Liverpool F.C. 2013-14: The Season That Never Was

The start of the 2014-15 Premier League season is less than a month away, but the memories of the previous season are still very much embedded in the minds of football fans who follow the English Premier League consistently. A title race for the ages occurred, with three teams (and Arsenal) at times looking like genuine contenders for the throne, perhaps highlighted by the rebirth of one of England’s most storied clubs in Liverpool. A team who in years past has fallen into a state of mediocrity with ownership problems, Andy Carroll’s insane transfer fee (and his following ineptitude’s at the club ), the amount of average to below average players soaking up lots of playing time, and no real talisman to take over for Fernando Torres after his departure to Chelsea in 2011.

This was a side that finished in a tied for 8th in 2011-12, just 5 point ups on West Brom, Swansea and Norwich, who finished in a tie for 10th. They were 4 points behind their Merseyside rivals, Everton, who finished 7th. The season was highlighted by Luis Suarez’s racial incident with Patrice Evra, Kenny Dalglish proclaiming that the League Cup trophy victory vs Cardiff (which was a battle between two Gerrards, and yes one of them did let it slip in the penalty shootout) would lead to more trophies in the future. It was as close to rock bottom as a club with Liverpool’s past credentials could be. For god’s sake, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing and Stewart Downing played a combined 6216 minutes that season. Of course they would be 17 points off of a Champions League spot.

The next season was not much better standings wise, but the seeds of Liverpool’s return to prominence were planted. Coutinho and Sturridge were added in the January transfer window, helping Liverpool play at a pace that through a full season would’ve challenged for the Champions League. They were the best in the EPL in conceding the fewest amount of shots in the penalty box while also having the most shots taken from inside the penalty box.

Their conversion rate at 9.6%, which ranked 12th overall, hindered Liverpool’s goal production. Considering that they scored 71 goals, that was a bit of a scary thought. Suarez himself was the epitome of Liverpool’s inefficiencies, an erratic shooter who doubled as a great chance creator:

Name Pen Box Touches per Pen Box Shot % of Shots Inside Box Passes per Chance Created Shot Accuracy % Goal Conversion %
Van Persie 2.27 73 14.4 44.70% 18.40%
Suarez 2.94 66.8 13.5 36.90% 12.30%
Benteke 3.29 78.8 21.5 38.50% 18.30%
Lukaku 2.41 82.5 15.8 46.40% 17.50%
Lambert 4.53 61.7 15.2 42.60% 16.00%
Ba 2.14 71.9 34 37.80% 11.10%
Berbatov 2.4 77.8 31.1 42.00% 18.50%
Dzeko 2.69 75.5 21.2 40.40% 14.90%
Aguero 2.93 80.2 16.7 40.70% 14.00%
Rooney 2.34 51.2 25.3 38.40% 14.00%
Le Fondre 2.04 85.5 19.9 40.00% 21.80%
Giroud 2.65 79.4 20.5 35.50% 10.30%
Kone 2.72 71.7 20.8 38.00% 12.00%
Tevez 3.14 54.3 19.7 37.10% 10.50%
Defoe 2.03 59.3 14.1 37.00% 10.20%
Sturridge 2.55 67.1 13.7 45.70% 15.70%
Fletcher 2.68 80 35.9 50.90% 20.00%
Podolski 3.71 57.4 30.4 35.20% 20.40%
Hernandez 1.78 84.1 19.1 52.30% 22.70%

The table above is for EPL strikers that registered at least 10 goals in the 2012-13 season. Despite placing second in the EPL in goals that season, Suarez had pretty pedestrian conversion percentages and shooting accuracy, the latter being helped by Suarez’s penchant for taking long distance shots. To top it all off, Suarez received a 10 match ban towards the end of the season with the SECOND bite heard around the world on Branislav Ivanovic. It was another dark moment in Suarez’s footballing career.

There were incessant rumors of him leaving Liverpool, with Arsene Wenger famously triggering his buyout clause of £40million plus one pound. The thought of Suarez playing another season in Anfield was crazy, and what came of it was even crazier.

Liverpool enjoyed perhaps their greatest season since last winning the title in 1990. They were a fire wagon offensive side who delighted fans, employing one of the great forward duos English First Division football has ever seen. Suarez himself enjoyed a huge spike in shooting accuracy and his goal conversion rate despite a decrease in the amount of shots taken from the penalty box.

Name Pen Box Touches per Pen Box Shots % of Shots Inside Box Passes per Chance Created Shooting Accuracy % Goal Conversion%
Suarez 3.05 59.7% 14.5 44.8 17.1
Sturridge 2.45 65.6% 25.5 42.4 22.2
Aguero 2.76 82.6% 14.4 48.8 19.8
Rooney 2.46 53.5% 23.6 42.6 16.8
Bony 2.64 63.9% 33 36.1 14.8
Dzeko 2.27 83.5% 39.7 36.9 15.5
Giroud 2.61 80.4% 30.1 33 14.3
Lukaku 2.77 67.3% 23.1 44.6 14.9
Rodriguez 2.62 65.3% 34.8 31.7 14.9
Remy 2.39 60.0% 19.5 34.4 15.6
Lambert 3.20 57.3% 21.0 39.8 12.6
Van Persie 2.55 90.3% 24.2 33.9 19.4
Adebayor 3.93 75.0 23.3 52.3 25
Benteke 3.00 50.9 18.9 40.3 14.9

Daniel Sturridge upped his goal conversion percentage despite a small decline in shots taken from the penalty area.

As a Liverpool supporter, I couldn’t tell you how enjoyable it was to watch the 2013-14 iteration (Yes, I know that the fun of it came from the unsustainable percentages that Liverpool used during the season, how the goals colored how the team pretty much played the same way the season prior). There was something intoxicating about this Liverpool iteration, the type of bend but don’t break mentality that in ways defined the Premier League in 2013-14. Hell even when Liverpool “defended” and allowed shots from everywhere, there was something fascinating with the approach (mind you, for the most part, in these situations I was rocking back and forth in the fetal position).

This team at times played Kolo Toure at RB/CB in clunky three at the back formations to accommodate SAS, Martin Skrtel had 4 own goals on the season, and there were countless moments of him holding and tugging on opponents jerseys during corner situations. Jon Flanagan became a dependable full back while Glen Johnson continued his decline as a defensively challenged right back.

And yet they got by.

When Coutinho slotted that volley past Joe Hart off of the missed clearance from Vincent Kompany, I started to think that this could be the year. I haven’t followed football for too long, probably ingratiating myself with the sport post 2010 World Cup and becoming a Liverpool fan sometime after. I can’t even tell you how and why I choose being a Liverpool fan, and there are times when I question why I choose the Reds as my team. But I did and once Liverpool got past Norwich by the skin of their teeth, I was ecstatic. I genuinely thought the title was ours and more importantly, we had to win the title that season. Knowing how the other big sides would load up in the summer combined with the statistical regression that would probably come the next season meant this was the greatest opportunity Liverpool had in securing the league title.

And then this happened:

JampackedSphericalCougar

And this happened:

Poof, the league title was gone. The captain of Liverpool F.C. was (and very much still is) the mockery of the football community. A title that looked like it was coming back to Anfield went up in dust courtesy of the “slip seen around the world” and the choke job to seal it.

Look, the slip could’ve happened to anyone. It could’ve been Joe Allen, it could’ve been Lucas. Hell it could’ve even been Suarez, but it wasn’t. It was Steven Gerrard, who compounded things with his “heroic” speech vs Manchester City.

Even without the speech, this would’ve been huge fodder. Gerrard’s career has been defined by narrative and impulse: the famous night in Istanbul, his goal in the 2006 FA Cup Final, the goal that saved Liverpool’s 2004-05 Champions league hopes vs Olympiacos. The 2013-14 season was highlighted by him fighting off the instincts that made him a household name in his younger days. The rover in him having to make way for a more nuanced role as “England’s Pirlo”. Statistically, Gerrard had a great season in this role yet at times the aesthetics of how the job was accomplished made it harder to merge the two worlds.

But the slip? That can and will not ever be lived down by both Gerrard himself and Liverpool fans. At the age of 34, that quite possibly was Gerrard’s last chance at winning the one title that has eluded him for so long and his career to some will just be remembered for the slip.

So, as I watched the final day of the season, I knew it was inevitable that Man City would hoist the title. I was being told by pundits that because of the theater that happened between QPR and Man City two years ago, West Ham had a puncher’s chance of pulling the miracle. I felt insulted as a Liverpool supporter, almost as if I was supposed to grab the dangling carrot and hold on one more time. I didn’t want to grab it, I had enough. City won the title on as anticlimactic a Sunday as there could be.

So here we are, around three weeks away from the start of the Premier League season. A new cast of characters have arrived in the hope of propelling Liverpool one step further to title champions. Suarez is gone and his impact and statistical dominance will have to be made up by the likes of Loic Remy, Adam Lallana (once he returns from his knee injury), Rickie Lambert and others.

I have serious doubts – not just on Liverpool winning the title (they won’t win the title), but even making top 4 next season. Even if Suarez had stayed, Liverpool overperformed statistically and the odds of replicating that type of production were very low. Now with the overhaul of the roster, regression to the mean will come and it will come hard. They won’t be as horrible defensively as they were, but even that won’t amount to much of a jump. I would even go as far to perdict that Liverpool will be anywhere between 10-20 points behind the title winners when the 2014-15 season ends.

Liverpool F.C took their fans and the EPL on a ride that few would’ve seen coming. Seven points from their final three games would’ve given them the title; they only got 4. They made me believe that the impossible could be achieved, but it didn’t happen. Yes, Liverpool will be playing Champions League football this upcoming season, and that’s good news for a club that hasn’t been in the CL since 2009-10. I know that the season on a whole was very successful in restoring the aura that once surrounded this storied club.

But there’s a small part of me, a dark part of my football fandom, that kind of wished I was subjected to another mediocre Liverpool season instead of having been teased into thinking that dreams can actually come true.

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Why Liverpool won’t be this year’s Tottenham

Luis Suarez scored twice against Tottenham in Liverpool’s 5-0 domination at White Hart Lane. With Suarez gone, Liverpool will look to avoid the same fate suffered by Tottenham last season after losing Gareth Bale.

An increasingly prevalent opinion that’s developed recently amongst the media and fans alike is Liverpool will be this year’s Tottenham. Liverpool sold their best player just as Tottenham did in the summer of 2013, and Liverpool is now buying several lesser quality players to replace their best player, again just like Tottenham. But there are some key differences that should be noted here as to why Liverpool won’t find themselves in the same conundrum Tottenham found themselves.

Maybe.

The first difference is Gareth Bale was much more important to Spurs in terms of contributing to goals than Suarez. In the 2012-13 season Tottenham scored 66 EPL goals. Bale was responsible for 30 of the goals, either by scoring or providing the assist. The second biggest contributor to Tottenham was Jermain Defoe, who had 11 goals and four assists, or half of what Bale brought to the table.

Last season Luis Suarez was responsible for 43 goals out of Liverpool’s 101 goals. Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge contributed 28 goals, about a third less than Suarez. It should be noted that Sturridge also did this in seven less starts than Suarez. Mr. Slip himself, also known as Steven Gerrard, also had 26 goals he scored or set up.

Despite his hilarious slip, only Sturridge and Suarez were responsible for more Liverpool goals than good old Stevie G.

While Suarez was obviously crucial to Liverpool coming a slip away from the title, Bale was more important to Tottenham when you consider who was scoring goals other than him. I mean c’mon, Jan Vertonghen was the fourth top scorer for that team.

Additionally, Brendan Rodgers is a much better manager than Andre Villas Boas. He managed to turn Sturridge, previously someone who reeked of unreached potential, into one of the Premier League’s top scorers. He also made two pieces of smart business in the purchases of Coutinho for £8,500,000 and Sakho for £15,000,000.

Rodgers led Swansea to Premier League promotion and an 11th place finish with a side that was a popular pick for relegation before leaving his Welsh side for Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers also helped harness Steven Gerrard’s meandering runs. For most of his England and Liverpool career, Steven Gerrard was the prototypical English midfielder: a very intense runner who tried very hard and played a lot of gung-ho football. Needless to say, those aren’t the type of qualities you need in your defensive midfielder, which Gerrard hypothetically was last season. This piece highlights a lot of the ills of Steven Gerrard, (and is really quite funny) but of note to our discussion is this:

At the age of 31, shorn of the ability to run around like a total idiot for 90 minutes, he suddenly understood that football has become a precise game of positioning, technique and speed of thought. The last two seasons under the management of Brendan Rodgers have seen the Liverpool captain become a good deep-lying playmaker. As long as he has two runners alongside him, he has time to make a decision and use his now reliably accurate long-passing to dictate games.

Villas Boas’s Powerpoint presentations are great, but I’m not so sure he could have mustered that type of performance from Slippy. AVB did not help a player reach his full potential nor were any of his transfers that particularly intelligent.

Under the guidance of Rodgers, and with a few additions on the defensive side of the ball, Liverpool can weather the storm of losing the hurricane of offense that is Bitey McRacist. They may slip, but they ain’t gonna Spur.

Losing Suarez won’t be easy Liverpool. But they won’t be this year’s Tottenham.

 

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Jose Mourinho & His Amazing Technicolor Squad

 

Chelsea have been pretty busy this transfer window. While their squad was pretty good last year, Jose Mourinho decided that he wanted more.

After selling Brazilian defender – which is a stretch – and probable Sideshow Bob impersonator David Luiz for 50 million pounds (easily the best piece of business this summer, by the way), he has raided the Spanish clubs for loads and loads of talent.

The biggest “victim” of Jose’s spending spree is Atletico Madrid. Aside from bringing back Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois, he has also snagged Brazilian left back Felipe Luis and striker Diego Costa, who probably isn’t wanted by his home country of Brazil or his adopted country of Spain. (Dude had a bad World Cup, but it wasn’t his fault.)

According to the press, Jose also wants Brazilian centre back Joao Miranda from Atletico Madrid.

Not content with sapping the Vicente Calderon outfit of all their players, Mourinho also bought crowd favorite Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. With those signings, the Chelsea team looks like a good bet to conquer Europe.

KryptiKnight_2014-Jul-21

 

Chelsea’s business this season has vaulted them into Premier League favorites as well. I’d argue that anything less than a league title would be a disappointment for them. Manchester City is always a threat, but I have a feeling the higher ups would like Manuel Pelligrini to focus on Europe. Manchester United have made a big signing on the bench, bringing in the most arrogant man in the world, Louis Van Gaal, to help restore some of the glory that former manager David Moyes completely destroyed in ten months. (I’d argue that their management is equally to blame, not having signed a central midfielder since 2008, but it’s not as compelling as David Moyes shit the bed.)

Arsenal are still Arsenal, and they will probably mount a challenge until their plethora of signings (Alexis Sanchez, Matthieu Debuchy, whatever defensive midfielder they settle on between Sami Khdeira, Morgan Schneiderlin, or William Carvalho) break down in the middle of February.

Luis Suarez left Merseyside for the greener pastures and beaches of Barcelona, and Brendan Rodgers has responded to that by trying to buy every central attacking midfielder in the world (and Southampton). They still need to strengthen their defense, ideally by bringing in a competent defensive midfielder to shoulder the load when Gerrard slips again, and regression to the mean and losing the most destructive offensive force the Premier League has seen in five years says they probably won’t score 100 goals again.

This leaves Chelsea as prohibitive favorites, and unless something wonderful or catastrophic happens, I see Jose Mourinho being fantastic and winning himself a few trophies this year.

It’s been a while.

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The EDIZD World Cup Roundtable

The World Cup is over and we’re all very sad about that about that. Yesterday we looked at what we got right and wrong about the teams in this tournament. Today, we’ve gathered to discuss some of the highs and lows from the 2014 World Cup.

Best Game 

Jordan: Germany 2-1 Algeria (AET). I’ll remember this game more than anything for the beauty of Manuel Neuer’s heat map and his overall performance in the game. He managed to stop so many Algerian attacks before they even started. Rais M’Bolhi also had a great game as did really everyone on Algeria. This was the best game of the tournament for me because it featured an underdog giving a powerhouse team all they could take. 38 shots between the two teams didn’t hurt either.

Jeremy: Belgium 2-1 United States (AET). The final game from the round of 16 was dominated by the Belgians, yet it entered extra time goalless thanks to a heroic first 90 from U.S. keeper Tim Howard and a wasted chance by Chris Wondolowski at the death. Kevin de Bruyne was phenomenal, scoring the opener in the 93rd minute and creating TEN chances, including Romelu Lukaku’s eventual winner in the 105th minute. The U.S. woke up after Julian Green’s goal, nearly equalizing seven minutes from the end, but Thibaut Courtois came up big to secure advancement for Belgium.

Ahmad: Chile 1-1 Brazil (Brazil won 3-2 on penalties). This game was the first game of the knockout round and boy was it awesome. The Chileans gave the hosts everything they could handle, and were at times the superior squad. Alexis Sanchez was spectacular for Coach Pitbull’s side, and Gary “The Pitbull” Medel played the game with his leg held together by sticky tape. In the 119th minute, Mauricio Pinilla almost won the game for Chile, but his shot hit the crossbar. Pinilla was so scarred by that miss that he tattooed it on his arm.

Moe: Netherlands 3-2 Australia. It was a back and forth affair that one couldn’t take their eyes off of. It was the type of game more fitting for a FIFA 14 simulation than one seen in international football, with a breakneck pace, numerous counter attacks and Tim Cahill scoring one of the great volleys in recent World Cup history. In a way it’s a shame that Australia were on the wrong end of two thrillers against Chile and the Netherlands, and perhaps with more luck here and there Australia could’ve sneaked their way into the knockout stage and give us one more show.

Worst Game

Jordan: Japan 0-0 Greece. Iran and Nigeria is too easy to pick. Everyone expected that game to be a painfully boring 0-0 and it was. This game wasn’t necessarily boring as it was pathetic to watch. Greece got a red card and somehow became even more defensive. Japan seemingly had infinite chances but couldn’t finish to save their lives. I wasn’t expecting this to be a barn burner but both teams just played poorly.

Jeremy: France 0-1 Germany. Isn’t it funny how the eventual World Cup winners played in the tournament’s worst game? At no point after Hummels’ goal did this game intrigue me. Germany’s midfield overwhelmed a lethargic and stubborn France (Deschamps’ first sub entered the match 17 minutes from the end). France’s best chance came in second-half injury time, but Karim Benzema’s rocket was punched away with little effort by Manuel Neuer. A snoozer.

Ahmad: Brazil 3-1 Croatia. The opening game of the World Cup wasn’t boring. It was actually very exciting. The thing that made me pick this game was the fact that Croatia was so blatantly robbed of getting a result. We kinda knew going in that the refs were going to be lenient and forgiving with the host nation, but we didn’t think it was going to be this bad. Croatia lost because Fred shamelessly dived and earned a penalty to put his country up. Prior to that, Croatia was arguably the better side. Football is cruel.

Moe: Netherlands 0-0 Argentina (Argentina won 4-2 on penalties). The less we speak about this game, the better.

Best Goal

JordanJames v. Uruguay. James’ goal beats out RVP and Cahill for me because of the audacity it takes to try to score from there. For both RVP and Cahill they really have no option but to try to score when they received the ball. James could’ve very easily chested the ball down and done plenty of things that weren’t hit a dazzling half volley. But he did. The audacity and presence of mind of mind it took for James to decide shoot and ultimately score is why that’s better than RVP or Cahill for me.

Jeremy: Mario Gotze vs. Argentina. You may accuse me of recency bias (James/RvP/Cahill are all great candidates), but for my money, this was the best (and biggest) goal of the World Cup. The power and pace in Schürrle’s run, the read by Götze, the spectacular volley close to the six-yard box…splendid goal, absolutely splendid.

Ahmad: David Villa vs Australia. Spain were awful during this World Cup. They were the first side to be eliminated from the WC. They went into the Australia game with nothing to play for. It was pretty much the end of an era. Don’t tell that to Villa, though. The guy with the most goals ever for Spain decided to end his international career with a cheeky back heel, showing everyone that you know what? He still got it.

Moe: Tim Cahill vs Netherlands. Speaking of the Socceroos, it’s our good ole friend Tim Cahill. The best part about this volley is how few seconds it came off of Robben’s goal that gave the Dutch the lead. It was almost as if he said to Robben “anything you can do, I can do better”, and on that volley he did. That probably was the last we’ll ever see of Tim Cahill in the World Cup and good lord that’s the way to go out.

Breakout Star other than James

Jordan: Juan Cuadrado. I knew he was a pretty solid player for Fiorentina and someone who was gonna be key for Colombia. I wasn’t expecting him to have four assists and a goal in five matches.  While James deservedly got all the headlines, Cuadrado also played a huge role in Colombia’s quarterfinal appearance.

Jeremy: Ricardo Rodriguez. His tournament ended too soon, but the Wolfsburg left-back acquitted himself extremely well in Brazil. His World Cup kicked off with a masterpiece against Ecuador, in which he assisted on both goals, and for the tournament, Rodriguez averaged five tackles, four clearances, and three interceptions per game while establishing himself as a menace bombing forward. Wolfsburg may find it difficult to keep Rodriguez, however, as Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United have all expressed interest in the young star.

Ahmad: Ricardo Rodriguez. This World Cup was full of standout fullbacks, and Rodriguez was one of the best. From the first game against Ecuador, where he assisted both Swiss goals, Rodriguez showed his attacking prowess and was a constant threat going forward. The game against France is perhaps best forgotten by everyone Swiss ever, but Rodriguez showed enough potential to attract the attention of Manchester United, who apparently want all the left backs.

Moe: Ron Vlaar. This World Cup to be frank was all about attacking football and selecting a center back as a breakout star is probably dumb on my part, but Ron Vlaar was damn good during this World Cup. He and Javier Mascherano were magnificent in their semifinal encounter. His jump in pass completion % from his domestic season with Aston Villa to what he produced in the World Cup was stunning. He was a rock through and through, something that wasn’t really the case for most CB’s in the World Cup this time around.

Most Disappointing Player

Jordan: Igor Akinfeev. Akinfeev is not only the captain of Russia but CSKA Moscow as well. He allowed the fewest amount of goals in the Russian Premier League and everything I’ve read and seen gives the impression he is thought of very highly in Russia. Then he on the global stage he made two huge mistakes that led to his country being eliminated.

Jeremy: Iker Casillas. As Ahmad and me have pointed out before, nothing went right for Spain in this World Cup. But Casillas, fresh off a European Cup win (in which he conceded due to a blunder, as you may recall), may have been worst of all. All credit to the Fred/Hulk/Jô nightmare the hosts trudged out, but Casillas looked hammered in net for the Spaniards. In particular, he was absolutely abused by Arjen Robben here, and this critical error against Chile ended all hopes of a roja rally.

Ahmad: Steven Gerrard. I’m not a big fan of defensive midfielder Steven Gerrard. This has been chronicled ad nauseam on Twitter. The guy lacks defensive positional awareness, doesn’t run AT ALL, and sometimes goes on maddening runs to join the attack, which sort of leaves his defense exposed. Everyone piled the hate on Wayne Rooney, blaming him for England’s woes,  but, as I wrote here, Gerrard has been pretty awful as well. That he gifted his club teammate Luis Suarez an assist for him to bury England just cements it. Steven Gerrard slipped again, and England fell as a result.

Moe: Paulinho. Paulinho had a middling season for Tottenham after securing a big money move last summer in part because of his performance in the 2013 Confederations Cup. I did expect him to rebound a bit in part because there are some players who do over perform in the international stage relative to what they produce domestically, and I thought Paulinho would be one of those players. He didn’t and the cries from many were to sub in Fernandinho who in contrast had a real good season for Manchester City as they won the domestic double. Now truth be told Fernandinho was an embarrassment versus Germany, but Paulinho before then didn’t do much favors either.

Other Observations

Jordan: I picked up a lot of Twitter followers, which was nice. This my first World Cup where I actually had heard of 95% of the players which made it a lot more fun than 2010. I’m really proud of what the USA did (read here) and can’t wait to see what guys like Green and Yedlin do in Russia.

Jeremy: Only France ’98 saw more goals scored than Brazil ’14. That’s pretty cool. Also, Rooney’s “corner” against Italy was the funniest moment of the World Cup. I can’t wait four more years.

Ahmad: I’m just gonna leave this here: https://vine.co/v/MIquQEHump2

Moe: Miguel Herrera, Thank You! 

 

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What We Got Right, What We Got Wrong

Jordan

Luckily, Nigeria has an excellent goalkeeper behind their unspectacular back four. Vincent Enyeama had a career year in 2013-14. The Lille goalkeeper kept 20 clean sheets in 37 games, the most in Ligue 1. He also allowed a measly .70 goals per game, trailing only PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu in that department.

Enyeama pretty much singlehandedly beat Bosnia and gave great performances in a losing effort against Argentina and France. He did exactly what he did in Ligue 1.

Ghana is much like a lot of other teams in the tournament: their defense is the biggest question mark. One of their defenders is just plain Afful. (No I will not leave.) Jonathan Mensah made 26 appearances for Evian in Ligue 1. But Evian finished 14th in Ligue 1 and allowed 51 goals in 38 games. John Boye only made 10 appearances. Everyone else plays in a lower quality league.

Unlike other teams with a dodgy defense, Ghana doesn’t have a great keeper available to them as a safety net. Fatau Dauda plays in the ABSA Premiership, South Africa’s domestic league. He has only five caps for Ghana and he’ll have to make a huge adjustment between facing the best South Africa’s league has to offer compared to Ronaldo, Muller and even Dempsey.

Ghana failed to keep a clean sheet in their three group stage games, allowing two goals to the USA, two goals to Germany and two goals to Portugal. I particularly highlighted John Boye, who got beat badly on Dempsey’s goal and had an own goal against Portugal.

Argentina doesn’t need Messi to be at his very best to be successful. Obviously it wouldn’t hurt for Messi to return to his 2012-13 form in Brazil but if he doesn’t, Argentina will still be in good shape in attack.

Messi carried them to the quarterfinals all by himself. If he’s not as his very best who knows if Argentina finishes first in their group, let alone makes it to the final.

Italy’s team doesn’t really seem to have a weak spot, they are solid and have depth in nearly every position. The quarterfinals seem to be the most likely place for Italy’s World Cup journey to end, but as Euro 2012 proved, never count out Italy when they’re the underdog.

I was two rounds off for how far Italy advanced. I was really convinced that their Euro 2012 squad plus guys like Verratti and Insigne would lead to them a pretty successful World Cup and after their England victory I was sure of it. Then they forgot how to attack against Costa Rica and Uruguay.

———————–

Moe

Just 22 years old, James Rodriguez is already one of the world’s most promising playmakers. He created 97 total chances in Ligue 1 with Monaco, which was best ahead of Mathieu Valbuena. He’s the creative force behind Colombia’s style of play, someone who can thread a needle in a haystack. He’s even been compared to Colombia’s most transcendent player Carlos Valderrama (minus the hair of course). He’s an attacking midfielder who can play on the left hand side or play as the #10 in a 4-2-3-1, which Colombia have used during qualifying. For only a 22 year old, Colombia will depend heavily on the genius of his play.

James Rodriguez was easily the breakout star of the World Cup, and one could argue that he has been the best player in the World Cup despite the quarterfinal exit. He’s only 23 years old and we’ll get another shot to see the genius work more magic in Copa America next summer.

Out of the four teams in Group B, Chile will be the people’s choice to see progress into the knockout stage. They certainly play the most attractive football from the four teams (unless you want to argue about the ideals that Tiki-Taka football bring at its peak form), they have the singular talent in Vargas, Sanchez, and Vidal that also sublimate very well with how Chile play, and there is some merit to a South American team playing in an environment that suit their collective team mentality. Their defense is where the talent dries up rather quickly and will perhaps be Chile’s ultimate doing if they do in fact not progress through the group stage. There’s something really special about this Chile iteration and it just maybe the best team Chile has ever trotted out since 1962. No matter what their World Cup story will eventually tell us, they’ll do it with the type of flair that’ll make them a meta-fans’ wet dream.

They were sooooo close to beating Brazil in the Round of 16, and though they were exhausted to the point of parking the bus versus Brazil in Extra Time, we all got our money’s worth with Chile.

Africa currently hasn’t had a team progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup despite coming painstakingly close with Ghana in 2010 and Cameroon in 1990. It’s be quite the sending off of the Ivory Coast’s golden generation to be the first team to do so, and with the abundance of talent that they possess combine with the world class ability that Yaya Toure possesses, Cote D’Ivoire may just be crazy enough to pull it off.

Greece are just the worst and ruin everyone’s fun. The Ivory Coast will probably qualify for Russia 2018. There’s still enough talent to get through the qualifying process in Africa and perhaps there’ll be ample talent coming through the pipeline that could finally achieve the dream of advancing past the group stage in the World Cup. But it’s very sad that this was the last dance for Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, especially considering that this was by far their best chance to get through.

The roster selection could be argued in a number of different directions. On one hand, it’s best to have a team that has some semblance of continuity going into a international tournament where the sample size is at max 7 games if you win the tournament. We have no way on quantifying chemistry in football (or in sports generally) so there’s probably an advantage in going back to the well if there’s something left. Some of these players Scolari chose could simply outperform relative to their normal production and justify why they were selected. International football perhaps more so than club football is where destroyers can reign supreme over creators. The 2006 and 2010 World Cup provided a template for that sort of thinking and the lineup Scolari could trot out would be leaning towards that. The Brazilians have the defensive midfielders and even individuals like Oscar and Willian to make this work.

The lesson learned from this is simple: never try to talk out of your ass. The 2014 FIFA World Cup proved the exact opposite, that we are transitioning into an era full of attacking prosperity and tactical flexibility. Brazil played the game as if this was 2010, which would’ve worked if again… it was 2010. Neymar was a one man offense, who had to drag a team that had no quality fullbacks. Scolari left out the likes of Lucas Moura and Coutinho, attacking midfielders that would’ve been huge upgrades over Hulk/Willian/Bernard and even Oscar. Paulinho and Fernandinho were alternating poor performances, with the latter having a crap game versus Germany. There’s a lot of questions to be answered for Brazil, and what they’ll look in Copa America 2015 will be very interesting.

———————–

Jeremy

South Korea have a young team that will look to play an exciting style, but it suffers from a lack of consistent finishing, and this defence conceded more goals from set pieces during qualifying than all but one country. The opening salvo with Russia may end up proving decisive in the race for second-place. If South Korea get forward play good enough to break down a tough Russian back line, it should win–or at least produce a satisfying result. More likely, however, the South Koreans will have trouble finishing off opportunities created by its midfield, and will miss out on the round of 16 for the seventh time in nine appearances.

I was dead-on here. South Korea were young, with a manager who had been on the job for one year.  The team managed three goals in group play, but two came against Algeria in a wide-open affair which saw six goals scored in total. Son Heung-min was a nice surprise and received a larger role than I anticipated, but overall, South Korea had trouble finishing and conceded six times in three games. It did receive that satisfactory result against Russia, but the demolition at the hands of Algeria proved fatal. Hong Myung-bo resigned from his post three days ago.

Daley Blind is a name you need to know. The “Dutch Lahm”, as some have called this 24 year-old, has been utilized as a left-back and holding mid to great effectiveness at Amsterdam ArenA, and was named Dutch Footballer of the Year for the 2013-14 season. You can read a great profile on him by Mohamed Moallim (@iammoallim) here, and how LVG deploys him could be crucial.

Blind played a huge role in Holland’s run to third place, registering one goal and three assists over seven games. The deep-lying playmaker averaged 53 passes per contest, completing them at an 87% clip and creating seven chances. Blind averaged nearly seven long balls per game and threw in four tackles, two clearances, two interceptions, and a partridge in a pear tree (okay, strike that last one). Blind’s performances opened some eyes in England, as Manchester United and Liverpool will be working to acquire him this window.

It’s nearly impossible to see how Costa Rica don’t finish dead last in Group D, even if Navas plays his tail off in goal. The defence will get exposed by the world-class strikers in the group, the midfield is poor, and Saborío’s injury will lessen the attack’s effectiveness. But even then, Los Ticos won’t advance. Better luck next time.

Welp. Just gonna have to wear this one. Costa Rica were the surprise of the tournament, riding a stellar back line and a world-class goalkeeper to the quarterfinals, where it went out on penalties to Holland. Los Ticos conceded only once in a group that contained three former World Cup winners, and that goal was an Edinson Cavani penalty in the 24th minute of the opening game. Costa Rica weren’t exactly lethal in the final third; Bryan Ruiz was responsible for the team’s two goals in the 420 minutes following the Uruguay game. But it was usually Navas’ incredible keeping that…well, kept Costa Rica around. Tremendous tournament for the Central American nation, and a huge win for CONCACAF.

Spain’s back line and midfield will have a nice mixture of experienced and youthful, and its midfield in particular is STACKED. But aside from Diego Costa, forward is an issue, although the strength in the midfield could negate Fernando Torres playing without feet. Very, very difficult to see Spain falling short of the final four, and I’d say there’s a decent chance it makes the final.

Spain’s goalkeeping sucked, its back line sucked, its midfield sucked, its forwards sucked. Nothing went right when it counted at the 2014 World Cup for la Roja. I discussed a reason for the massive disconnect between midfielder and forward (along with Ahmad) here.

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Ahmad

While boasting a lot of talented defenders, the Belgian national team have a glaring weakness: they have no established full backs. Wilmots’s defense is comprised of eight defenders, seven of which play center back at club level. Belgium will probably line up with four center backs across the back line. Luckily, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen have deputized as left backs for their clubs at times.

Eden Hazard was perhaps most effected by this. Belgium’s lack of full backs hindered his attacking prowess, and in a competition that highlighted how effective the full back was, the Red Devils suffered.

Iran has a host of other issues plaguing them this campaign, chief among them a lack of first choice goalkeeper and their locker room being out of sorts. These things take a toll on even the most talented teams, and will probably cramp up Iran’s chances of advancing in the group.

Iran were awful to watch. Their game against Nigeria was perhaps the worst game in this World Cup, and while they effectively stifled Argentina for 91 minutes, Carlos Quieroz’s side didn’t win them any fans.

Marco Reus is perhaps the difference maker for Joachim Lowe’s side, the only player who can possibly grab a game by the scruffs and take over, and while this squad is deep on attacking midfielders, there is no one of Reus’s caliber. The closest player to that is Julian Draxler, but again, he’s no Reus.

The World Cup champions didn’t really miss Marco, riding their team of “non difference makers” to the championship. Mario Gotze’s extra time winner against Argentina was enough to propel Germany to their fourth World Cup.

There are many other standouts in this squad, with the rest of the Real Madrid contingent plying their trades in defense. Pepe and Fabio Conterao didn’t have the most stellar of seasons, but they were very capable and did the job when called upon.

Pepe gonna Pepe. His red card against Germany probably ended their World Cup. That along with Conterao’s injury in the same game really highlighted how poor the Portugal side was, despite having the second best player in the world – albeit in an injured state.

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Germany 7 Brazil 1: In Defense of David Luiz… Kind of

There’s no way to sugar coat what happened between Brazil and Germany on Tuesday afternoon. It was ugly, horrific and more than anything, the defeat will carry long-term ramifications for Brazilian football, the current state and all sorts of goodies that will be reminiscent of what Germany had to go through in the early 2000′s. The financial hit that Brazil has taken to host the World Cup is bad enough (few are even mentioning the double whammy that will come with hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics as well), to see Brazil lose in the manner they did as the hosts is something that will haunt the country that even the 1950 loss to Uruguay won’t match.

What this loss will do is call into question the current playing style of Brazil, the management and how this team needs to have more “Joga Bonito” in them, something that fellow EDIZD writer Ahmad touched on here. I’m not sure quite honestly how much Joga Bonito needs to be installed for Brazil, but it’s clear through what happened in this World Cup combined with the remaining memories of what happened under Dunga in 2010 that Brazil are not a country that can have success in today’s current climate of International football through playing with simply hyperactive athleticism (On a related note, boy did I screw up by half heartedly defending Scloari’s selections a month and a half ago).

One narrative that’s come from Germany’s shellacking over Brazil is David Luiz and how he played horribly and was out of position during the game. Some of this comes from biases we have in terms of watching players play a certain position that doesn’t entail what the qualities of said players should have through what football has dictated us to believe. Luiz is not your conventional CB and fans who’ve watched him play in Chelsea and even during the Confederations Cup last summer for Brazil will attest to that. There’s obvious benefits and advantages to employing a CB who has pace and has the ability to start breaks from the back, something that Vincent Kompany does at the highest order. Luiz for all we know will transition to a defensive midfield role in the next couple of years and thrive in that position, rendering this whole “HE’S NOT A CB RAWRRRRRR” storyline moot. He has great pace for a CB which helps him at times where he is caught out of position.

I know by reading this plus the title of this post that a lot of you will come to the conclusion that I’m defending Luiz for what happened against Germany, which is kind of true. I don’t think Luiz should be made the scapegoat for Brazil’s performance defensively versus Germany. He and Dante for the most part were casualties for what went on between the full backs in Maicon and Marcelo and the two holding midfielders in Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo.

Even before the gluttony of goals that happened in the 20-30 min mark of the match, the seeds of Brazil’s demise were apparent with how the defensive shape was set out:

Brazil

The obvious question one can ask is where is Marcelo in this pic. He’s at midfield, which makes the 4-5-1 that Brazil employ more resemble a 3-6-1, which Germany exploited to get an early opportunity:

It was one of several instances this World Cup as to how Marcelo’s decision to play as a LM most of the time instead of a LB hindered Brazil at the back (funny enough Dani Alves has the same issue and he was benched). Also the corner that led to Germany’s first goal came off of a Marcelo turnover which illustrated how imbalanced Brazil were when Germany counterattacked:

Brazil

Brazil’s hyperactive style of play to this point wasn’t totally found out in terms of the holes that it exposed, which is a credit to how pragmatic Brazil played during this tournament but also served as a warning for what may happen when faced against a really good team. Chile had their moments and were a crossbar away from beating Brazil in extra time and Germany kicked it up to another gear.

The first goal for Germany off the corner kick was a result of Miroslav Klose setting a pick for Muller and with Luiz marking Muller pre-pick, no one switched to Muller which lead him to steer home the volley. Goal number two through five were the result of a comedy of errors that a pub league team wouldn’t have committed let alone Brazil.

Goal #2:

Just over 21 minutes into the match and Brazil are charging up the field with 6-7 players. Hulk’s failed through pass starts off a German counterattack. Notice how far up Marcelo and Maicon are:

Brazil

It’s not a cardinal sin to have your fullbacks launch in attack. Loads of teams in this World Cup use their fullbacks to provide width in certain formations. What makes this an issue is when there’s no cover in both the midfield and in the space behind on the left hand or right hand side, which happened time and time again for Brazil.

And despite all of that if Fernandinho gets to this ball, this game could’ve been different:

BrazilAlas, that didn’t happen and because of that Germany found itself being able to pick apart Brazil for Klose’s record breaking goal.

Brazil

Gustavo just lets Muller go behind him while Marcelo isn’t able to make up for that lapse in judgement. Dante doesn’t shift to his left to cut any potential passes that can get to Muller and instead simply gives room for Kroos to make the pass to Muller. Luiz is stuck in between Ozil and Klose while Maicon might as well should’ve just picked his nose and looked at the sky. You can argue that Luiz should’ve come off Ozil and shift his body to intercept that pass, but that risk would’ve left Ozil open and had Gustavo not let Muller make that cut, that would’ve never happened.

Of course if Fernandinho gets that ball before all of this or simply doesn’t gamble on it…

Sadly that wasn’t the case and if the 7-1 loss wasn’t bad enough, Miroslav Klose breaking Ronaldo’s World Cup record on the second goal should be infinite sting.

Goal #3:

Another instance where the left flank of Brazil was exposed, though this time it wasn’t for Marcelo being too high up the pitch. Notice how inward Marcelo is to mark a German player:

Brazil

I mean the shape itself so far is half decent so long as Marcelo goes back into defending some sort of part in that space. Problem is that didn’t happen in part because no one with a yellow shirt is marking Muller:

BrazilWith Oscar high up the pitch and Fernandinho/Gustavo not really marking anyone in the midfield, one head turn by Hulk allowed Lahm to get in behind him and set up the opportunity for Kroos to score Germany’ s third goal of the match. I do feel a bit bad for Marcelo in this case cause what can a guy do when he has to pay attention to Muller not being marked by anyone plus making sure Lahm doesn’t get in behind Hulk. Plus Dante could’ve stepped up to mark Muller and trust Luiz to keep Klose in check.

Goal #4:

No screen caps or videos necessary for this. Fernandinho simply gives up the ball, Kroos steals it and plays a little 1-2 with Khedira while Julio Cesar is like a fish out of water.

Goal #5:

This is the one goal from the five in the first half that David Luiz did play a rather huge part in setting up for Germany, but even then there’s the team wide failure latched in with it. Even before the miss read of a potential challenge, Hummels gets away from both Oscar and Fernandinho quite brilliantly:

Brazil

and then he somehow gets this pass through both Gustavo and Luiz:

Brazil

Should Luiz go for that ball? No and because he did, he left Dante and Maicon on an island to defend three German players on attack with Maicon having to change his running trajectory and Dante being overloaded on that instance not knowing who to mark. Perhaps he didn’t trust Gustavo to handle it (and judging by how Gustavo played, he’d have a point) but even then it was a bad idea to overload with help in that situation. It was another LOL moment for Brazil’s defense, not trusting one another to cover their assignment, hoping that athleticism can trump defensive intricacies and game planning.

Brazil are due for a massive overhaul after the failures of what happened in 2006, 2010 and especially for the pragmatic football displayed this time around as hosts. They were absolutely picked apart in defense through a number of costly errors that snowballed into a goal deficit that for the next number of decades will be talked about with the same fervor as their loss to Uruguay in the 1950 final. Germany are proof of how overhauling the entire national system can help bring back an old power into high prominence and not have to be picked apart for what they’re no relative to iterations of previous decades. Germany were brilliant in the little holes that they exploited through Scolari’s 4-5-1/4-2-3-1, with Marcelo perhaps being the ultimate standout in defensive calamities. Luiz and Dante for the most part were exposed so much by how Brazil lacked any balance tracking back, with Germany being so clinical in capitalizing on numerous defensive errors.

Will Joga Bonito rise again? Who knows. Does Brazil even need to fully return to being Joga Bonito to turn itself into a national side that isn’t so reliant on hyperactivity? Again, who knows. What we do know is this; shit’s about to hit the fan and for the love of god, DUCK!!!

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Scolari’s Mercenaries

Luiz Felipe Scolari is, for now at least, the manager of the Brazilian national team. A former player himself (and by all accounts, Felipão was a bad one), he is perhaps better known for his managerial career.

Luiz first started managing in Kuwait (HOME COUNTRY SHOUT OUT), winning the Emir’s Cup with local club Al Qadsiya then managing the national team to a Gulf Cup victory in 1989.

In 1993, Scolari returned to Brazil to manage Gremio, leading them to six titles in three years. Still, he was criticized by the media for playing a pragmatic, workmanlike style of football, You know, the kind he still played with Brazil.

Big Phil also had stints in the J. League, before coming back to Brazil again to manage Palmeiras. Scolari led Palmeiras to the Copa do Brasil, the Mercosur Cup, and their first Copa Libertadores title with a win on penalties over Deportivo Cali ofColombia. They were also runners-up to Manchester United in the 1999 Intercontinental Cup. He was named South American Coach of the Year for 1999. Things were looking up.

Scolari was then tasked with helping Brazil qualify to the 2002 World Cup. He refused to include local legend Romario in his team, relying instead on Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and a young talent by the name of Ronaldinho. The Selecao went on to win the World Cup, so score one for Philly.

***

And this is where this story begins.

I don’t remember where I heard or saw this, but a prominent Brazilian athlete saw Big Phil’s reappointment to the national team in November 2012 as a warning sign. He said something to the effect of Brazil’s reliance on it’s past coming to bite it in the ass. (I think it might have been Romario, I’m not sure.)

Well, yesterday, that’s what happened. But this was a long time coming.

Brazil is not short on talent. The list of notable omissions from this national team is talented enough to make it on any other country’s squad. (In fact, ONE did.) Of course, that’s not of any concern to Luiz Scolari. No sir.

Scolari is the ultimate believer in loyalty. He’d rather pick players that would die for him and do anything he asks than take a bunch of talented, world class players who can actually score goals and / or defend. The omissions of Atletico Madrid defenders Miranda and Felipe Luis might baffle you and I, but in Scolari’s world, it makes perfect sense. Miranda and Felipe Luis are not his guys, not his mercenaries.

In that sense, Scolari is a lot like Jose Mourinho (that they both managed Chelsea at some point in their careers is no coincidence.). And a lot like Mourinho’s Chelsea, Scolari’s Brazil is a pragmatic, workmanlike team that relies on getting it’s offense from one attacker. Mourinho has Eden Hazard, Scolari has Neymar.

So, yesterday, bereft of his talisman, Scolari had to manage; he had to come up with a plan, and, like the novice tactician that he is, he decided to attack. Against Germany.

He decided to take the game to a German team that would thrive in open space. Instead of closing up shop and relying on counter attacks and set pieces, which he has done all tournament, he decided to take the game to the opponent, to play joga bonito with a team that is short on the bonito. Needless to say, it was feo.

In fact, after yesterday’s disastrous result against Germany, Romario – now retired and a Brazilian MP – had this to say: “Yesterday was a very sad day for our football. Those with good memories will remember my words: “Off the field, we have already lost the World Cup. Sadly it was no different on the field. There is a crisis in our beloved sport. You think the problem is only the players or (coach Luiz Felipe) Scolari? No way. Our football has been deteriorating for years, being sucked dry by talentless moguls.”

The 7-1 result would put the death knell in this era of Brazilian football. Many of these players have probably played their last games in the NT, and Scolari is sure to either resign or be fired. That’s a start.

That’s not the cure for this sickness of Brazilian football, however. For Brazilians to succeed, for Brazilians to once again become the envy of footballing nations worldwide, they must get rid of their win at all costs mentality. They must cleanse themselves of people like Scolari and his mercenaries.

Above all, they must remember joga bonito*. 

* They should also pick players who can play Joga Bonito.

Posted in 2014 FIFA World Cup, FIFA World Cup | 1 Comment