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Everton Error?

Arsène Wenger has won the double twice with Arsenal but the fans have now turned. Manchester City are the current Premier League champions and yet criticism of Roberto Mancini is growing. But knocking David Moyes? Now you’re really on dodgy ground. Unless you’re Gary Neville armed with a touchscreen, it’s one of those things you just don’t do.

After all, Everton continue to overachieve. Having finished in the top half of the table just once in the decade prior to Moyes’ arrival at Goodison Park, they have now achieved that feat eight times in the 10 full seasons the Scot has been in charge. The five teams above the Toffees have vastly bigger wage bills and free-spending neighbours Liverpool look likely to finish below them for a second successive season.

The narrative is clear: the only thing holding Everton back is the fact that chairman Bill Kenwright can’t find the funds. So it was particularly strange during the January transfer window when Dutch international Leroy Fer came mightily close to signing for the club. Everton talked of finding a whopping £8.6m to secure the deal with FC Twente as others might describe the discovery of a pound coin down the back of the sofa.


IBWM – The First Two Years

large-ibwmby Adam Bate

I’m proud to say that I had the pleasure of contributing – albeit in a very small way – to the success of the In Bed With Maradona website. It’s a hell of a place, with regular features from around the world of football that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Thanks to the hard work of Dave Hartrick they’ve now released a book that includes some of the best stuff from the first two years of the site. The contributors include the likes of Andi Thomas and Nick Miller, and generously they’ve also included something by me in there too. It’s well worth a look.

In Bed With Maradona – The First Two Years


Why Mark Hughes deserves the sack at QPR

“The team played as planned,” claimed QPR owner Tony Fernandes on Twitter following his club’s latest defeat, a 1-0 reverse at Stoke last Saturday that left the Hoops with just four points from 11 games and Mark Hughes clinging to his job. But with the team bottom of the Premier League, QPR fans are entitled to wonder whether there was ever a plan to all of this in the first place.

When the club signed Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar just two months after awarding Robert Green a lucrative two-year contract, the temptation was to shrug at the crassness of it all and embrace ‘the project’ – onwards and upwards. But it turns out it was merely the most obvious example of the lack of any coherent strategy whatsoever at Loftus Road.


Ghostgoal’s Team of The World Cup

The obligatory Team of the World Cup:

Iker Casillas

Saint Iker is widely regarded to have had a below-par time at the Bernabeu this past season. When Spain’s World Cup began with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland and Casillas was partially responsible for the goal, the whispers grew louder. Victor Valdes? Pepe Reina? What followed was six straight wins with just one (deflected) goal conceded. Casillas’s handling in the final itself was exemplary and the save from Robben when clean through was one of the pivotal moments in the biggest match of the tournament. History is written by the winners… and winners don’t come much bigger than the World Cup winning captain.




Maxi Pereira

The Uruguayan full-back has long had a reputation for being a whole hearted trier but Maxi Pereira showed so much more at this World Cup. His energetic performances were a standout in Uruguay’s remarkable run to the semi-finals. Indeed, by the end of the tournament only Xavi & Bastian Schweinsteiger of the other 736 players at the World Cup covered more yards than Maxi Pereira. As a wing-back responsible for providing attacking support as well as defensive solidarity, Pereira played an important role in both facets of the Uruguayan success story. It represented a colossal ongoing effort that reached a crescendo with his fantastic goal in the dying stages of the semi-final against the Dutch.




Carlos Salcido

The fact that Mexico’s Carlos Salcido is the only player in this XI to have played in just four World Cup matches is testament to the impact he made in those games. The right-footed left-back was virtually faultness and adapted brilliantly to the various demands of the flexible Mexican system. He switched between full-back and wing-back with ease, proving defensively adept whilst always proving a threat going forward. His long range efforts and capable crossing caught the eye in some bright Mexico displays, the highlight being the 2-0 victory over France that exposed the extent of the Gallic malaise.

John Mensah

The failure of every other African nation to reach the knockout stage only served to concentrate the continent’s efforts upon the Ghanaians and they performed admirably – disposing of the USA in extra-time and following up with the controversial penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands (literally in Suarez’s case) of Uruguay. In the case of Ghana, and John Mensah in particular, cliches about naive African defending feel more offensive than ever. Their success this World Cup centred around organised defence and solid defending and this is emphasised by their conceding just four goals in over eight and a half hours of football in the tournament. Mensah was a colossus throughout.


Paulo Da Silva

Da Silva was a rock throughout Paraguay’s World Cup campaign as they battled their way to the quarter finals. He competed endlessly and was the key figure in their defence. The Paraguayans defended resolutely through their five games, conceding a goal in the opener against Italy and another in their last eight tie with Spain but with three clean sheets in between. I accept that the inclusion of a second Sunderland centre-back is somewhat bizarre and it does feel a little harsh on the efforts of bigger names such as Puyol, Lucio and Friedrich. However, Da Silva’s performances in one of the better defensive outfits caught the eye and deserve a nod.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

You don’t need to go to the statistics to know that Bastian Schweinsteiger had a stunning World Cup. He was the central figure in Germany’s impressive campaign – controlling games from midfield, prompting and probing, driving the side on. That said, the stats do bear it out – 2nd most passes, 2nd most distance covered. He was excellent in the destruction of England but his finest hour was surely the 4-0 demolition of Argentina. Schweinsteiger fought hard when out of possession and stuck the knife in superbly when the time came. He had already established himself as the star turn by the time he danced through the Argentine defence to lay on Friedrich’s goal, sealing a tour de force display from the German.

Xavi Hernandez

What is there left to be said about Xavi? Such is his status in the game now that it is easy to take his performances for granted. He covered more ground than any other player at the World Cup – 80.2 km. He completed more passes – 544 of them. He took more corners (47) and he completed more crosses than anyone else (14). Of players who had more than 200 minutes of action, only Xavi played more passes than minutes he was on the pitch for: 669 passes in 636 minutes. Basically he was a constant force at the hub of the finest team in the tournament. I think you can call that a well-deserved World Cup winners medal.

Thomas Mueller

He didn’t get a Panini sticker and he only made his full International debut in March. In fact, his rise has been so meteoric that he wasn’t even a part of the much vaunted German U21 side that won the European Championships last summer. A year on, he is in just about everybody’s World Cup XI. Mueller’s all-action displays were central to the German success story as they surpassed expectations to come 3rd in the tournament. While Mesut Oezil took the early plaudits it was Mueller who grew as the competition went on – 2 goals against England and 1 against Argentina before missing the semi-final defeat to Spain through suspension. A 5th goal against Uruguay in the 3rd place play-off win sealed the Golden Boot for Mueller, thanks in part to the 3 assists he also managed at the World Cup… boys own stuff from the Bayern star.

Andres Iniesta

He’s a gorgeous player to watch but boy is there end product with Iniesta. He is the youngest player in over 30 years to add a World Cup to Euros and Champions League success. There were loads of the little touches and feints, plenty to enjoy, but Iniesta was key to almost all of the pivotal moments of Spain’s success. There was the goal against Chile to secure qualification. The incisive passes that led to the only goal in the knockout victories over Portugal and Paraguay. And finally, brilliantly, the World Cup winning goal with just 4 minutes of extra time remaining. A wonderful tournament for a wonderful player.

David Villa

When you score 5 of the 8 goals that the World Cup winning side manage in the tournament then it makes you a hard man to ignore. Villa impressed from the left-wing in the early stages before moving to a central role to do a job for the team following Fernando Torres being axed. Villa grabbed both goals against Honduras - one a contender for goal of the tournament as he slalomed through players before firing into the top corner whilst stretching. By the time he had followed this up with a goal against Chile and the winners against both Portugal and Paraguay, Villa had established himself as one of the stars of the World Cup.




Diego Forlan

The Uruguayan has been a revelation at the World Cup. It is a bit of a cliche to say that he was the only guy to master the Jabulani but at times it did feel that way. Comfortable striking the ball with either foot he sparked – scoring 5 goals in 7 games – as Uruguay surprised many to reach the semi-finals. He’s still suffering at the hands of some of the bafflingly short-sighted British media who feel the need to constantly refer to the remarkable turnaround from his time at Manchester United. Well, he has been one of the finest forwards in the world for many years since then, twice a winner of the European Golden Boot. He nearly added the World Cup Golden Boot, only denied on the basis of assists, but the Golden Ball as the outstanding player of the tournament tells you all you need to know..  Diego Forlan is a class act.

Have Chile Done Enough?

It was always going to be fascinating when Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile faced Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Swiss outfit. One of the most attacking sides in the competition versus the brilliantly organised conquerers of Spain. The difference in outlook between the two teams was only exarcebated when Switzerland went down to ten men in the first half. What followed was a spirited effort by the Chileans to break down the two walls of four that ended in a deserved 1-0 triumph. Success for Chile? Well, they may rue their missed opportunities – defeat against Spain could see them going home despite a six point haul.

The initial shapes of the sides were as outlined below:

Chile's 3-3-1-3 is depicted on the left, Switzerland's 4-4-1-1 on the right.

Switzerland retain shape with 10 men

The sending off of Valon Behrami (11) saw Tranquillo Barnetta come on to replace him on the right-wing and captain Alexander Frei (9) withdrawn. Defensively, this meant there was very little change in shape as the Swiss retained their two banks of four with Blaise Nkufo ploughing a lone furrow up front. As a result, the Chileans continued to see more of the ball but also continued to face the same problems in breaking the Swiss down.

An example of the problems facing Chile:

Despite committing five men forward, Chile are met by Swiss wall of five, plus two sitting midfielders protecting the centre of the defence

Switzerland often relied on their most advanced players to press the ball while the deeper midfielders Inler and Huggel sat deep and concentrated on protecting the back four. The above image shows a back five in place and emphasises that, whilst largely rigid in formation, Hitzfeld’s side tracked their runners and dealt well with the problems Chile set them in committing so many men forward.

Mark Gonzalez’s winner finally saw Chile make the breakthrough after Esteban Paredes had broken through the high Swiss line. Jorge Valdivia’s introduction at half-time made a difference with his creativity on the ball and there was not enough pressure on him when he was allowed to pick out Paredes. Indeed, it was the pressing of the Chileans that caught the eye throughout..

Chile Pressing

One of the remarkable features of this game, even to the casual observer, was the regularity with which Chile were able to dispossess the Switzerland defenders. International football, and top level football in general, usually features the central defenders stroking the ball around with time and space as the opposition do not waste energy harrying quality players so high up the field. This Chile side dispossessed the Swiss defence on numerous occassions through speed and effort, exposing the technical deficiencies in their opponents. Their starting positions contributed to this as Chile pressed higher and higher up the field:

Chile formation in final 15 mins per FIFA average position data

The tactical positions in the diagram above are for the period after the 74th minute goal and indicate Chile’s ongoing commitment to attack even having secured the lead. The BBC commentators appeared unconvinced by the state of the game. Mark Bright criticised the Chileans for continuing to attack recklessly and nearly had his concerns justified when Eren Derdiyok wasted a chance for Switzerland to equalise late on. However, perhaps Chile just had a better grasp of the fact that this was their chance to secure qualification. A 1-0 result has left them needing a point against Spain and, should Switzerland defeat Honduras, facing elimination should they not achieve it. There can be no denying they went for it against the ten men:

Chile have a 5 vs 4 on the break late on

And again in the 92nd minute:

Yet another 5 on 4 scenario in injury time

As the images above indicate, nobody could accuse Chile of not going all out to improve their goal difference. Where they are culpable is in wasting these opportunities. Paredes probably spurned the best of them but Gonzalez also blew opportunities, as he had against Honduras, frequently shooting when a pass could have put a team-mate clean through.


A 1-0 win for Chile puts them in the box seat as it stands – Jim Beglin even foolishly insinuated they may be in a position to rest players against Spain – but they are extremely vulnerable. Nobody would be surprised if Spain beat them and if Switzerland find a way past Honduras then La Roja will be going home. It is likely that, whatever happens in the final game, many would look back at their failure to punish Switzerland in this encounter as the key. Conversely, the Swiss can be proud that they did not wilt in the face of adversity and may well come to look back on this result as that strangest of things: a satisfactory defeat.

France Just Dismal

The first thing to say here is that Mexico were excellent. Bright, busy and with bagfuls of talent they are an exciting side and thoroughly deserve to qualify from this group. And yet, there is no doubt the story tonight is the demise of the 2006 finalists France. They were horrible. So much talent, so many big names, but France just never looked right in this World Cup. In truth, they haven’t looked right for the best part of four years. No team spirit, players not working for themselves or each other, rumours of dissention in the ranks seemingly proven true by events on the pitch.

It is hard to expand on the tactical problems of the French team when frankly it is a side issue given the lack of unity quite rightly highlighted as the key issue by Clarence Seedorf and Roy Hodgson on the BBC. Moreover, whilst Domenech’s selection has been queried, there was nothing too outlandish in the much-maligned coach’s team selection. Top-rated keeper. Arsenal right-back and centre-back, Man Utd left-back and Barcelona’s Eric Abidal. Two holding midfielders. Malouda, Ribery and Govou in behind Nic Anelka, a man accustomed to playing the lone role up front. Of course, it isn’t ideal – Ribery is happier playing from the left. Govou has been struggling. Anelka now seems to insist on going walkabout for no apparent reason and Eric Abidal is more comfortable at full-back than in the middle. Even so, if ever there was a case of a team being less than the sum of their parts then this was it.

One thing that can be said is that the goal was coming. Rafael Marquez is not the player he was, having lost a yard of pace since his pomp, but if you give him a plethora of willing runners and time and space to pick a pass then you’re asking for trouble:

Carlos Vela's skied chance in the 8th minute. Marquez, noted by the red mark, has just played a delicate ball over the top.

In the above image, William Gallas has been sucked in and is caught out on the turn while Bacary Sagna & Eric Abidal are far too slow to see the danger and thus compound the problem, effectively leaving three men racing onto Marquez’s throughball. Toulalan & Diaby, the French midfielders (marked in blue), are out of the game – neither tracking runners nor closing down Marquez in possession.

France were not punished on that occasion but Javier Hernandez put them out of their misery in the second half:

The players marked blue indicate the static French side while the arrows indicate the runs of Giovani and Hernandez. Marquez is, again, the player on the ball, marked by red.

For the first Mexican goal, Marquez was again able to loft a ball over the top to willing runners, this time as the static French defence attempted to hold a high line. Once again, the enthusiastic running of the Mexicans was in stark contrast to the lethargic closing down of the French side.


France look set to go home and quite rightly so given their performances thus far. No spirit. No organisation. And now, no hope.

Argentina Excite Again

A slight change of shape and personnel for Argentina but it was another win for the South Americans as they continue to impress under the ever-entertaining Diego Maradona.

The opening game against Nigeria could have been a similar scoreline to this 4-1 victory but for a stunning performance by their keeper Enyeama. As it was, the score remained 1-0 last Saturday and there was just the one change from that team this time around – Maxi Rodriguez coming in for the injured Juan Seba Veron. It saw a subtle change in shape for the Argentinians. The diagram below shows the average positions in the first game:

Notice how Veron was by no means playing the mirror position to Di Maria, who held the width on the left-hand side. The Argentinian right-side was a flexible collaborative effort courtesy of Jonas Gutierrez, a natural winger, pushing on from full-back, Veron drifting out there at times and Carlos Tevez or Gonzalo Higuain working hard to get back in support.

Against South Korea, with Maxi a far more natural wide-man than Veron, the formation became a more regulation 4-4-2 diamond formation:

Messi’s performance at the tip of the diamond was a pleasure to watch as the world’s best player gave another glimpse of his immense talents. The front two were also more impressive – freed of the constraints of patrolling the right-flank when out of possession. Higuain was to walk away with the match-ball with a textbook display of world-class goal hanging – all 3 coming at the far post from a combined distance of the average sized living room. As for Tevez, his busy efforts catch the eye but he perhaps lacked that little bit of awareness at times. Indeed, the last two goals came with his replacement Sergio Aguero on the field and the little Atletico man was heavily involved in both.

Aguero sees the run of Messi and shows fantastic awareness to play a delightful reverse pass. The player marked red is the goalscorer Higuain. Maxi is highlighted by the green mark.

Messi returned the favour with a gorgeous chip over the Korean defence to find Aguero:

Again, red marks the goalscorer Higuain and green marks Maxi on the right-wing.

Maxi has been highlighted in these pictures because they indicate the more attacking shape the Argentinians adopted in this game. This was not a position Veron found himself in too often and, for the 4th goal in particular, the presence of Maxi in an advanced role helped open the space for Higuain by keeping the Korean defender Yeom Ki-Hun wide.


It was certainly a warning shot across the bow of any side that comes across the Argentines at the business end of this World Cup and showed that they can succeed with a different point of attack. They adapted well to a 4-4-2 diamond with Messi acting as the primary playmaker after having used Veron effectively as a deeper-lying playmaker in the first game. Doubts remain at the back but, after this display, all indications are that this will not be a problem until much deeper into the tournament.

Heartbreak for Hosts.. But Uruguay Impress

It should have been Bafana Bafana’s big night but Uruguay stole the show in their encounter with the hosts and thoroughly deserve the plaudits.

In their first encounter with France, coach Tabarez stuck with his tried and trusted 3-5-2 and took a point against Domenech’s dysfunctional side. It was a fairly unambitious effort from the South Americans but they certainly expanded their repertoire in this game and the signs were there right from the outset as Tabarez included Cavani to play up with Suarez and Forlan, ditching the unimpressive Gonzalez. The FIFA average position diagram indicates a Christmas Tree formation with Cavani and Forlan supporting Suarez:

The presence of Cavani allowed Forlan more opportunity to go looking for the ball and he regularly found space for himself in between the South African lines which was perhaps a surprise given the presence of two holding midfielders in the Bafana Bafana line-up. What was also significant was the presence of Alvaro Pereira in a more advanced role. As you can see in the diagram above, Pereira was operating in a midfield three with Fucile behind him and this meant much more freedom to attack following his mainly defensive brief against the French where, playing as a wing-back, he was frequently pinned back by their 4-3-3 system. Here, he was able to influence the game much higher up the field and this is well illustrated in the build-up to the opening goal:

It is Pereira’s purposeful run ahead of Forlan that buys the goalscorer time to take aim and get his shot away as the South African defenders hesitate to close down the man with the ball. People will quite rightly give the credit to Forlan himself and perhaps point to a lucky deflection. However, it is an excellent example of how committing men forward with pace and good movement can buy you some luck and help a team create more openings.

The key moment in the second half was clearly the sending off of Khune and there was no way back from there as Uruguay added a second from the spot. The third, another example of Pereira’s forward running as he scored almost on the goal-line, was the icing on the cake of an impressive Uruguayan display. They had shown they could defend. Now they have shown they can score goals. It looks like the first ever winners of the World Cup are not in the mood to go home anytime soon.

Chile Live Up To Billing

So much has been spoken about Chile in the build up this World Cup – the most exciting side at the tournament by most accounts – so it was good to see those words somewhat vindicated with their attacking display against Honduras.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side did not line up in his famous 3-3-1-3 formation because with Honduras playing only one up front Bielsa needed just the one spare central defender. Instead he switched to what approximated to a 4-1-2-3 formation as indicated by the FIFA average position diagram below:

The five forward players impressed with their movement and were often joined by both full-backs pushing forward in unison meaning Carmona, the holding midfielder, regularly had seven players in advance of him when on the ball in the centre circle. Beausejour’s goal is a great example of exactly this with the full-back Isla pushing on about to supply the assist:

The players marked red indicate the options in advance of the man with the ball (marked blue), the black arrow indicating the run of Isla

With better decision making by the exciting Alexi Sanchez, and late on the selfish Mark Gonzalez, the score could easily have been 4-0 and more accurately reflected the vibrancy of the Chilean display. The diagram chosen to illustrate the point is from the key moment in the match – the goal itself. However, even late on in the game, with the side 1-0 up and in theory protecting their three points, there were times in the final moments where Chile committed men forward – 8 men for a free-kick 35 yards out in the 88th minute when the taker was clearly going to shoot, 5 men in the 93rd minute when most teams would have run the ball into the corner. Frankly, it was inspirational stuff.


The low-scoring World Cup continues but Chile’s performance was a lot more like it and proved the simple truth – if you commit men forward and have width high up the field you will create chances. They promise to be one of the brightest outfits at the 2010 World Cup.

Brazil Find A Way Through

We have covered the nuances of the Brazilian formation previously here at Ghostgoal so it was nice to finally get a glimpse of the World No.1 up against North Korea. Although some pundits were predicting a walkover it was no surprise to see Brazil struggling to break down the Koreans in the first half.. you’ll have to forgive us a brief I told you so here..

The difficulties facing Brazil are well illustrated by the picture below:

This is a great example of the Korean back five with midfielders also working to get behind the ball. They were well organised in the early stages, although perhaps Robinho is playing into their hands in the picture above – coming inside in search of the ball rather than using the width of the pitch to stretch the Koreans.

This Brazil team’s wonderful strength of course is their brilliance on the counter attack. It is part of the reason Brazilian supporters should not be too concerned by events in their first game – better sides will come out and play more, leaving opportunities for them to be ruthlessly picked off as Italy were last year in the Confederations Cup last year.

As you can see, the third and final goal that day against Italy came on the break from an Italian corner. It is the perfect example of counter attacking football. However, it only works if the opponents have committed men forward. The image below is taken seconds after a North Korean corner in the 55th minute:

Brazil are breaking at pace to expose the North Koreans but to no avail. Their opponents already have the line of five in place within seconds.

Eventually Brazil were able to produce two moments of magic (I am firmly in the ‘Maicon meant it’ camp) to deny North Korea a point. All eyes will now be on Portugal to see if they are able to find a way past the Korean back line.