Can a rusted cavalry see off an incessant rivalry?

What does it actually take to win a match? A championship? Or league season? There could be umpteenth suggestions on how to claim the victory. Though physical fitness, shape and momentum are a must to compete at such high level, one thing which is of utmost priority is Belief! The belief that I can actually outperform others when the situation calls. The belief that if I stay in the competition till last minute believing my abilities & skills, I will turn the match in my favor. Half of the war is won in the mental battlefield.

Tomorrow, Arsenal would be playing Manchester United at Old Trafford. The fixture, which gave birth to one of the most gruesome & cutthroat rivalry, has lost its significance in recent years. The era of Keane-Vieira is long gone and so is the much celebrated rivalry between two clubs. These two powerhouses of English football were the undisputed titans of the premier league. The ones who were competing for the throne, who were stuck in right there, pushing each and every season to get an edge over the other. The rivalry to claim the zenith of the English football, the most competitive league in the world.

The masterminds behind this duel of gaining superiority over the other were two non-Englishman- A Scottish legend and a French professor. Like all the good stories, this rivalry had drama, thrill, emotions and unpredictability associated with it. In a league of United Kingdom, the year 1996 marked the beginning of a new era. The era where most celebrated manager in the history of world football was challenged & usurped by an unknown foreigner. The era where the undisputed kings of the premier league were forced to rework and rethink their tactics. The game was on!

1996 will go down in the history books as the year which ignited the fiercest rivalry of recent times. One might argue that Barcelona – Real Madrid is the biggest rivalry of all time. Being the richest teams of La Liga, both had equal resources to deploy in order to get better of the opposition. If you’ll forego the ascend of Atlectico de Madrid in recent years, La Liga is the league where 2 El Classicos are enough define the eventual title winners.

Arsenal vs Manchester Utd was always more than battle of two powerhouses. It was a clash of 2 different philosophies. It was the stubbornness to claim the utmost glory in a league where you can drop points anytime. And it was a tactical fight between the 2 managers to outdo each other. The last of their kind. The old school gaffer who spend more than 25% of their life at the same club. Not like the top teams of Spain who changes their manager year by year.

So how did the fight go? In a period of 8 years post Wenger’s appointment, these 2 teams shared 8 premier league titles between them. They shared 6 out of 9 FA cups in this period. Average of 1.75/2 cups a year, for 8 consecutive years, in premier league. This is how champions make a statement. Both shared their equal tally of 7 cups with each other. The rivalry was at its best.

But everything, good or bad, comes to an end. The famous brawls in the field, missed penalties & thrown pizzas, pre match tunnel banter, ruthless tackles & sarcastic conferences ended when Arsenal’s mettle started fading away. This was the time when another non Englishman took over the league with his new pragmatic approach and tactical mastermind. He was the one who induced Blue color in the long decade of Red supremacy. The special one announced his arrival in a grandeur manner.

And speaking of the gunners, as said, the old mettle was gone. There was always something short in their belief which made them look too vulnerable. They stuck to their old philosophy in the era of Portuguese pragmatism. Manchester united bounced back and reclaimed their title again, but the story didn’t go the same way for the gunners. Players leaving for rivals, long list of injuries, inactivity in the transfer market and no silverware for next 10 years. The belief was dead, let alone the rivalry. Season in and season out same script kept on running for the French professor. Managers came, fought, won & got fired but Arsene Wenger was still stuck in there hoping for his next premier league title. Although there were Several fan outbursts, board’s trust against his competence remained intact.

Every story has 2 parts. Before the interval, Wenger had a fairy tale. He came out of nowhere and pulled the magical golden premier league from the hat. The beautiful way of playing attacking football. That class and showmanship. Magnificent! The second half was a stark realization of adversities. Changing stadiums and selling players, the hard times were ahead – No silverware and fan backlash. Criticized from all direction, Wenger was labelled as too old to be tactically decisive. He was consistent enough to ensure a champions league competition every year but at the same time his team was never an actual title contender. The fragility of back four remained the biggest puzzle to be solved in next 10 years. Though Arsenal finished at 2nd, 3rd and 4th place – they were never good enough to win the title. Mourinho managed to get the better of Wenger in all the occasions. Now this was another rivalry building up in the second part of our story. Arsenal was far too weak to actually contend for the title and theater of dreams became a haunting pitch of the gunners. They didn’t win a single game at old Trafford since 2006! No matter how weak or strong Red Devils were, they always had an ace up their sleeve. The 8-2 gunning down of Arsenal at Trafford marked the end of significance of this fixture. On the other hand, Mourinho never allowed Wenger to have a laugh over the result.

Tomorrow, Wenger would be meeting his arch nemesis who has haunted him the most in last 10 years – in the stadium which has haunted him the most in last 10 years. After spending 20 years in the job, Wenger’s contract is running out this year. Lack of silverware would definitely make him leave his beloved club. This might be the last time he can avenge the earlier results. Would he able to pull one last magical trick this time or the story would remain same for Arsene Wenger? The point to ponder is would he be playing with his old style, sticking to the philosophy or would be audacious enough to try something which he has never done before. When pundits say he is too outdated to compete against the current crop of managers, are they talking sense? Or is he going to prove every one of them wrong tomorrow? Is his tactics and approach for a big game are actually outdated and rusted? Or he would finally get better of two of his worst nightmare. Only time will tell.


The 21st milestone!

It’s 6th October. Usually I don’t pay any significant attention to birthdays but this one is special. It’s the 21st birthday. So officially I am an adult now. So new responsibilities, new goals etc. etc. blah. blah.

Well, New Year must start with a resolution. From now on-wards I would like to write a bit more often. I will try to be more regular in my blog posts. (At least that’s what I am thinking right now).

Past 10 days were too good for me. I made the most of my DP vacations. I didn’t study a bit as I was busy roaming with my friends. Life is so much fun when you’ve friends with same mental disorders as yours. Now sitting in my bed, staring at my laptop, I can feel the horrendous pressure & work load ahead. But I feel this vacation was just enough for the rejuvenation of my tired mentality. Now I am ready for a fresh start.

I am leaving for Bhubaneswar on 7th ie tomorrow. In other news, Arsenal lost its match against Chelsea by 2-0. Well she is the girlfriend whom you can’t breakup with. It’s just impossible to dump her. She’s the one with most beautiful playing style in the most competitive league of the world. So, am I going to leave her and start supporting another club? NO. You can’t play for arsenal and give up no matter how the score line is. So I am not going to give up on my team. That’s the one of the many important things I have learnt from football.

Till next time. Ciao.

PS Happy birthday to me!

Is attack the best form of defense?

“I think we deserved to win”

These were the words from Mats Hummels in a post-match interview. His goal booked the tickets for the whole team; to the semi-finals – for the record 4th consecutive time. He was calm and composed while defending and yet he was fierce and aggressive during the attack. He was basically untamed, when Kroos supplied the ball inside the penalty area. Running inside the box, removing Varane out of his way only with a hand, he beautifully places his header on the top right corner. And then the joy erupts amongst the fans all around the world, especially Germany. I saw how people go crazy with a goal or after a miss. After an amazing save or after a bad foul. Well I enjoyed most of those emotions. I would rather say I enjoyed all of them. Hummels gave us a reason to smile.

But was it the only difference between the 2 teams?

I don’t think so. Although France came very close to scoring twice, they were not at par with the German team on any aspect. Their attack was not up to the mark, neither was their mid field. Defence was somewhat okay but they could have done much better with Kosscielny. If you will take my opinion, I would say he is overly-under-rated. The sight of Varane pushed off by a single hand was insulting for a defender. They substituted Sakho later but then it was too late. They had already conceded a goal before, and they were trying to get back in the game somehow. They also brought Giroud and Remy but nothing much comes out of those substitutions as it was really too late. Their attack was not spear headed. They were going as all guns blazing during their group matches but that didn’t help him to surpass the wall of Berlin. Germans, on the other hand, were tough-mentally and physically. They put all their efforts till the end with a mind-set to defend the lead.

And they did it pretty well. It reminded me of old Germany when they used to score a goal and then defend their lead with “the German efficiency”. They were not playing the beautiful football. From past 8-10 years, they are considered as the counter attack kings who play some really beautiful football. Who attack single-mindedly and produce some beautiful goals. But that doesn’t guarantee you results. Now with the induction of Guardiola as the Bayern Munich coach and change in tactics from Joachim Low himself, we are seeing a different Germany. Now they don’t only play to attack, but now they know how to win even when they are playing badly. As Mertesacker said, after the close win in extra time against Algeria, “We won, we did our job. Doesn’t matter how we won”.

No one’s going to remember the brutal thrashing of England and Argentina in the last world cup if they manage to win this one. They have already shown that they are willing to give anything in order to claim the biggest trophy in the world of football. Winning over France just by one goal doesn’t say ‘it was not as convincing as the win over England or Argentina’. When you are in knockout, all that matters is a win. With Thiago Silva and Neymar out for the semi-finals, Brazil is currently limping on their way to the finals. Suspension of Silva is a bigger blow to them as compared to Neymar’s injury. People might disagree with me, but well that doesn’t change my opinion. Silva was holding back the defence quite brilliantly, the captain scored the first goal in the must win-leading with an example. Neymar can be lethal and he is (no doubt) a match winner. But he was not very effective in last few games.

Nonetheless, the point is it’s quite difficult to decide whether you want to lose a leg or a hand (if you can save the other one). Sadly, Brazil lost both of them. I feel sorry for them.

So attack doesn’t always win you matches. But defence does. You can’t lose if you haven’t conceded any goal. In the quarterfinals, all three goals from Brazil and Germany were scored by defenders. They held the ball pretty well and prohibited any danger. They won it for their respective teams. Is attack the best form of defence? Sometimes, Yes. Always, NO.

I will wind this up with a quote which is well famous in Germany.

Attack wins games. Defence wins titles.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going

2 hours to the much anticipated clash between the French and Germans. As I have heard, French lost their battles against the Germans in both the world wars. Well this is a world war in its own way. May be the associated field and skills are different, however glory remains intact. But obviously, lives are not at stake.

As I have always supported Die Mannschaft, I am hoping for a German show. It’s not at all going to be as easy, as Deschamps has brought both harmony and discipline in the French squad. Before the tournament, I never saw them as the title contenders. With the limited fire power upfront and Ribery’s injury, they were just another team who might reach quarterfinals (or semis). And when Nasri was dropped out, I was sure of my predictions. But now, things are different. They are playing confidently and with fearlessness. Their football is fluidic and calm. At the same time attacking and fast. Benzema is their star performer and Pogba is the trump card. But I will have my eyes open particularly for a winger who is performing more than what’s expected from him. Antoine Griezmann is the player to watch. Not only for the recent linkups and chemistry with arsenal but also for his pace and creativity.

Enough of les blues. Now let’s concentrate on our positives.

Die Mannschaft (Literally: the team) has answers to each and every question thrown at them. They have the best midfield in the world. Defence is not that assuring but doesn’t matter much when you have the best goalkeeper behind you. Saving your ass if something goes wrong. Neuer plays as a defender, midfielder and goalkeeper at the same time. Up front, we lack finishing. The team creates the most number of chances but doesn’t convert many of them. That’s something which may cost us the berth to semi-finals. We have qualified for the semis in the last 3 world cups. If we qualify again, we will become the first team to do so. There are certain problems in the fluidity and holding play, but Germans have always shown their mental toughness. They always keep coming at you no matter how high or low their morale are. They are ruthless individuals driven by the obsession to achieve the ultimate glory. Enough of boasting now, I am actually concerned about the result. No matter how high I rate them ahead of this game, deep down I know the chances of a loss.  Recently they haven’t played very convincing football.

Still, they are the team which gets better and better as the tournament progresses.

As they say in England; When going gets tough, tougher gets going.

I will be attending this epic clash in a public view at Munich. I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the last public view in this Germany visit.

Till next time.