Concussions and Depression

From an article on American football by Emily Oster at FiveThirtyEight:

There is also some direct evidence — again, from studies of professional players — linking recurrent concussions to depression. One study of retired professional football players showed that those with three or more lifetime concussions had three times the risk of depression relative to those with no concussions. Depression is a well-known risk factor for suicide; however, the facts here do not directly link concussions and suicide.

The coverage is on American football but is relevant to football, given the amount of head collisions we see each year.

“Return to New Zealand With Respect”

Goal.com:

The champions of South America needed extra-time to see off the challenge of Auckland City, the part-timers from New Zealand who depart the Club World Cup with pride intact.

Would have been amazing for Auckland, but San Lorenzo vs Real Madrid is a better spectacle for the World Club Cup.

Real Madrid 4-0 Cruz Azul

Waddah Hassani, reporting for Soccerlens:

Last night Real Madrid reached the final of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup with an easy convincing 4-0 thrashing of Cruz Azul. Ancelotti stated before the match that his side would take this match seriously even though the difference in quality and resources between the 2 sides is of course overwhelming. Ancelotti backed this up by fielding his strongest possible line-up, even though most sources indicated he might rest the likes of Ramos, Casillas, Carvajal, and most importantly Toni Kroos.

The difference in quality and resources between Real Madrid and almost every team in the world is overwhelming.

Thierry Henry Retires

George Quraishi for Howler Magazine:

Thierry’s game was cerebral, but that’s a tag you often see applied to players whose bodies are perhaps more limited than their imaginations, and he never seemed to have that problem—at least not for most of his career. I remember watching him with Arsenal. He was fluid. Maradona, the first great player I got to see as a young boy, was powerful. So was Ronaldo. Zidane always had a hard edge. I’m sure Henry was just as intense as those men, but it was the elegance of his play rather than the power or force of will that always seemed to get the best of opponents. He dribbled past his markers with so much ease. He picked his corner and stroked the ball into the goal—there was no thunder in his finishes, just a cool breeze. When you sweet-talk the ball into doing your bidding, your sentences don’t need an exclamation point.

Beautifully put.

Kuwaiti Bum-Poking

Ryan Barrell for The Huffington Post:

Footage from a Kuwaiti football match appears to show a player poke a finger up his opponent’s bum during a rather messy tackle.

What the hell?

“Some of Them Don’t Even Drink”

Peter Storey on the importance of dedication to guide a footballer’s talent—or compensate for the lack of it—using Hatem Ben Arfa as the anti role model:

The reality is that the commercialisation of football has altered the requirements placed upon its professionals. We may view blemished geniuses with understandable fondness, but Matthew Le Tissier, George Best and Stan Bowles are memories of yesteryear, out of place in the modern game, however sad that appears. The arrival of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal laid bare the stark difference between the outmoded English acceptance of a drinking culture and the professionalism of foreign players. “Some of them don’t even drink,” is Harry Redknapp’s infamous line on that subject. We’ve moved on since.

A fine piece. Makes one wonder about what football players we hold up as role models for our kids. It should be the players working hard. Some are outrageously talented, Ronaldo being the prime example and Alexis Sanchez another, while others make the most of their comparatively limited natural born gifts, think the Neville brothers.

“It Corrupts More before Breakfast That Most of Us Corrupt in an Entire Day”

Kevin Brown for Soccer Gods:

Michael Garcia — he of the largely withheld 350-page report investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups — has had his attempt to get more findings released denied by FIFA’s court of appeals. Through months campaigning for greater disclosure, Garcia has met opposition at each turn. Apparently FIFA never intended to let his report exist in anything but shadow.

Shocker.

The Bolasie

Sean Swaby for Bleacher Report

Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie produced an incredible piece of trickery and skill in the Premier League last week, escaping a tight situation and bamboozling Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen.

It was shared to no end on social media.

Try watching the in-game flick intently before watching the video where Bolasie explains it. I still can’t see how he does it.

River Plate Wins the Copa Sudamericana

Steve Cohen, reporting for Howler Magazine:

River’s approach, by comparison, was almost elegant in its simple ferocity: hack down anything that can’t be slide tackled and run hard and fast at whatever is still standing. Unburdened of the yellow card he had been playing on in the first leg, holding midfielder Leonardo Ponzio did things that would be censored out of Shark Week. To the extent that there was a strategy to the home side’s attack, it involved forcing play down the right, with the indefatigable Carlos Sanchez running out of the midfield and combining with speedy fullback Gabriel Mercado to expose the holes in a flat Nacional backline. The rest, and the best, of River’s chances came off high turnovers and Leonaldo Pisculichi set pieces. If it hadn’t been for Nacional keeper Franco Armani, an Argentine playing his first game in the national stadium, River might have put in four goals in the first half alone.

The Trajectory of Money

One more on the Manchester United vs Liverpool game, with Matt Stanger summarising the real reason for the difference in the teams: money:

The contrasting trajectories of these two clubs in the opening months of the campaign emphasises the chasm in stature that remains despite Liverpool’s rise in 2013/14. Since finishing second in May as United languished in seventh, the Reds have lost their best player, failed to recruit the necessary quality to replace Luis Suarez, crashed out of the Champions League at the first hurdle, and are now as close to 18th as they are to 4th in the Premier League. It is fair to say that things are not going well.

United, on the other hand, maintained their ability to attract the best talent such as Angel Di Maria and Falcao, while the Glazers finally cracked open the safe to spend whatever it takes to get the club back to the top. The difference in pulling and spending power remains enormous – problems that go far beyond any issues with Rodgers’ management and that will continue to stifle Liverpool even if he is eventually replaced.

“The Team Who Bewitched Us Last Season Are No More”

Daniel Taylor, reporting for The Guardian, on Liverpool’s decline from last season:

The indignities for Liverpool started with the “24 Years and Counting” banner that was unfurled before kick-off and, by the time another grievous setback was complete, it was not easy to imagine how long it might be before this proud old club is a realistic contender again for another league title. The team who bewitched us last season are no more. The deterioration is sharp and football is such an impatient business Brendan Rodgers will know his status as manager-of-the-year does not spare him scrutiny.

“All Eyes Will Be on Rodgers and Liverpool in the January Transfer Window”

Max Munton for Bleacher Report, on Liverpool’s lack of squad quality and depth:

There’s a famous line from the poem O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman that cries, “the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” In the microcosm of Liverpool Football Club, that contribution must wait until January—for the root of this season’s bad form is the personnel.

David de Gea Man of the Match Against Liverpool

Richard Farley for Soccer Gods:

But de Gea doesn’t care about what we deserve. He cares about lessons cruelly handed out to the likes of Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli. He is single-mindedly intent on proving that no defense, no matter how poor, can undermine a brilliant goalkeeper. Start whichever midfielder-cum-center back in defense you want, Louis. David is unfeeling, He’s omnipotent. He is becoming “de God.”

Valencia Excellent Against Liverpool

Michael Cox for The Guardian:

Aside from the penalty boxes, the only zone where United unquestionably had an advantage was down their right, where Antonio Valencia made powerful runs from wing-back, often after his direct opponent Alberto Moreno found himself out of the game, with Joe Allen forced to drop back and cover. The Welshman’s defending for the goal, and throughout, was terrible – he was another to be cautioned, for a blatant body-check on Valencia, which summarised his struggles in those confrontations.

Manchester United 3-0 Liverpool

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

They enjoyed powerful displays from Michael Carrick at centre-half, Valencia and Rooney as well as the outstanding De Gea, who secured United’s first clean sheet in their past 13 league meetings with Liverpool. United need to sort out a new, improved contract for De Gea, whose current deal expires in 18 months. He’s not in Manuel Neuer’s class yet but he’s close, certainly as a shot-stopper.

Carrick is the league’s most underrated player, and has been for several years now. Fellaini, although culpable in many cases for giving the ball away too cheaply, was strong in defence and helped stop many Liverpool attacks, and Valencia was a menace down the right flank.

It’s strange how United keep winning, but are still playing quite poorly. It can be read in two ways; either they are set up correctly by Van Gaal and have enough quality to finish games until they start to click, or they are simply one game away from a loss and aren’t as good as the results are indicating. The former is likely true—Van Gaal is too good of a manager.

“2012-13 Might Be an Outlier, but Not to Ferguson”

And finally, another brilliant piece analysing Ferguson’s approach, this time from James Yorke at The Big Ripple:

So, smart shooting & Ferguson-brand conversion was worth 30 goals against league average, 20 goals against the effort City were putting in and 11 against Chelsea. But what of league average? In 14 years I have numbers for, Utd only dipped under 10% once in ’04-05 and that was the only year they had a conversion dominance of under 4 percentage points. And that’s part of this issue here: whatever Ferguson had his team doing be it smart shooting, using world class finishers or stopping the opposition, he had his team doing it each and every year, not just 2012-13. And in that year, nobody else had their soldiers lined up correctly, he signed the most prolific striker in the league who stayed fit for them & had a great year & they won it unopposed.

Altman’s Lucky United

Dan Altman’s article that Odenheimer was referencing in the Phantom Goal piece:

After securing four wins in a row for the first time this year on Tuesday, things may be finally looking up for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson, their longtime manager, retired as a champion after the 2012-13 season, but the team ended the next campaign in seventh place, its worst result since 1990-91. Ferguson’s coaching brought him many accolades over the years, and his successors—there have been three so far—have struggled to match his winning ways. But what if his final triumph was due to luck?

Funny reading the article after reading the fantastic answer to the piece. Makes so little sense.

Alex Ferguson’s Phantom Goals

Max Odenheimer for Statsbomb:

Phantoms. That’s what I’m calling them anyway. Goal-scoring opportunities that never have the chance to be registered in shot-based ExpG models, because they never turn into shots. These crosses are difficult to complete. It’s hard to pass through a thicket of defenders, and on the finishing side, it’s hard to react fast enough to get shot off. But make no mistake, even the ones that don’t make it to feet are (non-negligible) chances to score.

If you fail to take them into account, if you don’t include them in your expected goals models, you will be underestimating teams that use these tactics. Team like Alex Ferguson’s 2012/13 Man United.

Brilliant. Best piece I’ve read in a long time. Part 2 is here.

Let It Go

Fantastic parody of Wenger’s decision not to purchase Fàbregas. It’s unfair, but funny:

And once he is injury free…Diaby!

Wenger Reloaded

Steven McBain for The Roar:

That is not to say that Wenger is not the right man for the job. I don’t, however, subscribe to the camp that believes his former glories render him untouchable at Arsenal but I also think at the same time he would be a very hard act to follow. His shadow over the Emirates is Alex Ferguson-esque.

What Wenger must do, however, is either recognise what everyone else can see or cease a fruitless crusade for perfect football, or both.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 16

My weekly Fantasy Premier League preview articles have been published at All Things FPL:

Agüero’s injury, although terrible for the player and City, provides an opportunity for Fantasy Managers to pull away by making correct decisions. Everyone knew they had to have Agüero, but with him gone there are so many options to consider. It’s a good time to be a prepared Fantasy Manager.

Check them out.

Roma 0-2 Manchester City

Martin Samuel for The Daily Mail:

It is feasible, after this, that a corner has been turned. City have every right to approach Europe with renewed confidence. They have taken their time, but this team are at last finding ways to win in the continent’s most inhospitable places.
Roma have not lost here this season in Serie A and were expecting to progress from Group E, in the slipstream of Bayern Munich. They had outplayed City in the away fixture even if the game ended in a draw. City’s depleted ranks made it a tall order for a team that has struggled even at full strength.

Liverpool 1-1 Basel: Liverpool out of the Champions League

John Brewin for ESPN FC:

Tension creeps through Liverpool these days. Until it was too late and fateful refereeing intervened, Basel’s ease in possession struck a huge contrast. Where Liverpool played as if they were strangers, the Swiss raiders looked comfortable in each other’s company. Their first-half superiority was not a significant level below what Real Madrid exerted in Liverpool’s last European home game; they might have rued not making the best of a series of half-chances that followed Fabien Frei’s goal, carved beautifully by the midfielder’s link-up play with Luca Zuffi.

Sloppy United

Tim Simon for Republik of Mancunia:

Having been so impressive in possession in the last couple of games, United were absolutely dreadful in comparison here. Nearly all of Southampton’s sightings of goals came from the defenders or midfielders giving the ball away carelessly in their own half. On another day, if United were playing against a better side, it could have been an embarrassing score-line.

To scrape through and secure the three points was fantastic but Van Gaal’s side must improve over the Christmas period to continue this fine run of form, starting with the Liverpool game on Sunday. There is no doubt the 3-5-2 system didn’t help as it was too easy for Saints to put pressure on the defence and there were so many gaps for the Saints to exploit. Hopefully the manager will realise this and revert back to a more conventional system with four at the back from now on.

3-5-2 Not Working for Manchester United

Tamojitc for Soccerlens:

United started off with a 3-5-2 setup which played into the hands of the home side right from the start. Van Gaal’s side were lucky to take the lead as Van Persie took advantage of a sloppy Jose Fonte backpass to steer the ball into the net past Forster, but in reality United were living dangerously. The 3 man defense meant United lacked width and the Southampton full backs constantly terrorized the wings but let down their team with poor decision making.

With Paddy McNair being taken off, Michael Carrick stepped in as centre back to help United play out from the back, but the away side got dominated in the middle of the park. Van Gaal needs to realize that United don’t have the technically gifted players to play in the 3-5-2 setup and must look to bring in a more fluid approach, lest get beaten by teams who have a more dominating wing presence.

Southampton 1-2 Manchester United

By Jonathan Liew, reporting for The Telegraph at St Mary’s:

Football teams are strange organisms. Building a team is not like building a house. It is probably more akin to trying to find a mathematical proof. If only one line is wrong, it has implications for the whole solution. Now four games without a win, Southampton are a team only fractionally out of sync, but when you are in the business of precise one-twos and nifty interchanges, a fraction is all you need.

United are not in sync either, but Van Gaal is doing a good job of hiding it. This was a win cobbled together at any cost, similar in tone and texture to the win over Arsenal. As Van Gaal is proving, when life gives you lemons, you throw them out, promote the cherries from the youth team to mature, and buy a massive steak in the meantime.

Fantastic review.

LA Galaxy Wins MLS Cup

Chris Wright for Who Ate All the Pies:

An extra-time, 111th-minute winning goal from Robbie Keane saw LA Galaxy squeak a 2-1 win over New England Revolution in last night’s MLS Cup Final to wrap up a record-breaking fifth championship title for the chaps from La La Land.

The victory saw Galaxy become the most successful side in MLS history in what was long-time servant Landon Donovan’s final game before retiring.

Safe to say, it all got a bit emotional afterwards…

Mertesacker Abandoning Ship

Gary Reilly for Balls:

Carragher’s overarching analysis was that Mertesacker has completely foregone his role as the commanding presence at the heart of the back five something which was blatantly shown up against Stoke. Worse still, Carragher accused the German of shirking out of challenges and the physical aspect of Stoke’s play.

That’s scathing, but fair, from Carragher. It never seems Arsenal do any defensive drills but that can’t be the case. Can it?

Mourinho’s Cow

Conor Neville on José Mourinho’s analogy for Newcastle’s time wasting:

You may as well put a cow in the middle of the pitch, walking. And then stop the game because there was a cow. You cannot do just anything in football. You have to defend. You have to defend with your ten men, put the ten in front of the goal line, bring the bus, but football needs a ball, not two or zero. Do what you can to win but not everything.

No wonder he gets the press’s attention. That analogy makes no sense at all but is still fantastic.