The Lead

It’s the worst insult in modern football. Not “cheat,” not “diver,” and not any of the kind of words sung cheerily from the away ends in English football every weekend. No, this one cuts to the core like no other:

I follow the Premier League every weekend,” said [Barcelona's Cesc] Fabregas. “They have changed radically.

“What happened with Villas-Boas was they played more from the back, trying to keep possession and take the initiative in the game. But they’ve gone back to the type of Chelsea that was more successful a few years ago – playing on the counter, trying to hit the targetman, long balls, sitting back and using that No 9 as a reference point.

Yes, the dreaded “long ball,” a system of football codified by the retired RAF wing-commander Charles Reep in the 1950s and employed to varying degrees of success, perhaps most notably in Graham Taylor’s 1980s Watford. Reep used bizarro-world analytics to deduce that the vast majority of goals in football came from errors and therefore the key to winning was to punt the ball up to a strong centre-forward as quickly as possible tp catch defenders out of position.

Culturally, the term is synonymous with the (once fairly accurate) continental stereotype of English tactical unsophistication. It’s the fish-and-chips to the Spanish tiki-taka‘s tapas. And it’s a dig at the inability of the Chelsea squad to adapt to Andre Villas-Boas’ attempt to instill a more “vertical” passing game.

It’s also not exactly fair, or indeed accurate. If Chelsea—who are often content to sit back and even concede possession in order to break—play the “long ball,” then Fabregas is merely using the term to denote any team that doesn’t play press-and-possess. But Cesc knows what he’s doing; if tonight does not goes as planned for the Catalans, he can merely use the same Mourinho-era “parking the bus” epithets and ensure Barca remain moral victors, to the death. And, as I wrote yesterday, we already have our annoying subtext to this afternoon’s proceedings…

Canada

Match preview of Whitecaps v Sporting Kansas City. And Massey deconstructs the Kansas City Sportings like only Massey can.

A look ahead at Montreal Impact’s tie against DC United.

The North of 49 podcast speaks with Adrian Cann of Toronto FC “fame.”

Various Toronto FC players make the case the sky isn’t falling after all.

Frings is back!

England

Reading earns promotion to the Premier League, and Southampton is sure to follow. Sad face West Ham.

Joe Cole happy to take a pay cut and enjoy his time at Lille.

Joleon Lescott takes on the Manchester City critics.

Fabrice Muamba has a long road ahead of him yet, despite his hospital discharge.

David Beckham makes the first cut for Team GBzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

RvP caught in a Barcelona hotel. SPECULATION.

Italy

Arjen Robben says Juventus have a “bright future.” SPECULATION.

Ibrahimovic only has the Scudetto on his mind.

Marek Hamsik denies rumours he might be leaving Napoli.

Spain

Del Bosque reaches a deal with Spain.

Fabio Coentrao takes the blame for Real Madrid’s 2-1 loss to Bayern.

Sid Lowe writes up enterprising Barca winger Cuenca.

Bits and bobs

Jonawils analyzes how Bayern Munich did the business against Jose Mourinho’s RM.

Ed Maylon on the uncertain future of Colombian star Teo Gutierrez.

Brazil prospect Leandro Damiao plans his summer move.

Chuckles on the death of Ceefax.

Controversial ref Ovrebo admits his errors screwed Chelsea in 2009.