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Europe’s Best Goalscoring Partnerships

13 Mar

After writing about the Premier League’s best goal scoring partnerships a while back, I was inundated (one comment) with requests for something similar for other leagues. So, instead of signing up to do some accountancy exams that I’ve been putting off for 13 years, I decided the best way to spend some spare time would be to put together another list for absolutely no reward. I hope somebody somewhere enjoys reads this.

With the return to favour of partnerships such as Suarez and Sturridge, (#dare to) Zlatan and Cavani, and Negredo and Aguero, what better time to have a look back at some of the best partnerships before them. Having searched a whole two pages of Google without finding something exactly the same as this, I thought it was time to put together a combined list.

Rules and Workings

I’ve decided to go back 25 years to cover the 1988-89 to the 2012-13 seasons. Why 25 years? Well that just about covers my football watching memory and it’s a nice round number. I’ve decided to include just the Top four Leagues in Europe – the top divisions in England, Germany, Italy and Spain (based on European Trophies won).

A partnership is only considered so if both players (regardless of position)have scored at least 10 goals each. For this list, I’ve only combined those pairs with 30 goals or more, so sadly that would exclude van Wolfswinkel and Elmander’s herculean haul of 2 goals from this season. Tough break fellas.

A further blow to the Norwich duo’s chances are that this season’s partnerships are not included as they’ll instantly make this post out of date. Expect to see Suarez and Sturridge included in the next update in space year 2038.

Joking aside, as I type, Suarez and Sturridge have just hit their combined 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th goals of the season against Cardiff, so they definitely make it into the Top Partnerships list, but as the season hasn’t ended yet, their number is likely to change.

It’s worth noting that the German League has fewer games, and the other leagues have varied in number of teams.

And lastly, it’s league goals only.

The Stats

In all, there’s a whopping 221 instances of 30 goal partnerships in the Top Four European leagues over the last 25 completed seasons – actually a lot higher than I’d expected. Spain lead the way with 70, followed by England (61), Italy (49) and Germany (41). No real shock there as Germany has fewer games, as did Italy for a good chunk of the 25 seasons in question. In terms of clubs represented, there are a decent 61 (Spain 17, England 16, Italy 15 and Germany 13).

At the top end of the food chain are the mighty Real Madrid with a 30 goal partnership in 19 of the 25 seasons recorded. No wonder they win quite a lot. As you’d expect, anything they can do, Barcelona can almost do (that would make a catchy song), and the Catalans are second on the list with a healthy 17 partnerships represented. Aside from Spain, England have Man Utd and Liverpool in double figures (13 + 10), whilst somewhat surprisingly, it’s Bayer Leverkusen who lead the way in Germany with 10 partnerships making the 30 goal mark. For Italy, AC Milan are the team with the most deadly duos, featuring 8 times.

At the bottom end, there are 25 clubs with just one 30 goal partnership, sadly, my team don’t even have that. The likes of Coventry’s Dublin and Huckerby, are joined for their day in the sun by Villarreal’s Forlan and Riquelme (2004-05). And who could forget Bochum’s world famous Thomas Christiansen and Vahid Hashemian with their 31 goal haul in 2002-03. I know I certainly won’t.

The 50 goal club

As mentioned above, there’s a great deal of 30 goal partnerships, so many in fact, that I wonder why I used that number. So to get things going, here’s a list of those partnerships that scored at least 50 league goals in a season. Just to manage expectations – it’s a bit heavy with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Best Strike Partnerships (50 goals +)

In fact it’s basically La Liga’s greatest partnerships plus three others.

As its illegal not to mention both Ronaldo and Messi when speaking about the Spanish league, it’s worth having a quick look at their record in this list. Interestingly, both players have been part of a successful partnership as the second scorer – which is really what you’d have expected a few years back, with both players featuring out wide early on. Ronaldo’s first season in Madrid saw him form one of the most balanced partnerships on this list, with Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine banging in a decent 27 goals to the shy Portuguese’s 26. A pretty good debut season before the championship manager stats started kicking in. Messi’s season as the second scorer was in the 2008-09 season that saw Samuel Eto’o hitting 30 to Messi’s 23.

Man City fans may be surprised to see Edin Dzeko in 6th place with the wall decorating Brazilian Grafite (I’m sorry) making up the pair – the highest Bundeliga entry with 54 goals. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have combined for 30+ goals on two occasions, with the 2009-10 season seeing a combined 51 league goals for the Chelsea legends – albeit not a typical strike partnership. However, in first place for England are Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley with a whopping 55 – all for a promoted club too. Impressive stuff. Must have been before Cole needed five chances to score (Glenn Hoddle’s words, not mine).

Fans of 90s football will be disappointed not to see any Italian partnerships breaking the 50 goal mark but heartened to see the Original Ronaldo and (possibly the original) Luis Enrique with 51 goals in the 1996-97 season. Ronaldo who started the season aged just 19 would score 47 goals (all tournaments) in his only season with the Catalan giants. Damn you Gods of injury.

What is also interesting (depending on your definition), is that 11 of the 50 goal partnerships have been in the last five years – at a time when 4-5-1’s have become the norm. Although a lot of them are rather dependent on Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo being involved.

The number one partnership sees Ronaldo paired up with Higuain for the 3rd time to make a 50 goal mark. The winning season being 2011-12 when Mourinho’s men managed to break Barca’s dominance of La Liga. A phenomenal 68 league goals from just two players is quite frankly bonkers. Both Ronaldo and Messi feature in four 50 goal partnerships – Messi with 4 different partners, the big flirt.

Top 20 Partnerships By Country

I planned to show a top ten by country, but La Liga’s are already on show, and it would also mean leaving out the likes of Batistuta and Oliveira who thrived on Rui Costa’s assists in 1997-98. And because we haven’t featured much from Serie A just yet, now seems as good a time as any. So without further ado:

Serie A Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

Serie A Top Scoring Partnerships

Premier League/Division One Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

Premier League Top Scoring Partnerships

La Liga Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

La Liga Top Scoring Partnerships

Bundesliga Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

Bundesliga Top Scoring Partnerships v2

I know what you’re thinking – where’s Vialli and Mancini? They were undoubtedly a great strike partnership, but they were also playing in the most defensive era of a league known for being defensive. They’re best season together came in 1990-91 when they combined to score 31 league goals (ranked 35th in the Serie A charts).

There’s three entries from before the Premier League began in England, with Barnes and Rush scoring a decent 39 combined goals in the triumphant 1989-90 season for Liverpool.

Spain’s list sees the crowd pleasing entry of Romario and Stoichkov, who notched 46 goals in 1993-94 whilst the Bundesliga entry reminds us of just how good Roy Makaay was. In fact the Dutchman is one of a number of players who feature across multiple leagues, with the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldo (not a typo), Ibrahimovic, Eto’o, Raul and Berbatov (along with others).

 

Other Notes of Interest

Top 10 Teams are:

Real Madrid 19
Barcelona 17
Man Utd 13
Liverpool 10
Bayer Leverkusen 10
Arsenal 9
Bayern Munich 9
AC Milan 8
Valencia 7
Juventus 7

Most Featured Players:

Only 8 players have featured in five or more 30 goal partnerships and top spot doesn’t go to Messi or Ronaldo, but rather Raul who has been involved in 10 great partnerships. Across two countries, he scored goals with Morientes, Zamorano, van Nistelrooy (2), Ronaldo (2), Guti, Huntelaar, Higuain, and Suker. That’s impressive.

The other compatibles are Cristiano Ronaldo (7), Messi, Del Piero, Makaay, Eto’o, Berbatov, and Rooney (all five).

 

So there you have it, it’s not just the big man-little man partnership (Quinn-Phillips), or the classic goalpoaching number 9 and playmaking number 10 (Romario and Stoichkov) that make great partnerships. It can be wide men with false number 9s, a lone striker with an advanced midfielder (Torres and Gerrard/Drogba and Lampard) or if you’re lucky, it may even be Toni Polster and Bruno Labbadia (FC Koln 1994-95).

This season will see entries from Suarez and Sturridge, Ronaldo and Benzema, and Messi and Sanchez. Tevez and Llorente also stand a good chance of joining the elite club along with a few others

I’ll chuck the full list up in the coming days.

Cheers,

Liam

;

Notable ommissions – maybe other countries/world cups

Near miss

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La Liga Round 10

8 Nov

Some strange times in La Liga, as Ronaldo, Messi and Falcao all failed to score in the last round of fixtures, whilst at the same time, Real Betis fans are cheering on Sevilla – Salva Sevilla, a central midfielder who’s scored in his last two games for the club.

The lack of Ronaldo and Messi goals didn’t matter too much as both Real and Barca won, with Modric and Essien on the score sheet for the former. For Atleti, the lack of Falcao goals did hurt them as they went down 2-0 at Valencia, who opened the scoring through current average opposition leader Roberto Soldado (4 goals against an average of 7th). Falcao has scored almost half of Ateltico Madrid’s 22 La Liga goals this season in what has been a great start for both him and his club.

In terms of goals, last season’s Top three remain in order, with Falcao already equalling his number of goals against Top 6 opponents from last season. Along with Soldado, Pizzi also has four goals against an average ranked opponent of 7.00, whilst it’s Sevilla’s Negredo that is leading the way in the Top 6 stakes, with three stirkes against the best teams in the league (at the time of play).

In terms of team wins, whilst Barcelona have had their best start to a league season with 9 wins from 10, they’ve largely done it against the weaker teams, with five of those wins coming against teams in the Botton 6 – surely a very favourable fixture list to ease Tito into Pep’s rather large shoes. Real Madrid on the other hand have managed to beat an average ranked team of 11.00, with teams in the middle of the table, being beaten in the main, but surprisingly no Top 6 teams. City rivals and currently in second, Atletico Madrid lead the way against Top 6 teams with two wins already this season, though you expect them to somehow implode somewhere along the way – like the Man City of old, it’s in the club’s nature.

Real Sociedad have only managed three wins this season, and against an average ranked opposition of 17.00, it would appear as though there’s a struggle ahead. You should also fear for Mallorca. After starting the season in blistering fashion (three wins and two draws from the first 5 games), they’ve since lost five games in a row.

La Liga Round 7

9 Oct

As it’s only seven games into the new season, there’s not too much to say about the numbers so far, so here’s the stats after the weekend action. No surprise to see the to three players, which are the same as last season. What has changes though is Falcao has already scored two goals agaist Top 6 Opposition – the same amount that he managed for the whole of last season (including the decisive goal to beat high flying Malaga and put Atelti joint top). Add to that his hat trick against Chelsea in the European Super Cup, and it’s fair to say that he’s turning into a big game player.

Messi and his mate are both have two goals in the Top 6 column following Sunday’s el Clasico. In what was a thoroughly entertaining game, both teams walked away pretty happy with the draw – if you missed the highlights, click HERE. I fully expect Messi and Ronaldo to duke it out for the Top Scorer title again, but at the moment, it’s hard to pick up too much of a trend from only seven games (hence the reduced commentary).

2012-13 – Goals by Player

2012-13 – Points by Player

2012-13 – Clean Sheets by Team

2012-13 – Goals by Team

 

2012-13 – Conceded by Team

2012-13 – Wins by Team

2012-13 – Defeats by Team

Top 50 Big Game Scorers: 5-1

24 Sep

Here it is, the Top 5 Big Game Scorers in the history of Football. All are well known superstars, and after taking thousands of goals and matches into account, the top player is revealed. To see numbers 10-6, click here

5. Zinedine Zidane (France) 1988-2006 / 33 points – 10 goals

In at number 5 is the man that many believe was able to break the Maradona/Pele stranglehold on the best player of all time title. And part of that can be attributed to his performance in big games. Although an attacking midfielder, he wasn’t in the Maradona, Platini and Lampard gang of prolific scorers. In an 18 year professional career, he got double figures on just six occasions, with his highest season total being 12. However, as you probably know, he stepped up on the biggest stages. The most recent player to score in two World Cup Finals, Zizou scored a headed double in 1998 and then a pretty much perfect penalty in the 2006 Final against Buffon, which also had added pressure as he’d announced it would be his last game as a professional. What a great way to bow out….

And it wasn’t just the World Cup that he excelled in. The successful Euro 2000 campaign for France saw Zidane put his country through in the Semi Final against Portugal (who must have a deep dislike of him after he repeated the trick in the 2006 World Cup semi final). In club football, he was equally adept at stepping up in the biggest games, most notably in the 2002 Champions League Final where he did this:


A perfect volley into the top corner from a looping cross on his weaker foot? Not a problem. That goal also won the trophy for the Madrid. And whilst that was his most notable goal in a great club career, he also scored plenty of other significant goals. Many forget the semi final goal against bitter rivals Barcelona at the Nou Camp (seen here), whilst his time at Juventus was also memorable, if a touch unlucky as he lost two finals with the Turin giants. In the 1997 Champions League Semi Final, Zidane scored against Ajax, before scoring against Monaco at the same stage a year later, before going on to lose the finals to Dortmund and Real Madrid respectively. In fact, his Champions League campaigns involving Juventus generally didn’t end too well, with his former club knocking out Real Madrid at the same stage in 2003, despite Zidane’s goal in a 4-3 aggregate loss.

He was of course much much more than about goals, but the fact that he stepped up with so many high pressure big game goals, only added to the high regard he was held in. There’s a great article that makes a pretty good case for comparing Rivaldo to Zidane, and rightly so, however, doesn’t quite match Zidane’s achievements and ability to impact the very biggest games so consistently – surely something that warrants the Frenchman’s placing in the history of football.

Cesare Maldini when manager of the 1998 Italy World Cup squad said that he’d give up five of his players for one Zidane, but perhaps Franz Beckenbauer sums up Zidane the best:

Beckenbauer on Zidane “Zidane is one of the greatest players in history, a truly magnificent player…….Zidane is unique, The ball flows with him. He’s more like a dancer than a footballer

4. Ferenc Puskas (Hungary) 1943-1966 / 40 points – 15 goals

Yet another one of the dominant Real Madrid team of the 50s and 60s, Ferenc Puskas holds the distinction of scoring two hat tricks in the finals of the European Cup, in fact one of them was actually a four goal haul. He also had the distinction of playing for different countries at the World Cup – firstly Hungary and later on Spain. But more on that later.

A dominant part of three great teams, Puskas first came to prominence playing for the Hungarian military team Honved where he earned the nickname “the Galloping Major”, whilst playing alongside fellow Hungarian legends Czibor and Kocsis. He won five titles in his time with them and the golden boot in four seasons – including a 50 goal season in 1947-48, which was the highest in Europe. But it wasn’t with Honved that Puskas became known and feared around Europe, it was with his national team – the Mighty Magyars. He would eventually go on to score a massive 84 goals in 85 appearances for his (first country) and in that time they beat England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 away (unheard of then) as well as going on a 32 game unbeaten run that saw them win the 1952 Olympics (with Puskas scoring in the Final) that ended at the worst possible time – the 1954 World Cup Final. In the Final, Puskas showed his big game temperament once again as he put the favourites 1-0 up after just six minutes. That lead became 2-0 before West Germany managed to turn the game around and win 3-2 in a match that came to be known as the Miracle of Bern.

After leaving Hungary in 1956 on a tour around Europe, Puskas was one of many who refused to return to Hungary. As a result he received a 2 year ban from FIFA. Once the ban had ended, he was turend down by clubs in Italy and was denied a move to Manchester United before Real Madrid took a gamble on the overweight 31 year old. And it didn’t end too badly for him. In his first season, he scored two goals in the European Cup semi final against neighbours Atletico as Real went on to retain the trophy. The following year he really made his mark. In a semi final against rivals Barcelona, Puskas scored three goals over the two legs to put Real in their fifth straight Final – and it was in this Final that his legendary status at Madrid would be cemented. Facing Eintracht Frankfurt, Puskas scored four goals in a 7-3 win:.


And of course, he wasn’t done there. After a year off, Madrid were back in the final in 1962, and juts to prove it wasn’t a fluke before, Puskas scored another hat trick in the final – although unfortunately for him, he was facing a Eusebio inspired Benfica who scored five to his three. Not to worry though, him and Real Madrid won the trophy again in 1966 with the big 39 year old striker scoring four goals in one game against Feyenoord along the way.

So a World Cup Final goal, an Olympic Final goal, and two European Cup Final hat tricks. That pretty much settles any debate (if there was any). He went on to manage several teams, most notably taking Panathinaikos to the European Cup Final in 1971 (the only time a Greek club has ever reached that stage) and in 2002, the Hungarian national team stadium was renamed in his honour.

3. Pele (Brazil) 1956-1977 / 40.5 points – 13 goals

Where to start with Pele? How about some modest words from the man himself: “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pele”. Well he is the only man to have won three World Cups, but personally, I wanted to be Tony Cottee. Even still, he is generally considered to be one of the holy trilogy of the greatest of all time. Scorer of over 1,000 goals, Pele will be judged by some due to never playing in European leagues – though this wasn’t necessarrily his fault, like Eusebio, Pele was banned from leaving Brazil – certainly in his prime anyway. As you’d expect, 3 World Cups + Brazil’s all time top scorer (77) = some big game goals.

A truly innovative player who’s near misses are almost as famous as his goals (this is the best one, but there’s also the halfway line shot and the Banks save), Pele burst onto the global scene during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Aged just 17, Pele scored six times, all in the knock out stages. First up was the winner as Wales were defeated 1-0 in the Quarters. From then, things really took off. Facing Just Fontaine’s France (the only player to outscore him at that tournament), Pele scored a hat trick in a 5-2 win – proving to be the difference on the day. And the momentum kept going as in the Final the teenager did this:

One of two days that day, Brazil won their first World Cup and a legend was born. He played and scored at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cup’s but injuries (fouls) robbed him of playing the full tournament. In fact the “attention” he was receiving from opposition defenders in 1966 led him to declare that he’d never play in the World Cup again. Luckily for us, Brazil and the 1970 World Cup, he changed his mind – spearheading the Brazil team considered to be the best in history. Scoring four goals along the way, including the opener in the Final, Pele also racked up five assists, including two in the 4-1 win over Italy to win their third title and the Jules Rimet trophy for keeps. It was his crowning performance in what was a glittering career:


He also did pretty well for his club team Santos as well. Although not quite as prolifc as Alberto Spencer, Pele did end Penarol’s dominance in the tournament as Santos became just the second team to win the tournament in 1962. With the two legged final ending level on aggregate, Santos had the returning Pele for the Play Off, and he didn’t disappoint with two goals in a 3-0 win for the Brazilians. A year later he was even more deadly, scoring a four goals in the two legged semi against Jairzinho’s Botafogo (including a hat trick in the away leg), before scoring again in the second leg of the final against Argentina’s Boca Juniors to claim his and Santos’ second title. In what was a good tournament for Pele, he also won the golden boot in the 1965 season.

Since retiring from football, he’s made a good career in comedy by getting into very public arguments with Maradona (who doesn’t?), saying that Nicky Butt was the player of the 2002 World Cup and doing adverts for viagra even though he made it very clear that he never need to use one. As entertaining as that’s all been, very few have or will ever be able to entertain on the pitch the way Pele did. A complete original, a genius, prolific in front of goal, provider of great goals, and inventor of iconic moments. He’s best summed up by Italy’s defender in the 1970 Final, Tarcisio Burgnich:

I told myself before the game, ‘he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else’ — but I was wrong

2. Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina) 1945-1966/ 45 points – 19 goals

Much of what was said for Puskas can be repeated for his strike partner Di Stefano – apart from serving for the Hungarian Army that is. It’s more the games scored in then, and the fact that like Puskas, Di Stefano wasn’t particularly bothered about his nationality – also appearing for Spain as well as his native of Argentina, and also for one time home, Colombia. He also qualified for Italy.

Di Stefano spent 11 seasons with Real Madrid after playing for River Plate of Argentina and Millonarios of Colombia, despite not signing until he was 27. But it could have been very different – Di Stefano was destined for Madrid’s great rivals Barcelona until complications allowed Real to nip in at the last minute to at first share him with the Catalan club before eventually owning him outright. At one point there was a scenario where he’d play alternate seasons for each club – it’s hard to imagine that’d work out too well today. And Barcelona’s loss was certainly Real Madrid’s gain as the capital club went on to win the first five European Cups in a row, and whilst Puskas’ input was instrumental, no one had a bigger hand in the era of dominance than Di Stefano. Of the five European Cup wins from 1956 to 1960, Di Stefano scored in every single Final – including a hat trick in the 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

And it wasn’t just the Finals that he excelled in. Starting with inaugural tournament in 1955-56, where there were just 16 teams competing, Di Stefano scored in the semi final win over AC Milan (5-4 agg) before going on to score Madrid’s first goal in the final against Stade Reims as they won 4-3 against Hibernian’s conquerors. A year later he repeated thhe trick with a semi final strike against Matt Busby’s youngsters before going on to score the first goal in the Final win against Fiorentina. And his knack of scoring important goals would continue into the next season. After a hat trick against Hungarian’s Vasas in the semi final, Di Stefano scored Madrid’s first goal for the third conscutive Final – this time an equaliser against AC Milan, in a 3-2 win. The 1959 Final saw him score against Stade Reims who would no doubt be sick of the sight of him, this time in a 2-0 after he scored both home and away in the semi final win against city rivals Atletico Madrid. And the fifth and final consecutive European Cup win was arguably the best, with a famous 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Di Stefano once again scored Madrid’s opener and in fact their second as well, on the way to a hat trick in a match considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. Perhaps just as importantly, he scored a brace in the semi final win over Barcelona. In what was a recurring pattern, not only would he score important goals, but he’d also step up in the games against rivals – with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid on the end of his goals.

So there you have it, the Alberto Spencer of the European Cup and undobtedly a big game player. The only disappointment was that he only did it in one competition. Everyone else in the Top 10 scored in multiple competitions, with most impacting the World Cup. Unfortunately for Di Stefano, Argentina refused to participate at the 1954 tournament, Spain failed to qualify in 1958 and he was injured for the 1962 edition – meaning Di Stefano would join a list of greats never to play on the biggest stage with the likes of George Best, George Weah, Ryan Giggs and Julian Dicks.

And it wasn’t just his playing career that was eventful, moving into management, he memorably led both Boca Juniors and River Plate to national league titles, whilst in Spain he won the League, the cup and European Cup Winners Cup with Valencia. However, he couldn’t quite replicate that success with his beloved Real – finishing second in the league, the Copa del Rey, the Cup Winners Cup, Supercopa de Espana and the Copa de la Liga – five runners up medals!

Eusebio described the Blonde Arrow as “the most complete footballer in the history of the game”. Not a bad way to be described if you’re a footballer.

1. Gerd Muller (Germany) 1963-1981 / 51 points – 16 goals

And at number one is a player that scored 68 goals in 62 Internationals for his country, and who scored in the Final and Semi Finals of the three biggest tournaments possible. Gerd Muller, known as ‘Der Bomber’ was a prolific striker for every team he played for and in every competition. In total, he scored 655 goals in just 709 games – and these don’t include the types of goals that Romario counted, these were real goals. He was top scorer in the European Cup, The World Cup, the European Championships, the Bundesliga, and probably in training too, yet he’s never seriously considered when talking about the second tier of greats – after Pele, Maradona and Zidane, people tend to discuss Cruyff, Best, Charlton, Di Stefano and plenty of others, but never Muller (certainly not in England anyway). Yet he was the most reliable and devastating player of his generation.

He won the Bundesliga four times, the German Cup four times and the European Cup three times (in a row), among other trophies. You could point out that he was playing for Bayern Munich but when he joined them (in 1964), they were still in the second division having won a single title in the 1930s. It’s fair to say that he played a massive part in the history of Germany’s super club.

So on to the goals, the first of his big game strikes was in 1970 World Cup. Aged 25, Muller scored a double in “The Game of the Century” – not a bad way to introduce yourself to a global audience. Unfortunately for Gerd, it was in a 4-3 defeat to Italy. He scored two goals in extra time which in any normal circumstances should have been enough to win a game, not in that game though, as Italy scored three. He did at least finish the tournament as the Top Scorer with 10 goals, including the winner in an epic quarter final against 1966 conquerors, England. Regarded as a better team than the 1966 champions, Muller capped off a comeback from 2-0 down to put West Germany through. He wasn’t to be denied though, and four years later, on home soil he would have his moment of glory. After scoring in the Final Group stage games against Yugoslavia and then the winner against Poland in what was effectively a semi final, this happened:

Although he didn’t quite get the golden boot, he did score the winning goal in the final against Johan Cruyff’s much fancied Holland, and in scoring his 14th World Cup goal, he became the top scorer in World Cup history – a record that stood for 32 years until Ronaldo took the crown (it took him an extra World Cup). That made it an impressive double as Muller also top scored as West Germany won Euro ’72, including two goals in the Final against Russia. Before that he’d scored a double against Belgium to put his country through.

For his club team, Bayern won three consecutive European Cups from 1974-1976 and Muller was once again instrumental in all three wins. The 1974 tournament saw him score in the semi final against Dozsa of Hungary before they faced Atletico Madrid. After the Final ended 1-1, Bayern won the replay 4-0 with a brace from our man Muller. And to prove that he wasn’t just the poacher he was made out to be, he scored two brilliant goals, one from a van Basten-esque angle after a great first touch, and the second a classy lob that he really should have taken more time on:

A year later, he and they faced Don Revie’s Leeds team led by Billy Bremner in France. Despite only finishing the German league in 10th positon, Muller and his team mates managed to shake off their poor domestic form to win 2-0 – Muller scoring the second. It was a game remembered for some unusual refereeing decisions, but Muller didn’t care as he and his team mates won their second successive European Cup. And a year later, they were celebrating again – this time beating Saint Etienne. This time Muller didn’t score in the final, instead saving his impact for the semi finals against Real Madrid – scoring once away and twice at home as Bayern knocked out the one time dominant force in the competition.

He was also known mistakenly as “Short Fat Muller” after a hilarious lost in translation moment, but what was never in doubt was his ability to influence the biggest games in football. Pressure was not an issue for him.

He was quite simply the most prolific big game scorer that’s ever played football.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Season Review: 2011-2012

9 Jul

Next up in the season reviews is the Spanish League. More specifically, Real Madrid, Messi, Ronaldo and a few others. Okay, maybe not as blatant as that, but with the season’s that they’ve had, it’s going to be hard to look past them on all of the calculations. But I’ll give it a shot…

It was of course a record breaking season in Spain’s top flight, Barcelona beat the previous record of 107 goals with some breath taking attacking play, unfortunately for them, Real Madrid scored more than them with a jaw dropping 121. Madrid also beat Barca’s 99 point haul with 100, and Messi scored 50 league goals on his own – more than 13 of the teams in the League. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was a very weak league, but with the showings of Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, and with Barca and Real in touching distance of an El Classico Champions League final, the standrad is still sky high. But I’m here to look at the stats from how players and teams did based on their opposition. If you want a very good season review by a proper journalist then click here. So without further ado – the statistics.

Goalscoring

Big Game Players – Messi, 17 goals versus Top 6 opponents, and Da Costa, Average Oppostion 8.40

Despite what you may think, this is actually a surprise win for Messi. Throughout the season, based on opposition based on the time of play, Cristiano Ronaldo has led the scoring vs Top 6 from almost start to finish. However, this review is based on the final positions, meaning that hat tricks against Atleti and Malaga (both ranked 8th at the time of play) translate into 6 more goals against Top 6 teams based on final positions:

That’s 17 goals in 10 games against the other Top 6 teams. That’s ridiculous. But, and it’s a big but (not in the Jennifer Lopez way), he didn’t score against Real Madrid. And for those that incorrectly think there’s only two decent teams in Spain, it’s a glaring ommision for Messi. No surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo was in second with an almost as brilliant 13 goals against the big teams. The Madeira born winger scored against all of the teams in the Top 6, including crucially, the winner against Barcelona in the Nou Camp – which ultimately settled the whereabouts of the League Title. Big Game performances for a man often accused of not doing it. Add to that the brace he scored in the Champions League semi final, and a further brace against Holland in the Euros, and all of a sudden, it’s clear that he’s not just a flat track bully that some would have you believe.

Real Betis’s Castro Martin (left) is the best of the rest with a very decent 6 goals – impressive considering that Betis finished in 13th position. He scored three goals against Barcelona, two against Valencia and one against Malaga.

In terms of those with the highest average ranked opponent per goal, that honour (and it is an honour), goes to Rayo Vallecano’s Diego Da Silva Costa with 8.40. Although only 23, the Brazilian forward is somewhat of a journeyman, with 7 clubs under his belt so far. On loan from Atletico Madrid, he managed a very impressive 10 goals from 15 starts, including strikes against Top Sixers, Valencia, Malaga and Levante. Such was his dislike of the small occasions, he only scored once against the teams at the bottom of the table. Three strikes against Osasuna and Sevilla just outside the Top 6, helped his average up.

Castro Martin’s average was also suitably impressive with 8.81 – bouyed by the 6 goals mentioned above, against the elite teams, whilst Alexis Sanchez was the only other player with 10 goals or more to have an average under 10.00

Of course, for every player that thrives in the big games, there’s another who bottles it.

Flat Track Bullies/Big Game Bottlers

Below is a list of the players with the most goals against the Bottom 6 teams. I’ve taken out Messi (15) and Ronaldo (14) as they scored just as many against the Top teams. Looking at the below, it’s reasonable to suggest a couple of them are Flat Track Bullies, or just Big Game Bottlers:

My old pal Falcao is present in the final table, as he was throughout the season. He undoubtedly had a great debut season with 24league goals, but for me, he just didn’t do it enough against the best teams. A split 11-11-2 suggests there’s a tendency to go missing against the better opposition, and although he did score goals against Real and Barca, that’s just two goals from 10 games against the other teams in the Top 6. He can of course point to another goal in the Europa League final, but is that perhaps the right level for his talents? Time will tell.

Valencia’s Jonas and Agirretxe of Sociedad both had near identical records, with 60% of their league goals scored against the poorer teams. Both scored just one goal against the Top 6 teams. Flat Track Bullies? Indeed. Benzema and Kone can be excused for their large haul against the Bottom 6 teams as they at least had the good grace to score a respectable amount against the good teams as well.

Unlike del Moral of Sevilla.

And as if to prove his status as the ultimate Flat Track Bully, here’s handy table showing the players with the worst Average ranked opponent per goal scored (10 goals or more).

An average that low doesn’t really need any extra commentary, but I’ll just point out that four of his 10 goals came against bottom team Racing Santander. The big bully.

So that’s the deal from a Big Game Player/Bully/Bottler situation. But there is another parameter. The importance of the goals – both to the result, and to the team.

Points won and Importance to the Team – Lionel Messi, 23 points earned, and Castro Martin, 34% of his team’s points

And it’s another nod to Messi. It’s no real surprise given he scored 50 league goals last season, but he was the player that won themost points for his team last season. Of the 25 games he scored in, his goals were decisive to the result in 11 of them. The 23 points won by Messi’s goals are second only to Robin van Persie’s 24 for Arsenal (from 30 goals).

The table below shows both the number of points won (see rules and workings link above for calculations), and the percentage of the team’s points.

Once again Castro Martin’s name pops up, and he managed a very decent point per goal with 16. And due to Betis’ relatively modest points haul, that 16 was 34% of their total amount, meaning that he is the most important player to his team – in terms of goals as points.

And the goalscoring review wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the guys creating the goals.

Assists – Mesut Ozil, 17 Assists, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Average Opp of 9.08

There’s a pretty clear winner there, with Mesut Ozil of Germany and Madrid, leading the way with 17. He didn’t bother the scoresheet as much as a player with his ability should, with just 4 league goals, but at just 23, 17 assists in the league is a great return. However, there is an element of the flat track bully about his creations, with 9 assists against the Bottom 6 teams and just two against the Top 6. It is worth pointing out though, that if the goal is not scored due to poor finishing, that’s not the fault of the bloke that set it up.

It’s a Real Madrid heavy table, which is no real surprise given that they scored 400,000 goals last season. Argentine’s Di Maria and Barca’s Messi, followed in second with a decent 15 assists each. Like Ozil, Di Maria’s assists were weighted towards the lower opposition with an 11.47 average rank, and just two recorded against the big boys. Messi managed a decent four against the Top 6 teams, which is impressive given that he was normally on the end of chances.

Like Messi, Ronaldo also managed four assists against Top 6 opposition, but none against the Bottom teams. As a result, his 9.08 average ranked opponent per assist, is the highest in the Top 10 assisters.

It’s a pretty good list to be part of, with inclusions for Jesus and an Angel. Holy Creators!

For those that are interested, I’ve put up the full scoring stats of any one with double figures, and i’ll be adding the Team Stats shortly (ish).

So well done to the Big Game Players – Ronaldo, Messi, Ozil, Castro, and Da Costa. Shame on you Falcao and del Moral. And in the words of Forest Gump, that’s just about all I have to say on that.

Cheers,

Liam

Euro 2012 – Golden Boot Contenders

30 May

Regular readers will know that I’ve been tracking the big game players across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga, and with Euro 2012 just around the corner, I thought I’d post up the goalscoring stats of 50 players heading to Poland and the Ukraine based on the four leagues this season. Tournaments are made up of several high pressure big games, so who steps up and who bottles it?

First and foremost, the race for the golden boot, and who you should put your well earned money behind. These are the list of the players heading to the Euros with 20+ league goals behind them:

 1. Cristiano Ronaldo – If it wasn’t for Leo Messi, he’d be untouchable as the World’s best player at the moment. As it is, he’s still one of the top two. In a phrase normally reserved for the original Ronaldo, he’s been a phenomenom. Scoring 40+ goals is an amazing achievement, and he deserves the comparison with Clive Allen. Not that anyone has made that comparison. Anyway, Portugal have a toughest group with Germany, Holland and Denmark but Ronaldo’s 13 goals against Top 6 opponent’s including the winner away at Barcelona, proves that he can do it against the very best. He also has the small matter of proving to the World he can do it in a big tournament after just 3 goals in the last two Euros, and just one in the World Cup.

Best Odds: 14-1 Stan James and Bet Victor

2. Robin van Persie – There was always the question mark around Robin van Persie, what could he do if he was fit? Well this season finally saw this season answered at the age of 28. The first player to hit 30 Premier League goals in 4 years, he counted goals against Man Utd, Spurs, Chelsea and Barcelona this season to prove he has the mentality for the big games. Like Ronaldo, he has something to prove on a tournament stage with just one goal in the 2010 World Cup as Holland got to the final, and in prior European Championships, he scored twice in 2008 from a wider position. This time he’ll most likely be playing down the middle. If not, he’ll be deployed behind Huntelaar, but still able to score. As with Ronaldo, he is also operating in the toughest group, which means the odds are that bit more generous.

Best Odds: 12-1 Paddy Power

3. Klaas Jan Huntelaar – Much like the two names above him, he has pretty generous odds dspite scoring a very impressive 29 league goals in a 34 game Bundesliga. However, looking at his goalscoring a little deeper, and you’ll see that he scored just twice against Top 6 teams, with a massive 12 goals coming against the bottom 4 teams (18 team league), which lends a Flat Track Bully tone to his impressive goalscoring. Being in the group if death, there’s not really any poor opposition for him to Bully. Another reason for the generous odds is that it’s still not decided who will play the central striking role for Holland. If it’s van Persie then Huntelaar will be on the bench, if it’s Huntelaar then van Persie will be moved either deeper of wider.

Best Odds: 18-1 Paddy Power

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Everyone’s favourite pantomime villain had a bittersweet season. He has his most prolific league season with 28 league goals, but it’s the first time that he hasn’t won the league in 8 years. As with Huntelaar, there’s an element of the Flat Track Bully about his goals. You can probably expect him to score a hat trick against Ukraine and then do sod all against France and England – that’s if England can still be classed as a big team. As with all of those above him, he still has to prove himself on the biggest stages, and at 30, he’s running out of time. Why the long odds? Despite being one of the best players in Europe (and of all time in his head), Sweden aren’t expected to progress past the group stage. Based on prior tournaments, 5 goals could be enough, so a hat full against Ukraine and there’s a chance.

Best Odds: 50-1 Paddy Power, William Hill, Bet365, Bet Victor and Coral

5. Wayne Rooney – England’s main hope but suspended for the games against France and Sweden. He’ll be hoping that England are still in with a chance of qualifying come the final game against Ukraine. That may end up being a must win game, bringing with it big pressure. And that’s where Rooney comes good. This season’s 27 league goals saw 8 against Top 6 opposition, including a hat trick against Arsenal (finished 3rd) and a brace away at European Champions Chelsea. To get the golden boot is a big ask, but if he can notch a few against the co-hosts, momentum could see him carry on his scoring form into the rest of the tournament. He’s had two poor to average World Cups but his finest performances in an England shirt came in Euro 2004, so there is some hope.

Best Odds: 40-1 BetFred, Bet365, Bet Victor, Coral

6. Mario Gomez – See the below article for my thoughts on Mario Gomez. In short, he’s the biggest Flat Track Bully/Big Game Bottler of the lot. His tally of 26 goals was undoubtedly a good season, however, only 3 came against Top 6 opposition (only one based on positions at the time of play), and in both games against Dortmund in the league, and then in the cup final, he went missing. He has lots of shots and has little composure in the big games. There is some hope for those that have already bet on him – he scored a hat trick against Napoli and a double against Man City in the group stages of the Champions League. Maybe, just maybe he might grab a few against Portugal and Denmark in the group stages. A lot also depends on the fitness of Miroslav Klose. If he’s fit then Mario is on the bench, but it’s a big if. Amazingly he’s the favourite for the Golden Boot.

Best Odds: 8-1 Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet Victor

7. Antonio Di Natale – Despite being the ripe old age of 34, the Udinese striker has scored 80 goals in the last three Serie A seasons. This season saw him bang in 23 of those, 4 of which were scored against Top 6 Opposition. No one (Prandelli aside), is really sure who is going to start up front for the Italians, and so he’s a bit of a risk. And despite being prolific at club level, he has a rather more modest 10 goals in 36 appearances for his country. He has hinted that he may be retiring after (winning) the Euro’s so this could be his swansong, but he has a tough group and Balotelli in front of him.

Best Odds: 33-1 William Hill

8. Robert Lewandowski – A lot of people have him as the dark horse for the Golden Boot, and not without reason. The Borussia Dortmund striker is in fine form after notching 22 league goals last season as he picked up the double. He also scored a hat trick in the German Cup Final against Bayern Munich – big game mentality it seems, though he only had 3 goals against the remaining Top 5 teams in Germany. Poland have the added advantage of being hosts, and their group of Greece, Czech Republic and Russia, should see them qualify, and give Lewandowski the chance to score a few.

Best Odds: 25-1 Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, BetFred

9.Karim Benzema -2011-12 became the season that Benzema finally delivered on his promise with Real Madrid. Despite only being the 3rd Top Scorer at his club (Behind Ronaldo and Higuain), he still hit a decent 21 league goals for the Spanish Champions. Only three of these were against Top 6 teams though, and in the Champions League semi final, it was Ronaldo and Ozil that scored over the two legs as the Madrid giants went out, so there is the question mark over his contribution in the biggest games, although he can point to a goal against Barcelona earlier in the season. Another question mark is whether he’ll be a starter for France, with rumours of Olivier Giroud (21 goals in Ligue Un – 50-1) being favourite. A group containing England, Sweden and the Ukraine is tough-ish, but not without it’s opportunities.

Best Odds: 16-1 Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Betfair, Bet365, BetFred, Bet Victor, Coral

The Others:

The one that really stands out for me is Miroslav Klose – he has a history of delivering in the big tournaments (14 World Cup goals, and Quarter and Semi final goals in Euro 2008) and whilst fit with Lazio for the first half of the season, he certainly delivered – scoring 13 goals in just 25 games in a new country. Add to that his Polish background and it all looks promising for the big striker. The only downside is his injury. He missed the latter parts of the season for Lazio, and whilst he did play for Germany at the weekend, he’s still short on match fitness. Germany will certainly be better with him in the team over Gomez. His odds are 16-1 with Paddy Power.

German team mate Lukas Podolski should be pretty much guaranteed his starting place in the team, and despite relegation, he scored a decent 18 goals for Cologne. And what’s more, not one was against the lower ranked opponents, with the Polish born forward hitting 6 aganist the Top teams. Add to that his prior performances in tournament football and like Klose, his affinity with Poland, and all of a sudden he looks pretty good at 25-1. Although he does play more from wide for the German national team.

Spain is an interesting one, with David Villa out through injury, and the decision to leave Roberto Soldado at home, it looks like a choice between a re-energised Torres (20-1) or Bilbao’s Llorente (16-1). It’s hard to call who will start, but del Bosque is a loyal coach, and with Torres’ high profile goal against Barcelona fresh in the mind, he may well get the nod. Llorente’s club season only finished on Friday due to the lateness of the Copa del Rey.

Aside from that, Mario Balotelli at 25-1 isn’t a bad shout. His goals dried up in the second half of the season, but he was undoubtedly a big game performer – at home with pressure. Think to the two goals away at Old Trafford and the coolness of the last minute penalty to win the game against a title chasing Spurs. The downside is that he’s mental and could easily get sent off as score a goal. Group games against Croatia and the Republic of Ireland will allow him ample opportunity to influence the tournament.

The Midfielders (and John Terry):

For slightly more generous odds, there’s plenty of goalscoring talent from deep:

Bayern Munich duo Robben and Ribery can be found at 40-1 and 66-1 respectively. Both had fine goalscoring seasons as Munich challenged (though failed) on three fronts – though neither really did it on the big occasion, with Robben in particular missing important chances (including penalties) to add to the idea that he bottles it on the biggest occasion – think of his chances in the World Cup Final. Elsewhere, Gerrard didn’t score many this year, but the 5 league goals came against Man Utd (2nd), Newcastle (5th) and local rivals Everton (7th) – all big games. He has the added responsibility of captaining the team, and it would appear as though he’s playing a more disciplined Central Midfield role. At 80-1, BetFred are offering the best odds.

Thomas Mueller got the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup with 5 goals. He hasn’t had a vintage season with Munich with just 7 goals, but 3 were against Top 6 opponents, and most recently, he scored in the Champions League Final to put the Germans ahead. At 25-1, he’s not a bad bet.

Not on the list but featuring heavily for Irish betting is Robbie Keane. He’s played mainly in North America this season, though his 3 goal cameo for Aston Villa on loan showed that he was still Premier League class – though fans of West Ham would question that based on 2010-11 performances. He’s the all time Ireland leading scorer with a decent 53 goals, and in the last tournament he played (World Cup 2002), he scored a decent 3 goals, including a last minute equaliser against eventual finalists Germany. He can be found at 150-1 on Coral.

For those patriotic and slightly foolish England fans who have more money than sense, John Terry (6 goals last season) can be backed at 250-1!

The full odds used in the above article can be found here.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Round 38

16 May

With the league title wrapped up, it was just a case of Real Madrid flexing their muscles and break their own records. In beating 7th placed Mallorca they wracked up a massive 100 points from a possible 114 (which is mental), and in scoring another 4 goals (Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil x 2), they extended their own goals scored recored to 121 goals. I’m gonna put my neck on the line here and suggest that it’s not going to be beaten in a regular 38 game season. It’s impressive.

But that’s not where the drama lay at the weekend. Far from it. It was the fight to avoid relegation that had the Man City-esque ending, for Rayo Vallecano at least. The real story was Villarreal’s relegation from La Liga. The same Villarreal that was in the Champions League this season after finishing last year in 4th place. The same Villarreal that have qualified for European Football for the last 8 seasons (including a 2nd and 3rd place). They’ve had a terrible season under three different coaches, but the way they went down was just cruel. Starting the day in the relative safety of 16th, they were facing Atletico Madrid (5th – chasing a Champions League spot) at home, whilst Rayo Vallecano and Real Zaragoza who started the day in 17th and 18th were facing Granada at home (15th) and away at 11th placed Getafe respectively. Real Zaragoza continued their amazing recent form, by swatting aside Getafe 2-0. That made it four wins in a row and eight in the last eleven games to guarantee safety. That left one place between Villarreal, Vallecano and Granada. Villarreal could draw and guarantee safety regardless of the result in the other game, and up until the 88th minute, they were. Then Falcao (12.83) struck for Atleti. Not to worry, it was still 0-0 in the other game, meaning Rayo would be going down. That was, until the 90th minute, when veteran striker Raul Tamudo scored to put them ahead. And just like that, Villarreal were down. They could have drawn and send down Granada, but it wasn’t to be. It’s a shame for a small team that had consistently punched above their weight, but the loss of Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Joan Capdevila (Benfica) and most crucially Guiseppe Rossi (injury).

The battle for 4th was settled with a little less drama. Malaga started the day in 4th, and facing 19th placed Sporting, the only surprising thing is that they only won 1-0. Despite all the big name signings after new ownership came, it was last season’s top scorer Jose Rondon who grabbed the winner. It was the 22 year old Venezuelan striker’s 11th goal of the season (10.81) after 14 last season. With the likes of van Nistelrooy, Toulalan, Cazorla and Demichelis coming in, there was a sense of change as Malaga looked to reach the Champions League in a slightly more measured approach than recent Billionnaire owned clubs, and it looks to have paid off.

Regular readers (hi Mum) will know that I oaccsionally have a bit of a pop at Falcao for his Flat Track Bully ways. People can point to the Europa League Final (last two years) in his Big Game Player defence, and whilst it is a great achievement, there’s a nagging feeling I have that maybe it’s his level. In the league, of his 24 league goals, only 2 were against Top 6 opponents (albeit the big two), which is a pretty paltry return for a player being valued at £50million. His goals against Bilbao in the Europa League final were effectively against 9th placed opposition, whilst the goal to relegate Villarreal was against Bottom 6 opposition. Now I know you can only beat what’s in front of you, but of a possible 10 games against Top 6 teams, to score in only two of them is questionable for a Superstar Striker. An average ranked opponent per goal of 12.83 would back up the Flat Track Bully claims, though it’s still a good way behind del Moral’s 17.30. He takes teh official Flat Track Bully tag for the La Liga season based on opponent’s ranking at the time of play. I’ll be looking at it from the final league rankings in the end of season review in the coming weeks.

One man who cannot be labelled a Flat Track Bully is Real Betis striker Ruben Castro (Martin). Having been key in the promotion campaign last year, he scored his first La Liga goals for four years this season, and several more followed. He finished the season on 16 goals, and most of them were important. He averaged a point per goal as Betis finished in the safety of 13th. What’s more, of the 16 league goals, half of them were against Top 6 opponents, including a brace at the weekend in the 2-2 draw against Barcelona (previously the best football team in the galaxy of all time ever). In fact, he scored in both games against Barcelona, as well as scoring against Valencia and Malaga this year. His average of 9.13 was slightly lower due to the 5 goals he scored against Bottom 6 teams, but all in all, he can be classed firmly as a Big Game Player. But not the biggest. Cristiano Ronaldo may have embarrassed himself and his family with a measley 46 league goals this season, but at least he can take consolation that 16 of them were against the Top 6 teams. That’s easily the highest in Europe – ahead of Messi’s 13. In terms of average opposition ranking, it’s Alexis Sanchez who has the best rating of 6.91 based on positions at the time of playing. Especially well done in a debut season in a new country.

Full Season review to follow with bells and whistles in the coming weeks.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Round 37

8 May

With the league title already tied up last week, there’s only one place to start. Lionel Messi. Although Barcelona will end up with fewer medals this season than in recent years, it’s been Messi’s greatest season personally. In the last two league season’s, he’s scored a combined 65 goals in just 68 games – phenomenal. I, like many, wondered if he’d peaked already, and if he could stay at that level. Boy is my face red. In the weekend’s Barcelona derby against Espanyol, Messi gave Pep Guardiola a parting gift – scoring all the goals in a 4-0 win. That takes his league tally to a ridiculous 50 goals in 36 games. We’re going to have to invent some more words for him as I’m all out of superlatives. In all competitions for Barcelona, he’s hit 72 goals in 58 games (beating Gerd Muller’s record). When you add in his 28 assists, he’s been responsible for 100 goals in all competitions this season. Anyone who doubts his credentials as an all time great doesn’t deserve to watch him play.

In what’s been a quite frankly ridiculous season, Barcelona have now gained 90 points, and scored 112 league goals. And that’s not even good enough for first place. Real Madrid only scored the two in a 2-1 away win at Granada, to take their tally to 97 points and 117 goals. Ronaldo scored one to take his personal count to 45 in the league – a career best for him. How he must curse Messi.

So with the news on the big two out of the way, the next port of call is the race for a top 4 spot. And as with the Italian League, it’s going to go down to the final day:

Valencia tied up their customary 3rd place finish with a 1-0 over Villarreal (more on that one later), courtesy of Jonas’ 7th goal in 8 games, taking his tally to 10 for the season (12.10). It’s below 3rd that it becomes interesting. Going into the final day of the season, one of four teams can take that final Champions League spot. However, it’s all in Malaga’s hands despite a 2-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid at the weekend. They face 19th placed Sporting Gijon at home, making them clear favourites. Atletico are also facing a team fighting relegation in Villarreal (16th), whilst Levante host Bilbao, and Mallorca who beat Levante at the weekend to make it 4 wins in a row, have to try and stop Real Madrid reaching 100 points. Based on that, it’s likely to be Malaga’s spot, though with Sporting still in with a chance (albeit slim) of staying up, it should be theirs.

In terms of the average opposition stats, Messi’s 50 goals have been against an average ranked opponent of 10.22 in the league table (average position in a 20 team league is 10.5). The split of 12-25-13 (24% vs Bottom 6, 50% vs Middle 8, 26% vs Top 6) is close enough to where you’d expect it to be for a regular scorer with just Ronaldo ahead of him in goals against the Top 6 teams. Barcelona team mate Alexis Sanchez hols there best average with 6.91, whilst there was also no change at the bottom as del Moral retains the lowest average ranked team per goal with an impressively low 17.30, and no goals against Top 6 teams. Valencia’s Jonas (12.10) and Vallecano’s Costa (8.30) both move into the Top Scorers chart with goals at the weekend. Costa in particular has done it against decent teams, with 5 of his 10 against the big boys, and 4 against mid table opponents, including his double at the weekend against Seville (who scored 5 in response).

And so onto the battle to avoid relegation:

Sporting will require a miracle of sorts to escape the drop as they travel to 4th placed Malaga. They will have to hope that Vallecano (hosting 15th placed Granda) and Real Zaragoza (away at 11th placed Getafe) will both lose. Villarreal host 4th placed chasing Atletico Madrid. They looked to be safe just a few weeks back, but one win in five (against Sporting) has seen them fall right back into trouble. Couple that with Real Zaragoza’s excellent recent form and it really could be any team up to 15th that fall. Zaragoza’s latest win (4th in 5) was at home to Sporting, winning 2-1. Sporting have faced and lost to both Zaragoza and Villarreal in recent weeks as they look set to play their football in the Segunda Division next season. If I were a betting man (and i’m not), I’d go for Sporting and Villarreal to drop this weekend.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Round 36

4 May

It’s been described by Jose Mourinho as his hardest title win, and that’s fair enough given the opponent. Whilst he won league titles in Portugal, England and Italy at the first time of asking at each club, this one took a little longer. But they’ve done it, and they’ve deserved it. Last night’s 3-0 win away at Athletic Bilbao sealed First place ahead of one of the greatest teams in the history of football, and to do it with two games to spare is certainly impressive. I was of the opinion that Manuel Pellegrini was harshly treated by Madrid after taking them to 96 points – normally enough to win any league but they needed more. They needed someone who could knock Barcelona of their perch. Mourinho was that man, with Pellegrini perhaps sacked for not keeping loan superstar, Julien Faubert. Mourinho’s Madrid have already reached 94 points, and with two games to go, I wouldn’t bet against them reaching 100. The Stats below tell the story of the title win:

Looking at the Top 6 column, there’s 8 wins, 2 draws and just 1 defeat this season – meaning that they’re deserved Champions. The 35 goals, scored in those games also illustrates why they won. Why is there 11 games against the other five Top 6 teams? Well, this information is taking the position at the time of playing, so it includes the 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao back in Round 19 when the opponents were ranked 5th (now 8th). Another big factor is the incredibly small amount of points dropped – against all opponents, just six of the 30 games saw them drop points. Their 115 goals is by far and away the best, and is also a record, whilst a decent defence of 30, is just second to Barcelona’s 27. Build a title based on a solid Defence? Sod that – just score shit loads of goals. So there you have it. Title is done, Barcelona have only the Copa Del Rey to play for, and then it’s a new manager. That’s the end of that rivalry right? Wrong.

In a role reversal of last year, League Champion Ronaldo, is now trailing in the goals race to Messi. Ronaldo has a ridiculous 44 league goals after he scored in the Bilbao win (after missing a penalty – ouch) and in the weekend win over Seville (9th). Whilst Messi has an even more ridiculous (ridiculouser?) 46 league goals. He went ahead after scoring two against Rayo Vallecano (in a 7-0 away win, and then followed up with his 7th league hat trick of the season in a 4-1 win over 4th placed Malaga. This not only put him ahead in goals, but it also brought up his number against the Top 6 teams to an impressive 13. Impressive, but not as good as Ronaldo’s 16:

The Top Scorers list is dominated by Real Madrid – as three players have 20 goals or more. Off the top of my head (lazy research), I can’t recall another time in a major league that three players from the same club scored 20 or more goals? Another reason that they’re worthy champions. The 86 goals scored by Ronaldo, Higuain and Benzema (Hi-Ro-Be?) is more than any total team amount, with the exception of Barcelona’s 108.

Falcao’s goal in Round 35 against 13th placed Betis was proof if proof were needed that his 12.70 average ranked opponent is pretty fair. He’s had a great deubt season, with 23 goals (46% of their total goals), but he’ll need to be troubling the bigger teams on a more regular basis to be ranked with the best. He’s not the Flat Track Bully though, oh no. That is still with Seville’s del Moral on 17.30 and no goals against anyone good. Alexis Sanchez’s 6.91 and no goals against the bottom 6 teams makes him the big game player in this year’s La Liga.

Arsenal fans will take heart from the continued good form of Carlos Vela. He was on the scoresheet again on Wednesday in Sociedad’s 1-1 draw with 6th placed Atletico.That’s 8 goals in the last 11 games, and this was his 4th against Top 6 opposition. Back up to van Persie and Podolski next season? He and Bendtner, returning on loan will certainly be better than Young and Chamakh if Arsenal are serious about challenging next season.

With the title wrapped up, the focus switches to the race for the Top 4 spots, and the fight at the bottom. In 3rd, Valencia continued their strange form with a 4-0 win over 8th placed Osasuna. That’s Win-Lose-Win-Lose-Win, scoring 4-0-4-0-4. I guess there’s some consistancy involved there, but it’s certainly odd. They currently sit 3 points ahead of Malaga, who suffered at the hands of Barcelona in a 4-1 defeat (Messi, incidently scored 2 penalties). Malaga, in turn are 3 points ahead of Spain’s answer to Newcastle, Levante. They beat 16th place Granada 3-1 at the weekend but lost to Real Zaragoza midweek.

With Racing gone, and sporting looking set to follow, it’s looking like one from Granada, Villarreal, Vallecano and Zaragoza. And similar to the fight in the Premier League, the teams seem to have saved their best form until the end of the season (like Wigan and QPR). The big game in midweek was Sporting hosting Villarreal, and once again it was veteran Marcos Senna that drove Villarreal to victory. The combative midfielder scored his 5th goal in 13 games to help the Yellow Submarines to a vital 3-2 away win. That’s one defeat in nine now. Similarly, Real Zaragoza have given themselves a fighting chance after back to back wins against Bilbao (6th) and Levante (5th). That’s now 6 wins in 9 games for a team that were rock bottom from Round 14 to Round 30. And it’s Rayo Vallecano who look most vulnerable at the moment with 5 defeats in a row.

Cheers,

Liam

Pep Guardiola – An Appreciation of a Big Game Manager

29 Apr

After the somewhat surprising, but not shocking news that Pep Guardiola has decided to stand down as Barcelona boss, I thought I’d have a quick look at his stats from an Average Opposition perspective. When looking back on his reign, it’s easy to see why he’ll stake a claim to be Barcelona’s greatest ever manager, with 13 trophies won in his four seasons (so far). However, it’s easy to forget the state of the club when he took over.

Before Guardiola – 2007-08:

Frank Rijkaard’s final season was a tough one. Don’t get me wrong, a squad containing a newly signed Henry, Ronaldinho, Eto, Deco, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and a few others, isn’t that bad a place to be in, but it was clear the team was coming to the end of it’s cycle. Surprisingly, given the talent in the squad, there was clearly something wrong as they finished a third – just two years after winning the Champions League. They finished a massive 18 points behind league champions Real Madrid as they lost a massive 9 games.

With a win percentage of just 50%, Rijkaard ducked out on a bit of a whimper which is a shame considering what he did for the club (first Champions League title in 14 years). Just three points clear of 5th place is not where you’d expect Barcelona to be. When looking at the performance that season, of the 19 wins, only three were recorded against Top 6 opponents, and none were higher than 4th.

The problem wasn’t against the poor teams, where they only dropped 6 points from a possible 36 on offer, it was against the Top 6 teams, or more precisely the 5 other Top 6 teams. Of the 10 games, they picked up only 11 points from 30. An average opposition of 12.89 means that the team were flat track bullies – similarly, an average ranked opponent of 5.88 inflicted the losses. Whilst Rijkaard had done great things, Barcelona were not in good health (for their standards).

Step forward Pep.

The Job:

Eyebrows were raised when the coach of the B side was been given one of the biggest jobs in football. His only previous management experience was in the equivalent of the Spainsh 3rd division – although he did win the league. However, the Barcelona board had a very specific set of guidelines in their vision for the future of the club (as outlined in Graham Hunter’s ‘Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World’) and found here. They included: a preference for 4-3-3, an insistence of playing the “most attractive, most spectacular football possible”, to continue to promote players from the youth team, management of Superstar Players, Experience in elite, international football as player and coach, and “A good knowledge of the Spanish league and the club”.

Guardiola ticked most of the boxes, although perhaps lacking a little in the experience criteria as a coach, but in terms of knowing the club – there was no one better. He spent 11 seasons with the club as a player, appearing 384 times – including time as part of Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team.

Three Years of Dominance – 2008-2011:

His impact was immediate. Well almost. His first league game in charge of the club saw a 1-0 defeat to a Numancia team that went on to finish 17th. In fact he only picked up one point from his first two games. What followed though, was remarkable – 19 wins and 2 draws in the next 21 games put Barcelona in the driving seat to pick up their first title since 2006. They went on to finish a massive 9 points ahead of 2nd place – bitter rivals Real Madrid – and scored 105 goals in the process. And he did so after a large change in playing staff as well – Barca legends Ronaldinho and Deco were moved on, as well as established internationals Zambrotta, Thuram and Edmilson. Significant players brought in were La Masia graduates Gerard Pique (via Man Utd) and Sergio Busquets, as well as utility player Keita and Sevilla Full Back Dani Alves.

Best defence, best attack, most wins, fewest losses – it’s irrefutable, and compared to the previous season, it’s almost unrecognisable, finishing 20 points better off. In fact of the six losses and five defeats, two of each were in the last four games when the title had already been wrapped up. From an average opposition index, there’s an even bigger turn around:

And there you have it – 23 points taken from a possible 30 against the other teams in the Top 6. The two wins over Real Madrid were essentially a 12 point swing – enough to settle the destination of the league title. A solid 2-0 win at home (one of 15 clean sheets) followed by a mind blowing 6-2 win in the Bernebeu firmly cemented Guardiola’s status as a big game manager – a status only enhanced by a 2-0 win against Manchester United in the Champions League Final. In what would be a regular battle, it was Manchester United that had knocked out Rijkaard’s team the season before on their way to winning the trophy. As if there was any doubt about this team and Guardiola’s influence, they made it a treble with a Copa Del Rey Final win over Bilbao. Not a bad debut season, aged only 38.

How do you follow that as a debut season? Well you continue to match the level of performance despite changing personel once again – Ibrahimovic and Pedro in, Eto, Silvinho and Hleb out. And you improve your record – certainly in the league:

A record 99 points were collected in the league – an increase of 12 from his first season in charge. And this time was different – this was not a walk to the title, this was the start of the real Barcelona vs Real Madrid super rivalry. It’s always been great, but 2009-10 marked the start of the super teams that they are now. This title was won with bottle after seeing off a great Real Madrid team, who also broke the points record, only to finish second. One defeat (to Atletico Madrid who also beat them the previous year) was as impressive as the 31 victories.

Once again – Big Game Manager. They simply blew their opponents away, taking 28 points from a possible 30 (only Valencia picked up a point). They barely even gave them a sniff, with seven clean sheets in the 10 games against the Top 6 teams. This was sheer dominance. Madrid were once again beaten home (1-0) and away (2-0) in what effectively won them the title. The team may have scored less goals, but every other element was improved – more wins, less defeats, less conceded, better goal difference. That’s how you follow up a great first season. In the Champions League, they lost in the Semi Final in the now famous battle with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan who employed the revolutionary tactic of giving the ball away, and they were elminated on away goals in the Copa Del Rey to Sevilla. However, they did win the UEFA Super Cup and the World Club Cup – all big games, all big performances. A treble of sorts for Guardiola again.

As was now customary, Guardiola moved to change the playing staff again in his third season. Out went Marquez, Henry, Yaya Toure and most importantly, Ibrahimovic. Here was a player that did not fit into the team ethic that Guardiola put ahead of individuals, and it’s fair to say that the manager didn’t get on with him as well as Pique did. Guardiola tried the superstar signing, it didn’t work, so he reverted to signing players that would fit into the club and the system. With that in mind, David Villa was brought in from Valencia, as well as Javier Mascherano, full back Adriano and youth product Jeffren. Once again, it was another fantastic performance in La Liga, and once again it was the battle of the Super Teams at the top:

Once again, in most countries in most seasons in the history of football, Real Madrid’s 92 points would have won pretty much any title. Not on Pep’s watch. As with the previous season, 2010-11 saw Barcelona flex their muscles and win the league. They once again scored 90+ goals, and this time they had their best defensive season in the league, conceding just 21 goals in the 38 league games – a new season, a new high. Once again they dominated the games against Top 6 opponents:

This time they took 26 points from the 30 available against the teams in 2nd to 6th. This time, Real Madrid at least managed a point against them, but the 5-0 defeat inflicted on Madrid pretty much settled the contest, as early as November – this time under the stewardship of ex Barca No.2 and pantomime villain, Jose Mourinho. Once again, like Pellegrini before him, the Special One wasn’t able to topple Guardiola’s men. Strangely, it was against the poorer teams that Barca lost to – defeats to relegated Hercules, and 15th placed Real Sociedad, and a failure to score against also relegated Deportivo La Coruna suggested a lack of focus on the easy games – but that would be splitting hairs in another phenomenal season.

Once again, it was topped off by a Champions League win over Manchester United, this time at Wembley – a fitting reward for the style of football that Guardiola had impressed onto the team. A style he took from his time as a player under Cruyff – but with added identity. Mourinho’s Madrid beat them in the Copa Del Rey final but it was little consolation for the Captial giants, they wanted the League and the Champions League. It did at least break the hoo-doo, and perhaps has led to the change in the balance of power domestically in 2011-12.

The End of the Era:

And so on to this season. At the time of writing, Real Madrid have all but won the title with a 7 point lead with 4 games to go. Barcelona could realistically finish the season with 93 points and over 100 goals, but such is the competition with the other Super Club, it’s not going to be enough. A surprise defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League semi final, perhaps pointed to Barcelona’s one weakness this season – lack of depth in the defence. With Puyol ageing and Pique distracted by his superstar girlfriend Shaqira (I certainly won’t judge him on that), the team has had to rely on Javier Mascherano as a makeshift centre back and youth team graduate Fontas. It’s unfortunate that his Barcelona team have had their worst run in the most important time of the season – the defeat to Madrid in the Clasico was sandwiched by a aggregate defeat to Chelsea, but at the end of it, Guardiola had seen enough and decided that it was time to step down. For a big game manager, it was hard to take.

He won’t finish the season empty handed though, he has already won the UEFA Super Cup and World Club Cup, and still has the Copa Del Rey Final to come. He’s certainly leaving the club in a much better state than he found it in.

Legacy:

First and foremost, he’s brought back an identity to the club both on and off the field. The brand of ‘tika-taka’ football and pressing far up the pitch is undeniably Barcelona. The total control of the football regardless of the opposition is something that won’t leave the club for a long time – unless of course Sam Allardyce somehow got the gig that he thinks he deserves, and talks about the so called Barcelona way not existing.

Intertwined with the footballing style is the continued promotion of the youth team players into the first team. Believing that those schooled in the Barcelona way will better serve the team than buying in players, Guardiola not only fulfilled one of the many criteria required of him, but he also left the future in good hands. La Masia graduates Busquets, Pedro, Thiago, Jeffren, Fontas and Cuenca have all been given their chance by Guardiola. He also resigned former youth teamers Pique and Fabregas. Add in established players, Messi, Puyol,Xavi and Iniesta, and the footprint of Barcelona will remain in the team.

Tito Vilanova can also thank Guardiola for his promotion to Manager. His success has convinced the board that much like the players, and similar to Liverpool’s era of dominance – it’s best to promote from within, to carry on a successful team.

And most importantly, what a team he’s left behind. With some reinforcements in defence, there’s not much else the club needs. David Villa will return from injury to also add some experience and ability further up the pitch, and the likes of Fabregas, Sanchez and the youth teamers will have settled that bit more. And with the big game mentatility that Guardiola has drilled into them, they’ll be there or there abouts in every competition they enter.

What Next?

A well earned break for Guardiola comes first, but what after that? Personally (it’s my blog), it wouldn’t surprise me if he returned to the club after recharging his batteries. It’ll be hard for Vilanova to follow in such large footsteps, and with Real Madrid finally gaining the upper hand, it’ll be even harder for him to topple Mourinho’s men. However, it won’t be for the lack of offers. Every single team in the World would welcome him as manager, and it’s not outside the realms of possibility to see him as the replacement for long timers Ferguson or Wenger.

What is for sure, he’s undoubtedly been one of the greatest managers of all time, in such a short spell. Normally I try and make these pieces into a two sided debate, but his record is unquestionable, and sometimes you just have to appreciate the achievements. Not only did he win countless trophies (13), he gave an identity back to a very special club. He got the best out of his players as well. Messi went from 16 goals in 2007-08 to 38 in Guardiola’s first season. And it wasn’t just the youngsters – Henry went from 19 to 26 goals, despite being well into his 30s.

After a four year stint, Vincente Del Bosque left Real Madrid after two league titles and two Champions League medals, and after a nice break, he didn’t do too badly.