6 into 4 Doesn’t Work

Welcome / Willkommen / Bienvenido!

It’s true folks I’m back.

Apologies for the lack of content towards the back-end of 2016. Things to do, people to see etc.  You know how it goes.

But like I said I’m back, but more importantly welcome to 2017! Let’s hope it doesn’t put us through 12 rounds with AJ like 2016 did.

When Andy Williams wrote the trademark Christmas song ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ rumour has it, he was actually singing about January. Yes that’s right people, January brings us crazy spending, impulse buys and career making decisions. It is of course the January Transfer Window.

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One whole glorious month dedicated to clubs to either strengthen or save their respective season. It’s a pivotal moment in the campaign for managers, with only half a season left to avoid the ever-present fear of getting the proverbial boot. (No pun intended. Okay you saw through me, maybe a little one was intended)

With Chelsea topping the table at Christmas time, this season has a much more ‘familiar’ feel about it after Leicester City’s unexpected incredible feat last season. Make no bones about it, last season was an astonishing season, but for different reasons this season could turn out to be even more exciting (Perhaps not if you support Leicester City though!)

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The 2016-17 season could and hopefully will be remembered for being a 6-horse race, and should provide to be an exhilarating journey until the Champions get crowned in May.

Even when Chelsea have threatened to run away with the title race in recent weeks, deadly Dele struck twice for Spurs to ensure the winning streak came to an end for Conte.

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It would appear that all six, yes that’s right SIX teams have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy come May and become champions of England.

So.. Aim of this article?

I’m going to attempt to apply some of that useless irrelevant football knowledge I have, and discuss where each of these teams need to strengthen, during the January window and also try to predict the final league standings.

 Wish me luck.

Let’s start with the leaders; Chelsea  img_1183

After a rocky start to life in the Premier League, Conte has adapted superbly – Guiding his side to top of the table and 13 victories on the bounce. At this moment in time they are obviously favourites to win the league. But favourites don’t always succeed. Otherwise we’d all win our acca’s at the weekend.

Area to Strengthen:

 LWB: Marcos Alonso deserves a lot of credit for his performances this season, his ability to bomb up and down the flank and his crosses in particular have been an added bonus to Conte’s team. But Italians pride themselves on their defensive displays and defensively I’m still not sold on the Ex – Real Madrid man. Chelsea’s search to replace Ashley Cole continues.

(Did you know? Marcos Alonso only made 1 appearance for Real Madrid in 2010)

CM: This is a late addition. But after watching how the Spurs midfield controlled the game against Chelsea in midweek, and in particular how Mousa Dembélé played. It was noticeable what Chelsea were missing. The Belgium international is known for his silky dribbling and his ability to maintain possession, something IMO Chelsea need next to the destroyer known as N’Golo Kanté. There’s no argument that Chelsea have the best defensive midfielder in the league. They just need more energy in the middle of the park which Fàbregas & Matić haven’t got anymore.

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ST: With the lack of game time and the consistently great form of Diego Costa this season, it seems Michy Batshuayi’s time at Chelsea might be short-lived. It would appear that Batshuayi has fallen down the pecking order considerably under Conte, who would rather play Pedro as the lone attacking option when Costa isn’t available. But perhaps a run in the FA Cup will help Batshuayi to impress the Italian.

Prediction:  2nd    *Chelsea fans before you begin reporting me, hear me out*

I firmly believe Spurs showed a real weakness in Chelsea during the midweek game, and with having to travel to Anfield at the end of January. I can only see a victory for Liverpool with a fit again Coutinho as well.

I would highlight Kanté & Costa as key men for Chelsea, but they are also battering rams in a sense, who are likely to have to serve a suspension ban at some point before May. Could prove to be key.

But if Chelsea can get a win at Anfield, the title is heading to Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool img_1184

 It would appear Klopp likes to do things the hard way. An excellent home victory against Manchester City, followed up by giving 2 points away against Sunderland. Klopp is an Anfield favourite already and given time he will take Liverpool to the top of the league, but will it be this season?

Area to Strengthen:

 GK: What is it with Liverpool and Goalkeepers? From Calamity James to Simon Mignolet, they have all been prone to a howler or two. This title race is going to go down to the wire, and Liverpool can’t afford to give points away due to howlers. It’s a shame that Jordan Pickford got injured on Boxing Day, as I would have liked to see Liverpool put a bid in for a young talented English Goalkeeper. Or even a cheeky bid for Kasper Schmeichel wouldn’t be out of the question.

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CB: Klopp has found a solid CB in Joël Matip but troublesome ankle injuries have meant appearances have been few and far over the hectic Christmas period. But like the GK issue, Dejan Lovren has a clanger in him too and hasn’t convinced me of his defensive capabilities yet.

Prediction: 1st

I could be way off with this one, but I think it’s going to happen this year. One of the reasons is that, Liverpool’s final game against a Top 6 team is on the 18th March. That could provide to be pivotal.

It’s also like they are landing a new mega signing with the little Magician they call Philippe Coutinho back on the training pitch.

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Finally it’s Klopp just the best man motivator you could want in a title race?

Tottenham img_1185

 Poch is certainly building something at Spurs, and at White Hart Lane they are unplayable at times. Youth is certainly with Pochettino’s men, as of end of August ‘16 they had the youngest average age of all the Premier League teams. Arguably have the best defence and GK out of all the Top 6 teams.

Area to Strengthen:

ST: I would like to see a variation to Harry Kane. Kane’s a bit of an anomaly as he likes to play leading the line on his own, which has worked well with the continued great form of Dele. Moussa Dembélé at Celtic could be one way to go, I like the look of him and could provide to be a good speedy alternative to Kane.

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Prediction: 4th  

 Feel it might be a season too soon for Poch and his young team, with a tough Jan / Feb period where they have to travel to Manchester City & Liverpool. If they can get 4 points from those two games who knows though.

Manchester City img_1196

 

Not as easy as it looks ehey Pep? The Sky Blues have looked a shadow of the team who looked they were going to run away with the league before November. Pep looks flustered and frustrated on the touchline and his aging team needs some new life injected into it.

Area to Strengthen:

 Defence:

Some of the defensive capabilities of Kolarov, Otamendi etc would have given the likes of Jamie Carragher nightmares. With the consistently injured Kompany edging ever closer to early retirement, it would appear Pep needs to invest and spend big. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Virgil Van Dijk at City next season.

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GK: Bring Hart back. Simple.

CM: Gündogan is an exciting player but another one who’s struggling with injuries, Yaya isn’t the same player as a few seasons ago and lacks the desire to get back and defend these days.

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Prediction: 3rd

City have an opportunity to drag themselves back into this title race with Spurs, Manchester United & Liverpool all having to come to The Ethihad before April. But saying that they then have to travel to London and play Arsenal and Chelsea less than a week apart. I can already hear Pep moaning about that one..

Manchester United img_1199

Stuttering start, but looking a lot more consistent these days. The likes of Pogba & Zlatan are beginning to show why they are held in such high regard by the Old Trafford crowd. Jones & Rojo in the heart of defence isn’t a long-term fix but it seems to be working right now.

Area to Strengthen:

CM: United’s main aim should be finding a long-term replacement for Michael Carrick (35), his defensive displays in midfield have allowed Pogba to shine and take the headlines.

Prediction: 5th

 Jose is building. Next season will be the real test for his Red Devils.

Arsenal: arsenal_fc-svg

What can you say about Arsenal and Wenger which hasn’t already been said? Cazorla and Coquelin out for months with injuries, Sanchez disgruntled. What does Wenger do? Signs a Non – League player of course.

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal - Premier League

Area to Strengthen:

CM: Xhaka hasn’t worked at all, with consistently clumsy challenges putting Arsenal under unnecessary pressure and Francis Coquelin injured yet again, it’s time to look elsewhere.

 Prediction: 6th

My maths has never been my strong point, but even I know that 6 doesn’t go into 4. Someone’s going to miss out and for me Arsenal are looking the most likely to miss out. Perhaps that will help the board make a decision on Wenger’s future. With visits to Chelsea, Liverpool and a North London derby to come it doesn’t look promising for Arsenal.

So there we have it folks, you might agree you might not. Either way we are in for a treat up until May, let’s see what unfolds.

As always thanks for reading,

Ta Tom

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A Case of Crossroads for Chelsea & Conte

It would be premature to suggest that Chelsea under the guidance of Antonio Conte, are a team in crisis after only two and half months in charge at Stamford Bridge. But make no bones about it they are certainly at a crossroads.
Adding to the ever – growing list of high profile managers to ply their trade in this country’s top flight. Chelsea fans would have been delighted to see someone of Conte’s ilk appointed over the summer. Coming with the reputation of a defensive mastermind after delivering a hat-trick of scudettos to the adoring Old Lady.


As a player, Antonio Conte was well regarded especially within Italian football, often receiving praise for his tenacity and tireless work rate from midfield. Traits which are often associated with his sides now in management.


Let’s get one thing straight before this article goes any further, Conte is top level manager. With a win percentage of 67.5% with Juventus over 150 games, you’d be foolish to argue with that. These are just thoughts from his first few games in charge of Chelsea FC.

Following league defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal already this season, the latter coming in a humiliating 3-0 defeat in a London derby. It’s clear that there are several issues early on into Mr. Conte’s Chelsea regime which need sorting out sooner rather than later.

I’ve highlighted the following 4 key aspects as being the problem areas for the Blues;

1.) Tactical Confusion

2.) Replacing the old guard

3.) Over – Coaching

4.) Too much emphasis in Fitness

Tactical Confusion

With the level of analysis in formations and tactics in todays game, pundits and reporters alike will always try to predict what formation a new manager will attempt to implement at a club.

When it became common knowledge that Conte would be taking over as Chelsea manager in the summer this was no different. Due to the overwhelming success the 3-5-2 had provided Conte at Juventus, it was deemed a given that this would be his ‘go to formation’ for Chelsea.

But to think Conte could just ‘adapt a formation’, which had served him well in Serie A to Premier League conditions is questionable.

The Premier League is an end to end roller – coaster ride from start to finish. Serie A on the other hand is a defensive masterpiece. The intensity and efficiency of both Liverpool & Arsenal were the underpinning factors in Conte’s two major defeats so far this season.

4-3-3?    4-1-4-1?   3-5-2?   3-4-3?

Is there any wonder, Conte’s players have looked confused or bewildered at times this season? I imagine adapting to life under new management is difficult at the best of times.

But having to switch between multiple formations from one game to the next, must be like driving through a crossroads with all the traffic lights shining green at the same time! *Information Overload*

Conte needs to decide and stick to one consistent formation, allowing his players some game time to perfect the formation.

It’s no secret that Italian sides love to defend, with Jurgen Klopp once suggesting that facing an Italian side that only need a draw is the ‘greatest challenge in football’

Titles winning sides in Italy are built from the back, whereas title winning sides in England are often built on who can hold their nerve the longest.

The other problem with Conte implementing his 3-5-2 formation to Chelsea is that he is missing his lynchpin. He had an unstoppable Pogba at Juventus.


The aim of a 3-5-2 is that you are inviting pressure from the opposition in the hope your ‘destroyers’ in midfield can break up the play which can then ultimately enable a swift counter – attack resulting in a goal. Your classic Italian 1-0 victory.

At the moment, Chelsea don’t have enough of these ‘destroyer’ type players. Although new boy N’Golo Kanté is arguably the best in the league at it, but he needs a partner in crime. A Robin to his Batman if you please.


It’s also becoming apparent that Conte doesn’t trust Fàbregas or Matić in this crucial role, as excellent as they are as ball playing creative midfielders, they simple aren’t rounded enough central midfielders to offer what Conte needs.


Matić should be that ‘Pogba – esque’ player for Conte, but he doesn’t seem ready to reach the heights which promoted Chelsea to re-sign him several seasons ago now.

I would argue Chelsea missed a trick in not bidding for Victor Wanyama this summer. You might disagree with my choice, but essentially Chelsea need someone who has energy to burn.


IMO, Chelsea should ditch the 3-5-2 and proceed with the formation which has severed them well in the recent 2-0 win at Hull City with the 3-4-3. Arguably this was Chelsea’s most balanced performance under Conte so far.

I feel that either of these Formations would suit Chelsea as long as there is enough ‘Press’ and energy provided within the midfield duo.
It’s a formation Ashley Cole would be dreaming of, bombing down the wing all afternoon. 3-4-3 is ultimately a defensively minded set up with the ability to press with intensity to create counter- attacking threats when possible.

Replacing the Old Guard

With almost 750 competitive games between them; Branislav Ivanović & John Terry are coming to the end of their respected Chelsea careers. If Chelsea are to play a 3 at the back system, the selected players need to be mobile and adaptable. Unfortunately at almost 33 years old, Ivanović is in decline. Often at fault last season and has continued in the same trend this term too.


How do you go about replacing JT? A born leader, you might not agree with his approach at times or the stories surrounding the man. But he’s been a Chelsea great from start to finish. Chelsea need to find their next leader. P.s. It’s not Luiz or Cahill.

Zouma could hold the key to Chelsea’s defensive problems if he can stay injury free.


Over – Coaching

As a manager, I often think the hardest thing is to put your trust in your players. You prepare them all week long with tactics and ideas to hopefully get you the outcome you desire.

But do managers sometimes go to far?

It’s worth remembering that players such as Hazard, Willian or Oscar are mavericks. They are often the ones that provide that ‘moment of magic. It could be a mazy Hazard run cutting in on his right foot. Or it could be a Willian free-kick (They were pretty on point last season, if I remember correctly). There has to be times when Conte goes for the approach of ‘Let them just play’ in training.


By all accounts Antonio Conte is one of the hardest taskmasters around, with drills and tactics consuming a large proportion of training. Yes it’s important for players to be well drilled and disciplined, but Conte needs to find the right balance. Coaching the unpredictable out of players, will only nullify your attack IMO.

Fitness Fitness Fitness

It’s obviously an incredibly important aspect to the game we love, but is it the most important aspect? In my eye; No.

You’ve probably all heard about the fitness regime Conte has developed over the years. No? In case not, here it is;

• Run 100m within 20 seconds, Rest for 20seconds – Repeat for 7 minutes

• Run 75m within 15 seconds, Rest for 15 seconds – Repeat for 7 minutes

• Run 50m within 10 seconds, Rest for 10 seconds – Repeat for 7 minutes

Pretty gruelling stuff – Matt Le Tissier will be having nightmares somewhere over it I’m sure.

With the pace the Premier League is played at in this age, players need to be able to produce short and sharp bursts of speed and then be able to recover quickly. So you can understand Conte’s ideology behind it.

Clearly it’s working already with 5 of Chelsea’s 12 goals coming after the 8th minute so far this season, and the comeback against Leicester City in the league cup. So there’s no questioning Chelsea are physically fit enough to compete, but perhaps this should have been a latter instalment into the Conte regime. With more focus on decision making and keeping it fluid from defensive to attack.

A big few months lie ahead for Conte, and the January Transfer Window could well provide the ammunition for Chelsea to become a title threat once again.

As for now? I’m ready to watch England sneak a 2-0 victory against the Gods of football; Malta.


As always Ta for reading,

Tom

United’s New Red Devil: Hit or Miss?

So here we are, Finally. The most discussed story in football over the last 6 months has been put to bed. José Mourinho’s next challenge awaits him, and it’s a big one. Restoring the once well oiled machine that is Manchester United to its former glories.

It’s been no secret that Manchester United have been keeping tabs on José since his departure from Stamford Bridge. Sometimes almost coming  across like a Year 7 school disco, with both parties flirting with the idea without any actually formal offer. But that’s in the past, we now know that José Mourinho has been unveiled as Manchester United’s new manager on a 3 year contract.


This news is sure to bring smiles to United fans all across the globe, and of course why wouldn’t it? It comes with the almost reassurance that Manchester United will be restored to winning ways sooner rather than later. Better believe that, José is a born winner.

It also adds to the list of heavyweight managers now in the Premier League next season, players had better  watch out they won’t be the star attraction anymore! Of course it reignites one of Sports’ best match ups in José Vs Pep, who will rule Manchester? I imagine The Special One has already planned his tactics and revenge for when he takes his United team to Stamford Bridge too.

Of course compared to Van Gaal, Mourinho looks like a gift sent from the God’s, and like previously mentioned he comes with an aura of someone who will deliver trophies. But at what cost?

Manchester United over the years have always prided themselves on playing the ‘Manchester United way’. The list of illustrious players who have graced the treasured turf of Old Trafford is endless; The Busby Babes, The Holy Trinity (Best, Law & Charlton), Class of 92′ and in more recent times Ronaldo and Rooney.


IMO ‘The Manchester United way’ is attack, attack and then attack some more. A relentless force hammering the opponents goal with everything they have until the final whistle. During Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure he used to pride himself on his teams fighting till the end of games.

One of the contributing factors in Van Gaal’s dismissal was his ‘style of play’, it’s here you are reminded that Mourinho has previous with Van Gaal working as his assistant.


In the past this hasn’t been Mourinho’s style with an all out attack formula, but will he deliver success to Old Trafford even if it takes another route to the summit to the one fans expected? Will fans settle for an compromised style of play in return for more success on the pitch?

Before writing this article I did some research on Mourinho reading some articles, posts and blogs previously written on the man’s tactics, formations and philosophy. Some ideas I agreed with, some I didn’t. Everyone to their own opinions.

But there was one topic which was discussed suggesting that Mourinho would prefer going into games as the ‘under dog’ – ultimately taking the pressure off the team. (His poor record against bottom of the table teams would prove this to be a valid point – can’t have two underdogs in the same match)
How would United fans feel about going into a game knowing that your manager thinks your the underdog? Does it send the right image of an English power house?

I grew up in a time when Manchester United were all dominating in The English Premier League and Europe. Title after Title, Double after Double. I wouldn’t be suprised if they had the Open Bus on retainer from one year to the next. This is the United I remember, the all conquering side who would go head to head with Europe’s elite. Not a side who might get a result as an under dog.


It did of course work for Mourinho, guiding his Inter side past the irresistible Barca and Ancelotti’s attack minded Chelsea en route to winning the Champions League.

It’ll be interesting to see what sort of profile Manchester United have under Mourinho.

Mourinho – The Tactical Genius

Here’s one for you to quiz your mates with in the pub over a cold one.

How many different leagues has Mourinho set a record point tally in? 1? Maybe 2? (Okay, you probably got Porto) But the answer is actually 3! (Portugal, England and Spain)

Which makes the next part so bizarre, if you asked someone on the street what do you think to Mourinho’s playing style? A large proportion would reply with ‘Boring or not exciting’.

How Chelsea went about claiming the title in the 2014/15 season wasn’t boring or uncreative. Winning games 1-0 or 2-1 may have come across dull, it was actually incredibly clever tactics from The Special One.

Okay, bold statement. Let me explain why IMO the tactics implemented were canny and clever. For the next paragraph or so I’m going to need you to remember one buzz word (god dammit, I love a good buzz word!) The Buzz word is -MED (Minimum Effective Dose). This means the minimum someone or a team has to do, and still get the desired outcome.

Football seasons are a long arduous slog, the quote ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’ springs to mind. Mourinho recognised that if his side played to their full potential from the start of games, they would often have a lead by half time. Often during the 2014/15 season, Chelsea by 50-60 minutes into a game would switch into a training ground routine. Thus saving their legs in preparation for the next game, whilst the opposition would run themselves into the ground chasing down Chelsea’s keep ball. Mourinho always thinking ahead to the next opponent. Classic MED signs.


United fans in the past have been spoiled with excitement until the final whistle blows, how will they like a more conservative and tactical Manchester United side?

In terms of Mourinho’s preferred formation at United, it’s hard to look past 4-2-3-1. Everyone knows he loves a 4-2-3-1 he’s used it both times at Chelsea, with Madrid and at times with Inter too. IMO it’s a great tactic and it got used repeatedly on FM whilst growing up (granted with a lot less success than Mourinho has had with it!)


It isn’t just a basic 4-2-3-1 with Mourinho though, going forward in attack it develops into almost a 4-3-3 perfect for those fast counter attacking moments whilst still allowing a solid foundation at the back.

Remember those days of Duff and Robben terrorising defenders on the break..?

Times are changing at Manchester United.

Welcome Back José.
Thanks for reading,

Tom