Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thoughts: The Simeone-Fication of Madrid

I’m intrigued by what Atletico Madrid is doing, tactically. The Bielsa-fication of football? Maybe more like the Simeone-fication.

The concept particularly of picking your spots on defence, manufacturing or setting up specific moments and areas in which you can win the ball, is intriguing. I’m not sure if this came across in the BSports article (http://www.bsports.com/statsinsights/football/la-liga-column-1). But yes, this concept of trapping in defence and exploding into offence was the overriding fascination of the piece.

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe this strategy has been as explicitly used before as it is now by Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone.

More success to come?
The Simeone-Fication of Atletico
It is like in rugby, forcing turnovers at specific moments or areas by perhaps targeting a specific opposition player. New Zealand does it. Isolate a ‘weaker’ opponent (technically) and the win turnover (through Richie McCaw, Andrew Hore, these crazy guys). In basketball also? Trapping. Trapping a ‘dumb’ opponent, winning the ball and opening up for the fast break. That is Atletico right there, in fact.

Even so, the scope to do this in football is so much different. More difficult. The area of play is bigger, for one. Imagine trapping an opponent with three guys, say on the right flank. Not only do those three guys have to be exceptionally quick to get there in time, but if by chance they are unable to execute, you have opened up acres of space elsewhere.

But, it’s possible. Trap Antonio Valencia, for example. You more or less know what he will try to do. As soon as he gets the ball, a fullback blocks the pathway for the run forward, the central midfielder joins to block avenues for the pass sideways and the winger pressurises to win the ball.

So, it’s intriguing as a concept. It takes insane discipline from the players and they have to completely buy into the idea. Fortunately for Simeone, that is what Atletico’s players have done, and some.

The drawback is the physical nature of this tactic, its extreme demands on the body. It takes so much out of you, no wonder, for example, Atletico ran out of steam in La Liga last season.

It’s a template for smaller teams, though. Out-hustle. And then punish; ruthlessly, relentlessly.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please comment and share.

@MolapoKTM

Lioli off to flyer, Matlama off to a surpriser

Tse Nala marching forwards...
Lioli fans enjoy their team's start 
A super start; that’s the only way to describe Lioli’s beginning to the season. Lesotho’s defending champions have flown out of the starting blocks with four wins from four games to lead the Vodacom Premier League with 12 points going into this weekend’s action.

What has impressed most about Tse Nala has been how comprehensive their wins have been. Granted, Lioli hasn’t yet faced a championship-calibre opponent, but they have still scored 15 goals in four matches, conceding only twice.

In their wins over Mpharane Celtic, Qoaling Highlanders, Likhopo and Joy they have exuded the swagger of champions, raising the question; who can stop Lioli?

Some eyebrows were raised by Lioli’s spending spree in the off-season. In total, Lioli signed eight players – the most of any club – to add to what was already a championship winning squad.

Were Lioli tinkering too much with a winning formula? Well, so far Lioli’s spending spree has been fully vindicated. The new signings have ensured no complacency has crept in, competition for places has elevated and, of course, squad depth has been improved.

This was evidenced last weekend. With star-man Motlalepula Mofolo out with an injury, fellow Likuena international Bushy Moletsane stepped in to help Tse Nala cruise to a 3-1 win over Joy. Pretty impressive.

Bantu are the side widely considered to be Lioli’s real challengers for the league title. After four games, A Matšo Matebele lie in fourth place after a decent start of eight points from a possible 12.

Last Sunday, Bantu did notch an impressive 1-0 away win over Linare. However, such is Lioli’s electric pace, it seems Bantu cannot afford any more slip-ups at all, even at this early stage.

As always, LDF are there in the mix. They are third, two points behind Lioli. But, they were held to a goalless draw by Mphatlalatsane last time out, a first sign this season of what is become their perpetual problem – lack of firepower.

Being Matlama
Behind Lioli in second is Matlama, and they only trail the champions on goal difference. It seems the old adage is very true: when Matlama are in turmoil is when they are the most dangerous. Tse Putsoa, it shouldn’t be forgotten, are still in the midst of pending court cases and still have to elect a new committee. Nevertheless, this seems to have only served to galvanise the team, as usual.

Under the caretaker stewardship of former players, Sello Seholoholo and Lehlohonolo Mokhele, Matlama have thrived so far, and have realistic chance of ending the weekend on top, thanks to Lioli’s tougher assignment against Linare.

One of the keys to their surprise revival has been the signing of several club icons, Pali Tšalong and Tefo Maipato being the foremost. However, it is the young genius of Phafa Tšosane that continues to burn brightest at Pitso Ground. His midfield wizardry is key to Matlama’s renaissance and, with Nkau Lerotholi again sturdy in defence, this run could last a while yet.

The Surprise boys
Qoaling Highlanders have made an excellent start to the season. They lie in fifth with seven points. Their main transfer business was the resigning of Lesotho youth international Tšeliso Ramathe from Matlama and he has been a star so far. Veteran striker Paballo Mpakanyane’s presence also cannot be understated. Highlanders are a close-knit unit that look likely to surprise further as the season progresses.

Newly-promoted Mphatlalatsane are sixth and more of surprise than Highlanders having taken to the top-flight like a fish to water. Although it is still early, Linaleli’s start is a promising one.
The Rock...
Matlama defender Nkau Lerotholi (left) on the job against LDF
The Relegation boys?
It’s looking bad for Joy. Last Sunday’s defeat to Lioli was their fourth in a row. They have already suffered a 9-0 loss to Bantu this season and after the loss of their two best players (Jeremia Kamela and Basia Makepe joined Lioli in the off-season) it is difficult to see how, when and where they will turn the corner.

Things are already similarly bleak for fellow Leribe side Mpharane Celtic and newly-promoted Melele.

However, so far it’s all about Lesotho’s two most popular clubs – Lioli and Matlama. And for the sake of the league’s entertainment value, hopefully they will scrap it out at the top for a long time yet.

Vodacom Premier League fixtures and results:

Vodacom Premier League


P
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
Pts
1
Lioli
4
4
0
0
15
2
+13
12
2
Matlama
4
4
0
0
8
2
+6
12
3
LDF
4
3
1
0
5
1
+4
10
4
Bantu
4
2
2
0
10
0
+10
8
5
Qoaling Highlanders
4
2
1
1
4
4
+0
7
6
Mphatlalatsane
4
2
1
1
3
3
+0
7
7
LCS
4
2
0
2
5
3
+2
6
8
Linare
4
2
0
2
5
4
+1
6
9
Nyenye Rovers
4
1
1
2
3
4
-1
4
10
Likhopo
4
1
1
2
2
4
-2
4
11
LMPS
4
0
1
3
2
7
-5
1
12
Melele
4
0
1
3
3
9
-6
1
13
Mpharane Celtic
4
0
1
3
2
11
-9
1
14
Joy
4
0
0
4
1
14
-13
0


Monday, September 16, 2013

2014 World Cup playoff draw Africa - Monster ties await

The Prize
Brazil 2014
The draw for Africa’s final 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifying round is complete. The result is five monster ties.

The final playoff round features the ten winners of the group stage of qualifying, and although the format has faced criticism from some, it has guaranteed the drama and excitement of five epic ties.

None is bigger than Ghana versus Egypt, a clash of two countries that share 11 Africa Cup of Nations titles between them.

It is a true heavyweight clash. Ghana’s Black Stars are chasing their third consecutive appearance at the World Cup (after a last 16 showing in 2006 and a quarterfinal in 2010). Egypt, Africa’s record champions with seven crowns, is looking to return to the world showpiece for the first time since Italia‘90.

There’s also a fascinating West African derby to look forward to as top-rated Ivory Coast face rejuvenated Senegal. The tie is a rematch of last October's Afcon qualifier in Dakar. On that occasion, the match had to be stopped after 14 minutes and the result was a lengthy home ban for Senegal.

The ban will have lapsed by the time the two meet again, but the rivalry will be intense as ever.

Elsewhere, African champions Nigeria have been drawn against Ethiopia in another intriguing prospect. The Super Eagles are a juggernaut under Stephen Keshi, but Ethiopia is arguably the continent’s most enterprising side today and is formidable opposition at home. Ethiopia will also be spurred on by the promise of a first-ever World Cup appearance.

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers
Egypt v Ghana
Another team looking to secure its World Cup debut is Burkina Faso, and they will face Algeria while two more powerhouses, Tunisia and Cameroon, face off for Africa’s final ticket to Brazil.

World football’s governing body, Fifa, has asked the ten playoff countries to nominate the dates, venues and kickoffs for the ties by Friday. The first legs will be played between October 11 and 15 with the return games between November 15 and 19.

It should be interesting.

Playoff draw in full:
(First leg hosts first)
Ivory Coast v Senegal
Ethiopia v Nigeria
Tunisia v Cameroon
Ghana v Egypt
Burkina Faso v Algeria

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because, quite simply, life is way too short.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sudan 1, Lesotho 3

2014 World Cup qualifying result
Sudan 1-3 Lesotho
Sunday, 8 September
Khartoum, Sudan

Likuena goal-scorers: Tšepo Seturumane, Tšepo Lekhoana, Tšoanelo Koetle