My weekend predictions

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Had a look at the fixture list for the weekend, and thought I’d knock out a few quick predictions on some of the bigger games. It goes without saying that I fancy QPR for a win against Spurs, but here’s my take on a few of the others.

Villa v Newcastle

Prediction: Draw

Opta fact: Newcastle were the only team not to hit a shot on target on the opening weekend.

Despite my affection for Newcastle and its fans, I can’t see past a draw for this one. I think as the season progresses Newcastle will get stronger, but at the moment I think their attacking players need a little time to gel, and Villa’s central defensive partnership of Vlaar and Senderos will be enough to keep it tight at the back. Coloccini, Janmaat and Williamson look decent at the back for the Toon too, so it’s got a draw written all over it.

Everton v Arsenal

Prediction: Draw

Opta fact: Last season Everton opened with two draws; they drew their opener last week at Leicester.

Everton were my boyhood team, and I fancy them to get a draw out of this. While Arsenal have quality players in every position and will no doubt be pushing for the title at some stage of the season, Everton have a solid back four, and some excellent players going forward. I can’t see this being a nil-niler, but I think Everton have enough going forward to cancel out any damage that Arsenal can inflict, especially after a testing midweek game.

Chelsea v Leicester

Prediction: Chelsea win

Opta fact: Cesc Fabregas has assisted 50 goals in his last 104 Premier League appearances.

This is gonna be a tough game for Leicester, and I can’t see them getting anything out of it. Chelsea had a good team last year, but the addition of Fabregas, Costa and the returning Drogba gives them the added firepower they were missing at times. If Leicester avoid a hammering they’ll have done well, and Kasper Schmeichel will have had an outstanding day between the sticks.


Sunderland v Man Utd

Prediction: Manchester United win

Opta fact: Manchester United have conceded just two goals in their last seven trips to the Stadium of Light in the Premier League.

As everyone has acknowledged, this is far from a vintage United team. But with the addition of Rojo at the back, and after the wake up call against Swansea last week, I fancy them to get a result against a Sunderland team that could only draw against West Brom last week. I think Rooney will take the step up as captain, and I fancy him to score this weekend and lead the team forward over the course of the season.

City v Liverpool

Prediction: Manchester City

Opta fact: Liverpool have conceded as many goals (10) in their last four league trips to the Etihad as they had in the previous 11.

I fancy City to get a result against Liverpool. They have strength in depth in every area of the field, and in Aguero and Silva they have players capable of breaking open the tightest of defences. Lovren and Skrtel look a decent central pairing for Liverpool, but they’ve only played one game together so far so it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with City. I think it’ll be tight, but I really fancy City to edge it by the odd goal.

 

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QPR v Hull: What do the stats tell us?

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A guy tweeted me the after the Hull game with some Opta stats that said I’d created more chances on the opening day than any other player in the Premier League. Obviously it was nice to hear that. We still lost 1-0 though, so in the end it was a bit of a pyrrhic victory. But it did get me thinking. Can the stats shed any light on how we lost a game I think we deserved to win? So I got the guys at Opta to send me some stats for the game, and I’ve pulled out a few interesting ones to discuss below.

 

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Stat 1: Queens Park Rangers conceded a joint-Championship-high 11 goals from corners last season. James Chester’s winner today was also from a corner situation.

We were well aware that we hadn’t performed well enough at set pieces last year, and that it was something we needed to look at for the start of this season. It’s definitely something we’ve worked on during preseason, we’ve switched to three at the back to give us more cover in the centre of defence, and the gaffer’s brought in Rio and Steven Caulker to strengthen the defence too. So I don’t see our ability to defend corners, or defend generally, as a problem for us this season. It was maybe just us adapting to a relatively new formation, and a decent header from James Chester.

Stat 2: Better possession

A team’s ability to dominate possession is usually a good indicator of their intent, their ability and their game management. We had a higher pass completion rate, we won more of our individual duals, we spent a lot more time in their half of the pitch and we enjoyed better possession, especially in the second half. And in the end that gave us a platform to play some good football, to dominate large parts of the game and create some decent chances for our forwards.

Stat 3: More attempts on goal

How many shots a team gets in is another good indicator of how well they’ve played in a game. Against Hull we had 19 to their 11, and I’d argue that we had the better chances too. Our wingbacks gave us a lot of width (we put in 35 crosses), while the players in the middle were able to create a fair few chances for the forwards. However, the biggest stat goes against us: they scored one of their chances, and we scored none.

There are no stats for luck

Pretty much every match report I’ve read says we deserved at least a draw, and points out that we created more chances and looked brighter and more threatening going forward. But at this level it’s all about making the most of the limited number of chances you get in a game. And we missed a few good ones, I could only hit the side netting from 20-odd yards out and Allan McGregor got down well to save Chaz’s penalty. And then, with one of their few decent chances, they grab a goal from a corner. As the gaffer said on the BBC, “Some days you get the breaks and some days you don’t”. Would be interesting to see a stat for bad luck eh?

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My Championship Promotion Predictions

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Over the last few years I’ve gained a pretty solid insight into what it takes to get promotion from the Championship. I won promotion through the play-offs last year with QPR, and back in 2010 I was part of the Newcastle team that won the Championship title. So with the Championship kicking off this evening I thought I’d knock out a few quick ideas of what it takes to go up, and pull out a few teams and players that I think will do well.

Consistency is the key

So what does it take? The biggest thing for me is consistency. You need to be able to hit the ground running and grind out results week in week out. That sounds simple, but in March 2014 QPR had eight games. We won four, drew two and lost two. A pretty decent return but due to the competitive nature of the league that allowed other teams to claw back a few points on us. That followed a February where we won only one point out of 12, and a January that saw us win four on the bounce in the league. This lack of consistency saw us drop out of the automatic promotion places and have to fight our way out through the playoffs.

So the competitive nature of the league and the need for consistency requires a team with a strong central core, and a squad with enough quality to step up whenever the opportunity arises. With that in mind, here are my top picks for promotion this time around. If you bet on them and they don’t come in, don’t start tweeting me for a refund!

Derby to win it

After playing them in the play-off final last time around, and sharing the six points over the two regular season games against them, I fancy Derby to win the Championship this time around. McClaren is a top coach, he’s already got a solid team in place, they’ve got an excellent academy that could bring through a few fresh faces when the team needs it most, they’ve managed to hold onto their best players, and Steve and Chris Evan’s links to top European clubs have helped them land a couple of decent young Spaniards from the Madrid clubs. They’ve also kept hold of Chris Martin who scored 22 goals for the last year and their player of the year Craig Bryson – a good midfielder who could have left this summer to play in the Premier League, but signed a five year deal with the Rams instead. That’s 39 goals they’ve got in the locker. And young Will Hughes will be a great asset this year too.

Some Opta stats to back that up

Derby scored more goals (84) than any other team in this year’s Championship

They had higher possession (55.5%) and pass completion (79.5%) than any other team in the division… except QPR!

The battle for second

Wigan

We beat Wigan in the semis last year and it was proper scrap. I think they have what it takes to do really well this year. Last year they had the distraction of playing in the Europa League, and progressed to the semi-final of the FA Cup. So if they don’t have those kind distractions and squad challenges, who knows what they can do? They’ve lost Jordi Gomez to Sunderland, but they’ve done some decent business with Cardiff to bring in Andre Taylor and Don Cowie, but their biggest signing so far may well be Oriol Riera. The Spanish forward started out at Barca before plying his trade in the Spanish lower leagues, but his return of 13 goals in 37 games for an Osasuna team that got relegated is pretty decent. If he can gel with Callum McManaman and get some decent service, you’d imagine he’d be able to get a decent goal haul in the Championship.

Some stats to back that up

They’ve got two of the best keepers in the league in Scott Carson and Ali Al Habsi

Only the three promoted clubs and Brighton had more clean sheets than Wigan’s total of 16

Forest

Stuart Pearce took over at the City Ground in July following a pretty solid season for Forest that saw them finish 11th. While they were one of the better teams in terms of possession and passing, they lacked a little something at either end of the field. You can’t help but think that Pearce will be able to organise them a little better at the back this year (especially now they’ve signed the massively underrated Michael Mancienne from Hamburg), while up front they’ve brought in a highly rated young striker – Britt Assombalonga who scored 24 goals in League One last year. In Jamal Lascelles and Karl Darlow they’ve got some of the most promising players in the League (despite the fact they’ve been sold to Newcastle and loaned back to Forest for this season), and the addition of Michail Antonio who knows how to get down the wing and get some crosses will give their forwards the ammunition they need to get the goals they were missing last time around.

Some stats to back that up

Despite none of their players scoring more than 10 league goals Forest were the 7th highest scorers in last year’s Championship.

Forest were 7th best passing team, and enjoyed the 6th best possession stats. so imagine what they could have done with a goalscorer or two and a decent defence?

 



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Football, Futsal and The Future

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Despite Brazil’s humiliating defeats in their last couple of games at the World Cup, I believe that young players in the UK can learn a lot from futsal, the five-a-side football format made famous by all of the Brazilian teams that didn’t play under Big Phil. I started thinking about all of this when I was out in Brazil for the World Cup, and then when I was doing my UEFA coaching badges in Ireland a few weeks back, I began thinking a little more about how we can increase technical ability coaching and integrate the lessons that futsal teaches with the more athletic and tactical training we offer in England. Now I’m away with the lads in Germany, I’ve had a chance to pull the laptop out. So here goes…

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, so if you lot have any thoughts on the issue, or if you have experience of futsal, or technical training in other countries it’d be great to hear from you.

The rules of futsal in brief

The game lasts 20 minutes and is contested by two teams of five – one keeper and four outfield players. The ball is smaller and slightly heavier than a football. You can have unlimited substitutions, keepers have only four seconds to get rid of the ball and there are no offsides. You can see the full rules here.

A very brief history

Futsal is derived from the Portuguese phrase futebol de salao, which translates roughly as ‘hall football’. It started around 80 years ago in Uruguay and gradually spread through South America and across into Spain and Portugal. Many of the world’s greatest players (as well as Neymar and David Luiz!) started out playing futsal – Pele, Zico, Socrates, Messi, and Christiano Ronaldo to name just a few.

The current standings

These days most countries have fully-fledged futsal associations, and FIFA runs a Futsal World Cup every four years. There have been seven so far, with Spain winning two and Brazil winning five, including the last tournament in Bangkok in 2012. Obviously, those two teams top the futsal world rankings, but there are a few surprises in there too: Iran are 7th, Azerbaijan are 10th and England are 73rd – just three places above Chinese Taipei and 29 below Kyrgystan. That’s worth a bit of a laugh, and it’s a good pub fact, but it highlights something a little deeper for me – that England lacks gifted technical players with the ability to improvise, create and thrive in small spaces with the ball at their feet.

What futsal teaches young players

I read a really interesting article the other day on the BBC website by Ben Smith. It’s definitely worth a read, and shows just how many top international players have come through the futsal system, and how Brazilian academies integrate futsal into their training programs.

It’s widely regarded that the rules of the game, the smaller pitch, the need to play the ball along the floor and the tight marking all help players to become more technically adept in tight situations. In the article, Ronaldo, Messi and Robinho all talk about the difference futsal made to their games, but for me the telling quote came from Pele: “futsal was important in helping to develop my ball control, quick thinking, passing… also for dribbling, balance, concentration… futsal was very, very important, no doubt”. In short, futsal gave arguably the best player ever all the skills he was known for.

As well as the South American nations, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany have been getting involved in futsal for some years now, and that’s helped them to lead the development of a more technical style of European football over the last decade or so. The opportunity for futsal to lead innovation in style and technical ability can be seen in Ben’s description of the role of futsal in Brazil’s academies…

“[Futsal] is played in all Brazilian football academies, and is part of what distinguishes coaching in the country, where the biggest fear is over-coaching its next generation of boys and girls, not under-coaching them. Coaches are discouraged from giving players formal positions until they are 14. Talent is allowed to breathe, to find its natural path in games such as futsal. From the age of seven to 12, young players tackle futsal three days a week.”

Futsal and English academies

My experience of English football academies when I was coming through 15 to 20 years ago couldn’t be more different; the focus was on physical strength and playing in a set role within a team, and it certainly didn’t look to bring out the individualistic, creative and impromptu elements of football that futsal seems to do. For me the way in which Brazilian academies integrate futsal into the development of young players encourages a greater degree of expression on the ball, a greater ability to improvise (how many times did we see Jack Wilshere run into dead ends and out of ideas?), to play confidently with the ball at their feet, and, perhaps most importantly, it allows players to trust in their own ability and to understand how their skills can benefit the team, rather than being taught how to reign in individuality and expression in favour of adhering to tactical discipline and a pre-defined team ethic. Obviously, the harnessing of individuals’ technical abilities into a team ethic (as personified by the Germans this year, and the Spanish for the last decade) becomes increasingly important as players get older, but the fact that in Brazilian academies kids aren’t allocated strict positions until later in their development process also allow them to learn the game as an act of passion and commitment, of desire and joy – they learn to play football from the heart rather than learning how to play left back from an FA coaching manual.

I’m really interested to hear what you have to say on this, as I’m still getting my head around it all at the minute. I’m actually thinking of doing an interview on this blog with a top futsal coach about what English football can learn from futsal. So add a comment below, and help a footballer with his brain in his feet get a deeper understanding of the game he loves.

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England, Italy and lessons we can learn

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After watching the England Italy game the other day there were a few things I wanted to discuss about our performance. I think there were a lot of positives, but there were also things that just weren’t smart enough. I only say these things as a proud Englishman who cares deeply about his national team and the health of our national game. I’m just sick of losing.

The stats tell a story

As a midfielder of some ability I couldn’t help but be amazed by the quality of the performance of Pirlo and De Rossi on Saturday night. Between the two of them they made 207 passes and helped the team achieve the highest pass completion rate (93.2%) of any team at a World Cup since 1966. England weren’t a million miles behind in the pass completion stats (90.8%), and they also had more shots (18), more shots on target (5) and more corners (9), but I saw a gulf in class, effectiveness and, most tellingly, experience.

Possession and short passing

Italy enjoyed 56% possession to England’s 44%, that’s not a huge difference until you look at what the teams did with their possession. Despite both enjoying around 93% short pass completion, Italy made 533 short passes while England made only 390. Italy made more short incisive, clever passes, they kept the ball close because they knew that in those conditions they didn’t want to be chasing the game and they were able to control both the tempo and the direction of play. As I said on Twitter on Saturday, it needs to be about “pass pass pass, not run, dribble, pass if you’re in a dead end”. In my opinion, we didn’t do enough with our possession and what we did just wasn’t smart enough.

Disrupting the routine

I also mentioned that we needed to disrupt the opposition in transition. Obviously, you can’t just belt around the park in conditions like the ones in Manaus, but you need to take up positions that nullify a threat, close off passing angles and make opposition players uncomfortable on the ball. Italy are a great passing side, but that is easier to pull off if there’s no one closing you down. That is what the Chileans and the Dutch did to such effect against Spain: they closed down every ball and shut off opportunities before they had a chance to become full-blown chances. Obviously, England couldn’t do that in the heat of Manaus, but in Sao Paolo for the Uruguay game the weather will suit us better and players like Henderson, Gerrard, Wellbeck and even Rooney will need to step up and get stuck in.

Cramp

I noticed that a fair few of the England players were getting cramp, and even though Italy’s players were older, none of them went down. I don’t think this is due to lack of preparation or fitness on England’s part, it’s just because Italy dominated possession and England had to chase the ball for long periods of the game. That is emotionally and physically taxing and you can see the effect it had on even the youngest and fittest England players.

Differing style

While Italy dominated possession for large periods, England had their fair share of pressure. They played more passes in the final third (31% to Italy’s 19%), they made more crosses (17 to 8), more corners (9 to 2) and more successful short passes in the final third (104 to 85). They just couldn’t put the ball in the net. Obviously some of that comes down to a bit of bad luck and some bad finishing, but player selection and positioning played a part too. I watched some of the coverage of the Chile Spain game and Danny Murphy mentioned that Chile make Alexis Sanchez feel like the man. Great point by Danny that. Strikers need to feel that love, and playing Rooney out on the left doesn’t do that. He needs to know he is the main man, and the only way to do that is to play him in his position. Number 10. Through the middle. He would then provide the platform the team needs to dictate and direct play in the final third, and he’ll be able to get on the end of a few chances. In terms of player choices, Henderson was deployed alongside Gerrard to nullify the threat of Italy, the Uruguayans don’t have that quality in the middle of the park. So I’d like to see Gerrard sat deep with Wilshere or even Barkley replacing Henderson. As the Chileans showed, attack is sometimes the best form of defence.

In conclusion

Having had a bit of time to think about England’s performance, I don’t think we were a million miles away. And with a few tweaks to personnel (Wilshere for Henderson), tactics (closing down the ball more aggressively in the middle) and positions (Rooney through the middle, and both full backs pushing on), England should have enough to get out of the group. The fact that it’s going to be wet and cool in Sao Paolo will also help. Sometimes simple things like that make all the difference.


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El Derbi Madrileño: some history and some thoughts

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It looks set to be a genuine classic in this year’s Champions League final. Atletico versus Real. The Madrid Derby. The working class boys brought up on the wrong side of the Manzanares River under the shadow of the Mahou brewery against the ‘team of the establishment’ whose glittering history has been played out alongside the aristocrats and merchant banks of the Paseo de la Castellena.

A little history

This is one of the most vehement and divisive rivalries in European football: the leftist leanings of Atleti against the team famously referred to by one of Franco’s ministers as “the best ambassador we’ve ever had”. While those days are long past, that history is not forgotten and the terraces of the Vicente Calderon often reverberate to the sound of “el  equipo del gobierno, la vergüenza del país” – the team of the government, the shame of the country. Stuff like that makes the Manchester Derby look like a family picnic!

The last time they met in Europe

This is only the second time the two Madrid teams have faced each other in Europe. The last was back in 1958 when the semi-final finished 2-2 and Real went on to win the play-off game, and the final against Stade Reims. However, as many an Atletico fan will tell you, if the away goals rule had been in place back then Atleti would have won the tie and murdered Reims in the final!

What follows are some key Opta stats that back up a few ideas of where I think both teams have weaknesses and strengths that could affect their chances in the final. I’m not gonna give any predictions though: I’ll only get a hiding in training (and on Twitter!) if I get it wrong.

Real’s Defence

Despite Ramos’ two goals against Bayern and the fact that he put in a very, very solid display alongside Pepe, you can’t help but think one of those two has a mistake or a sending off in them can you? With 19 red cards in La Liga, Sergio Ramos has been sent off more times than any player in Spanish league history. And Pepe seems to want to get stuck into any confrontation on the pitch. So maybe the cauldron of the Madrid Derby and the chance to win la decima might just bring out the worst in one of them?

Real’s Midfield

One daft challenge and you’re out of the final. Xabi Alonso must be gutted, and it could have a huge effect on Real’s ability to perform. Alonso knows how to win a Champions League final having done so at Liverpool, but most importantly he is the player that allows the other players in midfield to play. Will Modric and Di Maria have the confidence to play the way they have of late with Khedira in place of Alonso?

Plan A and Plan B

Much has been made of the failure of Bayern’s ‘possession at all costs’ style of football. But Real don’t have that limitation. Against Bayern in the second leg of the semi-final they only had 31% of possession, but still managed to hit on the break and walk away with a 4-0 win. This is down in large part to the speed and skill of Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema and Di Maria, but is also based on the ability of Modric and their defenders to pick out their forward runs. There have also been games in the season where Real have dominated possession and taken opponents apart slowly and steadily. In the last Madrid derby, Ramos had an 86% pass completion rate, Pepe 83.3%, Arbeloa 81.8%, Di Maria 85%, Alonso 88.5% and Modric 82%. Even the keeper completed 72.7% of his passes. So whatever way you play against them, they can and will hurt you.

European Final Experience

Atletico have been to two finals in the last five years, while Real haven’t graced a European Cup Final since Hampden Park in 2002. So as crazy as it is seems, this Real team have less experience in European finals, and less experience of European success, than their rivals. The only player that was in a European final match day squad for Real was Casillas, who spent the 2002 final on the bench. In contrast, Atletico have won both the Europa League and the Super Cup under Simeone and look a pretty decent bet for La Liga this year too.

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Manchester United, Moyes and Management

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First off, I’d like to thank United for their long-running and very flattering pursuit of me as a player coach, but it wasn’t the right move for me in the summer, and it isn’t right for me now either. I’m enjoying playing for QPR. It’s a right old trek down from Manchester to do my degree at Roehampton. My little boy is enjoying his nursery. And the weather in London is loads better than up North!

Glad we got that cleared up.

Obviously the football news has been full of opinion and reportage on Moyes’ dismissal as Manchester United manager. I tweeted the other day that I thought it was a bit harsh and that I think Moyes is a good manager despite his perceived failings at Old Trafford. So I thought I’d have a look at what could have caused them to have such a bad season. So here goes…

Bad business management from the Glazers

It is widely understood that Ferguson picked Moyes as his successor almost single-handedly. If that’s true, it’s insane. We’re talking about a multinational business with offices in London, Hong Kong and New York and an annual revenue of £363.2 million. Can you imagine a comparable sized company allowing its chief executive to hand-pick his own successor? And then to pick a senior executive without any experience of managing a company of similar size or global reach? It just wouldn’t happen, would it? I’d pay to be a fly on the wall at that AGM – someone would leave with their arse in a sling!

To compound the fact that they hired a manager without experience of overseeing a huge global brand, they also allowed the chief executive, David Gill, to stand down at the same time as Ferguson. I can’t help but think that the fact his replacement, Ed Woodward, and David Moyes had never operated at the very top end of the transfer market had a big impact on their ability to effectively bring in the players they were looking for. Fabregas stayed at Barca, Alcantra went to Bayern, Bale went to Real, Sami Khedira stayed put, Ander Herrera stayed in Northern Spain and Everton rightly told Moyes to stick it when he came back with an offer for Leighton Baines.

The players haven’t bought into it

The team that Moyes took over were crowned Premier League Champions last year. They also got through to the last-16 of the Champions League and only lost out to Real due to a bad refereeing decision. Despite the fact that Chelsea and Man City weren’t really at the races last year, United were still a formidable force with some top players playing at a high level. But this year those players have been a shambles, and I think they have to take a huge part of the blame.

While Fergie sent his teams out all guns blazing and expecting to win, Moyes set his teams up to play with patience and caution, and towards the end both he and his team believed that losing was always a distinct possibility. I think this has played a part in all the rumours in the media that some senior players have been dismissive of Moyes’ tactics, his training methods, his preferred style of play and his suitability for the job.

Having looked at the Opta stats for five of United’s key senior players (Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Rooney and Van Persie) and at their performance overall, I’m a bit amazed to discover that there were no major differences in statistical performance between this year and last year under Ferguson.

The only big differences for me are:

Van Persie had played 34 games by this time last season and scored 24 goals. He’s scored 11 in 18 appearances this year.

Patrice Evra has won around a 25% less of the tackles he’s gone in for this year compared to last. He won 83.5% last year, compared to 68.1% this term. He’s also blocked a lot less shots (four this season, 12 last season). Evra has always been a commitment player, someone who gets stuck in for the cause, and those stats make me question whether he was willing to put himself about quite so much for the new manager.

Goals win games, and United just haven’t scored enough. They’ve knocked in 56 this season, but by this time last year they had 78, and they’ve let in 40 while last year it was 35. That’s a 27 goal difference between this year and last, and obviously that’s gonna make a huge difference.

Moyes himself

There’s no getting away from it, Moyes played a big part in his own downfall. For me he just didn’t have the necessary arrogance and swagger needed to be the manager of a top European club. Think Pep Guardiola having a pop at that Daily Mail journalist the other week. Or Ancelotti’s studied responses and his professorial presence. Or Mourihno’s unswerving belief in his own abilities.

Then remember that Moyes referred to Liverpool as favourites before they won 3-0 at Old Trafford, and he went on to say Man City should be seen as the benchmark: those are United two biggest rivals, and United’s fans and owners just aren’t used to hearing those sort of defeatist words from the boss. In my experience, talking like that gives players an excuse to fail. But in the end, there’s one stat that sums the whole thing up: he got 57 points from 34 games, last year they had 84 from 34 games.

But here’s one last little bit of food for thought: Moyes won 17 of those 34 games in charge. That means he had a success rate of 50%, which is more than Sir Matt Busby could manage!


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Messi’s role within Barca’s setup has changed and I’m not a fan

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My blog concerning Bayern and Barca’s Champions’ League visits to England a few weeks back, drew comparisons between the effectiveness of their simple passing setup. The Barca v City game has been playing on my mind ever since, in particularly the performance of the Catalan’s little Argentine-wizard, Messi.

Admirer of Messi

For me, (and probably every admirer of modern-day football), Messi is the best in the business. I place him in a higher regard than Cristiano Ronaldo because of his natural ability, and whilst this isn’t a criticism of Ronaldo’s play, Messi would’ve succeeded in any generation  – a test the world’s greatest must stand up against, in my opinion. So with all this predetermined hype surrounding Messi instilled prior to Barca’s visit, I left the Etihad feeling somewhat underwhelmed by his performance. And it wasn’t until this disappointment had settled that I began to contemplate, why?

Different player

The world-beater I was familiar with would drift in and around the final-third, wandering towards the wingers, he’d be hungry for the ball – I didn’t get a sense of this during the City game, nor have I done the past few times I’ve seen him play, albeit they’ve been TV appearances. Even Wednesday’s return leg at the Nou Camp revealed an intermittent Messi; popping up here and there, although to devastating affect with his goal – obviously, I’m not questioning Messi’s finishing capabilities. But watching the fuller picture, high up in the stands in the first leg, allowed me to contemplate a difference in character. I understand I wasn’t in a position to judge Messi’s positional play based purely on one European game against 10-men. So with this in mind, I spoke with friends over at Prozone to fuel myself with information on Messi’s performances, over the past few years, in a bid to understand whether or not his overall game had altered.

Joey barton - messi stats

Prozone told me:

  • Messi passes the ball less both in terms of total volume and as a proportion of Barcelona’s passes.
  • With it, the total number of times he receives the ball per game has also fallen.
  • He’s shown greater tendency to both dribble and play the ball into the final third, indicating he has more space in front of him and is therefore playing deeper and more direct than he was in 2010-11.
  • He has also devolved some attacking responsibility to other players, taking a smaller proportion of Barcelona’s attempts on goal when playing.
  • All this points to a less-involved Messi than four years ago; a player who is less likely to drift across the pitch to receive the ball.

Fascinating insights, particularly when you consider the trend in change, season on season – ‘…he has more space in front of him and is therefore playing deeper and more direct than he was in 2010-11’. The analysis highlights my initial thoughts on his positional play and allows me to better understand his gradual change within Martino’s squad.

But to understand this further, Prozone provided these heat maps, which highlights the concentration of Messi’s touches per position.

Messi heatmaps
  • The heat maps helps us to illustrate a less-involved Messi compared to four years ago; this season his touches are concentrated in central areas whereas four years ago he would happily go searching for the ball in wider zones.

A less-involved Messi?

As the heat maps and analysis suggests; Messi’s become less-involved than four years ago, but why? One notable difference seems to point towards Barca’s reliance on their full-backs joining attack – a point Dani Alves perfectly summed up by bagging half of Barca’s goals over the two legs vs City. With the fullbacks entering the attacks, the space Messi used to groom (as highlighted in 10/11 and 11/12 heat maps) is now fulfilled by Alba, and more notably, Alves. Messi is now forced retrieve the ball much deeper and as a result, becomes more isolated from those wider roles.

Guillem Balague and I discussed the current Messi debate in depth earlier this week, a debate that resulted in us both creating blogs. Guillem makes the point Barca are keeping the ball away from their star man, although unintentionally, but to a certain extent I’d have to agree. On the flipside, Martino’s fullbacks are experiencing such success on the flanks, it’s no longer essential to seek Messi each attack; Alves and Alba create an average of one shot opportunity per game. Fullbacks on average create 0.75.

So far, we’ve established that Messi’s positional play has shifted from the flanks to a more central role, but how has this affected his overall play and goal tally? Messi’s goals per 90-minutes improved season on season until the current season (combined – La Liga & Champs’ League):

  • Season 08/09 – 0.84
  • Season 09/10 – 0.99
  • Season 10/11 – 0.99
  • Season 11/12 – 1.35
  • Season 12/13 – 1.41
  • Season 13/14 – 1.11

An improved goal-tally

The heat maps, which suggest Messi’s touch per position gradually moves more central each season, marries with his improved season-on-season goal analysis, as above. So, whilst he’s experiencing a difficult season due to injury, the previous two seasons suggest the further in-field he plays, the better his goals per 90-minutes. In short, Messi’s become a more prolific goal-scorer as a result. However, the signing of Neymar and as mentioned, injury, dilutes Barca’s reliance on Messi this time around and could well be a factor of their current league position, although being just four points off the lead isn’t catastrophic at this stage.

If Barca had a fully fit Messi, would they be better off? It’s worth considering, especially as he contributed 40% and 44% of Barca’s goals over the past two seasons vs just 20% for 2013/14. Again, it could be argued that due to injury, the introduction of a striker – Neymar, and Alexis Sanchez’s 16-goals this season, Barca have had no option but to share Messi’s goal-scoring duties.

Whilst the data leans towards a less-involved and perhaps less-entertaining Messi, his goal-scoring statistics favour this shift into a deeper role in search of the ball, again, his current scoring-form has been marred by injury. A likely cause for his less-involved change is the ever-available wingbacks, they’ve become more suited to the positions Messi used to obtain when retrieving the ball from the wingers, and as a result, Messi’s positioning himself deeper and collecting the ball from the centre-backs.

Which Messi is better?

Messi’s less-involved than four years ago; his touches are concentrated in central areas and he’s less likely to drift across the pitch to receive the ball. Up until the current season though, this shift has indicated an improvement in his goal-scoring statistics. So what Messi do you prefer? An eloquently, free-scoring Messi that plays deeper and makes more passes into the final third or a Messi that scores fewer, covers more distance but is fundamentally part of Barcelona’s typical tika-taka style?

I’d have a 31 goals, free-flowing Messi, as opposed to a 46 goal, deeper and less-involved Messi any day. But they’re just my thoughts as a spectator and admirer of a more-involved Messi.

Which Messi do you prefer?

Thanks to everyone over at Prozone for providing this week’s data.

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The differences between coaches and managers and how British football MUST change

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Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done. Burger king franchises hire managers. They know exactly what they need to deliver and they are given resources to do it at low cost. Managers manage a process they have seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make the process as fast and as cheap as possible.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in. My thesaurus says the best synonym for leadership is management. Maybe that word used to fit, but no longer. Movements have leaders and movements make things happen. Leaders have followers. Managers have employees. Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.

Change? Change is frightening, and to so many people who would be leaders, it seems more of threat than a promise. That’s too bad, because the future belongs to our leaders, regardless of where they work or what they do.

That extract is from Seth Godin’s book Tribes. Alter the word ‘leader’ for ‘coach’, and you have the blueprint of how a successful coach would think.

Change is required

British football needs change. No doubt in my mind – it has to change imminently. Everything points that way. The pool of coaches and players within this nation shrinks by the year. Why this is attributable to a number of issues; a self-entitled attitude, reliance on finance and plain laziness. No one person is to blame and yet, in the same light, we all are.

Becoming a great player may not be an option for everybody, but anyone can become a great coach. If you study and understand the game, with willingness to purposefully practice your craft, then my belief is that you can become an able coach. My own experience informs this opinion. Just revise those great coaches we have all seen, whose passion for the sport was not impeded by lack of skill on the pitch and whose success is irrefutable.

A common misconception is that in order to be a top coach, one must first be a top player. Of course it can help – it gives you a perspective and empathy to the game that can’t be taught. But whether this experience guarantees ability as a coach is dubious. A vast list of top players that have gone on to be abysmal coaches springs to mind. I know this because I’ve played with a few.

Wrong mindset

Predominantly, this transition fails for coaches, because they approach the position with their ‘player’ mindset. A successful player can easily follow the notion that once a coach, he can simply pass on his wisdom. Unfortunately, coaching is not this simple and the method falls flat. Failing this, the coach will move on to spending. Buying someone else, he’s told, will solve it. And when this fails? Time to panic.

The two roles are completely different disciplines. This can’t be emphasized enough. As a player, their destiny was in their own hands. If they played well, they controlled that. A game was as good as he gave. As a coach, success is sought through the success of others. Control is limited to your leadership skills. And to lead, you need followers. Screaming at someone what to do and how to do it, is not leading.

Once a player takes to the pitch, there’s no point screaming at him, trust me. We can’t hear you. We can hear you at half-time. We can hear you all week at the training ground. But on a game day with a crowd in? Save your breath. For this reason alone, I believe we must produce pro-active players. Not re-active. It is the coach’s job to educate the player, so that player can analyse and adjust in real time. A player’s ability to change and better himself on the pitch is the true signal of a coach at work.

Inspiring a generation

So how do we inspire a generation of coaches? A Ferrari in the hands of a Skoda mechanic will not compare to a Skoda in the hands of a Ferrari mechanic. The Skoda will improve. In the same light, a strong coach will improve a player. Unfortunately too many poor Ferrari’s have been ruined by Skoda mechanics.

The good news is, we still have a passion for football that is unrivalled anywhere else on this planet and I envisage good things.

We have the passion and the resources to build a tribe of coaches. We must take that passion and allow anybody from anywhere to be a part of that tribe. If you’re taking the time to read this, you care enough to make change and to join this effort. It takes only two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:

  • A shared interest
  • A way to communicate

The communication can be one of four kinds:

  • Leader to tribe
  • Tribe to leader
  • Tribe member to tribe member
  • Tribe member to outsider

There is no quick fix coming. There is no individual to rule the way and the FA is so out of touch its untrue. It’s up to us, the ones that care, that is on the ground and with a voice. Everything that has happened up to this point has harmed our national teams.  Those foreign owners and individuals in power are thinking about their pockets. The only way they would care for player development, is if that development saves them money.

As much as I hate to state it, it’s the hard truth. And I say the truth because I do care. I will make a difference. Maybe to my own son, perhaps to some kids in my area or even British players on a wide scale. This is a game that has given me so much. It would be selfish of me to continue taking and never give back. It is a duty to give what we take. Otherwise, what will be left for those to come?

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Gareth Bale analysis: how will he fit in at Real Madrid?

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Gareth Bale Officially Unveiled At Real Madrid

The world record signing of Gareth Bale has finally been agreed, following a summer of highly-amped speculation. Luckily for Bale, despite carrying his colossal £85m price tag, he’s remaining reasonably humble and grounded by suggesting Ronaldo was “still the boss” on Monday.

But as the deal is finally put to bed, one thing still remains; how exactly will Gareth Bale perform on European football’s centre stage?

Award winner

Bale, named both PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year last season – and was amazingly once considered a jinx for Spurs – will undoubtedly come under intense scrutiny from every football fan across the world when his Madrid journey begins. And I’ll be one of those fans too; he may not have quite reached the realms of either Messi or Ronaldo yet, but his former boss held him very much in a similar light, “for Spurs to lose Gareth would be the same as Real losing Ronaldo, or Barcelona losing Messi, a disaster.”

Bale could become the modern day poster boy for every young football fan across the UK and despite a lack of recent Briton’s succeeding abroad, he’s already made important strides towards breaking that curse. Addressing the Real fans in Spanish during his official unveiling would’ve been warmly received by those fans, especially those sceptical of his astronomical price tag. But that scepticism, heightened during Spain’s current economic crisis, will be forgotten should Bale help Real regain European dominance.

Bale is undoubtedly a unique player; he’s strong, fast, he can pass, he can dribble and we’re well aware of his shooting capabilities. But what does all this mean for Real? And how will his performances affect, the now, second world’s most expensive player; Cristiano Ronaldo?

As ever in these situations, I spoke with friends over at Prozone for their expert opinion. I was keen to understand just how Bale compared to Ronaldo last season, how each of their games would likely affect the other and subsequently, the overall affect this would likely have on Real.

Contribution to the team

Firstly, Prozone analysed each of the players’ contribution to their clubs last season. The figures in the table below assess each player’s output as a proportion of the team’s total output, in matches where they played the full 90 minutes.

Output-table

 

The data confirms the two clubs’ dependency on Ronaldo and Bale last season:

Despite only having roughly 10% of the team’s individual possessions, they generally output significantly more than 10% of the team’s actions.

  • Approximately a third of goals and shots came from the two players, whilst Bale was relied on more for crossing at Tottenham than Ronaldo at Madrid.
  • Given how much both players contribute to the teams they play in, domestically and internationally, it seems likely that in the same team they’ll dilute each other’s relative outputs. Few teams, if any, have only two players scoring 70% of the team’s goals.
  • This is not necessarily a bad thing. Both players may give up goals in return for a highly potent attack on both wings, potentially resulting in more success for the team.

Usage of possession

To better understand how Bale may play and fit in at Real Madrid, Prozone compared his usage of the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria. It is likely that Bale will take di Maria’s role on the right wing.

Usage-of-poss

Again, it’s striking how similar Ronaldo and Bale are in terms of how they use the ball; influenced by a combination of tactical instruction and underlying talent.

  • Ronaldo has a greater tendency to shoot than the Welshman – possibly a product of playing position – but on the whole they pass, dribble and lose possession at similar rates.
  • More significantly, Bale is distinctly dissimilar to Angel di Maria. The Argentinean plays a more considered game than Bale, with a greater tendency to pass instead of shoot. Di Maria also plays the ball in one touch less regularly.
  • It seems likely Bale will be encouraged to play his ‘natural game’ for Madrid, which is closer to Ronaldo’s than di Maria’s.
  • This would mean attacks down Madrid’s left and right may be similar in nature; not necessarily a bad thing given the talent available.
  • With two years left on Ronaldo’s contract, in the long run Gareth Bale seems capable of tactically filling the Portuguese’s role on the right wing; there will plenty of examination as to whether Bale can technically match his high standards.

The above certainly helps us understand the similarities between both Bale and Ronaldo. Whilst concerns were raised how Bale would compliment Ronaldo’s playing style, it seems Real are in favour of furthering their attacking prowess – by replacing the more considered Di Maria with Bale. And if Bale and Ronaldo’s performances continue as they have the past couple of seasons, then the Bernabeu could become one of the greatest shows on earth.

Moving to another country isn’t easy; he’ll have to adapt to Spanish culture, weather and language. But he’s a young lad whose head appears firmly screwed on, along with that, Real Madrid will have stringent protocol to protect their latest prized-asset. The stage is now set for Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player.

Let me know your thoughts on the subject; regardless of data, how do you envisage Bale’s on-field relationship with Ronaldo evolving? Can Bale emulate the success of Messi or Ronaldo? I’ll try reply to as many as possible.

prozone-logo-black

 

 

 

A special thanks to everyone over at Prozone for proving the data used in this week’s blog.

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Neymar: What I really think

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Neymar

I’ve made my opinions on Neymar perfectly clear over the past few months, much to the disgust of his loyal Brazilian following. There’s been a decent amount of coverage on the matter too, so rather than allow it to descend further out of control I’ll try and stem my thoughts here and set the record straight.

Unfair comparisons

First of all, let’s backtrack so I can flesh out the 140 characters Twitter restricts me to. Comparing him to a number of the World’s greats having had no exposure to the European game is absurd. Just last season he was playing in the Brazilian Serie A and although some of the World’s best began here, all ultimately moved to test themselves against the world’s elite – Europe. And that’s the reason the jury’s still out.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he lined up against England in both friendlies this year, despite displaying glimpses in the latter, he wasted too many opportunities and held onto the ball far too long. Prior to this, I’d seen some of his impressive individual goals, but again, until he could prove his worth against sterner opposition, I wasn’t buying all these cries of ‘the next Pele’. It just didn’t add up.

A fair argument

A couple of weeks back, a friend and I from Prozone endured an intense conversation regarding the matter. He reluctantly agreed with my stance on Neymar pre-Confederations Cup, but struggled to grasp why I still wasn’t convinced, despite scoring a few decent goals and finally showing some worth again Spain. I told him, just like I mentioned on Twitter ‘if he makes me eat my own words, so be it’. And that’s when he decided to dig around for data on Neymar, he was adamant he’d provide a fair argument in Neymar’s favour. And I welcomed this.

The hard facts

When analysing a player or club, comparing them like-for-like is the simplest method. However, as Neymar played in Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, we first need to understand how the league compares to Champions League average. The benefit of comparing him against the Champions League as opposed to La Liga – where he’ll be playing this next season – allows us determine the standard across Europe’s best. As ultimately, this is where he’ll be intensely scrutinised.

 Champ v Serie A

Prozone told me:

Passing style: the data paints a picture of a marginally more considered approach by teams in the Champions League compared to the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A. Fewer passes are directed forwards, resulting in a higher pass success % and more individual possessions per game.

Possession outputs: there is a – perhaps surprisingly – a general tendency for more crosses in Brazil and fewer dribbles. However, dribble success is higher in the Serie A

Goal production: Despite the different styles of play, both achieve similar levels of shots per game. The quality of chances is slightly higher in the Champions League (more shots inside the box) and more goals result from open play scenarios.

Upon reflection, with the exception of passes and individual possessions, there’s doesn’t appear to be much variance between the Brazilian Serie A and Champions League average. However, it could be argued that Neymar may have to adapt to a slightly slower style of play, as a result of a more considered approach play, but he may enjoy more clear-cut opportunities to score. And with 54 goals in 103 appearances for Santos to his name, I can begin to build a clearer understanding of how he fits in with Barca’s setup. Although the data clearly compares playing outposts, it’s difficult to analyse and compare overall playing quality. So whilst he’s impressed on an individual level, standard is ultimately better in Europe.

The player

Prozone helped me understand the comparisons between of the Brazilian league and Champions League, we’ll now do the same the player and the Champions League average.

Neymardata

Prozone told me:

Shooting: Neymar had an outstanding season in 2012, outshooting and outscoring the average UCL attacker. Even when using comparable opportunities – shots inside the box – Neymar is shown to be a deadly attacker.

Possession: Neymar surprisingly takes on defenders less regularly than the UCL average, but enjoys ample time in possession with 3 touches on average in possession. He may have less time on the ball in the Champions League.

Distribution: Neymar’s lower pass completion is largely explained by the fact he plays more difficult forward passes more regularly.

The data not only supports Prozone’s initial quest to provide a fair argument in favour of Neymar, but it helps me better understand why the hype surrounding the Brazilian exists. It’s clear he’s enjoyed plenty of success in Brazil and whilst you’d argue the overall quality of the Champions League vs Campeonato Brasileiro Série A is greater, his outputs suggest he is significantly above average.

There’s no denying the data helps propel Neymar in a positive light, he’s a proven goal scorer in Brazil, and he also bagged a few decent goals during the Confederations Cup, none more memorable than the one against Spain. He was also instrumental in Fred’s winner against Uraguay in the semi’s, it seems Brazil has become somewhat reliant on him. However, on the few occasions I’ve seen him, he’s been particular underwhelming and others around me agree. For that reason, the publicity surrounding him seems overhyped. He’s shown impressive glimpses during the Confederations Cup against varied competition, but nowhere near enough consistency or quality as the two other current footballing greats; Messi or Ronaldo.

I can’t really argue with the data provided, as it helps me understand the type of player he is and what can be expected from him, but he’ll ultimately face the real test in Europe next season. There’s also the small matter of pairing him up with Messi. Although the data suggests he dribbles less than the Champions League average, like Messi, he enjoys carrying the ball and this could well affect Barca’s tip-tap playing style. But you’d expect Barca to have analysed this before splashing out £48.6m.

Ultimately any player that receives such media attention, signs for one of the biggest clubs in the World and carries such a hefty price tag deserves to be scruntinised. And whilst the data helps supports the headlines he’s received, until he proves himself for Barca and in Europe, then I’m still unconvinced.

What are you thoughts? Do you think he’ll merit his price tag? Let me know below.

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Have the German’s created a footballing blueprint for the next generation?

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dortmund

The German national team is renowned for its ruthless efficiency, resilience and flawless organisation – characteristics England has been on the receiving end of too many times.

It now seems the German’s have further developed a footballing platform that works at a club level, something that the rest of the world can only admire – for the time being at least. Maybe it’s an equivalent of the old ‘Total football’ born by the Dutch.

Back to the drawing board

What you’ve witnessed in the Champions League over the past few months hasn’t occurred out of chance, the German FA have completely overhauled an already successful footballing system and gambled with something unique. Back at the 2002 World Cup, Germany was playing effective yet simple football, conceding just once en-route to the final. However, Brazil completely surpassed the German’s with a 2-0 victory.

Both finalists were complete polar opposites; as mentioned, Germany a well-organised unit, relying on formation and tactics. Compared to Brazil; boasting individual talent right through their squad with players capable of turning the game on its head in a second – a stereotypical Brazilian trait nonetheless.

During that time, Germany relied on poor performances by their opposition, lucky breaks and dominance from set pieces. All negative factors that contributed to their defeat against Brazil. Luckily for Germany though, the DFB (German FA) had already initiated the development of entirely new footballing blueprint and it was only a matter of time before it flourished. As a footballer you admire this because they acted against an already proven philosophy, a philosophy that required just a few minor tweaks to perfect. However, instead of those minor tweaks, the German’s reconstructed their entire footballing platform.

A zero tolerance for failure

It began back in 2000 when Germany embarrassingly exited the European Championships picking up just one point – one of the very few tournaments England can actually claim victory over Germany in recent years. The DFB acted instantaneously, creating the DFL (German Football League) to manage the 1 and 2 Bundesliga. The DFL were dogged and never wanted a repeat of Euro 2000. All teams in the top two tiers were required for their academies to have a certain number of indoor training facilities, a certain number of pitches, massage rooms and physiotherapists. Note the German’s zero tolerance for failure, and ultimately their keenness to change, to move forwards. As a fan, I’m envious. As an English player I’m embarrassed.

It was within these academies that saw the most significant change: at least 12 players within the academy must be eligible to play for Germany. A method guaranteed to help nurture the success of the national team too, a subject the English FA still appears stuck at.

A Guardian article from 2010 read: Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga’s chief executive said that the national team’s stark improvement was a direct result of the overhaul of Germany’s academy system, with all 36 clubs in the two Bundesliga divisions now obliged to operate centrally regulated academies before being given a licence to play in the league. Of the 23-man national squad now in South Africa, 19 came from Bundesliga academies, with the other four from Bundesliga 2 academies.

The 50+1 rule – a secret for scalable success?

Implemented to promote competition within the league, to create sustainable excellence, the 50+1 rule requires that members must own at least 51% of the club, removing the possibility of an Abramovich or Sheikh takeover. Thus helping nurture new talent, as the funds and mindset of those businessmen are eradicated, diminishing the chances of a multimillion-pound transfer deal.  In the years that followed this new ruling, the Bundesliga struggled, as academies were still developing and spending was out synced, in comparison to the rest of Europe. A necessary short-term medicine, it would appear.

Seifert went on to say, “This way you don’t have a foreign owner who doesn’t really care for the national teams,” said Seifert. “The clubs have a very strong relationship with the FA: we are all engaged in discussions [about youth development].”    

Domestic dominance

With Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich dominating the Champions League this time around, it’s little surprise that they captured first and second spot retrospectively in the Bundlesliga. The academy implementation was all too evident in their rise to victory this season – Dortmund containing the likes of: Reus, Gotze, Hummels and Schmelzer all players that surged through the academy ranks. I was intrigued into the performances of Dortmund and Bayern throughout their domestic and European campaign, so I spoke to some friends over at Prozone Sports analysis who provided me with the following data for the domestic performances:

dom2
In almost perfect tandem form, with the exception of Dortmund’s forward pass %, ball retention and final third entry success %, Bayern were the highest ranked team for all categories – coinciding with their top spot finish. Subsequently Dortmund ranked second for all those categories, excluding those mentioned, matching their second place finish.

European Dominance: A story of possession

Dortmund and Bayern are not only playing a catch-me-if-you-can game in their domestic league, but it seems their European dominance this season will become the envy of the rest of Europe too. I also obtained some data (I love Prozone!) from both semi-finals of the Champions League:

The rank in the table below indicates where the club lies among the 32 Champions League teams this season.

Prozone-eur

In the Champions League, the German clubs’ have been less dominant at retaining the ball. Instead, their overall usage of possession – turning it into meaningful attacks – has been above average; matching or bettering the Spanish clubs on the whole.

Prozone told me…

  • Over the two legs, Bayern attempted 43.0% of their passes forward, compared to Barcelona’s 35.8% – a clear indication that Bayern changed from their possession-based game to a more direct, counter-attacking approach.
  • Dortmund took a similar approach; 52% of their passes were forward over the two legs against Real Madrid, whereas their opponents attempted 48% of their passes forward.
  • Both German teams adapted their games to beat their Spanish opponents but still outshot their opponents in the first legs 25-12 in total (17-9 for shots inside the box) to
take a combined 7-goal lead into the second legs.

Although a little premature, just like Bayern, only last season Barcelona was playing the same cat and mouse game with the rest of Europe. Now it seems the roles have reversed.

Copycats to follow

Barca’s European dominance over the past five years is one of the most entertaining styles of play ever witnessed. Now it seems the German’s have raised the bar and the rest of Europe find themselves rerouting their style of play yet again.

And just like those teams who chased Barca for so many years found – attempting to imitate a team who’ve instigated an innovative blueprint are unlikely to be out-maneuvered, simply because they’re already five steps ahead of everyone else.

Tip-tap football

Another key factor to the success of Dortmund and Bayern is their solidarity, playing as a team, fighting for one another. I watched Dortmund last weekend with a supposed weakened team and, despite that being the case, their solid core of a team was apparent – they ultimately won. But you compare this to likes of Real and Barcelona, and this begins to highlight the major differences. Once you begin to remove the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta the style of football their team’s built around begins to suffer. There’s an over-reliance on individuals as oppose to building a platform and selecting players accordingly. And this has been evident in Barca’s cup run this season – Messi continually kept their Champions League run alive.

Now what?

Many clubs like AC Milan and Manchester United have decreased spending for a fear of sanctions against Uefa’s Financial Fair Play introduction next season. Already, it seems the German teams have little to worry about from a business perspective; expenditure is low, and considering their starting XI costs just €40.6, it would appear they’ve created the perfect footballing platform to help cultivate fresh talent, all a while developing a national team and best of all, there’s no foreign majority owner.

Whilst many claim the Premier League is the best the league worldwide – from an entertainment perspective I’d agree – yet in comparison to the Bundesliga it remains unsustainable and that’s a worry – you only have to look at Portsmouth to see this.

It now seems the Premier League has reached a cross roads; it can continue to overspend, causing loses and run the risk of sanctioning from Uefa over the next few years, or it can cut back, develop a stringent academy system, building English football back to the dominant force it once was. It’ll take many years and just as the German’s experienced, a dip in national and domestic form is likely.

Speaking as an England fan, I’d welcome change to help develop the national side for a successful future. But as a devotee to the Premier League, I expect those years spent building a rigorous platform would possibly hamper the Premier League’s reputation as one of the World’s most exciting leagues, albeit for a few years.

Would you welcome a new football philosophy? As ever, let me know your thoughts below and I’ll do my best to reply.

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The Many Faces…Infographic

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the-many-faces-of-joey-barton

The guys over at First 10, with a little help from Prozone too, took it upon themselves to create this infographic of me. It’s an intriguing design, giving insightful data and analysis to both my life online, and on the field. As ever, let me know your thoughts.

the-many-faces-of-joey-barton
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