Tuesday, 24 April 2012

April's fool

You are missing the enthusiastic stream of posts on this blog? Of course you are. Here is why they have been missing - the games of ÖSK, Milan and Spurs over the past three weeks. Not that things were great before that - Spurs have been showing bad form ever since i wrote a jinxing post on 12 January, shortly before  they drew Wolves at home and then losing against City in that gruesome 3-2 game. Örebro's 2011 season and transfer season did not give us much hope for greatness, and Milan had already experienced those defining moments that usually indicate a loser season: the referee robbery of Muntari's goal against Juve, losing to Juve on extra time in the cup, having a season of injuries crowned by Thiago Silva being ruled out, missing the opportunity to put real pressure on Barcelona, reducing the Serie A lead to 2 points.

But still. I would have hoped for something better than this: 1 win. 5 draws. 7 losses. Dismissal from Champions League and the FA cup. Most likely losing a title battle that was ours. Most likely losing a Champions League spot that was ours. And parking at the bottom of the Swedish league. Happy days.

2 April: Örebro SK-Åtvidaberg 3-4. Opening game of the season. Four goals conceded in the first half.
3 April: Barcelona-Milan 3-1. So. That was the Champions League.
7 April: Mjällby-Örebro SK 0-0
7 April: Sunderland-Tottenham 0-0
7 April: Milan-Fiorentina 1-2. Low point of the season. And suddenly Juve takes the lead by one point.
9 April: Tottenham-Norwich 1-2. Low point of the season. Great chance to take initiative in the CL battle lost. Was planning to be there with my wife. Glad I didn't go (it rained, too)
10 April: Chievo-Milan 0-1. A win! Against the run of play, they say (didn't see it)
11 April Örebro SK-Helsingborg 0-0
15 April: IFK Göteborg-Örebro SK 2-2. Late equaliser from the home team (and actually an erroneously disallowed home team winner during stoppish time).
15 April: Tottenham-Chesea 1-5. So. That was the FA cup.
21 April: QPR-Tottenham 1-0. The Champions League qualification suddenly seems very distant.
22 April: Milan-Bologna 1-1. Last minute equaliser. The scudetto suddenly seems very distant
23 April: Örebro SK-Elfsborg 0-2. Örebro is now last in the league of  16 and the only team without a win.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Who's your father, camera man?

More than half of any half time analysis and post-game wrap ups and articles these days evolve around controversial or - more often - plain erroneous referee calls.

This has to end.  Everyone said their piece, here is mine.

Of course technical aids should be used in order to help referees make the right calls.  Of course this may be done without destroying the pace and rythm of the game and with appropriate checks and balances against abuse.

Here's what I would like to do.  (And never mind if all this cannot be done at all levels of the football game.  Fair for more is better than unfair for all.  And let's face it, the discussions we hear are mostly about football at a level where the cost of technical equipment will be minimal.)
  • Goal cameras now.  All goals should be approved by a supervisor. This will only take a second in 90% of the cases, in others it is worth waiting a bit longer.  If we can have a chip in the ball that tells us when the ball has crossed the line, great, let's do that too.
  • Make all players wear a chip that indicates to the linesmen (and to no one else) when a player is offside.  That way the linesmen can focus on when the ball is played and whether the offside player took part in the play (the latter however is mostly a call for the head ref).  One very important parameter less to leave to the human eye.
  • Give all teams two challenges per half.  The coach and the captain of the team can make the challenge, and the supervisor has 45 seconds to review the call (which will be added to stoppish time), using the best evidence available. The supervisor may also during that time consult the referee.
  • A successful challenge does not count. If a red card is challenged and changed to a yellow (for example), that counts as a successful challenge.
  • If a player or a coach approaches the referee after a call (or the lack thereof), the referee should ask the captain whether that should be interpreted as a challenge.  If the captain does not confirm immediately, the player approaching the referee will be cautioned if he continues to challenge the referees decision.
  • The yellow card for diving is abandoned.  Instead, much more severe bans are handed out subsequently, and according to a progressive scale.
  • The technical aids are always for consultation only.  Humans will always make the final call.
  • Scrap that idea with penalty box referees. Invest that money in technical equipment instead.
I only struggle with one situation. When a goal chance is interrupted by a whistle, the attacking team challenges and wins - what is the remedy? I imagine these situations to relate to offsides in 90%.  The best I can come up with is that first, the offside calls should improve with technical aids.  Moreover, with goal reviews and challenges referees should feel comfortable not to call offsides unless they are absolutely sure (that should be the yardstick anyway).  But still, it will happen from time to time, and the best I can come up with is that in those situations there should be a freekick from where the pass was made.  Not perfect, admittedly, but better than what we have today.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Himmel and Himmel only über Malmö

I know, there's a big game on tonight. Trying to keep focus elsewhere to live through the day. Like the Swedish league, which is about to start and where I have not been very good at updating you.  It is actually already time to submit predictions.  Here are mine:

1. Malmö FF. The best squad. Got a taste of Europe last year and are now dying to get back there.
2. Helsingborgs IF. Defending champions never win in Sweden.  But Helsingborg is a big challenger. Important that Walid Atta does well in central defense.  If Mahlangu continues like last year he will be gone by summer but Helsingborg have been good at replacing sold players.
3. Elfsborgs IF. We all look forward to what Viktor Claesson can do.  Big question mark for the defense.
4. Kalmar FF. Bouncing back after a few off years with a strong squad.
5. IFK Göteborg. Don't believe the hype.  Too many new players to have the consistency needed to fight for the title.
6. AIK. Rarely do two good seasons in a row.
7. Örebro SK. A long way up from the deep hole they fell into last season.  A brand new midfield that needs to work, a slow central defense could make the whole idea of how Örebro should play vulnerable.
8. Gais. Celik or no Celik? Irrespective of that, Gais could surprise any team.
9. BK Häcken. Solid. Boring.
10. Gefle IF. Perhaps a bit overrated after years of the opposite? But a strong offensive line-up.
11. IFK Norrköping. Will be more stable this year.
12. Åtvidabergs FF. Think ÅFF could be off to a good start but can't see them last.
13. Djurgårdens IF. Many new players, not so sure if they are that good.
14. Mjällby AIF. A downward trend. A new central midfield.
15. GIF Sundsvall. Will have a tough time although that guy Skulason looks pretty good.
16. Syrianska SK. Too many good players lost. Hard to see them survive this.

Whatcho think?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

MLS under way, and I take the opportunity to ask you lot for help to my favourite blogger who, in Swedish, it trying to list Americans from popular culture (note: no sportsmen or sportswomen) with clear and sincere symphaties for a football club, be it an MLS club, a European club or whatever.

This is the list so far, please comment on it, add and remove

Drew Carey – Seattle Sounders
Samuel L Jackson – Liverpool
Michael Moore – Arsenal
Sylvester Stallone – Everton
Elijah Wood – West Ham
Spike Lee – Arsenal
Dr Dre – Liverpool
Renée Zellweger – Chelsea
Julia Stiles – New York Red Bulls
Linkin' Park – Chicago Fire
Owen Wilson – Chelsea
Freddie Prinze Jr – LA Galaxy
Dave Grohl – West Ham
Justin Timberlake – Man United
Busta Rhymes – Chelsea
Tom Hanks – Aston Villa
Kevin Costner – Arsenal
Brad Pitt – Liverpool
Will Ferrell – Ipswich
Jay-Z – Arsenal
Matt Damon – Arsenal
Ray Liotta – Spurs
Cameron Diaz – Brentford
James Woods – Brentford
Jim Carrey – Brentford
Wyclef Jean – New York Red Bulls
Jon Stewart – New York Red Bulls
Robert Duvall – Boca Juniors
Eva Longoria – Chivas

Friday, 10 February 2012

Zuperman and Kryptonite

On Monday Sweden will announce its squad for the friendly against Croatia.  The last squad before the Euro 2012 squad.  Super-John Guidetti has recently completed back-to-back hat tricks for Feynoord against Twente and rivals Ajax and his tally is now 14 goals in 14 games, and quite a few assists on top of that.  19 year-old Guidetti's success reawakens the main discussion point around the Swedish national team over the last year: why is Sweden better without Zlatan? Should Zlatan even play as we seem to be doing better without him?

Let me state my piece.

Stats are pretty clear; Sweden performs better when Zlatan is not playing.  This has split the debate in two factions.  Faction one (at least in my mind primarily represented by those who usually represent small-town narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness in general) want to sack Zlatan from the team.  Faction 2 says Zlatan is our best player so he should play regardless of anything.

Why don't we, Moneyball-style, have a careful look at those stats? First, which stats are relevant?

What has been the apparent problem with Sweden with Zlatan on the pitch? In random order, he has (i) looked pretty disgusted by the random runs and passes by certain teammates and expressed that disgust in sometimes harsh language, (ii) looked uninspired and out of sync in the pressing game after losing possession and (iii) shot a truckload of freekicks in the ban wall.  Why is this and how do we correct it? The latter is maybe the easiest.  With Sebastian Larsson, Kim Källström, Andersson Svensson and Rasmus Elm on the team Zlatan better bend it like he did against Cagliari or not take them at all.

The first two are a bit trickier and here is where we should look more carefully at the stats.  Sweden under Erik Hamrén play what he refers to as 4-2-3-1 but what in my world is a pretty classic 4-4-2 where one striker is supposed to fall a bit deeper (the number 10) and one be more of a fox-in-the-box (the number 9).  Zlatan has declared that he should be the number 9 although he is by quite some distance our best passing player.  Hamrén has so far met this request.

I have tried to make sense out of the 21 games Sweden have played under Hamrén (excluding the January caps), looking at Sweden's performance (grading 1-5), whether Zlatan played, who else played up front, whether we played home or away, whether it was a qualifyer or a friendly and of course the result.

From a first glance, this comes out:
  • Sweden's average performance (according to me) is 3.10.
  • Sweden's performance with Zlatan is indeed worse, 2.83 versus 3.44 without him
  • But Sweden is also worse with Elmander playing (3.0 irrespective if we take into account the games he played as a winger or not)
  • Looking at individuals, Sweden is at its best with Toivonen playing (3.42 and then I am still not counting him as playing in the Finland game where Zlatan substituted him due to an early injury)
Looking a bit more on the game of games we played:
  • There is a huge difference between home games and away games.  Sweden have been great at home (7 wins, 1 draw against Germany, no defeats, a goal difference of 24-5 and av average performance  at 4.0).  This is to compare with the away games where we have won seven and lost five (and drawn that neutral game against Ukraine in Cyprus).  The average performance is at 2.5
What about that Zlatan then?
  • He started of pretty well. He had a good 2010 apart from the game against Holland when the entire Swedish team was unbalanced, and continued well in 2011 and peaked this spring against Finland.  At that point, Sweden with Zlatan had an average performance of 3.43.  It is really in the last five games that Sweden in general and Zlatan in particular have been lame.
  • So Sweden has been lame in five out of the last six and brilliant in the sixth (against Holland) and the Holland game was the only one where Zlatan did not play.  Zlatan's fault then? Could be, but remember what I said about home games versus away games above.  Holland we played at home, the other games were away games.  And the combination of Zlatan on the pitch and playing away has been awful.  At home, when half the crowd is cheering more for Zlatan than for Sweden, Zlatan has not been bad at all.  That points to motivation (or lack thereof, rather) being Zlatan's kryptonite
  • But what about Zlatan's buddy up front? Zlatan has played seven games with Elmander as his up-front partner.  The average is not very good, 2.57 with the best performance being Zlatan's solo show against Finland.  The only really good connect between the two we saw for a second in Cyprus against Ukraine, resulting in a great goal
  • In the other five games, Zlatan has played with Toivonen.  The two have performed above average together, at 3.2.  Apart from the horrid performance against Holland, Sweden has also been pretty effective with the pair up front (goal difference of 15-0 but 11 of those scored against San Marino)
  • But.  In four of those five games, Elmander has still started, as a winger.  Zlatan has thus only played one game under Hamrén without Elmander, at home in the comfortable 6-0 win against San Marino.
So what are the conclusions here?
  • Sweden performs better without Zlatan when playing away
  • Zlatan and Sweden performs better when Zlatan plays with Toivonen than when he plays with Elmander
  • No other Zlatan options have been tested, and Zlatan has almost never played without Elmander on the pitch.
If Superman would always have had kryptonite in his pockets he probably would never have disovered his super powers.  Lack of motivation may be one thing, but I believe it makes sense for Hamrén to test Zlatan without Elmander before the Euro 2012.  For the friendly against Croatia I would like to see Hamrén start with Zlatan as number 10 and Guidetti as number 9, ask them to do 45 minutes but 45 intense minutes, with aggressive high pressure on the Croatian defense, and then let Toivonen/Elmander do the same in the second half.   That's my piece.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Note to self

Just saying that you are not jinxing is not an automatic get-out-of-jail card.  I jinxed us.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

We coulda been a contender

I know that I might be jinxing things, but it is time to assess what Spurs are actually about to accomplish.

The five intensive rounds of Christmas Premier League football are long gone and if you make a minitable of those five rounds you will note that Spurs are top of the table with 11 points, and the only undefeated team. Manchester City managed to lose five points despite only conceding one goal and is second with 10 points, the team that defeated them, reawoken Sunderland are third also with 10 points.  ManU started the Christmas period with three wins and a goal difference of 12-0, but two straight losses push them to the fouth spot.  The four other top seven teams gained between 6 and 8 points.

Before we move the focus back to Spurs: in the 15 games before Christmas (14 for Spurs), the top 7 teams gained on average 2.08 points per game, whereas in the 5 Christmas rounds, the average was a mere 1.66. Why do the top teams with their superior width of squads suffer more than other teams from the tough Christmas schedule? If we would have muddy pitches and snow I would have bought the argument that Christmas football is haphazard and that physical football prevails, but does that apply when the weather has been mild? Are the big teams suffering from playing European games in the autumn? Not sure I buy that argument either, at least it does not apply to Liverpool and Newcastle. 

Anyway, after a comfortable win over Everton yesterday finally banking the three points from the "game in hand" we had all season we cannot ignore facts.  Spurs are level with Man U, save for goal difference.  In January.  The chasing teams are eight points or more behind.  Our form is the best in the league.  We may have a lot of tricky away games left this season (Gunners, Pool, City, Chealsea) but United are in the same position, plus we play them at home.  And City is not what they were in the early season.  Crucial players like Kompany (banned after a rediculous red) and Yaya (going to African Nations Cup) will be absent for a while and the match schedule for the next few weeks does not look easy.

I will not jinx us. I will not say that we are a title contender. But looking at facts only, it could look as if we were.