Pochettino: England’s Secret Weapon

When Pochettino arrived to these shores back in January 2013, few would have known the credentials of the Argentinian who didn’t speak a word of English. Some might have remembered him, as the Centre Back who upended Michael Owen during the 2002 World Cup.pochettino-argentina

To begin with, his time in England was not easy. Pochettino’s appointment had become a concern for the league itself, another foreign manager replacing a British manager. Being a Saints fan myself, I can recall the opinion of Pochettino and the board who had been so quick to sack Nigel Adkins. Adkins was a real fans favourite, why wouldn’t he be? He’d taken Southampton back to the promised land with back to back promotions and a mid table position in the Premier League.

Adkins didn’t represent a manager who deserved to be sacked, in fact his last game was a 2-2 draw away at Stamford Bridge. Hardly relegation form. Pochettino knew he would have to hit the ground running when he arrived.

Of course as we all know now the change in management proved to be a success story, and Southampton became a very formidable opponent over the course of the next 18 months. Their success was built on being worked non stop during training sessions. Mauricio by all accounts would get so engrossed in training sessions, that players would have to bring portable clocks out with them so that he could be reminded of running overtime.

In a nutshell, Pochettino prides himself on his teams being fitter than opponents. He instructs his players to continually keep opposing players under pressure as much as possible. Pressure the opposition into making a mistake, and then be physically fit enough to be able to use the ball correctly when it comes to attacking. mauricio-pochettino

Okay, thats enough looking into the history and tactics of the man. Let’s get back on track about what this is really about – his contribution to the current English national side.

After one of the most exciting England performances in recent times on Saturday night against the World Champions in Berlin. It could be very easy to level all the credit to Roy Hodgson and forget about input from anyone else. But a pattern of players names began to consist all across the pitch during the 90 minutes, made it impossible to do so. The same players kept cropping up either via commentators or pundits praising individuals.

The likes of Rose, Dier, Alli and of course Kane all impressed in the win against Germany, and will be hoping to secure their position in the starting 11 over the up and coming friendlies.

For me, Danny Rose particularly stepped up. An abundance of stamina alongside a defensively strong mindset, meant Rose could defend primarily but also be a key member to pushing further into the opponents half; just how Pochettino likes his players to function.

If we take a moment away from the resilient England performance itself on Saturday evening and look at some of the players the Tottenham Head Coach has worked with during his time in England;

From Tottenham: Alli, Dier, Rose, Kane, Mason, Walker, Townsend,

From Southampton: Ward – Prowse, Lambert, Lallana, Shaw, Rodriquez, Chambers

Yes, I’ve seen it levelled at other writers who have tried to discuss this subject, that these were already key established players at Southampton. Or that these two clubs in particular have always produced talented footballers. Even if that is the case, Mauricio Pochettino has certainly helped to develop a platform for players to be able to express themselves on the pitch whilst also still remembering their pressing responsibilities.

The once Espanyol manager is even attracting praise from one of the most respected managers ever to have graced the game. With Sir Alex Ferguson suggesting that, Pochettino is now the best manager in the top English division.

I believe that the primarily reason England fans should be appreciative towards Pochettino, is that not only has he identified young english talent such as Dier & Alli. He’s also allowed it to succeed at a First Team level. It would have been very easy for Dier to have been dropped at the beginning of his Spurs career, when he was labelled to immobile to play at Centre Half. Fast forward several months on, Dier has blossomed looking at ease playing as a Defensive midfielder against some of Europe’s elite.

Harry KanePlayers need time and trust from their manager to be able to succeed especially young players, they may be fearless but could be prone to becoming unconfident if costly mistakes take place. Another example is Harry Kane, after his purple patch last season, it took Kane several games to get going this season. Did he get dropped? No Mauricio stuck by his man, and now both Tottenham and England are gaining from that decision.

The fact Spurs have resisted the urge to go and sign more experienced bigger known ‘superstars’ is a testament to Pochettino and his approach to help develop club talent instead. Especially in a time where money is no object to clubs such as Spurs who currently sit 2nd in the Premier League.

If we want to have real success at International level like Spain & Germany have had in recent times, Mauricio’s approach of incorporating english talent should become a must for other clubs too.

It was evident that the core of players who performed well in Saturday nights victory were mainly Tottenham players. Why? They’re used to playing with one another over an extend string of games and have taken that forward to International level too.

England v France - International Friendly

Dele Alli has had a remarkable season, playing with complete freedom. His link up play with Kane has been a particular highlight. But could you imagine Alli being given the same amount of first team game time if he’d of signed for Man City or Arsenal? I can’t. Undoubtedly that would have impacted his chances with the national side. So a player who definitely needs to start at the European Championships in the summer, would have been lucky to have made the squad!

The FA need to take note!

Thanks for reading!

Tom

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England’s Euro Prep: Let’s get it right

Last Thursday saw Roy Hodgson announce his 24 man squad for the two friendlies against Germany and with the Netherlands to follow. Which is sure to see players giving their all to try to impress with the European Championships now under 80 days away.

With how the Premier League has surprised all this season, Leicester City on fire at the top of the league & Manchester City fighting hard to gain a Champions League spot. You could have expected to see an array of players called up to the England Squad for the first time, richly deserved in my opinion.

Players such as; Noble, Creswell, Simpson, Albrighton & Deeney can count themselves unlucky not to be given an opportunity in The Three Lions shirt.

The majority of Roy’s latest squad selection I would suggest is well-chosen, but there are certain players who have made the squad on purely reputation alone. Prime example Theo Walcott. It would appear Theo has been picked to play in a Forward capacity. Does 8 goals in 34 appearances this season really justify a place in the squad over Watford’s captain Deeney?

Two contributing factors to West Ham challenging for a Champions League spot this season are down to the form of their captain Mark Noble and the ever impressive Aaron Creswell.

I’ll start with the latter first, after the retirement of arguably the greatest Left Back England has ever produced in Ashley Cole. Supporters may have been worried about who would fill the huge void left by Cole, they needn’t be. Over the last 12 months we have seen an abundance of English Talent at Left Back show promise. With all players fully fit, I would suggest that Shaw remains the favourite to start, but that won’t be the case later this summer due to a horrific double leg break.

Bertrand is an adaptable defender who’s blossomed under Ronald Koeman, he’s deputised well as a ball playing Centre Back at times too this season when needed. Danny Rose has had a cracking season enjoying life under Pochettino and has significantly improved especially with defensive responsibilities and become a key figure for Spurs. img_1040

But so has Creswell, the 26 year old full back is known for his attacking bursts down the left side. Which is how Roy likes to play – Counter Attacking Football. Manchester City & Chelsea have both been rumoured to bidding of up to £25m for securing his services. Indeed there is a pecking order, but on player form this season it would suggest that Creswell deserves a shot as much as Bertrand & Rose do.

Mark Noble is in a similar situation to his club team-mate. As Danny Murphy suggested recently on TalkSPORT, that he can understand why Noble hasn’t been picked for the squad. ‘Roy will know how he’s going to play in that midfield, so he’ll choose the players who can fill the roles he has in mind’.

Murphy goes on to talk about other midfielders in the squad, suggesting that Henderson can play both attacking and defensive, whereas Alli has the attributes to play all across the midfield.

You would have to suggest that players such as Henderson & Milner who haven’t performed consistently this league campaign like Noble has, have been picked for their past tournament experience and are players Hodgson knows he can rely on.

On a different note, Danny Drinkwater has been superb this season and throughly deserves his call up.

Why hasn’t Albrighton been rewarded for his contribution to Leicester City’s title challenge for a call up for the injured Raheem Sterling?

Potential England Line Ups for Friendlies:

I have taken into consideration with recent injuries to Hart & Sterling into account and used the 2 most familiar England formations in recent times.

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In my opinion, this is the current England squads strongest line up. Stones and Smalling are the future for England, especially Stones. The defence should be built around him. I’ve been impressed with Walker recently, MOTD 2 portrayed him in a great light last Sunday evening with a stellar performance against Bournemouth (Defensively strong and attacking with direct positivity).

What a find Eric Dier is turning out to be for Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. Let’s hope he can continue his fine form in an England shirt too. Drinkwater is an ever improving player, having the season of his life and fully deserves his opportunity at International level.

The only change which I’ve been enforced to make is to play Walcott on the wing instead of my preferred option of Raheem Sterling. Although Walcott’s conversion rate is poor, his speed can’t be ignored and would give all international full backs a scare if in a 1 V 1 situation.

Dele Alli has to start in the summer in my opinion, many question his temperament but he’s the golden boy of english football at the moment. I see him as a package deal alongside Harry Kane. Harry might score the goals at Spurs, but Alli is the one pulling the strings. It’s a partnership which has a lot of potential to be a success at a world football stage.

For two players who haven’t even played a whole season with one another yet, the partnership they have formed at Spurs would appear telepathic.

Vardy to rotate with Kane, deserves an opportunity to play through the middle for a full 90 minutes.

Is it a surprise that the spine of the team is made up of Tottenham players? (Walker, Dier, Alli & Kane) Tottenham are playing some great counter attacking football at the moment whilst keeping it tight at the back too. Something Roy could look to implement.

Alternative formation:

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This formation explores the theory that ‘Attacking is the best form of defence’ approach. Vardy is known for his ability to close down defenders and put pressure on the opposition for the full 90. Kane & Sturridge would need to follow suit for this formation to work.

It also allows for more stability in midfield with Alli sitting more than in the 4-2-3-1. Henderson / Milner brings a wealth of experience to the team too.

Conclusion:

In recent times, the core England players have come from the ‘big 4 teams’ in my opinion we should be looking at Tottenham as a major asset to the English National Team. They consistently play with an English core and it’s paying off so far for them this season. Let’s take advantage of it at an International stage.

With this in mind, we do have key players to come back such as Hart, Sterling and of course our captain Rooney. Good luck Roy!

Thanks for reading,

Tom

Benítez right man for the situation?

I recently ran a poll on Twitter asking NUFC fans, who they would have preferred to have taken over from McClaren when his time at St. James Park was cut short. The results? 93% in Rafa’s favour over David Moyes with the remaining 7%.

It would appear that finally an appointment has been  made that the Geordie faithful can fully support and get behind, but has it come too late in the season to save Newcastle United?

There is no questioning Benítez’s credentials, you don’t get the opportunity to manage such illustrious clubs, such as Real Madrid or Chelsea. Without being recognised as one of World Football’s leading managers. But is it the right appointment for Newcastle United in their current situation?

David-Moyes-1876289cherald.co_.zw_

Enter David Moyes, before his ill fated time at Manchester United, he became the 3rd longest serving manager in the league. Clearly credentials of an established first class manager.  Transforming Everton from a club who finished 17th to a club who challenged for the Champions League consistently – in the words of ex player Kevin Kilbane. Three 5th placed finishes back to back, in the league something to not take lightly. What Newcastle would give for that now.

Clearly two exceptional candidates for the open vacancy at St. James Park, I will suggest why I believe the Newcastle board opted for the manager with the bigger reputation but not the right one for the situation.

Head to head stats show that Benítez has spent 23 years in management to Moyes’s 17 years (Since sacked by Real Sociedad in November 2015), undoubtedly both have a wealth of coaching experience. But in that time Benitez has managed 12 clubs to Moyes’s 4. Suggesting Benítez likes a fresh challenge regularly.

What Newcastle Need:

What do Newcastle United need more than anything at the moment? Stability. The constant chopping and changing of management from season to season provides no opportunity for consistency to take place.

image-40-for-bobby-robson-1933-2009-gallery-227119492Arguably The Magpies most successful period in recent times, comes under the late great Sir Bobby Robson. During 1999 – 2004, Newcastle finished 11th, 4th, 3rd, 5th and reached the Semi Finals of the UEFA Cup.

With this in mind and taking into account the late Sir Bobby Robson, you would find it hard to disagree with this statement ‘Success = Consistency + Stability + Time’.

Moyes created something special at Everton during his 10.5 seasons at the club, he clearly likes to take on projects over an extended period of time. Something Benitez isn’t known particularly for. (Longest serving time at Liverpool 2004-2010)

Even in this current appointment, it has the feel of Rafa only being an interim manager for the remainder of the season. (Clause in contract, Benitez can leave if Newcastle get relegated).

Can you really see Benítez managing in The Championship? Ask the same question about Moyes and I can see it happening.

No doubt, David Moyes’s management reputation isn’t in great shakes at the moment, but given time. He could have turned Newcastle United into a steady, hard working, positional machine like he did with Everton FC.

Training Methods & Tactics:

After researching Benítez and Moyes it would appear that each other’s tactics couldn’t be more different. Benítez adopts an 80% working with the ball & 20% concentrating on fitness approach.

Whereas Moyes very much prefers relentlessly drilling squads about using ‘space efficiently’. Often breaking a training pitch up into 16 segments, directing players where they should be. Very much expecting players to take ‘positional responsibilities’.

Looking at Moyes’s track record at all his clubs he’s managed, it’s an approach he’s carried throughout his career to date. ‘Secure a draw and then build on top of that’ if you could call that an approach.

(Everton Record: Games;518 Won; 218 Drawn; 139 Lost; 161 – Win % = 42.0%)

You could have also have seen Moyes getting the same out of JonJo Shelvey as he did with Arteta or Phil Neville. Calm, patient midfielders who have the ability to knock the ball from the one flank to another. A key aspect to the tactics Moyes tries to install in his teams, something Shelvey could do.

 

(Skip to 45 seconds in to video)

Benítez approach to management is vastly different, at Madrid his tactics were seemed to confuse the superstars at ‘Los Blancos’. His aim was simple enough on paper, attacking players were supposed to be given the freedom to go wherever they pleased, to distract and disturb opposing defences. But in practice, it lead to players such as Bale & Isco colliding with one another. Or Ronaldo & Jesé overcrowding a favoured position.

Benítez will have to change this approach if he is too succeed at Newcastle and steer them from relegation. Hence my opinion Newcastle would be more beneficial to Moyes steely grinding out results driven approach rather than Benítez’s attacking flair football.

British Based Players:

For the Black & White stripes of Newcastle United to return to being at least a Top 10 Premier League Club (It’s the least the devoted Geordie supporters deserve) a British base of players need to stand up and become Newcastle’s spine.

Newcastle teams in the past when successful have always had a strong British base, who truly understand the passion Geordie fans have for their team. If you give your all for Newcastle fans, they will stand by you.

2002-03 season Newcastle finished 3rd in the league, a remarkable achievement under Sir

_85735242_garyspeed,jermainejenasandalanshearerBobby. Their spine of players consisted of Shearer, Bellemy, Jenas, Woodgate, Dyer and the late Gary Speed. A huge nucleus of British players.

In comparison to the current squad’s nucleus of Colback, Shelvey, Townsend and Taylor.

You’d have to agree that during his time at Everton, Moyes understood the importance of having British experienced players in the squad;

2004/05 (Finished 4th): David Weir, Duncan Ferguson, James McFadden & Leon Osman

2007/08 (Finished 5th): Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka & Neville (c)

You may counteract this point by suggesting that it’s just how the Premier League has developed with more international talent in the league. But look at Leicester City this season, their spine includes: Danny Simpson, Danny Drinkwater, Andy King & of course Jamie Vardy.

In his time in charge of Liverpool, Benítez relied on two British players to provide the passion and pride of Liverpool in Gerrard & Carragher.

Conclusion:

You might disagree with the points I’ve discussed in his article and Benítez might provide to be an astute signing.Hopefully Rafa can keep Newcastle up, otherwise the Premier League will be losing out on some of the most passionate supporters in the game. My point of view is that Moyes should have been given an opportunity to revolutionise Newcastle United into a solid, hard to beat outfit over a substantial period of time.

But hey, what do I know. Rafa is a magician after all.

 

Thanks for reading folks!

Tom

Money can’t buy you into Europe’s Elite

World football seems to be lost in the shadows, leagues are becoming predictable. Spectators crave the headlines of an underdog coming out on top even more so than in the past.

Ligue 1 is all but over, with PSG massing an almost laughable 23 point lead at the top of the table. Barcelona will almost certainly be crowned La Liga  champions for the 24th time in their illustrious history. Bayern Munich as per usual lead the German Bundesliga ahead of Dortmund by 5 points due to Pep’s Bayern easing into autopilot mode.

With this in mind, The Premier League is without question the most exciting league in World Football. Where else would you find entertainment like this current season has produced. Leicester City survived relegation by a whisker last season, the very next season they find themselves 9 games away from the unthinkable; Premier League Champions.

Of course with great entertainment comes great rewards, and with all clubs who have made it to the dizzy heights of the Premier League in the past 8 seasons. Have received sky high payments regardless of position in the league. (Rock bottom of the league, Villa predicted to receive almost £100m for their dismal season this year).

Fig 1.) Income Premier League Clubs received in 2014/15 season.

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But has the money created by television revenue become a ‘double edged sword’ for Premier League clubs participating in Europe’s Elite competition? Statistics would suggest so.

With the abundance of wealth all BPL clubs generate, especially the notable high performing clubs who regularly qualify for the CL. It would appear that clubs have forgotten their roots they once started from.

The BPL has always been known as an multi international league, with an array of talent from all over the globe. But this international talent in the past has always been alongside a core of British players who helped to establish the backbone and essence of a club.

In recent years, we’ve had players such as John Terry, Ashley Cole & Frank Lampard provide the spine of a mostly foreign team at Chelsea. Or Steven Gerrard & Jamie Carragher maintaining the passion it takes to play for Liverpool.

It would appear in today’s world with the financial firepower clubs possess, homegrown talent unfortunately won’t get a chance to shine unless individuals are dubbed as a ‘wonderkid’.

Would players like the Neville brothers have been given a chance to shine in today’s English _51075622_neville5top tier? Or would United have sent them out on loan or even sold them? As they were’t ‘skilful enough’ or ‘couldn’t accelerate quick enough’. Two stalwarts of the BPL who went on to have great success during their careers at both club and international level. With Gary considered to being one of the greatest right backs the BPL has seen.

 

Alarm bells should be ringing – in this season’s UEFA Champions League, only 13 English players were registered to compete, that number is staggeringly low. Lower than Israel & Belarus in fact. Spain have 59 representatives whilst Germany have 38. ‘We are miles behind the likes of Spain & Germany’ – words of Greg Dyke.

How on earth do we expect to be competitive as a nation at World Cups or Euro’s, if only our very best players are getting big game experience and playing against Europe’s elite. To put that more into context – Manchester United had 9 Englishmen in the  match squad to face Bayern in the 1999 Final.

This season’s statistics in the Champions League read as follows;

Clubs No of Internationals Home Grown Players
Manchester City  9 3
Barcelona 10 7
Bayern Munich 10 9
Athletico Madrid  9 7
Chelsea 10 3
Arsenal 11 5

Fig 2.) Above shows the amount of different internationals that have played for a club this season and also the number of players of that club’s nationality who have represented them.

As the graph suggests, english clubs are severely lacking in english players.

Harry Enfield & Paul Whitehouse had it spot on with this sketch back in 2008 which sums up what a changing room in a top Premier League team must really be like in todays game at times!

 

2007/08 season saw English football conquer Europe’s Elite. Two english teams in the final, (Chelsea Vs Manchester United) Liverpool made it to the Semi final and Arsenal progressed to the Quarter Finals

Fig 3.)

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British Players in Starting or Squad for 2007/08:

  • Chelsea – 4 starting players
  • Manchester United – 8 in squad
  • Liverpool – 5 in squad
  • Arsenal – 1 in squad

8 players in Man United’s squad a stark difference to the squads in present english teams.

I can reel off statistics about possession, only 1 english club has made it into the top 5 possession rankings on one occasion in the last 5 years. Or that in the group stages of this season’s competition, Chelsea and Man United constructed 31.5 & 29 inaccurate long balls per 90 minutes respectively. In comparison to PSG’s 16.5 & Bayern’s 15.5.

But to an extent these stats become meaningless, but what should be taken away from them is that Premier League players aren’t getting enough time playing with one another. Before they become either sold or another player replaces them. Professionals have to practice together to then be able to produce magic on the pitch. E.g. Barcelona Tika Taka.

English players need to seize the opportunity and become first team regulars and help dictate how the team plays it’s football. With an array of international talent on show, it can become confusing for players to fully understand what the club’s philosophy is.

Players of past era’s such as Scholes or Ferdinand would demand for supporting players to raise the game and play ‘The Manchester United way’. Will we ever see Manchester United beat a club of Roma’s calibre 7-1 again?

In conclusion, English football needs to find it’s identify once again. If we are ever going to become a threat at world football level again. We have great talent being produced by academies across the country but these players need to be given the chance to shine. Not just in friendlies or when a team is up 4-0, they need the experience of playing in a pressurised environment constantly.

Not for one second, am I against foreign players playing in the Premier League. They have without doubt made the league more exciting and a pleasure to watch, but a better balance needs to be struck between the two.

 

Thanks for reading,

Tom

 

 

 

Man United: Stalling more than Del Boy’s Reliant Robin

An in depth analysis of Manchester United and LVG’S failings with TotalFootball

Manchester United Vs Bolton 2007, ‘Ronaldo to Rooney, Rooney back to Ronaldo, Ronaldo delthrough to Rooney – GOAL’ 10 touches in 12 seconds from United defending a throw in to running the full length of the pitch and Rooney capping a sizzling move with a glorious finish. It seems a distant memory from the Manchester United of old to the United of present.

It’s almost a decade since that goal went in at Old Trafford against Bolton and things couldn’t any more different.

United in 07 had everything heading in the right direction, Sir Alex Ferguson arguably the greatest manager the game will ever see at the helm and the squad was littered with world class talent with players such as Rooney & Ronaldo firing on all cylinders.

Fast forward to this current season with the club juddering towards the end of the season like Del’s 3 wheeler. The pressure on LVG to resign has quietened down since Christmas, but the United faithful are far from content.

I intend to highlight the key aspects as to why The Dutchman’s time at Man United might be remembered in a negative light instead of a positive one. 185679

LVG’s Total Football Philosophy  

Van Gaal arrived in Manchester with a plan ‘a philosophy’ in fact, he was supposed to revolutionise Manchester United. After the previous failings of David Moyes the man branded with the ‘hardest job in football’ after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson.

His philosophy seemed reasonable enough, everyone had to buy into it and most importantly everyone needed to respect each other if they were to progress as a team. #TotalFootball

The underlying point of LVG’s philosophy was that he was trying to create a squad of multi – functioning players. Players who could use both feet, and were a presence in not only attacking but also defending situations. This would explain apart from the woeful luck with injuries why so many midfielders or attackers have found themselves playing at Centre Back or as a glorified right or left back (Cue Ashley Young & Antonio Valencia).

United fans were in dreamland, surely the best candidate for the vacant managers position off the back of a storming World Cup camping too with Holland had been appointed.

Fig. 1 (Previous clubs and overall Win Ratio

Ajax 68.77%
Barcelona 55.56%
Netherlands 53.33%
Barcelona 53.33%
AZ Alkmaar 57.95%
Bayern Munich 61.46%
Netherlands 60.71%
Manchester United 51.1%* (Dated 6/3/16)

  As the diagram above suggests, Van Gaal’s coach centred approach to football management has severed him well in his time, no one can question that at all.

In Van Gaal’s first season in charge at Old Trafford it would suggest things were beginning to be returned to normal order, United finishing 4th in the league, and fans could dream once again of more electrically charged nights in the Champions League to come. Although they didn’t last long.

Van Gaal’s ‘Total Football’ philosophy is industrious, hard working and relies on all team members cooperating with one another. It bypasses any creative sparks to flourish. Possession stats might look impressive on paper (54% – one of the highest in the league), but they aren’t going to get you challenging for the title if you don’t use it correctly.

E.g. United trailing to WBA 6th March 2016, the last 10 minutes of the 90, possession stats read as 70% in United’s favour but the whole game MUFC could only muster 7 shots with 1 on target.

Martial, Mata, Depay and Herrera on the pitch and only 1 shot on target in 90 minutes? Madness.

Manchester-United-vs-Club-Brugge

If the possession stats could be matched with attacking flair, I have no doubt that United would be challenging Leicester City and Spurs for the title rather than scrapping for an Europa Spot.

So far this season;

  • Leicester City – 52 goals (Average 1.79 goals)
  • Man United – 37 goals (Average 1.19 goals)

In a table for goals scored at home this season; Manchester United rank 11th in mid table with only 19 goals so this campaign at an average of 1.27. Whilst their bitter rivals across the blue side of manchester have massed a whopping 39 goals at home at an average of 2.60! A big stat! One fans have voiced their concern at too, lack of goals in front of the Old Trafford faithful.

Returning to a point I discussed early, ‘players must be able to use both feet, and be a presence in both attacking and defending situations’. I completely agree all professional footballers should be looking to better themselves by trying to become ambidextrous with their feet.

But the issue I have is with nullifying an attackers ability to attack so they can improve in defending and staying within a rigid formation.

From what I can understand, LVG’s theory is for 10 outfield players being interchangeable with one another up to a certain extent. The perfect football team surely if this could happen? Even if you took the best team on this planet as an example; Barcelona.

Sure the front 3 (Messi, Neymar & Suarez) have been phenomenal this season, and they do interchange with ease during games, but they are all experienced WORLD CLASS strikers. But in the same game would you expect to see Sergio Busquets playing at CB like Carrick has done this season? Or would you see Inestia playing at RWB like Young & Valencia have done previously?

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In my opinion, the only positions which can be interchangeable are Wingers and Forwards,  and only if the winger has excellent shooting credential. I should take this moment to remind you that these opinions of mine are only aimed for elite level football such as the level Manchester United compete at.

Week In and week out, United face tough challenges in an array of competitions. Players need to be on top form to help United win games of football. If a player is playing out of position, or lacking sharpness in his particular area of expertise (e.g. Ashley Young – crossing) how can they possibly be expected to contribute 100% to the cause.

United’s shaky spine

During his 27th year tenure at the club, Ferguson had to continually rebuild fading squads. Players grew ever closer to retirement with the demand of being, physically fit and technically sound getting more intense. Due to the Premier League evolving into almost a ‘Super League’, with the calibre of international talent on show from week to week.

Even throughout this time, you can look back on history and clearly pick out Fergie’s leaders;

  • Ince, Bruce, Robson, Cantona, Keane & Neville to name a few

In today’s current United squad, I struggle to pick out any genuine leaders who would rise to the occasion and get United over the line with a win.

Roy Keane might have spoken out of turn on occasions, but you knew as a fan that if Keane was playing, he’d get that extra 10% out the 10 other players which normally resulted in a win.

Under Keane & SAF other players almost developed an ‘paternalistic approach’ at United, the players would have complete faith and give total commitment in what the leaders believe. In this case giving all they could for the full 90 minutes.

Alongside United lacking in leaders, they are also missing a core spine through the team. article-0-001AB46000000258-432_468x311

  • Van der Sar, Vidic, Scholes, Ronaldo – 2007/08 Winners
  • Schmeichel, Stam, Keane & Yorke – 1998/99 Winners
  • Schmeichel, Bruce, Keane & Cole – 1995/96 Winners

Above shows some examples of core spines which have played a major factor in United winning the league on these occasions. United need to restore this and begin to build a team around a clear spine. Starting with Dea Gea and Martial up the top, they are the future.

 

Areas of Weakness

United throughout the years have always been feared for their ability to turn defence into an unstoppable counterattack, moving the ball at speed with multiple players up in support. In today’s world the players with pace to burn isn’t the problem, (Martial, Depay, Young & Valencia) it’s having a driving influence in the centre of the park.

Roy Keane,  Paul Scholes,  Bryan Robson and Nicky Butt all unique brilliant centre midfielders in their time at Manchester United. All were deemed as box to box midfielders, and to a ‘T’ that is what they did, defend and Attack!

Morgan Schneiderlin was recruited as a replacement to United’s midfield problems and he is a quality player (I’m a Saints fan, I know how good Morgs is!) but perhaps not what they needed at the time. Is he dynamic enough? Does he pass sideways instead of forwards too much? All questions which should be asked.

Take another Southampton player probably on his way out of St. Mary’s in the summer; Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan International is a machine of a player, not only is he the one putting in crucial tackles in midfield. But he then starts the attacks with powerful driving runs into the opponents half. This type of player brings the leadership qualities United are looking for.

If United had looked at someone like Victor in the summer instead of Schneiderlin, I can’t help think that they would be creating a lot more chances than they are at the moment.

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Passion

I am not for one minute suggesting that the United players aren’t bothered by the results or the performances. But I came across an interesting stat which indicated that so far this season, from losing positions United have only gained 6 points. Whereas in the 2006/07 season they gained 19 points!

MUFC of old were well known for the ability to snatch either a draw or more likely a win in the dying moments of a game commonly known as ‘Fergie Time’. Players were’t allowed to be resigned to a defeat until the final whistle had been blown. It seems at the moment, with  the lack of movement from LVG off the bench when they do concede, it draws the players into a relaxed mentality. You can imagine if Klopp was manger of United, they wouldn’t be so relaxed in the last moments of a game when in a drawing or losing position.

In conclusion it would appear that Van Gaal has provided the Old Trafford crowd with some positives. Such as his stand on giving youth a chance in the first team (Rashford, Lingard & Fosu-Mensah). But the majority of fans are praying the summer brings the appointment of ‘The Special One’ alongside the Stretford End’s beloved son; Ryan Giggs.

Thanks for reading!

Tom

10 Years to forget for Villa Fans

A detailed look into the demise of one of the oldest standing Top Division clubs.

There are few harder things in football than being an Aston Villa supporter at the moment.  It would appear that Villa have reached rock bottom, staring relegation in the face. Knowing now that it’s just a matter of time until May arrives and the 10 year slide towards the Championship is officially confirmed.

A friend of mine who’s a Villa supporter suggests that getting relegated to The Championship is ‘what the club needs’. Strip the club of all players just there for the Premier League luxurious wages, even if that means letting the Youth players step up and take responsibility.

It seems a similar situation to the 2008/09 season which saw Newcastle United relegated, ‘a club too big to go down’ some suggested, but they did. Toon fans would disagree with me, but going down to the Championship probably did the club the world of good and helped to lead Newcastle back to the Premier League the following season with thanks to Chris Hughton. (Although no doubt they are back to struggling in the league under Steve McClaren at the moment!).

Aston Villa have always been a club engrained in history, and very much like The Magpies both sets of supporters have not been rewarded on the pitch for their loyal support during the last decade.

So who’s to blame for the demise of the 5 time League Cup winners?

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INEXPERIENCE – One Key word, I’d like you to remember throughout reading this blog, Aston Villa is a club in turmoil which reeks of Inexperience. From the owner, to the make shift Chairman ‘Steve Hollis’, to the long list of inexperienced managers and finally to the First Team Squad crying out for some old heads.

From research and general consensus, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several contributing factors to Villa’s current league position;

1.) Manager Recruitment process since 2006 – 

Since 2006, 7 managers have been used in a 10 year period – adding to that Remi Garde’s future at the club will be under immense scrutiny once this season has drawn to a close. Out of the 6* managers who have worked under Randy Lerner, Garde’s win percentage is the lowest with a mere 15.7%.

* 7 managers have served Villa in this 10 year period, but David O’Leary was let go several months before Doug Ellis sold the club in early 2006.

Even more amazing, is that Martin O’Neil without question the most successful Villa manager in this particular decade with three 6th placed finishes stayed at Villa for 4 years!

5 managers since 2010! How could the hierarchy at Villa, ever expect this to be a remedy for success? Mr Lerner might not have possessed the knowledge to turn Aston Villa into a club to regularly challenge the Top 4. But even relating back to running a business, you wouldn’t see management getting changed as much as Villa have had managers.

Fans see managers such as Alex Macleish (21.4%) & Paul Lambert (29.5%) as a mistake that the club should have avoided, whereas for the respected managers it was an opportunity which they couldn’t and shouldn’t have turned down. An opportunity to manage a sleeping giant of the English Game?

But surely after Gerard Houllier stepped down as manager, there must have been a stampede to hand in an application for the role of Aston Villa’s next manager. If the Villa hierarchy had been loaded with some more ‘football savvy’ heads, perhaps the outcome would have been different, and Villa would be challenge in this seasons topsy turvey league campaign instead of propping up the table in the sorry state they are right now.

McLeish should have known better, selling the two key players arguably playing the best football of their respected careers at the same time in Ashley Young & Stewart Downing and only bringing in the temperamental Charles N’Zogbia to replace them? I don’t have my football coaching badges, but even to me that sounds baffling.

Some credit should go to Paul Lambert though he had a philosophy which he believed in, and got the praise he deserved by blooding in young talent from either the Villa Youth System or from the work of his talent scouts. He also signed Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar – the latter who seems to have gone missing since the storming World Cup he had in 2014.

Even throughout his time at Villa, it seemed such a ‘2 steps forward, 1 step backwards’ approach. One season he signs to key players mentioned above, and then its followed by two seasons (2o13/2014 & 2014/2015) where no one with real Premier League pedigree was signed.

Evidence which suggests that Lambert tried too hard with the youth players is that during the 2013/14 season, Title winners Manchester City average squad age was 25.5 years old to 28.2 years of age. Lambert’s Aston Villa? 22.9 – 26.3 years of age. Something to think about. Success is built on team spirit and experience.

It’s come out since Lambert’s time at Villa came to an end that he did try and sign ‘big Paul Lambertname players’ such as Wilfred Bony & Lukuku but didn’t receive any backing from the Villa board.

 

As for Tim Sherwood, at least he showed some fight and got stuck in, if he was still in charge of Villa now. I’d have fancied him to have turned it around, but we will never know.

 

 

2.) Inexperienced First Team Players

Geoff Horsfield, Zoltán Gera, Robert Earnshaw, Kanu & Kevin Campbell – West Brom 04/05

Linvoy Primus, Matthew Taylor, Pedro Mendes, Dean Kiely – Portsmouth 05/06

Roy Carroll, Paul Konchesky, Teddy Sheringham, Luís Boa Morte, Lee Bowyer & Carlos Tevez – West Ham 06/07

Above are three teams which all survived the drop when most would have had them pegged to be relegated. What main quality springs to mind when thinking about all these players? Experience. They don’t come much more experienced than Teddy!

Villa have two main experienced players that I can think of off the top of my head ,in Club Captain Micah Richards & Joleen Lescott. The latter who’s had more incidents away from the pitch than good performances on it.

Plain and simply after escaping relegation last season (finished 17th) the summer should have been used to recruit more mature players. Look at the key role 35 year Esteban Cambiasso played at Leicester City staying up last season, he did’t play every game in the league you couldn’t expect him to at that age. (unless your names Ryan Giggs!) But he would have been at training every day, and in the squads on match day and provided a calm head.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive advocate of young talent emerging and being given a chance to shine (Wakey Wakey Jack Grealish) but it has it’s place next to senior experienced players, needs a chance to be bedded in one step at a time.

 

3.) Randy Lerner – Wrong Man at the Wrong Time

When Doug Ellis sold the club to Randy Lerner back in 2006 for £62.6million, Mr Ellis should have done his homework on the businessman he was selling to first of all. If he had he would have discovery Lerner had previous, when he owned the Cleveland Browns. ‘Lack of interest and then sold it’.

The fear for fans is that once Villa slip into the Championship that will be the catalyst to the club slipping further and further down the English rankings. If that happens the only positive for the club is that it’s run in a self – sustaining way so it shouldn’t end up in a situation like Leeds or Portsmouth have done in the past.

I’ll give Lerner credit for his time as owner whilst Martin O’Neil was manager, when O’Neil was brining in successive 6th place finishes, Lerner was putting his hand in his pocket and writing cheques. Supplied O’Neil £120m in the 4 years he was at the club, and recorded a loss of £82m in that time.

But it seems when the results started to turn south, Lerner turned his back on the club when it probably needed him the most. What Villa fans would have done to have even a quarter of that £120m spent during the summer of 2015 (same fee they received from Benteke from Liverpool).

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All of the topics I’ve covered in this blog, in my opinion have all had an impact on the demise of Aston Villa Football Club.

I do hope they return back to the Premier League soon, for the fans sake.

Tom

 

 

Leicester City: 10 Games Away from the Promised Land

A look at the main contributing factors to Leicester City’s incredible league form.

Roll back 12 months ago, Leicester City were embroiled in a relegation battle with very little light at the end of the tunnel. Most pundits, fans and even players must have been convinced it wasn’t to be Leicester’s season and they would find themselves staring at  life in The Championship once again. 

For what happened next, the majority of the credit must go to Nigel Pearson for keeping spirits up and turning the tide and beating off relegation. If that was a miracle in itself, I’m not quite sure what words describe what’s happened this season so far.

4 Key aspects in my opinion as to why Leicester City’s incredible form is still going strong and their title charge even more so;

1.) Relentless Attack minded Football – 

Without a shadow of doubt the most entertaining team in this season’s Barclays Premier League so far. From genuine relegation candidates at the start of the season to the highest scorers in the league after 28 games.

Leicester have massed an incredible 51 goals so far this campaign at an average of 1.8 goals per game, compare that to Manchester United’s 1.3 goals a game, including the 1/4 of a billion Van Gaal has spend on players.

Much of Leicester’s rise up the league is due to the devastating partnership which Vardy & Mahrez have managed to maintain. Vardy (19) & Mahrez (14) have amassed for 64.7% of all of Leicester City’s 51 goals in the Premier League.

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2.) N’Golo Kanté – 

Even if the title challenge fades away in the last games of the season, this man’s first season cannot be underrated. Alongside Dimitri Payet at West Ham, he’s my signing of the season. Leicester  City fans must have been concerned when such an esteemed player like Esteban Cambiasso left in the summer of 2015.

Foxes fans had no reason to worry. The first player to reach 100 interceptions in the league, average of 4.8 interceptions per 90 minutes. Easily one of the best tacklers in the league. Clearly he’s well received at Leicester after being involved in 26 games out of 28 so far this season (Injured for the last 2 games)

At the young age of 24, foxes fans can expect a lot more great performances from Kanté to come, £5.6m could become the steal of the season.

3.) Foxes Fight Till The End – 

Statistics show that if games so far this season finished at Half Time, Leicester would be still top of the league but with only 44 points, hot on their trails are Spurs with 41 points. It proves how team spirit is booming at The King Power Stadium at the moment, the sort of attitude which managers must dream of their players adopting, they very simply don’t stop attacking the opposition goal until the referee blows his whistle for full time. In my opinion, how the game should be played.

A similar philosophy was adopted by the Manchester United Team which won the treble in 1999, take the recent 1-0 victory over Norwich. Ulloa in the 89th minute to win a valuable 3 points to keep Leicester top of the table.

After hearing post match comments from Manuel Pellegrini after Liverpool dismantled his Manchester City side 3-0 at Anfield, you hear the words ‘players are tied’. At no point this season have I heard Claudio Ranieri talk after a poor performance (not that there’s been many of those!) that his players are tied and need a ‘rest’. Like I heard Danny Mills discuss last night on BBC606, ‘if you keep telling players that they’re tired, they will begin to feel tired’. Ranieri has instilled a winning mentality, although cleverly always diverted attention away to other so called ‘bigger clubs’.

4.) Claudio Ranieri – Who’s the tinkerman now?

Speaking to a few friends who happened to be Foxes supporters, before the season started back in August, they voiced their concern with Mr. Ranieri taking over at The King Power. You could understand their concerns too with the turmoil which happened when he took over recently as National Manager of Greece, and with his past with Chelsea.

Claudio ‘The Tinkerman’ Ranieri; that was his title previously working in England, and he certainly lived up to that name! In the 2003 / 2004 season, his last with Chelsea he used 27 players altogether in the league. Winning formula? I think not. How can consistency and players working off each other with that many players getting used throughout a season.

I understand 38 games in a season can take its toll, and injuries are part of the game, but 27 players seems an incredibly high number. But Ranieri has returned for his 2nd spell in the Premier League and learnt from his previous past. So far in 28 games in the league, only 19 players have been used. A stark difference from his previous time at Chelsea.

It seems players work better off playing regularly with the same players, working patterns, formations become tighter, plans become better executed.

For the example, in the engine room at Leicester City the already mentioned superb Kanté, Danny Drinkwater, Andy King all through playing regularly with one another are now keeping the rewards. In the recent 2-2 draw with West Brom, Andy King came into the starting eleven, replacing Kanté. Was King out of place? No, he had a storming game and capped it off with a top team goal too.

Consistent is key.

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After getting so close this season, I do hope they can see it out the whole way and become the Champions they have played like this season. One thing which most fans will agree on though is that it’s become great entertainment watching Leicester City play this season.

This was my first blog post, thanks for the taking the time to read it. I’ll be back soon with the next instalment!

Tom