PSG’s thrashing exposes Bayern Munich’s problems

The reigning Bundesliga champions were utterly thrashed by the big-spending PSG at the Parc des Princes. Bayern failed to cope with the Parisians’ pace on the break and paid for it dearly as Dani Alves, Cavani and Neymar all got on the scoresheet to demolish the Bavarians 3-0.

It was a fairly surprising – given Bayern has a number of talented players in their ranks – and telling result.

The game sent a message of intent from PSG and their quest to conquer Europe- even if it costed them almost €500 million. But the game also exposed Bayern’s flaws and Ancelotti’s, sometimes, questionable personnel selection.

Bayern showed that without Neuer in goal their defensive mistakes must be kept to a minimum because their second string goalkeeper, Ulreich is nowhere near the class of his countryman, which he has displayed on numerous occasions. At the weekend he cost his team two points with a huge blunder against Wolfsburg and against PSG he wasn’t much more convincing. He probably could have and should have done better on the first two PSG goals, although his defence did little to help him on the first.

Ulreich isn’t alone to blame though. The men tasked with protecting him failed to do their jobs against the Parisians and were often run ragged. They were sluggish and frankly unsure how to deal with the pace of PSG’s front three. The full backs had especially a torrid time trying to contain Neymar, Mbappé and the overlapping defenders, Alves and Kurzawa.

Alaba was especially made to look incredibly foolish by Mbappé, who easily dribbled past the Austrian and from a tight angle took a shot on goal, which Ulreich managed to save but Martínez wasn’t quick enough to get the ball away and Neymar was perfectly positioned to poke the ball home for the Parisians’ third of the night.

While the score was a tad bit surprising, the most shocking thing on the night was Ancelotti’s decision not to start the trio Hummels, Robben and Ribéry but rather opted to pair up the very slow Martínez with the young and inexperienced Süle, while choosing to start James- who had a very quiet game- alongside Lewandowksi and Müller.

Hummels is Bayern’s and Germany’s best defender and he has experience at this level. He would have been a better partner for Martínez in front of Ulreich. On the other hand, Robben and Ribéry are great and experienced players, though ageing. However, they would have been a better selection than James and Tolisso to start in Paris. Not to take anything away from both players but James struggled to get into Real Madrid’s starting 11, which is why he ended up on loan at Bayern and while Tolisso is talented this is new for him- his move to Bayern is a massive jump in quality and expectations from that of Lyon.

Ancelotti’s decision to substitute both James and Tolisso at the start of the second half was a good idea, as both players were quiet in the first half but his choice to send in Rudy and Coman, while his team was chasing the game, was equally as risky as his decision to start with James and Tolisso instead of Ribéry and Robben.

Ancelotti isn’t all to blame though, because he has limited options in his squad and the club’s back office did little to reinforce the squad to be more competitive for this season. The team has started to age and they have lost quality players like Lahm and Xabi Alonso to retirement and didn’t replace both adequately. They’ve also sent the brilliant Douglas Costa on loan to Juventus and new signing Gnabry on loan to Hoffenheim; both players are thriving in their new environment.

Lewandowksi himself has seen the problem with the club’s transfer policy and has publicly lambasted them for it; quite understandable from an ambitious player. Club officials (Rummenigge and Hoeneß) have since rebuked Lewa’s complaints and continue to say they will not participate in paying the current market’s egregious prices and as such are only seeking to pay what they believe is a fair price; but they should ask Arsène Wenger how that is working out for him and Arsenal.

By rejecting the current market’s inflated prices, the club is then left with the option of continually plundering and weakening their Bundesliga opponents, which has in part contributed to their dominance in the league- they’re now gunning for their sixth straight league title- and it isn’t at all surprising that they’ve been unable to compete on the continental stage since Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning season.

The market is absolute garbage and we can all agree on that but that’s where we are right now and in order to be competitive they have to consider spending more. No one is suggesting the pay €200 million for a player but surely €41.5 million- the club’s record transfer fee paid- can’t be their absolute ceiling. Even Wenger is starting to recognise that there is no way around the market and rumour has it he is considering a €98 million bid for Monaco’s Lemar in the next window.

Bayern is certainly struggling and has failed to achieve any semblance of consistency under Ancelotti this season but he isn’t solely to blame and players and club officials alike should equally shoulder the criticism.

Rumour has it Hoffenheim’s Nagelsmann will be the club’s next coach but the question is, will Ancelotti finish out the season at Bayern?

 

Takeaways from Real Madrid’s win against Lisbon

Real Madrid kickedrmavspo off the new Champions League season with a late, late win at home to Sporting Lisbon, who must be feeling hard-done after producing a good first half and early second half performance, while the hosts’ performance was subpar at best. However, the Madridista-never-say-die attitude coupled with Zidane’s second half substitutes and Ronaldo’s brilliant free kick produced a much needed victory.

There were some things that were on display during the game which are worth highlighting. Here are a few:

The BBC’s fluidity is being disrupted by injuriesbbc

Not long ago the BBC was being touted as the best attacking trio but have since been displaced by MSN. Injuries have been a colossal problem for Real Madrid’s attack in the past and Morata’s signing as well as holding onto Asensio was a step in the right direction to provide some cover when either member of the trio goes down injured. Benzema’s absence was obvious last season and is to some extent still noticeable- Morata hasn’t quite settled in completely as the out-and-out striker.

The BBC is lacking harmony and it was on full display last night. Miscommunication led to missed passes and less opportunities created among the three. Bale’s pass rate was a meagre 71.4%; Benzema had no shots on goal. It was necessary to substitute both in the second half and it paid off handsomely. It’s understandable that the trio needs more time to rediscover their form and it may take some time to find that fluidity as neither Benzema, Bale nor Ronaldo had a pre-season. Regaining fluidity will happen only if they can stay injury-free long enough.

James should be given a fair chance

The situation with James is bothersome. There are some reports that his attitude in training is rotten and that’s the main reason Zidane doesn’t believe in him as much. However, he has been in splendid form for Colombia and last night’s cameo saw some of his abilities on display. In the fifteen minutes he played he created three chances and provided the assist for the winning goal- it was a brilliant, well-placed cross from the left to find the head of Morata. If he can produce that in a quarter of an hour, imagine what he could in an hour or more. And for that reason, Zidane should give him a fair chance at proving himself and regaining the confidence and form he had during his first season with the club. Hopefully, James is willing to work hard- if the rumours are true- and not rest on his laurels.

Vazquez should work on his finishing

Lucas Vazquez appears to be a fan favourite and while that is absolutely justified he could endear himself even more to the fans IF he improves his shooting. After coming on for Bale in the 66th minute he created two wonderful chances for himself with some clever dribbling but his shots were weak. One could surmise that both chances were anaemic because they came from his weaker left foot but he’s also had some feeble shots on goal with his right. For example, in the Champions League final against Atletico and the European Super Cup against Sevilla he had clear cut chances which he fluffed; hit with no direction. The video below is just one visual illustration of Vazquez’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. If you wish to not watch the highlights in its entirety you can fast forward to 14:30. In the clip he had time and space and should have done much better with his opportunity. Further proof of his ineptitude in front of goal was his four goals in 25 appearances last season. The upside is that he’s still fairly young and can still develop that side of his game. He also provides the team with lovely crosses, draws plenty fouls with his dribbling and contributes defensively.

Last night’s performance won’t fly against Dortmund

Here’s the thing: on any given day, as long as Real Madrid are on song they are unbeatable. Yesterday’s showing also told us something: they can also win while not at their best. However, there are some opponents that will punish their mistakes and if luck is against them and the attack isn’t gelling then they won’t be able to out-score the opposition. Dortmund is one such opponent and if their start to the league season in addition to their opening performance against Legia Warsaw are anything to go by Los Blancos will fail if they turn in such a display against them. They must improve upon yesterday’s performance.

For laughs: Another Vazquez howler in front of goal

 

Farewell to a legend

iker-casillas in his glory

A star was born

Iker Casillas Fernández was born in Móstoles, Spain and joined Real Madrid’s youth set-up in 1990, progressing nicely through the ranks. Seven years later, his life would be forever altered; at age 16, Casillas was pulled out from class and put on a plane to Trondheim, Norway with Real Madrid’s first team for their game against Rosenberg in the Champions League. Two years ensuing that event, Iker would displace goalkeeping legend Bodo Illgner as the number one choice, which eventually lead to the German retiring soon after.

In 2000, three years after his first call-up to the first team, Iker became the youngest goalkeeper to play in a Champions League final- a game in which Real Madrid trounced rivals Valencia 3-0; a mere four days after his 19th birthday.

It’s been more than 15 years following Casillas’ withdrawal from class and since then Iker has racked up over 700 appearances for club (club record for a goalkeeper), has played in more than 160 games for Spain (he is the most capped player) and has won numerous trophies for both club and country as well as collected myriad individual awards.

Possessing cat-like reflexes and close-range shot-stopping prowess; Casillas, with his sometimes impossible saves, has won the hearts of many Madridistas and sports fans alike. The defining moment coming, I believe, in the final minutes of that 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. After a string of sub-par performances early on in the 2001-2002 campaign, Casillas had lost his starting role to then back-up César Sánchez but was handed the opportunity to regain his position as number one when he replaced the injured César late in the game and pulled off some exceptional saves which denied Leverkusen their first Champions League trophy and allowed Los Merengues to lift their ninth.

iker-casillas-saves-2012-6ah950bt

San Iker

Among his many individual awards and accolades; Casillas is one of a very few players, who’s won every major competition, in which he’s played and joined prestigious company the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Didier Deschamps, when he became the third captain in history to have lifted the three biggest trophies in world football- the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League. Additionally, he is the only goalkeeper to have won the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper Award for five consecutive years (2008 – 2012). In total he’s won 21 titles with Real Madrid and Spain including three Champions League, five La Liga titles, a World Cup and two European Championships.

San Iker Real Madrid’s saint, was given the epithet because of the many miraculous saves he’s made throughout his career, which have kept Los Merengues and Spain in numerous games. He is the epitome of Madridismo; he is austere, a hard worker, humble and honest. He displays dignity in the face of defeat and fights for the club by leaving it all out on the pitch. He’s been loyal to the club and fans even when the fans’ and club’s reciprocity were absent during his lowest moments. Like Raúl before him, he’s had to deal with coaches, who’ve sometimes made them scapegoats for certain issues that arose and is now being forced out of the club in the same manner. After picking up a serious injury in 2013, Diego López was signed from Sevilla and made first choice keeper even after Iker returned from injury. Maybe it was in part down to his poor form or possibly more a result of Mourinho being convinced that Casillas was the mole leaking information about the state of the dressing room to the media. Whatever the reason, Iker has since then never been able to fully reclaim his former glory days as the world’s best and maybe his new adventures in Porto will see him do just that; after spending practically his entire life at Real Madrid and winning every tournament he’s played in with them, a new challenge is in order.

Adieu Great one

Nothing is for life in football: age and time catch up with you and the day comes when both you and the club have to move on– Alex Ferguson on Pep Guardiola leaving Barca as a player.

Likewise, the same can be said about Iker. The time has arrived for both parties to dissolve the relationship. And though it is difficult to envisage a Real Madrid with no San Iker, as he is the last true symbol of Madrid, without whom Los Blancos will have no genuine identity; we will, hopefully, over time, come to terms with his departure.

With that said, I say adieu to one of the best goalkeepers to have ever donned the Real Madrid jersey and one who has embodied Madridismo. His predecessor will have huge boots to fill and with the ungrateful “demanding” fans that clamour in the Santiago Bernabéu weekly there’s no telling how quickly things could get sour.

I wish Casillas copious amounts of success at his new club and that his teammates, club and fans appreciate him the way most of us Madrid fans did. They are gaining a staunch goalkeeper who will fight for the badge and defend the colours as best as he can. May he provide you with a multitude of memories resembling the ones he’s bestowed up on myself and countless other fans.

Here are two compilation videos with some of Casillas’ more spectacular saves throughout his career including the key saves that helped his teams to various championships. Some of the saves included are those he made against Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final, as well as, some of his more monumental saves in recent years- among them is an extraordinary parry against Sevilla in the 2009-2010 La Liga season and a one-on-one save he made in the 2010 World Cup final against Robben.