Bets of Mates Season Predictions: Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Southend

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The season. The football season. It is quite literally a season during football will be played, depending upon how you define “season”, “football”, “played”, “be” and “will”, but to be honest if you take truck with any of it you’re probably being a little overzealous with pedantry, and there’s enough of that on the internet already. There are already heightened expectations and pub brawls centered around what’s coming, but we don’t know what’s coming unless we are psychic. Now, it’s not for this blog to claim psychic powers, or even to hint darkly at a deal with the Devil that Bets of Mates have made – a deal that would not only allow them to give credibility to the predictions below, but give them a huge advantage in the sports betting market. So with that caveat briefly mentioned, but not yet confirmed, take a look at the Bets of Mates predictions for the season.

Louis van Gaal bans himself from his own press conferences

In a fit of pique, Louis van Gaal will have it pointed out to him after a press conference that something he said in the run-up to the game against Tottenham Hotspur was mildly contradictory of something he said in a post-match interview. No longer interested in the aggressive persecution of English journalists after realising they are not worthy of being considered genuine sport, he provocatively bans himself from his own press conferences, accusing himself of failing to understand the modern game, and too good for the journalists seeking to question him. Manchester United finish fourth.

Jose Mourinho bans himself from his own press conferences, and goes one step further

In an example of one -pmanship going too far, Van Gaal and Mourinho take mind games to a new level. Gone are the days when Arsene Wenger, a pitiful figure broken by self-delusion, and Rafael Benitez, a pitiful figure simply by virtue of who he is and what he says and does, would be put to the sword by the cleverer Mourinho and Alex Ferguson. This is Mourinho vs Van Gaal, two maverick titans clashing. Mourinho responds to Van Gaal’s press conference by announcing – via YouTube – that not only is he refusing to attend anymore of his own media events, he is no longer, as the video slowly pans out, dressing himself. This borderline pornographic image is replayed endlessly, with a few sensitively placed pixels, on Sky Sports news and on most newspapers and websites, thereby taking the attention from the Chelsea players, who go on to defeat Manchester United 4-0. Chelsea win the league, two points ahead of Manchester City.

Arsene Wenger makes a statement of his own

Following on from “Nudegate” comes the next round of Premier League games. At London Colney, Arsene Wenger announces that he, too, will no longer be attending press conferences, describing it as a reflection of the modern game, and as football’s most modern thinker, he of course agrees with both Mourinho and Van Gaal. He then proceeds to expose his old chap, laying across the desk in front of him, saying, “Gentleman, I believe that we all think we have the prettiest wife at home, but you can see now why I am so confident in my ability to attract a partner.” He then undresses fully and storms from the room to loud applause from attending journalists. Arsenal finish third, with Alexis Sanchez injured for much of the season.

Phil Brown makes a statement of his own, fundamentally misses the point

Days later at Southend, noted managerial thinker Phil Brown, who has little aversion to the limelight, decides that in order to be linked back to the big time, he will have to follow suit. Unfortunately for Brown, he is less of a strategic thinker than the very best managers in the game, and things go awry. At his own press conference, Brown will announce that he will now be attending all of Wenger’s, Mourinho’s and Van Gaal’s press conferences, and punches himself in his balls, collapsing to the floor. Southend go on to be relegated.

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Love and Hate, A Premier League Preview

As sure as day follows night the dawning of a new football season is preceded by a slew of prediction pieces, who will win what and why. This is one of those, but where there should be analysis, there is instead only one reason to love that club, and one reason to hate that club, for what is football if not a battle between love and hate?

Arsenal

Love – Since the arrival of Arsene Wenger, no cub in England has been such a constant source of entertainment for the neutral, whether that be through pure, beautiful football that takes the breath away, or through a collapse so spectacular and utterly devastating that you’d swear it’d been scripted,  Arsenal are always worth watching.

Hate – They sold Andrei Arshavin, that was a crime against football it was a crime against joy, the man should have been captain, he should have been manager, there should be a statue of him outside the ground.

Aston Villa

Love – You have to admire a club that has spent an eye watering amount of money yet still ended up with a first XI of Football Manager regens.

Hate – At times watching Villa over the last few seasons you find yourself wondering what the point in life is, whether it’s all worth it. A football team shouldn’t do that to you.

Burnley

Love - They are so far removed from the behemoths that normally inhabit this league that you can’t help but feel they represent footballs capacity to surprise. Which is lovely.

Hate – Their mascot is a bee, bees are wankers.

Chelsea

Love – Mourinho, even if you hate him you still love him, you just don’t know it, yet.

Hate - John Terry, even if you love him you will eventually hate him, he just hasn’t done anything to offend your particular sensibilities, yet.

Crystal Palace

Love - They were effectively relegated by about Christmas last season but just completely refused to accept it, you have to respect that level of stubbornness.

Hate – Their manager wears a baseball cap, and not in an ironic way.

Everton

Love – A side always capable of giving the bigger boys a bloody nose now throw their punches in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, without sacrificing any of the effectiveness.

Hate – I can’t think of a reason to hate them and that’s really annoying me.

Hull

Love – Now that Vincent Tan is no more (Cardiff got relegated, he’s not dead) we need an owner to fill the ‘hahahahahah did he really say that’ void left by the great man, Hull’s Assem Allam might just be the hero we need, if not the hero we deserve.

Hate – My mate lived in Hull for a bit, said it was the worst place he’s ever been.

Leicester

Love – They used to have Emile Heskey and Muzzy Izzet, that guarantees a lifetime of goodwill from lovers of the beautiful game.

Hate – They call themselves Leicester City even though Leicester is clearly not a city, I mean try and think of one person you know that’s been to Leicester, see it’s impossible. Idiots.

Liverpool

Love - One of the worlds great clubs, a traditional powerhouse that might just might be on the verge of returning to the seat of power that they were once upon a time able to claim as their own.

Hate – Annoying on an unprecedented scale.

Manchester City

Love - Despite their new found position at the top table of world football they still managed to cause a huge and hilarious media storm by forgetting one of their players birthdays. That is peak Manchester City.

Hate – They let Mario Balotelli leave, even Jesus wouldn’t forgive that (or God, which ever one is famous for forgiving).

Manchester United

Love - Englands biggest team has their swagger back and that can only be a good thing, plus last year they let David Moyes be in charge, which fans of laughing will be forever grateful for.

Hate - They have an official ‘savoury snacks partner’ (Mister Potato in case you were wondering).

Newcastle

Love - Alan Pardew might be the greatest person of all time.

Hate - Alan Pardew might be the worst person of all time.

QPR

Love - Go to Wikipedia (finish this article first) the vast majority of their squad make you go ‘huh, I’d completely forgotten he existed’. It’s like catching up with old friends, if your old friends were Jermain Jenas and Danny Simpson.

Hate – ‘Arry Redknapp, is you know, really really irritating.

Southampton

Love - They have Artur Boruc.

Hate - They are not treating Artur Boruc in a manner befitting one of the great men of our time.

Stoke

Love - They are less like Stoke than they used to be.

Hate - They’re still Stoke.

Sunderland

Love – They spent actual real world money on Jozy Altidore, possibly as part of some sort of performance art project. HAHAHAHAHA I’ve just looked up how much they paid……….

Hate – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH (still laughing at the Altidore fee)

Swansea

Love - Any team that employs a gilet wearing manager deserves your love and affection.

Hate – Their name is ‘Swan Sea’ that doesn’t make any sense, swans don’t live in the sea. They should be called Swan Lake (damnit some ballet has already claimed that) or Seagull Sea (okay this needs some work).

Tottenham

Love - ‘oh when the Spurs go marching in’ is a brilliant football song in a league sorely lacking in that department.

Hate - Any team that sacks a gilet wearing manager deserves your hate and vitriol (I still miss you Tim xx).

West Brom

Love - I was convinced they’d been relegated last season and I’m still pretty sure they were so I’m refusing to write this entry, on principle.

Hate – See above.

West Ham

Love - Andy Carroll, there are a handful of footballers who are able to not only play the game at their own pace, but force those around them to do so as well, Juan Roman Riquelme is one of those footballers, Xavi Hernandez another, and to that list we can add the ponytailed Geordie, whether he does it deliberately is another question, and one which I shall not be answering, or even asking.

Hate - Sam Allardyce, on occasion, can set his teams up in such a way that he makes you wish you could go back in time and uninvent football.

Please do not share your reasons for loving or hating each Premier League clubs with me on Twitter https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag, honestly, I can’t stress that enough.

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In Defence Of Wasted Potential

In Defence of Wasted Potential

 

A career path that reads Barcelona B – Barcelona – Roma – AC Milan (loan) – Barcelona – Ajax (loan) – Stoke City(!) is not only a tad perplexing but it hints strongly at wasted potential. The player in question is of course Bojan Kirkic, a scampering young attacker whose star once shone as bright as any other in the La Masia galaxy, a player that had the world at his feet at 17 will be lucky to have the ball at his feet at 23 (yes Stoke have changed their style of play a bit but I’m making the ‘rugby team’ joke anyway). This move has caused many to lament the talent that now looks like it shall never be fulfilled, and whilst there is some merit to that school of thought it ignores the simplistic beauty of squandered potential.

 

The problem with those who go on to achieve what they always looked capable of like Bojan’s ex teammate Lionel Messi, is that they are limited by the constraints of their profession, by their very nature they can only become footballers, and no footballer has ever lived up to what we as fans hoped and dreamed they would be. No matter how many goals they score, no matter how often they take our breath away, eventually they disappoint you, whether it’s Messi’s tax evasion, Berbatov’s ‘Keep Calm’ t-shirt or Paul Scholes blogging for Paddy Power. Sooner or later the flaws of human nature will become evident in even the most gifted of individuals, when all you have is ‘what might be’ those imperfections remain hidden, the future is a blinding light of hope.

 

The tale of potential greatness being squandered is the last bastion of romanticism left in our sport, it’s something we all believe we can relate to even though few truly can. The fleeting moments of brilliance achieved by those who end up falling well short are even more fondly remembered precisely because they offered a tantalising glimpse at what the future might hold. That the future ended up holding nothing more than unsuccessful loan spells and a gradual realisation that things were not to be is irrelevant, that will fade quickly from the our collective consciousness and all that will remain are those early sparkles and that feeling of hope. It’s why as a Celtic fan one of my favourite memories is a young Liam Miller putting on what felt like one of the definitive midfield performances against Lyon one glorious night under the Parkhead lights, every one of us in that stadium thought we were watching the new Paul McStay, that he turned out to be nothing of the sort only crystallizes the perfection of that performance. I will be forever grateful to Miller for turning out to be crap.

 

All this is true because no matter how long any of us live, no matter how much success we taste there will always be deep inside us the thought, ‘what might have been………’. It’s the reason you frequently think about leaving your spouse and seeing what the object of your teenage desires is up to. That would almost certainly be a terrible idea but the appeal will always be there because you remember that first time you kissed, and the energy that coursed through you all those years ago remains fresh to this day because it is not dulled by years of familiarity, not drained by nights in watching Eastenders.

 

The same concept can be extended to music, for a few months back in 2002 a teenage me was convinced The Libertines were going to change the world and everything in it. That debut album remains magical to this day not because the songs haven’t dated, but because the power of the ‘up yours world’ they delivered dissipated so quickly, yes they are back now (at the time of writing anyway) but they are so bloated and old that they may as well be another band altogether.

 

Think of it this way, imagine Wayne Rooney after terrifying the world with his first steps into professional football had subsequently crashed and burned? Imagine instead of developing into the statistically impressive but aesthetical distressing player we see today, that Rooney had exited stage left after Euro 2004, or after his debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce? His name would echo through the ages, a beacon of light and a tribute to the undisputed magic of ‘what might have been’.

 

Follow me on twitter where I swear I’ll never fulfil my potential https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

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England centre-backs: What should we do?

So, England have lost to Uruguay and now rely on the ‘if this happens and this happens and we do this’ method to qualify from the group. The post-mortems are everywhere and almost everyone is being blamed somewhere. One of the areas that is being focussed on is the centre-backs, though, and that’s something that I’ve been looking at recently.

This article might be a longer read than you are prepared to put yourselves through so I will sum it up here: England should drop Jagielka to the bench and put one of either Chris Smalling or Phil Jones into the starting XI alongside Gary Cahill (Jones gets my personal vote). If you want to read on, please do.

I’ve been looking at defensive statistics for the past few weeks, for centre-backs as they generally only have one job to do – defend. You won’t see many hard numbers here because most numbers will be average tackles or clearances per game which, to be honest, don’t mean much. If you are in a poor team you will be making more tackles and clearances; just because you clear the ball 6 times a game doesn’t make you a good defender.

However, there are some numbers that are useful. I’ve taken various defensive stats (such as, but not exclusively, tackles and clearances), weighted them and adjusted them for the dominance of the defender’s team in that match, and then I’ve done that per shot on target and shot blocked. Also of interest to me are percentages of successful tackles and aerial duels.

As I see it, there are 4 main central defenders vying for the 2 England centre-back spots: Cahill, Jagielka, Smalling and Jones. There is also Joleon Lescott on the fringes, but because of his age he would only realistically be a replacement for Phil Jagielka – they’re just one day apart, both within months of their 32nd birthday. Lescott also played even less at centre-back than Jones and Smalling this season, so a) his statistics may not be reliable and b) it’s unlikely he’ll have the match experience and fitness for being a starting international player. All of the figures I have used have been when the players have been at centre-back.

England CB defensive statsOf these 4, in the overall defensive statistics, Phil Jones comes out on top. Then comes Jagielka (I know, I said he should be dropped, just wait), then Cahill, then Smalling, though the gap between those last two is small.

England CB defense per shotThe defensive statistics per shot on target and shots blocked (including both categories as both, on average, show pressure the team is under, and pressure that could be averted if defenders had stopped the threat before then), the results are slightly different. Chris Smalling comes top with Phil Jagielka narrowly behind, with Gary Cahill only slightly further behind them. Phil Jones close by, but not as close as Cahill is to the top 2.

Both of these measures together are a good indication of average pure defensive performances and should be looked at together as both can be skewed – the first category by quiet games and the second by bizarrely dominant games in terms of shots on target. Looking at these, we see that neither Cahill nor Jagielka topped either category, therefore there is a clear argument for incorporating Smalling or Jones. On those two categories alone, I would take Smalling over Jones, as the first category can sometimes suffer from being unable to separate a busy game from a particularly good one, which the second category helps with.

Out of curiousity, where do these figures sit with other defenders in the Premier League? Well:

Centre backsThese are only the centre-backs I have had time to look at, but there is a decent selection of players from both the top and bottom of the Premier League. Interestingly, Curtis Davies at Hull is above Cahill and Smalling in the first category and, in the second (but possibly more important) he is only just below Phil Jones.

However, you then have to look at reliability. I’ve used a few figures for this, the success rate of the defensive features and the completion rate of passes in their own defensive third. The first of these I think of as a general reliability figure and the second as a proxy for how error prone the player may be (from the data I’ve collected, it does seem to bear out that the players with a lower defensive third pass success are the ones you’d think of as liable to make an error eg Martin Dimichelis).

If you look at these two figures combined, Jones does the best of the England centre-backs, followed by Cahill. Then come Smalling and Jagielka, with Davies (if we are including him) trailing behind. I ranked all of the centre-backs in my (small, I admit) sample in the two reliability categories and took an average of those positions. I’ve also included two other young English defenders from my sample, Stones and Caulker, out of general interest:

England CB reliability rankingsAs you can see, Jones and Cahill are quite reliable, Smalling less so a bit of a distance away. Jagielka, judging by my figures are only about as reliable as the two youngsters with Davies lagging behind, representing the toss-up you face with some defenders – they’re more likely to make a tackle than other defenders, but they’re also more likely to make a mistake of some sort. It’s probably useful to look at these two categories separated (defensive 1/3 passing acting as a proxy for how error prone a player is, remember):

England CB reliability bare statsYou can see in both categories that Jagielka comes below one of the two young players that aren’t even in direct contention for a starting England place. You can also see Chris Smalling’s downfall: he might be a good defender, but he’s liable to have a lapse in concentration, perhaps, and misplace a pass – or make an error.

It’s these two categories, as well as his age, that convince me that Jagielka should be dropped in favour of either Jones or Smalling (I would personally choose Jones). Jagielka might make a fair number of defensive ‘moves’ but he’s also more likely to miss a ‘move’ and misplace a pass in his own 1/3, which is my (admittedly fairly crude) proxy for being error prone.

He’s also nearly 32. If you were going to play a 30 year-old, you could put Terry in the team. There is a definite sense that this England team under Roy Hodgson is building for the future. By the Euros in 2016, Jagielka will be 33, nearly 34, which is the age that the calls to move on Ferdinand and Terry began to grow and, let’s be honest, Jagielka is not as good as either of those players.

Given the shambles of 2010, when Matthew Upson (yes, I know he scored) was a starting centre-back – alongside many other examples from the world of football – failing to blood young players can be very costly. Cahill is 28 and so has a good four or so years left in him, by which time we will probably have a new youngster ready to take his place. Phil Jones is 22, Chris Smalling is 24; both are good defenders with stats similar to Cahill and Jagielka. Both will probably improve, which Cahill and Jagielka are unlikely to do.

You might point to the first two tables, where Jagielka comes above Cahill. However, you should bear this in mind. England are judged on performances at the major tournaments which, barring disaster, we qualify for almost by default, especially in recent years. Tournament football involves a much larger amount of luck than league football, as there is no time for the luck to equal itself out as it usually does over a 38-game league season. Therefore, a mistake is more likely to be costly. Bearing that in mind, you will probably want players, especially centre-backs, who are reliable. As the last two tables show, Jagielka is less reliable than Cahill and Jones in both categories and Smalling in one.

As I’ve previously mentioned, there’s also his age, which is not a factor that should be overlooked. With the England team in transition, it doesn’t make sense to keep a 31, almost 32 year-old centre back who isn’t world class in the starting XI. The short-term difference of replacing Jagielka with Jones/Smalling is unlikely to be noticeable and the long-term benefits of bedding one of those two in now will definitely be felt come 2016 and particularly 2018.

I thank you for getting to the end of this article as it has been a long one and I’m also interested in hearing what you have to think about this. My Twitter is @MRThompson9. As for England: there’s always next time, eh?

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Countdown to the World Cup #1

With just one day to go until the World Cup, we take a look at a goalkeeper who more than made his mark on the tournament.

#1 Iker Casillas Spain 2002, 2006, 2010

squad#1He may have been just 19 years old when he won the Champions League for the first time, but Iker Casillas is 33 now, and has been captain of his country for each of their triumphs since 2008.  Casillas makes saves when it matters, and the second round game against Chile in 2010 is a case in point.  Can St Iker become the first keeper captain to win back to back World Cups?

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Countdown to the World Cup #2

With just two days to go until the start of the World Cup, we look back at perhaps the saddest story in World Cup Football.

#2 Andres Escobar Colombia 1990, 1994

squad#2Colombia were well fancied going into USA 94.  They had reached the last 16 at Italia 90 before succumbing to the ethereal talents of Roger Milla.  Going into 1994, they had finished top of CONMEBOL qualifying, and had beaten Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires.  With the mighty perm as their star turn, Colombia were fancied to do well.  They were drawn in a group with Romania, USA and Roy Hodgson’s Switzerland.

At the time, a Gheorge Hagi inspired Romania were also strong contenders, and Colombia were ruthlessly brushed aside by the Carpathian Maradona.  Next up came the USA, enter Andres Escobar.  The centre half’s unwitting block was turned past the colourful Higuita, and the USA qualified for the knockout stages.  Colombia went on to beat Switzerland, but six days later Escobar was shot dead in his home city of Medellin.  He was 27 years old, had played 51 times for Colombia and scored one goal.

Humberto Castro Munoz was convicted of Escobar’s murder in 1995, but released from prison after serving just eleven years of an original 43 year sentence.

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Countdown to the World Cup #3

It’s now just three days until the World Cup Finals kick off in Brazil, and here we take a look at the man who wore the number 3 shirt at four different World Cup tournaments.

#3 Paolo Maldini Italy 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002

squad#3When Italy won the World Cup in 2006, my initial thoughts were of Paolo Maldini.  He had retired from international football  in 2002 after a golden-goal defeat to South Korea.  Maldini deserved to win a major tournament, having been denied so cruelly in 1994 and 2000.  He was still capable of playing in that 2006 side, or at least being in the squad, but it wasn’t to be.

Maldini made the all-star team at two World Cups (1990 and 1994) emulating his father Cesare’s achievements from 1962.  He retired from football having played 900 games for AC Milan over 24 years.

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Countdown to the World Cup #4

With four days to go we look at the unsung hero of the 1970 Brazil National team.

#4 Carlos Alberto Brazil 1970

squad#4Carlos Alberto Torres, to give him his full name, was the captain of the Brazil side that swept all before them in the 1970 World Cup.  He scored what is arguably the greatest of any World Cup final in that game, sweeping home from 15 yards to make the score 4-0.

Alberto is not forgotten in his country to this day, being one of the ambassadors for the World Cup, and it’s be a toss up between him and Moore for who would be our captain!

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Countdown to the World Cup #5

With just five days until the World Cup we take a look at one man who graced the World Cup tournament wearing the number 5 shirt.

#5 Franz Beckenbauer West Germany 1966, 1970, 1974

squad#5Der Kaiser needs no introduction at all.  His exemplary style of play and his marauding runs set Beckenbauer apart from his international counterparts.  Beckenbauer was captain of the winning side in 1974 as West Germany overcame the Cruyff inspired Dutch, and 16 years later he became the first ever man to do the double.  Beckenbauer steered his charges, including Klinsmann, Matthaus and Brehme, to lift the trophy as a manager.

Being a World Cup winner once, is a big deal, but doing it twice, in two separate capacities is nothing short of sensational!

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Countdown to the World Cup #6

Six days to go and I can barely contain myself, but this isn’t about me, it’s about a man that wore the Number 6 shirt at a World Cup Finals.  Thankfully, for history’s sake today’s player was English.

#6 Bobby Moore 1962, 1966, 1970

squad#6England’s captain fantastic was taken from this earth too soon.  Bobby Moore died of cancer in 1993, aged just 51 years old.  He was the first member of the 1966 World Cup winning side to pass away.  As captain, he was also the first Englishman to ever get his hands on the trophy.

Moore actually played in three World Cups for England, and whilst the middle one is most fondly remembered, Moore played in Chile in 1962 having made his debut in the pre-tournament friendly against Peru aged just 19 years old.  In 1970 he was arrested days before the finals started accused of theft.

He remains a national icon, and whilst many of us hope that somebody will share that mantle with Moore one day, the colour picture of Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy will never grow old!

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