Santi Cazorla

Man City v. Arsenal: Cazorla the keymaster

Arsenal play Man City tomorrow morning and I’m going to get to the preview, but first…

Someone asked what the best zodiac sign is for strikers and based on my research I can say definitively: in the Premier League it is Leo. Harry Kane is a Leo. Thierry Henry, Leo. Alan Shearer, Leo. Robin van Persie, Leo. Kevin Phillips, Leo.

My mention of Kevin Phillips should be a clue about how I came to this conclusion. I looked at the Premier League Golden Boot winners and matched their astrological signs. Turns out that Leos have won the Golden Boot 11 times since 1992 and there have been five different Leos who won the Golden Boot. That’s more than any other sign.

Aquarius (Ronaldo, Berbatov, Tevez, and Suarez) are second. Pisces are tied with Aquarius with 4 also but only three different players (Drogba, Anelka, Chris Sutton). Two different Aries have won it: Sheringham and Hasselbaink (2x). The rest have all been one-offs, except Capricorn and Virgo. There are literally zero top-goalscoring Capricorns and Virgos in Premier League history.

Sagittarius is an interesting sign. Like Leo it’s a fire sign (fire signs won 16 total Golden Boots, more than any other group). Michael Owen is a Sagittarius, so is Gonzalo Higuain and our very own Alexis Sanchez!

Looking further afield: Messi is a Cancer; Lewandowski is a Leo; Lacazette, Aubameyang, and this Janssen cat are all Geminis, the same as Kun Aguero; Lukaku is a Taurus and the only other Golden Boot winning Taurus was Dion Dublin; Zlatan, Giroud, and Andy Cole are all Libras.

So, there you have it. If you want to bet on a Golden Boot winner, pick a Leo. Pick Harry Kane.

Right, here’s the preview…

Will Man City bother to show up? How can they? Imagine playing in a Champions League semi-final and not even bothering to put in a performance? That actually happened this week with Man City.

People are blaming the appointment of Pep Guardiola and I can’t disagree much. The announcement earlier in the season clearly disrupted the play of Toure who is a sensitive soul. Maybe the Man City owners should have bought Toure a cake, one a day for every day since the announcement.

But Man City have structural problems that run deeper than Toure’s motivation. They have the worst tackling record in the League. They have been dribbled past 451 times this season, Arsenal are 17th in that category with 327. City will find it particularly difficult in this regard as Arsenal have more successful dribbles than any other team and the best dribbling rate of any team in the League at 69% of 724 dribbles.

Man City is the second best dribbling team in the League with 62% success rate but Arsenal are 9th best tacklers in the League. I think this is a key duel for both teams: the team that wins the dribble/tackle battle will create the most havoc in the opposite team’s system. Incidentally, the best tacklers in the Premier League are Liverpool and Tottenham who are only dribbled past at the rate of 28 and 29 percent.

In the first match between these two clubs, back in December, Arsenal only had 3 more dribbles than City and the match hinged instead on Arsenal’s turnovers. Arsenal were without Cazorla and played a midfield duo of Flamini and Ramsey. Giroud had one of his worst matches of the season, losing the ball 10 times, 8 of them just poor touches. In that match, Arsenal were so dominated that they needed to make 26 blocks (6 blocked shots, 20 blocked crosses). Arsenal average 6.6 blocked shots and crosses per game.

If Wenger can play Cazorla, I’d love to see him. He’s Arsenal’s best dribbler at a crazy 81% and he might be matched up against Fernandinho, who is one of the most dribbled-past players in the Premier League. Cazorla is also Arsenal’s second best creative player. His three assists and 2.6 key passes per game takes pressure off Özil but more importantly, frees Alexis from his creative burdens. With Alexis running in behind, Özil roaming free, and Cazorla creating havoc through the City midfield, Arsenal could take this match.

Moreover, if Cazorla can play and can play at his usual high level, Cazorla could prove to be the key player in this match.

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Lukaku

How to scout for young talent: Batshuayi, Dembele, Lukaku

Yesterday it was revealed that West Ham offered Marseille £31.5m for Michy Batshuayi. Batshuayi is already 22 years old and will be 23 in October (Libra). He has played just 12,623 minutes of football and scored 78 goals in his career bringing his total to a goal every 168 minutes. In terms of cost per goal, West Ham has offered £400k per goal that Batshuayi has scored in his life.

Applying that same logic to Romelu Lukaku, who is also 22 and will be 23 in a few days (Taurus), we see that Lukaku has already scored 126 goals in his professional career. He has scored more because he has been played more, 20,394 minutes already. His rate of scoring goals is actually similar to Batshuayi, a goal every 162 minutes. But going by the £400k per goal formula, we get a price of £51m.

These prices are too expensive for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. So, we need a method of scouting for players who are just under 21 and ready to break out and have a great career. Here, I invented one.

Step 1. Go to www.whoscored.com
Step 2. Click on “statistics”
Step 3. Scroll down to the player stats and click on the “detailed” tab
Step 4. In the age field select “less than” and put “22″ also in the appearances tab select “more than” and put “10″
less than
Step 5. Offer Osmane Dembele’s agent whatever they ask for

Obviously I’m not being serious but I’m going to continue anyway.

Dembele has scored 12 goals this season and is the highest ranked U21 player in the WhoScored system. That ranking is heavily weighted toward dribbles and he is an excellent dribbler completing 71% of 145 dribbles this season.

Anthony Martial has tried more dribbles than any other U21 player, 176 (81 successful), but just below him is Schalke’s attacking midfielder Leroy Sane. Sane is 20 years old and already has 7 goals and 6 assists.

If you’re just looking for the next forward, I would suggest looking at goals. Sanabria is a classic CF — he doesn’t offer much other than goals. He has 11. Mitrovic surprises me every time I see that he’s 21 years old. It also surprises me that he has 8 goals this season. Here’s a weird fact: last season when Lukaku was 21 years old, he scored 8 goals… In the Europa League. He scored 20 goals in all competitions for Everton last year. 25 this year. I also recently did some graphs on players reaching their peak. Lots of players have a single peak and that lasts like three seasons and then they fall off. It seems to happen young for British players (Owen, Fowler, etc). But there are a few rare players who hit a peak and stay there for years (Henry, etc.). Also there are players like Drogba who really only had two or three great seasons and somehow people think they are the best of all time. They aren’t.

For center backs, I think Jonathan Tah is going to be a name you hear a lot. He plays for Bayer Leverkusen, is 6’4″ tall and weighs 215lbs. He is a decent passer, wins 69% of his aerial duels, and (this is important for an Arsenal CB) he leads the U22 group in interceptions.

There’s a young Syrian kid named Mahmoud Dahoud who plays next to Granit Xhaka for Borussia MG. Five goals and 8 assists this season, decent passer (84%), decent dribbler (55%), will probably get picked up in the next year or so if he can improve his long passing, turnovers, and dribbling.

Lyon have continued their tradition of pumping out killer C(D)Ms with Corentin Tolisso the latest. He’s a 21 year old Frenchman who completes 72% of his long passes. That’s a fantastic rate for a young player. He’s also a 71% tackler and 85% passer. 6 assists already this season, 1 from a through ball!

Arsenal already have the best U22 right back in football, Hector Bellerin. The highest rated left back is Benjamin Mendy. He plays for Marseilles and he’s a 73% dribbler, which is outstanding even if he is dribbling in France (Bellerin is 70%). Mendy creates 1.3 key passes per game and is a 43% accurate crosser (Bellerin is 35% accurate, which is still good).

The real story here is the transfer prices for these young players. Batshuayi at £31.5m is just £11m less than Arsenal paid for Mesut Özil — the best playmaker in the world. Man U paid £60m (or will pay that much) for Anthony Martial, £18m more than Özil and just £5m less than Barcelona paid for Luis Suarez. The Premier League is awash with money from the new television deals and they are starting to look for players who will be with their teams for 5+ years. And so they are turning to ever younger players in search of the best deal they can get.

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comic book hguy

Worst Champions League Semi-Final Ever

When you think of the Champions League what do you imagine? If you’re like me, you think of passionate matches well fought with players who do things with the ball that no one has ever seen before. Or maybe you’re a football hipster and you like to see a tactical battle between two great football minds on opposite ends of the spectrum, waging the never-ending war between the light and dark aspects of the game. Or maybe you just tune in for even a single moment of brilliance, like Thierry Henry’s goal at the Bernabeu, a mazy run where he ditches half of the opposition, leaving them in the dirt as he drives straight at the heart of the defense and scores one of the biggest goals of his career. The Champions League is supposed to be magical like that.

The Man City, Real Madrid tie had none of that. The most interesting moment over the 180 minutes was a toss up between wondering whether Zidane would split his pants and what exactly was going on with Sergio Ramos’ awful haircut.

The stage was set, lavishly set. These are two of the wealthiest clubs in world football. Real Madrid paid £85m for Gareth Bale alone and on top of him, they have the world’s orangest footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo — holder of multiple records and personal accolades, man who has “scored more Champions League goals than Arsenal”, and whose perfect little chicklet teeth peek out from his awful rat-face whenever he smiles. I’m not a fan.

And on the other side, Man City: they have the world’s best striker in Kun Aguero; one of the world’s best creative midfielders in Kevin de Bruyne; and not to be sold short in the “grossly overpaid for British footballers” sweepstakes Man City stumped up £49m for 12th man Raheem Sterling.

Let’s just get the details of the game out of the way now. It was dull. Worse than dull, it was tedious. Man City did a lot of tackles. They didn’t make a lot, they did a lot. Almost 90 tackles attempted in the two legs and 48 times they were dribbled. Man City is the most dribbled team in the Premier League and they have continued that ignominious trend here in the Champions League.

City’s problem is that they have one of the worst defensive midfielders in the game: Fernandinho. Over the two legs he was dribbled 9 times. But even worse than their central midfield pairing, which has more holes than Swiss Cheese, they try to press from the top and their forwards are simply awful tacklers. De Bruyne attempted 8 tackles in the two legs and was dribbled 8 times. These weren’t just tackles in high positions either, this was all over the pitch. When de Bruyne goes for a tackle you can rest assured that he’s going to fail. Navas was slightly better, he made 3 of the 10 tackles he attempted in both games.

Man City are one of the worst tackling teams I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean in the vicious way, I mean in the disorganized way that teams get when their manager doesn’t seem to have a plan for defense and the result is a team constantly pulled out of shape and attempting to recover with poor tackles. Pundits like to talk about the importance of Vincent Kompany at Man City and there is a good reason for that: he’s their best tackler at 90%. He saves the team as they run around tackling like Bambi on ice skates.

But defensive woes would be forgiven if Man City had an attacking plan. Did they have a plan? 180 minutes, nine total shots, two shots on target, and the leading passer is fullback Gael Clichy? Someone said to me that maybe their plan was to get a late away goal and steal the game on the away goals rule. Maybe that was the plan? Because they did create two shots in the last 10 minutes of the second leg, both were shots from outside the 18 yard box and one of them was lucky to be considered a shot and not an errant free kick.

On the other side of the pitch you might imagine a Real Madrid team licking its chops to play against a Man City side this awful. But Zidane is not a real manager, folks. At least not on the evidence of the performances so far. His plan in this tie was to turn Real Madrid into a threat from corners. Corners.

Over the two legs, Real Madrid were the more attacking of the two teams and created 11 chances right in front of goal. Seven of those eleven were from corners. They only had 11 corners over the 180 minutes and created 7 shots off those 11 corners, which is a great percentage and shows that it’s something they have been working on in practice but it’s not high percentage football. Real Madrid’s game plan seemed to be to march the ball down the pitch, kick it off a Man City player, win a corner, and then get set for their best chance of the game. It’s not a surprise that they scored 0 goals over the two legs and only progressed thanks to an own goal — which was deflected in off a failed tackle/block.

Notice that I haven’t even complained about having to watch Cristiano Ronaldo flail his arms in disgust for 90 minutes when he isn’t spoon fed the perfect ball every 10 seconds. Or watching as Gareth Bale dribbles into a blind corner time and again — against the worst tackling team ever assembled, Bale only completed 10/22 attempted dribbles and lost possession more than any other Real Madrid player (11 times over 180 minutes). Those things are to be expected. Those are givens.

What isn’t a given is that two of the most well endowed teams in all of sport would put together such a limp performance. Perhaps I’m being harsh. Perhaps the semi-final between Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid was such a tense tactical battle with so many personal moments of brilliance that my expectation levels were artificially elevated. But if Real Madrid think they are going to win the Champions League with another performance like the ones they just put in, I expect Atletico Madrid to win the title easily.

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