This piece originally appeared on the Carvalho Peninsula.
Here in the UK, it has apparently been a pretty miserable week to be a football fan. Four of the five British sides were defeated in the Champions League – the worst set of results in the competition for a decade. There was the Arsenal AGM, widely portrayed as a depressingly familiar farce in which a group of disconnected rich white men flaunted their disregard for popular opinion. The weekend brought yet another racism scandal which threatens to dominate mainstream coverage for the foreseeable future. Yesterday, there came the final insult and possibly the most horrendous of all: news that Lee Cattermole will remain a highly-paid pseudo-footballer instead of maximising his potential as a mixed martial artist.
Despite this and the best efforts of many journalists, pundits and tweeters, I remain as deeply in love with football as ever. So we all do. Here are a few reasons why the last week has been undoubtedly brilliant to be a football fan.
Freiburg vs Dortmund
Probably the best weather-influenced match since Switzerland vs Turkey broke new ground in the genre at Euro 2008. Six inches of snow fell in Freiburg over the weekend and the match was played in the middle of the blizzard. Despite the inevitably low level of quality on show – one first-half graphic informed me that pass completion was currently 51% vs 61% – it was impossible to be bored. The snow denied Freiburg two goals in the first half, most brilliantly when Daniel Caligiuri drew Roman Weidenfeller from his goal and rolled the ball across for Karim Guedé to tap into an unguarded net, only to see his would-be assist stop dead in the snow and allow Dortmund to clear. Ninety minutes of slapstick comedy, topped off by a brilliant goal from Mario Götze.
Schalke’s continued emergence
Saturday’s win over Nürnberg , courtesy of Jefferson Farfán’s third goal of a personally productive start to the season, took their tally of consecutive victories to four. However, it is not the number of their wins which is startling, but who it is that they’re beating: defeat of Dieter Hecking’s men came after wins against Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion and Arsenal at the Emirates. The ingredients for success are all in place for Huub Stevens’ Königsblauen and if they can sustain their recent form then they will certainly be in with a chance of taking the Bundesliga title for the first time since 1958.
Roma vs Udinese
An absolutely mental game of football. Five goals, each due to tremendous combination play and defending that would’ve shamed Gaël Clichy, and settled by a Panenka from the ageless Totò di Natale. Personally, I prefer a tactical 1-0 in which everyone posts 85% pass completion or higher, but for those “falling out of love with the game”, this was the ideal tonic.
A perceived lack of effort from the Bulgarian earned him criticism from the Guardian’s Sachin Nakrani and Match of the Day’s John Roder this weekend. For them, it was simply not enough to complete more passes than all but two players on the pitch, win more free-kicks than any other player on the pitch, have more shots than any other striker on the pitch and cap it all with a goal of genuine beauty. For me, however, that’ll do.
Stoke have won just one of their last fifteen Premier League matches
Juan Carlos Valerón’s continued brilliance (pt. 2,429,136)
Fresh from filming an underreported role as Ben Affleck’s stunt double in upcoming thriller Argo, Europe’s answer to Juan Roman Riquelme was close to his mesmeric best in Deportivo’s draw with Celta. Depor’s start to the season may have been wretched, but when you’ve got a thirty-seven year-old club hero making assists like his for Juan Domínguez, you can forget that just for an instant and reflect on what the game is really about: fun. And boy, was that assist fun.
Cholo‘s Atlético go on and on
Falcao’s is the name on everyone’s lips, but it’s arguably the strength of the Colombian’s supporting cast which creates the belief that they’re not another Levante waiting to happen. The weekend’s win included the customary goal for El Tigre, but this time his was the icing on the cake rather than the decider, with goals from Miranda and Raúl García doing for a thoroughly outplayed Osasuna. There are clear issues in defence, with only three clean sheets registered in La Liga so far, but their abundance of attacking riches has combined with a clearly Simeone-influenced midfield to floor opponent after opponent. The elephant in the room is that Atlético will once again have to sell the crown jewels at the end of the season in order to keep going. That is a long time away, though. For now, it is better to sit back and watch Simeone’s men at the peak of their powers.
Sergio Busquets’ nomination for the Ballon d’Or
Given the inevitability of Lionel Messi winning the game’s most coveted individual award for the fourth year running, it seems academic to put twenty-two other names on the ballot paper. Busquets, however, is worthy of his selection. If anything, it is long overdue. In the UK at least, he remains a wilfully misunderstood figure: a pantomime villain whose histrionics serve as the perfect excuse to dislike those foreigners who keep winning everything. However, he is slowly winning over the last of his doubters. His skill set and his importance to Barcelona and Spain have been underlined in 2012, and while there were inclusions on FIFA’s shortlist which could legitimately have been questioned, Busquets’ was one which showed that sometimes football’s governing body isn’t a total embarrassment.