Everton Will Need More Depth In Order To Compete For Champions League

 

 

No Tim Howard. No Leighton Baines. And after a terrible start, Stephen Pienaar and Phil Neville were called in off the bench to try and save the day in Everton’s 2-1 Capital Cup loss to Leeds on Wednesday. Moyes rested his players for this weekend’s game against newly-promoted Southampton, but it was clear that he wanted to also establish some depth for this constantly-improving Everton team.

Moyes has Everton off to its best start since 2006/2007. Everton is currently leading the EPL with 20.4 shots per game, and also leading with 71% of those shots coming from inside the box. History shows that this attacking rate will decrease as the year goes on, even though the two biggest transfers, Steven Pienaar (5.06 million) and Kevin Mirallas (6.73 million), are not even fully acquainted with their new team. In particular, if Mirallas finds his form he could have a major impact on the Everton offense after scoring 20 goals in 25 games for Olympiakos last year. But Moyes is smart enough to know that depth in the attacking positions is required to be a consistent Champions League threat, and after the Capital One Cup loss on Tuesday he knows the depth is just not there yet.

This week, Everton is favored at home against newly-promoted Southampton. The toffees have enough talent to win outright, but they should also have an advantage over a Southampton team that does not look like it can keep up with Everton’s long ball style. Everton spent 44% of its possession on the left side this season, which has a lot to do with the talent of Leighton Baines. Look for that to continue this week, because Southampton averages 9.75 aerials won per game against teams that cross the ball more than 20 times per game. Everton also has big aerial targets in Fellaini and Jelavic, and defender Sylvain Distin will be dangerous on set pieces (5.5 aerials won per game).

Does Real Betis Have a Legitimate Chance At Qualifying For Europe?

Betis currently sits in 6th place in La Liga with 9 points. Last year the club finished in 12th, and the year before it was not even playing in the first division. So the club is a bit of a long shot to qualify for Europe, but recent trends in La Liga show that the small team from Seville has as good of a chance as anyone.

 

Season

Points needed for UCL

Points needed for Europa

2009-2010

63

58

2010-2011

62

58

2011-2012

58

55

The chart above illustrates the increasing parity in La Liga. Real Madrid and Barcelona are automatic locks for Europe, but we see here that the fight for the other spots has become more competitive.

So far this season, Betis is third in the league 10 goals scored. They have shown to be strong with set pieces (3 goals), and the 4.5 shots on target per game Betis in the top half of La Liga for that category. Jorge Molina has been on fire, averaging a goal per game in his first three appearances. His partner in crime, Ruben Castro, is averaging close to 3 shots per game from the midfield, while as a team Betis is getting 70% of their shots off inside of the 18 yard box.

The concern for Betis is in the midfield. As a team Betis is averaging 18.5 interceptions per game, but unfortunately when they win the ball they are not able to establish themselves. Betis is only completing 74% of its passes, and has relied heavily on the long ball early in the season (63 long balls per game). Consequently, Betis has the second-worst possession percentage (24) in the attacking half, and the lack of offensive creativity puts extra stress on the Betis defenders, who have already allowed 10 goals this season.

It’s safe to say that Betis will need to get to 58 points if they want to get to Europe. This week are underdogs at home to Atletico Madrid, and will need to improve in the midfield in order to compete with this tier of competition. Atletico Madrid relies on short passes to advance up the field, and have been particularly good on the road averaging 432 short passes per game. If Betis can disrupt these passes, and then create more of their own possession, they have a chance of earning more valuable points early in the season.

 

 

Can Manchester United Cope Without Nemanja Vidic?

There is more injury news coming from Manchester United this week. Just as Wayne Rooney is returning, the club announced that Nemanja Vidic will be out for 2 months to repair the meniscus in his knee.

 

The news is particularly troubling for Manchester United fans because unfortunately they have seen this play before. Vidic suffered a rash of injuries last season, culminating with a season-ending knee injury in Manchester United’s shocking UCL loss to FC Basel. Hopefully Vidic can regain the form of 2010/2011, when he started 35 games and even chipped in 5 goals on 21 shots. However, the growing concern for Vidic as an individual is that Man United are getting used to playing without him. After logging over 3,000 minutes in that 2010/2011 season, Vidic managed only 502 last season, and will now miss close to a quarter of the 2012/2013 season.

Without Vidic, United still finished with 21.1 tackles per game in 2011-2012, second-highest in the league.  Meanwhile, Man United gave up 13.4 shots per game, good enough to stay in the top half of EPL defenses. This season, with Vidic in the lineup, one can make the argument that his fellow defenders have had to account for his limited range of movement. Fellow 30+ defender Rio Ferdinand is 3rd in the league with 12.7 clearances per game, while right back Rafael is also 3rd in the league with 5.3 tackles per game. Man United as a team is giving up 14.2 shots per game, with 63% of those shots coming from inside the penalty box. Last season (with Vidic injured) Man United allowed 13.4 shots per game, and only allowed 33 goals through 38 games.

This week, look for 24 year old Johnny Evans to once again fill Vidic’s role in central defense. Evans, once known for making rash decisions and bad fouls in dangerous parts of the field, is learning to read the game better. He increased his interceptions per game to 1.9 in 2011-2012, and should be influential against a Tottenham offense that relies more on crosses and long balls. 

Time For Alex Song To Step Up At Barcelona

Alexandre Song

Transfer Fee: 16.5 million pounds

2011-2012(Arsenal) 2.9 tackles, 1.9 interceptions, 84.3% pass success

2012-2013(Barcelona) 3.5 tackles, 2 interceptions, 94.2% pass success

The sample size is small, but so far so good with Alex Song at Barcelona. The 25 year old Cameroon international is adapting well to his new surroundings, but this week against Sevilla he will be heavily relied on with Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol both out with injuries.

 

Song was brought in to stop the top playmaker of every La Liga opponent. Song brings more tackles to Barcelona’s team-low 19.9 tackles per game in 2011-2012, but will that also lead to more fouls committed? Rather than focus on a high-rate of tackles, Barcelona uses a system of zone marking and pressure that forces teams to make mistakes, and avoids the potential for fouls. Song averaged 2.1 fouls per game for Arsenal last year, higher than the .8 and .7 fouls per game that Puyol and Pique respectively give away.  So the concern for Barcelona fans is that Song could give away dangerous fouls against a Sevilla team with 3 attacking players in the top 20 of fouls suffered.

On the ball, Song seems to be adjusting well to the Spanish game. He is boasting a very high pass success rate at 94.2%, and only has 1 turnover in his first two appearances. Of course we can expect his pass success rate to regress, but given the high-passing Barcelona style Song will need to hover around the 88% success rate that Barcelona has as a team. Look for him to sit deeper in the midfield this week to help out in central defense.

Can AC Milan Survive as a Major Club?

It was just a friendly…

After watching Real Madrid dismantle Milan for 90 minutes last night, that’s pretty much the only thing a Milan fan can say. Last night’s game at Yankee Stadium marked the end of the latest World Football Challenge, and some of Europe’s best teams will now head back to their respective countries for the 2012-2013 season. For Real Madrid, they will head back to Spain confident that they will breeze through another La Liga season (except for 2 games). On the other side, Milan will head back to Italy as a wounded, vulnerable team that is in danger of losing its place in the Champions League.

AC Milan is on the decline. And the worst part is, everybody in Europe knows it…including Milan. In July, Milan was forced to sell its two best players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. The sale outraged many Milan fans, until they heard Berlusconi simply tell them the truth.

“The economic situation no longer allows for the shopping sprees of the early 90’s” he explained.

Statements like this are a death knell in today’s European game, where the balance sheet of a club is almost just as important as the lineup sheet. Milan’s current lineup sheet is full of question marks, now that prolific names like Nesta, Gattuso, Seedorf, and Inzaghi have past their primes and moved on. For the ‘new money’ clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City, this would mean that it’s time to reload. But Milan simply can’t, and Ibrahimovic let this be known at the end of the season, saying “Milan’s problem is economic. There is no money to buy five players, or even the ones we need.”

In fairness to Milan, many Italian teams are holding a significant amount of debt. But over the last 5 years, Milan increased player salaries from 138 million pounds to 206 million pounds. Over the same time period, revenue decreased by 3 million pounds. This led to the sale of Silva and Ibrahimovic, and also the 5-1 drubbing that Milan took against the star-studded Real Madrid team last night.

But it was just a friendly…wasn’t it? Let’s hope so.

Seattle Sounders Still Kings of the Northwest

Much has been made of the Northwest teams in MLS, and how their passion for the game is really putting a stamp on the legitimacy of the league. The trio of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have set a standard not just for who has the best team on the field, but who has the best fan base. But on Sunday night, the Seattle Sounders sent a message to any casual fan who happened to pass by ESPN2 between the Olympics and pre-season football. They posted a 4-0 win over the LA Galaxy in front of 60,908 fans at Qwest Field. That’s right, 60,908 fans. For a regular season MLS game. On a Sunday night….

The attendance stands as the highest ever for a regular season game, and pushes the Seattle Sounders to a league best 41,480 fans per home game. That attendance roughly twice as high as the Portland Timbers, who currently get most of the ‘most passionate fans’ tag because they are a little newer and shinier than the Sounders. 

Of course, Portland and Vancouver do a great job with their franchises, and are way ahead of other MLS teams when it comes to creating a passionate fan base. But in 2009, Seattle started something that fans will someday look back on as a turning point in American soccer. It starts with majority owner Joe Roth, and his ownership group made up of knowledgeable soccer professionals (Adrian Hanuer), financial muscle (Paul Allen), and celebrity exposure (Drew Carey). 

And on Wednesday, Seattle will go for it’s fourth-straight US Open Cup victory. A feat never seen in America’s longest running soccer tournament. If they can pull it off, they deserve to hold the title of ‘America’s Team’.

 

 

Great Britain’s Olympic Captain a Class Act

The Great Britain soccer team has already made headlines by picking David Beckham as one of the three over-age players for Great Britain’s Olympic team. Many clamored for Beckham to be a part of the team, and figured that it would be a great gesture for the host country to include him in the tournament. Instead, coach Stuart Pearce went in a different direction, and in the process will end up honoring another Manchester United legend.

Ryan Giggs made his first appearance for Manchester United during the 1990-1991 season, and has been a regular with the team virtually ever since. He broke onto the scene in 1995, at a time when the United had gone trophy-less for the first time since the 1988-1989 season. Giggs was part of a team with Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, and the Neville brothers, forming the foundation for Manchester United’s dynasty. Early on, famous tv analyst Alan Hanson made the claim that ‘you’ll never win with kids’ and condemned Alex Ferguson’s faith in the young players. But ‘the kids’ responded with 12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, and two Champions League titles.

Giggs was a big contributor to Manchester’s success. He was the first player in league history to win consecutive Young Player of the Year awards, and has been named to the Premier League team of the decade and FA Cup team of the century. Almost more astonishing is Giggs’ durability. He has appeared in over 900 matches for Manchester United, and his Ripken-esque reliability has endured the massive influx of talent that has spilled into the English game over the last twenty years.

But for all of Giggs’ club accomplishments, he never garnered the acclaim that comes from international soccer. This is because Giggs is from Wales, and has never had the chance to appear in a World Cup tournament. Similar to another Manchester United legend, Northern Ireland’s George Best, Giggs is solely known for his club accomplishments. To put this into context, Wales has only qualified for one major international tournament in its history, the 1958 World Cup. Meanwhile, England have played in 4 World Cups and 5 European Championships since Giggs debuted with Wales in 1991.

At 38, this Olympics marks the first and last opportunity for Giggs to shine on the international stage. After making 64 appearances for Wales, he retired from the national team in 2007 in order to focus on his club career. When the English FA announced that they would keep Olympic tradition and enter a Great Britain team, Giggs sought this as an interesting challenge, and offered his services. Once that happened, coach Stuart Pearce named Giggs captain, calling it ‘probably the easiest decision of my life.’ Giggs will set the examples for young stars like Tom Cleverley, Craig Bellamy, and Aaron Ramsey, and try to win a medal in the process. The consummate professional, Giggs is the logical choice to lead this U-23 team, and believes that the squad of combined nations can go far in the tournament. 

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