Category Archives: Analysis

World Cup Final Preview

It’s a damn shame that the World Cup is going to have to end, but we have one more epic game to look forward to.  We’re once again treated to a Germany-Argentina match and both teams will see this as a major obstacle.

Continue reading World Cup Final Preview

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Sherwood Sacked! PSB Rapid Reaction

The day has finally come for Sherwood.  After only five months in charge of Tottenham, the learn-on-the-job manager has been sacked.

Spurs supporters could probably have seen this coming for several weeks now.  Despite a very hot start to his managerial career, Sherwood’s Spurs cooled down considerably to sit in 6th place on the table.  Spurs also barely eked out qualification for European football next season with a little help from Fair Play and bitter rivals, Arsenal, in the FA Cup Finals.

The decision to move on from Sherwood will ultimately prove to be positive.  While quite spirited, Tim Sherwood never showed much acumen for the kind of tactics or player management needed in the Premier League.  Spurs would do well to look for a coach that the players respect and who will respect his own players.  Years of experience, especially in the Premier League, will likely be a deciding factor this time around.

Among the names being thrown around for the open job are Louis van Gaal, Mauricio Pochettino, Frank de Boer, Massimiliano Allegri, and David Moyes.

Pochettino and de Boer have the most upside, and hiring one of these two would suit Tottenham’s vision long term.  Moyes is a risk and he might not even want  to risk the job, given his Man Utd compensation and the risk of back-to-back  big club failures.  Watching Tim Sherwood’s Spurs gave us some indication of who should leave the club and who should stay.  Whoever the next manager is has the big task of sorting out which players still want to play for Spurs and which ones do not.

Here is the official statement from Spurs’ Chairman, Daniel Levy:

“We appointed Tim mid-season as someone who knew both the players and the Club.

“We agreed an 18-month contract with a break clause at the end of the season and we have now exercised that option.

“Since appointing Tim as Assistant First Team Coach in 2008 and then as Technical Co-ordinator in 2010 and Head of Football Development in 2012, we have been supportive of him during football management changes throughout that period. On behalf of the Club, I should like to state our thanks for all his efforts during his years with us. We wish him great success in his managerial career.

“Moving forward, now the season is over, we shall embark on the process of finding a new Head Coach. We have a talented squad and exciting young players coming through. We need to build on this season, develop our potential and inspire the kind of performances that we associate with our great Club.”

Louis van Gaal and why he’ll succeed at United.

Louis van Gaal has emerged as the front-runner for the United job, due to his availability after the World Cup and his desire to manage in the Premier League.  In a recent interview with the BBC, he admitted  that he would love the job.  As a United fan, I’m pretty stoked about his appointment because he has a resume glittered with success in several European countries.  Here’s a list of his accomplishments and some of the pros and cons.

Continue reading Louis van Gaal and why he’ll succeed at United.

The David Moyes Predicament: It’s not ineptitude, it’s a lack of identity

The Manchester United-Liverpool game was the last chance for David Moyes to make a case for the top 4 chase. Given the build-up and positive results in the league recently, United had a grain of optimism.

But today, Brendan Rodgers didn’t pull his punches and dared United to try and stop his team rather than the other way around. This had the makings of being an open game, and unfortunately United were too open.

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While the diamond formation was a bit new since Liverpool have mainly used a 4-3-3 with one of Suarez or Sturridge drifting wide, the overall playing style was the same except Sterling was used centrally and Allen got wide left to drag Fellaini out of position.  At this point United were effectively being pulled apart on Liverpool’s counters and essentially beat themselves with a hat-trick of penalties, a sending off, and Rafael basically asking Mark Clattenberg: “Send me off IRL”

Of course, the result leaves us with two options: 1. the highly unlikely scenario that we win the Champions League to qualify next season. 2. Cut our losses and look to the summer where we can ship out the deadwood and bring in genuine quality replacements.

The second one might make me more optimistic if the manager knows where he wants to take the team going forward.  We can all point to the underperforming players on this team, and no doubt the “Sack Moyes” brigade will be in full voice tomorrow morning due to a perceived ineptitude.  But what was even more concerning was that David Moyes did not really know how to respond and he has yet to show evidence that he has the bottle to evolve with the times.  This was very evident as United were running like headless chickens trying to get back in the game.  And for the first time all season, I am starting to question whether Moyes has what it takes to keep United competing at a high level for the long-term.

David Moyes made a name for himself at Everton by building a team that was very tough to beat, hard-working, and capable of staging a few impressive one-off wins.  Last season Everton lost 7 games, the third fewest in the league.  But being a tough team and being hard working  aren’t identities.  Manchester United isn’t Manchester United because they work hard and don’t lose.  Sir Alex Ferguson built this team by taking a high risk-high reward approach. He would rather lose a game 2-0 than 1-0 if it meant his team could take a point, and that kind of attitude made Manchester United such a feared team.  The sheer number of late-game heroics by those sides of the past meant that there was more to it than just being lucky.  The ethos of ” The more you attack, the luckier you get” has been entrenched in Manchester United’s culture for so long that it seemed like second nature.  Something we’d take for granted.

Today showed the difference between a manager who has a plan and one who’s frantically trying to figure out what works.  Rodgers could have kept the same team as usual, but instead he chose to experiment in such a big game and it paid off handsomely. In fact, much like Fergie has done previously against Liverpool,  Rodgers has altered his personnel and tactics for each of the three meetings, and he’s won twice.  He knows what he’s about and what to expect from his players.  Moyes, after United conceded two penalties, went with low-risk, like-for-like substitutions while 2-0 down.

At United, Moyes no longer has clearly defined constraints like he did at Everton (both financial and ability wise) and is looking overwhelmed as he’s trying to “get things right”.  He’s saying all the right things and is taking much of the blame, but he doesn’t seem to know what his own philosophy is and his managerial profile is starting to look increasingly divergent from Manchester United’s historic image.

David Moyes frustrated

I’m not saying that being a reactive one-off type manager can’t be a successful approach.  Jose Mourinho is probably the most famous example of preparing his teams that way, but he also motivates his players and makes them feel as though they are capable of doing anything he needs. Mourinho was unafraid to make the bold decision of dropping Juan Mata and now has Chelsea playing his way with a mix of creativity and guile.  Moyes might have a great work-ethic and wants to get his players to be fit and determined, but for what? What are they trying to work towards?  Does Moyes know what he wants to achieve no matter the cost?   Why is he worth playing for?

These are all fundamental questions David Moyes needs to ask himself, and his answers do not appear to suit Manchester United’s long-term needs.  He doesn’t need to do what Mourinho or Ferguson would do, in terms of rattling opponents or creating a larger-than-life persona, but he has to show some signs that he fits with United’s image.  Moyes is one of the Premier League’s diplomatic nice guys, but if he’s unable to answer these questions to fit United’s long-term identity, it might be worth looking for the next man. If a manager like Louis van Gaal is available, he would likely be more successful for a short spell since he has tried and tested methods that he can rely on.  It’s not about Moyes winning nothing in comparison to the others, it’s about his approach to take the next steps fearlessly which he doesn’t seem willing to do.

Derby Week Preview: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

I saw an article on ESPN FC recently that irked me as a United fan. It was called Role Reversal between Merseyside and Manchester.  While it is a decent narrative, because Liverpool are genuine favorites at Old Trafford for the first time in a long time, it is a bit inaccurate and while the league table says it’s an 11 point gap, the teams might be a bit more even than previously thought.

When these two teams played each other in the third game of the season, the game was about as interesting as anecdotes on the history of mite research.

Daniel Sturridge scored the game’s only goal in the 4th minute from a poorly defended corner, and there was hardly a chance created afterwards.  Apart from a fluffed chance for van Persie and Nani’s long-range drive being  tipped over by Simon Mignolet, United hardly created a genuine moment of danger despite having 57% of the ball.

United did get a 1-0 win  in the Capital One Cup in an almost identical situation to how Liverpool scored in the league meeting. Javier Hernandez was unmarked on an early second half corner and touched the ball past Mignolet.  United were able to play a bit more on the break, but Liverpool did have a couple of great chances to equalize.

So while it appears that the winning side in both fixtures was able to take advantage of a set piece and essentially sought to deny the other team space, both sides have changed quite drastically since then, particularly in February. Manchester United in the league have kept three consecutive cleansheets and Liverpool have become a more gung-ho team taking a “we can score more than you” approach in recent weeks

Liverpool Strengths and Weaknesses

While Brendan Rodgers used to be very possession oriented in his first season at Liverpool, he has since accepted that his team can be a lot more dangerous with quick one-touch counter-attacks and lots of combination play between Sturridge, Suarez, and Sterling.  Here have been Liverpool’s respective possession statistics in the past six games, and they’ve only drawn once.  Rodgers still likes Liverpool to build from the back and he likes the midfield to stay fairly tight together to create passing triangles, but he is pragmatic enough to change this as he sees fit.

39 v Everton, 50 v West Brom, 43 v Arsenal, 69 v Fulham, 53 v Swansea, 43 v Southampton

Last season Liverpool had the third highest possession average in the league. This year they’re down to 7th in that category, but they seem perfectly okay with that since they’re getting more space and scoring more goals.  Sturridge has played more centrally so that he can play off the last defender’s shoulder when Liverpool are quickly breaking.  Suarez and Sterling start wide but cut inside and frequently swap positions.  They aren’t pressing from the front as often, so Suarez often drops deeper when Liverpool don’t have the ball which effectively makes Sturridge or Sterling the out-ball.

The midfield trio of Coutinho, Henderson, and Gerrard is somewhat interesting.  It has a lot of attacking potential, but is somewhat suspect defensively.  Coutinho started as a wide player/attacking midfielder this season but has since moved infield to provide an extra body in the center.  Gerrard can still hit his trademark passes from deep, but he doesn’t quite have the awareness of a defensive midfielder and often lets runners go unmarked, leading to more shot attempts from midfield.  Jordan Henderson has somewhat shed his ‘flop’ tag by finding a new role within the team.  He complements the creativity with a more “English” style of play (hard tackling, hard running, and disciplined positioning).

Defensively, Liverpool started the season strong with a series of 1-0 wins, but have since become rather exposed.  Since the start of the New Year, Liverpool have kept just 3 clean sheets, and while that was partly due to Daniel Agger’s injury and a couple of howlers by Kolo Toure, it does hint that Liverpool are taking more gambles going forward and allowing more space for smaller teams to exploit.  While Manchester United aren’t in much better shape in that department, it does give hope that if United’s creative attackers can get space, Liverpool are there for the taking.

How United should play

I’ve talked earlier about how Moyes should generally prepare his sides to counter-attack, and I still believe that he should use that approach since Liverpool have conceded more goals when they dominate possession; however, he shouldn’t be afraid to press Liverpool’s defenders in certain situations such as goal-kicks.  Martin Skrtel isn’t very comfortable with the ball still and forcing Gerrard to drop deep to pick up possession will limit his range of influence.  Coutinho is a dangerous player in the final third and Henderson will get forward in support so it’s important to get two midfielders who are willing to tackle and track them.  Fellaini and Fletcher would be a good central midfield pairing for this kind of job.

Rooney vs. Gerrard would also be the main battle-ground.  If Rooney can stick tight to Gerrard and force him into mistakes or hurried passes, United will have space to break into for United’s attacking quartet. Valencia has generally had the beating of Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho isn’t the quickest LB either so regardless of who plays, Valencia and Rafael should be able to combine effectively.  Januzaj against Flanagan might also create a favorable matchup since he offers a more varied threat, although Shinji Kagawa has had very good displays against Liverpool in the past.

Defensively, enough has been said about Suarez and Sturridge so it will be a very hard job and one that will require intelligent play and communication among the back 4.  Playing a packed defense will be tougher for Liverpool to break down, but it’s unlikely that United will come out defending in a game at Old Trafford unless they felt they were grossly outmatched.

This is an unfamiliar position for many United fans, but for several years Liverpool were not close to United’s level yet they still won.  United will need to do the same and I expect this game to be like most other derbies.

Derby Week Preview: Spurs vs Arsenal

Spurs head into a critical match day against Arsenal on dipping form.      While back-to-back losses to Chelsea and Benfica may have the club looking vulnerable ahead of the North London Derby, it appears there is no better time for Tottenham to beat Arsenal.  This is a big moment and will tell us a lot about Spurs’ character.  Below, we have this week’s keys to a Spurs victory.

Protect the House

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Spurs enter the match having won five of their last four games at White Hart Lane and are 7-3-1 in all home matches this season.  Arsenal also have gone five years without registering a win at the Lane and are hoping to break that streak.  If there ever was a time to do so, it is now.  Though Tottenham boast the League’s best road record, they rank only 6th at home.  The biggest cause for concern, as has been the case any distance from home, is scoring.  Spurs’ goal differential at home is -2.  Thanks to lopsided home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City, that number is deflated a bit but is still not good enough.  To be successful this week, Spurs’ scorers will need to step up against a team that has frustrated them this season.

Missing Pieces

Arsenal are missing several key players this week and Spurs must take advantage.  Jack Wilshire (foot), Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Abou Diaby (knee), and Theo Walcott (knee) all remain out of the lineup, and now BBC Sport reports that Arsenal’s record buy, Mesut Özil, will miss at least four weeks with a hamstring injury.  The Gunners may have Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal returning this week, and Arsene Wenger has suggested that Kim Källström may make his first start.

The recent string of injuries has caused Arsenal to take a small dip in form recently and now appears the time for Spurs to strike.  Wenger will have the team well prepared, but late additions and nagging injuries may cause confusion over which  an aggressive Spurs can take advantage.

Unlock Arsenal’s Defense

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So far this season, Spurs have not scored against Arsenal.  Both AVB and Tim Sherwood have been unable to out-coach Arsene Wenger.  In both games, Spurs allowed a goal in the first half and Arsenal were able to deny opportunities the rest of the match.  Spurs will need to score quickly and put Arsenal into a position where they are less comfortable.

Sherwood appears to be going with the 4-2-3-1 again and Adebayor will be the lone striker.  Hopefully the larger midfield pays off this time.  If not, you can expect a very unhappy Tottenham squad.

Tactical decisions David Moyes should make.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and I won’t go into what Manchester United could have done or should have done to avoid being where they are. The situation for them is pretty clear:  They are 90 minutes away from being eliminated in the Champions League and have 11 10 games left to make a push for the top 4.

We can talk all we like about whether Moyes is the right man for the job, but frankly that doesn’t matter right now.  He’s here and needs to make changes.  So what can he do tactically to make these tasks even remotely possible? Tactics, based on what I’ve observed,  usually involve a combination of the following three things  Adjusting formations, picking different players, and style of play.    As far as formations go, my view is that nominal formations don’t mean a whole lot.  At the kind of margins we’re talking about, a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-1-1, a 4-1-4-1, and a 4-3-3 are all about a stones-throw away from each other and really depend on the characteristics of the players themselves.

Changing the style of play: The best way to divide this is to focus on how this team would attack and how they would defend.

Proposed first-choice XI for the rest of the season.
Proposed first-choice XI for the rest of the season.

I chose a 4-2-3-1 for this just to illustrate what the team might look like, but the formation isn’t as important as how the players would combine and play cohesively.  Also keep in mind that this is an idealized lineup where everyone is healthy.

AttackingSo let’s start on the attacking side of the pitch.  Anyone who saw United v. Fulham would have seen that United put in 82 crosses of which none resulted in a goal.  Crossing repeatedly is fairly ineffective when the other team knows that’s your tendency, and if that’s all that can be offered. United do have quality attackers/attacking midfielders who should play more one-twos and be active in the box.  This side should be better at counter-attacking.  As seen on the diagram, I’ve left out Robin van Persie.  A year ago, I would have been labeled a troll, since he scored 33 times. This year, however, it might not be such a poor decision.

1. RVP is becoming too isolated that far up the pitch and he isn’t quite able to drop deep because Rooney is everywhere frantically trying to get on the ball, which is caused by neither Cleverley or Carrick driving forward and Ashley Young and Valencia being too one-dimensional. It’s a chain reaction that causes both Rooney and RVP to play sub-optimally.

2. Wayne Rooney is in better form and has been quite clinical when given high quality chances. RVP’s injuries and United’s struggles have made him snatch a bit at the rare chances that he does get.  Plus Juan Mata can now play naturally in his preferred number 10 position where he doesn’t have to do as much defensive work.

Flanks: Januzaj offers a more varied threat than Ashley Young.  He can combine in the center, and he can cross more effectively than Young when needed. He was arguably United’s best player in January while RVP and Rooney were injured and I don’t know why he’s been left out of the team since.  Valencia’s fairly one-dimensional but he’s very quick and is most dangerous when allowed to run into acres of space.  Patrice Evra would be able to provide a consistent crossing option, if Januzaj plays more in the box.  Rafael would have to stay more disciplined.

Defensive style of play: Moyes prefers his two banks of four and that does somewhat match up with how Sir Alex preferred his teams.  The problem is getting everyone to defend as a unit, and particularly down both flanks.  Everyone has to defend and perhaps United need to be willing to play more on the counter-attack because that’s what David Moyes has opted towards this season.

Central midfield: Fellaini and Fletcher would be my choices here.  Fletcher appears to be fully fit now and past the worst stages of his illness, and Fellaini has recovered from his wrist injury.  Both these players offer more tackling quality and forward impetus than either Carrick or Cleverley; however, they can play more of a disciplined defensive role given the more creative attackers in the side now and Evra’s defensive negligence.

Centerback pairing: I didn’t want to take Smalling out of the team because he has impressed when playing as a CB, and he should be partnered with Phil Jones because they’re quicker and more vocal which is important.

Fullbacks: Rafael is a natural RB, and is more comfortable going forward than Smalling.  He is a better attacking fullback than Evra, but is showing more defensive awareness and is quicker. Having Valencia can help nullify left-sided counterattacks too.  Evra on the other hand is going to be a bit of a work around since he either takes up narrow positions defensively or he’s chasing after quick wingers on the counter.  That’s why Jones, Fellaini, and Fletcher are now in the team.  They can all look to cover that side, let Evra catch up, and force play back through the middle to become a solid defensive 8.

So just to recap:  When attacking, United need to cross less.  Rooney needs to play closer to goal, Mata should be a number 10 with more of a free role, akin to how he played at Chelsea pre-Mourinho.  Defending needs more work but putting in more tacklers in midfield and quicker defenders, even if they’re less experienced can tighten up Manchester United’s otherwise porous defense.

Overall this United team will probably have less possession but given the  lack of dynamic midfielders and the big games coming up against superior midfield units (Liverpool, Manchester City, Everton, Newcastle), this is our best bet.  Of course if we need to grab a goal, we can always bring on Chicharito and RVP for someone.

For the Champions League, swap Mata out with Shinji Kagawa because Mata is cup-tied and Kagawa was genuinely excellent throughout the group and provided United with a real spark in the last 15 minutes against Olympiacos.