Strange headlines

My first thoughts were: “Whose head was thrown at Mourinho?” and “Why did Arteta cut it?”

Which row at Old Trafford was Mourinho sitting in when drinks were thrown at him?

Mikel Arteta cut? Wasn’t he cut from the Arsenal squad years ago?

Maybe it is all to do with disrespect.

Arsene Wenger must be rubbing his hands with glee.

He must be wishing for a road back to the Champions League via the Europa League win rather than a top four Premier League place.

Pity the tour bus still has to go via Atletico Madrid.

 

That may also be its last stop.

The case for video replay

This is why we need video replays.

In the local derbies on Sunday – the Mancunian derby featuring Manchester City and Manchester United, and the Merserside derby featuring Liverpool against Everton – all four managers found themselves discussing penalty decisions or ones which could have been given but were not, and which turned out to have significant impact on the game and the final scoreline.
In the game of two Manchesters, United manager Jose Mourinho fumed that a late clash of feet between Ander Herrera and Nicolas Otamendi, which resulted in the former tumbling in the box, was deemed a dive and resulted in him receiving a yellow card. The game’s other talking point was the dive by City’s Gabriel Jesus, one where no contact was made but he grimaced and fell spectacularly, more so than Herrera, yet received not so much as even a talking to.

The other game ended in a draw but the taking point was one in which the tying penalty had been attained. Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was in an explosive mood, claiming Dominic Calvert-Lewin had gone to ground under the slightest of challenges. Everton manager Sam Allardyce of course defended his centre-forward’s actions, claiming that there had been a push in the box by Emre Can.

The referees were criticised in the post match interviews. Under Premier League rules referee performances should not be discussed, and both managers will pick up a fine for doing so. Klopp’s bitterness was apparent for all to see in his criticism of the referee and how he felt Everton had been let back in the game. Mourinho went one step further, criticising the referee by name and giving his own personal critique. “Michael Oliver had a good game but made a bad decision”.

But the managers were not the only ones questioning the referees. Players confronted the referees during key points in the game, and also after. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson could be seen raising his arms and shouting “What??” when the penalty was given.

The speed of the modern game has increased, and also the intent to deceive. Players are now playing more to get an opposing player sent off, because one men less means a numerical advantage at set pieces and changes the intent on the team with less players. If you have ten players you are more defensive and less attack minded because the other team will have more players and you will soon run out of energy if you try to match them, which is when you concede goals. Some teams – hello, Jose Mourinho even play defensively when they have eleven men, let alone ten! At the Manchester United game, the City fans taunted the home fans with “Park the bus, park the bus, Manchester United” – which is what they were doing with eleven men in a home game at Old Trafford.

How would video replays be implemented? This is where football could take a leaf from its American cousin’s book. The American football has a referee, sideline judges, ball judge, video official among other officials to manage a game of 60 minutes. Each team is allowed three challenges and if a challenge is unsuccessful a team is charged with a timeout. The modern football game could implement a system where teams get two challenges over the whole game. And if they lose a challenge then perhaps one player in the team has to sit out for five minutes of the game.
Implementing video replays has wider implications outside the game.

Football managers always blame the referees after a game because it is way of taking the heat for the team, deflecting the press. But it is not the reason for implementing video replay. The real reason is to stop a whole generation of youngsters challenging officials in game, copying what they see on the pitch from their idols, and developing a disrespect for authority, not just in the game but outside of it.

Video replay has implications outside of football. And that is why we need it.

Keeping football separate from other things

Has fame got to Pep Guardiola’s head? The Manchester City manager, always portrayed by the Spanish media as the quiet one of the two giants during his reign at Barcelona – the other being the louder articulate Jose Mourinho – aired his political views ahead of the  Manchester derby today. Even Mourinho, for years seen as brash, cautioned against the mixing of football and politics. He also added that if it had been himself, he might not have got away with it.

The truth is that Guardiola could not really avoid this kind of question put to him. Born in Catalonia, he is such a high profile manager that he would have been asked that sort of a question anyway. And evading an answer would have been interpreted by Catalans as a failure to speak out, and pounced on by Spanish media as a chance to lambast the Catalan cause. So the Manchester City manager had no way of deflecting the question, however he would have wanted to. He has always worn a yellow ribbon as a mark of solidarity but it is arguable that a suitable response might have been, “It is an important issue that must be addressed in the correct place.”

Barcelona’s Gerard Pique learnt a lesson on the same issue. Pictured casting his vote for Catalonian independence, he was booed by  Spanish fans when he turned out for Spain. Even his Spanish centre back partner, Sergio Ramos, cautioned against airing of political views in public. Ramos and Mourinho, both together at Madrid, have reputations for being loudspoken individuals but perhaps both strangely realise the value of biting their tongues at times.

Perhaps some things shouldn’t mix. Football, religion, politics or any other areas that cause sharp differences of opinion should best be kept ambiguous or in the background.

Either way, it is blue against red at Manchester. City against United. Guardiola against Mourinho. And for the Spanish media, it is the Mourinho and by indirect association, Madrid and Spain – contingent against Catalonia. An already charged up Manchester is only more fired up by more external factors.

Coutinho goes, Wilshere stays

Is it time to get excited about Liverpool and Arsenal yet? Both teams recorded large wins against Europe’s top teams in the Champions League. Liverpool recorded a thumping 7-0 win on Tuesday, while Arsenal, not to be outdone in the glory stakes, recorded a 6-0 win against BATE Barisov at the Emirates stadium.

Both performances were notable for various reasons. Philip Coutinho, the Brazilian long on the radar of top teams such as Barcelona, scored a hat trick for the club, recording yet another brilliant performance to match the one on the previous weekend against Premier League opposition. Jack Wilshere, previously on loan to Bournemouth and recalled to Arsenal second string, in what is Europa League competition, produced a man of the match performance and had social media pundits reflecting on his performance. During the game there was even talk of taking him to the World Cup in Russia, over established players like Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson. Some even dubbed his performance in the match as The Jack Wilshere Show.

Some viewers did exercise caution though. Both Liverpool and Arsenal are attacking minded teams, good at scoring and creating chances, and the general opinion was that against tougher opposition, or teams that prefer to clam up against team to frustrate them, then blitz on the counter and set pieces, they might be found wanting. Arsenal’s win, obtained despite fielding a team of youngsters, made it clear that there is still a gulf in quality despite playing teams that finish in the top three of their own leagues.

And what should we make of the play of Coutinho and Wilshere? Should we judge the invigoration of Coutinho’s play as a statement of intent to stay at Anfield? Unfortunately it appears not. As I have discussed in the previous post, players peak before the transfer window opens in order to attract interest from other teams, or leverage offers from other clubs to force a wage rise. Could it be that Coutinho is trying to attract the great Catalan club into making a move for him? They tried so hard to get him in the summer, and it is fair to say apart from Neymar and Alexis Sanchez, no one else created more transfer interest.

Should Jack Wilshere stay or should he go? Yesterday’s performance may be enough to secure a loan move to a club tempted enough to take a punt on an injury prone midfielder. Yet while Wilshere may have done enough to spark off some interest, and he would if he continues that form, his fate really depends seemingly on what happens to Mesut Ozil. With the midfield cramped with Hector Bellerin, Saed Kolasinac, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, Wilshire’s place may hinge on whether Arsenal decide to go with a 3-5-2 shape, spearheaded by Lacazette with Alexis Sanchez or Olivier Giroud or even the forgotten Danny Welbeck. If Mesut Ozil, the assist king departs for another team or is sold, the combined creativity of Ramsey and Wilshere may be enough to compensate for that loss. So bet on Coutinho going and Wilshere staying in January.

Fattening up the calf for slaughter

Is Manchester United defender Luke Shaw back in the manager’s good books again? The left back, who has been prone to injuries for much of his career and had his attitude criticised by manager Jose Mourinho, had a good game against European opposition on Tuesday. He played the full game after having only played 48 minutes all season. It was his first start since April, and the left back, who became one of the world’s most expensive teenagers when he joined Manchester United, helped the Red Devils beat the Russian team CSKA Moscow 2-1 at their home ground Old Trafford. Summarising Shaw’s performance, the Portuguese manager offered praise in saying “He was very dangerous”. There was also optimism for the left back for the future as the manager declared that if he continued playing like that he would get more games.

The relationship between Shaw and the manager has not often been the best. It was reported a couple of times that they were not on speaking terms. The player found his mental attitude the subject of the manager’s criticism on more than one occasion. “The problem is in his head,” Mourinho once famously declared, likening the player’s attitude to his rehabilitation of his injury to be a poor one, one that did not honour the red shirt he put on.

It seemed as if Shaw was on his way out, with clubs such as West Ham reportedly interested. The latter are suffering from a weak defence that is leaking in more goals than they are scoring, and had been seen as one of the clubs where Shaw’s talent, previously on display at Southampton, would shore up the backline. The Hammers would have also benefited from a player hungry to prove himself and his doubters wrong.

It is difficult to remember that Shaw has many good years ahead of him. He is only 24, in a sport where players hit their prime around three or four years later. Like many others that came through the ranks of the southern coastal club, such as Theo Walcott of Arsenal, the players of the club seem to be peaking early and find trouble recovering their form after injury. Like Walcott, Shaw is seeking to get enough playing time in order to make with headway at an England call-up.

Should the often injured left back expect to invigorate his previously fading Manchester United career?

This website says no. In fact, this site would gamble its life savings that come January, Luke Shaw will no longer be with the Red Devils.

So why did Jose Mourinho give Shaw hope for the future then? Make no mistake, just like a used car salesman buff shines a car liberally with wax, and then boasts about its supposed qualities to attract buyers, Jose Mourinho gave Luke Shaw a full game to demonstrate to potential buyers that he can last the full outing, would be a potentially safe buy – considering his luck with injuries – and he hopes to attract a bid for him in the January window.

What would happen in January if Shaw found himself on his way out and confronted Mourinho about this? He’d be told it would be good for his development, more playing time might get him back into the England team, and he’d be sold promise and hope.

The Manchester team has weaknesses at the back. They have a potent midfield and potent attack. They need to spend money in January to shore to the backline. And who will fund the purchase of incoming players?

The new and improved, dangerous Luke Shaw. According to Mourinho, he’s that good – so good he wants to get rid of him.

Is this only speculation? Check back in January. Shaw might be funding the sales of another team’s kit.

Football Overload? Conte using deflection as an outlet

Is there a thing such as schedule overload? Chelsea boss Antonio Conte seems to think so. He has recently complained – protested actually – about the close scheduling of Chelsea’s matches. The Blues recently had to play Liverpool, Qarabag and Newcastle all within the span of seven days, including the round trip to Azerbaijan. Conte made it clear that he was not actually complaining about the scheduling of his side’s matches, as much as he was protesting that his team would not get as much rest as their opponents. He even went as far as to suggest a conspiracy is on the cards within the Premier League, a bias against Chelsea repeating as champions.

Is there any truth in it? Would the Premier League actually benefit with a new team winning it? Perhaps. It gives the sense that any team has a chance. (Although considering Manchester City are already running away with the title and opening up a huge gap between them and the rest of the pack, it may seem that every one is really fighting for second.) The idea that any team can win fuels hope within the fans, and it is this hope that compels people to support their team to give it the extra edge to win. It is the idea that their team can win that makes people come out to watch games. If you were going to watch a match where your team had no chance, would you go to the stadium, shiver in the cold, get rained on, spend money on a beer and pastie, just to watch them lose, or would you go to the pub, have a meal and drink for under a tenner, and watch it on Sky? Thought so. This is why Premier League bosses love it when teams like Leicester unexpectedly win the title race, it gives them the one team to quote. “All teams have a fair chance. Look at Leicester two years ago.” And this is why Premier League bosses love the FA Cup, where teams could pull off an upset. Different teams winning the league fuels the thinking that everyone has a chance. It brings fans out to watch. It gives money to the Premier League coffers instead of filling J D Wetherspoon’s.

Then again, the Premier League is not responsible for scheduling Champions League matches. Take away the Qarabag match, and what you have is two games a week apart, which seems fair. And that is why teams have more than eleven players, to have rotation players, to rotate squads around.

You can’t have equal numbers of rest days between teams as Conte claims. Otherwise all teams would have to play on the same day, which is not only logistically inconvenient, but then means teams would start complaining about playing on the early or late game and not having sufficient hours rest. Why is it logistically difficult? Well, for starters, policing resources means that teams in one region must not all play at home or there may be security risks. Imagine if Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Watford, West Bromwich and Crystal Palace all played home matches. The Metropolitan Police Force would have a fit.

Is Conte really complaining at all? One suspects he is merely deflecting attention from players, taking the media heat off them in the run up to an important part of the season. Conte railing his head off gives sports writers stuff to fill their column inches with, so that they could spend enough writing about Conte and less about his players.

So Conte’s complaints are just an attempt at deflection, like his predecessor Mourinho. But if he really feels aggrieved, he should remember that’s what he gets a fat salary for. He should perhaps remind himself of this old football joke (source here):

Question: What’s the difference between a nursery assistant and a football manager?

Answer: One gets paid a lot of money to look after children.

That’s right; Conte gets paid millions in his salary. So do those under his care. But it is time to stop whinging and start living up to the hype.

Reasons behind player motivation

In the previous post, I mentioned how managerial uncertainty affects players. I also mentioned how players are unwilling to give their best if things appear as if any manager is on his way out. Why is this so? Firstly, if you are seen to be too loyal to the old gaffer, when he is shipped out you could be too. So it makes sense, as a player, to distance yourself slightly from the manager, and this may manifest itself in the form of not listening fully to instructions, either on the field, or during team tactical talks. Of course, it is better to have any doubt about the manager eradicated, if the board make a public statement. Then the players know the manager’s way is the only way.

And what happened when news of Everton’s appointment of Sam Allardyce filtered through at Everton? They win 4-0. Against all odds they score four goals, and don’t even concede one!

The appointment of a new manager always brings a run of positive results. Why? Because it is likely that the new manager might be there for a while, so players subconsciously see it as an opportunity to impress the man, and align himself with him. In the first few matches you often see players digging deep, finding reserves they didn’t display for the previous boss. Failure to impress the new incoming boss could mean a quick exit from the first team or club.

Player motivation is also affected by externalities, even though you have to be professional and give your all on the field, and managerial in-outs are not the only factors. Sometimes you can find players performance spike in in late November or December. Arsenal’s duo of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, linked with other clubs since the summer, have recently experienced a resurgence in form. Yet not long ago they were seemingly transferring out, Sanchez to Manchester City and Ozil to Manchester United. And when news of their possible moves affected their form, the fans turned on them. Yet they are playing their best now. What has happened? Have they now decided Arsenal is their future home?

Actually, no. They are playing to impress. Just not their existing boss, or any incoming one. Arsene Wenger is not going anywhere yet. But Sanchez and Ozil are playing to attract interest from elsewhere, to earn themselves a trade in time for the January window.

But Sean Dyche at Burnley seems to have the best of most worlds. The owner likes him, he and his team evaluate themselves on performances and not results, knowing they are not going to win every game. And his players have heart, and fight for him. But maybe they are just fighting for interest from the big clubs.

Player motivation. It’s a funny thing.

Managerial uncertainty affects your team’s form

If your football team manager is sacked, how long would it take to appoint another manager? Three games? Four games? It seems like David Unsworth has been at troubled Everton forever, and he can’t stop the sinking ship from listing.

Unsworth was appointed caretaker manager after Ronald Koeman was axed. Of course, it would be fair to give him a fair few games to try and stabilise the rot, and he would have done well to have secured a few draws, but Everton under him seem no better than they were under his predecessor.

When Koeman left, Unsworth fancied himself in the running for the vacant position, announcing that it would be a great honour to be in charge of the club he had played for. It seemed he was given a chance to show his mettle, and while pundits suggested he was the right person, being Everton through and through, it now seems the job is too big for him. He is no longer in the running for the job, and as he admitted, the “sooner this gets sorted out the better”.

The problem with a managerial crisis is that it develops uncertainty, and this filters down to the players. From the moment a manager is rumoured to be axed, and the news is picked up by the media, the constant back page media storm undermines the manager’s credibility. Who will listen to him, and take instruction, if the rumours are he is going? Players will probably unconsciously start aligning themselves with who they think is next in line. And if they have a bad run of results, this negative run and doubt continues, and leads to more decay. You can usually feel the sinking of the ship before you see the gaping hole.

But delay over appointing a new manager does not address the doubt. And that is the position Unsworth finds himself in. The players may not take instruction from him either, because he may be gone soon.

Did the Everton board not learn a lesson from Arsenal the previous season? The protracted situation regarding Arsene Wenger’s contract renewal proved so divisive that it affected everyone around the team, fans and players, and caused a late season dip in form. Let’s face it, when planes are flying Wenger Out banners, do you think players on the field can give their best? Did it make a difference mentally? Of course it did. When a manager is undermined by the press or any circumstances, the players don’t give their best for him.

Would stating publicly that Unsworth is only temporarily in charge help his cause? Not really. But it would help if the board told the players that whoever was in charge of the team would have the power to decide if they remained with the team past the transfer window in January, or got traded to another less desirable team in the Chinese or Scottish League, doomed to travel to far flung places, playing in front of unknown crowds or going to cold freezing places. Now that would get the players focussed.

Speed or possession? The most important stat

Is football a game of speed? Is the speed of the game increasing? When you watch a game of football, sometimes a stat flashes up telling you how much distance a player has run, or his fastest sprint. You might be forgiven in thinking that speed is certainly not the essence of the game, if you watched the game from five years ago. Certainly the Spanish teams made a meal and influence on the game in what they called possession football, where the players kept the ball, passed it among themselves, then slowly walked it up the opponents half and then tried to thread it into the goal with some one on one skill. This concept of tiki-taka was copied by various teams across the continent until Spain were demolished by Holland 5-0.

Newspapers ran the headline “Tiki Taka is dead” and from then on the teams slowly transitioned to a different kind of play, a counter attacking style, waiting for the team with ball control to run themselves out of energy while launching short bursts of attack themselves. You didn’t need to have the ball for long periods, all you had to do was be clinical and make the most of your limited opportunities. And then defend and frustrate your opponents as they burned up their own energy trying to think of ways and ideas to get past your walls of players. It is the game plan teams employ against the football club Arsenal, by holding out against them defensively while they burn their own energy, both physical and mental, trying to probe for a link; then counterattacking and trying to make Arsenal continue wasting their energy. Having the ball and not being able to do anything with it can be very frustrating, and the more possession you have, the more it works against you.

This counter attacking of football bears many resemblances to modern life. Modern life seems to operate on two speeds, a slow, waiting for things to happen speed, and one that has got to be very responsive and reactive. It is like the world of home buying, for example. According to The Property Ombudsman Service, this waiting for long periods without much movement, followed by a short period where everything has to happen very quickly puts the average homebuyer under a lot of stress. It may or may not be a stretch to equate home buying with the world of football but certainly some similarities can be drawn.

What happens when two counter attacking teams play each other? Is it end to end action, or do they gift it to the other so they can play their normal game?

The modern game happens so fast and hinges on split second decisions. Sometimes coaches point to incidences on the field that could have changed the course of the game; an offside decision, an outside goal, a penalty that should have been awarded or otherwise, and while some may be attempts to deflect criticism on the players, some may be true.

But sometimes it is not on the field incidents that coaches refer to as if they changed the course of the game. This weekend Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp charged that had he been allowed to bring on substitutes when he wanted to, he would have emerged triumphant at Chelsea. Instead his side conceded an equaliser before the substitutes were allowed on the field in the closing stages of the game.

You can question the decisions in the game when the result didn’t go your way, especially if the game changer happened in the closing stages. But it is easy to overlook the remainder of the game and overlook the chances to kill the game that were not taken.

Football is a simple game. Start on level terms, then score more goals than they do to win. How much possession you have is irrelevant. You could score from the kickoff and then set up to defend for the rest of the game. Whether you play possession football, or counterattacking football, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, just make sure the ball ends up more times in your opponent’s net. That is the most important stat.