Spurs Week 6 Action

Middlesborough

This week we’re playing away at Middlesborough. As you may remember from my Arbitrary Power Rankings (APR)–trademark pending–they were holding down the coveted 11th place. Minimal fanfare! Exceeding baseline expectations! What’s not to love about the….Smoggies? I shit you not, that’s what their fans are called. Brexiters really pine for the long lost days of Industrial Powerhouse England. I’m not sure why. By all accounts it was a sooty, toxic, abysmal place to live. They romanticize chimney sweeps for fuck’s sake.
Back to soccer. The Smoggies are one of the promoted teams and started their season well with a draw against Stoke, a win over Sunderland, and a draw with West Brom before losing to Crystal Palace and Everton. On second look, those first three performances mean nothing and Middlesborough is a poor team that will struggle to avoid relegation. They are bereft of quality players and their coach said in an interview today that Tottenham will win the game regardless of whether Kane is injured or not. After they got smoked by Everton last week, the manager said “I can be happy with the attitude of the team because other teams would have lost five, six or 7-1. We were battling to the end.” That’s a serious glass-half-full spin!
Middlesborough has nice red uniforms and Brad Guzan is their backup keeper. That’s about all the nice things I can say about them. Last year they had a really stingy defense but they’ve given up 7 goals in 5 games against not great competition. This is Tottenham’s game to lose. Or draw. But most likely win and win comfortably.
Spurs, as most weeks, will probably come out with a 4-2-3-1. Most likely Janssen starts up top. Son has been great in his last two matches so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him swap out for either Lamela or Erikson. I would expect Dier and Dembele in the pivot, and I think Rose is still injured so Davies will start at left back. This being an easier match, and with our pending trip to CKSA Moscow on Tuesday, seeing a few of the back ups wouldn’t be a terrible thing.
For the first few weeks of the season I’ve been harping on how much Mousa Dembele means to the team. Offensively, as you’ve all seen, we’re blessed with creative playmakers and a flexible idea of positioning for our attacking band. Kane is part-time holder and changes it up by making steep runs off of inside passes. He’s tall-ish, fast enough, and kinda strong. He is, however, both skillful and opportunistic. He combines well with the outside-in movement of Lamela and Erikson, and the creativity of Alli. Because all of our attackers tend to cluster in the middle of the field, we rely on Walker and Rose to get down the flanks and provide width.
On defense, we are anchored by the consistent, well-positioned, strong trio of Vertonghen, Alderweirald, and Dier to close down the middle. Rose and Walker rely on their speed to recover from deep forays into the attacking half of the pitch. Our attackers play a quick pressing system that requires all of them to switch onto the nearest free players to slow down any counter-attacks until we recover our defensive shape.
All of this is acceptably good with Dier and a replacement-level CM holding down the middle of the middle. Dembele, however is a game-changing beast. Man U bought Paul Pogba, a fellow CM pivot, for $133M this off season because he can attack with the ball at his feet, use his strength to hold off defenders, change directions to open up new lines of attack, close down quickly on defense, and is generally unstoppable. Now watch this Dembele video:
That’s 5 minutes of him crushing ankles on tackles, and breaking ankles on turns. His first touch is impeccable and leads second touch passes. When he dribbles, he’s upright and balanced. He’s freakishly strong but has a delicate and deft passing touch. His strides are long and fluid but he’s never out of control and the ball never strays too far. Defenders are always close to the ball but never able to steal possession. Second defenders are forced to crash with help. Where the rest of our players instinctively try to pass advance the ball, Dembele dribbles into space and at defenders. This forces them to engage and suddenly the defensive shape is broken and Alli or Lamela or Erikson is standing 16 yards out with a 3 yard cushion and a twinkle in their eye. I’m wet just thinking about it. I love watching Dembele. He elevates the team by magnifying the things we do well and adding that dribbling control that not even Lamela possesses. And he’s mean. I’m sure he’s nice off the field, but on the field he and Lamela and Alli (and Janssen) love to tackle late and start shit with their counterparts. They niggle and nag and harass and draw fouls while putting up their hands as if to say “I didn’t know I was stepping on his calf”. They give our team a villainous attitude. Arsenal and Liverpool and Man City can move the ball with delicate grace but they’re pussies. We are bullies. We punish with volume and force and sinister intentions. We have half a team of Diego Costas–the most hated footballer in England on the biggest bully team–and here we are bullying them at the end of last season when the league title was out of our grasp. Look for Dembele poking Costa in the eye. Fuck ’em. I love this team.

BPL Power Rankings

This season’s first edition!

To borrow a bit from the Men in Blazers, we’re now 5/38ths of the way through the season and that’s an unreduceable fraction. While it’s to draw many conclusions, we can check our expectations and the foolish narratives against what’s actually happening. In a few more weeks the European matches, FA Cup matches and League Cup matches will really start piling up and teams will have played different numbers of games. It’s also approximately 13% of the way through the season and that’s deserving of a power ranking.

I’m going to do this in two ways. First, a snapshot ranking that reflects where that team is right now. Second, a future ranking band that shows the range of positions where that team might finish the season.
  1. Man City – King of the hill. Pep’s strategy isn’t fully formed but he’s still playing 5 attackers at a time, among them Ginger King Kevin DeBryune. The only knock against them is that they are susceptible to counter attacks and never quite seem to put the game completely away. If I had to guess, they’ll figure it out and be quite untouchable this season.
  2. Liverpool – They play like Klopp’s personality–electric and frenetic. All three of their big signings this off season are really productive and they have the depth to change their strategy to match the game. Unfortunately for their opponents, they’re so strong in their preferred style that they won’t need to change much. Loss against Burnley was a statistical fluke, but they have conceded more than 1.5 goals a game.
  3. Spurs – Homer Pick! Actually, I have reason to put them here. 3 easy match ups, but 2 difficult ones. Draws in the difficult ones–and didn’t look great, but weren’t playing at full strength (Dembele, Lloris). A clicking Spurs side is a five-headed snake with a tail that stings. At our current level we still have the stingiest D in the league.
  4. Everton – Undefeated and second in points. They drew at home against Spurs but otherwise have faced only bottom half teams. That said, they have mostly destroyed their opposition. They lack depth but their best 7 guys are solid and in their primes.
  5. Arsenal – They would be higher on this list if they were managed by anyone other than Wenger. The man was a genius 20 years ago but you have to wonder if he’s out-thinking himself with some of his decisions. His starting lineups are confusing–sometimes missing strikers, sometimes missing central midfielders. They can be oh so good and shockingly bad in the space of 10 minutes. They’ve played the toughest schedule so far and are sitting in 4th (loss at home to Liverpool, draw away with Leicester, win away at Watford, win at home to Southampton, win away at Hull). Hard to predict how this team fares by coaching and by injuries.
  6. Chelsea – Hazard is back, Conte is scary, and Costa is an evil monster with 5 goals already this season. But their entire D is a significant step down from their attacking players and they don’t have much depth. Either new blood will come in and replace them or Chelsea’s ceiling is limited. Lackluster in their loss to Liverpool and flat in their draw against Swansea.
  7. Man United – Back to back league losses. Mourinho already blaming his players. Rashford, De Gea, and Pogba not good enough to hold up Rooney and Mata. Ibrahimovic is still dangerous but he spends a lot of time walking during the game. I think the biggest sign of Man U’s weakness is that their go-to substitution is Fellaini and the strategy change of targeting him in the box and hoping he can knock down a header for someone to toe-poke in. That’s not much of a strategy. It’s hardly better than hitting it at Peter Crouch and hoping for the same. The difference is that Fellaini plays in the center of the pitch and its a total liability on defense. At least Crouch hides as a forward. Another Mourinho meltdown would be fun to see.
  8. Watford – Outside of the top spots, Watford is the best of the rest. I don’t see them sitting this high for long, but they got a nice win against Man U, got beat by Arsenal and Chelsea, drew with Southampton, and came from 0-2 down to smoke West Ham. They’re scoring and conceding with regularity so it will be interesting to see what changes.
  9. Leicester – Losing Kante to Chelsea has somehow made both teams worse. The stoutness of Leicester’s D is gone–they’re league average in goals conceded. Their offense is still 2-speed: either Marhez creates something, or Vardy wins a footrace and knocks in a long ball. Their upcoming matches are Chelsea, Man U, and Southampton so we’ll know a lot more about this team by the first weekend of October.
  10. Southampton – 14th in the table but they’re a lot better than their results show. They lost their coach and a bunch of their best players and have reloaded and changed their style. Will be a top half club but not threaten the European spots. On to the rest of the teams that don’t really matter…
  11. Middlesborough – One of the promoted clubs, and started the season playing well. Draw with Stoke, win over Sunderland, and a draw with West Brom don’t look nearly as impressive now.
  12.  Hull – Shock opening weekend win over Leicester, a follow up win against Swansea, then a narrow loss to Man U. Those are great results for the team that was universally picked to be the worst in the BPL and possibly the worst of all time. At 5 points from 5 games, they may have gotten 25% of all the points they’re going to collect for the rest of the season, but for now they’re riding higher than the tire fires below them.
  13. West Brom – Some early season management chaos as their foreign owner was seriously ill and trying to sell the club to some Chinese guy. Sale finally went through and they celebrated by thrashing West Ham 4-2. They have a couple of former Spurs players including their leading scorer Nacer Chadli and former Spurs player of the year defender Michael Dawson.
  14. Crystal Palace – They looked awesome today while spanking Stoke. Andros “Nutmeg” Townsend was a monster. Two wins on the trot hides how bad they were the first 3 games of the season. In a season with more parity they might be in relegation trouble. With the obvious division between the haves and have-nots they’ll hover safely mid table.
  15. Swansea – Shit they’ve been bad. An unlucky draw against Chelsea was against their run of play. They have some talented players and a smooth offensive style but have been terrible in execution. I expect them to move up the table but discontent seems to fomenting.
  16. Bournemouth – Scoring 0.5 goals per game and giving up 2 is not a recipe for winning. That exaggerates the impact of their blowout loss to Man City this weekend. If not for that, they’d only be conceding 1 goal a game. So, now they’re boring and bad instead of just being bad.
  17. Burnley – Filthy cunts. 3 goals for, 8 goals against. That includes a shocking 2-0 win against Liverpool when ‘pool had 80% possession for the game. That’s the record for a team that lost. Without that win Burnley has 1 goal for and 8 goals against. Look away.
  18. West Ham – They’re getting downgraded to West Spam. They’ve lost their last 3 by a combined score of 11-5. They crashed out of Europa and things aren’t looking any better in the league. They can’t even claim to have played a tough schedule as their last two losses have been 4-2 against West Brom and Watford each. I’m not even sure how they’re going to play their way out of it as this is their full strength squad.
  19. Stoke – They’re about thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to getting Mark Hughes fired. Opening weekend draw and since then they’ve been smoked. 14 goals conceded is the worst in the league and 3 goals scored is tied for worst. That’s scoring less than a goal a game and conceding nearly 3. For a squad with this much talent, that’s clearly a motivation/tactical issue.
  20. Sunderland – They parked the bus against Spurs and only lost 1-0 because their GK stood on his head all game. They lack quality and depth and are racking up injuries and cards. They’re going to have to be the king of 0-0 draws if they want to have any chance of surviving.

Spurs Week 2

A win!

1-0 to Spurs. I don’t know exactly what to make of this game. Last week we started flat and lacked control of the middle of the pitch (making Alli and Kane ineffective). At 55 mins Janssen was subbed on for Alli and we shifted to a 4-4-2 / 4-(1-3)-(1-1) and the game turned. We controlled the ball better and created more chances from the wings–and remained ineffective up the middle. The draw was disappointing but on the balance a fair result.

This week was different. Alli was dropped to the bench in favor of Janssen (supposedly Alli was sick midweek but that doesn’t justify his terrible performance the week before). Our formation was the familiar 4-2-3-1 but with a few guys moved around. Janssen was up top to harry the defense. Kane dropped into the playmaking #9 role. Lamela and Erikson swapped sides. And the defensive half of the lineup was the same as last week.
CP lined up like a 4-2-3-1, but due to their 2 very defensive midfielders and 4 wingers in a useless jumble up top it played like a 6-0-4 with giant holes in the midfield.
We controlled the ball well from the opening whistle. On offense, Wanyama and Dier actively dribbled the ball forward to transition from D to O. We controlled the middle of the pitch and created chances from steep runs. We had 10 corner kicks to their 1, and dominated them in shots 14 to 8 (and I can’t remember a single one of their shots requiring a good save from Vorm). Our finishing, however, was awful. We didn’t shoot well but our biggest problem was that we squandered at least 5 great opportunities without even getting a shot off. Erikson led a fast break where we had even numbers; he streaked down the center of the field dribbling from our box to theirs before tripping over the ball while trying to cross the defender with a pass to Kane. It was a perfect microcosm of the game. April of last season we would have generated 10 additional shots and finished at least 4 of them. I don’t know if our guys were trying to get too cute or choked or couldn’t see their angles, but the failure to close out the game early meant CP was always a lucky counter attack from snatching points.
Here was the Expected Goals (xG) map for the game as compiled by Michael Caley and posted on his twitter:
Inline image 1
In addition to poor finishing, our wing game was lacking. Rose and Walker weren’t particularly effective bringing the ball up the wings–the reverse of last week–possibly due to unfamiliarity in the Rose/Lamela and Walker/Erikson passing combinations. Erikson was really off his game with poor first-touches, bad passes, and not enough going forward. He’s been in a protracted contract negotiation and hopefully that’s not distracting him. Below is a passing map showing the relative position of each Spur during the match and the frequency of their passes. Erikson was a dead zone and clearly didn’t work well with Walker this match:
Inline image 2
On defense, we were stout. Poche’s system requires hard pressing by the front line and smart rotation by the midfielders to close down the obvious outlet passes. The system is supposed to generate turnovers in advantageous positions and prevent offensive build up by the other team. Janssen at the top was a beast. He pounced on loose balls, made hard tackles all over the pitch, committed tons of fouls and injured defenders, and mostly worked his ass off. The back 6 did a great job of isolating the CP wingers/attackers so they always seemed to be working alone and taking on 2 of our defenders. They had maybe 3 decent chances to score all game. It was an excellent game in defense.
Around the 70th minute Erikson was subbed out for Alli and within seconds Alli flicked a gorgeous ball onto the path of the cutting Janssen. Janssen should have scored but managed to send it further from the goal that might have been humanly possible. Alli looked sharp in his 20 minutes of game time–more like the Alli of last season. We kept pushing and earned an 85th minute corner kick. Kane got his head on it about 12 yards out and sent a solid shot goalward. Wanyama intercepted it with a slight flick guaranteeing that it wasn’t going to be saved. Not sure if Kane’s would have gone in but Wanyama’s did and that was all that mattered. We closed out the remaining minutes and earned our first win of the season.
Probably the best single moment of the game–even better than the goal–was Lamela nutmegging former Spur Andros Townsend:
The last few frames reveal a lifetime of regret and insecurity as his soul is cleaved from his body. RIP Townsend.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen +3 – would have been +5 if he had scored some of his chances. On a better day he would have had 2 goals and an assist.
Kane +2 – not as dogged as Janssen but he was playing a different role and put in a solid shift
Lamela +1 – Some good moments, but was guilty of creating chances but not shots
Erikson -2 – Not a good game
Dier +1 – Better than last week. Solid on D and more productive on O. Nothing stood out from his game other than a major nut shot
Wanyama +3 – First goal as a Spur. Pushed the ball forward to create a lot of attacks. Man of the Match.
Rose +1 – Smooth passing out of the back but wasn’t effective enough as a winger
Vertonghen +1 – much better than last week. Stifling D.
Alderweirald +3 – really good on D, got his head on a couple of corner kicks. Unlucky to not get a goal.
Walker 0 – nothing bad but nothing good.
Vorm +1 – made some easy saves and was a solid distributor. No complaints.
Alli +2 – created a lot of chances in his 20 minute shift. Unlucky not to come away with a goal and an assist.
Onomah +0 – less than 5 minutes on the pitch
Carroll +0 less than 2 minutes on the pitch
Glad we got our first win of the season.

Preseason Analysis

It’s almost time!

Aight fools, it’s nearly EPL time. Since I’m still on couch for another week before work starts, I’m trying to use that time wisely: to upload all of the random info I’ve learned in the last 11 months for my friends to ignore.

Tottenham!
To the tune of Achy-Breaky Heart:
We’ve got Al-li, 
De-li Al-li,
I just don’t think you understand,
He only cost 5 Mill,
He’s better than Ozil,
We’ve got Deli Alliiiiiiiiiii
Last season was a crazy aberration. Man City, Man U, Chelsea, and Liverpool were awful considering the money they spent and all four changed managers. Arsenal hung around and pipped an unmotivated and exhausted Tottenham for 2nd place on the last day of the season. Leicester shocked the world with their aged and unproven players and strung together roughly 25 1-0 wins. It was chaos. We ended the season in 3rd place but with the best offense, the best defense, the best GK, the best striker, the young player of the year, a spot in Champions League, one of the best coaches, wealth, and stability.
Our biggest weakness last season was depth. We played an exciting, fast-tempo, pressing attack, and trusted Vertonghen, Alderverald, and Dier to shut down any counter-attacks. It worked fantastically. But when we played the B-squad in the FA Cup or Europa League, our offense fizzled and the team was way more pedestrian. When opposing teams fielded a pressing 4-3-3, our offense was less fluid and we didn’t have the personnel to change our tactics. Here was our standard 4-2-3-1 line-up (with subs):
This season we’re expecting roughly 10 more Champions/Europa matches than last season (if you come in 3rd place in your Champions League group of 4 you get placed into the Europa League round of 32). So we picked up some more players. Pochettino only pursued young, athletic players and at price tags considerably less than the other 5 big money clubs.
  1. Vincent Janssen is our new young striker. He dominated the Dutch league, is quiet and humble, and the advanced metrics people love him.
  2. Victor Waynama is our new defensive midfielder. He has been at staple in Southampton’s squad for a couple of seasons where he’s a big-bodied, athletic DM anchor. He used to play for the awesomely named Beerschot AC in the Belgian league.
  3. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou is our new fleet-footed attacking midfielder.
  4. We also got Yedlin back from his loan to Sunderland. They survived relegation but are in chaos, and their coach, Sam Allardyce, just bailed on them to be the England coach so it looks like we’re going to hang onto Yedlin. In the pre-season friendlies he played a bit of left back instead of his preferred right side. He fits Pochettino’s style of outside-back-plays-like-a-winger and it looks like he’ll get some games.
At first look our new players won’t displace any of last season’s preferred starting 11, but it gives us depth and flexibility. Here’s the updated 4-2-3-1 line-up:
First, our weakest subs have been eliminated or pushed down in the pecking order; Mason, Onomah, and Chadli in particular were no where near good enough to justify the playing time they got last season when we needed fresh legs. Fuck, I can’t express how much I hated seeing Mason and Onomah on the field. Janssen, N’Koudou, and Waynama will definitely keep those guys off the pitch (Reportedly, Chadli was told to find a new club and Mason is being pursued by Hull and Crystal Palace).
The best thing about the new guys is that it gives us tactical flexibility. With a second striker we can now look to play 4-3-1-2 (Eriksen or Alli in the pivot) or 4-3-3 (Alli up front). With midfield reinforcements we can play 4-4-2, 3-5-2, or something crazy with 3 defenders and an ass-load of midfielders in a diamond. The team has only gotten stronger and that was from a base of being the best D and best O.
What about our competition? I’m glad I asked myself that question. In the order they finished last season (minus teams that don’t matter):
  1. Leicester – kept Vardy, lost Kante, might lose Mahrez and Drinkwater. They were fluky lucky last season. They were an old team that was successful by having a stifling D and a lightning quick counter-attack. Now they’re a year older, their defensive keystone left for Chelsea, and they might lose their best offensive player and 3rd best midfielder. Plus they’re in the Champions League but haven’t added any bodies. Predicted finish: CL blowout and 10th in the EPL.
  2. Arsenal – lost out on Vardy, picked up a flashy AM in Xhaka, and is pursuing Mahrez. They lack a true forward, as usual, and they already have a bunch of injuries, as usual. Oh, and Arsene Wenger is refusing to buy players because they’re too expensive, as usual. But Arsenal always hangs around. Predicted finish: 3rd.
  3. Man City – last season’s 4th place finisher is moving on from the Vincent Kompany Elder Statesman Era. They are now coached by Pep Guardiola and are still the richest, deepest team in the league. I can’t see them having a second down year in a row. Predicted finish: 1st.
  4. Man U – last season’s 5th place team is about to add $133M midfielder Paul Pogba. That’s in addition to Ibrahimovic and super hairy Armenian midfielder Mkhitaryan. I’m sure they’ve bought other players as well. I think their spending this offseason will exceed $300M which is insane. They also have Mourhino as their new coach. The team is in transition though. Rooney is on his way out, their midfield of the future hasn’t panned out, and their defense is blah. I have no idea what to think of this team. Predicted finish: 5th because it looks so close to $th.
  5. Southampton – last year’s 6th place team did their usual selling off of hot young commodities. The only new guy who’s name I recognize is Charlie Adam who looks like this and was too old for Liverpool’s terrible squad. Southampton has a good system and coach but it’s only going to keep them from being terrible. Predicted finish: 9th.
  6. West Ham – last year’s 7th place team almost finished 4th. They’re good, they’re young, they have a great coach and are awful to play at home. But they haven’t been players in the transfer market and they will need a deeper squad for Europa league this year. Predicted finish: 7th.
  7. Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp (who has a whiff of Klinsmann) is starting his second season at Liverpool and first with a real transfer market window. They’ve picked up a few players but they’re doing the usual Liverpool thing of buying a $40M striker to replace their $30M striker. Diminishing returns. Maybe Klopp makes them better? Who knows? Predicted finish: 6th.
  8. Chelsea – holy shit they finished 10th last season! They hired Alberto Conte as their new manager, there’s no way Eden Hazard is actually as bad as he was last season, they’ve brought in some upgrades, and they don’t have to deal with Champions League or Europa matches. Predicted finish: 2nd.
That slots Tottenham in 4th place which will give us a second consecutive year in Champions League. Our best case scenario is to win the EPL. That’s possible, but it is unlikely given the talent in some of the other squads. Our worst case scenario is crashing out of CL, not qualifying for it next season and finishing 7th. That would require a bunch of injuries and even then we’re better than the likes of West Ham, Southampton, Everton, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Leicester. One of them might finish above us but not all of them.
So let’s get hyped this season. I get the EPL channels so I think I’ll be able to watch at least 30 of the 38 matches. Not sure where/when the CL matches are aired but I’ll keep an eye on that too. First EPL game is August 13th away at Everton. First CL match will be a month later. You can follow along with the CL draw here:  https://kassiesa.home.xs4all.nl/bert/uefa/seedcl2016.html
Come on you Spurs (COYS)