Friday, 28 September 2012

Top 5 Strikers in European Football

In modern European football, goals are no longer monopolised by Centre-Forwards as they have always been in the past. The arrival of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has caused the goalscoring charts to be utterly dominated by two players who are not technically strikers. Ronaldo likes to play on the left and cut in, and Messi... well Messi plays wherever he wants to play. Strikers may be feeling a little inadequate or under-appreciated, so in this article we give some love to the pure strikers who we believe are the best in Europe right now.

1. Radamel Falcao

Falcao is arguably the most complete Centre-Forward in the World. Ruthlessly accurate, quick and powerful, he scores goals with both feet and is devastating in the air. His goalscoring record in amazing. At Porto, Falcao scored 71 goals in 87 appearances, and since his €40 million move to Atletico Madrid the Colombian has scored 46 times in 56 matches. Falcao has won the Europa League two years in a row and has back to back awards for being the top scorer in the competition.

Last month he helped Atletico win the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco, where he scored a wonderful first half hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Chelsea. In La Liga this season, Falcao is top of the scoring charts, ahead of both Messi and Ronaldo. It is simple really, Radamel Falcao deals in goals, lots and lots of goals.

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

He is Zlatan. Does anymore need to be said?

Bizarrely Ibrahimovic divides opinion somewhat in this country. On this blog however he does not. Ibrahimovic has played for Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and PSG. He has scored goals everywhere he has gone, including 22 goals during his not so happy stay in Spain. He has won 6 Serie A titles with three different Italian clubs, 2 Eredivisie titles and 1 La Liga title. He scores big goals and is capable of carrying a team by himself at times. In the summer he was voted into the Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament, and so far in France this season he has scored 8 goals in 6 appearances for PSG.

Ibrahimovic possesses immense strength, majestic technique and is a clinical and powerful finisher. He is Zlatan.

3. Robin van Persie

Last season’s top scorer in the Premier League is again top of the scoring charts this season. His move to Manchester United is going well so far, and if he can remain fit van Persie will be expecting to match his 37 goals in all competitions last season for Arsenal. The Dutchman has always been an exquisite striker of the ball and a proven goalscorer, but many still worry whether he can steer clear of injury. In 8 seasons at Arsenal van Persie only once managed to play more than 30 games in the league, and that was his last season with the club. During the Netherlands’ terrible Euro 2012 campaign, RvP did manage to score in a 2-1 defeat to Germany and he has scored 30 goals for his country. A classy player, Robin van Persie is one of the best strikers in European football right now.

4. Sergio Aguero 

Sergio Aguero is yet to score this season for Manchester City, but his superb first year in England last season proved to everyone that Aguero can be relied upon when it counts. With seconds left of the 2011/12 Premier League season Aguero kept his composure to score the goal which won the league for Manchester City. In a devilishly difficult Champions League group this season, City will need their main striker to get more crucial goals if they hope to proceed to the knockouts.

5. Mario Gomez 

Mario Gomez is on his way back from ankle surgery and will have to fight his way back into the Bayern Munich team after Mandzukic’s excellent start to his Bayern career. Mandzukic has scored 7 goals in 7 appearances, and it will be interesting to see what happens upon Gomez’ return. Mario Gomez has scored 79 goals in his last two seasons at Bayern, he also scored 3 goals at Euro 2012. Gomez is a predator inside the box, always arriving at the right place at the right time. He is an excellent finisher who thrives off the service from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.

Honourable mentions 

The season it will be interesting to see which strikers make the biggest impacts across European football. David Villa is fit again and is slowly being worked back into the Barcelona team. If he can get back to his best, Villa is arguably the best finisher in world football. How will Wayne Rooney perform this season alongside Robin van Persie? Will the two compliment each other or will they be unable to make a partnership work? Will Tevez or Balotelli shine at Man City? Will Higuain or Benzema contribute more at Madrid? Will Luis Suarez stop hitting the post at Liverpool? Will Fernando Torres ever be ‘back’? We shall see.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Santi Cazorla is the signing of the summer

The Premier League season starts today, and while there are still a few weeks remaining until the transfer window shuts, there are already lots of new faces in England this season. Chelsea have spent big money to bring Eden Hazard and Oscar to England, while Manchester United have acquired the exciting Shinji Kagawa from Bundesliga Champions Borussia Dortmund.

Giroud and Podolski have been brought in to bolster the Arsenal attack, and their jobs have just become even more important to the club following the departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United. However, it is the club’s business with Malaga which could turn out to be the steal of the season. On 7 August, Arsenal announced the signing of Santi Cazorla for a fee reported to be around £15 million.

It is difficult for a player to shine outside of the top two in La Liga, such is the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Santi Cazorla was one of those players, intelligent, quick and at ease on the ball, he oozes class at all times.

Due to the club’s financial problems this summer, Malaga could not hold on to their star signing from just one year ago. The capture of Cazorla was meant to be the start of a bright future for the team from Southern Spain, but despite finishing fourth last season and qualifying for the Champions League, the Qatari owners have seemingly deserted the club and left them no choice but to sell players right at the time that they need to strengthen.

Santi Cazorla was a huge part of Malaga’s success last season, but he is more well known for his time at Villarreal. This culminated in him being part of the excellent Villarreal side of 2010/11 which also qualified for the Champions League. This side was praised around Europe for playing an exciting brand of passing attacking football in an innovative 4-2-2-2 formation. Alongside Cani, Santi Cazorla played as an attacking wide player who often looked to move into the centre of the pitch. Cani and Cazorla developed an excellent understanding with the two strikers, Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi, and the movement of this front 4 was the key to the team’s success.

Malaga not being able to hold onto Cazorla has been great news for Arsenal, allowing them to sign the 27 year old Spanish international at a great price. Santi Cazorla is a wonderfully gifted footballer who will relish playing in Arsenal’s system. He is a brilliant passer of the ball, a goalscorer, a skillful and serene dribbler and he also takes a devastatingly good free-kick. In a market where bloated transfer fees are the norm and bargains are rarely seen, Arsene Wenger has completed a very shrewd piece of business with Malaga. 

Arsenal fans should try to forget about the disappointment of losing Robin van Persie, because in Santi Cazorla you have made the signing of the summer!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Jordi Alba lifts off

Four weeks ago, Jordi Alba had only played 1 competitive match for Spain, at Home to Scotland in a Euro 2012 qualifier. 6 matches later, and Alba is now a recognised name in homes across Europe after winning Euro 2012, keeping 5 clean sheets and scoring an excellent goal in the Final against Italy. Last week, Alba signed for Barcelona, the club where he grew up, for €14 million.

Spain are often compared to Barcelona, particularly in relation to the fact that they play in a similar way, but lack a player to fill the role of Messi (despite that being an impossible role to fill). Jordi Alba fills another role that Barcelona use well, the attacking full-back. At Barcelona, Dani Alves gives his team extra dimensions by being willing to push forward for large periods of matches. Playing so high up the field stretches the pitch for his team-mates, giving them more space and also offering another ball in behind the opposition defence on the right-hand side. Throughout Euro 2012, Jordi Alba has been a constant threat down the left-hand side, overlapping Andrés Iniesta who plays quite narrow and likes to come inside. Alba’s natural instinct to push forward and give the midfielders another option out wide has been invaluable for Spain.

Jordi Alba made 50 appearances for Valencia last season, finishing third in La Liga and getting to the Semi-Finals of the Europa League. His successful partnership with Jérémy Mathieu down the left-hand side was key to Valencia’s play. He got 5 goals and 5 assists in the League and played well in a side which was considered to have underperformed. Valencia finished 30 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and were knocked out of the Champions League in the Group Stage. Alba now returns to Barcelona where he played in the youth setup until 2005, and it seems like a match made in heaven. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba attacking down both flanks is a frightening proposition for any opponent. With Eric Abidal still recovering from his liver transplant, Alba’s position in the team looks secure, and Barcelona will hope that he can bring his brilliant form to the Camp Nou.

During Euro 2012, the Spanish midfield exerted a level of control over matches that has never been seen before at an International tournament. This control was the key to the team’s near perfect defensive record throughout the tournament. Offensively however, the Spanish looked at their most dangerous when they introduced pace into their attacks. Pedro, Jesus Navas and Torres were all effectively used at key points to stretch their opponents and push them back, but it was the ever-present Jordi Alba whose tireless runs up and down the left wing caught the eye of the watching public.

Alba’s goal in the Final capped off a perfect tournament for the 23 year old. None of the Italian defenders were capable of staying with his run, and he controlled Xavi’s wonderful pass with perfect precision, before calmly slotting the ball past Gigi Buffon. Coming into a side who were already World and European Champions would be daunting for most, but Jordi Alba did more than just fit in. He gave this amazing Spanish side more pace, more threat, more options, and he leaves Euro 2012 on the verge of super-stardom.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Madrid dominate in Nicosia

Last night, Apoel Nicosia's fairytale run through the Champions League effectively came to an end. Nicosia topped their group and knocked out French side Lyon in the Round of 16. Before last night they had also only conceded 7 goals in the tournament. At home in the first leg of the Quarter Finals, Apoel would have been looking to keep a clean sheet in order to stay in the tie, unfortunately for the Cypriot side Real Madrid had other ideas.

The game ended up as one of the most one-sided ties ever in the competition. Apoel didn't manage a single shot in the entire match, and only had 22% of the possession. Real Madrid won the match 3-0, but the scoreline really flattered the home side. Below are some selected chalkboards which demonstrate the level of domination.


Real Madrid completed over 500 more passes than Apoel Nicosia, and had 78% possession.


The goals didn't come until the second half, but Real Madrid had 28 shots at goal compared to Apoel's none. 

Attacking Third 

Amazingly, Apoel only completed 12 passes in the attacking third of the pitch. Surely a Champions League record low? 

Paulo Jorge 

A perfect example of how bad Apoel were last night was Paulo Jorge. The Centre-back played the full 90 minutes and only completed 4 passes, two less than Iker Casillas.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Spanish Football Results 24-25 March 2012

This week's Spanish Football results included wins for Real Madrid and Barcelona, which means the gap at the top is still 6 points. Valencia lost their second straight game, and are now only above Malaga on goal difference. There were also big wins at the bottom for Real Zaragoza and struggling Villarreal.

Saturday 24 March 2012 
Mallorca 0-2 Barcelona;
Real Madrid 5-1 Real Sociedad;
Getafe 3-1 Valencia

Mallorca is a very hard place to go in La Liga, but Barcelona managed a comfortable 2-0 victory, despite Thiago getting a red card after 57 minutes. Messi got the first goal after his floated free-kick cross was missed by everyone in the air, and bounced into the far corner. In the 79th minute Gerard Pique won the game, tapping in after Messi's shot had rebounded off the post.

Real Madrid strolled to a 5-1 victory at the Bernabeu against Real Sociedad, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring another 2 goals. Ronaldo has now scored 101 goals for Real Madrid and is the fastest player to reach 100 goals in La Liga history. Karem Benzema also got a brace, and his first was a beautiful volleyed lob over the keeper. Real Madrid remain six points clear of Barcelona in the race for the title.

Valencia have had an awful week. After losing at home against bottom of the table Zaragoza in midweek, Unai Emery's team lost again. Roberto Soldado had put Valencia in the lead, but Getafe stormed back to win 3-1. Valencia are in danger of falling out of the Champions League places, and it could be a nervous end to their season. 

Sunday 25 March 2012 
Zaragoza 1-0 Atletico Madrid;
Levante 0-2 Osasuna;
Espanyol 1-2 Malaga;
Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Sporting Gijon;
Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Villarreal;
Real Betis 1-1 Racing Santander

The biggest shock yesterday in La Liga was Real Zaragoza winning a second straight game in a week. Apono's 95th minute penalty won the game and halted Atletico's charge up the table. Zaragoza are now 6 points from safety, and after beating Valencia and Atletico Madrid, they will have real hope and belief that they can stay up.

Osasuna beat Levante and are now only a point behind them in the league. Elsewhere, Bilbao have not won in four La Liga matches and could be suffering from their exertions in the Europa League. Betis and Satander also drew 1-1.

Villarreal recorded an impressive 2-0 victory at Real Vallecano which pulls them a little further away from the relagation places. Malaga made the biggest move this weekend, coming from behind to beat Espanyol 2-1. Van Nistelrooy and Demichelis both scored to move Malaga up to fourth in the table, and they are now level on points with Valencia.

There is one more game tonight, as Sevilla travel to play Granada.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Lionel Messi - Best Chips and Lobs

This great video by RousSportChannel shows off how Lionel Messi has perfected a type of goal which makes the game of football seem simple. Fans of Spanish football see Messi pull off this scoop or chip finish almost every other game. Messi's lobs are his trademark, be it in the Champions League or when playing for Argentina. While they are delightful to watch, they are also deadly effective, as goalkeepers often have no chance of stopping them. From an early age, keepers are taught to come off their line and make the angles harder for strikers. Messi doesn't have to worry about angles, as he has worked out that there is another route past a goalkeeper, over the top!

The quality of the opposition doesn't matter to Messi either. As seen in this video, Real Madrid, Arsenal and even World Champions Spain have been on the end of a sumptuous Messi lob. Enjoy.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spanish Football Results – 22 March 2012

The midweek La Liga games continued tonight, with three more fixtures. Racing Santander remain in the relegation zone after losing at home to Sevilla, while Malaga moved level on points with Levante in the race for the Champions League.

Malaga 4-2 Rayo Vallecano;
Real Betis 1-1 Espanyol;
Racing Santander 0-3 Sevilla

Malaga continued their push for a Champions League spot after beating Rayo Vallecano 4-2 at the Estadio La Rosaleda. Rondon got two goals, with Maresca and Duda also getting on the scoresheet. Wins for both Malaga and Levante this week means that they are now both only 3 points behind Valencia in third. The race for the Champions League in Spanish football is really hotting up, and this weekend could be crucial. On Sunday, seventh-placed Osasuna travel to fourth-placed Levante, while sixth-placed Espanyol host Malaga who are fifth.

Sevilla secured an impressive 3-0 away victory at Racing Santander tonight, and gave themselves hope of turning what has been a very average season around. Jesus Navas put Sevilla ahead after 34 minutes, and two goals from Manu put the game beyond Santander. Sevilla are now up to 11th in the table. In tonight's other match, Espanyol scored a 93rd minute equaliser to deny Real Betis their first win in five matches in the league. 

This weekend, the top two both play on Saturday night. Barcelona have a potentially tricky away tie in Mallorca, while Real Madrid host Sociedad at the Bernabeu.

Spanish Football Results – 21 March 2012

There were some very interesting results last night in Spain, as Real Madrid dropped points for the second time in a week away at Villarreal. However, the biggest shock of the night took place at the Mestalla, where third placed Valencia lost 2-1 to bottom of the table Zaragoza.

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Athletic Bilbao;
Real Sociedad 1-3 Levante;
Sporting Gijon 2-3 Mallorca;
Valencia 1-2 Real Zaragoza;
Villarreal 1-1 Real Madrid

Valencia's shock home defeat was even more surprising considering that they took the lead after 5 minutes. Zaragoza had to play with ten men for most of the match when Alvarez was sent off after 21 minutes. Despite this Zaragoza came from behind to win 2-1, and even ended the match with 9 men. Valencia did have around 74% possession and a lot of shots on goal, but Zaragoza got the 3 vital points as they fight to stay up.

Real Madrid are now only 6 points ahead of Barcelona after they drew for the second time in four days. Ronaldo had put Madrid ahead, but it was another free-kick which denied them the 3 points. This time Marcos Senna beat Casillas to earn Villarreal a point. Madrid boss Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands late on, and both Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil were sent off. Are Real feeling the pressure, and can they keep their calm going into the last ten games of La Liga?

Elsewhere last night, Falcao got another two goals as Atletico Madrid beat Bilbao 2-1 and moved above the Basque side in the table. Levante won 3-1 away to Real Sociedad and moved back into fourth in the table. There are still six or seven teams vieing for a Champions League place, and Valencia's slip up last night could drag them down into the mix. The final game saw Mallorca win 3-2 away to relegation candidates Sporting Gijon.

There are 3 games tonight in La Liga as Santander host Sevilla, Espanyol travel to Real Betis and fifth placed Malaga are at home to Rayo Vallecano.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Football on TV: 21-25 March 2012

This week there is a wide range of football on TV, including Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, SPL, Serie A and the Coppa Italia.

Wednesday 21 March 2012
Man City v Chelsea
(Premier League) kick off 19:45 GMT (Sky Sports 1) 
Napoli v Siena 
(Coppa Italia) kick off 19:45 GMT (ESPN) 
Villarreal v Real Madrid 
(La Liga) kick off 21:00 GMT (Sky Sports 3) 

Friday 23 March 2012 
Wolfsburg v Hamburg
(Bundesliga) kick off 19:30 GMT (ESPN) 

Saturday 24 March 2012 
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
(Premier League) kick off 12:45 GMT (Sky Sports 2) 
Mallorca v Barcelona
(La Liga) kick off 17:00 GMT (Sky Sports 4)
Stoke City v Man City
(Premier League) kick off 17:30 GMT (ESPN)
Real Madrid v Real Sociedad
(La Liga) kick off 19:00 GMT (Sky Sports 4) 
Palermo v Udinese
(Serie A) kick off 19:45 GMT (ESPN) 
Getafe v Valencia
(La Liga) kick off 21:00 GMT (Sky Sports 4) 

Sunday 25 March 2012 
Atalanta v Bologna
(Serie A) kick off 11:30 GMT (ESPN) 
Rangers v Celtic
(SPL) kick off 13:00 GMT (Sky Sports 1) 
West Brom v Newcastle United
(Premier League) kick off 16:00 GMT (Sky Sports 1) 
Juventus v Inter Milan
(Serie A) kick off 19:45 GMT (ESPN)

Spanish Football Results - 20 March 2012

Last night their were two Spanish football results, with both Osasuna and Barcelona playing at home. Getafe gained a valuable away point and Barcelona closed the gap with Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Osasuna 0-0 Getafe;
Barcelona 5-3 Granada

The night however, was not about results, it was about Lionel Messi. Cesar Rodriguez’s 57 year old record was broken in style last night as Lionel Messi became Barcelona’s all-time record goalscorer at the age of 24. Messi scored a wonderful hat-trick which helped Barcelona to a 5-3 win. Barcelona were 2-0 up at half-time, but Granada managed to pull it back to 2-2 in the second half. Lionel Messi’s record breaking goal put the Catalans back in front, and Tello finished calmly on 82 minutes to make it 4-2. Messi completed his hat-trick, but the night was slightly soured as Dani Alves was sent off late on after giving away two penalties.

After the game, all the talk was of Lionel Messi, who now has an astonishing 54 goals in all competitions this season. With 234 goals in his Barcelona career so far, will anyone ever get near to Messi’s final goal tally when he hangs up his boots?

Tonight Real Madrid have the chance to restore their 8 point gap over Barcelona at the top of La Liga. They travel to El Madrigal to face struggling Villarreal, but the Yellow Submarines will have new Head Coach Miguel Angel Lotina in charge of his first game. Also tonight, Atletico Madrid host Athletic Bilbao in what could be a crucial game in terms of Champions League qualification.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Hotshots: European Football's Best Goalscorers

In football there is one thing we love more than anything else - goals!

I have looked at Europe's top leagues over the last four years and worked out which players have scored the most goals. The statistics below are the total goals scored since the start of the 2008/09 season in all competitions.

Best of the best

It is no surprise that these two are top of the pile, and top by quite a margin. The two best players in the world are not necessarily classed as strikers, but their astonishing goalscoring records put the rest of football in the shade. Last season both players scored 53 goals in all competitions, with Ronaldo scoring 40 in the league. Over the last 4 years, Leo Messi has averaged 45 goals a season. He currently has 42 goals this season and we are still only in February!

One Hundred Club

Mario Gomez has been a consistent goalscorer for a long time now, averaging a goal every 1.4 games for the last 6 seasons. Gomez has scored goals at both Stuttgart and Bayern, and has 21 goals for Germany in 50 appearances.

Atletico Madrid's Falcao has scored 107 goals over the past 4 seasons. His 16 goals for River Plate in 2008/09 maybe stretch the rules of this European centric list a little, but during his 3 seasons in Europe his goalscoring record has been devastatingly good. In 87 appearances for Porto, Falcao scored an astonishing 72 goals.

Luis Suarez has been vitally important for Liverpool since he joined in January 2011, even though he has only scored 14 goals for the club so far. Suarez made his name as a goalscorer in Holland, and in the 2009/10 season he scored an amazing 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax.


The players here specialise in goals. Over the past 4 seasons they have consistently scored goals at some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Incidentally, just missing out on this list is Aston Villa's Darren Bent, who has scored an impressive 72 goals over the past 4 seasons. Generally under-appreciated by fans in England, Bent has scored more goals in the past 4 years than Didier Drogba (70), Klass-Jan Huntelaar (70) and Giuseppe Rossi (69).

Some names are expected, but others are missing entirely. Certain top players at big clubs have figures which don't compare well with the players above. In the Premier League Dimitar Berbatov and Fernando Torres have scored 56 and 53 goals respectively. Also surprising are the totals of Alexandre Pato (52) and Robinho (50).

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Champions League is there for the taking for Madrid or Barcelona

While the Champions League has been away Real Madrid have been storming ahead in La Liga. Jose Mourinho’s team are now a massive 10 points clear at the top of the league having collected 58 points from a possible 66. In the Champions League this season Real Madrid’s record is immaculate. Winning all 6 group games, Madrid are the first team to have a 100% record since Barcelona 9 years ago in 2002. Real scored 19 goals and kept 5 clean sheets. From such a position of dominance, Madrid are arguably the best side in Europe right now.

The only problem for Madrid is that while they seem to be able to wipe the floor with everyone else on the continent, there is one obstacle that continues to trip them up. Despite clearly looking way off their best this season, Barcelona still have the upper hand in the head to heads. The two sides have met 5 times this season, Barcelona have won 3 and drawn 2, winning the Supercopa and knocking Madrid out of the Copa del Rey. This means that should the two teams meet again in the Champions League, Barcelona will feel that they still have the advantage over the La Liga leaders.

Since the end of the Group Stages Bayern Munich have slipped off the top of the Bundesliga, while Chelsea and Arsenal have both continued to falter in the Premier League. Napoli have stumbled into a very poor patch of form and while Milan may currently be top of Serie A, they too have looked far from convincing. Internazionale were shaping up to be contenders again after they won the Milan derby in January, but their form since has been horrendous and they have lost 4 of their last 5 matches.

Considering all of the above, it doesn’t seem as though anyone will be able challenge Madrid and Barcelona this year. Madrid are better than they were last season, and while Barcelona may be struggling in the league, very few teams get the better of them when it matters. The rest look weaker than in any other season. Both Manchester clubs being out clears the path a bit more, and while the other big experienced sides shouldn’t be completely written off, it is surely Madrid or Barcelona's tournament to lose now.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Playing without fear

Swansea City’s 3-2 win over Arsenal yesterday was a remarkable achievement, and the players and management have rightly received lots of praise in today’s press. The main analysis has revolved around the fact that Swansea managed to have more possession than Arsenal. A year ago, Arsene Wenger could not have envisaged a newly promoted side having 55% possession against his team, who he has worked so hard to make the Premier League passing kings. Yesterday, not only did Swansea have more possession, but they looked more comfortable on the ball and pressed Arsenal into making errors all afternoon.

Brendan Rodgers took over as Manager of Swansea City in July 2010. In his first season he achieved promotion through the play-offs, and now his side sit 10th in the Premier League. His football philosophy was taken on board by the Swansea fans, who Rodgers regards as “knowledgeable and understanding” and the club has not looked back. No matter the opposition, and regardless of whether they are winning or losing, Swansea continue to pass, press and commit numbers forward. This requires courage, and Rodgers has given his players the belief that they can retain possession and continue to play. Brendan Rodgers said last season that “The model of my coaching life has been based around Barcelona, I have spent time in Spain watching them and they are my big influence.” This kind of progressive thinking is delivering results for the club, and proves that Barcelona’s model can be adopted lower down the football order. Brendan Rodgers has players who are comfortable on the ball, and who trust their teammates with delivering or receiving passes.

Barcelona also faced a newly promoted team yesterday, and like Arsenal, they too came up against a side who had more on their mind than simply parking the bus. Pep Guardiola’s team had played 9 home games this season in La Liga, scoring 39 goals and conceding none. Real Betis won the Segunda Division last season with a +41 goal difference, and in January 2011, they beat Barcelona 3-1 in the Copa del Rey although they still went out 6-3 on aggregate.

Last night Betis travelled to the Camp Nou with the full intention of attacking Barcelona. They started brilliantly and created numerous chances early on. Somehow, despite this great start, Barcelona managed to score two quick goals and Betis found themselves 2-0 down after just 12 minutes. At this point, most other visiting teams usually just give up, and do their best to keep the score down, but not Real Betis. Two goals either side of half time got Betis back level, and the Barcelona team were left stunned. Pep Guardiola was irate on the sideline, and although Barcelona eventually went on to win 4-2, they felt threatened for the first time this season in the league at home.

Real Betis, Swansea City and Norwich City have all come up to their top divisions this season, and all three teams are applying themselves so positively that it is hard not to want them to do well. For so long smaller teams have sacrificed any sense of club identity in order to progress up the ladder, but with managers like Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert creating exciting teams and challenging the status quo, football’s top divisions can only benefit.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Tottenham make their game in hand count

Winning a game in hand always seems more precious than a normal win. In this case, Tottenham won a game in hand that they have had since the first day of the season. Spurs put in a solid performance, and after remaining unbeaten over Christmas and New Year they are now level on points with Manchester United and 3 points off the top of the table.

Everton failed to have a single shot on target on Wednesday, and Spurs’ defence looks tougher than ever after keeping their 8th clean sheet of the season. This was despite not having either Ledley King or William Gallas. Michael Dawson came back into the side after a long period out injured and partnered excellently with Younes Kaboul. Jake Livermore was also covering in midfield, where both Scott Parker and Sandro were missing. Tottenham’s squad depth is often overlooked, but with players like Defoe, Pienaar, Pavlyuchenko and Huddlestone in reserve, Spurs have a lot of cover all over the pitch.

Tottenham are now 8 points above Chelsea, 9 points ahead of Arsenal and 11 points clear of Liverpool. Such a strong league position is relatively unknown for Spurs, but it would take a catastrophically bad second half to the season for Spurs not to collect a Champions League place now. Challenging for the title should be Tottenham’s aim now, and falling short of that would be no disgrace. The top of the Premier League has been rather stale for a long time, and you would have had a hard time convincing people five years ago that in 2012 Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur would be battling for the Premier League title. Now that doesn’t seem so implausible.