The Workmanlike Performers: Column 4

Sam can’t stop crying, Atletico #feelthebern, and the machine revolution is coming.  Read on for all the zany happenings from the past week of world football!

Sam Cicci: Yowza! We had a wild Champions League round of 16, didn’t we? My tears have almost stopped from Madrid’s elimination last week.


Matt Hein: That’s good, the constant sniffling was a nuisance, unlike Madrid’s attack.

SC: Are you saying that relying on your new, 18-year-old signing to provide attacking dynamism is a poor game plan?

MH: I’m saying Bale should have probably learned some Spanish by now to explain to everyone that golf is his true passion (and that Ronaldo threatened to castrate him if he tried to upstage his tenure).

SC: Well since you brought him up, how about that Cristiano Ronaldo, eh? All the haters are gonna hate, but he continues to produce goals when the stakes are high, and he really enjoys sticking it to Atletico. There’s a reason why he has five Champions medals, and is eyeing a sixth. That would make him only the second player to win the Champions League with three different teams.

MH: Atletico also could #feelthebern as Bernardeschi really provided a sterling performance after not playing in the first leg. Providing a beautiful assist and drawing the decisive penalty, he deserves to at least be invited to Ronaldo’s afterparty.

SC: Are Atletico bern’d out? They were horrible that game and never looked like they had a chance, even going in 2-0 up on aggregate. There’s a lot of talent on that team, but they always seem to come up short these days. Is Simeone’s tenure coming to an end?

MH: If it does I could picture many teams vying for his services, even if many of the top teams actually look stable at the moment. Pochettino might not even get offers to move on from Spurs!

SC: I think you’re right. His two biggest suitors, Real Madrid and Manchester United, both appear to have found the “right” coaches, so Poch will likely stick around for more 3rd place finishes and transfer-less windows.

MH: And Champions League quarter finals!

SC: Hey, maybe they’ll upset Manchester City!

MH: I can hope, but the way City absolutely humiliated Schalke this week…

SC: To be fair, Schalke have been absolute garbage this season. Yes, scoring seven goals is always impressive. But the Germans may as well have been training cones out there. I think any of the teams left in the field could have racked up a similar scoreline. City might get complacent after a result like that, but Guardiola’s not the type of coach to let that kind of thing fester.

MORE: Workmanlike Performers #3

MORE: Workmanlike Performers #2

But on to more British shenanigans! Liverpool came away from Germany with a  3-1 away win of Bayern Munich. Liverpool seem to be back at the top table, capable of turning in stellar performances against the juggernauts. But another early exit begs the question: can Bayern still be considered an elite team?

MH: I think it depends on where you draw the line for elite. They have managed to get back to the top of the Bundesliga and they definitely made Liverpool sweat for stretches. Looking at their roster, however, just does not strike the same fear in you that it used to. Their top performers have continued their steady decline; Robben’s hair isn’t coming back anytime soon. Bayern have not replaced them with world-class performers, merely good ones

SC: Coman and Gnabry are still very young. You don’t think they’ll be able to fill that void?

MH: I think they would have to take a leap that is by no means guaranteed. Showing promise and fulfilling that promise are two vastly different things, as your college track career demonstrates.

SC: Whoa whoa whoa. You know who else is injured every season? Gareth Bale. That puts me in pretty good company! Although I don’t like golf, and I do speak Spanish. And would never  wear my hair in a bun. Get a haircut, Gareth.

Back to Real Madrid; they were very poor, but Ajax were also phenomenal. The naysayers might naysay that the goals they conceded were world-class anomalies, but Ajax put them to the sword through talent and good systemic play. The squad has plenty of promising players and a few old heads, and they meshed together perfectly to run riot in Spain. The Cruyff  school of thinking came out ahead in this one, and proves that at the end of the day, superior talent can only take you so far. When things aren’t going your way, having a system to fall back on can make things click into place. A good system undid Real in their matchups against Barcelona, and it did against Ajax.

Then again, a good system counts for nothing if your players consistently wilt when it matters most. Paris Saint Germain should certainly be embarrassed after their elimination against an injury-ravaged Manchester United. How did they pull it off?

MH: A good deal of luck. Give Lukaku credit, he capitalized on two terrible mistakes, the first a terrible pass by the PSG defence, the second a horrendous spill from Buffon. It’s sad to see Buffon go out like this, especially if this is the end of his illustrious Champions League career. Man U also got bailed   out by a highly questionable VAR decision, where they ruled a PK at the very end of the game. United did not dominate the game in any way but it is impressive how well they have played under Ole Gunnar (which I am still amazed is a real name). I also would play harder for an Ole Gunnar than a Jose, unless it was Jose Cuervo amirite lads.

SC: Sometimes when you’re coaching an unruly youth team, you need to bring along big Sonic cup full of tequila.



  • Last Premier League weekend, Arsenal won 2-0 against high-flying Manchester United courtesy of a David de Gea mistake and a soft penalty. Still, a victory against a  top-four rival is important, and Arsenal showed that they do have the mettle to be challenging at a high level. Plus, Mesut Ozil started an important game for the first time in ages. Emery is doing well this season. His team still might not qualify for the Champions League this season, but it’s good progress.
  • The relegation battle continues to be close for the final spot. While Fulham and Huddersfield are going to go down, Cardiff is putting pressure on the teams above them. Burnley and Southampton are both only two points ahead of the Bluebirds. As these teams fight to stay relevant, they really scrap and claw for any points they can, as Tottenham found out a couple weeks ago.
  • Real Madrid reappointed Zinedine Zidane! That was pretty shocking, considering he read the signs of their decline so well nine months ago and picked the best time to step down. However, he surely demanded more control with his second appointment, so expect some huge changes at the Santiago Bernabeu next season. Hazard, anyone?

Workmanlike Performance of the Week

The sanctity of the game is important, so many people were understandably wary when VAR was introduced. However, the idea of having a second team of referees to use video replay to spot blatant errors helps to balance the game when a team scores an illegal goal or  someone gets away with something naughty. In fact, VAR seems to be so good that it doesn’t even need humans running it to make the right call! During the Real Valladolid-Real Madrid match in Spain last weekend, the referee called for video review, and cameras cut to…an empty room. Protocol is unclear at that point. Does the ref flip a coin? Make something up? Don’t review at all? Or perhaps….the machine is alive. Has VAR gained sentience? Is it here to rule to take control of the beautiful game and wrest control from its human masters? THE MACHINE UPRISING IS HERE, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES

— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci

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