Month: August 2013

The Creative Midfielder Conundrum

 

Deadline day approaches before the transfer window proverbially “SLAMS” shut. With over 250 transfers (ins and outs) in the EPL this year, it’s been one of the busiest transfer windows of all time.  And focusing on the top 4 teams, there are a lot of names being bandied about before the window closes. The skirmishes between PL fans have begun with people taking pointless swipes at the rival clubs. However, one thing seems to have struck me the most. There is a lot of talk about ‘creativity’ and the creative central midfielder. Allow me to deliberate my chain of thoughts out loud.

 

Football was a very simple game in the EPL. Most teams were satisfied playing the 4-4-2 and little variations of it to suit each team’s strengths and weaknesses.  It was in 2004 when Rafa Benitez first debuted, in the EPL, things got a complicated. Tactics were no longer a simple swap of one physical player with a speed demon or announcing to the team that they should attack; they were far more intricate, with formations and new positions being born for the first time in England. The emergence of the 4-2-3-1 formation saw the birth of a trequarista and that of two holding central midfielders, one the tackler and the other the creator. Now, I know Benitez has a large monkey on his back due a rather dull few years but none can deny the tactical genius of the person, atleast when he first arrived on English shores. His tactical approach immediately called for change up and down the Premier League. All the teams and managers learnt subtle ways of handling opposition, no matter their size. The big teams spent big bucks on shaping the team the right way and have enough depth to adapt to more than 1 kind of formation. Yes, it Rafa did infact bring a tactical revolution to England. But, can he be credited with the ‘creative midfielder’ idea? Is it a concept that is so important to teams for them to succeed? Im afraid that’s not the case.

 

The creative player who lays the sword through the heart of the opposition, the one who can split the defense wide open, a man who has the key to all the locks, the brain… well you get the picture. Traditionally we have seen this player play through the middle in a 4-4-2 formation and this continued in the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 and this has led people to the conclusion that creativity originates there. Patrick Vieira, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Xabi Alonso, Michael Carrick, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Petit etc The wingers were traditionally pacey or tricky players who could power themselves into the box or to whip in a good cross. Somewhere down the noughties the managers decided they should explore options of creativity in other areas of the pitch and see how it plays out. Now, I know a lot of people think its hit and miss. I know people feel the central midfielder is the lynchpin of creativity but this is no longer the case. The EPL is now rife with players, who can play up-front and on the wings, who are abound with creativity. The sheer no.of defense splitting passes we have seen from the wings is a testament to this. So what is lacking in the fast paced PL and what is causing the EPL clubs to fall short in the Champions League in recent seasons? Why are they suddenly losing significant footing they had 3-4 years back.

 

In my opinion, creativity is not the problem at all. Like I mentioned, as long as you have a creative spark in your team and you can maneuver the tactics to play to their strengths, the club can carry on making those defence splitting passes. What the EPL clubs are now in dire need of is players who thrive on transitional play.

 

Every single central midfielder I mentioned earlier were not simply creators, they were passers and most importantly – dictators of the tempo of the game. While a game hinges on end to end action, it relies on players like these to slow it down and speed it up. Look at clubs like Barcelona, Dortmund or Bayern from last year and you will see how all teams changed the pace of their game. This can only be done from the central midfield and it can only be done by players who are aware of the game and how it is going. When the opposition are throwing attack after attack when you are leading by a goal, the tendency would be to go on a counter attack to try to lay the game to the rest, but the transitional players see the opportunity of slowing the game down and taking the adrenalin off the opposition. This is what players transitional players do best.

 

The PL currently has an overwhelming number of players who are pacey, fast and powerful. They pretty much run the game ragged over 90 mins and we are treated to end to end action. The players on the other hand struggle to get the bearings in place. This is what I think the EPL is currently really lacking. And my belief is that which top club gets this player first, can guarantee them the title; and a handsome finish in the UCL.

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The Advait Column: Manchester United Preview for 2013-14

This Premier league season is something special – Off season revolved around 3 clubs, 3 managers and 3 players and all eyes were on how, what and when something would give during the opening day – Would Suarez be all bark and no “bite” for Liverpool? Would David Moyes be able to fill in Sir Alex’s shoes? Would Mourinho start his “special one” sound bites again? Would Manchester City shed the “noisy neighbours” tag once more?

Well, some of these questions were answered on Saturday and Sunday evenings (as I write this the Man City game is yet to take place), but I’ll stick to the Swansea vs United game and review it here.

There are no two ways at looking at it – Swansea ARE a tough team. They have been revitalized into a well-organized, well oiled, attacking machine that boasts one of the top five strikers in the Premier League (as per last season’s statistics). Michael Laudrup was a great player and he’s now turning out to be a brilliant manager. Before the start of day’s play Swansea had won all their pre-season “friendlies” and had qualified to the penultimate round of matches to enter the Europa League championships. On the other hand, United had just won 2 of their 7 pre-season encounters, had a new manager after close to 27 years and had made no major signings. Plus, in the Premier League ANY away game is a toughie and United had drawn 1-1 the very same fixture last year. Safe to say, all pressure on the away side for this game.

United fielded a pretty much standard team (4-2-3-1) playing with van Perise up front as the lone striker while Swansea played 4-5-1 with Michu up top. Swansea looked the much better side for the first fifteen to twenty minutes. They had the lion share of possession, pressed United and created one or two sweet chances that went begging. Special mention to Acanas, the new Spanish signing (other than the theatrical “injuries”) as he kept Carrick and Cleverly quiet almost the entire game. United looked solid on the counter and had half-chances of their own (if only Giggsy was ten years younger), but they were few and far between. The commentator summed up what happened in the next few minutes perfectly – “The Premier League is unforgiving”. In all of 2 minutes United had pretty much sealed the game. Against the run of play, Giggs chipped a ball just behind van Persie who was played onside and after the deftest of touches, he volleyed the ball into the back of the net. Typical van Persie goal – pure class. Advantage United. When United smell blood, they usually go for the kill. Evra buoyed by new found energy bombed down the left and dinked a cross in that was not cleared properly by the Swansea defense. Valencia pounced on the loose ball and passed it into the path of an oncoming Welbeck for a simple tap in. 2-0, half time, United were now and for the rest of the game in the driving seat.

Laudrup tried to change things up by bringing on new signing Bony to pair up with Michu but apart from a header from the former going just wide, Vidic and Ferdinand marshalled the defence in perfect tandem and made sure nothing of significance happened attack wise for Swansea. All eyes were now on two men – David Moyes and Wayne Rooney. Two goals in the first half shifted the entire focus of the game from football to men and their egos as columnists in England would describe it. Rooney came on and he played a good professional 30 minutes or so creating an opening with a run for van Persie’s rocket into the net (his second of the night) and a neat pass into Welbeck’s foot for the most audacious, let alone sublime chip I’ve seen from a United striker in quite sometime (he made up for his earlier antics where he gifted Swansea their only goal of the night). From a team point of view Moyes would be very pleased – he won his first competitive Premier League game in charge of Manchester United and also made sure Rooney started (atleast for the time being) the 2013-14 season in a Man United shirt. There’s a lot being said about him not celebrating the goals with his team-mates but frankly speaking that’s a whole lot of speculation and nothing of fact. Rooney put in a good shift, United chalked up an away victory – All’s well that ends well as far as the first game goes for United and Moyes.

The real litmus test however will be next week against Chelsea. With so many of the pre-season subplots intertwining, it’s gonna be one helluva cracker!

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Advait is a Biologist from India who is currently doing his Ph.D in Italy. He has been a Manchester United fan from as far back as I can remember(I’ve known him since we were 2).

Arsenal vs Aston Villa – A Quick Review in response to the game

Premier League

 

The initial reaction from the match is that the referee was horrendous and he cost us the match. Id say that is partially right. Its one of the worst refereed games I have ever seen and it might have costed us the game, but even all the other minutes Arsenal had the game, they never really threatened, they never were really incisive(bar two chances to Rosicky). The team has the exact same problem as it did the year before.

There is no incisiveness in attack and there is no transitional play in attack and defense. There is noone who controls the game and dictates the game. This is where Cesc was so crucial to us. He’d slow down the game, quicken it up, unleash a pass that the opposition are not expecting at all. Right now, we just pick up the ball/win the ball and run to their goal. There is no build up play, there is no passing it around and getting a feel of the oppositions movement. Its just run at them. And that tactic works if you are a team like Real Madrid who have the pace, legs and power to do it. Not our team.

It took all about 13 minutes for our squad ‘depth’ to be tested. Gibbs goes off injured to be replaced my Jenkinson. And since then, everytime a player went down we all had our hands clasped firmly over our mouth, praying and hoping they get up. Well, the game has ended and we have 3 players injured; Gibbs, Chamberlain and Sanga. All in the first game of the season. All in positions which we didnt bother to replace. Its just so frustrating to see it happen. 

Coming to this match again, the manager got it the team selection all wrong, imo. The players who should have been substitutes were on the pitch. By no means should have Rosicky and Chamberlain have started. Both are impact players who would have given such a huge boost to the team whenever they would have come on. Unless Podolski and Cazorla were not fit, its definitely a terrible decision. Assuming they are not fit, then Cazorla simply should not have played 45 mins. He looks lazy and disinterested, literally from the moment he came on. This eventually leads to the argument of how the squad is wafer thin.

Nobody else can take the blame for this except the manager. I think the vitriol vented by the fans at the stadium is totally and completely justified! They’re paying those inflated season ticket prices and inflated prices for food/drinks or t-shirts. They travel all the way to the stadium to cheer their team on, only to be represented in the worst possible fashion. Im sorry, but thats unacceptable, and you cant deny them their voice to complain, which is coincidentally ‘boos’.

Black or White or Baby, I love the Grey

As the Central Elections near, media bedlam has begun. There is not a day that goes by without mudslinging being reported. It feels like watching Big Boss play out on a grander stage with a greater viewership and the progress of the nation at stake (not that I’ve seen the show but you know what I’m talking about). This has clearly drawn a lot of flak from the general public “We want politicians to play with a straight bat!” Watching Rahul Gandhi muddling through his protracted lecture at CII, in front of industry stalwarts, has got me thinking, is it so hard to just be honest or just say nothing at all? Is it a necessity to mince words or structure them into long-winded sentences that offer no real meaning?

I began watching South Park approximately 3 years back and right out of the blocks I fell in love with it. The humour was sharp and clever; it chronicled issues that everyone loved discussing and it also had that quirky tomfoolery that everyone enjoys in moderation. It also takes clever jabs at celebrities who have a consuetude of doing or saying stupid things. The creators of the show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are absolute legends. They are intelligent and well-read with certain principles that never change in the face of pressure from the public or even when death threats are received (like they got from Al Qaeda if I’m not wrong). As their brain child borders on the semi-tasteful, it is important they try to be as objective as possible on the various narratives they chronicle. So they firmly believe in the principle “It’s all OK or nothing is OK. There is only black and white.” But is it really that simple?

Humans are intellectuals; cerebral creatures with ever changing needs and desires. We’ve navigated the Great Depression, 2 World Wars, numerous freedom struggles and multitudes of protests and take-overs, all just in the span of the last 100 years. As much as I’d like to think that these were successfully started or successfully ended by straight-forward decisions which were akin to flipping a switch, we all know that this isn’t the case. These situations are all struggles and any struggle demands a stratified and conscientious approach to resolve it. We’re all involved in a struggle of some sort in our daily lives, be it with your boss or your co-workers, your clients, your house, your friends, your better half, whatever it is. I can pretty much guarantee that you’re not giving a straight-forward yes or no; black or white decision to all those situations(in some cases any). Im sure we’d all love to give straight forward answers but it’s a lot more complex than that. Isnt it a bit hypocritical that we expect politicians to do the same? Time to play devil’s advocate here.

I have a theory behind the same. There are two things that annoy people, One is things that have a fairly large magnitude where it will impact the lives of many – being dodged; and two lying or dodging something inconsequential where you might as well be honest about. If we analyse most cases where people get annoyed about the grey area, it’s because it falls in either of the above buckets. While in reality the grey area has more consequences than one end of the spectrum, we are still receptive to things happening between that bandwidth. When your friends tell you that they will ‘Try to make it’ and don’t make it, you’re annoyed because you know they could have and probably should have said they wouldn’t be able to, so that you could have planned your time better. Similarly, when politicians avoid serious questions about the economy and functioning of the government and instead talk about bee hives and elephants, it irks you to no end as there is a dire lack of clarity on such an important subject.

I’m no soothsayer.  I don’t claim to be the philosopher who will be able answer all these questions, or the one who will bring balance to the force. I only offer my two cents and I personally believe it comes down to a matter of ego, which quite frankly is natural. Those Umms, errs and maybes are all effectively excuses and these excuses are an insult to the intelligence of the person on the receiving end of it.

Stick to being sensible on when you want to use the grey area. It’s not unacceptable at all, it’s very subjective and is a tool that should be used appropriately and only when the situation absolutely demands it. So let’s try to cut the nonsense out and keep things simple.

Ta