Premier League: The Lack of Tactics is the Most Fascinating Tactical Trend

Simon Smith looks at how the smaller Premier League clubs have upset the balance this season by signing the right players and assigning the right tactics…

Recent events have got me wondering how the league table would look if Chelsea hadn’t managed to have such a productive summer in the transfer market and get their act together this season. Would Southampton really be the league leaders? The trend in recent seasons has grown from none to one, and then to two, of the big teams each season to struggle. Not necessarily terribly, but to fail to achieve what they ought to, to invite the media crisis circus upon them. This season has reached new crises heights due to the fact that all the big clubs bar Chelsea (and to a lesser extent Manchester City) have failed to get their act together.

Just what is going on at Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United? The answer for all those clubs will be different, so perhaps instead we might muse what Southampton, Swansea and West Ham are doing that these sleeping giants are incapable of.

Tactically, it’s hard to conclude anything concrete: all three of those clubs have reasonably different plans, styles of play and ways the team is set up. What perhaps sets them apart the most is their player recruitment strategy. In a chaotic summer for Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in particular, these smaller clubs have shown the value of planning signings with the team in mind. Continue reading

5 Reasons why Louis van Gaal could be dead

Joe Devine brings us five reasons why Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal could actually be dead…

“But he’s the current Manchester United manager” I hear you say. Yes, that’s true – but can you prove he’s not dead? I very much doubt it. The following is five reasons why we believe he might be dead.

1. He Looks Dead

Despite being reportedly alive and 63 years old, Louis Van Gaal does look quite dead. Remember Babs from Chicken Run? Well, Babs looked dead and Louis looks just like her. He also looks like that premier Nazi guy who melts in that Indiana Jones movie. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to smell him, but he definitely looks dead, and we’re happy to use that as evidence.

2. He thinks no one can see him

As shown in this photograph below, Louis Van Gaal appears to believe that nobody can see him. He takes this opportunity to stare right into the breast area of a Fox News reporter. Do you really think a man of 63 years wouldn’t be aware of when was and wasn’t an appropriate time for boob-gazing? Only someone who thought they were invisible would do this, and only dead people are invisible. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Tottenham Hotspur fans, it’s time to wake up

With discontent growing at White Hart Lane, James Dutton believes Tottenham fans should take a step back from glorifying the club’s recent past…

January 22, 2012: Harry Redknapp’s third-placed Tottenham Hotspur are level with table-topping Manchester City at the Etihad. It’s 2-2; five points separate the two sides as the second half enters five minutes of season-shaping stoppage time.

Stefan Savic miscontrols the ball on the half-way line in the 91st minute, and Spurs are ready to counter; it’s two against one. Gareth Bale sprints past Joleon Lescott and into the penalty area with Jermain Defoe square. The Welshman passes ahead of Defoe, who was expecting a cutback, and the ball rolls along the six-yard box and beyond Hart. Defoe sprawls. He reaches out with his right leg out and arrows it inches wide.

Bale is on his hunches, hands on his head. Defoe clatters into the post in disbelief.

Minutes later, Ledley King clumsily brings down Mario Balotelli who was angling to take a shot on goal; Howard Webb points to the spot. The Italian is lucky to still be on the pitch after stamping on Scott Parker but calmly slides the ball into the bottom corner past Brad Friedel; arms outstretched, the match-winner receives the adulation of his teammates and the roar of the home fans.

Tottenham, so close to a such an unlikely comeback victory, fall eight points behind the champions-elect. Their title challenge turns to ashes. A month later they let a two-goal lead at Arsenal slip. The capitulation continues; their North London neighbours beat them into third by a single point. Spurs’ Champions League plans are cast asunder by a Didier Drogba inspired Chelsea in Munich. Having stuttered to fourth, Spurs’ right to enter Europe’s premier competition next year is revoked by Roberto Di Matteo’s new, sixth-placed European champions.

Harry Redknapp is sacked, Luka Modric is sold and Tottenham go back to square one. Continue reading

Football: More than a Man’s sport

Alex Stewart continues his look into language and football, and what the sport as a whole can learn from the USMNT…

The World Cup was a humdinger, wasn’t it? The James turn and volley, the beautifully unexpected performances of teams like Costa Rica and Algeria, that five one shellacking of the indolent Spanish, the heroics of hirsute Tim Howard. That last performance, which inflamed the hearts of American fans neutrals and alike, as he almost single-handedly kept the considerably-less-marauding-than-they-ought-to-have-been Belgians at bay (ok, as a keeper he used both hands and, indeed, his feet, but you know what I mean), similarly scorched Twitter: memes were born and heroics celebrated.

And many with the following appended: #USMNT — the United States Men’s National Team. A touch cumbersome, as social signposting goes, though, for the blood-and-thunder sports fans of the US, comfortingly pugnacious, even bellicose, more Special Forces unit designation than handy football acronym. And the abbreviation is a lot more interesting (and important) than simply be an easy way to navigate oneself towards another Howard stopping a meteorite Photoshop job. Continue reading

Hypothetical XI #27: England’s one-cap Wonders

Ahead of England’s Euro 2016 Qualifier against Slovenia and Wayne Rooney’s 100th cap, Dave Hughes brings us a hypothetical XI of England’s one-cap wonders…

Ah, the one-cap wonder. It comes in many forms.

There is the in-form man, who deceives the nation with a clutch of eye-catching club displays before having their shortcomings mercilessly exposed on the international stage. The stop-gap, summoned to national duty during a desperate injury crisis. There are those who display genuine promise before tragedy curtails their careers or, in some tragic cases, their lives.

And, of course, there is Seth Johnson.

In the spirit of optimism (or kindness in the case of David Nugent), players who have currently won one cap but may, with a fair wind, regain their place been omitted. Hence the absence of the likes of Jack Butland, Jake Livermore and Steve Caulker. The inclusion of Kevin Davies is based on the premise that the three goals he has scored in 46 appearances for Preston North End are unlikely to earn the 37-year-old an 11th-hour recall. Although you never know. Continue reading

Obscure Footballer of the Week #7: Ronnie O’Brien

Obscure Footballer of the Week returns. TFN Editor Hugo Greenhalgh profiles Irish footballer Ronnie O’Brien…

How could a nominee for Time’s Person of the Century fade into obscurity? A man whose name at one point, sat alongside Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi? Irish footballer Ronnie O’Brien was an overnight cult celebrity and one of the first true “Year 2k” internet sensations. While the fad wore off quickly and his career was largely forgotten, he merits discussion as more than just a novelty figure but as one of the first European footballers to make their mark in America, in the pre-David Beckham MLS era.

Born in Bray in 1979, O’Brien was a member of the prodigious Ireland youth side that included Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Stephen McPhail, and won the U-18 European Championship in 1998. At the time he was a Middlesbrough player but failed to break into the first team and was released in 1999. This was when O’Brien’s career took a bizarre twist. Typically a Boro cast-off of his ilk might expect a move to somewhere like Hartlepool or perhaps back to the Irish league; what O’Brien did not expect was a call from Italian giants Juventus. Continue reading

FIFA: What if they’re right and we’re wrong?

Jonny Singer ponders the rights and wrongs of FIFA’s latest controversy, the Russia and Qatar World Cup bids…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you’ll probably know that there have been a few allegations of corruption against FIFA.

Since Qatar was announced as the 2022 World Cup host, to an air of general surprise and disappointment, football’s governing body has rarely been far from the headlines.

And, if the headlines you see most are written in English, and in particular if they’re written by Englishmen, you’re likely to have a pretty strong view about the issue.

As the news broke on Thursday that FIFA’s corruption report not only absolved Qatar of any wrong-doing, but also made accusations of corruption about the Football Association, the English press were almost falling over themselves to criticize, and mock, Sepp Blatter and his organization.

The response of almost everyone I’ve spoken to in this country is the same – FIFA are so corrupt that they’re attacking the only people to call out their corruption.

But are we right? Continue reading