domenica 22 luglio 2012

Playing GK in EPL

Playing in UK isn't easy for American prospects. Despite the fact that MLS play style is similar to UK's play style, almost in low tiers, the transition between America's top league and British soccer wasn't easy. That is not true when you come to talk about keepers. The style of coaching and the emphasis put on the role  has create many quality goalkeepers and led them to such top levels of success. The upcoming season too could be hard for some of Americans but the USA have a tradition about sending good keeper to the EPL. While the Aston Villa's new manager, Paul Lambert, praised Brad Guzman, another US keeper could made a step back. The 41-years old goalkeeper Bob Friedel, after an eight-season streak of EPL starts, is in a dangerous position, with the Spurs on the road looking for another keeper. The third keeper on this list, Tim Howard, has been one of the hottest and most consistent keepers in the EPL latest seasons. There are some other American keepers ready to make the jump? A shot-stopping for FC Dallas, Kevin Hartman is a the top of the list. His leadership and pure ability made him one of the best MLS keeper and one that deserves a chance abroad. Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy has been selected to the 2012 MLS All-Star Team after emerged in 2011 as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Nick Rimando’s efforts this season was great. Red Bulls' Ryan Meara is a rookie but showed his skills during this first part of his rookie season. He deserves to take a look to.

martedì 17 luglio 2012

Capello and Russia

Fabio Capello is the new Russia boss. Will he be able to get the best out of this players generation? Former Real Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Roma manager had various winning stints on his résumé and with different tactics employed. But last big game coached by Capello was the embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup. Two of his last three title winning sides, Juventus and Real Madrid, have been based on a 4-4-2 formation with two holding midfielders. The other, AS Rome, was a 3-4-1-2 in 2000/01. With the Italian side, Capello had two wing-backs moving up and down the line in Cafu and Vincent Candela, and a forward as Marco Delvecchio, which had the duty to drop back in the defensive phase, making the system switching to a compact 4-4-2 defensively. Playing with two holding midfielders give your side the benefit to become hard to break down. A good example of this kind of tactics were the utilization of Patrick Vieira alongside Emerson in Capello’s 2005/06 season at Juventus. Having a wide player was a key in Capello's formations. He employed creative players in those positions, as he did at AC Milan with Dejan Savicevic or at Real Madrid with Raul, or offensive wingers able to support the midfield and also to break and play behind the forwards and in front of the opposition’s back four, such he did at Juventus with Pavel Nedved. With England too, he often had Teho Walcott running up and down the wing. With the British, Capello went with a rigid 4-4-2 throughout 2010 World Cup qualifications but used different systems –  4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2, and 4-2-3-1  –  after this experience. Under Capello, England had not a clear identity. On defense, they sometimes dropped off and parked the bus, sometimes tried to press high. Latest England version under the Italian manager have seen the utilization of three central midfielders, with the British that had more options in possession. What about Russia? A key theme of Russia under Dick Advocaat was the use of  the Zenit play style, with their midfield triangle rotating and with the play counting on fast-breaks. The fixed system was a 4-3-3, the same Advocaat played at Zenit, with two interior midfielders  – Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov –  ready to attack the box and with Igor Denisov being a very disciplined deep-lying playmaker.  On defense, CSKA gave the base of the squad with the goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and the centre-back pairing of Aleksei Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich, that played together at the Moscow's club. Up top, Alan Dzagoev is the wing man Capello likes. A question up top will be if  Capello will go with a target man as Pavel Pogrebnyak or Roman Pavlyuchenko or with a mobile one, such as Russia did during Euro 2012. In this second case, Aleksandr Kerzhakov could start upfront, playing the same way Wayne Rooney ran under Capello. But the main question here is: how to insert Andrei Arshavin? Capello could line up former Arsenal's player as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 or keep him as inside forward opposite to Dzagoev adding an extra defensive man in midfield. Capello played this way after the 2010 World Cup campaign. Against Switzerland, he employed a 4-2-3-1 but utilized a more defensive left-winger in James Milner, and two holding midfielders as Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry, which played in the centre of the pitch. Russian's classic starting midfield is much offensive oriented, although without the ball Shirokov and  Zyryanov worked well, pressing heavily. But the whole team, despite its great fast-break play, is much possession oriented while Capello's sides often don't retain the ball and rely more on the counter-attacking play. So we will see if Capello will adapt his mind to the players' skills or if he will try to adjust them to his football idea. In Yury Zhirkov, Capello will have a  left-back who goes forward, up and down the line, while he will have to find a more defensive right-back to line up alongside the two slow centre-backs, or the risk will be to have both full-backs moving up leaving Russia vulnerable to fast-breaks. About the rising stars, Capello could try to add new faces other then CSKA and Zenit players, as the attacking midfielder Alan Kasayev of Rubin or Spartak’s left-sided wing-back Dmitry Kombarov. At the end, no-one is calling for Capello to abandon his philosophy and became like Pep Guardiola but defensive quality has to be mixed with passing and penetration due to their great quality in build-up. Capello could start with a 4-2-3-1 and if it don’t work well here, he could revert to a more classic approach.

domenica 15 luglio 2012

A look inside

While South Korea's Olympic football team is on the road to London Olympics, Korean soccer had some turmoil. According to Ilgan Sports and to English newspapers, Kim Bo-Kyung is on the verge of a transfer to Cardiff City for approximately €3 million in transfer fees. Celtic's manager Neil Lennon admitted that Kim Bo-Kyung  is on his radar too. QPR is near to buy Celtic's South Korea international Ki Sung-Yueng: rumors from Seoul claim about a fee of £7m agreed between QPR and Celtic. But the big news is the QPR's £2m capture of Park Ji-sung. The QPR board of directors continue to rebuild the team in the way to establish it as a regular Premier League side. They added defender Fabio da Silva on loan, England keeper Robert Green, forward Andy Johnson and New Zealand international Ryan Nelsen, as well Malian international Samba Diakite after a loan spell at the club last season. The arrival of Park Ji-Sung could help too. Coming to QPR, Hughes understood that his team needed to attack from the flanks. So he went to a 4-2-3-1 as favorite formation this past season for the Rangers. Hughes prefers to play two strikers as he did at Blackburn. In general, he likes to have two banks of four behind the ball, such as Roy Hodgson likes. The approach at QPR was different and Hughes enjoyed to have Bobby Zamora as lone forward, for a lot of reasons. If he will stay on this formation he brought on a player able to fill many voids. Park can play as right-winger, left-winger or attacking midfielder but he can also play as central midfielder in a more offensive approach. Park showed his best last season at Manchester United playing as left-winger. What can we expect? It's hard to say with such a small dataset available from last season. In the last EPL campaign, Park made just 10 appearances, 7 as starter, but he scored 2 goal and made 1 assist, showing to be cynical near the net. He showed his technical skills maintaining a good 89.5% of pass success rate. Park Ji-Sung is a player Mark Hughes wanted. Probably Hughes will ask him to be involved in build up play in the final third. With Adel Taarab on the left, QPR's manager could line up Park as right-winger going inside or attacking midfielder just behind Zamora, with the duty to collapse back and help the midfielder on the defensive phase. In that way, Hughes could mantain Taarab on the starting line up, despite his defensive lacks, maintaining the shape and balance of the side.

martedì 10 luglio 2012

End of the run

So, Al Wasl ended Diego Maradona's tenure as coach. Despite a recent chairman statement that denied plans to sack the coach, a meeting of Al Wasl's board of directors opted to terminate Maradona's contract. A trophyless season sealed his fate. It was not just a lack of discipline through this season that lead to part the ways. It was a technical failure with the team that finished eighth in the 12-team league. The club's hopes to come back to the top of the table was nullified. Team were physically exhausted at the end of the season. But also the relationship between Maradona and the board of directors was faulty after Maradona blamed a lack of money to buy the needed players. But not all the blame has to be put on Maradona's shoulders. Al Wasl failed to give him technical gifted players: all the guys that was coming during last summer were from Division One sides. Al Wasl Football Company haven't buy the right players to improve the team. The whole club showed inability to deal with the UAE’s professional era. Al Wasl had problems preceding Maradona’s arrival. The decision to terminate the Argentine’s contract was easy but the whole club needs of a turmoil.

lunedì 9 luglio 2012

Steve Clarke

Former Scotland international Steve Clarke worked under Ruud Gullit and Josè Mourinho at Chelsea. The influence of the club’s first-team coach have been felt at Anfield too, where he worked under Kenny Dalglish. “He likes to be at the heart of things when it comes to organising sessions. At West Ham, he would be in first thing in the morning planning out his sessions and would know what the team needed to do to improve." Charlton assistant manager Alex Dyer, who worked alongside Clarke at West Ham, told UK. Clark is very organised and his sessions are planned to the tee. Before to come at Anfield, Steve Clarke, which also spent time on the backroom staff at Newcastle, was a Chelsea man since 1987 so he worked under the Josè Mourinho and learned a lot on running the team sessions. Clarke, and Brendan Rodgers, both learned from Moruinho as he learned from Louis Van Gaal. "You can't say 'that's better, that's the reason'," he once said "There's so many different factors, so many combinations of little things that all come together to make the package successful. I think the intensity the Portuguese staff generate in training, before matches...Everything's geared towards that - people performing at their best at all times." Extensive ball-control sessions, aerobic but tactical exercises with the ball to maximised player individual fitness and combativeness to play a high-tempo game are the base of Mourinho and Rui Faria’s methodology. And Mourinho praised Clarke.   
"He knows every player in English football. If I'm before the game and I have the sheet of the opponents and there comes the subs - who is this player? He knows this player is from the academy, he has 179 centimetres, he is fast, he is slow, and he is fat." (Josè Mourinho on Steve Clarke)
So what if Clark will keep Mourinho's philosphy to build West Brom? The skills he developed and the philosophy he had formed during his stint with Mourinho could be the base of his work. The first task could be get the players motivated.
"Motivation is the most important thing. Some of them can and they don't want, some of them want and they can't. We want players who can do it and at the same time want to do it." (Josè Mourinho)
"So I could say for example to one player, 'Hey, last two seasons, 11 matches - why? Why? You play nothing, you don't work, you don't sleep, you are always injured...He don't like you?...Why you don't play?' And the player he has to be open. So in this moment you know you can always get feelings from the players. There are some players that are never responsible for their failure - 'manager's training methodology is bad'. Other players, they go straight to the point and they say, 'I am guilty. I was not committed, I have to change myself.' Other players they can say, 'I don't like this tactical system'....  It is important to start an open relation with them." (Josè Mourinho)
"I told [Adrian] Mutu, you are already a rich boy, you won a lot of money, you are still in a big contract. So no problem with your future about money, no problem about prestige in your home country. When you go back to Romania you will be one of the kings. But five years after you leave football nobody remembers you. Only if you do big things. This is what makes history."(Josè Mourinho)
 And let the group grow.
"I think I could identify because of their style of play. When you are outside and you see players on the pitch you can more or less smell it. I think what I did well with Lampard and Terry was to give them more power than they normally have in a dressing room. I give them the crown, you know? 'You have responsibility.' It was important for the group. And I think was important to have these players on your side - to help you, not to disturb you...I think we have very good players in the team, but these two personalities were very important to help me in my leadership." (Josè Mourinho)
At Liverpool, Clark usually had training sessions with 20 minutes to warm the players up, 20 minutes more technical  with a passing drill or finishing, then the possession element, until the final game with the goalkeepers at the the end. West Brom have been the land of Roy Hodgson’s play style - deep in defence, and quick fast-breaks - and this could be a good news for Clarke, which has a reputation for intensive coaching and solid defense. He should put enphasis on play the ball on the ground and should prioritize defensive organization. It’s a gamble  and there are clear holes in WBA but Steve Clarke to West Bromwich Albion is an intriguing appointment.

Zola and Waftord

Gianfranco Zola has been confirmed as the new manager of Watford following Sean Dyche's sack and takeover by the Pozzo family. For Zola this is the second stint after his previous job with the West Ham, where he was a surprising choice to replace Alan Curbishley and where he had a good team that haven't shown  his potential under the Italian manager.  Zola’s impact at West Ham was good, as the team played an active 4-3-3 formation, keeping the ball well and showing a good brand of football, before a defensive collapses amid 2008/9 campaign ruined the season. The following season the Hammers avoid relegation but Zola was fired. Now Zola will have another chance at Watford.  Watford came from a terrible start last season before some good results started improving the side, making them very hard to beat. Troy Deeney, Michael Kightly and Alex Kacaniklic all provided good display and contributed to a good mid-table end of the season. Zola is regarded as having excellent interpersonal skills, and that could help him to deal  with the heavy pressure coming with being the boss at the club. Zola has a preferred system, the 4-3-3 formation and, though he also utilized a 4-4-2, he was criticised at West Ham for his persistence with the 4-3-3 with West Ham struggling to create chances from open play and with the lack of personnel to play it. His overall league record as West Ham manager were of played 80, won 23, drawn 21, lost 36. We will see if he will start from his 4-3-3 again...a key factor of this system is the use of wide players ready to cut inside, close to goal, able to play inside latest thirty yards of the pitch.

giovedì 5 luglio 2012

Next stop: Tottenham

So, André is back. André Villas-Boas signed a three-years deal with the Tottenham Hotspurs. He beat out former France coach Laurent Blanc, Everton manager David Moyes and Wigan boss Roberto Martínez. He will face two challenges: to succeed Harry Redknapp and to succeed in his second job in English football after Chelsea's failure. Villas-Boas has now to show he learned from Chelsea mistakes. He has a contract that presumes another three-year to do it. His first task will be try to keep Luka Modric. The Croatian could be one of the interior midfielders. The other should be Van der Vaart but there is also the Hoffenheim's midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, the expected next team's sign. With both Modric - if he stays - and Sigurdsson, AVB could play his preferred play style: retain the ball and attack at the right moment. The appointment of AVB represents a move away from Herry Redknapp tactics. With AVB Tottenham will be more active and less reactive. At Chelsea, AVB had to change his mind long the way:
“Our No 6 [at Porto, the central midfielder] sometimes became a more attacking midfielder and we tried to do that here. We decided it doesn’t work here, so that’s one of the things I have adapted. You lose a little bit of balance in the Premier League if you play that way. Transitions here are much more direct, making the importance of the No 6 to stay in position most decisive.” (André Villas-Boas 2011)
AVB's interchanging midfield didn't work with the Blues due to the fact that transitions are much more direct in the Premier League, so the No 6 has to stay in position to defend counter-attacks. How Scott Parker can play in this role the way AVB wants?
 ADV isn't a Mourinhesque manager as it was expected and it's hard to notice similarities on the pitch. Villas-Boas prefers a 4-3-3 formation. He thinks the strenght of a team is the tactical organization over players' skills. By the way, at Chelsea he made some adjustments. At Porto, Villas-Boas played with a high defensive line and a strong pressing action up top. Unfortunely, Chelsea was full of old warriors with no oil left in their tank. There was too much slow players to play with a high defensive line. Teams exploited this weakness. So he went to change his mind becoming more cautious. And also he went from his loved 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 with Juan Mata as No. 10. But the bigger questions next stop will be around the way to defend. We will see how AVD will structure his side without the ball. The defensive potential isn't solid: Ledley King, Michael Dawson, and William Gallas aren't getting any younger so the team hopes to add Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen. A high defensive line is a logical consequence of a pressing action. His Porto featured heavy pressing to win the ball, so AVB could ask his players to get quickly up to press high. Also, would be povital for him to have the players getting behind the ball quickly in a compact unit when the ball is lost. We will see if Tottenham's roster will be suited to stick to AVB's footballing philosophy. On the flanks, AVB wants two fast and goal scoring inside forwards/wingers. At Porto they was Hulk and Silvestre Varela. At Chelsea Mata and Daniel Sturridge.  At London, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon could be his guys.