The Football So Far - Dec 8 Martinez further rubs Toffee in Moyes' face, and the reason why United are poor this season
Posted by Richard Whittall under The Football So Far on Dec 09, 2013
“I’ve playing for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. We will have a World Cup in our country and we know these images will be shown everywhere.” -Atletico Paranaense’s Luiz Alberto, in response to fan violence in a match against Vasco which halted the game for 70 minutes and left at least one fan seriously injured.
Five Things We Unlearned This Weekend
1. Roberto Martinez would struggle to improve on David Moyes’ legacy at Everton
As if Man United’s 0-1 loss to Everton in the midweek wasn’t symbolic enough, with manager Roberto Martinez doing what David Moyes never could with the Toffees—win at Old Trafford—Everton’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates this weekend underlined it further: Everton look like a better team under the new manager.
No doubt Martinez inherited the team Moyes built, and half of the old gaffer’s legacy involved squeezing blood from a stone, the stone in this case being Everton chairman Bill Kenwright’s decidedly feeble and lame transfer kitty. The true worth of Martinez’s mettle will come both this January and in the summer transfer window.
But Martinez did what most of us assume managers cannot—he walked into a team that played one way and he helped them to learn quickly to play another. The old way was Moyes’ way: careful, systematic, slightly plodding in its emphasis on covering lattices and switching play. Not an aesthete’s dream. The Martinez way? Quick passing, possession football that isn’t afraid to push up away from home against superior opponents.
The Spanish manager’s success must be particularly needling for Moyes, whose Man United have now succumbed to their second home defeat in a row while Everton are now six points and four spots ahead of them in fifth on 28 points, seven adrift from leaders Arsenal.
It would have been a full ten points had the 79th minute sub Deulofeu had not cancelled out Ozil’s goal, the latter of which came with just over ten minutes to play. The Spanish winger simply dragged Gibbs just wide enough in the area to find the Arsenal keeper Szczesny right where he wanted him. Then:
Not only that, but Martinez already has something of the perfect protege in the 20 year old English midfielder Ross Barkley, who’s now slotted in more than a few fantasy England World Cup squad lists. After two difficult fixtures Everton have a chance to push on against the likes of Fulham, Swansea and Sunderland with Barkley leading the charge in the hole in a 4-2-3-1. Moyes who?
2. Jose Mourinho would bring defensive strength to Chelsea this season
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s remarks following Chelsea’s 3-2 loss to Stoke on Saturday, in which he blamed the profligacy of his forwards for the result, were interesting:
“If you tell me [Sergio] Agüero has scored 10 or 12 goals, [Wayne] Rooney eight or 10, [Oliver] Giroud eight or 10, [Daniel] Sturridge eight or 10, [Luis] Suárez 10 or 12, and ask if I would like my strikers to score eight, 10, 12 goals, then yes, I would. If they had we would be top of the league. That’s the reality.”
Which sounds reasonable, considering the comparatively poor returns of Samuel Eto’o (2), Demba Ba (1) and Fernando Torres (1). And yet Chelsea are third in the league and are tied with league-leaders Arsenal for the third-highest number of goals scored (30) in the Premier League. Coming into the match, Chelsea also had the fourth highest shot conversion total in the league at 34.57%. Despite some crappy forwards, Chelsea is scoring goals.
The problem is indeed in front of goal—their own. Chelsea’s save percentage is in the bottom half of the league, and while that indicates as measure of luck, their shot dominance is among the lowest of the teams in the top four at .599. This has dropped since the early part of the season after five games or so when it was around .680 for a short spell. Chelsea is conceding too many shots, and too many are going in—Chelsea haven’t had only one clean sheet in their last ten league matches.
Gary Cahill has never looked like a reasonable partner or replacement for the aging John Terry, and Ashley Cole hasn’t featured in the side of late. Moreover, Petr Cech hasn’t looked himself this season, and was on the wrong end of another error against Stoke when he was out of position on a corner allowing Crouch to score. Mourinho may be deflecting, but his problem isn’t with his strikers, and he likely knows it…
3. Dimitar Berbatov would further sink into talentless irrelevance as Fulham sank down the Premier League table
I mean, this might still happen, but in the first half against Aston Villa Berbatov looked very much like his old self. Five shots. Four on target. Two key passes, including a lovely over-the-top ball to Alexander Kacaniklic which led to the penalty which Berbatov took in the most Berbatovian way possible:
All on sixty-three touches.
Now there are several ways of explaining this upturn in form. It could have been random chance. Or perhaps it was Villa’s generous marking, which left the aging ex-Spurs player all the room he needed to wreak havoc in front of Brad Guzan in goal for Villa. Or maybe Fulham head coach Rene Meulensteen, who purportedly helped coach Cristiano Ronaldo into the star he is today at Real Madrid, simply worked with him in training in ways Martin Jol couldn’t. Or perhaps, and this the most cynical of the explanations, Berbatov is flirting with potential suitors in the lead up to the January transfer window, particularly in light of remarks by his agent last week.
Whatever the reason, if it grants Fulham a reprieve from the drop, handshakes all around.
4. The Bundesliga title race would no longer be interesting with Dortmund facing an injury crisis
Nah. If you’d only watched Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, where they’ve posted a mediocre 2-1-2 record whilst conceding 10 goals, you might think the team was struggling on the outer echelons of the top four in Germany. And you’d be wrong.
While head coach Sami Hyypia’s side has been leaky in Europe, the team has augmented their reasonably good goal tally with defensive acuity in the league, second only to Bayern in the lowest number of goals conceded. Still, they’re not exactly barren up front either. Though the 29 year old striker Stefan Kiessling has stole the show somewhat with a 9 goal tally, he’s being chased by the 21 year old South Korean front man Son Heung-Min, a Bundesliga academy product Leverkusen picked up in the summer for a record 10 million euro fee, who’s on 7 goals, tied with winger Sidney Sam.
Son was particularly vital in Bayer’s close contest against Borussia Dortmund, who badly needed a victory to remain on Bayern Munich’s coattails. Instead, head coach Juergen Klopp lost both Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin to ankle knocks while failing to secure any points in a 0-1 loss, leaving them ten adrift. Meanwhile Son’s well-taken goal put his team only four points off the pace from Bayern. It also proved that Dortmund is not the only German side to buy smart in addition to filling the side with domestic stars. Maybe one day Hyypia will learn to be as likeable as Klopp, too.
5. The MLS Cup would be a dull affair without the marquee teams in the leage
While Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber might not have been pleased with the match-up insofar as television ratings go, the two finalists were an incredible cross-section of soccer’s reach in the US. Utah and Kansas: not places in the world most of us associate with championship football. And yet MLSers know that there could be no more worthy winners than these, as SKC have been models of high-tempo, physical football under coach Peter Vermes, while Real Salt Lake’s Jason Kreis has long believed in fluid passing through the midfield.
It was fitting therefore that the game came down to an exciting penalty shootout, highlighting SKC keeper Jimmy Nielsen’s incredible night. The 36 year old played out of his skin, and with a recovering broken rib in icy conditions. “I could barely kick the ball,” Nielsen said after the game. “It was like ice skating, and I have a feeling that if this was a regular-season game the game probably would have been canceled.”
The game was also a reprieve from the playoffs of old, and was the first exciting final in ages that didn’t feature the Houston Dynamo or the LA Galaxy. And it was a small victory for analytics as well…SKC has one of the league’s more interesting stats analysis guy in Rui Xu.
Sean Ingle, the Guardian sport editor and betting junkie who is now turning his sights onto advanced stats in soccer, has a great article up on United’s dip in form under David Moyes. Ingle speaks with old friend of the blog Ted Knutson, who has this to say on the matter:
“Nothing has changed. Last season, United had the highest percentage of shots from the best areas and they gave up the lowest percentage of shots from the best areas. That’s not what their shot chart looks like now. They are giving up more shots in dangerous areas, and the chances they are creating are not as good.”
What I find helpful in this kind of analysis is that it’s diagnostic, rather than prescriptive. These are the signs, not the solution. That may seem redundant—well of course United aren’t creating good chances, that’s why they’re losing games—but there’s a little more here we can unwrap, tactically speaking.
Football is a simple game of transitions—attack and defense. Some teams establish dominance by taking a lot of shots while conceding few, and doing this consistently over the course of a season. Man United under Alex Ferguson last season however were a paragon of efficiency. They didn’t outshoot opponents as much as title winning teams usually do, but the chances they did create were deadly, and the chances they did concede were poor.
Ingle touches on these points and more. While Ingle puts it down to “will”, there is evidence that Ferguson coached chance efficiency into his side, while Moyes took a more conservative approach while at Everton. These two styles are colliding right now, and anxious United supporters are in the centre of it.
In case you missed it…
We recorded a World Cup Draw podcast on Friday, covering all the groups for your amusement.
GIF of the Weekend
Ross Barkley does his thing for Everton, via Reddit/r/soccer:
Good Read of the Day
If you don’t regularly read Ken Early, you need to start. He takes on Robin van Persie’s fitness issues and whether United may be exacerbating them in his latest column for the Irish Times. A sample:
At Manchester City, Bellamy fell out with Roberto Mancini over his refusal to do double training sessions. Bellamy argued his knees and hamstrings couldn’t take so much training; Mancini assumed he was lazy. The coach had the old-fashioned attitude to training: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Many fitness coaches now believe overtraining is as bad as no training. In the William Hill-nominated book The Sports Gene, physiologist Jesper Andersen tells author David Epstein that on average, footballers in the Danish first division have a lower proportion of fast-twitch fibres in their muscles than does the man in the street. Since pace is the most-prized physical attribute in football, how can this be?