Five Shades of Defeat

Manchester City: defeated by the officials.

A rare picture: Lamela’s day at White Hart Lane.

Two weeks ago, they were primary title contenders with a 100% record and 0 goals conceded. Today, they aren’t even top of the table, having conceded 6 goals in two games. On Saturday, following their failure against West Ham, City have lost to Tottenham. To make it clear: Spurs are the team that has one of the worst records against the millionaires from Etihad in the entire league – and they’ve still blasted four goals into the visitors’ net. How is that possible, one might ask? Well, contrary to what Manuel Pellegrini said in the post-match interview, it’s been an intervention of higher powers. And I’m not talking about the heavenly inspiration that suddenly dawned on Erik Lamela; I’m not even talking about the sudden long-shot, skill boost by the ex-centre back Eric Dier. No; I’m talking about the oldest game-deciders known to football.

The officials. They’ve done it again. For six matchdays, they’ve been actually quite decent; but their time has come this Saturday. It’s been a hands-down, a highlight game of this Premier League weekend – and they’ve ruined it completely, in front of millions of viewers from all around the world, who watched this complete mockery of justice on TV. It’s one thing to allow one goal being scored from a minimal offside position; but when there are three offside goals not chalked off by supposedly ‘top-class’ officials? And one of them – the equalizer – gets in after linesman’s monumental fuck-up? It’s a joke – and a testament to what can smaller, less-spotlighted BPL teams expect from the refs, if Game of the Weekend gets screwed up so badly. Manuel Pellegrini played down this issue in a post-match interview. He shouldn’t have.

Other than that, Citizens are probably fine. There’s still a bunch of injury concerns haunting them – including Mangala, Clichy and most recent victim, Yaya Touré – but what’s important is that both Vincent Kompany and David Silva should be back in contention for a game against Newcastle. And that one, bad performance at White Hart Lane? We all know how it works: pretty much every team disintegrates after conceding second offside goal. As of City: they shouldn’t experience anything like that next week, faced with consistently dreadful Magpies at home. No – contrary to what some, overly emotional journalists have written, Citizens are still top contestants for the Premier League title. On one condition, though: they shouldn’t even allow Martin Demichelis in their starting eleven again. That man is done with football on this level.

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Newcastle United: defeated by not winning.

Too good for this crap team: Ayoze Pérez.

Speaking of City’s closest rivals: they’re continuing their losing streak. Yes, the game against Chelsea was a 2-2 draw, which they might’ve seen desirable before the match: but Magpies have blown a 2-0 lead! That, combined with Jose Mourinho’s awful record at St. James’ Park (not a single win in 6 attempts), should’ve prompted Geordies that three points were within their reach. And, to be fair to them: they came dangerously close to winning. Steve McClaren finally found a correct formation for his team, picking 4-4-2 as well as benching Thauvin, who so far looks like another Cabella-magnitude French flop. Thanks to those changes, NUFC finally looked like a proper Premier League team, utilizing all off their limited quality while making up for the weaknesses with extra effort. It still wasn’t a great game from them – but, unlike before, at least they were in it.

They way it works in the black-and-white stripped team is that Steve McClaren has some explaining to do even after moderately good performances. For instance: there’s absolutely no explanation why a player like Ayoze Pérez was so underused in all the games Magpies played so far. For some reason, NUFC boss preferred 20-years old Aleksandar Mitrović or a seasoned veteran Papiss Cissé. As of the Serbian: he’s basically Diego Costa minus the goals – which means that all he does is collecting yellows. Cissé, catastrophically bad against West Ham a week ago, is simply past it. And Pérez? One game against BPL champions equals one goal scored from a difficult position plus an assist from a corner. A team that will surely be fighting to stay up for months to come cannot afford to bench a player like him. Not even in a 4-5-1 formation.

Still, despite all the positives upfront, Newcastle must consider this game as yet another defeat. A team does not stay in Premier League by drawing the games; and if it does, it’s not by snatching draws from the jaws of victory. One may argue that Saturday’s match was a case of a blooter equalizer by Willian. However, the flip side to this coin is that Magpies still cannot defend well enough. Chancel Mbemba might be an excellent centre-back, but there’s much more needed than him to fix all leaks. Week after week, it’s Tim Krul’s great shot stopping ability that keeps saving NUFC from a total humiliation – and, since Coloccini’s reaction time remains poor and Janmaat is sort of a winger- that trend will most likely continue. Especially since the team with 3 points in 7 games always becomes a “must-beat” target for everyone else.

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FC Barcelona: defeated by the injuries.

Messi is down. I repeat: Messi is down!

It’s been a tough campaign for Barcelona this season. 17 goals conceded in just 10 games in all competition – that’s painful for a club of this calibre. The decline becomes even more evident if we consider that, by the 28th September of the last year, Blaugrana had exactly 0 goals conceded in 7 games – and that the 17th one in the back of their net came as late as on January 28th. This season, they’re exactly four months ahead of schedule – but there’s a reason for it. Claudio Bravo, the man to routinely guard their goal in league matches, has suffered a calf injury that sidelined him for the entire September. Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Thomas Vermaelen had all minor health problems too – but that’s not the end of it. The random chance kept working against Barca: against Roma, a six-monther was picked up by Rafinha. And not long after that…

We’ve all got used to Leo Messi’s unbeliveable fitness. At 5 feet, 7 inches and 148 lbs weight, he remained largely unharmed even by the most brutal runs of games and most dire tackles executed on his legs. It came to the point when Barcelona’s managers benched him against his will – just to fulfil the wishes of FCB’s doctors, concerned about the limits of Leo’s body. Over the last 10 seasons, the Argentinian was sidelined for the total time of just about 9 months; not much, considering his typical mileage of 40-45 games per season. Thus a home game against newly promoted Las Palmas did not seem like a threat to his health. Contrary to their nickname, Los Amarillos are one of the most docile La Liga teams, picking up only 16 bookings in six games this season. Alas, this time around, their assistance wasn’t necessary: 8 minutes into the game, unmarked, Messi’s knee gave in by itself.

Ironically, the only problem with Barca’s squad that’s been pinpointed by media last season was the quality of their bench. Both Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan were signed to deal with that issue; but they’re now frozen out due to the transfer ban enforced by FIFA until January 2015. Besides – neither Vidal nor Arda are alternatives to the MSN trio, should it’s members get ruled out. So, who will replace Messi? Or rather: who will take his place, since, quality-wise, he’s irreplaceable? The media seem to favour Munir El Haddadi; a young forward of Moroccan descent, responsible for 1 goal and 3 assists in his 20 games for Barca. Those aren’t very impressive statistics – which means that, in reality, it will be now Luis Suárez’s job to carry the team’s goalscoring burden. At least for the next 2 months – according to FCB’s medical staff, Messi might be fit to play against Real Madrid on November 22.

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Juventus: defeated by a starlet.

Insigne is one fire – as Napoli keeps flying high.

Barcelona aren’t the only Champions League finalists who have consistency problems this season. Starting Serie A with a 0-1 home defeat to Udinese, The Old Lady from Turin keeps struggling as well. They were quite comfortably outplayed by Roma. They weren’t able to beat Chievo and Frosinone despite playing in front of their own fans. They scraped two, hard-fought away wins against Genoa and Manchester City. And, eventually, this weekend, they went to Naples, to take yet another difficult test. SSC Napoli. As I said in my previous blog entry: that team is not a boring, overly cautious side we’ve seen from Señor Benitez. Not anymore. With few new signings, refined 4-3-3 tactics and skyrocketing form of several players, Maurizio Sarri has lifted Partenopei to a brand new level. On Saturday, Zebrette were about to experience the fruits of that labour.

The overall result was a very good game; cautious from both teams, but not without some serious will to win. There were chances for both teams and a lot of great, fighting footballing in the middle of the park. However, on that day, Napoli had something that Juventus lacked: a star player. A player so much in form, his every action creates a mess in front of the opposition’s goal. His name is Lorenzo Insigne, he’s even tinier than Messi (5 feet, 4 inches) and he can tie knots with his right foot – although usually, he plays down the left wing. The lad started current campaign with a bang, scoring 3 goals and assisting twice in just six Serie A games. His third successful strike was a placed shot aimed between Leonardo Bonucci’s legs to completely surprise Gianluigi Buffon. Insigne is only 24 years old, so… a bright future among Barcelona’s “mini-players” ahead of him?

At the moment, Juventus would love to have such game-changer. Plagued by the injuries (Mandžukić, Khedira, Asamoah, Marchisio, Lichtsteiner and Cáceres were all unavailable for Allegri this weekend), Zebrette had to field Mario Lemina alongside Pereyra, Hernanes and Pogba. The Frenchman hardly inspired his teammates: he’s played only 32 passes (Jorginho: 82, Allan: 61) and boasted just 75% pass accuracy (Jorginho: 88%, Allan: 82%). The only area in which visitors were comfortable at the ball was their own half – and by playing there, you can’t possibly expect good results. Even after Lemina’s immediate response to Higuaín 2-0 goal, it didn’t feel like Napoli can drop the points there – which makes this week’s Juve vs Sevilla game even more interesting. Can the visitors from Andalusia crush Italian champions with a player of Insigne’s caliber?

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Inter: defeated through seppuku.

No comments…

The clock at San Siro was showing 1 minute and 53 seconds when Samir Handanovič miscontrolled the backpass from Gary Medel, felt the pressure from arriving Viola player and went on to kick Nikola Kalinić instead of clearing the danger for a throw-in or a corner. It’s been a completely suicidal start from the Slovenian goalkeeper – and his compatriot, Josip Iličić has sealed an easy lead for the visitors, completely disregarding Inter goalkeeper’s reputation for saving penalties. It was merely a start of a massive bleed nerazzurri were yet to suffer. Less than 15 minutes later, a powerful, left-footed attempt by Iličić was parried only to see Kalinić jumping in and pushing it in the back of the net from the closest of possible distances. Both Handa and his defenders were spectators, as their team already conceded more goals in one Serie A game that in the previous 5.

When the third goal came in, the hosts were already a deflated balloon flying around the stadium and making farting noises. Just couple of minutes after the second goal, Marcos Alonso took on Perišić by simply playing the ball past the Croat and outrunning him. Miranda had no chance for blocking the cross and neither had Medel, who tried to mark Kalinić behind the opponents’ back. 0-3 – and, from this result onwards, Inter have decided it’s a good idea to finally start defending. Unfortunately, even Miranda, with all the years of training received in Atletico Madrid from Diego Godin, still could not figure out how to proceed. Pushing the three-man setup to the middle-line soon turned out to be a horrible idea when Kalinić outpaced the Brazilian and was cynically brought down by him in a one-on-one situation with the keeper. Red card. Game over.

It’s straight-up impossible to draw any positives from this performance of Mancini’s team. Perišić, Kondogbia and Guarín all had probably the worst games of their professional careers, making a combined number of 61 passes – 45 less than Viola’s Davide Astori. Even for a team spending one hour with 1 man deficit, that’s shocking. Ex-AS Monaco midfielder was first to make way for a replacement, getting subbed for Andrea Ranocchia, who actually played a level above his useless colleagues. Palacio? Icardi? Without the aid of in-form Stevan Jovetić, the Argentinians barely got a sniff – and one, set-piece goal scored thanks to Tătărușanu’s blooper does not change the bad impression. After the game, Mancini claimed that he went for 3-5-2 to “make the most of Perišić”. Well, you’ve got a problem boss: he’s just handed a well-deserved Serie A lead to Viola!

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