Monday, 16 January 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog Number 13

           Number 13                                                                                         January 16 2017

“Possession is nine tenths of the law”.

 Lies, damned lies and football statistics

There is now a plethora of companies producing football data which I presume is accurate but as I have written before, the only two vital statistics in football are the result and the league table. Sky Sports News, the BBC Sports web site and the sports pages of the daily newspapers use statistics to pad out programmes and columns. They are eye-catching in tabulated form and easy for the reader to follow. The pundits make a great deal of the “possession stat” yet Blackburn beat Newcastle earlier this month with 33% possession. On Super Sunday this weekend, Everton (with 29% possession) stuffed Manchester City 4-0. Southampton outplayed Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final with a mere possession percentage of 32. And if you think these are exceptions to the rule, what about Leicester City in 2015-16. They had 40.9% possession over the season and won the title by 10 points. They simply played on the break. To balance the argument however, Manchester United’s cakewalk against a timid Hull City in the League Cup resulted in an easy 2-0 victory for the Reds, winning the possession battle 64%-36%. Chelsea, 4-1 cup winners against Peterborough, had exactly the same possession as United and Tottenham destroyed West Brom on Saturday, dominating the game to such an extent that the Albion’s possession count was down at 27%. This is the statistic that one would traditionally expect from a one-sided score line and I am sure there are goalkeepers amongst you who have scrambled to be first in the shower, freezing cold on a miserable wet day because you have scarcely touched the ball as your team racked up an easy victory. So does majority possession lead to regular wins? Saturday’s results tell us nothing as 3 of the 7 winning sides dominated the ball whilst 4 did not. I suppose the answer to the question is “only sometimes…...when you use the possession productively”. It is slowly dawning on me that I am using statistics to prove that statistics don’t work, particularly in modern football when there are different ways of winning a game. But was it not ever thus? How many of you remember England v Poland in 73 when Brian Clough, sitting on the ITV panel, repeatedly told us that the Polish keeper was a “clown in gloves”? The Poles hardly touched the ball, Hunter gave the ball away on the half-way line and they drew 1-1. Farewell the sacked Sir Alf Ramsey, good-bye World Cup.

Manchester United FC: their Finest Hour

When a club has won 40 major trophies in its history, it is not easy finding its finest hour but it had to be at the end of the Millennium. Ferguson’s Reds dominated the 90s and by August 1998 they had won 4 Premier League Titles, 3 FA Cups, and I League Cup during the decade. The elusive jewel in the crown was the Champion’s League Trophy of course but the granite hard Scot longed to “do the impossible”; win the genuine treble. The FA Cup/League double had been won 8 times in 110 years including twice by Ferguson’s team. Since 1956 it had been possible to win the treble as the European Cup brought a new dimension to English football. Even though Liverpool won this particular trophy on 4 occasions in the 70s and 80s, they never quite achieved the ultimate although they were a whisker away when they fell short in the final of the 1977 FA Cup. Their treble denying victors at Wembley were none other than Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United, 2-1 winners courtesy of goals from strikers Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff. Back to the 1998-99 season, United had to wait until the very last game to clinch the League, beating Spurs 2-1 at Old Trafford. The highlight had been an 8-1 away win against Nottingham Forest when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, coming on as a substitute, scored 4 times in 10 minutes. Six days later they clinched the double beating Newcastle United at Wembley although it is Giggs’ stupendous dribble and shot in the semi-final that everyone remembers. He left the whole of Arsenal’s formidable back 4 floundering on their backsides from where they watched the ball fly past Seaman into the roof of the net. Four days later the eyes of the football world were on Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium as Manchester took on Munich in the Champion’s League Final. The teams had qualified from the same group, both matches resulting in draws. For the majority of the game, Bayern were in control, scoring direct from a Basler free kick after 6 minutes, the woodwork and Peter Schmeichel preventing further goals. Without the suspended duo of Keane and Scholes, the English side struggled to find a toe-hold in the game and Ferguson took off Yorke and Cole, replacing them with Sheringham and Solskjaer.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer; the baby faced assassin

As the clock ticked towards the final minute of time added on, a Sheringham scuffed shot from a Beckham corner found its way into the Bayern net and within seconds of the re-start Beckham launched another corner. Again there was a scramble and Ole Gunnar toe poked the ball into the roof of the net. United’s first Champions’ League victory since 68 had been secured, as was of course the elusive treble. You will surely remember where you were on that historic night. I was meeting our new Head Teacher at school for the first time and missed the whole game. Hopefully the rest of you saw Manchester United’s finest hour.

 Performances of the last week

Preston North End 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 0 (EFL Championship)

Unbeaten in all games for 4 months, Brighton were a difficult obstacle for PNE on Saturday but goals by Huntington and Robinson gave them a comfortable victory against the table toppers. The centre back’s header came from yet another inch perfect free kick from Paul Gallagher and Robinson was able to latch on to a defence-splitting pass from the impressive debutant Daryl Horgan, signed last week from League of Ireland side Dundalk. There is still a 6 point gap to the play-off places but North End is edging closer and closer.

Bury 5 Peterborough United 1

Without a win in 20 games, it seemed a case of déjà vu when Peterborough opened the scoring after 4 minutes. However within 27 minutes, Bury were 4-1 up, all scored by James Vaughan. The club from the black pudding capital is currently trembling above the trap door but further similar performances will ensure that it remains closed and relegation is averted. As for Vaughan, (pictured below) he now has 14 league goals to his credit this season.
                                                                     James Vaughan;  
Everton 4 Manchester City 0 (Premier league)

City were favourites for this one so what a stunning result. There have to be deep seated problems at the Etihad and Guardiola looks a caricature of the man who once bestrode the world of football, his body language heralding an imminent nervous breakdown. City had 71% possession and 13 shots to their opponent’s 6, so they have problems at either end of the pitch. Everton however, with home grown youngsters to the fore, were a revelation. Still bit players in the race for Europe, but an uplifting afternoon for the Gwladys Street end.

 Manchester United 1 Liverpool 1 (Premier League)

The attention of the football world was on the North West this weekend but it turned out to be a “Super Sunday” for London. All 3 of the Red Rose County clubs dropped points as the Capital’s teams motored on. The Old Trafford game was certainly exciting, but yet another stalemate. It will now take a Herculean effort from United to win the title whereas Liverpool is still in the race..…just. Ibrahimovic however is definitely the king of the penalty area.

Games to look forward to this week

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League), Saturday January 21, 17.30.

The big games keep on coming for City but in Premier League terms, this may be the last chance saloon. Spurs are currently the darlings of the predominantly London-based media with Kane and Alli in magnificent form. There is excitement whenever Walker and Rose race down the flanks and Lloris in goal oozes competence. They will need to defend strongly if Aguero, Silva, De Bruyne and Sterling can find their form, but if it comes down to who is safest at the back, there is only one loser. Hopefully City can dig deep into their memory bank, remember what they do better than anyone else and give Tottenham the run around.

Aston Villa v Preston North End (EFL Championship), Saturday January 21, 15.00.

These two teams first met at Villa Park in 1889, the then unbeatable North End winning 2-0. There was only 1 league position between them that year, Preston finishing 1st, Villa having to be content with the runners-up slot. Now 128 years later, there is little to separate them again, but unfortunately it is in mid-table and sadly, one Tier lower down the pyramid. The press are still suggesting that Steve Bruce’s side can reach the play-offs so an in-form Preston definitely can. Saturday’s result will certainly influence those final placings.

Shrewsbury Town v Oldham Athletic (EFL Division 1) Saturday January 21, 15.00.

The relegation battle is beginning to look like any 4 from 5 with 3 points separating Shrewsbury (21st) and the Latics (23rd). Prior to Saturday, Oldham’s last league victory was on October 18th against table topping Scunthorpe United. If they are to escape the drop, they need to continue winning. Where better to begin than away to their fellow rivals in distress.

FC United of Manchester v Harrogate T (National League 1 North) Saturday Jan 21, 15.00.

When FCUM broke away from Old Trafford in 2005, comparisons were rife with AFC Wimbledon (now in the EFL League 1). This democratically run club was a sensation from the off, swamping tiny grounds with their huge following as they soared up the pyramid of non-league football. Since reaching Tier 6, progress has slowed and attendances have dipped, although they are still the fifth best supported club below the Football League. They are no longer nomads, having their own ground in North Manchester and Saturday’s game against mid table opposition could be a springboard to a late assault on the play-off places.

Stourbridge v Marine (Northern Premier League) Saturday January 21, 15.00

Stourbridge, the season’s giant killers, finally exited the FA Cup in Round 3 at Wycombe. It is now back to the bread and butter of league football and it may just be an opportunity for an inconsistent and sometimes misfiring Marine side to catch them on the rebound and grab the points. The Crosby side last tasted league defeat over 2 months ago and a victory against a headline-making side will look good on manager Sean Hassey’s “CV”.

Quiz of the Week (Answers at the foot of the Blog)

All of the answers have Red Rose County connections
      1           What nationality is Morgan Schneiderlin who has just signed for Everton?

                                  Morgan Schneiderlin; pictured in a Manchester United shirt

2                    Who was manager of Bolton Wanderers when they dropped into the EFL 1st Division last May?

3                    Which current Manchester United player is Wigan Athletic’s record transfer sale?

4                    With which club did Kevin De Bruyne sign for on a permanent basis between playing for Chelsea and Manchester City?

                                       Kevin De Bruyne; flop at Chelsea, fabulous at City

5                    The name of which Manchester Premier League club  describes the exact geographical location of a Premier League club?

6                    The ex-England Assistant manager Derek Fazackerley holds the record for most appearances at which Red Rose county club?

7                    Which Englishman with Red Rose County connections was voted European Player of the Year in 1978 and 1979?

8                    Morecambe have scored 4 goals in only 1 league game this season. This was on January 7 against which team from the bottom 4 of Division 2?

9                    Aaron Burns has scored 22 goals this season in the Northern Premier League 1 North for which Red Rose County club?

10                Who in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final in Istanbul, missed a second half penalty for Liverpool but scored from the rebound?

Post Weekend Musings

Liverpool is asking a fee of £20million for Mamadou Sakho. Good luck if they can get it but I am amazed that they believe anyone will pay that amount for a French international with a poor off the field disciplinary record. He was briefly suspended by UEFA for taking a banned substance (a fat burner) and has only played 56 first team games in 3 and a half years. The ex-PSG hard man is a strong defender and accurately passes the ball. He was a cult figure in France where he was nicknamed “la bete” – beast, but you have to ask questions if he cannot find a spot in Liverpool’s sometimes leaky defence. £20million…..seriously? But what do I know, because Everton has just bought Morgan Schneiderlin who has only featured briefly in 3 Premier League games at Old Trafford this season. The fee is £22million. Crazy!!
                                                  Mamadou Sakho; Liverpool obviously “want rid”.
The Checkatrade (EFL) Trophy has proved to be a disappointment for the Red Rose County clubs as its last 2 representatives, Blackpool and Oldham Athletic, went out in the last 16. Only 766 fans turned up at Bloomfield Road as the Seasiders went out on penalties to Wycombe Wanderers and Oldham, supported by 149 travelling fans, lost 2-0 at Mansfield Town. The League needs a rethink about next year’s competition because the inclusion of 16 Tier 1 and 2 U/21 sides (only Swansea City remain) has not attracted the crowds.

Twelve days into 2017, the Red Rose County has its first managerial sacking. Stephen Robinson has left Oldham Athletic with the club bottom of EFL Division 1. Having scored just 12 goals in 24 games, there was no surprise in his departure. John Sheridan, who resigned at Oldham in June to go to Notts County where he was sacked a week ago, returns to replace him. Confused? It’s the old managerial merry-go-round, turning, turning, turning.

So Burnley made a profit of €40million for 2015, a year which began with relegation from the Premier League and ended with Sean Dyche preparing the team to challenge for and ultimately achieve a return to the top division in the following May. It’s a good financial performance from a club which for years has kept its feet firmly on the ground, enabling it to remain stable in the tumultuously crazy world of professional football. The standout statistic however is that their profit margin was the fifth highest for the whole of Europe. And still on Burnley, Joey Barton comes back to Turf Moor, comes on as sub and scores the winner against Southampton. I wonder what odds the bookies gave him on that bet.

There was encouraging Red Rose County news from the non-league world on Saturday, starting with Barrow defeating Matlock Town 3-2 to reach the last 16 of the FA Trophy. In the Northern Premier League 1 North, Burscough beat Brighouse 2-1, their second victory on the bounce to harbour hopes that they may complete the great escape from the foot of the table. Lancaster City is now 6 points clear at the top following a 3-1 win at Scarborough Athletic. Colne won 2-1 at 2nd placed Ossett Town with an injury time winner to move up to 8th in the league and Prescot Cables hammered Ossett Albion 5-0 to move away from the relegation zone. In the North West Counties Premier Division, Red Rose clubs Bootle and Atherton Collieries are now 1st and 2nd, with the Wigan side slight favourites for promotion. Finally in the West Cheshire League, Liverpool side Mossley Hill are now the league leaders.

Tier 11 Club of the Week

Royton Town; more entertaining than Manchester United?

Lying between Oldham and Rochdale in the foothills of the Pennines, Royton is an ex-cotton mill town with a population of around 20,000. Their football team was promoted to the Manchester Premier League in 2002 and it has been champions once and runners-up once - last season. The good form has continued, particularly when playing at home on the 4G pitch at Oldham Academy North in Royton. They are currently in fourth place behind Wythenshawe Amateurs, Springhead and Rochdale Sacred Heart, having a 2-0 victory over RSH during their current unbeaten 8 game run. In September, when his former club was going through a sticky patch, The Daily Mail reported that the legend that is Paul Scholes said, “I get more satisfaction from watching Royton Town than Manchester United”.

                     Oldham Academy North; in the shadow of Royton’s industrial heritage.

Quiz Answers

1        French, 2 Neil Lennon, 3 Antonio Valencia, 4 Wolfsburg, 5 East Manchester, 

6    Blackburn Rovers, 7 Kevin Keegan, 8 Notts County, 9 Trafford, 10 Xabi Alonso,

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