Champions League

CKSA

Just watched the CSKA match.

The CKSA crowd was really loud. I was imagining 30,000 very drunk Russians working themselves into a near-anarchic lather. I can see why it might be unnerving to play there. Well, not so much play, as leave safely after the game. Check your tea for Polonium.
I watched the game looking for to see if we have a striker problem and I agree that we may have a blind spot there. Janssen worked hard, but he frequently backs into one of the CBs and tries to box them out in an attempt to hold and dish,or turn and strike. So far he’s better at the hold up but other than that one dish off to Son against Middlesbrough he hasn’t created much. And he hasn’t been good enough at turning opportunities into shots on target. Time will tell if he figures out our system, or the BPL, or just finds a hot streak. Perhaps he’ll just be the guy who gets minutes when we need a front line defender to spell Kane when we’re holding onto a 2 goal lead in the 75th minute.
I was looking at our pass trackers over the past few games and there’s a pattern.
4-0 win over Stoke:
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1-0 win over Sunderland:
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2-1 win over Middlesbrough:
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1-0 win over CSKA:
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In all four of those matches we’re controlling the whole field except hit a wall about 22 yards from goal. It makes sense in that’s where the center backs stand, but it also aligns with our playing style of lateral/outside-in runs. With all of our attacking midfielders pushing so far up the field, we need vertical runs from deeper to break the defensive line.  The other options are passes from the wing backs into the near post or over the top passes. All three of those are in our repertoire. We haven’t had an awesome shred-them-to-ribbons game yet where those dinky Alli-Lamela-Erikson 1-2 passes turn into open shots, but it happened a bunch when we peaked Feb-March last year so we have it in us.
For comparison, here are the pass trackers for Man City’s 2-1 win over Swansea and 4-0 win over Bournemouth:
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They’ve scored 80% more goals than us with about the same number of passes and shots. I think they’re getting a little closer to goal than we are with their passes. I checked their shot locations and they look pretty similar to ours. Perhaps they’re 2-4 yards closer and that makes a big conversion rate difference. I’m not sure. On the other hand, it’s only been 6 games. If you strip out the 3 PKs they’ve scored (compared to our 0) they’re getting a free 0.5 goals per game awarded to them that we’re not. Or, maybe they’re just better at finishing? You’d hope so given the value of their players is double ours.
Back to the game. I thought we were pretty blah in the first half. In particular, Alli was mediocre. His passes were sloppy, his shots were wasteful, he couldn’t dribble and his timing was weird. Hitting the crossbar early made him look more productive than he was. And his first half giveaway after he dribbled back deep into our half should have put us behind 1-0. Lamela and Son weren’t very impactful either. CSKA was also very well organized in defense and played their offsides trap really well. They nailed Janssen and Son several times and Son’s goal could have been called either way (although I think he was onsides and it was legit). Traore up top was a handful. It’s not often Vertonghen and Alderweirald are at a loss for size, strength, and speed. And he worked hard. There’s your striker target man, E.
In the second half we picked it up. Son was much better, and Davies, Vertonghen, and Alderweirald were excellent, but my man of the match was Erikson. He was the conductor, moving the pieces, linking passes, and opening up opportunities. He was too eager to shoot from distance early in the game, but after the first half hour he was really good. His 50 yard knee high laser to a streaking Alli at the far post was brilliant and would have been a tournament highlight had Alli turned it goalward. Janssen didn’t quite make it happen, but I like that he beat the keeper with a flick during one of his offsides calls. They were both going for it and Janssen won even if it doesn’t make it onto the scoresheet. NKoudou looked dangerous as a sub. I’m liking this guy and he’s very different from the other guys he’d be replacing. Poche likes having utilitarian cogs to swap out across his positions but having another speed merchant/dribbler is pretty exciting (besides Son). We definitely lacked that last season. Now we need to see NKoudou shoot.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (+0) Decent hold up play, hustle as usual, couldn’t find enough good shots or passes from that lead role.
Son (+2) Better second half than first. Can’t fault the lone goal scorer though.
Lamela (+1) Better second half than first. Thought he was going to get booked for petulance in the first half. Good to see that he still owns the gloves. And the guyliner.
Erikson (+3) My man of the match
Alli (-1) Wasteful. Bad giveaways. Goes to ground looking for a foul too easily. Everyone and their mother is looking for his soft penalty dives.
Wanyama (+1) A few poor giveaways but owned the central defensive midfield. Was always available for an outlet/restart pass
Davies (+3) Good bounce back game following that shitshow against ‘brough. Was quick going forward, made smart passes, didn’t leave a gaping hole in defense, and stuck some good tackles
Vertonghen (+2) Was getting pushed around by Traore but never let it turn into a card-worthy foul. Did his job.
Alderweirald. (+3) I always rate him higher than Vertonghen because I suspect Vertonghen is a dick. Also, Toby offers a lot more going forward. Sometime soon I’m going to write about his awesome long ball game. He’s like a sniper for over the top passes. And he gets his head on the ball a lot on corner kicks.
Trippier (+1) Got down the field well to create width in the attacking third. Tracked back well most of the time, but got beat around the corner at least twice.
Lloris (0) I want to rate him higher because I like him but he didn’t look very good claiming crosses. Toby and Jan made his job a lot easier today.
NKoudou (+3) That was fun.  Hope to see more of that soon.
Winks (+1) Not a lot of time on the ball, but looked good when he was in the play.
Here’s the Korean commentary during the Son goal. Tight pass by Toby to get it started. Nice assist for Lamela.

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 4

The flood gates open!

Spurs!!!! 4-0!!!! This sums up my emotions around the 75th minute: https://twitter.com/Mariners/status/773732386697728000?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

This was the game of Heung-min Son.
We lined up 4-2-3-1 with Lloris in goal, Ben Davies replacing Danny Rose at left back, and Heung-min Son at left wing and Erikson at right wing instead of Lamela.
Stop me if you heard this one before, but Spurs started slowly. Mark Hughes’ boys came out in a pressing 4-3-3 and were active early. Spurs couldn’t settle the ball at the back and were trying to push long passes into the midfield with middling results. Stoke kept getting corner kicks, which plays into their strength–being one of the tallest, toughest teams in the league. Spurs are just as tall and were up for the challenge.
After the initial 15 minutes of choppy play, we started exerting our will on the game. 20 minutes in, Son dribbled into the box and Jeff Cameron clipped his heels and then fell on him. No call. 5 minutes later, Son lead a counter attack but his cut back pass was terrible–so terrible that it clanged off the shins of back-tracking winger/lunatic Marko Arnautovic and straight to Deli Alli who was played onside, alone, 6 yards out. Alli turned and fired on instinct and missed the goal with a move that was more clearance than shot. It was all confusing but we were showing promising signs.
Around the 35th minute, Arnautovic–who was sent off against Spurs last April in the middle of a 4-0 mauling–was given a yellow for diving. It was tough to see in real time but the ref was standing right there, it was clear in the replay, and no one on Stoke protested. Except for Mark Hughes who flipped his shit. The sideline official was offended that Hughes was offended and had the ref throw him out of the game. Hughes doubled down on losing his mind. The announcers decided it was the most interesting thing ever and talked about it constantly. Of the 100 minutes of game footage at least 7 minutes was of Hughes trying to call his assistant managers from his cell phone. Thankfully, it was revealed that Hughes’ official charge was “remonstration”, which, as nerds can explain, means he protested. Oh England.
Then, a few minutes later, Walker hit a short cross from within the box and it clipped his defender’s hand before the on-rushing Deli Alli was bowled over from behind by his defender. The ref decided Alli was faking and called a foul but didn’t give him a card. It was all chaotic and poorly ref’d. But by then we were clearly in control of the game. Stoke’s press eased up; our passes through the midfield became shorter; and our guys started gathering the ball, turning, and taking the space with dribbles. A lot of movement went through Erikson as he was pinching in very narrow to link play with Alli. He wasn’t sharp at first, some sloppy passes and some lost possession, but he did combine with Alli to unlock the defense and feed Son with a sniping pass to the penalty spot. Son, in an acre of space, put the ball in the net first touch. 1-0 at halftime. http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2016/9/10/12871248/watch-son-s-clever-finish-gives-spurs-lead-vs-stoke-city
Second half opened with a disjointed first 5 minutes but then the Spurs turned it on. 20-pass combinations, sweet overlapping runs, and the Stoke press was completely beaten. We were nasty on the counter attack, clinical in possession, and the chances that Stoke did create were harried or deflected shots that never felt like a real threat. When it was still 1-0 in the 55th minute, Stoke would have gladly ended the game if it were offered to them. Instead, Alli looped a pass to Erikson who coolly brought it down, twisted Jeff Cameron into the pitch like a screw, and fed Son with a soft pass to his feet. Son smashed it into the net. 2-0.  http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2016/9/10/12871632/watch-son-s-sensational-strike-notches-brace-vs-stoke-city
That’s Erikson gathering the corner kick clearance, feeding the recently subbed on Lamela, who feeds Walker–who sprinted 80 yards before taking the pass–who tucks in an easy cross to Alli sitting at the top of the box. Boom. Beautiful counter attacking goal.
Stoke preceded to walk for the next 25 minutes. Spurs did not. We got a corner, then played some ping pong in front of the goal. Kane’s shot from 3 yards out was blocked but Son ran it down halfway to the corner flag, turned, and sent it back from whence it came. Dier narrowly missed touching it in, but it ran to Kane who recieved it with more than 2/3 of the goal in front of him. His gathered it, measured, backed up, checked the wind, re-tied his shoes, brushed his hair, texted his pregnant fiance, straightened his shirt, cupped a fart to see how much it smelled, and then lashed it into the net past the reach of the diving Shay Given who is 40 years old. I think the rest of the defenders had stopped for tea.
The game wasn’t perfect but we controlled 70 of the 90 minutes and dominated 45 of them. We had 20 shots, 8 of which were blocked and 8 of which were on target. That means 8 of our 12 unblocked shots were on target. Good teams put it on net. We were a good team today. Really good. Around the 80th minute the very raucous traveling Spurs fans sang:
“It’s happening again, It’s happening again, Stoke City, It’s happening again”
Player ratings (-5 to 5)
Lloris – 2 – made some good saves but wasn’t under a ton of pressure. Made some good decisions to come claim crosses out of the air.
Davies – 3 – Excellent at left back. Knows he’s not as athletic as Rose and didn’t try to play like him. Had some clever 1-2s with Son and Dier. Didn’t let himself get pulled out of position too much.
Vertonghen – 3 – some smart, seamless defending. Didn’t appear to get caught out like the last few weeks.
Alderwierald – 3 – Solid as always.
Walker – 4 – Some great hustle plays. Got involved several times in the offense. Assist to Alli. Should have had a second one but for the ref. Made a nice goal line clearance.
Wanyama – 1 – I can’t remember him doing anything but getting a yellow, and then committing a few more fouls before being subbed for Lamela. We controlled the middle of the pitch so he couldn’t have been bad.
Dier – 1 – See Wanyama. Except no card.
Son – 4 – 2 goals, 1 assist, some awesome hustle. Enthusiasm and energy. Both goals were missable and he made them look easy. Would have rated 5 had he not scuffed about 3 fast breaks
Alli –  3 – 1 goal, 2 hockey assists, 1 total howler. He was creative and sneaky and mazy. It was fun to watch.
Erikson – 4 – Was hailed as the man of the match by many. His second half was very good, better than his first half, and much better than the first 3 weeks. Created a lot of chances.
Kane – 2 – 1 Goal and lots of hard work but still didn’t look very sharp. Glad he got his goal.
Lamela – 1 – Came on for the last 30 mins of the match. Lots of good passing. Showed poise.
Janssen – 0 – 20 minutes but had no impact.
Sissoko – 1 – Played right wing for 15 minutes. Had a deflected shot that still almost went in. Looked pretty fast. Picked up a yellow for a lazy foul.
Here was our xG map:
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Shots are getting closer to goal and more central. Could have been 6-0 pretty easily.