Chelsea Rediscover Winning Ways As Manchester City Stutter In their Bid For Champions League Football

CHELSEA MARCH ON!

On a Premier League Wednesday night, the fans were treated to a series of exciting fixtures involving the current top five teams in England (We’re looking at you Manchester United).

CHELSEA HOSTED MANCHESTER CITY AT STAMFORD BRIDGE IN WHAT PROMISED TO BE A CRUNCHING GAME.

After losing last game, Chelsea had to get back to winning ways in order to maintain their recently reduced lead of seven points at the top of the Premier League, while Manchester City under the guidance of Guardiola tried to hang on to their endangered hopes of Champions League football next season. Needless to say, the buildup to the game was tense, as the pre-game interviews of coaches and players involved a few eyebrow raising comments. Nevertheless, as the clock turned 8 in London, press releases were put on hold. It was time for the game to do the talking.

LINEUPS

Chelsea took the field with their strongest starting eleven. Having lost Moses to a calf injury, Cesar Azpilicueta had to fill in for him at right wing back, which left one position open for contention in the usual Conte back three. The backline involved the ever reliable Cahill, David Luiz as the middle center back and Kurt Zouma as right center back, as he got the nod ahead of Ake. After a long recovery period from injury, Zouma seems to be regaining the coache’s trust gradually. At left wing back, Marcos Alonso took up his usual spot. The midfield held a small surprise, as Fabregas partnered Kante in the middle of the pitch as Matic started the game on the bench. The front three were the usual culprits that tormented so many defenses this season, Costa in the middle, flanked by Pedro on the right & Hazard on the left.

Manchester City’s line up had Caballero in goal, Clichy at left back, Stones & Kompany as center backs, with Jesus Navas making a surprise appearance as right back. In the middle Fernandinho was partnered by the so often forgotten man, Fabian Delph. The front three was a more classical one, as Silva took his usual spot as central attacking mid, flanked by De Bruyne on the right & the young Sane on the left. In the center, Aguero spearheaded the attack.

FIRST HALF

CFC 1-0 MAN CITY

The game got off to a nervy start, as both teams kicked off with a  clear intent to get out and grab the results by the scruff of the neck. It only took 10 mins for the first goal to come. Chelsea had some delightful play on their right hand side, some slick passing saw the game land at Hazard’s feet inside the box, as the little Belgian fired a powerful shot that haplessly passed Caballero’s feeble attempt to block it and lodged itself into the net.

CFC 1-1 MAN CITY

Nevertheless, it would only take Aguero sixteen minutes to level the score. The Chelsea right flank struggled to handle some incisive passing play by Manchester City that saw Courtois dropping low to turn away a shot on his right, only for the rebound to luckily fall at Aguero’s feet who would not make any mistake in finishing the move.

CFC 2-1 MAN CITY

The first half failed to disappoint, as the 34th minute saw some controversial City play awarding Chelsea a penalty. Hazard stepped up and nonchalantly shot to the left of Caballero, the city keeper saved the penalty, nevertheless, the rebound fell to a grateful Hazard, who despite missing once, wouldn’t make the same difference from barely six feet out.  After that, and until the end of the half, Manchester City had the lion’s share of possession, trying their best to go into half-time tied, but it wasn’t to be.

SECOND HALF

The second half was significantly less eventful, Manchester City charged forward time and time again, controlling possession, testing Chelsea’s determination & defending, but failing time and time again to find the equalizing goal. Nolito & Raheem Sterling would both come on for Leroy Sane & Kevin De Bruyne  respectively, in the hope of threatening Courtois’ goal. Throughout the game, the Belgian stopper would save six of the seven shots on target as Manchester City thoroughly out-shot Chelsea, but were left with nothing to show for their efforts at full time.

Finally, After a late yellow card for Kante in the 93rd minute, the referee declared the end of the game as Chelsea maintained their lead in the English Premier League, as Manchester City start feeling the pressure of maintaining a top four position in order to qualify for next year’s Champions League.

FINAL SCORE: CFC 2-1 MAN CITY

Thoughts on the game? Let us know what you think, who was your man of the match?

Does Andy Carroll have a future at Liverpool?

On Monday in a press conference, Brendan Rodgers hinted that Andy Carroll’s time at Liverpool may be coming to an end, by hinting that he wouldn’t be ruling out the possibility of loaning Carroll out next season. Predictably, as there isn’t much else to write about at present, this has provoked a lot of paper talk; with the media here in England full of stories that Carroll could be headed to West Ham, Fulham or even make a return to Newcastle.

Rodgers said, “It’s something I would have to look at, I have to be honest…There are many things to going on loan. Is it going to be beneficial for the club, that’s the most important thing?

“Sometimes a player going out on loan – in general, not just Andy – can benefit the club in the long term. It gets them game experience and they come back a better player, a more confident one. Certainly more so than if they’ve been sitting on the bench for the majority of the season.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I will never let anyone go on loan, then come in here in two weeks and a player’s gone, and you’re saying ‘you said you wouldn’t let them go”

This is a somewhat surprising stance for Rodgers to take. It is absolutely a manager’s prerogative to buy and sell whoever he chooses, but as he’s yet to see Carroll play, or even train first-hand, it’s hard to see what Rodgers would base a decision on loaning Carroll out on.

My argument at the time of Carroll’s signing was that it was an ‘all or nothing’ decision. The money spent on Carroll, a British transfer record £35m, was a gross overspend. Carroll wasn’t worth that much at the time, and still isn’t. That sort of transfer fee is reserved for the elite players in the game, and Carroll isn’t in that category. At the time, Carroll had only a little over 6 months Premier League experience, so signing him for such a large fee was an enormous risk. The best-case scenario would have been that Carroll continued his development and became an elite player. What I was concerned about was what would happen if it didn’t work out as Liverpool hoped, which is the scenario Liverpool currently find themselves in. If Liverpool were to sell Carroll, they would have to take a huge loss on him, and in an era of Financial Fair Play, that is a far from ideal scenario for the club.

It’s fair to say that Carroll hasn’t exactly been a roaring success since his move to Liverpool. Carroll arrived injured and it then took him a long period of time to get himself fit. He has struggled to come to terms with the level of expectation that comes with such a huge price tag. Kenny Dalglish never really found a way to adapt the way his team played to incorporate Carroll, and Carroll never really got either the service or the run of games he needed.

Last summer, Dalglish signed Stewart Downing, at great cost, primarily to provide the kind of crosses that Carroll would thrive on, but Downing had an atrocious season, not managing a single assist, and Carroll just wasn’t given the kind of service he needs to be effective. Instead of being given balls to attack in the box, Carroll mostly received flat long balls from deep, especially when Jamie Carragher was playing, which are not only easy to defend, but it nullifies the aerial threat Carroll possesses as all he could do was try to hold the ball up and look for a teammate, who all too often wasn’t there. Carroll came across as clumsy and totally out of his depth and was often left out of the team, which was devastating to his confidence.

To be fair to Dalglish, Carroll didn’t exactly meet him in the middle. He struggled to adapt to the way Liverpool played and didn’t make the necessary adjustments to his game in order to play the way Liverpool needed him to. He never managed to form a partnership with Luis Suarez and he struggled to get himself to the basic level of fitness required to be able to cope with Premier League football. For the majority of his Liverpool career he has looked like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

However, there were signs at the end of last season that it was beginning to click for Carroll. He got a long run of games and seemed to grow in confidence and was beginning to look like the player Liverpool thought they were signing. There seemed to be a spring in his step that had been missing for the previous 12 months. Carroll finished the season strongly, scoring a few goals, finally managing to find a way to work with Luis Suarez and generally having a far greater positive influence on games than he previously had. That late season form earned him a call-up to the England squad for EURO 2012, where he had a solid tournament, the highlight of which being when he scored an excellent attacking header against Sweden.

So, the hope amongst Liverpool fans is that Carroll was finally starting to turn into the player Liverpool hoped he’d be when they signed him and would use the promising finish to last season as a springboard to hopefully have a very successful season. It looked as though Carroll was finally starting to fit in at Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers’ arrival seems to have changed that. Rodgers has a particular style of football that he likes to play, which entails a lot of short passing and plenty of movement. He also likes to play a high-tempo front three, and will want players who are comfortable playing in a variety of roles across that front three. Carroll can’t do that. Rodgers has made Fabio Borini his first signing, a player he knows from a spell at Swansea and a player who can play the way Rodgers wishes.

With Carroll, what you see is what you get. He’s good in the air, he’s strong, and he’s good at holding the ball up. He isn’t a particularly good passer (his pass completion stats last season were pathetic), he’s not quick or agile and hasn’t developed the experience necessary to be able to be effective when things aren’t going his way. Carroll won’t change too much in his career; he’ll never be a particularly technically proficient player. Criticising Carroll because he isn’t a particularly skilful player is a bit like criticising your cat because it can’t play fetch. I find it unlikely that if Carroll doesn’t fit in now, that a loan spell will somehow transform him into a player that will fit into Rodgers’ philosophy.

It’s possible that Rodgers would hope that a loan for Carroll would help his long-term prospects at Liverpool, but that historically hasn’t been the case. Once a player goes out on loan, especially a player who is an established first-team player, they very rarely come back to play a significant part for their club. It is difficult to envisage a scenario that would see Carroll loaned out for a season, and then brought back a season later to resume a place in the first-team. I’m sure the rationale would be that if Carroll was loaned out, Liverpool would hope he had a good season, so that they could sell him for the best possible price the following summer, and would hope the fee they get for the loan, and the money they saved on Carroll’s wages would go some way toward covering the loss they would have to take on Carroll.

Last season, Danny Graham, a player with many similar limitations to his game as Andy Carroll and with fewer of the upsides Carroll has to his game, flourished under Rodgers at Swansea, scoring 14 goals, so it is not impossible that Carroll could be an effective player in a system where the ball is played more on the floor, but it would take a huge amount of work for Carroll to not only adapt, but to maintain the requisite fitness levels for playing such a system.

I believe that a manager cannot have too many tactical options; one of the criticisms of Swansea last season was that they always played the same way (although many people also praised them for sticking to their principles and not changing how they played!), there was never a plan B. As the difference in spending power between the best Premier League teams and the rest is so vast, a few teams try to level the playing field by playing a very physical game. Those games would be where I believe Carroll would be an asset for Rodgers, as well as as a substitute, but it would be hard to justify having your record transfer being used largely as a plan B or an impact sub.

Rodgers isn’t an idiot. He’ll give Carroll a chance to show if he can adapt to the way he wants Liverpool to play before making a decision on his future. I think that Rodgers’ comments at that press conference were more for Carroll’s benefit than anything else. If Carroll plays as well as he did towards the end of last season, then I’m sure he’ll have no problem fitting into Rodgers side, but if he doesn’t put the effort into maintaining his fitness and can’t adapt his game, then Rodgers has stated he’ll have no problem in letting him go. The ball is firmly in Carroll’s court.

Width, Manchester City’s biggest problem this season

Despite looking at one point like they would run away with the league title, Manchester City are currently in a position where their only hope of finishing above Manchester United looks like goal difference. Notwithstanding Lee Dixon’s exceptionally perceptive insight that football results are down to a combination of form, fitness and the teams on the pitch. What has been the reason for Manchester City seemingly throwing the title away? One of the most significant reasons is that they have often lacked width, and have consequently been, at times, easy to frustrate. City’s default formation this season has been a 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2: a back 4, two holding midfielders, two nominal wide players who drift inside and two strikers, one of which often will often drop deep to help in build up play. City’s rough first choice 11:

 

The strong point of this system is that it is extremely fluid in attacking phases and useful for dominating possession. City have the players to play that system effectively: Aguero, Silva, Nasri, Toure et al. are extremely intelligent footballers. Paradoxically, this strength has also been their weakness at times. Their fluidity comes at the expense of natural width, and with an organised compact defence they have, at times, struggled to break teams down. Accordingly, City’s shots have overwhelmingly been from central positions and a significant amount from outside the box.

City’s primary play-makers are Silva and Nasri: with 13 and 9 respectively they have the most assists for City this season in the Premier League. Although they generally occupy the wide positions in City’s line-up, neither are true wide players; they drift into central areas and look to create chances from there:

The stats below illustrate how little City relies on crosses from wide positions:

A concrete example of City’s lack of width is their recent game with Norwich. The screenshot below shows a narrow City attacking a compact Norwich defence, with no one in wide positions outside the opposition full-backs (blue circles):

Consequently, with no direct opponents, Norwich’s full-backs were able to get into the game (albeit with limited effectiveness):

With their full-backs relatively free, Norwich’s goal came when Drury (Norwich’s left-back) created an overlap against Zabaleta:

Narrowness didn’t become to much of a problem for City on this occasion as they ran out 6-1 winners, but against stronger opposition their full-backs run the risk of being overwhelmed. For example, in their Champion’s League game away against Bayern, the latter created a number of chances from wide positions and their wide players (circled below) were able to have a significant influence on the game:

City’s lack of width has also meant they’ve come undone in the Premier League. They’ve recently dropped points against Stoke and Sunderland, who managed to frustrate them in the centre:

It therefore seems strange how little Adam Johnson has been used by Mancini, especially in big games. As a natural wide player he would counter-balance the narrowness of Silva and/or Nasri. Compared to them, he receives the ball overwhelmingly in wide positions:

It is not as though he has been ineffective this season: in 10 starts he has 6 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League. His seeming lack of favour with Mancini is inexplicable, and it’s a great shame that one of England’s best wide players is only a bit-part player at Manchester City. City have by no means had a bad season. At the time of writing they have 80 points, only 3 less than Manchester United. The Manchester Derby on Monday might prove to be crucial in deciding the title race.

If the majority of their team stays together – which there is no reason why they wouldn’t – then its hard not to see them dominating the Premier League for the next few seasons. However, it would make sense for Johnson to be more of a regular feature in the City team, to bring some much-needed width into their play.

Overview of Premier League loan signings

With big money transfers such as Eden Hazard to Chelsea and Robin Van Persie to Manchester United, you could be forgiven for not noticing certain players turning out for other teams in the coming weeks. There have been some notable loan signings during the transfer window, with some teams lending their young talent out to gain exposure to first team football, while others have strengthened through loans because of low funding. Here,we will take a look at some of the notable loan signings this summer.

Nuri Sahin

The most anticipated loan saga of the transfer window was who was going to acquire the Real Madrid midfielder’s services. A number of clubs were linked with the Turkish international, but in the end he opted to join Liverpool. This is the second loan move of his career, having previously spent a season at Feyenoord whilst playing for Borussia Dortmund. Sahin had a very successful spell in the Bundesliga, winning the award for player of the season in the 2010/11 season. It was his performances for the German club that prompted his £10m move to Real Madrid.

His first season in Spanish football was hampered by injury, with the midfielder only managing to make 10 appearances in all competitions. He now joins Liverpool, where he will be able to play football at the highest level and get back to fitness, whilst in the meantime shoring up the midfield. He is the type of player to dictate play, and start an attack. He isn’t a goal scoring midfielder by any means, but what he lacks in goals, he makes up for with his link up play and range of passing.

Andy Carroll

The £35m Liverpool striker immediately found himself out of favour with new manager, Brendan Rodgers, so has been shipped out to West Ham United for the season. After enjoying a relatively successful Euro 2012 with England, and finishing last season by scoring some vital goals for the Merseyside club, many thought that the striker had finally found his feet after the big money move from Newcastle United. Previous boss, Kenny Dalglish, stuck by the player they splashed the cash on, but it was soon clear that Rodgers did not rate the forward.

Carroll is the perfect target man for the Hammers, with the style that Sam Allardyce instructs his side to play. Letting him leave Liverpool could be a bad decision, with Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez the only senior strikers in the squad. But for West Ham, an on form Carroll could be the key to helping them survive their first season back in the Premier League.

Fabio Da Silva

The Brazilian full back has left Manchester United and joined Queens Park Rangers for the 2012/13 season. Since making his Manchester United debut in 2008, Fabio has always been second choice behind his twin brother, Rafael. With this being the case, Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to allow the 22-year-old to go on loan to get some much-needed playing time. This could work out to be a very good deal for all those involved; Fabio gets first team football, QPR gain an energetic full back to help them retain Premier League status for another season, and Manchester United get to see their youngster gain experience at the highest level.

Romelu Lukaku

The Belgium international was brought to Stamford Bridge with massive potential, and with a price tag that could still rise to £18m, a lot is expected of him. After making his debut for Anderlecht just 11 days after turning 16, he went on to make 98 appearances in all competitions, scoring 41 goals. He made his international debut in 2010, and has racked up 16 caps already; and he is still only 19 years old. He failed to live up to high expectations during his first season at Chelsea, making just 12 appearances and not scoring in all competitions. He probably would have featured more if it wasn’t for injuries throughout the season. However, West Bromwich Albion have landed the powerful striker on loan for the season, which will give The Baggies some much-needed strength up front, and give the young striker Premier League experience.

Yossi Benayoun

The Israeli midfielder has returned to West Ham on loan from Chelsea, making it his second spell at Upton Park. After proving a huge success amongst the West Ham faithful in his first spell at the club from 2005-2007, the fans must surely be excited to see a former idol return to pull on the claret and blue shirt again. Having joined Chelsea from Liverpool in 2010, he has struggled to hold down a regular first team place, making just 12 appearances in a blue shirt. This prompted the midfielder to join Arsenal on loan last season, where he played in 25 games and scored 8 goals for the London club. His stay at The Emirates was successful. However, he finds himself way down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, where the midfield has been strengthened by the arrivals of Eden Hazad, Marco Marin, Victor Moses, and Oscar. First team football will be available to him at the Boleyn Ground, in front of fans who adore him.

Danny Rose

Since joining Tottenham Hotspur from Leeds United in 2007, Danny Rose has had his fair share of loan deals. His season long move to Sunderland is the 4th in the 22 year old’s career to date, having previously spent time at Watford, Peterborough United, and Bristol City. After becoming a household name by scoring a wonder goal on his debut in the North London derby against Arsenal, Rose has struggled for first team football. He can play anywhere on the left side of the pitch, as he proved in the summer Olympic Games for Team GB. It is likely that he will be used in the left back position, as that is where most of his playing time for Spurs has come. Sunderland are getting a very pacy player who loves to get forward and whip crosses in.

Harry Kane

After taking over at Tottenham Hotspur this summer, Andre Villas-Boas stated that Harry Kane would be the club’s third choice striker for the season, behind Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe. So it came as a surprise when it was announced that the 19-year-old would be joining Norwich City on a season long loan. This is the third loan of his career so far, after enjoying spells at Leyton Orient and Milwall. He was named Milwall’s young player of the season last year, despite only joining the club in January. Kane is rated very highly at White Hart Lane, so this loan move will be a vital spell in his career, to see if he can cut it in the Premier League. He will be able to gain experience playing alongside Grant Holt, who is in a similar mould to Kane.

Ryo Miyaichi

Having spent the second half of last season on loan at Bolton Wanderers, the Arsenal winger has secured a full season on loan at Wigan Athletic. His spell at The Reebok was largely successful, with the young Japanese player turning in some impressive displays. He has also enjoyed a successful loan at Feyenoord, where the Dutch media referred to him as “Ryodinho”, in reference to Ronaldinho. He is a very skillful, pacy winger, who will no doubt help to fill the void left by Victor Moses.

Jonathan de Guzmán

Swansea City have acquired the services of Canadian born midfielder Jonathan de Guzmán from Villareal. He made his debut for Feyenood at the age of 17, after coming up through the youth ranks at the club. He went on to make 127 appearances in all competitions, before moving to Spanish club RCD Mallorca when his contract expired. He then moved to fellow Spanish club Villareal after just one full season at Mallorca, for a fee in the region of £6m. He found first team football hard to come by in 2012 after the appointment of Jose Francisco Molina as manager, and has now subsequently joined Swansea City. He is an attacking midfielder who is renowned for his free kick taking abilities. If he can stay free of injury during his spell at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea could get the very best out of him.

Javier Garrido

Norwich City have signed Lazio left back, Javier Garrido, on loan for the season. The former Manchester City player can offer the Canaries Premier League experience, having played 49 times over 3 seasons between 2007-2010. The Spanish defender has spent the previous 2 seasons at Lazio, where he has struggled to hold down a regular first team place. He is a tireless player, who will constantly overlap down the left flank and whip in crosses to the forwards.

That concludes my summary of the major loan signings for Premier League clubs for the beginning of the 2012/13 season. Who will go on to be the biggest success? Time will tell.

Galatasaray strikers suffer a disastrous weekend

On Friday night’s home match against Genclerbirligi played host to some of the worst finishing I have witnessed so far this season.  First off, goal machine Burak Yilmaz comically missed an open net from an Albert Riera cross halfway through the first half:

Galatasaray then conceded the opening goal of the game shortly into the second half.  Fatih Terim had planned to rest Drogba with the expectation that this match should not throw up too many complications before the huge match against Schalke on Tuesday.  Circumstance dictated otherwise and on came The Ivorian to save his team.  With a few minutes remaining Drogba wins a penalty (with what is a blatant dive).  He steps up to take the spot-kick and drive his team to a late re-surgence.  Drogba then proceeds to horribly skew his penalty wildly high and wide and Galatasaray lose 0-1.  Here is a clip of it below (including footage of the exceedingly soft decision to give it in the first place):

A similar performance like this from Terim’s men on Tuesday and it may well prove to be a long and painful night in Gelsenkirchen.

The Resurgence of the 3-5-2

At the end of the 90s and the turn of the millennium, the 3-5-2 (and its variants) was at the center of some of the biggest successes in the game. However, the formation began to fade into obscurity from about 2003 onward, until it was brought back from the dead around 2008 and is now thriving again.

There are a number of stand-out sides from the end of the 90s that are worth mentioning in their use of the 3-5-2.  The furthest we will go back is Berti Vogts’ Germany side of Euro 96.  This was a 3-5-2 that transformed into a 5-3-2 in the defensive phase of possession.  This 3-5-2 was notable for having Matthias Sammer playing as a libero in the heart of the defence. He was awarded the Ballon d’Or for it, becoming one of only three defenders in the history of football to be given that award – along with Franz Beckenbauer (1976) and Fabio Cannavaro (2006).

Other shining examples of the 3-5-2 during that time were Walter Smith’s Glasgow Rangers and Juventus’ star studded side led by manager Marcelo Lippi.  Lippi’s Juve won five Serie A titles and reached 4 Champions League finals.

At the turn of the millennium, 3-5-2 was still in vogue.  Klaus Toppmoller’s Bayer Leverkusen deployed a back three of Lucio, Jens Nowotny and Carsten Ramelow in a similar role to the one Sammer was deployed in in Euro 96. While using a 3-5-2, the different phases of the game called for different shapes to the team and Leverkusen often folded into a 4-1-4-1 but Ramelow often dropped back and acted as a third centre-back whilst the two wing-backs (Placente and Sebescen) marauded forward.

Mathias Sammer

Two sides illustrated perfectly how beautiful this system can be.  The first was the Brazil team of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.  The side is remembered for the return of Ronaldo and the incessant running of the two wing-backs – Cafu and Roberto Carlos.  The final of this World Cup was perhaps the peak of the formation’s popularity as both sides in the final started with the 3-5-2.  Brazil’s quality told in the end as they finished the match deserved winners against a German side that many believed surpassed their wildest expectations getting so far in the tournament (most notably aided by the heroics of Oliver Kahn until the final).

The second side that showed the strengths of the 3-5-2 was Fabio Capello’s Roma.  This team in particular is quite important as it also brought to the fore the weaknesses inherent to the system.  Led by Francesco Totti, they won the club’s third Scudetto in its history.  Cafu again featured in this side, Candela played on the opposite flank with a midfield double of Emerson and Tommasi (or Cristiano Zanetti) supported by Totti as an attacking midfielder/trequartista with Montella and Batistuta upfront.  Although Roma were stacked with world class talent in other areas of the pitch with the likes of Cafu, Totti, Emerson, Batistuta etc, the only real world class centre-back Capello’s Roma had was Walter Samuel – the likes of Zago and Zebina were decent players at the time but not stand-out talents.  Also, the once world class Aldair had hit 36 years of age and it started to show.  The shape of this side and the industry of the midfielders and wing-backs helped to create a team that was very difficult to defeat.  As well drilled a unit as they were at the time, this was a collection of players that could also surprise opponents in the form of Emerson’s driving runs from deep, Zebina powering forward from the back and Walter Samuel’s underrated ability when it came to long range passing.  In the 2001 league triumph, Capello’s Roma only suffered three defeats in what was at the time the most competitive league in the world as Serie A was brimming with world class players.

Expectations were sky high and as they went into the Champions League the following season, many Romanisti had hoped for a run into the late stages of the tournament, some possibly even seeing the Scudetto win as an indicator that Capello could lead them to European glory.  After going through the first Group Stage, they entered the second stage in a group drawn against Liverpool, Galatasaray and Barcelona.  The 3-0 home victory against Barcelona showcased the power of the 3-5-2.  The Giallorossi stormed forward, pinning Barcelona back with their wing-backs thrusting forward and throwing bodies into the middle as the formation gave them superior numbers centrally.  It was an emphatic win.
In the same tournament though, the frailties were also exposed.  Roma travelled away to Liverpool with both sides needing a victory to qualify on the final matchday of the Second Group Stage.  Michael Owen was injured so wasn’t fit to be included in the match squad.  This circumstance blindly favoured Liverpool as it prompted Houllier to field a midfield heavy starting eleven with Smicer, Gerrard, Danny Murphy and Jari Litmanen all starting.  Heskey was left up front as the lone striker.  The Roma back three and midfield could not deal with the sheer energy from the Liverpool runners deep from midfield and rode out a very comfortable 2-0 win, knocking Roma out in the process.  When Roma went behind, they looked bewildered as to what to do since Liverpool were only playing one upfront, leaving two Roma centre-backs spare all of the time.

The final major presence I can think of is Martin O’Neil’s use of it in Celtic’s journey to the UEFA Cup final in Seville in 2003.  Mourinho’s Porto using a 4-3-1-2 however exposed the formation in that match and despite the fact that 3-2 indicates a close scoreline, the two Celtic goals came from isolated moments of magic from Henrik Larsson.  O’Neil soon after started to operate a 4-4-2 using wing-back Didier Agathe as an orthodox right-back.

For the next five years, the 3-5-2 featured sporadically without much success.  The only notable exception here was the use of it in Hassan Shehata’s Egypt side that won the African Cup of Nations three times from 2006, 2008 and 2010.

So why did the formation almost completely fall out of favour after being so successful?

There are a number of reasons:

1) The rise of the three pronged attack formation which would occupy all three centre-backs made it easy for teams to drag any back three completely out of shape.

2) More teams started adopting single striker systems such as Ancelotti’s Milan using 4-3-2-1, the increasing popularity of the 4-2-3-1 etc.  These formations left two centre-backs spare.  Something similar can be said of the increase of the 4-6-0 but this was much more rare.

3) Attacking full-backs have become the norm.  When a system with attacking full-backs and wide-men playing in front of them come up against a formation using only one man per wing (like the 3-5-2 does with only one wing-back on each side), it makes it supremely easy for the side with the number superiority out wide to get in behind defence from the flanks.

4) With the death of the libero came the rise in the midfield anchor.  Makelele’s role with Real Madrid at the turn of the millennium sparked the infamous “Makelele role” and it is now common to see teams field that one player in the midfield whose job it is to protect the defence and rarely venture forward.  Busquets at Barcelona would be an example, as would Costinha with Mourinho’s Porto.  Fifteen years ago many of these players instead would’ve slotted right into the heart of the defence.

5) It is demanding to find depth in the centre-back department if you are playing a back three and having six centre-backs in the squad may feel like saturation.  The drop in quality between any one of these could be huge and in turn would practically defeat the purpose of the system.

And then after a short hiatus, it returned.  I have been trying to pinpoint just who can take credit for its rebirth.  It is difficult to credit only one man but for me it has to be Walter Mazzarri.  Mazzarri has went a long way to re-popularizing his variation of the 3-5-2 with Reggina, Sampdoria and most famously Napoli.  It is worth noting though that the 3-5-2 never really died in Serie A.  The likes of Giampiero Ventura, Edy Reja and Gian Piero Gasperini all continued to field the formation during the mid-noughties when it had became extinct elsewhere in Europe.  And the 3-5-2 is a common theme with Napoli ever since the club climbed up through the lower divisions of Italian football back into the top flight.  However, Mazzarri’s Napoli showcased the formation at its deadliest, gaining notoriety when they knocked Manchester City out of last season’s Champions League Group Stages and scaring Chelsea in the last 16.  The system created greater protection for the three relatively mediocre centre-backs in the form of Hugo Campagnaro, Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, whilst allowing the attacking trident of Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi enough creative freedom to pose a persistent threat without being over-burdened by defensive responsibility.  The proof of the strength of Mazzarri’s style is in the pudding as despite the loss of Lavezzi to PSG in the summer, his men currently find themselves as the only true rival to Juventus in this season’s Serie A hunt.

Generally, as mentioned earlier, the 3-5-2 never vanished.  And once coaches witnessed the undeniable strength of the formation its implementation grew again.  Francesco Guidolin’s Udinese twice finished in the qualifying spots for the Champions League implementing a 3-5-2.  In Roma’s famous title chase in the 2009/10 season where they hounded Mourinho’s treble winning Inter until the final matchday, Ranieri opted against the 4-2-3-1 to implement the 3-5-2 in the away game to Mazzarri’s Napoli in the belief that mirroring the opposition’s shape was the only way to combat it successfully.  It did work as Roma were up 0-2 but two individual errors in second half injury time allowed Napoli to earn a 2-2 draw.  Conte’s unbeaten 2011/12 Scudetto winning season with Juventus saw them deploy the same shape, with it being so successful among the large contingent of Italians in the Juventus first team that Italy national manager Cesare Prandelli also saw fit to use it to great effect in Euro 2012 with Italy reaching the final of that tournament despite being heavily written off beforehand.  Stramaccioni’s Inter and Montella’s Fiorentina are just two more of the sides that have experimented with the 3-5-2 this season.

In Germany, both Jurgen Klopp and Joachim Loew have tried to utilise it.  Klopp was a fan of the system and unsuccessfully used it in the 1-2 defeat at home to Schalke last season, playing Sven Bender in the libero role.  Loew, in an attempt to fit Mats Hummels into defence without having to drop either one of Mertesacker or Badstuber, experimented with it in friendlies in the months leading up to Euro 2012.

In England, Wigan stared relegation in the eye as they faced a torrid set of fixture for the final third of the season.  Roberto Martinez signed Chilean wing-back Jean Beausejour, changed their shape to a variation of the 3-5-2, defied the odds stacked against them and survived – defeating teams such as Liverpool (away), Arsenal (away) and Manchester United in that spell.  Undoubtedly influenced by the success of it on the Italian peninsula, Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has tried, with varying degrees of success, to get his players to adapt a similar style.

In his first season as the head coach of Barcelona, Guardiola often played in the shape of a 3-5-2.  Dani Alves was at his most carefree as an attacking wing-back in those days, and in the absence of a true attacking left wing-back (such as Alba is now), Abidal would tuck inside from left-back and form a back three with Puyol and Pique to give Alves complete licence to burst forward and support Messi on the right-wing at that time.  Yaya Toure acted as the holding midfielder but his role was different to the one Busquets performs now.

In South America,  LDU de Quito won the Copa Libertadores in 2008 and then the Copa Sudamericanan in 2009 playing with a 3-5-2.  Perhaps more famously, Uruguay reached the semi-finals of World Cup 2010 and then went on to win the Copa America in 2011 with that same shape under Oscar Tabarez.

After being written off in a period during the mid-noughties, it is clear the 3-5-2 is truly alive and kicking.  The popularity of this formation could again rise dramatically over the next two years.  If Juventus can be the first time in nearly a decade to venture to the latter stages of the Champions League using this shape, and if Uruguay or Italy can again defy the odds and reach the latter stages of the World Cup in 2014, we may just witness the beginning of the explosion of this beast which, not so long ago, was proclaimed extinct!

Cesar Yazbeck

Author: Cesar Yazbeck

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A Whole Other Planet; how English football is in the shadow of its Spanish and Italian rivals.

The English Premier League is one of the most entertaining and ferocious leagues in the world of football. Proven by the devastating and enthralling climax to the 2011/12 campaign. Never in any other league, have I seen so many twists, turns, peaks and troughs, as I have done in the most mundane of EPL seasons. Yet it was in a recent trip to Madrid, following a realization from the Euro’s that our Spanish and Italian rivals, are still, miles ahead.

It is not until you stand in the shadow of the Santiago Bernabeu that you truly appreciate its colossal nature. The ugly bulk of steal and brick, rising from behind the trees as you emerge from its metro station, like something from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. It is the black spot on the landscape, demanding that it be the center of attention, and this makes it, in some way, beautiful. Nothing like this graces England, no gut wrenching fear, just by the sight of the White and Blue badge of its tenants attached to the side. And there wasn’t even a game on when I visited. We have impressive stadiums, but more so for their age, or their ability to have survived the Germans bombs in the war. We look at our famed; Anfield, Old Trafford, Elland Road, places we are desperate to keep as old as possible. The Bernabeu gives the impression of hating the past, despite the success – looking to tear down anyone that denies it of the now – something we in the home of football, embrace, and nurture to a point of obsession.

This is not to say that we are doing it wrong, the history, for many fans, is the best part. Idolizing your legends, heroes, hating the long remembered villains, it is all part of our game. The point I am making, is not one of right or wrong, just of scale. The EPL has the highest views around the world, the highest sponsorships,  the biggest TV deals, yet where we do not have the teams.

Look for example at the Italians. They stand there with a league, though often corrupt, offering some of the greatest rivalries in sport. Four or five teams, every season can, by right, compete for the title. Juventus, AC Milan, Inter, Roma, all fight for their place at the top, leaving each season as competitive as the last. No matter how many times we re-evaluate the top four, the EPL hasn’t a point in which any one of a number of teams will be champions. It is in-fact the king of the two-horse-race. The information, I learnt this summer, that threw my attention at this point, and actually sparked the reason for writing this, was the stat on Championship medals won by AC Milan over the last ten years: Two. This means that, some of the greatest players of all time; Pirlo, Inzaghi, Seedorf, Nesta (the list goes on) have, from their time with one of the great world clubs, only two winners medals, the same number they have Champions League medals – something that sounds ridiculous in EPL or even La Liga terms. Does that mean, on the idea of supply and demand, that the Serie A is more valued, or valuable as a championship to those that compete?

On the field we cannot begin to compare them, only a matter of days ago the English Champions were beaten by the Spanish champions, following a season where the English fifth-place won the competition. It is not a matter of results I am referring to here, not about the style of play or even the players playing – to some scale – it is about its appearance, and perception. It’s ranking in what football wants to be, against the other great world sports (NFL, Baseball, Rugby) and who is doing ‘it’ “better”.

Craig Gardner: One of Football’s Good Guys

It’s fair to say that, in the UK at least, footballers do not have a good reputation. They are stereotyped as being greedy, uneducated louts who care little about anyone other than themselves and think they are above the rules that everyone else has to live by. They often make headlines off the pitch for all the wrong reasons: arrests, kiss and tell stories, cheating on their wives or girlfriends, or for just doing something idiotic. That reputation was further enhanced earlier this week when Watford striker Troy Deeney was sentenced to 10 months in prison for affray.

However, that view of footballers is not accurate. There are many, many footballers who do a lot of good work for charitable causes and their local communities. Many of these players do this without seeking any sort of self-serving publicity or recognition for their actions, often the only way you find out about these charitable acts is when one of the beneficiaries makes it public.

One of those players is Sunderland’s Craig Gardner.

Gardner, who’s from Birmingham and used to play for both Birmingham City and Aston Villa, was recently having lunch with his family in Selfridges (a department store) in Birmingham, when his young daughter saw a two-year-old kid called Danyl Brough who was sitting with his family at a nearby table after having been to one of his appointments at Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital.

The Gardners got talking to the Brough family, and discovered that Danyl suffers from CHARGE syndrome, a rare genetic condition that often leads to a whole host of serious health problems. Danyl is deaf, can’t eat solid foods, has a weak heart and suffers from mobility problems.

When Gardner discovered that Danyl needed a special harness, sort of like a baby bouncer, that would allow him to sit up straight, he immediately offered to go to the nearest ATM and get the money out.

Danyl’s mum Leanne said: “We were having lunch in Selfridges in Birmingham and Craig was sitting nearby. I didn’t even know who he was at first because I don’t watch football. His little girl was interested in Danyl and we got talking. He asked if there were any charities involved with Danyl’s care and we said that there weren’t (there are charities for this condition, but the Brough family are not receiving any financial or other kinds of support from them).

“He immediately said he was going to go to the cash point and get the money, £500 (about $780), out there and then. We had to tell him not to at least four times before he would listen…He was wonderful. He was so caring. He meant everything he said. We just feel so incredibly lucky.”

Gardner exchanged contact information with the Brough family and got back in touch with them a few days later, this time not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

Craig said: “We were in the restaurant and my wife and I were both extremely moved by Danyl’s plight. They are such a lovely family and I thought if there was anything we could do then we should. I wish them all the best and hope the equipment will go some way to making Danyl’s life a little easier.”

It is hoped that the harness will allow Danyl to be able to watch his favourite cartoons in comfort.

While £500 is a pretty small amount of money, probably only a few hours pay, to a Premier League footballer like Gardner, it’s still more money than he had to give, and more money than many of his fellow footballers would have gave and it is a sum of money that meant a lot to the Brough family. Craig Gardner not only cared enough to give money to strangers to help a child, he cared enough to follow up with phone calls to the family after his initial offer of money was refused. For that he should be applauded.