England 0-1 Germany: Three Lions End 2013 With Disappointing Defeat to Old Enemies

England 0-1 GermanyEngland concluded their 2013 programme of internationals with back-to-back home defeats to Chile and Germany, with the latter coming courtesy of Per Mertesacker’s header at Wembley on Tuesday night. Despite not fielding Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Philipp Lahm, or Mario Gomez (among many others), the visitors managed to restrict the Three Li0ns to zero shots on target, a statistic which will be worrying for Roy Hodgson having seen his charges so comprehensively beaten at home by the world number twelves only a few days before.

Germany could probably have fielded a whole other starting eleven from the players left out and still had a stronger team on paper than England, but it was the home team who started the brightest, attacking from the very first whistle. England’s plan was clear - exploit the wings - where Germany’s Heiko Westermann and Marcel Schmelzer were thought to be considerably weaker than their compatriots Mertesacker and Jérôme Boateng in the center.

Ashley Cole and Kyle Walker were getting at the full-backs and the pace of Sturridge and Townsend was causing problems, but England seemed unable to fully break down the German defence. Half-chances came and went, usually for Wayne Rooney, but there was never a real clear-cut opportunity. Germany were threatening on the break through Reus and Götze, but Mönchengladbach’s Max Kruse seemed a little over-awed by the whole occasion, making only his sixth international appearance.

In the end, Germany’s goal was inevitable. Following a period of English pressure, the green shirts streamed forward and won a corner, which was placed directly on to the head of the tallest man on the pitch, the only England-based German in the team, Per Mertesacker.

England 0-1 GermanyJoe Hart made an outstanding save to keep him out during his first appearance for three weeks, but the ball came back out to Bayern’s Toni Kroos, who clipped in a delicious cross on the half-volley. it unsurprisingly found the head of Mertesacker, who guided it past Hart just inside the far post. Typical English punditry about typical German efficiency and typical English wastefulness followed, but in all honesty England couldn’t have felt too hard done by, having threatened so little themselves.

In a word, England seemed hesitant. On the occasions when someone did manage to get in behind the German defense, they tried to do something fancy and promptly found themselves without the ball, or support took so long to arrive that the visitors had time to fill their box with defenders. Hodgson’s men were left licking their wounds at half-time while Joachim Löw decided he wasn’t playing fair, bringing on one of the world’s finest defenders in Dortmund’s Mats Hummels.

The second half started at a furious pace with all of the chances going Germany’s way, and although Hart was impressive between the sticks, Marco Reus was wasteful on more than one occasion, and Kruse blazed over with passing options left and right.

Townsend hit the post with an excellent effort from range, wrapping his boot round the ball when it seemed it was beyond him, and an outrageous Adam Lallana turn almost paid dividends, but ultimately Roman Weidenfeller had little to do on his international debut. There was a distinct lack of urgency, and although the game was billed as a friendly, the 85,000 who went to Wembley would have been left disappointed by the apparent lack of passion among the England players against the old enemy.

So where now for England? Both this and the Chile game were, of course, friendlies, but Hodgson fielded strong enough teams in both matches to expect at least a draw at home to Chile. The Three Lions had a fairly satisfactory 2013 all in all, with a win and a draw against Brazil, a strong conclusion to World Cup qualifying and a satisfying victory over Scotland, but the barmy army finally seem to have their expectations in check ahead of next year’s finals in Rio - England are not going to win the World Cup.

Written by Sam France

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New Coach Gregg Berhalter Looking to Take Columbus Crew into a New Era

Gregg BerhalterColumbus have thrown themselves into the managerial merry go round of postseason sacking and hiring. The franchise have moved away from the Robert Warzycha era and ushered in a new one under the leadership of Gregg Berhalter. While the fashion is to fire and hire, the Crew’s decision is the standout. Warzycha was synonymous with the Crew for eighteen years, starting with his seven-year spell at the club. The new direction emphasized by new owner Anthony Precourt meant there was to be no place for sentiment and history.

The new man chosen for the job holds an interesting record. He was the first American to be hired by a professional European team as a manager. Berhalter’s spell in Scandinavia saw him manage Sweden’s Hammarby IF. He lasted two seasons at the club, going away with an unremarkable record of  18-11-16. This obviously gave the American good experience as the Precourt told of his strengths:

”Gregg’s strong vision, passion, work ethic, intelligence, data-driven decision-making, broad soccer network and playing credentials separated him throughout this search, his unique skill-set gives us great confidence in boldly changing the structure of our soccer operations, with Gregg leading as our first-ever Sporting Director.”

The faith shown in Berhalter is monumental. He is not only head coach, but is also the sporting director. This move means that Berhalter is in total control of player personnel and the decisions surrounding the squad. Berhalter recently expanded on the importance of this decision, telling the local and national media:

“My role will give me the flexibility to structure the technical side of the organization as I see fit. It  will streamline the decision-making process and integrate player acquisition with the technical department. This is, for me, is crucial because we want to be efficient, we want to be able to make fast decisions and we all want to be on the same page. I think tying this together will do that nicely.”

Columbus CrewWhile the club’s ambitions and the job outline is plain for all to see, Berhalter himself has also been open on what he will bring to the struggling team. He’s nailed his colors to the mast of offensive, quick-paced football. While the Crew possess players of that ilk such as Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro, the team was found to be of a pedestrian pace going into many games and this often became their fatal flaw. For Berhalter to implement his style, the side will need plenty of work and lots of changes.

Although the previous may be a concern, Berhalter also has a quality that is extremely rare in MLS. The league has shown that to succeed in MLS you need to have an experience and a deep understanding of the league. As a former player, Berhalter has this. What separates him from the rest is that he has plenty of European experience. This opens the club up to ventures and possibilities from Europe, without the repercussions of the failed Scandinavian experiment that New York had under Hans Backe for example.

Berhalter won’t have an easy task. The Columbus Crew squad can definitely be described as a more defensive than an offensive outfit, and the pieces are there for the new manager to alter. The duo of Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro are attacking delights that most MLS teams would love to have. For the new squad, it is a case of supplementing the duo, and taking some of the pressure off of them both. This could be done with an alteration to the midfield, with the Crew severely lacking guile and creativity on the wings and the center.

On the other hand, Berhalter had lost an integral piece of the Crew before he even began his job, with the announcement of Eddie Gaven’s retirement resulting in a huge blow to the club. The man who was the youngest to reach 250 MLS matches, at the age of 25, takes away a huge amount of experience, leaving a void for someone else to step into. Berhalter will join the MLS club with lots of confidence, but he has a very large task on his hand under a new look, ambitious, ownership that seeks to catch up to the top teams in MLS.

Written by Tom Errington

Holloway Departure Leaves Bleak Future at Crystal Palace

Ian HollowayIf fans have learned anything from recent seasons in the English football league, very little about the game is predictable or straightforward. More than anything, how a season climaxes and how some of the clubs’ most important matters are decided are often unforeseen. Manchester City’s epic title snatch in the 2011/12 season will still be fresh in the minds of many supporters, while West Brom’s great escape from relegation in 2004/05 shows it is not just at the top of the table where miracles can occur.

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see any positive outcome at Selhurst Park this season. Before the Premier League season even began, many had tipped Crystal Palace for an immediate return to the Championship following their play-off success in May. With eleven games already gone this season and just four points under their belt, those predictions are looking wholly justified.

The Eagles currently sit rock bottom of the Premier League table and are already six points from safety, and though it would be harsh to assume their fate is already sealed, their hopes were dealt a blow following Ian Holloway’s departure last month. Holloway left the club after less than a year in charge and with just eight games of the season gone. However, seven of those games ended in defeats, the last of which was a crushing 4-1 home loss to fellow strugglers Fulham. But Holloway’s exit still surprised many fans, especially with so much of the campaign still left to play.

After all, it was not long ago that Holloway found himself in a similar position in the top flight as manager of Blackpool. After their play-off victory in May 2010, the Seasiders, like Palace, were tipped by many for an immediate return to the Championship. Despite some impressive results, including wins over Tottenham and Liverpool, those predictions came true as Holloway’s men lasted just one season in the Premier League.

But although it was a difficult season at times - including a five-game losing streak and a run of nine league games without a victory - Holloway never threw in the towel and fought until the very last day of the season to preserve Blackpool’s Premier League status. They were even applauded by some for their attacking style of play, even though this proved to be their downfall at times during the season.

Even after Blackpool were relegated, Holloway did not abandon hope or lose his appetite for the job. The Lancashire side enjoyed another successful season under his guidance in 2011/12 and reached the Championship play-off final for the second time in three years. Unfortunately, there was no repeat of their accomplishment from two years before, as they were narrowly defeated 2-1 by Sam Allardyce’s impressive West Ham side.

Crystal PalaceHolloway’s departure does not point to an optimistic future for Palace, and as his record shows, he has never been one to shy away from a challenge or back down when the odds are stacked against him. Nor was Palace’s activity in the summer transfer window, where they bought in 16 new faces.

However, it does seem that the club’s transfer activity has been a major factor in Holloway’s departure and the club’s struggles. The departure of Wilfred Zaha to Manchester United was always going to be a huge loss, particularly after guiding Palace through last season’s play-offs almost single-handedly. The manner in which players were bought into the club has also been questioned. Holloway has himself admitted they probably did not think through some of their purchases as much as they should have done.

The £6 million deal to bring striker Dwight Gayle to Selhurst Park in particular was a huge risk. As promising a player as Gayle is and though he has not necessarily looked out of his depth in the top flight, it was investing an enormous amount of money and responsibility in a player who was playing for non-league Bishop’s Stortford just over a year ago.

Holloway and Palace have not been without their share of bad luck either. The loss of striker Glenn Murray, who looks set to miss a majority of the campaign after sustaining a serious injury during the play-off victory at Brighton in May, also severely dented their Premier League prospects. Murray was the Football League’s second top scorer last season, and his contribution to the team had at times not been fully appreciated.

So what was always going to be a tough season for the South London side just seems to get tougher by the minute. Though a repeat of Derby’s miserable points tally in 2007/08 seems unthinkable, it looks as though it will take a miracle perhaps greater than West Brom’s in 2005 to keep Palace afloat this season. As a cult figure with supporters, fans will undoubtedly miss Holloway’s memorable presence in the Premier League though he has graciously admitted he feels his departure was in the best interests of the club. Palace fans, more than anyone, will be hoping he is proved right.

Written by Andrew Crawley

Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan: Messi Leads Barca to Champions League Knockout Stage

Barcelona 3-1 AC MilanTata Martino’s Barcelona sealed their progress through to the Champions League knockout stages after a deserved 3-1 win at home to a disappointing AC Milan side. Lionel Messi (2) and Sergio Busquets converted some of Barca’s many chances to cancel out a Gerard Pique own goal, leaving Barca five points clear at the top of Group H, with Milan’s progression still in the balance as they sit a point ahead of Ajax and two ahead of Celtic with both teams still waiting to play the Rossoneri.

As usual, Barca dominated the possession and the chances from the first minute, and could have been a goal or two up within the first five minutes. Xavi bent a free kick wide of the post from long range, and Messi and Busquets were both denied by last-ditch challenges from a reasonably solid-looking Milan defence. Neymar also had a sniff early on, but his and Iniesta’s fancy feet was not enough to break into a penalty area surrounded by the white shirts of Milan.

The visitors were not without chances of their own, threatening on the counter attack. Kaka nearly bundled through the home defense  with only a heavy last touch knocking the ball through to Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who hoofed the ball clear. There was a similar story at the other end soon after, with Messi playing a through ball to Neymar, who had to stretch and his touch took it straight through to Christian Abbiati. Barca continued to press without really creating any gilt-edged opportunities, but Milan were lucky to escape with their clean sheet after the typically hard-working Alexis Sanchez ran in behind, only to touch the ball out for a goal kick.

With 2o minutes played, Milan mustered their second real attack of the match, with a clever interchange between Muntari and Emanuelson at the corner of the box playing the Dutchman in behind. But his powerful half-volleyed cross was always sailing over the head of Kaka, who was in space by the penalty spot. From the resulting goal kick, Sanchez somehow found himself 10 yards offside - and somehow still managed to complain about the decision. That said, Barca were piling on the pressure with an Iniesta cross along the line of the six yard box somehow evading both Messi and Sanchez, where a touch would have guaranteed a goal.

Barcelona 3-1 AC MilanMilan also seemed to have picked up an ominous habit of passing the ball around the back when it wasn’t really safe to do so, and Sanchez nearly made them pay as Abbiati kicked Philippe Mexes’ lazy pass straight onto the Chilean forward’s head and into the side netting. Just before the thirty-minute mark, Barca finally made the pressure play. The otherwise tidy Neymar went down easily under minimal contact from Ignazio Abate following a delicate Iniesta ball over the top, and with the best player in the world taking the penalty there was only ever one outcome. Messi furrowed his brow, took a small breath, and stepped forward to do what he does best - hitting it hard and low down the center to make it 1-0 for Barca.

Milan continued to play their dangerous passing game around the back and Sanchez came close to punishing them again, but the goal served to encourage the Italians forward. Riccardo Montolivo put their best chance wide, hitting a first time shot from just inside the box curling just past the far post. He was made to rue the miss five minutes later as the home side doubled their lead in a most un-Barca-like fashion. A fairly simple free kick was whipped in from the left and Busquets headed it in, with the Milan defense seemingly not reacting to the danger. There was a slight suspicion of offside, but the second goal was no more than the Blaugrana deserved.

Milan manager Massimo Allegri was understandably exasperated by the manner of the goal, and he is unlikely to be in a job for much longer with the historic San Siro team languishing in 11th in Serie A with a paltry 12 points from 11 games. Seconds before half time, though, AC Milan somehow found themselves back in it. Kaka surged into the box from the left and hit a powerful low cross inside which was turned into his own net by the unfortunate Pique. Milan went in at the interval knowing that they could easily nick another goal in the second half, but the numbers didn’t make happy reading - the Italians had had 39% of the possession and mustered no goals on target to Barca’s six. With a goal needed and little to lose, Allegri introduced Mario Balotelli for the ineffectual Robinho.

Soon after the restart, Messi had the ball in the net again in a remarkable fashion. Sanchez hit a powerful effort low towards the goalkeeper, but the ball deflected off the Argentine’s trailing foot, looping over Abbiati and into the top corner - but the Barca fans’ celebrations were cut short as Messi had been half a yard offside. Abate was looking out of his depth despite being a full Italy international, and his physical approach was getting him dangerously close to a second yellow card.

Barcelona 3-1 AC MilanMilan continued to press for a second and both Kaka and Montolivo found themselves crowded out on the edge of the area. Balotelli gave Milan an extra outlet as the target man their aimless long balls had been lacking, and it was his powerful run which nearly led to an equaliser. He took the ball past two Barca defenders simply with his pace and strength, before playing a perfectly-weighted ball across to Kaka who could only smash wide under pressure from Pique. The ex-Man City man’s hulking presence was clearly making the Barcelona defence uncomfortable, but he wasn’t playing with any real urgency despite the prestigious occasion.

Milan may have been looking more dangerous but so were Barca, and some good interplay between Messi and Neymar provided a worrying image of how good their partnership could be in a few months’ time. A better first touch on the chest and Messi would have been in, and Neymar seemed certain to score after cutting inside from the left and beating four men simply by running in a straight line, but he went for power and hit his shot wide. A great understanding between the two also played in Sanchez, who was denied by the solid Abbiati.

Some light relief was provided when Neymar found himself on his backside trying to control a lofted ball over the top with ten minutes to play, but it was no laughing matter for Milan as Barca put the game to bed in the 83rd minute. Messi played the ball to substitute Cesc Fabregas, who took it forward before sliding a delightful through ball back to the onrushing Messi, who provided an emphatic finish - he became the first player to score 5+ goals in seven consecutive Champions League seasons. Neymar was applauded off the pitch a few minutes later, but with the game killed off the intensity petered out in the final moments.

Allegri was understandably crestfallen after the game but was defensive of his team in the post-match press conference, saying, “I’m disappointed with the result, but the performance was not bad. In the first half we were unable to launch a counterattack when we had the chance to do so, mainly because we missed too many passes, but in the second half we played better. I’m sure we will be more balanced and will get better results when we recover important players like Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio from injury.” Milan have the perfect opportunity to bounce back at the weekend as they travel to bottom-spot Chievo on Sunday, while Barcelona will hope to keep up their scintillating league form away to 18th-placed Real Betis.

Written by Sam France

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal: Gunners Seal Historic Victory in Germany

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 ArsenalA goal from in-form Welshman Aaron Ramsey helped Arsenal seal a vital three points at Dortmund. It was tough ask for the side that have failed to stand up to their previous perceived ‘tests’ against Dortmund and Chelsea at the Emirates, with them both leaving with victory in a fairly easy fashion. The stage was set for a cracking encounter. The Dortmund manager, Jurgen Klopp, had set it himself personally by suggesting Arsene Wenger deserves a knighthood. Mind games it seemed from the charismatic German, who admitted the only way Arsenal would win was if Dortmund ‘let them’.

The first half was something of a slow burner as both sides struggled to gain a foothold on the game. It was the hosts who had the better of it. Neven Subotic struck an early shot wide from a free kick and Henrikh Mkhitaryan wasted an opportunity by firing wide after having the freedom of Dortmund to find the net at Arsenal’s expense. The halftime whistle was something of relief for Arsenal. They had weathered part of the storm, although they had failed to deliver anything in an attacking sense. They were keeping a Dortmund side on red-hot form at bay.

Early in the second half it seemed likely that a Dortmund goal would arrive. Wojciech Szczesny saved a Marco Reus header and then the former Gladbach player had it in the net, although it was ruled offside. Dortmund’s luck clearly wasn’t in and that was displayed as Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored only for the linesman to put his flag up, although the Armenian knew it was coming as he reacted in a subdued manner.

Against the run of play, Arsenal took the lead. Mesut Ozil, who had failed to sparkle all evening, provided the cross for Aaron Ramsey to finish. Arsenal had the lead, a slender one at that, but it was a lead. It was hearts in mouths time for Arsenal moments later as Dortmund almost had themselves on level terms. Robert Lewandowski was almost met emphatically by Marco Reus, but it flashed away for an Arsenal goal kick.

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 ArsenalRamsey almost had himself another soon after, but Roman Weidenfeller was on hand to thwart the Welshman. Dortmund struggled to score against Arsenal in the dying embers and a penalty shout on Robert Lewandowski by Per Mertesacker was the best they conjured up. Speaking after the game, Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, made it clear he wanted to see a repeat on Sunday at Old Trafford:

“It strengthens the belief of my team that we can put another great performance in another massive game on Sunday. We want this kind of performance again.”

Currently on his richest vein of form since he signed for Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey is an early contender for PFA Player of the Year. Another positive performance on Sunday would be encouraging for Arsenal’s title challenge and it may even convince a few more pundits to back the London club in their pursuit of their first Premier League title since 2004. A buoyant Aaron Ramsey told the Daily Mirror of his delight after scoring the decisive winner:

“I’m enjoying myself at the moment and everything seems to be going in. I’m delighted with the way I’m playing and the goals I’m scoring but it was a great team effort and we are delighted with that.”

Dortmund manager, Jurgen Klopp, talked up Arsenal following defeat: “They could win it - as long as they don’t play Bayern Munich,” he said. He continued to heap praise on Arsenal: “They are young, healthy and good technicians. They won a clever game tonight.”

Arsenal now face Marseille safe in the knowledge that their task to qualify has been made a lot easier with a result that not many expected. Meanwhile, Dortmund face Napoli in the next round of games hoping they can find their return to winning ways after a frustrating evening.

Written by Jimmy Cartwright

Montreal Impact Plan Course to Success After Dreadful Finish to the Season

Montreal ImpactThe Montreal Impact have been the epitome of two very different teams this season. Early in the year, Montreal focused primarily on counter-attacking. They took advantage of the pressure on other MLS teams searching for identity and consistency. When teams attacked, they soaked up the pressure, and countered through the likes of Patrice Bernier and Davy Arnaud. Arnaud in particular was to take the plaudits in the opening weeks of the season. In order for counter attacking football to work, you need a lethal finisher. The Impact were able to boast the striker of the season, Marco Di Vaio, whose predatory instinct to time his runs left teams stung.

By the halfway point, Montreal sat atop of the standings. After 17 games, the Impact had an impressive 9-4-4 record, and a points total of 31. Unfortunately, this was as good as it was to get for Montreal. New coach Schallibaum had added chemistry and cohesion to a talented Montreal side, but destroyed it as quickly as he built it up. Too often, Montreal would concede and become a different side. Looking lost, they’d often rush and panic pass the ball around midfield, before blasting a ball over the top for Di Vaio to chase. It is of little surprise that Di Vaio only increased his number of offsides as the season went on.

Schallibaum also caused issues with other players. Players such as Matteo Ferrari were so overplayed it became painful to watch them play another game. While it is of no use to the player, it is understandable why Schallibaum stuck with Ferrari; he was usually excellent for the Impact. However, his inclusion of players such as Pisanu was bizarre, for he was consistently poor yet had been rewarded with 14 starts.

These decisions led the Impact’s fine start to the season be ruined by their final eight game streak. They won none of these games, lost seven and won one. Three points out a possible twenty four is not the form of a playoff team. The Impact will look back at their season start as the only reason they snuck into the playoffs, relying on other teams. But if you listen to Bernier, the season wasn’t a write off. The Impact achieved their primary goal:

“The objective was to get into the playoffs. It’s a second season and as in all sports, you have another chance. If I remember correctly, last year’s finalists finished 4th and 5th so everything is possible.”

Marco Di VaioBernier was entirely correct, the regular season ended and the Impact succeeded. However, the poor second half of the season was to haunt the team. With little time to fix all the issues Montreal had accumulated, the playoffs were to continue in the same vein that their end of season had.

The Houston Dynamo were hardly all smiles, having their fair share of struggles throughout the season as well. In the first playoff game, the Dynamo played one of their easiest matches of the season. Montreal’s predictable Di Vaio dependency was negated by Houston’s intelligent back-line. With Di Vaio cutting a frustrated and isolated figure, Houston began to harry and pressure Montreal. They scored a goal of great quality, after a Ricardo Clark flick played Bruin in for a classy finish. Once again, Montreal’s mentality showed. They collapsed and allowed another two goals to be conceded. Furthermore, they decided to get three players sent off, one of which was the isolated Di Vaio.

The night was as about as embarrassing a night as the Canadian club could have created. Over the last few days, rumors have circulated that the retiring Nesta is to take over from Schallibaum. Essentially, Schallibaum could have no complaints. He handled the pre-season and early season expertly, but managed to destroy his own hard work with bizarre tactics due to a lack of rotation and trust in other players. He should however be cut some slack over the front office’s transfer business. The lack of support and secondary striker caused the dependency on Di Vaio. Also, the need to play the far too-aggressive Rivas in such a big game further illustrated the lack of depth that Montreal had all season.

Whether Schallibaum gets the chance or not, there is a core to a very good team in Montreal. They showed their effectiveness using an Italian-style counter attacking football. With further depth and management consistency, there’s no reason Montreal can’t improve next season.

Written by Tom Errington

How are Bayern Munich Shaping Up Under Pep Guardiola?

Pep GuardiolaAfter a convincing 2-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s former side Barcelona to mark his arrival at the treble-winning Bayern Munich, the Bavarians now sit one point clear at top of the table, undefeated, without surprise. The Catalan has already stamped his mark on the Bundesliga side within a few months, impressively indoctrinating his possession-based ‘Tiki-Taka’ style with fierce execution.

Guardiola arrived as one of the most sought after managerial free agents in football and with huge expectations. The most commonly asked question that was whispered and thrown around punditry offices alike was can he repeat the success that Jupp Heynckes worked so hard to accomplish? This will be one of Guardiola’s greatest tasks and will see him bombarded both with criticism and praise.

So far in Guardiola’s anticipating campaign, a single defeat arose after the thrilling German Super Cup. Bayern’s greatest rivals in recent years left the pre-match tunnel with more than a point to prove, after many viewed them as wounded animals, lowering their necks after finishing second to Bayern in every competition they faced them in.However, Die Schwarzgelben, or Borussia Dortmund as they are most commonly recognized as, thwarted the Bavarians 4-2, pulling the European Champions back down to earth with a mesmerizing performance of sheer brilliance. The 4-1-4-1 that Guardiola decided to carry on with from pre-season into the Super Cup game has been tried and tested most notably in the Telekom Cup and also against Catalan Giants Barcelona.

Guradiola’s Use of the 4-1-4-1 Formation

A 4-1-4-1 on paper is extremely similar to a 4-3-3 with wingers slightly deeper, but also the formation itself is predicated on maintaining the all-important midfield triangle that is imperative in Bayern’s previous 4-2-3-1 and of course the 4-3-3. One of the most key elements with this formation is the tactical flexibility in that with single swaps of players, the 4-1-4-1 can immediately transition into a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, or even a 4-4-2 if the need arises. This maneuverability and ability to transition in and out of formations to combat the opposition’s plays is imperative to reacting quickly and effectively.

With Heynckes’ 4-2-3-1 seeing Schweinsteger drop between center-backs in possession, this job will undoubtedly be carried through to Guardiola’s side as the German international is exactly the player it seems to make the 4-1-4-1 midfield orchestrate beautifully. His defensive and offensive games are so complete that it doesn’t necessarily require the two central-midfielders to be possession-oriented.

The Use of Thiago Alcantara and the No. 6

After Thiago’s controversial arrival, the Spaniard was utilized in a No. 6 role the entirety of pre-season as well as the Super Cup, dropping in between center-backs, filling in for the absent Schweinsteiger and providing a constant option in central zones. Thiago dictated play from deep and even provided width on both sides of the pitch when Kroos was dropping deep to cover for the former Barcelona youngster, providing that much needed rotational play that is key to Guradiola’s game and formation. Thiago was also sublime by passing long stretching full-backs whenever play became too narrow and overloaded in the center, very similar to a 2010/2011 Xabi Alonso role under Mourinho.

Thiago & GuardiolaThe rotational midfield trio of Bayern’s game, (a defensive midfielder and two central midfielders) was always going to be key to giving them fluidity going forward in numbers as well as unpredictability in attack. Thiago unsurprisingly ventured forward a number of times whenever the opportunity arrived, with Kroos providing cover subtly moving deep, similar to a pairing of Xavi and Busquets.

However, the lack of a center-forward at Bayern able to drop deep to accumulate numbers such as Messi for Barcelona is far from a worry, as Thiago’s explosive runs from his supposed holding midfield role provide a suitable option; his technical stability, eye for a pass, and quick feet see the youngster flourish in these situations. These pockets of runs into dangerous positions when possession is resumed in midfield can even see his role being dubbed as a ‘False 6.’ Another leaf of Pep’s genius? Perhaps.

Takeaways from the City Game

This new formation orchestrated from Guardiola also sees a lot of doubling up from left-mids (whose role is to work vigorously down the channel with little play centrally) and left-backs, most notably Alaba, who played a fantastic game both in the Super Cups against Chelsea and Dortmund and again against Manchester City in the group stages of the Champions League.

The young Austrian was superb working down the channels in unison with his left sided partner, often doubling up and stretching right-backs out of position while players like Shaqiri or Ribery drift inside and make vertical runs that were met by the perfectly weighted pass of the left-back. During these plays which were switched by the excellent Thiago Alcantara or Phillip Lahm from the right side of midfield, Bayern shined incredibly bright.

Against Manchester City, Alaba played a huge role along with his left-sided partner Ribery, doubling up with the Frenchman who shined in 1v1′s. Such plays were achieved by Alaba’s overlapping runs that pulled Richards out of position, creating an awkward situation for Navas who tucked deep to halt Ribery. Navas, being an out-and-out right winger, was out of all sorts in a 1v1 and failed time and time again, which eventually led to the opener where Ribery’s thunderous effort was too hot for Joe Hart to handle.

Soon after, Guardiola’s philosophy of center-backs being stretched saw Dante throw forward a perfectly weighted ball from the halfway line into the path of Muller’s beautifully timed run to make it 0-2, which nullified any hopes of City seeing themselves back into the game. However on the 60th minute, Bayern’s repeated transition of countering hard and fast whenever the ball was won in the opposition’s half was carried out with fierce perpetration as Robben unsurprisingly led the offensive transition and defeated the lethargic City with his much criticized right foot.

Bayerns triumvirate of Muller, Ribery and Alaba on City’s right channel was causing massive overloads that were incredibly difficult to negate due to the Blues’ 4-1-3-2 formation, and as a result, Pellegrini’s men were reluctantly forced into defensive duties in which they were abysmal in.


After just months, the Catalan genius Pep Guardiola appears to have already stamped his philosophy deep in the Bayern ranks, carrying on his possession-based style, his aggressive pressing game, the use of a rotational midfield, the implementation of the goalkeeper being used in almost a ‘sweeper’ position, and many other plays.

Under his leadership, Bayern have trampled over some top sides and emerged the only Bundesliga side to remain unbeaten in the league as of now. So far, Bayern in the offensive phase is predominantly orchestrated from the left and right flanks with Guardiola at the helm. No doubt that the further he continues his predicted dominative reign, the stronger Bayern Munich will grow.

Written by Sean McBride

New York Red Bulls Claim MLS Supporters’ Shield to End 18-Year Trophy Drought

New York Red BullsEighteen years of hurt has finally ended for the New York Red Bulls after they captured the MLS Supporters’ Shield. This statement is more powerful than it appears; the Red Bulls have boasted one of the highest earning squads in the league, packed with finance, and yet have practically nothing to show for it.

Despite all the big names and foreign talents plying their trade in New Jersey, it took a local legend to finally gel the finance, the stars, and the work ethic required to hoist the Supporters’ Shield in the air. Mike Petke has had a truly fantastic year, yet after Gerard Houllier’s reworking, the Red Bulls struggled to sign a new head coach. With names such as Paulo Sousa linked, the Red Bulls were unable to attract a suitably big named manager. It wouldn’t be unfair to describe Petke as the last resort, in fact some viewed him as a stop gap. The passionate and strong willed Petke saw the job as a great opportunity and threw himself into the role.

Petke was to be aided by some good squad reshaping. None were more effective than Jamison Olave, a commanding quality center-back acquired from Real Salt Lake. He arrived in tandem with the experienced Fabian Espindola, and more striking depth was to come as Peguy Luyindula later joined the club after a trial. In midfield, the wings were strengthened by the signings of forgotten men Jonny Steele and Eric Alexander.

Those aforementioned signings in particular gave an insight into what Petke was to bring to the Red Bulls. The likes of Espindola, Steele, and Alexander added a defensive steel to the team, with the two wingers often tucking inside or covering for the full backs. Espindola was brought in as an attempt to bring intensity to the front line. At the back, Olave was to provide quality and experience to a usually under-performing back line.

While the supporters shield shows that this did work, it wasn’t all rosy for the Red Bulls. The first four matches showed what fans would call the “so Metro” side of New York. A 3-3 opening draw with the Portland Timbers exposed the standard defensive frailties associated with New York. The next game was the definition of the Metro syndrome. A good performance was ruined by the ridiculous behavior of Roy Miller, who threw the game to San Jose. It took until the 5th attempt, against Philadelphia Union, for the Red Bulls to record their first win.

New York Red BullsSpeaking of Roy Miller, Petke’s quality was clearly displayed through his man-management. After Miller’s stupidity, Petke chose to send him back home earlier than his international call up. This decision brought a decisive turn around as Miller came back as a player who went from strong to stronger. This skill wasn’t limited to Miller; the lack of form from Steele and Alexander meant the Red Bulls often looked limp offensively, but his patience and faith was rewarded on a more consistent basis as the Red Bulls began to put a sequence of results together in April.

It was in this month when the Red Bulls discovered the man who would become their player of the season begin to assert his qualities on the team. Tim Cahill’s poor start to his New York career was eradicated in a dramatic late win against LA Galaxy. His infectious passion, leadership, and work rate was to become decisive for the Red Bulls as he dug his side out of trouble again and again through the season, lessening the burden on Thierry Henry. The reshaping of the team was to continue later in the season, as New York struck the perfect balance. The signing of players mid-season is often a risk, but the additions of Bradley Wright-Phillips, David Carney, and Ibrahim Sekagya were all to contribute to New York’s surge in the standings.

By the time of September, New York had hit a groove and Petke had a consistent strategy. In the final stretch, New York finished with a record of 5-2-0. This record was what pushed them ahead of the likes of Sporting Kansas City to secure their historic first major trophy. The final game of the regular season against Chicago Fire perfectly encapsulated the New York season. The Red Bulls tendency for a silly error was demonstrated early on by an optimistic finish from Mike Magee. After that, New York dug in and demolished the Fire by a 5-2 scoreline. A moment of brilliance from the imperious Thierry Henry was met in harmony by the workhouse performances of Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty.

The sense of pride on Mike Petke’s face as he lifted the shield showed how a man, unfancied by many with not enough of a big name, had just become the biggest manager in Major League Soccer. Petke and the New York Red Bulls can’t afford to rest on their laurels, with the playoff clash with either Houston or Montreal to come. With their blistering form, it would be foolish to rule out New York adding another trophy. If they are to lift the MLS Cup, it will happen a lot quicker than their previous trophy drought of eighteen years.

Written by Tom Errington