Posts Tagged ‘Fellaini’

Defense Through Offense Is The New Black

I’ve meant to write this column for a while now and, while not a perfect lead-in, Everton’s strategy and performance versus Manchester City yesterday presents a timely and opportune parallel.

TSG's Running Commentary Man Shaun is a beach disc champ

First, let me start with a parallel to the game of  ultimate frisbee. (Those reading TSG since inception know I’ve traveled for international frisbee tournaments in a previous life.)

Ultimate frisbee, though complex in field movement, is a simple game when it comes to winning. Obviously the team with the most points at the end of the game wins–but concurrently, since a possession ends in either and only a score or a turnover–the team with the least turnovers is always the winner as well.

This would seem to make it imperative to both not turnover the disc on offense and create turnovers on defense. Typically the former, not turning it over on offense, is more difficult. Whether it’s game conditions (wind, rain), mental or physical errors, or the largest factor–balancing aggressiveness to score versus the timidity to maintain possession–turnovers can be limited, but typically never abolished from the offensive game.

However, that’s exactly what the championship teams do. They maintain possession and score on nearly all of them…and by doing this they can afford to gamble on defense. The number of combined turnovers of both teams in the last ultimate frisbee national final I watched? Three, on over 30 possessions.

A team that knows they are going to score every single time on offense, by all accounts can, nay should, take as many risks on defense.

Since turnovers equal possession and the offense always score, it makes sense to go for the turnover which you may get 50% at the price of the other team scoring. If you’re opponent only scores 50% of the time, and your offense does at a higher rate, the game is won.

(There is a flaw in this statement in that the defensive team is the offensive team once they create a turnover–there is no substituion…but let’s overlook that for now.)

Similarly, you are starting to see more and more of this philosophy and strategy dominate team construction across sports because of some of the farther reaching applications of the strategy.

Xavi: Positively offensively defensive

Let’s take Barcelona…the top team in the world in football. They are labeled as having a world class front 6, with only an above average back four, specifically whoever pairs with Puyol. But their “defense” is not who their back three, four, or five are.

Their defense is the dominance of the possession on offense in the central midfield with Xavi, Ineista, Messi and company. Cheekily, I would wager it is harder to score without the ball then with the ball against, say, Terry Carvahlo, Cole Essien and company. Continually, why spend budget for central defenders when the midfield ahead of them is going to assure they are hardly challenged.

The further reaching ramifications of this are, beyond for the management a more exciting game, but more importantly, with a high-octane, high-performance, machine-like, pick-your-cliche offense a team is more comfortable, schooled, suited to score when it needs to.

Many USMNT fans, are shaking their heads in unison, with a concerned “yes,” realizing the trouble the team will have if they go down 1-0, 2-0 in the opener against England. Is the know-how there for the US to score? Well, not really.

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Weekend Revs: Reds, Blues and More

A great weekend of soccer just passsed is passing passed with lots of good play in the games TSG keeps track of.

We’re going to make a valiant effort to watch the Galaxy-Chivas game this evening in support of Houston fan Kevin who has been diligently waiting for us to follow the MLS. Winner there of course plays the Dynamo through on a 1-0 home win in 120 over the Sounders.

Manchester United – Chelsea

This game was the anomaly of the EPL weekend (lots of scoring elsewhere), ending in favor of the home side 1-0 on a header by John Terry. Man U came to the Bridge and looked

john terry

Join our Terry chorus: OVER-RATED! OVER-RATED!

to play a very technical, defensive game as Sir Alex opted for Anderson behind Rooney up top with Fletcher and Carrick in the middle. Chelsea countered with Deco up top–who was pretty much shut down and Joe Cole replaced him about half way through the 2nd half–backed by Lampard, Ballack and Essien. Deco looked both his age and his size against the Red Devs.

A defensive struggle, despite the Blues fluid movement through the midfield and Man U’s willingness to bring the counterattack and the counterattack alone.

Here are some observations:

• Despite John Terry being the hero with a glancing header (that Wes Brown may have actually stopped if Didier Drogba didn’t knock him down), the Chelsea man gets far too much respect from the refs. Early in the game Terry “accidentally” elbowed Antonio Valencia in the head and got nary a warning.  Per our stats earlier this year, Terry’s wear and tear is beginning to show and perhaps Chelsea should have let him head northward to Man City. The elder statesman is prone to grabbing, kicking and fouling on par or beyond Jamie Garragher only Garragher makes plays outside these fouls, Terry typically does not. The refs need to stop giving Terry breaks.

• Anderson’s talent for Man United cannot be denied. Plenty times the squat midfielder went up against TSG favorite Michael Essien and held his own. In fact, I shall call Anderson “mini-Essien” because in many respects–ability to maintain possession, visionary passing and generally being steely on the ball. Anderson, despite not playing forward all that much, made a number of good runs from the middle to the opposite post.

• Speaking of Essien, the Ghana national was again tip-top. Nobody calms the play down and switches field as well as Essien. Class in the midfield.

• Class in defense belonged a little bit to Wes Brown, but mostly to Ashley Cole this game. Cole was continually challenged yet was more than solid in defense and made some threatening runs forward.

• Antonio Valencia, to this writer, is somewhat confusing. Ronaldo’s replacement really looks like someone who needs the correct service to

valencia

WR: "Really man, I would have passed that last one to you if I had known you were on the pitch."

get the spacing he needs to do something. Unless Valencia  faced the opposing goal and had a moment to compose himself, he wasn’t very ineffective today. Somewhat incredulously as well, Valencia was absent nearly the entire day on the counterattack.

• And Cristiano Ronaldo would have been welcome in this game for Manchester United. United’s offense was a slew of counterattacking either initiated with run-ons by Wayne Rooney or through quick passing in the middle with Anderson (not Carrick or Fletcher both of who have offensive skills for that leave a lot to be desired). Giggs often joined as well, but you could say all of the Red Devils attacks lacked a certain creative dynamic.

Everyone knows that Rooney is going to threaten left and then look to get on his right foot. Everyone knows that Giggs is going to look to find the ball to his left foot for a pass or shot and now everyone knows that Valencia is going to primarily head to the baseline and wide to get space for a shot or cross. If I know it, then other teams know.

Berbatov in this game was nowhere to be found (perhaps too physical play). Without the floating Bulgarian there was just a lack of anything interesting on the attack. Man U is solid, but completely not spectacular.

• Further, speaking of the lone major offensive weapon in Wayne Rooney, the announcers commended him for getting back and defending on multiple occasions. Really?! Your top guy in your alignment and your main striker is in the defensive box and this is a good thing. Rooney, who Sir Alex commented last year needed to stay up on the pitch, must root himself above or just below the halfline at worst to create some space. Appreciate the effort, but don’t track back young man.

Our expectations were that this game would be won in the midfield, that is only slightly the case. While Chelsea won the defensive struggle, both teams played even enough for a draw. The advantage to Chelsea was that midfield as the Blues at least had some semblance of an offense where Man United was relegated to counter attacks and follow-up shots from Carrick and Fletcher –that’s just not going to get it done.

West Ham – Everton

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Everton can’t play a good game. Yes, they are killed by injuries, but the Toffees made West Ham look like Arsenal on the day, absent the scoring.

That being said, at least Moyes’ team came away with the 2-1 win.

Many times it was only a Yobo thwarting that led to a denied chance right before Big T had to take action.

I felt like the announcer was Joseph Yobo’s proud parent or something. “Yobo, with a fantastic stop! Yobo, there at the last minute! Yobo, makes the play! Yobo, got 2400 on his SATS!” (Since when are they 2400?)

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the different in this one might have been the absence of Carlton Cole for the away squad as the Hammers couldn’t convert their chances.

fellaini

Finally, TSG gets to run a Fellaini pic this campaign

Not all was luck for Bluenoser City as Louis Saha looks to have fully reclaimed the form that made him the object off Manchester United’s desire  just a few short years ago. Lightening strikes lately from the Frenchmen.

Alas Saha would not have had the those chances if ‘Fro-man Fellaini (I never miss an opportunity to link to that video) was not distributing capably. Consider the big man a poor man’s Magic Johnson on the pitch as he stands  6 ft, 4 inches and distributes the ball like he can easily see over everyone.

USMNT fans should take note. With Herita Ilunga injured for West Ham that places 5th man Jonathan Spector squarely in the starting four–at leftback. Spector looked better and better as the game went on and even got involved in the offense occasionally.

Back to Carlton Cole. With the English team striker out for Gianfranco Zola’s squad, I have to question Zola’s decision to leave Alessandro Diamanti on the bench until midway through the 2nd half. We’ve mentioned Diamanti before (cruise to the bottom of that linked post). West Ham looked to need some more offensive firepower and then summarily looked better for it after Diamanti took the pitch. Maybe Diamanti’s fitness is not there yet, but still, Zola, what are you waiting for? You’re boys are bottom table.

Oh and more note here, not to tread on Timmy. Howard was beaten on an exquisite flick on the West Ham goal.

The goal was credited to an own goal by Goodison’s Tony Hibbert, but Howard was beat. Note, Howard came out for this one (correctly) and got beat left side as he tried to shut down the dominant foot of Junior Stanislas who was making a run on to a ball over the top by none other than Diamanti. Not a bad beat and otherwise Howard was his usual self, bulletproof as he swatted away shot after shot including a low liner from….yes…Diamanti. Timmy needs more press overseas….seriously.

Hull City – Stoke City & Fulham – Wigan

Not much TSG can add on these matches as only the highlights are available.

• Hull – Stoke:

• By now you know JZA started and played 83 minutes. Three notes on that move: 1) Jozy better be sending a thank you gift to Geovanni

bullard

Might this man hold the key to JZA's success at Hull?

for his red last week, because if Geovanni is there you’re probably getting him and Jan VofH again in the starting line-up, 2) Numero deux, consider everything between Altidore and Hull City A-ok if he’s now starting a few weeks after he counted sheep too long and found himself fined, and 3) With Stephen Hunt now accompanied by Jimmy Bullard in the middle you’re going to see more offensive ability from the Tigers. Yes that was 16 shots by the home side against a decent Stoke City defense today. JZA, you might as well send a gift to Bullard as well.

Oh, one more note on Drogba Jr. He’s confirmed his national team spot–we had no doubt–via his Twitter.

• Fulham – Wigan:

• I can tell you something you definitely know: Clint Dempsey scored (again.) I can tell you something you may know, Clint Dempsey didn’t play his forward role today, but played more of a mid/wing role away on the road. The road part is significant because you would expect Demps up forward with one less striker to play for the tie away from home–but you didn’t see that. That’s all I can tell you about this one.

demps_penalty

Dempsey: Rolling for Fulham

More to read here.

Saturday’s News

• In what we thought might be a closer encounter in our preview piece. Tottenham knocked off Sunderland at home with Darren Bent missing a

bent

Bent, no tongue-wagging this Saturday

vital penalty kick. That’s either karmic or unfortunate depending on your feelings about Bent. Alas, Bent has made the national squad side for their showdown this coming weekend with Brazil.

• Arsenal, as easily predicted by TSG and anyone with a pulse, scored north of 3 goals on the road and came away 4-1 at Wolverhampton. Yawn.

• Chicago beat New England for the right to beat up on Real Salt Lake. You would have thought a better effort would have come from the New England side. That’s it — give up the nickname NOW! Really, zero goals is not Revolutionary.

• Blackburn hung a 3-spot on Portsmouth at home after the break to prove that they should be just above them still in the battle to leave the Premiership.

• And does Marcus Tracy have a shot? Not mentioned–and rightfully–in our piece yesterday about the forthcoming USMNT roster, Tracy, who plays in Denmark, subbed in and scored over the weekend. If anything gets Tracy a shot at the bench, that would be it.

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