Special, but Not in La Liga

With the apparent quinary of Clasicos, it is obvious that the single greatest managerial statistic is going to end this month. Since his relatively humble days in Portugal, sometime back in 03, the self-proclaimed Special One began a streak of records. Records that will never be replicated again. Undefeated at home for almost 8 years, Jose Mourinho did not lose at home in his last season with Porto, at all at Stamford Bridge, the San Siro, and for now, at the Santiago Bernabeu.

His streak of tactical genius might just end here with a sad halt in Madrid. His roster of high profile, head strong, fame-driven footballers might just be his downfall. Maybe a little optimism is needed, but what’s the point when you’ve got a roster of national team 7s, 9s, and 10s that just can’t cooperate? If only he had a pair of central midfielders that he could build a team around.

We all know the tactical prowess of The Special One, but what of the tactics themselves? Standard flat-back four with at least one reducer to move around, while the rest move up and down as 3-4 just sit back and clean up. He loves this, chess, and answering questions with questions, or at least ending sentences with interrogative tones. Makelele, Deco, Costinha, and the well-aged Cambiasso and Zanetti did it for him. Hung around and just cleaned up the mess that everyone else created. Why not? Can’t score if you can’t pass or even move. In Madrid, he has the fake German, Sami Khedira, and the folically well-endowed Xabi Alonso who hasn’t hit a signature long pass since leaving Anfield. What’s wrong? He has 8 other forwards to watch over, while Casillas sits and hopes a defender will remember to stay in a flat-back four. I hate watching them whine. It sucks. Why can’t professionals just be professional? If there is a new way to trim your sideburns, I am sure CR has already done it. I can’t watch another no look pass, I’ll die.

Being second to Barcelona isn’t really that bad, but at least allow a Special attempt at winning something. I don’t need another manager to tell me that he will bring home silverware and forget after 4 years that luster looks better in cabinets. It isn’t exactly Italy or England where tactics are easier to establish, but create your own ‘philosophy’ as the Catalonians call it and just win without flare.

 

Evolution of the Sport: Anti-Football

At the end of the night, all they’ll remember is the win. Whatever the sport, defense will win you championships. Great attacking abilities are always given the credit for wins because of flashy talent and ball control. We must remember and credit the ones who break up the play and distribute the ball to the front players.

Just to name a few examples for a need for defensive minded players:

The last time Arsenal brought home some silverware was also the last time they had a true defensive midfielder in Patrick Vieira. Liverpool’s current slump came sharply after they separated their CDM pairing of Mascherano and Xabi Alonso. Barcelona have been very successful in the past few years with the addition of the skill-less gump, Sergio Busquets, while last year Inter Milan put together a historic season and gathered The Treble with the elderly DM pair of Cambiasso and Zanetti.

The derogatory term ‘Anti-football’ has been a frequent topic in the last few years since Jose Mourinho came into the spotlight. He took U.D. Leiria, a bottom table Portuguese team, to a 4th place finish then took control of FC Porto the following year, bringing in the UEFA Cup and Champions League Trophy the following year.  His usage of the reducer roles and overall style of Anti-football allowed him to finish a record season at Stamford Bridge having only conceded 15 goals all year. In under 10 years, Mourinho has accomplished more than any other current manager with multiple league cups and league titles, but most of all 2 Champions League trophies. His use of Costinha, Makelele, Zanetti, and Cambiasso have brought him success, but far too many do not appreciate their roles.

The role of the ‘reducer’ is to break up plays by sniffing out passes and tackling at will. The reducer is not known for their skill, keen vision, nor their scoring ability, but rather their bulldog mentality, eye for the tackle, and simple passing. Every great European team has made use of the reducer role and during those time periods have taken home some silverware.

At The Santiago Bernabeu, Mourinho is now being called out for his boring, defensive style that the fans of Los Blancos are not used to. The fans have become used to flashy football, outstanding individual efforts, and a shelf full of decade old trophies. In his first 7 competitive matches with Real Madrid, they managed to score only 9 goals, far from the old Real Madrid standard. Fans booed and jeered until their most recent win of 6-1 in La Liga. None of these fans took a second to realize that 6 of their 8 competitive matches have been clean sheets. With 15 goals for and only 2 goals against, the new Real Madrid already looks to have improved on paper.

Efficient is an adjective that isn’t used enough when characterizing teams, but I guarantee that this year’s Champions League winner will be described by that word one way or another.

Champions League: Tiki-Taka Teams

Are the scorelines not convincing enough for you? 6-0 Arsenal, 6-1 Barcelona. These results completely back the idea that tiki-taka football is the most effective 90 minute style of play.

From beginning to end Arsenal dominated play as they ran over Portuguese Liga finalists Braga. Inspired by a brace from captain Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal added 4 more from Carlos Vela (2), Arshavin, and Chamakh. As if keeping the ball 64% of the time was not enough, Wenger’s boys smacked home six goals and made a statement in London. After years of claiming that they have a young team, I think Arsenal might finally have a chance at something. Who have Chelsea played anyway? You can hardly compare their early season schedules. Maybe Blackpool will give them a run. Or a jog.

Barcelona was typical. Controlling all play… literally all play. Take a wild guess at the percent possession by the Catalan club. I have never seen such a one sided possession game in my life. Barcelona outplayed the current Greek champions by keeping the ball 86% of the game. Majority of the Panathinakos possession had to come from their keeper. First goal of the game was a punt from the keeper and cheekily flicked on for Sidney Govou to capitalize on the only shining moment for Panathinaikos. Losing to Hercules must have nudged Leo Messi the wrong way as he went on to put in a trick.

Wouldn’t be more happy to see these two teams play each other in the CL final.  At least it wouldn’t be as boring as last year’s.

Tiki Taka vs Route One Football

One nil down in the 75th minute. Do you ask your forwards to shuffle along their backline and wait for your center backs to spray long balls or do you continue to ask your midfield to connect between the two? With Zigic up front, the question is easily answered, but most don’t have the luxury.

Barcelona have perfected the possession style, Arsenal have created their own version, and we all know the Brazilians love it. The problem with route one football is the counter attack. Pushing forward five or six players leaves you with only your backline behind the ball and a recipe for disaster. Teams with the ability to exploit gaps on the counter will do so quickly:

Teams that play the tiki taka possession game are always labeled as more skilled, but can you honestly say that Clichy and Diaby have more skill than the majority of England’s top flight? The style works well for Arsenal and if it helps, looks far better than scramble inside the 18 or a long throw-in from Delap. For 90 minutes, you can’t really rely on Tom Huddlestone to blast long balls and expect the half chances to go in. Just look at the Spurs consistency in the Premier League. There isn’t any.

If I put a label on route one football teams people will just get angry. It’s more likely to get countered than score a goal and it just seems so desperate and painful to watch. Nonetheless, it is exciting with 5 minutes remaining or if you have Xabi Alonso on your side:

I guess route one football is effective when you have the names David Beckham or Xabi Alonso on your roster. The only positives to route one is a quick change of pace in the game or having the opposing team’s backline running towards their own net. An average long ball is easy to defend and gets ridiculously boring after a while, not to mention tires out the front players. Even Barcelona have done it from time to time, but at least they do it with style and spray textured balls in from the flanks with Dani Alves. Chelsea on the other hand just plays the typical English route one. Lucky for them Essien loves his wonder strikes:

I don’t think I really need to explain tiki taka football. The majority of the movements are off the ball and is sometimes slow, but patient in looking for the breakdown of a defense. Only few Premiership teams are patient in the final third, but none are better at possessing in all quadrants of the field like Arsenal. Wengerball is easily the next best form of football behind the style perfected by FCB. No better example than this:

Proof is in the video.

England should select Arteta

They need to select Arteta. They could also start a decent national academy, wait ten years, and select a young “foreigner” trained in England. I think both would be best.

“Englishness” needs to get over itself. As a German team led by the sublime Mesut Ozil clearly demonstrated, race is separate from nationality. Though Arteta is clearly Spanish in origin; he is English by passport. He has spent the entirety of his adulthood playing football in the British Isles. There is not a slicker player availbile to Fabio Capello. With Jack Wilshere still two to three years from a full starting role in the national team, Arteta stands as the one player available who could put in a killer diagonal ball. For all of Lampard’s enthusiasm or Gerrard’s power, neither offer the finesse of the “Spaniard.” Milner comes close, but is not yet of the same quality. Then again, with his selection of Sean Wright-Phillips over Theo “meep-meep” Walcott, Capello showed that he might not be the genius the English media once (and occasionally still) believe him to be.

England could stick to their guns and let Arteta go another major tournament without stepping onto a pitch.

They could look to win something instead.