Tag Archives: Xabi Alonso

U.S. Men's National Team can't handle Spain

By Melissa Turtinen

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Spain played effortlessly. They moved the ball where they needed to and passes were perfect, and if they weren’t they recovered smoothly not giving the United States Men’s National Team a chance to gain control of the ball.

Spain defeated the USMNT, 4-0, on Saturday and with the chances they had it should have been more. Spain proved that they deserve to be called the best team in the world with their control and perfect ball placement throughout the match.

“Three times now we’ve had a chance to play them and every time, believe me, you walk away incredibly impressed with how good they are,” said Bob Bradley, USMNT manager. “How they’re able to move the ball so intelligently, so skillfully. Just as you’re trying to close them down, the ball is already off and somewhere else. There’s not that many teams in the world that can show you that.”

Spain started the match in complete control. They had chances right away carrying the ball down the sides as the US attempted to clog the middle.

“You try and not let them come right through the center because they are so adept at opening up these little windows and getting people running through and playing balls. Yet, as you try to close that part away they’ve got plan B,” said Bradley.

Spain had a Plan B and it was successful. Spain moved the ball through the USMNT defense with ease. If the middle was crowded they took the ball down the flanks and crossed it in – the clogged middle seemed empty as Spain continuously moved the ball towards the goal.

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USMNT v Spain thoughts

By Kevin Koczwara

First Half Thoughts

Spain won the World Cup in 2010 and Euros in 2008 because it’s one of those rare national teams that works as a unit and is loaded with über-skilled players. The side has a style of play, and all of the players understand how it works. It’s remarkable to see them work as a unit and build the attack from the back while never losing a defensive shape.

The attacking shape Spain has isn’t anything any other team outside of Brazil and the Netherlands — when its best player stop fighting with one another — can play. There is not form or answer. Players keep switching, moving into space, moving out and filling. It’s like a beautiful blob that keeps creating and always looks to go to goal.

For the U.S. Men’s National Team, it needs to tighten up at the back and get the midfield some help. Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones are out numbered and out-classed trying to mark and play against Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets — who’s barely had to do anything — and David Silva in the middle of the field. Santi Cazorla is swapping flanks and opening up space for either Sergio Ramos on the left side or Alvaro Arbeloa on the right to overlap and get in behind the defense.

Spain has also taken advantage of the funny bounce on the grass laid over the turf at Gillette. The ball sits up nicely for an attacker when the ball lands and dies on the sod. Because of this, Spain has sent over a few balls into space and to an attacker making a run because the ball won’t continue to roll or bounce all the way to Tim Howard in goal, instead the ball settles nicely on the foot of an attacker. The U.S.’s high line in the defense isn’t helping either. The high line is allowing space in behind and Tim Ream and Oguchi Onyewu don’t have the pace or the communication, or so it seems, to keep up with the through ball.

Second Half Thoughts

The United States just couldn’t cope in the midfield all game, but it did improve in the second half. Spain’s possession game wears a team out, and it just killed the U.S. Michael Bradley — who came on at half-time — Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan Spector — moving into the midfield after starting at right back — couldn’t swarm the ball or force mistakes with pressure because they were worn out from chasing the game.

Bob Bradley finally felt the need to bring on Clint Dempsey and move Jonathan Spector out of defense and into the midfield in the second half. Things clicked a bit better for the USMNT at that point, but it all didn’t work.

Dempsey playing high in the center of the midfield with Michael Bradley, who also came on at half-time, and Spector behind him gave Dempsey the freedom to open things up and hold the ball for the U.S., something the team lacked in the first half with Agudelo and Altidore up top as neither is particularly adept at brining other players into the game or holding the ball.

Kljestan was also impacted by Dempsey’s arrival and the Fulham player’s ability to get on the ball. Kljestan was almost invisible in the first half (I had to check with reporters around me to make sure he was a second half substitute). Kljestan had some positive moments on the ball when he came back and found some space because Dempsey was able to grab hold of the ball and allow Kljestan time to move into space to receive a pass, which is encouraging for Bob Bradley going into Gold Cup games because Kljestan will give him a positive player who can pass the ball and move in the midfield coming off the bench when something new is needed.

Spector looked more comfortable in the midfield than he did on the right side of the defense. At West Ham, he showed more potential and ability in the midfield as a ball winner who found himself ghosting into the box at the right time. Too bad for him that the depth in the midfield is the one area  the U.S. actually has some. He needs to improve his game at right back, still, or get it back to the level of the Confederations Cup in 2009 — where he was a notable addition and stand-out — to find playing time during the Gold Cup.

Steve Cherundolo seems to be aging backwards and doesn’t look like he’s giving the spot up on the right side of the defense anytime soon, which is good for Bradley because he is short of options there. But the U.S. needs cover for the 32 year old, and if Spector doesn’t pick up his game he might see Eric Lichaj jumping ahead of him, as well as Timmy Chandler — who isn’t on the roster because of fatigue from his club season in Germany.

As for Lichaj, he looked uncomfortable on the left, but he hasn’t been playing there for long and he’s right footed, not an easy transition, especially against the best team in the world. There is still promise for him, though. As a right back, we might be able to see more of his ability to get forward and cross the ball.

The key for the game against Canada will be the U.S. ability to create, and its obvious that Clint Dempsey gives them the best chance at creating through the middle and holding play up. Bradley may look for him to be the catalyst in Detroit, Mich. against Canada in the opener if Landon Donovan has to miss the game because of the illness that kept him out of today’s match with Spain. When Dempsey was on the field, the parts all seemed to move and his skill on the ball allowed other players to find space and get into better spots to receive the ball. Which is something this team sorely needs right now.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesocerguysonline.com.

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Spain arrives in Foxborough

By Kevin Koczwara

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=104087

Some photos from Spain’s practice yesterday, May 2, at the lower practice field at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.  Spain places the USMNT on Saturday, May 4.

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Barcelona Thrash Real Madrid to Take Top Spot in La Liga

The Catalonians weren't disappointed at the Camp Nou with Barcelona's 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid. (Courtesy Aldas Kirvaitis)

By Kevin Koczwara

El Clasico was billed as the Messi and Ronaldo show, but we (the media) should have known games aren’t decided by two players on opposite sides. Nope. Games are decided by teams and the individuals on those teams. Barcelona’s 11 men were superior, far better, than Real Madrid’s. The 5-0 win for the Catalans was as easy as that.

Madrid couldn’t handle Xavi and Andres Iniesta in the middle of the Barcelona midfield, and most teams can’t. The two World Cup winners control tempo, don’t give up the ball and eliminate opposing teams attacking players by not allowing them to ever touch the ball. Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil were lucky to touch the ball in the first half. The only chances for Madrid came when Angel di Maria smashed a shot directly at Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes and at the end of the half when Ronaldo took one of his two free kicks and missed just wide of Valdes’ post. Other than that, it was a forgettable night for Jose Mourinho’s men.

Mourinho and company came into the Camp Nou with a one point lead over Barcelona in the table, and now, they leave with a two-point deficit and a big time humbling.

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Bert van Marwijk Made Right Decision with de Jong

Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong has come under fire after he broke Newcastle United winger Hatem Ben Arfa's leg with a scissor-like challenge over the weekend. Courtesy Paul Blank

By Kevin Koczwara

Nigel de Jong’s tackle on Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa made me cringe. As de Jong slid into his challenge my mind shifted to Stuart Holden. The Netherlands and Manchester City midfielder broke Holden’s leg in a friendly between the United States and Holland on March 3.

Holden nearly missed this summer’s World Cup with the U.S. because he sat out six weeks with a broken leg. He landed on Bradley’s final 23-man roster, but he never saw the field for the Yanks in South Africa.

Xabi Alonso felt de Jong’s pain during the World Cup. He and Holden should head a committee on the Dutch midfielder’s lack of passion and reserve in the middle of the field. Alonso received a Lui Kang-like kick to the chest during the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Alonso continued to play the rest of the match, which Spain won, 1-0, in extra time. de Jong recieved a yellow card from referee Howard Webb for the drop kick. It should have been a red card.

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What The Soccer Guys Are Reading — Sept. 20

Holland international Rafael van der Vaart caught on quick to how important the Tottenham and Arsenal rivalry is to the players and the fans. Courtesy Paul Blank

Sky Sports — Rafael issues Gunners taunt

Tottenham’s new boy Rafael van der Vaart wasted no time in joining in on the Spurs rivalry with Arsenal. The London clubs face off this week in a Carling Cup tie, and van der Vaart already knows the importance of the Spurs and Gunners match. This is for the right to boast about being the better club in the city, something every fan and player wants to be able to do. The Dutchman has issued his warning, calling Spurs “the bigger club,” after Spurs 3-1 win over Wolves on Saturday.

The Guardian — Roma lacking testicular fortitude as press gets under Ranieri’s skin — by Paolo Bandini

Roma was many pundits favorite club to challenge Inter Milan, and even dethrone the five time defending champions. Doesn’t look like Roma will be mounting a surge anytime soon if they continue to play like a bunch of aging stars with no heart. Claudio Ranieri decided to have a temper tantrum this weekend before Roma’s match with Bologne, and it didn’t do him much good because his squad didn’t back up his word. Instead, the team threw away a two goal lead late in the game and is still searching for its first win of the season.

BBC — Berbatov exposes Liverpool decline — by Phil McNulty

The Manchester United and Liverpool rivalry has been well documented, and Sir Alex Fergusson, United’s manager, even went so far as to say that the match-up is the “most important fixture.” Roy Hodgson and Liverpool must not have thought so– except for maybe a few of the players– because the team didn’t really show up until the second half, and even then they just strolled along at a snail’s tempo while United’s Bulgarian hitman, Dimitar Berbatov, was scoring a hat-trick and leading the Red Devils to a 3-2 win over the Reds.

ESPNSoccernet — Back in the big time — by Phil Ball

Xabi Alonso grew up a Real Sociedad fan. He played for the Basque club before being swiped up by Liverpool. He still carries a fan membership card for the club, but now he wears the hated Real Madrid jersey and had to face his old club for the first time this past weekend. Alonso and Madrid got lucky with a 2-1 win. The game should have gone to the hosts and Madrid should have gone home licking their wounds, but Sociedad missed its chances and Madrid made its count. Los Blancos manager Jose Mourinho said this fixture would be Madrid’s toughest of the season as they entered into a hostile stadium against last year’s division two champions, and he was right. It was an impressive performance by the Basque club, but theysquandered too many chances.

Evening Times — No yearning for marquee signings as Anthony Stokes displays his intent… — by Thomas Jordon

Celtic fell behind early to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, but the Hoops latest signing, Anthony Stokes, earned a penalty kick,  Daryl Murphy slotted it home, and scored the game-winning goal as he found himself in the right place at the right time. Stokes wasn’t Neil Lennon’s first choice signing during the transfer window– Lennon was looking to bring in either Robbie Keane or Craig Bellamy, but was unable to. Yet, the Irish International could be a bargain for Celtic and Lennon, and just the type of player the Hoops need to overtake Rangers and claim back the top-spot in the SPL.

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Who Will Win The World Cup?

Courtesy alexloth.com Picasa

By Kevin Koczwara and Ryan Fleming

Ryan and I talked about a lot of stories we could write about who could and who would win the World Cup over the last few months. I have rattled my brain over and over again trying to make arguments for players and teams I like, but only one team stood out from the rest for me — it was almost the new look Brazil team lead by Dunga. Ryan thought about who could win the World Cup, especially on style points — so not the new look Brazil. He kept coming back to a certain color, a certain team that has had bundles of talent, but only one major trophy. Our picks are similar in this way. We each picked a team that has never won a World Cup, but has certainly had the talent to do so. We both picked teams that are about attacking their opponents, not sitting back and waiting. We picked teams that as Americans turn us on to the beautiful game.

Let’s take a look…

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Liverpool Slip (Again) and Madrid Moves Atop

By Kevin Koczwara

Liverpool lost to Wigan this week for the first time in the English Premier League era. It was a sad display from last year’s runner up.With Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham all looking on, they must have been excited to see this uninspired squad.

Liverpool looked flat in their attack. They lacked the finishing touch and didn’t even register a shot on goal.Wigan was playing with 10 men behind the ball, but that didn’t stop Liverpool last year and it doesn’t stop the teams with Champions League aspirations.

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World Cup Preview Pt. 6: Group H

By Kevin Koczwara

This will be the final entry into what was suppose to be a four part series on the group stage of the World Cup, but it has turned into a drawn out 6 part series. After this post I will write up a quick post with all of my predictions for winners of the group stages and let anyone disagree with me.

For this final entry I will talk about Group H — the last group. This may be the easiest group to predict. Continue reading

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A Weekend of Rivalries

By Kevin Koczwara

This weekend was another weekend of big games with top-four implications, fights for first place, and possible relegation for a perennial mid-table team.

There was the Merseyside derby in Liverpool, Everton verse Liverpool, and the ‘El Clasico’ in Spain between La Liga’s giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Both matches are always important to fans of the clubs and the players, and like most years, these derby’s were important for the clubs themselves as they try and wrangle good position in their respected leagues.

Let’s Start in Spain

This isn’t just a game, it is a rivalry steeped in history, politics and features two of the most popular and powerful clubs in the world.

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