Archive for the ‘La Liga’ Category

Everton v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League

The Premier League

The Winner: Everton! Literally, and in the spirit of this little mini round up piece as well. Arsene was right: with glory in football basically having boiled down to qualifying for tournaments that pay big TV money, the race for fourth is a distant but important side show to the incredible three way dogfight up top.

As far as that goes, Everton are now a single point behind Arsenal who are still clinging to fourth, after defeating the North London side 3-0 in a game where Lukaku scored a fairly decent goal and Everton looked fairly comfortable throughout. If you want to boil down the game to a single moment (not possible but let’s pretend), this would be it:

That’s Seamus Coleman forcing Santi Cazorla to question his purpose in life.

As for the future fortunes of both sides, a certain graphic has been making the rounds supposedly hinting at future form. Everton though face the (slightly) tougher opposition in the weeks ahead, though I’m being charitable and including Man United in that group.

The Loser: Chris Hughton, sacked after Norwich lost 0-1 to West Brom. And here too is an unfortunate case of a manager falling victim to the high variability of shot and save percentages—Norwich City are 11th in the league in TSR but dead last in PDO. In short: Norwich aren’t as crap as a miserable squad replete with a dour faced Ricky van Wolfswinkel often appear to be.

Oh sure, there are probably other things Hughton could be doing better, but with the Canaries now five points off the drop, the idea that the now ex-U18 coach Neil Adams will offer a marked improvement between now and the end of the season doesn’t seem to be part of a deeply thought out long-term strategy. Football!

The Takeaway: With Liverpool still top of the table after a badly reffed but solid 1-2 win against West Ham this weekend, and with City with a pair of games in hand, all eyes will be on Anfield when the sides meet next Sunday (on rather poignantly the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough).

Also, that business about Chelsea not being good and needing strikers will get a waiver as they ran through Mark Hughes RED HOT STOKE three nil (you get “red hot” affixed to your team name if you win three times in a row). As for the relegation battle, it could be that the incompetence of the lower mid-tablers will be saved by the consistent awfulness of Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham (despite the latter’s 1-2 victory over a sorry Aston Villa).

La Liga

The Winner: Atletico Madrid. Without Diego Costa, who is now apparently being carved up like Solomon with a baby for a transferin’ by the money twins Chelsea and Monaco, Atleti could have stepped into the match against the 7th place Villarreal and slipped up ahead of Barca’s weekend fixture (they defeated Real Betis 3-1).

Instead they overcome a slight shot deficit to beat the Yellow Submarine 1-0 via Raul Garcia and remain top the league with the Champions League still very much in play. Do I write this every week?

The Loser: The Spanish national team. Things are looking ugly as the season progresses between the usual Barca/Madrid suspects, and now Iker Casillas has promised to “slap” Busquets next time they meet over his alleged head stamp on Pepe from the last El Clasico. It’s ridiculous.

The Takeaway: The Mexican standoff continues at the top of the table as the three contenders face fairly mundane competition next weekend after their midweek Champions League deciders. Elsewhere the battle for fourth continues to be interesting, with Sevilla winning 4-1 against Espanyol after having dropped all three points the week before.

Bundesliga

The Winner: Bayern. Despite all the empty headlines about the shock 1-0 defeat to Augsburg ending a 53 match unbeaten run, a game in which they outshot their opponents 16 to 11, they are still, somehow, champions. Moreover, Pep’s side have sowed the seeds of doubt after the first leg Champions League quarterfinal tie with Manchester United, only to further give their opponents false hope.

The Loser: Sami Hyypia. The Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool defender was sacked after a 2-1 defeat to Hamburg on the weekend. As quoted in the Guardian:

“After a lot of thought and because of the ongoing crisis we reached the conclusion that a change at this point could help us turn things around urgently,” the Leverkusen chief executive, Michael Schade, said.

Which is totally how this works. Football again!

The Takeaway: The battle for the final CL spot is intense, and perhaps even more up for grabs by Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Mainz. That, and the relegation battle, is all that is left to care about in this league, essentially.

Serie A

The Winner: Unknown. I mean, Roma perhaps for staying in it with a 1-3 win over Cagliari (a Destro hattrick!), adding to their midweek spoils against Parma. Then Parma for knocking off Napoli to stay in the hunt for the Europa League. Fiorentina for stopping a short skid by beating Udi 2-1. But I can’t tell you until after the Juventus match against crappy Livorno tomorrow.

The Loser: Managers. Diego Lopez was sacked by Cagliari after the above defeat, and Catania fired Rolando Maran for the second time this season.

The Takeaway The sackings likely aren’t done yet…Walter Mazzari may be ready to go after Inter’s 2-2 draw with Bologna. Other than that, Roma will need a miracle to press Antonio Conte’s Juve as the season winds down.

Arsenal v Manchester City - Barclays Premier League

Liverpool’s crushing 4-0 victory over Spurs

Does it matter?: Yes, but probably more for Spurs and the future of Tim Sherwood than it does for Liverpool’s title aspirations, which are as strong as they’ve ever been in the second half of the season as Luis Suarez continues to finish with dangerous precision and the whole team runs about with purpose in the opposing third.

That may seem an odd thing to say on the day that Chelsea’s stutter against Crystal Palace, alongside Arsenal’s ball-slinging draw against Manchester City, allowed Brendan Rodger’s Liverpool to finish the weekend two points clear on top of the table (and for him to make bizarre claims of a 533 million strong worldwide fan base).

But this could all be forgotten two weeks from now, particularly if Manchester City win against the Reds on April 13th.

For Sherwood though it is further proof he is a tactical naif, a manager who offers no added value to the vacuum left following Andre Villas-Boas’ departure. The game also gave Spurs chairman Daniel Levy another incredible headache, as by now he’s realized not only is the expensive attacking midfield talent he paid hand over fist for in the summer failing to come together, but Tottenham have a back line featuring Younas Kaboul and Michael Dawson. Spurs are a mess.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s defeatist remarks after losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace

Do they matter?: No. Before you know why, here is what he said:

“I don’t think it’s the moment to speak about next season and the market but it’s clear to everybody that Chelsea next year wants to bring a striker. What’s the future for the other strikers? The ones who are staying are competing with the striker we are bringing [in]. And normally, at the end of the season, players that are not playing a lot or players who are not happy may prefer a change. That is also part of the market. We want to improve the team and the players and make some surgical movements in the transfer window.”

Though Mourinho will almost certainly press for sweeping changes in the striker department in the summer, this was already on the books for most of the season anyway with the aging, end-of-the-line Eto’o scoring the most goals of any Chelsea striker, tied on 11 with Oscar. In fact, one might read into Mourinho’s constant insistence his team are not title favourites as a way to further make the case in the off-season for even more squad upheaval, even in the eventuality Chelsea win the thing “by accident.”

This was always the case; a lame 1-0 loss provides a nice alibi.

Manchester United’s resounding 4-1 victory over Aston Villa

Does it matter?: No, but with the idiotic way most football clubs are run, chances are it’s possible someone at the board level regarded this last match as a “reprieve” for David Moyes, if they were seriously considering sacking him now that is.

One result however shouldn’t be a basis for any decision of that magnitude, for the reason any single result must be judged in light of the whole. And in this case the win came down to the inept Villa backline. First, they allowed Rooney the simplest of unmarked headers to equalize after Ashley Westwood’s incredible opening free kick. Then they continued with Leandro Bacuna upending Juan Mata to concede a penalty. And so on and so on and so on. A great and good victory for Man United at Old Trafford to plug up the leaks for a time. Villa love handing out gifts. But this is a mere upward spike in Moyes’ killer first and maybe last season in charge.

If you want a brilliant account of the Moyes’ sitch by the way, look no further than Ken Early’s brilliant story for Slate on the load put, perhaps unfairly, on Moyes’ shoulders.

Napoli defeats Serie A leaders Juventus 2-0

Does it matter?: Only in the faintest of ways, with potential to give Roma a smaller, slightly less insurmountable but still insurmountable hill to climb in overtaking Juventus.

Right now Juve are 11 points ahead but Roma has a game in hand, which they will play this Wednesday in a huge game against Parma. Napoli already walked into the Juve match with a sizable lead on Fiorentina for the final Champions League spot, which is now probably impossible for the latter to overcome. So as nice as the victory—Callejon and Dries Martens both scored—was for Benitez and team moral, and despite it being Juventus’ first loss in Serie A since Fiorentina beat them 4-2 in October, it doesn’t change much in what is hardening into a semi-predictable table.

Unless this is the beginning of the end of an historic Juve collapse! (It isn’t).

Other things that matter/don’t matter

-Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Man City? Possibly matters for Wenger’s future, maybe, though I doubt it. I’m sure it does matter but not more than any other result for either teams this season.
-Atletico’s 1-2 win over Athletic Bilbao? Matters. Bilbao are no slouches and Atletico’s streak continues.
-Anything in MLS? Doesn’t matter, for now. Three more games and it will start to.

Barcelona's Carles Puyol celebrates a goal against Almeria during their Spanish first division soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

“What’s your problem, can’t you afford the money for a haircut?”

Those were the first words uttered at 19-year-old Carles Puyol after his first training session with Barcelona’s senior team, and they came from legendary manager Louis van Gaal.

How’s that for a warm welcome?

Sixteen years later, Puyol will leave Barcelona as one of the most decorated players in club history. On Tuesday, the veteran defender announced he was leaving the club in the summer.

On-going fitness problems compounded by two knee operations in October conspired to remove the most important trait from Puyol’s game: confidence.

So where does he stand among the greats that have passed through the tunnels of Camp Nou? He’s up there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Based on precedent, and what I’ve learned from reading some of the more erudite European football journalists, I’ve devised a simple model which I believe is the basis of how observers will judge Carlo Ancelotti’s future tenure at Real Madrid, his new club.

I don’t have the mathematical chops to express this algebraically (I’d be obliged to any analytics readers who do), but generally the conventional model for success at the Bernebeu is the total number of trophies won weighted for the manager’s salary, the total transfer outlay available to him by the president, and his previous record of success.

In other words, Carlo Ancelotti, who will almost certainly earn less than Jose Mourinho (although we can’t be certain until terms or rumours of terms are disclosed), who may enjoy less of a ‘transfer kitty’ than his predecessor, and has a smaller career win percentage under roughly comparable experience, will be judged on slighted less harsh terms should he win the same or fewer number of trophies than Mourinho.

Is this model an effective way to judge managerial performance? I would say no. While trophies are the universal symbol of success, they are often the product of luck and the aggregate individual skill of the players more than specific managerial competence. Knock out competitions in particular are often determined in single 90 minute matches, which means random variation counts for a lot. Win percentages are likely a better measure of the merits of a managerial process.

This model also presumes that spending has a 1 for 1 correlation with team skill. We know that while the relationship between wage/transfer spending and table position is strong, it is not deterministic. I would argue that most non-Madristas would probably hold it to be a non-controversial position that Barcelona is an objectively better team than Madrid. This would imply that Real Madrid would not only have to perform at its peak to beat their Catalan rivals, but would require “something more.” Providing this over a 38-game season would be a difficult proposition for any manager. That Mourinho achieved it last season was incredible enough; that he could not repeat the feat with a league win percentage of 68.4% is remarkable.

For the time being however, we’ll have to live with the journalistic model.

Wrongo Bongo!

Wrongo Bongo!

Just what in the hell is going on in European football at the moment? WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN EUROPEAN FOOTBALL AT THE MOMENT?

Paris Saint-Germain have rejected an approach from Real Madrid for their coach Carlo Ancelotti, the club president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, said on Monday.

“They [Madrid] came and I discussed it with them,” Khelaifi said. “He’s got a contract with us for one more year … for me, he’s here next year. He’s a fantastic guy and I’m sure he’ll respect his contract.”

You know QSI and I used to be tight when we were all interested in exposing a certain Times-duping conman, who we will call Bob Real. Since then my polite inquiries on the Wayne Rooney saga have gone unanswered.

So I’m hurt a little here, guys. In any case, this is whack from Real Madrid. I suppose if it’s the bauble in Europe they’re obsessed with than Ancelotti makes it worth a punt, and no one should think this thing is anything more than a punt. But it does show Real Madrid is already flailing around for their Mourinho replacement. And…well. If you think Ancelotti—the guy who lost Ligue 1 to Montpellier last season—is going to knock Barcelona off their effing perch, I’ve got an HTC First to sell you (that’s tech humour of the kind you use when you get company-wide emails with news in the tech world. Tech is short for technology by the way).

lopezvcasillas

So this image is floating around on Reddit Soccer and I thought it would be instructive to look at its findings in context to illustrate why we should be careful not to draw easy conclusions.

Obviously this whoscored.com diagram seems to demonstrate that Jose Mourinho is dead on the money in rating Diego Lopez above Iker Casillas. But we should look at each category in turn to see why this may not be as conclusive as we might think.

For one, we don’t have a fair comparative sample size, correcting for opponent strength. We don’t know whether any of the indicators on this comparative chart are meaningful after either a 12 or 19 game sample. For all we know, the numbers are random noise, not reflective of underlying skill.

Take saves per game—perhaps Real Madrid’s defenders had a single bad game which drove up the number of shots, and the resulting number of saves. This isn’t a useful statistic.

The save percentage is a little different, though the sample size is small and we do know that save and shooting percentage are largely a product of random in game luck, which makes a little sense, considering the relative rarity of goals, and shots on goal. Still, simply pointing to a higher number as an absolute measure of quality would be a fool’s errand.

Moving down the list, crosses claimed—we would need to know the total number of crosses in the area to get a sense of fair comparison (i.e. percentage of crosses claimed), and even then, we have no idea whether this metric is a function of luck or opponent strength or tactical formation.

Accurate long-balls per game—accurate in what sense? Did he pick out a target from distance? Or was the long-ball merely better claimed by one of his team-mates? And again, all the above rules apply.

I know pointing these things out is a bit like popping a balloon, or shooting a fish in a barrel, but simply collecting a grab bag of numbers with the veneer of meaning is not a good objective measure of quality. It’s actually really goddamn difficult to determine via player stats just what makes a good goalkeeper good.

Sid Lowe includes this Tweet in his little report on the latest crap to emerge on Mourinho’s move away from Real Madrid, which involved a banal “exclusive” report from Spanish sports show Punto Pelota on Mourinho’s trip to Swedish hell:

In total, the programme said, Madrid’s coach spent €200 on boxes and packaging. It could only mean one thing: he was moving out. That return to Chelsea had drawn even closer. One of the guests on the show was convinced: “If you want to do a move properly, those old cardboard boxes aren’t any good – you have to get them from Ikea. Their boxes have a good name,” Alfredo Duro said, as the presenter noted: “Well said!”

Good god. This is where we’ve arrived in the world of 24 hour sports news reporting. Mourinho buys some cardboard boxes at Ikea.