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Messi’s a scary guy March 15, 2010

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Spanish soccer.
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Imagine you’re a defender marking Lionel Messi and the ball is coming towards the Argentine conjurer. Is there any more terrifying professional experience than that feeling of impending humiliation? That you know, within a matter of seconds, your face will contort in the same helpless grimace Messi slapped across the faces of Miguel Monteiro, Angel Dealbert and Cesar Sanchez for his hat trick tonight.

Has there ever been any more devastating dribbler than Messi? Perhaps he doesn’t have the spectacular creativity of movements Ronaldinho does, the forcefulness of Cristiano Ronaldo, the ruthless capacity to exploit defenders on the back foot of Diego Maradona or the unconventionality of Garrincha. What he does have is the ability to turn on the ball and carry it into a sea of perfectly positioned tacklers, only to emerge on the other side, the pure, improbable ability to seemingly keep the ball. It’s those incredibly subtle touches on the ball, the ones that put it into places so minutely unprecedented that flailing defensive feet could never have anticipated it.

There’s also a devastating array of other weapons at Messi’s disposal: even if he elects not to run with the ball, he can pass through the eye of a needle, shoot from distance, or take a foul. In short, he is the complete number 10, and Barcelona’s win against Valencia today was decided when Pep Guardiola made a switch that could allow him to use that ability most effectively.

Here are some other thoughts on that game:

  • Milito could keep Puyol out of the team. The undersized, understrength, relatively slow Argentine looks more like a rag doll than a center-back. But he has the intangibles for the job, the sense for what an attacker is doing and where the ball is going that, really, is what center back play is all about. He has the sense of timing to win headers, even to get wheeled forward for corner kicks — you could see he was no worse for wear despite playing against a center forward almost a foot taller. And he has the vision to play the occasional, insightful long ball. For the first time in a decade, there’s a credible challenge to Puyol in the Blaugrana lineup.
  • Thierry Henry. Deep-lying center forward with a magic touch? Left-sided, right-footed playmaker who can cut in? That’s Messi and Andres Iniesta, but it could also be Henry’s two chief accomplices during his devastating prime at Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires. And Henry suddenly looked like his old self in those environs. And his old self could be reason enough to keep the new 4-4-2 lineup together, especially considering Messi also looked liberated by switching position.
  • Didn’t see the first half, so apologies if I’ve missed any important incidents, and especially for the Barcelona bias of this write-up.
  • Miguel for captain. I’ve liked the former Benfica man ever since Euro 2004, so it’s good to see Unai Emery appreciating him.

I didn’t manage to watch the entire game between Barcelona and Valencia today, only a second half the blaugrana completely dominated. I don’t feel equipped, then, to make any authoritative statement on the contest, so let’s confine ourselves to a few thoughts:

  • Lionel Messi’s hat trick was amazing, but keep in mind he was up against a patchwork Valencia defense from the first.  Angel Dealbert is the fourth-choice center-back and Hedwiges Maduro emerged as a deep-lying playmaker, not a defender, unless I miss my guess. David Navarro, Carlos Marchena and Alexis Ruano were all missing. And Valencia was also set up to deal with Barcelona’s 4-3-3, not the exciting new 4-2-3-1 that gave Messi the space to operate in the second half.
  • Nevertheless, what a hat trick. While he is probably at his most dangerous running with the ball, it’s important to remember that what makes Messi the best in the world is the number of ways he can hurt a team: that he is also devastating running onto balls over the top, that he is perfectly capable of slipping the ball through the eye of a needle to find a free player in a more dangerous position, that he has the center of gravity and the power in his legs to win 50-50 challenges, and that he is crafty enough to know when to take a hit.
  • But it was just that most devastating of weapons that destroyed Valencia today. Pure and simple, that ability to switch the ball quickly from foot to foot is impossible to defend and it created all of Barcelona’s goals today.

Campbell a liability, but a compelling one. March 14, 2010

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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As will be every match he plays in Arsenal’s red for the rest of his career, today’s contest between Hull City and Arsenal was very much the Sol Campbell story. The axis upon which these tales revolve is a question: Do Campbell’s creaky bones still have what it takes for Premiership football? It’s a formula that has not yet gotten tired.

On one hand, you can still see the old Campbell. For one thing, he is still extremely large, but he also retains that magnificent intelligence: Campbell still has that reflexive telepathy, that superpower that foretells an attacker’s next move before it even comes to his mind. But his physical limitations are now a daunting impediment to his capitalizing on that knowledge. He was never the most mobile player to begin with, but now, even though his mind is a step ahead, but his body is two steps behind.

The drama comes from the fact that this realization is only just dawning on Campbell. The horror and disappointment are written deeper into the lines of his face with each new piece of evidence that his body is unequal to the demands of top-flight football. He is becoming a liability, not merely in footballing terms, but in terms of other players’ safety, as Kamil Zayatte’s knee can attest. And yet he is still largely effective: It’s worth remembering that the penalty he conceded should never have been given in the first place because Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was blatantly offside, that for all that it was forceful, violent even, Campbell’s tackle on Zayatte was still a borderline call the referee bungled.

Where Campbell goes from here is unclear. Will the strain of more and more games at the highest level hasten his decay in a way that could cost Arsenal either of the trophies for which the Gunners are still in the hunt? Or will match practice help him come to terms with his limitations and emerge the stronger?

Some other thoughts on Hull-Arsenal:

  • Phil Brown sometimes gets his tactics spot on, but he flunked this one. Against a left-back in Gael Clichy who is manifestly uncomfortable on the backfoot, he couldn’t come up with anyone more dynamic for right midfield than Dean Marney?
  • That player should have been Jozy Altidore, who had a mare of a game up front, but looked very dangerous when Brown moved him out to the left wing. His physicality and aggression on the right would have been exactly the kind of challenge for which Clichy has no answer.
  • Where in the hell is Geovanni, the one Hull City player capable of real magic?
  • Mike thinks Theo Walcott should have started, but it’s hard to think of a more devastating way to employ someone so lightning quick than to inflict him upon an exhausted team that’s just spent almost half an hour defending desparately with 10 men. He’s a great supersub to have.
  • Andre Arshavin created a goal out of nothing and then decided to spend the rest of his evening giving a masterclass in hopeless shooting. In particluar, one towards the death when Samir Nasri let a loose ball run through to a wide-open Arshavin in the box was horrendous.
  • Nevertheless, Arshavin orchestrated the show flawlessly and, while he certainly came nowhere near his Euro 2008 form, when he displayed an unnatural ability to know the location of every man on the pitch at every second, he was doing the same sorts of things. I choose to attribute this to Nicklas Bendtner.
  • Denilson played a better game than he appeared to.
  • What is George Boateng’s problem?
  • Bernard Mendy was hopelessly at fault on Arshavin’s goal, but he actually put in a pretty canny defensive effort and improbably won repeated battles of strength with Bendtner.
  • Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink is a subtler player than many realize. He’s definitely a target man who specializes in getting knockdowns and holding the ball up, but he does it in such a subtle, technical way. If he had been partnered by a slightly more competent finisher than Altidore, he might have gotten an assist.

UEFA Cup observations March 12, 2010

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, European soccer, French soccer, German soccer, Italian soccer, Portuguese soccer, Spanish soccer.
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I don’t care about the UEFA Cup. I care so little about it that I refuse to acknowledge its nonsensical name-change, which I assume UEFA made because this tournament is such a shameful farce that European soccer’s governing body no longer wanted to be associated with it. The most damning evidence is the recent triumphs from the former Soviet Union, largely a consequence of the fact that nobody good actually cares about this competition, meaning the fittest side (i.e. Ukrainian and Russian teams whose season has historically started about this time of year) often wins.

Because I don’t care about it, I didn’t watch it today, aside from about 10 snooze-inducing minutes of Liverpool vs. Lille I squeezed in before my class. That was definitely the biggest mistake of the day. So here’s 10 half-assed observations:

  • Liverpool is really, really bad. Seriously. Stevie Gerrard is closing on 30 and I think Liverpool may have intentionally signed a clutch of woeful players to disguise the fact that he is now past it. It’s not really anyone’s fault except whoever it is that keeps stopping the club from building a new stadium that can generate the kind of revenue the other big English teams’ arenas do. Oh, also the owners. These factors have colluded to inflict a truly wretched team to watch upon the rest of us.
  • French advertising laws: kind of a good thing. Liverpool has always had to wear special shirts stripped of Carlsberg’s logo for trips to France, because alcoholic beverages can’t be advertised there. As a free-speech fan, I am against this. As someone who thinks uniforms look better with fewer logos, I am for this. Nonetheless, someone in Liverpool’s organization is an idiot for not arranging a separate, incremental sponsorship deal for away games in France.
  • Wait, where did David Navarro come from? I thought the Valencia defender had been exiled to the second division for his behavior against Inter a couple of years ago. Shouldn’t he still be serving a lengthy European ban? I guess not, cause guess who started for los Che against Werder Bremen today. You’d have to think either a.) there’s some happy redemption story in there somewhere; or b.) Valencia’s standards have fallen since the days of Roberto Ayala.
  • Standard Liege: dark horse? I didn’t watch the Belgians play Panathinaikos, but I did see them several times in the Champions League this season, and I like them. Certainly, them winning it would be a lot cooler than anyone else doing so. With all the amazing young players coming out of Flanders, that victory might even be the herald of a new dawning in Belgian soccer, if the country can get its act together.
  • My pre-season UEFA Cup prediction’s not looking so hot. Taking a 1-1 draw into an away leg’s not really good news for any side. I predicted Benfica would win it this year, simply because of a front five too good for the Portuguese league. But the gentleman over at Zonal Marking.net said Benfica’s quality in Portugal stems in part from the namby-pamby style of play in Portugal and I guess coming up against a muscular Marseille wasn’t their cup of tea.
  • Atletico Madrid can’t break down 10 men. I guess they’re just a laughingstock, no?
  • Do the Dutch hate Belgians? Two of Hamburg’s scorers against Anderlecht were Dutch.
  • Fulham’s result is a bad thing. Does Juventus really care about the UEFA Cup? Because Fulham does. Just saying.
  • Where did Grafite go? I’m not bothering to check, but he played against Ireland recently. That meant 89-year-old Obefemi Martins in Wolfsburg’s starting lineup.
  • Unirea Urziceni should be here.

Los Blancos tossed out of the Champions League March 11, 2010

Posted by michaeltomlinson in Champions League, European soccer, Spanish soccer.
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I guess this just adds incentive to win La Liga now that their European run has come to what many would deem a premature end. A mess of blown chances including an empty net that Gonzalo Higuain missed egregiously off the near post, just to watch it dribble across the goal face nearly adding insult to well… insult, did the Whites in, well sort of. Miralem Pjanic on a crafty HALF VOLLEY!! in the 75th minute truly put the French side of Lyon through to the next round. I’ll apologize in advance I’m sure the minions at UEFA will be in great need of self acknowledgment and have this video destroyed in a hell pit of fire in due time. I’m also aware the 8 of you reading this have the wits about you to find another source.

To be sure I am no fan of Madrid, but I respect the talent they have on their team. Despite the chances they created; mind you mostly in the first half, The whites looked like they didn’t really have a plan and what they were doing tactically was questionable either by design or by player movement. I understand the importance of fullbacks in the offense, shit I’m a Barcelona fan, Alves is a defender in the same sense Americans are environmentally conscious. Sure we’re aware of it but we’d rather be barbecuing for our obese friends. (I guess that makes the likes of Ibra and Messi obese fans of BBQ). MY POINT being yes they are important but watching Madrid play was extremely aggravating. Arbeloa and Ramos spent a majority of their time as high up if not higher up than Ronaldo and Higuain, while Lass and Guti fell back in support. Fine, I understand the shift, but this should be temporary. I’m sorry if I’m not respecting the offensive prowess of Arbeloa. But I think having the passing ability of Guti who has been on great form of late and the play making shiftiness of Lass would bode much more effective in going forward. On a related note, RAMOS STOP TRYING TO CROSS THE FUCKING BALL EVERYTIME, EVERYONE KNOWS IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN!

Next point, which isn’t to say it has nothing to do with my point prior. Madrid does a good job spreading the field, but the aforementioned Ramos and Arbeloa were the main cogs in that attack. Interestingly enough Real Madrid Ronaldo on their side. and yet instead of running him wild down the left side they chose to run Kaka, Ronaldo and Higuain right through the center. I’m sorry if this doesn’t seem flawed to you, but putting all your scoring threats in one spot not only diminishes your attacking ability elsewhere but it diminishes its worth in area where it is concentrated. At many points in the game the three players made individual runs at the defense while the other two stood by the wayside. Madrid has an absurd amount of talent but if you can get away with containing their three most potent attacking threats with your central defense the scheme is inherently flawed. My suggestion is start Ronaldo on the wing, no seriously play him there. I know he “starts” there but rarely does he end up in that position. In fact the goal he scored was a screaming run down the left side, what changed? Complacency on offense. To blatantly use a basketball term their half court offense made them sputter. It created a system where fullbacks were forced to be play makers and their attacking options got bogged down fighting for space amongst each other. I’m no tactical genius, which is to say It is more pressing that an average Joe like me notices such problems, I’m sure actual scholars of the game would have much harsher criticism.

Arshavin & Nasri Shimmy and Shake March 10, 2010

Posted by michaeltomlinson in Uncategorized.
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In case you missed it Arsenal left little doubt to which side deserved to move in their pairing with Porto. Without their captain Cesc Fabregas all Arsenal managed to do was punch in 5 and completely dominate possession and pace of the game Tuesday at the Emerates. The second and third goals stood out as individual feats of skill coupled with the collective ineptitude of a few good errr bad men. Arshavin took a terrible clearance by the porto defense and proceeded to weave his way to the end line just before hitting a wide open Bendtner for the second of is treble to come. The third goal game from Samir Nasri who very Iniesta like probed his way through the defense from the right edge of the box with a mix of light touches and an amazing ability to change direction and pace on a dime. this led to a shot at the far post from an extreme angle to the right of Helton which was buried with little question of intent of a cross or anything less than a superb finish.

I wouldn’t usually sit here and recap something you can just as easily read on soccernet or the like. But for my money (by the way i’m not paying) I’m not sure how many goals set up by individual ball skill ive seen better than those two this year.

Check it out yourself: Here

Half Volley to start own soccer team March 3, 2010

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Uncategorized.
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I’m in class right now listening to a sports reporter from the Oregonian guest-lecture about reporting technique. He’s just said the University of Oregon Athletic Department is looking to establish its Web site as a monolithic competitor to other sites that cover the Ducks to make money from ads.

The Athletic Department can have exclusive access to players, giving it the inside track on the opposition in terms of interviews. Brilliant, I say. How can we at Half Volley be like that, I say. Well, here’s how:

The Eugene Stompers, owned by Half Volley Incorporated. If you want to start a sports news site in this market, you can’t just expect to cover exitsting teams. That’s chicken before the egg. If you want to ensure success, make your own. Look for the Stompers in the next MLS season.