille had had to watch their rivals whittle down their lead before stepping onto the field at the Vélodrome. Rennes were three points in front after making it five wins from five with a 1-0 success at Montpellier, while Lyon were just a point behind thanks to a 5-0 shellacking of Arles-Avignon. Victory for OM, meanwhile, would have taken the champions two points above their opponents.

Eden Hazard gave the visitors the lead with a stunningly opportunistic 35-yard strike (see below), before Loïc Rémy equalised with half an hour to play. It seemed that Lille would be left to rue the hasty finishing of Gervinho and Moussa Sow during the first half, but in the first minute of injury time, super-sub Frau got ahead of Gabriel Heinze to steer home Emerson’s centre and bring OM’s four-game winning run to an end.

Elsewhere, Auxerre’s 16-game winless streak finally finished, and in some style, as Kamel Chafni’s sumptuous half-volley snatched a 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain. Bordeaux’s mini-revival continued with a 3-1 victory at Brest, but Saturday’s fare produced a frankly preposterous goals-per-game average of just 0.66.

Marseille’s trip to Rennes tonight kicks off the Week 27 action, but the visitors will be without Brazilian striker/pony-tailed carthorse Brandão after he was formally placed under police investigation over allegations that he raped a 23-year-old woman following a night out in Aix-en-Provence.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Caen 1-0 Saint-Etienne, Lorient 0-0 Nancy, Montpellier 0-1 Rennes, Nice 0-0 Lens, Toulouse 0-1 Sochaux, Valenciennes 0-0 Monaco, Auxerre 1-0 PSG; Sunday: Brest 1-3 Bordeaux, Lyon 5-0 Arles-Avignon, Marseille 1-2 Lille

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Tactics: Ballon d’Or running shows strikers on the slide

The list of nominees for the first ever FIFA Ballon d’Or award is unsurprisingly dominated by attacking players, but the latest odds show that it is creative midfielders and multi-faceted forwards, rather than out-and-out strikers, who continue to enjoy top billing in the glamour stakes.

Of the five favourites to win the award, only one - Diego Forlán – is a striker, and his goal-getting counterparts Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose and Asamoah Gyan can all be found towards the longer end of the betting. It confirms a growing trend. In the last five years in which the Ballon d’Or has been awarded, Thierry Henry (third in 2006) and Fernando Torres (third in 2008) are the only classic strikers to have made it onto the podium.

The contrast with the previous five years is telling. Between 2000 and 2005, strikers Michael Owen (2001), Ronaldo (2002) and Andriy Shevchenko (2004) all won the award, with Shevchenko finishing third in 2000, Raúl coming runner-up to Owen in 2001 and Henry taking second place behind attacking midfielder Pavel Nedvěd in 2003.

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World Cup tactics: After the false nine, the ‘false 10′

The concept of the false nine – a centre-forward who drops deep – is well established in modern tactical thinking, but in the early matches of the World Cup we have seen glimpses of another player, who facilitates the work of the false nine and operates in tandem with him to destabilise opposition defences: the false 10.

With a central striker who constantly looks to play deep or pull wide, teams need players to break forward from deeper areas to exploit the space created by the false nine’s movement. Typically those players are wingers or withdrawn strikers, but in South Africa they have also been playmakers: Mesut Özil, Keisuke Honda, Wesley Sneijder.

The false 10 par excellence is, of course, Lionel Messi. Originally a right-winger, Messi occasionally features for Barcelona as a lone central striker or false nine but in Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Nigeria he played in a free role behind Gonzalo Higuaín. Nigeria’s defenders struggled to pick him up and he might well have scored a hat-trick had it not been for the brilliance of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

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European Team of the Season 2009-10

Hot on the heels of the Goals of the Season, we move on to the Football Further European Team of the Season. As in any decent dream team this side is strongly, perhaps even foolishly, oriented towards attack.

Formation: 4-2-3-1-ish

Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (Lyon)
Lyon have not had a great season by their recent standards – despite reaching the last four of the Champions League for the first time in their history – but Lloris’s performances in both Ligue 1 and Europe have elevated him to the position of Europe’s best up-and-coming goalkeeper. He was the difference between the sides in Lyon’s Champions League quarter-final win over Bordeaux thanks to some stunning reaction saves and a move to a top-rank European club cannot be far away.

Right-back: Maicon (Inter)
The world’s best full-back has added spectacular goals to his trade and continues to be one of Inter’s most potent attacking weapons. His juggle-and-volley goal against Juventus will live long in the memory but his strike in the 3-2 win at Udinese, when he started a move inside his own half and finished it with a crashing volley off the crossbar, was every bit as delicious.

Centre-back: Gerard Piqué (Barcelona)
Has developed into probably the finest ball-playing centre-back on the continent. The awareness and sangfroid he showed to spin Inter goalkeeper Julio César and finish into an empty net in the dying minutes of Barca’s Champions League semi-final defeat to Inter was worthy of the world’s top strikers.

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Goals of the Season 2009-10

In the hope of provoking plenty of debate, disagreement and downright indignation, Football Further proudly presents – in purely chronological order – its Goals of the Season 2009-10:

1. Dejan Stanković (Genoa 0-5 Internazionale, Serie A, October 17)

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2. Eden Hazard (Lille 3-0 Genoa, Europa League, October 22)

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3. Daniele Mannini (Sampdoria 4-1 Bologna, Serie A, October 24)

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Goal of the Week: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi (Real Zaragoza 2-4 Barcelona):

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Honourable mentions: Clint Dempsey (Fulham 4-1 Juventus); Sergio Agüero (Sporting 2-2 Atlético Madrid); Niko Kranjčar (Stoke City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur)

Goal of the Week: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi (Barcelona 2-1 Getafe):

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Honourable mentions: Robinho (Santos 2-1 São Paulo); Gonzalo Higuaín (Real Madrid 3-0 Espanyol); Didier Drogba (Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal)

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