July 12, 2014

Germany vs Argentina World cup 2014 final – a prematch analysis 


Messi played his part in the semi finals
many of the experts have written or spoken otherwise
but according to me it was the fear of his threat that kept the Dutch to mark him most of the game with two players and in crunch situation you found the third also closing him ……
that meant that the Dutch played proactively with just 7 or 8 players most of the game
that also meant that their extremely fast and capable forwards were starved of passes and openings and angles for most of the match
so to say that Messi dint play much of a part in the SF is not correct
and add to that Messi stepped up and converted the Argentina’s first penalty that in itself a decisive psychological goal

thus Messi exposed not only the Dutch but also the Argentine inability to overpower a 8-9 man Dutch team (less Messi and his minders)
it exposed the Argentine attack as rather ineffective without Messi (and de Maria as well )
the lack of a potent and influential playmaker amongst their rank if Messi ( or de Maria) is taken out of the game

so that brings me to the German tactics
to understand the German tactics one needs to watch the Germany Algeria match again
here was a new tactics being employed/experimented with
the goalkeeper – as an advanced sweeper back !
and  Manuel Neuer was exemplary
striding confidently forward many yards out of the penalty box to thwart many a good Algerian through ball with aplomb
has the quiet Joachim Loew perhaps come out with the a new tactical innovation that gave his side an edge ?!
will he employ this tactics against the Argentinians ?!
we have to wait and see

but his new ‘goal-keeper as a sweeper back’ concept also helped spawn another new tactics or rather contributed to the success of the new tactic
if you recollect, the Germans against Brazil displayed an amazing capability for ball possession and distribution
this was not accidental
the backs, the midfielders and the forwards were playing in a tight ‘phalanx’ formation
neither the defenders playing too back nor the attackers roaming ahead
so in given time, in a given area of space ,  the German had 9-10 players most of the time against 4-5 players of the Brazilians
and added to that was their excellent passing and switching of direction and of the flow of the attack and of course the deadly finish(s)

they seem to have added this possession game capability to their already formidable and relentless pressing forward game …..
( unlike Spain the ‘possession’ football gurus, who did a lot of back passing and aimless to and fro, the German possess the ball and surge forward at the same time ….  )

scolari is no fool
and i am sure that he must have read into Loew’s new change in tactics being perfected against the Algerians
so perhaps his counter was to attack through the middle using his deep defenders thus out numbering and outwitting the German ‘phalanx’ or at least stretch and widen the phalanx to give room for his midfielders to play

if one again watches the first 15 minutes of the game one will notice repeated attacks emanating from the middle and the defenders racing forward as attackers
a bold tactic
but it failed
though scholari after the match took full responsibility for the failure of the team he was gracious enough not to say that this Brazilians team without Neymar and Silva lacked the class and competence to carry out this bold ‘counter – attack tactic

no imaginative midfielder, no defender who could carry out the attacking role and also get back fast enough not to unbalance the defence ….
Bernard Fred Oscar were light weights and inadequate in falling back to bolster the defence after the defenders had surged forward and lost the ball, as also Maicon and Marcelo were no Roberto Carlos in the attack ……
a decent counter attack plan that failed disastrously due to lack of adequate competence of the executors ….
perhaps scholari had only focussed too much on taking advantage of Neuer’s sweeper back role and not analysed and understood the second part of the Loew’s new tactic which was related to the first
the force multiplier effect of the tight ‘phalanx’
and so before they could  understand or appreciate the threat of this new tactic they devastated by the 4 goal blitz in six minutes !

so that brings us to the final
a recap then


Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

Coach Profile
According to B/R’s Clark Whitney, Joachim Loew is “the kind of guy who likes to sit in a Freiburg cafe with a macchiato and some high-brow book on coaching theory.”
He’s dedicated to his work, has been in situ as Germany’s head coach since 2006 (after taking over from Jurgen Klinsmann) and knows the players inside out.
He’s led Die Mannschaft to second place at Euro 2008, third at World Cup 2010 and to the semifinals of Euro 2012.
Time to go a step further?

Germany press well and attempt to minimise the time the opposition have on the ball.
Loew allows fluidity in his 4-2-3-1 formation and encourages his players to interchange at will.
The side, on the whole, is absolutely superb in terms of strength, star quality and depth.
Sami Khedira is fit now
in Manuel Nuer the Germans have perhaps the standout goalkeeper of the tournament, where the goalkeeping standards have been very high
Lahm Boateng Hummels Howedes and Mertesacker have done a very competent job in defence
in Ozil Roos Schweinsteiger Khedira and Muller the German’s have a formidable and perhaps the best midfield line up amongst the teams in this world cup
( injury reports before the world cup may perhaps have a part of the deception plan )
with Podolski and Schurrle available to substitute  Klose the Germans are as complete an outfit that country can hope for ……….

FIFA Ranking: 2nd
World Cup Odds before the start of the tournament : 5/1
odds on offer with the British bookie Ladbrokes as on date -
Germany have now moved from 5/2 midway to become the odds-on favourites at 4/6

Preferred Formation: 4-3-3

Coach Profile
Alejandro Sabella came into the job looking to make a reputation rather than riding on an existing one.
He doesn’t have the pull of a behemoth like Marcelo Bielsa, but he does come across as a very thoughtful, pragmatic and intelligent tactical coach.
After the chaos of Sergio Batista and Diego Maradona, that’s an extremely welcome commodity, and that he continues to leave out Carlos Tevez for the sake of squad harmony is a strong sign.
The local media don’t like it, but he doesn’t care.

In Argentina’s 4-3-3 formation, the front three is one of the best—if not the best—in the world.
The trio of Sergio Aguero, Messi and Gonzalo Higuain puts almost every other strike force in world football to shame, and that’s simply scratching the surface of a deep talent pool.
The defensive line is still a little suspect, as usual, and full-back is an issue.
Federico Fernandez has done a lot to shore up the central areas, but the wide areas are a problem.

Argentina have advanced without any fuss or fanfare
most imp for Argentina is that Messi is fit
and a fit Messi is a potent threat
Loew will have to think of how to neutralize this threat
will they risk the wrath of the spectators and the referee and target him and play rough ?
do what Van Gaal did, put two ‘minders’ on him and crowd him out of the game
Ángel Fabián Di María Hernández’ s return to fitness could very well dictate the German strategy ……. and Argentinian fortune
Loew knows , Mascherano Aguero and Higuain and Der Maria and Messi could be a different proposition than the brittle Brazilian lineup …….

FIFA Ranking: 3rd
World Cup Odds odds before start of the tournament : 5/1

Sunday’s contestants have an extensive history, having met 20 times in the past, notably the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals, both of which are remembered as epic clashes in World Cup history.
Argentina dominate the head-to-head with nine wins and five draws;
the Germans have only won six times despite there being an even goals balance (28 scored, 28 conceded) between the two sides.
But interestingly, the balance between Germany and Argentina is entirely different when considering only competitive matches.
The two sides drew 2-2 in the 2005 Confederations Cup.
They’ve also met six times at the World Cup, with Germany winning three times and drawing twice and recording a commanding 11-5 goal difference.
Argentina’s only World Cup win over Germany came in the 1986 final.
so world cup history of clashes between the two is heavily loaded against the Argentinians
but overall record head to head between the two is not so  bad for the Argentinians …

so from a ‘punters’ analysis money on Germany will be a better odds to win
but considering that 1990 was the last time either side won the World Cup, motivation for both sides will be sky-high;
sunday’s pressure cooker promises to be hugely entertaining

will the method and efficiency of the German’s prevail
will it be the genius of a little fella who goes by the name of Messi !?
you take your pick !


July 5, 2014

“the importance of drawing the first blood”


One empirical question often asked is whether leads in soccer are hard to hold.
Since scoring is so low, the answer should be yes.
So let’s ask the data.

A good place to start is by comparing half time results with full time results.
That is, what are the odds that teams with halftime leads will actually win the match? (data is from EPL 2009-2010 season)

Turns out that leads aren’t all that difficult to hold.
When the match is tied at halftime, the odds of a draw in 2009-10 were about .42, while the odds of one of the two teams eventually winning were still greater at .58.

But once a team is up by at least one goal, these odds change quickly and significantly.
So once there’s a goal difference at halftime of at least one goal, the odds of a team winning the match go from .29 to .72 (they more than double).
Mind you, almost ten percent of teams 9.5%) managed to still lose the match after being up by a goal at halftime, and 18.4% managed merely a draw, but .72 are pretty good odds.

And once a team is up by two at the half, the odds of winning become a prohibitive .935.
What is more, not a single team that was up by two at the half eventually lost the match during the 2009-10 season (a small 6.5% of matches saw teams turning a two goal advantage into a draw).
Finally, once a team is up by three at the half, the match is over.
In 2009-10, not a single team lost a match when they were up by three or more at the half.
So going from a tie to a lead by one or more goals increases a team’s odds of winning from .29 to .72 to .93 and then to 1.

( Shanghai-based artist Hong Yi, aka ‘Red’, has combined her love for football and art in a very unique way – she recently painted a massive portrait of three superstars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup – Ronaldo, Neymar and Messi – by dribbling a paint-covered football on a canvas. Red didn’t use a single paintbrush to create her amazing portraits of the three popular football players! Instead, she kicked a paint-stained football around on the canvas, and actually managed to paint highly accurate pictures of her subjects.)

July 4, 2014

a game of possessions – “Football is a game played with the head ” – 4 


Football is not a possession sport.
It is a game of managing constant turnovers.

This holds true even at the elite level, and even for those teams who pride themselves on managing possession, like Arsenal.
According to Opta, in three seasons, Arsène Wenger’s team never had fewer than 140 turnovers and sometimes they had as many as 240, for an average of 175.
In fact there’s relatively little difference across clubs, regardless of whether they have a philosophy of playing ‘possession football’.
Over three seasons the top ten clubs in the Premier League allowed their opponents 101.4 strict possessions and 187.9 loose ones per match, while the clubs ranked eleven to twenty gave up an essentially identical 99.1 and 189.3 possessions.
So possession isn’t singular – in football, it’s plural.

The typical Premier League side has almost 200 fresh opportunities every game to do something with the ball.
Most of the time, whoever has it tries to pass it.
The single most common action players perform are passes in all shapes and sizes: short, long, with the head or the foot, crosses, goal kicks, flick-ons, lay-offs – passes account for well over 80 per cent of events on the pitch.

The next largest categories of ball events, at 2 per cent or less each, are things like shots, goals, free kicks, dribbles and saves.
Possession, boiled down, is delivering the ball to a teammate.
Possession is turnover-free passing.

This also means that possession requires a collective, rather than individual, effort.
It is a measure of team competence, not a specific player’s brilliance.
To see this more conclusively, we can look at data analysed by Jaeson Rosenfeld of StatDNA.
Rosenfeld was interested in working out how much a player’s pass completion percentage is determined by skill – something the player has control over – rather than the situation he finds himself in when making a pass.
Rosenfeld’s hunch was that pass completion percentage had less to do with the foot skill of passing the ball and more to do with the difficulty of a pass the player was attempting in the first place.
It was not, he thought, so much what you did as where you were.
To test his intuition, Rosenfeld turned to the numbers: specifically, 100,000 passes from StatDNA’s Brazilian Serie A data.
To assess a player’s passing skill, he had to adjust pass completion by the difficulty of the pass being attempted.
Surely passes in the final third of the field and under defensive pressure were more difficult than passes between two central defenders with no opponent in sight.
Once he had taken into account things like pass distance, defensive pressure, where on the field the pass was attempted, in what direction (forward or not), and how (in the air, by head, and one touch), a curious result emerged: ‘after adjusting for difficulty, pass completion percentage is nearly equal among all players and teams !
Said another way, the skill in executing a pass is almost equal across all players and teams, as pass difficulty and pass completion percentage is nearly completely correlated.’

level, the particular situation the passer finds himself in determines a player’s completion percentage, not his foot skills.
While their passing skills may be highly similar, this doesn’t mean that players have identical possession skills.
The data do not describe what happens before the ball arrives.
As Rosenfeld observes: ‘Is Xavi an “excellent passer” because he can place a pass on a dime or is it more his ability to find pockets of space where no defensive pressure exists to receive the ball, with his ball control allowing him to continue to avoid pressure and hit higher value passes for an equal level of difficulty?

Many players put themselves in difficult passing situations because they dwell on the ball too long and upon receiving the ball are not able to reposition their bodies in a way that opens up the field.’

Possession football, in other words, is more than just being able to pass the ball – at the very top of the professional football pyramid, it has relatively little to do with that: it is mostly about being in the right place to receive it, helping a teammate position himself in the right place in the right way, and helping him get rid of the ball in order to maintain control for the team.
As countless coaches have yelled to many a struggling player, you don’t pass with your feet, you pass with your eyes and your brain.
Football is a game played with the head.

A good team, when further up the pitch, manages to create and find space for both the passer of the ball and his intended target, making the passing situation easier.
A poor team, in the same place, would not create as much space, so the passing situation would be harder.
Good teams are not better at passing than bad ones.
They simply engineer more easy passes in better locations, and therefore limit their turnovers.

Wonder, silence, gratitude

one who is going upstream ......

SS 24 - random thoughts

one who is going upstream ......

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