Dr. Xhaka and Mr. Granit

This post is a bit rushed because I have a lot to do before work but here’s a post that I know everyone will like: I think the one player that Unai Emery could most help next season is Granit Xhaka.

Here are Xhaka’s overall defensive stats the last four years. On the right-most column, Xhaka’s numbers of tackles per game, interceptions, and blocked passes were all at a 4 year low. That correlates with Arsenal’s play this season, where the club also dropped off in terms of tackles, interceptions, and blocked passes per game (I’ll show you the numbers in a sec.). And the club allowed a Wenger-at-Arsenal career high number of goals.

But Xhaka’s numbers are a bit strange. Arsenal column pointed out on Twitter that there was a change in formation around January time which resulted in an uptick in Xhaka’s tackle numbers. But I took a look at each of the games and what you actually see is a massive improvement in form in the last 10 games of the season, not in terms of bulk tackling (making a lot of tackles, he will never be that kind of all-action player), but in terms of successfully winning the ball back.

Why is the last 10 games a weird cut off point? That was when the team had the very public “cry for help” meeting and when players were told that they were going to have to figure it (how to play defense) out for themselves.

In the previous 28 games, Xhaka attempted roughly the same number of tackles per game, 3.2, but crucially, he won just 58% of his tackles up to that point. He won just 1.9 tackles a game in those first 28 games. In the last 10 he was much better, winning 84% of 3.4 tackles per game, or 2.7 tackles per game.

It looks like either Xhaka figured it out for himself or that someone else helped him out with his positioning and in helping him to make some adjustments to when he makes a tackle. He did have the rather high-profile missed tackle against Paul Pogba but that was one of just 5 missed tackles in his last 10 matches.

From an individual standpoint, Xhaka has had a very rough year. He raised his attacking output (blue) from set plays:

But attempted fewer dribbles than ever before (and as a result was dispossessed less) but also had more bad touches:

And while his passing numbers went up, his long passing (without Giroud around), went down.

And his aerial duels percent went way down, which is a mystery.

What all this shows to me, especially the tackling, is that this is a player who might benefit most from some good coaching. That is the Unai promise.

He’s never going to be a big interceptor of the ball and probably won’t ever give Arsenal big blocked pass numbers. But those are things the team might be able to get from a more active midfield partner like Torreira.



  1. This is solid analysis and I agree with your conclusions. You can do an awful lot defensively by just getting in the way (Copyright S. Busquets 2010) and forcing a pass/dribble away from goal.
    If given a defensive system to work within, his numbers should increase substantially.

  2. Feeling optimistic. If this transfer gets sorted, we’ll have riches in front and some depth in the middle. Defense and goalie will benefit. Would like to see a new goalie come in. That may be easier if candidates see more defensive talent and commitment in front of him.

  3. My theory is that this boils down to how far up the pitch Xhaka plays. When he tries to press, he gets bypassed and ends up chasing the ball because he’s never learned how to properly do it and his teammates suck at it too. When he sits on the edge of the D, he can see the play develop and do the same things he grew up doing for BM and Le Suisse. So I bet if you look at his heatmap for the last 10 games and compare that to the 10 games before that or the start of the season, you’ll see a difference.

    Then there’s always the chance that you’re observing something that means nothing at all because numbers can be cruel like that.

    1. I went and looked at his first 10 and last ten and you are absolutely correct: he was playing in that stupid ass “between the lines” role that Wenger tried to stick Coquelin in at the start of the season and in a much deeper role at the end of the season. This accounts for both his poor tackling and the fact that he was also a sub 90% passer for the first 7 matches of the season. Unai will almost certainly know this and play him in a role more suited to his abilities.

  4. i remember when xhaka first signed, tim was going on about “i want my xhaka” or something of that nature. understandable. arsenal had paid about £35 million for this kid and he wasn’t playing. i pleaded with tim and everyone else to be patient because xhaka was way off the pace tactically and nowhere near ready. give him a year or so to develop and we’ll see. well, cazorla went down and we know the rest. xhaka replaced cazorla and arsenal have finished outside the top four for two straight years.

    xhaka did not improve much after his first year like i thought he would. the “up-tick” in xhaka’s play over the last ten or so games this past season were mostly down to the quality of the opponent, not an improvement in his game. bottom line, i don’t think xhaka’s smart enough to lead a team to the bpl championship. with ramsey, we all knew he was smart enough since he was 18. he just seemed more concerned with scoring goals, which is what made him so polarizing among gooners. xhaka has never proven that he’s smart enough and is continually exposed in big games. your cdm has to be one of the smartest players in the league, full stop. xhaka’s not even one of the smartest players on the team.

    unai emery is a coach. he’s not jesus. we need to temper our expectations on his ability to help xhaka to greatness. let’s hope for the best but i’m not nearly as hopeful as most. we’ll see.

    1. I’m not so sure he’s got greatness in him, but I’ll settle for consistent and above average from Granit because I think that’s well within his reach. At the very least, he can be put in a position to succeed, as he is with his national team. Unai has a track record of getting the best out of midfielders like Krechowiak, Banega and N’Zonzi and I don’t think Granit has less talent than those guys. Whether he is part of the long term plan is an open question and will have much to do with how he beds in under this new coach.

      1. Well he has just signed a new long term deal. So that answers your question of whether he’s part of the long term plan

    2. “bottom line, i don’t think xhaka’s smart enough to lead a team to the bpl championship”

      This nails it for me.

      1. At the time we signed Xhaka our midfield was a desolate wasteland populated by tumbleweed, crabs, and Mathieu Flamini.

        We desperately needed a sharp improvement in midfield quality and the club knew it. There was no hiding it anymore. What annoyed me about the Xhaka signing was the fact that we’d already bought Elneny. Ideally we should have bought Xhaka when we bought Elneny and bought the complementary “Elegant Beast” when we signed Xhaka.

        But did we need a big upgrade in passing ability at the time? Definitely.

      2. Most likely this is why we are handing him a new contract. Good business too, because if he shines under Unai it would be more difficult to lock him down.

  5. I’m a Xhaka booster and I see comparisons to Xabi Alonso and Andrea Pirlo. Go ahead, mock me.

    He just needs some coaching that helps him emphasize his strengths like we see on the Swiss team and hide his weaknesses. It doesn’t matter your walk of life – some people know they need to improve but don’t know where to start or what the progression is. Wenger wanted players to be professional and figure it out for themselves. But not everybody is wired that way.

    What I’m worried about is if the David Luiz 19m offer is true… I think if we’re bringing in Luiz it’s to play the Sevilla-N’Zonzi role in midfield (and I think he’d be a better option than N’Zonzi if that’s the case). But I think that would mean Xhaka is history because suddenly we have Torreira, Luiz, AMN and Elneny who can all play at the base of a midfield 3.

    1. Why would you be worried? I see two completely different midfields, one that plays against teams that park the bus with no ambition (the school of Pulis and Allardyce) which features a lot of incisive passers (we’ll call this the Özil midfield) and another almost completely different midfield for playing against the other top five and European powerhouses (the Mkhitaryan midfield perhaps.) Just because Xhaka doesn’t fit in the latter, doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for him in the former.
      I think even when he faced Barca with PSG, he setup his PSG team to stop Barca building from the back and to play down the flanks rather than through the centre. They won the first leg 4-0 which is hardly Mourinho-ball.

    2. Alonso maybe; Pirlo is a huge stretch–the man was an artist.

      Better comparison: Busquets (as mentioned above) and especially Michael Carrick. Those two are both naturally better defenders than Xhaka (Busquets was always brilliant in that regard, Carrick improved over time), but consider:
      –all three lack pace

      –all three play as the deepest midfielder and are really only suited to play there (despite what some fans suggest, everything about Xhaka’s game screams holding mid, not box-to-box)

      –yet all three are really in the team more for what they do when their team is in possession rather than out of possession (this is in line with what Emery said about DM’s in that great interview)

      –despite this, all three have the size and physicality to offer more defensively in that role than, say, late-career Pirlo or Scholes, whose contributions were almost entirely creative, offering very little defensively (I think of late-career Arteta and Alonso as somewhere in between: smart defensively, but as they got old, their lack of physicality and athleticism could be punished).

      –Despite being very, very good defensively, neither Busquets nor Carrick did a lot of actual “tackling” (of the sort that fills a Kante or Torreira highlight reel). Mostly their positioning without the ball is just impeccable. They get in the way, anticipate the play, and tackle and intercept only when they have to. But it works (there’s a brilliant segment somewhere that GNev did showing clips of how important his ex-teammate was for Man United defensively).

      –I see no reason why Xhaka couldn’t play the exact same way (indeed he does, he just needs to do it much better). This stuff comes with time. I know Xhaka’s not young, and I’m personally not emotionally invested in him, but he still has time on his side. Carrick certainly improved over the years with experience. Actually, I see one reason that could be offered: Joshuad claims Xhaka is just not very smart. Maybe he’s right. He certainly has a boneheaded streak in him (Granit, not Josh), prone to rashness and switching off in equal measure. But I think these mistakes are still exceptions to the rule, relatively speaking, that can be ironed out. I don’t think Xhaka’s actually a dumb footballer, in the sense of lacking the intuitive understanding of the nuances of the game, since he’s just too good at understanding passing and movement when in possession to be irredeemably stupid. A good, detail-oriented coach should be able to get him to understand his role out of possession in a similar way. We have that kind of coach.

      –Oh, and I think the likelihood of us selling him this summer is very low (the likelihood of him becoming a bit part player for us only slightly higher). He just signed a contract extension! I think Emery intends to use him and Torreira together, more often than not.

      1. In other words, I don’t think either Luiz or Nzonzi is coming (assuming the Torreria thing goes through), and if the former does arrive, it will be as a CB.

      2. When I wrote my first post I was completely unaware of the contract extension. He’s obviously part of Emery’s plans.

        I think Luiz would be a luxury signing and unnecessary even more so now that we’re keeping Xhaka. But, reportedly we’ve made a 19m offer for him. I’m assuming we wouldn’t dare bring Luiz AND Fellaini both in. That’d be like a 70’s version of Queen in our midfield.

        1. yeah, I bet those reports are just bogus. we’re probably sounding out cheap(ish) CB options in case the Soyoncu thing (and any other bright but expensive young CB options) falls through. Maybe we’ll just go with Sokratis, but I suspect we’d like to bring one more, young/better, one in, and maybe let one (Mustafi? Chambers?) go.

          all speculation, obviously.

          1. 19m for Luiz *would* still be sorta cheap (at least I rate him). again it’s his age that’s the biggest stumbling block, which is why I think our limited money is definitely better spent elsewhere. but he was magnificent for Chelsea just 2 short years ago when they won the title. I never understood why Conte suddenly benched him. anyone have the back story on that one? seemed bizarre.

          2. Chelsea want to get younger this off-season and everyone over 30 is on their purge list.

            I also rate Luiz, but I think he’s actually a very good DM and if we got him that’s where I would prefer to see him deployed. He’s great on set pieces and free kicks and can pull off the occasional brilliant strike. 19m is a fair price. But both he and Sokratis on 3 year deals, both 31…? Ugh, maybe too much.

  6. Xhaka’s reading of the game is pretty bad and he doesn’t come across as a very intelligent footballer to me, to put it kindly. I don’t think Emery is going turn him into a world class footballer. Improved? yes, maybe – but improved to the point where he takes our midfield to the level we need to be to compete with the likes of City? I don’t think so. I guess if our goal to claw our way back to 4th, he might do the job. I am happy to give him a chance under the new manager.

  7. Emery’s thoughts on the CM positions are intriguing.

    On the one hand he is forgiving of a midfielder’s defensive shortcomings if he has a lot to offer on distribution. Good news for Xhaka. On the other hand he wanted Rabiot to play more defence than he did.

    I’m not so sure that Torreira will play WITH Xhaka instead of him, but otoh, as Tim has shown elsewhere, an awful lot of Arsenal’s traffic flows through Xhaka. That’s a big deal. Xhaka, whatever his shortcomings, is a very important player to Arsenal, literally our pivote.

    Emery, to judge from his comments, appears to like a 3-man midfield — a b2b, a ball-winner and ferryer, and a conductor. If in his setup Torreira is asked to play a more distributive role, then Arsenal may be better off having a more athletic presence to accompany Ramsey and Torreira. And AMN (and Elneny to a lesser extent) would better facilitate the pressing game Emery says he wants. I don’t know. This is all speculative.

    It’ll come down not only to coaching that irons out the wrinkles in Xhaka’s game, but to Emery’s tactical setup as well.

    1. Hey Claude,
      A little wager? I think your instincts here are a little off. I’m willing to bet (nothing but my pride, at the moment, but maybe you can talk me into putting something more on the table) that Emery sees Torreira and Xhaka together more often than not, at least as a Plan A until that’s proven to not work out. Either as part of a three, or in a two with a number 10. Assuming a 3, Ramsey and Torreira are athletic and mobile enough, and Xhaka, sitting between them, is big and not un-physical. It’s a pretty good combo. AMN will be close to first off the bench.

      1. You could be right. I think that’s a sound read on your part. And I did hedge and caveat a lot in that comment. I was trying to read Emery on that, and frankly, he seems more inclined to play Xhaka than not

      2. A Xhaka, Torreira, and Ramsey midfield was what I had mind, too. But I’ve got a bad feeling Ramsey is off.

        1. Naw. i’ve weirdly got a good feeling Ramsey is staying (maybe it’s because I personally wouldn’t be devastated if he did go!). I think he wants to stay, and the new direction of the club, new acquisitions, plus the hierarchy making it clear to him how much they value him, will get the thing signed this summer, sooner or later. I don’t think he’s just in it for the money, he genuinely loves the club, and I think he’s patient enough to believe we’ll get back into the CL soon, so he doesn’t need to jump ship to a PL rival (as much as he respected and was grateful to Wenger, I suspect this might be different if AW was still in charge; suspect he’d be more likely to be looking over at the Ox with envy right now).

          The only thing that could change this would be if a huge continental team came in for him, since he’s always made noise about wanting to play in Europe. But who would that be? Barca’s always been his dream, I think, but I don’t think they’d want him–already have similar players in Rakitic and Paulinho, if anything they need one or two Xavi/Iniesta types, ironically. Don’t see it at Madrid either. That probably just leaves Juve, PSG, and Bayern. Seems pretty unlikely to me…

          1. Ramsey is better than Paulinho and younger than both Paulinho and Rakitic, and now after being formally rejected they have their Griezmann budget lying around. But if it’s Barca we won’t get a British premium.

          2. Apparently the delay in his contract has to do with his agent leaving his company to start his own agency. Which he’s done now. I expect Ramsey to sign soon.

            And he said he’d be excited about someone like Barcelona just once. And they were still considered the best of all time then. He’s hardly always said he’d want to move to Europe.

        2. I think so. Wouldn’t Ramsey have signed a new deal by now if he wanted to stay? We’re over the 50m budget now; Torreira (26m), Leno (20m) and Papastathopoulos (16m). That would mean, if that 50m limit was true, we will not be adding until we make sales. Ramsey would fetch enough to cover Luiz and Soyuncu (who I really really like the looks of) methinks.

          1. Jack,
            If we buy Torreira and Soyuncu (along with Lich, Sok, and probably Leno), lose Ramsey, and choose to invest any remaining money in David Luiz rather than an attacker, that would be incredibly stupid.

            As bad as we are defensively, surely those recruits would improve us about as well without Luiz–also assuming that Emery’s going to get us defensively organized–whereas we’d actually be a bit low in AM and/or winger depth without Rambo (especially if Jack also leaves). Better to go for a Gelson Martins, Guedes (sure he looked pants for Portugal today, but that doesn’t mean much), Dembele loan (lol), Martial, heck even someone like Gotze, if we can get one of them for a relative bargain.

            I guess if you think it’s as stupid as I’m making it sound to go for Luiz depends on (a) if you think an “elegant beast” DM in addition to Xhaka-Torreira is a priority (I don’t), and (b) if you think Luiz can be that guy (again, I don’t really). So maybe that’s where we just disagree.

          2. I think I’m not being clear. The sale of Ramsey MIGHT cover those purchases… but I’m not saying I’m either in support of selling Ramsey or buying Luiz (I would like very much if we signed Soyuncu).

            That said, I have thought before that Ramsey’s market value may be very high right now. If we need to raise funds, he’s an obvious choice, especially if he doesn’t resign.

    1. He’s a good shout for captain as well, if he plays regularly in the starting XI. Ramsey seems to be the favourite based on all the chatter (and skippered Wenger’s last game), but I think he’s too quiet for the role.

      1. I agree with this, but he needs to become a player others look up to not just for his intangibles but for his play. He’s got to show that first. For now, I think the team is in good hands with Koscielny and Cech, although Kos is very likely to become our next “Captain Invalid” following in the hallowed/crocked footsteps of Mertesacker, Arteta, Vermaelen, etc etc.

        1. Someone has to skipper the side on the field till January, Doc. Assuming, of course, that Kosc returns then, as planned. I like Cech as a man and leader, but if we’re shopping for a keeper, he isnt going to play much.

          That leaves the senior regulars.

  8. I’m with Jack on this one. I’m excited to see what Emery can get out of him (and Lichtsteiner, too, judging from his remarks about Xhaka).

    I don’t know that we can say anything about his intelligence, but, as many others have said in the last few years (others who think about the game a whole lot more than I do), this younger generation of players seem to require more direction from their coaches than previous generations. I know I’ve said this many times before, but when Xhaka came to Arsenal, he was shocked at how little guidance he received from the coaches / Wenger compared to what he experienced at Basel and Monchengladbach.

    Two takeaways for me: 1) he made a name for himself at those two clubs, and then his reputation dipped at Arsenal (i.e., because of Arsenal, not because of his lack of talent), and 2) Emery is by reputation an exacting coach who gives clear directions.

    We’re moving away from the Wenger “express yourself just like Madonna said” model, and while that doesn’t mean Emery is Jesus (as joshuad pointed out), it does mean that Xhaka will now, once again, be in an environment that is much better suited to getting the best out of him.

    1. Just to clarify my first paragraph there, what I mean is that Lichtsteiner seems to have a lot of belief in Xhaka and wants to mentor him.

  9. Xhaka’s positioning got better during the season. His anticipation of danger, defensive awareness, is his weakness. He looks slow because he’s always reacting and his natural instinct is to go forward. When he reads the danger early he seems decently quick.

    I think he’ll do well next season and even up his offensive output

      1. Maybe, but I think the question is whether ‘being slow’ is an automatic disqualification of effectiveness, relatively speaking. I’m sure we could point to some pretty amazing midfielders in Europe whom one could describe as ‘slow’, who move their bodies at a rate not dissimilar to Xhaka’s.

      2. Anticipation makes up for a lack of speed, is basically what I meant. That’s how Per made his career.

        1. totally agree with that too. just think we might as well call a spade a spade: Xhaka is (relative to other elite footballers) slow. doesn’t mean he’s not good or can’t be even better.

  10. about this lucas torreira kid, i’m not convinced he’s the way forward either. he’s small but a fiery competitor. however, i don’t think he’ll improve arsenal. seriously, what quality does he bring to arsenal that’s not already there? he does have a similar stature and feistiness comparable to marco verratti but so what? lastly, in the videos i’ve seen, he seems to enjoy throwing himself to the ground. even in his short cameo against egypt this morning, he threw himself on the ground from a slight challenge. i don’t think he’s suited for the bpl but i’m not familiar enough with him to completely rule him out.

    personally, if you give me the option of he and n’zonzi, it’s n’zonzi all day every single day. n’zonzi is about a foot taller than lucas, he’s got tons of experience, both bpl and european, he’s got the ability to control situations, not simply react to them, and he gives arsenal the ability to win right now. while arsenal have got a bunch of 29ish year olds in the team, he gives arsenal another but i don’t have a problem with that.

    lastly, if ramsey leaves, it’s lo celso for me. emery played a role in bringing the young argentine to europe and gave him his debut for psg. he’s not a starter yet but i think he’s gonna be great. in fact, i think he’ll replace either rabiot or verratti next season in the starting line up. i say let’s see if arsenal can get him before people realize just how good he is; a similar thing i said about verratti, ribery, and quite a few others. lo celso is gonna be very good.

    1. They used to say the same of Modric before he joined Spurs. Turns out he was perfectly at home in the EPL, to the point where he massively improved his value, and a certain big team came calling.

      I did notice that tendency to go down when fouled, but that’s in the usually fulfilled expectation of a certain call from the ref. He’ll learn, very quickly, you don’t get those in England.

      But he looks to me — considering age, price and skillset — a fine addition to our squad.

      1. i don’t know who “they” are but i know that i wanted modric at arsenal. i was beyond upset that he, along with roman pavlyuchenko, jan vertonghen, and moussa dembele found their way to tottenham when they could have and should have been arsenal players. especially dembele; the “elegant beast”. i was upset when he signed for fulham, too.

    2. JoshuaD you’re right that we should be sceptical that any one player will come in and solve our problems. But the benchmark has to be “is he better now or does he have the potential to be better than what we have” and on that basis our midfield has set a very low bar over the last few seasons. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we fell out of the Champions League running due to the poor quality of our midfield play.

      A couple of seasons ago Alex Iwobi was able to crack the first team because of his mixture of strength, pose and dexterity on the ball. That’s because our midfield at that time was bang average, and it hasn’t improved much.

      Torreira might not be enough on his own do it. But he’s played an astounding number of Serie A minutes at a very young age in a key position and racks up tackles and interceptions. I think he might get bullied like all small players are when they start out in the Premier League. But like Sanchez, Kante, and David Silva he’ll eventually work out how to use his technical ability, quick feet and low center of gravity to his advantage.

      PSG will probably keep Lo Celso and recall Guedes from Valencia but they have to sell 60m worth of players due to FFP so hopefully we’re keeping tabs on that situation. And they have to pay Monaco 180m this summer for Mbappe.

      1. i don’t expect him to solve arsenal’s problems but i do expect to sign players that would make arsenal better; especially with the bar being so low, as you’ve alluded.

    3. Torreira is an animal from what I’ve seen of him and looks like a technical upgrade on Coquelin who I think we should still regret letting go of. If the comparisons to Verrati are onside, then yes, please. He’ll be just fine I think.

      1. torreira comparisons to verratti essentially stop at height and fight. i’m not 100% certain but i believe he’s a clear step-down to verratti. could he become a future gary medel? we’ll see.

        as for coquelin, i believe the club got that wrong. we know how good he was in defense at the point of attack and admired his work rate but his work as a third defender off the ball is what stood out for me. he disrupted so much and was hardly ever caught catching up to the play like our £35 million swiss center mid is; far more intelligent than he ever got credit for.

        in case you guys haven’t noticed, i place a far higher premium on player intelligence than talent.

        1. Torreira is only 22. Of course he’s not as good as Verratti yet; the point of the comparison is to suggest the sort of player he could become. If you think he’s only a short, feisty ball winner, then you haven’t read/watched enough about him. he’s (supposedly) got significant ability on the ball, even if he typically keeps it simple and efficient, like many a deep lying midfielder.

          the twitter link I posted below contains a few clips highlighting his comfort and quality on the ball.

    4. I disagree with your assessment of Torreira, for reasons that have long characterized our disagreements on here (in a nutshell: you apparently value experience and size/strength, relative to other qualities, more than I do), so I won’t go into details defending him. The short reply is that, if he develops to be anything close to the common twitter description of him–70% of Santi’s passing/dribbling with 80% of Kante’s tackling/intercepting–then he’ll be just grand, thank you.

      But Lo Celso is a good shout. I’d just be very surprised if PSG are willing to give him up.

      1. i don’t place a ton of value on size/strength. however, i do place a significant premium on intelligence.

        and what makes you believe he’ll ever produce 70% of cazorla’s dribbling? (we are talking about santi cazorla, right?). that guy is absolute magic on the ball. lucas is not 70% of magic.

        likewise, 80% of kante’s tackling/interceptions? kante’s range is the reason for his high tackling/interception percentage. does lucas have anywhere near that range?

        understand, i’m not throwing him out with the bath but we’ll see.

        1. If you put a high premium on intelligence, and you’re not convinced about Torreira, why do you think he doesn’t have intelligence? This is a “what makes you believe” question. Obviously, what makes others believe he’s got something special is, let’s admit, youtube videos. I assume you’ll make use of the same evidence. So where’s the lack of intelligence you see there?

          Oh, I have something other than youtube. Stats! Did you listen to the Arsecast episode this morning? Apparently he’s an insanely good ball winner. Or was that an interceptions stat? I can’t remember. But there were numbers that put him at the top of Serie A in certain categories.

          1. And by “I”, I clearly mean other people, of course! James Horncastle (who reports on Italian football) speaks knowledgeably about Torreira in the most recent Arsecast episode. I’d encourage you to give it a listen. I came away from it convinced that Torreira is the real deal, and he’s most certainly not some mindless try-hard. Very positionally sound. He’s someone who knows where the opposition’s play is going, and he can also dictate the tempo of the game.

          2. bun, i’ve never said that torreira lacks intelligence. i don’t know his game well enough to make that claim.

            and no, i don’t listen to arsecast. if arsenal sign this kid, i really hope they’re right about him. i just can’t see how he makes arsenal better (based on my youtube assessment). but, like i said, i don’t know his game well enough.

          3. Josh,
            yeah, agree with Bun: youtube videos are fun and not as entirely epistemically unreliable as some fans would have it, but I don’t typically base my assessment of a player I’ve never seen play off of them, and I haven’t done so on this occasion.

            rather, the youtube videos supplement what other, knowledgable, football watchers, who *have* seen the player play a lot, say about him. in that case, Horncastle is one among many who speaks very highly of him.

            here’s another good place to start, if you’re looking/open to being impressed by our new possible signing:


        2. Dude, obviously the 70%/80% remark is just a very, very rough metaphor to convey what sort of player he is or could be, what his strengths are, etc.

          as I remark below, I haven’t seen him play any more than you have, but I have read/listened to an awful lot of what (seemingly smart) folks who have seen a lot of him have to say about him. they speak of a guy who gets around the pitch and makes a lot of tackles interceptions (very roughly like Coquelin or Kante), but also who is very comfortable on the ball, both in terms of good passing range and precision, but also in terms of having quick feet that allow him to get out of tight situations (this is the Santi comparison). I don’t know why your default position is one of such skepticism (even if you say you’re open to be proven wrong), if it’s based on just a couple of youtube videos that we all admit only ever show a small percentage of the whole story, good or bad, on a player.

          you say you don’t value size/physicality a ton, but one of the few reasons you give for preferring Nzonzi over Torreira is that he’s about a foot taller, and you dismissively suggest Torreira might “become a future Gary Medel”! (With all due respect to Medel, suggesting Torreira should *aspire*, to one day, maybe, be like Medel can only be regarded as dismissive to a player that we’ve bought in the hopes that he becomes an elite player for an elite club. And of course Medel is largely famous for being pint-sized.) Also, your case against Lacazette in the past, why he can’t be a starting CF in the PL, why you prefer Giroud, etc, depends significantly on you thinking he’s too weak/small (I know your case is more nuanced than that, but that’s a significant part of it). These were the reasons I said you seemed to value size quite a bit.

  11. Oh, look! It’s Mr Annual Summer TransferSpeculation himself. William Carvahlo. In the Portugal midfield. Dang. Why isnt he being linked to us for a fifth summer running?

    1. i read an article the other day saying he, along with a couple of other players, has quit sporting (they are a mess right now). since that’s so, arsenal should ask the question.

      1. Jorge Mendes client. On a ‘free’. I bet you he asks for at least a 20m fee for himself.

    2. Available on a free too assuming the Portuguese courts uphold the “Sporting 7” breaking their contracts for “just cause.” Sign him up SMEG!
      I’ve been following this story the best i can through google translate lol these last few weeks. Their Trump like president is a disaster. Something like €150m walking out the door for free. Incredible.

      1. I was joshing a bit.

        We don’t need him. Identikit game to Xhaka. And on the (incomplete) evidence of this game, he’s not in love with tackling. I saw Spain players running past him within 5 feet of him, and him not wanting to seem impolite to interrupt their progress. I think that Granit’s a better all-round player.

        Oh, and if I may commit a bit of heresy… Spain looked much better with Thiago Alcantara in for the great Iniesta.

        1. I’m shocked Iniesta started ahead of him! And Thiago is no youngster at 27. Some big time seniority/favoritism there from Hierro.

        2. I don’t know about Thiago but taking off Costa may have cost Spain the W.

          Makes for a more interesting group though with Iran’s win meaning they top the table right now. Another point and who knows? Especially if Morocco can upset someone.

          1. This might sound dumb after he scored twice but I will continue to believe that Costa is the wrong forward for Spain. They need a silky false 9 penalty box predator, not a bully ball bad boy who thrives in the physical duels on the counter attack. That’s not their game. He scored just such a bully ball goal for them, so great; I still think he’s a square peg who clearly doesn’t fit the style they want to play. They should try Isco as a false 9, IMO, and double down on the tiki-taka by starting Thiago as the #10.

      2. Not all that interested in Carvalho. Gelson Martins on the other hand…

        Regardless, do you really think those players will be allowed to leave without compensation? Sounds too good to be true, but, if so, they would have their pick of suitors all over Europe, and I just don’t see why Arsenal would be top of their wish list. Spurs and Liverpool, for example, were also listed as being interested in Martins, and they can offer CL football.

        If we are indeed targeting Martins, as was reported a few days ago, their success at the courts could actually work against us.

        1. No idea. I’m sure even after the Portuguese courts make their ruling, Sporting will appeal to CAS who will have the final word. I see this turning into a messy, drawn out saga.
          But this is what i’ve gathered so far: “These rescissions arise following, among other cases, the assaults suffered by several members of the squad and the technical team on May 15, at the Sporting Academy in Alcochete, and carried out by about 40 hooded people. According to the labor code, the declaration of termination of contract for just cause must happen within 30 days after the facts that justify it, (the attack on the squad at the Academy of Alcochete), so until Thursday, June 14. The players are claiming they are justified to terminate their contracts under “emotional and physical duress.”

          I’m no lawyer but who knows…Have also read reports that a number of them already have deals lined up with Benfica.

  12. cristianoooooo!

    that’s a bad man! i think that was the best world cup game i’ve ever seen.

    1. Great game but best ever ?

      Probably best Ronaldo performance in a WC I’ve seen though.
      All business, no goofy haircut, no remonstrating with less talented teammates, every decision made was the right one, and the free kick goal in the dying minutes didn’t hurt either.

      From watching the other two in their group , either one Spain or Portugal could’ve lost this and still probably would’ve come out of the group.

      1. Ronaldo was on another level. I’ve never seen him this assured, this lethal. Channeling his inner Lebron James… he really was that special in that game. Not just the goals (a bit fortunate for the first two) but the touches he had in open play and on the counter were magnificent, and he defended his own penalty box as well. He still has incredible top speed too.

        1. I think that’s a bit over the top. if we’re talking about impressive touches, Isco was head and shoulders above his more illustrious club mate. absolutely brilliant on the ball all game long. sure, Ronaldo was good, but people all-too-typically going over the top based on the big headline that he scored a hat trick, even though only the third goal was impressive. and he didn’t do much–especially as the game wore on–other than the goals.

          here’s a question to ask yourself: if Ronaldo hadn’t scored that (admittedly brilliant, though I think the foul was a bit soft/daft) free kick in virtually the last minute, would anyone really be saying what a brilliant performance he had? lazy/ignorant people who just look at who scored maybe (“Ronaldo got two? then he must have been amazing!”). I suspect no one else would, including yourself. the free kick obviously swings things significantly, but that alone doesn’t make it an “another level” sort of performance. If anything, much of Spain’s approach play was “another level”. if they hadn’t gotten comfortable/cocky in the last 15 minutes and started to just run down the clock playing keep ball (plus taken Costa off) they were good for another goal at least.

  13. PS: did anyone see the Rosicky testamonial match over on the .com? He was my favorite player of that era and to think about what could’ve been without all those injuries just makes me so sad. Watching the video, it’s obvious how much everyone loved him off the pitch too. There’s a stadium full of Czech fans braving the soaking rain just to watch this friendly, and the big smiles and hugs he gets at the end from the likes of Hleb, Koller, van Persie, etc is just awesome. The part where his toddler son scores on Lehmann and then runs away from the rain… I melted like butter watching that.

    1. bitter-sweet signing for me as he’d left my beloved dortmund to join my beloved arsenal. likewise, i wanted arsenal to make a shrewd signing called franck ribery to replace pires before the world could realize how good he was at the world cup. digression.

      in the ’07-’08 season, i was incensed at how poorly rosicky’s health was managed. in october ’07, the czech team doctor came out publicly saying that rosicky had a very unique muscular injury that required major surgery. arsenal played him until he broke down in january and delayed his surgery until june. why? i recall rosicky playing in a nonsense champions league game (arsenal had already won the group) while fabregas and hleb were given the night off and in barcelona watching barca play. i thought to myself if anyone needed a night off it was rosicky. i’ve always believed that arsenal losing rosicky (not eduardo) was the reason they lost the championship that season.

      back to that farewell game, it was nice to see the bulk of that world team consist of the ’07-’08 arsenal team along with a few brazilians from his time at dortmund. rosicky played with jens lehmann at both dortmund and arsenal. bvb struggled mightily after rosicky left, continually fighting off relegation. if not for jurgen klopp, dortmund would have certainly been relegated to the 2nd bundesliga. rosicky deserves legendary status at both clubs. i simply wish his health had been better managed while he played for arsenal.

      1. Totally agree. I really thought he and Cesc made that midfield purr and it was such nostalgia to see the Fab4 reunited with van Persie leading the line… what talent that team had, what could’ve been without all the injuries!

  14. Best outside of the boot passer of the ball in the game ( other than Quaresma perhaps).
    Still remember his performances at the Euro2004 where he was simply outstanding in the talented Czech squad that probably should’ve gone all the way.
    Great player.

  15. Argentina look like they don’t have a plan in this first half against Iceland, who in stark contrast look like they most certainly do. The only time Iceland broke down was the only time when Argentina did something unexpected, when Rojo charged into the space and causing confusion, and it still required a great individual move from Aguero to get the shot away. Iceland have had the better chances at the other end.

    The possession stats show the difference in talent between the teams, and yet the score is tied because Ísland are playing as a team and Argentina are not. This is something I’ve seen with Argentina in every major tournament. I’m just spitballing here but there seems to be such a reverence for Messi and for the mythic powers of the #10 that the whole team and whole country seems to be waiting for him to just be the Messiah. Well, OK, but then drop him deeper and look for combinations and 1-2 play with the other forwards, pair him with someone more technical/creative in midfield than Mascherano/Biglia. Surely you don’t need two midfield workhorses against Iceland. This keeps going, Argentina will lose this game and deservedly so. Bring on Dybala and let him combine in the center with Messi. Iceland will crumble in the face of that.

    1. Banega for Biglia is the right move but it is not enough! He should’ve started over Biglia and it should’ve been Dybala for Banega at this point in the game.

      Iceland remain impressive out of possession but Argentina playing to their strengths by leaving their forwards buried in the trenches and taking corners long instead of short.. it’s got to be outside in runs by the wingers and fullbacks with Messi/Dybala on the ball to find them, or 1-2’s around the D involving Messi.

      1. Argies looked like they had no game plan. Every attack was through the middle. The full backs looked useless. The defense looked shaky, passing was too slow and their midfield was unconvincing. Missed penalty by Messi didn’t help. They have a mountain to climb. Croatia and Nigeria are both stronger on paper than Iceland.

        1. Yes, but they will also come out and try to play more which favors Argentina. Few teams have such a resolute commitment to defending for 90 minutes as the Vikings showed today. I tend to think Iceland is suited to playing against teams like them who are one dimensional in attack. They swallowed England up in the same way at the Euros, so I give them a lot of credit as well. It cannot be easy to play against a glacier.

          To me though Sampaoli mismanaged this whole game. He got the balance wrong in midfield which was way too defensive and static, and then late on he goes like for like with Di Maria and Pavon (that’s not even an upgrade) instead of changing the point of emphasis or trying to attack in a different way.

          1. Viking Fortress!

            Totally agree and who says defending isn’t fun to watch?
            Interesting contrast in how energized and excited Ronaldo looked yesterday compared to labored grimaces of Messi.

            The reasons I love football are the reasons why I watch and enjoy them so but Argentina with Messi is messed and Portugal with Ronaldo is blessed.

  16. Over the years we have heard the refrain “It’s like signing a new player’ when a current [rather ordinary] squad player signed a contract extension; and now with Xhaka we are hearing echoes of the same tired old song.

    Xhaka has a beautiful long pass – and that cannot be disputed (well I guess it can – but not too many would agree). But he does have a major weakness.

    The major problem with Granit is his lack of pace – late to the tackle, bypassed all too easily by pacey opposition forwards, unable to get back in position when out of place too far forward.

    I just wonder how signing a new contract extension can make him faster?

    1. It won’t. Arsenal are banking on his potential as an offensive piece of the jigsaw in the same vein as the likes of Carrick, Busquets or Xabi Alonso.

    2. His lack of pace is bit overstated, this would be much less of a problem if he was positionally sound. I find more worrying his lack in technique, his short pass completion is testament to that. He’s painfully one-footed and can’t dribble. That will continue to limit him.

      1. Good comment, I agree. Needs to learn to play with composure under pressure, but he’s still young for a DM.

        1. A good comparison would maybe be Ever Banega at Valencia and Sevilla, maybe he can be that for us. But I mean, we’re stuck with him and I’ll certainly root for him to improve along with the rest of the team, but I my suspicion is he won’t ever be a good fit at Arsenal. My personal best case scenario is he’ll continue his improved form and we can recover maybe somewhat like 25 or 30m from West Ham or something in the future when his reputation has recovered.

          1. I see a higher ceiling for him than that. With a better tactical structure around him and a system that plays to his strengths more I believe he can be one of the premier deep central midfielders in the game, and he can play well into his 30’s. I would draw a closer parallel with someone like Carrick, who we now remember as a venerable archdeacon of composed metronomic passing but who in his youth was much more dynamic and creative.

  17. Clearly, on the evidence of this World Cup so far, we have nothing to fear from VAR.

    Bring it on. Every competitive match in the European leagues, please. Past time.

  18. I think that’s a bit over the top. if we’re talking about impressive touches, Isco was head and shoulders above his more illustrious club mate. absolutely brilliant on the ball all game long. sure, Ronaldo was good, but people all-too-typically going over the top based on the big headline that he scored a hat trick, even though only the third goal was impressive. and he didn’t do much–especially as the game wore on–other than the goals.

    here’s a question to ask yourself: if Ronaldo hadn’t scored that (admittedly brilliant, though I think the foul was a bit soft/daft) free kick in virtually the last minute, would anyone really be saying what a brilliant performance he had? lazy/ignorant people who just look at who scored maybe (“Ronaldo got two? then he must have been amazing!”). I suspect no one else would, including yourself. the free kick obviously swings things significantly, but that alone doesn’t make it an “another level” sort of performance. If anything, much of Spain’s approach play was “another level”. if they hadn’t gotten comfortable/arrogant in the last 15 minutes and started to just run down the clock playing keep ball (plus taken Costa off) they were good for another goal at least.

    1. posted in the wrong spot: meant to be a reply to Doc’s comment about Ronaldo, obviously.

    2. I thought Ronaldo was clearly playing with inferior mates but still managed to impact the game far more than Isco (who I like. See above for my plug to play him over costa as a false 9). He made more of fewer opportunities and almost every time he made something happen. I’m far from his biggest fan but I can recognize greatness and that performance was great.

      1. he was certainly effective: he scored three times, so it’s hard to argue with that. but the first was a soft (though just about legit) pen from a daft foul, despatched very well but hardly won by any amazing skill; the second was a completely ordinary shot that one of the best keepers in the world made a horrific error on. other than those two moments, I didn’t see him do much of note (no doubt a few nice other touches/runs) until he won (another pretty soft foul) and then scored that glorious free kick.

        but aside from that free kick, I’m struggling to think of a single other thing he did that deserves to be called “great”. you compared him to Lebron James for crying out loud! I just don’t see it, and I know it’s all a matter of opinion so I’m not meaning to attack you for yours, but I get annoyed at this rush to give these guys (the handful of “big names”) credit for every little thing on a football pitch. the hype is just silly. Ronaldo has rarely been the dominant, consistently match-defining player in any of Madrid’s last three CL runs. sure at times he’s been that guy (e.g. the amazing overhead kick this year) but the way people give him credit for those wins (to say nothing of the Portugal Euro win, when they were more than a bit lucky, and he was injured!), you’d think he was pulling out Lebron-level performances in practically every match. He’s won the last 2 ballon d’ors pretty much exclusively off the back of those team wins, even though over the course of either of those calendar years, I think you’d really struggle to make a cogent argument that he was the best player in the world based on the average level of his performances. but there you go: the world isn’t fair, I guess. I don’t know why I keep letting it bother me.

        PS I think we shouldn’t understate the strength of Portugal’s team either. They’ve got a lot of the brightest young talent in Europe, but people act like they’re a one man team because (a) such is the nature of Ronaldo’s ridiculous celebrity, and (b) the coach has them playing in an extremely craven manner which means some very good attacking and midfield players are rarely allowed to fully express themselves. Spain is better than Portugal, but this was hardly an Iceland-Argentina moment.

        PPS The point about Isco was simply in terms of his ridiculously awesome ball skills. And maybe Ronaldo impacted the game far more (harder thing to measure than it might seem), but when Ronaldo received the ball he typically had a lot fewer opponent defenders between him and their goal than Isco faced when he received the ball, due to Portugal’s much more cautious approach. Isco’s play under often significant pressure was a joy to watch.

        1. that last comment I wrote was pretty obviously a bit of personal therapy (even more than my usual posts!) so apologies to anyone who actually suffered through reading all of it and no worries if everyone else thinks I’m full of cr*p.
          just so annoyed to the point of nausea with everything about CRonaldo and the media’s coverage of him, both on and off the pitch.

          1. I think the days of Ronaldo carrying a team like Portugal are gone (did he ever do it?) That works out better for them. I think they’d have lost the Euro final if Ronaldo hadn’t got injured. Argentina might play better too if they didn’t have Messi.

            But against Spain, I think Ronaldo succeeded because he wasn’t trying to be flashy. He put himself in the right spots, made the runs, didn’t complain when his teammates didn’t look for him, was even back defending. And on top of that he scored that free kick with the pressure on. Football is more a team game than basketball, so I understand Doc’s LeBron reference. In the context of that game, Ronaldo was great.

          2. And when I say football is more a team game, I mean it’s more difficult for one player to just take over the game.

          3. Totally agree, Shard. He let the game come to him and that’s what allowed him to be great in that game. Portugal always floundered when he tried to be the hero, but in this game he was able to be the hero without trying to hog the spotlight.

            PFO, I don’t mind that you see it that way. I felt similarly toward one Lebron James after he knocked out my Celtics this year. Once the pain wore off though I could appreciate him trying to take on that team full of generational talent without the matching supporting cast, and I saw the same type of transcendent talent from Cristiano against Spain. That was probably the first time I could say that about him. Portugal is a strong team but their overall talent doesn’t compare to Spain’s.

          4. I like Isco. It’s just hard for me to put him on the same plane given who his mates are and how much they possessed the ball. I thought he was good but not particularly incisive or decisive. Spain scored in that game thanks to bully ball from Diego off a long clearance with a questionable foul on the defender in the process, a set piece in which Busquets won a header at the far post, and a corker of a shot from their right back from 20 meters off of a clearance. Not exactly the blueprint for Spain, don’t you agree? When you possess the ball >60% like they did, you expect some chances to come from all that passing. They really didn’t. Their goals came from physically dominating in two duels plus a low percentage long range shot from a defender. That’s why I’m not about to elevate Isco’s performance that high. Yes, he had a great shot from outside the box, but again, that’s not exactly breaking the defense down.

            Last thought on Ronaldo: Forget the goals. Go back and look at some of his touches in open play, under pressure, that set his team free to counter attack, particularly in the first half. Look at the way he made up ground on some of those same counters to put the pressure on (40km/h!) and the way he lays it on a plate for his striker who really should’ve scored. Look at how he defended his own penalty box in the second half. Look at how simple he kept his game, how he didn’t try to take on the world but involved his teammates because he knew that would lead to a much better overall performance. I saw LBJ do the same things with a limited Cavs team until they ran into a buzzsaw. And with that, I’m out on that topic 🙂

          5. On a slight tangent, I love how Isco’s dribbling posture how his upper body is absolöutely stright while he take shis little touches.

  19. Pity about the Celtics Doc. They almost managed it without two all-stars. I wonder where LeBron ends up next. Some rumours around LA to link up with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Though it would take a lot of maneuvering for that to happen. LeBron has history with that though (and one of the reasons I don’t like him despite his greatness) Or will he stay in the East and go to Philly?

    Next year might see a more competitive NBA though with Philly and Boston in the East, who knows how the Wizards and Toronto react. And in the West, the Warriors will have to face the prospect of burnout, and impending issues of free agency and paying Klay and Green if Durant extends.

    1. Man, the NBA is nuts right now. I like the C’s next year a lot but with Ainge who knows what will happen? Maybe the right move is to stay pat, bring back Heyward and Kyrie; who can beat them in the East? And in the finals, will the Warriors stay hungry enough? But Lebron holds the keys. No matter where he lands, if it’s in the East, that team is automatically going to be a favorite to go to the finals and you know James won’t just join a team without at least 1, if not 2 other All stars. Maybe even Boston! It’s craziness, I tell ya.

      1. There was a piece in The Ringer that suggested Boston as a destination with a package of either Hayward or Kyrie leaving to make space. It made the case very plausibly how that could work. That would truly be outrageous.

        1. Yup, I saw that too. I feel conflicted about a trade like that though (or a similar trade for Kawhi). I mean, LBJ is amazing but I want to see this Boston team keep growing up together and realize that potential together, and, eventually, beat Lebron together. I think they can do it.

          1. Locally, here in Houston?
            James in town last week interviewing private schools.
            LBJ’s BFF Chris Paul sold his home in N. Houston and relocated to one closer to one of those schools. Paul recently selling his LA home.

            James and Paul aren’t wasting time doing these things to mislead the press. Or to embarrass the Akron newspaper writer that started a week-long rumor about James not liking Houston.

            Breaking up the Rockets core is a possibility (top 9 minus Harden and Capela are late-20s/early-30s)– Gordon and Tucker are marketable– and Ariza wants 3x the FA money (GM Daryl) Morey will give.

            Only one stumbling block — Ryan Anderson’s huge/bad contract. Supposedly Morey will find a creative way out of that.


          2. I think it would be a mistake for Boston to break this team up to build around James. Yes I know, how do you say no to LeBron, but I reckon it’ll damage their identity. It’ll definitely be a betrayal of Kyrie (though that’s not that big a deal ultimately)

            Yes, Houston could work if they can work the salaries. (I can never do all the calculations required for this in the NBA. I don’t even understand the rules) LA could be an option. Philly and Boston will be interested.

            The Kawhi thing could also be interesting. He apparently wants to go to LA (Lakers or Clippers) as does Paul George. What do the Spurs want in exchange? Boston to send some picks and Kyrie and Hayward/Brown their way for Leonard and add LeBron? (Again not sure of salaries etc) Man.. Leonard, LeBron, Tatum and Hayward with Rozier would make for a great matchup with Golden State. Ok, I know I said it would be a mistake, but I kind of want this to happen now.

          3. If I’m Ainge, I’m staying out of the Kawhi deal except to drive up the price for other teams. It doesn’t make sense for Boston, a team that’s already stocked with great wings, to give up a guy like Jaylen Brown who is giving you great play on both ends on a rookie deal to end up with anything less than a sure thing. Yes, healthy Kawhi is absolutely a dream player for Stevens, no doubt, but he didn’t play at all last season and does anybody know if we can count on him staying healthy? Plus, you only get him for one season, so the only way I’m giving up big assets for him is if a) I get assurances from an independent 3rd party over his durability and b) I get his word in writing that he will sign a long term deal with us. From what I’ve read about that quadriceps tendinopathy, its flared up in both legs and has been bad enough to keep him out all season, plus bad enough to cause a rift with probably the most stable and best run franchise in the NBA. So, for me, Kawhi is a risk I can’t afford to take. And why would I blow up a team that’s already supposed to be a contender to get him?

          4. Spurs wanted Kawhi to stay, and probably were open to offering him the supermax for it? I get the worries about contrqct length. It was just a bit of wishful thinking. Just something that would be fun. But I like the Boston team as is. I don’t think they need to do anything other than keep building. LeBron and Warriors can’t go on forever, and the Celtics are close.

  20. My frustration with Granit reached critical mass and i was excited at the prospect of a clearout this summer which i was sure wpuld have included him.

    He always seemed like genuine pro who worked hard for the team. I just thought he was out of his depth in the midfield of premier league games.

    Very happy to be wiping the slate clean with the new management appt and seeing how these players arw developed. I understand as a fan i am typically more trigger happy and ruthless when it comes to the careers of men i will never meet, nor see in training week in week out.

  21. Joel Campbell’s fall from grace is complete. Not starting for his country and not even the first one off the bench when they need a goal. So sad.

    1. He finally does come on, gets put through on goal, and the defender outpaces him so much that he doesn’t even get a shot away…

      1. He spent a lot of the season injured. I don’t think he’s anywhere near his peak fitness.

  22. DR. GOONER
    Spot on about Ronaldo and the game itself.
    There’s only one thing I would disagree with you on : “ I’m far from his biggest fan”, you say……., actually, I can’t stand the guy.
    Everything about him rubs me the wrong way but he did have a great game.

    Also, out of six pens taken thus far his was the only one one can discribe as unstoppable. Better than Griezmann’s because it curled away from the keeper, and definitely better than Modric and Jedinak pens who got lucky that keepers went the wrong way.

    If one doesn’t think there’s a lot of pressure taking one on this stage just ask my favorite player Messi who’s effort was simply pathetic.

  23. Seems to me that Mesut hasn’t regained full fitness after his injuries, but it’s a sign of his huge importance to Germany that they’re playing him. He’ll probably be subbed before the game ends, but that won’t be down to having a bad game.

    Seems I was wrong to doubt you on those last two league games, Mesut.

    Oh, btw, seems you’ll soon get your wish to wear the Number 10 shirt at Arsenal, if reports yesterday and today are to be believed.

    Previously worn by luminaries such as Bergkamp…. and Gallas 🙂

  24. Suicidally high line from Germany, even with Boateng and Hummels being two of the fastest CBs in the world.

    Deserved from Mexico. At the fourth or so time of asking.

    1. sorry, brother. those two have never been the fastest cbs in the world, especially hummels who’s always been hella-slow.

  25. Wow, this Germany game! I feel like I’m watching Arsenal, and not in a good way… they commit numbers, they don’t look like scoring, turn it over and are left suicidally exposed. I lost count of the great situations for Mexico before they finally scored one. Ze Chormans need more athleticism in the team and far more exuberance in their pressing in forward areas. Mexico’s midfielders are quicker to every loose ball right now and are deservedly in the lead.

    1. That’s a terribly one-eyed view.

      Here’s another. Mexico are playing rather well. Playing them off the park, and murdering them on the counter.

      1. I won’t hide that I support Die Mannschaft 🙂

        But very impressed with El Tri.

    2. That Khdeira-Kroos pairing is getting maimed on the counter. They badly need someone who can cover that ground and close those angles.

      Great play by Mexico though!

      1. It’s the frickin’ high line!

        Mexico is going for pace, and it’s working (halftime post)

  26. Germany looking old, slow, and fearing even the slightest contact– and this ref isn’t calling any of Mexico’s fouling.

    Some body better adapt.
    Might need to go Plan B over the top– with Mario Gomez.


  27. You couldn’t possibly mistake Ze Germans for Arsenal doc, Ozil wouldn’t be tracking back that deep on that goal in the Arsenal shirt. Not when Wenger was in charge anyway.

    I really like the Iranian referee and the way he’s calling the game.
    Who said refs need to be from major European leagues to stand up to these players

      1. I was only half-kidding about that.
        Love him hate him you pretty much get the same thing from Ozil no matter what shirt he’s wearing.

        1. Man, I don’t want to be a hater but Ozil is increasingly seeming anachronistic. Low basically had him parked at the right elbow just bending cross after cross and playing little slide passes down the line. No movement from him at all, he just hits the pass and stands back to admire his handiwork. Then he’s basically a sitting duck when the ball gets turned over, if he even bothers to run back. Four years ago he was stationed on the left wing and was hitting cutbacks from there and at least managed to remain inconspicuous, doing his typical “you don’t see me but I’m running this game” stuff, but in this game, maybe because I was always looking for him, his passivity stood out like a sore thumb in contrast to Mexico’s buzzing intensity. He was still Germany’s creative hub but that’s just not enough in this day and age, you have to play multiple roles and in both phases.

  28. The game so far (halftime) is 90% about pace on the counter.

    Not the ref, not fouling, not Germany.

    Mexico actually came to the party, and are not playing to Germany’s reputation. They should have been at least two up.

    1. Thus the ‘old, slow’ part.
      And– giving away possession top of the box– fueling the counters.

      Here’s a 1st-half heat map:

      Unless Germany figure out they have to go over– to get shots– to prevent the quick counters? Then yeah, it is– and will be– about pace on the counter.

      Will say this though– that Mexico have looked like a very routine club all Spring– against the likes of Wales, Scotland, Croatia, and Denmark. See if they have the stamina to close this out.


      1. Mexico lost their thrust after subbing Vela off. Germany is there for the taking, but Osorio goes conservative with that sub and invites the pressure with Mexico flagging, and now slows it down even more with Rafa Marquez.

        1. Richly deserved win for Mexico!!

          Germany have some soul searching to do. There is more than a flavor of France from 2002, another heavyweight former champion slain by “lesser” teams (who can forget Papa Bouba Diop and co?). Some players past their prime, many not able to raise their intensity to the required levels, legs just not sprightly enough, more than a hint of entitlement about them. That said, I think they’ll make it out of this weak group but on this evidence, I can no longer view them as the favorites.

  29. Julian Draxler is the most one-footed, chocolate legged left winger since… Ashley Young.

    Pass. Not for me, not for Arsenal, please.

    I want to hear some Mexico praise on this thread, please. Germany didn’t lose it. Mexico won it, and should have done so by three.

    1. You won’t hear much argument from me.
      Mexico was pretty impressive for a bunch of rapists, drug dealers, and some of them also good people 🙂

    2. I never understood the big deal people said Draxler was.
      For my money Sane over Draxler all day long.
      I’m still scratching my head over that selection on loew’s part.

  30. A first game loss isn’t necessarily terminal. But everyone now possesses the blueprint on how to beat a slow German side. Pace on the counter. Fair to say that they handled that tactic horribly.

  31. Note Claude– that Germany did start crossing from wide over the top– which provided a few opportunities– and killed Mexico’s countering. Had Gomez been brought on at 60′ instead of 80′– a draw might have been in the offing.

    No Germany fan here– just a need to point out how poorly Low mismanaged his talent for 80 minutes. Pretty arrogant, really.


    1. I bet he doesn’t try that Kroos-Khedira axis again. More youth, more intensity required.

  32. Time for a good look at our old man… 🙂

    Happy grandfathers’s day, Stephan

    1. He doesn’t look his age, I don’t think. Did you see Kolarov today? He’s two years younger but looks 10 years older. Still has a great left foot though.

      I’m extremely impressed with the Swiss tactical setup. Their rotations are on point, their spacing is precise, and they have a clear plan for how to deal with Neymar. I like the look of their CB’s as well, good individual players both.

      1. Aren’t coaching and meticulous tactical planning wonderful?

        Can’t wait for the Emery era.

  33. Licht is a good signing.

    Well done the Swiss. I am happy Brazil didn’t win. I dislike Neymar, and Brazil didn’t excite anyway. What was the point of taking off Casemiro for Fernandinho? Too defensive and not enough invention. Good goal from Coutinho though.

  34. If Neymar played forArsenal wouldn’t you be talking about how the Swiss cheated , rotational fouling, ref failing at their job and all that?

    I think Casemiro was on a yellow.

    1. Yeah probably. I’m not sure how many of the fouls deserved yellows in isolation and didn’t get them but they were taking turns to foul him. Rotational fouling is a b**** (but so is Neymar 🙂 )

      Since you always want to seemingly show up my hypocrisy, you should understand that a) I embrace my bias and b) I stand by the conclusions against the backdrop of Arsenal very consistently being on the bad end of ref decisions. Some of them not even biased but pure cheating.

      1. Ha ha ,
        Nothing personal I promise,
        It’s just very entertaining to see someone willing to suspend their lofty ideas of fairness and what’s wrong with the sport in general I.e. thugs and less skillful players using illegal means to stop better players from playing, unless the players affected by these actions are less likable or as you say b….s

        1. You have weird fetishes man. And you mischaracterise someone else’s arguments to match them.

          If Brazil and Neymar were constantly getting screwed then it would bother me. If they were blatantly cheated I would even switch loyalties midway and want them to win. But I have relatively little at stake here except having a good time and carrying little personal grudges. So excuse me for not living up to those ideals enough to satisfy your exacting standards of moral superiority.

          1. I do have a fetish or two but this isn’t quite the forum to discuss them, trust me 🙂

            Do I really mischaracterise your position though?
            You say, sure, Neymar is being targeted by rotational fouling which is a b****, but that’s ok because so is he.
            Maybe I’m just a bit thick but it seems a pretty straight forward logic to follow here.

            I’m not his fan by any stretch of imagination but he’s clearly being kicked to pieces by every team, club and country and I find it ironic an Arsenal fan who’s made it his blogosphere career crusading against this sort of conduct where Arsenal are concerned, would find it irrelevant in his case.
            That’s all.

          2. “but he’s clearly being kicked to pieces by every team, club and country”

            If this were something that I had seen to be true, it would bug me no end. The thing is I don’t watch Neymar play very often. It is irrelevant to me because of that. I didn’t start watching Arsenal and from day 1 say oh the refs hate us. Not even after Game 50, not after Sam Allardyce, and not even after Diaby and Eduardo had their legs broken. I gradually got there because of what I saw. So yes, I take it as fact that we don’t get calls. And the ones we do get do not balance out or even come close. So yeah, that’s the reason for my blogosphere crusade if you like. Because it is an ever present fact that takes away my enjoyment of the game.

            The fact that I take up a cause that bothers me, doesn’t mean I have to take up every cause (regardless of merit). To argue or imply that one decision detracts from the legitimacy of the other is ridiculous.

            And in case you haven’t noticed, I talk about other things when it comes to Arsenal too. You felt obliged to bring up the fouls on Neymar, why exactly? Only because you get your kicks from indicating you stand above on some imagined scale of unbiasedness. That’s how you get your blogosphere kicks. At least take up a non derivative football crusade Tom.

  35. Loving this World Cup, with the stunningly beautiful Latino women supporters, excellent (so far) refereeing, underdogs winning or drawing. Good chance of Brazil meeting Germany in the round of sixteen.
    It was bit odd seeing the Saudi women supporters in full cover up & grouped together, while Egyptian, Moroccan & Iranians were mixed in with the men & in normal sporting match going gear (looking terrific) while the Saudi prince singled out three players who will be ‘punished’.
    The organisation so far seems spot on and with no incidents, but that could change tomorrow with England’s supporters on the streets.

  36. ‘Rotational fouling’ is one of those things that found its way into football conversations and make you sound football erudite, but doesn’t actually mean much.

    He turned a Swiss midfielder and had a clear run into the D, and the defender tugged him back. He wasn’t thinking, in that moment, “it’s Lichtsteiner’s turn to foul him.” Neymar was near to him, and he did what it took to stop him.

    Xhaka escaped yellow for a similarly flagrant tug. And speaking of the much-discussed Xhaka, the thing that frustrates me most about him is his propensity for dumb fouling. The other guy fouled Neymar in a position of real danger. Xhaka didn’t. He has a sly, tuggy, niggly side to his game that I don’t like. And he’s not even as claver as a Franco Baresi to disguise it.

    Xhaka had a decent game today, because Brazil didn’t press him. He’s not going to get that time and space in the EPL, although he remains a good player.
    He brings defensive intelligence, organisation, anticipation. And he’s no crock either. Let’s give the man a chance.

    1. I liked the Licht foul on Neymar. Thats the sort of know how that weve lacked since Arteta maybe. He also went down with ‘injury’ to buy his side some time. Tom will just call me a hypocrite but I think we need that sometimes.

      Yeah, Xhaka is not sly or sneaky at all and you’re right. He makes stupid fouls and he’s blatant about it. I think xhaka needs to play deeper in a 433 to be truly effective. In time I think he’ll learn to be quicker on the ball. I noticed last season that he was trying to improve there too.

      1. Have to admit to a bias in wanting Licht to do well, and he didn’t disappoint me. He played against the best full-back in football, and played him to a draw, I thought. Marcelo was not allowed the kind of marauding freedom that he enjoys. Plus Coutinho and Neymar played on his side of the field, and indeed, the buildup for Coutinho’s goal came from the Swiss right. But their whole right side, including the captain, did a great job containing Brazil’s attacking might.

    2. “‘Rotational fouling’ is one of those things that found its way into football conversations and make you sound football erudite, but doesn’t actually mean much.“
      Except that it does.

      Hazard was brought down four times by four different United players in the first 26 minutes of their FA Cup clash in 2017 and when Ander Herrera fouled him just seconds after Oliver had warned the United captain he would take action, what was Herrera’s protestation based on when he got his matching orders?
      That this was his first foul on Hazard in the game.

      I know you have somewhat ambivalent opinion of Mourinho but if you don’t think United’s treatment of Hazard was preordained by Jose than I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

      1. It totally exists and it’s totally cynical. But do you think that’s what the Swiss did?

        1. I don’t know doc, 10 fouls on Neymar, second most ever in the World Cup, you tell me.

          1. That is a lot of fouls. But does that mean they were cynically going after him? Alternate explanation: Neymar kept trying to dribble the whole team and by the end that was the only way they could stop him. But how can we tell the difference between those two theories? Well, for one thing, if there is rotational fouling I would expect that to be in a predictable pattern, for example it would happen primarily in the opposition’s half to prevent play from building up and it would involve the same set of players from start to finish. Whereas, a player who just keeps trying dribble after dribble would be fouled in the same areas and largely by the same players. Seems logical.

            According to Whoscored, There were 19 fouls called against the Swiss but only 4 of those were in the first half, so ~80% of all their fouls were in the second half. The fouls also clustered to the left wing where Neymar spent most of his time and were committed mostly by players whose natural position is on that wing: Lang, Lichtsteiner and Dzemali. Lang’s 3 fouls all came after he replaced Lichtsteiner, who only fouled Neymar the one time when he was booked. My theory is that the Swiss defense lost its way a bit after losing the experience and talent of Behrami (who by the way won 6! tackles against just 2 fouls despite marking Neymar all day) and Lichsteiner on that flank, and they compensated in what way they could to Neymar trying to take on the world by himself (and still won 8 dribbles).

            Well what do you say, did I convince you?

      2. Fair points, Tom. But players with skill on the dribble take on several players, and so potentially could be the object of fouling by a number of players… any one of the several that they tried to take on. In this case, it didn’t look to me as if the Swiss took turns fouling Neymar. Refs aren’t dim. If a player is being targeted, and it happens, they can and do give cards, regardless of whether it’s a first infraction.

        I think that Doc, below, is spot on.

  37. I agree with claude, I didn’t see rotational fouling from the Swiss at all. I didn’t think their setup was cynical, but it was immaculately organized and everyone knew their roles. Neymar was actually being marked out of the game for large stretches by Valon Behrami, so that every time he got on the ball, Behrami was on him in a flash before he could gather a head of steam and then teammates like Lichtsteiner closed off the passing angles. Behrami won a fair share of those duels cleanly, fouled him a few times, but I don’t think he was trying to be cynical and Neymar also rolled around in paroxysms of pain at the slightest contact. I saw a good contest with both players doing their utmost to win. Behrami eventually had to be substituted because he is 33 and that’s when Neymar started to find more openings.

    1. Behrami’s positioning was fascinating to watch, BTW. He played as a 3rd CB most of the time but roamed around midfield finding Neymar while Brazil tried to build from the back, and even joined the forwards in pressing high when the opposing defenders had it. And it never looked like the Swiss defense was unbalanced. I’ve never quite seen anything like that before and Neymar never really came to grips with it. Surprisingly, he couldn’t even beat Behrami for pace and even if he did, Schar and Lichtsteiner closed the door on him. It was a clinic in defensive football, the good kind.

      1. Doc–
        I’ll ‘see’ what you stated earlier upthread regarding the heatmap, and the defensive players involved.

        And ‘raise’ you Neymar’s ego.

        Not a lot different than when Arsenal’s attack would defer to Sanchez. In giving him the ball in that 20% rectangle of the pitch– and just get out of his way. That was IMO, part of why Marcelo had less influence than expected.

        So much attacking talent on that club– subjugating itself to a player– who only wants to supplant Pele.


        1. Yes, it’s the same Ronaldo and Messi thing. It makes the team less effective. Not necessarily even because they are selfish (Neymar is) but because the rest of the team foregoes taking the initiative.

    2. “Behrami eventually had to be substituted because he is 33 and that’s when Neymar started to find more openings.”

      Or perhaps he was only substituted because he had just picked up a yellow for a foul on Neymar on 70 minutes.

      You could tell how surprised he was at getting the hook because he was having a great game.

      Licht also had a good game but after his yellow, again, against Neymar, you would be hard pressed to see him near the Brazilian again.

      But hey, maybe it was just smart game management and not much more, it’s possible.
      My original point was more in a broader context of Neymar getting the rough treatment in general and not perhaps specifically just by the Swiss today.


      1. Oh so it wasn’t even about this game. The game I commented on. Just that I should feel upset on Neymar’s behalf in general. Great.

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