Archive for the ‘Bayern Munich’ Category

Manchester United v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg

So it appears Man United already have their eye on summer improvements, and their pursuit of Bayern’s star midfielder Toni Kroos is intensifying per Jamie Jackson:

Manchester United are offering Toni Kroos £260,000 a week as they continue to try to prise the midfielder away from Bayern Munich this summer. While David Moyes understands it may be difficult to take the 24-year-old from the German club as Bayern maintain he is not for sale, the United manager believes that if Kroos is minded to push the deal through he could still join.

Wayne Rooney is United’s highest earner with a total package worth around £300,000 per week, but Kroos’s prospective terms would put him in the top bracket of earners at the club, alongside Rooney and Robin van Persie.

This move, at considerable cost, should raise some wider questions about United’s transfer strategy, particularly in the wake of David Moyes’ less-than-stellar debut season as manager.

Does Kroos represent one of several transfer targets for the club, or is he a sole, marquee signing? If it’s the former, is the sky the limit with regard to strengthening a squad Moyes identified as in need of additions as early as September 2013? Is the move for Kroos in tandem with an overview of United’s player development and recruitment strategy? Is the board seeking to improve results at the academy level to ensure greater depth in the team?

How long has Kroos been a target of Manchester United? What key weaknesses does Moyes or any of the back room staff feel he will address? Does the club feel their dogged, public pursuit of the player will increase his wage fee? Has United explored what an unexpected injury to Kroos would cost the club in competitive terms? Financial terms?

These questions are outside the scope of day-to-day transfer reporting, but they would form the basis of an interesting investigative piece, should someone decide to follow through…

Manchester United's goalkeeper de Gea fails to save a goal by Bayern Munich's Robben during their Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match in Munich

This was the joke making the rounds on Twitter last night after Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben sealed his team’s Champions League progress against Man United with a third goal in their 3-1 second leg win. This, of course, is the move that defines Robben as a player (outside the diving).

At the same time, a quiet voice in the back objected, that of the excellent Michiel Jongsma, who pointed out a 2010 study which claimed Robben’s movement is “…slightly faster than conscious knowledge” (translated from this Dutch news item).

So which is it?

Well, a single instance will never tell the tale, but we can least see how the Robben cut-inside-and-shoot routine is so effective. So without further ado:

Bayern United SS1

In this first image, we have pretty much the essence of Robben. Preamble: Robben had an enormous patch of space on the right flank, in which he ran in a straight line directly at a waiting Patrice Evra. Meanwhile Mario Mandzukic has made his own run, tracked by Nemanja Vidic. Brilliantly, Mandzukic has taken Vidic out of the play. And so Robben cuts inside right as he comes within a yard of Evra. A still image will not do it justice, but the speed of Robben’s pivot is incredible.

Bayern United SS2

In this next image, Evra has attempted to check Robben’s run, and nick the ball off his feet, but he’s a split second too slow. Equally impressive is Robben’s ability to overstep the challenge and continue along the gap left between Vidic and Smalling.

Bayern United SS3

Here, Vidic has turned from Mandzukic to see Robben heading right at him. His body shape isn’t ideal as he’s already tracked Mandzukic into the 18 yard box, and he’s facing the wrong way. And so…

Bayern Man United SS4

Robben cuts to his left foot again! But all is not as simple as it seems, because Thomas Mueller has made a run across Smalling’s body, effectively clearing space for his team-mate along the edge of the 18.

Bayern United SS5

And here, some luck and magic. It’s clear from the still the miniscule margin of error Robben has for his shot. He’ll have to use the space still between Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. I’m not sure he even knows it’s there, but I like to think he’s able to see through space and time.

Bayern United SS6

Robben seems to run interminably. His possession of the ball is never in doubt, but we can now perhaps fault both Smalling and Jones for not closing down sooner.

Bayern United SS7

And the denouement. Robben has gone past Vidic, has only single passing option out wide, can sense space further in the box which has been afforded by Smalling and Jones, and goes for it.

Conclusion

So, should United have anticipated Robben’s shtick? The Dutch winger indeed just ran forward, then ran to the left, then shot, something he’s done before. Yet we have to also take into consideration two other elements.

First, Robben’s individual technical brilliance—feinting Evra, skipping his tackle, running past Vidic and waiting for the precise moment to take his shot, beating David de Gea by a whisker.

Second, the movement of his teammates. Mandzukic for taking Vidic out of the initial part of the play allowing Robben a clear line along the 18, and Mueller for cutting across Smalling and preventing him from closing down on Robben earlier.

As for Smalling and Jones…they may not have closed down to avoid a Bayern attacking from running behind them to pick up a Robben pass. Robben tees up so quickly (and unpredictably) that it’s impossible to know when he’s setting up to shoot in time.

So as for whether Robben is faster than human consciousness or whether United should have tracked his predictable attacking preference better, the answer is yes.

Manchester United Training

Subtext is everything!

As in, the subtext of David Moyes first declaring on Friday, without a hint of subterfuge to be fair, that Rooney was “touch and go” for the Champions League second leg quarter final this week:

Moyes said: “Wayne is injured. He has a badly bruised toe so he won’t be involved [against Newcastle]. It will be touch and go for Wayne for Wednesday. With a lot of toe injuries you have to make sure there isn’t a hairline fracture or crack in your toe. We will have all that checked.

“It is a toe injury and they are never easy when you get one. You could see him limping in the game towards the end quite badly. There is not an awful lot you can do with a toe injury – sometimes you can feel better quite quickly with them and sometimes you need an injection possibly to play with it if it is bruising.”

And then reports today, like a biblical miracle, of Wayne’s last minute recovery and the slim but real possibility he will indeed play against Bayern. Pep Guardiola knows what’s up:

“He is going to play, 100%. He is going to play – I bet you a big, big glass of beer. I believe he is going to play, and Valencia too. Rooney is going to play. He is a big player.”

Apparently he plans to do so hepped up on “powerful pain killing tablets.”

This little shadow act is an old gambit, but perhaps Man United are right to give it a try, particularly with the perception that Bayern are “rattled” after a less than stellar midweek performance at Old Trafford and their 1-0 loss to Augsburg on the weekend. But this match will not be won or lost on the performance of Rooney.

Paris St Germain's Patore celebrates with team mates after scoring the third goal for the team during their Champions League quarter-final first leg soccer match against Chelsea at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

Devang Desai and Richard Whittall sit down to discuss the U.S – Mexico friendly, this week’s Champions League action and Jose Mourinho’s striker problem.

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Bayern Munich's coach Guardiola is pictured before their Champions League quarter-final first leg soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester

What are press conferences for?

The ostensible purpose is for the media to gather information about a topic of public interest. So, ideally, when a manager or a player sits down in front of a little table facing rows of sitting reporters, the reading public have an opportunity to learn how they prepared for a match, their impressions of a game, their future plans for the squad, etc.

What has of course happened over the last, say, fifty years (an exaggeration), is that both managers and players have become adept at offering stock, boilerplate answers to various journalist questions in order to not to reveal the underlying truth of the situation—that a manager may not be happy at their club, that a player may not agree with the manager on tactics and so on. In some other cases they offer interesting answers that aren’t true in and of themselves, but rather a means to an end (see Jose Mourinho).

The purpose of the press conference, in other words, is now to provide subtext, not context. So the answers themselves become less important than the demeanor of the person doing the answering. Pressers now involve a bit of seduction between player/manager and reporter. Interesting answers sometimes make the front page, but not as often as interesting reactions.

We witnessed this last night when Guardian Man United reporter Jamie Jackson asked Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola a fairly routine question over whether he thought David Moyes’ side was tactically negative at Old Trafford. What followed was a tense exchange in which Pep demanded Jackson look him in the eye while answering.

It’s pretty funny, but the point wasn’t the answer: it was Pep’s little hissy fit, the subject of a standalone article and the front page of Bild. This is now generally considered solid gold in presser terms, and why eccentric, chatty managers tend to be beloved by the press.

There isn’t anything wrong with this, it’s not limited to football by any means, and it’s hard to see an alternative. Moreover, we still do learn a lot of important information at these regular events. Yet this little act of seduction has established an atmosphere of conflict and distrust, which arguably leads to clubs being secretive on even the most banal details. This routine bit of pantomime is great fun, but where does it end?

Bayern Munich's Lahm holds up a mock-up German soccer championships trophy as the team celebrates after their German first division Bundesliga soccer match against Hertha Berlin in Berlin

Bayern Munich are Bundesliga champions. Moreover, they have broken some not inconsiderable records completing the feat. As Rafa Honigstein wrote this morning:

The 3-1 win at Hertha Berlin sealed a 24th championship that was never in doubt. All the incomprehensible numbers – 77 points from 27 matches, 52 games unbeaten, 20 wins in a row – don’t quite do justice to the difference in class between them and a competition that wasn’t quite worthy of the name. Bayern won the championship in March, earlier than last year and earlier than anyone else in any major European league, but, in truth, they have been out of sight from the first kick-off in August. “They were too dominant, too regal, too relaxed, too elegant, too cool for the rest of the league,” wrote Spiegel Online.

Moreover, their win means Bayern have broke another record among the Big Five European leagues:

That record, I’ve been assured, has been adjusted for the introduction of the 3 points for a win rule. And this is where Bayern fit in the list:

You can see the obvious pattern (sans PNE, of course). And I don’t want to take anything away from the German champions the day after their incredible feat. But Honigstein’s thesis that Bayern have outgrown their domestic competitors could be applied to Barca and Real Madrid too, even with this year’s challenge from Atletico. And who knows? Maybe add Juventus to that list, too.

Despite the glory, laud and honour for the 50+1 ownership rule, we’re reminded that historical dominance is exponential, scalable, without a ceiling. There will be Bayerns, all across Europe, and old questions about the best competitive format for them to compete, particularly those involving a breakaway Super League, will one day return.

And so European domestic football will be faced with a choice–do they abandon the laissez-faire system which rewards winners with even more cash to sustain their supremacy in order to promote more even competition? Or do they make a radical break from history in order to reap the rewards in generous television rights fees with a Super League? It’s a debate that has quieted in recent years but may return soon if these records continue to fall…

Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against St Etienne during their French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

Devang Desai, Richard Whittall, James Bigg and Gianluca Nesci sit down to talk about the Champions League quarterfinal draw. Can Manchester United channel the magic of 1999, Borussia Dortmund look to do the impossible and who is the favorite to win it all — all this and more in the latest edition of the Counter Attack Podcast!

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