A goal from David Chukwudi assisted by captain Renle meant that his side secured qualification on the last day. The Italian team lineup caused a lot of talking points as many of their star players were out of position most notably Mammah playing as their 9. This didn’t affect their overall play too much however, as the team played well but Portugal had much more to play for and secured the victory.
Belgium 0 – 0 Croatia
Croatia knew a draw was enough to secure qualification and were laser focused on the task. They employed some Aranye (Sean Dyche) ball by killing the match before it even started. Belgium had numerous chances to score but they blew their opportunities and qualification chances too. Croatia manager, Neto, and team captain , Bare, would all be too pleased as the underdogs of the league had secured a place in the knockouts.
This brings an end to the BlueSteel league, with France, Croatia, Italy, and Portugal all advancing to the semis to see who can emerge victorious as the winners of the entire competition.
A brace from Presley and goals from Iloka and Chibudom were enough to see the game end as a draw. Belgium started the game strongly with an early goal from Presley in the 6th minute. The striker was first to an excellent ball over the top from Buyi and wasted no time hitting it home. Parity was restored for Italy as Iloka finished the ball from a loose ball in the box after a Da-Silva long throw. Belgium piled on the pressure after the goal, and it didn’t take time for them to restore their lead. Promising striker Hafiz and Presley combined nicely at the edge of the box before Hafiz released an excellent through ball to Presley who finished superbly. In the second half, Italy stepped up their game but was unable to convert their chances. In the dying moments of the game, an Iloka freekick nutmegged Iyamu but luckily for the Belgian keeper hit the post. The loose ball was quickly rebounded by Chibudom who wasted no time in firing it into an open net. The game was interesting with both teams having many good spells of footy, but, no team was able to emerge winner at the end of the day.
France 4-0 Portugal
Charis, the BlueSteel’s frontrunner for the golden boot, scores a hattrick to lead France to a 4-0 victory over their rivals, Portugal. The victory all but ensured France’s first-place finish and Italy’s qualification. However, Portugal have their work cut out for them as we move into the final gameweek of the BlueSteel league.
‘Jide scores a stunning goal, but Denrele equalizes late in the game.’ A stunning 40-yard free-kick from Jide and a thunderous outside of the box shot from Denrele leaves both teams searching for their first victory in the competition.
Portugal started the game brightly, looking to win their first game of the competition. They pressed Croatia’s backline into making numerous mistakes, but their own sweeper-keeper, Amako, kept them in the game. He was able to keep his team in the game, making multiple sweeping clearances and saves. A back pass was played to Amako in the first half, but he miskicked the ball. It eventually landed at Elvis Chuk’s feet, but Amako made up for his mistake by beautifully tipping it over the bar. As the half continued, Croatia started to get a better feel of the game. Then in a spectacular turn of events, Croatia scored a wonder goal. Jide took a free-kick from 40 yards out and the ball bouncy nicely for Croatia in front of the Portugal keeper, Jordan, who misjudged the flight of the ball and ended up in the post. After the goal, the Croatia players were oozing with confidence and began to dominate play. Then from a counter, Chukwudi had a golden opportunity but sent the ball over. In the second half, Croatia’s domination grew. There best chance of the game occurred when a through ball split open Portugal defence and fell to Ewo. Ewo then made the right decision and sliced it across the goal for Iyidobi. Iyidobi, doing his best Werner impression, skied the ball over the bar and wasted the best opportunity of the game. After that miss, Portugal players knew they had to step up. Captain Renle then took it upon himself to equalize the game. A long ball over the Croatia defence landed at Fikun who excellently controlled the ball with his chest then laid it off to Denrele. Denrele saw that Amako wasn’t positioned properly in his post and blasted the ball home from 25 yards. He wasted no time in celebrating and ran after the loose ball. It was too little too late for Portugal as both teams settled for a draw.
Other match of the day: France 0-0 Italy
The league leaders, France, were held to a stalemate by one of the leagues meanest defences, Italy. Both keepers were called to action multiple times throughout the game but were able to keep their teams in it. Boy wonder, Makram was impressive this match having 3 key passes, 2 shots and 1 foul against. Zanka also had a free-kick which scratched the top of the crossbar. Charis was frustrated with his lack of chances and got a yellow card. Tomi also put up an impressive display, but he squandered a golden chance by passing to an offside Charis when he was through on goal. Italy also had their own chance with a cross from Cheirika reaching Da Silva, but Anthony tipped it wide. Jakes was almost left red-faced as he almost deflected the ball into his own net. Both captains would be happy to see the game conclude in a draw at the end, since it could have gone any way.
Charis’ brace propelled France to the top of the table with four points. Belgium dominated possession in the first half but failed to create any clear-cut opportunities, owing to Olumide Bajomo’s numerous misplaced passes in the final third. However, Presley’s excellent pressing resulted in him creating a chance out of nothing in the sixth minute, but his shot narrowly missed the mark. ‘
Three minutes later, Charis picked up a loose ball in the middle of the park, made a devastating run down the right-wing, and slid his chance home perfectly. Belgium players protested, mentioning Tomi’s foul on a Belgian player during the build-up to the goal, but referee, Kobi Njoku, had none of it. Fans were in awe of Charis incredible dribbling and blistering speed. Later in the first half, Belgium attempted to smash, but a tactical foul committed by Tomi thwarted their efforts. The referee then brandished Tomi with a yellow card.
The second half was much tighter. France were content to sit back and defend their slim lead. Max-Phil was asleep on the ball when Charis dispossessed him and played an excellent one-two on goal with Makram the wünderkid in the 25th minute. He then slid the ball past the goalkeeper with ease. He dashed over to the fans, who were ecstatic that their hero had propelled them to the top of the standings.
Other match of the day:
Italy 1-0 Croatia A scrappy goal from Iloka playing in the AM position seals a narro win for Italy in their first official bluesteel match.
This was a gloomy match. The players appeared nervous as if they were terrified of playing the first official bluesteel match. The first half was tense, with several passes failing to hit their intended recipients. Charis had the best chance of the half when a mis-kick fell to his feet, but he squandered the opportunity wide. The second half was a lot more exciting, and France started to take control of the game. Despite dominating the second half, they were unable to break down a tenacious Croatian defence. Charis had the best chance of the game when he picked up a loose ball and fired the ball at Amako, but Amako brilliantly tipped his shot over the crossbar.
As the game grew tenser, Croatia decided to lock up shop. They brought a defender for Ewo to grind out a result. This was a brilliant tactical move from Neto as the game ended nil-nil.
Stat of the Day:
At the age of 12 years, 2 weeks, and 6 days, Makram Momoh becomes the youngest player in bluesteel history.
Other match of the day:
Belgium 1-1 Portugal. Late in the game, Belgium’s young prodigy Clem equalized from a Buyi cross. The goal cancelled out an Elvis Chuck rebound goal from a Denrenle free kick which went off the crossbar.
After a successful bout of friendlies, eyes have been turned in anticipation of the beginning of the tournament. The Bluesteel Association is, as such glad to announce that the Bluesteel Tournament will resume in full swing soon enough. The teams participating this year are France, Belgium, Croatia, Portugal and Italy.
The format of this years edition is different. Instead of the usual group stage into knockouts format, this year, five teams would play in a league. The top four teams in the league qualify into the knockout stages which culminate with the much-awaited finals to produce the Bluesteel X Tournament Champion! We’re pumped and you should be too. For now, we will hold our excitement and wait.
Make sure you follow up by subscribing to the BallerzBantz and be the first to receive the latest football news and rumours. Also, don’t forget to check out other articles written by Jason and Joel on this website. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Six months ago, it seemed as though Barcelona were at the brink of an implosion: Luis Suarez was forced out of the club in bizarre circumstances, Lionel Messi publicly expressed his desire to leave the club, the club’s finances were in tethers, the wound from the Munich tie was still fresh in their heads, all of this amid a power struggle in the club’s hierarchy. Such tensions within the club extended to the fans, who soon started protests decrying the club’s state.
Amidst this crisis, Setien was relieved of his duties, and the unimaginable task of stabilizing the club was handed to Ronald Koeman, who was previously the Netherlands manager.
Koeman began this season with a squad that bore signs of years of mismanagement; hence, he would always have been given a benefit-of-doubt as he led the first phase of what will undoubtedly be a complicated rebuild. The team had no recognized striker, Coutinho and Griezmann were yet to prove their worth, at least for their parent clubs, 18-year old Ansu Fati was the most on-form and settled forward in their ranks, amplifying the situation at the club, and Messi was evidently still unsettled-he experienced the biggest slump of his cumbersome career within the first few months of the season.
Consequently, most of the Catalan club’s early-season struggles, albeit comparatively due to an unstoppable Atletico Madrid, were played down, at least on the manager’s path.
Like clockwork, Barcelona have reversed their fortunes. The Catalans are currently on an 18 run unbeaten streak in the league: picking up 45 points from 54 since their unforeseen loss to, newly promoted side, Cadiz. This run, which is unmatched by any other side in Europe’s elite leagues*, has seen them close the gap on league leaders Atletico to only 4 points.
It is no surprise that this run coincided with Messi’s return to form. The Argentine maestro has been directly involved in at least one goal in all but one of the 18 games in their run: 19 goals and 8 assists.
However, their Champions League exit distracted the world from the excellent run of form they were on but may, in foresight, prove to be a massive boost as they head into the climax of their league campaign.
But what has really been happening during this unexpected season.
In a squad largely bereaved of that impetus akin to Barcelona, the youngsters have borne the burden and have helped steer the fortunes. After any poor result in the earlier parts of the season, all the senior stars would duck out of post-match press conferences, leaving the duties to the younger players(some of whom were in their first season) like Pedri, Sergino Dest, Riqui Puig. This was an indication of tensions at the club. Nevertheless, these young stars’ response gave evidence of their qualities beyond the pitch and their preparedness for the constant demand for success at a club like Barcelona.
Pedri, one of the most brilliant breakout stars across all of Europe, had in such manner registered himself amongst most hopefuls as the star over the horizon. The young midfield metronome…yes metronome… who many have likened to Iniesta, has garnered attention and ravings from fans, the manager and his teammates, and particular praise from Messi, who he has formed a…partnership with.
When asked about his partnership with Messi, Pedri remarked,
“I play as if I was in the garden with my brother”
(via The Guardian)
Pedri has stood out this season for his composure on the ball, great spatial awareness, and superb link-up play in the final third. However, the facet of his game that has been most valuable is his work rate. Pedri has averaged 23.24 pressures per 90 in La Liga this season which puts him in the 95th percentile for central midfielders in Europe’s Top 5 Leagues(via FBref). Such contributions have been immense in maintaining their shape and preventing opposition penetrations.
From one youngster to another:
Mingueza as well has been an immense contributor to this resurgence. It has been a story written in the stars for the 21-year old who was considered seeking pastures outside the club before injuries forced Koeman’s hand to promote him. His versatility has afforded Koeman the chance to tinker with his line up whilst ensuring options across the entire defence(and wing-back).
Koeman risked the wrath of traditionalists, again, when he opted for a back three in the league away fixture vs Sevilla. Nonetheless, it proved to be a tactical breakthrough that saw his side beat Sevilla in consecutive matches and, most recently, demolish La Real with a five-goal-margin. This recent tactical alteration has seen some players find solace in their new and liberated roles.
Ousmane Dembele is perhaps the most notable one. The skilful Frenchman, whose spell has constantly been under scrutiny due to fitness issues, has been deployed as the centre forward in Koeman’s 3-4-2-1. In this position, his ability and desire to make runs behind the opposition’s defence has added much more dynamism and threat to Barcelona’s attacking play whilst affording Messi and Griezmann more territory. Therefore, it is no surprise that two of his four league goals this season have come in the past four league games(where he has been deployed as Center Forward).
At the opposite end, De Jong has been deployed as a Libero(a centre back with the license to go forward and make more contributions in the attacking third) in the back three and has been astute, as usual, in the team’s build-up and ball progression. Koeman has at last found his Libero Doppelganger.
Bar the Champions League slump, which on another day could have borne a starkly different result, supporters and followers of the club will have been pleased by the magnitude of the turnaround Koeman has produced.
In what had been pre-dismissed as a rebuilding season, Barcelona have geared themselves to be firm competitors for the season’s remaining prizes. Whatever the off-field issues bear, a trophy at the end of the season and the perception of a clear rebuild path driven by the youngsters will be a heartwarming relief to their fans who had feared for the worst.
Featured Image: BILBAO, SPAIN – JANUARY 06: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates with Pedri Gonzalez of Barcelona after he scores his team’s second goal during the La Liga Santander match between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona at Estadio de San Mames on January 06, 2021 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
No team in the Premier League is splitting headlines quite like them. After their heavy 6-2 loss to Manchester United, there are large sections of fans praising or defending the club–both for equally valid reasons. But I’m not here to talk about their in-game performances. I’m here to talk about the historic effect Leeds has had on the Premier League and its relation to the present-day. To do that, I need to go back about 60 years in time to visit Don Revie and his Leeds side.
The year is 1961, and the man in the picture is named Don Revie. He just became the manager of Leeds United, a soccer club with financial difficulties struggling to stay in League Two. Revie’s first season wasn’t particularly spectacular–a draw on the last day saved him from relegation to League Three. It didn’t stop Revie, though, as he secured promotion to the First Division in 1964, after instilling a familial environment at the club and a physical and combative style-of-play that would eventually lead to the side being known as Dirty Leeds.
They came second on goal difference in their first two seasons in the division while keeping up with their rough playing style, which continued to attract attention and divided opinions as time passed. Some mocked Leeds for their playing style and its inability to win trophies, while others fancied the idea of underdogs becoming title contenders, in spite of their style. Yet, they remained trophyless.
In that year, they won the League Cup after a 1-0 win over Arsenal. From then on until his resignation in 1974, they went on to win two First Division titles, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the FA Cup, and the Charity Shield. Not bad for a side once worried about relegation from Division Two.
Revie left the club in 1974, and they would experience some more ups and downs like many other clubs during that timeframe.
Hence, in a history marked with an extreme playing style implemented by a–perhaps–controversial manager, it was no surprise that Leeds sought after Marcelo Bielsa in a bid to regain ground after years of inconsistency.
The Mad Genius
Marcelo Bielsa, the man in this picture, fondly called the Mad Genius by the Leeds’ faithful.
Before he joined the crew, Leeds were a mid-table Championship side, having been relegated from the Premier League in 2004. His job wasn’t easy, but no one could have predicted that after the way Leeds performed in their first game of that season, beating Stoke City 3-1 with a very stylish and distinctive brand of football. They would follow this up with four more wins and a draw, which would place them on top of the league by August, a position they would maintain for a majority of the season.
Sadly, this didn’t last forever, and they missed out on automatic promotion in their penultimate league game against Aston Villa. Even worse, they missed out on the position because Bielsa ordered his team to allow the opposition to score after Leeds continued to play and eventually scored while Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia was on the floor, injured. This event, coupled with the Spygate incident of a few months earlier, brought Leeds back into the limelight, and again they had their plaudits and critics. Leeds eventually lost their playoff game, and suddenly Leeds had become laughingstock once more, their all-too-hopeful fans wondering if there was any manager who could get them out of their predicament.
We know what happened next. A year later and Bielsa’s Leeds side were the Championship champions, preparing to play in the Premier League.
Now, I can finally talk about the present.
Now, we have present-day Leeds.
Nevertheless, it seems that from Revie to Bielsa–a 60-year gap–Leeds can not stop being Leeds. Whether it’s physical, combative football, or sleek and stylistic passing combinations, no one can agree on Leeds. And the best part is, they don’t care!
Whether we think Dirty Leeds exploited the rulebook to its limit or that Bielsa’s Leeds are way too defensively open, both teams have demonstrated an unworldly belief in themselves and the people around them. A belief that allows them to shrug off criticism from others and play their game the way they see fit. Bielsa himself has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t plan to change the way Leeds play, and the Leeds’ players have spoken on the almost brotherly relationship between the players and staff.
This was clear in the United game, where even four goals down, they played with the same intensity as when the match first began. They play with a mentality that many teams should strive to emulate. Not ‘bad’ for a newly promoted team
Leeds this season have had their fair share of critics, and for the right reasons as well. But in the current Premier League climate where even the big six have to place a notable emphasis on defense, it is refreshing to see Leeds, a recently promoted side with the second-lowest wage budget in the league, practically leave it to the wind. They don’t have the expectations of Liverpool and Manchester City, and because of that, they have taken up the mantle of being the Premier League’s great entertainers. Whether or not you agree with their methods, you can’t deny that we now have a more exciting league because of it.
What do you think about Leeds this season? Will they get relegated? Leave your answers in the comment section below, or on our Twitter page here, as well as any ideas you have on articles you want to see. Until then, I’ll see you in my next post.
The 2020 FIFA The Best Awards were recently held in Zurich. As usual, they came with controversy: Hansi Flick failing to win FIFA’s Manager of the Year award is a travesty, and Manuel Neuer’s absence from the FIFPro Team of the Year, shortly after winning FIFA’s Goalkeeper of the Year award, probably needs a whole other article to be explained.
Yet, that’s not the point of this write-up. In this piece I will focus on the award Lewandowski went home with after beating competition from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo: The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award. And my argument is simple: awards like this should not exist.
Before I begin, I would like to clear up a misunderstanding as soon as possible. I do believe that Lewandowski had an amazing season and was one of the best forwards on the planet in 2020, scoring a breathtaking 55 goals in just 47 games in one of the most dominant sides in the 21st century. Hence, my argument isn’t that Lewandowski did not deserve his award; it’s that awards like this are rarely truly “Player of the Year” awards.
Let me explain myself with a brief background check. In the 5 years that FIFA’s awards have been active, 4 of their Player of the Year awards went to attackers, with the fifth going to midfield maestro Luka Modric. In addition, Modric is the only midfielder to appear in the top 3 of these awards, with 13 spots going to forwards, and only 1 spot going to a defender: Virgil van Dijk.
Analysis of a more historic award, the Ballon d’Or, yields similar results: in its 64 year history, only 4 defenders and 1 goalkeeper have won the award. Fabio Cannavaro is the only player out of these 5 to win it since the turn of the century.
Now, I can already hear the counter-arguments in my head: “Ronaldo is the GOAT and deserves his Ballon d’Ors”, or “Ronaldinho is so nice to watch so he had to win it”, and even the “Messi had more goal contributions than Champions League-winning defender van Dijk in 2019, so he deserved to win it.” And I’m not disputing them (except the Messi – van Dijk argument).
However, in my opinion, the real reason why defensive players rarely win Ballon d’Ors is because of a simple fact: statistics. Attackers have a very concrete means of gaining value: goals or assists. While there are others ways for an attacker to prove his worth, goals and assists are ultimately the most important. And since there have been a plethora of attackers in recent times who have put out astronomical output rates over the course of a year (insert Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski…), they are the ones who win the coveted award.
Obviously, I don’t need to state the advantages that statistics give attackers over defenders. Defender statistics are meaningless without context; if they can make United’s Harry Maguire look better than Virgil van Dijk, then they should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. Yet, if we can’t quantify defender performances in a simple enough way that people who don’t watch them can appreciate, then how can they compete with the, “‘Insert player name’ scored ‘insert an obscene number’ goals in ‘insert a reasonable number’ games” argument? In fact, I feel that statistics plays such a strong role in the public’s opinion of a player, that I believe the only reason van Dijk even came close to winning the Ballon d’Or in 2019 was because his performances could be quantified by Liverpool’s defensive improvement. Van Dijk’s arrival coincided with a massive drop in Liverpool’s goals conceded, and as a defender, that’s the best form of quantifiable evidence he could ask for. Of course, winning the Champions League doesn’t hurt, but I believe that the only reason van Dijk was capable of a top 3 finish was because he got a chance to quantify his worth to Liverpool’s back line. Sadly, not many defenders get this opportunity.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that the playing field for Player of the Year awards isn’t level, but maybe I haven’t convinced you that professional soccer is better off without them. Because, who would really discard the end-of-year anxiety that comes with predicting the eventual winners of the awards? Surely that aspect of football is too entertaining to be taken away.
Well, yes… and no. They are entertaining, no doubt, and I’m sure they will be sorely missed. But the premise on which the award is given isn’t really true, so I can’t truly recommend it. However, I’m pretty sure that I can mention a few satisfactory replacements:
1. Position Awards
This award is already offered by 2 major footballing entities: UEFA and FIFA, and to be honest, I don’t see why the award-giving can’t just stop here. By breaking the awards down into 4 discrete categories, players of all positions will be appreciated for their contributions to the game. It doesn’t even make sense trying to compare a player like Kanté to one like de Bruyne, so why awards like the FIFA Player of the Year trophy exist is beyond me.
2. Team of the Year Awards
This is by far my favorite approach. Even better, FIFA also offers this award. By placing the best players of the year in a team, every position is appreciated and recognized. If Team of the Year players were treated as synonymous with “Player of the Year in that Position”, the playing field would be levelled and there would be no need for comparisons between defenders and attackers that only have one true winner.
What do you think about the Player of the Year awards? Are they a fair reflection of all player positions? Leave your answers in the comment section below, or on our Twitter page here, as well as any ideas you have on articles you want to see.
Thousands of Football Manager players, like me, were left frustrated and at the edge of our seats after SI delayed the release of the early access to the game. Throughout the wait, we had to bear with the incessant teasers from the FM Twitter account. Nevertheless, the wait was worth it, and the fans finally got a taste of the new game.
As previously reported, sections of the game underwent significant reforms, and these were very noticeable to those who had played previous editions of the game.
Press conferences on FM21 now have a vague similarity with the pandemic style pressers. If you have watched a pre-match presser during the pandemic, you will notice that the press officers cue in journalists. Similarly, in FM21, managers attend press conferences with their press officers who introduce the journalists before they ask questions. This subtle change was one of the pleasant surprises I met when I attended my first presser.
Also, you can now see the journalists’ responses to comments you make during the press conference. Some answers you give will encourage them, or vice versa, which will, in turn, be compounded to provide you with a press summary–presented by your press officer.
The new gesture system is present in press conferences. Unfortunately, you do not have complete freedom of them. There are still no gestures to mimic fiery conferences like Jose Mourinho’s infamous ones. However, you still have the option to storm out of pressers, now dull, like in previous versions of the game.
In match changes
In contrast to gestures during press conferences, the in-match gesture system encompasses extreme gestures, and as such, allow you to tell your players exactly how you feel. Now when your team is losing a cup competition at half-time to a second division team, you don’t have to settle for ‘I am disappointed with your performance so far.’ However, you must tread carefully while experimenting some of the gestures to avoid adverse reactions from the players–in some cases, ‘no gesture’ is the best option.
Sports Interactive had mentioned that the match engine was going to be augmented. This improvement is evident, and you will undoubtedly notice after a couple of games–that is except you play(ed) the game in 2D. Off the ball, players make more dynamic movements. You may see players make runs to create space for the ball carrier or opting to recycle possession in the final third when the final ball isn’t on. The consequence of these improvements is a greater variety of chances created hence a unique assortment of goals.
Hands-on managers will love the new recruitment processes the game affords. Periodic recruitment meetings are held with select board members and the chief scout where positions with sub-optimal players are identified, and potential transfer targets for those positions discussed. It is a feature new to the franchise and allows you to be in greater control of the recruitment system.
Managers can also now ask agents about player availability, which will give you an idea about the player’s willingness, the wages he will demand, the transfer fee estimate and general player expectations upon arriving at the club. This feature was overdue, and it is exciting to see SI finally implement it in the game.
The game is in its Beta testing, so glitches are not absent. You may notice issues with mouse sensitivity as you play the game: you may drag a player from the bench to a position only for the game to move the one adjacent to the player you selected. This issue of sensitivity extends beyond this instance. In numerous drag-drop processes across the game, you will notice similar faults.
SI, in response to demands by managers, added more payment options for loan deals and claimed to have increased the likelihood that a loan-with-future-purchase deal will be accepted. However, for managers who handle all transfer negotiations themselves, this added feature will make loan-with-future-purchase deals more complicated– your Director of football cannot help out with loans, even if you wanted. There is also no apparent ‘willingness’ by teams to accept loan deals, although this may not be the case with other managers playing different saves.
The game is already a success and a clear improvement on the previous versions of the franchise.