Soccer in 2017 to be dominated by virtual reality and the continued rise of analytics – ESPN FC

Soccer in 2017 to be dominated by virtual reality and the continued rise of analytics – ESPN FC

I haven’t done a post like this in a while hoping to get back to doing it regularly. If’ you’ve read Soccernomics you know about Simon Kuper. There’s definitely some interesting thoughts in there. I can see the rise in analytics continuing but I don’t know about managers becoming less vital or Western Europe losing it’s dominance. If the latter happens it won’t be for a while yet.

Is Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil more important to Arsenal? | The Boot Room

Is Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil more important to Arsenal? | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on which of Arsenal’s two superstars is more important. 

Arsenal’s two superstars have been the subject of much debate as the Gunners continue their fine start to the 2016/17 season.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have been key to Arsenal’s recent revival and much of their good form this season. The duo arrived in consecutive summers when their former employers sought high-quality, and highly expensive, additions from two of their rivals. Arsenal were the benefactors from those moves and two FA Cups have since arrived to end the club’s trophy drought. Success in other competitions has been non-existent but the strong start this season has increased expectations.

A major cause for that is the ever-improving on-field relationship between the two stars. Sanchez’s deployment as a full-time striker for the Gunners has led to a partnership between him and Ozil reminiscent of the days of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.

Arsene Wenger has received credit in some corners for a long overdue move to place the Chilean livewire at the head of Arsenal’s attack. That decision has led to an increase in productivity and quality from both stars, as they play closer together in the central of the park with skills that complement each other well.

Both players are well on their way to their best tallies for the club, with Ozil’s nine goals and five assists bettered by Sanchez’s 13 goals and eight assists in all competitions. Both have produced match-winning performances and moments so far and its no wonder Arsenal fans are biting their nails over any bit of negative news about the duo.

The Telegraph reported at the beginning of the season that the Gunners were set to enter contract talks with both players. There has been little sign of progression where those talks are concerned and time is of essence with Sanchez and Ozil’s contracts due to expire in 2018. If either side fail to reach an agreement, or if Arsenal fail to land a major trophy once the season ends, then the possibility of one or both players leaving becomes very real.

If Arsenal were to lose either player it would come as a massive blow to the club’s reputation and chance for further progression.

Sanchez and Ozil are both in their prime and are key players for club and country. While the German is arguably the best player in his position and Sanchez is still coming to terms with the regularity of his new role, Arsenal need Sanchez more.

When comparing the two and what they bring to the club, Sanchez hits more marks. The Chilean’s form so far this season suggests that Arsenal’s wait for a long-term heir to Thierry Henry has ended. Sanchez provides much of the same power, pace and drive as the Frenchman and has showcased his clinical touch as well. One could argue that Ozil’s presence behind him is why he has been so effective in this role but there’s nothing to compare unlike the differences between Sanchez and Olivier Giroud up front. Arsenal have a few players who could play in Ozil’s position while arguably providing similar statistics but none can match Sanchez’s talents. Ozil is standing in the way of a few players, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere among them, who could eventually move on if they find a better opportunity elsewhere.

A look at the statistics favour the Chilean as well.

In their time at the club, considering only games in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, Sanchez has 53 goals and 30 assists in 109 games. Ozil has 29 goals and 47 goals in 137 games. Both players had their injury spells and runs of poor form but these statistics showcase two points. Sanchez is a much more productive player who has also spent the majority of his time behind the striker as Ozil has. The Chilean is also much more durable than his teammate, having played only 29 games less than his teammate, about half a season, despite joining a full year later. Ozil has shown signs of increased durability but Sanchez is already ahead in that game as shown by his quick return from injury during the November international break.

Neither player is bigger than the club, and if Wenger really wants to stick to his guns then both may leave. That would be a mistake.

In a perfect world both players would stay and do so in such a way that won’t upset the balance Wenger wants in his dressing room. Sanchez may not yet be considered a world-class striker like his teammate in attacking midfield but those strikers are hard to find, or are beyond Wenger’s taste as far as cost, while are many quality attacking midfielders around. His redeployment centrally has led to the increased dynamism in Arsenal’s attack. There certainly won’t be a replica of Ozil, but Arsenal can surely find a player of the requisite quality to replace the German.

If it comes down to a choice, then it is Sanchez who provides a much bigger need for the club in the short and long-term.

All statistics courtesy of ESPNFC

Brendan Rodgers, the beauty of 3-4-2-1 and its potency as a tactical weapon | Jonathan Wilson | Football | The Guardian

Brendan Rodgers, the beauty of 3-4-2-1 and its potency as a tactical weapon | Jonathan Wilson | Football | The Guardian

Some tactical talk from two of my favorite tactical writers. I don’t think 3 at the back will ever become a regular thing in the Premier League but it is interesting that mostly big teams have used it in recent times. That will likely be the tactical trend of the year, in the Premier League at least, especially if Chelsea continue to have such success.

Chelsea’s three-man defence the most intriguing tactical decision of the year

Barcelona Can End The Year On A High

The last international break of the season is complete and it comes at great time for Barcelona.

The fixture list at the beginning of the season saw the Blaugrana endure a few hiccups but the toughest tests were successfully negotiated. And by a few hiccups I mean a shock loss to newly promoted Alaves, at home, and another loss, somewhat less shocking this time, against bogey team Celta Vigo.

Regardless, Luis Enrique’s side sit second in the table only two points behind an even less impressive Real Madrid side. Barcelona have negotiated tough trips to Athletic Bilbao, Celta, Valencia and Sevilla already this season. They dropped points in only one of those games. Their two toughest away games, against Madrid and Atletico, are all that remain but visits to Real Sociedad and Villarreal should be treated with caution. While injuries remain a concern the likes of Gerard Pique, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba are on the verge of a return and there is now enough depth to cover for Andres Iniesta in midfield.

Barcelona’s first fixture upon their return sees them host Malaga and that game presents a great chance for Paco Alcacer to finally open his account with Luis Suarez out suspended. The remaining La Liga games in the year see the Blaugrana face Sociedad(away), Real Madrid(home) Osasuna(away) Espanyol(home). Barcelona should expect maximum points from all those encounters including the Madrid game. A home and away tie against Hercules in the Copa del Rey and Champions League matches against Celtic(away) and Borussia Mochengladbach(home) complete the calendar year.

Provided there are no further major injury worries or extreme drops in form among players then Barcelona will expect to be top of league entering 2017. There are still issues for the Enrique to fix defensively and a lack of control sometimes in games that can be attributed to no Xavi and an off-form Busquets. That’s why you have MSN though, and especially Messi on his current form.

Enrique will make sure his side is focused for every game until the end of the year and that should put Barcelona in a good position when 2017 begins.

What is the most important position on a football pitch? – ESPN FC

What is the most important position on a football pitch? – ESPN FC

There’s no right answer here. Well, maybe not. I can understand the author’s arguments at the end about goalkeepers but a very strong argument could be made for any one of those positions considered.  If I had to pick one it would be central midfield. They are at the heart of everything and, from my personal view, if you lose the midfield battle you generally lose the game.

Can regional leagues bring Champions League success to smaller clubs – ESPN FC

Can regional leagues bring Champions League success to smaller clubs – ESPN FC

There would be a lot of kinks to work out for this to come to fruition but you can see the benefits. Especially if there is a Super League in the future. It would be interesting to see all the proposed teams in regular competition with each other. I wouldn’t want to see their respective domestic leagues take a big hit as a result and I doubt those leagues would either. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to do this league without it being the primary source of qualification for European competition but again the domestic leagues can’t be fully left out.

It seems like this would only  really come about if the gap between the super clubs and every one else widens as expected given the recent changes in Champions League. We shall see

Is Jorge Sampaoli the Man to Replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona? | Bleacher Report

Is Jorge Sampaoli the Man to Replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona? | Bleacher Report

It’s probably a bit too early to be thinking about this but it’s definitely intriguing. You could see Enrique moving on or taking a break after this season and if he does there aren’t many options that come to mind right away.  Possibly Unai Emery or Paco Jemez. If Sampaoli continues to get Sevilla to perform as they have so far he wouldn’t be an easy target at all though.

 

Is the Premier League less predictable than other leagues? Not exactly | Football | The Guardian

Is the Premier League less predictable than other leagues? Not exactly | Football | The Guardian

I’ve been thinking about this since the beginning of the season. It’s still early days but some of the performances and results have been fascinating, and hopefully they hold up.

The topsy turvy nature of the Premier League is old news at this point but there is a valid argument that things are going as expected as the top six sides in the country currently occupy the top six spots. They’ll vary position etc throughout the season but you get the feeling that overall that won’t change.

As the article points out, there’s plenty going on in Europe’s other top leagues.

Newly promoted Red Bull Leipzig is right on Bayern Munich’s coattails while Borussia Dortmund sit in fifth. That’s down to underwhelming performances from those two. In France, Nice leads all comers with Mario Balotelli heading the attack, though their lead was cut to three points before the international break. Still, Monaco look likely to give Paris Saint-Germain a good run for their money this season. The Serie A remains the least suspenseful league with Juventus’ four point lead. AC Milan’s bright start to the season has made things exciting and there’s always the possibility that Roma and/or Napoli finally put up a good challenge. And La Liga is fun as always. Six points separate first from fifth and the performances of Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao mean things won’t be easy for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. They’ve all suffered shock results to lower teams already as well so there’s sure to be more drama as the season goes on.

Can Borussia Dortmund really challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title? | The Boot Room

Can Borussia Dortmund really challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title? | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on Borussia Dortmund’s chances of challenging Bayern this season

Borussia Dortmund’s start to the 2016/17 season has been disappointing.

In a season in which Bayern Munich, regardless of their quality, are going through transition, the expectation was that Dortmund would provide a strong challenge for the Bavarian side.

Dortmund’s 5-2 win over Hamburg was their first Bundesliga win since September and Thomas Tuchel’s side enters the last international break of the year in fifth place. A record of five wins, three draws and two losses isn’t horrible, but slightly surprising.

One of those losses came at the hands of the Bundesliga’s surprise team so far this season, the newly promoted Red Bull Leizpig. Red Bull are currently Bayern’s sternest challengers, and are level on points with the champions, but have yet to face the juggernaut. The other teams above Dortmund include TSG Hoffenheim, who drew with Bayern at the weekend, and Hertha Berlin.

History suggests the cream usually rises to the top and these teams will eventually fall off but Red Bull in particular seem capable of pulling a Leicester, as it were. Dortmund, meanwhile, have their own issues to sort out.

The laundry list of outgoing and incoming changes at Signal Iduna Park makes the slow start somewhat understandable. Dortmund finished 10 points off the pace last season in second place but three key faces left during the summer. Any team would have found it difficult to replace the varied talents and experience of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Dortmund’s approach saw the club bring in players who have failed to live up to their full potential, like Mario Gotze and Marc Bartra, and wonder-kids like Ousmane Dembele. The effect has been mixed.

The stand-out performer so far from the new signings is Raphael Guerreiro, the Portuguese left back who has been extremely impressive in a midfield role. Both Dembele and fellow wonder-kid, Emre Mor, have shown flashes of their potential while Bartra put in some decent performances early on. Gotze and Andre Schurrle haven’t been hugely disappointing so far but more is expected from two well-established senior internationals. Marco Reus’ constant injury issues are further cause for frustration and one can envisage a much stronger side when all the senior players are fit and firing. In total, seven new players have been brought that have played a decent role so far.

Tuchel has tried to rotate things to keep players happy and that has played a part in the early form. Those decisions will help keep legs fresh towards the end of the season, but also means players like Shinji Kagawa have yet to find their best form. Consistency across the board has been a key issue for Dortmund so far this season.

There have been good signs from some players though, with Christian Pulisic continuing to progress well and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang retaining his prolific form. Aubameyang’s goals are the cherry on top of a league-leading 25 goals, to go along with 11 in the Champions League.

That attack hasn’t suffered too much after the departures but there is work needed in the defense.  The 12 goals conceded in the Bundesliga is the worst among those currently in the top seven although it is keeping in line with the 34 goals conceded in 34 games last season. More time to adapt to Hummels’ departure and the new talents to adjust defensively should fix that issue.

The January transfer will be key for Dortmund, as Tuchel will need to streamline the squad without ridding it of too much depth or quality. A place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League has already been secured and a decent run will be expected in the German Cup. Bayern will also be fighting on three fronts and their focus on the Champions League might leave them vulnerable domestically.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side has only shown glimpses of the imperious form that was on display under Pep Guardiola. The Italian’s track record in league campaigns isn’t the greatest and that has shown in Bayern’s rocky start. The league leaders will visit Dortmund when league play resumes and that game will show how much work needs to be done. It is only 10 games into the season, 11 after the derby is complete, but if Bayern find a groove it will be hard to catch up.

There is a long road ahead and certainly no need for Dortmund to panic. This is a youthful squad shorn of a few leaders, both through transfer and injuries, so some growing pains can be expected. Dortmund has the talent to surpass those ahead of them not named Bayern Munich. If the likes of Gotze, Schurrle and Reus provide the quality they are capable of then the end of the Bundesliga season will be a lot closer than previous seasons. A win against Bayern in their first meeting would be a good way to start. Dortmund bought for the future over the summer but they can get something out of the present as well.