Robbie Brady – why he should be Liverpool’s LB target

Robbie Brady has been relegated from the premier league twice in a row – first with Hull, now with Norwich. Hardly seems like the type of player a team with Liverpool’s ambition should be targeting. But frankly, he is one of the most underrated and unjustly not talked about player around today.

Last season Brady was one of Norwich’s best players – be that at Left Back, left wing, right wing or right back. And at Hull and for the Ireland national team had also played central midfield and number 10 as well. This versatility would undoubtedly be useful.

But frankly, enough about his versatility, what about quality. According to Squakwa he was Norwich’s best player this season bar none, best defence score for any full back and best attack score bar none. Admittedly Norwich’s attack wasn’t great but for a player who played primarily at LB to be the most impactful attacking threat is very impressive. For Hull the story is similar as well.

What about fitting into Klopp’s system? Klopp has always liked (at least) one full back to be a wide playmaker of sorts – not limited to crossing but also linking with central players. Grosskreutz, Durm, Schmelzer and now Moreno have been the primary beneficiaries of this and Brady fits this role perfectly – he ability to play infield has made him very comfortable cutting inside and acting like be a number 10, and it works! Playing quick clever balls to the likes of Jarvis and Hoolahan before dropping back wide and deep to enable an overlap later on.

Drawbacks? He isn’t great at maintaining possession, but with the high pressing, counterattacking style Liverpool currently enjoy that isn’t to much of an issue. The biggest Issue I forsee isn’t actually a footballing one – It’s an image one. Signing a player from a relegated club doesn’t exactly come with prestige, nor scream ambition – regardless of quality (see the criticism of the Wijnaldum and Gueye signings by Liverpool and Everton respectively). But frankly, I don’t care – if a signing improves the squad it shouldn’t matter where they came from. Diafra Sakho came from the French second division and lit up the EPL, Barca singed Marlon for the B team from Fluminense and he’s played so well in pre-season I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a little first team action.

Overall the best thing about Brady will be the price and how achievable it will be – Norwich have been relegated so will have reduce their wage bill and Brady will likely want to return to the top flight quickly. With a deal like this, there will be no transfer saga (cough Hector cough) while he decides which top flight, competitive club he likes more. And Brady wouldn’t preclude signing a new, more defensive LB as well – again using Hector as the example, Hector often played as a DM this season (the position Can needs a partner in) leaving Brady and Moreno to LB – Hector moving over when needed. Likewise Brady could easily cover the attacking midfield three leaving Hector and Moreno LB. The possibilities resulting from having such versatile players are great.

Overall, the signing of Brady has no significant downsides. Even if he doesn’t replace Moreno, competition and cover is just as much an issue. As a good, versatile, risk-free signing for LB, Robbie Brady is surely the perfect choice.

Why on earth have Barca signed Andre Gomes.

In the past few days (former) Valencia attacking midfielder Andre Gomes on a long term contract. The question on most people’s mind in why.

Gomes has primarily played up till now as a number 10 – and with Barca almost always playing 433 there is no natural fit for him. Granted he has played in a pivot before so would likely be comfortable in the midfield 3 for Barca, and sometimes has played wide as well. So he can fit in with a little compromise.

But It isn’t like Barcelona actually need anyone of that mould – swap Gomes for Rafinha Alcantara and its all still true. Turan can also play the offensive midfield roles, so can Denis Suarez and Sergi Roberto. Even Busquets and Sergi Samper are capable there, even if the holding role is a more natural fit.

So thats 6 capable BACKUPS! Because the starting offensive midfielders (Iniesta and Rakitic) haven’t even been mentioned yet!

Out wide the situation isn’t much better – Turan, Rafinha, Denis Suarez, Munir and Sergi can all play wide, with the immovable objects of Messi and Neymar having both wide roles locked down.

Gomes isn’t going to take a starting spot from any of Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi or Neymar. Rafinha and Turan are both better centrally, Suarez and Turan (again) better wide. Gomes joining really doesn’t add up.

Then question then takes another turn – he’s 22. Maybe he’s a signing for the future. Possible in a round-about way, but he cost £45 million! Backups for youth development aren’t even close to that expensive – 22 isn’t even that young in football terms.

 

It’s also not like recent form is on his side either, Valencia (Gomes included) were largely awful last season. Going through 4 managers in quick succession and finishing as low as 12th after flirting with a relegation fight. Then you compare him to his competition at Barca next season (based on La Liga):

Screenshot from 2016-07-22 19-38-15.png

Summed up: worst, best, worst, worst, second worst, third worst, third worst, second worst.

In fact if you add up on a points system (best = 5, worst = 1)

the ranking ends up like this:

  • 1. Rafinha (32 points)
  • =2. Turan (25 points)
  • =2. Roberto (25 points)
  • 4. Suarez (20 points)
  • 5. Gomes (18 points)

 

So that makes Andre Gomes statistically Barcelona’s WORST attacking midfielder. It’s even worse than it sounds as well – two of the times he came bottom are total score and possession score. Total score speaks for itself – all things considered he played badly (not unlike the rest of Valencia). But the fact the possession score is (very) bad as well, yet he pitched up at Barca of all places is baffling. Admittedly Barca are now more direct than they were under Pep and Tito but they still dominate possession in almost every single game.

The story in the recent EURO 2016 is similar – expected to be the driving force in the midfield alongside players like Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho, instead he drifted off into obscurity and everyone forgot about him.

 

Frankly I could go on for pages about why Gomes isn’t close to being good enough for £45 million but that isn’t the question. The question is why did he sign – now I will put forward my suggestion:

So Real Madrid Couldn’t.

Real Madrid had been linked to Andre Gomes for weeks, with even Zidane himself talking him up. Suddenly though, after almost no speculation or links, he’s announced as a Barcelona player.

Look back to 31 March 2015. Danilo was announced as a Real Madrid played in March after months of speculation he would be the replacement for the (assumed leaving at that point) Dani Alves.

The circumstances were odd – Announcing a transfer in late march, about as far from a transfer window as possible, for an exorbitant fee after little indication of interest from either party. Real Madrid didn’t need a RB – Carvajal is one of the best in the world, Arbeloa was a good backup and Nacho could easily slide across.

Instead Real Madrid signed a unneeded player for huge money largely because it would be a blow to Barcelona. Now Barcelona have signed a unneeded player for huge money largely because it would be a blow to Real Madrid.

 

Do Barca need Andre Gomes? No, but stopping Real Madrid from strengthening appears reason enough for Barca.

 

All stats per Squawka.com

What happens to international football if Catalunya gains independence? Part 1.

For those of you who don’t know Catalunya is a very industrial area of Spain containing most notably Barcelona which has been attempting to gain independence from Spain for years now. Catalan flags hang from most windows and petitions are regularly on the street. What is less well known is that they actually have a separate football team from Spain (though for tournaments they come together) – The question I pose here is what would happen if they gained independence today? How would the Spanish team suffer and how well would the Catalan team compete?

First lets build a squad:

Squad number Name Club Position(s)
1 Kiko Casilla Real Madrid GK
2 Martin Montoya Barcelona RB
3 Gerard Pique Barcelona CB
4 Jordi Amat Swansea CB/DM
5 Sergio Busquets Barcelona DM/CM
6 Joan Verdu Released from Levante RW/AM/LW/CM
7 Bojan Krkic Stoke AM/ST/RW/LW
8 Victor Sanchez Espanyol CM/DM
9 Sergio Garcia Al-Raayan ST
10 Cesc Fabregas Chelsea CM/AM
11 Jonathan Soriano RB Salzburg ST
12 Alberto de la Bella Soceidad LB
13 Pau Lopez Espanyol GK
14 Piti Rayo Vallecano LW/RW
15 Marc Bartra Borussia Dortmund CB
16 Sergi Samper Barcelona DM/CM
17 Andreu Fontas Celta Vigo CB/DM
18 Jordi Alba Barcelona LB/LW
19 Gerard Deulofeu Everton RW
20 Sergi Roberto Barcelona CM/DM/RB/LB/RW
21 Marc Muniesa Stoke CB/LB/DM
22 Aleix Vidal Barcelona RB/RW
23 Jordi Masip Barcelona GK

Totalling:

3 goalkeepers,

5 centre backs,

4 full backs,

2 defensive midfielders,

4 offensive midfielders,

3 wide players,

2 strikers.

Plus of course of positional versatility – especially in players like Bojan and Sergi.

 

From this we can make a team:

Screenshot from 2016-07-04 10-00-49

Unsurprisingly, the Barcelona connection is strong – every outfield player spent time in La Masia and 5 of them play for the first team today.

Largely this would play out like Barcelona play anyway – Alba and Vidal as offensive fullbacks, Fabregas being creative and free like Iniesta, Sergi the box-to-box runner in the role Rakitic plays, Bartra playing as he did prior to leaving and obviously Busquets and Pique playing the roles of Busquets and Pique. The Front 3 would work a little different – Bojan being the closest this team has to Messi except playing on the left and Deulofeu a true winger unlike Neymar.

Overall, this team would be a pretty impressive force on international stage – Pique, Alba, Busquets and Fabregas are all starters on the Spainsh national team, with Bartra, Vidal and Sergi having been in the squad in the last year (Bartra at EURO 2016).

The biggest issues this team would have would likely be at striker – Soriano and Garcia (though prolific) play in weaker leagues. If they fail to have an impact Bojan has spent a significant portion of the season for Stoke playing as a roaming centre forward, dropping deep at collecting the ball to run at the defence. And if that doesn’t work Fabregas played as a false nine for Spain (and sometimes Barca) for many years – its not preferable, but if needs must.

The only other issues that could be faced are the squad being slightly unbalanced – as many players are defensive leaving few CFs and wingers present, but that is largely caused by the other issue – depth. With players playing in leagues such as the Qatar star league and the La Liga Segunda B many of the backups are not to the standard of the starters. For example, as much as they are good players, Victor Sanchez, Andreu Fontas and Alberto de la Bella are a big step down from Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.

However the formation of this team may not even be the biggest fallout should these teams split – what happens to the Spanish team? That will be part 2.

Why England failed at EURO 2016.

Why England failed (again) at the Euros.

Here we go again, England are out after a underwhelming group stage and a outright failure in the first knock-out round. The Real question is why? Kane and Vardy scored about 25 goals each this season, Rose was in the PFA team of the year, Walker unlucky to miss out and numerous other players who should have taken us much further than they did.

Lets start with the defense – despite his atrocious performances on occasion is safe from criticism here: a good campaign with city and being England’s number 1 for years gives him familiarity. Forster was great for Southampton of course and maybe should have come in for the last game or 2, but from the start at least, he was the right choice.

What about the back four then? Again the selection was probably right – Walker was excellent and so was Rose (for England and Spurs) but the weak point was CB. Smalling had HUGE hype around him in the last year – throughout 2015 he was imperious Mike Smalldini as some fans referred to him as tailed off post January and while he was still good, great he was not. Cahill was equally not great – he lost his place to Kurt Zouma at the beginning of the season and only really was a regular this season because of his injury. Like 2016 Smalling he was fine, nothing better.

But frankly with the other options being Phil Jagielka and John Stones – both being walking defensive errors, again they were likely the right choices.

Now the midfield – oh boy this was bad. Dier was brilliant; alongside Walker the best players for England at the euros. The rest of the midfield… less so. Rooney puts a shift in – and though this is endearing to the public – his lack of short passing and technical ability made him a liability on occasion. The biggest issue with him being his passing speed on his long passes – it is SO slow! Gently lofting the ball towards the right channel repeatedly but not only was it predictable but even if they failed to predict it you could run the width of the pitch and intercept it before it ever reached its destination. Frankly seeing Rooney shouting a his team-mates to keep play moving faster was pretty ironic.

He isn’t a great CM, he isn’t the next Paul Scholes. In fact Rooney has become the new Lampard/Gerrard problem – both wedged ill-fittingly into the team to the detriment of everyone else (including Scholes). Now Rooney is doing the same thing – occupying a midfield berth that should have gone to a more suited player – Wilshere’s creativity, Milner’s work ethic (and underrated on the ball ability) shoul have started above him.

Dele Alli – better, but not good. He was the main threat from midfield – running from deep, receiving the ball at the edge of the box and making clever passes. But it never really came together for him. Him playing at N10 for Spurs has shown that that is his best position; yes though he began the season deep in midfield, he excelled later further forward – displacing Eriksen as Spurs’ central hub.

But that wasn’t the biggest issue. He looked tired for much of the time (like Kane later) and consequently his technical skill as well as his athletic ability suffered. His first touch was inconsistent, his passing equally so and his shooting wayward at best.

The forwards – Lallana was excellent. He played more like a more offensive Modric – always creating chances, opening space and getting the pass before the key pass. Otherwise it wasn’t good.

Sterling should have been selected based on his warm-up games considering he assisted every goal we scored then. But after his first game he should have been dropped instantly and not reinstated so quickly.

Kane (like team-mate Alli) looked tired and ineffectual. Nothing came off for him at the euros – he simply never looked fit nor comfortable (in the system). His alternatives (Vardy and Sturridge) didn’t fare much better though.

Vardy simply didn’t get to play how he wanted – he plays best in a pair with a second striker filling the space he leaves behind chasing long balls. His channel running and ability to chase a ball out wide before beating his man inside are his greatest strengths – and playing the disciplined, solely central role Hodgson asked of him was very different to this and completely nullified his abilities.

Sturridge again had little impact, though also not his fault. He is NOT a winger – he has shown this at liverpool playing a mixed, all round CF – not the RW position he has struggled with at every senior club he has played for.

But even this doesn’t explain our exit. The real issue lay with tactics – 433 was a mistake. Our best midfielder was a number 10 and we only brought 2 natural wide players (or 1 if you don’t count Lallana). The vast majority of players wanted Kane and Vardy playing up front together – and Hodgson tried to implement this in the last warm-up game against Portugal.

The lineup was

Hart, Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose, Dier, Alli, Milner, Rooney, Vardy, Kane

To the vast majority of people this looked like a diamond with either Alli or Rooney behind the front 2. But it wasn’t. It played out like this:

Screenshot from 2016-06-30 12-40-40.png

It had Rooney pushing so high up the field that Kane and Vardy had to play as wingers (in fact sky sports actually list it as a 433 with rooney at CF). This made both Kane and Vardy completely ineffective and as Rooney only came into the number 9 area by running from deep made him impact less as well.

Essentially this was what convinced Hodgson to avoid the diamond – and with good reason. England were stodgy and pretty bad. But the diamond wasn’t the issue, a traditional diamond would have been perfect – the only reason the diamond failed was it played like a striker deficient 433. If Alli had played behind a narrow Vardy and Kane, with Rose and Walker providing the width it would have worked against all the defensive teams we set up against due to the ability to overload the middle.

Essentially the issue was unlike Spain, Portugal, France and pretty much every other team in the euros, England didn’t have a set system and playing style. And Hodgson’s tactics of lets make it up as we go along simply doesn’t cut it on the biggest stages.

How Manchester City should line up next season

For Man City the attack didn’t need any improvement – the defence is what needs to be improved. 3/4 of these changes are to the defence starting with:

Fabinho: Linked last season to Manchester United but here moving to the other side of Manchester. Here mainly because of additional defensive solidity but also because of one other trait – his ability to play in holding midfield. Obviously this is useful for versatility but that’s not I valued it here; the more attacking player I added in the pivot (spoilers: It’s Gundogan) would leave space to be exploited; with Fabinho’s ability to protect to back 4 (or 3, I guess) centrally would help cover for this. Pep actually does something similar at Bayern – Lahm comes inside sometimes to cover for Vidal.

Kalidou Koulibaly: He has come off a great season with Napoli (like the rest of the team actually) and is now being extensively linked to various clubs (most often Arsenal – obviously). His passing is also excellent – Something Pep is known for liking – or more accurately requiring. He also has a strong physical presence – alongside Otamendi (or Kompany in the unlikely event he is fit) could be a powerful pairing at CB.

Juan Bernat: Unlikely to play that much of a role at Bayern with Alaba likely returning to LB under Ancelotti and with Badstuber and Rafinha able to play LB he is unlikely to be missed that much. For City however he would provide a powerful attacking presence on the left that could hopefully form a similar kind of chemistry that Sterling and Kolarov enjoyed at the beginning of the season.

Ilkay Gundogan: Gundogan has often been linked to city over the last year or so – but unlike most transfer rumours (like the time the Mirror linked Blackburn’s Junior Hoilett to Bayern) – this one actually makes sense. Here in a very similar role to that which he currently enjoys for Dortmund or running from deep to play in the spaces the more advanced playmaker (here Kevin De Bruyne) leaves behind (for an EPL focussed example watch Cazorla play for Arsenal – similar concept). Gundogan has shown this season why he had been linked to places like Barca in the past – one to watch in Euro 2016.

After all those changes the result is this:

 

Screenshot from 2016-05-23 17-30-07

Thoughts?

Tom Fedrick.

How Arsenal should line up next season

Virgil Van Dijk: He was linked extensively to arsenal over the course of last year – this was met with middling reception due to him playing in the SPL – a significant quality drop from the EPL. He then moved to Southampton and emphatically proved the doubters wrong having a phenomenal season replacing Toby Alderwiereld. In this Arsenal side he would be asked to play sweeper behind Koscielny’s aggressor – something he is more than capable of. His aerial ability would help in replacing Mertesacker as well.

Lassana Diara: I know what your thinking: Chelsea. Well so what? He’s a serial winner having the won the EPL, FA cup (twice), league cup, La Liga, the Copa del rey and finished runners up in the Coupe de France (which as PSG are streets ahead of everyone else is functionally equivalent to winning). Also he fits well – excellent passer and tackler plus can dribble as well (making him more than capable as a number 8). And no complaining he isn’t good enough – most Arsenal fans have been complaining they didn’t get Morgan Schneiderlin, well guess which one is in the Euro 2016 squad (hint: its not Schneiderlin).

Iker Muniain, I have to say I have been disappointed at his progression – 3 years ago when he was 19 or 20 he was brilliant and last season he had regressed. This season however (though injury hit) he has been back to his best – Dribbling and attracting defenders (leading to him earning lots of free kicks in areas Cazorla will relish), releasing the ball at excellent times (good passer as well) before darting back into space. His love of layoffs will also be loved by a lot of Arsenal’s players – especially who I’m suggesting should play up front…

Kevin Gameiro – loves short passes, running the channels, is lightning quick, brilliant at latching onto through balls and a wonderful finisher – not only do these characteristics suit arsenal very well, but can you imagine a player Ozil would enjoy playing with more? It would suit him perfectly. Honestly I’m surprised Gameiro hasn’t been linked to Arsenal – but he absolutely should.

With these four changes Arsenal end up lining up like this:

Screenshot from 2016-05-23 11-42-12

Thoughts?

Tom Fedrick

How Leicester City should line up next season

This team is not what I expect to happen, this is what I think would make and excellent XI that is both approaching a dream scenario but still well within the realms of possibility. New addition are written in all capital in the formation along with possible squad numbers.

First I shall explain my additions.

Kieren Trippier: He is second choice at Spurs currently but is by no means a bad player – swap him and Walker around and the difference in quality is tiny – hence Pochenttino doing so so often. However If Leicester did come for him the allure of playing every week as a guaranteed starter for the champions in the UCL would undoubtedly be alluring. For Spurs it wouldn’t be that big of an issue as they have DeAndre Yedlin returning from loan who has improved since going to Sunderland. Overall Trippier’s balance of impactful crossing and attacking ability along with the defensive nous he needed during Burnley’s (unsuccessful) relegation fight would make him an excellent choice.

Angel Correa: Probably the least likely to happen but would fit in very well. Atleti are often (somewhat inaccurately) referred to as Spain’s Leicester and though I don’t agree with the comparison in most cases I understand why it is being made. Both teams require defensive work rate and prefer to let the other team have the ball before hitting them on the counter (though for Atleti this is really just restricted to Real Madrid, Barca and Bayern). Tactically though he would slot in behind Vardy as a creative second striker/number 10 hybrid – dropping into midfield to clog central areas but also pressing high up the pitch when needed – essentially the role Okazaki plays right now; but with all respect to him, Correa is simply a better player.

Jese Rodriguez: The real wildcard here. Never before played in a team that requires defensive work from his wingers like Leicester do – and though his defensive work is fine – he will have to adapt. But if he did settle it would be a real boon for him – Vazquez is favourite of Zidane (and also from La Fabrica) and other competitors like Isco and James demanding games for political reasons plus the BBC being immovable objects game time will be small for Jese. At Leicester however he will be playing in the UCL as a vital part of the attack, using his searing pace and dribbling to lead counters alongside players like Vardy and Mahrez – improving with regular game time and likely threatening the national setup. Slotting in on the left and cutting inside (despite my personal opinion that being on the right suits him better and allows him to use his pace more effectively) the Leicester attack could be a force to be reckoned with.

With these three additions the result is this:

Screenshot from 2016-05-23 10-52-19

Thoughts?

Tom Fedrick