sabato 28 aprile 2012

The Bielsa's Way

Fernando Llorente scored twice to give Athletic Bilbao a 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon that sent Athletic to the Europa League final against 2010 champion Atletico Madrid. Credit to Marcelo Bielsa for the team's success. Bielsa built the team in a different way from the Spanish tiki-taka style. He worked after another coach that likes quick, aggressive, high-tempo football, as Joaquin Caparros. Bielsa side plays a direct football, looking for forwards passes, a la Zdenek Zeman. In Spain, Bielsa mixed his love for a direct football with a lot of movements, with a buildup play more suited for a Spanish team. The results was that while the team starts the action with defenders and holding midfielders playing a control-keeping the ball game, the flow of the play become more quick and direct, as soon as possible, toward the net. Pep Guardiola well described Athletic here: "They all run up … and they all run down again. Up, down, up, down, up, down. They're fascinating." That's Athletic: a low buildup play at the back, followed by quick movements in the opposite half. Coming to Spain, Bielsa's most famous pattern was the 3-3-1-3 he employed with Argentina and Chile. This formation became largely famous due to the Johan Cruyff era with Ajax. A similar approach was employed also by Pep Guardiola with Barcelona. I mean similar because while the formation was almost the same, the concepts employed are different. While Guardiola's 3-3-4 requires a large amount of positional work, Bielsa's 3-3-1-3 is more direct. Tactically, Bielsa loves to play with an high defensive line and press all over the pitch. With the Athletic, he switched from 3-3-1-3 to a 4-3-3 formation. In this pattern, there are a lot of well-know movements and some new or so. Have the hodling midfielder, Ander Iturraspe, dropping into the defence, switching Athletic four-men back line into a back three, allowing the fullbacks to spread, isn't unusual for Spanish football.

Mexico too during his 2010 campaign employed a similar mode, with holding midfielder, Rafael Marquez, collpasing back in the middle of the defence to become a sweeper. The holding midfilder's job is to distribute the ball to the middle or  wide open. The fullbacks, now two wingers, have to run towards, looking to spread the rivals' defense. But they can also to cut into, as De Marcos and Iraola often did this season, creating gaps others players can explore. As ZonalMarking pointed out,  the diagonal run from full-backs was also common in Bielsa’s formations. But they are not a news in the modern football era: we have seen them before in Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dotmund and in the Alberto Zaccheroni's 3-4-3 system, where the movements between flankers and wide forwards was coordinated in the way that one went externally and the second internally on the pitch. Also, isn't unusual another Bielsa's movement; the combination between wing and interior midfielder, with the flanker cutting inside.

That's different from Guardiola's approach, where the flankers, wings of full-backs, stay wide in both 4-3-3 and 3-3-4 formations, stretching the defense. That said, Bielsa's football demands his team being at full fitness. On defensive phase, the high pressure action is linked to a sort of man-to-man marking, in the middle and into the defense, against the players coming toward the ball controller to receive the pass. This play of marking and pressing needs of a good fitness by the players.

Coming back to Bielsa loved 3-3-1-3, this way was run in Italy too by Ezio Glerean. Though Glerean had not the opportunity to run this pattern at the highest level, having just one experience in a big place like Palermo, he deserves a lot of credit for his experiment with a not usual formation like 3-3-4. He built a big surprise with this system during his stint with Cittadella, a small club that tried to repeat the Chievo experiment of a small franchise who went on to play at a bigger level. Glerean supports the idea that 3-3-4 don't need of wingers. In his 3-3-4, the forwards are pure attackers. "You can also win by utilizing a single centre-forward ... but I believe that more increases the number of forwards, more chances you have to win," once he said. He wants more quality up...more technical palyers in the field at the same time. In this system, there are not usual overlapping movements, and the players have precise duties: it means that this system is a 6-4, with 6 men defending and 4 attacking. This is why, while Bielsa surprised with midfilder Javi Martinez lined up as central defender, Glerean often employed defenders on the midfield. The buildup play is fast at the back, and often made with a long and direct ball from the goalkeeper. It's a strong, high-tempo game. Quick movements and short passes are utilized just in the opposite half to try to get behind the rivals' back line. In the other half, Glerean likes to work the ball in zones where 1 v 1 situations could be created. A perfect example of Glerean's spectacular 3-3-4 came from an old match against Zdenek Zeman's side, ended 4-4. On defensive phase, the outside players stayed deep, meaning that Glerean's 3-3-4 looked like a 5-3-2. In fact, the exterior forwards collapsed back centrally covering the midfield.

giovedì 26 aprile 2012

Diego Maradona's state of mind

Diego Maradona's stint as Pro League head coach could be coming to an end after just one season. Despite one year still remaining in his contract, the Argentine made clear that he is not willing to continue unless the Al Wasl's management meet his conditions on signing the players he wants. Al Wasl is in sixth place in the Pro League, 18 points behind Al Ain, and failed to reach Maradona's goals. Results aside, can the Pro League continues without him? The 2011/12 season has seen Maradona clashing with Cosmin Olariou and Quique Flores; with some fans; with his own players, criticized for team's bad performances. But, on the other side, Maradona brought on the club international attention and money. As any manager, Maradona deserves to ask better players to made his team competitive. He wanted six players during last winter transfer window, but only two has come. Questions is if Al Wasl Football Company has the money or wants to spend it to deal those requests. Also, managing a club in the league is a full-time job. Maybe Maradona could be considering to work with the national team; the Football Association already expressed interest in Maradona.

mercoledì 25 aprile 2012

What we learned

What can say about a game as that? We had everything and a heroic defending play that sent Chelsea to the Champions League final. So, what we learned? Here's some stuff.

1. Playing a la Inter 2010 against Barcelona can pay off. As they did in the first leg game, Chelsea rarely went over the midfield's line, but their defensive display was good. Against Barcelona’s 3-4-2-1, Chelsea opposed  a tight formation that made Barcelona hard to play against. Roberto Di Matteo challenged Pep Guardiola's side in the middle of the pitch, where Barcelona is more dangerous. He covered the spaces beetween the four-men back line and the midfield, keeping the holding trio of Raul Meireles, Obi Mikel, and Frank Lampard very close to the defensive line. That closed the spaces around Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, and Alexis Sanchez. On the flanks, both Ramires and Juan Mata had no overlapping full-backs to face, so they had the opportunity to close the gaps centrally, helping the central midfield's trio. Instead, while Ashley Cole, on the left, nullified Cuenca, and Ramires came in the middle to help Meireles, Mikel, and Lampard, Mata went to help Ivanovic against Iniesta on the left.

2. 11 v 10: from 4-4-1 to 4-5-0/6-3-0
Terry’s red card changed Di Matteo’s thinking. The Chelsea's manager brought on Bosingwa to play in the middle alongside Ivanovic, with Ramires as right full-back. But Chelsea 4-4-1 formation didn't work: the defense was uncomfortable allowing the 2-0 goal. So Di Matteo went in the second half defending 4-5, with Drogba lined up as left wide.

Though Drogba made a big mistake, allowing the Barcelona's penalty kick then missed by Messi, he generally made a great job.

In the second half, Guardiola changed his pattern, moving Iniesta inside,  Cuenca to the left and bringing on Alves to the right, while Di Matteo, as the game went on, changed Mata with Kalou and started a 6-3-0 formation, with the four-men back line inside the box, Drogba and Kalou wide open and the three holding midfielders towards the edges of the penalty box. This worked well defensively. With a 6-men back line, Chelsea covered all the field horizontaly and pulled off the Barcelona's opportunity to use the cutting movemements of its forwards.

3. Barcelona's mistakes
Though a passive defense isn't the best way to contain a more technical side, Chelsea's approach worked also thanks to Barcelona's mistakes. Against a side focused on covering the central spaces, Pep Guardiola's team had to explore the flanks, instead of accumulate players in the middle. Utilizing overlapping players is a way to do it. But Guardiola never changed his mind  Barcelona didn’t have anyone to play as central striker but the crosses can be low, close to the ground, made from the inside of penalty box. Also, as we said earlier, Barcelona's lacks of cutting inside movements by the attacking players played a pivotal role: the team played a passing, control the ball kind of game, not winning spaces forward, across Chelsea's back line. Chelsea stayed tight in the middle, nullifying Barcelona's forward passes. Also, trying to recover, Guardiola changed Cesc Fabregas instead of Javier Mascherano, sending off an offensive player and keeping in the match a defensive one, bootless at that moment.

domenica 22 aprile 2012

The Way to contain

 The matches against Barcelona are often a clash between two contrasting styles. Barcelona goes for a ball-control approach; the opponents for a counter-attack one, playing deeper defensively. Roberto Di Matteo lined up a 4-5-1 formation with a lone forward during the first-leg of Champions League' semi-finals. Chelsea manager, meanwhile, said Barcelona doesn't like playing against his side. Almost ever. This is for one reason: Chelsea’s pitch is short and tight, no good for a possession soccer based on spread the rivals’ defenses. Chelsea’s first task was trying to prevent Barcelona playing through the centre, and force them out wide. One needn't keep possession to beat Barcelona. Some teams such as Real Madrid and AC Milan started off pressuring Barcelona high in the way to prevent their construction phase and they enjoyed success. Other teams employed another way. That was showed by Josè Mourinho with InterMilan and also by Kurban Berdyyev with the Rubin Kazan the 20-Oct-09. Though it was not an important match like the other two, Berdyyev showed the way: Barcelona pressed hard throughout the 90 minutes against a disciplined opponent and had a 76% of ball possession, but lost against a 4-4-1-1 line up well organized defensively. It worked also with Chelsea. Those teams played a 10-men defensive approach in which the role of the forwards was pivotal. A great job also did by David Trezeguet and Nelson Valdez during the Barcelona’s loss against newly-promoted Hercules the 14-Sep-10. At that time, Hercules played with a diamond midfield when the ball was with the Barcelona full-backs. When a Barcelona player had the ball, interior midfielder nearest to the ball went to meet him, while the opposite side going inside to cover the centre. One of the Hercules forwards would pick up the Barcelona’s pivote, leaving the Hercules’ holding midfielder free to play like an advanced sweeper. Di Matteo went for a different approach. He pick to cover the field in the width, leaving Didier Drogba free of defensive duties, almost initially. And Drogba did a great job giving his team precious time by earning free kicks as the game went on. Chelsea also parked the bus in the centre of the pitch, playing with three holding midfielders very closed to the back line. And they created problems to Barcelona exploiting one of the weakness of Guardiola’s team: the set pieces situations. Just take a look to Barcelonas’ problems on corner kicks against, where they defend with few men in the way to keep rivals’ defensive headers out from the action to minimize the number of headers to cover. AC Milan's Thiago Sillva and Real Madrid' Sami Khedira both exposed this weakness this season. Chelsea’s tactics worked well at the end but if you take a look to the most famous defensive approach matches against Barcelona, those of InterMilan’s Mourinho and Chelsea’s Di Matteo, you can see as a lot of wasted chances affected the results for Pep Guardiola’s side. So it’s hard to say that solid defense and tactics played a significant role. The 28-Apr-10 match against Mourinho was explicative. On this game, Barcelona’s forward Bojan Krkic missed a big goalscoring opportunity while referee Frank de Bleeckere's cancelled a goal for a doubtful handball by Yaya Toure. Both InterMilan and Chelsea teams didn’t’ put pressure on Barcelona side: they just covered the spaces. But doing so, they left a lot of time to Barcelona’s midfielders to play the ball. A pressure action, high or low, has to be aggressive. In fact, the goal scored by the Chelsea happened after an aggressive pressing movement played on Messi. To destroy the rivals’ timing and affect their playing tempo, the defensive phase has to be aggressive. This was the approach utilized by Holland head coach Bert van Marwijk in the 2012 WC final.  In that game, Holland started pressing high up the pitch, trying to destroy the passing play of Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Though Holland sometimes struggled on its pressing, this action became more effective as the game went on. And Holland hade the biggest goal scoring chances, specially with Arjen Robben. And while Holland exceeded going though, it showed as a physical game can be effective against a more technical side. Mourinho and Di Matteo’s approach was to press Barcelona within 25 yards of their goal. InterMilan and Chelsea played counter-attacks getting the ball in their own third but generating counter-attacks moving from midfield positions can be also effective against ball control teams. 

This is the way, with some modifications, utilized by Mourinho with Real Madrid in the 1-2 win against Barcelona on 21-Apr-12. This time, Mourinho asked for his team to play with a high defensive line. Take a look to first half average positions in the match. His idea to keep the back four line close down to the two holding midfielders was employed by telling his defence to play extremely close to the midfield.

 The result was to close the spaces around Messi and company on the offense and to keep them far from the final third.  

Having not overlapping full-backs but playing in the middle of the picth, Barcelona left Real Madrid with no needs to utilize wings to cover those full-backs, and with the opportunity to have more players in the middle, in the zone Messi's zone.


Real Madrid also contested every pass, every tackle. It was also the approach utilized by Sporting Lisboa against another technical teams that employed an offensive system similar to Barcelona: Athletic Bilbao. Against them, Sà Pinto’s side pick to press high but to leave Athletic free to move the ball between the holding midfielder and the two centre-backs. In the construction phase, Sporting played to cover at the line of midfield, playing a 2 vs 3 on the opposite defensive line and leaving free the rival farthest from the ball:

In this way, employing the forwards in the defensive action, Sporting was able to play with a 4-4-2 formation against a 4-3-3, nullifying the central inferiority.

lunedì 16 aprile 2012

Focused on free kicks

 One of the most scrutinized team this season is Catania. A stint with AS Rome aside, where he had also the first step in coaching with the U-15 side, this is the first true job and the first one in a full-time mode for the Little Aeroplane Vincenzo Montella. At just 37-years old, Montella joined a new generation of tacticians including Luis Enrique, and Andrea Stramaccioni. The results were good. How Montella did it? Unlike other teams, which play just one system, Catania is similar to Juventus, playing different patterns. Team changed often its formation switching from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2. In general, Montella utilized 5-3-2 14 time and 4-3-3, 18 time.

Defensively the team try to keep the line high, in the way to maintain the team short. On the defensive phase, the team is organized at the line of the middle of the field, covering the field and don’t try putting much pressure on the rivals’ defensive line: Catania try to invite opponents forward and to play the counterattack. On the offensive phase, the team search the cross zones, attacking with often no more then 3 men inside the box and the other that remain outside. In this way, Catania is able to prevent opponents' counterattacks, keeping as many as 6 men behind the ball during the attacks.
But a key figure in their successful campaign has been the impact of set piece goals. First and foremost, Catania can count on a true  set pieces kicker specialist in Francesco Lodi, maybe the best free kicks specialyst serie A has seen from the time of former Parma Fausto Pizzi. In defenders Nicola Legrottaglie, Giovanni Marchese and Nicolas Spolli, Montella has three headers able to score.
Catania has a lond and respected tradition on set piece goals, started with Walter Zenga. Montella’s assistant coaches Pino Irrera and Daniele Russo continues this trend keeping those scoring chances highly effective. Team scored an outstanding 38% of its goals in those situations. How those goals are born? The basic idea is simple: put your set-piece specialists in position to made the plays. Lodi is the man deputed to send free kicks and corner kicks inside the penalty box. Using his precise left-food, Lodi is able to put the ball in the air on the right spaces where his teammates occur. Catania split the opposite’s area in 4 zones and attack each zone with one man at least. The ball is often sent in the zone between the goal area and the penalty spot.
A feature of Catania’s set pieces on corner kicks is to run without pick and roll but with the headers operating in 1 vs 1…
Take a look to the goal scored by Legrottaglie vs Novara. The team moved one player away from the goalkeeper’s zone in the way to keep with him a marker and open the spaces for the players coming from behind. Every player is isolated in 1 vs 1 situation, in the way to maximize the header’s skills of Montella’s players.

The other 4 headers attack with a man in the first post zone, another in the second post zone and two in the central zone in front of the keeper:


Against Parma:


The same tactics was employed once again against Fiorentina. Moving the players from behind help to take advantage against defenders, which have to see the ball and also to cover headers coming a full speed. As you can have noticed against Fiorentina and Parma, Catania’s players are highly focused. As former Parma’s head coach Nevio Scala pointed out, lack of concentration is one of the reason why many teams defend so poorly on set pieces. Catania’s headers remain focused until the end of the play, as goals scored on the so-named ‘second ball’ showed.

Against Lecce, with Legrottaglie, Alejandro Gomez, Giuseppe Bellusci, and Marco Motta as headers:


And against Lazio in a 1-0 win on 28th game day:




Catania’s roster and tactical ability of Irrera and Russ kept Catania competitive in those situations despite market’s turmoil and the trades of good headers such as Gennaro Delvecchio and Pablo Álvarez.
An important part of set pieces scheme are the coverage to prevent counter-attack. Here we can see as Catania lines up 3 men outside the box to gain the second ball:

sabato 14 aprile 2012

Pro League focuses on issues

How can Pro League become more attractive? There have been rumours this week that the Pro League Committee is considering adding two teams next season switching from a 12 to a 14 teams format. But are you sure it could produce more attendance, and more television deals? And, above all, a better competition? Some of second division teams are in bad shape regarding economics and play style. So which teams we can add? Also, we don't know if there are more young, talented Emirati players whorty a chance to play in the Pro League. For sure is that Pro League needs to expand its fan base. The first Pro League issue is about attendance. Actually, the League failed to reach the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) target of 5,000 average spectators for game. Not sure that upgrading to 14 teams would benefit the Pro League. Quality and not quantity is the solution. But you never know...

venerdì 13 aprile 2012

A Scotsman in Canada

Martin Rennie has plenty to live up to. The Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-2) manager, 36-years old, had his name rising up in coaching circles for some years. Rennie has turned the Cleveland City Stars into a major power in a two seasons stint before to do the same with the Carolina Railhawks. So, his name was said soon to be among the leading candidates to guide a MLS team. It happened when 'Caps appointed him. Rennie has never coached an MLS team before. But the skills are here. Is Rennie on line to become the next big manager from Scotland? Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, and Alex Ferguson are still very far and Rennie has a long way to go but he's still young. He brought a very different perspective to coaching. His training methods are very different from the usual. He spends much time thinking about motivation. He doesn't believe in treating all players equally. The whole team can take advantage from a 'star' player accepted and understood. Try and find the right concepts. "You have ideas as a coach of what you think you want to do," he said, "but it's not until you're doing them every single day that you realize, 'Well, that didn't work out as well as I thought it would,' or 'I need to do things differently.' In the middle of last season we were playing well, we were possessing the ball well but we weren't scoring enough goals. We changed a number of things, the way we trained, the way we did things. Since then we've been very consistently high scorers." In Vancouver, where Rennie took over in November, he found some good players as South Korean defender Young-Pyo Lee and  forward Sebastien Le Toux. A lot of times people take players because they're a good. Rennie wants players suited for his system and each player has to understand his role. He's more about specificity. By the way, Rennie has been to point out that tactical flexibility is a crucial part of his thinking. So this season he employed 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2. 

Against Philadelphia, Rennie also utilized the 4-3-1-2 system. His 4-2-3-1 often looks like a 4-5-1 in defense. The Whitecaps are solid in defence. Once the forward line has been breached, the two holding midfielders are always in position to form the wall able to force opponents to spread the play outside where the two 'Caps wingers have dropped back to cover, or to play long balls that are easily defended by the central defensive duo of Jay DeMerit and Martín Bonjour. Rennie stressed his team in the way to stay compact: everyone must defend, everybody knows what to do defensively. Get behind the ball. It's no far from Josè Mourinho's approach with both Chelsea and Inter. Rennie is also a coach able to take a look to set pieces situations. While isn't not here the moment to describe all his offensive tricks, it's interesting to turn the eyes to a defensive situation, to see how he organizes this part of the game.

On the corner kicks against, Rennie keeps 3-men in a zonal coverage, maybe making cheerful Graham Taylor, who likes to have full-backs on the post to make smaller the goal.

mercoledì 11 aprile 2012

Viaggio in Daghestan

Interessante articolo di sul fenomeno Anzhi, definito il "Manchester City di Russia". Quando un magnate decide di costruire una squadra di calcio anche dove non c'è tradizione. Samuel Eto'o, Roberto Carlos, il brasiliano Diego Tardelli e l'allenatore Guus Hiddink fanno parte tutti di questo progetto. Cui va aggiunto la giovane promessa ingherese Balazs Dzsudzsak. E' diverso da quello che volle fare la NASL negli USA. Nella NASL andavano generalmente vecchie glorie a tirare su gli ultimi dollari della carriera. Qui invece ci sono calciatori a fine carriera come Roberto Carlos, ancora però in grado di tenere una o due stagioni e superstars ancora all'apice, come appunto Eto'o. Il giorno del primo allenamento di Eto'o a Makhachkala c'erano circa 8,000 fans. Il miliardario Sulejman Kerimov, 7.8$ miliardi secondo Forbes, ha in mente un'operazione sportiva e politica. Con questa squadra vuole dare un messaggio positivo della capitale del Daghestan, considerata in Occidente come una specie di Far West. E tuttavia, il club ha la sua base a Mosca, a circa 6000 chilometri di distanza, spostandosi nel Daghestan soltanto per le partite in casa, cosa che forse ha contribuito ad attirare le stars del calcio arrivate in Russia. Un conto è vivere a Mosca, uno a Makhachkala: le prospettive sono diverse. Se gli arrivi dei giocatori di grido hanno suscitato stupore, ancora maggiore è stato l'impatto di Hiddink. Il 65enne tecnico, che ha firmato per 18 mesi, è infatti uno dei nomi più quotati nel panorama internazionale ed il fatto che abbia optato per questo esilio dorato ha lasciato molti a bocca aperta. L'obiettivo è quindi giocare la Champions League, per avere ancora più potere di attrativa verso i giocatori dei migliori campionati d'Europa...

La Patria degli esoneri?

Il campionato italiano ha raggiunto il record di esoneri in questa stagione, con ben 17 avvicendamenti per 10 squadre. Prima del via Massimo Ficcadenti prende il posto di Roberto Donadoni (Cagliari) e Devis Mangia sostituisce Stefano Pioli a Palermo. Poi saltano Giampiero Gasperini (Inter, sostituito da Claudio Ranieri), Pierpaolo Bisoli (Bologna, Stefano Pioli), Marco Giampaolo (Cesena, Daniele Arrigoni), Massimo Ficcadenti (Cagliari, Davide Ballardini), Sinisa Mihajlovic (Fiorentina, Delio Rossi), Eusebio Di Francesco (Lecce, Serse Cosmi), Devis Mangia (Palermo, Bortolo Mutti), Alberto Malesani (Genoa, Pasquale Marino), Franco Colomba (Parma, Roberto Donadoni), Attilio Tesser (Novara, Emiliano Mondonico), Daniele Arrigoni (Cesena, Mario Beretta), Emiliano Mondonico (Novara, torna Attilio Tesser), Davide Ballardini (Cagliari, torna Massimo Ficcadenti), Claudio Ranieri (Inter, Andrea Stramaccioni), Pasquale Marino (Genoa, torna Alberto Malesani). Eppure, nonostante questa mannaia, c'è un Paese dove la vita degli allenatori è ancora più insicura. Esoneri, dimissioni Romania, neanche il primo posto salva un allenatore. La prima sconfitta del CFR nel 2012, nonostante sia stato un pesante 0-5 con il Rapid, è costata la panchina al portoghese Jorge Costa, sostituito da Ioan Andone, lo stesso coach che aveva guidato il CFR al suo primo titolo nazionale nel 2008, per essere poi sostituito dopo soltanto 6 giornate nella stagione successiva. Addirittura, c'è chi è stato esonerato due volte, come Tybor Selymes, esonerato dall'FCM Targu Mures a novembre, ingaggiato e poi esonerato anche dall'Astra Ploiesti il mese dopo, senza neanche il tempo di ambientarsi con la nuova squadra. Al suo posto, arriva il portoghese Antonio Conceicao, licenziato dopo neanche due mesi per far posto a Mircea Rednic. La ripresa del campionato dopo la pausa, oltre all'avvicendamento alla Dinamo Bucarest, dove è arrivato l'taliano Dario Bonetti, è stata fatale anche a Valeriu Rachita, dimessosi dal Petrolul Ploiesti e sostituito da Gheorghe Multescu e soprattuto a Mihai Stoichita della Steaua. Il prestigioso club di Bucarest, in mano a Gigi Becali, è sempre problematico: questo è il terzo cambio della stagione, iniziata con l'esperimento, poi fallito, di Ronny Levy. Le cinque stagioni di Cristi Pustai in carica al Gaz Metan rappresentano una vera eccezione.

domenica 1 aprile 2012

Not all on him

The nightmare became reality. There was always a feeling in the air that for Gamba Osaka would have been hard to adapt to life without former manager Akira Nishino. But things are gone more badly. Last week's 2-1 defeat to Jubilo Iwata leaded president Kikuo Kanamori to sack Nishino's successor, Jose Carlos Serrao. A former Gamba player for 13 seasons and an assistant coach since 2010, Masanobu Matsunami relieved Serrao to write a 1-1 draw with Albirex Niigata in his first game in charge of Gamba. The team failed to adapt to journeyman Serrao style of football. But it's not all Serrao's fault. Bad things started last season when rumors emerged that Gamba would not renew Nishino's contract. After the decision to part the ways with Nisinho, Gamba tried to sign former striker Wagner Lopes, just to discover that the Brazilian had not license to coach in the J. League. The problem was that the head coach never had the needed support from the ownership. The choice of Masanobu Matsunami represents the tentative to make fans quiet after the initial turmoil, being Matsunami a former team's star with no great coaching experience. Serrao has been under pressure to balance his tactics during his brief stint with the team but he also had a roster depleted after the losses of veterans Satoshi Yamaguchi and Hideo Hashimoto and of Lee Keun-Ho, Gamba's top scorer last term.

Young keepers

Excellent goalkeeping made the difference in the early-season for some teams. Who were the best keepers during the first three weeks of the season, veterans aside? Austrian goalkeeper Michael Gspurning had the hard task to replace veteran Kasey Keller but he showed to be a guy with a lot of skills. Be a new keeper in this league is tough but Sounders' keeper recorded his first clean sheet in the Sounders' 2-0 win over Houston. Philadelphia Union keeper Zac McMath hasn't added up to victories in the first weeks but he showed well and he performed at high level into the starter's spot after veteran Faryd Mondragon departed. The Whitecaps have a former Union player on their roster in goalkeeper Brad Knighton and it was a nice addition. In Chicago there is a probable controversy between Sean Johnson and Inter Milan youth product Paolo Tornaghi. Johnson was the starting goalkeeper heading into this season, but during his stint with the U-23 national team, Tornaghi performed well and he could push Johnson back to the bench. New York Red Bulls rookie Ryan Meara was one of mostly untested MLS goalkeepers but he will be tested a lot this season. third-string ’keeper Chris Konopka. Bill Hamid is a rising star. The young DC United's goalkeeper had 29 starts last season with 7 shutouts and is once again he proved right now to be one of the best young goalkeeper in MLS.