“Both clubs, their supporters and football fans around the world are looking forward to this historic and passionate match between two of the sport’s biggest and oldest rivals. There is great rivalry between our fans and we ask all supporters to be respectful and help eradicate all forms of offensive and discriminatory behaviour from the game. If any supporters are found to be engaged in any form of offensive or discriminatory behaviour by stewards or via CCTV then they will be immediately removed from the stadium, risk arrest, prosecution and be reported in accordance with the club’s ground regulations. This is an unrivalled fixture in the Premier League calendar and we thank all fans for their continued support in this important area of the game.”
Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
Liverpool and Manchester United felt the need to issue that joint statement above on Thursday; an appeal to the higher instincts and decent human judgement of their respective fans in advance of the clash on Monday night, asking their supporters to refrain from brutish behaviour, and laying out the consequences for anyone attending the game thinking of using the occasion as an excuse to kick out the jams and get violent.
A fine sense of a pending flashpoint ahead of Monday’s game, with the memory of the Europa League clash between them at Old Trafford in March is still raw. The ugly tone was set early on when a banner with the word ‘MURDERERS’ – a welcome sign for the travelling Liverpool fans – had to be removed by police from the motorway, and five supporters were taken into custody afterwards when small factions of supporters on both sides erupted into a hate-frenzy and started laying hands on each other, deteriorating into a savage and atavistic tribal brawl.
Nobody wants a repeat of those scenes, and nor would anyone on either side be entirely satisfied with the same 1-1 outcome. Especially not United, who go into one of their toughest and most high-pressured fixtures of the season knowing that defeat would leave them five points off fourth place, with Chelsea as their next opponents, at Stamford Bridge; A fixture that will get almost as much hype as this one and maybe more, being Mourinho’s first return to his old stomping ground since his sacking almost a year ago, and given how much could be riding on it by then.
But there’s not much use in getting into that here. The critical point to get across is that there’s a very real possibility for United of emerging from this game and the next with no points, or perhaps just one or two points, and if that were to happen their title chances would already look extremely bleak before they even reached the 10-game mark.
As it stands now, a loss against Liverpool would leave them only six points from the top, where City are still clinging on to 1st place on goal difference after a 1-1 draw with Everton on Saturday, opening up a potential scenario where the top three clubs could all be level on 19 points after Monday’s game, with Spurs just one point behind...A very tight squeeze that would mean some dark brooding on the preconceived ideas about the 2016/17 title race and where it might go from here, which might have been what Gianluca Vialli – a pundit on Sky Sports on Saturday – was thinking about when he talked about Monday’s game as a potential turning point in the season for both clubs.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho appeared very relaxed and in good humour in their press conferences on Friday; calm, composed, and careful to avoid any kind of language that might rouse ill feelings or stoke the flames going into a fixture that some sections of the media have been referring to for the last several days as ‘Red Monday’. The main point Klopp seemed intent on getting across was his unhappiness with the Christmas fixture schedule, which has left Liverpool with less than 48 hours between a home game against Man City on December 31st and an away fixture in Sunderland on January 2nd, which is neither here nor there, for now. On the subject of the United game Klopp talked about wanting the fans to create a “special atmosphere”. “They have big quality in their team and we have to respect this,” he said, “but of course, it’s Anfield, and we have to show this.”
That was about as close as he got to ‘fighting words’, and despite his cool demeanour he insisted he was already in ‘game mode’, which a lot of people watching might have been surprised to hear, having seen enough of Klopp by now to have a very different notion in their own heads about what he’s like when he’s really in game mode; a raving beast at the mercy of his own emotions, his eyes bulging wide and fixed in an intense stare, teeth clenched, arms moving wildly in a blur of speed – punching the air, pounding his chest, and waving around maniacally, ready to embrace, strangle, or beat anything that gets too close.
Mourinho commented on Klopp’s touchline behaviour last season, at one point turning to the fourth official during Chelsea’s encounter with Liverpool and asking “what if that was me?”. In his pre-match press conference for the next game he raised it again: “I had a game a few days ago where I stood for 90 minutes in my own technical area,” he said. “The other manager was jumping like Michael Jordan and nothing happened.”
The context was important for those comments. At the time, Mourinho had just been given a stadium ban for an ugly confrontation with referee Jonathan Moss at half-time during Chelsea’s defeat against West Ham two weeks previously. His problem wasn’t really with Klopp, but with what he perceived as unfair treatment from the FA and officials – the idea that he (Mourinho) is somehow treated ‘differently’ to other managers, a fixed theory he’s never really been able to let go of.
There is no real personal rivalry to speak of between Mourinho and Klopp, just a normal professional one. Nothing on the same heated level as his rivalries with Guardiola or Wenger, but there’s enough of a contrast to make Monday’s managerial conflict interesting, with Klopp being regarded as a ‘rising force’ in management and part of a new wave of ‘super coaches’, and Mourinho, perhaps the first pioneering forerunner of that new wave, now considered by many people to be washed up, a man being left behind by a new era which he helped to create.
Mourinho’s head-to-head record against Klopp is perhaps one reason for that view. In five meetings between them, stretching back to 2012, Klopp has won three times and Mourinho just once. But that will not have much bearing on Monday night, and neither, many say, will current form or the odds which make Liverpool favourites, with this fixture considered to be one of a few where most of the usual factors for predicting the outcome are thought to be of no relevance.
Mourinho, in his own press conference on Friday, talked about the fixture as “a big match” comparable to Madrid vs. Barcelona or Inter vs. Milan – matches, he said, that he “likes the characteristics of”. Which had a lot of people nodding in agreement. Despite his mixed success in those games, he’s retained a reputation as being something of a specialist in these kinds of fixtures; a manager built for big occasions who will do whatever it takes to get a result, and often does.
This has been one of the main questions in the build-up to Monday; whether Mourinho will take his Man United team to Anfield with a game-plan based on the concept of ‘parking the bus’ and winning ugly. There would be no shame in it, but it would not do much to soften the headlines if he went with that approach and then lost anyway...though with two defeats already this season, another of any kind – even a 4-3 open battle that was decided with two unjust penalties in the final minutes – would mean hunkering down and bracing himself for the whirlwind.
There wasn’t much of interest in Mourinho’s press conference, but he did touch on one of the other main talking points – the appointment of Manchester native Anthony Taylor as the referee. “I think Mr. Taylor is a very good referee but because such pressure is being put on him I think it will be difficult for him to have a very good performance at Anfield,” he said. “I don’t really want to say too much more on the matter. I have my view but I have learned a lesson, if you want to call it that, by being punished so many times for my words about referees.”
Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
After just seven games, the Title Race, declared by some experts to be a foregone conclusion as early as mid-September, has now been blown wide open by Tottenham’s forceful 2-0 victory over Manchester City on October 2nd. It was a fine spectacle – an early contender for ‘Game of the Season’, some said, squeezing City’s lead down to a single point and forcing those same experts to hastily abandon the theory that the season was shaping up to be a 1999/2000-style campaign, when Man United had the title wrapped up before the end of April and went on to win it by an 18-point margin.
Not many saw it coming. Even those who thought that Tottenham stood a decent chance were taken aback by the high-handed manner of the victory. The effect on City, who had been on a six-game winning streak in the league up to then, was like a sudden and violent jerk of the head causing severe whiplash. Watching closely, you could just about make out the unnatural hyperextension of their necks as they were traumatically rammed from behind repeatedly by Pochettino’s Spurs who came out of the tunnel like a pack of African Wild Dogs after meat, and instantly settled into a high-speed attack/pressing blitz. When City finally started to get to grips with the pace of the game, they had already been 1-0 down for about 20 minutes and it was because Spurs at that point were in between their first and second wind.
There had been enough signs in City’s previous outings to suggest that they were vulnerable defensively. Celtic had exposed those issues just three earlier in a chaotic, end-to-end 3-3 draw, and even in City’s six league wins they’d managed to keep just one clean sheet. Until recently it remained a minor issue, an observation made by pundits who usually had to have the question put them directly as to whether they could see any weakness at all in the Guardiola juggernaut. “Yeah,” they answered hesitantly, “I suppose you could say they can be a bit shaky at the back, but they’re scoring so many goals at the other end it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.”
City’s last two matches; taken together, represent an undeniable shift from their defensive frailties being an inconsequential issue that could be shrugged off, to a critical flaw and a topic suddenly worthy of press coverage and discussion. A small difference, but a significant one Guardiola can’t afford to ignore. Previously conceding no more than one goal in a competitive game, they’ve now shipped five in the last two, morphing – at least in the public consciousness – from an unstoppable machine to a more human entity with an obvious defect, and inadvertently altering the mentality of every team City face from now on.
That ‘Invincible Aura’ that was built up over the first six weeks was lost against Tottenham, at least temporarily, and once it happened it didn’t take long for City fans to start talking amongst themselves in solemn tones about what happened last season when, after winning their first five games without conceding a goal, they lost their next two and never properly recovered from it – lurching through the rest of the season and not winning more than three consecutive league games again until April.
Not many City supporters seriously believe the same thing will happen again this time, but in the back of their minds a lot of them will quietly fear it. The brainwaves of Man City fans are innately predisposed towards pessimism; they’ve stared into the bottom of the well too many times over the years to be able to help themselves from thinking otherwise, especially on weekends like Match Week 7, when not only did City lose, but Liverpool and Arsenal both won, creating a very slim two-point margin between 1st and 4th place.
Which makes it entirely possible that City will be sitting in third or fourth by next Tuesday morning and the Title Race would then suddenly look a lot less predictable than it did a month ago. Those who have been watching the odds from week to week will already have noticed the significant swings. A look at the odds this week shows that City are still considered to be the frontrunners, but that’s about all that’s remained unchanged since the opening weekend when most people were predicting a season-long epic struggle between the two Manchester clubs with Chelsea leading the chasing pack.
Already that idea has had to be revised, with United and Chelsea falling so far behind they’re now 5th and 6th favourites respectively, while the teams that were meant to be fighting among themselves for that last top-four spot are now thought to be ‘in the mix’ for the title. And why not? Liverpool and Spurs have each won their last four games, and Arsenal, after a nightmarish start to the season that etched nine new worry lines into Wenger’s forehead, suddenly clicked and have won their last five...Nothing extraordinary, but an unsettling sign if you happen to be from Manchester, because all of a sudden Liverpool’s and Arsenal’s trademark inconsistency looks a lot less bankable.
If Arsenal beat Swansea this weekend they’ll have bettered their longest winning streak from last season, while Liverpool, with their 2-1 win over Swansea on October 1st, are now on their best league run since Klopp took over and are 2nd favourites for the title despite having the worst defensive record of any team in the top 10.
If last season proved anything it’s that odds are essentially meaningless, but it’s hard not to be jolted when confronted with those 9/2 odds Liverpool have for the Great Prize. The reasoning is mainly to do with their free-scoring ability, but if any team can push City all the way to the end it’s just as likely to be Tottenham. Despite averaging just 1.7 goals per game compared to Liverpool’s 2.6, Spurs are second in the table, and just one point behind City, due to having the most airtight defence in the league; a highly efficient, well-drilled rearguard who’ve yet to concede a goal from open play.
That’s worth thinking about, for a moment. Just three league goals conceded so far, two of which have been free-kicks along with a penalty. At this rate, they’ll finish the season having shipped somewhere between 15 and 20 goals, but even allowing for form dips, injuries, and blunders, it’s hard to see them leaking more than 30, which makes their candidacy something that should be taken very seriously.
It’s why many suspect the Lilywhites, the only team in the league still undefeated, have the edge over Liverpool and Arsenal in terms of being Main Challengers, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Spurs have also scored three more goals than they had at this stage last season, despite their main striker Harry Kane – for reasons of form or injury – contributing just two goals so far. Actually, two goals and an assist in his five appearances prior to that ankle injury against Sunderland in mid-September was a reasonably decent contribution, but Kane was nevertheless forced to spend the first month of the season dismissing theories that he was either suffering from severe burnout or was traumatized from Euro 2016.
At any rate, it hasn’t really mattered. The goals have been coming from other sources, chiefly from Son Heung-Min (4 goals & 2 assists), and some time out of the team will probably do Kane some good. A much less talked about factor for Spurs’ winning streak, or at least their healthy goal return, has been Pochettino’s recent tactical switch from 4-2-3-1 to a more naked and aggressive 4-1-4-1. It’s essentially allowed him to deploy Dele Alli further forward where he can run amok, with Christian Eriksen in a slightly deeper playmaker-type role, and Victor Wanyama as the sole designated shield in front of the back four…which would be a much greater risk if it was a player other than Wanyama, a 6ft 2” tactically bright battering ram who averages 3 tackles per game and names Roy Keane as his main idol.
The more I think about it, the more credible Spurs’ title bid seems. They started ‘slow’ this season, it was said, with two draws in their first three games strengthening the consensus among the whizzes that last season was a fluke and they were destined for 5th or 6th this time. Maybe so…after seven games most eventualities are still possible, but right now it’s hard to get an even-money bet on Spurs finishing lower than 4th. Not much significance was given to the fact that those draws were against Everton and Liverpool, but in retrospect those results might come to be regarded as ‘decent points’ before the season is out, and probably sooner rather than later.
Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
Speaking after Manchester United’s 4-1 thrashing of Leicester last Saturday, Gary Neville said it was the first time in what seemed like a long while where United had mercilessly pummeled a team into the ground at home before half-time.
It was a vintage Old Trafford flaying, reminiscent of the bygone days of Ferguson when such butcheries were commonplace, and watching it all from the bench - until the 83rd minute when he was finally introduced - was Wayne Rooney...Wazza...The White Pelé and one-time ‘Wonder Boy’, whose exclusion from the starting XI was the main talking point of the whole weekend, the act being regarded by Neville and many others as the inevitable first step into the Last Phase of his career – a time when Rooney would cease to be a regular starter and would become a strategically used force or ‘impact sub’.
Mourinho was ready for every Rooney-related question that was thrown at him last weekend, and predictably downplayed the effect of his absence, insisting that “my captain is my captain”, and that the victory was down to the team playing well, rather than having anything to do with Rooney not playing. “We thought today against a team like Leicester…with the profile of their defenders, that the best solution for us was to play with the two fast kids (Rashford and Lingard) and Mata in a position where he can interact with these young kids,” he explained. “Today was a day to have fast people on the pitch. It went well for us.”
He went on, diplomatically, to make the point that if Rooney had played from the start then he would have performed well and they still would have won the game, but the general reaction to that appraisal has at best been a sort of half-agreement. A victory with Rooney in the side would still have been probable, it’s supposed, because for a twenty-minute spell before half-time Leicester went all to pieces, suffering a total cerebral meltdown that would have left them vulnerable against anyone. Even Rooney, given enough opportunities and the right timing, might have gotten himself on the scoresheet, but Mourinho would have a much harder time trying to convince people that Rooney would have played well, or that the overall team performance and the style of the win would have been as swift and forceful as it was; a rapid four-punch combo strike to Leicester’s solar plexus that left them sprawled out on the floor by the 43rd minute.
This season has not been a good one for Rooney, so far, with almost every individual performance going down as another addition to the mounting body of evidence against him, strengthening the case for why he needed to be taken out of the team, and giving rise to the theory that the reason Mourinho started him in as many games as he did was to give him enough rope to hang himself, so that he could then be taken out of the team without triggering an earnest outcry among supporters and the press.
The much talked about compilation video of Rooney’s ‘lowlights’ against Watford was perhaps the most damning proof; a hideous show reel of about a dozen or so instances of him losing possession or making wild and careless passes, and it left little room for a credible rendition of the standard Rooney defence that’s readily espoused by ex-pros, who persistently argue that Manchester United and England captain Rooney, by virtue of his name, status and past achievements, and the fact that he still ‘has something to offer’, deserves to have his place in the Starting XI nailed down. “Of course you can’t drop Rooney,” they say. “Sure, he’s not the player he was, but he can still hit a 40-yard pass, and let’s not forget, he still pops up with a goal.”
There’s a distinct split in the Rooney debate between the blind faith on the part of former players turned pundits like Paul Ince and Trevor Sinclair, who argue that the best solution to the Rooney problem is to move him to a different position, and those perhaps less concerned with burning bridges who advocate taking him out of the team altogether. Ince considers Rooney to be a better No.10 than Juan Mata, while Sinclair, acknowledging Rooney’s lack of mobility and pace, believes the obvious solution is to play him as a No.4 holding midfielder, an idea that would have made even van Gaal and Hodgson shudder.
Prior to last Saturday, it was virtually unheard of for any former player to acknowledge in public that the best thing for Manchester United was to take Rooney out of the team entirely, but once it happened Neville was able to eloquently rationalise the decision.
“It was inevitable. The pressure has been building around here for the last two to three weeks," Neville said. “In some ways, it’s become a distraction and that’s not good. It’s the right decision to leave him out today...It’s the right thing for Wayne Rooney: he has looked mentally and physically shot in the last two weeks. Have a rest and come back stronger."
Rooney was again used a second-half substitute on Thursday night against Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk, when he ’changed the game’ by assisting Ibrahimovic for the only goal of the match. “Moments after his introduction, the skipper was immediately involved in United’s opener,” United’s official website noted in its match report, “skewing an effort into the path of Ibrahimovic, who couldn’t miss with his header at the far post from close range.”
Skewing...an interesting word choice. Other news sources used the word “scuffed”, but even ManUtd.com’s description was less generous than Robbie Savage, who gave Rooney the full benefit of the doubt as only ex-players are capable of: “Rooney just used all his experience...he didn’t go into the bodies, he just pulled out, great little move,” Savage said. “The ball’s fired in…and he’s got an assist.”
Confronted with Michael Carrick’s goal against Northampton on September 21st, Savage might have also found a way to credit Rooney: “The United and England captain has just pulled off the mother of all assists,” Savage might have said. “It stuns the mind, but what he appears to have done is...yes, I believe that Rooney had his angles all worked out there and put it on a plate for Carrick. A truly inspired move by England’s captain, to fire the free kick straight into the wall in that manner, knowing it would deflect at a 45 degree angle right into Carrick’s path, teeing him up with perfect precision for the finish...Pure genius is all I can say.”
That United were far better without Rooney last weekend, and that his ‘decisive impact’ was little more than blind luck mid-week, are factors that the old-boy network of pro-Rooney people have a hard time coming to terms with. Turning 31 later this month, Rooney’s ‘body age’, in a football sense, has been estimated at somewhere around 33 or 34, as an upshot of playing consistently since the age 16, but maybe an extra year or two should be added onto that due to the nature of Rooney’s physique – a stocky-type build that requires him to play at least a game a week to prevent his match sharpness from plummeting.
“It was not wise for England to give him [Rooney] a week’s holiday before Euro 2012 because he might lose his edge,” Alex Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography. “If he missed a couple of weeks for United it could take him four or five games to get his sharpness back.”
That’s one argument against the notion, subscribed to by Neville and others, that Rooney would come back ‘stronger’ after some time away from being a regular starter, or could somehow raise himself to a higher level, as Paul Scholes believes, when the ‘Big Games’ come around, as if his problem was a simple motivational issue.
The positive feelings floating around the club over two years ago, when Rooney signed a new five-year deal under Moyes’ watch, obscured the shadow on the horizon and made it easy to ignore the reality that one day United would have a 33-year old Wayne Rooney on their books – a nightmarish future vision of a half-fit waning has-been sucking £300,000 from the club every week. His deterioration, at the time, seemed inevitable, but was still regarded as a distant problem that few predicted would be a dominating issue as soon as the early stages of 2016/17.
Ferguson, towards the end, didn’t seem overly concerned with the prospect of Rooney leaving, because for various reasons Wazza had fallen out of favour at the time. Less than a year later, Rooney was able to use a spell of high-level individual form, United’s vulnerable position and a flirtation with other clubs in an impressive power play to fleece them for more than a lot of people think he’s worth.
It was undeniable that, under Moyes, United needed Rooney more than the other way around, a state of affairs that allowed the situation to get uncomfortably close to the ‘one player being bigger than the club’ scenario that Ferguson was always careful to avoid and could afford not to tolerate. Moyes, under severe pressure, didn’t have that luxury, and nor did van Gaal. Mourinho just might, but it’s a power he’s either yet to fully realise or publically admit to having.
Written by Yianni Garris (@Garinho14):
Nobody can deny that West Ham had a terrific run in the Premier League last season. Finishing ahead of teams like Everton, Liverpool, and Chelsea should be nothing short of remarkable to the club. Last season Dimitri Payet hit the ground running and performed at a fantastic level throughout the entire season when he was fit. Players like Michail Antonio as well as Mark Noble also performed well with a number of England fans arguing they should have made the squad for the Euro this past summer. To the neutral fan, West Ham looked like a team that has an excellent future with Slaven Bilic at the helm along with the new Olympic Stadium to compete with the big teams and look as a team that will be able to consistently challenge for the top four in the coming seasons.
Last season was a great year for West Ham and its fans, however, the start of this season has been nothing short of a disaster. West Ham has already lost five games this season, something they did not reach last season until January. They also currently have the weakest defense in the league having already conceded 16 goals. Two of those losses came against Chelsea and Manchester City making them more sympathetic as the former started off the season in great form and the latter has won every game they have played so far this season. However, losses to Watford, West Brom, and Southampton should be concerning. West Ham blew a two-goal lead at home to Watford to concede four. They also allowed a Tony Pulis coached side to score four goals on them, which definitely has not been achieved, in quite a long time and the game against Southampton this past weekend was personally tough to watch from a neutral point of view. Being dominated at home by a Southampton team, which many would argue the Hammers should’ve earned at least a point, should be concerning. The West Ham season and future can go into a downward spiral if they do not turn things around. West Ham’s greatest and most valuable asset at the club is Dimitri Payet and they cannot risk losing him in January. Payet is a world-class player, able to create that spark on the pitch that not many others can as well as also improving the players around him. Some may argue, but Dimitri Payet can be seen as a player that is too good for West Ham and will definitely have a number of clubs that will look to sign him in January and allow him to almost escape the problems that are going on at the moment. Payet stayed loyal to West Ham over the summer, but a player of his class should not be in a team that is currently towards the bottom of the table and it is something that can easily sway his loyalty to the club. If West Ham does lose Payet they will lose more than a player on the pitch, but also a player who can help boost their reputation as well as boost their revenue.
Many rumors have been going around that if Payet is unhappy the board will fire Bilic in attempt to keep the player as well as try and turn these problems around. Bilic did a great job with West Ham in his first season, but there is a hint of Roberto Martinez in him as well. Roberto Martinez had a great first season with Everton and brought them to a fifth place finish, however, in the years to come saw them drop to an underwhelming mid-table position. Something Martinez was never known for was his defensive organization and the more he started to get away from the organization David Moyes implemented during his years, the more goals they conceded and it was evident how unorganized Everton were at the back. The same question can be asked of Bilic and if he is not putting the same focus defensively into the team as Allardyce did during his time at West Ham. Like Everton, West Ham still are a dangerous side going forward as Antonio and Payet have seemed to pick up where they left off from last season, and even though he has not hit the mark yet Simone Zaza looks like an improvement up top. However, it is the back that needs to be sorted out. Soon enough, the question will arise if last year was just a fluke for West Ham or does Slaven Bilic needs to be replaced by someone who puts more focus on organizing the back four, because West Ham cannot afford to lose the current assets they have in place at their club.
How the Global and Financial Success of the Premier League Will Continue to Hinder the English National Team
Blog Written by Yianni Garris (@Garinho14):
The Barclay's Premier League kicked off last week and it instantly showed why it is the best league in the world. The league may not have the best players as evident by this year's Team of The Year selection; however, it is the unpredictability of the league that the other top leagues in Europe simply do not have. Everyone has their own predictions on who will lift this year's trophy, but if Leicester City's triumph proved anything last season, it is that nothing in the league is guaranteed, such as leagues like France, Italy, and Germany where the big question is who will come second? The league is an attraction for players all over Europe, especially with the wages able to be provided by the clubs and it can become responsible for helping the players entering this league turn into global superstars without needing to only sign for the best teams. However, the one group that has suffered, and their display in this summer's Euro were clear evidence is the English national team itself.
No one can provide an efficient argument to the claim that the English national team's time in France was nothing short of a failure. Coming second in what was considered an easy group, as well crashing out to Iceland was almost comical to the neutral viewer. One of the main problems for the English national team is that the squad is competing in a league in which the English players cannot thrive. When looking at every position, can an Englishman be considered the best player in that position when looking at the Premier League? The only case that can truly be argued is the striker position in players Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, however, it can also be argued that if Sergio Aguero were able to be fit for an entire season he would be able to win the golden boot every season without any competition. That lack of dominance carries over into the national team and seeing the final Euro squad shows that there should be no surprise to England’s inability to compete at the very top. Out of the final 23-man squad, less than half of the players came from a team that finished in the top four of the Premier League. Only two players came from the top two placed teams in the league, one of those being controversially Jack Wilshere who only made a couple of appearances after being out almost the entire season with a broken leg. The core of the national team came from Tottenham Hotspur, who although had players like Dele Alli and Harry Kane, who had excellent seasons, their absolute capitulation during the latter months in the Premier League it was clear it carried over to their national team form. If your best players are not playing for the best team in their league your national team should not expect to have an abundance of success.
An easy question that can arise from this is how this can happen? How can a country where all of its players, minus the third choice goalkeeper, play in the best league in the world and not be able to provide a team that can dominate tournaments? There are obviously a lot of different factors. It could be the media overhyping what can be considered a slightly above average team, or possibly the change of tactics right before the tournament, also Roy Hodgson not necessarily being a genius at his trade. However, one of the factors I find to be the greatest to the English National team’s downfall is the inability for the English players to be able to truly develop. Something that all of the money in the Premier League has stopped, is the “not as rich” clubs relying on the English players they have at their disposal. If the current pickings are not up to par teams, no matter the size, can easily bring in outside talent. As well as the difficulty to bring in these outside players, it becomes easier every year with the increased wages being able to encourage the player’s signature. With all of the money coming into the league, teams cannot risk the possibility of going down to the second tier. What that means is not risking the English player you have when you can go out and purchase another player to come in and almost guarantee getting the job done. When looking at a newly promoted team like Middleborough signs a player like Alvaro Negredo, or a team like Everton being able to shell out up to 30 million pounds for a player like Yannick Bolasie just show how deep a mid-table team’s pocket is, as well as the pulling power a newly promoted team has. The lower and mid-table teams are no longer places for a younger English player to develop under and work his way into getting a move to a better team.
The implementing of the “English Premium” does not help a player either. After his very expensive move for 49 million pounds, Raheem Sterling completely under performed for Manchester City and John Stones has recently completed a 47 million pound move to the club as well this summer. These are still two very young players with great potential and have time to fill that potential, but the question also has to be asked would they cost that amount of money if they were not English? Most likely not and it is that premium on English players that also causes managers to purchase foreign talent because they are able to find someone who can do the same job if not better for even cheaper and it is less of a gamble financially if that player does not live up to expectations. It is tough for clubs to be able to fix these problems that I have mentioned above because all of the things that I have mentioned are some of the reasons people love the Premier League. They love the huge transfer fees, the small clubs competing with the big clubs and all of the players from all over the globe coming in to compete. It seems as though the Premier League has noticed this and I like the idea of the newly implemented Premier League 2 and it appears that this will help with the development of the younger players. However, the only way to find out if there will actually be progress for the English national team is come Russia in 2018. But, if things continue the way they are in the Premier League English fans should not hold their breath for success in major tournaments.
Blog Written by Cam Earley (@CamEarley97):
Last Saturday, Southampton kicked off their Premier League season, with a 1-1 draw against Watford, a game they will feel they should have won. Yet again, a variety of new faces filled the gaps left by the star players of the previous season, who have moved on to “bigger and brighter things,” or so it would seem. Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pellé have all left this summer, allowing to Southampton to deepen their pockets again. The South-Coast club have raked in around £50 million for these 3 players, leaving them with a lot of money, but a lot less quality in their ranks. Many fans are happy with the money, stating that the club can now buy new, exciting players. But wouldn’t it be better to keep the settled, well-performing players that you already have?
The Saints answered that question with a resounding no in the ’14-15 and ’15-16 seasons, as they continuously shocked the nation by improving, game after game, season after season, earning them a club record 6th place finish last season. An astonishing achievement considering they sold some of the most influential and important players to play for the club in the last decade, in Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin. Surely, however, they cannot do it again. Now with the extra game time of the Europa League, Southampton have never been blessed with squad depth, and many are tipping them to struggle. In 2014, however, some of the UK’s “top” pundits said they would be relegated. They finished 7th. So it really is an incredibly difficult task when trying to predict how a Southampton season will unfold.
It is way too early to tell where they will finish this season, but Southampton’s performance against Watford overall was disappointing. Although Watford set out to defend and did so very well, Southampton struggled to break them down. Although both Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic dazzled at times, it was evident they were missing something further forward. They certainly missed the aerial threat of Pellé when floating crosses into the box, and Mane’s ability to accelerate past defences and create something out of nothing. The performance of Redmond was particularly promising, rifling home a volley in the second half, following his £12 million move from relegated Norwich. Another bright spark was the second half arrival of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who showed a few nice touches, showing his ability to unlock the defence with a raking pass or a driving run. So it would seem Southampton’s head of recruitment has done it again? Saints fans will be joking that they’ll both be off to Liverpool next summer…
It would also seem that his job is far from over this summer, as Southampton legend and Euro 2016 winner Jose Fonte is reportedly looking for a Champions League club, with Manchester United and Arsenal being linked. Being a Southampton fan, I have mixed emotions about these rumours. He has proved there is still some loyalty on the South-Coast, and his sheer presence on and off the pitch has been so important in recent seasons. However, he is 32 years old and plays like it. He lacks in pace and technical ability, and has been bailed out many times over the last two seasons by the fantastic Virgil Van Dijk, before him Toby Alderweireld. If Southampton can replace with him a younger but talented defender, his leaving may not be as dreadful as it may seem.
New Southampton manager Claude Puel is worth a mention. His heart-warming season with Nice obviously captured the eye of Les Reed, and he decided to appoint him. It is well known that Puel trusts youth, with the likes of Alassane Plea, Vincent Koziello and Olivier Boscagli capturing my eye for Les Aiglons last season. The Southampton conveyer belt is obviously rather well known, but there isn’t much homegrown talent coming through at the moment. This means Puel may have to look past the academy this season, and dip into the market some more for a talent. There aren’t too many young central defenders with a lot of experience out there at the moment, but a player like Jason Denayer would be a good signing for the Saints, who doesn’t seem to be able to break into the City team, but has impressed out on loan.
It will be interesting to see what Southampton will do going into the last half of August, and will be exciting to see how they fare in the League and Cup. With some exciting new additions already in the squad, potentially more on the way, there could be another exciting season for the red and whites, but perhaps not record-breaking.
Blog Written by Nicholas Dobbin (@MUFC_1958):
It’s that time of year again where we all make our predictions on the new Premier League season, the same predictions that we all invariably try and distance ourselves from come May. The time of year where the eager sense of anticipation starts to take over your body so much that you cannot think of anything else. All the footballing eyes have been on Manchester this summer with the arrivals of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. Manchester United have been making all the waves this summer with the stellar signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba in addition to Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan under the tutorage of the reinvigorated Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola has made younger additions a priority to his aging Manchester City side. Pep has already recruited eight players this summer with only two of them players over the age of twenty-five. But who will come out on top when the curtain comes down on the 2016/17 campaign?
Josep Guardiola was a combative centre midfield player at the heart of Johan Cruyff’s “dream team” and no man has had a bigger influence on his career than the Dutch legend. His football teams are built in the same mould as Cruyff’s Barcelona team that won their first European Cup in 1992 and four successive La Liga titles from 1991 to 1994. Guardiola started his coaching career off as the Barca B coach before moving up to take over from Frank Rijkaard in 2008, and he never looked back. Shipping out big names like Ronaldinho, Deco and later Samuel Eto’o to make room for the younger talents of Lionel Messi and Andreas Iniesta, turning an already good side into arguably the greatest team of all time. He then moved to Bayern Munich for a new challenge and had similar success although the Champions League eluded him in Germany. The criticism Pep has had throughout his career, somewhat unfairly maybe, is that he has taken charge of two sides in Barcelona and Bayern that were already considered among the very best teams in Europe at the time. Many still saying that Pep needed to take on a team who were not considered as one of the top 3 or 4 in Europe and develop them into being the best, something that his counterpart Mourinho has done with Porto and Inter Milan. Therefore, Manchester City represents the first real test of Guardiola’s career to turn an aging under-performing side (especially in Europe) into being the best team in Europe during his tenure.
Jose Mourinho on the other hand in recent years has found life a little more difficult than he did in his first few years in management where he won trebles at Porto and Inter winning three European trophies during this period. But from then on, at Real Madrid and his second stint at Chelsea, he’s had his ups and downs ending in the sack at both teams. Last year Mourinho’s ego took its biggest knock after getting the sack from Chelsea leaving the champions in 16th just one point above the relegation zone. This however, could work in favour of Manchester United because if we thought ‘the special one’ was one of the best coaches in the world before, just imagine what a wounded Jose Mourinho could be like. We have already got a taste as he has brought in two mega stars in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and breaking the world transfer record with the £89 million signing of Paul Pogba in addition to Eric Bailly and Bundesliga player of the year Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
So, who will come out on top this season Jose or Pep? If you look at past meetings between the two there is only one winner, with Jose winning only three out of the sixteen meetings between the two. However, Mourinho is still the only manager to beat Pep Guardiola to a league title in his career during his time at Real Madrid. The feeling around the footballing world is that Manchester United are on the way up with young players starting to make a name for themselves in Rashford, Shaw, Martial, Lingard and Fosu-Mensah. Then, once you add them to De Gea, Smalling, Pogba, Mkhitaryan Rooney and Ibrahimovic you have a very strong side. On the other hand, Manchester City still has a lot more to do in this summer transfer window. In recent seasons City have been seen to have the strongest side in the league but often their mental strength has been questioned, something that the former Barcelona manager will not put up with. Guardiola has already looked to bring down the average age of the group with signings of Zinchenko, Stones, Sane, Jesus and Gundogan. However, there are question marks whether they can all hit the ground running at the Etihad this season.
In conclusion, when you look at both sides there is not much to choose between the two. Both sides have spent upwards of £100 million this window already in a bid to regain the Premier League crown. The difference between the two however, is that you have to feel that Manchester United’s squad is a lot more settled than Manchester City’s. There are still a lot of questions that need answering for the Citizens. Can Stones and Sterling regain their form and become more consistent? Are they both good enough? Is Joe Hart going to be Pep’s number one or is he going to bring somebody else in? Will Yaya get the axe under Pep for the second time? Are Mangala, Nasri, Delph, Navas and Bony part of his plans? Are all questions that are yet to be answered and with a week to go before the new campaign you would have to feel that they are not ready. With all this in mind I feel Mourinho will come out on top this season. His Premier League experience, world class signings in the peak of their powers and he has more of settled squad being a huge factor in me believing that Manchester United are better equipped to win the Premier League title this season. This is all of course speculation but, one thing is for sure, this season is going to be incredible.
Blog Written by Albert Edwards (@statsfindings):
Chelsea’s first major signing of the transfer window brings strength in a much needed area for the Blues, the striker department. Michy Batshuayi, the 22-year old forward from Marseille, was purchased for around £30 million pounds. A promising young striker who scored for Belgium in the Euros this summer, he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, who was also bought from Marseille.
Although I am by no means an expert on Michael Batshuayi, or the ‘batsman’, I want to show that you can gain a good idea on a player by looking at a few stats. Obviously in the real world of football, you would do much more analysis/scouting.
As you can see from the Squawka comparison, Batshuayi’s 16 non-penalty league goals last season are no fluke considering his statistics. He scores almost every other game, and 3.74 shots per game is also impressive. He managed to get significantly more shots on goal than Costa last season, and these were not all just shots from 30 yards out. Only one player had more shots on target in Ligue 1 last season than Batshuayi, and Michael Caley’s expected goal model gave him18.1 expected goals. Most of his shots are also inside the penalty area, which is a good sign of shot quality.
From the same Michael Caley article, Batshuayi has very good expected goals and assists numbers, roughly the same as Harry Kane. Expected goals is very useful as an indicator of past performance, and hence can help us predict how well a player or team may perform.
It is also important that the statistics used to compare players are standardized, by comparing the per 90 totals, which adjusts for playing time.
This radar from @fussballradars is a very useful visualization of Batshuayi’s statistics. It clearly shows how many shots he’s taking, and almost half of them are on target. It’s interesting to note though that although Batshuayi seems a more technical striker than Diego Costa, Costa completed 1.81 dribbles per 90 last season, compared to Batshuayi’s 1.26. However, Batshuayi had a higher percentage of completed dribbles than Costa, suggesting he knows when he can take a player on and beat him, or when it’s the right time to take on a player.
It seems very likely that Conte’s Chelsea will operate with two strikers next season in a 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation, especially after the signing of Kante. In my opinion, Batshuayi has the ability to do well in a potential second striker type role for Chelsea, especially if Antonio Conte sets up to play on the counter.
I hope that a look at some of Batshuayi’s stats has given you the idea that he is a promising signing. Whilst writing my first post, I realized that there is a lot for me to learn about football and statistics, and how to carry out analysis like this. I’m glad that my blog is giving me the platform to do so, and I look forward to it.
Blog Written by Jordan Elgott (@JElgott)
The manager of the English National Football team and the British Prime Minister. Two very different jobs, yet they share some strikingly similar aspects. Both were thrown into contention in June, following incredibly disappointing performances, whilst both come with the huge pressure of a nation’s hopes on their shoulders. David Cameron and Roy Hodgson demonstrated just how difficult these jobs can be, both leaving their roles after they failed to achieve their basic aim – to keep the country in Europe for as long as possible.
As we step into the uncertainty of the post-Brexit world, the new Prime Minister has already been ‘elected’ – a term I use extremely loosely. Theresa May, 59, took up the position after she had an audience with The Queen on Wednesday afternoon. May has served in the Home Office since 2010, making her the longest serving Home Secretary of the modern era. Despite three other potential candidates emerging, it took just 19 days for May to secure the position.
19 days have also passed since Roy Hodgson read out his planned resignation speech, after England were humiliated by minnows, Iceland. Despite no agreement being reached as of yet, we do appear to be edging closer to an appointment, as the FA have held meetings with various managers. The bookies’ favourite is Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce, after the club released a statement confirming that talks between the FA and ‘Big Sam’ had taken place. Allardyce, despite not being renowned for it, is fairly tactically astute and does have a very good knowledge of English football, having managed numerous teams in the country since 1992.
Before the focus of this article is shifted primarily to football matters, it is worth outlining the negative view of Theresa May. My main qualm with May is her abysmal record when it comes to voting on progressive legislation. Since 1998, May has voted against equalizing the age of consent, against same-sex couples being allowed to adopt, in favour of an IVF legislation which effectively discriminated against lesbian couples and did not attend parliament for any of the four acts which led to the Gender Recognition Act. Furthermore, in my view it would be wrong to say that she has been elected as PM – she has been appointed, thus giving her no democratic mandate without a new general election taking place. Even with this in mind, I believe that she was still the best realistic option for PM – and that says something about the state of UK politics.
So why was she the most suitable candidate? First of all, she has plenty of experience when it comes to being in positions of responsibility, having been Home Secretary for over six years. The most crucial factor however, is that there was an extremely limited selection of people competing for the position to begin with. Usually, just because someone is more suitable for something than three other people, it doesn’t mean that they are the right person for the job. Unfortunately, in this instance, we didn’t have much of a choice – it was either Theresa May, or someone worse. Not everyone will agree with my assessment of the other candidates, so it is worth explaining the logic behind it.
The closest challenger in the end turned out to be Andrea Leadsom. The junior energy minister lacks experience and has only been an MP since 2010. Leadsom also has a poor record on voting for progressive laws, and went one further than May after she stated that she is ‘not happy’ about same-sex marriage. The fact that even her boss, Amber Rudd, felt that she was not suitable to be the next Prime Minister, tells us all we need to know. Onto the next challenger, Michael Gove. The man who claimed just weeks before he launched his leadership campaign that he himself does not have ‘that exceptional level of ability required for the job’. When added to the fact that he blatantly stabbed his supposed ally, Boris Johnson, in the back, it is clear that he is not the type of man that should be running our country. That leaves us with Boris. Boris Johnson. I shouldn’t really have to explain why this clumsy, xenophobic buffoon should be nowhere near 10 Downing Street, but for a short while it looked like a real possibility that he could be the next PM. Scandal after scandal, embarrassment after embarrassment, Johnson’s rise is another key indicator of the sorry state of British politics. For the reasons given above, I am certain that Theresa May was not only the right choice for PM, but also the only realistic choice out of the four contenders.
Unlike the position of Prime Minister, the manager’s position of the English National Football team is still very much up for grabs. Similarly to the Conservative Leadership ‘Contest’ however, there is a limited selection to choose from, as the FA seem to be insistent on appointing an English manager. I belong to the minority of English football fans who believe that this is not essential – I favour skill-set and suitability over nationality. However, if the FA truly are insistent on appointing an English manager, then there is only one man for the job: Sam Allardyce.
This is not because Allardyce is a great manager, nor is it because I feel that he is the man to lead this team of underachievers to glory. It is mainly due to the fact that he is a far better option than any of the other managers who fit the criteria. One option mooted by various journalists is Steve Bruce. Bruce is currently the manager of Hull City, a club who he has recently led back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Impressive? Slightly. Well, it would be more impressive if he wasn’t the one who got them relegated in the first place. The former Manchester United defender has also been sacked by Allardyce’s current club, Sunderland, and boasts a career win rate of 38%. Bruce has shown virtually nothing in his managerial career to suggest that he should even be named in the running for one of the most lucrative jobs in world football.
One man who can be considered a more suitable candidate however, is Eddie Howe. The Bournemouth manager has done a fine job with ‘The Cherries’ and plays an attractive brand of football, something which has gained him plenty of praise from players, fans and pundits. In my opinion however, the job has come too soon for him. Howe, 38, is still a ‘baby’ in the managerial world, and has only completed one full season in the Premier League. Whilst I can see him developing into a fantastic manager in the future, one worthy of a chance at managing the national team, it would be ideal for him to continue at Bournemouth for the foreseeable future. The rest of the list of English candidates is completely uninspiring. The idea of having the unimpressive England Under-21 boss, Gareth Southgate, or TV pundits Alan Shearer and Glenn Hoddle as the manager of the national team should be scoffed at.
It would be easy to just list the reasons why Sam Allardyce shouldn’t be the next manager of the national team, but it would be of far greater use to look at what he could offer to England. Allardyce’s teams are known to possess a particular characteristic, which the current England team are known for lacking; fight. Raheem Sterling has been made the ‘poster boy’ of the theory that the English players care more about themselves than the team, but the truth is, the whole squad lacks the elite mentality required for success. Let’s not forget, this current England side is incredibly talented and the players performed extremely well in the Premier League last season. We came into the tournament with great hope as a result of how well guys like Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Dele Alli had played in the months leading up to Euro 2016. This further endorses the view that the problem surrounding the English national team is not ability – it is down to the weak-minded nature of the squad.
This is where Allardyce can improve the team – he does not need to change anything drastically – his main job would be altering the mindset and attitude of the players, something which he has shown that he is able to do throughout his career. Having taken charge of almost one thousand games, Allardyce has never suffered a top-flight relegation, despite being involved in a few dogfights. Relegation battles are the ultimate test of a team’s character, and where Bruce’s Hull showed that they lacked fight, Allardyce’s teams have flourished on a number of occasions. If you were able to couple the mentality shown by Allardyce’s teams, and the playing ability of the current England squad, then you would surely be onto a winner.
Do I believe that Sam Allardyce and Theresa May are the best possible candidates for their respective jobs? No, absolutely not. When you look at the alternatives however, it should be clear to all that ending up with her and possibly him are the best possible realistic outcomes. Both have a wealth of experience in their respective fields, whilst they both possess the necessary attributes needed to succeed in their jobs: grit, determination, and desire. If by the end of the month, we were left in a position where we had Theresa May as Prime Minister, and Sam Allardyce as England manager, we should be cautiously optimistic about the future of the country. Most importantly, we should be thankful that the outcome was not as bad as it so easily could have been.
Blog by Jack Frankham (@LFCJack_):
After a rollercoaster season, Jürgen Klopp has his sights on a first Barclays Premier League title for Liverpool in over 27 years. Klopp's first season had been very eventful with his side having to focus on league games and also games in Europe, which was a difficult task. It was hard to get over a disappointing defeat in the Europe League final against Sevilla. Since then, Klopp has nailed down targets in certain positions, which need assessing. I'll go through what players he's targeting and what his side will look like.
Transfers are due to be told as the summer goes on, with left back being a main priority as Alberto Moreno had a frustrating season. Moreno doesn't seem to have a long-term future at Liverpool with him not adapting well to English football. FC Köln’s defender Jonas Hector has been targeted at left back. Hector is a nailed down start for both clubs and country and has triggered interested from Germany and England. Hector’s main assets are his composure, passing and defending, he’s been likened to Clyne but left footed on the other flank. Klopp should definitely target a player at Hector's ability because he needs players that have the willingness to run through walls for him and the team. He would certainly suit the Klopp philosophy with the high press and quick football. With Klopp targeting the 6’1” left back, Klopp likes a tall player with him addressing this to him and his staff and going out into the market early and getting Marko Grujic at 6’3” for a reported £5.1 million and Jöel Matip at 6’4” on a free transfer.
A controlling midfielder is a target with Jordan Henderson's future in doubt with Mahmoud Dahoud from Borussia Mönchengladbach being targeted. Dahoud registered 5 goals and 8 assists this season which is very impressive for a young lad at 18 years old, he has been valued around €30 million. The Reds seemly are ready to go into advanced talks with the German international with him being open to his options. His awareness to the game has been superb and can find space when under pressure, he takes many touches but can travel with the ball when needed. At his age he's very comfortable and a very special talent.
Dahoud is accustomed to playing at centre mid but has played in an attacking role many times. It's rumored that Klopp wanted Dahoud when he was 17 while at Dortmund but a fee couldn't be agreed. Klopp is a huge fan and if he does sign, he will fit in perfectly with Liverpool midfielder Emre Can. Emre anchoring the back four with Dahoud dictating play would be perfect for the system and the future with them both being in their early twenties.
Dahoud also has offers from German giants Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich which could be tempting with Dortmund and Bayern having Champions League football next season, it could be an advantage.
Mario Götze has been Liverpool's main target for a while and Klopp wants to be ruthless with the transfer and show intent. Götze has been under the spotlight lately with him rumored to be leaving. A deal looked done with Mario reportedly agreeing personal terms and Liverpool being in advanced talks to agree a fee. Since then it's gone quite.
In my opinion, Mario is currently focusing on the Euros with Germany. He would want to sort his future out after the tournament and play the 'long game'. I would think he's tying to collect his loyalty bonus and then join Klopp. Götze needs Klopp more than Klopp needs Götze. He needs Klopp to kick-start his career again, get games and be the main man and Klopp will certainly do that, no doubt. FC Bayern Munich clearly doesn’t want him because he isn't a major part in Carlo Ancelotti's plans for the future.
Sadio Mané is also a recent target that has had a lot of interest from Liverpool. Mané can play as a centre forward or as a winger on ether flank. His explosive pace is frightening for defenders and can be a huge difference to the attack with Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge, Origi etc. It would add balance in attack and with only Jordan Ibe and Lazar Markovic being the only out and out wingers. This could definitely happen, Mané has the potential to be world class forward and Klopp can certainly turn him into one.
Klopp wants to build up from the back, already signing goalkeeper Loris Karius and Jöel Matip. He has his sights on Piotr Zielinski from Empoli and Mahmoud Dahoud; he also looks on to Mario Götze and Sadio Mané as attacking options. Mané and Götze are the main targets with Klopp having them in his sights for the summer. They're both valued around €30 million.
Klopp at Dortmund loved the 4-2-3-1 formation, that’s his philosophy. But at Liverpool, he has played many formations, mainly 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-2-1-2 diamond with Sturridge and Origi up front. Klopp will keep his options open but will adjust his side to play a 4-2-3-1.
A long summer ahead for the Reds and Klopp, will he get it right?
Do you think he will?