Tag Archives: football

Centre-back analysis of Manchester United vs Chelsea (I’m sorry, I couldn’t think of a pun-y title)

It – Manchester United against Chelsea – was not a match filled with attacking prowess. It was a midfield battle which yielded just 3 shots on target in the entire 90 minutes, all of which were taken by United. Chelsea had one shot in the first half. It was a midfield battle where the defences dropped to absorb pressure too. United completed 94 passes into the final third (which is a lot; 62 in the first half and 32 in the second), and Chelsea completed 101 (24 in the first half, 77 in the second, showing how Mourinho treated going 2-0 up).

As a result, there wasn’t an awful lot for the United centre-backs – who I’d originally been planning on focussing on – to do. Mourinho’s man-marking job of Herrera on Hazard worked perfectly, and after a couple of moments of confusion early on, defending in the right-back area, United worked out how to deal with occasionally having twin full-backs on that side.

Bailly and Rojo made for a good, if rather sheltered, partnership. There was a small difference apparent at some times in the second half, where Rojo wanted to keep a higher line than Bailly, but this may hint at part of why they worked well together. Rojo is a bit of a jumper-inner; Bailly sits back and backs off a little before choosing his moment to challenge. Continue reading


Matthew Pennington’s Merseyside Derby

Matthew Pennington, Everton’s 22-year-old ‘one of our own’ has been thrown into the first team this season through a combination of centre-back injuries and Koeman’s will to play a back three. He was highlighted in the Merseyside Derby by Gary Neville for failing to stop Philippe Coutinho cutting onto his right foot and shooting for Liverpool’s second goal.

It was with good reason, no matter how much Jamie Redknapp wanted to give the youngster the benefit of the doubt, and Pennington struggled with one-on-one moments like it for the 67 minutes that he was on the pitch.

True, Coutinho never should have got past Gueye, but the view from behind the goal shows clearly how Pennington’s weight and body were still moving to his right when Coutinho had skipped past the Everton midfielder. Ideally, you’d want to be balanced, and blocking the path to cut inside, facing the direction you want to show him. Pennington does one of these, the latter.

Pennington – Coutinho goal from EveryTeamNeedsARon on Vimeo.

Where Coutinho (and probably others who have similar trademark moves, Arjen Robben for example) can cause big problems is the way they can change their weight quickly in either direction, meaning that they can afford to make the angle of the initial cut wider.

Artists representation: The dotted line represents the usual path of a forward cutting inside, the fuller line the angle that causes problems. It means that the defender has to be more alongside the forward, which then leaves a bigger opportunity for them to sprint down the line.

This isn’t about Coutinho though. Throughout the match, Pennington looked wobbly on his feet. For Liverpool’s first, he nearly falls over as he backs away from Mané and as he recovers he takes out his team-mate Holgate, who could have helped cover if he hadn’t been put on the floor.

Then there was the moment a few minutes later when he – again faced with Coutinho one-on-one – was off-balance and swung a leg at thin air as the forward skipped past him. In fairness, it looks a little worse than it is, but it still isn’t exactly good.

Pennington waves a leg at Coutinho from EveryTeamNeedsARon on Vimeo.

You can put the imbalances and decisions down to nerves perhaps – he also miscontrolled a loose ball early on, the touch heavy and his step backwards too far and with too much weight put onto his heels, allowing Mané to almost nick the ball away. Despite this, he had some normal, regular, non-mess up touches on the ball in the latter part of the first half and in the part of the second when he was on the pitch.

He also looked like he was communicating decently with the rest of the defensive players, which is probably a relatively reassuring sign, that he wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the occasion. And he looked to be following Koeman’s instructions well, sticking to Coutinho or Firmino when they came into his zone and being positionally flexible between the reference points of Holgate at right wing-back and Ashley Williams as the central centre-back.

But then, even in the second half – presumably after a nice and calming chat with boss Ronald – he still looked uncertain in one-on-one situations.

Pennington – Showdown with Can from EveryTeamNeedsARon on Vimeo.

Pennington was subbed off in the 67th minute with Enner Valencia coming on as Everton changed shape, although he was the clear choice of the centre-backs to bring off.

I can’t profess to be a Pennington expert so this may not be representative of his game. He’s still young-ish, and didn’t look phased by playing in a back 3 and, on occasion, having to tuck into central midfield in the hole behind Davies and Gueye – so that’s relatively promising, at least.

I dunno, I don’t have any firmer conclusions than that. That was his Merseyside Derby.

Sensible Stats round-up 30/04/16

This column aims to look at use of football statistics in the more mainstream areas of the online world, good or bad, and explain why they’re good or how they could be improved.

Sky Sports News HQ, Man City vs Real Madrid preview stats

This is an interesting mix of basic (raw goals) and slightly more advanced (shot conversion) stats. Using more advanced stats, looking for insight, over just a 10 game sample in a cup competition runs risks with sample size and quality so really I don’t mind that they’re using the basic stats. Their job here is to be able to tell a story rather than to make any significant claims with the numbers. Continue reading

Crosses for Nought? Xs and Os: Traditional crosses, are they ‘good’, and how to improve them.

Believe it or not, I had this idea before Stan Collymore started his own brand in ‘goal scored by a cross’ alerts. I was wondering whether the stats community’s general disdain for crosses, built up as a reaction against the ‘chuck it in the mixer’ cliché, was a little unfair. That doesn’t mean ‘we’ think you should never cross, just that there can often be better options and maybe, y’know, we should be thinking about what we’re doing a bit on the ball.

Collymore in his tweets on the subject mentioned things like cut-backs, which stats guys (I use the term as a loose generalisation) like, but I particularly wanted to look at what I called ‘traditional crosses’. These would be balls into the box from wide areas, the kind of thing that generally comes to mind when people think of crosses.

The way I see it, crosses are statistically ineffective because they can often the result of frustration or boredom at not breaking down a defence. Whereas with most passes you weigh up the possibility of completing it, ‘traditional crosses’ are often basically thoughtless, purely hopeful that someone will get on the end of it. Continue reading

C’est pas un SOS, mais l’équipe de Strasbourg est un peu (Epi)nul

On dit beaucoup de choses sur les jeunes de nos jours. Généralement c’est négatif. Mais dans le foot, une injection de jeunesse peut souvent fournir une étincelle qui est autrement manque de l’équipe des hommes plus agés et plus sages (bien que cette étincelle peut être assez temporaire). Ihsan Sacko (né le 19/07/1997 – ie, il a 18 ans) n’ai fait pas un impact en termes des buts dans le match de Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace contre SAS Epinal, après être entré comme un remplacement en le deuxième mi-temps, mais il mérite d’être un focus toutefois.

Racing n’a pas bien commencé le match. Les passes simples mais négligé donné le ballon de l’opposition dans les premières minutes qui, pour une équipe en deuxième place du classement et avec l’espères de la promotion à Ligue 2 ce saison (après la liquidation en 2011), n’est pas bien. Continue reading

3 things we learned* from Sunday’s football

*[the word ‘learned’ is used in the loosest possible sense, as it is for all ‘things we learned’ articles]

1. Goalkeepers are either heroes or villains.

Willy Caballero came into the League Cup final a ready-made villain of the piece, a prepared and packaged reason for City failure. Even before the deciding penalty shoot-out he was making pundits say that he had deserved his place with the saves he had made.

Simon Mignolet was a villain after letting in Fernandinho’s goal, a strike from a tight angle that seemed to pass straight through him. By the end of the match, he was redeemed, after having made several fine saves.

Perhaps this is an illustration of the bizarre way in which we see these players. We only notice them when they make horrific blunders or highlight-reel saves, and because of the nature of their position and the infrequency of goals in football, their errors tend to be costly.

(Compare it to the American counterpart – Continue reading

Manchester United. Midtjylland. Magic.

A glimmer of gold shines brightest amongst the dirt.

“It was only Midtjylland”. “They lost the first leg”. “Rashford’s two goals could well turn into another “MACHEDAAAAAA” moment”. No-one cares.

What happened on a cool Thursday night in Manchester was a magical occasion. Not because of the win or Rashford’s fairytale story or Memphis’ lightning level performance. But because of the happiness it brought.

For a season now, United fans have not only been subjected to underperformance, disappointment, of their beloveds. That would be bad, almost just a saddening inconvenience. A few losses here and there, a few fights, would be easy to get over. But as well as all this, as well as the feeling that not just the team but the club itself is being mismanaged, is the ‘something else’ that’s been hanging over our heads. The thing that’s made this season even worse than the one under David Moyes. Continue reading