Tag Archives: Lionel Messi

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to the Norwich duo’s chances are that this season’s partnerships are not included as they’ll instantly make this post out of date.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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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 – 40-31

12 Aug

The next 10 players to feature include the World’s best player, a few Ajax legends, England’s first entry and the odd Brazilian here and there. For numbers 50-41, click HERE.

40. Andreas Brehme (West Germany) 1978-1998 /13 points – 3 goals

I think people dwell on that penalty in 1990 a little too much. We deserved to win. Argentina didn’t play well enough in the Final and that is the long and the short of it

Well Andy, the reason people dwell on that goal is because a left footed player took a penalty in the final of the World Cup with just five minutes left, on his right foot. That is ballsy.

In reality, Brehme was pretty much both footed, he took free kicks on his left foot and the odd penalty on his right. That’s all well and good, but to do it on the biggest stage to win the game is something else completely. There’s a big game temperament and then there’s showing off. Even Ibrahimovic would think twice before trying a stunt like that. His other two big stage goals were at the semi final stage of both the 1986 World Cup and then four years later against England in Italia ’90 – both were free kicks on his left foot. He scored 8 goals for his country (pretty good for a left back), five of which were in either the World Cup or Euros. Quite simply, he was a big game player.

39. Lionel Messi (Argentina) 2005-Present / 13 points – 5 goals

Strange as it may seem, there were still question marks over whether or not Messi was the best player in the World as recently as 2009. They said that Ronaldo could do everything Messi could but could score headers as well. Then in May 2009, Messi scored his first Champions League final goal – a back post header that was expertly directed back across goal and over van der Sar. The arguments stopped pretty soon after that. The dominant force in the recent history of the Champions League, Barcelona have won titles in 2006, 2009 and 2011, with Messi also scoring in the 2011 final, as well as two semi final goals against Real Madrid. Sure, he hasn’t quite been as devastating with his national team, but a recent hat trick against Brazil has hinted at a change there as well. To date, his biggest goal for Argentina was in the semi final of the 2007 Copa America. There’s still a lot of time to go though.

38. Jari Litmanen (Finland) 1987-2011 / 13 points – 6 goals

If Messi has been the most consistent scorer in high profile Champions League games of the past few years, then Jari Litmanen was his equivalent in the mid 90s. A winner with Ajax in 1995, the diminutive forward scored two in the semi’s that year. He went a step further a year later, repeating a semi double but also notching in the final against Juventus which won him the Golden Boot. Ajax lost it on penalties though Litmanen did score his. In 1997 he scored once again in the semi’s but it wasn’t enough to take the Amsterdam club to their third successive final, and brought to an end a great team. He went on to play for Barcelona and Liverpool, and is the only player to play international football in four different decades, with the 90s being the high point.

37. Jonny Rep (Netherlands) 1971-1987 / 13.5 points – 4 goals

Something of a troublesome character at Ajax (daring to question Johan Cruyff’s tactics when still a youngster), Rep was never short in self belief, and to be fair, he could back it up. Although his Ajax career was a lot shorter than it should have been (41 goals from 97 games), he did manage to score a pretty famous goal. In the third of three successive European Cup wins, it was Rep that scored the only goal as they beat Juventus 1-0 in Belgrade. He left Amsterdam in 1975 for spells with Valencia, Bastia, and St. Etienne (among others), but never again reached the heights of that night. For Holland he also performed well in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups as they lost in the final of both. He’s still the Netherlands top World Cup scorer with seven World Cup goals, and three of those came in the final group stages (no knock out games in either tournament), against Argentina in 1974 and a brace against Austria in 1978

36. Zico (Brazil) 1971-1994 / 13.5 points – 5 goals

When you have the nicknames “God of Soccer” and “The White Pele” then you know you’re a pretty good player. In fact Pele himself once said “throughout the years, the one player that came closest to me was Zico” which was both pretty arrogant but also not really worth much based on some of his previous quotes (“God gave Freddy Adu the gift to play soccer” – really?). Either way, Zico was the mutt’s nuts. The heartbeat of the 1982 side thought to be the best team never to win the tournament, he was prolific from midfield, scoring 52 goals for Brazil in just 72 games. He bagged four in the 1982 World Cup alone, but as Brazil didn’t get past the Quarter Final (damn you Paolo Rossi!), his only national team goal to make the list was in the Final Group stages of the 1978 World Cup where he scored against Peru. The rest of his entries were down to his biggest success as a player – the 1981 Copa Libertadores. In the first leg of the final, Zico scored a double against Cobreloa of Chile to give Flamengo a 2-1 lead. The second leg ended 1-0 to the Chileans, meaning a one off final was to be played in a neutral venue (Uruguay). Once again Zico scored two goals, this time without reply, to win the trophy for the Brazilians and finish the tournament on 11 goals.

35. Johan Neeskens  1968-1991 (Netherlands) / 14 points – 4 goals

Known as “Johan the Second”, Neeskens played alongside Cruyff for Ajax, Barcelona, and Holland. Initially a right back in his early Ajax days, Neeskens matured into a centre midfielder of high work rate which was equalled by his ability. A regular scorer from deep, Neeskens could be counted on for the big occasion. He scored the third goal in the 1971 European Cup semi final against Atletico Madrid as Ajax went on to win the trophy for the first time. For his country, he also delivered on the big stage, scoring in the 1974 Final Group Stage against East Germany on the way to a 2-0 win before facing Brazil in what was effectively the semi final. Neeskens put Holland 1-0 up in the 50th minute before Johan the First finished off the World Champions. In the Final, Neeskens continued to show his big game prowess by opening the scoring once more against West Germany. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the Dutch, they lost to their bitter rivals 2-1.

34. Chico (Brazil) 1939-1956/ 14 points – 4 goals

Francisco Aramburu, better known as Chico, was part of the great Vasco de Gama team of 1947-52. Known as the Victory Express due to five title wins, Vasco had the lightning quick Chico up front (wide left) forming a deadly partnership with national team mate Ademir. And it was the Vasco pair that would dominate the Final Group stages of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil walked through the first group stage, undefeated and scoring 8 goals along the way. And things would get better. Chico scored a brace in a 7-1 demolition of Sweden, and repeated the trick in the next game – a 6-1 trouncing of Spain. Going into the final group game, in what was essentially the World Cup final, Uruguay had only drawn with Spain, and snuck past Sweden with an 85th minute winner. Brazil were heavy favourites, with the media claiming a victory on front pages of that day’s newspapers. People were having street parties in anticipation of Brazil’s first World Cup. But Uruguay had other ideas. In front of a world record crowd at the Maracana (200,000+), it wasn’t to be Chico’s time, nor Ademir’s for that matter. In a game that would go on to be known as the Maracanazo (the Maracana Blow), Uruguay run out 2-1 winners with neither of the prolific Vasco boys on the scoresheet. No pressure for 2014 then….

33. Kurt Hamrin (Sweden) 1952-1972 / 14 points – 6 goals

If you think about early Swedes in Serie A, then it’s more than likely that you think of Gre-No-Li, the AC Milan trio of the 1950s. That however, would be doing a disservice to Kurt Hamrin. The lightning fast winger had a pretty impressive career in Italy with Juve, Padova, AC Milan, Napoli and above all, Fiorentina. He scored over 150 goals for the Viola including goals in the final of the European Cup winners cup in both 1961 and 1962 (beating Rangers and losing to Atleti). In fact that seemed to be his favoured competition as he also scored a final brace for AC Milan in 1968’s 2-0 win over Hamburg – only Milan’s second European trophy. To cap things off from a big game perspective, he also scored the decisive goal in the European Cup semi final in 1969 to knock out holders Manchester United, on the way to lifting the trophy. And for his country he also performed well in the 1958 World Cup on home soil – scoring in the semi final against West Germany.

32. Geoff Hurst (England) 1959-1979/ 15 points – 3 goals

The only entry that scored all of his points in one game, (Sir) Geoff Hurst is known the world wide as being the only man to score a hat trick in the biggest of all games – the World Cup Final. Not just that, but it was also a perfect hat trick. Bouyed by the home Wembley crowd, Hurst and his West Ham England team mates won the nation’s only trophy (excluding 1997’s famous Le Tournoi). And yet it was almost so different for Geoff. If it wasn’t for the last minute equaliser by Wolfgang Weber for West Germany then Martin Peters would have been the match winner after his 78th minute goal. In fact, had it not been for injury, Jimmy Greaves would have been England’s centre forward for the latter stages of the tournament. It’s a funny old game. Its easy to forget that Hurst’s England career aside from the 1966 World Cup (where he also scored the winner in the quarter final) was pretty good – 24 goals in 49 games. Just to prove that ol’ Geoff wasn’t a one game wonder, he also scored in the 1964 FA Cup final for the Hammers.

31. Sandor Kocsis (Hungary) 1943-1961 / 15 points – 5 goals

To give a rough idea of just what a great Goalscorer Kocsis was, there’s a few stats that tell the story. He was the first man to score two hat tricks in one World Cup. His strike rate of 1.1 goals per game for Hungary is the best in the history of international football for those with 43 caps or more. And lastly, he was the highest scorer in the top leagues of world football in both 1951 and 1952. Prolific doesn’t really do him justice. Yet the 1954 World Cup was a bittersweet experience for him and the magic Magyars. Whilst he scored a massive 11 goals in 5 games, the only game he failed to score in was against Germany in the Final. A team they’d beaten 8-3 in the earlier rounds defied the odds and the Olympic Champions, unbeaten in competitive games for four years, lost at the worst time.
By 1958, Kocsis was at Barcelona, trying to counter Puskas’ influence at rivals Madrid. The European Cup would elude them until 1992 but the Hungarian striker did score in the 1960 semi final and again a year later as well as scoring in the 1961 Final defeat to Benfica.

Numbers 30-21 tp follow

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

La Liga Round 29

27 Mar

After 29 league games, the score is now Lionel Messi 35 – 35 Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s starting to get silly now. The race for the golden boot between the best two players in the World is captivating. As with last season, the league seems to have been decided pretty early on this year round and the focus is on the shoot out between the majestic Messi and the powerhouse that is Cristiano Ronaldo. In the two rounds since the last update, Messi has scored four goals (3 vs 16th place Granada, and 1 vs 13th place Mallorca) and in doing so, has become Barcelona’s all time Top Scorer – aged 24. Not bad when you think about it. By comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo started to show signs of his advancing years (he’s 27 now), by only scoring three times in the last two games – and not a hat trick in sight. His first was in a 1-1 draw away at Villarreal (17th) where around 17 people were sent off, and he then got out of his funk with a brace at home to 14th placed Sociedad in a 5-1 win.

From a stats point of view, Ronaldo has more goals against the Top 6 with 13, and only 4 against the riff raff at the bottom. His average ranked opponent per goal is 9.51 – impressive stuff. Messi’s “only” got 8 against Top 6 teams, and has an average of 10th placed opposition per goal. In Messi’s favour though are the rest of the stats. He’s only scored 3 penalties to Ronaldo’s 11, and his goals have been more important as well – yielding 16 points for Barca, compared to the 11 points won by Ronaldo’s goals. The assists are actually a lot close than you’d expect. For those who want more on the rivalry, click here.

Messi, almost as good as Bendtner

Some believe that Messi and Ronaldo dominating the scoring charts so much, and indeed Madrid and Barca’s dominance is a sign of the weakness of the league, and a gap of 32 points between first and sixth does point to this, but it’s worth remembering that Manchester United were made to look very very ordinary by Athletic Bilbao, a club currently ranked 11th after the latest round of fixtures.

At the top, Madrid’s lead has been cut to just 6 points, but they’re still odds on to win the title. Even with defeat to Barca in the next el Clasico, you’d still fancy a Mourinho team to see it out. You have to feel a bit sorry for Real Madrid. In almost any other era, they’d be regarded as the best team in the World and one of the best of all time. Even if they do go on to win the league, many will still believe Barcelona are the best. It’s similar for Ronaldo. He does has one World Player of the Year title, but only Real Madrid fans and possibly some Man Utd fans would argue he was better than Messi. And it’s worse still for Benzema and Higuain – scorers of 27 and 23 goals (in all competitions) this season, and barely mentioned. It’s a tough life.

But enough about the big two, elsewhere Bilbao’s dreadful run continues. It’s now four games without a win in La Liga, which has seen them slip from 5th to 11th place. This time out it was a 1-1 home draw to 19th place Sporting Gijon. Before that it was a 2-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid with Falcao scoring a brace. unfortunately for our favourite Colombian bully, Bilbao were outside the Top 6 at the time of play, meaning that he still has just the one solitary goal against Top 6 opponents. Though I do have to concede that he’s stepped it up of late and is delivering against better opposition.

And that’s not all. His double against Bilbao, means that he moves into 3rd place in the race for the Golden boot, but even more important than this (in my mind at least), is that he’s no longer the flat track bully! With a jump from 14.18 to 13.42, Falcao has improved his average opposition ranking, and now has two players with worse averages than him. And how. Sevilla’s del Moral has scored a brace in each of the last two games – firstly against 18th place Racing in a 3-0 win, and then against 15th placed Granada last night. This gives him a massive 17.78 ranked opponent per goal. As you can see from the above, 8 of his 9 goals have been against the bottom 6 teams, meaning he’s deserving of the unwanted tag.

Cesc Fabregas retains the Big Game Player tag for another goal less week, but if he carries on without scoring for much longer, he’ll fall out of the above list, giving an opportunity for someone else to take on the Big game Player moniker, with Roberto Soldado the hot favourite (8.38). Ronaldo still leads the goals against Top 6 teams.

It wouldn’t be right to finish the post without a look at Levante. In round 28, they kept up their recent revival with a 3-1 win against Soceidad (12th), but were knocked out of 4th spot after defeat in round 29 to 7th placed form team Osasuna, who have lost just once in nine games. The last champions league spot is now held by Malaga, who have been somewhat off the radar of late. Without anyone really noticing, they’ve won 5 of the last 6 games, with the latest being a 2-1 win over Espanyol. And for those Man Utd fans mentioned earlier, Ruud van Nistelrooy scored the equaliser (Coutinho scored again for Espanyol). And that’s not all! Valencia, who looked like they had 3rd place guaranteed by Christmas, have been dropping points left, right, and centre, with just one win in the last four. as a result, Malaga are now level on points, with Levante just a further 3 behind.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Round 24

29 Feb

Some strange strange goings on this weekend in La Liga. Firstly, after going 8 games without a win, and finally giving up that last Champions League place, Levante finally got their act together and won. Not only that, but they have somehow gone back up to 4th place with just one win in nine games – the dream is alive!

Secondly, Falcao has finally done it. He’s finally scored against a Top 6 team. And not just any Top 6 team. He scored the equaliser for Atleti against the Barcelona. Ultimately it wasn’t enough though because (thirdly) Lionel Messi decided this weekend would be a good time to show he can bang in a free kick from 25 yards out.

Ronaldo did his best to top Messi’s effort by back heeling in the winner for Real Madrid away at Rayo Vallecano. Those goals mean that Madrid stay 10 points clear and Cristiano Ronaldo stays a goal ahead in the race for the golden boot.

Falcao now has a big proud “1” in the goals against Top 6 opponents column. Sure, it’s only 1 out of 15, and sure he’s still got the worst Average Opposition ranking, but the man now has momentum. In all seriousness, it is his first season in a new country and to be third in the goal scoring charts is a good achievement. Atletico Madrid have games against other Top 6 teams Real Madrid (1st), Levante (4th), Bilbao (5th) and Malaga (6th) before the end of the season, with Falcao having the opportunity to build on his goal against Barcelona.

Levante’s win was against 5th placed Espanyol with a long overdue winning goal coming in the last minute from Ruben Suarez. This was also his first goal against the top ranked bucket of opponents. His average is 10.75 which is close to where you’d expect a consistent goal scorer to be (10.5).

Osasuna’s Dejan Lekic is one of the form players of the league at the moment. He has 4 goals in his last 4 games, including a brace to beat Barcelona 3-2. And not just that, his 4 goals have been worth 6 points to his team – propelling them up to 7th place. His 29th minute goal proved to be the difference as Granada (17th) were beaten.

Cesc Fabregas’s goals have certainly dried up of late, but his assists haven’t. His assist for Dani Alves’ opener was his 7th of his La Liga career. His lack of goals since Round 17 have meant that his average hasn’t been affected. As a result, he’s still the leader in the AOI rankings with 4.78. Barca team mate Alexis Sanchez is the nearest challenger with 6.88. Ronaldo continues to lead the way against Top 6 opponents with 12.

Next week there’ll be a development on the stats. Yes, I finally have assists by game – meaning we can look at big game performance on more than just goals.

Cheers,

Liam

La Liga Round 19

26 Jan

Whilst all eyes were on the 127th el Clasico(s) of the last 12 months, there have also been some league games since the last La Liga update. After the crushing defeat at home to Barca before Christmas, Real have put together a fantastic run of victories – winning the last 4 league games, and scoring 17 goals in the process. They say a measure of a team is how they react to set backs. Mourinho’s men have certainly reacted well to the Barca defeat, and now hold a 5 point lead at the top after Barcelona dropped points to neighbours Espanyol. However, they’ll have to react well again after another defeat in the Copa del Rey to their bitter rivals, and talk of dressing room unrest between the Spanish players and the Portuguese speakers (which was also leaked to the press).

Jose is currently in the middle of a dressing room war, and looks very sad about it, though that could be because someone stole his glove puppet.

Valencia are sitting pretty in 3rd without having to do much, whilst Levante’s early season run is a thing of the past. No wins in 4 games, and only 1 goal. They’re still clinging onto 4th spot, but Espanyol have closed the gap to 3 points. I think most neutrals would be happy for either to finish in the last Champions League spot.

Onto the players and the Average Opposition Index. It’s no surprise to see Cristiano and Leo at the top. Ronaldo banged in 2 more goals at the weekend (both penalties) whilst Messi scored his 4th hat trick of another mediocre season. Like his boss, Ronaldo has also been under fire in the Madrid press, though he has since gone on to score in both legs of Madrid’s cup defeat to Barca. That should shut a few people up – and would suggest I wrote him off too soon myself in the Player Comparison.

Ronaldo’s 2 against Bilbao improved both his AOI and also increased his goals against Top 6 opposition to 9 – impressive stuff. Similarly, Messi’s hat trick against 8th placed Malaga also helped his average increase to 9.59. Prodigal son, Cesc Fabregas is still leading the way from an AOI ranking with a frankly ridiculous 4.78 ranked opponent per goal. He is the stand out big game player, and seems to be refusing to score against the bottom 6 teams.  Team mate Alexis Sanchez also deserves a nod for his impressive 6.73, and has scored 6 league goals in the last 6 games. The two major signings have certainly hit the ground running for Barca this year. The whole team seem to be able to do it regardless of the opposition (unless it’s Getafe).

Roberto Soldado continued his good season with his 12th of the season against 5th placed Osasuna. He’s currently many people’s choice for Fernando Torres’ international place – although with Villa out, he may get a stay of execution. Another rival for that place is Bilbao’s Llorente, who scored his team’s only goal in a 4-1 defeat at the Bernebeu. Nonetheless, it gave him his second goal vs the elite, and also improved his average to a decent 8.43.

 Falcao celebrating after scoring another goal against the local Blind School’s Under 12’s mixed XI

At the other end of the Index, despite what appears to be a cracking start to his career in Spain, Falcao continues to bully the smaller clubs. His hat trick at the weekend (his 2nd of the season) was against 14th placed Sociedad. Now, I’m not saying he’s a poor player, far from it, it’s just the facts would suggest he flatters to deceive. His 14 league goals have come in 8 games. The highest ranking opponent that he’s hit the net against was 10th placed Vallecano. He’s scored 3 of his goals against then 20th placed teams, whilst his hat trick at the weekend actually improved his AOI rating. He’s undoubtedly a good player, he just has to prove it againt someone half decent.

What will the second half of the season bring? Real to hold onto their lead and win the title ahead of the best team ever? Maybe. Messi and Ronaldo to score 100 goals between them in all competitions again? Probably. Fabregas to keep up his average opponent per goal rate? Unlikely.

It’ll be an interesting second half in Spain, personally, i’d love to see Levante hold on to 4th (if not, then Espanyol), Valencia to put a bit more pressure on the top 2, and Falcao to score against one of the Top 9.

Cheers,

Liam

Player Comparison: Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo 2009-11

16 Dec

Inspired by the recent el Clasico, I thought now would be a good time to have the first Average Opposition Index player comparison. And who better to start with than the undoubted best players in the world. I’ll leave out Carlton Cole for the time being as he’s not playing in the same league (yet).

Contenders:

Barcelona and Argentina’s Leo Messi, the current World Player of the year vs former World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal. Both play as Forwards – whether that be down the middle or from wide, both are generally part of a front 3.

Rules:

As usual, I won’t be including European Champions League Average Opposition as these are not ranked in the same competition, instead I’ll include La Liga games only from the last two completed seasons – 2009-10 and 2010-11. I’ll also compare their international goal record from an Average Opposition Index perspective.

La Liga:

From when Cristiano Ronaldo finally made his long anticipated move to Real Madrid in 2009, all eyes were on the show down between him and the existing king of La Liga – Leo Messi. By way of comparison, in the two seasons in question, Messi made 68 appearances in the league compared to Ronaldo’s 63. In those appearances, Messi scored a mind boggling 65 league goals compared to the even more impressive 66 by Ronaldo.  In terms of scoring alone, Ronaldo has a strike rate of 1.05 goals per game, compared to Messi’s 0.96.

La Liga 2009-2010:

Surprisingly, Ronaldo wasn’t even Real Madrid’s top league scorer in the 2009-10 season, with Gonzalo Higuain scoring 27 to his 26 goals. However, due to an injury ravaged season last year, Higuain’s record doesn’t stand up to comparison. And so on to the Stats:

The 2009-10 season was Ronaldo’s first in a new league. With that in mind, his record of 26 goals from 29 appearances is phenomenal. Unfortunately for him, this is a comparison against Leo Messi. Messi’s 34 goals in just 35 appearances is even more impressive. Based on the Average Opponent per Goal at the time, Messi’s 10.50 is exactly where you’d expect a player to be and shows his high performance against all opposition. This is emphasised by the ranges of opposition he has scored against. 10 goals against the other 5 teams in the Top 6 excluding his own is a great achievement and inline with the other stats above. This includes a hat trick against 3rd placed Valencia and a double vs Sevilla (5th).

Ronaldo by comparison had an Average Opponent per Goal of 12.38 based on their position at the start of each round. Looking at his ranges, again, there is a good split between Top/Bottom 6 and also the majority in the Middle 8 is where we’d expect to see this. Where Ronaldo falls behind is that he’s 3 goals behind Messi vs Top 6 opposition, and 4 of his 26 goals were from the spot, compared to just one of Messi’s. Both scored in a similar number of games where comparing the Average Opposition Index for the final league positions, although Ronaldo’s increases to 11.85, Messi’s is still better despite it decreasing to 11.18. At the time of play and at the end of the season Messi did it against harder opposition, and more often.

Winner: Leo Messi

Unsurprisingly, Messi who had been playing in La Liga for 5 previous seasons won this fight on all fronts.

La Liga 2010-2011:

So with a season of La Liga experience behind him, Ronaldo and his team mates targeted Messi and the Barca boys, and this time they had Jose Mourinho calling the shots. Despite his reputation for defensive football, Mourinho’s teams have often been record breakers in goals scored and points collected. Ronaldo especially thrived under his stewardship, along with two important other factors – he was now the main man at the Bernebeu after Raul’s exit, and he was also being supplied by Di Maria and Ozil. For Messi, he also had a change in his forward partners with Ibrahimovic and Henry leaving, replaced by Villa and youth product Pedro. And so onto the stats once more:

First and foremost, in a similar number of appearances, Ronaldo outscored Messi by a whopping 9 goals – take out each players penalties and there’s still 5 goals in it. In terms of the Average Opposition both were close enough to the expected 10.5 mark. However, where Ronaldo really shines is in the Top 6 goals. Of his 40 league goals (41 if you read Marca – the Madrid based and in no way biased sports paper), a massive 16 were against other members of the Top 6 including a four away at Sevilla, and a hat trick at home against Villarreal – one of 6 hat tricks scored in the season. It was against other members of the Top 6 that splits the two players – although Messi does come out on top in the number of games scored in.

However, what the stats don’t tell is that 3rd-6th were a long way behind the big two. Valencia, who finished in 3rd were 21 points behind 2nd placed Madrid, whilst 4th placed Villarreal were 30 points behind. Towards the end of the season when it was clear that Barca were going to win the league, the Madrid players were going out of their way to provide for Ronaldo – he scored 11 in his last 4 games. In that same period, Barcelona had one eye on the Champions League final and Messi didn’t score one goal. Upto that point in the season, Messi was actually ahead of Ronaldo in the scoring charts.

Though we should give credit where it’s due – 11 goals in 4 games in itself is an incredible achievement. Boosted by his late flourish, Ronaldo beats Messi in all but the number of games scored in.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

La Liga 2009-2011:

So looking at their league performances in the two full seasons they’ve played in the same competition:

There’s one goal in it in Ronaldo’s favour, though he has scored 7 penalties more than his rival. Messi is ahead in games scored in and has an Average Opposition per goal of 10.63 compared to Ronaldo’s 11.38. Ronaldo is ahead on goals against the Top 6 whereas Messi trumps him in the other ranges. With the closeness in the goal scoring stakes, when looking for a winner and without wanting to sit on the fence it’s worth looking at some further factors.

With the rest of the opposition so far behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, a better indicator than just looking at the Top 6 goals is the goals in the head to head games. In the four league games played, Messi has two goals compared to Ronaldo’s one. Something that continues to be levelled at Ronaldo is that he rarely performs well in the el Clasico’s. Even in last week’s game, he missed two good chances, and also neglected to pass to team mates in better positions. In the games last season, both scored a penalty in a 1-1 draw in Madrid, whilst in the first game in Barcelona, Messi was outstanding, laying on rather than scoring goals for his team mates in a 5-0 win. And it’s Messi’s ability to create that gives him the edge. Last season saw Messi top the assist league table with 18 compared to Ronaldo’s 10. Going back to 2009-10 season and it was a similar story – Messi leading Ronaldo.

So with that in mind, the Winner is Leo Messi.

Internationals:

For their countries, it’s a similar story – albeit the gaps are wider. Whilst Ronaldo has scored 32 goals in 87 appearances for Portugal (0.37 goals per game), Messi has scored 19 in 66 (0.29 goals per game). However, when comparing the Average Opposition per goal there’s little room for debate. Messi has scored on two occasions against #1 Spain, and also against Argentina’s fierce rivals Brazil. The worst opposition he’s scored against as per the FIFA Rankings at the time of play is Algeria #67. Interestingly, when the two nations faced each other in February of this year, both scored in a 2-1 win for Argentina but crucially, Messi also got an assist.

Both failed to impose themselves on the 2010 World Cup – one of the few criticisms that can be levelled at them. Messi’s solitary World Cup goal being in the 6-0 win over Serbia & Montenegro in a game famous for Cambiasso’s team goal back in 2006. Ronaldo scored in 2010, but it was against North Korea – ranked 105th in the World. This was in addition to his 2006 World Cup goal against Iran. For Ronaldo’s 2 goals in the European Championships (2004) see Messi’s 2 goals for Argentina in the 2007 Copa America.

In Conclusion:

Looking at just the stats, it’s difficult to separate the two players in the comparisons available. What can be agreed is that both players still need to do more at International level – especially in a World Cup, but as both are in their Mid-20s and with a World Cup less than 3 years away, they should both have the chance to do so.

Taking into account the goals against each other and the assists that Messi provides, the argument up until now falls in Messi’s favour. Both are outstanding players, but you can use the recent Real Madrid v Barcelona game as a microcosm of their rivalry. Take away Ronaldo’s goals and there’s not much else on offer, whereas Messi created the first goal after picking up the ball from his Centre Back, beating 4 men, and playing a perfect pass through for Sanchez to score. It was a similar story in the 5-0 win last season – Messi didn’t score but was man of the match.

Ronaldo is a modern great – a former World Player of the year, a scorer in a Champions League final, and the winner of the Golden boot in two strong leagues and in the Champions League.

But he’s not Messi.

Both have 17 league goals this season, as this intriguing head to head continues. Both can count themselves unlucky that they’re playing at the same time as another 50+ goal a season forward (in all competitions), but it’s great for the neutral. Messi is ahead due to his all round game, but it’s far from over.

I’ll revisit this at the end of the season. I came into this expecting a clear win for Messi, but the fact that it was assists that separates them says a lot for the rivalry.

Cheers,

Liam