One Man, One Game: José Giménez (Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid, 10 May 2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that. 

Part One.

Giménez is one of that awkward bunch of nominal centre-backs: those who get shunted around the pitch into different positions because they’re young, and good but not too good, and malleable. England has a recent tradition of this. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Calum Chambers, and Eric Dier are just the first defensive player names to spring to mind.

Evaluating centre-backs playing at centre-back is one thing; evaluating how people playing in other positions might fare at centre-back is something else. This week, I’m going to watch a game of Giménez playing at right-back and next week, a game at centre-back. What skills or features of his game will transfer, or not, from right- to centre-back? Continue reading

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Width is underrated, or why some counter-attacks work better than others

This’ll be quick, and for the first few sentences I’m going to engage in a sin of journalism (not that this is strictly journalism) and use first person pronouns. Forgive me.

About the time that I started to hear about the world ‘halfspace’ – or perhaps it was about the time that I’d learned from stats Twitter how inefficient crosses can be – I noticed that Arsenal were avoiding the wings like they used to avoid 5th place. If anything, it was a little too much. But anyway.

Then plucky youngderdogs Monaco came along with their fiery brand of dagger-plunging counter-attacks. What made them overperform their Expected Goals tally by so much? Was it (as it seemed likely) linked to their efficacy on counter-attacks, and what made those counter-attacks so effective? Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Per Mertesacker (Arsenal vs Barcelona, 23 February 2016)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that. 

 Per Mertesacker has a lot of fans. Partly it’s for things like this.

Partly it’s because he might – and here the narrative voice slightly trails off into the higher pitch of uncertainty – be Arsenal’s best central defender. I’ve liked Koscielny for a while and they’re different types of centre-backs, so it’s neither an easy nor obvious comparison. Possibly more relevant to Arsenal is the fact that the alternatives to Mertesacker during the BFG’s injury are all more naturally aggressive players, so the Koscielny-Mertesacker balance is harder to replicate without him. Continue reading

Bumper centre-back analysis: Koulibaly, Rudiger, Ake, Gibson, Mawson

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). As a celebration for my (now defunct) Patreon getting to the $20 a month goal, I’m doing a bumper analysis article on *takes deep breath*

–          Kalidou Koulibaly

–          Antonio Rüdiger

–          Nathan Aké

–          Ben Gibson

–          Alfie Mawson

Enjoy.

  Continue reading

One man, One game: Pepe (Napoli vs Real Madrid, 03 March 2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that. The first, on John Terry’s first game of the 2016/17 season, is here.

 

Pepe’s reputation precedes him. This isn’t (I think?) so much to do with his defending as his tendency to kick people. In fairness to him, this is a major part of defending, and so he should be respected for continuing the noble tradition of the centre-back. But, with his Real Madrid now over and a move to Turkey already completed, it seems like a good time to consider how good he still is.

In hindsight, the second leg of a Champions League tie where Madrid were already 3-1 up was not likely to give a representative picture of Pepe as a defender. That said, it showcased some useful little features of his game. Continue reading

The Confederations Cup – A curious weather vane for the world

Smoke, or steam, or some other white smokey substance, billowed forwards and upwards from the road. The gathered crowd began to run backwards, away – away from the cloud, away from the slowly oncoming line of riotgear-clad police officers. It was tear gas, dispersing protests in Brazil in 2013 which surrounded the Confederations Cup.

There are those who say that the Confederations Cup is a meaningless non-event (barring the boring tests of footballing infrastructure in the next year’s World Cup host nation). This is incorrect.

FIFA go home

***

2001: South Korea and Japan Continue reading

Watch his feet – John Terry’s first game of 2016/17

The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Walker has a theory, in his book The Captain Class, that the truly dominant teams of sport all have one thing in common – their captain. World class stars, one-of-a-kind managers, and bags of money come and go, but in all of the truly Greatest Of All Time teams their period of dominance (he says) coincides with the presence of a particular captain’s time with the side.

Whether you believe that or not, captains are generally thought to be emblematic of their team, a representative in sporting achievement as well as spirit. John Terry is Mr Chelsea, and the defensive pragmatism of their twenty-first century successes matches up well with his image as a player.

The pendulum can swing both ways though. Chelsea started the 2016/17 season limping, struggling through games in what looked to be performances which were below their true powers. And Terry looked much the same.

Watching their first game of the season, at home against West Ham on the 15th of August, hindsight plays on the mind as Terry jogs across the screen. Is there anything there which would indicate why he would never fight his way into the side following his injury in September, relegated in the pecking order behind Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, and Gary Cahill? Continue reading