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Posted by Richard Whittall under Counter Attack Podcast on Dec 08, 2013
Posted by Richard Whittall under Counter Attack Podcast on Dec 06, 2013
Richard Whittall, Devang Desai and Sean Keay sit down to talk about the World Cup draw, breaking down what to expect from each group, which nation has the best food, and whether Iran will finally take football home.
Blatter’s violent mic-grabs, a dancing armadillo, and a bad day for England and the USA—How the World Cup Draw Unfolded
Posted by Richard Whittall under FIFA, World Cup 2014 on Dec 06, 2013
So! The draw! It happened! The World Cup is an event that is happening! With teams! Thirty-two of them!
First, the presentation. Things began in very FIFA-like fashion with no audio, then suddenly the booming, familiar world feed voice of John Helm (who’s reigned in his sniffing over the years) giving us badly timed English translation over the pretty Portuguese speaking faces of Fernanda Lima and her husband Rodrigo Hilbert, a choice that might turn out to be racist. The sound production was awful pretty much throughout, though this is a visual exercise.
Things kicked off with a well-put together tribute to the late Nelson Mandela and his long association with football, although there was a choice, long cut of Mandela embracing FIFA president Sepp Blatter. This was cancelled out a little by a lovely shot of Pele kissing Mandiba, which was the only earnestly moving moment of the day.
Then what followed for the next hour or so was vintage FIFA. Awkward transitions. Musical numbers with a lack of choreography. Unfortunate choices in dress. Poor audio (did I mention the sound production?).
And of course bumbling old Blatter himself, strutting out out after a short tourism video, violently grabbing the mic out of Lima’s lovely hands while avoiding eye contact, only to aggressively exhort the audience to “applaud, please!” The Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff added some words on Brazil’s multicultural make up, and the Blatter was back doing his “football builds bridges” and making a barely disguised plea to the Brazilian people to play nicey nice next summer.
Then a montage featuring a little kid wearing his dad’s blazer or something, running through World Cup history in a kind of high school production only to literally pick up an hour glass at the end to represent the passage of time. That happened. No I don’t have a GIF of it.
Del Bosque came out to threaten the other 31 nations with annihilation, and then more creepy dancing with poor audio featuring a man in a white suit gesturing for his mic to be turned up because of the poor audio, and then Ronaldo! RONALDO! Thank the Lord! And he promised us the best World Cup ever, for which we should be grateful.
— Rodrigo Beilfuss (@RBeilfuss) December 6, 2013
As if that wasn’t good enough, the giant furry Armadillo came out! And don’t sniff at the jittery Fuleco—his Wikipedia page is longer than some dead English kings. This preceded a pretty neat dance choreography thing with attractive people moving their bodies, wearing short shorts.
Then Pele! I don’t know what he said though: poor audio and Helm’s booming voice. After a quick panorama featuring the stadiums, Jerome Valcke walked on, which is the best way to know that this was all about to go down.
Geoff Hurst. Mario Kempes, Fabio Cannavaro, Lothar Matthaus, Zidane, Cafu…lovely. After a completely, utterly bewildering explanation of the existence of something called Pot X, we got into it in earnest, and…well…it was quick. The highlight of the night? Geoff Hurst grabbing one of the few remaining European nations in the pot, smirked, nodded his head confidently, and then brought it over to Valcke. The man who scored a World Cup final hat-trick, winning England the World Cup, drew them in Group D alongside Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Italy. Anyway, this is how the draw unfolded:
— Dave's Lounge (@daveslounge) December 6, 2013
And the USA…oh the USA. At first it was funny, and things got sick. Group G with Portugal and Ronaldo, with Ghana and a history of failure against Ghana, with Germany, a World Cup favourite. They will pray for some of this:
For the neutral though, there is a LOT to like in the early stages. Group B could be a blockbuster, and an opportunity for Chile to cause a major upset. Group C is a very interesting prospect, with a potential barnstormer in Colombia vs Ivory Coast, and a good chance for Japan to do some real damage. Group H is a good a group as Belgium could have wished for, and France will be counting their blessings having drawn Group E for easy.
And we also talked about the draw on the podcast!
Posted by Richard Whittall under The Story So Far on Dec 06, 2013
What games are on this weekend?
wait, what? You don’t even want to talk about the World Cup draw, imaginary interlocutor? Fine.
Well! Let’s start with Saturday in the Premier League. The early fixture might be fun, the cold-hot-cold Newcastle visiting Old Trafford to take on the tepid Man United at 7:45 AM EST.
Then we get the usual pickings at 10:00 AM EST…the sadly regressing Southampton host the vulnerable-away-from-home Man City, and there are…the other games.
In the Bundesliga, Gladbach face Schalke at 9:30 AM EST, and then at 12:30 PM Dortmund have a chance to make up lost ground against Bayer Leverkusen.
Serie A has a neat match up too, at 2:45 PM EST, Napoli vs Udinese. And in the Eredivisie, a real potential title race scrambler with Vitesse facing PSV at 2:45 PM EST.
On Sunday in the Premier League, the early fixture will likely only be exciting for me and a few others, so you might want to wait until 11:00 AM EST and watch Arsenal vs Everton.
Then in Ligue 1, Bordeaux vs Lille could be cool at 8:00 AM EST. In Serie A there’s a real early bird special with Roma vs Fiorentina at 6:30 AM.
What’s the big story today?
Seriously? The World Cup draw, you ninny. Normally this would be the point where I direct you into the wilds of the English broadsheets, but NOT TODAY! Nope. That’s because we here at theScore have you covered on all fronts, so it’s truly one stop shopping.
We’ve made up a really nifty World Cup tracker for you to follow today that you can keep open in a tab at work if you don’t want to watch FIFA’s Dog and Pony show. It’s got team previews and profiles, formations, and other cool info.
You also have only a few more hours to play around with the Guardian’s draw simulator, so get simulating!
Finally, myself, Devang Desai and Gianluca Nesci will be at the Score HQ writing up a storm on each of the groups and the draw as it happens, and we’ll be posting a podcast later today to discuss the permutations of each group and what it means for you and your family.
Any other news?
In a lovely gesture, this weekend’s Premier League, Football League and FA Cup fixtures will feature a minute’s applause to commemorate the passing of Nelsen Mandela, who died yesterday age 95.
Ben Bloom at the Telegraph writes on why the Group of Death is the Group of F, as in, well, Group F. It’s a bit weird, but he’s used mathematical chicanery to figure it out (warning: this is total crapola):
Can you feel your heart quickening? That’s the realisation that Group F has never never NEVER produced a World Cup finalist. Not one.
And what’s that? Group E has produced either the winner or the runner-up in five out of the last eight World Cups?
The Daily Mail’s World Cup predictions are always good for a laugh. And yes, at least one picked England. Just one though.
Any fun stuff?
Yeah. Eden Hazard vs Sunderland:
Any good reads?
Yeah! A great one in fact, as Wright Thomson looks at what could be a raucous tournament in Brazil, off the pitch. Try this opening para on for size:
RIO DE JANEIRO — The journalists wait in a sidewalk restaurant, cinching tight the straps on combat helmets, screwing in filters to Israeli-made gas masks. Waiters in white jackets and black ties refill glasses and take orders, business as usual. They move easily over the cobblestones, not looking twice when a customer at one of the outdoor tables straps on body armor. A soap opera plays on a television inside the place. A block away is the famous Cinelândia, the square where Rio de Janeiro has protested for generations. A group of masked Black Bloc anarchists have gathered there, a few dozen for now. Down the alley, a group of policeman order McDonald’s ice cream to go. Their bodies heavy with the menacing accoutrement of war, they delicately eat their tiny desserts.
Posted by Paolo Bandini under Juventus on Dec 05, 2013
Through two Scudetto-winning seasons, it was said to be Juventus’s only flaw. For all the evident quality in Antonio Conte’s team, the Bianconeri still lacked a certain something up front – a truly great centre-forward who could unpick a defence on his own.
The club’s general manager, Beppe Marotta, had recognised this need, but did himself no favours by throwing out the phrase “top player” to describe the striker that he sought. The longer he failed to deliver such a talent, the louder the complaints from the club’s supporters became. There was much derision in August 2012 when the club, having failed to land a more exciting name, bought back Sebastian Giovinco from his co-ownership at Parma instead.
Everything changed this summer, with the arrival of Carlos Tevez. The player might have earned himself a reputation as a ne’er-do-well during his time at Manchester City, but not even his most strident critics could question the player’s talent. He had scored 58 goals in 107 Premier League games for City and provided a good many assists, too.
Better yet, Juventus got him on the cheap – paying just €9m up front, plus potential bonuses that have variously been quoted at somewhere between €3m-6m. By also capturing Fernando Llorente on a free transfer, Marotta had managed to completely transform Juve’s attack for less money than he paid for 50% of Giovinco’s rights a year earlier.
Nevertheless, some still asked why he had not gone further. Marotta’s transfer budget had been set at approximately €30m by the club’s board in June. Why not go after a younger player than Tevez – one who could lead the line for years to come? Many fans had been hoping that the club would pursue Gonzalo Higuaín, who instead wound up signing for their title rivals Napoli.
But Conte had never been that keen on the Real Madrid player, believing him to be a little too one-dimensional. He was more enthusiastic about Stevan Jovetic, whose ability to play out wide would have allowed Juventus the option of switching into a 4-3-3 formation, but Fiorentina had no intention of selling the player to such bitter rivals.
Juventus could not really have afforded him in any case. Manchester City would eventually pay €26m for Jovetic, with potential bonuses to follow, more than Marotta had left over after the Tevez deal. In truth, Juve already had another €13m committed to resolving co-ownership deals for Kwadwo Asamoah and Federico Peluso. The team also wanted to improve its cover at centre-back, and would need another lump sum to procure Angelo Ogbonna from Torino.
Instead of making any more immediate additions up front, then, Marotta set his sights on the long-term. Together with Juventus’s sporting director, Fabio Paratici, he began to orchestrate a series of transfers designed to get the next ‘top player’ on his club’s books – without even knowing for certain who that person was just yet.
The process had begun a year earlier, when Juventus bought a 50% share in the 20-year-old Atalanta striker Manolo Gabbiadini. Together with Ciro Immobile, whose rights they already co-owned with Genoa, that gave the Bianconeri an investment in two of the most promising young forwards on the peninsula. Gabbiadini had scored 10 goals in 15 appearances for Italy’s Under-21s; Immobile, at that time still just breaking through into the same national team, had set a new record at Italy’s Viareggio youth tournament two years earlier by finding the net 10 times in seven games.
But football’s history is littered with stories of players who excelled in the academy before failing to replicate such success at the senior level. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, there’s genius everywhere, but until they turn in 15 goals in a top-flight season, it’s like popcorn in the pan. Some pop, some don’t.
For that reason, Marotta was eager to continue spreading his bets. And so, this July, he acquired Simone Zaza from Sampdoria for €3.5m, taking advantage of the fact that the player only had one year left on his contract to land him on the cheap. The 22-year-old had been Serie B’s top scorer last season, finding the net 18 times in 35 games while on loan at Ascoli.
Zaza was still too raw to get a game for Juve, but that was never on Marotta’s short-term agenda. Instead he wanted to use the player as leverage to help him acquire a fourth young striker: Domenico Berardi. The 19-year-old had scored 11 goals for Sassuolo the previous season as they earned promotion to Serie A for the first time in club history.
First Juventus sold Zaza on co-ownership to Sassuolo for €2.5m, making back more than half of what they had paid to buy the player outright, but more importantly establishing a good relationship with the Neroverdi, who had desperately needed another forward. Marotta was then able to persuade them to swap 50% Berardi’s rights for an equivalent share in the Juventus midfielder Luca Marrone. Both would play for Sassuolo this season, along with Zaza.
Nor did the trading end there. In the same transfer window, Juventus acquired the remaining 50% share in Immobile from Genoa, and then gave it to Torino as part of their deal to sign Ogbonna. Similarly, they bought out Atalanta’s half of Gabbiadini before selling it to Sampdoria, a move which helped grease the wheels of their deal to sign Zaza in the first place.
It was enough to make even the most seasoned observer’s head spin. Marotta had exploited the benefits of Italy’s co-ownership mechanism to its fullest. Gazzetta dello Sport’s Carlo Laudisa described Juve’s transfer campaign as being, “as complicated as it was long-sighted”.
The champions had walked away from the summer transfer window holding a share of four of the most promising young strikers in Italy. Each of Berardi, Zaza, Immobile and Gabbiadini would now get regular first-team football with a top-flight side, and Juventus could sit back and wait to see which of them would emerge.
So far, Berardi has been the most eye-catching, finding the net seven times in just 10 Serie A appearances for Sassuolo. His goals make up more than 40% of Sassuolo’s entire scoring output this season. Although four of those goals have come from penalties, it is also true that he earned three of them himself.
But the others are not doing too shabbily, either. Immobile has five goals for Torino, and Zaza has the same number for Sassuolo. Gabbiadini only has three for Sampdoria, but that is in part reflective of the club’s all-round struggles so far this season. Just like Immobile and Zaza, he is the second-highest scorer on his team.
Each player, furthermore, brings something slightly different to the table. Berardi has often played out wide in his brief career to date and could be deployed on either side of a front three; Gabbiadini is a tall and powerful player who knows how to hold the ball up; Immobile is a fine dribbler who can shoot with both feet; Zaza is an instinctive poacher with a knack for showing up in the right places at the right time.
Will all of them go on to great and illustrious careers? Almost certainly not. But by taking a share in all of them, Juventus have positioned themselves in such a way as to be able to take their pick.
Co-ownership deals in Italy must be resolved at the end of each season, either with both teams agreeing to continue for another year, or with one team buying the other out – whether that be for an agreed fee or through the process of a silent auction. In theory, it is possible that Sassuolo, Torino or Sampdoria could outbid Juve for one of these players. In practice, none are likely to do so, for the simple reason that they do not share the same financial clout.
And so Marotta can wait for as long as he needs to see these strikers mature, perhaps even swapping them on to other clubs if that suits. One way or another, he has good reason to believe that Juventus’s next ‘top player’ is already on their books – even if right now they are scoring their goals for somebody else.
Posted by Richard Whittall under Tactics on Dec 05, 2013
Some of you Internet cool kids will know the acronym IANAL: I am not a lawyer. Well, here’s IANJC: I am not Johan Cruyff. I’d like to be Cruyff when I grow up, but my tactical expertise is still in the exploratory stage and is undermined by a deep-seated skepticism over the effect of “overloads” and “2 v 1s” on a single match outcome. Though I respect those who really believe these things and take them seriously.
To that end, I think we may have this year’s Interesting Tactical Problem to talk about. If the central mystery of 2012-13 was Man United’s points total in comparison with their mediocre shot dominance, this year it’s Spurs’ basement bottom shot conversion rate, and their propensity to take more shots from longer distances than other teams.
Simon Gleave, Head of Analysis at Infostrada Sports, was kind enough to send along Spurs’ shooting stats this season. Some highlights:
- 55% of Tottenham’s shots are from outside the penalty area this season. The Premier League average is 47%.
- The teams with the lowest number of shots outside the penalty area are Man City with 34%, Man Utd with 36%, Arsenal at 37%.
- Though Spurs lead the league in shot volume IN the box, their penalty area shot conversion rate is 7.6% (Spurs conversion rate for all shots this season is dead last in the Premier Leaague)
- For comparison, the two best in-box conversion rates in the league are Arsenal 22.3% and City 21.1%.
Now this is a tactical column so it behooves me to speak about these problems in tactical terms, but I think it’s worth considering some non-tactical explanations for these poor numbers. For example, those of you who read this blog regularly will know that team shot conversion rates are more a function of luck than talent, meaning some of these numbers (particularly Spurs’ conversion rate in the box) will regress upward.
So Spurs are bad at shooting, and poor luck plays a part in that. But we also know that shot conversion rates don’t exist in a vacuum but depend on a number of factors, not least distance from the net and how many opposition players are back behind the ball. For some great reading on that score, here’s 11tegen11 from earlier this year.
No doubt teams have some measure of control over these things. One the one hand, a counter attacking strategy trades off defensive risk for more space behind the opposition defense, which can lead to better chances on the break. On the other hand, teams with technically gifted, intelligent players can use a possession-based, build-up approach, one which is happy to patiently wait for a decisive through ball and run in the box no matter how many defenders are in the area.
Then we have Spurs. Before I begin, writing this post reminds me of the value of NBA.com’s stats page, which, in addition to X,Y player tracking and advanced metrics, features annotated video of each and every box score stat. Like, seriously. That is amazing.
This would have sure come in handy when trying to get a handle on just what exactly Spurs are doing when they shoot from long distance. Instead, I may have visited a shady website and spent a good portion of the morning watching a certain highlights program hosted by a certain former England striker in order to get a sense of any patterns in practice.
Now what follows is completely subjective and speculative, but I get the impression watching Spurs, even from last night’s come-from-behind 1-2 victory over struggling Fulham, that Andre Villas-Boas’ team is on some sort of internal shot clock when they carry the ball into the opposition final third. Generally Spurs players either a) cut and shoot from slightly outside the area, even with several passing options, or b) carry the ball to the flanks and cross as soon as the winger or full back (often Walker) is in enough space to do so.
Here for example are the highlights from yesterday’s match. The first real chance of the game for Tottenham saw the team break with three in attack, led by Jermain Defoe with Aaron Lennon on his left, who passed to Paulinho who shot over the bar. Unfortunate and a poor finish, but nothing glaringly out of order.
The next major attacking moment for Spurs came in the second half, after a well won corner from some short passing outside the 18 yard box. After a poor cross which bounced outside the area, Chiriches ran in and banged a shot through a player-packed box and scored. Though he had many attacking players in an onside position in a packed area of space, Vlad felt license to “go for it.” It went in, but it could have just as easily pinged off an opposition foot and gone out for a corner or get cleared. Then finally, Spurs’ go ahead goal came from Lewis Holtby lashing one in outside the 18 with several passing options ahead of him after Walker passed to Townsend and the kid picked it off his feet. Great goal, but lucky too.
Going through highlights from previous games, this pattern repeats itself often with Tottenham, with players choosing to go it alone long distance even with passing options in the 18 yard box. You can read anything you like into this, but it doesn’t appear that Spurs players are afraid to hit it from wherever, and will often do so even with players in middling to good attacking positions.
Why do they do this? Because you can’t score unless you shoot, as Simon Gleave wrote for his own blog recently. It could also be a trust issue, with players perhaps not as confident as they should be in the movement and ability of their team-mates moving past opposition defenders.
Or, Villas-Boas might believe more shots equals more goals, and so could be encouraging his players to shoot and shoot often. This final explanation to me seems the most likely, considering Spurs lead in shot volume in the league with 247, followed by Man City and Chelsea. Spurs are trigger happy, impatient in front of goal. Shooting early and often is not necessarily a poor strategy, but it needs very, very good offensive coaching to make it work, perhaps similar to Ferguson’s emphasis on sharp finishing while at United.
In any case, Spurs a good reminder that shooting for shooting’s sake is not the same thing as shooting to score. You can’t fudge the numbers in this game. You have to play football to win.
Posted by Richard Whittall under The Story So Far on Dec 05, 2013
Any games on today?
Yes. Two. One in Ligue 1: Lyon vs Toulouse at 3:00 PM EST, and in Coppa Italia Sampdoria vs Hellas Verona, also at 3:00 PM EST. That’s it!
What’s the big story today?
Well, the Premier League came and went last night like an insane whirlwind. Thirty two goals, only one 0-0, a seven goal thriller between Chelsea and Sunderland, four goals from Luis Suarez, and a very compelling, historic 0-1 victory for Everton at Old Trafford, the first in over twenty years, putting Moyes’ problems with United back in the spotlight!
Too much to write here, but the winner in the media focus stakes seems to have been Moyes. While other papers, perhaps remembering that not a few days ago things were looking good in the Champions League, were reticent to get the knives out, the Daily Mail of course shows no such compunction:
The naked numbers make uncomfortable reading for David Moyes, while on the pitch his side’s frailties are being laid brutally bare.
Beaten 1-0 by former club Everton with Manchester United having slumped to ninth the table, the Scot is under mounting pressure at Old Trafford.
The shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson is a pretty lonely and chilly place to reside right now as a winter of discontent looms in M16.
Well, not exactly. The raw numbers indicate United took more shots and shots on target, but had a conversion rate of 0% and a save percentage of 75%. But yeah, United aren’t where they should be. Which many predictive models forecasted at the start of the season based on United’s numbers last year under Ferguson. All I’m saying is, don’t discount the possibility Moyes was handed a shit sandwich by the last guy.
Moyes to his credit thinks Man Utd are still in the title race, with 12 points separating them and Arsenal. Sure, David.
Any other news?
Luis Suarez scored four goals against Norwich. This guy, man. And he also rubbished claims that he might move to Arsenal in the January transfer window:
Luis Suárez says he is “happy to stay” at Liverpool and wants to fire the club into the Champions League.
The striker had been determined to leave Anfield in the summer, with Liverpool rejecting a £40m plus £1 offer from Arsenal.
Xavi defends under fire boss Tata Martino at Barcelona following a pair of losses.
Oh hey! Michel Platini needed some attention and so he started talking about bringing in the rugby “sin-bin” into football. Cool idea Michel!
Pele didn’t want to be involved in the World Cup draw for fear of being the guy who put Brazil in a tough group. Which at first sounds weird, but fair enough!
Any fun stuff?
Any good reads?
I think the Guardian is as good a source as any for a decent round up of yesterday’s Premier League shenanigans. A sample:
It does not feel like a coincidence that, a matter of days after Martin Jol’s sacking at Fulham, Dimitar Berbatov wants a transfer. Jol loved Berbatov, considering him as one of the few world-class players at the club and he made him the focal point of the team. But Berbatov is enduring a barren season and, with his champion now departed, he clearly feels that it is a good time to explore his options. New Fulham manager, Rene Meulensteen, is a fan of Berbatov’s as well – he worked with him previously at Manchester United – but he did not sound optimistic about keeping him in January.