Real Madrid preview: Ronaldo isn’t the only threat for United

Originally published online for Can They Score? on February 13 2013.

In the build-up to their first leg encounter with Madrid, much has been made of Phil Jones as United’s key tactical agent in the battle to muzzle Cristiano Ronaldo. Secondary concerns have also been raised around Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil, with suggested solutions ranging from a dropping Wayne Rooney  in deep to unsettle the Spaniard and unleashing Danny Welbeck or Ashely Young on the left to harry the German playmaker.

Negating Alonso’s influence is key – cutting off Real’s supply line will isolate and wither their starving forwards who can often rely on the midfielder’s quick, sharp distribution from deep – but with his fitness in doubt, it’s possible that Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley may instead find themselves facing Luka Modric, Madrid’s almost forgotten man.

With Sami Khedira paired alongside him in a midfield pivot, Modric’s will be a different proposition to the slow-moving, long-pass artillery piece that usually feeds the attack. An effective dribbler and lithe space creator, the Croatian has the ability to beat a man or two in order to unshackle himself of his markers – cutting out opposition players and giving himself room to pick a more penetrative passing option. Continue reading

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Today’s forwards, tomorrow’s Pirlo’s?

Originally written for Sabotage Times.

How will Rooney and Messi adapt and respond to the ravages of ageing?

Andrea Pirlo’s elegant masterminding of Italy’s Euro 2012 campaign won the veteran midfielder a clutch of new admirers and reminded those who had doubted him just what he was capable of as he approached the twilight years of his career. While Pirlo benefited from facing opponents either unable or unwilling to press him effectively, the regista’s vision and skill lit up the summer tournament.

While his existing fan base looked on bemused, many treated the Italian’s performances as a wake up of sorts, questioning why such player aren’t more widespread or available to their clubs and national teams. Continue reading

A bluffer’s preview of Ligue 1

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Sorry for being late. Je suis désolé et paresseux. I must also apologise for knowing next to nothing about the Ligue 1. Blame Channel 5’s old weekly “Goalazzio” programme where I could watch Del Piero and Totti in their prime. Blame the Premier League being far more entertaining. Blame most other leagues being more entertaining. Blame the French teams for making a tradition out of selling all their best players to foreign lands where they could truly realise their potential. Blame there only being two good French teams on FIFA 12 (three if you count Lille, but virtual Hazard was often as dissapointing as he appears in the flesh). So yes, you’re about to read a league preview of a league that has already started, written by a guy who’s knowledge of the French Ligue consists mainly of watching Juninho freekicks on youtube.

So, instead of pretending to do a team by team summary of the Ligue, I’m instead going to concentrate on the fight for the Champions League spots. Because, lets face it, the majority of people reading this blog won’t care that much about Ligue 1, but they might if a French club progesses into the latter stages of The Champions League. Which leads me nicely onto… Continue reading

The late late Clydesbank Premier League preview with Matt Davies

One horse trot: expect to see more of the above this year.

The pivotal issues:
Second place, relegation, will anyone stay afloat post-Rangers?

Who are favourites for the title?
Celtic. Easy one.

Who else will make the top 2 and who will get Europa League?
Dundee United should join Celtic in the Champions League, providing two of Gardyne, Daly and Russell are on form. Motherwell will struggle to hit the heights they hit last season, Stuart McCall’s squad looks thin and the protracted looks at James McFadden have come to naught.

Relegated?
Hard to look beyond the two promoted sides I’m afraid – Ross County look strong enough right now but any issues could see confidence drop and problems occur. Dundee however look like favourites for the drop, providing that Inverness’ signings gel. Terry Butcher has looked south to England to sign players and some may struggle. Continue reading

What has Scottish football ever done for us?

Are the best days of Scottish football already over?

Last weekend the Scottish Premier League season finally got underway following a tumultuous summer north of the border. Today, the resuscitated remains of Glasgow Rangers FC will travel to Peterhead, beginning a new life in Third Division football.

Their enforced absence from the SPL gives clubs outside the Old Firm a chance to compete for glory, for the next three years at least. However, any such successes will, for many, come with the mental footnote that Glasgow’s duopoly has been shattered through developments off the pitch rather than on it. Some even believe that the triple relegation of the Light Blues could well spell the beginning of the end for professional football in Scotland. Ibrox managerial legend Walter Smith proclaimed, without bias of course, that Scottish football would soon slip to level of the The League of Ireland without the presence of Rangers in the top-flight.

South of the border, the macabre sniggers of derision from England’s more pompous footballing quarters are difficult to hide. “Look at the dull, primitive and attritional football; their laughable two-horse competition” they snark, and not without reason. Scotland is staring down the barrel of reduced TV money following the justifiable punishment of Rangers, such is the dysfunctional state of the game in the north. Had their transgressions not been penalised, Scottish football would have instead faced a crisis of integrity, with clubs seemingly free to live beyond their means through tax evasion and unsustainable debt, without legal reprisal.

Read the full piece over at The False Nine.

Old Firm rules everything around me – why Scottish football is stagnating thanks to the history of one city.

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One of the greatest prospects about playing in the English Premiership is the opportunity to possibly get into a position for sustainability of a club – take Stoke for example, a team who many expected to go straight back down, who instead didn’t change the way they played and made themselves a firm fixture in the top league, as well as having a successful foray into Europe this season. Every league has it’s traditional leaders – but nowhere is this more evident than in Scotland.

Continue reading