Monday, 5 December 2016

The Green Card Rule in Football

As per 90min, the green card was used for the first time in football in a Serie B match between Virtus Entella and Vicenza of Italy. And it was issued in favour of the visitors. Although not a physical card like the yellow and red cards, the green card would be recorded in favour of a team for fair play.

So, what actions would be adjudged fair play from a player? For instance, in the Serie B match, the referee gave a corner kick to the away side only for the Vicenza player involved in the action to tell the centre referee that it was a goal kick instead for the home side, Virtus Entella because his attempted cross did not touch the defender.

Well, that was in the Serie B match, where arguably, the competition is less fierce compared to a Serie A game involving say Juventus and Roma or a very competitive match on the last day of the season where the same Serie B teams are fighting for survival. In either case, you would see clearly that the green card rule wouldn't matter at all when the stakes are high.

In essence, in a very competitive league or tourney, the green card rule would be observed by teams only if the stakes are not high; when the fate of every team has been decided; the title has been won and lost, the relegation battle has been won and lost, qualification for European competitions has been decided. Otherwise, the green card rule would be as useless as the letter "p" in the word "psychology" since it would be left at the mercy of teams to decide whether it is issued or not. To put it clearly, in a highly competitive game, no player would be so honest as to reject a penalty kick wrongfully awarded by the referee when his team are chasing a game or searching for a winner.

After all said and done, it would be quite interesting if teams observe this latest rule in the game irrespective of the competition involved, since it would further enhance the good reputation of football and also endear opposition players to opposition fans. As we await its wider application across the various leagues and competitions in the World, it is my candid hope that the green card rule succeeds for the good of the game.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Workaholic Sanchez

I imagine where Arsenal would be in the premier league table if Alex Sanchez was not in that Gunners team. Take him out of the team, and Wenger's side will be struggling. He is the type of player that is tailored made for the highly rigorous premier league. 

Unlike Ozil who lacks strength but possesses technique, Sanchez possesses both. He starts and finishes a game closing down defenders and always looking for that half a yard space to shoot. 

In the game against Westham, he took full advantage of the Hammers' shambolic defending to score a hatrick. Although he should be given credit for all three goals especially the second, where he produced a Messsi-esque movement to score. Of all the Arsenal front players who played at the Olympic stadium, only Sanchez looked like a player willing to win. 

As an opposition fan, sometimes you wish to have players of other teams play for your team because you think they will do better and even improve your team. Sanchez is a player who will walk into any team and fit in perfectly. 

The Conte Code 3-4-3: II

When Man City and Chelsea team news were announced yesterday, it was obvious that both Gurdiola and Conte had set out their teams to win. In City's case, six changes were made to the side that won at the Turf Moore last weekend, but Chelsea made only one change to the side that has played in the last six games with Fabregas coming in for the injured Matic.

Gurdiola deployed Navas and Sane as wing backs to nuliffy the attacking threats of Alonso and Moses, although the City duo did troubled the Chelsea wing backs especially the cross from Navas that resulted to an own goal by Cahill, the decision backfired as Chelsea capitalised on the Man City players little familiarity of the 3-4-3 system to win 1-3.

It could be argued that Gurdiola is also an advocate of the 3-4-3 system, but only in rare occasions did his rampant Barcelona side play in this system so also did his Bayern side. In Conte, you have a manager who knows and plays the 3-4-3 system including its equivalent, the 3-5-2 like no one else. He used the latter system at Juve to win three consecutive Scudetti, and it also worked wonders for his Azzuri side in the last Euros.

Every manager has an area of specialization. Talk about the pressing game, Klopp is a master of this. To nuliffy the threat of an opposition team, Mourinho is second to no one in this respect. If you want your team to dominate in possession for 90 minutes of a game, hire the service of either Gurdiola or Wenger. To find tactical codes, call Conte.

Indubitably, in the coming weeks or perhaps months, the premier league may witness a paradigm shift from the favoured 4-2-3-1 system to the "Conte Code 3-4-3" or its equivalent, the 3-5-2. The success of either systems is heavily dependent on; first, defenders with good positional discipline most especially when the wing backs are in advance positions of the pitch, second, wing backs with intelligence and stamina to defend and attack in equal measure, third, central midfielders with the ability to sprint and cover as much ground as possible, and fourth, attacking players who are clinical in front of goal and also willing to offer defensive cover if need be. If the Chelsea game against Man City is anything to go by, Antonio Conte knows more than this, and I bet it could take more than a like minded manager as the Italian to break the "Conte Code 3-4-3". Until then, let us enjoy his tactical masterclass while it last.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Conte Code 3-4-3: I

In the last premier league game between Chelsea and Tottenham, we saw how Pochettino's team pinned Chelsea back to their own half in the first half hour of the game. This, many pundits attributed to the success of Spurs' counter tactics of deploying the trio of Son, Kane and Dele Alli who continuously pressed the three Chelsea defenders (Azplicueta, Luiz and Cahil) and this made it very difficult for the Blues to build from the back. Spurs' game plan was working to perfection until Pedro's goal cancelled out Eriksen's strike to level things up for the home side.

Typical of Spurs, their system collpased in the first fifteen minutes of the second period which Chelsea took full advantage of to go in front through a Victor Moses strike. Had Chelsea not equalized in the first half, you would expect Pochettino's men to go into the second half and stick to their game plan and maybe grab the second vital goal . If this had happened, we would have heard pundits talking about how the 3-4-3 Conte's tactics Code was broken. Nevertheless, the Chelsea boss would have gone back to his tactics board after the Spurs game to find out how he would stop the 3-4-3 Code from being broken in his side's next match against Man City. Even though City provides a more difficult test than Spurs, it is not possible for City to press Chelsea in the same manner as Tottenham because the Etihad side do not have the requisite personnel to do so.

The prove of the difficulty in breaking the Conte's 3-4-3 Code is the successful application of its like, the 3-5-2 in the ever tactically competitive Serie A. No doubt, the 3-4-3 Code will be broken in time to come, but it will be as hard as anything you could think of.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

David Luiz to Return to Chelsea

According to Sky Sports (here), Chelsea have  made an offer of £30m to bring David Luiz back Stamford Bridge where he left in the summer of 2014 for a record transfer fee of £50m for a defender.
It is understood that the flamboyant 29-year old Brazilian defender is eager for the deal to to happen. If the deal goes through, we except nothing short of an emotional reunion for both parties (the player and the club).
With the transfer market set to close in the next two days, the three parties (PSG, Chelsea and David Luiz) will have to finalize the deal early enough to avoid a repeat of the Real Madrid and Manchester United saga over the transfer of David De Gea.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Saturday Premier League Review: The Big Teams

Tottenham Vs Liverpool (1-1)
Although I watched only the last quarter of this lunch time kick off game, but what I saw was not different from what I anticipated earlier in a clash involving two managers whose footballing philosophies are one and the same; high-pressing-attacking-game.
The clash ended 1-1, with Liverpool first to draw the blood through a James Milner's first half penalty that was dubiously won by Roberto Firmino. In the second half, with less than a quarter of an hour to go, Danny Rose delivered a half volley from a Eriksen's cross that evaded all Liverpool defenders for a Spurs equalizer.
While, the Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochetino would feel dissatisfied with the outcome of the result considering that his side are also fighting for the title, Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side would have signed for the result before kick-off coming off the back of a humiliating 2-0 loss to Burnley last weekend.

Chelsea vs Burnley (3-0)
In his pre match press conference, the Burnley manager, Dyche said that his side would not sit back deep and allow Chelsea dictate the game. Well, the 3-0 defeat suffered by his side at Stamford Bridge was the huge price Burnley paid for playing an open game from the first blast of the whistle.
Yesterday, Burnley lined up in the traditional 4-4-2 system. While Conte set up his Chelsea side in a 4-3-3 system. Dyche's formation was made inorder to match words with action. With due respect to Burnley, but when a newly promoted team plays with two strikers, two central midfielders, two wide players and high a defensive line of four players against such a dangerous counter attacking side like Chelsea, well, expecte goals feast. This was what happened yesterday; Burnley were roundly defeated with goals from Hazard, Willian and Moses.
On one hand, Conte and his team will go into the international break on the back of a 100% start to this premier league campaign and top of league table ahead of United on superior goal diference if Man City fail to win against Westham later today. On the other hand, Burnley could be left wondering how a team that recorded a 2-0 win over Liverpool crumbled against Chelsea. Well, such is the hard reality of football; a slight tactical blip could be severely punished by a smart opponent.

Watford vs Arsenal (1-3)
The 3-4 loss to Liverpool and the 0-0 draw in the home of the Premier League Champions, Leicester City, meant that Arsene Wenger's Arsenal couldn't afford to drop early points any more if they were to be considered genuine title contenders. Meanwhile, Walter  Mazzarri's Watford went into the match brimming with confidence having secured a 1-1 away win at Southampton on the opening day of the season, and also narrowly loss 1-2 at home to Chelsea last weekend.
In typical Arsenal style, the Gunners started the game brightly with some breathe taking passing that proved too difficult for Watford to stop. The reward for their hard work paid off as goals from Cazorla, Alexis and Ozil ensured that North London side recorded their first victory of the season away at Watford. With the expection of the last 15 minutes of the game when they scored their solitary goal, Watford didn't trouble Arsenal.
Arsenal must maintain this momentum after the international break if they desire to land their first premier league title in almost two decades. On the other hand, Mazzarri will have to reconsider his 3-5-2 tactics that left his side exposed to a fast paced Arsenal attack because more sides would surely exploit that weakness as the season progresses.

Hull City vs Manchester United (0-1)
With Chelsea's earlier victory over Burnley, it means that United have to win inorder to be levelled on points with the Blues going into the international break. In the late kick-off game, the rainy condition at KCOM stadium didn't help matters, but at the end United got all the three points they needed to remain levelled on points (9) with Chelsea going into the international break.
Jose Mourinho's side started out rather too pedestrian in their build up play which was constantly dealt with by Hull City. Not until the closing stage of the game, there was little or no action to cheer from both sides. Well, Mourinho did what he does when his team needs a goal; threw  in attacking players, and at the end, his team got a 92nd mintue winner through a certain teenager in the name of Rashford.
This was not an easy win for Mourinho's men thanks to lack of creativity amongst his attacking players and cautious approach in the early part of the game. I expect The Special One to find a solution to this since he has attacking players in his team. Hull City would feel hard done-by in a game that they defended for their lives only to concede a 92 minute goal. Well, that is the prize you pay when you tactically set up your team to defend and not attack for the entire duration of a game.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Conte: A Coach Like Mourinho

Since his appointment, Antonio Conte has regularly used the word "work" in his press conferences.The daily double session training he had with his players in pre season attests to this. Indeed, the last two games have proven him right, as his players have shown high work rate with and without the ball. The recent Chelsea games against Westham and Watford in which the more industrious Oscar was selected ahead of the creative Fabregas, is also evidence that the Italian prefers strength to creativity. This typifies Jose Mourinho's ideology because the last time the Portuguese was in charge at Chelsea, he shipped out a certain Juan Mata whose work rate was poor compared to the hard working Willian.

Although it is still early days, early signs show that Conte is also a good reader of the game like Jose Mourinho. Anyone who watched each of the last 10 minutes of the Chelsea games against Westham and Watford, would think that Chelsea secured easy wins, but no. It was simply the Italian's introduction of impact substitutes in the name of Batshuayi and Moses in the first game and Fabregas, Moses and Batshuayi in the second game that won the matches for The Blues. This is typically what Mourinho is good at; introduce impact substitutes when chasing a win, searching for an equalizer or defending a lead.

Talk about managers who parades the technical area for majority part of a game and exerting almost the same amount of energy as the players in the pitch, well, the list would not be complete without Conte in it. Talk about managers who don't enjoy their seats in the dugout, the Italian is right up there with the best. Only on Monday, in the game against Westham, we saw the Italian celebrate wildly with the Chelsea fans. Chelsea fans cannot forget Mourinho's celebration of Torres' winner against Man City at Stamford Bridge three seasons ago. Infact, The Special One introduced himself to the English game through his famous run down the byline at Old Trafford in 2004 UCL while celebrating FC Porto's goal against Man Utd.

So, how would the pair fare on their first meeting? It is a question that only time will answer. I for one, would like to see how the two will treat each other, the day their teams meet.