Michael Owen Set to Retire at the End of the Season

Michael OwenMichael Owen will retire at the end of the 2012/13 Premier League season. The Stoke City and ex-England striker will hang up his boots after a career of success, and unfortunately, injuries. The onetime Ballon D’Or winner has enjoyed success at some top clubs and internationally with England.

In a statement, Owen said:

“It is with an immense amount of pride I announce my intention to retire. I have been very fortunate in that my career has taken me on a journey I could only have dreamed of .”

Owen made his debut for Liverpool at the young age of 17. The rest of the statement reads as follows:

“None of this would have been possible without the tremendous support I have received from managers, coaches, fellow players, backroom staff, the supporters and my own personal sponsors. I would like to thank each and every one for the huge role they have played in helping me reach the top of my profession.”

“Most of all, though, I would like to thank my family. To my beautiful wife Louise, for her continued love and support through the many ups and downs in my career and for affording me the most precious gift of all, our children.”

“To my mum, who has always taken the brunt of my frustrations yet continues to keep our family so tight-knit, a trait that has formed the foundations of my own success. Her dedication to me and my brothers and sisters is immeasurable.”

“Last but not least, my dad. We did it my old mate! From those freezing local parks to terrorizing the best defenders in the world on the biggest stages of all. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Michael OwenWith his impressive start to his career at Liverpool, calls from the fans led to his inclusion in England’s World Cup squad in 1998 in France when he was just 18, and went on to announce himself to the football world, and especially with his fantastic solo run and finish against Argentina in a game England went on to lose on penalties.

Owen was a hero for the Liverpool faithful and there was much devastation for the Reds fans when he moved to Real Madrid in 2004 for a fee of £8 Million.
With 14 goals in 40 games he had a split in support with Madrid fans, but at a big surprise at the time Newcastle United brought him back to the Premier League with the biggest transfer fee of his career in a reported £16 million switch in August of 2005.

Despite a decent start to his time in Newcastle, injuries would become as frequent as goals with metatarsal and anterior cruciate ligament injuries and frequent hamstring problems.

The time at Newcastle for Owen came to an end after Newcastle suffered shock relegation at the end of the 2008/09 season with defeat to Aston Villa at Villa Park on the last day of the season.

With Owen’s high wages and Newcastle facing life in England’s second tier, Owen made a move to Manchester United on a free transfer in time for the start of the 2009/10 season.

At Old Trafford, Owen’s biggest moment came when scoring the winner in the Manchester Derby in stoppage time, a game United won 4-3; the match has even been rated the best game in Premier League history. The majority of the time Owen was bench bound and only was used sporadically, as injury was the curse facing the striker on an all too familiar basis.

In September 2012 Owen agreed a free transfer to Stoke City after several English clubs reportedly showed an interest in Owen, as well as reported interest from MLS clubs.

Michael OwenStoke fans were hopeful as well as the admirers and followers of Owen’s career that this move could reignite him, however the all too familiar injuries have restricted Owen to only 7 appearances to date and 1 goal to his name. The retirement, announcement in March, came as no shock, but sadness and many good memories of Owen’s career, especially at international level, has not been uncommon.

The memories of young Owen running and finishing against Argentina as well as The fantastic hat-trick in Munich in 2001 at the 1-5 thrashing of the Germans will live in many English born people’s memories, along with sadness that so many injuries have brought Owens career to a premature end.

One thing that has always impressed me about Owen is that despite his introduction to the main stage from an early age is that his level-headed attitude and the lack of controversial headlines that follow so many younger stars these days. You never hear Michael Owen had been involved in a fight a row or disturbance, just headlines about what should be talked about in what a player does on the football field.

Michael Owen Stats:

  • Liverpool (1996-2004): 297 games, 158 goals
  • Real Madrid (2004-2005): 40 games, 14 goals
  • Newcastle United (2005-2009): 79 games, 30 goals
  • Manchester United (2009-2012): 52 games, 17 goals
  • Stoke City (2012-2013): 7 games, 1 goal
  • England (1998-2008): 89 caps, 40 goals

Written by @ChalkOnYaBoots

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Celta Vigo vs Barcelona: Celta Look to Evade Relegation with Miracle

BarcelonaCelta Vigo midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli will miss tonight’s clash against Barcelona after injuring his knee while on international duty. Sergio Alvarez, Hugo Mallo, Samuel Llorca, and Alex Lopez are all sidelined, while Andres Tunez and Iago Aspas are suspended.

Barcelona playmaker Xavi is struggling with his hamstring strain and will not travel to Galicia. Defender Jordi Alba (hamstring) and striker Pedro (calf) also picked up knocks while on Spain duty and join Carles Puyol (knee) and Adriano (thigh). On another note, the inspirational Abidal is back in the squad and is expected to get a few minutes.

Now, with Barcelona aiming to please on Tuesday night vs PSG in the Champions league, their minds (and players) won’t be all in it for Celta tonight. A list of injuries and suspensions lurk between both squads therefore it wont exactly be the best of encounters.

With Barcelona expected to rest the majority of their starters the game will definitely have a different tactical taste towards it. In the general sense, Celta tend to congest the mid and attempt to off-balance their opposition. Especially when playing the Atleticos, Real Madrids or even the Valencias; so in other words, on big occasions they tend to perform.

With Barcelona, it will be a bit different since it will be extremely hard to off-balance and quite honestly best a team that is probably the most fluid in the world when it comes to the midfield area. Celta will eye a tired, younger Barca (with Gerrard D, Tello, and Montoya all having a chance of starting) by presuming high-pressure and waiting for a misplaced pass or whatnot to strike. Starting with Celta;

Celta Vigo Probable Line-Up:

Varas, Johny, Cabral, Demidov, Lago, Oubiña, Insa, Fernández, Bermejo, Lucas, Park

Barcelona vs Celta VigoThe home-side will be looking to take advantage of Barca’s absences but need to be extremely disciplined in transitional play. They won’t necessarily man-mark the Catalans in the mid because their players tend to shift positions constantly, making it impossible. They’ll be aiming for an elite level of compactness, everywhere throughout the pitch.

This will probably be done by keeping masses of players inside the heart of the midfield and making it difficult for their opponents to find a link through. This is where their high-line comes into mind; they tried it vs Real Madrid and it was relatively successful for the majority of the game. They need to keep the back-line very high to keep Barca as further away as possible from the goal, because at any given moment, Messi (if he starts) could make a quick dribble and find himself in front of goal.

Furthermore, the gunner-man on loan needs to be at his positional best and make quick runs inside the box in case Barca are dispossessed in front of goal. Celta won’t really miss any of their injured players in much sense except in the shooting department as most of their injured players master out-the-box screamers. Other than that, they will be very balanced, poised and definitely motivated if they keep that compactness throughout the pitch. As for the Catalans;

Barcelona Probable Line-Up:

Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Montoya, Alcântara, Song, Fàbregas, Sanchez, Villa, Tello

Whether Tello/Sanchez start on the flanks or Tello/Gerrard D. it will be a very forward approach. With Celta expected to put on some high pressure and play with compactness, Cesc needs to be more forward to free himself from the mass amount of Celta players.

Barca expected to play Song as a 1-man-pivotal defensive midfielder. He should be vital for tonight because his long balls that used to be used to feed Van Persie back in Arsenal should be used tonight to support the wings. By feeding Tello and Sanchez/Gerrard on the flanks, Celta’s back-line will be forced to go backwards and at a certain pace because too much patience would lead to Barca’s gradual build-ups to turn into counters for the home-side.

Barcelona vs Celta VigoTello will need to penetrate the left wing as much as possible and attempt to break the high-line by holding the ball once received and waiting for Villa/Cesc to dig deep and construct a pass. Celta won’t be as offensive as Milan was in the San Siro a few weeks ago because their wingers aren’t as solid, but they will stick to their compactness for a longer period of time and aim to be more patient as they know Barcelona aren’t a joking matter.

Back-line is no issue whether Pique/Mascherano start or Pique/Bartra. Barca won’t exactly have 2 attacking full-backs for tonight with Montoya more of a solid, defensive full-back and with Alba currently suffering an injury, but Alves should do the job offensively. Moving on, Barcelona need to stretch the pitch, be pacy with their build-ups, keep Villa as a central striker, and be cautious with their passes.

This type of game is hard to predict because most of the starters aren’t going to be participating, especially for Barca, so it’ll be a different display from both sides. Nevertheless, Barcelona will stick to their philosophy and hold the ball as much as they can. Depending on how the first 10 minutes go, I see a tough game for the Catalans and unless they balance the flanks out, they’re likely to drop points tonight.

Prediction: Celta Vigo 1-3 Barcelona/Celta Vigo 0-2 Barcelona

Double prediction for tonight’s game but see the Catalans overcoming the compactness and winning by a 2+ goal deficit with both situations. Then again, this will depend on Barca’s form and how they handle the compactness, but at best, this is probably how it will end up.

Written by @ZeerFCB

Premier League vs La Liga: Which League is the Best in the World?

Premier League vs La LigaLa Liga and the Premier League are, in most quarters, rightly recognised as the two strongest leagues in the world. Perhaps this is tough on Serie A, but it is no secret that most of the world’s stars occupy the two leagues in question.

It would be fair to say that, at this moment, the two best players in the world are Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Lionel Messi of Barcelona. Spain may have the best national squad in the world and the best players, but that doesn’t assure them a top spot in their domestic league. Most, if not all football fanatics, have similar comparisons, La Liga or the Premier League?

Now, for the most part, the majority of EPL lovers would argue that the Liga lacks any sense of competitiveness, and also accuse it of being a “2 team league,” regarding the fact that Barcelona and Real Madrid have quite often won the league and rarely ever given room for any other Spanish teams to even compete.

This topic being a never-ending discussion point between all football fans, and it should be an interesting and somewhat obligation issue for me to try to distinguish between the two. The two leagues are both a big 20-team story in their own rights. Like any other good story though, football always throws up fascinating sub-plots, and it is within these that I believe the true competitive nature of round-robin football can be found. ‘The Race for 4th’ and ‘The Race for 40 Points’ can be equally as enthralling, but both have the potential to be just as equally predictable.

Given that the two leagues are almost identical in format and structure, sharing similar European qualification standards and the same rules regarding relegation (albeit the Premier League uses goal-difference to separate sides on level points whereas La Liga uses the head-to-head results). I have decided that the best measure of this is to look at how close teams finish to one another on points throughout the league. A smaller gap between teams suggests a higher level of competitiveness. I guess the logical place to start is at the top.

EPL vs La Liga: Head-to-Head

Having examined the final top-four from the two respective leagues since 2005, I have constructed the table below to show the points difference between each position. This includes the gaps between 1st through to 4th and an overall gap covering the section, as well as an average points difference over the last seven seasons.

As expected, the gap between 1st and 2nd is a lot smaller than the gap between 2nd and 3rd in both leagues. As a season goes on, more and more teams tend to fall away from the title-chase and there are often only two teams left who go into the final few games with a chance of winning the title. The average gap between 2nd and 3rd in Spain, however, is staggering. Whilst between 2005 and 2009, the two leagues were both relatively competitive in terms of the number of teams challenging for top-spot, since 2010, La Liga’s top-two have broken away to such an extent, that the average points difference between 2nd and 3rd is more than double the gap between the champions and the runners-up themselves. There is, however, a smaller gap between 3rd and 4th in Spain. But in terms of overall competitiveness at the summit, the Premier League wins hands down thanks also to a much smaller gap between the top and bottom of the section overall.

Robin van PersieFor all the Liga fans just inches away from closing the link, recommend you wait and continue reading. At the time being, La Liga is a zoo of talent with both the world’s best Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi taking their place in this promiscuous jungle. I have also recognized  that by a landslide, the Premier League delivers more goals on a weekly and seasonal basis than La Liga. Could this be because the Premier League posses the best strikers? Is it that the likes of Falcao, Ronaldo, Benzema, or even the great Lionel Messi are just not good enough for teams like Levante and Osasuna?

The answer to this question has to be seen through a different eye. The tactical one. Now I’m no Jose Mourinho, but its been shown and quoted by many players who have transferred from the Premeir League to La Liga and visa-versa, that in the Premier League, you simply do not have to wait for the second half for an open game. Unlike La Liga, which in majority, always kicks off games with a nervy and tight back-line and forwards that are as shy as a pre-pubicent girl. Contrary to popular belief, La Liga has shown itself to be tactically superior to the Premier League in the sense that even teams that counter attack, always have a time and place, in addition to adding a lot of pressure and closing their spaces to make it harder for the opposition, and unfortunately, that tends to be a rarity in England.

Recent games like the 8-0 hammering that Chelsea handed Aston Villa a couple of weeks back, or the 7-3 gunner goal-marathon. These scorelines, in the eye of an average football fan, would be enjoyable and entertaining, but as many other conceded goals, they happen because of a fault, and oh are those faults many.

Teams in the Premier League continually show us that they fail at shifting positions. Center backs frequently caught off-guard and there’s no sense of connection between the back-line and the midfield  Not to mention the seas of space between each player, that usually makes it easy for both teams to get space without even trying. Modern day football is all about space-making, and without that, there’s no tactical brilliance to any goal, even if it was shot in a beautiful way, it still would be looked at as a fault.

That pretty much sums up the whole La Liga-EPL dilemma and gives my perspective of the issue. It’s hard to say which is better, and honestly, it’s better not to. Both leagues are considered the best in the world, and it wouldn’t be right ruling one off as boring or the other as tactically insuperior. Both enjoyed in their own way, and cherished by many.

Written by @ZeerFCB

Comparison of the Influence Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova Have Had on Barcelona

Pep Guardiola and Tito VilanovaNow, in the lights of these current occurrences, most spectators are calling the need for reevaluating Tito’s impact on the team and comparing it to that of Pep’s. Both current coach and ex-coach have shown the exact same philosophy, possession, tiki-taka, and lots of Dani crosses. With both coaches proving worthy of managing this team, it has gone to my attention that most fans are stating that Tito contains the less direct style of play and Pep was more of a slow build-up type of guy. That calls for some tactical chat, don’t you think? Starting off with the current Barca.

Ever since Abidal got diagnosed with cancer, the team has changed its wing action completely. Barcelona used to play the usual Dani-Pique-Puyol-Abidal, leaving one full back that hits the right wing and supports the attack, and one full-back to sit at the back and keep things tight. Now, the current Barca uses the same back-line, but with Alba playing the role of left-back instead of the unfit Abidal.

This full-back duo of Alba and Dani might sound all great, but it has its many disadvantages. Logically speaking, having two full-backs with a very offensive and attacking mindset play at the same team would really cause a stir, as a flank is always exploited. Some might recommend Busquets occasionally dropping at the back, but that would only work if Abidal was still present, since Alba is too offensive of a player to stay back.

This also meant that the center-backs cannot make any runs, since there will always be a player missing at the back, and since there isn’t a full-back, that makes it double the trouble. Don’t want to be vague about it, but tactics aren’t rocket science; sometimes they are more straightforward thank you think. Defense isn’t lacking names or individual players, it just simply does not work together and will never handle transitions well.

BarcelonaTito has worked well with absences though. A major point that goes to him is that he introduced the idea of allowing opponents the room to attack, therefore giving Barca more room to build up attacks and finding more space at the opponents back-line. That’s exactly why Tito is usually seen as the more direct coach, because he does allow the opponent more time on the ball but tries to be more effective in the final third. Although Tito hasn’t proven anything yet, he has shown that he can add to this team even when the squad is need of depth.

Now for Pep, it was always a different case. After the first 3 years of domestic and European glory, he went on to the fourth with the daring confidence that he could rotate as much as he possibly wanted to. At a time where Barcelona’s tactics started to get off as a bit predictable, he thrived to change the formations and try to squeeze the best out of an already close-to-perfect Barcelona. That included the (4-1-4-1) formation used at the 3-1 hammering in the Santiago, or the occasional (3-4-3) that was usually played against La Liga opponents in the Camp Nou.

It really gave a new perspective to the team of how to unlock and break back-lines without having to change the philosophy. All those formations had one thing in common, and that was its failure to handle transitions on one of the flanks. Barcelona started to get a bit defensively vulnerable and were forced to always score 2-3 goals (or sometimes even more!) to ensure a victory.

Regardless of the depressing side of that era, now to focus on the good. Even though Pep and Tito seem to work in an extremely similar way, they both have different viewpoints on how to break free from pressure and attack a compacted back-line. Tito, as mentioned previously, prefers letting the opponent play some football and attacking the team; this would usually give the team more free spaces to attack when the ball is intercepted, for example the (4-2-4) at the start of the season against Sociedad.

Tito VilanovaPep, on the other hand, never liked to give away the ball. Unlike his personality, he was extremely greedy with ball possession and liked to have as much of it as possible. Pep used triangular formations nearly every game and always tried to bring forth the concept of total football, or outnumbering your opponent all around the pitch. Pep used to make the players work in groups of threes, much like magnets; whenever Xavi got the ball he’d drag 2 others with him and slowly pass the ball deep into the oppositions area just to look for an opening.

That my friends, is how Pep tried to play his football, using compactness and making all the players stick very close together to create space. He never believed in putting a Real Madrid, and always thrived on putting the midfield in control of the defense and attack. As for the current form the team is in, it is in no way a surprise.

The team isn’t divided, nor collapsing, but it has no sort of tactical supervision preventing it from playing like it did last night or the week before against Milan. Any coach would have known that we needed to add in a winger to stretch out the pitch that night at the San Siro, but we didn’t have Tito and we could not blame Roura for something he tried his best at. After-all, Roura is no tactician and he is trying his best. It’s a phase the team needs to go through without their coach, but hoping for a good retaliation phase after Tito is back and hopefully for good this time.

Written by @ZeerFCB

Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano: Multiple Injuries See Barca Play Youngsters

Barcelona vs Rayo VallecanoThe weekend has passed, and the historic Milan-Barca game still comes in mind. Although the spirits might be up and running for the team and their fans, it was only a matter of time till some bad news struck them. Barcelona captain Carles Puyol could be sidelined for up to a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday. Xavi (hamstring) and Victor Valdes (suspension) also sit out Sunday’s clash, but youngster Marc Bartra is available after overcoming a knee problem.

Now, since we’ve covered the bad news, it’s time to highlight some of the good points. After an unbelievable comeback the Catalans put through, it showed the team could easily take on a top-flight team in Europe with very little tactical supervision. Barcelona upped their game defensively (quite literally if you look at how high their back-line was) and continued to apply masses amount of pressure. Physically, Barcelona showed initiative and good, clean tackles were made.

With Rayo’s game coming to place tonight and the several injuries that have struck yet again, the team needs to compromise and rotate with their formation. Both squads, having played out a goal-fest in previous times with Barcelona scoring a little under 13 goals in their last two visits to the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecan. Currently speaking, both won and lost twice in their last 5 domestic games, showing that Rayo is in terms of form, prove to be relatively fit; Starting with the Catalans:

Predicted Barcelona Starting XI

Pinto, Montoya, Pique, Bartra, Correia, Thiago, Song, Fabregas, Sanchez, Messi, Tello

Barcelona vs Rayo VallecanoBarcelona, having been 10 points clear at the top of the table, could afford a bit of rotations every now and then, and judging by the amount of center-backs they possess at the moment, it’s pretty safe to say that Bartra starting is a huge possibility. Tello and Sanchez should be a good defensive and offensive duo that act as pillars for the flanks, both pacy and both relatively on form, especially with the Chilean scoring and assisting twice during his last two previous games.

Barcelona’s midfield will probably be looking for some Thiago and Cesc action, and Alex song to probably start off the game instead of the over-played Busquets, giving a good sense of rotation and somewhat assures it will definitely be a free-flowing game. As for the back-line, it will be interesting to see how it forms. Personally speaking, I would like to see some youngsters start. Montoya is defensively brilliant and hasn’t gotten much playing time recently, so it would be a good time to rest Dani Alves. Marc Bartra is to form a partnership in the heart of the defense alongside  Pique.

Predicted Rayo Vallecano Starting XI

Ruben, Tito, Galvez, Amat, Arbilla, Trashorras, Adrian, Bangoura, Dominguez, Piti, Delibasic

Rayo might on paper approach the game with a (4-2-3-1), but will definitely play a different formation when off the ball. Most likely a (5-4-1) in attempt to tighten up the spaces between the midfield and back-line, plus stall Barcelona from attacking the flanks, especially with Dani Alves and Alba probably missing out on the game, it will be interesting to see how the Rayo players presume throughout the full 90 minutes within very compact spaces.

Individually speaking, Rayo have their mad-men as well, Piti being the name. The winger has scored 11 goals in the league already and masters many positions. His flexibility will come in handy against a team as dominant as Barcelona. Tactically speaking, Rayo probably won’t start up the build-ups to their attacks via the midfield, they will try to blast those over-head kicks as much as possible and it’s Piti’s job to receive them, control the ball for a while, and wait for his players to go all out.

Summary

Rayo is no easy side, but judging by current forms and by taking the mental attributes into consideration, Barcelona will be out for a win from the start, and the youngsters will be out to prove their worth. I see the game kicking off to a tight start but once both teams get the hang of the playing field, 2-3 goals should be scored. Now, my predictions are rarely ever true, but I’ll go with an unusual one this time.

Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Rayo Vallecano

Written by @ZeerFCB

Nastasic vs Varane-Tactical Analysis: Part 2

Click here to view Part 1 of this article.

Raphael VaraneOnto Varane. Varane’s popularity has risen considerably this season, immensely more due to last night’s performance at the Camp Nou, absolutely manhandling Messi and scoring a bullet header sealing Madrid’s memorable victory.

Varane, who stands at a sturdy 6 ft 3, is a considerably physically-representable defender who, much like Nastasic, is extremely well built.  Varane, who is 19, and is still blooming into his future physical prime, is excessively fast for a built center back. His ability to change speed and direction in an almost instantaneous fashion is compelling for a defender of such build; rarely do we see any defender, let alone at such a young age, master their speed to be their class attribute.

Due to his highly capable speed, stamina, agility and physical prowess, many strikers will struggle against him, of all sizes and technique, as he showed last night, constantly defiling Messi of the ball, with clever nicks and tackles.

For me, Varane’s best and most excessively used attribute  is his ability to read the game. A defender must have basic abilities to be a natural physical presence, aerial threat, capable of tackling/positioning and most definitely having the mental capability to understand and read passages of opposition play. Obviously, as you play more, you gain more. For someone who is just 19, Varane has an exceptional adaptation to reading passages of attacking play from the opposing teams. His ability to spot the threat, target it, and finally neutralise it, is that much similar to that of legend Fabio Cannavaro (who had to excel in this aspect, as he wasn’t as physically fortuitous as other defenders).

Varane, who joins Nastasic, as the ever-growing ‘new’ breed of technically enhanced defenders, is one of my favorite defenders to watch. His execution-ate ability to make precise passes and clever-non-rushed clearances  without slowing down play is that which managers aspire to find in exceptional midfielders; having it in a quality center-back is a dream that only few make reality.

Down to the analysis comparison (La Liga/Premier League stats).

Matija NastasicStarting with Varane. Varane has had a total of 9 appearances so far for Madrid this season. The player, not surprisingly, has been able to create two goal scoring opportunities for the Galacticos, which however, weren’t converted. Varane having an average passing accuracy of 84% overall is that of an extremely high level for a defender having over 200 passes.

Nastasic has had 16 appearances in the league for City this season, contributing little to nothing going forward. Nastasic, however, proving he, so far, is the more technically adept out of the two with 86% passing accuracy with over 600 passes. This proving he, by almost having double the appearances, he has made triple the amount of passes and still attained a higher passing average. This makes Nastasic, statistically, the better defender of technicality.

In-depth Analysis:

As you can see the pair have their advantages over each over in various outlooks of their defensive statistics. In my opinion it is an equal positioning between the two statistically as, I consider the two key attributes of tackling and heading duels, are clearly won at one a piece.

Varane who has only made 7 successful tackles with that at 70% compared to Nastasic’s 95% with 25/26 completed, Nastasic is clearly the more dominant defender in winning tackles having flustered Varane in comparison. Varane has obviously played less games, so his statistics will vary to those of Nastasic’s, making this difficult in comparison of  numbers. Fouls committed: I don’t consider a true aspect of defending, as tactical fouls, compared to malicious, cannot be drawn from one another, so they are void. And obviously taking on is also invalid for a defender, as… well, obvious reasons.

Finally, headed dueling is clearly won in percentage by Varane with a solid 80% compared to Nastasic’s 64%. However, the La Liga is renowned for representing smaller forwards to the Premier League, so there may be some intake on that situation, however, there is no doubt Varane is seen a dominant aerial threat.

Overall, they are both clearly astounding and world-class defenders. Only being 19 and as inexperienced as they are, they will become two of the worlds greatest center backs we have come to know in this day and age of modern football.

But who is better?

Personally, I would go with Nastasic, statistic-wise. His statistic’s obviously prove he is a reliable and consistent counter-half to many strikers. However, Varane, as of late has impressed me more and has put in absolutely astounding performances, and from that I’m tempted to say him, so by cancellation, I’d have to go with an equal pressing.

Written by @Trequartister (trequartister.wordpress.com)

Nastasic vs Varane-Tactical Analysis: Part 1

Raphael VaraneWe’ve all come to know over this season just who Matija Nastasic and Raphael Varane are. We all know they play for the two billionaire super-clubs Manchester City and Real Madrid, but who is the better footballer?

In this article I will go detail for detail, statistic for statistic, to see who the best upcoming center-back in the world truly is.

Firstly, a bit about the players, an informative bio as such.

Both players are currently 19. Yes, only 19, and with only a month separating them in age, there can be no arguments to development and experience between them.

Starting with Nastasic: Nastasic signed for current Premier League Champions City on deadline day in August 2012. The fee is reportedly around a €15million+Stevan Savic, who was exchanged as part of the deal. Nastasic made his City debut in the massive clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (in which Varane also played). Nastasic has gone on to make 16 appearances for City.

Varane signed for Madrid in June 2011 for a smaller fee than Nastasic’s of around €10million. Varane’s debut came the September after signing in a 0-0 clash with Racing Santander. Varane’s first goal for Madrid made him the youngest foreign player, at 18 years and 152 days, to score a goal in a competitive match for Real Madrid. He has gone on to make 18 appearances for the club.

As we know, the two have faced each other before, such as the madness of the first Madrid vs City clash of the group stages in this season’s Champions League. Real Madrid won the game 3-2 due to two astounding late goals from Benzema and Ronaldo. Both players played the full 90 minutes and there wasn’t much to say for either of them, both picking up an average rating of 6. Few analyse that Benzema’s 87th minute equalizer was down to Nastasic’s poor marking and concentration, however, nothing can be taken away from the spectacular goal.

So, now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the analysis.

Matija NastasicNastasic, as a center-back is touted to be much like that of Mats Hummels: technically brilliant. Technically, Nastasic possesses the ability in which many defenders are unable to, the likes of complete control, steady-headed awareness on the ball, and sublime passing are all attributes he, undoubtedly, has.

Nastasic is that of an increasing breed of technically enhanced defenders. Along with his technical ability, his defensive qualities and experience for a 19 year-old are that most never obtain. His demanding physical presence strikes fear into the attackers who he marks. Body-to-body, not many will win the battle against him. He is extremely agile for a center-back and has adapted to the clinical strikers, who possess next-level turning abilities. His defensive stance makes him hard to take on, treading back while facing the attacker proves almost inevitable to pass.

His tactical astuteness is another benefactor to his co-center-backs. Being so adaptable and maneuverable, Nastasic’s maturity to rotate positions is by far extreme examples of quality versatility. As well as being physically adept, he is also vocally; Nastasic is not one to buckle up and stay shut, he let’s his compatriots know of threats and runs through the midfield area, giving them chance to quickly lock down any goal threats.

However, as every human being and footballer player alike, weaknesses are valid. Nastasic’s main drop-down, is his inability to concentrate. The player, becomes lazy and distracted. Although young and obviously inexperienced - his schoolboy errors of dropping in concentration are no excuses for the level of football he plays week-in, week-out. His mentality seems to be what drops him down from being an all round complete defender right now. Physically and technically he’s rising to be the best. However, mentally, he’s dropping equal to that of the lower divisions.

Click here to view Part 2 of this article.

Written by @Trequartister (trequartister.wordpress.com)

The Top 5 Managers in the Football World Today

Jose MourinhoAs Jose Mourinho will be leaving Madrid next season, endless rumors and lots of speculation has been circulating about where he’ll end up. Back to Chelsea? Over to Manchester (City or United)? Or will he end up abroad? From what we know today, only time will tell.

With Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini claiming he is the best in the Premier League, and Sir Alex Ferguson still at United, it got me wondering, who are the top 5 managers in football today?

This can come down to opinion and/or fact. I have focused mainly on statistic mixed with a little bit of my own thoughts on the topic! I have also based this on what leagues they have managed in and the teams they have managed.

Lets start with the mangers who didn’t quite make the top 5. Moyes, Wenger, Simeone, Conte all come close but didn’t quite make it. Other contenders that just missed out we’re Del Bosque, Ancelloti, Heynckes, Capello and Trapattoni. All of these managers are top class. They all have good win percentages and have a successful career, but that wasn’t quite good enough to make the top 5:

5. Jurgen Klopp

To start off we have Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp. Klopp has turned Dortmund from a team fast developing a reputation as underachievers, to a force who can take on any big team in Europe and one of the most efficient teams in Bundesliga history. He has broke multiple records with the squad, such as the 87 total league-points amassed last season as well as guiding Dortmund to a 28-game unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga. Already, he has been successful in Germany, and being young, he has surely got a bright future ahead of him.

4. Pep Guardiola

Fourth in the list is Pep Guardiola. In only 4 years as Barcelona manager, Guardiola has achieved more then most mangers have in their lifetime. His success was immediate, collecting La Liga and Champions League titles in his first season in charge and going on to win 14 trophies in his time at the club. With a 71.94% win rate, it’s clear that he is a top manager. But his time at Bayern Munich will certainly determine whether he is the best.

3. Ottmar Hitzfeld

Ottmar HitzfeldIn third place is Ottmar Hitzfeld. Having won 18 major trophies in less than thirty years as manager, he has proven that he is top class. Winning 7 Bundesliga titles with Bayern and Dortmund, and also being crowned Champions of Europe with both clubs, he’s impressive success rate is paralleled by his consistency as a manager. He is a great tactician and has one of the best minds in football. Some even call him the greatest manager the Bundesliga has ever seen! For me, he is definitely one if the greatest managers the world of football has had.

2. Sir Alex Ferguson

The last two places come down to a matter of opinion. My opinion is that the second best manager in football right now is Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, but still the best of all time. Premier League, Champions League, FA cup, League Cup, you name it and Sir Alex has won it. 2060 games with a win percentage of 57.82% is a truly amazing feat! But what I admire most about Sir Alex Ferguson is his loyalty and respect to his club. In summary, he is one of the great tacticians in the game and knows everything about football; a true icon and legend.

1. Jose Mourinho

But the man who I believe to be the best in the game today, a man who is destined to become the greatest, is none other than Jose Mourinho. Love him or hate him he is the special one. He learned how to be a great coach, he studied the game, and is one of the best tactical-minded mangers ever to grace the world of football. Winning the Champions League with Porto and Inter, and winning back-to-back Premier League titles with Chelsea, Mourinho has been the most successful manager in football over the past 10 years. In my opinion, he is the best right now and is on track (if not already!) to become the greatest football manager of all time. In 523 games, he has a win percentage of 68.26%, which is an extremely good number. The self proclaimed “special one” has certainly lived up to the name. In general, he is one of football’s greatest mangers, and will no doubt become even more successful in the future!

Written by @OnlyJuanOneMata

Real Sociedad 3-2 Barcelona: Red Card and Own Goal End Undefeated Streak

Real Sociedad played an exceptional game against league leaders Barcelona Saturday, coming from behind to deliver Barca ‘s first defeat of the season with the score of 3-2.Real Sociedad 3-2 Barcelona

Lionel Messi and Pedro sent the Catalan Giants off to a great start at Anoeta Stadium, putting them up 2-0 for most of the 1st half. As of then, it looked as though Barcelona’s 19th La Liga victory of the season was within arms-reach. Real Sociedad needed a miracle to get back in the game, set aside win it all.

But unfortunately for Barcelona, that is exactly what had happened.

A red card for Gerard Pique let Sociedad fight back though, and with goals from Gonzalo Castro, Javier Mascherano (own goal), and Imanol Agirretxe, the squad secured the jackpot.

But the jackpot was much more than a mere 3 points. It was a win against an undefeated side that has a total of 21 La Liga and 4 Champions League titles, and if that’s not a feat worthy of praise, I don’t know what is!

The surprising part was that Barcelona had hugely dominant possession of the ball, a whopping 68% of it! Their pass accuracy was 89%, compared to Sociedad’s 74%, but all other statistics had gone in the opposition’s favor.

Sociedad made nearly double the number of shots during the match. 6 of those 14 shots were on target, while only 3 of Barca’s 8 had any chance at finding the back of the net.

Barca only made one change to their starting lineup from last week’s Copa del Rey draw against Malaga, putting in captain Carles Puyol for Javier Mascherano (who still managed to score an own goal). Tito Vilanova put only the strongest men on the pitch to amend their weak performance at home against Malaga, but they still fell short of Sociedad.

The 1st half was surprisingly all Barcelona’s, and getting into rhythm quickly, they look as though they were unstoppable. The squad made many meaningful attacks early on, but few actually tested the defenses. Messi had a one-on-one moment with Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, and though it looked like it was an easy shot to make, it went completely wide, something very unlike the Argentine legend.

Just a minute later, Messi had another chance, but the keeper cleared it. Unfortunately for them, it landed at Iniesta’s feet, who found Messi once again with an assist and slotted the ball past Bravo and into the goal on the 7th minute.

On the 25th minute, Pedro produced another series of attacks against Sociedad. Dani Alves pressured the defense and set up Pedro, who scored his 4th La Liga goal of the season.

2 goals up, Barca continued to push for a 3rd. Messi surged toward the goal and beat Bravo in another 50-50, but his shot hit the post, hinting at what was yet to come.

Real Sociedad 3-2 BarcelonaSociedad cut the lead to just 1 when they used Dani Alves’ mistake to their advantage. As a result, Chori Castro had complete control over the left side of the penalty area, and after an assist from Carlos Vela, he fired his side right back into the game.

Messi had another chance to score for Barca before the half, but it went wide, leaving Barca up 2-1 as the whistle was blown.

Vilanova made no changes to the squad as they entered the 2nd half, a mistake he would later regret. The team made unclean passes and allowed Sociedad and easy entry back into the game.

Pique, who picked up a yellow card in the first half, should have been more careful, but he stuck his leg out in front of Carlos Vela to get the red. This caused Vilanova to make his first change of the match, substituting Mascherano for Fabregas to maintain all 4 men on defense.

Just 3 minutes later, Castro made a powerful curled shot at the Barca goal. Although it would have probably been saved by Valdes, it took a deflection off of Mascherano, whose own goal tied it up at 2 just after the hour mark.

Both teams exchanged attacking plays after the equalizer, but Sociedad manager Philippe Montanier had one substitution left to make, which in fact won them the game. He put in Imanol Agirretxe for Carlos Vela, who evaded Barca’s poor defense on the 90th minute and scored the winner.

You can argue that their loss was largely Gerard Pique’s fault, who had left the squad one man down. It was a significant factor, but not the only thing that caused them to lose at Anoeta.

No matter how you bend it, the team did very poorly both offensively and defensively. All 11 men were on the pitch when Sociedad scored their first, so Pique was not to blame for that goal. They were unable to recover after that, though, and although I’m not diverting the attention from Pique, they shouldn’t have been crushed that badly even with only 10 men.

Now that they have recorded their first loss of the season, Barcelona stays in 1st on the La Liga table with 55 points. Both Madrid teams are still fairly far behind (but haven’t played their 20th games yet), Atletico in 2nd with 44 points and Real in a close 3rd with only 37.

Meanwhile, Real Sociedad stay in 9th place with 29 points. They are just 3 points away from 5th placed Malaga, meaning that they can rise to that position fairly quickly if they are to have a more successful second half of the season.

Barcelona Goalkeeper Victor Valdes Refuses to Sign New Deal

31-year old Barca star Victor Valdes has announced he will not be extending his stay with the club when his contract expires.

Victor Valdes Refuses to Sign New DealThe Spanish goalkeeper’s current deal runs out at the end of the next season, on 30 June, 2014.

Valdes has played keeper for Barcelona since 2002. Since then, the club has won La Liga 5 times and recorded a total of 3 Champions League titles.

With a total 689 goals saved for Barcelona since the 2005-2006 season, Valdes proved to be a vital factor on the pitch. He has done an exceptional job leading the club’s defenses, and I doubt Barcelona would have recorded all those titles without Victor Valdes guarding the goal.

Valdes has made it clear that he will not be retiring at Nou Camp, though. Now that he has officially declined a contract extension with Barca, Valdes will be a hot transfer target in the summer of 2014. With all his successes with the Catalan Giants, who wouldn’t wan’t the Spaniard playing on their squad?

In response to the news, Barcelona sports director Andoni Zubizeretta said:

“We let them know our interest in renewing his contract because he is a keeper of the highest level. Before we could put forward any proposals or speak about anything, his representative told us that the decision had been considered and taken, that he would not continue after June 30, 2014.”

“It’s an irrevocable decision.”

“Barcelona fans need to respect the professional decision of a player who has spent 12 years here. We are asking you to continue supporting him and to encourage him as much as you have done throughout his career.”

“He is committed to this jersey until June 30, 2014 and will defend the goal with everything he has. Meanwhile, we shall work together to see what the next steps should be, along with him and his agent, to work together to deal with this situation that arose yesterday.”

Victor ValdesBarcelona manager Tito Vilanova announced that although he was surprised, he respects Valdes’ decision:

“It’s a shame he’ll leave because Victor is the ideal goalkeeper for Barca. It’s never a good moment for someone like him to leave.”

The situation won’t be a problem for the club until the goalkeeper’s contract expires at the end of next season, giving Barca plenty of time to find someone to replace Valdes.

Barcelona’s reserve goalkeeper, Jose Manuel Pinto, will be 38 years old by then, which means he will likely not be given the position considering they will want a younger, more dependent option.

Manchester United’s David de Gea and Chelsea reserve goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are two such options that the club can pursue. But no matter who they go after, they will certainly find someone suitable for the position within the next 17 months.

In conclusion, Valdes has done a lot for Barcelona, who are currently leading La Liga, and he will certainly be missed. Hopefully his absence will not impact the team’s enormous success both at the domestic and international levels, but nevertheless, he will forever be remembered as one of the best goalkeepers to ever play for the club.