Football Focus: Breaking down three of top five goals of the week

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Instead of taking an extended look at any particular team based on match play, this week’s Football Focus looks at some of the top goals of the week. Taking three of the more tactically inclined goals from the top five this weekend, let’s take a closer look at strikes from Willian, Luis Suárez and Adnan Januzaj:

No. 5: Willian’s first goal for Chelsea

Willian curled a shot inside the far post for his first Chelsea goal, against Norwich City on Sunday, sealing the Blues’ 3-1 win. He took advantage of poor defensive pressure followed by a small window of opportunity to score his opener.

source:  As Willian dribbles at the Norwich defense, he is under no immediate pressure. Sébastien Bassong could step up to him, or Alexander Tettey could track back further to apply pressure. Either way, the defenders would still have plenty of time to track passes to Oscar on the left or Samuel Eto’o on the right.

Essentially, the Canaries have four defenders back, and nobody pressures the ball.

source:  That allows Willian to dribble to the top of the penalty area before deciding to dish the ball wide for Eto’o. Bassong should track Willian’s run, as the closest defender, which he does. However, he could be farther goal-side and ball-side to keep the play in front of him.

Bassong correctly stops tracking Willian when the Chelsea attacker strays outside of the center back’s zone of responsibility. At this point, his task is to provide cover for Martin Olsson, in case Eto’o cuts in.

source:  Eto’o does just that, but Bassong is barely too far away to step up and win the ball cleanly. When Bassong steps up, Olsson should be able to release and mind Willian on the wing. Instead, three players reach into the tackle, as Jonny Howson also tracks back.

The ball pops free to Willian, who really only has time to take one touch. He makes it count.

No. 3: Luis Suárez scrambles to score

Since returning from his 10-game suspension, Luis Suárez has scored three goals for Liverpool. His goal on Saturday against Crystal Palace sparked a 3-1 win and showed his determination inside the penalty area.

source:  As Suárez receives the ball wide, José Enrique is in position to provide a two-on-one isolation, especially since Palace’s defense is slow to shift. Daniel Sturridge is the only other Liverpool attacker in a dangerous position right now, and he can easily be passed off among defenders so they can slide to cover the immediate danger, which is the ball.

source:  Suárez plays the ball for Enrique, and the Palace defenders’ eyes stay glued to the ball. That allows Suárez to run behind Mile Jedinak, staying on the midfielder’s back shoulder and virtually invisible. That puts Suárez in great position to receive a cutback from the endline, which is one of the most dangerous attacking passes.

source:  When Enrique plays the ball back toward Suárez, Jedinak allows the ball to run because he doesn’t Suárez behind him. By the time Jedinak and his teammates’ focus shifts, Suárez is in position to score a scrappy goal, even after taking an extra touch and falling over.

No. 2: Adnan Januzaj caps dream first start with volley

Manchester United wunderkind Adnan Januzaj scored both of his team’s goals in a comeback 2-1 victory at Sunderland on Saturday, making manager David Moyes look like a genius for playing the 18-year-old. Januzaj’s second goal, a side volley, was particularly masterful.

source:  As Nani has the ball on the right wing, Januzaj is wide on the left. Sunderland’s back four is in fine shape, staying compact but prepared to spring wide if necessary. If Nani switches the ball to the left, Sunderland has plenty of time to shift while the ball travels.

source:  Januzaj starts to make his run toward goal as Nani prepares his cross. Wayne Rooney is the target, and he will draw most of the defenders’ attention. In this situation, the back-post run might be the biggest area of missed opportunity; most players simply choose not to make it, or they mistime it.

Still, as long as the Sunderland defenders have their heads on a swivel and recognize the run, it shouldn’t be dangerous. The cross isn’t great, as Nani decides to hit it with the outside of his right foot.

source:  Sunderland makes no real defensive errors on this play, aside from the weak clearance on Nani’s cross. Even so, as the ball heads toward Januzaj, the nearest defender provides immediate pressure on the ball. Just as Willian did in the above example, Januzaj only has one touch.

He also makes it count, emphatically scoring his second goal of the game — and the winner.

At 0-2, Americans understand stakes in World Cup qualifying

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Michael Bradley sees no reason to keep harping on that 4-0 loss at Costa Rica four months ago.

Yes, it’s still fresh in the Americans’ minds, a night every mistake snowballed into another.

“There is zero point in continuing to look back on that at the moment,” Bradley said. “We are where we are. Now it’s about on Friday night beginning this process of moving ourselves back up the table and stepping on the field from the first minute and playing a really aggressive way that ultimately leaves no doubt as to who’s stepping off the field, win or lose.”

Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad gets a fresh start in World Cup qualifying Friday against Honduras, and the pressure is on following the home country’s first 0-2 start in the North and Central American and Caribbean region’s final round.

“We understand the position we’re in,” Bradley said. “There’s no need for anybody on the outside to put any more pressure on us than we’ve already put on ourselves, because we didn’t start the hex in the right way. We put ourselves behind the eight ball. We’re honest and real enough with ourselves to understand that. Friday night is the beginning of our chance to put things right and get ourselves back in a good position. … We need guys to step on the field and understand the moment, not be fazed by it, go for it in a fearless way and have a big group of guys play really well.”

Forward Jordan Morris’ status for Friday appears in question after he missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. Morris rehabbed in the gym, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

“Have you followed our team at all the last month? You think that’s going to be something that’s going to bother me?” Arena said at the start of the week when asked about health concerns. “We’re fine. We’re going to have 11 good players on the field on Friday.”

For those who do play, Bradley said it is paramount everybody brings his best game. Same goes for the Americans’ next match in Panama on Tuesday.

While the man in charge has changed – Arena replaced the fired Jurgen Klinsmann in November for a second stint as U.S. coach – and more Major League Soccer players were called upon this time than in November, Bradley insists the approach remains simple: Find a way to win.

“We stepped on the field in Costa Rica wanting to win. That desire to win is obviously still there, so in terms of the basic idea of stepping on the field and trying to play well and go for it in the right way and come away with a positive result, that part’s still the same obviously,” the longtime captain said. “There’s no two ways about it, we let ourselves down in Costa Rica. We didn’t play well enough. Mistakes turned into bigger mistakes, which turned into bigger mistakes, and so it all comes together in a way that you can lose a game in a bad way.”

And, there are many faces who have been on the big stage – Bradley, included.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard started the past two World Cups. Howard, four-time World Cup participant defender DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey played for Arena leading into the coach’s last World Cup qualifying, in 2005. Jozy Altidore brings experience up front.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Howard said. “It’s helpful that we have guys who have been through the hex before, who understand what that takes and the pressures that are on us. Yeah, it’s a big game.”

Bradley isn’t getting fancy when it comes to what the U.S. group must do.

“Winning. Three points,” Bradley said. “That’s it.”

“For us the reality is simple: We let ourselves down in the first two games,” he said. “It means that our margin for error is very, very small, but nothing’s changed in that we still feel good about the team that we have, the group that we are. I think that Bruce has come in and done an excellent job in terms of re-establishing certain things, getting at a few things. The mentality, the spirit in training and around the group both in January and now this week has been excellent, so we’re getting a little excited about the chance to step on the field in a big-time qualifier.”

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”