De Futebol Arsenal escapes to The Round of Sixteen in The Europa League

My guys from Arsenal almost blew it against Östersund buy giving up two away goals however only lost 2-1 to advance on aggregate 4-2 to the quarter finals of the Europa League

The Guardians David Hytner;” At long last, Arsenal have won a two-legged knockout tie in Europe but this was not the way they envisaged it. Never mind that few people at the club truly want to be in the Europa League, the fact they suffered so sorely against such unfancied opposition as Östersund turned the evening into an ordeal.

Arsène Wenger had to go back to 2009-10 to find his previous success on the continent – a 6-2 aggregate triumph over Porto in the last 16 of the Champions League, which was secured on the back of a 5-0 home victory in the second-leg. Nicklas Bendtner scored a hat-trick that night.

The tone was altogether different here. Leading 3-0 from the first leg in Östersund, it had felt like one of those nothing occasions beforehand – a mere tune-up for a clutch of Arsenal players before Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. How wrong the prediction would prove.

Arsenal were abject in the first half and, when they trailed by two goals after 23 minutes, they were staring at humiliation. For context, Östersund were playing in Sweden’s fourth tier as recently as 2010. They brought next-to-no pedigree. The 5,000-strong band of visiting supporters rubbed their eyes at the latest chapter in their fairytale.

Mercifully for Wenger, his players were better after the interval, although not by much. Sead Kolasinac’s goal allowed them to breathe more easily but it remained an awfully tough watch for the home crowd – and not only when Danny Welbeck tried and failed to finish in front of goal or Henrikh Mkhitaryan tried to do anything. The boos at full-time rang out with feeling.

The attention will now turn to Friday’s draw for the last 16 and Arsenal have a good chance of being paired with a decent team from one of Europe’s top five leagues. Lying in wait are Atlético Madrid from Spain; Borussia Dortmund and Red Bull Leipzig from Germany; Marseille and Lyon from France; Lazio and Milan from Italy. Napoli, the Serie A leaders, might be out – beaten by RB Leipzig – but there remains plenty of danger.

One thing is clear. Arsenal will not make it past anyone – let alone fashion a route back into the Champions League by winning the competition – if they play like this.

It had felt slightly surreal to see them play in their blue away kit at home and the pessimists among their fan base – of which there are a few –could mutter about their poor record in it. On eight previous airings, they had won only once.

Arsenal had made the gesture to change their colours because Östersund have only a red kit and a white one. The hosts proved even more obliging in the first half. The concessions were the product of abysmal defending, with Calum Chambers particularly culpable, but they had been signposted.

Östersund had frozen at the beginning of the first leg – they were 2-0 down after 24 minutes – but the boot was on the other foot here. They strode forward with conviction while Arsenal were all over the place. That was to put it mildly.

Rob Holding set the tone with a poor back-pass in the first minute and Östersund worked half-chances for Jamie Hopcutt, Brwa Nouri and Ken Sema.

The opening goal stemmed from a Saman Ghoddos ball forward. Holding could not untangle his feet to intercept while Kolasinac was also caught out. Hosam Aiesh had the shooting chance and he aimed for the bottom corner, With the aid of a nick off Chambers, he found it.

Östersund scored again 70 seconds later, after Alex Iwobi had surrendered possession with a heavy touch. The visitors had Sema up against Chambers following Ghoddos’s ball over the top and the danger did not appear pronounced. Perhaps, that is why Héctor Bellerín did not come across to help his team-mate. But when Sema backed into Chambers, worked a little trick and spun away from him, the sirens sounded. The left-sided attacker hammered a low shot into the far corner.

It said everything about Östersund’s first-half superiority that they could play out the final six minutes with ten men, after Tom Pettersson went off to have stitches in a head wound. Jack Wilshere had Arsenal’s only real chance before the interval but he lifted his shot high.

Wenger’s team stirred upon the second-half restart. Kolasinac thumped home right-footed following an air-kick from Ronald Mukiibi and they would create further chances but it was not Welbeck’s night. Three times he erred when well placed. Wenger withdrew Wilshere on 75 minutes with an eye on Sunday but it was a bad look when Iwobi, who is also in contention for the final, went down with cramp in stoppage-time. It was a night of pain for every Arsenal playe

De Futebol Flamengo wins the first stage of the Carioca Title!

Flamengo defeated Boavista 2-0 to win the title.

Globo Esporte:”A 21ª Taça Guanabara conquistada pelo Flamengo – diante de 17 mil pessoas no Kleber Andrade, em Cariacica – tinha importância menor do que ver a evolução do time a 10 dias da estreia na Libertadores. A vitória por 2 a 0 (gol contra de Kadu Fernandes e um de Vinicius Júnior), contra o Boavista, garantiu o Rubro-Negro na semifinal do Carioca e mostrou saídas da equipe em tarde de muito sofrimento com a marcação e inspiração limitada. A solução foi encontrada em jogadas pelo alto, dos pés de Diego e Éverton Ribeiro. Em duas das 25 tentativas de jogadas aéreas.

Quando o Boavista colocou linhas verdes na frente da área e da intermediária, os quatro meias do Flamengo giravam, se movimentavam, mas não encontravam espaços. Na maior parte das vezes, como num futebol americano, os avanços vinham em faltas cometidas pelo Boavista.

O primeiro gol, que tirou o Fla do sufoco no segundo tempo – depois de alguns bons momentos do Boavista -, veio através de bola alta à procura de Réver e uma dose de sorte. Parecido com o segundo gol, quando Éverton Ribeiro esticou e Vinicius mal desviou para fazer o segundo.

Antes, a melhor chance caiu no pé direito de Diego, em sobra de mais uma bola levantada na área. O zagueiro Kadu Fernandes impediu o gol. Mais tarde, ele mesmo colocaria para dentro (contra) após lançamento de Diego para Réver.

O Flamengo sentiu mais dificuldades na final da Taça Guanabara do que passou nos primeiros sete jogos da temporada. Além de bem fechado e com boa marcação, o time de Saquarema conseguia se organizar para sair para o jogo. O toque de bola, com apoio dos laterais e Lucas de um lado e Erick Flores de outro incomodando e tentando o drible, chegou a envolver o setor defensivo do Flamengo em alguns momentos.

Com o meio de campo muito congestionado – era comum ver Paquetá e Éverton Ribeiro recebendo a bola e sendo cercado por dois e até três jogadores -, os laterais poderiam contribuir com a construção da jogada no time de Carpegiani. No início, Pará chegou a cruzar boa bola para Henrique Dourado, que finalizou, pressionado, por cima.

Mas o titular da lateral direita não foi bem mais uma vez nesta tarde. Carpegiani não esperou muito para trocar. Rodinei começou a aquecer antes do fim do primeiro tempo e entrou no intervalo. Do outro lado, Renê, como de hábito, pouco apareceu no ataque. Por vezes, Paquetá recebia, prendia a bola, mas não conseguia achar companheiros por perto.

Empurrado pela torcida, o Flamengo foi para cima do Boavista logo no início da segunda etapa – embora Leandrão tenha perdido duas boas chances em cruzamentos na segunda etapa, uma delas com um minuto no tempo complementar. Paquetá e Éverton Ribeiro fizeram boa jogada pelo lado direito, mas Dourado cabeceou para fora com Rafael já batido.

Com Rodinei e depois Vinicius Júnior, que entrou no lugar de Paquetá (o que rendeu gritos de “burro” para Carpegiani), o Flamengo se redesenhou em campo. O camisa 20 foi para a ponta esquerda e Éverton Ribeiro voltou para a direita. Depois de assistência de Diego para Réver, o camisa 7 levantou a bola para Vinicius Júnior, que desviou sutilmente para o gol. Com 2 a 0 no placar, o título e a festa estavam garantidos. Diego e Vinicius (duas vezes) quase ampliaram o marcador no fim.

De Futebol Man U Sevilla Tied Nil Nil in the First Leg in Spain of The Round of Sixteen

Man U and Sevilla tied nil -nil in the first at the Spanish sides house. Now it’s back to Old Trafford for the second leg.

The Guardians Sid Lowe:” And so to Old Trafford. Applause rang round the Sánchez Pizjuán. Sevilla had not been able to defeat Manchester United but their supporters recognised they had been close and there is still hope they can reach the quarter-final of this competition for the first time in their history. United, too, may consider this a decent result. Often overrun, two superb saves from David de Gea kept them in a game where goals were absent. A game where to start with Paul Pogba had been absent, too – and that is likely to occupy the next few days almost as much as this performance will.

The game was only 16 minutes in when Ander Herrera pulled up and had to depart; Pogba came on to replace him. Sevilla had started on the front foot and the change did not significantly alter that, although Alexis Sánchez’s lovely ball did find Romelu Lukaku, who volleyed over from close range soon after and Scott McTominay struck Sergio Rico’s palms from 20 yards. Largely, United looked long towards Lukaku and while there were few glimpses of goal the sense of danger was never entirely extinguished.

At one point, Pogba rolled an opponent and began a move that led to Juan Mata dashing up the left, but it was Éver Banega who was having the most notable impact in the middle of midfield. The Argentinian’s favoured ball was speared leftwards for Joaquín Correa. From one of those, Correa drew the first save from David de Gea. On the other side, Sevilla’s converted full-back Jesús Navas bombed up and down, defensively sound, and offensively dangerous.

Sevilla were growing into this game. A swift counter that infuriated José Mourinho broke down when Escudero could not quite guide the ball into the path of Sarabia, but the pressure built, and United’s discomfort was revealed when Lindelof almost played his goalkeeper into trouble. By half-time the shot count read 12-2. The best of those came just before the break, but De Gea made two superb saves. The first, from Steven N’Zonzi’s flick header of Sarabia’s overhead, was tipped over the bar. If that was good, what followed, from Luis Muriel, was better. All around the Pizjuán they could barely believe it. Muriel, head on the turf, couldn’t either; he got to his feet and congratulated the man who had denied him. Nor, it seemed, could Lindelof, who approached his goalkeeper for a grateful word as they walked off.

When they walked backed on, the pattern continued. With Franco Vázquez’s involvement increasing, his touch subtle and assured, and with Sarabia supporting him to the right side, Sevilla continued to press. Within six minutes the corner count was 12-3 – but the count was one thing, the quality of the delivery another.

The shot count rose too, albeit usually from some distance: Vázquez curled over, Muriel’s first effort deflected wide and his second skidded past the near post; a clipped free‑kick found Clément Lenglet barely six yards out, but he could not get sufficient power on his header; and then Correa dribbled into the area, only to slice high and wide. De Gea had few problems from Banega’s free‑kick. He might have had rather more had Muriel, sliding in, been able to reach Sarabia’s ball in.

The game was happening at his end of this arena, where the noise rolled down from the stands. United were being overrun, unable to create opportunities or produce a prolonged period of passes. The space ahead of them was enticing, and both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were introduced to try to exploit that. But while there was pace and space, United still needed to find a way to put the ball into it. It might only take one, but as the game went on there were still none, still less a shot.

Only Sevilla had attempts on goal in the second half, the “score” 21-4 with 10 minutes to go. Few, though, were clear chances. Sarabia, swift to the ball as ever, slipped the ball to Muriel and continued running, heading into space at the far post. Muriel clipped towards him but, stretching, he could only guide his header over the bar. When Vázquez lifted a lovely ball into his path, leaving him one on one, he had strayed offside. As the clock ticked down, so the margins became finer, the risks greater, and suddenly there was a roar.

United had the all in the net. Pogba found Lukaku, who used his hand before scoring. It was ruled out, but there was a warning. With four minutes to go Sandro, on as a sub, saw his shot blocked inside the area and then Navas went tumbling. The appeal was loud, but the referee waved play on. Again, United broke but they were blunt. There were nerves here now, but little else. Old Trafford awaits.

De Futebol FA Cup Match ups for The Quarterfinals

A quick note Wigan pulled the upset city of the week. Wigan beat Man Shitty 1-0 to advance to the quarterfinals.

The FA Cup draw is out for the quarterfinals.

The Guardians Will Unwin: “Manchester United were drawn at home to Brighton in an FA Cup quarter-final draw which saw all the big guns avoid each other on Saturday evening.

Jose Mourinho’s men learned they would face the Seagulls shortly after sealing their place in the last eight with a 2-0 fifth-round win at Huddersfield thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s brace.

Wigan or Manchester City, who meet on Monday night, will host Southampton, while Chelsea visit Leicester and the winners of Sunday’s Rochdale-Tottenham tie will travel to Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea.
Chelsea and Leicester advanced on Friday night, with respective 4-0and 1-0 victories over Hull and Sheffield United.

Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea face a replay after their fifth-round clash at Hillsborough ended goalless on Saturday lunchtime.

The quarter-final ties will be played over the weekend of March 16-19.

De Futebol Rochdale ties Spurs! Replay at Spurs House in FA Cup Fifth Round

Surprise, surprise, surprise League One Rochdale scored the equalizer in the 90th minute plus to secure a replay at Spurs house in The FA Cup fifth round. Steven Davies poked home the rock to stun Tottenham.

The Guardians Andy Hunter;” One last punt, one last chance for Rochdale to rescue the Wembley dream that had so cruelly been taken away when Harry Kane converted an 88th minute penalty for Tottenham. In it went, Spotland held its breath and the substitute Steve Davies held his nerve to drill a 93rd minute equaliser into the bottom corner and sent the team who are somehow bottom of League One to a date beneath the arch. Mauricio Pochettino patted the grizzly beard of Rochdale counterpart Keith Hill and exited down the tunnel. A fairytale ending, and thoroughly deserved.

This was the FA Cup in all its majesty. One of the most financially-stretched clubs in England stretched a team who had competed in the Champions League in midweek to the limit. A replay seemed to have been ripped from them when Harrison McGahey tripped Dele Alli late on and Kane, a fellow Tottenham substitute, converted the spot-kick on the ground where he made his professional debut. But Rochdale would not be denied. They had performed with spirit and no little quality throughout and when the ball broke for Davies inside a crowded penalty area in stoppage time only the most hard-hearted of Spurs supporters could have begrudged a precise finish into the bottom corner.

The replay will help Rochdale’s financial future. Performances of this calibre will also assist their fight to avoid relegation to League Two. Hill’s side were exemplary in giving Pochettino an unwanted replay but the Spurs manager can have few complaints.

The problems with a newly relaid pitch were immediately apparent as Toby Alderweireld lost his footing straight from kick-off and was rescued by an offside flag as Stephen Humphrys tried to capitalise on his slip. The tone for an uncomfortable afternoon in Lancashire for Tottenham had been set. Rochdale were entirely responsible for the troubles of the Premier League visitors, however, not a pitch that caused both teams the occasional difficulty but held up well in the main.

Hill had called the focus on Rochdale’s playing surface a sideshow. It was, he pointed out, always going to be relaid after several postponements had contributed to the club’s descent to the bottom of League One and hindered their commitment to positive, attractive football. Spurs quickly discovered that was no idle boast from a manager charged with keeping his club in existence, never mind in the division, as Rochdale played with style as well as spirit. The goal that brought a merited half-time lead and shook the very foundations of stadium typified a relentless and adventurous performance against opponents who had bossed Juventus in the Champions League only five days earlier.

Pochettino paused to sign autographs and hug his League One counter-part en route to the dug-out. His relaxed demeanour did not last long. Kane returned to the ground where he made his professional debut as a Leyton Orient loanee in 2011 among the Spurs’ substitutes. Alli, Eric Dier and Davinson Sánchez were also on the bench as the Spurs manager rested several key players after the midweek draw in Turin, albeit keeping them in the squad as insurance, and gave the £23m January signing Lucas Moura his first start.

The former Paris Saint Germain winger caused a few early problems with penetrating runs from deep while the link-up play between Fernando Llorente and Son Heung-min also tested the Rochdale defence. But they were alert to the Premier League side’s quick intentions and gave their midfield the confidence to play with composure. Gradually, remarkably, Rochdale emerged as the more threatening team in a first half that made a mockery of their lowly league position and the gulf between the two clubs.

Rochdale’s midfield trio of Andrew Cannon, Callum Camps and Mark Kitching were outstanding in their work-rate and distribution. Henderson was a 33-year-old dynamo of relentless energy and dangerous movement in attack. The central defence of Harrison McGahey, Jimmy McNulty and Ryan Delaney were concentrated and powerful, although a bit too much when McGahey clattered into Harry Winks from behind and somehow escaped a card. They could not contain Spurs entirely – really, how could they? – but the visitors only seriously tested Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis once before the break. Lillis proved equal to Son’s low effort after the striker was put through by Llorente, who side-footed horribly wide when the South Korean returned the favour from the rebound.

The tie was played out amid a wonderful atmosphere that would have intensified earlier had Henderson converted two decent chances before his sixth goal in this season’s FA Cup arrived on the stroke of half-time. His first was placed too close to Spurs’ keeper Michel Vorm after Cannon had wrestled possession from Victor Wanyama in central midfield. His second was sliced across goal when picked out unmarked on the left of the Spurs penalty area. His third sight of goal produced a moment that will linger long in Rochdale’s history.

It stemmed from a pristine challenge by Camps to deny Moura inside the Rochdale penalty area. In an instant Hill’s team were on the counterattack and Cannon fired the perfect pass behind the visiting defence for the former Norwich forward, who almost quit the game to study dentistry five years ago, to side-foot a superb first-time finish into the bottom corner.

The Champions League guests were facing an examination of their character as well as their application and, in fairness, they responded to dominate the second half. Moura equalised in style on the hour when Llorente picked out his run into the area and he lifted an exquisite finish over the advancing Lillis for his first Tottenham goal. Wanyama missed a glorious opportunity when he volleyed over from two yards but his embarrassment appeared to have been spared when Kane put Spurs ahead with only moments remaining. Then came one final punt.

De Futebol Man U defeats Huddersfield 2-0 in The FA Cup!

Man U was robbed of one goal however the guys rode the daily double of Romelu Lukaku 3rd and 55th minutes for a hard fought 2-0 win over Huddersfield

The Guardians Paul Wilson wrote:” Paul Pogba missed this game through illness, leaving Manchester United to book their place in the last eight of the FA Cup without him. Thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s 20th and 21st goals of the season they managed it comfortably enough, the striker showing the value of possessing an accomplished goalscorer when chances are few and far between.

Huddersfield could have done with a similarly potent spearhead, since for all their attacking intent they came up short in front of goal. With the benefit of an early lead United could afford to be economical, letting their opponents have most of the ball and hitting them effectively on the counter. The visitors were not at their swaggering best, yet the home side ended up grateful to a VAR call at the end of the first half for helping keep the scoreline respectable. “We didn’t get the result we wanted but confidence wise we are going in the right direction,” David Wagner said. “We are building up momentum again.”

José Mourinho agreed. “Huddersfield played in a different way than they did in the league,” the United manager said. “They were offensive and dangerous. In the second half we were in control but in the first they pushed us quite hard.”

This was a pulsating tie, with enough noise to satisfy even Mourinho, a notorious hater of quiet grounds. United supporters had the away end to themselves and as is often the case created more volume in the first 20 minutes than is generally heard in an afternoon at Old Trafford.

Eddie Howe commented last week that the atmosphere generated by the Huddersfield crowd had unsettled his players and contributed to Bournemouth’s defeat and, if anything, the home backing now was even more impressive, particularly as the Terriers were behind inside three minutes.

Lukaku was merely testing the strength of the defence as he played a one-two with Juan Mata in United’s first attack but the quality of the return pass was so inviting he found it a simple matter to round Christopher Schindler and slot home past an exposed Jonas Lössl.

Huddersfield simply shrugged and carried on, taking the game to United and setting up a few decent chances to keep the crowd enthused. Tom Ince was first to go close, before Chris Smalling got away with a suggestion of handball in the area, a potential penalty reviewed and rejected by the VAR team.

Rajiv van La Parra saw a header held by Sergio Romero, then, from the most teasing of Florent Hadergjonaj crosses behind a static United defence, Ince was inches away from applying a finishing touch in front of goal.

As half-time approached Huddersfield had enjoyed almost two thirds of possession and shown the greater willingness to attack, without quite managing to find a way through. Philip Billing was on target with a shot from distance that Romero held comfortably, though it was perhaps significant the home side were already resorting to attempts from outside the area. United had been sluggish and disjointed going forward, with Lukaku hardly in the game and Alexis Sánchez a peripheral presence.

When Mata neatly rounded Lössl to turn in Ashley Young’s cross on the stroke of the interval it appeared Huddersfield had been hit with a sucker punch they barely deserved. Fortunately for them the VAR system took the same view, the goal eventually being disallowed for a borderline offside. It was fair enough if the correct decision was arrived at, though again the process took far longer than advertised, with players originally returning to restart positions and having to stand around for a couple of minutes while Kevin Friend attended to his earpiece.

Replays suggested Mata might have been beyond the last defender Schindler by a kneecap which, while a relief for Huddersfield, was a pity from United’s point of view. A dashing run by Young and the most composed of finishes had come to nought.

Huddersfield had a chance to equalise right at the start of the second half when Ince’s deflected free-kick came through to Van La Parra on the six-yard line, though the ball was at an awkward height and the winger’s attempted volley was not a moment he will want to remember. That, however, and another free-kick from Philip Billing that resulted in a corner, was as good as it got for the Terriers. Breaking quickly, Lukaku found Sánchez on the halfway line and continued his run in anticipation of a return. When it came it was excellent, giving the striker the run on the covering defender Danny Williams, as Huddersfield paid the price for sending two many of their backline forward. Lukaku had the pace and strength to hold off Williams’ challenge and the poise to slip a shot past Lössl in front of the travelling support.

The away end was the only one still singing at the close, to such an extent the normal repertoire was exhausted and ancient hymns to Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Paul Scholes were reprised. It was quite a performance, though one suspects Mourinho will not be completely happy until it is repeated at Old Trafford.”

De Futebol The Role of The Midfielder

The Guardians Barney Ronay propose this idea. The EPL’s problem is role of the central midfielder.

Ronay explains:” There was a strange and strangely protracted period in the modern history of the England football team when coaches, spectators and pundits became collectively convinced that something called “the left-sided problem” existed.

With some justification. The left-sided problem was undeniably a problem, but not perhaps the problem it thought it was. It rested on a series of inviolable assumptions. First, that football can only be played in rigid lines, like an artillery-backed three-day advance on the western front. Second, that only the left-sided peg in that flat midfield line can “provide width”. Third, that providing width effectively always means going outside rather than inside.

And finally if this set of orthodoxies cannot be satisfied – for example, if there is no adequate left winger – the only conceivable response is to keep on doggedly banging your head against it, like a bunch of deluded medieval navigators staring furiously at their flat‑earth map, wrestling hopelessly over their ongoing “lack of an upside-down sailing ship” problem.

Eventually the left-sided problem just disappeared, submerged by the unavoidable evidence of European club football that midfield positions were fluid, that players could interchange, that “inverted” wide players could be more effective anyway. There is an echo of this now in attitudes to the Premier League’s most interesting current problem position, the strangely ill-defined matter of central midfield. And in particular in the hysterical, always punitive way the performances of Paul Pogba and others have been critiqued in recent weeks. Welcome, Paul, to the Central Midfield Problem, source right now of a fair amount of head scratching, of managerial make-do-and-mend, and of its own share of rage from the sidelines.

There is something brilliantly reassuring in the fact even central midfield can become a source of such confusion, another sign of football’s limitless complexity, that unresolvable struggle to stretch 10 outfield players across an endlessly shifting theatre where the smallest gap, the smallest overload of strength, can unstitch every other piece of planning.

But this is the case now in the Premier League, where central midfield is the new frontier. In the past 10 days there have been four notable performances in that role, drawing wildly contrasting reviews. First Pogba ambled all round Wembley, jitterbugging past his man on the wing, surging out at every break and drawing the ire of his own manager for failing to interpret the role in sufficiently rigid terms.

Opposite him Moussa Dembélé, who also has an all-round dribbling and passing game, was positionally conservative and physically fierce, operating as something more closely linked to his partner, shoulder to shoulder with Eric Dier.

A week later Aaron Ramsey also rampaged, Pogba-style, but against weaker opponents and with better execution, scoring a hat‑trick and getting away with rarely supporting Granit Xhaka as Everton only had a brief spell where they swamped Arsenal’s midfield.

Finally on Monday Tiémoué Bakayoko, whose confidence looks utterly shot, played central midfield for Chelsea as though the position was still in the process of being invented, without an instruction booklet, and with half a million people yelling in its ear.

Which in a sense it is. The central midfielder who isn’t a defensive specialist. The guy who stands near N’Golo Kanté but isn’t N’Golo Kanté. The one we expect to provide a bit more, but not too much more, and some of the same. What exactly do we call him now? And what do we want him to do now?

Arguably this is the last really undefined position left on the Premier League pitch. We know what modern full-backs are meant to do. Inside forward, inverted winger: this is well-mapped territory. Even the goalkeeper has had a makeover, with his stepping out, his “advanced distribution”.

Whereas central midfield often seems to have something of the old orthodoxies, of one to get it and one to give it. There is still the idea of a central midfielder who can “run” a game, as Pogba is expected to do, never mind the fact football has become so much more complex and positionally disciplined, more a fiercely collective thing. Trying to run a game can be a good way of trying to lose it too, so fine are the margins.

So pity the other central midfielder. We know what Kanté does, what Casemiro does. The defensive role is easy to praise, easy to understand. As for Pogba, Bakayoko, Ramsey and others the job is to read the currents, to judge exactly what spaces to occupy, what gears to shift into.

This can vary wildly even within a single game. Liverpool’s solution right now is to play three central midfielders who do a bit of everything, blocking and driving forward as the game requires, which is a hugely demanding role. Little wonder a player such as Emre Can can look brilliantly effective at times, at others like an abandoned corner sofa fly-tipped in the middle of a three-lane A road.

Manchester City have mitigated this problem by dominating possession, and by moving their two best ball‑players, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva into deeper central roles. But they have also looked solid with Fernandinho and Ilkay Gündogan both in the pocket, two smart, disciplined, vigilant players. And recent history suggests this is the best way: intelligent team defence rather than driving big-ego midfielders.

Beyond this, at times it looks as though we have a mini-generation of lost boys, big-name, big-money central midfielders, with the gifts and the brio to drive forward, to try to shape a game, but asked to fill a much more nuanced, evolving, essentially defensive role.

Like every problem in football, this one will resolve itself, or be subsumed by other changes. Right now it is a fascinating lacuna, a subplot to almost every game, and a role that perhaps deserves a little more in the way of sympathy for those attempting to define and rework the position simply by playing it.


De Futebol Arsenal Blows out Osterund 3-0 in Sweden in The Europa League Round of Sixteen

My guys from Arsenal blew out Swedish side  Ostersund 3-0 in the first leg of the Europa League round of sixteen. Now it’s back to Emirates for the second leg with a huge 3-0 aggregate.

The Guardians Amy Lawrence wrote:” Arsenal’s European ambitions warmed up in freezing Östersund. Arsène Wenger’s attitude has shifted from B-list reserve teams to in-it-to-win-it sharpness now that this competition has reached the knock-out rounds. A fully motivated, high-spec team did enough damage to put one frosty foot into the next round before the return leg in London next week.

Arsenal meant business from the moment they boarded their flight to northern Sweden with a strong squad, with only those at risk of injury left at home. The sight of Mesut Özil celebrating a goal in what was his first performance in Europe’s bridesmaid tournament since he played for Werder Bremen seven years ago summed up how Arsenal were determined to do this properly and not take any progress for granted.

This one-sided contest became a sudden and steep learning curve in the uplifting Östersund story. The grandest game in this young club’s meteoric history will have given Graham Potter and his team plenty to learn.

The game was the talk of the town, seemingly the entire population of almost 50,000 engaged with the occasion. Yet Arsenal were in no mood to be sentimental. They confidently handled the artificial pitch surface and a temperature that dipped to around -10C with added wind chill, to be expected at a stadium from which the town’s illuminated ski slopes were visible just over the lake covered by its deep snowy blanket.

Wenger had been conscious that Östersund were not only a smart passing team with a reputation for playing with style but also had barely conceded a goal in this Europa League run on their home carpet. The lineup, and a focused display, bore full respect to the situation.

It was soon apparent that Östersund’s shortage of experience in a European knock-out tie had an impact on the expected dynamic. They sat so far back that they invited Arsenal to test out their passing. Maybe a few nerves set in. Perhaps it was hard for the Swedes to click back into their best form after a long winter break. They were drawn deeper and deeper. Mistakes afflicted their game.

It was not long before the Premier League aristocrats took the lead. They had already come close as Danny Welbeck headed wide and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s shot was blocked, and it was the man with a nose for goal, Nacho Monreal, who found his range to canter on to a mistake by Aly Keita, Ostersund’s jittery goalkeeper, who spilled a fairly straightforward attempt by Alex Iwobi. Monreal hared on to the scene to steer in the opening goal.

Mkhitaryan gave Keita another fright, rocketing in a swerving, finger-stinging shot shortly afterwards. The Armenian made inroads again in the 23rd minute, fizzing in a low cross from the right in Welbeck’s direction. Sotirios Papagiannopoulos got there first, however, and the ball juddered off him and in for an own goal.

Wenger had been mindful that his team needed to master the environment and he urged them to adapt quickly. Their dominance in the opening stages of the game suggested it was Östersund who froze rather than Arsenal.

That influence was demonstrated by the fact it took Östersund 27 minutes to get into a promising position in the opposition box. But that little glimmer lifted them, injected some hope. It was as if suddenly the krona dropped – there were chances to be had if they could pressure Arsenal’s backline. From their next attack Saman Ghoddos lashed in a fine shot from the edge of the area which David Ospina had to be alert to tip over the crossbar. Ghoddos was the Östersund dangerman. Just before half-time he snatched possessionas Arsenal dallied and drove in another shot, this time just wide.

The Östersund crowd yelled for a penalty when Shkodran Mustafi bundled Tesfaldet Tekie over but the referee merely waved play on for Özil and Mkhitaryan to sweep up the pitch, exchange passes and deliver a third goal for Arsenal. Ozil took the plaudits as his shot beat the flustered Keita.

Wenger took the opportunity to give Ainsley Maitland-Niles a chance in his favoured central midfield role. Without being tested too much the youngster did bring positive energy and mobility to that department of the team. The game was also notable for Welbeck leading the line – rusty, having barely played over the past month. Ospina saved a stoppage‑time penalty from Tom Pettersson and that was that.

Sterner tests await for Arsenal but in this mood they will at least be sure to give the Europa League their fullest attention.”

De Futebol Maradona and His Days at Scottish Club Dundee

I found this piece in the Guardian written by John Ashdown. Enjoy.

Diego Maradona’s road to Dundee began, in a way, in Luton. Ivano Bonetti had played in a European Cup final with Sampdoria in the early 90s but by the summer of 2000 he was perhaps best known to British football fans as the victim of Grimsby manager Brian Laws’ flying chicken wings at Kenilworth Road in 1996. The incident left him with a fractured cheekbone and a battered reputation – one that was little repaired by a two-game spell in the bizarro world that was Attilio Lombardo’s Crystal Palace two years later.

He returned to Genoa and drifted around coaching in the lower leagues. That seemed to be that. But in the SPL, Dundee had ambitious new owners who wanted to infuse a little glamour and excitement into the club. Raise the profile. Make a few waves. By June 2000, the steady hand offered by manager Jocky Scott was no longer the order of the day. They wanted more and, having interviewed Bernd Schuster and spoken to then France Under-21 coach Raymond Domenech, opted to take a punt on the inexperienced but well-connected Bonetti, whose only management experience had come at Sestrese of Serie C.

Armed with buckets of charisma and a transfer budget the envy of his predecessors (though one that didn’t seem quite such a good idea when the club went into administration with close to £20m of debt in 2003), Bonetti set about bringing a little razzamatazz and a host of new signings to Dens Park.

They kicked off the season at Motherwell with a starting XI comprised of four Italians, three Scots, two Argentinians, a Spaniard and a Georgian – the sort of cosmopolitan lineup at that time usually the preserve of the Old Firm. But things did not go according to plan – Bonetti, the player-manager, was sent off on his debut and by mid-October the Dark Blues had won only three league games.

Bonetti was being assisted by his brother Dario, himself a European Cup finalist with Roma in 1984, who looked to solve the club’s striking shortage by putting a call in to the Argentinian forward he had met and befriended when the pair played at Hellas Verona in 1988-89. Claudio Caniggia, 33, former Argentina international, without a club and having played only intermittently since 1996, signed up for six months.

El Pajaro (“The Bird”) made a goalscoring debut away at Aberdeen (a moment somewhat overshadowed by Dundee United chairman Jim McLean doing this over at Tannadice) and by the winter break had established himself as a terrace hero, the centrepiece of what appeared to be an increasingly successful experiment. ESPN had even broadcast Dundee’s away game at Dunfermline Athletic live in Argentina.

From the moment Caniggia arrived the name of his best mate, one Diego Armando Maradona, had been whispered around Dens Park. In early January, a week after Caniggia signed a new two-and-a-half-year deal (“My wife Marianna loves Dundee, she is even looking to buy a castle here”), they were whispers no more – Maradona was lined up to play for Dundee in a friendly against Napoli. “In relation to continuing speculation in the media,” the club said in a statement, “Dundee Football Club can confirm there was recent correspondence between Diego Maradona, his representatives and Dundee Football Club that outlined both parties’ desire for Maradona to play for Dundee in a one-off glamour friendly.

“We hope we are in a position to settle upon further details, such as a date, time and place for the game within the next few days. But it is looking increasingly likely that any match involving Maradona (and Dundee FC) will take place at Dens Park.

The town, already gripped by Caniggia fever, lost the run of itself. “This will give the city the profile we’ve been striving for,” said Colin Smith, chief executive of Dundee’s tourist board. “It’s pretty gobsmacking. Dundee is always known as the city with the two football clubs on the same street, but this is incredible.”

It appeared a done deal: Maradona would leave Cuba, where he had been receiving treatment for cocaine addiction for the best part of a year, and head to the east coast of Scotland for his first game in the country since 1979. “As far as I know, Maradona has already sent his agreement by fax and is being paid £250,000 for one game,” said midfielder Georgi Nemsadze. “The possibility of Maradona squeezing into a Dundee shirt has been discussed ever since Caniggia signed for the club in October,” The Scotsman opined. “Many playfully envisaged the legendary figure taking a seat in the Dens Park main stand, and perhaps indulging in a few keepie ups in the centre circle. Instead, the increasingly insane environment that is Dens Park has thrown up a story that dwarves even this: Maradona will play for the club.”

But just as local councillors were cheering “a morale-booster for the city”, Maradona was arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. He had planned to attend Napoli’s game against Verona and meet with Napoli director Corrado Ferlaino to discuss a role with the club. Instead he was greeted by police and told he was being investigated for alleged tax fraud of £16.6m.

Maradona reacted the only way he knew how – an all-night bender. He emerged from his Rome hotel room late the following day. And he was not happy. “Ferlaino has betrayed me again,” he said. “He told me the club would have resolved this. I’ve spoken to my lawyers who have told me Napoli has to pay.”

That left Dundee’s hopes of a money-spinning match in tatters. “I do not see the possibility of a game involving Diego going ahead during this season,” said Bonetti. “The truth is that we have spoken to him and he indicated his willingness to play. However, any game with Diego Maradona involved would have to be against top-quality opposition.”

The plan foundered, dying for good in May when Caniggia left for Rangers. The Bonettis lasted another year – bringing in Zurab Khizanishvili, Fan Zhiyi, Temuri Ketsbaia and Julian Speroni as the Dark Blues’ international experiment continued – before departing, and by the end of 2003 the club were in administration. As for Maradona? Napoli are apparently still prepared to offer him a job at the club … once he settles his tax bill.

De Futebol Valentines Day Massacre!

Liverpool massacres Porto 5-0 at Estadio do Dragao. Now it’s back to Anfield for the second leg.

Sadio Mane led the way with the hat trick 25th, 53rd and 75th minutes.  Roberto Firmino 70th minute and Mohammed Salah 30th minute tickled the twines tambem.

The Guardians Andy Hunter wrote:’ How Liverpool’s forward line would cope without the creative industry of Philippe Coutinho remained a legitimate question on their return to the Champions League stage. By taking it in turns to inflict the heaviest home defeat on Porto in their rich European history was the emphatic answer. The highest scoring team in Europe’s premier competition will be one to avoid in the quarter-finals that beckon.

Sadio Mané struck a hat-trick, Roberto Firmino polished an immaculate display with a goal and Mohamed Salah claimed his 30th of the season as Jürgen Klopp’s side demolished the Portuguese league leaders. Salah became the second-fastest player in Liverpool’s history to reach the 30-goal milestone, only George Allan got there quicker than his 36 games, as the visitors also became the second highest goalscorers away from home in any Champions League campaign. Porto were simply steam-rollered.

Klopp dispensed with his usual touchline habit of patrolling the technical area and spent most of the first half sitting in the dugout. If it was a show of confidence in his side, and the Liverpool manager was brimming with it during his pre-match press confidence, it was accurately placed and well-rewarded.

Porto initially impressed with Yacine Brahimi and Otávio prominent down the flanks and Moussa Marega causing problems with powerful runs at the Liverpool defence. But the visitors were rarely ruffled and with another of the goalscoring bursts that have become their trademark in this Champions League campaign, the five-time winners of the competition placed one foot firmly into the quarter-finals. Not that Klopp will allow any complacency to creep into his team.

Liverpool tested the strength of the Portuguese league as well as the European ambitions of its leaders. Sérgio Conceição’s team are unbeaten in 21 domestic league games, sitting two points clear of Benfica at the summit with a game in hand, but were beaten by both Besiktas and RB Leipzig in their Champions League group. Porto’s quality in possession was undeniable but so too was their mental fragility when the tie turned against them. It took only a sliced clearance from goalkeeper José Sá, one that gave Salah his first opening of the game, for Porto players to begin castigating each other and lose their composure. Liverpool took full advantage.

The opening 20 minutes were balanced. Otávio was close to opening the scoring for the home side with a shot that deflected off Dejan Lovren and looped just over Loris Karius’s crossbar while the central defender Iván Marcano, making his first appearance since 24 January, justified his recall with two vital interceptions to thwart Firmino. Porto’s concentration at the back then evaporated.

Mané changed the complexion of the tie and the mood inside Estàdio do Dragão with his first goal in six matches and 10th of the season. It was a scrappy effort that will cause Sá sleepless nights but the 3,200 Liverpool fans tucked away in the upper reaches of the rainswept stadium cared not a jot. The Senegal international initially combined with Firmino on the left and made the wrong decision to look for Salah inside the area – understandably enough given his prowess in front of goal – when Georginio Wijnaldum was unmarked at the back post. Porto were unable to clear their lines, however, and Wijnaldum fought to regain possession before driving into the penalty area. His run swept the ball out to Mané on the left and his low shot squirmed under the Porto keeper and trickled over the line. Sá beat the floor in justifiable rage.

The second followed within three minutes and brought up Salah’s 30th goal of a truly stunning debut season as a Liverpool player. It also maintained the team’s European tradition this season of blitzing their opponents when they are down.

James Milner orchestrated the goal when he beat Marega in the challenge and, while Porto stopped to appeal for a non-existent free-kick against the Liverpool midfielder, he beat Sá with a curling effort from distance that crashed against the far post. The rebound dropped to Salah who showed what supreme confidence does to a player by controlling the ball on his chest, flicking it over the keeper and taking another touch with his head before sliding home. The Egypt international stood still for the acclaim that accompanied his latest milestone and Liverpool’s latest rapid-fire display in the Champions League. Against Hoffenheim in the play-off they scored three in an 11-minute spell. There were also three goals in 15 minutes away to Maribor and three in a blistering 14-minute rampage against Spartak Moscow at Anfield. Three goals in 28 minutes away to Sevilla looks almost lackadaisical by comparison.

Their third in Portugal put paid to any hope that Conceição’s side had of hauling themselves back into the game or the tie. Francisco Soares was a fraction wide of converting with a low shot on the stroke of half-time and, in their efforts to attack the deficit after the interval, Porto were punished by a quick and clinical counterattack involving all three of Liverpool’s commanding forward line. Salah played provider with an exquisite pass that released Firmino through the heart of the home defence. The Brazilian aimed low to Sá’s right and, though the keeper pushed clear, Mané was on hand to convert his second of the game with ease.

The fourth, and the cue for many home fans to head for the exits, was deserved reward for Firmino’s relentless team work. The referee Daniele Orsato played a good advantage when Mané had his shirt pulled by Jesús Corona and allowed the striker to release Milner on the left. The midfielder pulled back an intelligent cross into the heart of the penalty area and there was Firmino to sidefoot his eighth goal of the campaign into the bottom corner.

That was Milner’s sixth assist of the campaign and Mané’s hat-trick arrived in style when he swept the ball beyond Sá from 25 yards late on. Liverpool roll on imperiously without Coutinho.