Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 5

My regular Friday Foreplay article has been published at All Things FPL:

Graziano Pellè features in punts for the second consecutive Gameweek thanks to his brace against Newcastle. ATFPL have been high on the Southampton forward since Gameweek 1 and he’s got the underlying numbers to back up the pick. Owned by only 4.9% of Fantasy managers, as noted in Matej’s Opinion piece, the handsome forward is second only to Costa in shots inside the box. With fantastic fixtures ahead, now is the time to take the Italian train to Fantasy point land.

Check it out.

“A Brief Tour around Europe”

Following the Champions League games I stumbled upon a fine preview from Mike L. Goodman for Grantland:

Bayern Munich are always going to be one of the favorites, though it’s starting to become a little troubling that, more than a year into Pep Guardiola’s reign, they still haven’t quite jelled. Pep’s most recent wrinkle was a surprising late-transfer swoop of Xabi Alonso, who was immediately slotted in as a deep midfield string-puller. Even if they’re not the finished product, Bayern sit tied atop the Bundesliga and will be one of the favorites to take home the Champions League title.

Jérôme Champagne to Go against Sepp Blatter

Rob Hughes for The New York Times:

There, however, lies Champagne’s opportunity. Blatter will be 79 when the congress meets next June. He is not Superman. Traveling by executive jet might make it easier to handle the stresses of the job, but even that does not make him invulnerable to the inevitable physical and mental changes of aging.

Clearly, FIFA is Blatter’s life. He is like many men, unwilling or unable to give up power.

Monaco’s Change in Strategy

Paul Doyle for The Guardian:

“There are two ways to go,” the Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev says. “One is either you invest a lot of money and do it quickly, the other is you build up an intelligent project and you have to base yourself on your academy and sound principles of working and scouting well and basically that’s what we’ve decided to do.” All very laudable, and all in total contrast to the approach that Vasilyev had initially pursued after being appointed last year by Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire who bought a controlling stake in Monaco in 2011 at a time when the seven-times champions of France were slumming it near the bottom of the country’s second tier.

Monaco 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen

Alec Fenn for Goal:

Joao Moutinho breathed life into Monaco’s lacklustre start to the season as his 61st minute strike sealed a 1-0 Champions League group stage win over Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis II.

The Ligue 1 club headed into Tuesday’s Group C clash on the back of a dismal start to their Ligue 1 season, with Leonardo Jardim’s side having taken just four points from their first five matches to sit second-bottom of the table.

Great win for Monaco as they beat the team many have predicted to be the dark horses of this years competition.

Juventus 2-0 Malmö

Jerrard Peters for Bleacher Report:

Then came the robot celebration.

Just check out the Vine. Glorious.

Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets

Saikat Mandal for Soccerlens:

Liverpool had 64% ball possession, 23 shots with 7 on target, yet the Reds were shockingly poor. It can be down to the fact that it was Liverpool’s first Champions League match in five years and nerves could have played a part, especially after failing to make an early breakthrough.

Although Liverpool fans would gladly accept full three points, the Reds were, worryingly, unconvincing yet again. Team selection has come under question while the 4-3-3 system has hardly worked. It was only when Liverpool made those late substitutions and changed into a 4-4-2 diamond shape, they looked comfortable.

Real Madrid 5-1 Basel

Sid Lowe for The Guardian:

This was a victory Madrid needed. The atmosphere had become tense. Madrid sat 13th in the league after suffering two losses in three games, including a derby defeat against city rivals Atlético Madrid here three days ago. They had also lost the Spanish Super Cup to Atlético. But their coach, Carlo Ancelotti, described this game as an opportunity, and he was right. The debate will be whether Madrid were very good or Basel were very, very bad.

Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

Too naïve, too slow, too open, too meek. Arsenal were fortunate they let in only two goals to a sharper, smarter, stronger Dortmund side. It was difficult to know what was worse, Arsenal’s hapless defending or the officials’ horrendous new kit. Probably Arsenal’s defending; at least the referee’s shirt had some shape.

Although they haven’t lost the first Champions League group game in some time it’s much too early to write Arsenal off. They have a knack under Wenger to coming through qualifications, whether it be for the fourth spot in the league or to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Falcao Profile

Jonathan Wilson for The Guardian:

But in 1995, his father’s career over, the Garcías returned to Bogotá and Falcao turned his attention back to football. He trained after school with a local side, where his finishing caught the attention of Silvano Espindola, an Argentinian friend of his father. A former Unión player and devout Christian, he ran a football school that also had a religious aspect, looking to produce not just good players but good men. Whether they succeeded or not with Falcao is almost impossible to judge, but Tor-Kristian Karlsson, the former chief executive of Monaco, describes Falcao as the humblest player he has ever met.

Great piece by Wilson.

CNN: “Human Rights Workers Go Missing in Quatar”

The human rights record of 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar is under the spotlight again after two Nepalese-British workers “disappeared in Doha following harassment by the police,” according to a non-governmental organization.

The Norwegian NGO Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) says its employees Krishna Upadhyaya, 52, and Ghimire Gundev, 36, both vanished while working in the Gulf State.

The pair went missing on August 31, and a spokesperson for the UK embassy in Doha confirmed to CNN that it is investigating their disappearance.

CNN has contacted Qatar’s interior ministry on several occasions but has yet to receive a response.

Third-Party Ownership

David Conn for The Guardian:

Speaking more generally of Doyen and other funds which buy stakes in players for a share of their future transfer fees, De Carvalho described the funds as “a menace to sports and for football”. He listed the dangers as a lack of transparency because the funds are mostly based in offshore tax havens with undeclared owners, a blight on the finances of clubs because they do not receive all the money for selling players, and argued that they add to the risk of match-fixing because funds could own stakes in players competing for different clubs against each other in the same match.

You have to look at the clubs in debates over third-party ownership. When they have run themselves to the ground they should accept the truth and rebuild for the long run. But instead they have found a way to live on borrowed time by allowing third-party owners build up new teams. Now, many teams owe huge debts and don’t even own their players. Then they complain about losing influence over their transfers.

Still, I agree with the sentiment. It would probably be better for the game to eliminate the third-party companies as they surely do little good for the clubs.

Assessing Arsenal’s Transfer Window

James McNicolas for Bleacher Report:

To go in to a season with such little recognised cover always looked like folly. Arsene Wenger wasn’t merely tempting fate; he was raving a red rag at it and bellowing “bring it on!” in its direction.

He has a point. If Arsenal lose two or more defenders at one time they will be in trouble.

Real Madrid 1-2 Atlético Madrid

Sid Lowe for The Guardian:

Nothing will ever make up for the loss in the European Cup final, of course. For Real, meanwhile, the décima will never be taken away. But at the end of this game, there were whistles for the home team, the only cheers coming from a tiny pocket of supporters high in the north stand. Atlético proved that they were not sunk by Lisbon, resisting the return of the jinx that has pursued them. They have a five-point lead over their rivals already; Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been beaten twice in their opening three league games.

Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City

Hugh Schuitemaker for Outside 90:

Suffering from an start to the season plagued by injuries, Manuel Pellegrini’s side is now beginning to hit full stride as key names make their way back. Appearing for the first time this season in the starting eleven, Navas wasted no time in making an impact on the game, constantly pressuring Nacho Monreal on the right wing and providing dangerous passes into the box. Also now once again returning to goalscoring form, Aguero seems to have fully resumed first team action and will only get better with more playing time. A rough seven days for the reigning champions will now see them face giants Bayern Munich in the Champions League before hosting the red-hot Chelsea on the weekend, two fixtures that will further challenge Pellegrini’s depth and the early character of his team.

With the form Chelsea are in, they better be back to full strength next Gameweek. It will be a fascinating match.

Blind in the Theatre of Dreams

JJ Bull for Project Babb:

In my lovely eyes, Daley Blind made the biggest difference for United. His role as the anchorman just in front of the defence saw him act as a third defender and a third midfielder at the same time. THE SAME TIME.

His position meant that he was always available for a pass, and always in the right place to clear up any mistakes or loose passes.

For United, Blind was always in space. His time spent on the ball was minimal but as soon as a defender moved forward he assumed that position, and when they moved forward he acted as a middleman for the wide players to return to. He could prove to be the silent hero for Louis Van Gaal this year.

Manchester United 4-0 QPR

Richard Jolly for ESPN FC:

Instead, he embraced a midfield diamond. It still isn’t a shape where everyone can be accommodated because there isn’t one. At least it allowed him to play Rooney, Robin van Persie, Mata, Di Maria, Herrera and Daley Blind. While stiffer tests await United, the presence of individuals with their quality offers hope. They had more potential scorers in their side after Van Gaal’s rethink and struck four times.

I traveled from Iceland for my first Premier League games, watching Liverpool’s loss against Aston Villa and Manchester United’s win against QPR. Suffice to say that the Manchester game was a better one.

Di Maria was fantastic, Herrera was full of movement and energy, and Blind was a fantastic anchor in midfield. I felt he was playing a 4-3-3; Jolly argues a diamond. It was a hybrid, with Blind anchoring but Mata playing to far front to be considered a true midfield. Something like a very fluid 4-1-2-3 with Blind the only player to keep his position, allowing Di Maria and Herrera to venture forward.

Admittedly, QPR were awful but much better from United.

Chelsea 4-2 Swansea

Keith Satuku for Off the Post:

It was 1-1 at half-time and Chelsea were struggling with the threat of Neil Taylor and Routledge down the Blues’ right flank. Mourinho took off Schurrle, who was struggling to track back with Taylor, and switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation by introducing Ramires.

Fabregas and Ramires had to both push up into central midfield to press tightly on Swansea’s central midfielders. Oscar completed the game as a right attacking midfielder where he was much tighter to Taylor and the Blues generally started pressing very high up the pitch. That move suffocated Swansea whenever they had to build from the back. Monk’s side began to lose possession quickly, while Chelsea improved their ball retention.

Paulo Bento Quits as Portugal Manager

IANS for Sportskeeda:

Portugal coach Paulo Bento has stepped down by mutual agreement following a shock 0-1 defeat to Albania, the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) said in a statement issued on their website.

“The Portuguese Football Federation is communicating that Sep 11, Paulo Bento’s contractual obligations to FPF and in the service of the national team has come to an end. This was a joint decision between the board of the FPF and Paulo Bento,” the statement said, reports Xinhua.

The Task Facing the Madrid Teams

Guillem Balague for Bleacher Report:

But their attack this season is not as potent as it was last. This is a side that still isn’t sure—post Diego Costa—what the best options are, and it could prove to be the biggest coaching challenge that Simeone has ever had to face.

Mario Mandzukic, Raul Jimenez, Alessio Cerci and Antoine Griezmann are all top-quality players. The question is will Simeone be able to galvanise them into a collective unit with Atletico?

Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool

Arash Hekmat for the Mirror:

With debuts for Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic in attack alongside Mario Balotelli – who had another quiet game today – and no Sterling or Sturridge in the starting line-up, it’s not surprising that Liverpool looked slightly disjointed despite all their possession.

The same was true at the back as well, where Rodgers started three defenders who weren’t at Anfield last season in Dejan Lovren, Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno.

That’s a lot of new players to bed in at the same time, and it will take a few games before they’re all operating on the same wave-length.

Aston Villa defended perfectly today. They clogged up the middle — Delph, Cleverley, and Westwood had fine games — and offered Liverpool the freedom of the wings where they did not know what to do. Markovic, Lallana, and Balotelli were poor; perhaps they just need time to adapt but the signs today weren’t good.

As soon as Sterling came on the game changed. His pace, directness, and trickery caused Villa problems but it wasn’t enough.

Liverpool had problems defending set pieces; it didn’t seem they knew who to pick up and Villa could have had a couple more in the first half from corners and set piece.

Some Serie A Love

Daniel Gartner for The Roar:

And you thought the Premier League was competitive!? Okay, I think you get the point – Serie A isn’t what it once was.

However, after being rocked by financial trouble and most notably the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, Serie A seems to be on the rise again. The league’s biggest stars aren’t leaving as frequently as previous years and more money is being pumped into the Italian top flight again.

The 2013-14 Serie A season was one of the best for a number of years, and although Juventus comfortably wrapped up their third consecutive Scudetto, the season saw the resurrection of Roma, not to mention the horrible decline of seven-time European champions Milan.

However this season could well prove to be one of the best in recent memory, and put Serie A back where it belongs among Europe’s elite.

The title “Why Serie A is worth watching again” is kind of like saying you like a girl since she has lost some weight. More insulting than a compliment. Nevertheless, a fine piece.

Martinez’s Defensive Setup

Teamtalk quotes Roberto Martinez:

Martinez insisted poor luck has largely contributed to their downfall, but admits they need to improve.

“It is easy to see we have been a little bit slack in our defensive duties and we have been punished too easily and conceded too many easy goals,” he said.

“It has been one of those situations where everything that could have gone wrong in our box has gone wrong.

“There may have been a lack of defensive intensity and that is something we need to correct but I do see a team that has improved from last season, even though the results are not as good as they should have been.

It’s more than poor luck. Martinez is a fantastic coach, but defence is his weak point. Everton were great last season but they could have had the perfect combination; Martinez’s attacking coaching combined with Moyes’s defensive influence lingering. Now, in Martinez’s second season Everton’s defence will suffer.

Goodman on Football Statistics

Mike L. Goodman for Grantland:

It’s tempting to think of all this new soccer data in the same way we think of advanced metrics in baseball or other more number-oriented sports — as if the “newness” of the numbers means they must be the product of analytics. That’s wrong. Soccer’s data-collection companies have actually just brought soccer to where baseball was a hundred years ago.

Finally, the sport has data. Now the question is what to do with it. That puts soccer in a unique position, because unlike any other mainstream sport, the distribution of statistics and the analysis of those statistics are both developing at the same time.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 4

My regular piece on Fantasy Football has been published over at All Things FPL:

Diego Costa would be the runaway leader for captain picks if not for a hamstring scare for the second consecutive week. We all know what happened last Gameweek as Fantasy managers that sold him missed out on a brace and twelve points. The Captain Foresight article points out his impressive stats; he leads in the league in shots inside the box and shots on target. If not for the injury doubt, he would be nailed on as captain.

Theorizing on Manchester United’s Lineup

BBC got some great writers to look at Manchester United’ possible lineup after the transfer window:

Van Gaal shows no signs of moving from his beloved three at the back so I would go with Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind as an initial selection, then a strong midfield four with Rooney in behind Van Persie and Falcao. Across midfield, using wing-backs, I would have Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Di Maria and Luke Shaw – although this places great responsibility on Herrera and the likes of Michael Carrick may be required on occasions.

Football Must Know It’s Place

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

Without professing an iota of the intelligence or sophistication of the many columnists opining on such serious issues, any football reporter who strolled there two years ago, who mixed with the England, Ukrainian and Swedish fans as they swapped chants in the sun, standing close to the group campaigning for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, will ultimately have been made aware that football must always know its place in life’s firmament.

Another fantastic piece by Winter. His stuff is some of the best out there. Self-deprecating too, despite being plenty intelligent enough.

Lahm’s Impact on German Football

Bundesliga Fanatic:

In a sense, Germany’s development has very much been aligned with that of Lahm and his emergence in German football. Lahm was at the forefront of Germany’s rise in the early 2000s and played a big part in carrying them forward. Without Lahm it is difficult to imagine Germany making the strides they have in the last six years. There is no doubt that even after his retirement, he will have left a significant mark on the team and one that many young players will seek to emulate.