Mailbag: Bundesliga Race, MLS, Who Would Win a Staff Fight?

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Q: Why do Everton suck?

*We answered this question last week, but Jon requested a standing order, and we were only too happy to oblige.*

A: Damn it , Jon, Everton don’t suck. THEY BEAT YOUNG BOYS BERN AND LUKAKU SCORED A HAT TRICK.

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. EVERYTHING IS COOL WHEN YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM.

Oh, you meant in the Premier League? Well, okay then.

I think Everton have been caught in the same trap that Borussia Dortmund have been caught in this season: they have no plan B for the teams that aren’t really surprised by them this season, Tim Howard is regressing, and last, but not least, injuries have hit this team hard.

Roberto Martinez’s first season in the blue side of Merseyside was anything but blue, as Bobby introduced a new style of play that his defensively inclined predecessor, David Moyes, shied away from.

Everton were fun, exciting, and a genuine threat to make it to Europe. Then they were fourth. And nothing was the same.

While Martinez’s offensive inclinations were a breath of fresh air, on the other side of the ball, Everton weren’t doing so great, with Tim Howard sometimes keeping them in games and winning them singlehandedly. That has dried up this season, and we are seeing the result.

Injuries have also taken a toll, as Seamus Coleman, Kevin Mirallas and Howard have all missed considerable time with various niggles.

Also gone is the element of surprise. Like the Phoenix Suns last year, Everton surprised a lot of teams by attacking. Bobby Martinez did something in his first year that David Moyes has never done in his tenure at Goodison Park: beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Martinez also figured out a way to stifle and confuse Arsene Wenger by deploying Romelu Lukaku as a right sided winger alongside false nine (and Ballon D’Or winner) Steven Naismith. That is gone this season and teams have adapted to Everton, while the Blues sat idle.

If you recall, Martinez’s last season at Wigan saw the team from Greater Manchester win the FA Cup over Manchester City. That same season also saw Wigan relegated from the Premier League.

Luckily, it isn’t as dire for now 12th place Everton, and they have done really well in the Europa League, where the aforementioned issues aren’t as much of a hinderance.

This couldn’t come at a better time for Everton, as winning the Europa League this year gets you into the Champions League. And isn’t that what Bobby promised all along?–Ahmad

Q: Who’s grabbing the third Bundesliga CL spot and what makes you think so?

A: It’ll be a dogfight for the final Champions League spot in the German top flight. Schalke currently have that final spot, but they are level on points with surprising Augsburg and have Leverkusen breathing down their necks at two points back. Hoffenheim are five back. franco-di-santo-v-augsburg_3264557Werder Bremen are on fire and have pulled to within five as well. And who could forget about a resurgent Dortmund squad, winners of three on the trot and nine back?

I wrote about Roberto Firmino and Hoffenheim earlier this year; they are high on entertainment value but aren’t true contenders for that final spot, fun as they are. Franco Di Santo and Bremen have played great as of late–unbeaten in six, including a critical triumph over Hoffenheim–but only Hertha Berlin have played worse away from home. What’s more, Bremen have benefited greatly from a 35% conversion rate (12 goals/34 shots on target) over those six games, and that percentage has come down the past two matchdays. They’ll cool off.

Augsburg have hit a critical stretch of the season, and perhaps the pressure has started to get to Markus Weinzerl’s men; they blew a 2-0 lead against Frankfurt two weeks ago and needed a #KeeperGoal to secure a point against Leverkusen yesterday. They’re winless since the Dortmund game.

(Speaking of Dortmund, they could reach Europa League, but I think they dug too deep a hole and have too many teams to conquer in order to finish fourth. Plus, Champions League.)

Which leaves us with Leverkusen and Schalke. I favor Leverkusen not only for Roger Schmidt’s high-tempo, hyper-aggressive pressing style and superior squad, but because Schalke have been unhealthy and stale and uninspiring for swathes of this campaign. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar didn’t sustain a serious injury against Real Madrid and is nearing the end of his six-game Bundesliga ban, but Schalke weren’t particularly good when he was playing.–Jeremy

Q:  How many years until MLS is as attractive as a league like, say, the French or Portuguese leagues?

A: Major League Soccer is interesting, because I’ve always had lots of interest in it, but for many people, it’s hard to get into. Considering that I’m now a New York City FC season ticket holder, MLS should be more exciting than ever for me to watch.

But the problem with MLS is that Americans bash it for bringing over old, washed up players, hence why you hear people calling it “Men Leaving Soccer,” an abbreviation that’s up there in my “most annoying soccer abbreviation” ranks, because domestic supporters that are supposed to support their own league are bashing it by saying that the Premier League or La Liga is way better. Well, no shit, every Captain Obvious that proclaims that.

I’m not saying all Americans are bashing on their own league; many MLS clubs have incredibly passionate fan bases. But in order for the league to progress, broadcasting 16-David-Villa-holding-still4Cweboutfits are going to have to break the bank.

MLS has ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision broadcasting their games through the 2022 season; the colossal broadcasting outfits are there, but the problem at hand is the way the networks brand it (particularly ESPN). Unlike NBC Sports with it’s Premier League coverage, is terrible. When you watch EPL games on NBCSN, you have Goal Zone and post game interviews. It’s like ESPN shows more World Series of Poker reruns than MLS.  

The sad reality about MLS is that the interest level domestically has never held a national piqued interest. Attendance has increased yearly, but MLS isn’t the couch potato’s league. I’m hoping in the next five years or so that it’ll compete with the Portuguese Liga, Ligue 1, or even Serie A with the current crap they’re going through. Again, it’ll all depend on how networks market the league, as well as teams continuing to look for big name players to go after. Hopefully with NYCFC, Orlando City and the upcoming Atlanta franchise, the league will try and take advantage of marketing to new fans in the process. It won’t be easy.–Griffo

Q: What’s the biggest animal Harry Kane can eat whole?

A: Probably an organic grizzly bear. I’m not spitballing or anything.–Griffo

Q: If all of the EDIZD authors got in a fight, who would win?

A: I’ve chosen to answer this question using screencaps from our Slack page. (Cole and Griffo should be pretty clear, but Voyeur=Ahmad and Alex, Manchester=myself.)

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Chelsea 1 – PSG 1: Midfield Dominates, Forwards Stifled For Blanc’s Crew

PSG and Chelsea battled to a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes, with PSG probably ruing the fact that they couldn’t get more out of this game.

Because of PSG’s injury problems (Serge Aurier, Yohan Cabaye, Lucas Moura and Marquinhos all sustained injuries against Caen, although Marquinhos was able to play), not many gave the Parisians a chance against Jose Mourinho’s squad. However, for all the injury woes the Fighting Zlatans had, their starting XI (shout out to Zac Cleary) wasn’t that bad, Ezequiel Lavezzi excluded (more on him later).

PSG lined up with Salvatore Sirigu, Gregory Van Der Weil, the aforementioned Marquinhos, captain Thiago Silva and Maxwell in defense, with usual center back David Luiz higher up the field as a defensive midfielder. Joining Sideshow Bob in the middle were Marco Verratti and, in my opinion the man of the match for PSG, Blaise Matuidi, with Edinson Cavani, Lavezzi and Zlatan up front.

Mourinho welcomed back Diego Costa for this tie, and the Brazilian Spaniard was joined by Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, and Cesar Azpelicueta in defense. The Chelsea midfield was composed of Nemanja Matic, Ramires, and Cesc Fabregas with Willian and Eden Hazard on the flanks.

From the beginning, it looked as though Chelsea were looking to play for a draw, as they didn’t look to attack PSG, inviting the Paris team to attack so they can counter. PSG was more than fine with this, and only Courtois’ brilliance in goal denied both Matuidi and Zlatan chances to put their team ahead.

PSG attacked Chelsea to no avail in the first half, and indeed it was Chelsea who went ahead in the 36th minute, with three of their four defenders combining to score a wonderful goal (off of their only shot on target) from frequent important goal scorer Ivanovic.

Game (and tie) over, right? Not quite.

 

PSG came out stronger in the second half and asserted their dominance, particularly in the midfield. The midfield three were compact all game, and while many will point to Verratti’s constant fouling and nullifying of Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas, it was Matuidi who was causing the most trouble for the London club.

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Just Blaise was everywhere, completely stretching the Chelsea midfield and troubling Matic on more than one occasion. Since Mauricio Pochettino exposed the Chelsea defenders’ lack of pace in the New Year’s Day drubbing at White Hart Lane, teams have tried to attack Chelsea by either stretching the midfield – taking advantage of Fabregas’ seeming allergy to track back and play any defense, with him trying to mark Verratti being downright comical – or bypassing it altogether and attacking the flanks. PSG elected to do a combination of the two, and it was Blaise who was the catalyst for this approach.

He attacked Chelsea through the middle in the first half, but in the second half, he was drifting to the left whenever Cavani cut inside. Indeed, PSG equalized when those two combined in that effect, with Matuidi crossing from the left for the Uruguayan to head home a free header. The goal emboldened that approach, and on more than one occasion, PSG (and Cavani in particular) took advantage of the space between the Chelsea full back and center back. But because it was Cavani, his finishing left lots to be desired.

Blaise Matuidi heatmap via WhoScored.com

Blaise Matuidi heatmap via WhoScored.com

This was the pattern for most of the second half, and when Javier Pastore came on in the 80th minute (which should probably get Blanc fired, to be honest – HOW DO YOU WAIT EIGHTY MINUTES, FAM?), Cavani was pretty much the central striker, taking advantage of the space allowed to him by Zlatan in the box (Zlatan’s presence is a present, kiss my ass).

The Paris club attacked to the final whistle, and overall man of the match Courtois’ brilliance in goal was probably the main catalyst for Mourinho’s squad leaving with a draw.

Once again, Chelsea’s midfield was stretched, with Fabregas pretty much nullified. That was Mourinho’s biggest problem on the night. Thankfully for the manager, the team stretching his midfield was dealing with its own recurring problems of not being able to break down a team.

I have complete faith in Mourinho to at least attempt to correct that problem for the second leg at Stamford Bridge. I don’t have any reason to believe Blanc will even address any of his.

This was PSG’s best chance at stealing the tie, but poor finishing (and a Courtois masterclass) stifled all the good work their midfield was doing, again. “I must say, Chelsea didn’t show much,” Blanc said after the game.

Newsflash, Laurent: they didn’t have to.

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Lyon 1-1 PSG: The Slowing Down of a Kamikaze

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When PSG and Lyon played in the Parc de Prince early in the season, Lyon didn’t look anywhere near the electrifying  presence they’ve came to be. Floundering in 12th place in Ligue 1, there was just an odd feeling to watching Lyon. If Alexandre Lacazette wasn’t scoring, then attacking wise, there was nothing else that Lyon were providing. What’s more, PSG weren’t in great form themselves but their previous track record plus the talent of the squad could just be checked off to a slow start.

Fast forward to today and the stakes are infinitely more important than their first enoucnter. Lyon have managed to turn around the club in less than a half a season and create Ligue 1’s version of 2013-14 Liverpool FC: a dynamic, fast, counter attacking side that also manages to overperform statistical data led by the league’s best striker duo in Lacazette and Nabil Fekir.

PSG haven’t been as thrilling to watch. By far the most talented squad, the season has been more a slog than a display of ruthless efficiency.

Of course Lyon had to face PSG at the Stade Gerland without Lacazette or Milan Besivac, one of their dependable center backs, out due to injury. On the other hand, PSG put out more or less their normal starting XI for one of the biggest matches in the French football calendar.

Pace, Pace and More Pace

Lyon more or less want to turn games into track meets. In their 4-1-2-1-2 formation, the strikers give the necessary width and direct speed to make up for the lack of wingers in their lineup. In the absence of Lacazette, Clinton N’Jie partnered up with Fekir. N’Jie is obviously not the same calibre of striker as Lacazette but he’s arguably quicker and faster, and with his very direct nature, he worked perfectly as an in-between striker/LW forward.

Lyon lined up in the same formation they had in the first fixture  and defaulted to a 4-3-3 defensively. They did the same thing against PSG, but instead of dropping back and allowing PSG the time on ball to pick apart the makeshift defense, they built a trapping press, similar to what you see in basketball when teams pressure around midcourt.

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There are obvious flaws of both playing such a high line and giving up the flanks in between the pressing lines against the likes of Lucas Moura who are very direct and can break a defense down when given that much space, but it was a risk worth taking from Lyon’s perspective. Marquinhos started at right back for PSG and although he’s been very good in his previous appearances at that position, you could live with Marquinhos having that room. PSG also aren’t a team to play long balls in behind a high pressing line, as they’re last in long balls with 54.

What Lyon wanted to do was create vicious counter attacks going forward. Lyon have produced the most counter attacking shots in Ligue 1 this season according to Opta. When Lyon did press the full length of the pitch, Fekir, N’Jie and Yoann Gourcuff looked to overload on the flanks against Maxwell or Marquinhos and force PSG into costly turnovers.

The problem Lyon faced in the second half was that, although PSG did allow turnovers as a result of the pressing nature, it only led to three shots total from Lyon. And yes Lyon did score on one of the three shots taken, but it took a wonderful pass from Fekir to thread the needle to N’Jie and the process of all that pressing led to an eventual drain in Lyon’s pressing activity, which PSG took advantage of.

The Downfalls of Pressing

The pressing and overloading from Lyon in the second half wasn’t nearly as succinct as it was in the first half and with that, Maxwell had a greater role to play. Maxwell had two fantastic crosses in the box early in the second half that Zlatan headed on goal. Nine times out of ten those end up in the back of the net for Lord Zlatan, but the brilliance of Anthony Lopes in goal denied Zlatan on countless occasions.

In the second half, PSG had a greater intensity to snuff out the little one-two combinations that Lyon’s attacking players used. Edinson Cavani isn’t the striker he once was but one of the few advantages to having him play as a pseudo left winger is his work rate. On a number of occasions you would see Cavani help out Maxwell and to a lesser extent Blaise Matuidi when a passing outlet was needed, which helped PSG get hold of possession to curtail Lyon when they sporadically pressed on:

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What was also encouraging on PSG’s end was how little Zlatan played the deep #10 hole and tried to run in behind Lyon’s defense. On the instances that PSG did play long balls over Lyon’s defenses, Zlatan beat Lyon’s backline and got in behind them. He was a fraction offside on his spectacular disallowed goal early in the match and his movement on the whole looked a lot more cleaner than in previous matches, most notably against Saint Etienne, where his movements were quite robotic and stale.

The finishing still isn’t quite where it was last season, but whether it was the big game occasion or Zlatan’s overall fitness improving, this looked more like the Zlatan Ibrahimovic we’ve seen the last two seasons in PSG and not the marauding impersonation we’ve seen in the past few matches.

It was a job well done from PSG’s point of view. On the balance of play, they curtailed Lyon’s attack sans Lacazette. The expected goal battle was won in a landslide by PSG (1.86-0.35) and they’ve kept Lyon only two points above them in the standings. Lyon have four of their next five fixtures away from home, including an away trip to the Stade Veledrome against title contenders Marseille in the middle of March.

Meanwhile PSG still have the Champions League and the Coupe de France to worry about in addition to their quest for a third straight Ligue 1 crown. Their away fixtures against Monaco and Bordeaux might pose some troubles, and if they manage to progress past Chelsea in the Round of 16 CL tie, it will pose questions on how they’ll manage their squad depth for the stretch run in the league.

For the first time since 2011-12, Ligue 1 has itself a proper title race with three legitimate contenders vying for the crown. And perhaps the best thing for French football is the overwhelming favorite going into this season (PSG) will have to fight tooth and nail for the league that in previous years was a mere stroll in the Parc (des Princes).

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Tactics: Spurs 2-1 Arsenal

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Riding off of a 5-0 shellacking of Aston Villa, Arsenal traveled a small distance to their arch rivals Tottenham the week after. The second North London derby of the season came to a dramatic close, with goals coming from Mesut Ozil on a fantastic touch in the 11th minute and, arguably the best striker in the Premier League to many (yeah, let that sink in) Harry Kane (grrr) scoring both goals in the 56th and 86th minutes, which will be explained later on in this post.

Mauricio Pochettino went with his oft used 4-2-3-1, the back four consisting of Danny Rose, Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and speedster Kyle Walker. Ryan Mason, whose first league start this season was in the first North London derby, doubled up with Nabil Bentaleb. Christian Eriksen was out on the left, with Moussa Dembele in the center and Erik Lamela on the right. Finally, Harry Kane up front as the lone striker.

Without Alexis Sanchez, far and away Arsenal’s best player so far, Arsene Wenger implemented a 4-3-3, with Mesut Ozil at left wing, Olivier Giroud up front and Danny Welbeck on the right, the trio of Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey in the midfield and with the center back doublet of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, along with Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin as the fullbacks.

Arsenal’s Midfield Clanked:

Yeah, the header pretty much says it all.

Despite the early first strike from Ozil, Arsenal’s inability to keep consistent possession throughout the game bit them in the ass. Wenger’s newfound tactics of sitting back at big away fixtures, soaking up pressure and hitting the opponents on the counter worked early on, but the Gunners couldn’t deal with Spurs on the day.

Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing tactics, brought with him from his Southampton stint, sure as hell held up in this game. Immensely.

So immense that Santi Cazorla’s name was barely even brought up. Aaron Ramsey would be brought up whenever he turned over possession and Francis Coquelin performed a lot better than the two combined. But as hard as Coquelin was trying to maintain the base of the midfield, Spurs’ counter attacks were just too much. They ensued via Cazorla/Ramsey turnovers, with Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason being the culprits capitalizing as the full blown engines of Spurs’ counters.

Tottenham owned possession in the first half 67-33 and 56.7-43.3 for the whole game, and while I was watching this game, it seemed like the possession margin should have been bigger. Of course, Harry Kane got man of the match for his two goals, but Nabil Bentaleb’s set up of Kane’s second goal and insanely high work rate got the nod for my man of the match. Take a look at his touches along with the touches of his partner at CDM, Ryan Mason.

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Bentaleb and Mason were the two touch workhorses this game.

Tottenham’s Blitzing Fullbacks:

Tottenham ran over Arsenal on the flanks, with Danny Rose going haywire everywhere he went on the left and Kyle Walker doing the same on the right. The left flank was the most frequently attacked side, being attacked 35% of the time and the right being attacked 33% of the time. Rose even got a couple of shots off, one of them going just wide of David Ospina. With Walker and Rose’s pace came the deluge of Tottenham’s set-ups for opportunities in the attacking third.

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The combined heat map for Rose and Walker. (Spurs attacking left to right)

Ospina Saves, But Dangerously:

Don’t get me wrong, David Ospina had a fantastic performance. He made many vital, cracking saves. He did keep the Gunners in the game. Having said that, and I know he’s not trying to not intentionally parry the ball into opposing attackers, but boy, he almost pushed a save right into Harry Kane’s boot for an almost easy tap-in. Again, fantastic performance from Ospina. He was already on the ground after his initial save on Moussa Dembele’s header that was poached in by Harry Kane. That was a pure split-second reaction stop he had to tip away; it just so happened to be right to Kane that the defense couldn’t pick up. Free pass.

Harry Kane…Again:

As an Arsenal fan, it sure was disheartening seeing them lose, but man, Harry Kane continues to shred pitches. Somebody starts up a “Best Premier League Striker” debate and Kane will be one of the first guys to be mentioned in the conversation. Dude is brilliant. There was nothing David Ospina was able to do but watch when Kane headed his second, game-winning goal into the top left corner in the 86th minute.

22 goals in all competitions, 12 goals in the EPL. And to make it even weirder, Woy Hodgson was in attendance for this game. If Woy doesn’t call this man up to the England squad, then place your bets on Paddy Power for next England manager…well, maybe, just maybe. Another fantastic English young gun to add on a list with Saido Berahino, Charlie Austin and Danny Ings. I tell ya, Woy’s got options up front (but he will probably play Wayne Rooney).

I only wanted to see you bathing in the Purple Kane.

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Piers Morgan…you fucking donk:

You wonder why people have such colossal disdains for Arsenal fans. Being one is tough because of this fucking guy. But football fans, no matter if you’re a Gooner or not, already knew that many, many tweets ago.

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Tactics: Atlético Madrid 4-0 Real Madrid

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Atlético Madrid dominated Real Madrid on their way to a massive 4-0 win at the Vicente Calderón today. The goals came from Tiago, Saul Ñiguez, Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandžukić. Let’s take a look at how Diego Simeone’s men triumphed–in emphatic fashion–over their cross town rivals.

The Lineup

Atlético, fully fit for the first time in almost three months, put out their best XI for this match. However, Real had five of their regular starters injured or suspended: Marcelo, Luka Modrić, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, and James Rodríguez. The injuries/suspensions to the backline meant that both Nacho and Fábio Coentrão made only their third La Liga starts this season. Nacho was joined at center-back by Raphaël Varane, who made his tenth start. The absence of the two CMs meant Real had to put Sami Khedira out in a a 4-3-3 for only his third start of the season. This is not to say that Atlético only won because Real were without five starters. It could have made a difference, but that is taking absolutely no credit away from Atlético’s dominance today.

Atlético Attacking the Right Side

Atlético, as they are wont to do, focused much more on channeling their attacks down the right side of the pitch than the left side. Better than one-third (34%, to be precise) of their touches came down the right flank, with only 18% down the left side. This is also evident in the fact that Arda Turan took 89 touches, while Saúl Ñíguez had 38 touches and Koke had 4 before being subbed off with an injury (more on Saúl later). Additionally, Juanfran complimented Arda on his side with 45 touches, while left-back Guilherme Siquiera had 28.

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All of the touches for Juanfran and Arda Turan.

Koke’s injury–which may keep him out a month–after only 10 minutes made the decision to carve up Real down the right side that much easier. While Arda’s brilliance certainly was part of why Atlético did it, you must also consider who was down Real’s left side: Nacho at CB, Coentrão at LB, and Cristiano Ronaldo at left wing. Ronaldo is notorious for his lack of defensive awareness, and Coentrão/Nacho are a lot easier to attack compared to Varane/Dani Carvajal. Atlético’s first and fourth goals were crosses that came down their right side, and Diego Simeone confirmed post-game that this was Atletico’s focus, per Dermot Corrigan.

The Smothering Midfield

Los Colchoneros were mighty effective at keeping Real Madrid out of dangerous places.

Los Colchoneros were mighty effective at keeping Real Madrid out of dangerous places.

This game really was won for Atlético thanks to their brilliant performance in the midfield. Atlético never really allowed Real to establish consistent pressure in the attacking third. Real lost possession 25 times throughout the game. Gabi and Tiago were stalwarts in the middle of Simeone’s 4-4-2, recording 11 successful tackles along with 4 interceptions. If the midfield is unable to get the ball to attackers, then the attackers are likely going to struggle. Which leads us to our next point…

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The location of Real Madrid’s 25 possession losses.

The BBC: Out of Service

Simeone’s men did a better job than any other team this season at keeping Real’s usually-dangerous three-headed monster of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo silent. The three of them combined for a grand total of three shots, zero on target, zero chances created and one successful cross in seven tries. This collective ineptitude was most evident after the lead went to 2-0. Bale and Ronaldo had combined for ten touches at that point. Benzema had six touches, but none of them placed him in a threatening position. While Bale and Benzema each had two successful dribbles, Ronaldo failed to record a single one. Those figures are pretty terrible for three world class players. It is worth noting that Ronaldo was missing the support that Marcelo usually offers, but it was still another great performance by Juanfran and the rest of the Atlético defense to keep him and his cohorts out of the game.

Better Call Saúl 

Saúl's heat map.

Saúl’s heat map.

Youth graduate Saúl Ñiguez put in a whale of a game. After starting last week at muddy Eibar (and acquitting himself well in a central role), Saúl entered for fellow academy member Koke, and it only took him eight minutes to provide something spectacular.

The 20 year-old’s day didn’t stop there. Over his one hour, he scored, set up Griezmann’s goal, and recorded three tackles and two interceptions before he went off with a minor knee injury in the 70th minute. We’ll have to see how Atlético adjust with no Koke, but Saúl looked mighty comfy on the left and has to be considered moving forward.

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EDIZD Mailbag!

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Hello readers! This is a feature we probably should have started a while ago, but better late than never, right? We’ll do these weekly, and we each try to answer a separate you propose. You can always drop mailbag questions, either in the comments or on the blog’s account. Without further ado…the first edition of the EDIZD Mailbag!

Q: Is even a day with blizzard-like conditions and record snowfall still Zlatan Day?

A: Yes. Of course. Sometimes our Lord Zlatan wants it to snow.–Jeremy

 

Q: What’s the worst gameplan you’ve ever seen a manager enact?

A: There have been many managerial blunders throughout football, but for me, the job Ossie Ardiles did at Tottenham in 1994 was the worst one.

article-1122563-00E3B03800000190-702_310x387Tottenham Hotspur began that season with the heaviest punishment ever handed out to an English club. As punishment for financial irregularities committed under the club’s previous owners during the 1980s, they were fined £600,000 and were deducted 12 league points as well as being banned from the 1994-95 FA Cup.

In response, Ardiles decided that the best way to climb up the table would be to score goals – lots of goals. To accomplish that, he adopted a 4-1-5 formation, which even video games have decided are a faux pas.

He stuck with the formation until November 1, when after allowing 33 goals in 15 games, he was fired by chairman Alan Sugar after a 3-0 loss to Notts County in the League Cup.

Since then, Tottenham have become known for having decent players who never achieve anything.–Ahmad

 

Q: Why are Everton bad?

A: Now under normal circumstances, a Liverpool fan answering this question will get major scoff. Fortunately This Liverpool fan is very much of the self loathing department so there’s no worries of a lack of objectivity.  Everton have been bad this season. Very bad in fact if you compare to the exploits of what’s happened last season. Injuries have hampered the club through long stretches, Sylvain Distin has aged and Lukaku and Barkley haven’t been the same spark plugs as they were last season. Oh and the whole “you must pass your way out of trouble” idea isn’t exactly selling like hotcakes this season.Everton's Kevin Mirallas

And we haven’t even mentioned America’s Secretary of defense in Tim Howard. Tim Howard has been a really good goalkeeper for a long time and in a position as volatile as goalkeeping, that’s a big achievement. His play this season has been erratic, but in a way unexpected. It’s true that Everton have the lowest SV% in the league this year but that’s mostly come as a result of the regression of Howard’s ability to save shots deep inside the penalty area. I’ll let Max Odenheimer explain (note: the data used in this was from January 10,2015): 

Last season, Howard was able to save 60% (21 of 35) of the shots he faced in and around the six-yard box. The rest of the league saved those shots at a 48% clip. That’s either superhuman, the aberration of a small sample or something in between. This season Howard has saved 38% (8 of 21) of those same shots. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Welcome back. So Everton are more or less the same team defensively as they were last season though Gareth Barry has lost a step or two and Tim Howard just isn’t having a freak statistical season to cover it up. Their attack has been at times almost too much of what Roberto Martinez idealizes, which is the smooth passing tempo. Everton have a considerable amount of talent, but this season from hell hasn’t been too much an outlier despite the talent on hand.–Moe

 

Q: If (When) Harry Kane leaves Spurs this summer, where would you most like to see him transfer?

A: I’d like to see him go to Manchester City, because it would give me the chance to reel off a bunch of Citizen Kane puns. Plus, City will need a new third striker once Džeko/Jovetić leaves.

(I kid! I kid! Partially!)

chels_h_harry730aI can’t see Kane leaving this summer. Spurs just tied him down to a new deal, he’s really young, and while he’s been outstanding this season, he doesn’t have much of a track record. The Real Madrid whispers are completely unfounded, so don’t worry about that. Although, an eventual move to Arsenal would be fun because…he has history there.–Jeremy

Q: Why does LVG continue to use horrible formations and use ADM up top when he’s clearly not comfortable?

A: Two headed answer!

First part, and the less fun one, is that Louie inherited this team. Both good and bad. The fact of the matter is, despite his unbelievable finishing thus far this year, the offense for United is stifled when Robin Van Persie is roaming up top alone or with Rooney/Falcao. There’s no threat of pace. Quite the opposite really, Robin can’t move. It’s why the team creates so few chances with him in the game. Thankfully for the United faithful he’s putting them in.

So Louie tries to compromise. His tactics are in the need of an Arjen Robben presence, and unfortunately for Di Maria he fits the billing more than anyone else on the squad. Which is why it was so shocking for some to see United go through the window without picking up a striker who is a threat running down the field. Di Maria isn’t Robben, and that has been the crux of United’s problems with the tactics they’re trying to run.

As for that second part… and the more fun one! LVG continues to run the tactics — I’d call it a formation but there’s been a mix of formations both in the WC and for United — he made famous at the World Cup because he’s LVG. He’s the tactical mastermind who made the three-in-the back systems trendy again. He’s the one who made Holland over achieved. AND HE’LL BE DAMNED if he let’s a bunch of English ninnies boss him around and Louis-van-Gaal-felt-the-p-008dictate what formation he’ll use.

LVG is a very smart manager, his resume says it for him. And he’s inherited a team that’s far from perfect or even a resembling a cohesive unit. And he’s done well with them! But he sure can be hard headed as well, and that’s a major reason why Di Maria is seen up top and his creation of a formation will be ran into the ground the season regardless of result.–Cole

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Andalusia and Fields Full of Promise

Samu-à-Samu.

That was the combination that led seventh-placed Málaga to a critical home win against fourth-placed Valencia on Monday night. Former Chelsea youth product Samuel García Sánchez linked up with fellow Andalusian Samu Castillejo inside 30 minutes for the game’s only goal. It was a terrific cross, and an even better header that floated past a helpless Diego Alves. The match proved a tense affair from that point–Málaga could have scored more, Valencia were wasteful and reckless (suffering yet another red card). But it turned out to be a massive result for the Rosaleda club, which now sits within three points of sixth-placed Villarreal in the European spots.

But the match served more than that one purpose. Not only did it keep Javi Gracia’s men in the hunt for the shock European bid, but it also revealed more to us about a potential star in the making. That would be the game’s goal-scorer, Castillejo.

A winger by trade, Castillejo turned 20 less than three weeks ago. He spent seven years with Malaga’s youth squad, and later, its B team, which is in Spanish football’s fourth division. He made 75 appearances and scored 22 goals for Málaga B, and his Liga debut this past August served as ample reward for his efforts in the Tercera División. It also helped that he put in a cracking preseason display against Newcastle, in which he netted a brace.

The lanky youngster has played nearly 1,300 minutes over 19 league games this season and made four substitute appearances in the Copa del Rey. He can be pretty fun to watch, even in his relative youth. Deployed primarily on the left wing in Gracia’s 4-2-3-1, he stands 5′ 10” and has shown that he is already quite well-versed in the art of drawing fouls–thanks to his ability to control the ball and whirl around defenders.

Thrown into a defense-first team that lacks a true finisher (or three, or five), Castillejo has quickly discovered the value inherent in tracking back. He’s tackled at a nearly 50% success rate, with just over two per 90 minutes. He’s also averaged close to two interceptions per 90 thus far as well–both very, very good for a 20 year-old. He even flashed some aerial ability with that delicious looping header from Monday.

However, Castillejo’s attacking prowess is…still a work in progress, which is nothing unusual for someone his age, mind you. Let’s take a look at his radar:

(thanks to @mixedknuts and @SamiHernia for making these radars public)

(thanks to @mixedknuts and @SamiHernia for making these radars public)

First things first: can I just say that this looks a bit like Ickis from “Aaahh!! Real Monsters” flipped upside-down? Radars can have some pretty fun designs.

Anywho, seeing as the Valencia goal counted for his very first league goal, it’s no surprise that his NPG per 90 is pretty low. He hasn’t shot a lot, and even less on target. His passing needs work, although he did play in this cross to now-former teammate Roque Santa Cruz to get his club on the board against Atleti in November. Castillejo is also unfortunately wont to lose the ball. But the radar also highlights his biggest strengths: his dribbling and his defensive contribution, both of which have been sterling for a winger his age.

Samu Castillejo will only get better from here. Málaga’s style has allowed them to churn out good results this term, but it’s not exactly conducive to Castillejo’s development as an attacker. His inexperience in a very tough league also works against him. But he has shown in the past that he can bag goals, and in the meantime, he does great work for the team, his ball control and pace trouble defenders who get to mark him–and he’s been 20 for only three weeks. Look for this guy to become a major player for Málaga in the next year or two; he may well spearhead the revival of a club that has been through the wringer and left for dead.

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