Spartak Moscow

Here's how Spartak lined up in the final game of the 2009 season away at Zenit (29/11, with the game ending 2-1 in Zenit's favour).

Later on this evening, Spartak Moscow do battle with Marseille at France’s largest football stadium, the Stade Vélodrome.

After finishing in 2nd place in the 2009 edition of the Russian Premier League, this season – which concludes in a matter of weeks – has been a resounding disappointment for Krasno-belye.

Coach Valeri Karpin has too regularly changed tactics and personnel, and defensive errors have been inexcusably frequent and damaging to the nation’s best supported club.

The squad has a bloated look (a recurring theme as there were 80 players on the books in 2003), although the midfield possesses balance – numerous game-changing magicians, a plethora of wingers and several hardened holding midfielder.

It’s in defence though where Spartak lack real quality and depth, as the centre backs, for starters, are far too gung-ho; easily lured into leaving gaps, and shorn of that canny aggression required to fight at the highest level of club football. Continue reading

Schalke and Magath back for more

How Bayern Munich and Schalke lined-up in the former's 2-0 Super Cup victory recently. Schalke's reticence and aversion to the ball was as rigidly operated as you'd expect from a Magath team. Schalke's walls narrowed the angles, the forwards and Joel Matip penned Bastian Schweinsteiger in a triangular prison.

Schalke’s tactics of score few, concede fewer have led to third and second place domestic finishes in two of the last three seasons, with current coach Felix Magath achieving the latter.

The ruthless disciplinarian is impossible to second-guess, as he’ll relentlessly tinkers tactics and personnel between or during matches, and last season, even removed poor Christoph Moritz 22 minutes after bringing him on in the derby!

Money issues dog the club, affecting transfer policy, budgets, wage payments and the general aura. The club’s Champions League participation this season will bolster the kitty, especially if Schalke progress beyond the group stage.

Balancing Bundesliga and European battles will be tough for the Gelsenkirchen side, regardless of their hefty, youthful squad which has been endowed by the quite astounding acquisition of Raúl.

Save for the ageing Real Madrid legend, strikers are only conspicuous by their absence at the club right now. With Kevin Kurányi lured to Russia, Edu Gonçalves is as senior as the back-up comes. Nevertheless, expect that situation to be remedied imminently. Continue reading

Five lesser known Hungarians

The formations and line-ups for the famous 1953 meeting at Wembley

Following May’s 3-0 defeat to Germany, Hungary terminated the contract of coach Erwin Koeman. The new man, Sándor Egervári, begans his tenure next week with an not particularly highly anticipated fixture against England at Wembley.

For next Wednesday’s fixture, the Dutchman’s successor has picked a squad containing stellar names, newbies and trusted veterans.

Akin to the lack of enthusiasm England’s media, public and managers are giving this tie in the build-up, Egervári has named a suitably unspectacular squad.

Fabio Capello’s players have one eye lingering on the imminent Premier League campaign, while Egervári picked his squad knowing that his nation’s U21 game against Bosnia is of greater importance.

Nevertheless, Football League fans will recognise the likes of Zoltán Gera, Ákos Buzsáky, Gábor Király, Márton Fülöp and Tamás Priskin, all of whom will feature at Wembley.

In order to bolster the casual fan’s knowledge of what other players lie in store for England,  allow me to introduce five players likely to cause problems to the 1966 world champions on Wembley’s woeful turf. Continue reading

Can Barça cater for Keita?

A second-string XI, one which incorporates Keita.

Seydou Keita will never generate the amount of shirt sales his more illustrious colleagues do. The Malian international isn’t just a tidy wave-breaker either, as he does an incredible amount of work off-ball. With Barcelona cavorting in a fluid 4-3-3, penetrative gaps for the opposition to expose often appear.

Keita excels in filling this unglamorous space, preventing oppositional counters, and ensuring the more gifted cogs in Pep Guardiola’s machine stay in the warzone.

The 30-year-old is also the master of surprise; making timed ghosts into the box while Lionel Messi and his width-maintaining flankers stretch the defence and draw two zonal markers apiece.

Keita doesn’t necessarily have to receive the ball on these darts. By dragging the second bank of an opposition’s 4-5-1 even deeper, he allows Xavi to pick passes, or the sanguine Gerard Piqué to stride forward. Continue reading