PSB going on a brief hiatus

Back in February, Andy McKenna and I decided to air our weekly and semiweekly grievances about Tottenham and Manchester United respectively.

We went into this thinking we’d just write snarky articles for fun and just mock the ineptitude shown by both clubs over the season; however, we slowly started to branch out a little more and invest a lot of time into our writeups.  Thanks to this blog, we have both gotten the opportunity to write soccer articles for HoundSports. So we may post less frequently.  For those of you who have checked out our blog, whether deliberate or accidental, we thank you anyway for reading our stuff.

A special shout-out to Arvind Srinivasan and Karthik Narayanan for helping us put together the World Cup panels too.

Before we go, we do have something big planned for the new English Premier League season.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime  here’s a picture of a prawn sandwich to keep you busy. Prawn sandwich

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Obligatory post about Messi’s legacy.

When Mario Gotze scored the eventual winner,  the cameras instead of pointing to the delirious German (and local Brazilian) fans, went straight to Messi who looked like the weight of his legs had finally collapsed on him. After all, this was his 3rd game that he had played 120 minutes in less than 2 weeks, and the first time Argentina trailed.   All the expectation was now on him to somehow miraculously rescue the game.

And then there was genuine outrage at Messi winning the Golden Ball and even Argentine legend Diego Maradona said it was a “marketing ploy”.

It’s easy to knock Messi while he’s down and say he shouldn’t be up there with the greatest of all time or deserve the Golden Ball, because he didn’t single-handedly win the World Cup.

Let’s dispel the notion of “single-handed”.  What Diego Maradona did was a once in a lifetime event (and it happened before I was born) and in the modern game it’ll be nearly impossible to repeat.  His hand of god goal?  His 70 yard run to score the winner against England, and then dominating Belgium?  Hey Lionel Messi did that too.  But wait it wasn’t quite single-handed for Diego was it? Maradona had players like Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga who scored great goals along the way.  Messi had himself, Angel di Maria until he got injured against Belgium, and an out of form Higuain, plus Sergio Aguero’s injury woes.

Did Pele win any of his World Cups single-handedly?  No.  Frankly, Pele wasn’t even the best player on his team in any of Brazil’s World Cup triumphs.  He was outshone by Garrincha in 1962 and Jairzinho in 1970 and had his best World Cup as a 17 year old in terms of goal tally.  Brazil were scoring so many goals that he didn’t really need to score and Brazil still would have won the tournament. They were that good. All of the previous champions have had structure and a very strong team ethic.  West Germany on paper were constantly written off yet they had won 3 World Cups and appeared in 7 finals prior to yesterday:  Teamwork, it matters.

So that brings us to present day.  Argentina fought tooth and nail to make it to this World Cup final. If it wasn’t going to be through a flurry of goals from their world class strikers, it would be on the back of a much criticized defense with Messi providing moments of inspiration (see Switzerland, Belgium).  The Netherlands had a clear plan to try and nullify him.  It worked until they realized they had nullified themselves by focusing all their attention on him.  Then the toughest test of all: A supremely confident Germany side with plenty of weapons.  Yet for all of Germany’s superiority and possession dominance, Messi was still the great equalizer for the 90 minutes.  He had several fantastic take-ons, a late freekick deep into extra time and an improbable header from a high Marcos Rojo cross.  He was let down by his finishing, on this rare occasion in his career.

The narrative changed in an instant.  If Messi scores any of those chances in normal time, he becomes the greatest player that ever lived and the man “who single-handedly carried Argentina to glory”. He would have eclipsed Maradona for good because the victory was even more improbable against a heavily favored Germany, and even more reliant on him.  But that narrative would have also ignored the great defensive work put in by Garay, Zabaleta, Mascherano, and Romero in goal.  Instead he and his team lost to one that’s been 8 years in the making, and now he becomes a mere mortal?  That’s how history works.

Messi still has a claim to be one of the greatest of all time, and he had an excellent World Cup.  That must not be lost on people, and in that sense, he did deserve the Golden Ball for his impact and performances.  In games he didn’t score, the opposition had specifically sought to mark him out of the game by fouling or shadowing him.  He could yet win the World Cup in 4 years time, but if he doesn’t it should hardly matter for his legacy.

Why We Can Trust In Jurgen Klinsmann

June 26th, 2010:  The party was over.  Ghana had finally knocked out the US after a tense game with plenty of drama and intrigue.  Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, after a serious shift of running and working hard to create chances looked knackered and out of ideas as they desperately tried to rescue the game in extra time.   Ghana saw out the game effectively with time-wasting but didn’t have much difficulty defending for the last half an hour.

The group stage before that had been all over the place.  Heads turned slightly when the USA managed an unlikely draw thanks to an inexplicable error by England’s keeper Rob Green after getting dominated for a good half an hour.  The other two games saw the US struggle in the 1st half to carve out openings but turning the screw in the second half to get positive results in the end.

Four years ago, I remember thinking about that game against Ghana and wondering whether the USMNT would be back at this stage again.  The following year, I expected good things from them in the Gold Cup, but It was more of the same: unpredictable, open, and slightly more organized but no guarantee of an end product.  Against Mexico in the final, the USA went 2-0 up but Mexico dominated the rest of the game, scored a spectacular goal and finished the match 4-2.  Bob Bradley, coach of the USMNT, was dismissed

Enter the Klinsmann Era

Despite Bradley’s tactical failures in big games, his successor would have big shoes to fill.  He had after all, set many precedents for the Mens National Team including a 2007 Gold Cup win, reaching the 2009 Confederations Cup Final against Brazil, and winning a World Cup group.

But that Gold Cup Final against Mexico proved to be a seminal moment as the USSF bodies decided they needed to make the USMNT a consistent force and the best way to do that was to focus on team development and a more proactive, progressive style of football that would still be quintessentially American in attitude and spirit.

Jurgen Klinsmann, the famous World Cup winning striker, had a few turbulent club managerial spells after managing his home country to a semifinal and 3rd place finish at the 2006 World Cup.  But he was ready to make a comeback in the US, a country in which he had settled for the past decade.  It raised a few eyebrows, but with his background and experience in turning Germany around in 2006, Klinsmann seemed to be a logical choice.

Foreign Sons

When Jürgen Klinsmann took over Die Nationalmannschaft, he set out to change the entire culture of German development.  Klinsmann’s changes to youth development and tactics altered the German team in ways that are still being felt even as Jogi Löw manages.  Klinsmann gave chances to players Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, and Per Mertesacker – all under the age of 23 at the time and all participants at this 2014 World Cup.

There was also a noticeable shift toward offensive football.  At the time, it angered pundits and German nationals.  Today, there is an abundance of highly skilled Germans that can play the attacking game.  Players like Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, Julian Draxler, and İlkay Gündoğan are all products of Klinsmann’s changes to the German youth structure.

With the United States, Klinsmann knew he had a much greater challenge.  The US has no shortage of world class athletes, no surprise given the country’s size, but a dearth of world class athletes playing football.  But how would he fix this in only three years time?

Recruitment.

Klinsmann took a very non-traditional route to restocking the cupboards of American talent.  In Germany, Norway, and Iceland existed several players of worth.  Most were “army brats,” players with dual-eligibility according to FIFA rules.  In preparation for 2014, Klinsmann called on many of these players to exercise their rights to play for the USMNT.  Germans John Brooks, Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson; Norwegian Mix Diskeruud, and Icelandic Aron Jóhannsson joined Jermaine Jones as dual-citizens to play for the United States.

Of course, there is also Klinsmann’s greatest recruiting coup – the snatching of Julian Green from Jogi Löw’s German squad.  Green has the potential to turn into a real star in the middle or on the wing, and already has a strong club foundation at Bayern München under manager Pep Guardiola.  He could be seen at this World Cup scoring on his first touch of the game on a volley.

This, amazingly, is to say nothing of other youthful players such as Joseph-Claude Gyau, Diego Fagúndez, Darlington Nagbe, and Gedion Zelalem, other multinationals who could represent the United States in 2018.  In addition to all this, Klinsmann’s status as a technical director means a youth revolution could be underway in the next several years, with this World Cup serving as a loud and beautiful advertisement for the National Team.

Back to 2014

July 1st, 2014:  After a heroic effort and surviving the group of death, the US were finally beaten by Belgium.  It wasn’t the best performance by the USMNT as Belgium had 39 shots throughout the game and Tim Howard made 16 saves.  Yet for all of Belgium’s chance creating, they never really had it secure.  The US dominated possession and pressed the Belgians hard to send the match into penalties.  They just came up a bit short in a 2-1 extra time defeat.

So yes, we went out at the same stage as we did in the last World Cup, but we dominated CONCACAF qualifying, found some great young players for the future and showed genuine ability to create chances consistently whether it was through the channels, wings, or through neat combination passing in the center.  The US became a solid counter-attacking team and like any other team had its weaknesses that it needed to address.

It also took a ‘Golden generation’ team like Belgium who have players at the highest level across the board in Europe.  Ghana was a strong organized side when we played them 4 years ago, but they weren’t exactly world beaters.  Belgium could legitimately win Euro 2016 and contend for the next World Cup in 2018 so there isn’t much shame in losing to them.

In that sense, Jurgen Klinsmann has removed the uncertainty about soccer in the United States and has instilled genuine pride and expectations for this team moving forward.  Not obvious at first glance, but he could just prove to be the most important coach in our soccer history.

Is Messi dependence such a bad thing?

Argentina are through to the semifinals after a cagey 1-0 win over Belgium.  They continued on the trend of not thoroughly dominating their opponents but rather keeping them at arms length throughout.

In our preview of the quarterfinals, we figured it would take one moment of magic or something intangible to separate these two very similar teams (in terms of style, performance, strengths, and weaknesses) and that’s precisely what we got.

Not Higuain’s first-time finish past Courtois (which was excellent by the way) but rather Messi’s ability to drag 4 players out of position, skip past them, and play Angel di Maria into space who then played it into Higuain’s feet, albeit with a lucky deflection.

The problem is Argentina really didn’t do much more in the match to kill the game off.  Once di Maria went off injured, Sabella put in a defensive midfielder (Enzo Perez) in his place and all of the (rather rare) subsequent attacks went exclusively through Messi.

Many people have been referring to this as Messidependencia.  This isn’t the first time it’s come up since Barcelona also have had the same thing come up at club level for the past two to three years.  When you have a player as gifted and as decisive as Lionel Messi, you can’t help but build around him.

The main issue I have with Messidependencia is that it has a negative connotation attached to it.  Have Argentina been relatively unimpressive? Yes.  Slightly disappointing? Maybe.  But is this team really as ordinary as Belgian manager Marc Wilmots claims?  The one shot on target by Belgium says otherwise.  Seriously, I can’t take someone who brings on Nacer Chadli for Eden Hazard seriously.

So what if Messi has to create almost everything (he doesn’t), it’s not as if teams have found a good way to nullify him without nullifying themselves.  Just because Iran and Switzerland put 10 players behind the ball, does not make Messi or his teammates ineffective.  Most teams struggle against parked buses.  Germany and Brazil are also in the semifinals despite facing similar teams in that regard.  Tactics and formations don’t matter as much when the other team retreats into a defensive shell.  Belgium, however, didn’t mark Messi as tightly and paid the price as he found a lot of good spaces to attack or play his teammates in.  A healthy di Maria on the pitch showed a massive difference in Argentina’s possession play and chance creation.  In the first 30 minutes, Argentina dominated possession and were regularly asking questions of Belgium’s back 4.  di Maria’s injury afterward changed things and as a result if Argentina weren’t already going through Messi, they were going to have to.   It’s a pretty natural reaction when you think about it.

Messidependencia is not exclusive to Argentina either.  The other teams who are in the semifinals have relied on one creative player to channel their attacks.  Germany repeatedly go through Toni Kroos in their attacks and for set piece delivery.  Brazil obviously relies heavily on Neymar and his set pieces too.  The Netherlands are less about set pieces but their counter-attacks mostly go through Robben and he either creates chances by beating defenders, or diving.

So this Argentina side might not be the most spectacular side remaining, but they’re consistently stepping up when it’s needed and doing enough to win, much like the other teams that have gotten this far.  If that requires the best player in the world to do  ‘best player in the world’ things to win matches, what’s wrong with that?

 

Prawn Sandwich Brigade Knockout stage panel

Can we just say how awesome the World Cup has been so far?

First off, a big shoutout to the fans for NOT BRINGING THE GODDAMN VUVUZELAS.  Seriously, the atmosphere has been incredible.  The ball’s better, and CONCACAF surprised everyone with how well they’ve done.  And a special shoutout to Costa Rica for topping Group D (an alternate group of death) where no one gave them a chance in hell of advancing.

And now we’re doing our second panel for the knockout stage. Same panelists as last time: Pranav Krishnan, Andy McKenna, Arvind Srinivasan, and Karthik Narayanan

Continue reading Prawn Sandwich Brigade Knockout stage panel

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