Mathematics come into the way we have to work this time of year. With the groups of four teams in the Champions League there will often be calculations in the last round of games.
Manchester City found that out on Tuesday, when they needed a fourth goal to top their group ahead of Bayern Munich and thought the number needed was five. As a manager you need to be thinking always about tactics and ways of playing and sometimes you need your staff to help you with details like the calculations.
It is better to know everything as a manager, maybe, but Manuel Pellegrini needed one of his staff to tell him the mathematics in Munich. It mattered – because there’s a big difference between winning the group and coming second in the group. Just look at the list of teams on those two lists and you will see why.
Mathematics in the Champions League? “Tell me about it!” as I think the English like to say. Our Napoli team accumulated 12 points in our group by beating Arsenal at Stadio San Paolo on Wednesday and still did not qualify. The last team to score that many points and not go to the knockout stages was PSG in 1997. What can you do? We look at Zenit St Petersburg who are through from their group with only six points. Repeat: What can you do?!
There’s a mix of emotions though – and disappointment is not the only one. There is pride in our team, who are becoming a good squad together, playing for each other always. We beat a good Arsenal team because of our intensity and commitment and passion; pushing them. We showed everyone that Napoli is a team that is growing.
The calculations for us on Wednesday were also very difficult – because when we started the game we knew that if Borussia Dortmund beat Marseilles in the south of France then we would have to win by three clear goals against Arsenal. Of course, we did not expect a Dortmund defeat so our plan was to score an early goal. We couldn’t do it so we had to keep trying until the end.
If you are too offensive against Arsenal they can be dangerous so we had to look for balance between defence and attack. We had to keep looking for another goal but not be too desperate. If we had conceded early it would have been an even bigger task than the one we had at Anfield in that famous game against Olympiakos in 2004 – another last group stage game when we were adding up the numbers.
Dortmund scored after three minutes but Marseilles equalised after 14. If that score stayed the same we would qualify. And it did stay the same. For 70 long minutes nothing changed in France. We had to stay with our ideas, knowing we had to be prepared in case Dortmund scored again. “Keep to the plan,” we told the players.
It was tough when Dortmund scored after 87 minutes, taking them from third in the group to top. But it was tough again when one of the radio commentators said that Marseilles had scored again and some of our fans when crazy, jumping up and down. Our players thought there had been another equaliser.
Do you see what I mean about mathematics? In these situations you have to keep calm, of course. You need your players’ minds to be clear so you need calmness too. Don’t communicate too much information because they need to be thinking about finding the right pass, creating the space and not allowing others the space.
I thought we could do it – even after the Germans had scored their big goal. Arsenal were not creating too much in attack and they had lost Mikel Arteta to a red card. But our problem was that the goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon came very late for us.
When the players left the field they realised for sure that there had not been a second Marseilles goal. It was hard for them and we are left with some of the “maybes”. Yes “maybe” if we had not conceded late goals at home to Dortmund and away to Marseilles – both of them came in the last four minutes of normal time – it would have been different. We now have the Europa League, which is also a special competition for me. I have won it with two teams – Valencia and Chelsea – so the challenge is there to make it three. We will give it all our efforts when Europe starts again for us.
Lack of expectation could set England free in Brazil
I didn’t think we would be talking about England playing Italy again quite so soon. I must say what I think, of course. Italy are a better team than they were back at Euro 2012. I have seen a little bit of talk about Andrea Pirlo being injured but they say here in Italy that he will only be out for two months, so I don’t think there can be an expectation that he will not be there in the Amazon.
The team has players who can change games. We talked about Mario Balotelli here a few weeks ago and how he has improved. Italy are used to playing to the maximum level and controlling games. They are good tactically and adapt well. But none of that means that England cannot do well. When the pressure is off and no one has big expectations it can help to set you free as a team. There is always a chance in the game of football if you investigate a way of playing and make sure the preparations are right.
McParland and Borrell exits signal the end of an era
There have been changes at Liverpool since I last wrote, with Frank McParland and Rodolfo Borrell leaving their positions in the Academy there. It was a surprise for me. I remember Kenny Dalglish praising the great job they were doing and the number of young players coming from the Academy in the last years.
I know for experience how difficult it was to start with new ideas and I was really pleased with the results in the first year, after I asked them to help create an Academy that could create players for the first team. But it is not for me to criticise the decision: just to wish the best to both, very good professionals. It is good to see that Frank has a chance to work with a new club at Brentford, who will benefit from his skills.