Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Not quite an infographic, but...



This is a spreadsheet visualisation that I just enjoy looking at. It tracks the performance of every English Football League club during the Premier League era. It gives a real feel for the cyclical nature of English football and allows for easy tracking of precipitous ascents (c.f. Hull City, circa 2004-08), descents (Luton Town, 2007-09) and deaths (marked with an X).

Numbers in bold face indicate the highest position a club has reached - if there are several, the latest is highlighted. Those figures in italics represent a club's league nadir.

For more easy-to-follow data like this, visit the Room of Informational Illusions.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Philosophising the most important game in world football

Naming the most important club game in club football is perhaps more of a poser than you’d think.

There are two major contenders for the title and both will occur today. The case for one challenger, the UEFA Champions League Final is based around the prestige (and money) that accompanies winning the title of best team in the best league in the most competitive confederation. The case for the other competitor, the English League Championship Playoff Final, revolves around the money (and prestige) that accompanies promotion to the world’s richest league.

The monies on offer are truly remarkable. For winning the most lucrative club competition on Earth, either Real or Atletico Madrid will pocket up to €50 million (or about 1/10th of Atleti’s debt); while estimates vary on the worth of promotion to the English Premier League, recent hearsay puts the financial windfall for Derby County or Queens Park Rangers somewhere between £80-120 million – potentially three times as much as for the continent’s premier competition.

Players would certainly opt for the Champions League. Administrators, depending on the club, might flip-flop depending on the media forum in which they’re speaking. Fans – well, that’s a different story.

It goes without saying that the Champions League trophy carries just a little more kudos than does the award presented to (at best) the third-best club in England’s second division. As are sponsorship opportunities – for Atletico, at any rate. But, as clubs like Birmingham City, Leeds United and Norwich City have discovered recently, the revenues that the Premiership generates can be life-sustaining (or at least life-altering) – potentially more so than victory in the Champions League.

The counterargument is based purely on the reasons behind football as a concept – do you watch to see your team excel, or is a high, Icarian flight (c.f. Portsmouth) that ends in a near-fatal swan dive worth the fiscal risk not worth the risk? As a fan – or administrator – do you value survival and/or the opportunity to test yourself in an achievable competition, or the (pen)ultimate glory? You play to win the game – but at all costs?

The most important game in club football then depends very much on the audience and can be distilled down to one paraphrase: Survive, or advance?

Friday, May 16, 2014

FA Cup Final preview

The English FA Cup has long been thought of as the crowning jewel of that nation’s football season. For a country in which the term “second season” usually has a very different meaning, a cup competition interspersed amongst the sweaty buildup to the season’s final days is meant to provide the most tangible drama available before everyone takes a nice Bex and retires for a three-month long siesta.

This year’s Cup Final will be played today at Wembley, and features an Arsenal team that hopes to break a nine-year title drought and Hull City, whose trophyless dates back to 1965-66 when they triumphed in England’s third tier.

Hull City come into the games as palpable underdogs and haven’t won since the 5th of April. That victory took them to twelfth in the Premiership before more recent results have slipped the club to sixteenth and within sight of relegation. The club’s two most potent attackers, strikers Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, are both ineligible for the matchup after having already played FA Cup matches this season for Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

I'm a Tiger!  Raawr!
courtesy: eng.wikipedia.org
Their replacements will likely be Yannick Sagbo and Matty Fryatt, journeymen players whose best hope will be to capitalize on any potential poacher’s chances that come their way. This is football writer’s code for “not as good as the other guys”.

Manager Steve Bruce is likely to field a team that revolves around a midfield more balanced than most in the Premier League; the club’s midfield trio include Tottenham expats Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore with Slovenian mainstay Robert Koren. The crown jewel undoubtedly Huddlestone (no, not Loki), whose ability to spray accurate, lengthy through balls betwixt defences remains somehow unmissed by England bos Roy Hodgson.

The Tigers have more than a modicum of hope, however. Few teams have been as capable of mental disintegration over the past decade as their opponents, The Arsenal. This iteration of the Gunners however has a few pieces that were missing in former years, namely central midfielder Aaron Ramsey’s A-game and the second-striking wizardry of Mesut Ozil.-

After all the hype that (probably fairly) accompanied his arrival at the Emirates stadium, Ozil has been a disappointment in 2013-14. It says much of the fabled German that most of his influence has come about as a result of his presence rather than as a result of appreciable moments of pure skill; manager Arsene Wenger should certainly hope that all his featured player requires is a stage with sufficient exposure.

Ozil’s relative absence has been made up for in part by the barnstorming season experienced by Aaron Ramsey. He last played in an FA Cup final with Cardiff City in 2008 only weeks before his transfer to North London and has waited several years for his health to catch up to his talent. With a defence led by Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny far improved from seasons previous, elimination games tend to highlight Arsenal’s real point of weakness – their aforementioned tendency to freeze.

While theories abound, no-one can quite explain why a team with as much footballing nous as the Gunners tend to freak out when finding themselves in positions of power. Popular hypotheses include them buying too far into Wenger’s we-are-a-young-team Kool-Aid, that the men in red “sense the occasion” (in the bad way), or that they just don’t know how to win. The distinctive proof of the club’s poor record in big matches than the 2009 League Cup Final, where they lost to Birmingham City – a team who would then be relegated.
The similarities between the two situations are all too obvious for Gooner fans.

The match will likely be a close one – not since 2003-04, where Manchester United spiflicated low-riders Millwall, has the FA Cup Final produced a margin of over a goal. This, and the presence of difference-makers like Ozil, Ramsey and Huddlestone, adds to the promise of a great match.


Prediction: Hull City 1-1 victors on penalties, with Tom Huddlestone Man of the Match.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reflecting on the Socceroos' 30-man squad

Most suspected that Australia manager Ange Postecoglou would select a young side for the upcoming World Cup, but few perhaps were able to envisage the aspect of the 2014 Socceroos.

There are only a few readily recognizable faces in the squad, with Postecoglou true to his word in selecting ten players of his initial 30 from the A-League. As expected, there was no room for longstanding captain and lightning rod Lucas Neill, while the recent international exiles of Emerton, Holman, Schwarzer and Ognenovski mean the Aussies will fill their gold kits with an almost patriotically green squad.

Five Socceroos survive from Australia’s watershed 2006 campaign – Luke Wilkshire, Joshua Kennedy, Tim Cahill, Mark Milligan and Mark Bresciano – and they will be expected to provide most of the veteran professionalism required to extract the best from a group described best as youthful and perhaps even na├»ve.

Asia’s brotherhood of ageing bruisers are now no more than a bolded entry in gilt-edged history books. Australia is looking to the future with a special focus not on the 2014 World Cup but on success at next year’s home Asian Cup.

Bresciano, resident Old Man
courtesy: en.wikipedia.org
Pete Smith suggests this squad is nothing if not fresh and links to the Golden era of Socceroo football all but gone. Postecoglou has opted for dynamism and exuberance – especially in defensive positions – and a squad unjaded by long exposure commuting globally to represent a nation with only a passing interest in local football.

This is probably the best squad Postecoglou could select. The team also accurately represents Australia’s standing in the football world – there are big gaps between some numbers in FIFA’s rankings. Locals also seem happier with this lineup of exciting question marks than one highlighting staid veterans.

Featuring only two players from Europe’s big four leagues, whoever comprises the final 23-man roster will hardly be hampered by expectations. These Socceroos are also unscarred by past unrealistic hopes engendered by a wonderful run under Guus Hiddink, the ravages of age on bigger bodies or more recently, thumpings against quality opposition. What they have is pace, a new identity based around Postecoglou’s preferred passing game and a typical Australian passion for the contest.

While mandated by his superiors (and common sense) to empower a new youthful team, Postecoglou’s quick revamp may have hastened the departure of players like Schwarzer and Holman who may have played a key role in Brazil. Without these battle-scarred troops, the coach risks marking another band of younger, more impressionable players in the toughest slate of matches any team will play. With the Asian Cup (and the 2018 World Cup) more realistic targets for Aussie success, failure at the upcoming tournament might have longstanding consequences.


The flip side of callowness is a youthful confidence that serves sportsmen well. While there are only weeks to go until the tournament, Postecoglou must use that time to make sure the coin comes down on the right side for his young Socceroos.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Individual plus/minus: Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Manchester United, Southampton & Tottenham Hotspur - 11th May 2014

Statistics valid before games on May 11th.
Aston Villa
Player
G
Min
GS
GA
+/-
Scored/90
Conc/90
Team GD
Guzan
37
3330
39
58
-19
1.054
1.568
-19
Westwood
34
3007
34
53
-19
1.018
1.586
-19
Delph
33
2913
36
49
-13
1.112
1.514
-19
Vlaar
31
2715
35
44
-9
1.160
1.459
-19
Weimann
36
2564
34
43
-9
1.193
1.509
-19
Bacuna
34
2511
30
44
-14
1.075
1.577
-19
Baker
29
2384
25
41
-16
0.944
1.548
-19
Agbonlahor
29
2372
24
35
-11
0.911
1.328
-19
Clark
27
2206
30
38
-8
1.224
1.550
-19
Benteke
26
2170
26
38
-12
1.078
1.576
-19
El Ahmadi
30
2146
26
40
-14
1.090
1.678
-19
Lowton
22
1683
21
33
-12
1.123
1.765
-19
Luna
17
1381
15
18
-3
0.978
1.173
-19
Bertrand
15
1301
18
28
-10
1.245
1.937
-19
Albrighton
19
967
13
20
-7
1.210
1.861
-19
Kozak
14
781
10
9
1
1.152
1.037
-19
Tonev
17
596
6
8
-2
0.906
1.208
-19
Sylla
11
548
5
10
-5
0.821
1.642
-19
Holt
10
376
2
6
-4
0.479
1.436
-19
Bennett
5
244
0
2
-2
0.000
0.738
-19
Bowery
8
188
2
2
0
0.957
0.957
-19
Herd
2
171
1
4
-3
0.526
2.105
-19
Okore
3
167
1
3
-2
0.539
1.617
-19
Helenius
3
49
0
1
-1
0.000
1.837
-19
Robinson
3
39
0
3
-3
0.000
6.923
-19
Grealish
1
2.00
0
2
-2
0.000
90.000
-19