Chelsea’s height advantage over Arsenal proves to be crucial

February 7, 2010
Chelsea’s height advantage over Arsenal proves to be crucial

It’s been the story of the last three or four seasons in Arsenal v Chelsea clashes – a difference in physique. Didier Drogba has long had the measure of the Arsenal defence, seemingly regardless of which centre-backs he’s up against, but all over the pitch Chelsea tower over Arsenal.

Games between well-matched sides often comes down to set-pieces, and so it proved today. The first corner of the game, after eight minutes, saw John Terry win the ball in the air, and flick it towards Drogba, who scored at the far post. It may not have been Terry’s height per se that meant he won the ball, but the difference stature is remarkable. Read more »

Should we all start following the Allsvenskan?

February 3, 2010
Should we all start following the Allsvenskan?

This graph shows the number of different clubs who won the top division in the last decade – the 1999/2000 champions, right through to the 2008/09 champions.

You wouldn’t want to judge a league’s entertainment value solely based upon the number of sides who have won the league in the past ten seasons, but this would suggest the Premiership was the most predictable major league in Europe throughout the decade.

The fact that the Premiership is a ‘closed shop’ far from a revelation – but to see it trailing to Spain, Italy and Germany does put it in perspective. Read more »

Ivory Coast – a solid spine, but weak full-backs and lark of creative spark may be their downfall

February 3, 2010
Ivory Coast – a solid spine, but weak full-backs and lark of creative spark may be their downfall

The Ivory Coast will go into this year’s World Cup as ninth- favourites, the shortest-priced African side to ever go into a World Cup tournament. They play a fairly standard 4-3-3 system, with two wingers happy to rotate, attacking full-backs, and a solid, physical midfield. Read more »

Did Manchester United deliberately target Gael Clichy?

February 2, 2010
Did Manchester United deliberately target Gael Clichy?

Gael Clichy’s form over the past 18 months has been a real cause for concern for Arsenal fans. When Ashley Cole left for Chelsea in 2006, the consensus amongst Gooners was that Arsenal hadn’t done too badly, because Clichy stepped into the first team and was playing consistently well. And indeed, better than Cole was playing for Chelsea. But Cole’s return to world-class status seems to have coincided with Gael Clichy’s downfall. He had a poor 2008/09 and hasn’t played much better this season. Read more »

John Terry hits back with a superb all-round display for Chelsea at Burnley

February 1, 2010
John Terry hits back with a superb all-round display for Chelsea at Burnley

After the whole John Terry / Wayne Bridge / Vanessa Perroncel storm of last week, this was exactly what the current England captain needed. Chelsea didn’t play well at Turf Moor, and it was a poor game overall, but Terry turned in a terrific performance.

In a way, it was precisely the kind of game Terry would have wanted – scrappy, low-key, and against a side which would cause him many problems defensively. Read more »

Darren Fletcher on his best behaviour after Arsene Wenger criticism

February 1, 2010

After Arsenal’s 1-2 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season, Arsene Wenger made a point of singling out Darren Fletcher for criticism:

“There are other points that, for me, are more urgent – players who play only to make fouls, who make repeated fouls and are never punished. They get out of the game without a yellow card, but I think it is more anti-football than a player who did what Eduardo did (dived to win a penalty against Celtic). Read more »

Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United: Wayne Rooney brilliantly demonstrates the value of a ‘false nine’

January 31, 2010
Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United: Wayne Rooney brilliantly demonstrates the value of a ‘false nine’

It’s one thing to go out, play to your manager’s orders and get results. It’s an entirely separate thing to go out and score great goals.

And when those two come together, you have perfect football. This doesn’t happen too often – playing to your manager’s orders is often associated with defensive, negative football – the term “X came with a gameplan” has been used in the past few years as a euphemism for “X played for a draw and didn’t look to score themselves”. And great goals are often moments of individual brilliance – a mazy run ending in a fine finish, or a powerful shot from miles out that deceives the goalkeeper and goes in. Read more »

Christopher Samba – a rock at the heart of the Blackburn defence

January 31, 2010

If Sam Allardyce had a footballer-making machine, and wanted to create a centre-back, you get the feeling he’d produce something along the lines of Christopher Samba. 6′4, brave, consistent, unfussy and completely dominant in the air.

Quietly, Blackburn have crept into the top half of the table, although they do have a very bad defensive record. They do depend heavily on Samba in that respect – the way the Blackburn defence self-destructed to concede six against Aston Villa when Samba was sent-off demonstrates this well. Read more »

League comparison #3: shooting and goals

January 30, 2010
League comparison #3: shooting and goals

In part one we looked at passing, in part two we looked at crossing. For the final instalment, we will look at what football is all about – goals.

Firstly, a simple statistic – the average number of goals per game in the five leagues:

The only major surprise here is that the Premiership is so far ahead of the other four leagues – and this is an anomoly – the Premiership is seeing a bizarrely high number of goals this season, as detailed here. Indeed, the average goals per game over previous seasons is generally around 2.6 – pretty much average for the other four leagues listed. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #11: Valencia 2001-04

January 29, 2010
Teams of the Decade #11: Valencia 2001-04

There’s some debate about who first used the 4-2-3-1 formation that became so popular across Europe in the 2000s. It probably started its development in the mid-90s, and some would point to Manchester United of 1994 as a forerunner, and perhaps Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side and Real Madrid under John Toshack have claims to this award as well. Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #7: Squad rotation

January 28, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #7: Squad rotation

Although this doesn’t directly concern on-field tactics, the concept of squad rotation has become almost mandatory for the top sides in Europe, and has a large impact on the team selection of the managers concerned. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #12: Brazil 2002

January 28, 2010
Teams of the Decade #12: Brazil 2002

It’s easy to forget what a mess Brazil were in just months before the 2002 World Cup. They had their worst-ever qualification campaign for the tournament, and Luiz Felipe Scolari only took over in June 2001, with Brazil sitting outside the qualification places. Scolari struggled through – he lost his first game, but Brazil sealed their place in Japan and Korea by just three points. Read more »

If you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the lottery…

January 27, 2010

…and by the same token, if you don’t get shots on target in football games, you don’t score goals.

You don’t really need chalkboard analysis to describe how bad Liverpool are, but here is some evidence for you.

In their past two away games, Liverpool have had a grand total of two shots on target. One in each game. Against Stoke, it was a bundle over the line from two yards from Kyrgiakos. Read more »

League comparison #2: crossing

January 26, 2010
League comparison #2: crossing

In part one, we looked at the differences between the Premiership, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 in terms of passing. Here, we turn to crossing.

Firstly, the number of crosses attempted per game in the five leagues:

Serie A sees by far the highest amount of crosses, with the Bundesliga trailing significantly. There’s little difference between the other three leagues.

These figures on their own may not be particularly interesting, but with the addition of crossing completion statistics, we can build a more detailed picture: Read more »

Teams of the Decade #13: Chelsea 2004-06

January 25, 2010
Teams of the Decade #13: Chelsea 2004-06

Everyone knows that Arsenal went unbeaten in 2003/04, but it’s worth pointing out that Chelsea only lost one game the next season, a surprise 0-1 defeat away at Manchester City. OK so, Jose Mourinho had inherited a great squad, which had been added to over the summer with the likes of Cech, Drogba, Carvalho and Ferreira, but to take charge of a side and lead it so convincingly to the title (they won it by 12 points) should be commended. That season’s Chelsea side also hold the record for the fewest goals conceded in a Premiership season – just 15 in 38 games, whilst 25 clean sheets is also a Premiership record. Read more »

Inter 2-0 Milan: Leonardo fails to exploit Inter’s numerical disadvantage

January 24, 2010
Inter 2-0 Milan: Leonardo fails to exploit Inter’s numerical disadvantage

Mourinho 2-0 Leonardo. Or, to use an aggregate score, Mourinho 6-0 Leonardo. They may be two of the most stylish and exciting coaches in Europe, but tonight Mourinho got his tactics spot on, whilst Leonardo’s Milan side seemed rigid and uncomfortable.

Inter dominated the first half hour by virtue of having an extra central midfielder – Milan’s midfield being an inverted ‘V’ (ie with the central player, Pirlo, playing just ahead of the other two) meant that Sneijder constantly found space between the three, and completely dominated proceedings. Read more »

League comparison #1: passing

January 24, 2010
League comparison #1: passing

It’s often argued that the major European leagues are becoming increasingly similar, and there are no longer significant variations in tactics.  What are the reasons for this? An increased number of foreign players and managers? More television coverage of foreign competitions? A greater number of European matches? Globalisation in general?

That debate is for another day – here, we investigate whether the major European leagues are as similar as is assumed. First, passing. Read more »

Juventus 1-2 Roma: Ferrara’s right-sided switch costs him the game – and perhaps his job

January 23, 2010
Juventus 1-2 Roma: Ferrara’s right-sided switch costs him the game – and perhaps his job

It’s a game of two halves, they say – the first one here was so bad you may as well not have bothered. Two similar shapes cancelling each other out, with an incredible lack of width from both sides. Roma started with Luca Toni upfront as a target man, but he was injured and went off after five minutes – with a half-fit Francesco Totti replacing him. Vucinic, therefore, became the focal point of the attack drifting to the left, and Totti playing as a trequartista. Given such an early reorganisation of the side, we can forgive Roma for their slightly purposeless first half. Read more »

The woes of Michael Owen detailed

January 23, 2010

When will we get to the point where no-one will bother questioning Michael Owen’s omission from the England squad?

For many, that point has long passed, although certain media pundits insist that Owen deserves his place in Capello’s 23. The reason Owen deserves to be considered, apparently, is that he is England’s best ‘natural born finisher’, but the fact remains that he’s not even the best English finisher at Manchester United.

See this chalkboard of today’s game against Hull. Wayne Rooney only had one more shot from inside the area than Owen, but ended up with four more goals. Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #8: Pace

January 22, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #8: Pace

There isn’t a great deal to say about this one – it pretty much does what it says on the tin. In the past ten years, pace has become arguably the most important quality for young footballers. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #14: Milan 2002-07

January 22, 2010
Teams of the Decade #14: Milan 2002-07

Milan will go down as one of the classic teams of the decade, if only for the players that wore the Rossoneri shirts. It featured a true modern legend in Paolo Maldini, as well as Costacurta, Stam, Cafu, Nesta, Serginho, Pirlo, Redondo, Seedorf, Gattuso, Boban, Kaka, Rui Costa, Leonardo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Shevchenko, Ronaldo, Inzaghi, Crespo, Pato…in fact, more true world-class footballers than any club throughout the decade.

Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #9: Versatile attacking players

January 21, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #9: Versatile attacking players

The great attacking players of the late 1990s were easy to pin down to specific positions. Gabriel Batistuta, George Weah and Ronaldo were central forwards; Zinedine Zidane and Manuel Rui Costa were central playmakers; Luis Figo, Ryan Giggs and Marc Overmars were wingers. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #15: Brazil, 2009

January 20, 2010
Teams of the Decade #15: Brazil, 2009

This Brazil side (with slight replacements in certain positions) has already been covered on this site, so it’s probably better for me to just link to the original article I wrote, although this focussed upon Brazil’s friendly against England, rather than the Confederations Cup side the Confederations Cup-winning players on the left.

Read more »

Teams of the Decade #16: Senegal, World Cup 02

January 19, 2010
Teams of the Decade #16: Senegal, World Cup 02

In terms of one-off results, Senegal beating France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup was the biggest shock of the decade. It’s one of those results that has gone down in history, so it’s difficult to set the scene to describe what an upset it was. Here goes… Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #10: The advent of attacking full-backs

January 19, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #10: The advent of attacking full-backs

England’s first competitive fixture of the 2000s saw them start with the Neville brothers in the full-back positions. England’s first competitive fixture of the 2010s will see Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson there – the shift in that position from solid, reliable players to pacey, positive players could not be more marked. Read more »

Teams of the Decade, #17: Bologna, 2001/02

January 19, 2010
Teams of the Decade, #17: Bologna, 2001/02

To include a side on this list whose greatest achievement was to finish 7th one season may seem odd, but the final league table of the 2001/02 season doesn’t do justice to Bologna’s achievements that season – mixing it with the big boys, and only a final day defeat denying them the 4th place which cost them a place in the Champions League, at the expense of Milan – who went on to win the next season’s European Cup. Read more »

Teams of the Decade, #18: Australia, 2006

January 19, 2010
Teams of the Decade, #18: Australia, 2006

It’s fair to say that Guus Hiddink could have had three sides in this list – his 2002 venture to the World Cup semi-finals with South Korea was probably his best achievement of the decade; his 2008 Russia side was probably his best team of the decade. Read more »

Marouane Fellaini – superb in a deep-lying role for Everton

January 18, 2010
Marouane Fellaini – superb in a deep-lying role for Everton

Marouane Fellaini’s ability has never been in question – he’s not short of being the all-round footballer. Tall, strong, a fierce tackler, a good passer and the ability to find the net – he’s exactly what you want from a modern football player, and demonstrates why David Moyes paid £15m – yes, £15m – for him, despite the fact he was completely unproven outside the relatively poor Belgian top flight. Read more »

Eduardo’s excellent link-up play against Bolton key to Arsenal victory

January 17, 2010
Eduardo’s excellent link-up play against Bolton key to Arsenal victory


It’s often been said that Eduardo da Silva is purely a goalscorer – the insinuation being that he’s lacking technically in other areas. In recent weeks, Arsene Wenger has deployed Andrei Arshavin as the lone striker, with Eduardo on the left-hand side, but against Bolton Eduardo played through the middle as a lone central striker, and he took to the role brilliantly. Read more »

Teams of the Decade, #19: France, Euro 2004

January 15, 2010
Teams of the Decade, #19: France, Euro 2004

This side gets in here because of the idea behind it, rather than the actual outcome. France were poor at Euro 2004 – they were outplayed by England in the first game, and were utterly toothless when being dumped out by Greece. Read more »

Teams of the Decade, #20: Sevilla 2005-07

January 13, 2010
Teams of the Decade, #20: Sevilla 2005-07

It’s hard to believe that, just two and a half years ago, Juande Ramos had a reputation as one of the most promising managers in Europe. In guiding Sevilla to consecutive UEFA Cups, a Copa del Rey and the Spanish and European Super Cups within two seasons, he oversaw by far the most successful period in the club’s history. Read more »