Thursday, 28 May 2015

Sound of Football Extra: The Bundesliga First XI



Following on from my contribution to the Premier League XI for the imaginary World League Cup this summer, below is my Bundesliga XI which was also included in the Sound Of Football podcast.

Goalkeeper

Manual Neuer - FC Bayern Munich

I could easily have gone for Yann Sommer at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Roman Burki at Freiburg or Bernd Leno at Bayer Leverkusen. Praise for the German number 1 is not universal, particularly after getting chipped, nutmegged and beaten at the near post by Barcelona. However, for me he is still the top choice for this competition.

Full backs

Abdul Baba Rahman - FC Augsburg

Top class full-back and one of the success stories of FCA who finished fifth this season. Strong defensively and in attack, Baba is destined to play at the top of the club game.

David Alaba - FC Bayern Munich

This is a nominal position as Alaba can play across the back or in midfield. As much as Bayern missed Robben towards the end of the Bundesliga season, they arguably missed the Austrian more.

Central defenders

Juan Bernat - FC Bayern Munich

An outstanding season for Bayern. Composed and no-nonsense, Bernat would settle into a hastily arranged squad such as this.


Naldo - VfL Wolfsburg

An experienced and rangy Bundesliga centre-back with a penchant for goals. A vital component in the Wolves fantastic season.

Central Midfielders


Christophe Kramer - Borussia Mönchengladbach

Off to Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, Kramer has matured into one of the best holding midfielder's in the league.

Thiago Alcántara - FC Bayern Munich

Injured for much of the season, the Spaniard has an unerring eye for a pass and can score some spectacular goals.

Attacking Midfielders


Arjen Robben - FC Bayern Munich

Injuries not withstanding the Dutchman was sensational this last season. His crossing and inside play was the best we've seen from him all his career.

Kevin De Bruyne - VfL Wolfsburg

The Belgian has been sensational, gliding across the pitch, creating and scoring goals for the Wolves this season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Lightning fast and now quite capable of finding the back of the net, Aubameyang can get behind any defense in the world.

Striker


Robert Lewandowski - FC Bayern Munich

A ball magnate who can turn on a six pence. His technique and speed of thought makes him almost impossible to play against. Even the most telegraphed pass from deep can look like it was from Beckenbauer when played to the Pole, such is his ability to control the ball. Alex Meier may have finished top scorer but Lewandowski is the king.





Sound Of Football Extra: The Premier League First XI




On this week's Sound Of Football we selected the first XI for an imaginary World League Cup taking place in the summer somewhere in the middle east. The decision was a collective one but we all brought our own selections along and argued it out over the course of the podcast.

The aim of this XI is to produce a team that will compete in a competition rather than picking a team of the season (although there is a lot of crossover).

My original selection is below.

Goalkeeper


David De Gea - Manchester United

It is no surprise that the 24 year old won the player of the season award for his club. United are resurgent under Louis van Gaal but they have needed their 'keeper in top form while they seek to resolve their defensive issues.In a hastily arranged team such as this with little time for training, a player with his concentration will help calm the nerves of an unfamiliar back four.


Full Backs


Nathaniel Clyne - Southampton

The former Palace player is pretty much the complete full back. Defensively astute and capable in attack. Really should be starting for England in my opinion.


Joel Ward - Crystal Palace

My line-up, my rules.Yes I know there are better fullbacks but Ward is consistent and conservative. Just what you need in a scratch back four.

Centre Half


John Terry - Chelsea 

You can't tell me that with his international career over, the Captain, Leader and Legend wouldn't relish the chance of getting stuck into another international tournament. A model of consistency on the pitch and seemingly uninjurable. Sign him up.

Gary Cahill - Chelsea

In for a penny, in for a pound. This is the centre back pairing that won the title. What's not to like?

Centre Midfield


Mile Jedinak - Crystal Palace

The Socceroo captain has not been as influential for his club since his return to Selhurst from the Asian Cup. Some people will argue that he would not get into the best Palace XI and they would probably be right. That being said Eagles' skipper is still a formidable presence in what is likely to be a tasty middle of the park. His very recent success in the Asian Cup makes him an ideal choice for this team.

Cesc Fabregas - Chelsea

Flawless all season. King of the assist makers. Didn't need any time to settle into the Blues team when he arrived and leaving him out of this side would be lunacy,

Attacking midfield


Yannick Bolasie - Crystal Palace 

Applauded of the field at Anfield, Bolasie is in red hot form and is likely to get better. The hard working Congolese international was at the Africa Cup Of Nations this year and an ideal choice to play in this new international tournament.

Alexis Sanchez - Arsenal

More on the basis of his form earlier in the season the Chilean may be knackered but can win games on his own. He can also turn top class defenders inside out. Once of the few genuine world class players in the Premier League,

Eden Hazard - Chelsea

See above only better. The Belgian has delivered week in and week out. 9 assists and 14 goals last season and and inspirational figure.

Striker

Glenn Murray - Crystal Palace

Sergio Agüero - Manchester City

26 goals and 8 assists. Kept his head in a team that often lost there's. Harry Kane would have made the cut in the team but the Argentine has the stats and the pedigree for me.

Find out our final selection  here.





Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Schalke - blood in the dressing room may lead to the front office


There is an old saying in English that warns of exposing your dirty washing in public. The smells emanating out of the Schalke 04 dressing room were such that it would have been best to keep the door firmly closed until laundry day.

Last Sunday’s malodorous display against FC Köln in which the Königsblauen were reduced to a smear has prompted Schalke’s sporting director (a man for whom the expression under fire barely does his position justice) to suspend three players, two for the duration of their contracts and another for a week.

Midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng (above) and attacker, Sidney Sam are the two players placed on gardening leave for the duration of their contracts. Marco Höger is suspended for a week while the club judge his commitment to the team.

The Prince has never come across as a true blue and his suspension is the least surprising in what is a pretty unexpected turn of events. His performances have been inconsistent and at time he has genuinely appeared uninterested. The club has made it clear that he will not be returning.

Sidney Sam's expulsion is slightly harder to fathom. The German winger who joined last summer has contributed little but has spent much of the season on the treatment table. Presumably, this decision is based upon his impact in the dressing room. It certainly can't be on the basis of his on the field presence.

If this trio of players have created a bad smell in the team then it's quite appropriate to deal with them accordingly. It's not uncommon for players to be dropped or sent to the reserves or put on the transfer list before being quietly shuffled out of the club at the earliest opportunity.

But to go public with what is a matter of internal discipline is surprising to say the least. For one thing the value of these players in the transfer market is reduced drastically as potential buyers know there is a motivated seller. It also speaks to the insecurity at the top of the club, namely from their sporting director, Horst Heldt.



Heldt took over at Schalke in 2010. In his tenure he has seen head coaches Felix Magath, Ralf Rangnick, Huub Stevens, Jens Keller leave the Veltins Arena. As each coach departs the sense that the club's status has diminished, grows.

Heldt sacked Keller despite his respectable performance and qualification for the Champions League on two consecutive seasons. He was not seen as suitably inspirational which led Heldt to select a high profile coach in former Chelsea boss, Roberto Di Matteo in October of last year.

The change in management has not resulted in an improvement in the club's prospects. Despite the wealth of young talent bursting through the ranks, S04 are easily the most boring team to watch in the top half of the Bundesliga. They are lousy in transition and their cautious approach has cost them wins, especially against 10 man Bayern Munich in February.

Indeed, the Gelsenkirchen club have managed only one win in the last seven game and now sit in 6th place, the final Europa League qualifying spot. The Royal Blues are out of the Champions League which is a blow to their pride as well as their wallet.

Worse still, they have hated rivals Borussia Dortmund threatening to overtake them. This would be beyond the pale given the problems BVB have had this season.


Granted Schalke have lost key players such as Julian Draxler (above) and Klaas Jan Huntelaar through injury. But this doesn't appear to mitigate matters in the eyes of many supporters and Di Matteo's approach make him a deeply unpopular coach.

And now this latest affair which has led some fans to ask why, amidst all the player suspensions, Heldt himself should not be considering his position. From the outside, this looks like the final desperate act of a man who knows that if the team does not get six points from their last two games against relegation threatened Paderborn and Hamburg, nothing will save him or his coach.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Bundesliga Players: Frank Ribéry


Part of a trio of big money signings, Franck’s arrival at Bayern Munich in 2007 was a watershed for the club and for the Bundesliga. Here was a player of genuine flare and purpose in the peak of his powers arriving at a club in a league that was better known for its atmosphere, low ticket prices, beer and sausages rather than top class players.  Bayern, never a club to be short of a bob or five had been somewhat conservative in the seasons leading up to that but they made a real statement by hiring Franck.

As a player, the Frenchman is pretty much the complete package. Like all world class players, his pace and technique is matched with a tremendous ability to realise his talents.  The Rapunzel like cavalcade of goals and assists that have cascaded down the years are the numbers behind the balance he offers. Ribéry, is a reliable and fearsome presence on the left who can act as a fulcrum to a team that has lost its shape. That happens, even in Munich.

Franck is not a role model; he’s made some unwise choices in his personal life and was implicated with a prostitution ring prior to the 2010 World Cup. Although he was never investigated. He grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Boulogne-sur-mer and was a construction worker before turning professional. It is perhaps poetic, if a stereotypical to suggest that his upbringing and early trauma add additional steel and purpose to his game.

Of the three player signed in 2007 (the others being Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose) Franck Ribéry has endured. Injuries and advancing years have accounted for somewhat reduced game time and it is suggested that a replacement, of a sort, is being sought (Dortmund’s Marco Reus is bandied about by the impish suits at Bayern Munich).  That being said there isn't a full back in all of Germany that does not curtail his ambitions when confronted by Franck on the wing.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Keller Dwellers - Schalke are 100% in Europe but can they beat Augsburg?


The good news is that the there are more goals scored in the Bundesliga than in any of the major European leagues. The bad news is that there are more goals conceded in the Bundesliga than in any of the major European leagues and at Schalke 04 they have conceded more than most. That's right the team that has a 100% record in the Champions League finds itself leakier than Nürnberg, Augsburg and yes, Werder Bremen. Die Knappen find themselves closer to the bottom of the Bundesliga table and their coach Jens Keller is under intense scrutiny as doubts continue to be raised about his acumen and fitness to look after a group of players that, not undeservedly, finished fourth in the table last season.

The moderately bizarre aspect of all this Kellerangst is that he, Keller, is largely responsible for the Gelsenkirchen club’s position last season. The former youth coach who “enjoyed” a brief stint as coach of Stuttgart took over from Huub Stevens relatively early last season and in the view of many, he has been unsuitable as a coach despite guiding Schalke through to the second round of the Champions League and seeing them into the group stages of that competition, this season while beating the reigning German champions and arch rivals Borussia Dortmund along the way.

Perhaps it is that hang-dog look that tend dominates his visage even when he smiles (and he does smile) or his lack of pedigree as a head coach that fails to inspire confidence. Or maybe there is the sense that no matter what he does there is probably someone else, someone better out there and that Schalke, as one of the biggest and most traditional clubs in Germany, deserve someone better.

Or maybe it’s just a bunch of trouble makers that don’t support the club and are looking for a pretext to write a blog ahead of what promises to be a tricky game against Augsburg…

In any event, Keller is still there and since his arrival we have seen the rise to prominence of Julian Draxler and very recently Max Meyer. Plus he has integrated Kevin Prince Boateng into the side with very little effort. Where he falls down is in those pesky goals conceded and in that respect he is not alone.

Schalke’s relatively poor position in the table stems from a poor start. Points dropped at home to Hamburg and defeats at Wolfsburg and Hannover were followed by wins against Mainz and impressively Bayer Leverkusen. However, just when it looked like things were getting under control, along came Bayern who cut them down 4-0. That was followed by a 3-3 draw with the goal crazy Hoffenheim, in which Keller watched his team take a 3-1 lead only watched it get spunked away by a series of defensive howlers. The team’s focus was called into question, specifically that of long serving midfielder Jermaine Jones who was left out of the subsequent Champions League squad.So after seven games it’s not looking too rosy and once again questions have been asked about the coach’s fitness for the post.

The thing is though, despite their rocky League start, Schalke are getting it done in Europe. PAOK may not be the strongest team on the continent but can easily provide a banana skin for any team that is struggling for form. Steaua Bucharest may be the weakest team in their subsequent Champions League group but they still need beating and beaten they were, at home and by three goals to nil. Add to that the impressive win over the Chelsea conquering FC Basel and a tricky DFB Pokal win at Darmstadt and the seemingly bleak picture is highlighted with a few more vivid brush strokes.

Nevertheless, until things improve in the league it will be difficult to shake the feeling that Schalke are succeeding despite Keller rather than because of him. What better opportunity then than to beat a traditional minnow in the shape of FC Augsburg? Except that FCA are higher in the table and after two seasons of holding on the Bundesliga precipice by their fingernails, coach Markus Weinzierl has a assembled a squad of hard working journeymen who are willing to battle for every inch of space on the pitch and while there are more interesting teams in the league, Augsburg are a good example of the kind of bastard hard teams to beat that you find in European top divisions and in attacking midfielder, André Hahn, they have a player who bears closer scrutiny.

That being said, Augsburg are more than beatable and so long as Schalke can survive 90 minutes with a well-disciplined defense then they will be well worth the three points which should be enough to keep the Keller doubters at bay, at least for the time being.

Photo from official Schalke 04 website.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Di Canio's departure creates recruitment issues for Sunderland

Rarely have we seen the unhappy demise of a football manager illustrated in a single public gesture as we did with Paolo Di Canio’s stand off after Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat at the Hawthorns last Saturday. It will go down in English football lore as yet another one of those bizarre moments of experimental theatre by a man who has for many years been a colourful conversation piece of the English Premier League.

From pushing referees off their feet to hoodwinking Fabian Bartez, the Italian forward (who would have been an eccentric journeyman had he not moved to a fledging Premier League that despite its wealth was still struggling to emerge from its tactical backwater when he was in his pomp) was a scorer of great goals and whose demonstrative manner and charisma made him a darling of the football media. But as a manager he appears to lack the skills of his trade that he had as a player and his antics now make him look like foolish. It is suggested that he had alienated himself to the point where even the tea lady had cause to complain.

Given the circumstances of his departure and his reputation as a coach, it is unlikely that we’ll see the former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham striker managing a Premier League club again. One can imagine a low ranking Serie A club taking a punt on him for the last weeks of a season in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation. However, beyond that it is hard to see too many clubs employing a man whose previous employer at Swindon described his methods as “management by hand grenade”.

As Di Canio departs, Sunderland are faced with a task that in recent years, has proven problematic. Di Canio’s predecessors Martin O’Neil and before him, Steve Bruce had their moments but the former was not popular for his tactics and the latter was just not popular. However, had they continued, it is as likely as not that they would have steered Sunderland to a consistent lower mid table position which, the club’s owner Ellis Short probably feels is not sufficient but in the grander scheme is no disgrace.

A little further back, Roy Keane was recruited to inject some dynamism and energy into a club that from the outside appears moribund. However, despite a blinding start leading to an emphatic Championship victory, Keane too was unable to lift the Black Cats out of their mediocrity.

It seems that in recent years, the club has appointed either experienced managers who have hit a bump in their careers or inexperienced firebrands who promise to energise the club. We can deduce, therefore, that Mr Short and his Sporting Director, Roberto Di Fanti, is looking for a high profile coach who can inspire the fans while at the same time actually coaching the team.  This is probably why, Gus Poyet is the current favourite and the other names in the frame, Steve McClaren and Tony Pulis are not.

McClaren is reputed to be an excellent coach and the only Englishman since Howard Wilkinson in 1991 to win a domestic league title. In fact I argued in this week's Sound Of Football that he would be a good choice for Sunderland. However, the former FC Twente coach’s reputation is damaged following bad spells at Wolfsburg and perhaps more pertinently at Nottingham Forest. However, you can be sure that Harry Redknapp will be a relieved man if his assistant coach at Loftus Road is discounted. As for Pulis, there can be little argument with his record at Stoke but he wins ugly and you suspect that Sunderland have had a belly full of ugly.

The other prime suspect Roberto Di Matteo who won the Champions League with Chelsea and demonstrated his skills in re-motivating an unsettled dressing room after the departure of Andre Villa Boas. You can’t shake the feeling however, that the former West Brom manager was not much more of a caretaker and that the real power during that extraordinary cup run lied in the Stamford Bridge Dressing Room with the senior players. This may be a simplistic interpretation but one that is widely felt and may prove to be a barrier to employment for Di Matteo.

Poyet exudes the image of the modern coach and is an obvious choice. His final week’s at Brighton were scatty in more ways than one but the Uruguayan has proved to be a more than competent manager who has served his time as an assistant and enjoys a positive media profile.

His first task will be to look after the tea lady and then the dressing room will follow.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Champions League Match Review: Bayern Munich 3 CSKA Moscow 0

Recent happenings at Bayern Munich are a classic example of how to manufacture a crisis where there is none. After having won the treble, the Bavarian club have changed their head coach and the transition has resulted so far in a mere two points dropped at Freiburg. Yet, during coach Pep Guardiola’s press conference before the Champions League opener against CSKA Moscow, he found himself fielding questions, about comments made by his Sporting Director Matthias Sammer who criticised the Bayern players after their 2-0 win against Hannover last Saturday. Yes that’s right, a 2-0 win.

Sammer’s remarks elicited a reproach from no more imposing a figure than Uli Hoeness. The club president said that Borussia Dortmund would be laughing at Bayern’s expense following Sammer’s outburst. And you’d have to say he had a point because while it is fair to say the Bayern have not been the rampant trans-European express from last season, were it not for Dortmund’s perfect start Bayern would be top of the Bundesliga table, right now.

Respite


The Champions League provided the opportunity then to focus minds on the football and a home opener against a decent but beatable CSKA Moscow side would prove a worthy adversary and allow Guardiola’s players to address the concerns of their sporting director and give the scribes something else to talk about. They did not disappoint.

This was one of the most one sided performances you’re likely to see in the Champions League and although much had been made of the Guardiola style this Bayern performance had stronger echoes of last season’s team. The flank player’s bamboozled the CSKA defenders with their versatility. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben frequently switched sides and would also be found playing down the middle as the nominal front men, Thomas Müller and Mario Mandžukić would deputise. Supporting Ribéry and Robben were the full backs, Rafinha and David Alaba, the latter being the player to open scoring after four minutes with free kick from range that eluded CSKA keeper, Igor Akinfeev, as the ball bounced just before his gloves.

In those opening minutes it looked as though Ribéry was going to the roast the opposition full back, Kirill Nababkin. However, the Russian maintained his composure and was to an extent spared by Bayern’s positional rotation of their forward players. CSKA did, fo a few minutes mid way through the first half, manage to recover enough to press Bayern off the ball and force enough loose passes out of them to fashion a half chance via a long range effort from Ahmed Musa. Despite this, Mandžukić still managed to miss a couple of golden chances, one of which bounced off the post. That was before he finally headed in from a free kick by Arjen Robben to make the score 2-0.

Flawless Kroos


While the wide men continued to hover and attack, Phillip Lahm, a seeming natural in his relatively uncommon position of defensive midfielder put in what appeared to be an effortless performance in front of the back two (and yes, it was a back two). Just slightly ahead of Lahm was Toni Kroos, who took advantage of the extra space in front of him created  by the otherwise preoccupied CSKA midfielders to make killer passes out to the aforementioned wide players and the marauding Thomas Müller.

The third goal came in the second half. Unsurprisingly the move began out wide with Rafinha linking up with Ribery whose passing and movement at breakneck speed was a hallmark of last season’s Bayern. The ball was floated over to Alaba in a central position who lobbed the ball into the area where the onrushing Robben who, unmarked, calmly slotted home.

It is difficult to criticise CSKA too harshly as they were hardly given a second to think. On 39 minutes, Vitinho managed a mazy if ineffective run in the midfield but there were no options for him and inevitably he was dispossessed by Robben and forced to try and draw a foul for his trouble. Similarly, Keisuke Honda wasn’t given a kick and the only real opportunity he had was from a free kick that he wasted. The Muscovites will have better days.

Less Pep 


After the game, Guardiola was quoted by UEFA as saying “the style we play is Bayern’s style not mine.” which is a somewhat contrary perspective. However, judging by that performance it is difficult to argue. Bayern are set fair for another successful campaign in Europe and Matthias Sammer can feel as though his work is done.