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.

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.