Predicting the 16/17 PL Season

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These predictions have mostly been done as a reference point for later in the season. I’m excited for the new season, but there’s a knowing that it won’t be the ‘dreamy clusterfuck’ of last season. At the same time, Leicester should still be fun to watch and fairly good, with Champions League football on the side. There’s the well-documented influx of managerial talent and several big clubs in interesting positions going into 16/17. Spurs and Arsenal coming off failed title challenges? Manchester United and Chelsea looking to work their way back into the top 4? It’s all a bit inverted.

Quick note: some of these predictions will look stupid in a couple of months, but I’d rather move away from the current retreads of opinions. Trying to forecast the new developments is way more entertaining than going with what standard logic would dictate! Also any shot/xG stuff comes from Michael Caley’s 15/16 table which can be found here. And generally any mention of ‘advanced numbers’ refers to stuff I’ve gleaned from other much smarter people.

1st – Manchester City

It’s now been 3 years since we saw a motivated, firing-on-all-cylinders Manchester City squad. That particular phenomenon is easy to forget after two wishy-washy seasons where title challenges failed to sustain and the spring months were spent meandering safely into the top 4, rather than the battling the heat of a title race. They can’t afford to go wandering mentally as they have often done of the last two campaigns. City need to hit the ground running and prove they have that top gear still.

Pep Guardiola’s arrival gives them the edge for me as title winners. It’s not been talked about a lot but City should score bucket-loads of goals and their juggernaut status at the Etihad will be restored. At the height of their powers, a trip to the blue half of Manchester was the hardest of the lot and gave City margin for error on their travels. Guardiola’s going to do crazy Guardiola stuff with this team and the Aguero-De Bruyne axis wasn’t exactly sterile last season. The tools are there for Guardiola to create a possession-holding, shot-creating monster of a team which will destroy lesser outfits and severely test their peers.

Doubts are easy to find as well though, which is what makes this still somewhat of an uncertain pick. This isn’t the polished array of talent Pep had at Bayern. City targeted younger but also riskier prospects in the transfer market with John Stones and Leroy Sane the most notable additions. Their defence will survive often on account of some ridiculous 70% possession rate but Pep won’t get away with stuff like Kolarov at centre back. That shit won’t fly. Aguero probably needs to play 32+ games as well which is no guarantee and City have other injury risks (Gundogan, Kompany) that they’ll need to survive the absence of at times. But the potential that their attacking output has just makes it hard for me to not have them winning the league. I think they’ll be the top scorers in the league and come out on top. But it’ll be close.

2nd – Arsenal

Rory Smith once said something along the lines of “It’s so hard to write about Arsenal. Everything’s already been said.” That was at least 2 years ago and everything is much the same. New striker, central defence, soft mentality etc etc…none of these need extensive detailing. The problem for Arsenal is that their season is essentially going to become relevant in February. We know they’ll be good. Everyone is just waiting to see them redeem past mistakes. You want to be in the title conversation? Don’t get bullied by Marcus Rashford and his friends and don’t lose to Swansea’s reserves.

Those endlessly rehashed issues are often outed as myths and rightly so. The advanced numbers really like Arsenal’s defence and Olivier Giroud. A similar campaign to 15/16 would put them in range of the title without the greatest sporting story (Yes.) getting in the way. Granit Xhaka looks like a good signing who fits well into Arsenal’s scheme and also brings a bit of fire to the team. (I know we often relegate the idea of mentality and such to ‘proper football men’, but Arsenal are soft at times and could do with Xhaka’s prickish-ness. It’s just true.) Ozil is settled as possibly the league’s best creative force and Sanchez, who’s underlying numbers were still great last year and never translated into goals, should rebound even after playing another international tournament. At some point, Arsenal will have a season free of injuries to key contributors.

Unfortunately any progression Arsenal make can only face judgement once 2017 is well underway – unless they implausibly pull away from the rest of the league early on. I see the xG darlings being really good again and good enough to rub shoulders in an actual title race for the first time in ages. It’s just instinctual for me to side with Manchester City over Arsenal when it gets down to the nitty gritty in May.

3rd – Manchester United

This was the one. I really, really, really wanted to go balls out and pick United to miss the top 4. My body was willing me to make it so. But, man, Mourinho. Jose fucking Mourinho. I can’t bet against him that much. If anyone else was at the helm I’d go for it but Mourinho is a man who wins lots of football matches. His presence plus Zlatan and Pogba’s brings a bit of the trepidation back for teams visiting Old Trafford. United have global stars again. Fuck. I’d enjoyed their hiatus.

There are so many reasons I wanted to doubt them. The strains of the Europa League, Zlatan being old (I saw him mask a terrible performance with a goal in the Community Shield firsthand), Rooney being shit. Many factors. I do wonder if Mourinho might just tank Europa League this year, I don’t think the United hierarchy places much importance on it and a swift exit opens the door for a serious knock at the title. Rooney is also definitely getting dropped before Christmas and the press will make a big deal of it even though it should have happened a while ago.

Ultimately, I think Mourinho fashions his typical winning team out of a Schneiderlin-?-Pogba midfield and plenty of athleticism around Zlatan. The battles with Guardiola’s City will be particularly fascinating. The title will be in play for sure. But Mourinho has to fashion an elite attack and after United were 14th in shots last year and 10th in xG, there’s a lot of ground to make up. They should be in the mix, but the meshing that’s required and it being Mourinho’s first season, I see them falling short this time around.

4th – Liverpool

The first big shout! Choosing Liverpool over Chelsea and Spurs – two teams that I see as being really good still – is brave, if I say so myself. While the managerial narrative is one I wanted to avoid, Klopp is easily the biggest factor in my confidence about them. I think Liverpool will be that side that gets absolutely rolling and it’ll seem so obvious that we’ll wonder how we missed them before the season. This is me trying to get ahead of the curve.

Sturridge’s health remains a huge question, but the array of attacking midfielders makes me optimistic for their prospects with or without him. After a full preseason of his tuition, this team is going to be fucking relentless. Mane and Firmino can press, Coutinho’s 13/14 peak came with him tackling and battling in midfield, Lallana is intense and Wijnaldum can get about. Even up front, Origi can do some stuff and Ings can soak up a few minutes. This crew is backed up by Jordan Henderson and an ever-improving Emre Can. Teams will get flustered when Liverpool get in their faces and the attacking talent they possess should see the excellent shot numbers (2nd in total shots and shots on target after Klopp’s arrival) continue.

That number is slightly inflated by Coutinho deciding to pull the trigger from anywhere inside 30 yards but the point remains: Liverpool are going to keep coming at you and at you until you break. The defence is gradually getting there too. While the pressing further up does a lot of the hard work, Lovren gradually improved and Clyne is as solid as solid comes. They’ll need some luck and to ride out Mignolet until they can give Karius his chance, but they also have a clear schedule with no Europa League. I’m all aboard the ‘Liverpool top 4’ train.

5th – Chelsea

I’ll admit, this positioning is mostly a product of me being committed to fitting Liverpool into the top 4. It’s more an indictment of the quality of competition than Chelsea’s own failings. At least 1 good team is missing out on the top 4 this season and probably more than that.

Conte and Kante. If Chelsea can stick to the tried-and-trusted defence+Hazard recipe that has served them well before, there will be no chance of the 15/16 shambles. It’s sounding like Conte’s first priority is to plug the gaps and it helps that they’ve signed the best defensive midfielder in the league. (Yep.) N’Golo Kante is really fucking good. I know that’s not groundbreaking analysis but I hope you can see it means more coming from me. I’m going to miss Kante. Long live his only ever Leicester goal, a scuffed attempt that crept through Heurelho Gomes’ legs.

Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi seems like a perfectly fine striker rotation, even if Costa goes completely haywire with the new rules regarding on-pitch behaviour. The rest of Chelsea creative force worries me a little and is what led me to take United and Liverpool over them. I’ve never been a Willian guy and Oscar has done nothing over the last 18 months. That’s a lot of responsibility being shifted to a diminutive Belgian who has shown good form and fitness for only the last 3 months. They’ll be a difficult team to face, but I don’t see it all coming together in Conte’s first season.

6th – Spurs

Oh, Spurs. I don’t even mind Spurs. I detested them when they were bearing down on Leicester during March and April, but once Hazard curled that gorgeous equaliser in and pint after pint rained down where I was, the red mist lifted. They were Spurs again.

Nothing in their advanced numbers suggest this is a team that would regress so badly back into that familiar Europa League deadzone we call 6th place. This was the team that had shots flying from all over and were the best pressing team in the league. They’re young which suggests improvement and at the very least, no deterioration of performance. But a few factors and sheer default with 5 other top quality teams has them in 6th.

Firstly, I think they’ll start slowly. Mousa Dembele is irreplaceable. Go find yourself an uber-athletic, ball carrying midfielder that presses and defends the shit out of opposing attacks. You can’t. A Dier-Wanyama tandem to hold the fort will be solid but slightly plodding and Spurs already move the ball quite slowly at times. The other big issue is Kane. Sorry, set-piece maestro Harry Kane. Maybe I’m just a severely scarred England fan, but I don’t see Kane hitting quite the same heights this year. That’s not to say what he did in the last two seasons was flukey, Kane’s really good. I just feel like he’s really looking burnt out and will cool off a bit with Janssen taking some minutes from him as well.

Poor Spurs.

7th – Everton

This pick is provided with the condition that Romelu Lukaku stays with them throughout the season. More and more, I’m starting to think Koeman fits really well with Everton. His ultra-conservative approach was frustrating to witness from a distance when Tadic and Mane were sitting next to each other on the bench, but the results were indisputable.

Swapping out Stones for Williams is probably a net gain for Everton in the 16/17 season as well. Him and Jagielka gives them a solid base with James McCarthy being nasty just in front of them, although Gareth Barry needs to be shelved and exclusively brought out for League Cup outings. Everton were already average in xGA and any improvement there would turn the Toffees into a postively good defensive team.

Weirdly, Koeman may have his work cut out on the other end. Barkley makes for a frustrating watch at times but he posted good shot numbers and Koeman will hopefully stop the nonsense of putting Barkley in midfield which Martinez couldn’t get away from last season. Lukaku is Lukaku, a top 5 PL striker. Koeman needs to create some sort of attacking structure, even if it’s cross+cross+cross. I like the concept of Everton with a real identity and think they’ll surprise many this year.

8th – Southampton

Despite the continued hemorrhaging of players to the North-West and…China, Southampton are still in a good spot. Claude Puel looks likely to jazz things up a bit which will be a nice change of pace aesthetically. Saints also appear to be gambling on some lower-usage attacking players growing into new roles. Shane Long had as good a 15/16 season as he could have had really, but relying on him to be your main striker? I don’t know.

The low-usage gambles continue with Dusan Tadic sticking around to presumably become the focal point of the attack. You saw what Payet did last year when West Ham funneled everything into him, it’s not hard to envinsion something similar with Tadic. And finally, Nathan Redmond gets to play with a real team that isn’t using Cameron Jerome as its starting striker! I’m excited to see how he gets on and if he can really pick up consistent minutes as an out-and-out forward.

The backline looks solid again and Fraser Forster will again have two games this season where he stops 8 ridiculous shots and keeps a clean sheet. In the middle of the park it gets a bit shady and a bit reliant on younger talent. Jordy Clasie might be good, but no one really knows until he plays over 2000 Premier League minutes in a season. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is an economical pickup that will probably work out because it’s bloody Southampton and everything they touch turns into a good player. While an 8th place finish isn’t really eye-catching, the means with which they get there could be.

9th – Leicester

Hm. Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. They could set a record low for points and I could live with it.

Leicester will face certain speed bumps this year. Teams will show them a lot more respect (although many seem to overlook that Leicester dealt with this for more than half of last season and won the title but, hey) especially at the King Power. Mahrez will depart in the New Year for AFCON. Kante is gone and a Drinkwater-King midfield will get shredded by any half-decent team. This puts a lot of onus on Mendy or possibly Amartey, which it’s unlikely they live up to. The defence came to be the foundation of their title-race triumphs but it’s on that end that I think we’ll get exposed more this season.

Vardy’s still here, Mahrez is just about still here and Ahmed Musa is exciting as fuck. Demarai Gray is fine as a part-time impact player. I love Jeff Schlupp. Leicester’s attack should be good once again, with that frightening quintet running at defences in turn. This season and probably the next few are free hits for Ranieri. I love him, Leicester loves him. No matter what any other team does, it just won’t quite be Leicester winning the title. Sorry about that.

10th – Bournemouth

Here’s where it gets fun. Bournemouth were a cute team that I was fond of but thought of as relegation probables until it came to the end of March and they were practically safe. Eddie Howe’s team pop the ball around really nicely and Wilson started out extremely hot before picking up an injury. Benik Afobe was a January addition who looked lively and Bournemouth even turned Josh King into a goalscorer, an understated feat. They can create chances.

Looking at the advanced stuff and there’s reason to be optimistic about their defence too. Bournemouth conceded 59 non-penalty goals last season, a whopping 13 more than their xGA. While there’s a good chance this improves, it might help if they play someone not named Artur Boruc as their starting goalkeeper.

£15M on Jordon Ibe is a gamble and they’ll also have Max Gradel returning to boost their already ample fleet of speedy attackers. Howe seems like a genuinely good manager. For the past half dozen or so seasons there has always been one second-year team that flourishes. Newcastle, Swansea, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Leicester…Bournemouth?

11th – Stoke

This is getting into the 4th year of Mark Hughes’ Stoke reign. What do we have? A super streaky team that is powered by some tempermental wingers and whatever Jon Walters is able to muster up on that particularly day. The defence is pretty unremarkable (15th in xGA) and last season saw some particularly torrid outings where they completely rolled over. Somehow I ended up watching a lot of Gianelli Imbula down the stretch of last season and wasn’t impressed in the slightest, but he’s young and should improve some. Joe Allen, is a low-risk, medium-reward signing that provides some much-needed consistency.

The good thing about Stoke is that once or twice a season they’ll smash a top side because Arnautovic will hit two in from outside the box. It’s that sort of crazy variance in their shots that makes them a bit of an unknown at times, yet it all came out even last season as their xG and xGA pretty much matched what they actually produced. Weird, weird team. Mid-table looks likely again.

12th – West Ham

Bit controversial. West Ham looked scary with Payet and a gang of athletic runners sprinting around him, but their underlying numbers were mediocre. I’m also sceptical about the chances of Payet replicating his set-piece proficiency. Remember Yaya in 13/14? Yeah, like we ever saw that again.

I’m not a fan of Andy Carroll and he’ll get hurt at some point anyway. Their team is super wide open at times as well in the middle of the park, but don’t mention that to the Mark Noble militia. This prediction is nothing against West Ham. Like everyone else, I love Slaven Bilic. But the amount of smart people saying that they outperformed their numbers last year sways me to believe they’ll sink in the bottom half. Making it into the Europa League groups should pose an interesting question regarding their squad depth too.

13th – Crystal Palace

Palace are a little bit like Stoke-ish with their reliance on hot n’ cold wingers. The inclusion of Yohan Cabaye in their team has become something of a headache, with the Frenchman’s defensive contribution approaching that of a nonplussed Fabregas at times. At this point in his career, Cabaye needs two actual midfielders behind him or alongside him, which leads Pardew to drop one of Puncheon, Zaha or Bolasie. It’s certainly a conundrum that wasn’t solved for long stretches of last season and will need a prompt resolution.

Palace also need a striker. Proposed deals for Berahino and Benteke are yet to fully materialise, if either of those were to rock up at Selhurst Park then I’d probably bump their prediction up a spot or two, especially for Berahino. All I know is that the flair of Zaha and Bolasie should not be leading to Connor Wickham getting a measly 1.5 shots a game off. Get Palace a striker or I can’t see past another mediocre season.

14th – Sunderland

It’s good to see Moyes back. Seriously.

Sunderland continue to be the dumpster fire that never dies out, but this time the apocalyptic starts to their past few seasons seems less likely to be repeated. Moyes is steady and knows the league well, unlike predecessors Advocaat, Poyet and Di Canio. Jermaine Defoe does very little but create goals for himself, which is just enough for a lower Premier League side. The potential of Sunderland’s attack starts and finishes with Defoe’s individual output though, which is a bit disheartening.

More rejected centre-halves have been shot through the pipeline from Manchester United right into the Stadium of Light and Moyes is good enough to craft a passable defence from all the big bodies Sunderland have. Maybe it’ll be good enough to not sweat out a relegation battle this time.

15th – Middlesborough

It’s nice to see Middlesborough back in the Premier League, a staple of my childhood. Also Sunderland would be extremely bored with no hint of a rivalry if Boro hadn’t got promoted, so that’s nice too. I like Middlesborough, but I’m a little bit worried too.

They’ve spent some money on names. Victor Valdes, Brad Guzan, Negredo. It all feels a bit…QPR. That’s never a good thing. Negredo is an interesting case. He had one season with Sevilla where he averaged 4.2 shots a game and notched 25 goals, but since then? Mixed. There was a brief but lethal mid-season partnership with Sergio Aguero in 13/14 but shoulder issues plagued him and he doesn’t seem to have re-captured that form since.

Middlesborough should be fine. They have a solid midfield by the looks of things and possessed the best defence in the Championship last season, although this has not always translated well. I want them to be fine. Please don’t be QPR North.

 

16th – Watford

The other candidate for the breakthrough team of the year is Watford, but I just don’t see it. Quique Sanchez Flores formed a sturdy core with good defensive midfielders in Etienne Capoue and Ben Watson that stonewalled the league for a lot of the season, giving up 40.4 xGA which was the 8th best mark in the league. Goals were somewhat of an afterthought in an attack that ran on Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and…fumes. But it was a structure, an identity and it worked.

Walter Mazzari has been brought in as the new manager, a self-confessed disciplinarian presiding over a squad which was rumoured to lack discipline. Hm, sounds like a risky mix to me? What really concerns me with Watford is that the amount of teams that have gone from defensive, long-ball philosophies then adapted to something different is very short. If Mazzari wants to implement anything more intricate at Watford, I could see it ending very badly.

17th – West Brom

The demise of Tony Pulis! The rumblings around West Brom with how Pulis operates make me think his departure might be in the works. Even if he sticks around, West Brom only need a couple of injuries and a fruitless run in front of goal for things to get tight. They’re not impassable as a defensive unit and they faced the 3rd most shots in the league last year. As a deep-lying team this is not unusual, but that’s still a high number and runs the risk of a few opponents converting on those chances.

The exiling of Berahino did no good for their attack. West Brom scored the fewest goals in the league last year outside of Aston Villa. If Pulis does depart, some manager is getting rushed in to try and either: keep up Pulis’ defensive structure (unlikely) or turn West Brom into something resembling an average attacking side (also unlikely).

I think they’ll be safe, but they’ll have to work for it.

18th – Burnley

Burnley have rolled it over again with the same economical plan but essentially with Andre Gray swapped in for Danny Ings. I like Gray as the possible breakout striker from the lower half of the table and Burnley’s goals will have to come from somewhere. As much as I dislike Dyche’s endless ‘market leaders’ rhetoric, he’s a pretty good coach and Burnley will make a good fight of it.

I just don’t think their talent is up for the task again. If they had one more creator, I could maybe get on board…but it’s not there. You know what you’re getting with Burnley. They work hard, they’ll never self-destruct and beat themselves. They just probably won’t beat many other teams either.

19th – Swansea

This one really does make me sad. Swansea were the rare team that came up from the Chamionship and succeeded by dominating the ball. They were full of Spaniards and Michu was there and it was just fun. Now? I don’t feel so good. Ashley Williams’ sale was slightly surprising too and leaves more than a hole in their defensive line.

Gylfi Sigurdsson might have to go nuts and grab like 20 goals for Swansea to sniff midtable – which isn’t happening.

Andre Ayew is gone and although Nathan Dyer scored one crucial goal for Leicester, he didn’t do a whole lot else and there’s little chance he can even remotely replace Ayew’s production. Who else is there? I mean, Jefferson Montero is a nice piece but he doesn’t score. Routledge? Llorente is washed up, according to multiple people who’ve watched more Llorente than me. Borja Baston is unproven but will need to hit the ground running or this could get ugly for Swansea.

20th – Hull

Why do I still think Hull pull off some bullshit result over Leicester before slipping to the bottom of the table? I don’t know. It was this fear psychology that allowed me to survive the title race last April. Leicester should smash them, but probably won’t. Hull are a complete mess as many now know with injuries, a poisonous owner situation and no manager. Very Sacramento Kings.

There’s reason to believe that Hull won’t be completely marooned at the bottom. Abel Hernandez is a nice option for a lower Premier League side and Curtis Davies is a solid centreback. If everyone comes back healthy and stays that way, Hull could make a go of it. But envisioning that requires lots of squinting. Toxic clubs hardly ever perform well. Toxic clubs with injury issues and a caretaker manager are…fucked.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Sturridge is still Liverpool’s best

It was perfectly rational to think that after another prolonged absence, Daniel Sturridge would still be a step out of rhythm. It turned out that his famous dancing celebration was the only aspect of his individual performance that looked rusty. The team as a whole still didn’t look entirely on the same page yet, as Liverpool have often had to do over the years under Rodgers, they fashioned a win despite conceding on more than one occasion.

Sturridge will struggle to replicate his exact goalscoring form of 2013/14 but it was refreshing to see him leading the line again for a floundering Liverpool team. If he can stay fit, he’s a top 5 striker in the league and the club’s best player. A string of games reminiscent of his prolific nature two seasons ago may be Rodgers last hope to stay in his job.

Sanchez is recovering

Slowly everyone has figured out that Leicester City, once you can bear to take your eyes off Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy for a second, take a casual approach to the defensive side to the game. Sanchez certainly picked up on it and opened his account in some style by notching 3 against leaky Leicester.

The third goal to top it off was the type of goal Sanchez showcased all of last season – cutting in off the left and driving it home from distance. Premium players have struggled in Fantasy Football thus far but Sanchez looks to be the first off the mark after enduring a quiet spell similar to what we saw at the start of the last campaign.

Man United are the league’s premier defensive side

Watching the 3 goals scored at Old Trafford on Sunday one could be tempted into seeing a reinvigorated attack with Wayne Rooney finally snagging a goal. Further inspection reveals otherwise, for one thing Rooney’s goal came via his knee and a handy Lee Cattermole shove. The only way United will mount a title challenge this year is based on what they’ll perform at their own end of the pitch.

Handily Louis van Gaal seems to have built the most defensively sound team in the league this season. Chris Smalling is showing his current level of play is trustworthy and not just prolonged form. A midfield involving Carrick and Schneiderlin might not jump off the team sheet – and its employment could be questioned vs Sunderland at home – but the protection it provides for Smalling and Co. is outstanding. The football might not be carved straight from van Gaal’s ‘philosophy’ but it will lead to cold, hard points.

Southampton, amongst others, are streaky

A staple of any fantasy lineup, budget options playing for mid-table prestige will provide points at a rate often matching that of premium players. Every year one budget midfielder explodes into fantasy fame: Michu in 2011/12 who was widely listed as a midfielder, Gylfi Sigurdsson last year and now Mahrez-mania. Finding such consistency can rarely be found from these cheap Eden Hazard alternatives.

Take Southampton, who secured a 3-1 win at the weekend over another mid-table challenger in Swansea City. The Saints’ attack has often been the definition of streaky, while their defence remained reliable. Now without Schneiderlin to protect the backline, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane must be counted on and in all fairness they have. Don’t expect it to be the same situation in 6 weeks time when picking that weekend’s team.

Unsettled defence root of Mourinho’s issues

In truth, Chelsea have problems all over that need resolving urgently. One main one Eden Hazard has played sluggishly and as one of their few creators it’s had a ripple effect to the rest of the team. However it’s the switching and ditching that Mourinho has engaged in that leaves the club in 15th place.

Many criticised the Chelsea manager last Spring when his side limped to a title, blaming his lack of rotation for a fatigued squad. So we should be patient with his more flexible approach this time around. Conceding two at St James’ Park is practically an acheivement right now. Kurt Zouma and John Terry are both useful in their own ways yet have polar opposites with their athleticism and effect on the rest of the team’s defensive shape. Rotating the pair led to Chelsea claiming that acheivement, so Mourinho needs to find a preference and stay faithful to it. It would be unsurprising to see John Terry starting in the coming weeks.

The 6 Archetypes of Centre Backs

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Clichés are very useful for the regularly appearing pundits who have little to no knowledge on the modern game and those who play it. Yes, Glenn Hoddle is the main focus here but there are others. It’s fair to single out the man who believed prior to last summer’s World Cup that England’s best XI had Gerrard and Lampard in as a double pivot. Actually it probably wasn’t even a double pivot, I think it was Four Four fucking Two. Anyway, these clichés stretch wide and far across the footballing encyclopedia, varying from transfer assumptions to formational prejudices. I’ve highlighted one of these clichés, and duly present to you subjective, inaccurate and inconsistent groupings of the only position on the field that seems to do any defending nowadays and even then, they probably don’t do it. If a bit comes across as xenophobic in parts, blame Jim Beglin. Here are the 6 Different Archetypes of Centre Backs:

1. The Veteran

Good examples: Demichelis, Mertesacker

They’re experienced. They’ve played in all sorts of big matches. They’ve matched up against the best and held their own. They are slow as fuck. If you ever hear the word ‘experienced’ when someone describes a central defender, just take it as a synonym for moving like a doped up sloth. Especially in the top leagues across Europe, this breed are good defenders, diligently marking their opponents and being a dominant force in the air. They bring steel to a shaky backline, but you also worry that unless you have two midfielders shielding them you will concede constantly. Open space on the pitch is viewed as the worst possible situation for this archetype. These centre halves have the signature move of chopping down a sprightly winger, only to get off with a yellow card because they know the ref from the millions of games they’ve played.

Their utility in this mold for crap pundits is two-fold; there is the obvious talk about their experience and own ability but it also provides a ready-made counter point for the other team and how they should try to run at this experience laden defender. Such incisive analysis is best left to Andy Townsend and co, clearly the mere concept of making a slow defender run is above our mortal heads back watching at home. Clearly.

2. Athleticism Abound, not much else

Good examples: Chris Smalling, Younes Kaboul

Speed records are smashed, gym equipment is broken and crafty strikers are left free to nod home a floated cross. They can jump 40 inches high and are actually the fastest player at your club according to teammates but none of that matters when the opposing striker is standing all alone at the far post. As a result of their excessive physicality they will put in the most crunching tackles, and are generally a good bet for two red cards a season.

Like all West African forwards they will be primarily described as ‘powerful’. Any commentator worth his salt will mention that they are fast enough to keep up with anyone that dares challenge him to a through ball in a game. However there aren’t many of those commentators about, so instead they will continue to assume every attacker is automatically faster.

You hate their virtual being also. On Fifa they have a knack of haunting you repeatedly when trying to fulfill your dream of winning the Champions League. This hate then carries over to when watching a proper game, but it’s sweetened by the fact that they’ve already let Kevin Nolan drift by them twice for a brace.

3. David Luiz(s)

Good examples: Um, pretty obvious here. I’ll put Vlad Chiricheș here as well, but to be honest Vlad could go into several of these.

There’s little to be said about David Luiz, fresh off a move to the cash lined Parisian streets. But we’ll say it anyway. (Gary Neville says it better here). Compared to the majority he is technically superior; he can pass, bring the ball out himself and even score (1 in 50) free kicks. He brought his sweet sweet spongy afro style to the Premier League, where upon it was immediately criticised. Seeing skilled central defenders appears quite vulgar for many a traditionalist British viewer of football, especially one as flamboyant as David Luiz. Just listen to anything David Pleat says. But while they help their team win games occasionally they provide the older British viewer, who grew up watching big bastards hoof it away, reason to point and scold.

This type of centre back suffer from the same disease as nearly all other archetypes do, OSTBS (Occasional Shit The Bed Syndrome). A rash rush out of the line and suddenly it’s a 4 on 3 counter-attack. Or one too many seconds looking to pick out a pass and suddenly the striker is through on goal. However over time a good reputation can be built, and David Luiz did this gradually in his time at Chelsea despite sporadic appearances and notable mistakes against Everton and Cardiff. Then we saw that same reputation put through the sausage grinder against Germany in a soul-wrecking destruction of his national team, Brazil. Soul-wrecking for David Luiz perhaps, not for the rest of us who laughed at his tear streaked face.

4. Fat Bastard         

Good example: Steve McNulty, Countless Sunday League players

Frequent dwellers of the lower leagues such as this group are a reason it’s so disheartening to see a new wave of British and international fans who only see the sanitised product that makes up the Premier League. The top tier with its money, global appeal and centre backs who don’t look like they double as a nightclub bouncer and would smack you if you ask to have six in. Those new fans will never get to appreciate watching a player with an apple figure shove puny wingers around at their mercy. It is one of the 7 footballing wonders of the world to watch someone who can handle 6 pukka pies and knocks back a couple pints and then puff around a pitch for an hour and a half. We hardly ever see this rarer bunch on TV. Subsequently we are deprived of commentators desperately finding appropriate synonyms for big and sound technicians having to tone down the crowd chanting the very phrase this section is titled. Every Premier League team should be obliged to fill a quota of having one big ‘unit’ of a player on their roster. Leicester have theirs, a certain Mr Gary Taylor Fletcher.

One final thing this category has going for it are the excellent uses of phrases such as ‘eating up the ground’ and ‘a real appetite for this match’. Underused, I feel.

5. The Spanish Ones          

Good examples: Gerard Piqué, Mats Hummels

Now they don’t have to be strictly Spanish in this group, it’s more that every single bloody Spanish defender plays this way. They always can pass the ball out, they always want to pass the ball out and they always will pass the ball out. Also associated with them is that they can occasionally be a little soft against physical strikers. You see any Championship club sign Arsenal defender Miquel on loan and the guy sitting in front of you at the ground will inevitably say that he ‘don’t like the looks of him’. Miquel is one of those players that is obliged to be signed on loan by nearly every second tier club, similar to Michael Keane and a couple of years ago Andros Townsend.

There’s some crossover between this and group one because generally Spanish centre halves are perceived as being not fast. (I think we automatically categorise defenders into 3 sections regarding their speed: Fast, average and ‘experienced’.) However when watching them you trust their ability on the ball, you don’t constantly pray to stave off the effects of OSTBS for them. It’s the modern way to play like this, tiki-taka and all that La Masia crap. Sure, whatever, just know when to get rid.

6. The ones who think they’re Spanish

Good examples: Souleymane ‘Sol’ Bamba, Dejan Lovren

Bombscare Bamba, pictured playing for my dear Leicester City above, was somewhat affectionately named by Hibernian fans. The Ivorian could tackle and block shots all game, but in possession he’d make you cringe harder than Bobby Moore watching David Luiz vs Germany. Poor Sol believed he could spray the ball to Paul Gallagher on the wing and clip it over the top to Jermaine Beckford. Even if he could do that, Beckford was a lazy shit who wouldn’t be making that run anyway, but Sol didn’t have that kind of ability so it’s irrelevant.

When a relatively uncoordinated 6″3 guy is throwing stepovers on the edge of his own box it’s never good for the heart. Such defenders should carry a label that warns those of a nervous disposition. I’m also going to lump into this group defenders that appear like they cannot kick a football cleanly at all, Mamadou Sakho sadly stumbles into this Archetype now.


Revise these football stereotypes obsessively. If you are ever caught in an ITV Sport Studio or have accidentally sat next to Garth Crooks on Final Score, you can stumble through some analysis. Thank me later.

Deadline Day Winners and Losers

Standard

(To capture and re-create the forced drama, the name will be henceforth capitalised and referred to as DEADLINE DAY)

The final day of the transfer window. It’s a time for late night negotiating, speeding down motorways to find another deal and excited fans desperate to spot a new signing at the training ground. Or so it has been built up to be. It’s actually become rather overhyped as a jumble of oversized, gimmicky digital clocks and pundits leering at their mobile phones assault our screens to form some artificial tension. There is some suspense and late action, rather unlike its January counterpart which often resembles a 24 hour news channel covering some breaking, yet very dull and slow developing story. In the winter deadline day news drips through like the icicles melting outside and freezing reporters can only hope that Peter Odemwingie has driven to their stationed ground to instigate his own transfer so they have something to say when Jim White asks them the latest. Indeed the summer does have some action but like many things, the reality never quite lives up to what you expected. Nevertheless I still enjoyed it, and here are my winners and losers of DEADLINE DAY September 2014. Bear in mind this is purely for DEADLINE DAY and nothing beforehand. (RIP Yaya Sanogo’s starting spot, never forget. I certainly won’t, transferring him in to my fantasy team last week, grr.)

WINNER: Arsenal/Danny Welbeck

The oft-criticised forward sealed a £16M move to Arsenal on Monday night, ending the Salford born striker’s 15 year connection to Manchester United. Upon making the transfer, he said ‘I believe the style of play the manager’s got and the boys play and with the magnificent players in midfield slotting balls through, I can run on to the end of those balls and slot them away,’ That last part of the quote may be the most important. His finishing and confidence must improve on what he showed at his former club. Welbeck missed a crucial chance when attempting to lob Manuel Neuer in the Champions League tie at home to Bayern Munich. While not game-deciding, it is these opportunities that Welbeck must seize and there will be plenty of them as with Arsenal’s inventive midfield supporting him as he mentioned himself.

The young striker offers a far different skillset to the injured Olivier Giroud, but one that should help Arsenal possibly more. For all the talented Frenchman’s excellent hold-up play and underrated passing ability, when watching Arsenal one feels they still lack penetration with an abundance of creative but not incisive attackers. This is where Welbeck’s offering of pace and running will create a different outlet moving forward, and perhaps defensively where due to Welbeck’s diligence without the ball, they could now choose to enforce a higher press up the field. Although this may force the lumbering Per Mertesacker to stray dangerously far away from goal, so it wouldn’t be a surprise should Wenger not opt for it.

While Welbeck has received a lot of flak from United supporters and others, many remain a fan, including me. When he was actually played through the centre he caused problems and one example is Moyes’ first game in charge, where as a striker he scored twice with the second being a delightful chip over Michel Vorm. Welbeck had his famed 2 goal season two years ago now, where he was shifted out towards the left constantly, an issue which will not occur at Arsenal. I do not expect him to have such a drastic improvement alike to his namesake Sturridge at Liverpool, but Arsenal and Danny Welbeck’s career will both be far better off after the events early Tuesday morning.

LOSER: Newcastle United

It was another fruitless evening for the Geordies on DEADLINE DAY. In fact, it was an evening where fruit was actually taken from them, in the shape of Yanga M’biwa and the talented but flawed Hatem Ben Arfa. Even while taking into account the surprise signing of actual permanent players, one not from Ligue 1 as well, earlier in the summer they appeared to add little quality aside from Remy Cabella and Daryl Janmaat. Monday night gave another excuse to the disgruntled bunch to curse Mike Ashley’s fat mug and call Alan Pardew ‘a fucking stingy cunt’ for a taste of his own abusive medicine.

Their squad needs a new centre-half so that they wouldn’t have to live off Coloccini’s 2011/12 season and the capable, but average Mike Williamson all season. M’biwa departure was no great loss, he appeared shaky and occasionally rash, not two qualities often synonymous with, or frequently attributed to the great centre backs. Also required is a new winger, and it is not a ridiculous statement to make to say that Mike Ashley could have secured during the summer at least one of Oussama Assaidi, Serge Gnabry or Wilfred Zaha. The latter would’ve proved particularly useful, after Zaha turned Newcastle’s thrilling win into another demoralising draw with a late winner at the weekend. Perhaps another possibility was to have just kept Ben Arfa and played him?

It is this that I think Newcastle will come to regret most. Such a sensational talent should not be side-lined and then sent packing just as a result of a feud with the manager, or not one as mild as this is. The transfer says more about Pardew’s ego than Ben Arfa’s attitude. If the Frenchman had been retained by Ligue 1’s most northern club, and then another winger purchased, a return to the exciting 4-3-3 in their 5th placed season would have been possible. However the style has regressed to something between late-Pulis Stoke (Prime Time Crouch) and Oldham when beating Liverpool in the FA Cup (Matt Smith bullying Sebastien Coates, both somewhat interestingly completed transfers on DEADLINE DAY as well). Only Cabaye’s form before cashing in and going to PSG and compatriot Loïc Remy’s goals kept Newcastle well away from the dreaded relegation battle. It promises to be another drab season for the Magpies.

(Although Orlando Aarons looked good against Palace, maybe there’s your new winger)

WINNER: Manchester United

The 20 times League Champions secured a player that would quickly become the highlight of many a montage as broadcasters looked to fill in the gaps between Spurs players from Harry Redknapp’s previous reign join QPR. Of course, ‘el Tigre’, Radamel Falcao, arguably along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic the best player to miss the World Cup in Brazil, signed for Manchester United on DEADLINE DAY. It was unprecedented, with United’s cross-city rivals supposedly leading the chase for the 28/29/30/31 year old (delete as applicable) but United struck early in the morning to secure a £6M loan deal with a permanent option. Dubious birth certificates aside, there was no doubting that United had pulled in a World-Class talent to link up with Chris Smalling and Darren Fletcher. It could be that the Colombian is tailor-made for United’s situation, since 2011 he has helped a club into the Champions League then moved on that summer 3 times. A good omen for the Red Devils then, or is it another record for post Ferguson United managers to break? There will be no questioning Falcao’s pedigree or ability, but it could not be said that the deal was good value, United will shell out £265,000 per week (per The Telegraph), making the forward the best paid player in the League. But he carries the gifted skill that Manchester United has made their priority after the Moyes disaster, at any price evidently.

Louis Van Gaal’s embarrassment of riches in attack should secure a top 4 league slot. In the Premier League where strength in depth is so crucial, ‘el Tigre’ can swing the balance in the Red Devils favour. They will require a fast turnaround to reach the Champions League for next season, but this DEADLINE DAY move has set them on their way.

LOSER: Manchester United

Yes, this was intentional. Feel free to entirely disregard the last section at your choosing. This signing appears misjudged, rash and not at all smart. Read the aforementioned United players in the previous paragraph that Radamel Falcao will join. I have chosen a member of United’s defence and central midfield. Not blowing you away? How about if I name Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Angel Di Maria? That’s a little more like it, worthier of the United name and shirt. So why was Falcao, another striker who cannot play anywhere else purchased?

Consider this, if Falcao’s mercurial talent is removed out of this comparison, is he any less of a panic signing than Marouane Fellaini last year? There is just a blank absence of logic behind this move, on a couple of levels: Firstly United could have kept Welbeck. (I’m glad they didn’t and he can now flourish, but for arguments sake) By doing this they do not strengthen their domestic rivals who were desperate for a centre forward, and keep a player on their bench who is versatile, an important trait for those not starting. Secondly, the Colombian if he plays will force one of Wayne Rooney (Just been appointed as captain), Juan Mata (Bought this past January for £37.5M) or Robin van Persie (Diva alert), to the bench. None appear to take kindly to demoting. I don’t think this creates good competition; it removes harmony from the squad in this situation. Thirdly, United’s sub-par midfield and defence is well documented, but instead Ed Woodward chose to compound his problem. Defensive midfielder William Carvalho checks many boxes, but maybe after Marcos Rojo’s prolonged court battle United shook their collective heads. Apart from half-heartedly enquiring about Mats Hummels and receiving a firm refusal, they showed no resilience to sign what they needed and took an easy option after Falcao was offered round. His goalscoring could cancel out all those negative reasons, but it’s madness.

Utter madness. But that’s DEADLINE DAY, and that’s why we mostly love it.

WINNER: Hull City (Tigers)

Steve Bruce and the owners turned George Boyd (good Championship player) into Mo Diame (Very talented, if inconsistent), Gaston Ramirez (Ditto), Hatem Ben Arfa (Ditto) and Abel Hernandez. After doing a brief scouting report exclusively on FIFA 14 on Hernandez I can tell you he’s quick, strong and at least a half-decent finisher. Don’t take any of that too seriously; I’ve never watched the guy play. They all add to some extent, an injection of much needed flair. If Hull gets the pricey quartet to play to their capabilities then the fabled 8th place beckons, sadly the ultimate dream of teams not already in the big boys club.

However the DEADLINE DAY haul isn’t as amazing as some believe. They’re in the winners column for a reason, but with the wrong management and bad luck, Hull will be looking less at upper mid table and more at the fact they could turn into QPR. Expensive signings with big wages, but little in the way of team morale and a togetherness about the squad. But there is some security with the signings, Hull know Diama and Ben Arfa can perform highly in the league and Hernandez brings with him a decent, but not spectacular scoring record from Serie A. Ramirez is the real question mark here. Southampton paid £12M for his services in 2012 but he had trouble staying fit and healthy, and didn’t light up the pitch when he did play. The BBC’s trusted Tim Vickery, an expert on South American football in every sense of the word had this to say about Ramirez two years ago before his transfer

‘My worry him is that he’s a little bit on the languid side, a little bit on the elegantly languid side. You just wonder if English football might be a little too early for him…I think the pace of the game may be a little too much for him.’

This sums up his game, and subsequent struggles since arriving in the Premier League very well briefly. If Hull can reach to his talent they may be on to a winner, alongside the other new arrivals added on to a solid Hull team. Look for them to push on this season quietly, with a couple of big scalps.

LOSER: England National Team

I will state now that this will be the second hypocritical paragraph on my part. I’ve encouraged teams to spend more and listed names of foreign talents those respective teams should or should have looked to have brought in. But every deadline day more and more money is spent on foreign recruits who can provide immediate quality and improvement to a team. The annual survey by financial analysts Deloitte found that £530M went to clubs overseas. An increase of £40M, the proportion decreased but this was due to several high profile transfers of English stars such as Lallana (£25M), Shaw (£27M) and Welbeck (£16M).

Around 4 to 5 times a decade, England disappoint at a tournament. Following this, fans will come out and say how there’s too much money in the game, and more focus should be turned to the academy products. The very same fans will then turn to you, 3 months later talking about the new signing they need to make, a young talent from La Liga or the Bundesliga. This is the problem, shown in one simple example. We are separate fans, one supports the club and one the national team. Instead we must accept either that our clubs will have to scale back their spending (unlikely, given the stake involved) or understand that with each signing we push back the growth of another English player. The real winner is the Premier League, who get a fresh influx of stars, the real loser is the national team where the Premier League resides.

But hey, we didn’t sign Falcao for no reason.

Lastly spare a thought for Leeds fans who got fooled by their own club twitter feed that they were signing someone. On second thoughts, never spare a thought for Leeds fans.