Monday, December 23, 2013


Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers deserves our praise (Henry Winter, 23 Dec 2013, The Telegraph)

A careful plan is being put into operation at Anfield. Rodgers buys those such as Philippe Coutinho who suit his obsession with possession, inflicting on opponents “death by football”. There were doubts whether the slight Brazilian would cope with the physicality of the Premier League. Coutinho certainly looks at home now. Rodgers chose well. Joe Allen begins to justify the £15 million outlay.

Liverpool’s manager has made mistakes, and concerns remain over Fabio Borini and Iago Aspas while Nuri Sahin’s loan did not work out. Rodgers is fortunate to have good owners in John W Henry and Tom Werner.

As well as the flowing football, Rodgers’ players perform with a strong work ethic, the type instilled in him by his late father, who had him painting and decorating at a young age. “My father would work from dawn to dusk to ensure his young family had everything and I think you can see his philosophies in my team,’’ Rodgers said during his time at Swansea.

He sees the club as a family with everyone standing together. The team spirit engendered by Rodgers was demonstrated when Suárez squared the ball for Raheem Sterling to score against Cardiff City and the youngster immediately running to thank him.

Still those early maxims of Rodgers need revisiting. Bemusement followed his pronouncement that “the problem with being a manager is it’s like trying to build an aircraft while it’s flying’’. Now that Rodgers’ ideas are becoming reality on the pitch such statements will soon be staples in coach-education departments.
Rodgers is different. He is no Big Sam. He quotes Latin proverbs to his players. Addressing the media, Rodger is one of the most tactile managers I have met. He has always been quotable but now people appreciate the content properly. Discussing how he likes to train players, Rodgers once said: “You train dogs. I like to educate players.” Cue some hilarity. But he does educate players. Ask Henderson.

When Rodgers arrived at Melwood last year, the new manager sat down with the struggling midfielder. “We had conversations on what I needed to do to improve my game,’’ recalls Henderson. They also talked about whether the player should try a new start at Fulham. “I don’t want to go,’’ Henderson told Rodgers. “I want to fight for my place.’’ Impressed, Rodgers replied that if Henderson listened, learnt and improved, he would give him a chance. “He helped me to do better, always talking to me,’’ adds Henderson, now an integral part of the team.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


What Is Total Shots Ratio? And How Can It Improve Your Understanding of Soccer? (Mike L. Goodman, August 12, 2013, Grantland)

As with lots of analytics concepts, TSR is just a fancy set of letters for an incredibly simple idea: Let’s count shots. Specifically, TSR is the ratio of how many shots a team takes versus the number of total shots (actual equation: shots for/(shots for + shots against). For example, Manchester United took 562 shots and conceded 494 shots last season. That works out to a TSR of 0.53. And it turns out counting shots is pretty important. Because goals are so rare, and can be scored in such odd and wonderful ways, a team’s past scoring record isn’t a particularly reliable predictor of future goals. Looking at how frequently a team shoots predicts future goals much more accurately. In that way, it’s similar to baseball’s run differential. If you want to predict how often a baseball team will win, figure out how much better they are at doing the thing that leads to winning (scoring runs). If you want to figure out how often a soccer team will score goals, figure out how often they do the thing that leads to scoring goals (shooting). TSR is a measure of a team’s ability to take shots while preventing opponents from shooting.

Why Bother With TSR?

The biggest thing that TSR has going for it is that it works. A team’s point tally is definitely correlated with how good its TSR is (for some actual math on how highly correlated TSR and points are, you can check out Martin Eastwood’s work on the subject).

The biggest problem with soccer as played in its major leagues is not the imbalance in finances, but the style of play that follows from their spending.  When a big budget team plays a small budget team the latter will play defensively and try to absorb shots in hopes of scoring a fluke goal on one of their minimal attacking opportunities. In essence, they stack TSR against themselves.  They play to lose.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Sturridge brilliance sees Reds defeat United (ESPN Star, 9/01/13)

Sturridge provided a fitting tribute to the memory of Bill Shankly with a fourth-minute winner against United to maintain Liverpool's 100 per cent start to the Barclays Premier League season.

Monday would have been Shankly's 100th birthday, and it will be celebrated with Liverpool back in their customary position as winners, with Sturridge now bagging the only goal in all three matches so far.
In contrast, Manchester United manager David Moyes endured a depressing day.

He failed to claim a hoped-for first win at Anfield following 12 unsuccessful visits with Everton. [...]

[T]he presence of Victor Moses, Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori in the directors' box showed Liverpool's intent for the last day of the transfer window.

Whatever his limitations as a tactician, Alex Ferguson understood one thing : if you try to score you will.  David Moyes never tries to score.  And once teams smell blood and start trying to score against United, instead of playing deep and hoping to draw, they don't have the defense to stop them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


How life (and death) change Egyptian soccer and its American coach (Kevin Baxter
May 11, 2013, LA Times)

It probably wasn't the best time to take any soccer job in Egypt. Because of the violence the country's top domestic league was shut down twice, leaving the players without pay or a place to play. And when the government declined to provide adequate security, Bradley's team had to play its first World Cup qualifier in an empty military stadium.

Yet despite it all — or maybe because of it all — Bradley has Egypt a win away from the final round of qualifying for next summer's World Cup, a tournament it has played in just twice since 1930.

"In those difficult circumstances we were able to start to establish something, a trust and an understanding of the opportunity that we had to try to do something special during a time in the country when, honestly, everything's pretty difficult," Bradley says.

"When a national team steps on a field you need to make sure that people look on that field and feel proud. They feel like they're part of it. I think that certainly fits the situation and the challenges that we see here."

As astonishing as soccer's survival in Egypt may seem, however, the bigger surprise is that Bradley has become its savior. He was criticized as robotic, unimaginative, even dispassionate while leading the U.S. into the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup. Now, many in Egypt insist Bradley saved their team through his creativity, emotion and force of will.

The day after the February 2012, riots in the Suez Canal city of Port Said — an event Bradley called "a massacre" — the coach and his wife, Lindsay, marched with thousands of Egyptians in Cairo's Sphinx Square to honor the dead. They visited a memorial, where they spoke with relatives of those who had died. Quietly, they donated money to the survivors. Bradley, his wife and two daughters, also rallied support for the Children's Cancer Hospital of Egypt, to which they also gave money. And last November, after an accident involving a train and school bus killed dozens of children in Asyut, 230 miles south of Cairo, Bradley met with the victims' families.

"Egypt is a region where emotion counts. People respond emotionally and that response is important," says James M. Dorsey, a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, who writes a blog on Middle Eastern soccer. "If you respond to situations with a sense that you understand what's going on and that you empathize and that you're part of this, people value that."

Hassan El Mestikawy, a well-known sports analyst in Egypt, pays Bradley an ever bigger compliment. "He's an Egyptian," El Mestikawy says.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Friendly fire: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods, leadership, acumen in question (Brian Straus, 3/19/13,  Sporting News)

[L]ahm’s claim that he was forced to work through tactics with teammates rings true with the men now taking the field.

One player said a typical pregame instruction will be something like, “Go express yourself,” while another source recalled that players returning from Honduras claimed, “He just threw guys out there and played.”

A different player said that at halftime of the qualifier in San Pedro Sula, with the U.S. fortunate to be level at 1-1, Klinsmann, “Didn’t really say that much. Just, ‘C’mon, we’ve got to win this game. They scored an unbelievable (tying) goal, and we can’t do anything about that. We’re going to win this game.’ It was never, ‘We need to do this. We need to change this.’ ”

That same player continued, “It’s always motivational. He’s a great motivator. He can make you feel you’re better than what you are.”

But that wasn’t good enough in Honduras, and there has been a bit of locker room whiplash since Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley. The 2010 World Cup coach lacked the German’s charm and big-picture ambition, but Bradley was a meticulous tactician who constructed a coherent system that made the most of the talent at his disposal.

“Bob was better at getting his message across. There was more of an identity,” a player said. “We’re still coming to terms with that (under Klinsmann). ... Sometimes the message they’re trying to get across isn’t relayed the best, or as players we don’t apply it. It’s just different.”

Whether it’s the message or the interpretation, players now feel unprepared. They have questions.

One asked why the 4-4-2 formation that was so effective against Slovenia in the fall of 2011 hasn’t been used more often. A second player wondered how 14 months later the U.S. could look so disjointed in January’s scoreless draw against Canada after spending nearly three weeks together. Another asked why the U.S. is 1-2-1 in road World Cup qualifiers under Klinsmann, despite taking the lead in all four. And a fourth posed the biggest question of all: Is the U.S. even ready to play the style Klinsmann wants to see?

“They want us to play the beautiful game, but we’re not a technical team like the Germans. We’re not Spain or Brazil,” the player said. “What we’re good at is we work hard, we fight and we compete. We have great athletes and we’re a good counterattacking team. Maybe we need to go back to what we’re good at.”

Monday, January 21, 2013


Why Daniel Sturridge Solves  Liverpool's Tactical Problems (Premier League Index, 1/20/13))

Liverpool’s issue has been that of struggling to find a formation (particularly in attack) that allows players to concentrate play (with options) in and around zone 14. Barcelona’s (and theoretically perfect) 3-4-3 formation [shown below] works well because of player personnel and attitudes towards patience, full backs and dribbling. In the Barcelona build-up the fullbacks and dribbling are used as ways to stretch the game and Barcelona tease the opposition out of position using either of these methods. It is clear that Liverpool for the first three months of the season used full-backs and the dribble as a way of trying to create goal scoring opportunities and relied on these two functions far more so than Barcelona do. Therefore Rodgers has had to find a positional solution that offers Liverpool freedom from crossing and freedom to concentrate play centrally with options (to avoid impatience).
FCB 343theorestical Why Daniel Sturridge Solves Liverpools Tactical Problems
Luis Suarez was originally employed in Leo Messi’s role (see Barcelona’s formation) of a false 9 to get Suarez on the ball as often as possible, however the problem is that this role is only effective (for the team’s play) if all things are in place. With the introduction of Sturridge, Rodgers has jumped at the opportunity to try something different tactically. Suarez now finds himself positioned in the number 10 role [see relevant images below] and Sturridge plays a much more advanced number 9 role, still allowing Suarez with the opportunity to pick up the ball and break forward, but now there are players in advanced positions to offer combination play in central and dangerous areas of the field. Therefore, it is easy to see how this new tactical solution offers Liverpool with options and takes them away from crossing as an attempted method of assist. Now, Rodgers will hope teams come to play against Liverpool and struggle to defend with ease in central areas.
So by signing Sturridge, Liverpool have bought so much more than a Premier League striker who has potential to succeed at the highest level, they’ve bought a new tactical solution; a solution that is Liverpool FC specific and isn’t an attempt to mimic what works for another club elsewhere. Each set of players will have their own unique player profile and it is the job of the manager to find the structure that fits into his philosophy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


After Big Sam vented his anger at Dowd, stats show top clubs DO win more penalties (SUNNI UPAL, 17 January 2013, Daily Mail)

‘It’s got to be that simple. Phil Dowd was in the perfect position. Rafael pushes the ball away with his left arm. No penalty. Go to the other end and the ball hits Jordan’s hand. If you give one you have to give both, simple as that.

‘I’ve looked at the referee’s position for the Rafael one and it is perfect - straight in line and right in front of it. He had a worse position for Jordan’s.’

Well 'Big Sam' might be right as stats show that the top three clubs have been awarded the most penalties this season.

The top three sides in the Premier League, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, have been awarded the most penalties this season with Arsenal close behind.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Rodgers' revival gains impetus with Suarez the miracle worker (The Independent, 1/02/13)

There has always been something of the revivalist preacher about Brendan Rodgers and it seemed tonight that his future might just work.

Daniel Sturridge, the striker on whom the Liverpool manager has just invested £12m, was looking down from the directors’ box. Luis Suarez’s case to be the footballer of the year was looking irresistible and there was one fabulous passing move that involved Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, men whom Anfield imagined were beyond redemption.

As the teams trotted on for the second half, the loudspeakers played a song by a Manchester band whose lead singer is a fervent United supporter. The choice of The Stone Roses seemed less important than the lyrics to “I am the Resurrection”.