By Sam Tighe
The 2014-15 Premier League season may be in its infancy, but there's still plenty to digest early on from a tactical perspective.
Top-tier managers never stop looking for ways to find the edge, and the summer transfer window gives them the chance to refresh their XI with a new shape, philosophy or approach.
Here, we chart five early tactical shifts—not all of them positive. However, getting the latest Guts sports bonus codes is always positive.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea were the stingiest team in the Premier League last season, with their 27 goals conceded a clear 10 less than the next best defence (Manchester City, 37).
This year round, however, the Portuguese boss has gone all-out attack in his approach—perhaps a reflex to his side's habit of dropping points against "lesser" teams last season—and in the process, has only kept one clean sheet from five games.
The second half against Swansea City saw the Blues switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, signalling a potential change in thought-process, but it's been very un-Mourinho-like so far.
Steve Bruce played a 3-5-2 formation for almost the entirety of the 2013-14 season, and in doing so led them to safety with a good "goals against" record and lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
Ahmed Elmohamady, Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone were perfect for the formation, and retaining both Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic ensured they scored enough goals to worry defences.
The addition of Michael Dawson this summer only seemed to reinforce the idea that Hull are a three-at-the-back team, but a questionable start to the season—including a dreadful performance at Villa Park—has seen Bruce switch back to a four.
Luckily for the neutrals, it looks like the Tigers may be looking favourably at the...
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England is diamond-crazy right now, with many taking inspiration from Liverpool's incredible run last season in the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers.
The 4-4-2 setup he created not only got the best from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge as linkup forwards, but also unleashed Raheem Sterling as a No. 10, Jordan Henderson as a box-to-box beast and Steven Gerrard as a regista-esque playmaker from deep.
The copying has started in record fashion; Louis van Gaal's Manchester United have done it, West Ham United have done it and even Roy Hodgson's had a tinker. The effectiveness of it, provided you have the right type of players, is spelled out irrepressibly in front of our very eyes.
Paul Lambert is at his best as a tactician when he's reacting and changing formations to suit each fixture. It's one of his strongest assets, and it makes Aston Villa very, very difficult to gameplan for.
The club fell into a bit of a rut last season and there's no doubt his "settling" on a 4-3-3 formation played a huge part. Injuries dictated the stability, but Villa lost some of their edge in the process.
This season, though, he's back with a bang. A replenished, more experienced squad has given him all the tools he needs to chop and change, moving fluidly between the 4-3-3, the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-2 diamond when necessary.
This has played a large part in their very strong start to the campaign.
Arsene Wenger has, for some reason, switched from a standard 4-2-3-1 to a more asinine, clunky 4-3-3 (4-1-4-1). While that suits Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez down to the ground, it hit Mesut Ozil hard and also lessens the already-limited effectiveness of Mikel Arteta.
If Ozil isn't playing as a No. 10 there's no point playing him, and in a league where physicality and energy can reign supreme, the fact that the German is stuck out on the wing makes him look silly. He's simply not an athlete; he can't track and he can't help his full-back.
In placing Ozil on the flank, you weaken your attacking output and create a target for the opposing team to attack. It really is fruitless on all counts. Ozil had arguably his best game of the season when operating in his natural position against Villa; but will Wenger adjust the team around him?
You can find Sam on twitter at @stighefootball.
It was another barnstorming weekend of Premier League football with many goals, controversial incidents and just downright awful defending! However, where are the points going to go next week and to what players? Stick with us for the latest in the latest edition of another #FPL round up.
Last week’s joint leaders, Temple Pilgrims managed by Ashley Temple, have managed to grab the outright lead from Crabcakes managed by Hristo Sultanov whose team slip to 6th in the rankings after a very poor gameweek total of 34 points. FC Banana Phone managed by Daniel S have moved up to 2nd place just a mere 7 points behind the leader.
Ludicrous Display, managed by Daniel Breeze, has succumbed to an outrageous collapse. Admittedly there is a long way to go but to go from leaders to 17th place is a spectacular decline.
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At the other end of the table, Guts Gaming have slipped down the rankings after a poor gameweek total of 26 points. Come on lads! Don’t you realise the Sportsbook are currently way ahead? FAMETASTIC managed by Moch Wingga were the big losers at the bottom of the rankings after a 27-point gameweek total while FavoTeam managed by Oleg O had a good gameweek collecting a total of 59 points resulting in a 106 point total.
Transfers for the week consist of a relatively surprising bunch. West Brom’s James Morrison hit the winner in the 1-0 win away at Tottenham Hotspur and gathers the points while Angel di Maria’s superb chip earns him another good points total while Leicester duo Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa collect superb totals after their displays against Manchester United.
Peter Crouch also features if you feel the need for a Premier League proven goalscorer while Leighton Baines again makes the list with his goalscoring display in Everton’s 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Chris Atkins believes West Ham are becoming increasingly easy on the eye.
Sam Allardyce was in understandably high spirits on Saturday evening. Having seen his side dismantle last season’s Premier League runners-up Liverpool, he was not going to let the opportunity to cash in on a famous victory pass—quite justifiably after a summer in which his job was debated from first to last. "It's a well-deserved victory - it's not a lucky one,” he was keen to stress. “It’s not Liverpool having an off day, it's West Ham being absolutely brilliant on the day.”
The former Bolton manager is, of course, fully entitled to bask in the media coverage such a success brings. Football management away from the top clubs, where Allardyce has spent his entire managerial career to date, is an unforgiving world. Highs have to be enjoyed when they arise and, over the past 12 months, they have been few and far between for the Hammers. Over the past seven days, though, there have been signs that things may just be coming together at the Boleyn Ground.
It has only been in the last two fixtures since the international break against Hull and Liverpool that Allardyce has been able to call upon coming close to his full squad of players, with strikers Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia finally ready to start. Late summer arrivals of Alex Song and Morgan Amalfitano, too, have done much to improve the outlook for Hammers season, while highly-rated full-back Aaron Cresswell looks a real coup thus far. In the diamond 4-4-2 system employed in both games over the past few days, they appear a well-balanced side from back to front—a vast improvement on last year in itself.
It was the pace and power of Allardyce’s side that hurt Liverpool so badly. Valencia and Sakho pulled into the space behind the full-backs, stretching play and opening gaps from which Stewart Downing could operate in a No. 10 role. The Englishman, enjoying a fine start to the season with a goal and three assists to his name, appears to enjoy his new central role. Given space, Downing can hurt sides and he made former teammate Steven Gerrard look incredibly ordinary this weeend. It must be added, though, that his life is made considerably easier by the work-rate and defensive discipline of the midfield trio behind him.
The giant Senegalese Cheikhou Kouyate has already made a significant impact in East London, adding power and dynamism to the centre of the midfield. Partnered with the similarly direct but technically more refined Alex Song on Saturday, West Ham quickly took a hold on the midfield battle and forced Liverpool into an early formational change. With the equally tenacious but intelligent distributor Mark Noble at the base of the trio, there is an intriguing balance of skill and physicality at the heart the West Ham side. Pace and dynamism are far from football’s be all and end all, but every side needs players who can alter the speed of a game.
Allardyce has always known how to set up a defensive unit and, indeed, how to take advantage of set-pieces. In that respect, it is no surprise that the side remains a real threat from crosses into the box, but there is now far more intent to play the ball through midfield than was ever evident last season. With Downing, Song, Noble and, on occasion, Mauro Zarate in central areas, Allardyce has a number of players at his disposal who can pick a pass and unlock defences. Eleven key passes made this weekend to Liverpool’s eight tells its own story of the game.
The Hammers have not become world-beaters overnight, but there is no reason to suggest they cannot secure league safety early this season if key players remain fit. The Hammers board have publicly demanded a more aesthetically pleasing style of football this season and, on current evidence, there has already been a marked improvement.
The challenge for Allardyce and his side if they are to fulfil all their targets this season is now to sustain their current levels over the course of what is expected to be the most competitive season in Premier League history. For Hammers supporters, a season of relative stability would be a welcome relief after the ups and downs that recent years have brought the way of Upton Park. For now at least, there is reason to be hopeful.
You can find Chris on twitter at @ChrisAtkins_
Manchester United now look like a fabulously attacking team - the United of old I've heard people say. It's hard to argue when players like Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Angel di Maria, Ander Herrera, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj are on their forward roster and now, there is a genuine excitement every time they go forward. However, at the back, they are seemingly threadbare and undoubtedly in need of an overhaul. With defenders who cannot stay fit for any decent length of time, van Gaal must make his defence the priority in January and in the following summer transfer window.
Yes, this is a roundabout turn from the previous roundup but then Lampard truly didn’t show what he was capable of and didn’t look fit at all. However, in his cameo against former club Chelsea he displayed all of the qualities he was renowned for in his trophy-laden, goal glittering Stamford Bridge career. A trademark late run while ensuring the finish was simply too much for Courtois in the Chelsea goal ensured that Chelsea left the Etihad with only a point after seemingly being on course for all three.
Liverpool are looking a shadow of their former selves, particularly in midfield and up front while in defence they have a nasty habit of letting in silly goals. Much like United, they have a specific weakness that teams are continually exploiting with no signs of improvement. West Ham had the look of a much better footballing side while Stewart Downing exposed Steven Gerrard for a lack of pace and positional awareness time and again.
Tottenham slipped to a 1-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion, a rather frustrating afternoon for Spurs after initially beginning brightly and then subsequently fading away thus allowing West Brom to snatch the lead and ultimately, the win. What is clear is that Pochettino is finding it hard to bring some much needed consistency to Spurs’ play, the aim being they come away with scrappy wins instead of scrappy defeats, a task made all the harder with the added pressures and distractions the Europa League provides.
What is abundantly clear is that teams are struggling to find an ‘identity’, which of course brings consistency in their play. A specific line-up, a specific and unique playing spirit, a specific way of playing – these ingredients are either all or part missing in a lot of clubs this season. Manchester United are suffering from a lack of a settled line-up through injuries as well as a new manager implementing new ideas, while Liverpool seem to be suffering from a variant of 2nd season syndrome and a post-Luis Suarez hangover.
City seem down in the dumps a little although their late salvo against Chelsea would have lifted spirits while Tottenham and Everton are struggling to handle extra burdens in the form of the Europa League. What is clear is that these teams must come up with one quick as they risk an uncomfortable and inconsistent season.
The Premier League certainly lays claim to the “most exciting and unpredictable league in the world” and on this weekends evidence, it is hard to argue with that claim. There were thrills galore, controversy and of course the most important thing…pies. Of course not, it’s goals silly! Anyway, with the turgid splendour of international football out of the way there is now free reign for club football all the way to March, near enough.
The standout game over the weekend was of course Leicester City’s 5-3 win over Manchester United. Almost as sensational as our Guts sport bonus. In what seemed to be a throwback to the 1950’s, Leicester capitalised on some fortuitous and bewildering decision making from referee Mark Clattenberg as well as some shambolic United defending to come back from 3-1 down to complete a remarkable comeback and seal a memorable victory. Van Gaal must now solve a defensive conundrum in which he finds another defender injured as well as one suspended for the following three games.
Of course, Liverpool succumbed to a 3-1 defeat away to West Ham United that was their third in five games, a far cry from the impressive side that we saw towards the end of last season. West Ham on the other hand seemed reborn which a pace, power and intelligence never seen before in a Sam Allardyce team! Arsenal secured a 3-0 win away at Aston Villa after the Midlands club started brightly but a 5-minute blitz that destroyed the Villans confidence and ensured Arsenal were relatively untroubled for the remainder of the match.
Elsewhere, there were draws for Newcastle, who came from 2-0 down to salvage a 2-2 at home to Hull, and also QPR and Stoke battled out a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road while Manchester City and Chelsea ensured the status quo at the top of the table as Frank Lampard secured a point for City against his old club in a 1-1 draw.
Lampard has been one of the Premier League’s consistent performers and his number of goals from midfield has frankly (no pun intended) been outstanding. No other manager other than Mourinho would have let him go for free to a club that not only is in direct competition for trophies with Chelsea but also is approaching the ‘nemesis’ stage of football rivalry. However, Lampard showed class in how he conducted himself, scoring a vital goal and then his respect to both City and Chelsea fans.
Is Gerrard worthy of a place at the moment? Yes, he’s Liverpool captain and he’s been a very good one but he’s just not doing it anymore. While claims that Brendan Rodgers could do worse than give his captain a rest, Gerrard cannot be happy with his own performances. Rodgers does need to rotate Gerrard better and if Liverpool are to move forward under him, he and the team need to get past this over-reliance on him and the attitude that without Gerrard, Liverpool are incapable of securing a result. Rodgers could do worse than look at Sir Alex Ferguson’s example of how he managed Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs as well as Mourinho’s handling of John Terry.
Only one winner here, I’m afraid. Leicester secured a quite remarkable result against Manchester United at the King Power Stadium. 3-1 down on the hour mark and seemingly heading for a hiding, they rallied and basically bullied United into capitulation, which was as embarrassing as it was unexpected. While referee Mark Clattenberg was doing his best ‘let’s make this interesting’ act, take nothing away from Leicester who preyed on United’s weakness at the heart of their defence.
A quality goal from a quality player who, after playing a one-two with Wayne Rooney, collected the ball inside the penalty and executed a quite sublime chip over the advancing Kasper Schmeichel. Just a shame the defence behind him let him down with a collapse, as the goal was good enough to win any football match.
I know there has been a seemingly never-ending mention of the words ‘Mark’ and ‘Clattenberg’ in this blog but there can never be an excuse for inconsistency. Clattenberg’s decision to not award a free-kick to Manchester United right-back Rafael after being blatantly targeted by Leicester striker Jamie Vardy and then subsequently fall for his exaggerated theatrics in the penalty area resulting in a penalty to the Foxes, must be a quite puzzling sequence of events for one to analyse.
Mike Dean, who refereed Manchester City and Chelsea, seemed quite happy to let things go in that game that also wouldn’t normally be let go. A blatant arm-up from Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayor was also missed while there were penalty decisions missed for City and a potential sending off for two bookable offences for David Silva also missed.
The subject of technology within the game will also rear its head again, surely while a bigger deal must be made of referees who fail in their job and while mistakes are forgivable, incompetency isn’t.
Karl Matchett on Chelsea's new star
Last season, 2013-14, saw Atletico Madrid upset the established order in La Liga, becoming the first side other than Barcelona or Real Madrid to win the title since Rafael Benitez’s Valencia achieved the feat, a full decade previous. While the real star of the show was undoubtedly the team ethic and relentless aggressive spirit which Diego Simeone had instilled in the side, scattered throughout there were obvious stand-outs in individuals. Other stand-outs include Guts bonus sports which is definitely worth a look!
Thibaut Courtois impressed yet again on his extended loan, Diego Godin was monstrous in defence, Gabi irrepressible in midfield and Diego Costa added “lethal finisher” to his long list of attributes.
The Brazilian-turned-Spanish striker had long since shown his other attributes which made him an effective weapon on attack, but he maintained a fantastic scoring rate of around a goal per game for much of the season, until a succession of niggling injuries curtailed that incredible run and saw him finish with 27 goals in 35 games.
A title win under his belt as the main man in attack following Radamel Falcao’s departure a year previous, and with a Champions League final and World Cup appearance also on his CV—though he was able to impress in neither as a result of those injuries—it was no surprise to see Costa linked with a big-money transfer for this summer.
Chelsea, it must be accepted, was always a perfect fit.
Jose Mourinho has long favoured the style of forward who can not only score goals, but raise the attacking level of the team by several notches all by themselves: capable of holding up the ball to allow the team to go direct, a physical presence who occupies central defenders throughout the 90 minutes, a player who will drop off the front line to create space for the diagonal runners from the flanks and, above all else, a fierce, fierce competitor.
That’s Diego Costa to a tee. His movement has always been a feature of his game—time spent on the flanks earlier in his career contributes to that—and, as big a reputation as he seems to have for being something of a wind-up merchant, his in-game focus is hell-bent on being better than his defender. Like Luis Suarez, in a way, that ambition knows few boundaries; it can be by being combative, by excelling on the ball, or by finding other means to put them off their game. Costa narks, scowls, pushes and swears his way through a game, but the end-game is nothing more than catching his marker off his guard for a single second or two.
As he showed last season in La Liga, that can be all he needs.
And so to the Premier League. Some thought he might not adapt, but there was never any sense in that train of thought. He is coming into a team almost purpose-built to get the best out of his approach and link-up play, with great talents around him to create chances. Diego Costa’s non-stop aggression and willingness to follow up after he has contributed earlier in an attacking phase means he will find chances falling his way.
Seven goals in just four games this season suggests the partnership was indeed a ready-made one. Don’t bet against him making such a difference that he manages a second successive Champions League final, too.
You can find Karl on twitter at @karlmatchett
The opening Champions League game for both sides in Group E ending exactly how Bayern wanted and denied Manchester City at least a point from the tough opening game. What was interesting is the way Bayern manager Pep Guardiola set his team up and how Pellegrini (completing a touchline suspension) changed his usual 4-4-2 formation for a tricky away fixture and how both teams and managers tried to counter each ones weakness.
Bayern in truth could have been ahead as early as the 1st minute as Thomas Mueller raced through the City defence after a flick from Robert Lewandowski split Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis, unfortunately for Mueller he lost his balance after pressure from Bacary Sagna as he rounded Joe Hart and put his attempt wide.
Guardiola had set his team up in a fluid 3-4-3 formation with Jerome Boateng, new signing Mehdi Benatia and David Alaba as the three centre-halves and Rafinha and Juan Bernat filling the wing-back roles while Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso occupied the central midfield berths. Robert Lewandowski operated as the focal point of the attack with Thomas Muller and Mario Götze in support.
Pellegrini decided to alter his tactical line-up for the away trip to a 4-5-1 as he left Sergio Aguero on the bench and plumped for the power of Edin Džeko in the lone frontman role. This move saw David Silva shifted from his usual left inside-forward role into the no.10 position while Jesus Navas was brought in to operate on the right-wing with Samir Nasri on the left. City had great success in this fixture last season, with Silva operating behind the lone Džeko.
However, where City had problems was in their usual strong area – midfield. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho seemed extremely uncomfortable with the movement of not only Götze and Mueller but of Lahm and Alonso too. Toure especially seemed uncomfortable throughout with the amount of running he had to do just to keep up with the Bayern midfield.
Where City looked to capitalise on the Bayern setup was through wide play, in particular Jesus Navas was given the task of driving Juan Bernat back towards his own goal and get in behind him at times. However, where the plan failed was Samir Nasri, on the left, failed to do that. Instead, Rafinha was given free reign. City won the game last year largely thanks to the performance of James Milner on the left wing, in which he continually streatched Lahm and restricted the German’s influence down that wing. Nasri was left unable to influence the game in either direction, which prompted a change from Pellegrini in the 2nd half.
In order to combat Bayern’s midfield, James Milner was finally drafted into the centre in place of Samir Nasri just before the hour mark while David Silva returned to his inside-left role while Yaya Toure was relieved from his difficult night briefly by shifting to the no.10 role. The move failed to have the exact desired effect, as Bayern continued to dominate possession and when Guardiola brought Arjen Robben on in place of Muller, with the attacks starting to flow down the Munich right.
In what was a complete contrast to the last time when these two sides met, last season in the Champions League group stage, City were not able to influence Bayern through the consistent high pressing and quick wing-play which had undone the German giants during City’s 3-2 victory at the Allianz Arena. Instead, they became camped within their own half and while Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis defended manfully they were not helped by the midfield in terms of gifting the Bayern attackers space in which to turn and shoot on Joe Hart’s goal.
It was only a matter of time before City were punished and when they were it arrived through an unlikely source. Former City defender Jerome Boateng capitalised on a poor attempted clearance and subsequently he proceeded to half volley the ball (via a deflection off Germany’s World Cup winning goalscorer) into the net and past the despairing Joe Hart.
By Natalie Shoebridge, Sydney.
Rugby league has a reputation for producing the big hits. Whether it’s man-mountain Dave Taylor bulldozing the opposition, Sonny Bill Williams sending someone to the next postcode, or little Chrissy Sandow shoulder-charging men twice his size - when that was still allowed, of course.
After week one of the finals, it’s fair to say that this is going to be a memorable build-up to the premiership decider. Plenty of aggression, flair and passion ooze from each team that runs out, and the hysterical fans in the stands are lapping up the atmosphere and riding every play.
The last few seasons have seen the NRL attempt to clean up the game. In 2013, shoulder charges and punches became officially illegal, and wrestling tactics even more frowned upon.
And while we’re all for the biff, a worrying statistic is the number of injured players this year. Reports have shown that enough players have graced the casualty ward to stock seven NRL teams – meaning almost half of the playing pool has battled to be fit enough to take to the field. However, you could take the field in a proper manner with the fresh Guts.com sports bonus code right now
2014 will always be remembered as the year Alex McKinnon sustained an horrific spinal injury because of a lifting tackle, and while the best efforts have been made to completely outlaw any movement “above the horizontal” in tackles, we are still seeing players being put in dangerous positions.
In last weekend’s qualifying finals, Greg Inglis was tipped on his head while two Manly players held his legs. There was much publicity following the game that Inglis seemed to get his head in an “awkward position”, leaving him vulnerable to neck injuries – but the offending players only received one week suspensions. Regardless of who is at fault, surely the primary goal should be player welfare so every effort should be made to avoid those on the field from landing in career or life threatening positions.
Of late, fullbacks have come under much scrutiny for try-line defence by ‘leading with the knees’ –meaning the sliding of the knees into an opposition player’s lower back to keep them from scoring. Billy Slater is a repeat offender, as seen in Sunday’s game against the Bulldogs when he was put on report for a try-saving tackle on Josh Reynolds. The judiciary is arguably reasonably consistent with this type of charge – but the same can't be said for neck-related tackles.
At this time of year, we want to see the newspapers plastered with images of freak-tries like that leap from Lote Tuqiri on Friday night, or the stunning field goal from Jamie Soward for the Panthers in the dying seconds against the reigning premiers. No one likes to see players carried off on stretchers or time being called off for concussion checks. Forget the “bring back the biff” campaign – give us some skill and athleticism. After all, anyone can throw a poor punch, but it takes a professional to make a length of the field, try-scoring dash in an NRL Grand Final.
You can find Natalie on twitter @nat_a_shoe
Kirsten Schlewitz looks at the early season form of the Italian title chasers.
We’re just two rounds into the Serie A season, yet we may already have some idea of who, if anyone, might be best suited to challenging Juventus for the title. But first thing’s first, we should start with the champions. Actually, firstly you should check out this Guts bonus sports. You're welcome.
The Old Lady remain top choice for this season’s scudetto. Replacing Antonio Conte with Max Allegri did prompt many questions, but so far, Juventus have delivered. It helps that Allegri has yet to change Conte’s game plan, adhering to a three-man defense despite having to shuffle players due to injury.
The talented collection of players Juve have on-hand means that, no matter who is shouting instructions on the touchline, they were always going to be favorites. But there’s still reason to think they may be more vulnerable this season than last. Injuries are already hitting the side, and a prolonged run without Arturo Vidal in midfield or Carlos Tevez scoring goals could mean danger. The Champions League may also take a toll, particularly as Juventus are being asked to finally deliver the goods in Europe.
Roma, who finished second last season, were tipped to challenge Juventus. But despite two wins from two, they’ve only truly impressed during their first half against Fiorentina. This weekend the giallorossi looked rather tepid against newly-promoted Empoli, winning 1-0 by virtue of an own goal.
It’s about to get tougher for Rudi García. The manager now embarks on his first Champions League journey, beginning with Roma hosting CSKA Moscow. It’s a relatively easy first match, but with Roma’s group including both Manchester City and Bayern Munich, the side could wind up exhausting themselves in Europe while stuttering in the league.
Milan are off to a flying start under new manager Filippo Inzaghi, collecting six points and scoring eight goals in the process. Considering their 8th place finish last season, tipping them for the scudetto may seem rather hasty. However, Inzaghi has assembled a rather frightening attack, even after selling Mario Balotelli to Liverpool.
What worries is their inability to defend. Milan ran out 5-4 winners against Parma on Sunday, but allowed two goals from corners, with another coming after a back-pass from Mattia De Sciglio, which caused Diego Lopez to flail spectacularly as the ball flew into his own net. If the defence isn’t sorted, the bigger sides could well rip Milan to shreds.
After failing to qualify for the Champions League, Napoli announced their goal was the scudetto. But they’re already stumbling. Genoa ran circles around them in their first match, and despite a last-minute victory for Napoli, they did very little to excite. But this weekend’s home loss to minnows Chievo may have already knocked them out of the title chase. Supporters have made their ire known, and if Rafa Benítez doesn’t pull off an impressive victory over Udinese this weekend, he can expect to be looking for another job.
After a 7-0 thumping of Sassuolo this weekend, many might include Inter in the scudetto discussion. But while their attack, and particularly Mateo Kovacic, certainly caused chaos, it’s worth remembering the same result occurred last season. Walter Mazzarri started 10 of those 11 players against Torino in the opening match, yet not a single goal came. Until the goals rain down against a side not expected to be battling relegation, the nerazzurri shouldn’t be considered title candidates.
You can find Kirsten on twitter at @KDS_Football.
Ellis Chaddock has solved UEFA's CL seeding problems.
As a Manchester United fan in my mid-twenties the last Thursday in August has been a joy to experience for as long as I can remember. The UEFA Champions League draw, what a prize for all the hard work I put in by supporting my team through the lean spells and the dark days (we finished 4th one year, it was rough). Which giants of Europe we will be clashing with this year? Will we get to test ourselves against the might of FC Copenhagen, or maybe we might be lucky enough to play Benfica for what feels like the 10th straight season?
To any outsider to the sport, this spectacle should be more than enough to satisfy – How could a three-hour ceremony dedicated to picking the names of 32 teams out of 4 bowls not be "enough"? At least the pay-off is understandable, the grand procession culminating in six potentially intriguing matches per team & a valid excuse to visit three European cities.
As anyone who has spent any time following a team will tell you though, there is more to football than watching your own side; there is also the joy of seeing your rivals fail. I don’t think this ever manifests itself as strongly as it does in the UCL group stage draw.
Somewhat naively, I had high hopes that schadenfreude would get me through this year’s draw; as I’m sure you were all aware Manchester United were not going to be present, but as a Mancunian living in opposition territory I had been gleefully informed, on more than one occasion, that Liverpool would be.
Schadenfreude wasn’t enough. Sure Liverpool have to face Real Madrid and Basel, but they were just so damn happy to be back at the top table that it was hard to laugh at them from outside with my face pressed up against the glass. Even the minor hilarity of Bayern Munich vs Manchester City for the third time in four years couldn’t bring a smile to my face. I felt empty, a husk of a football fan. There must be something wrong with me I thought, maybe I had it wrong? Is there more to football than the tribalism it has become? Should I not be cheering on the other English teams that have made it to UEFA’s top competition?
“Make sure all the English teams perish”
It hit me like a wave. It was so clear. It was UEFA’s fault! They messed up the seedings. If one thing good was going to come of Manchester United finishing seventh then it would be this! I will fix the Champions League seeding system. You’re welcome, UEFA.
*Galatasaray placed as 1st in Turkey following Fenerbache's European ban.
**Monaco given 13.000 as coefficient as they have not played in Europe for the past five seasons. The club recieved Ligue Un's coefficient score.
Above are the UEFA coefficients for all teams entering the CL at the 2014/15 group stage & the pot they were entered into for the draw. UEFA sort all entrants to the group stage purely on the coefficient each club obtained for the end of the 2013/14 season, this covers each club’s performance in European competitions over the past 5 years. When a club has not been in European competition, they simply take the country’s coefficient score, as evidenced by Monaco’s score of 13.000.
What struck me regarding this system is how heavily it is skewed in favour of qualification over the previous season’s performance. Arsenal and Chelsea have consistently qualified, benefitting from England’s high UEFA coefficient and number of qualification spots, which has seen them land in Pot A despite finishing third and fourth in the English Premier League. Meanwhile, every team in pot 4 finished second or higher in their league; including AS Roma & AS Monaco FC.
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So armed with Excel, and a vague memory of my statistic GCSE, I powered forward into the abyss that is UEFA’s ranking system. My aim was to create a system that would have a greater balance between rewarding the previous season’s performance and consistent European qualification (a secondary objective was to stop Chelsea and FC Schalke playing each other again, a match worse than Vorgon poetry). I started by grouping the 32 teams based on previous year’s performance:
2014 Champions League winner: 1
2014 League winner: 18
2014 League Runner-up: 6
2014 League 3rd place: 4
2014 League 4th Place: 3
I used these groupings for my first attempt to rearrange the rankings. Clubs were grouped into their pots based on the previous season performance & then by coefficient. The new seedings based on this can be seen below. Whilst this did give more immediate rewards to clubs who finished higher in their respective domestic leagues, you can see quite clearly it doesn’t reward consistent qualification for Europe.
Alas, all this had done was create two pots (A+D) which were saturated with clubs who had qualified consistently; four of the teams now in pot D were previously in Pot A. Something needed to be done to redress the balance. I jumped headfirst into statistics mode to try and see if the numbers could point me in the right direction. I found that the average coefficient was 75.938. Remembering a combination of my statistics GCSE, and everything I have learnt about business over the years, I decided it was time for some standard deviating. Whilst I am most certainly not using this in the six-sigma black belt defined parameters that my business professor was so fond of, I feel it could be a useful tool to confirm that each pot in my new draw is as competitive as possible.
My business professor
Standard deviation gave me a range of acceptable average coefficients for each pot of 34.62 to 117.26; or to use football terms, an average strength somewhere between APOEL and Arsenal. If I was going to slate off UEFA so vehemently I decided that it was probably worth checking that their current grouping didn’t already meet these criteria. It didn’t. Pot A in this year’s draw had an average coefficient of 135.22 & Pot D had an average coefficient of 26.89. This means a gap of roughly 110 points (55 wins in Europe over the past 5 years) between teams from the top and bottom pot. Whilst my new ranking system gave coefficients of:
Pot A: 109.92
Pot B: 55.80
Pot C: 44.26
Pot D: 93.76
Standard deviation test passed. But the range from group to group still seems too high as we have a case of 2 high quality groups and two lower quality groups. How can I rearrange the groups to address this? This is hard work; I can understand why Platini earns the big bucks now. After much soul searching, I gained inspiration.
A tiered system! That will cure which ails me! This is a little more complex than the previous system but works as such:
Pot A: Winner of previous seasons UCL + Divisional Champions 2013/14
Pot B: 2013/14 League Winners & Second Place
Pot C: 2013/14 League Winners, Second Place & Third Place
Pot D: All teams
SO, to qualify for pot A you must have finished top of your league, for pot B at least second, and so on. If more than eight teams qualify to be entered into each Pot they will then be sorted by coefficients, as before.
At first glance, I think this could be it; there are big clubs in each pot indicating a balance between immediate & sustained success. The statistics confirm this:
Pot A: 109.92
Pot B: 67.83
Pot C: 85.30
Pot D: 40.62
Whilst this weakens Pot D, it does so by improving Pot B & C’s coefficients, which means there is a smaller difference between Pots.
I’ve cracked it & I am now ready to host my own UEFA Champions League draw. I don’t quite have the same budget as UEFA though, so the draw will not be held from Paris, but rather my girlfriend’s bedroom. There will be no luminaries and past stars of the game. We have her cat, Ben. A fine replacement for Gianni Infantino, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Unfortunately, the excitement proved too much for Ben meaning we were left without a star to present the UEFA left-back of the year award.
I thought we might be able to use the little plastic eggs which hold the toys inside Kinder eggs, but again, no budget. It mattered not, this was what it had all been for, the moment for me to prove I could create a better group stage draw than UEFA, one which would leave the neutral and the invested fan positively tingling with excitement for the months ahead. So, without further ado: the draw.
Well, here are the results. I would personally say it was a resounding success as Chelsea didn’t face off against Schalke. There is only a single group (Group H) that may be considered weaker; and even though I swear to god I did not plan this to happen both Liverpool & Manchester City were dealt possible groups of death (I’m sorry City fans, it seems that fate has decided you must face Bayern Munich. I can fight UEFA but I can’t fight destiny).
Anyway, the point is: if I can come up with a better seeding system, why can't UEFA?
If you would like to criticise Ellis' improper use of statistical analysis you can find him on on twitter at @Ellis_bo_fellis.