Monday Musings

Jose Mourinho's 'spin' doesn't hide the hard work ahead for Man United

May 25, 2017 07:16 AM PDT

The conversation gets heated between the FC guys when talking about whether or not this season can be considered a success by Man United standards. Rafa Benitez famously commented that "Football is a lie." I wouldn't go quite that far, but it's pretty obvious to me that so much of the game is "spin." Often, the very same event, viewed from different perspectives, can be read and defined in so many ways. Watching Jose Mourinho after Man United won the Europa League drove the point home. It felt as if he was an actor in someone else's play. I don't mean it in a negative way, either. He has little choice. We like very simple, black-and-white...

Zidane guides Real to La Liga glory, Allegri's Juve win again, Terry's sendoff

May 22, 2017 08:41 AM PDT

The ESPN FC crew hail Zinedine Zidane for his part in bringing Real Madrid back to the summit in La Liga. There was no last day miracle, no "Tenerifazo" like a quarter-century ago when Real Madrid contrived to blow the title 90 minutes from the finish line. What you got instead was an early lead to settle the nerves, some great goalkeeping from Keylor Navas, and Karim Benzema putting the title out of reach by giving Real Madrid their 2-0 lead in the second half. The victory away to Malaga sealed the club's 33rd league title, although only the club's second since 2008. Whether this reflects shifting...

Antonio Conte reveals a calmer, cooler side in guiding Chelsea to the title

May 17, 2017 12:37 AM PDT

Former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley praises the work of Antonio Conte in taking the club to the Premier League title. Chelsea boss Antonio Conte says switching his defensive formation was the catalyst for their title triumph. Hiring a new manager isn't entirely dissimilar to making a commitment to a significant other. You know it might not last forever. You know you might not be the one who gets to decide when it ends. Most of all, while you hope that the bad will be far outweighed by the good, you know that there will be a whole load of cons. There always are. It was no different for Chelsea when they made Antonio Conte their top target over the holiday period between December 2015 and January 2016. They thought he...

Chelsea, Antonio Conte's remarkable title, Roma rout Juve, Ronaldo hits 400

May 15, 2017 08:26 AM PDT

Former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley praises the work of Antonio Conte in taking the club to the Premier League title. It's done. Chelsea are Premier League champions and given that it happened on Friday, it seems like old news. But in Antonio Conte's world, there's no time to reflect. Instead, it's onward to the next challenge (the FA Cup final), a new contract and then the summer transfer session, which will supposedly see some serious cash splashed. That doesn't mean it's not worth reflecting briefly on what this group has achieved. With two home games left -- Monday vs. Watford and next Sunday against...

Juventus -- fix it even if it ain't broke

May 10, 2017 08:36 AM PDT

After dispatching Monaco comfortably, the FC panel assess if Juve are favourites to claim the UCL crown in the final. You have to go all the way back to Chelsea in 2012 -- five years and five managers ago -- to find a Champions League winner that has changed more than Juve have in the past two seasons. Well-run clubs never need to rebuild; they simply reload. It's an old maxim and it's generally true. If you're a dominant side, you maintain that dominance through continuous small changes rather than periodic blow-ups. Get the small changes right and you won't need to rebuild. But for every rule, there's a counterargument:...

Arsenal won but Mourinho becomes the big story, Real's "B Team," more

May 8, 2017 09:24 AM PDT

After Man United's defeat at Arsenal, the FC crew lambaste Jose Mourinho for his excuses about his side's shortcomings. Jamie Redknapp, speaking early in the second half, described Arsenal's 2-0 clash with Manchester United on Sunday as "putrid." That may have been a bit over the top from the ex-pro turned analyst, but the match was a surreal spectacle, particularly when compared to past clashes between these two sides (not to mention these two managers). Part of it was their respective league positions. Part of it was the fact that you had one team that's not particularly good taking on another team whose manager...

Marcelo, Dani Alves continue to redefine full-back role for Real, Juve

May 4, 2017 07:11 AM PDT

Gab Marcotti reveals his two reasons why Barcelona let Dani Alves leave as the Brazilian continues to shine for Juventus. Gonzalo Higuain and Dani Alves teamed up twice for spectacular goals as Monaco are left in a big hole heading in to leg 2. Craig Burley breaks down the defensive lapses that lead to Juventus' two goals against Monaco in the Champions League. Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe there is no deeper tactical significance. Maybe they aren't a dying breed but rather a one-off. Maybe they're just two hugely gifted Brazilian full-backs who interpret the game in their own unique way. The fact that, for many years, they were teammates with the Selecao and rivals on the pitch is just another wrinkle. I honestly don't know. I just find Marcelo and Dani Alves hugely compelling. And the fact that within the space of 26 hours, each played a key role...

Tottenham's superb season, gauging Bayern's success, Real Madrid's secret

May 1, 2017 09:15 AM PDT

ESPN FC's Stewart Robson critiques Arsene Wenger's tactics in Arsenal's 2-0 defeat at Tottenham. It was the perfect way to celebrate the demise of St. Totteringham's Day, that moment in the season (usually in the spring) when Arsenal are so far ahead of Tottenham that they can't be caught. Well, there will be no St. Totteringham's Day this season, and Spurs fans got confirmation of this in the most satisfying ways: beating Arsenal 2-0 and in the final North London Derby at White Hart Lane, no less. By switching to the 3-4-2-1 a few weeks ago, Arsene Wenger may have shown that he is not...

UK arrests at football clubs is hopefully start of genuine change, transparency

Apr 26, 2017 08:38 AM PDT

Soccer has long been a sport in need of transparency. Will some be forthcoming? Is something finally happening? Are they actually getting off their rear ends? Clubs in France and England, including West Ham and Newcastle United, newly promoted to the Premier League, woke up this morning to raids from tax authorities. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said in a statement that "several" men working in "professional football" have been arrested for suspected tax fraud. We don't know the details, so there's no point in speculating right now about who and why and what...

Lionel Messi's Clasico for the ages, Arsenal surprise us, Inter in trouble

Apr 24, 2017 07:03 AM PDT

The FC crew debate if Lionel Messi truly is the greatest footballer to ever play. Sometimes they live up to the hype. Sometimes they surpass it. From the neutral's perspective, Sunday night's Clasico took it to another level. No matchup in the world has as much talent on the pitch even with Neymar missing and Gareth Bale succumbing to injury after just more than half an hour, and few have had as much drama, individual displays of talent, handbrake turns in the narrative and end-to-end excitement as what we witnessed. And, as far as Lionel Messi is concerned, we've had the...

Mistake-filled Madrid vs. Bayern tie a prime example of why VAR is needed

Apr 19, 2017 07:23 AM PDT

Paul Mariner is fully supportive of VAR amid the refereeing controversy surrounding Real and Bayern's quarterfinal 2nd leg. The black mark of Madrid's stunning win over Bayern, were the many refereeing gaffes, which the FC crew dissect fervently. We really ought to be discussing 210 minutes of captivating football between arguably the two best teams in the world. Instead, the aftermath of Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich has been dominated by talk of the match officials and their decisions. With it is the usual talk of conspiracies and it's not just fans and media fanning the flames: Two World Cup-winning teammates, separated by the age-old Barcelona-Madrid divide, have been going at it as well. Moments after Cristiano Ronaldo's goal to make...

Mourinho gets it right, Conte gets it wrong; drama in Milan; Messi, Isco star

Apr 17, 2017 08:56 AM PDT

Jose Mourinho made it seem like it was no big deal. It was, he said, pretty much the same game plan that Manchester United used against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup last month, and had that quarterfinal tie remained 11 vs. 11 -- Ander Herrera was sent off in the first half -- he was "totally convinced" that it would also have resulted in victory, just as it did on Sunday when his side beat the Premier League leaders 2-0. In fact, though, it was a big deal. Mourinho left out the likes...

Dybala has the ability and work ethic for Juventus to be built around him

Apr 12, 2017 10:33 AM PDT

Google Earth does a fine job of describing just where La Joya -- the jewel -- was first mined. It shows Paulo Dybala's hometown of Laguna Larga, in Argentina, as a grey-white rectangle surrounded by hundreds of green rectangles. In the aftermath of World War II, Dybala's grandfather Boleslaw was forced to emigrate from Poland to Argentina. The Nazis had occupied his village and taken him away to work for the German Reich, and he struggled to find work when he returned home. His story, eloquently...

Real vs. Bayern a real UCL blockbuster with no margin for error. Who will win?

Apr 11, 2017 01:20 AM PDT

This is not what football's founding fathers intended. Any enduring conspiracy involving "hot balls and cold balls" and rigged draws to keep the heavyweights apart suffered a blow when Real Madrid were pitted against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals. UEFA club rankings may be purely mathematical constructs (although they're probably somewhat more reliable than their cousins, the FIFA rankings), but they are pretty unequivocal here. They look at the past five seasons, and they...

Chelsea's ability to "suffer" with Conte is pushing them to Premier League title

Apr 6, 2017 08:35 AM PDT

Let it be a small reminder of how the game works. On Saturday, Chelsea went 2-1 down before dominating much of the rest of the game against Crystal Palace. They still lost. That they didn't draw (or win) was down to some tremendous defending from Wayne Hennessey and Mamadou Sakho, poor finishing and sheer dumb bad luck -- or, if you prefer, variance and probability. On Wednesday, they also finished 2-1 except this time, Chelsea won against a much better team than Palace, Manchester City. And in...

Arsenal, Man City's sloppy draw, Juve play it safe, Chelsea shouldn't panic

Apr 3, 2017 08:09 AM PDT

The FC panel lament Manchester City's inability to translate Pep Guardiola's tactics into a quality product on the pitch. Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger are both managers who say they value performance and process as much as (if not more than) results and outcome. There's no reason to doubt them, so you can only imagine that postgame platitudes aside, neither was happy with this multi-car pileup of a game. Focus only on the result, and you might conclude that Sunday's 2-2 draw suited both sides. Arsenal didn't end the game empty-handed, something that had happened just once in the previous seven games in league...

Video assistant referees are an imperfect but important solution

Mar 29, 2017 05:05 AM PDT

Shaka Hislop and Alexis Nunes discuss the notion that VAR delays will become a nuisance during matches. Shaka Hislop and Alexis Nunes discuss the notion that VAR delays will become a nuisance during matches. Antoine Griezmann thought he'd had the opener for France, but the video assistant referee (VAR) ruled the goal was offside. International Friendly: Gerard Deulofeu (77'), France 0-2 Spain Two of the biggest football countries were on display but it was Video Replay Technology that starred, disallowing one goal and overruling a linesman on another. When France hosted Spain in a friendly on Tuesday night, the match offered the first "official" example of a video assistant referee (VAR) in a high-profile international. (The first instance was back at the FIFA Club World Cup in December ... and the first "unofficial" instance was probably this, even though we may never know for sure.) VAR proponents could not have hoped for a better outcome. Simply put, without VAR, this game would have finished in a 1-1 draw. Instead, Spain won 2-0. You don't...

England try to find a "Plan B," Cristiano Ronaldo's latest goals, Mbappe's future

Mar 27, 2017 08:44 AM PDT

Shaka Hislop talks which of England's strikers will most likely feature in the 2018 World Cup next summer. The fact that Gareth Southgate switched to a back three in Thursday's 1-0 friendly defeat to Germany only to go back to a 4-2-3-1 in the qualifier against Lithuania on Sunday was read in different ways. He said it was a function of needing to figure out different formations to suit different opponents. It's an interesting take and somewhat different from his predecessors, most of whom believed that the best way to build chemistry was to play the same way each time. The problem with England having...

Here's how to end the international break and keep clubs, countries happy

Mar 22, 2017 09:43 AM PDT

Could 2017 summer transfer window be the 'summer of strikers', with several high-profile names potentially moving clubs? As Lionel Messi and Argentina embark on another international break, it's high time to end the current setup. A few weeks ago I wrote about a conversation I had with Carlo Ancelotti during which (unsurprisingly, given he's a football manager) he complained about the time coaches actually get with players and, specifically, the scheduling of international breaks. Indeed, having the squad go off for 10 days in September, October and November, just as the season is getting underway, is both a buzzkill and a hurdle. It's a perpetual club vs. country tug-of-war, and FIFA inevitably gets caught in the middle. These...

Why was Pep Guardiola so happy with Man City's draw? Plus: Real win ugly

Mar 20, 2017 09:18 AM PDT

Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona took advantage of the extra man to best Valencia at Camp Nou. Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Liverpool was hailed as a great advertisement for the Premier League. It was breathless; it was end-to-end and it featured tons of chances and incidents. It also saw a horrific number of individual errors -- referee Michael Oliver, regarding James Milner on Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure on Emre Can, wasn't immune either -- and two badly exposed back fours. To some, it was a very "English" game in the sense that it conformed to a certain set of stereotypes: high...

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