It's just the start for trio Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani plus other things learned

James Piercy 28/09/2017
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Neymar starred as Paris Saint-Germain sent out a statement of intent with an impressive 3-0 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich.

It took PSG less than two minutes to break the deadlock in the Group B clash against Bayern, as world-record signing Neymar teed up fellow Brazilian Dani Alves to hammer home.

Bayern piled on the pressure but failed to take their chances, before Edinson Cavani finished a sweeping counter-attack with an exquisite strike into the top corner.

Unai Emery’s men finished off their visitors in the 63rd minute when Neymar pounced after Kylian Mbappe had bamboozled the Bayern defence.

Here we look at three things learned from Paris…

THIS IS ONLY JUST THE BEGINNING

PSG’s breathless counter-attacking floored Bayern in Paris. Every time the Germans lost possession or were caught high up the field they were attacked with pace and purpose by a frontline that possesses a bit of everything; Kylian Mbappe is a freight train, matching acceleration with strength to hold defenders off and a rapid change of direction; Neymar all silky smooth dribbling angles, switching from side to side; and Edinson Cavani the traditional powerful No9 whose lack of speed in comparison to his team-mates means, by design, he nearly always arrives late in the penalty area.

It’s a heady cocktail for Unai Emery to blend but at the Parc des Prince he got the mixture just right. However, this is only the fourth match they’ve played together as a trio and the worry for France and the rest of Europe is that they’re only going to improve; irrespective of how many penalties Cavani may or may not give to Neymar.

Even at this formative stage of their relationship, Mbappe’s clever runs and movement (an underrated aspect of his game) saw a pass from his team-mate nestle perfectly into his stride while the support running from Neymar and Cavani was first class. Even when the communication did break down, so clinical are Mbappe and Neymar with the ball at their feet it nearly always creates an opening in some way or another.

Bayern’s sluggish play in possession and defence played perfectly into their hands, as PSG sat back recovered the ball and then pounced. While the big open spaces of the Parc des Princes are suited to this style. But providing they can keep it safe at the back (more of that later) it’s a tactic that can work at home or on their travels as team’s are expected to attack them.

Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe are just getting started

Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe are just getting started

EVERYTHING HAS BROKEN DOWN FOR ANCELOTTI

This was a distinctly un-Bayern performance from a team who have problems in a number of areas, with key individuals simply not performing. Defensively they were carved open, unable to live with PSG’s raw athleticism and everything was last-ditch; a header here, a Javi Martinez lunge to block a shot there, a frantic block from a recovering defender. It was a systematic failure from a group of players who appeared shell-shocked.

Bayern’s defenders weren’t helped by a midfield unit which surrendered possession all-too easily, either, as Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara and Corentin Tolisso’s passing wasn’t up to scratch when pressed or even when given a semblance of time to try and find an opening.

In the final third too many crosses failed to beat the first man and there was little interplay between Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez to truly trouble PSG. It hints at a lack of focus and concentration which, delving into the realms of speculation, lands back at the coach’s door. Individuals should be blamed but if there is a breakdown in direction from bench to pitch, unfortunately it’s the manager who must take the blame.

PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who was exceptional, did have to make a couple of key saves at 1-0 which, of course, may have resulted in a different outcome while Thiago Silva looked every ounce the best centre-back in the world, but chances weren’t taken and once it became 2-0, Bayern barely looked like getting back in the contest.

Bayern now face a tricky trip to Berlin on Sunday against Hertha and it will be intriguing to see who pays the penalty for this result, although in the long-term it’s yet another black mark on Ancelotti.

A grim looking Carlo Ancelotti looks on

A grim looking Carlo Ancelotti looks on

NEUER’S IMPORTANCE CANNOT BE OVERSTATED

Manuel Neuer continues to be a major absence for the German champions and not just because of his prowess between the sticks. Against such a potent side in transition as PSG, the 31-year-old’s ability to sweep behind his defence would have been a vital weapon against Emery’s attacking waves.

Sven Ulreich fulfilled such a role on a few occasion but that was only in the second half when the match was all-but lost.

Neuer’s reading of the game has allowed Bayern to breed a defensive system where pace isn’t seen as a major attribute but without him in the side, they’re left brutally exposed. Admittedly, we’ve been here before with Bayern sides under Pep Guardiola with Real Madrid consistently revealing their inability to thwart direct sides but it’s even more apparent without their captain standing behind the defence.

Ulreich, of course, isn’t of the same standard – he himself would admit to that – but it’s already a theme and Bayern must play at least another 16 matches, across all competitions, without Neuer whose broken foot should be healed in time for him to return after the winter break.

It could be a cruel winter for the Bavarian giants until then.

Sven Ulreich sinks to his knees after PSG score

Sven Ulreich sinks to his knees after PSG score

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COMMENT: Resting key stars is long-term benefit for the NBA

Jay Asser 21/03/2017
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Golden star: Steph Curry.

It’s ironic that star power, the NBA’s driving force and it’s biggest advantage, is also at times it’s biggest weakness. There are only so many franchise-altering players in the league to go around, that the distribution results in Haves and Have-Nots.

A team’s chances of winning the title without at least one top-20 calibre player are slim, which means those stars are rightly treated as gold.

As such, teams have to do everything in their power to not only hold on to their stars, but prolong their longevity and keep them healthy for when it matters – the playoffs.

It’s not as if teams have just realised this, but the issue of resting stars has reached its zenith now because teams are as proactive as ever at restricting the miles on their most important players.

That’s how the NBA ends up in unfavourable situations like the ones it experienced during nationally-televised games the past two Saturdays.

Facing the San Antonio Spurs in their eighth game in 13 days, the Golden State Warriors sat out Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

One week later, the Cleveland Cavaliers followed suit by giving a night off to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first of a back-to-back.

Neither game was all that competitive, but more importantly, fans who shelled out a good amount of money for a star-filled encounter were instead resigned to watching a contest which left much to be desired.

That’s definitely a cause for concern for the NBA. Unhappy fans and unhappy television networks are bad for business because the league, at the end of the day, is a money-making endeavour. But you know what else is bad – nay, worse – for business? Injured stars and one-sided playoff series.

Injuries are mostly unpredictable, but players can’t get hurt if they’re not playing (insert Roll Safe meme).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

It’s less about the risk of suffering an injury in a game though, than it is about putting additional wear and tear on bodies that already have the burden of playing a regular season, a gruelling playoffs and in many cases, an international slate in the summer.

The fans who would be upset about paying for tickets to attend a marquee match-up devoid of stars in February, would be the same people to suffer when their team is without its best player in May.

In the best interest of everyone involved – fans, media, players, franchises, the league office – the latter should be of bigger concern.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver certainly gets it. Unlike his predecessor David Stern, who fined the Spurs $250,000 four years ago for resting players against the Miami Heat in a nationally-televised game, Silver hasn’t yet handed out any penalties over the matter and seems unlikely to, unless it’s a case of a team not giving enough notice beforehand.

Instead, Silver understands that the culprit here aren’t coaches or players, but the schedule. It’ll be a cold day in hell when the NBA reduces its number of regular season games – it’s too much money for the owners and league to give up – but starting next season, the preseason will be truncated and the regular season will have an extra week for games to breathe.

It won’t completely halt the practice of resting stars, but we’ll all be better off for it in the end.

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#360view: Klopp and Guardiola similar in their desire for change

James Piercy 31/12/2016
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Ready for combat: Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are two of the more fashionable coaches in modern football, but there are distinct differences between them in playing styles and approach, at least on the surface.

Klopp’s “heavy metal football”, a moniker he deeply regrets but still seems so fitting, is about playing fast and direct in transition. Seizing on an opponent’s weakness when they are at their most vulnerable and punishing them for it.

Guardiola too is also about targeting weak points but his approach is more of a methodical, all-encompassing gameplan with the focus on possession. Klopp gets from Point A to B as quickly as is possible; Guardiola takes the scenic route.

Klopp is a personable individual leaving a warm glow on those in his company, who seems to be forever smiling and when facing the media defaults to delivering wise-cracks, almost as a defence mechanism.

Guardiola on the other hand can often appear cold and calculating, exuding an academic approach and whose ‘jokes’ are dry. Although he’s never that forthcoming in press conferences when it comes to discussing or explaining tactics, the famous Johan Cruyff quote: “If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better”, would no doubt elicit a wry smile from the Catalan.

Klopp is in on the pitch with his players, clad in a more traditional coach’s attire of tracksuit and benchcoat; Guardiola the more sartorially aware with designer jumpers, suits… albeit paired, somewhat questionably, with a pair of box-fresh Converse.

But for all their differences, each owes a debt of gratitude to the other for how they’ve shaped their thinking and helped develop over the decade. The fast-paced counter-attacks of Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, which shook the Bundesliga from 2010-2012, were in direct contrast to Guardiola’s Barcelona, who had become almost a parody of themselves with monotonous but devilishly effective possession football.

But, at the same time, Klopp mirrored elements of Guardiola with such a focus on pressing from his attacking players. It was at a more ferocious rate, perhaps, but just like Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro were required to force defenders into mistakes, so too were Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa.

Although Bayern had wrestled control back in Germany by the time of Guardiola’s arrival in 2013, his pass-heavy ways had begun to look predictable and a little stale. He needed to adapt.

A 4-2 defeat to Klopp’s Dortmund in the German Super Cup – his first game in charge – helped highlight this and the correction was made three months later in a league meeting, when Guardiola adopted a more direct fast-passing style, harnessing the natural wing play of Arjen Robben, which left Dortmund’s attacking press obselete and the Bavarians won 3-0.

Two more games between the two finished a win apiece but by the second season of their rivalry it was clear Guardiola had worked Dortmund out – although signing Lewandowski helped – as the Bavarians won both league meetings.

Klopp’s gegenpress had run out of steam, so too his patience with Bayern’s immense financial dominance but, at the same time, he had been unable to significantly evolve his approach in order to counter the very changes Guardiola was making. That being said, Dortmund were one of the few sides able to give Bayern a bloody nose during Guardiola’s time in Germany.

Fast-paced, relentlessly-attacking teams, who don’t hold onto the ball for long, remain Guardiola’s kryptonite. But as we approach the ninth meeting between the two – 4-4 in terms of results but Guardiola perhaps leading the judge’s scorecards – it is the German who has been able to sufficiently adapt to English football as Guardiola still makes his necessary changes.

Time, of course, dictates such, as do transfer windows, but Klopp’s more authentically English methods have unsurprisingly found more of a home in the Premier League. The directness of his Dortmund days remain but this Liverpool team are also more intricate in their approach; they lead the Premier Legaue in terms of passes per game and are second only to City in average possession.

Klopp, if anything, has brought a little of what Guardiola showed in Germany with him to England. The Catalan on the other hand is finding out his own widespread alterations at the Etihad must be gradual.

When City have been bad, they’ve been appalling and look a side not so much in transition but in the aftermath of a revolution – their defence in ruins as the possession flag is raised high.

As Klopp reacted to Guardiola and then Pep followed suit to soften the impact of “heavy metal football”, Saturday night’s meeting will give some insight into which coach could be on-trend for 2017.

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