Quote of the Weekend
OMG morinho is sitting next to me wtf!!!!! pic.twitter.com/wFGQBbjykQ
— Sean Buxton (@Sean_Buxtonzz) October 19, 2013
A fan gets the pleasure of a Mourinho personal photo after the Chelsea manager is sent to the stands for dissent in their 4-1 win over Cardiff City at Stamford Bridge.
Five Things We Unlearned This Weekend
1. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal flatters itself with comparisons to Spanish football
Again, NORWICH KLAXON! But I think we should have enough imagination as grizzled vets of this silly sport to see that some of the four goals Arsenal produced this weekend could and would have come against sides of better quality than Chris Hughton’s struggling Canaries.
This was the kind of fixture the Arsenal of the past eight years might have coughed up and given everyone in the wings reason to ignore them until the inevitable drop from the top. After all, Santi Cazorla was back from injury (what if he messed up the Ozil magic somehow?), the game had come after an international break in which the key players had performed admirably, and it was at the Emirates. For other teams, these would be reasons for confidence—for Arsenal, reasons for the bottom dropping out for no apparent reason.
Then that goal. Arsenal have produced highlight reel fodder in their day but it has tended to involve individual genius, people like Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, all doing something impossible. Yet for a team that prides itself on its passing game, they’ve never quite registered a mind-destroying team goal quite like this:
A split second bit of alchemy involving Wilshere, Cazorla and Giroud in the 18th minute that culminated in something of the type we haven’t seen in a while. It’s October so there’s no real reason for getting stupid quite yet, but all the same the Gunners look like a team quite capable of enjoying themselves at the summit for a little while longer.
2. The Premier League ‘goal-drought’ in August/September must have had a cause or set of causes
Earlier this season, several analysts sounded the warning: as of September 16th, the Premier League was averaging 1.9 goals a game, an abysmally low number in historical terms. Why the dry spell? Several reasons were offered up (including by yours truly), people wondered over adjustments to new players or new managers among many teams in the league.
Flash forward to this weekend. Arsenal banged four past Norwich, who managed one. Chelsea initially conceded a goal against Cardiff City in slapstick fashion but then came back after some second half adjustments to also win 4-1. Manchester City traveled to West Ham and pulled out a 1-3 victory, Swansea ruined Gus Poyet’s debut as Sunderland manager with a 4-0 win, while Liverpool rekindled some of the old 1996-era magic against Newcastle at St. James’ park and eked out a draw at 2-2. Whatever ’caused’ the goal-drought seems to have resolved itself. The goal-per-game ratio now sits at a still low but not at all abnormal 2.41.
While it’s certainly possible that something was up early on and has now smoothed itself out, it’s equally possible that the slow opening was just a tick of the needle in the wrong direction, a quirk of random variation. Perhaps as the games pile up, that number may creep ever higher, or, as is more likely, plateau. We should keep this in mind before rushing off to search for meaning in seasonal goal-per-game trends. Historical trends are far more telling of the health of the sport.
3. Serie A is totally not gang-busters super mega cray cray this season.
Yup, Roma top the table with a perfect 8 win record, with Arsenal “failure” Gervinho combining brilliantly all season with the 37-year-old Totti, the player’s name that first appeared on the back of my friend’s Italy shirt in the year 2000, the same year people were worried about computer clocks as the number one threat to international security. Totally saw that coming. As I did a Pjanic brace against Rafa Benitez’s Napoli who are now five points adrift from the leaders.
Also, Fiorentina making mincemeat out of Juventus after conceding the first two goals? From a freaking hat-trick in less than a quarter hour from Giuseppe Rossi, a 26-year-old from Teaneck, New Jersey who scored his first goal in nearly two years on the first day of the season? Yeah, I had that happening, for sure. I’m sure you did too in this ho-hum league.
And the newly promoted Verona storming to fourth place on the back of a 3-2, come-from-behind win against Parma courtesy of a couple pens scored by Jorginho Frello, who has scored five goals in 8 games this season which is already three better than his two goals in 41 appearances in Serie B last season? That’s a big check mark right there.
AC Milan in 8th, Torino’s ding-dong 3-3 draw with Inter. Yeah…the moon is full my friend. Get out there and see while you can.
4. There’s no way the Eredivisie would be as tight as last season.
You remember last season; in mid April, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Vitesse Arnhem and Feyenoord were within four points of each other at the top of the table before Ajax pulled away with a few decisive victories. Now, it’s early, but the Dutch league is already looking pretty weird, with talent evenly spread across the spectrum. Twente are in front on 19 points, but then PSV, Zwolle and Ajax are tied on 18 points, and Feyenoord, Vitesse and Groningen follow up each on 17 points. As Simon Gleave Tweeted:
So, @infostradanl confirm it. No team has EVER topped the Eredivisie after 10 matches having won only half of them as Twente have.
— Simon Gleave (@SimonGleave) October 20, 2013
This could mean nothing, or it could mean anything (you just can’t buy that kind of analysis). But for now, every game is decisive.
5. There are no more idiots in lovely, top-flight and thoroughly gentrified English football
Behold the gentry have quite good aim (must be from the quail shooting), as one Spurs ‘fan’ demonstrated at Villa Park in Tottenham’s 0-2 victory over Aston Villa:
So Manchester United drew Southampton 1-1 at Old Trafford, which saw them manage 8th place in the league. There is also an 8 point gap between them and the leaders Arsenal. Ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson’s much-anticipated book launch (by journalists I guess), David Moyes is under the looking glass here, people. Anyway, I thought Gary Neville’s remarks on why United were struggling this season were interesting:
“There is still a sense that David Moyes is finding out about his players and his own way in the job,” Neville said. “The key for me is that the speed of their game through the midfield is not quick enough.
“United have always been about those relentless waves of attacks, sustained for good periods without counter which would eventually overwhelm the opposition. Because this isn’t happening opponents have time to rest and recover between attacks.
“And it means teams are perhaps playing a few more attacking players against United and going into games with a bit more confidence than usual. Southampton certainly showed that in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Now I disagree a little with Neville in singling out this fixture, as it’s hard to fault a team who managed to hit the woodwork twice and conceded a very ugly set-piece goal to drop two points. However, I think Neville’s remarks give a little insight into the main difference between Moyes’ and Ferguson’s approach. The former, at least at Everton, worked carefully on ensuring his midfielders were good at moving in tandem to spread the pitch, and to switch sides if one half looked overly covered. This is a great process, but arguably slower than Ferguson’s method which seemed to emphasize very quick transitions from possession in the final third to chance creation, repeated ad nauseam. Ferguson wanted both speed in build up and quality in the finish itself (no Tottenham rapid fire), two very difficult elements to combine. Something to look for…
Goal of the Weekend
Irish Women’s National League, Peamount United, Stephanie Roche. Good lord.
Interesting Read of the Day
Paul Riley tries his hands at developing some reliable goalkeeping statistics and uses them to look at Joe Hart’s season so far:
As we can see, Hart has been both consistent and above average in areas closer to goal over the three years. However, we see can see the hint of decline from areas further out. It’s a strange one as a previous study we undertook here shows that positionally, Hart seems ok here. He doesn’t stand too far out which gives him time to react. Unfortunately he still seems sluggish. He always seems to react late. Is this because he’s unsighted or because his footwork is poor? It’s very unusual for a Premier League keeper, and especially so for one that has consistently outperformed his peers over the last 3-4 seasons.
Note: the Rolling TSR/PDO Table will now appear on Tuesdays in the State of Analytics column to accommodate the Monday league fixtures.