Tag Archives: Barcelona

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.

Big Game Youth Systems?

2 Nov

In the continued quest to understand what makes a big game player, I thought I’d look into the part that youth teams play in a player’s big game temperament, or more precisely, which Youth Teams are responsible for the big game players, or in fact just a steady flow of good players. I’ll be looking at World Players of the Year, Golden Ball winners and a few other bits and pieces. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Rules

For the sake of consistency, if the player has been at two youth academies, I’ll use the club that they made their professional debut with. So whilst Barcelona’s famed La Masia Academy helped produce Piqué and Fabregas, they finished their youth team education with Manchester United and Arsenal, respectively.

Each category is as per the official FIFA lists.

World Player of the Year

First things first, some lists. The first is the Worlds best players from 1991 onwards, complete with their youth team. Why 1991? Because surprisingly, that’s when the award began. From 2009 onwards, the award merged with the Ballon d’Or to become one global award. To widen the data a bit further and because there’s not always a lot in it, I’ve taken the Top three players for each year.

So is there an outstanding Youth Team that produces more World Class players (and that’s a pretty safe use of the phrase) than the others? Well yes and no. If you take Ronaldo as an example, he won the award three times and finished in the top 3 on another two occasions, meaning five entries for Brazilian club Cruzeiro. So to avoid duplication, each player is only allowed one entry. When that’s taken into account, there’s not really a run away winner.

In fact, only three clubs have had more than one representative from their youth team to finish in the top three players in the World:

  1. Barcelona – Lionel Messi (1st in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2nd in 2007, 2008) Andres Iniesta (2nd in 2010), Xavi (3rd in 2009, 2010, 2011)
  2. Sporting Lisbon – Luis Figo (1st in 2001, 2nd in 2000), Cristiano Ronaldo (1st in 2008, 2nd in 2009, 2011, 3rd in 2007)
  3. Ajax – Dennis Bergkamp (3rd in 1993, 1997), Marco van Basten (1st in 1992)

It’s not a massive surprise that those three clubs are where they are. A large chunk of the current Barcelona squad have at one time been graduates of the famous youth system. Aside from the trio above, you could point to Pedro, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes, Puyol as well as those that left before returning – Fabregas, Alba and Pique. There’s also players that went elsewhere like Mikel Arteta, Bojan Krkic, Thiago Motta, Oriel Romeu and Giovanni Dos Santos. Going back further than that and the list goes on – Pep Guardiola anyone? It’s impressive.

Sporting Lisbon aren’t exactly slouches either. Aside from the lads above, there’s Paolo Futre, Simao, Nani, and many others. Though they can’t compete with Ajax. The team that won the 1995 Champions League contained 11 youth team graduates from a match day squad of 16. And that’s just one batch. Add in the 60s-70s graduates and it’s easy to understand why they have a reputation of being the best in the World.

Other than that, there’s 28 other clubs that have produced one of the best three players in the last 22 years, ranging from AC Milan (Maldini) to West Ham United (Frank Lampard Jr).

European Footballer of the Year

So applying the same logic, I thought I’d have a look at the European Player of the Year awards (Ballon d’Or). This award goes back to 1956, giving us a wider base to look at. Up untol 1995, it was European Player only. From then onwards, it was changed to players playing in Europe, regardless of their nationality. There’s been 6 South American winners of it, if you exclude Alfredo Di Stefano who was apparently Spanish when he won it in 1957. As mentioned above, the award merged with the World Player of the Year awards in 2010, so the below data is 1956-2009.

Does it offer us a better of view of the best Youth Systems for producing big game players? Well the greater pool of players (Top 3 and sometimes 4 players if level on points) numbers at 164, giving a greater scope. Surprisingly, there’s only 13 teams that have produced more than one player to feature in the Ballon d’Or awards:

The same three that featured on the earlier list are all present, though Barca lose one player, whilst Sporting gain another, in Paulo Futre. Ajax are the single most successful youth system on this measurement with five legends of the game, and that’s with the surprising omissions of Kluivert, Davids, and Seedorf from the lists. In terms of countries, both Spain and England have three clubs represented. There’s no suprise of the three English clubs, just of the players missing.

A couple of points of note. Firstly, Raul is down as a Real Madrid youth product but actually spent a number of years on the books of Atletico Madrid. Ouch. Secondly, Luis Suarez from the Deportivo youth team isn’t the current Liverpool striker (his youth team was Nacional), but rather Barcelona, Spain and Inter Milan legend Luis Suarez Miramontes.

South American Footballer of the Year

Like the European equivalent, this award has been running for longer than the World Player of the year, dating back to 1971 when Brazil legend Tostao picked up the first award whilst playing for Cruzeiro (his youth team was America MG). In all, there’s been 130 players to finish in the Top 3 positions, from 54 different Youth Academies. Unlike the European award, there’s actually quite a lot of repeat achievers, meaning that I’ve restricted it to teams that have produced three players or more.

The award was initially for any player from South America (Mario Kempes won it whilst playing for Valencia), but after 1986, it was restricted to those players playing their football in South America and Mexico.

And so to the list:

River Plate do well – appearing on both lists, and contributing a whopping eight players to the European or South American player of the year awards. And it’s easy to see why with some of the names listed above. When you also think that they also produced Pablo Aimar, Claudio Caniggia, Gonzalo Higuain and many others, it’s easy to understand why they’re the best represented club in the lists above, but it also makes it hard to understand how they were recently relegated (before a quick promotion).

Their bitter rivals, Boca Juniors don’t do too badly either. Current Argentina Internationals, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago both began their careers at the club, as well as World Cup winner Oscar Ruggeri, whilst surprisingly it was Argentinos Juniors that produced Boca legends Diego Maradona and Juan Roman Riquelme. So River Plate may be more prolific, but Boca can point to one of the greatest players of all time. Which leads nicely to Pele and Santos.

Along with Pele, Santos also began the careers of Diego, Ganso, Robinho and the latest flavour of the month, Neymar, who’s the current holder of the South American Player of the Year title. Not a bad list to be fair.

Other

I was going to include the Golden, Silver and Bronze Ball awards for the three best players at the World Cup, but after reviewing the list, I decided it wasn’t as useful as first thought. For a start, Zidane (Cannes Youth Team) didn’t feature in the 1998 awards. After that, in 2002 Oliver Kahn won the award despite a massive howler in the Final, and South Korea’s Hong Myung-Bo took the Bronze Ball. I’m a pretty avid Football fan, but I have no recollection of this player, but do recall Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Rivaldo having a pretty decent tournament before having to miss the Final. Furthermore, in 1986, there was no Silver or Bronze awards at all – with just Maradona and no one else – which given his impact on that World Cup, is probably fair enough, not that it was a completely one man team, although a little harsh on Top Scorer Gary Lineker (Leicester Youth Team) and one or two other decent players.

Conclusion

Well going through all of the lists and background research, there’s three clubs that have really stood out as having the best youth systems in the World, Ajax, Barcelona and River Plate. There’s been several clubs that have produced great batches of youngsters – The Man Utd youth team of the early 90’s produced World Class players – Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and to an extent (as a Right Back), Gary Neville. That same batch also produced the likes of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Keith Gillespie, Robbie Savage and whilst not World Class, they all won several caps for the their countries and had good careers. This is the same Youth System that produce the likes of Charlton, Best, Edwards back in the 50s-60s.

Similarly the famed West Ham Academy had a batch of similarly talented players from 96-99, including Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Jermaine Defoe. The current team includes Tomkins, Noble and Collison, whilst going back the most famous batch of the early 1960’s included World Cup winners Geoff Hurst (Hat trick in the final), Martin Peters (goal in the final) and Bobby Moore (two assists and captain in the final). It’s a running joke that West Ham won the World Cup, but it does say a lot for their youth system to have produced three players that had such a large impact on the biggest game of all. Moving on, Trevor Brooking, Paul Ince, Alvin Martin, Tony Cottee and somewhat surprisingly Ray Houghton (amongst others) all came through the Youth Team before going on to good careers for club and country.

There are strong cases to be made for Liverpool (click here for more), Arsenal and Southampton in England, with the Saints recently producing several talented wide players – Bridge, Bale, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dyer, as well as going back a bit further to Le Tissier, Shearer and Flowers.

But in terms of the truly top players in their continents and in the World it’s Barcelona that currently lead the way. Currently lauded as the best team in the World, and some say of all time, they’re matchday XI regularly contain upto 7 or 8 form youth team players as listed above. There’s several more promising youngsters making their way in football as well, some still with the club, some looking to advance elsewhere, but the La Masia academy is currently the most prolific youth system in World football. And well it should be, as Barcelona spend an estimated £15m a year on it – dwarfing every other club in the World. And it’s clearly money well spent.

River Plate have suffered recently, having been relegated the season before last, but the list of players mentioned above only tells part of the story. Other notable graduates from the River youth team include Almeyda, Gallardo, Hernan Crespo, De Michelis, Cavenaghi, current Roma starlet Erik Lamela and somewhat surprisingly, Colombian super star Radamel Falcao. Not too shabby.

And with Ajax, there’s not really much more I can add to the thousands of articles already written about them. It’s not just a football academy, it’s also an education system that they run, a culture. The 1995 European Champions were years of academy work paying off. From van der Sar in goal, Blind, de Boer, Reiziger and Bogarde at the back, Davids, Seedorf and de Boer in midfield and a teenage Patrick Kluivert up front. All heavily involved in the run to the final, and with some help of some others (Rijkaard, Kanu, Litmanen), were able to emulate the great 70’s team of Cruyff et al – again, heavily represented by youth team graduates.

There’s a lot more to investigate in terms of what makes a big game player. The example of the De Jong brothers in Holland proves its not just the club environment as both brothers scored regularly against Top 6 Opponents last season, but the youth team education undoubtedly helps. I’ve no doubt missed several great youth systems (Monchengladbach anyone?) but I think I’ve covered the main ones, certainly from a big game player point of view. Missed some other good ones? Leave a comment below.

Cheers,

Liam

th team by World Players, Golden Boots, Recent Big Game players, Top 50

Other Findings

Good youth team academies

West Ham

Man Utd

Liverpool

Southampton – Dyer, Bridge, Bale, Walcott, Oxlade Chamberlain, Le Tissier, Shearer, Flowers

Everton

Youth teams with speciality in positions – Southampton, Sporting Lisbon, lack of Man Utd strikers

Further Reading:

Add links to articles

Top 50 Big Game Scorers 10-6

11 Sep

Finally into the Top 10, and the big guns are out, with seven World Cup Final goals between the next five players, plus a Copa Libertadores legend. For 20-11 see HERE

10. Eusebio (Portugal) 1957-1979 / 23 points – 9 goals

Mozambique born Portuguese legend, Eusebio was one of the most prolific scorers of the 60’s. With a reported 727 goals for Benfica, the lightening quick frontman dominated the Portuguese league, winning eleven titles in his stay with the Lisbon giants. However, it was his performances in the European cup that first brought him to the World’s attention. Playing in four finals and scoring in two of them, Eusebio lifted the trophy just once in 1962. The previous year had seen Benfica end Real Madrid’s reign as Kings of Europe as they beat Barcelona in the Final, and the 1962 Final paired the two of them against each other. Despite Madrid storming into a 2-0 and then 3-2 lead (thanks to a Puskas hat trick), Benfica stormed back to win 5-3 thanks largely to a brace by Eusebio. The man known as the Black Pearl had done this aged just 20 in his first full season with the club.

A year later, he was in the thick of it again as he scored against Feyenoord in the semi before notching another Final goal, this time against AC Milan who overturned Eusebio’s goal with a brace by Altafini. He’d suffer further Final heartache to Inter Milan in 1965 and Manchester United in 1968, scoring two semi final goals in both seasons.

His stay with Benfica wasn’t always so smooth though. When he signed for them, he alledgedly had to go under an alias to avoid kidnapping, whilst after the 1966 World Cup, Portugal’s dictator Salazar passed a law stating that he wasn’t allowed to leave Portugal after Inter Milan bid a massive $3m for him. In 1966. And whilst on the subject of the 1966 World Cup, Eusebio top scored with nine goals, including a memorable four goals haul versus North Korea. Portugal would eventually bow out at the Semi Final stage where Eusebio’s goal wasn’t enough to stop hosts England progressing to the Final.

 

 

9. Mario Kempes (Argentina) 1970-1996 / 24 points – 6 goals

It’s fair to say that the 1978 World Cup brought the best out of Mario Kempes, and especially the big games. Kempes won the golden boot much like Paolo Rossi after him, with all his goals scored in the final stages. Argentina finished the first group stages behind Italy, but in the Final Group stage, Kempes would burst into life. He scored the only goals of the game in a 2-0 win against Poland, before hitting another brace in the 6-0 win over Peru, a result that put them in final ahead of Brazil on goal difference. And of course, it was the Final that would be Kempes’ greatest moment. On home soil, Argentina faced the mighty Dutch who were contesting their second successive Final. Kempes opened the scoring in the 38th minute, only for the Dutch to equalise late on. In extra time, Kempes put the hosts ahead for a second time before it was made safe by Daniel Bertoni. Argentina had won their first ever World Cup, and Kempes had finished top scorer with six goals. You might want to put the video on mute:


In what was a prolific career, Kempes will be best remembered for his time with Valencia which saw him win two Pichichi trophies, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup (versus Arsenal) and the Copa del Rey in 1979, when he scored both goals in a 2-0 win against the mighty Real Madrid. He became something of a journeyman in his later career (that saw him scoring goals into his 40s), taking in spells in Austria, Chile and Indonesia, where he still remained prolific. He went on to play twelve more times for his country, but the extra time goal in the World Cup Final was his last for his country. A big game player when his country needed him most.

 

 

8. Vava (Brazil) 1949-1969/ 27 points – 6 goals

And coming in at number eight is Brazilian great Evaldo Izidio Neto, known more widely as Vava. Despite winning just 20 caps for the national team, Vava won the World Cup twice, in 1958 and 1962 and scored nine of his 15 national team goals along the way. Nicknamed Steel Chest (not quite as cool at Zico’s nickname), Vava was known as a goalscorer first and foremost. And he did that very very well. The first man to score in two World Cup Finals (only three others have managed this), he first came to International prominence in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. With Brazil looking to make amends for finishing runners up at home four years earlier, Vava, along with a 17 year old Pele and the mercurial Garrincha, won Brazil’s first World Cup. Aftecr just four minutes, they found themselves 1-0 down in the Final to the hosts, courtesy of a goal from AC Milan’s Nils Liedholm. cometh the hour, cometh the man – Vava stepped up to make sure there would be no repeat of the 1954 disappointment. And despite all of Brazil’s beautiful football, it was two poachers goals from him that firstly equalised, and then put them 2-1 up. Brazil went on to win the game 5-2 and in doing so, would begin a legacy that has seen them become the greatest footballing nation in the history of game.


And it shouldn’t be forgotten that he also scored in the Semi Final win against France – once again an important goal, with Vava scoring the opener. And he wasn’t finished there. Four years later he was even more instrumental. He top scored with four goals despite the fact that his first goal wasn’t until the Quarter Final win over England. In the Semi final win against hosts Chile, Vava’s goals were the difference as he scored a brace in a 4-2 win (along with player of the tournament Garrincha). And once again, he was at it again in the Final, scoring the third and final goal as Brazil retained their trophy with a 3-1 win over the Czechs. Once again, it wasn’t a classic Brazilian strike, with Vava this time pouncing on a goalkeeper mistake as seen here.

He enjoyed spells with Vasco da Gama, Atletico Madrid and Palmeiras (among others) before moving into coaching, where most notably he was the assistant manager of the 1982 Brazil squad – generally regarded as the best team never to win the tournament.

 

7. Alberto Spencer (Ecuador) 1953-1972 / 27.5 points – 13 goals

After a few World Cup specialists comes the King of the Copa Libertadores, Alberto Spencer. After spending his whole career in Ecuador and Uruguay (he also represented both countries), he’s somewhat unknown in Europe, despite his prolific scoring record. Even now, he’s the all time Top Scorer in the history of the Copa Libertadores, and it’s his 13 goals in the latter stages of the tournament that warrants his inclusion in the top 10. In total he scored 54 goals in the tournament from 1960 to 1972. Internationally, despite never appearing in a World Cup, he does have the distinction of being the only player to have played and scored simultaneously for two countries. In fact, he swapped between Ecuador and Uruguay no less than four occasions. Nicknamed the Magic Head due to his heading ability, Pele once said of him “Someone that headed better than me was Spencer. I was good, but he was spectacular heading the ball“. He didn’t however, mention problems in the bedroom.

And so onto the goals. Spencer scored in four different Copa Libertadores finals, and has a whopping eight Final goals. It should be remembered that Finals were played over two legs, but that’s still an incredible record and the epitome of a big game player. On top of that, he also scored five goals at the Semi Final stages. In 1960, after Spencer scored two goals in the semis, Penarol were facing Olimpia of Paraguay. In the first leg, he scored the first Final goal in the history of the now prestigious tournament – a fitting start for what he’d go on to achieve. That goal proved to be the difference as Penarol won 2-1 on aggregate. A year later, and the opponents had changed (Palmeiras of Brazil) but the outcome was the same. Spencer scored the only goal of a 1-0 first leg win, as Penarol went on to defend their crown with another 2-1 aggregate win. Penarol found themselves in a 3rd successive final in 1962 as they looked set to dominate the tournament the way Real Madrid had done with the European Cup. But it wasn’t to be. Spencer scored three more semi final goals against fellow Uruguayan’s Nacional. In the final, they faced Pele’s Santos, and despite Spencer’s goals in both legs of the Final, the Brazilians went on to win the play off 3-0. Injuries and form meant that Spencer didn’t get to play in another Final until 1966, and once again, he was pivotal. Scoring in the second leg of the final, this time against River Plate, Spencer decided the playoff game with the first and third goals 4-2 win to win his third and final winners medal. Pele wasn’t lying about his heading ability:

6. Ronaldo (Brazil) 1993-2011 / 32 points – 9 goals

It’s probably easiest to just start with the goals for Ronaldo, as they tell a pretty clear story:

He’s played in the Final of four different major tournaments and scored in all of them. Some correctly point out that he never scored in the European Cup Final, to which the simple answer is that he didn’t play in one. The closest he came was with Real Madrid in 2002-03. They ended up losing to Juventus 4-3 on aggregate, with Ronaldo playing and scoring in the 2-1 first leg win, but missing the return match which meant both he missed the chance to play in the Champions League Final, and also that the rest of us had to watch what is one of the worst Finals in the history of the competition. But I digress. This is all about Ronaldo. In my eyes, the pre injury Ronaldo was the best player I’ve ever seen, and had the potential to be the best of all time. Quite a statement I think you’ll agree but when you compare him with say Messi at the same age (19-20) Ronaldo scored 47 goals for Barca whilst Messi scored 17. I know there are plenty of variables to that, but it does tell a story.

Unfortunately though, the injury did happen, and football fans of the World had to put up with a bulked up but watered down version of the Brazilian striker, and he didn’t do too badly. Pre injury, he played and scored the only goal in the Cup Winners Cup Final for Barcelona against PSG in 1997. A year later at Inter, he played and scored in the UEFA Cup Final win over a Lazio team containing Nesta, Casiraghi, Nedved and Mancini. The goal showed his trademark rounding of the keeper, something that he seemed to take great joy in doing (as seen here). For Brazil, by the time of his first injury, he’d dazzled all before him with goals and assists in the 1998 World Cup, including a goal in the Semi Final against Holland. Unfortunately, we all know what happened in the Final, though at the same time, we all know what was to come four year later. He’d also scored in the Final of both the 1997 Copa America verus Bolivia and the 1999 Final against Uruguay with this effort – highlighting his ability to finish equally well on his left foot as his right. Pace, Power, Technique and accuracy:

After the injury (November 1999), he was visibly different, but he adapted to great success and fulfilled his greatest dream by winning the World Cup in 2002 (after recoevring from a second career threatening injury). And how. Ronaldo scored 8 goals in his 7 games (the highest total since 1970) including the winner in a 1-0 defeat of Turkey in the semi final, before his moment of redemption – the 2002 World Cup Final against Germany. Sure, he had a crap haircut, but look at the hunger for the first goal – winning the ball back (after losing it to be fair), and following up on Rivaldo’s speculative effort. The second was a thing of beauty though.

To be the all time World Cup top scorer, to have scored in two Copa America finals, and two European club finals, and to be the only man to score on both sides of the el Clasico and the Milan derby tells you all you need to know about his big game credentials. Ronaldo was a man for the big occasion. The fact that he did all this and people still talk about what might have been also shows you what a player he was, especially before the injuries. When Zinedine Zidane was asked who was the best player he ever played with or against he didn’t pause when he replied “without hesitation, Ronaldo”

The Top 5 will be up next week.

Top 50 Big Game Scorers – 20-11

2 Sep

Next up are the players in 20th to 11th as the countdown of the Top 50 Big Game Scorers continues. Included are a couple of Dutch and a couple of German greats as well as a couple of lesser known players. For numbers 30-21, click HERE

 

20. Michel Platini (France) 1972-1987 /18 points – 6 goals

I mentioned in a previous article that Michel Platini’s performances in the 1984 European Championship were comparable to those of Maradona in Mexico 86. Not everyone agreed it turns out, but I stand by the claim. The European Championships of 1984 were completed dominated by the mercurial midfielder, with Platini scoring 9 goals in just 5 games – a haul that’s still enough for him to be the all time leading scorer in that tournament. And it wasn’t as if he did it against poor teams (See Oleg Salenko’s 5 goals in USA 94). Platini scored in every match – including a winner in the 119th minute against Portugal in the Semi Final, and then the opening goal against Spain in the Final. Part of the magic square midfield for France along with Tigana, Fernandes and Giresse, Platini was the standout performer. From the 1982 World Cup semi final against West Germany, Platini scored in every international knock out game until the 1986 World Cup semi final – or to put it another way, six consecutive games – one of the greatest big game players of all time. To back this up, he was also pretty handy for his club sides, excelling in particular with Juventus. The successor to Liam Brady at the heart of the Juve midfield, he scored in the 1983 European Cup semi final against Lodz, before repeating the trick in 1985 against Bordeaux. In the final, sadly overshadowed by tragedy, he scored the only goal from the penalty spot to win the trophy for Juventus and the golden boot for himself. For the record, Maradona was ranked in joint 65th place on this list.

19. Bobby Charlton (England) 1956-1976 / 18 points – 6 goals

From one prolific midfielder to another, Bobby Charlton’s big game goals are spread across 13 years and three great teams. Part of the Busby Babes team that won the Division One title in 1956-57, Charlton scored a late equaliser at home to the great Real Madrid team of the time in the Semi Final of the European Cup, in just it’s second season. Tragically, that great team would never complete a full season again after the Munich Air Disaster claimed the lives of many of Matt Busby’s league champions. In fact, the last game they played together saw Bobby Charlton score twice in the Quarter Final second leg game against Red Star Belgrade. Ten years later Busby with Bobby Charlton famously won the competition, with Charlton scoring two goals in the Final against Eusebio’s Benfica. A year later, he scored at the semi final stage against eventual champions AC Milan. For England, he also stepped up on the big occasion, with both goals in the 1966 World Cup semi final win over Portugal, as Alf Ramsey’s men lifted the only trophy in England’s history.

18. Paolo Rossi (Italy) 1976-1987 / 18.5 points – 5 goals

When you see Paolo Rossi’s name then there’s a good chance you’d assume the hat trick against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup was the driver behind his lofty position. Well it’s not. It was undoubtedly a big game, and the redemption angle certainly built it up, but as this is the very biggest games (semis and finals), then it doesn’t qualify. Instead, Rossi has a bigger portfolio than suspected. In the 1978 World Cup, Rossi scored in the final group stage match against Austria, he then had an enforced absence for two years before claiming the golden boot in 1982 with 6 goals, all in the knock out stages. After the Brazil hat trick, he hit a double against Poland in the semi final, before scoring the all important opener against West Germany in the Final. In club football, he scored in the semi final aggregate win against Lodz in the 1983 European cup before defeat to Hamburg.

17. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Germany) 1974-1989 / 18.5 points – 6 goals

A prolific striker, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge enjoyed great career success with Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and West Germany. But it could have been even better. He won the European Cup in 1975 and 1976 with Bayern, but didn’t score in any of the semi finals or either of the finals. He did however score goals in the unsuccessful campaigns of 1981 and 1982 at the semi final stage against firstly Liverpool as Bayern went out on away goals, and then a brace to knock out CSKA Sofia a year later, only to lose to Aston Villa in the final. For his country he played in the three World Cups in between Germany’s wins in 1974 and 1990 – including two Final defeats in 1982 to Italy and 1986 to Argentina. In his first World Cup (1978), he scored the first three of his total nine World Cup goals, with the last of them in the final stage defeat to Austria. Four years later, he scored five goals as West Germany went all the way to final. His most notable goal was in the 3-3 Semi Final against France, with Rummenigge also scoring his penalty. In the 1986 World Cup, he scored in the Final against Maradona’s Argentina, but it wasn’t to be enough as Burruchaga scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute. As a consolation, he does at least have a European Championships medal from 1980.

16. Johan Cruyff (Netherlands) 1964-1984 / 18.5 points – 6 goals

There’s been millions of words written about the football genius that was Johan Cruyff, and there’s not much I can add that hasn’t been said on his ability. But what of his goal scoring in the big games? Well despite not being an out and out striker, the Dutch legend had a very impressive strike rate of a goal every 1.7 games for his clubs, and an even better 33 goals in 48 caps for Holland. And amongst those goals, were six scored in the latter stages of the biggest tournaments. First up was the 1969 European Cup semi final, when he scored the opener in a 3-2 aggregate win over Czechoslovakian Champions Spartak Trnava, before losing to AC Milan in the Final. He and his Ajax team mates wouldn’t have to wait too long for that first title though, following on Feyenoord’s lead, they lifted the trophy in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and it was the second of that hat trick of wins that saw Cruyff really hit the big time. In what’s been described as Total Football’s greatest moment, Ajax defeated Italian giants Inter Milan 2-0 in the final with Cruyff scoring both the goals – one an open goal, the second a towering header at the back post, not quite the beautiful goals you’d expect, but very important nonetheless.

For his country, he had a massive impact on the 1974 World Cup, scoring three goals in the Final Group stage, propelling Holland to the Final. His double against Argentina was followed up with the second against Brazil in what was essentially a semi final. Sadly for football lovers, he didn’t play in the 1978 tournament, but he still left his mark on the biggest stages.

15. Diego Forlan (Uruguay) 1997-Current / 19 points – 6 goals

Ready for another current player? Step forward Diego Forlan. Almost unrecognisable from the young forward that spent three seasons with Manchester United, Forlan who is currently playing in Brazil with Internacional, has been one of the best front men in World Football for the last five years, and has the goals to back this up. Having scored in both semi final legs against Liverpool, the first of these big game goals was in the 32nd minutedof the 2010 Europa League Final against Roy Hodgson’s Fulham. The second was in the same match, and an extra time winner to give Atletico Madrid the trophy. Later on that summer, Forlan scored five goals in the World Cup, with the biggest being the equaliser in the semi final against Holland. Sadly for him and his countrymen, Holland went on to win the game, though Forlan’s goal in the quarter final also pointed to a big game temperement. Fast forward 12 months and he was the star of the 2011 Copa America as Uruguay won their 15th South American title, but more importantly, their first since 1995. Forlan combined with Luis Suarez to form a devastating partnership that scored all the goals in the Semi Final and Final of the tournament, as Forlan scored a brace against Paraguay to win the silverware for his country.

14. Paul Breitner (Germany) 1970-1983 / 19.5 points – 6 goals

We’ve already seen Rummenigge in the list, and just 3 places later is the other player who made up the FC Breitnigge partnership, Paul Breitner. It’s not the catchiest moniker, but it does illustrate the importance of the partnership that the pair struck up for both Bayern Munich and Germany. The interesting thing about Breitner’s inclusion this high up the list is that he played mainly as a left back (albeit cavalier) before moving into midfield. His first major impact on the big game scoresheet was in the 1974 World Cup where the 23 year old left back scored in the Final Group stage game against Yugoslavia in a 2-0 win. He then went on to score in the Final with just the second penalty ever awarded in a World Cup Final – 23 minutes after the first as West Germany went on to win the tournament. Fast forward to 1982 with Breitner back at Bayern after spells with Real Madrid and Eintracht Braunschweig and he was back amoung the big game goals. The 1982 European Cup saw Breitner as a midfield captain and he led by example in the semi finals, scoring three goals across the two legs against CSKA Sofia (he and Rummenigge scoring all four goals in the home leg). He’d feel the heartache of a final defeat in both that tournament and the World Cup that summer, as West Germany lost in the Final to Paolo Rossi’s Italy – though Breitner did become only the third player to score in two World Cup finals, behind Vava and Pele (only Zidane has managed it since).

13. Dieter Muller (Germany) 1972-1989 / 20.5 – 7 goals

No big game scorers list would be complete without West Germany’s Muller. And this is no different, except that this isn’t the Muller that everyone knows. No, this is Dieter Muller rather than Gerd (no relation). And you have to feel a bit sorry for him as he’s something of a nearly man. Although he had a prolific career, he was always in the shadow of his namesake despite being the top scorer in Germany for both the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons. He also had the record for most goals in a Bundesliga match, scoring six goals in Cologne’s 7-2 win over Werder Bremen – only there were no cameramen to record it due to a strike. He only won 12 caps for West Germany (scoring 9 times), but he certainly made the most of his time with national team. His greatest moments in football came in the 1976 European Championships. With Gerd Muller now retired from the national team, Dieter had his chance to shine, and shine he did winning the golden boot. He scored a hat trick in the Semi Final against Yugoslavia with the latter two strikes coming in extra time to win it the game 4-2. And on the biggest stage of his career, he scored his country’s first goal as they drew 2-2 with the Dutch conquering Czechoslovakia team. Sadly for Muller though, the tournament is known for Panenka’s penalty. Two years later in the 1978 World Cup, Mulller scored two more goals, one in the final group stage in a 2-2 draw against finalists Holland. The fact that six of his nine international goals were in major tournaments suggests he wasn’t troubled by nerves. For his clubs, despite never playing for any of Europe’s giants, he scored in the 1979 European Cup semi final defeat to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest for Cologne, and then repeated his goalscoring semi final heartbreak in 1985, for Bordeaux against Juventus. Both occasions saw his team miss out on reaching the final by one goal. A prolific but very unlucky scorer.

12. Ademir (Brazil) 1939-1957 / 21 points – 6 goals

According to the South American football expert Tim Vickery, Ademir (full name Ademir Marques de Menezes) was one of Brazil’s greatest ever strikers and looking at his performances in the 1950 World Cup, it’s easy to see why. Ademir scored nine goals in just six games, as the hosts bulldozed everyone before them, except in the Final game against Uruguay. Perhaps this is why Ademir’s name isn’t as well known as it should be. At the height of his powers aged 28, six of his nine World Cup goals came in the final group stages. Firstly, he scored a massive four goals in the 7-1 win against Sweden before following it up with a brace in a 6-1 win over Spain. He won the golden boot but had to settle for a runners up medal as Uruguay produced a massive upset. Having made his professional debut in 1939, you have to wonder what he could have acheived on the World stage had World War II not halted the 1942 and 1946 editions, where Ademir would have been 20 and 24 respectively. In total, he scored a very decent 32 goals in 39 appearances for his country, including a hat trick in a play off final versus Paraguay in 1949 to win an early Souh American championship (before the Copa America was officially set up in 1975).

11. Marco van Basten (Netherlands) 1981-1993 / 21 points – 8 goals

Just outside the top ten is a player that many regard as the greatest striker of modern times. Marco van Basten played his last match aged just 28, but had already won the European Player of the Year award three times, and the World Player of the Year title once. Known as a finisher of the highest quality, comfortable on either foot and aerially, van Basten still managed to score eight goals on the biggest stages despite his short career. The first being the winning goal in the 1987 European Cup Winners Cup Final as Ajax beat East Germany’s Lokomotive Leipzig to win their first European trophy since Cruyff’s team in 1973. After a prolific 154 goals in 175 games for the Amsterdam club, van Basten joined AC Milan in 1987 with fellow countrymen Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard joining a year later. Together, they helped restore the club into the giants we know today. And he left his mark on the European Cup. In the 1989 tournament, van Basten top scored with 10 goals, including a goal in both semi final legs against Real Madrid. In the Final, van Basten scored the second and fourth goals in a 4-0 win over Steaua Bucharest as Milan won the title for the first time in 30 years. A year later, van Basten scored a penalty to give AC Milan a 1-0 first leg semi final win over Bayern Munich on their way to second successive title. For his country, he was equally deadly. Scoring 24 goals in 58 appearances, van Basten’s most famous goals were in the Euro ’88. Following a group stage hat trick against England, van Basten scored an 88th minute winner against West Germany in the semi final before doing this in the Final:

Injury robbed him of at least five more years at the top, and the rest of us a chance to see a great player end his career properly, but he certainly made the most of his short time.

Numbers 10-6 to follow

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

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.

La Liga Round 34

24 Apr

First they said he couldn’t do it against Barcelona. Then they said that he could only score penalties against them. After that they said that he could only score from open play against the reserve keeper Pinto. Well now there’s no more excuses. Ronaldo has finally killed off any lingering doubts about his ability to perform in the biggest game – el Clasico. And this time, like his winner in last years Copa del Rey final, it was crucial. Now this blog isn’t a Ronaldo love in. Truth be told, I had a thorough dislike of the Portuguese winger during his time at Old Trafford due to his diving, cheating and general arrogance. Something changed though, I don’t know if it’s because he’s now something of an underdog (to Messi) or that it seemed that until now, everything he did had a “but” close behind. Now that Chelsea have knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League, Ronaldo potentially has the upper hand in the claim to be the World’s best. And the stats below, both assists and goalscoring back it up.

After beating Barcelona in their own backyard, Real Madrid moved 7 points clear of their hated rivals in the bid to win the title for the first time since 2008. Mourinho has all but delivered, and like with Ronaldo, the team can also say they have passed the hardest test. And what cannot go unmentioned is the excellent throughball that Mesut Ozil played for the winning goal. That’s his 16th assist of the season, meaning he’s top of the creators:

Although he has the lowest ranked opponent per assist from the top 5 players, the assist for Ronaldo at the weekend is likely to win the league. He’s just above team mates Angel Di Maria (14 at 10.07) and Ronaldo who has the 11 assists – and like the goals, he has the most against Top 6 Opponents as well with 5, which is reflected in his average opposition ranking of 7.36. Barca pair Messi and Dani Alves make up the top five creators.

And so on to the goalscoring.

Ronaldo’s goal against Barca takes him one clear of Messi in the race for the Golden Boot with a mind boggling 42. It also increases his number of goals against Top 6 teams to 16 – a number I doubt will ever be matched after this season. Whilst Ronaldo is the big game player in the Top 6 measure, it’s Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez that has the best average ranked opponent per goal with 6.91. His equaliser against 1st placed Real Madrid was his 4th against Top 6 teams, and none of his 11 league goals have been against the Bottom 6.

The flat track bully continues to be Seville’s del Moral with 17.30 for his 10 league goals. None of his goals have been against Top 6 teams. Worryingly for Cesc Fabregas, he’s fallen out of both the Top Scorers and Top Assists league.

In the battle for the Champions League spots, Valencia continued their inconsistent consistency with a 4-0 win over 12th placed Betis. Roberto Soldado was once again on the scoresheet – hitting his 17th of the season – against an average opponent ranked 8.59, his goals have been worth 15 points for the team that seem to always finish 3rd. And that position looks a bit stronger after Malaga drew 1-1 with Osasuna in another all Top 6 game. Santi Cazorla scored his 9th goal of the season (12.44) and his 3rd against Top 6 opposition with a brilliant strike from 25 yards into the top corner. For once it wasn’t a free kick, but it was familiar territory.

Levante made it three games without a win as they look set to fall just short for the Champions League spots. A 1-1 draw away at 9th placed Seville sees them just about cling onto 5th place. Arouna Kone scored his 14th La Liga goal of the season (10.50) against his parent club. Athletic Bilbao have finally shaken off their funk with their third win in four games, this time against bottom club Racing Santander who are all but relegated. This put Bilbao back up into 6th after hitting the depths of 11th just a few games ago.

At the bottom, Villarreal are dragging themselves to safety, largely down to one of the old guard. Marcos Senna enjoyed the good times at the club which saw them reach the 2006 Champions League Semi Final, and consistently high finishes in the league. Aged 35 and predominantly a holding midfielder, the Brazilian Born former Spanish International has scored 4 goals in his last 11 games – winning the club five points (average opposition 7.00). The latest was at the weekend against 15th placed Real Sociedad in a 1-1 draw. That point takes them 6 points clear of 18th placed Sporting Gijon and Zaragoza in 19th. With 4 games to go, it looks like Senna’s sudden goal rush could be the difference in staying up and going down. His previous highest La Liga tally? Also 4 – when he was 30. The late equaliser in that game for Real Sociedad was Carlos Vela (10.27). He’s now extended his run to 7 goals in 9 games, and 11 overall for the season. Chuck in 7 assists and it’s been a good loan move for all invloved. He wants to stay in Spain, but with little back up for van Persie at Arsenal, maybe next season could be the one to see him finally establish himself in North London.

With four games to go, the title and relegation is all but wrapped up, with the last battle taking place being the race for Champions League Football. Three games without a win couldn’t have come at a worse time for Barcelona – meaning that they’ve effectively lost the Title and Champions League crowns in the space of a week. Guardiola still hasn’t signed his new deal, and Messi still hasn’t scored against Chelsea.

Cheers,

Liam