Confederations Cup winners and losers

The following article was published in the Irish Examiner following Germany’s 1-0 win over Chile in the 2017 Confederations Cup decider in Russia. Published Mon July 3rd 2017. – Enjoy, Ger McCarthy.

IrishExaminer

 

WINNERS

Germany’s conveyor belt of talent

Two statistics dominated social media following Germany’s Confederations Cup final victory over Chile last night. First, the average age of Joachim Low’s starting team was 24 years and 244 days. Second and in close comparison, the German’s recent U21 European Championship final winning side’s average was 22 years and 275 days, underlining the view that a potentially dominant young squad is evolving following on from the 2014 World Cup winners’ triumph in Brazil.

 

Chilean fire

Although they came up short in the decider, Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Chilean side lit up this summer’s pre-World Cup tournament with their intricate passing, rapier-like counter-attacking and sometimes fiery reactions to match officials. 2015 and 2016 Copa America successes were built around the combined talents of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas but an ageing Chile squad possesses enough bite to make an impact in Russia once again next year.

 

Ronaldo

The conclusion to one of the most remarkable seasons in Cristiano Ronaldo’s distinguished career did not include a Confederations Cup medal. Instead, the Portuguese international had to be content with La Liga, Champions League, World Club Championship and European Championship successes plus the Ballon d’Or.Ronaldo still had time to help Portugal to a third-place finish in Russia before jetting off to the United States to greet the arrival of his new-born twins.

 

CastletownCeltic

LOSERS

The Russian national team

Despite running a well organised tournament, a 2-0 victory over New Zealand is all Russia’s international team had to show during an otherwise uninspiring Confederations Cup. Add to that, an ongoing FIFA investigation into allegations that Russia’s entire squad were doping at the 2014 World Cup and next year’s showpiece global event cannot come quickly enough for the host nation.

 

VAR confusion

The decision to trial FIFA’s video assistant referee technology at the Confederations Cup led to many confusing moments. Giving a referee the option to consult a VAR official or look at footage of an incident on a screen on the side of the pitch makes perfect sense, in theory. Yet, the long delays and inability of supporters or TV viewers to understand what’s going on during the decision-making process has instead, painted VAR in a negative light.

Europa League Final – Lessons Learned

The following articles were published in the Irish Examiner before and after Manchester United’s Europa League final 2-0 victory over Ajax in Stockholm. – Enjoy, Ger McCarthy.

IrishExaminer

PRE-MATCH: Three Key Battles

Davy Klassen v Paul Pogba

18 goals in all competitions underline Davy Klassen’s threat to United’s rearguard at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. The 24-year-old captained the Dutch side to second place in the Eredivisie, excelling in his attacking midfield role.

If fully fit, Paul Pogba is expected to feature in Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up having returned to action following a five-game absence against Crystal Palace last weekend. Tonight’s Europa League final represents an opportunity for Pogba to justify his world record transfer by nullifying Klassen’s influence and adding to his tally of 5 goals for the 2016-17’s campaign.

 

Kasper Dolberg v Chris Smalling or Phil Jones

One of Jose Mourinho’s biggest selection calls is whether Chris Smalling or Phil Jones will start in United’s defence and replace the suspended Eric Bailly. Neither Smalling nor Jones have endeared themselves to United’s manager following lengthy spells in the treatment room but whoever is called up faces an onerous task in marking Kasper Dolberg.

The 19-year-old Ajax striker has found the net 22 times for his club and attracted interest from Europe’s top clubs ahead of expected summer bids. Dolberg, a Dane, is the youngest non-Dutch player to score a hat-trick for Ajax and his goals were pivotal in helping his side overcome Lyon in the semi-finals.

 

Davinson Sanchez v Marcus Rashford

Ajax’s giant Colombian central defender Davinson Sanchez is likely to move on to pastures new following the Europa League decider. Coveted by Chelsea and Barcelona, Sanchez has enjoyed a stellar campaign and will be tasked with quietening United’s main attacking threat, Marcus Rashford.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury opened the door for Rashford to solidify his place in the first eleven and 10 goals in 43 senior appearances suggests the England international will have a big influence on the Europa League final’s outcome.

Europa

Europa League Final – Lessons Learned

It’s only a game

Last Monday’s suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena where 22 people, many of them children, lost their lives meant this year’s Europa League decider was always going to pale into insignificance against the backdrop of such a horrific atrocity.

European Cup final nights are always colourful and sometimes spectacular occasions yet both Manchester United and Ajax’s players and supporters could have been forgiven for not having their minds fully focused at kick-off.

Poignantly, the pre-match minute of silence that burst into a spontaneous crescendo of applause and chanting was an unscripted and beautiful moment.

 

More than a trophy

Jose Mourinho’s decision to take this season’s Europa League seriously, fielding his strongest available team whenever possible, eventually reaped dividends.

The Portuguese manager has often derided the tournament but the importance of winning UEFA’s second most-important club trophy cannot be overstated following United’s victory. No doubt, claiming the only major European title that had previously eluded the Old Trafford club will please United’s fans.

Yet, securing Champions League football, avoiding any decrease in revenues and the possibility of attracting big-name signings are of far greater significance to United’s boardroom heading into next season.

europa

Ajax faces another difficult summer

Irrespective of the outcome, Ajax coach Peter Bosz was destined for a difficult summer in attempting to hold on to some of his club’s prize assets, many of whom did their future prospects no harm in Stockholm.

Despite the defeat, Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez and midfield talisman Davy Klassen can expect calls from Europe’s top agents over the coming weeks.

Thankfully, Ajax has a history of bouncing back from losing their best young players to Europe’s elite clubs and will continue promoting young talent to keep Ajax at the forefront of Dutch and European football.

 

Pogba yet to become United’s most important player

Many column inches were written following Paul Pogba’s move from Juventus back to Manchester United for a world record transfer fee of £89 million in the summer of 2016.

Since then, the French international midfielder has struggled to justify the massive outlay that brought the 24-year-old back to Old Trafford. Pogba may have endured an injury-plagued campaign but in truth, has failed to establish himself as United’s dominant player.

Instead, it is Antonio Valencia, Juan Mata, David de Gea and Ander Herrera who picked up the slack and ensured United claimed two trophies and a Champions League berth.

Champions League Final – Talking Points

Champions League Final – Talking Points

By Ger McCarthy

UCL TRophy

 

Tactics and formations

Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 setup functioned as expected with Sami Khedira starting in the centre of midfield instead of the suspended Xabi Alonso. Alonso’s absence affected the supply-line to the famed front three of Benzema, Ronaldo and Bale who were unable to influence the game in the manner Madrid fans would have hoped for until deep into extra time.

Isco and Marcelo’s arrival sparked a late revival as a tiring Atletico side retreated into defensive mode and the belated arrival of Morata for a hugely disappointing Benzema helped Real Madrid turn defeat into the most amazing of victories.

Atletico Madrid stuck with their favoured 4-4-2 formation throughout the Champions League decider despite the pre-match loss of Turan to injury and Diego Costa before 10 minutes had elapsed. Adrian came on for Costa and seamlessly played up front alongside David Villa at the apex of Atleti’s attack without ever unduly worrying the Real back four.

Raul Garcia slotted into Turan’s position on the right wing before Jose Sosa replaced the midfielder midway through the second period who was on a yellow card and struggling to deal with the increasing influence of Angel Di Maria.

 

Alonso was badly missed

Sami Khedira was asked to step into the centre of the park and replace the suspended Xabi Alonso having only just returned from a long-term injury. The German international picked up a booking, was out-jumped by Godin for the game’s opening goal and failed to make the positive impact Carlo Ancelotti would have hoped for before being called ashore on the hour mark.

Alonso was picked out by Atletico’s players and coach earlier in the season as the Real Madrid player they felt required the most attention. Not Ronaldo, not Gareth Bale or the in-form Angel DiMaria, but Alonso.

The former Liverpool midfielder’s ability to protect his back four as well as maintaining the tempo in midfield permitted the likes of Di Maria, Modric, Ronaldo and Bale to flourish, best exemplified in the two-legged semi-final trouncing of Bayern Munich.

Bottom line is that Madrid badly missed the Spaniard’s influence but deserve huge credit for overcoming the loss of one of their most important players and eventually claiming ‘la decima’.

 

It proved a Costa mistake

Diego Costa lasted all of 9 minutes before having to go off injured begging the question just what was Diego Simeone thinking by starting the Spanish international in the first place?

Costa has been substituted in three previous fixtures, was clearly far from 100% match-fit and ended up costing Atletico a substitution in the biggest game in the club’s history. Although Simeone’s squad is paper-thin compared to their more illustrious rivals the idea that the Argentinean coach had little option but to select a clearly unfit Diego Costa from the start was absurd.

The decision back-fired on the Spanish league champions with Simeone unable to replace a cramping David Villa in extra time and for all the Argentinean’s expertise in guiding Atleti to the La Liga title and a Champions League final, questions will be asked about starting a clearly unfit Costa.

 

Bale’s misses almost proved costly

The former Tottenham Hotspur winger was famed for his ability to gallop away from opposing defences and score important goals whilst plying his trade in the Premier League before securing a lucrative move to the Santiago Bernabeau.

Bale was gifted possession from a wayward Tiago pass after 32 minutes of Saturday night’s Champions League final before accelerating inside a couple of defenders and missing the target with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Granted the close attentions of Tiago and Miranda may well have done enough to put the Welsh international off but on a night of fine margins Bale’s miss ranked as a major turning point, especially with Aletico grabbing the lead three minutes later.

Bale should have done better with two additional opportunities in the 73rd and 78th minutes before the winger rose highest to head home Real’s second and match-winning goal.

 

The importance of set pieces

Uruguayan international Diego Godin took full advantage of Iker Casillas’ unwise decision to come for a Koke corner on 35 minutes. The Spanish international goalkeeper got caught in no man’s land and was unable to prevent Godin’s header from crossing the line.

It wasn’t that surprising to see an opening goal coming from a set-piece considering the lack of space afforded in a crowded midfield area and the safety-first approach of both teams on the most important of nights.

And to underline the importance of set-pieces and corner kicks at the highest level just look at Sergio Ramos’ towering injury-time header to take the final to extra time when Atletico appeared set to win it.

 

Defenders deserve recognition

Sergio Ramos has many detractors and is not afraid to indulge in the ‘dark arts’ when called upon to help his side out of a troublesome situation. Yet the character and determination of the Real Madrid central defender cannot be questioned following his stellar individual performance in Lisbon.

His late equaliser to take the final to extra time along with his boundless energy during a tiring 120 minutes ensured Real Madrid remained in contention right up until the final, final whistle. Ramos has been immense for Ancelotti and Madrid this season and deserves recognition for his performances.

A word too for Diego Godin, whose previous headed effort won La Liga at the Camp Nou only a week before and a superbly timed tackle prevented Isco from equalising with 10 minutes left.

The South American defender is often overlooked when reporting on Atleticos’ star players from this momentous season but Godin more than proved his worth to Diego Simeone this year and especially over the past fortnight.

Follow Ger on Twitter: @germccarthy74