Giroud Impressive, But Not Good Enough For Arsenal To Win CL
The 2013-14 football seasons is already shaping up to become one of the more memorable in recent memory. For instance, football’s most sought-after manager, Pep Guardiola, took over the reins of most of 2012-13 treble-winners Bundesliga side, Bayern Munich, whereas the English Premier League reset the clocks after Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson retired from management. In his place David Moyes is now calling the shots over at Old Trafford. The blue half of Manchester also signed a new manager (and a truckload of new players to go with him), Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini. More interesting though is the homecoming of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea FC after a tumultuous stint at Real Madrid.
Speaking of the Spanish capital outfit, Los Blancos have also hired a new manager in the wake of Mourinho’s departure to Stamford Bridge, Carlo Ancelotti, yet another ex-Chelsea boss. Their rivals Barcelona were forced to appoint a new manager in wake of Tito Vilanova’s ongoing health issues, signing Argentinean Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
The number of high-profile managerial appointments during the 2013 summer window almost rivalled player transfers. With the exception of the Manchester duo, Moyes and Pellegrini, the objective is clear for all of the aforementioned gentlemen – to win the Champions League.
In addition to Bayern Munich, Chelsea FC and Real Madrid, the list of genuine contenders for Europe’s crown also features perennial title favourites, FC Barcelona as well as last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund. Of course, there are also the likes of Paris St-Germain, Atletico Madrid or SSC Napoli. Yet for one reason or the other they don’t appear to be viable options at this point. However, North London side Arsenal has emerged as a great prospect to go deep into the competition, in Europe and the Premier League.
At present Arsenal, Barcelona and Bayern sit atop of their respective championships. The latter two share the top stop with Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund respectively – making the Gunners accomplishments all the more impressive. Until a few weeks ago Gooners were understandably discontent with the lack of quality additions to their team. Some critics even disregarded the London outfit as a high-profile feeder club, a football boarding school so to speak. But in an unexpected turn of events Arsenal actually spent big, some £42,5 million on a single player, Mesut Özil.
Bayern and Barcelona finding themselves at the top of the league standings was to be expected, even in light of hiring new managers. After all, these two clubs have continuously challenged for honours. It would’ve taken mismanagement on a large scale to not be successful with squads as talented as Barcelona’s and Bayern’s. Arsenal, however, are for better worse, Arsene Wenger’s team. Regardless of how wonderful Oliver Giroud performs at the moment – he’s not a world-class striker. And there’s the little matter (with a big ego) of Nicklas Bendtner still on Arsenal’s books.
Taking all into account, it appears as if Arsenal made more than one signing. One would’ve expected the Gunners to do fine, but they have exceeded the expectations. On the continent Barcelona are still trying to incorporate Tata’s ideas into their playing philosophy. It sounds simple enough but is one of the more challenging tasks in football. La Blaugrana’s default formation is an offensive 4-3-3, with the emphasis on retaining possession. Except for the odd game or two, Tata is expected to utilise the formation that has become synonymous with Barcelona. No tinkering allowed.
Thus far Barcelona has been solid for the most part, but truly spectacular far too sporadically to satisfy the demands Culés. Yet there’s a sliver-lining to Tata’s task – he has the players necessary to meet the expectations. Though La Blaugrana somewhat underwhelmed in their 0-1 victory against Celtic Glasgow. In his case it’s rather a question of when rather than if.
Barcelona’s latest superstar, Brazilian Boy Wonder, Neymar, has settled wonderfully in his new surroundings. Nobody could’ve foreseen that the ex-Santos prodigy willingly plays second fiddle to Lionel Messi. Better still, Neymar is tracking back in addition to creating goals for his new teammates (5 assists in 8 appearances across all competitions). The biggest fear behind Neymar’s acquisition had been that he’d prove to be incompatible with Barcelona’s philosophy (on and off the pitch), and by extension, Lionel Messi.
With a playing philosophy as adventurous as Barcelona’s, favouring a high defensive line and full-backs that appear to be more skilled at attacking than defending, the incorporation of Neymar doesn’t distort the balance of the team, though the term “balance” is bit of a stretch in Barcelona’s case. Sure, Neymar only has 1 goal to his name thus far, but his transition into the team has been seamless. Unlike Alexis who is still struggling to fully integrate himself in Barcelona’s set-up, Neymar doesn’t look out of place and usually makes the right decision. Perhaps he’s a little too eager to please. In the absence of Messi he’s still passing instead of taking a shot. But in due time one would expect him to find the right balance between selflessness and personal glory.
Neymar’s transition aside, Tata must also be credited in rotating Barcelona’s squad, keeping the players fresh. Something his predecessor Vilanova all but avoided when possible. Despite not buying a specialist defender in the summer Barcelona are looking in good shape to challenge for the Champions League title. Their rivals, Real Madrid, also look good value to challenge for the biggest prize in European club football. But even if Los Blancos sit comfortably at the top of the Champions League group B, with 10-1 goals, the Merengues are much more a work-in-progress than Barcelona.
Carlo Ancelotti, for all of his accomplishments and his enviable CV, doesn’t strike one as the ideal candidate to guide Real Madrid to a tenth Champions League title. Real Madrid President Florentino Perez demands free-flowing possession-based football from his team. The problem is, all summer long Perez spent the vast resources of Real Madrid ordering parts for a certain type of machine but hired the wrong engineer.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale have pace to burn. Naturally, the counter-attacking system implemented by Jose Mourinho would suit their characteristic perfectly. Though the media, pundits and media like to stress that Ronaldo and Bale belong to a category of “complete” footballers, which is probably based on their exceptional athleticism, they still need a working system to thrive in.
Furthermore, what exactly is the complete footballer? Being tall, fast, having a strong header in addition to the ability to strike the bale from a distance?
If that’s the requirement, then yes, Ronaldo and Bale are absolutely complete. However, more interesting is being able to produce a complete performance, meaning the ability to create goals (scoring or assisting). If that’s the sole criteria then Lionel Messi is a class all of his own.
Barcelona’s talisman created as many goals (47) as new Arsenal hero, Mesut Özil, during his tenure at Madrid in La Liga – the most in any of the top 5 leagues - and scored 127 to Ronaldo’s 120.
The “complete” debate notwithstanding, Ancelotti always favoured a wingless 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation or a 4-4-2. From his days at Milan to Chelsea and Paris St-Germain, Ancelotti has never relied on wingers/inverted forwards. Now he has the two most expensive ones of all-time, and the task of integrating the two of them into the starting XI. Ancelotti has his hands full at Madrid. Not only must he revamp a working system to please the Madrid crowd, he also has to abandon “his” tried and tested tactics in to accommodate the pricey signings Perez made. It’s possible Ancelotti addresses his sides shortcomings but it’s also likely he’s out of a job before the end of the current season.
New Bayern boss, Pep Guardiola, is unlikely to find himself in a similar scenario. The Munich outfits’ board, though outspoken, has always backed their managers in the transfer market and left the philosophy to them. Depending on the perspective, taking over Heynckes all-conquering Bayern side is either the easiest or the most challenging task at hand. Judging by Bayern’s demolition of Manchester City it appears as if Guardiola is onto to something special.
One can chastise Guadiola’s decision to take over Bayern, the treble-winners, but mind you, the announcement he’d be their next manager was made in January, a full four months before they won the three titles. Even before Bayern went on to win the treble, the framework to succeed at Bayern was evident to Guardiola. The German outfit is probably the best run side in football, with a hierarchy that is dominated by ex-professional who were world-class players during their active career. As a bonus Guardiola also inherited a squad that has the right blend of athleticism and technical finesse. Guardiola can call upon a squad that has two or more world-class players for almost every position, giving him plenty of options to try different formations.
Bayern can play with a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 (Heynckes preferred system), a 4-1-4-1 or even a 3-4-3 that Guardiola utilised during his later Barcelona days, without a drop in quality. Whereas Arsenal lack the depth, Barcelona the flexibility in their philosophy, or Madrid’s and Chelsea’s incompatibility of players and managers, Guardiola is free to do what he does best at Bayern: fine-tune his tactical understanding which greatly benefits the German side. It also helps that Guardiola is a proponent of free-flowing, possession-based football anyhow.
Until the rest of the pack figure out whether to favour possession-based or counter-attacking football, the odds-on favourite for the Champions League remain Bayern Munich, ahead of Barcelona where Neymar could make the difference in the latter stages of the tournament.
Who knows, perhaps the manager carousel spins even more vicious next summer.
Follow Sebastian @JubeiKibagame
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