Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Things never change

Over the last few weeks we have seen a gentle bursting of the Wayne Rooney hype bubble, whose blistering form during the first month of the season drew claims that he was ‘stepping out of Ronaldo’s shadow’ or ‘taking up the mantle of Ronaldo,’ that he had finally been set free of Ronaldo’s stifling influence. In reality we have seen this sort of form from Rooney plenty of times before, both with and without Ronaldo doing whatever he did that made Rooney bad/good. Acknowledging that would not be in the interests of clich├ęd hack-journalism and punditry though, so instead a five or six game spell was deemed to be more than enough evidence that Rooney had finally become the greatest striker of all time. TMC prefers to look at the real facts, though. So let’s do that.

Between September and October last year Rooney scored eight goals in six games for club and country and then, much like now, followed it up with a seven-game goalless streak and a string of mediocre performances. From January to March this calendar year, he scored six in seven appearances (the goalless game a 5-minute cameo) before another five games without a goal. He ended that run with four goals in five games once more in April before going scoreless in the final seven games of the season. Going back a season further, we see exactly the same trend. In October 2007 Rooney scored seven goals in seven games before, you’ve guessed it, a five game goalless run. The fact is, Rooney always has a hot run around the beginning of each season. This season is no different and his form has nothing to do with the departure of Ronaldo and most certainly nothing to do with being in the centre rather than the wing which, if one looks at the facts rather than the soundbites of pundits, was a position he only played in around 1 out of every 6 games last season. That’s 5 out of 6 in the centre, people! On the other hand, it has everything to do with him being Wayne Rooney and being the player he’s always been.

It is abundantly clear that there is no mystery or sinister reason behind his inconsistency. He is simply inconsistent and that’s it. Pinning his inconsistency on others is desperation. It is a refusal to accept the simple truth. When Rooney was scoring we were bombarded from all sides with the apparently genius insight that he was ‘finally being allowed to thrive in his natural central role,’ but this was nothing more than wild and unfounded pseudo-analysis. Sensationalism. Why did pundits and ‘experts’ see fit to claim, after only six games’ evidence, that we had seen Wayne Rooney become a prolific scorer when he was simply following the precedent he’d set in the previous two seasons? And indeed, a precedent set when his nemesis Ronaldo was in the team. When Rooney scores again in the near future, there is no doubt the talk will revolve around his increased scoring rate this season, ignoring the truth because it does not suit the media’s agenda. Contrary to the received wisdom that Rooney has been ‘unleashed’ this season, TMC would go so far as to say he’s more the same than ever. Perhaps Rooney will find consistency in time and perhaps he will eventually become prolific, but that will become evident over seasons, not four to five weeks. If Rooney’s goal return does increase this season, it will be largely down to his newly inherited penalty duties rather than any significant change in his all-round game.

However, it may be entirely possible that I’m wrong and Rooney’s hot-streak-followed-by-drought pattern is now down to Berbatov being too lazy, Giggs kicking the ball with his right foot too much or the cool winter weather moving in on Manchester. I do have to admit, I think I saw him out on the left a couple of times against Liverpool...

Stats of the Week No. 1: Real Madrid won 7 out of 7 games with Cristiano Ronaldo in the team. Without him, they have won only 1 out of 4.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Nemanja Vidic has been sent off in each of his last 3 appearances against Liverpool.

Stats of the Week No. 3: Against Manchester United this weekend, Javier Mascherano became the first Liverpool player to be sent off in the Premier League since... Javier Mascherano against Manchester United on 23rd March 2008.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Udinese have scored 12 goals in Serie A this season – 9 of those from Antonio Di Natale.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Frank Lampard has hit every single one of his penalties into the left side of the goal this season. More below.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Clint Dempsey scored his first goal of the season against Manchester City with his 29th shot, previously more than any other scoreless player.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Carlton Cole has scored in five games this season but West Ham have won none of them.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Dutch cupcake destroyer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is yet to score a goal this season, eight games into his AC Milan career.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Of Stoke City’s nine goals this season, only one has come from a Rory Delap long throw. That was in their 2-0 opening-day win over Burnley.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Arsenal had previously never conceded more than 11 goals in their first 9 Premier League games. This season they have conceded 13.

"We did it! A clean sheet against the league's worst attack!"

Sweet Plays of the Week: The undoubted goal of the weekend in Serie A saw Antonio Cassano chip the ball forward to striker Giampaolo Pazzini who, having controlled superbly with his chest, turned quickly and lofted a pass into the path of the oncoming Daniele Mannini. With the ball dropping straight down in front of him, Mannini smashed home an unstoppable first-time volley at the near post from the right side of the penalty area.

In the Bundesliga, Andreas Ivanschitz broke through the Freiburg offside trap and managed to get his toe on the end of a delightful lofted through pass to delicately lift the ball over the oncoming keeper and score a fantastic lob.

Seydou Keita scored his first career hat-trick against Zaragoza and his second goal was the best of the bunch. Having won a tackle deep in midfield, fifteen yards from his own box, Keita distributed the ball to Busquets. Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta exchanged a few passes in midfield before an incredible defence splitting pass from Xavi released Ibrahimovic down the left. Ibrahimovic then provided the perfect cross for Keita, who had followed the run of play and made a sixty-yard run into the six yard box to score a comfortable tap-in, starting and finishing the move.

‘The’ Sweet Play of the Week: Pablo Hernandez, take a bow, son! A quick counter attack by Valencia saw Pablo receive the ball just inside the opposition half. Realising he had no support and would soon be closed down by the Almeria defence, Pablo possessed the vision and awareness to spot Esteban off his line and sent a glorious chip over the stranded goalkeeper and into the Almeria goal from forty yards.

Sour Plays of the Week No. 1: Against Wolves, John Carew found himself in an excellent crossing position on the edge of the box, but managed to slice his cross so horribly it eventually went out for a throw-in at the halfway line on the opposite side of the pitch.

Sour Plays of the Week No. 2: During the first half against Liverpool, Paul Scholes took a poor touch in the centre of midfield before poking the ball tamely into the path of Lucas, providing Liverpool with a three-on-two counter attacking situation. Lucas threaded the ball through to Dirk Kuyt on the right who, fortunately for Scholes, dragged a glorious chance wide of the far post.

Surprise of the Week: “McLeish drops plan to sign Wolfsburg pair
Birmingham manager has decided that it would be too expensive to prise Edin Dzeko and Grafite from the German champions.”

Yes, money was the only obstacle preventing Birmingham from signing those two players. It was nothing to do with the fact they play for the reigning German champions, that Wolfsburg are a club currently on course to qualify for the last sixteen of the Champions League, that should Wolfsburg express a willingness to sell they’d face competition from any number of European powerhouses or that Birmingham are a club who can’t even fill their (not even big) stadium for a local derby. Nope, Alex McLeish simply decided they were too expensive. That’s all.

Wii Fit Defies Limits of Human Physiology: In a stunning move of bizarrely ridiculous proportions, the Nintendo Wii Fit Plus has received the official NHS seal of approval as part of its Change4Life campaign. Not only am I shocked by their support for a gimmicky piece of equipment which is drastically less effective and significantly more expensive than simply jogging, but by the fact the NHS is endorsing a product which claims to be capable of doing things which aren’t even humanly possible. Nintendo claim that "If you are worried about your bingo wings or your flabby bum, the game will give you specific exercises to target those areas." That is very, very impressive, as it means Nintendo have apparently invented a means of spot-reducing fat, previously thought to be impossible. Well... not previously. It is impossible. And it’s why Wii Fit is just as stupid, pointless and useless as every other fad ‘health’ or ‘fitness’ product. If Nintendo are happy to release misleading and false statements about the capabilities of their product (capabilities which couldn’t possibly exist), then what can be believed about their material on the Wii Fit? How can we believe any of the PR is true? Quite simply, we can’t. Because it isn’t. Most troubling is that the NHS has fallen for it and is encouraging the use of this sham product. This is an organisation we are supposed to trust to look after our medical needs. What next? The NHS promotes ab-belts and diet pills to children?

"My Story: How I Lost 100lbs by leaning"

Don’t Guess: Many, if not most goalkeepers have a tendency to pick a side and dive when faced with a penalty. This is a bad idea. Penalty takers are well aware of this trend, which is why so many simply wait for the keeper to make his move during their run up and roll the ball into the opposite side of the net. The evidence of this phenomenon is widespread. Witness Frank Lampard’s penalty against Blackburn this weekend – Robinson is already going down to the right side before Lampard even makes contact with the ball! What makes it even worse is that he had not done his research. It should be part of any good goalkeeper’s job to be aware of each club’s regular penalty takers and their favoured side. If you’re going to gamble and dive blindly to one side, at least make it the side the player hits all of his penalties into!

Most critically, by gambling instead of reacting to the shot Robinson eliminated any chance he had of saving it. Lampard let him dive and went the opposite way and while the penalty was firmly struck, it was placed nowhere near the corner of the goal. Had Robinson waited for Lampard to shoot before reacting, making a save would have at least been a possibility. More importantly, he would not have kindly made Lampard’s mind up for him. As I already outlined, penalty takers are happy to let the goalkeeper commit himself and then go the opposite way, but by standing his ground a goalkeeper can create indecision in the penalty taker. Indecision leads to bad penalties. Examples of such penalties are near-endless. See Dimitar Berbatov in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton, Alessandro Del Piero in the Peace Cup or even more famously Andriy Shevchenko in the 2005 Champions League final. TMC has long been baffled that keepers do not take this approach every time.

Next up: Wolves v Aston Villa. Brad Friedel, like his colleague Robinson, was already heading down to the left side before Ebanks-Blake struck the ball and scored the Wolves equaliser. Had Friedel waited to react, he would have already been in position to make an attempt at saving the penalty which was struck right down the middle of the goal. Such was the force with which Ebanks-Blake fired the ball, Friedel would most probably not have saved it anyway. Even if he had got a hand to the ball, the sheer velocity would have been too much for him to resist. This should be a valuable lesson to keepers. While guessing a side and diving provides them with a 33% chance of going the right way, the fact is that against quality penalties they are unlikely to make the save regardless. Top quality penalty takers are those who find the corners with power time after time after time. Guessing is of no help to goalkeepers wishing to save such an effort. Simply pre-empting the direction of the penalty is not enough. So, since they’re never going to save well-taken penalties either by guessing or reacting, they might as well write these off as unsaveable and focus on the penalties which are saveable – the ones they make possible, nay, encourage by guessing in the first place. In summary, guessing is silly and self-defeating.

Sack-watch: Ipswich Town remain winless and rock bottom of the Championship after fourteen games under Roy “Marcus Evans Hasn’t Fired Me Quite Yet” Keane. His predecessor Jim Magilton, sacked for leading Ipswich to an apparently unacceptable ninth position last term, currently sits in the playoff places with his new club QPR.

1485 miles away, Juande Ramos continues to struggle with clubs outside his native Spain, being given his marching orders by CSKA Moscow after only 47 days in charge.

The Crumble-off: Manchester City and Arsenal each squandered 2-0 leads to succumb to draws this weekend, raising serious questions over the resilience of their squads. For City, losing a 2-0 lead at home is particularly disappointing given the heavy investment in their defence over the summer and even more so when you consider that their ex-captain Richard Dunne is now part of an Aston Villa defence which is ranked joint-first in the Premier League. Aston Villa’s entire back four cost over £10m less than City’s centre-backs alone.

In Arsenal’s case, their mentality must come under heavy scrutiny because a team so capable of controlling a match should not have allowed West Ham to come back into it after obtaining a comfortable lead. When West Ham clawed one goal back Arsenal should have got hold of the ball and seen the match out through calm possession play. Instead they panicked and handed the initiative to their opposition, throwing the game away in the process. Arsenal have the ability to push for the title, but must eradicate these costly errors at the back. Mannone’s dreadful parry into the path of Carlton Cole from Diamanti’s free kick was akin to throwing the ball into his own net and gave West Ham a huge confidence lift. And while Thomas Vermaelen has had an incredible impact at the other end of the pitch, it remains unclear what difference he’s made at the end where his real responsibilities lie, defence. Arsenal continue to leak goals and are in fact, as seen above, conceding more than ever.

Monday Night Football Analysis: Leicester’s goal from a corner would not have gone in had Reading defended properly and put a man on the back post. Simple, but crucial.

Overreaction of the Week: “Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is facing up to the worst injury crisis of his five years at the Reds' helm ahead of Sunday's visit of champions Manchester United,” wrote Paul Walker of the Press Association.

"We have just too many problems, I cannot remember an injury situation like this," said Benitez himself. “I have no idea what team I can put out against Manchester United.”

Come matchday, not only was Torres fit to start the game, he scored the decisive goal. Glen Johnson was fit and played the 90 minutes. Of the (three) players involved in Rafael Benitez’s ‘worst ever injury crisis,’ only Gerrard missed out. While Alberto Aquilani was also injured, he had already been carrying an injury for several months when he was brought to the club.

Sweet ‘N’ Sour Play of the Week: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a rocket free kick from thirty yards against Zaragoza but what was the keeper doing? He managed to get both hands on the ball but could still only palm it into the roof of the net. That’s just not good enough, however powerful the shot may have been.

Egg of the Week: This is the award served up every week to the player so profligate in front of goal he is most probably incapable of finishing an egg. There were a number of challengers vying for this illustrious prize and in the end it was too close to choose just one. First we have Real Zaragoza’s Ewerton. Zaragoza, on a quick counter attack, found their strikers two-on-one against a single Barcelona defender. Ever the generous soul, Ewerthon’s strike partner drew the defender towards the ball before playing his team mate clean through on goalkeeper Victor Valdes. In acres of space, under no defensive pressure and with all the time in the world to measure his shot, Ewerthon delicately placed a strike straight into the arms of Victor Valdes. Bravo. It’s not over though, there’s more! Shortly afterwards, Ewerthon broke the offside trap once again and in even more space than he had the first time, with the opportunity to rectify his earlier howler, Ewerthon stepped up to the plate and... did exactly the same thing again.

The second ‘winner’ is TMC favourite Bobby Zamora. Having already scored two (accidental) goals this season, Bobby was in no mood to equal his combined Premier League tally for the last two seasons (three) within seven appearances in the current season. Ergo, it was only logical for him to inexplicably miss an open net from six yards against Manchester City. At 0-0, Clint Dempsey struck a shot from the left side of the area which Given was only able to parry towards the feet of Zamora, standing unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. With the helpless goalkeeper still sprawled out on the deck and an empty net to aim at, Bobby did the seemingly impossible and guided his shot wildly over the crossbar.

Clearance of the Week: James Beattie belied his rather large frame to perform a stunningly acrobatic overhead kick on his own goal-line and hook away what looked a certain goal from Peter Crouch’s header.

Block of the Week: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ cheerleaders were in attendance as QPR took on Watford in the Championship. Their presence seemed to confuse Wayne Routledge as he took a leaf out of the NFL playbook and used his body to physically prevent two Watford defenders from intercepting a pass to Jay Simpson who was able to score as a result. Clever, but illegal play by Routledge, not that the referee seemed to mind.

Internet Thoughts of the Week:
7. At 2:22pm on 23 Oct 2009, bow4fowler wrote:
Interesting article, although I do sense a bit of an anti-liverpol vibe.

22. At 3:00pm on 23 Oct 2009, barca4ever wrote:
Another Liverpool Blog. Nooooooooooooooooooooooo Not again. Phil seriously you are a Liverpool fan. Just admit it.

Above are two comments on a blog by BBC’s Phil McNulty. The same blog.
A football fan’s paranoia knows no bounds.

Deluded Tabloid of the Week: Daniele De Rossi for £10m – The Sun suggested Chelsea could secure the Roman enforcer for a paltry fee, seemingly ignorant of the World Cup winning, 51-time capped Roma vice-captain’s importance to his team. Liverpool signed Alberto Aquilani from Roma for £20m in the summer, who despite playing less than half as many games as De Rossi in the last three years is apparently twice as valuable according to the enlightened journalists at The Sun. And, of course, it completely overlooks De Rossi’s extreme loyalty to the Roman cause.

"Available in bargain bins worldwide"

Christmas Creep: Fearnecotton - just bought some robot xmas decorations. 12:11 PM Oct 24th

Expect the Expected: Fernando Torres has now scored six goals in his last five ‘Big Four’ encounters.

Classless Buffoon of the Week: “McLeish urges Birmingham fans to ‘get on Steve Bruce’s back’.”
We all know football fans like to jeer ex-players and managers and while that’s a perfectly legitimate part of the game and intrinsic to supporting your club, it is simply unprofessional for a fellow manager to actively encourage his club’s fans to abuse his predecessor, particularly one who did such a good job in his time there. The fans will make their own minds up in these situations; there is no need to incite them which is downright disrespectful. The man was simply going there to do his job, the same as McLeish.

You’ll never guess what happens next! In a surprising plot resolution that no-one, sorry, everyone saw coming in Stargate Universe, the good ship Destiny had indeed deliberately plotted a collision course with a star in order to recharge its power resources. It is clear that an ancient starcruiser which has been journeying through untold numbers of galaxies for millions of years would have some kind of energy renewal capability, which is why almost the entire viewership of the show predicted how events would pan out immediately after last week’s cliffhanger. How did none of the characters on board, including an abundance of so-called genius scientists, not even consider this possibility? If you wish to place your characters in mortal danger, you can’t make the resolution so painfully predictable. Not only was the plot predictable within itself, the show’s centrepiece is the Destiny. No-one will ever truly believe that it’s in danger of being destroyed – if it was the series would be over. And that’s not going to happen after five episodes.

On a related and even more sour note, we eventually saw Destiny venture into the star, with its shields capable of protecting the ship and its crew from the immense heat and radiation of the celestial body. However, these are the very same shields which in the show’s pilot episode (that was only three weeks ago, by the way) were incapable of even preventing oxygen from escaping through breaches in the hull. Curious.

Next week: TMC in crisis, facing an unprecedented lack of material.

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