The Lead

For all the renewed emphasis on team invasion statistics, the value of ball-handling defenders and midfielders with calm pass accuracy and good positional sense, and the widespread use of intense video review—much of that information comes down to getting your talented finishers in positions where they can score. And that, by-and-large, is where the ineffable, statistically-immune magic and mystery of football still resides: the moment when a striker has the ball at their feet in the final third with one or two defenders plus the keeper to beat. Either they can do it, or they can’t. Some can some of the time, others more often than not, and the very gifted few can do it almost every match. Some do it for several seasons worth, and then, often after a major transfer, stop.

The value of strikers is primarily measured not in interception rates, clearances, pass accuracy or ‘key passes,’ but in the single most important and elusive commodity in the sport: goals. And goals don’t follow a ‘normal’ distribution curve (unless your name is either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo).

This is why choosing ‘in-form’ strikers, whether the Friday ahead of match day or in the summer and January transfer windows, remains the sport’s major high-risk, high-return investment. Yesterday offered a good reminder of the ‘high-risk’ element. Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea did most of the hard work insofar as they dominated Fulham, outshooting them 17 to 9, an average that if held over the rest of the season, theoretically should translate to a decent table finish this season. Torres for his part contributed three shots to that total. The game finished 0-0, and the above video of Torres’ form at Liverpool began making the rounds, providing a stark reminder of the instincts that once guided the Spanish forward.

Meanwhile Christian Benteke justified in part Paul Lambert’s pointed ostracism of Darren Bent Aston Villa, a striker for whom Harry ‘the Vulture’ Redknapp, now at QPR, had effusive and utterly coincidental kind words for yesterday. This on the same day Mario Balotelli scored for Manchester City for the first time since March, pay back ‘for the faith’ of Roberto Mancini, or so goes the cliche anyway. How does a player out of sorts for his club side for that long find the magic to do it again? Work on getting in the right position? Have the quickness of movement to take a fast second swipe against a prone Wigan keeper?

Or is it just one of those things? We still know precious little about what specifically can be done (outside the obvious) to keep good strikers good. Perhaps advancements in sports science will help some. But for now, neither performance analysts, coaches and managers, journalists, fans, nor player agents bartering for transfer fees in the tens of millions of pounds have any specific clue.


Toronto FC welcome new president Kevin Payne.


QPR wants Aston Villa’s Darren Bent.

Arsenal without Laurent Koscienly until Christmas due to injury.

Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil linked with Man United.

Alex Ferguson admits United have a long and tough season ahead of them.

Gareth Bale denies diving against Liverpool yesterday.


1982 Brazil vs Italy World Cup feud renewed.

Inter’s Moratti denies club is blackmailing Sneijder.

La Liga

The week in review.

Casillas stands up for Mourinho after fans boo the coach.

Falcao speaks about his future at Atletico Madrid (again).


Bundesliga fans hold minutes of silence to protest new security measures.

Bayern now have a 10-point lead in the standings.

Bit and Bobs

It’s confirmed. Scolari is Brazil’s new coach.

Ronaldinho extends contract with Brazilian club.

Ronaldo, Messi and Iniesta on Ballon d’Or three-man shortlist.

Ouch! Peter Crouch loses three teeth in collision with Coloccini.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.