Anti Joga Bonito (Love All Football)

Celebrating club football and shining the light on incompetent and biased journos indulging in stereotyping and negativity.

Tag Archives: Schalke 04

The Spirit of August 29

To paraphrase that much revered sage that was Bill Shankly, why is football so much more important than life and death? Because in a totally irresponsible and careless way we commit our emotions to something which is totally out of our control, that is 11 lads (or usually less if it’s Inter) running after a ball aiming to take it and keep it away from another 11, both groups of which ultimately want to put it in the back of the other ones’ net. Sometimes that will yield incredibly exhilarating outcomes, putting the kind of wind in our sails that defies earthly laws; at other times, it will sink us to the bottom of our self confidence and morale.

For Inter fans (of which I am one), but also all the Inter haters (of which there are many, in Italy and beyond, most of which don’t have the courage to declare themselves openly as such), this week has seemingly stretched the depths of the latter.  The double whammy of a scoreless defeat to Milan in the derby, followed by an even more humiliating drubbing by Champions League first timers Schalke 04, is threatening to put a serious stop to Inter’s confidence and ambitions.

But should we really doubt? Should this moment of doubt and contextual underperformance really rock the foundations of the renaissance of the dream that goes by the name of Leomuntada?

For sure, all is not well in the Inter camp: the last two games have highlighted again the importance of that key quality that the enemies of Inter often point to with feigned outrage as the “joga feio”: defensive robustness. The 7 goals leaked in the last 2 games have indeed exposed a recurring theme of this season, underscored by injuries, that of a certain (i.e. occasional) frailty in Inter’s defense. For these last two games, this should not really be so surprising to any informed observers of the game. Lucio, the current remaining (functioning) pillar of the nerazzurre defense from last season (the other one being Samuel), was absent from both games due to suspension, and a significant portion of the team was fatigued from its international duty commitments. Not as much could be said for either Milan’s or Schalke’s squads.

This is not to take any credit away from the performance of these opponents as indeed congratulations are in order, and especially for Schalke who exhibited the same kind of steel and composure at San Siro as Inter had done in the Allianz Arena two weeks before that. The aim is rather to highlight the specific current main challenging area for Leonardo’s team. The paradox illustrated by the two games that seems to escape most of the critics is that Inter – in terms of the features of its football system – has slipped not because of its supposed main and only quality (i.e. defensive and collective solidity) but rather due to its relative absence, at least in relation to its two winning opponents. If Milan is doing so well this season, it is not so much because of its attacking flair: true they have scored 54 goals so far, but both Inter and Udinese better that with 56 goals so far, and Napoli is not far off with 50.  What is distinguishing Milan this season is their defensive strength, as exemplified by the lowest total of goals conceded at 22, 7 less than the next best Lazio who currently has taken in 29. The point is equally demonstrable on the flip side of the coin, namely the attacking front, as Milan failed to score against Tottenham Spurs over 180 minutes and has therefore found itself out of Europe once again. Inter, on the other hand, scored two brilliant goals on Tuesday, one of which may end up as one of the most spectacular goals of the season (Barça’s second goal against Shakhtar Donetsk, by Daniel Alves, being quite impressive too, by its audacity and elegance of execution).

So this opera is far from over. What the champions must now do is regain their composure at the back and recreate the collective spirit of Nou Camp last April in tandem with the one that enabled them to put 4 past Milan on August 29, 2009. This challenge starts tomorrow against Chievo. For more inspiration, the nerazzurre (and their fans) can help themselves by watching recordings of that inspirational performance, or that of Deportivo la Coruna in April 2004 who scored as many against Milan in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final to see them out of the competition. After all, isn’t Schalke actually called Schalke 04? If that isn’t destiny calling, I don’t know what is.

Initially I was planning to wax lyrical about how Leonardo has been a major contributor and certainly a guiding inspiration for team’s rebound from the profound collective and personal malaise instilled by the faceless and profoundly antihuman régime of the goateed fatso from Anfield. On second thoughts (and I have had time to reflect since Tuesday), I do not feel the need to do that. Just as in January when they had to pick themselves up, these are the defining moments of champions DNA – finding the conviction and the resilience in the face of adversity. And we relish at that. Bring it on.

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Great Week (March 19-20 Weekend Overview)

It’s been a GREAT week in football – it is indeed very rare that things go so well in terms of combined successes of favorite teams:

  1. Inter beat a plucky and very well organized Lecce side who simply refused to go down until the very end and whose only mistake was to allow Pazzo Pazzini a little bit too much space to create the decider. As Leonardo pointed out in the interview after the game, it shows that there are no simple games in the calcio, and certainly none that you can count on winning with a cigarette in the mouth. Inter will regret the fact that Lucio received a yellow card that – added to his collection – will force him to miss the derby with Milan but on the other hand there is much to laud in Chivu’s performance in his original role as central defender. As Milan lost on Saturday away at Palermo, the gap between the two is now -2 points. However it’s getting ever tighter at the top as both Udinese and Napoli, led by the ever inspired Cavani who netted a double, won their games, so there is no room for complacency at the top for anybody.
  2. In Spain, Sevilla grabbed 3 points on the road against Valencia, thanks to a single goal by Rakitic. Coming after the heroic performance and achievement of holding Barcelona at home, this is a very important for Sevilla’s bid to secure a European spot – they are now just 1 point of Espanyol and Atletico who are both on 43 points in 5th and 6th position respectively. The top 3 all won: Real overcome city rivals Atletico by two goals to one, Barcelona managed the same score at home against Getafe, while Villareal’s single goal away at Bilbao proved enough.
  3. In England, Arsenal again dropped 2 points and might have dropped more were it not for a spirited comeback with goals by the brilliant Arshavin and still vibrant Van Persil. Spurs fans in particular will surely have lots of laughs for the next two weeks rewinding over Arsenal’s defense’s latest blunder – more cringe than an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7.

    Another Almunia howler, assisted by Squillaci

    Man U grabbed a point from Bolton in the dying moments of the game through an unexpected rebound ball provoked by Berbatov, while both Chelsea and Liverpool dispatched their opponents Manchester City and Sunderland (respectively) with two goals apiece and a clean sheet. Spurs couldn’t put one past a resurgent West Ham. Fellow bottom tablers Wigan and Wolves both grabbed full 3 points, confirming that the final games will ensure more drama for bottom 8 teams who are within 3 points of each other.

  4. In France, Marseille beat PSG in the not so enticing hexagonal classico that is no more but could have been, thanks to an André Ayew header. Lille is still in the lead thanks to beating Brest away by 2 goals to 1 as well as the tie between aspiring challengers Lyon and Rennes who tied at Gerland. Lens pulled off the surprise of the weekend beating Montpellier away 4 goals to 1, which drew some interesting comments from the ever controversial Lulu Nicolin.
  5. In Germany, 4th placed Bayern bounced back from their defeat to Inter with a victory over Freiburg, while Hamburg fancied themselves a tennis player and slammed Koln by 6-2 to lift their spirits from their defeat against the Bavarians last week-end, with Croatian international Petric providing 3. Leaders Dortmund dropped 2 points in a tie with 5th placed Mainz who thereby confirm their good run, and so Leverkusen’s win over Schalke 04 (with one goal provided by another Swiss player Derdiyok) still gives them some hopes of challenging for the title but it will be tough. Third placed Hannover overcame Hoffenheim.

In addition, there were some super goals this weekend that are definitely worth a mention – see if you can catch them on youtube or wherever else it is you go for your replays:

  • Jelen 1st (and 2nd in fact) with Auxerre against Sochaux: another classic by the always electric Pole (pun intended). Got to see you back in form, Ireneusz.
  • Luis Suarez for Liverpool’s 2nd against Sunderland: glad to see new “conejo” doing so well, even if it is with Liverpool. Mind you, without Stevie G and in black, they’re becoming almost watchable. If they could lose a few more of the less attractive facets brought in by the formerly much celebrated Spaniard with a goatee (notably Carragher. Lucas and possibly Kuyt too), they might actually become sympathetic.
  • Charlie Adam’s free kick for his 2nd against Blackburn on Saturday – class.
  • Gervinho’s goal for Lille’s 2nd against Brest: kind of similar to that scored by Luis Suarez.
  • Chelsea’s 2nd goal by Ramires, against Manchester City: a cheeky entry with the ball through City’s defense, followed by a very confident slot-in to the left. It is great to see the Brazilian finally hailed by Stamford Bridge, he has been one of the most consistent (though admittedly not the brightest) of Chelsea’s players this season, grinding away in midfield like a gremlin that’s just had a swim.  His fellow countryman David Luiz is also doing very well and outshining most of his colleagues.
  • Real Madrid’s goals against Atletico – the 1st by Karim Benzema and the 2nd by Ozil – are both quite nice. Check out also the splendid strike by former Sevillanista Daniel Alves as well as Manu’s goal for Getafe in this summary. By the way, did anyone notice that by the end of the game there were no less than 3 former Sevillanistas on the pitch for Barça at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan last week? Daniel Alves, Seydou Keita and Adriano had all plied their trade in Andalucia before heading north for the big bucks. No wonder I’m feeling a little bitter.
  • Speaking of Udinese, their opener against Catania by the Swiss international Inler will undoubtedly have Swiss fans wondering why the national side cannot manage better results than 0-0 against Malta. A small mention for Roma’s Francesco Totti who pulled off another double, helped with a penalty for his 200th goal in the calcio. No doubt he was motivated by the idea of denying his old enemy Sinisa Mihajlovic the full 3 points; there’s nothing like derby motivation.