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Pairs Soccer: Can’t Go It Alone

I know this isn’t pairs figure skating. I know it’s not Blades of Glory. I know this is world football. But a pair of players and how they play together often sets the tone for the team. And as they go, so goes the team.

And the pair don’t have to be matched up as midfielder and forward, although they often are, it more comes down to how the players understand each other. How they both read the game. It’s the old, on the same wavelength type of concept.

Messi and Etoo
The number of beautiful layoffs and exchanges between these two players this year are nearly infinite. So simple yet so precise you sometimes might miss them. It should come as no surprise then that Etoo has 26 goals and Messi has 19 goals for Barcelona so far this season.

For one layoff, Etoo just stood there and tapped the ball back to Messi, enabling Messi to continue on another one of his beautiful mazy runs and finish with a goal. Simple, seemingly Etoo doing nothing, but brilliant.

Could this partnership be one of the best in world soccer? The two find each in and around the goal box, at any angle. They play in the goal box like other players play in the central midfield. Playing give and goes and exchanging the ball just ten or fifteen yards away from the keeper. It’s no wonder teams and keepers must get frustrated and dive in, they’re just not used to being tortured and tempted so close to their goal. It’s a slap in the face.

Actually, all the players are just walls it seems for Messi to play of off at Barca – Etoo included. And it's a joy to watch. Just give the ball and get it back is their team’s mantra, as it should be all teams. The ball never gets tired or needs water.

Will Barcelona win the Champions League and La Liga? It is way too early to say, but we will no doubt have some wonderful football to watch in the coming weeks, and this pair will lead their team to trophies I’m sure.

To think that Etoo was almost let go by Barcelona, coach Guardiola saying he wasn't needed is amazing.

Rooney and Cristiano
Our relationship is telepathic. You pass me the ball I score a goal. Another odd couple, but both share one trait, they are determined to win and will do the dirty work if needed. Something that Cristiano is improving upon, perhaps Rooney’s and Tevez’s work rate rubbed off on him a little.

Many times it is Rooney who is finding Cristiano with crosses and long diagonal balls, the two so adept at making slashing runs. Then there’s Cristiano’s ability to drive at defenders, which opens up spaces for Rooney to run into and receive the ball.

What both of these players also do for their team that goes unrecognized at times is win and hold on to the ball. This allows their team to build attacks and keep possession. These two were key in killing off the game against Porto, as they could keep hold of the ball and dribble down the line or win a free kick or throw in. They are both still young and have grown into not just stars but pure professionals.

Rooney, unselfish, isn't afraid to play out wide and when he does Manchester has a lot of success. Case in point: Rooney played wide left when Tevez came on against Tottenham and tore them apart running wild on the left wing, cross once to Cristiano to head home and another to Berbatov.

The two have overcome the controversy surrounding Cristiano's infamous wink to the Portuguese bench after he seemed to help get Rooney sent off in the World Cup in Germany in 2006.

Gerrard and Torres
Rafa’s signing of Torres will go down as one of the greatest signings in Liverpool history, and if they can keep Gerrard, he will go down as one of the greatest and most loved Liverpool players of all time.

Torres,“El Nino”, has strength, pace and his size enables him to get up and score goals with his head. This season he’s come on late in games and scored game winners and also started goal scoring rallies at the start, with specacular volleys. He spent six years with Atletico Madrid scoring 82 goals. He’s already got 35 for Liverpool.

For Gerrard, his passing, determination, and constant running have helped turn Liverpool around the past four or five years. It also can’t hurt to have Zidane say you’re the best in the world. That must have surely boosted Gerrard’s confidence ahead of their clash with Manchester United, which they won 4-0. Gerrard does his own mazy like runs a la Messi, but they’re more darting runs at a diagonal, rather than Messi’s slaloms with the ball tethered to his foot. Gerrard keeps it close but not like the Atomic Flea.

Gerrard’s recurring abductor injury could put a crimp in this dynamic duo though, as he’s set to miss out on their match against Arsenal and maybe others.

Drogba and Lampard
These two were close to winning the crown as the best pair. They are an odd couple, but the two are close and loyal and both almost followed The Special One to Inter Milan. Instead, they stayed with the Blues and have helped revive the Chelsea hopes this year for a title run – yes, it’s not too late for them to catch Manchester or Liverpool or even win the Champions League.

The two seems to have so much fun playing with one another. You’d think that most of the service route goes from Lampard to Drogba, but just as in the late stage of the Liverpool versus Chelsea Champions League match, it was Drogba sliding the ball across a nearly open goal for Lampard to slot home.

Mourinho might have a big hand in this pair’s success, he boosted of the confidence of Lampard with a talk in the shower, and turned Drogba into a force rather than a player who simply falls down if he’s touched.

Ribery and Toni
Like Messi, Ribery is fearless when he takes players on and creates goal scoring changes at nearly every step. He intimidates opponents not with his scar, but with his slashing dribbling runs. His Italian partner up top is a lanky forward who won the World Cup in 2006, Luca Toni.

There is talk that Barcelona want to sign Ribery. Could you imagine two players who dribble like little devils on the same team? Not sure if Barca need him, but I said that about Henry.

This pair though should perhaps be taken off the least after their display at the Camp Nou in the Champions League, where Barcelona demolished the German side. The two were no where to be found.

However, the giant and the little artist have wreaked havoc on German clubs throughout the past few years. This is a classic pairing, a forward who is tall and likes to post up high, and a crafty midfielder who finds space wherever he can on the field.

Ribery is know to pull a prank or two on Luca Toni, but I don't think Toni's wife or girlfriend appreciates this one .

Kaka and Pato
The two Brazilian are two players who are almost faster with the ball than without. Both Pato and Kaka carry the ball at such pace and with such grace it almost doesn’t seem fair. The two have yet to make their early partnership one that is feared, but if they do, Europe will fall to their feet. Pato is the future of AC Milan and perhaps Brazil, at just 19, his future is beyond bright.

Looks like Kaka won’t leave AC Milan for Manchester City, a ton of money but no cohesive team. Kaka does want to shore up the Milan club with some younger players, and Pato is now taking on a bigger role with the club. Kaka is a big of a mix, of both Gerrard and Ribery, a smoother version of the two. Pato, a charges at defenders on the dribble, and latches on to crosses and long balls when you think they’re out of reach. Pato doesn’t score goals with his head like fellow teammate and most likely mentor, Filippo Inzaghi, but he’s got time to improve in that area.

Giuseppe Rossi and Robert Pires
Rossi is the Italian who Manchester United let get away, Macheda, I don’t think they’ll let him leave. Could you imagine Rossi running wild at Manchester? Could you imagine him playing for the United States? The American born forward has had a ton of success this year with Villarreal and is only 22 years old. However, he’s now a target of Mourinho, and his pairing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, would immediately put them to the top of this pairings review.

The veteran Pires, gives Rossi, who may not need much mentoring, some insight into the game and takes some of the pressure off. Pires has won a World Cup and numerous titles with Arsenal, but may leave Villarreal after this season.

Diego Forlan and Sergio Leonel Aguero
Forlan has 20 goals this year while Aguero has 14. Atletico Madrid has dropped off of late, as they now sit in sixth place, but there is still time to break into the top four and qualify for the Champions League. If they are to do it, these two will get them there. The sale of Fernando Torres essentially helped put this pair together, and in some ways Atletico needed two players to replace Torres. However, the Uruguayan and the Argentine are starting to soar.

Forlan has compared Aguero to the Brazilian Romario. However, Aguero, who has a son with Diego Maradona's daughter, Gianinna, may not stay with Atletico long. I could easily see a bigger club coming in and scooping up the player, since it’s just 20 years old.

Summary

I’m just not sure if any of those pairs of players can top the relationship that Etoo and Messi seemed to have developed. Gerrard has come to find Torres with some amazing laser like passes as he drives up the middle of the field, but Etoo and Messi, with their short passes and give and goes, at times in or on top of the goal mouth, create constant havoc for the opposing team. They create chances not just for themselves but for their teammates - Henry, Xavi, Iniesta. The list of class players on the Barcelona squad almost seems unfair to mention.

The best pair will win the league for their club, and just might also win the Champions League too. In the end we'll know who the best pair of soccer players are based on the number of titles their clubs win.

There of course are incredible partnerships of the past, ones that have been split up and are no more, Henry and Pires at Arsenal, Ronaldinho and Messi at Barcelona, Zidane and Raul/Ronaldo with Real Madrid, Figo and Ronaldo. And many of these past pairs have left some clubs wondering if they’re ever renew their previous club glory without them.


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