500 Words – Day 4

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Liverpool v Augsburg

Jurgen Klopp has a dilemma on his hands. Tomorrow Liverpool play Augsburg in the second leg of their Europa League tie. Next up is a double header against Manchester City, first in the Capital One Cup Final and then in the Premier League.

Klopp has said he sees the winning the Europa League as the only way the Reds can get into the Champions League next season, so you think he would focus on that. But, the Capital One Cup presents an opportunity for the German manager to win his first piece of silverware with his new club.

So which players does he play in which game? Luckily, he has had some big name players return to the fold.

Daniel Sturridge is back and has featured in the last three matches. Philippe Coutinho is back and Klopp will be pleased to be able to play these two alongside Roberto Firmino who is slowly becoming the player his 29 million pound price tag promised.

The question is, does he play his best side against Augsburg? Or does he rest some in preparation for the Cup Final? Does he risk disrupting the rhythm these players have begun to develop in the last three matches by chopping and changing?

When I say rhythm, I don’t mean they were completely pitch perfect. In the first leg against Augsburg, he played arguably his best available team, but the match fizzled out into the most Europa League game you’ve ever seen. But there’s something to be said for continuity and what it does for a team, especially those returning from injury. On the other hand, it can become slightly problematic as the returning players aren’t fully match fit and may risk re-injuring themselves.

The other question is the midfield. Klopp doesn’t seem completely decided on his first choice midfield combination, except that Emre Can is part of it. Recently, he has been paired with Jordan Henderson – a player who looks far short of his capabilities now that he must continue to playwith a foot injury in order to rupture it.

James Milner is another option to pair with Can, but his passing in the middle of the pitch leaves a lot to be desired. He’s also been providing a lot more thrust on whichever flank he plays on and certainly makes things happen when he’s in the final third.

Besides playing one of the youngsters we have seen recently, the final option is Lucas Leiva. I’m a huge fan of Lucas, and have not forgotten the season he had under Roy Hodgson/Kenny Dalglish where he was the best defensive midfielder in the league. He is still proficient at stealing in to win possession in front of attackers but his powers to appear to be on the wane. Whether his excellent defensive heading ability is enough to pick him for either game, I’m not sure.

Klopp will most likely ride the line between the two extremes. He will probably want to win the Augsburg match early on with a couple goals and then look to make some substitutions to increase the amount of rest some get before going to Wembley. That will see all three of Sturridge, Coutinho and Firmino start alongside Milner with Can and Henderson in midfield. As long as the Reds are in front against the German side, expect to see them substituted for squad players such as Jordan Ibe, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke.

Going into the League Cup Final, Klopp will clearly remember the 1-4 league defeat of Manchester City in the early part of his reign. He may be tempted to start that match in the same way with Firmino as a False 9/10 to help crowd the midfield and encourage midfield runners beyond the Brazilian.

As manager, there is a danger in tying yourself up in knots worrying about who should play when. Klopp will relish finally having over a week to train his squad after not being involved in the FA Cup over the weekend. He made have had a little extra time to think about it too…

500 Words: Day 3

 

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Day 3! There’s a lot to live up to today, with 900+ words written yesterday! I’m not sure if we’ll hit that lofty peak this time.

An interesting set of results in the Champions League will be the focus of discussion. Here’s some points on what are likely to be the best two ties of the entire round.

Arsenal 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona came close to wrapping up the tie, and will be kicking themselves for not converting the many chances they had to make the return trip to the Camp Nou a formality. Arsenal will also be kicking themselves for not taking the chances presented to them as Barca again showed they could be vulnerable at the back.

It’s difficult to know whether they could’ve gone ahead and won this match, but Arsenal gave a good account of themselves, pressing well high up the pitch and remaining compact when not applying pressure. But it was a moment of ill-discipline that caught them out. The fullbacks were caught too high up the pitch and the MSN made them pay with a swift counter-attack finished off by Messi – incidentally, the first time he has scored in England and against Petr Cech.

The goal by Messi was a great illustration of what it takes to progress at the higher levels of the Champions League. In just one moment of lapsed concentration, Barcelona punished Arsenal. It was not Barcelona’s best performance and they could’ve scored more, but they finished at least some of the chances they created. Arsenal are continually found out at this stage of the competition because they do not have the players who can come up with the goods at critical stages against high quality opposition.

Where to from here? Barcelona will be happy to control the next game in full knowledge that the tie is almost over. Arsenal have a decision to make – do they go for broke and risk a possible humiliation? Or does the Premier League title run take precendence and Arsene Wenger plays a weakened side?

 

Juventus 2-2 Bayern Munich

Even up to 70 minutes, you felt Bayern had the tie sewn up. They absolutely dominated proceedings, often reaching 70% possession throughout the first half. But as often happens in football, the side that dominates the game comes under pressure towards the end, and that’s exactly what Juventus did.

With their defensive injury crisis, Pep Guardiola played David Alaba and youngster Joshua Kimmich in central defence. The manner in which Bayern dominated the match, it seemed to matter little, with either defender often pushing far beyond the half way line, safe in the knowledge that Arturo Vidal was dropping back from midfield. However, in the second half, following a typical Arjen Robben goal, Kimmich proved to be a little too inexperienced (and playing out of position), and can be seen as culpable for both of Juventus’ late goals.

Following Robben’s goal, Bayern, just like Barcelona, could’ve eased to victory but decided to make it hard for themselves. One should also not easily dismiss the character and calmness of this Juventus side. They looked down and out but managed to rally and score two goals to get back into the tie. To do so after trying to stay compact and hit on the break all game deserves a lot of credit, especially as it was in the final 20 minutes of the match.

This match up is now delicately poised, how will they approach it in the second leg? Surely Pep will be desperate to bring at least one of his specialist central defenders back into the team, not least to raise the confidence of side which would’ve taken a beating after letting the game slip. Allegri on the other hand, will be quite chuffed with his players. Juve still need to score at least one goal, maybe more, so it will be fascinating to see how the Italian side approaches the upcoming match in Munich.

 

500 Words: Day 2

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Day 1 is complete! I wrote 540 words yesterday, so off to a good start.

With some mouthwatering Champions League ties set to be played this week, I felt it necessary that I dedicate this post to the world’s premier club competition.

Arsenal v Barcelona

 

They meet again…

As a supporter of a club not in the Champions League (Liverpool), this is a neutral fan’s delight. Both sides have an almost unwavering commitment to playing beautiful football and keeping possession – my favourite.

Last year’s champions, Barcelona, are clear favourites but they actually haven’t won in London since beating Arsenal 2-4 in October 1999. That’s a good stat, but Arsenal have a much more damning one of not progressing to the quarter-final stage since 2010.

Taking the lead from Jose Mourinho’s Inter, most teams have decided to park the bus when coming up against the Catalans. But this season, teams that press high up in the pitch, such Bayer Leverkusen, have caused them some problems. In contrast, Luis Suarez, who has scored 41 goals in all competitions this season, has given his side a more direct option, allowing Pique and Busquests to bypass a high press when they need to. Whether Arsenal are capable of the kind of tactical discipline required to cause the Blaugrana the same problems remains to be seen.

Fatigue is another factor that could play out in this match. The Blaugrana were sluggish and poor during their last La Liga match against Las Palmas. Following their recent transfer registration ban, a lot of Barca players have played a higher than usual amount of minutes, Luis Enrique being unable to rotate the squad as much as he would’ve liked. This may have been alleviated a little now that Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan can play, but Enrique will want to play his best players in this tie.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are coming into the match on some indifferent form. They will now play Hull City in a replay after drawing 0-0 with the Tigers in FA Cup on the weekend. But they have close to a full squad to choose from, although Alexis Sanchez appears to be struggling a litlle to return to full match fitness after his hamstring injury.

Prediction:

Arsenal 2-3 Barcelona

This match, like all the other recent ties, will be a brilliant display of football, but I don’t see Arsenal being able to hold out against the MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar). The Gunners will definitely give the Catalans a run for their money, and will most likely score against a defence that can be exposed, but I just don’t seem them having enough to take an edge into the return leg at the Camp Nou.

Juventus v Bayern Munich

While the previously mentioned tie will be seen as a clash of two open attacking sides, this has all the signs of being a fascinating tactical battle (and not of the boring kind).

How’s this for a stat? The Old Lady has only lost two games in the last 45 European home games. Who was the side that beat them both times? Yep, you guessed it – Bayern Munich!

After a slow start to the season, while they dealt with some of their best players leaving and new ones integrated into the squad, Juve reeled off 15 wins in a row to now be top of the Serie A table. On the weekend, they looked a little devoid of ideas, drawing 0-0 with Bologna and failing to register a single shot on target – the first time in five years they have done so.

On the latest Guardian Football Weekly podcast, Paulo Bandini posited that Juventus might actually have an overall better squad than Bayern. This is what I find so fascinating about them, they may not have the most well-known players, but they have phenomenal squad depth. It shows what can be done when the club has a cohesive strategy from top to bottom and kudos to Beppe Marotta (Sporting Director) for how he has brought this to fruition. How much this will play into the result is unknown, as Massimo Allegri will most likely play his best side in both legs.

Continuing with the theme of squad depth, both sides have suffered injuries at the back. Bayern will be missing Jerome Boateng, Javier Martinez and Holger Badstuber, with Mehdi Benatia doubtful. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pep Guardiola sprung a surprise back four/three that leans towards keeping the ball rather than clearing crosses. The magnificently versatile David Alaba will play there, but his defensive colleagues are yet to be made clear.

Bayern’s injury hit defence will present an opportunity for Mario Mandzukic whose game relies a lot on his physical abilities. But he may not even play, depending on the kind a set up Allegri will go with, as he also has Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata and Simone Zaza to pick his forward line from.

Allegri’s mind will also be on his own defensive stocks with almost his entire backline out with injury. Alex Sandro, Martin Caceres, Giorgio Chiellini, Kwadwo Asamoah are all unavailable for selection and Leonardo Bonucci and Juan Cuadrado are touch-and-go.

See why this game is going to be fascinating?

Prediction:

Juventus 1-2 Bayern Munich

Bayern’s defensive injury list must be a real worry for them, especially with the firepower Juventus have up front. However Bayern will also be licking the irlips at the prospect of their incredible striker Robert Lewandowski taking on the equally depleted Juve backline. Despite the presence of Paul Pogba, Bayern are capable of bypassing the Juventus midfield and I see that as the key to this match. Max Allegri will want to keep it tight before the return leg in the Allianz Arena, but Bayern will manage to sneak an away goal or two.

Enjoy!

500 Words – Day 1

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I’ve decided that for the next 31 days, I am going to write 500 words each day on football and buiding The Dirtbag.

This is a big step, but I feel I must fully commit to the thing I want to build.

Why I am I doing this?

The plain is to build a consistent writing habit and develop my writing “voice”.

I’m also regular operating in the clouds, but rarely in the dirt. So I’ve got grind it out. No matter what happens on a particular day, no matter what time I get home, I must still  write 500 words.

I’m a little daunted by this exercise. 500 words sounds like a lot. In a week, I’ll have written 3,500 words! Then I have to publish my writing to the rest of the world each day.

Although, let’s look at it a different way: at this point right HERE, I’ve already written 128 words and it’s unlikely I’ll have any less readers than I do now – so why not get the drivel out of the way now, when no-one’s watching.

With that in mind, there’s no use wasting any more time. The longer I delay it, the longer it takes to get started. The longer it takes for me to work out what I’m actually doing to make The Dirtbag a success.

In the long term, I don’t want writing to become my number one skill. But it’s all I have to develop an audience at this point in time. My abilities lean more towards presenting content and discussion around that content e.g. a podcast. That is in the pipeline but I’m still working on getting a team together and getting the right equipment.

Even that last sentence is a peek into my thinking. I‘m convinced that everything has to be perfect before i start. That kind of thinking is completely wrong. It’s from taking action each day that we get closer to that ambitious goal we have set ourselves.

And that’s another reason I’m taking on this challenge to write 500 words every day. It’s from my action each day that good things will come. The longer I leave it, the more frustrated and anxious I become, knowing that I’m not working towards the goal of running my own business based on my passion.

Quick check of the word count after that paragraph – 359.

To the few of you who actually are reading this and think I’m cheating by referring to where I’m up to in the word count – you’re correct.

But I digress.

One of the problems I keep mulling over is how to build The Dirtbag into a profitable business. Initially, it will earn income through sponsorships. But in the long term, I’d like to move away from relying on what others are willing to pay. I want to create our own products.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what that product will be. How does a football content site create a product that can be sold repeatedly to maintain a reliable income? I literally have no idea at the present time. The thing I keep telling myself is that I just need to keep taking action!

Right that’s it! I did 500 words! How exciting. Yes it’s terrible, but this will be the worst one!

Until tomorrow…

The Dirtbag Diaries #4 – The Future

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It would be easy to think that The Dirtbag had been put on hiatus. I haven’t published a post since 27 December… But the rumours aren’t true! I have been working away – not on blogging but on strategy.

When I first began blogging, I knew consistency was key. But I had little idea of what I should write on football or how I should do it. I also knew that if I didn’t take action, nothing was going to happen.

So, against all my usual tendencies, I took action. I began writing match reports on European games. I really enjoyed it and watched some matches I never would’ve previously. But as I posted them, a major downfall became apparent.

 

Who wants to read a match report two weeks after the match has finished?

 

Understandably, they want it the next day. They want it seconds/minutes/hours after the final whistle.

I was taking too long to get them out. I’d have to squeeze in watching the entire match, making notes, and then writing the match report.

You wouldn’t say it was the best way to build an audience.

So that’s what I’ve been doing since 27 December. Recalibrating on how to build this into a business.

I was clarity of purpose. I hadn’t fully established a strong WHY for what I was doing. I’ve known the importance of having a clear vision is the key to success.

So here it is, the first clear statement of purpose for The Dirtbag. This work was heavily influenced by this 1996(!) Harvard Business Review article Building Your Company’s Vision.

Every company requires a Core Ideology, which is made up of Core Values and a Core Purpose. These are things that never change within the business – they are not swayed by what happens in the market. Regardless of whether the business was in dire straits, or experiencing record profits, the Core Ideology does not change.

In addition to the Core Ideology is the Envisioned Future that contains a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and a Vivid Description of what that looks like.

I won’t rattle off the theory any longer, but the article is well worth a read.

Core Ideology:

Core Values:

  • Authencity and Integrity
  • Fun
  • Adaptability
  • We care. About each other, our work and our consumer

Core Purpose:

Help others gain a greater depth of understanding and enjoyment of football.

Envisioned Future:

Be the best football content site in Australia

Vivid Description:

  • We will become the market leader in football-related content. When someone wants to go in-depth, we are the go-to site.
  • Our audience will know why football can be so trivial but also so important to the world.
  • This will happen because we will continually adjust and innovate to provide value to our audience.
  • Our audience will know that we care about them and their experience with us more than anyone else.
  • Our company will be able to do this as we will be an amazing place to work, where every individual feels valued and connected to a common purpose.

 

Done. Time to make it happen…

Carpi 2-3 Juventus

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Carpi (5-3-2): Belec, Letizia, Zaccardo, Gagliolo, Romagnoli, Gabriel, Cofie, Lollo, Marrone, Di Guadio, Borriello

Juventus (3-5-2): Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, Evra, Pogba, Marchisio, Khedira, Cuadrado, Mandzukic, Dybala

0-15 minutes

Juventus settled into the match quickly, dominating the ball against what appeared on paper, a significant mismatch.  Carpi set out their stall early on, sitting very very deep in a low block and playing with five defenders. From 10 minutes in, the Bianconeri probed against the Modena side, switching the ball across their midfield and defence to the readily advancing wing-backs Evra and Cuadrado.

Marchisio, Juve’s deepest midfielder, looking very much like the man he replaced (Andrea Pirlo) was given a huge amount of space, Carpi seemingly intent on allowing him to have as much space as he wanted, instead attempting to stop his passes inflicting any real damage.

But Juve’s dominance meant little in the 15th minute, as former Juve player Borriello pounced.  Cuadrado gave the ball away with a poor pass and Cofie played it first time to the former Juve player, who had got the jump on Bonucci.  He still had plenty to do as he received the ball outside the box though.  Showing no fear, he took on Bonucci 1 v 1, dropped the shoulder and drove the ball low inside Buffon’s near post

The goal was just reward for Carpi’s strategy, who when they won the ball, looked to hit it long for the pacey duo of Borriello and Di Guadio who would sprint into the channels between Juve’s centre backs.

15-30 minutes

Carpi didn’t have much time to enjoy their lead however. Two minutes later, Cuadrado received the ball out wide of the box and crossed to Khedira who had his shot saved by Belec.  The ball ping-ponged around the box until it fell to Mandzukic who brilliantly took one touch to pop it up, swivel and fire the ball into the net from just outside the six yard box.

Juventus continued to create changes, taking it to the Carpi defence with runners – Pogba, Cuadrado, Evra and Dybala all looking to get in behind.  But Carpi stayed strong and still found occasions to spring their pace counter-attack.  But neither side was able to make their opponent pay.

30-45 minutes

Mandzukic was copping some rough treatment from the Carpi centre backs, especially Romagnoli, who fouled the Croatian a number of times.  Mandzukic intended to exact revenge on the centre half at a Juventus corner, but only succeeded in shoving the Italian to the ground and conceding a free kick.  Seconds later, Romagnoli followed up with another foul near the halfway line. Carpi were hanging on well and it looked as if both sides would go into their respective dressing rooms with the score at 1-1.

But it was Mandzukic got the last laugh.  As he had for most of the half, Chillieni again found himself with a lot of time.  Pogba and Evra executed a rotation of positions, with Evra sprinting forward. Letizia, the Carpi right wing back tried to follow, but he slipped (not the first player to do so), making it easy for Evra to get in behind unattended.  The pass from Chillieni to the Frenchman was slightly overhit.  But he kept it alive and hung a cross up to the six yard box which Mandzukic met strongly.  The header was straight at Belec, but he was going across his goal and unable to keep the ball out of the net.  The Croatian Mario had got himself a brace and put his side into the lead.

45-60 minutes

The second half was almost a carbon copy of the first half, with Juventus again in complete control but now with Carpi’s influence on the match basically reduced to zero. The home side had decided to maintain their defensive shape and hope for the best.

With the Bianconeri enjoying so much of the ball, it allowed a closer look at how they operated in the build up phase.  Contrary to the way most sides start their early phase of possession, the Juventus fullbacks initially didn’t push high up the pitch. Instead, when the closest centre back received the ball, they actually dropped deeper.  This was to facilitate space for the Juve midfielder on that side to receive a pass from the centre back. For example, on the left hand side, Patrice Evra would drop to almost be in line with Chiellini.  This opened up space for Pogba to receive the pass from the Italian centre back.

Consequently, everyone was caught off guard by Juve’s third goal in the 50th minute where the previously mentioned build up phase was completely bypassed.  Marchisio, who had been revelling in so much space throughout the match he could’ve started a farm, went long for an onrushing Pogba, who caught Letizia napping.  The French starlet brought the long pass down with his chest before lifting it over a diving Belec.  It was 3-1 and the Old Lady was home and hosed.

Carpi looked out on their feet, and it wasn’t a surprise to see Di Guadio, who had sprinted everywhere for little or no reward, substituted in the 54th minute to be replaced by perhaps one of the greatest names in all of football – Kevin Lasagna.  But despite the deliciously sounding substitution, Juventus were doing most of the eating, dominating the ball and allowing Carpi very few opportunities to even get into their half.

60-75 minutes

By this time, the entire tempo of the match dropped.  Carpi continued to tire and made all three substitutions by the 70th minute.  Juventus, in the belief they were under little pressure, also made two substitutions, Rugani coming on for Andrea Barzagli and Alvaro Morata on for the ineffective Dybala.

Mbakogu, Borriello’s substitute, began to cause some problems to the Juve defence with his pace and strength.

75-90 minutes

Whether it was Juve taking their foot off the gas or the home side’s disrupting of the Juventus midfield, Carpi began to regain a foothold in the match.  What you could be certain of, was Allegri’s dissatisfaction with his side’s complacency.  In the 81st minute, Marchisio attempted to find Mandzukic with an ill-advised blind pass.  Allegri’s scream made clear what he thought of such play.

Max’s frustration was not misplaced, his side’s continued complacence was taken advantage of, albeit in the 92nd minute. Letizia, culpable in two of Juventus’ goals, got forward on the right and crossed to basically no one.  Bonucci panicked and knocked in an own goal with his toe, with Buffon stranded.

Straight after Juventus kicked off, Lollo could have brought the LOLs if he had converted a beautiful chance in front of goal, but the laughs were saved for Allegri’s final act.  The tactician went apoplectic on the sideline and attempted to rip off his jacket.

 

Despite Allegri’s antics, he should be heartened by this Juventus performance.  Yes they should’ve won more easily, but showed real resolve to get back into the match and dominate it thereafter. They are an impressive side with a deep squad equipped to fight on all fronts.  Unlike the league champions in the Premier League, they have turned around their season following a slow start and now, going into the Serie A Christmas break, sit in fourth, three points from league leaders Inter.

Benfica 1-2 Atletico Madrid

Benfica-Atletico 2

 

Benfica (4-2-3-1) – Julio Cesar, Eliseu, Jardel, Lisandro Lopez, Andre Almeida, Renato Sanches, Fejsa, Gaitan, Goncalo Guedes, Pizzi, Jonas 

Atletico Madrid (4-3-2-1) – Oblak, Filipe Luis, Godin, Savic, Juanfran, Carrasco, Gabi, Saul Niguez, Koke, Griezmann, Vietto

 

First Half

0 – 15 minutes

Both teams had already qualified for the knockout stages, so this clash was to decide the winner of Group C.  To top the group, Atletico required a win, while Benfica were only needing a draw.

From the beginning, Atleti’s mobile forwards and wingers pressed Benfica’s backline very hard.  Both centre-backs, Jardel and Lisandro Lopez were the main targets as Benfica attempted to play out from the back.  From the kickoff until the end of the half, the defensive midfielder Fejsa dropped into the defence, between or either side of the centre backs to create a back three.  This was in attempt to play out and move the fullbacks on during the early phase of possession.

Following a frenetic start, the match settled into a predictable pattern, Atletico were happy for Benfica to have the lion’s share of possession as they looked to press hard and spring a counter attack from any resulting turnovers.  Benfica, however, were unable to do much due to Atleti’s compact shape, who often sat  10 men behind the ball.

15 – 30 minutes

Atletico Madrid were very extremely impressive in defence.  They remained very compact and looked to play combinations and create overloads on the side of the pitch where they won the ball back.  They continued to create chances with this strategy, fashioning a shooting chance for Carrasco that Julio Cesar saved acrobatically after winning the ball near half way.  Minutes later, Koke and Juanfran contrived on the right side to fire in a cross that wasn’t converted.  But still the score remained 0-0.

Despite their impressive defensive discipline, Atleti’s shape was also quite fluid.  They often switched between 4-4-2 and 4-3-2-1.  Koke, Griezmann and Carrasco had the most licence to change positions in attack.  But as an indication of how well they were coached, those three were just as quick to get back into their defensive positions, whether that was on the left, right or in the middle.  Vietto held his position in the centre of the forward line.

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30 – 45 minutes

Benfica-Atletico

Benfica continued to dominate possession, at certain points hogging 65% of the ball in their favour. But as mentioned previously, the Madrid side were quite content with the situation. In the 33rd minute however, their contentment levels were raised. Griezmann found space in between the lines and played Vietto in behind on the right hand side of the box.  The Argentine cut it back for Saul, who was racing into the area, to easily convert.

The match then became increasingly more predictable as Atletico Madrid happily sat on their lead.  Benfica, desperate to create something, continued to probe. But such was the defensive organisation of Atleti, they were barely able to muster an effort on goal.

Second Half

45 – 60 minutes

Benfica manager Rui Vitoria decided to shake things up at half time by making a substitution and altering their shape.  On came Kostas Mitroglou for the largely ineffective Guedes, to play in tandem with Jonas up front, with Nicolas Gaitan moving to the left.  Fejsa and the 18-year-old Renato Sanches were tasked with holding the midfield on their own.

Mitroglou’s impact was immediate, latching on to a chance just after the kickoff and firing narrowly wide. But once again, after a lively start, the match soon fell back into the familiar pattern witnessed in the first half.  Atleti sat deep and compact, lying in the wait for the right time to pounce.

That time was in the 56th minute. Following an uncharacteristic spell of possession, Koke passed to Carrasco who found himself in a wide open meadow on the left hand side.  Benfica appeared to be in control of the situation, with only Vietto in the box, but the Argentine stole in front of Lisandro Lopez.  Carrasco played a brilliant pass for him to dab the ball inside Julio Cesar who was found off his line, anticipating a cross.

Atletico were now in full control and perched very comfortably at the top of the Group.  Benfica continued their attempts to find an opening, now looking to swing more crosses into the box following the changes Vitoria had made to the side.  Although this gave Atleti something different to deal with, Nicolas Gaitan’s effect on the match was drastically reduced by being forced to play from the left hand side, rather than the central areas he is more suited to.

Benfica-Atletico Madrid

60 – 75 minutes

This period saw a rash of substitutions as Atletico looked to sew the game up and rest players while Benfica looked to change the complexion of the match.  Raul Jimenez (Benfica) came on for ineffective Jonas and Fernando Torres, currently sitting on 99 goals for Atletico Madrid, was brought on for the goalscorer, Vietto.

For whatever reason, Atleti’s play began to continually come down the left, Carrasco regularly receiving the ball in space that Benfica left open as they pushed forward for a goal.  But just as regularly as the Belgian received the ball, did Felipe Luis lose it, the Brazilian unable to find a teammate or beat his man.  That was until he was played through on goal by the more the competent Griezmann, but the Brazilian was unable find Torres with his cross.

Benfica started to increase the pressure, finally able to remain in Atletico’s half, drawing a number of fouls around the box.  The key to this pressure was the driving runs of Renato Sanches, who was having barnstormer in the second half seemingly determined to drag the Super Eagles back into the contest.  But again, Atleti stood firm, with Simeone feeling comfortable enough to sub Carrasco off for Oliver Torres in the 73rd minute.

75 – 90 minutes

Perhaps Simeone’s layback-ability seeped out onto the pitch as Benfica got themselves back into the match following one of those sustained spells of pressure in the 75th minute.  It all started with the star of the second half, Renato Sanches, who fired a direct pass into Raul Jimenez.  The substitute found Mitrouglou in the box and the Greek executed a fantastic turn away from Godin to score off the right hand goalpost.

The tide had turned, and Benfica were back in the match and being urged on by the home crowd.  They increased the pressure on Atleti who were finding it difficult to get out of their own half, Fernando Torres ineffectual at holding up the ball.  Simeone betrayed his concern by finding the need to gee up his side from the touchline.

But even with Jimenez coming close to scoring with a header in the 83rd minute, it was too little, too late.  The Super Eagles were unable to make the dominance in the latter part of the half count and Atletico rode out the storm to win 2-1 and sit top of Group C

The Dirtbag Diaries #3: Consistency

 

There aren’t many things that I despise more than being sick.  Last week I had a virus that took me out of action for almost a week, hence the lack of any content on The Dirtbag until the piece on el Clasico.

 

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Unfortunately, that’s the biggest struggle.

Consistency.

 

The Dirtbag, or anything else, cannot be built in a day.  But if it ain’t consistent, there’s not much chance of building an audience.  It’s hard to build something of value, something that people want to come back to, but it makes sense when I examine my own behaviour.  If a blog I follow stops producing consistent content, I’m far less likely to go back there.  The only football blog that bucks the trend is the Santapelota blog, where the quality is so outstanding, I can’t help but check back every few months.

To address the issue of consistency, I’ve now come up with a formula to which I can stick.  It can also be manipulated slihtly around the demands on my time.  From today, The Dirtbag will have the following every week:

  • 1 x long-form post on football
  • 1 x entry into The Dirtbag Diaries
  • 10 emails added to The Dirtbag’s email subscriber list

That’s it.  I want to focus on less to achieve more.

If you’re reading this, I’d love you to keep me accountable.

Real Madrid 0 – 4 Barcelona

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First Half

0-15 minutes

Much of the lead up to the match was dominated by the debate over whether Luis Enrique would start Lionel Messi, who was on the cusp of recovery from a knee injury. Spoiler alert: He did not start.  Luis Enrique set his side out in the Blaugrana’s usual 4-3-3 but with Sergi Roberto – their ever present utility man this season – starting in Messi’s position on the right of the front three.

Rafa Benitez finally had the chance to choose from a full complement of players following a rash of injuries, and decided to line his team up in a 4-2-3-1 with James Rodriguez on the right and Gareth Bale playing the number 10 role.

Straight from the kick off, Sergio Busquets set the tone with a delicious drag back that left Gareth Bale wondering if his top-knot was still attached to his head. Given his anonymous display, it’s entirely possible that Bale, who has done very little to convince anyone except Florentino Perez that he can play through the middle, actually did spend the rest of the game worrying where his bun had got to.

In the opening exchanges, Real Madrid pressed Barcelona high up the pitch, even closing down Claudio Bravo when he received the ball, but this soon exposed their biggest deficiency – their lack of defensive organisation. The front four were entirely disconnected from the two defensive midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. More on how this played out later.

There was a number of niggly fouls that usually characterise a high level match such as this but on 11 minutes, Barcelona struck the first blow. Following a spell of patient possession where almost every Barcelona player touched the ball, Sergi Roberto darted into space behind the Madrid midfield. Sergio Ramos stepped up to confront the danger, but in doing so, gave Luis Suarez plenty of room to receive the pass from Roberto and apply an exquisite outside-of-the-boot finish into the bottom left corner of the goal.

After the goal, Barca continued to exert their dominance. Madrid’s midfield were being overpowered, with Bale, James and Ronaldo all unable to get on the ball and have any influence on the match. Busquests and Iniesta controlled the ball in midfield, which gave Suarez and Neymar licence to interchange frequently.

15-30 minutes

During this period, Madrid continued to give the ball away, their midfield seemingly incapable of maintaining possession for more than two or three passes. Ronaldo switched sides in an effort to receive the ball more, but it was to no avail – Madrid’s issue was structural. In both defence and attack, there was a gaping void between the defensive midfield block of Kroos and Modric, (tireless but constantly overrun) and the attackers of Ronaldo, Bale, James and Benzema, who either decided to or were unable to, apply any kind of organised pressure on Barcelona. As a result, Kroos and Modric were caught in a catch-22. If they played deep, Barca dominated the midfield in front of them, if they tried close the space in the midfield, they were destroyed in behind by Suarez, Neymar and on occasion, Iniesta.

One wonders why this was allowed to happen in the first place, especially under Benitez, a manager known for training clubs to be organised and to press well. Was he sending a message to the Madrid top brass, the media and those fans who had criticised him since his appointment? “I played the team you wanted guys, and looked what happened!” Or perhaps it’s the result of a disillusioned squad, riddled with factions and unhappy about the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti?

The Merengues experienced a few longer spells of possession towards the half hour mark, but nothing that worried Barcelona, who still had most of the chances but were unable to convert.

30-45 minutes

The match began to settle down into a predictable pattern and resembled a smooth dish (Barcelona possession) peppered with chilli (Madrid’s attempted counter attacks). But in 39th minute, Neymar served up the second course with Iniesta as sous chef. (This is awful).

Madrid’s disorganisation disease had infected the entire team as they were unable to apply any pressure to the ball once on the back foot. After Barca stole possession from Modric, the backline were completely unsure what to do when their defensive midfield cover had been broken. Iniesta took full advantage by playing in Neymar who delicately finished between Keylor Navas’ legs to make it 0-2.

 

Second Half

45-60 minutes

Madrid started the second half brightly. Marcelo fired into the side netting after evading challenges from Alves and Pique and James drew a smart save from Bravo in the 48th minute. But gradually, Madrid’s earlier problem began to rear its ugly head again. Kroos and Modric were still stationed far too deep. Time and again they allowed Barca’s midfield too much space and come the 53rd minute, it was Iniesta’s turn to punish them. The little maestro found himself in acres of space in front of Madrid’s back four, played a one-two with Neymar, and drove the ball high into the next from just inside the box.

By then, Rafa Benitez had had enough. It was time to shut up shop.  He brought on right back Carvajal for Marcelo and shifted Danilo over into the vacated left back slot. This was also likely precipitated by  Luis Enrique bringing on a certain Lionel Messi for Ivan Rakitic four minutes earlier, (one injury doubt for another). Benitez also substituted James for Isco.

60-75 minutes

The match began to fizzle out. Madrid lost more and more confidence and aimed to avoid further embarrassment. They had a few chances, with Isco assisting in keeping the ball a lot better, but Barcelona were also happy to sit back a little, safe in the knowledge of their 0-3 lead. It was not until the 68th minute that Bale and Ronaldo showed what they are capable of, combining to sprint into space and draw an impressive save from Barca keeper Claudio Bravo.

What little hope Madrid had was extinguished by Suarez in the 74th minute. Ramos was again caught too high up the pitch and was slack in returning to the backline.  Varane was caught in two minds about who to mark. Suarez got ahead of Ramos and teased Navas out from his goal before delightfully chipping him for Barcelona’s fourth.

75-90 minutes

With the match well and truly over, and the Madridstas whistling, Luis Enrique brought on Munir for Iniesta, one of Barca’s standout players on the night. Barca now had Neymar, Suarez and Munir in a front three with Messi playing in behind them. Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto played in a defensive midfield two.  An alternative shape perhaps by the manager?

For whatever reason, Neymar was subjected to some harsh treatment, firstly by Carvajal, who was rewarded with a yellow card for his efforts and then Isco, who was shown a straight red for a chop on the Brazilian that really belonged in a butcher shop. Nonetheless, the Spaniard was applauded off the pitch by the Madrid faithful who felt he had at least tried to do something of note.

As the match petered out, Ronaldo still had time to draw a magnificent save from Bravo who batted away a point blank header from the Portuguese movie star. Munir also missed from close range before the referee put Madrid out of their misery.

Conclusion

Madrid were thoroughly outclassed on the night and whether it was player revolt or the manager trying to make a point, the Merengues will need to  sort out their issues quickly if they are to stand any chance of closing the gap to their rivals at the top of the table. Anything can happen, but what was first seen as a period for Barca to battle through following their FIFA-imposed ban now looks to be the bedrock of their season. With Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal still to come into the squad, the Catalan side are sitting pretty and looking nailed on as La Liga winners even as early as November.

The Dirtbag Diaries #2: Seeding

Well, The Dirtbag now has two blog posts!  The writing ain’t amazing, but it’s not a dog’s breakfast either.  I’m actually a little bit proud of the quality given how little writing I’ve done.

The biggest hurdle at the moment appears to be producing the content in enough time for it to be relevant to its audience.  The piece on Klopp’s first Liverpool game came out a week and a half after that game was played!

What I’ve learnt is that taking action is key.  Results come from action.  Even mistakes come from action, but you learn from them and know what not to do again.

I’ve had some more thoughts on monetising in the long term.  I have no idea if it would work, but I find in encouragement in John Gruber’s approach. The man behind the famous Apple blog Daring Fireball sells weekly sponsor slots for a fixed amount. He’s currently selling for $9,250 per week (!!!).  I love this idea as it is based on quality.  The higher quality the content, the bigger audiences you’ll get and in turn, the more you can charge sponsors.  John talks more about how he developed the idea in this talk.

Once earning money becomes a reality, I’d love to keep The Dirtbag as open and transparent as possible with monthly income reports.  This idea isn’t new.  John Lee Dumas and others have done this for a very long time with great success.

However the key to going down the monetisation path is first building an audience.  So that’s the focus right now.  Get on board and stay tuned!!