The British inferiority complex

The perception of a technical disparity between Spanish and British players is widespread. How much of it is real – and how much is imagined? 

Matt Preston

Seven days ago Brendan Rodgers said British players possess the same technical capability as those from Southern Europe. “I grew up being told English players weren’t technically as good as Europeans, which was the biggest load of tosh I’d ever heard,” he said. “Spanish players are born the same as British players. We have an inferiority complex, absolutely.”

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Return of the king

Assessing the start of José Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho presser

Chelsea’s season has not seemed overwhelmingly impressive. The strikers are struggling; the midfield is unbalanced; few defenders have stood out. The side’s passing game has often stuttered. Of the victories Chelsea have claimed, few have been convincing. Neither has José Mourinho’s work, according to many. Some have even suggested the Portuguese has lost his touch.

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Saying goodbye to Guardiola’s Barcelona

“Without the ball we are a disastrous team, a horrible team. So we need the ball.” ~ Pep Guardiola

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True idealists are rare in modern football. Perceived romantics – say, Arsène Wenger – also believe their style to be the most efficient. In the old days, when Barcelona’s centre-backs hugged the touchline at goal kicks and Victor Valdés played out that risky short pass – despite facing opponents ready to close down like a pack of wolves – Pep Guardiola viewed his strategy as logical. Barça were weak without the ball. Not attempting to keep it was a greater risk. In the long term, Valdés’s seemingly irrational pass proved the most rational of all.

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Napoli tactics: The Italian Rafalution

What can we expect from Rafa Benítez’s side this season? 

Arsenal 2-2 Napoli

If Walter Mazzarri’s counter-attacking 3-5-2 system exuded boldness and innovation, Rafa Benítez’s arrival signals a return to more ordinary tactics. At the 2013 Emirates Cup, Napoli’s first team played a balanced but stale 4-2-3-1 system displaying the best and worst of Benítez the tactician. Do not expect a vibrant and radical ‘Revolution’. This will be ‘Rafalution’.

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Thiago’s role: A shift in thinking

The use of Thiago Alcântara as a defensive midfielder signals a further shift towards possession-based thinking. 

Pep on bus

Pep Guardiola has established a reputation as an innovator. On Saturday, in Bayern’s 4-0 drubbing of Hamburger SV in the Telekom Cup, the first radical moves unfolded. The European champions lined up in a 4-1-3-1-1 formation. Fascinatingly, Thiago played as a defensive midfielder.

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Barça: The quest for reinvention

The signing of Neymar will boost Barça, but Tito Vilanova needs more than that.

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In his biography of Pep Guardiola, journalist Guillem Balague portrays a man constantly absorbed in deep thought. Ahead of games, the manager would spend hours in his office visualising the game, dwelling, deliberating, niggling over every detail. Interrupting visitors talked to him, but they never got through. At some point, Guardiola would get a flash of inspiration: “I’ve got it. I’ve got it. This is how we are going to win.” 

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Real Madrid: The self-compromise of hiring Mourinho

Jose Mourinho, CSKA vs Inter

When signing José Mourinho, Real Madrid consigned themselves to the mentality of winning at all costs. Now they are learning the price. 

The same night Frank De Bleeckere blew the final whistle and José Mourinho darted triumphantly across the Camp Nou turf, Marca pressed one of its most pro-Mourinho front pages. With one game, the Special One had proved he could do what seemingly no other Real Madrid coach could; overcome Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and reach the Champions League final. Even though Real Madrid had been eliminated by Lyon in the round of 16, they revelled in Barça’s failed mission to lift the European cup at the Santiago Bernabéu. “Mou, you have earned it,” Marca’s cover said. “Your place in the final. And your signing for Madrid.”

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Why Mourinho stumbled in Europe: A tactical theory

Sona Hovasapyan

The adventurous nature of La Liga forced José Mourinho to create an attacking side. As a defensive coach, that suited him badly. 

José Mourinho’s tactical principles are built upon defence. From taking the defensive drilling sessions for Bobby Robson at Barça to compiling scouting assignments and opposition analysis, the Special One’s strength as a tactician centres on nullifying the opponent. Nobody studies, prepares and analyses the opposition so thoroughly. As seems logical, Mourinho’s greatest chance of success is when his players, too, are suited to defend. Strong, powerful, organised, disciplined. We saw it at Porto. We saw it at Inter.

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Seven questions hanging over Guardiola’s Bayern project

Tsutomu Takasu

With Mario Götze joining what appears to be Europe’s strongest squad, Pep Guardiola’s project sparks intrigue before it has even begun. 

In pure footballing terms, it is difficult to remember a more anticipated summer than that of Guardiola taking charge of Bayern Munich. The signings, the dead wood, the tactics; what will happen? We feel like kids waiting for Christmas. The Bayern hierarchy has already gifted us an early present: the £31.5million agreement with Dortmund’s 20-year-old Mario Götze. Yet as far as speculation is concerned, the deal raises more questions than answers. And so while Guardiola draws up his Bavarian masterplan, here are seven issues worth discussing.

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Barça tactics: How Iniesta creates space

Marc Puig Perez

Each week, Iniesta picks up possession on the left, then dribbles past helpless defenders. What is the movement behind it?

When watching Iniesta play, we often need several replays to fully grasp what he just did. His trickery can fool our eyes, let alone the opponent’s. The same level of scrutiny should apply to his off-the-ball movement. Because for all of Iniesta’s genius, similar situations seem to appear in every game: He drifts towards the left, gets the ball, then dribbles past people. The pockets of space are the same. But no one is able to stop it.

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Real Madrid tactics: Analysing Xabi Alonso

Solo Xabi

Most Los Blancos observers know Xabi Alonso is the chief catalyst of Real Madrid’s attacks, but how does the process really work? 

If you have watched Real Madrid under José Mourinho, you will have noticed that Xabi Alonso often drops very deep – sometimes further than the centre-backs. The classic assumption of his contribution is that of incisive passes between the lines, or long aesthetic diagonals towards the flanks. And that is true. But the Basque is also crucial to Real Madrid’s ball retention: the process of recycling possession, helping out the centre-backs and starting attacks from the back.

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Life of the Barça winger

Pedro Cesc SportReview

Barcelona are likely to buy a winger this summer, but their specific requirements are different from those of other clubs. 

The life of the Barça winger is an unusual one. Just as Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3 system is in many ways unconventional, so does it include unconventional roles. As we know, its collective strategy centres on serving Lionel Messi. Inevitably, this means that the roles around him must be tweaked and adapted accordingly. For no one is this more true than the two wingers.

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All hail Prandelli the romantic

Prandelli

Cesare Prandelli’s wonderfully adventurous coaching style makes the Azzurri impossible not to like. 

Life is good with Cesare Prandelli. That is the sense you get. Like Carlo Ancelotti, he carries the sense of enjoying life without compromises: of picking all the best bits, then later seeing how he can make it work. If Prandelli were a chef, he would throw the most exotic ingredients available into one pan, mix it all together, and somehow produce a coherent dish of magnificent taste. That, at least, is how he seems operates as a football coach.

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