Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Archive for February, 2009

Preview: Carling Cup Final

Posted by hakanrylander on February 28, 2009

Alex Ferguson is expected to keep faith in the players that got us into this final. But as both Evans and O’Shea played with minor injuries in Milan I don’t think they will feature at Wembley. This means that Ferdinand and Vidic should provide a strong foundation. In midfield and attack some of the regulars of the CC campaign (but not in the PL first XI) will start, such as Gibson, Welbeck, Tevez and Nani. Ferguson is likely to stock his bench with stars, meaning that Ronaldo as well as Spurs oldboys Carrick and Berbatov could be sent on to turn the game around in the last half-hour if necessary.

Spurs is an enigma this season. Individually their players are a lot better than their position in the table suggests. When playing for their national teams both Modric and Pavlychenko have proved that they are among the top players in Europe, and Palacios (ineligible tomorrow) is one of the best midfielders in the PL. In a one-off game at Wembley they could prove very difficult opponents.

My line-up: Foster; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fabio; Welbeck, Gibson, Scholes, Nani; Rooney, Tevez.  Subs: Kuszczak, Evra, Evans, Carrick, Possebon, Ronaldo, Berbatov

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“Un magnifico Carrick”

Posted by hakanrylander on February 25, 2009

My Italian is, not to put too fine a point on it, far from perfect. Or perhaps closer to non-existent. But even I can understand the gist of this eminent article in the newspaper la Repubblica. Please enjoy!

Posted in Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The fat lady sings at Anfield

Posted by hakanrylander on February 22, 2009

When Liverpool dropped two points against Manchester City this afternoon they more or less handed us the Premier League title. Still twelve games to go, but United are 7 points clear of Liverpool and ten and eleven respectively ahead of Chelsea and Villa. It will take a total collapse for United to loose this advantage. (I hope I won’t regret this post…).

The conclusions from United’s game against Blackburn are more complex. I saw this game in two different ways. United’s performance was not very impressive at all, but also very promising. Let me explain.

United dominated the early stages, but when Blackburn got more physical we struggled and our passing game wasn’t as fluid as usual. We gave away a bad goal and then Blackburn very nearly took the lead when Ryan Nelsen hit a post. I was also disappointed to see Ronaldo, correctly, receiving a yellow card for diving. My overall impression was that if Blackburn can cause us this much trouble we might find it difficult to deal with some of the much better sides we will encounter in the next few weeks.

On the other hand I found this game hugely promising because of the performances of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo (apart from the diving, that is). They were not at their very best, but clearly improving. If these two players hit top form at this crucial stage of the season we can look forward to three very exciting months.

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A brief guide to when to commit a red card offence

Posted by hakanrylander on February 20, 2009

Defenders often face the decision whether to deny the opponents a scoring opportunity if this means receiving a red card. From now on Ferdinand, Vidic et al can rely on academic research to help them in this decision-making process.

In a study published in the latest issue of Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports three researchers from Colombia University, New York (Vecer, Kopriva, Ichiba) analyse the effects of red cards in soccer. One of the conclusions is that when the opponent’s chance of scoring in a particular situation is 57,5% or higher it’s better to prevent such a scoring opportunity from the very beginning of the game, provided that the offence doesn’t lead to a penalty but just a red card.

The tricky part might be to in an instant calculate whether the probability of scoring is above or below 57,5%.

Posted in Academic | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Lord, My God, Assist Me Now

Posted by hakanrylander on February 18, 2009

Offical statistics from the Barclay’s Premier League. Number of assists season 2008/2009:

  1. Dimitar Berbatov  9
  2. Steed Malbranque  8
  3. Robin van Persie  8
  4. Ashley Young  8
  5. Emmanuel Adebayor  7
  6. Gabriel Agbonlahor  7
  7. Mikel Arteta  7
  8. Stephen Ireland  6
  9. Florent Malouda  6
  10. Morten Gamst Pedersen  6

Posted in Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

Posted by hakanrylander on February 18, 2009

…than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Even so, The Times today publishes 25 simple steps for United to reach heaven. Which in this context is to win five titles: the World Club Championship, the Carling Cup, the FA-cup, the Premier League and the Champions League. I still consider this to be just about impossible, but presented in this way it can look a deceptively simple task.

The WCC is already in the bag and both the Carling Cup and the PL look within reach. But United are still a very long way away from repeating last year’s CL triumph, with Inter Milan as the first, very difficult, obstacle. It’s a nice dream, though.

The first step on the ladder is tonight against Fulham, who have not yet won away from home in the league this season. Several United stars are expeted to return after being rested against Derby, such as Van der Sar, Vidic, Carrick, Scholes, Berbatov and Tevez. Rooney might be on the bench.

Please also note that the Bible doesn’t specifically mention rich football clubs.

Posted in Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Like the stream of gold and the Sky above

Posted by hakanrylander on February 14, 2009

The global economic downturn has severly affected a number of owner’s of football clubs. West Ham’s Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson is on the brink of bankruptcy and Roman Abramovich at Chelsea is beginning to look like a bit of a skinflint after years of extravagant spending. Only the Abu Dhabi guys at City seem to have very deep pockets these days.

But to what extent will the recession hit the business of football itself, i.e. the revenues from gate receipts, television, sponsoring and other commercial activities? The surprising answer might be: Not very much.

At least, a number of events in recent weeks have pointed in that direction. The most important for United and other English clubs is that the Premier League secured a record television deal worth almost £1.8 billion (of which Sky will pay £1.62 billion) over three years, from 2010 to 2013. This is about 5 percent more than the previous deal.

This week’s edition of The Economist argues that leading sports have two big advantages that help them stand up to recession better than most. Firstly they are able to sell broadcasters and sponsors what they crave: lots of dedicated viewers. Secondly, a large part of the income is based on long-term contracts that help to lay a good base of revenue.

The hypothesis is backed by developments in other sports. In the auction to hire players to the Indian Premier League (cricket) that starts in April the prices increased compared to last year. The average price of television-advertising slots during the Super Bowl (american football) was even higher than in 2008.

Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

To me, fair friend, you never can be old

Posted by hakanrylander on February 12, 2009

Six months ago I was convinced that Ryan Giggs would play a minor part this season, and then retire gracefully. Instead he now looks a better player than for several years, a remarkable achievement at his age, and a strong candidate for our player-of-the-season. Today the official website announced that Giggs has signed a one-year contract extension that will keep him at Old Trafford until June 2010, just a few months short of his 37th birthday.

I’m delighted that I was wrong.

Edit: You can find a brilliant piece about Giggs’ greatest goals here.

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Hiddink the perfect choice for Chelsea

Posted by hakanrylander on February 11, 2009

We might as well admit it. One of our main rivals, Chelsea, have gotten themselves a great manager. It’s only part-time and only for the rest of the season, but given the circumstances I still think Roman Abramovich has made a perfect choice by appointing Guus Hiddink.

His career has many high points such as winning the European Cup as well as three successive Dutch championships with PSV.  He took both Holland and South Korea to the semi-finals of the World Cup, and came close to beating Italy with an unfancied Australian side in the World Cup 2006. On the other hand he has also been sacked quite quickly at Real Madrid, Real Betis and Fenerbache.

Park Ji-Sung is one of his many admirers among former players. Park played under Hiddink for both South Korea and PSV and says “I owe him everything and I won’t be able to repay it in my lifetime”. Hiddink is widely acknowledged as one of the best man-managers around (look out for an upturn in the form of Didier Drogba!).

And on top of all that he knows how to play attractive attacking football. Let’s hope he isn’t too successful this time.

Posted in Non-United | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Review: Myths and Facts about Football

Posted by hakanrylander on February 11, 2009

mythsandfactsThis book draws together academic research from around the world, exploring a number of wellknown “facts” about football and submitting them to scientific and mathematical tests. Some are found to be myths, such as “teams run a greater risk of conceding just after scoring” and “taking the lead just before half-time makes a win much more likely”. While others are found to be true, e.g.  “goalkeepers dive too often for penalties” and “teams who celebrate goals collectively achieve better results”.

More than 40 scientists contribute to 20 chapters covering areas both on and off the pitch such as strategic choice, team behaviour, referee behaviour, demand, expert predictions, labour market and stock market. With so many contributors involved I suppose it’s more or less inevitable that the standard of the findings varies quite a lot. In previous posts I’ve touched upon post-scoring behaviour and the chances of scoring a penalty. Other interesting chapters deal with second leg home advantage and how accurately markets could predict the outcome of the Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup.

Some of the other chapters I find rather less interesting. In one case research even seem to take a step backwards when a study of stock market reactions to match results fail to use betting odds to control for expectations, unlike in previous research by Dobson and Goddard. This seems rather important as only deviations from expectations should, in theory, affect the stock market.

Nevertheless, this book is well worth a read, but I got a bit tired of it towards the end. It’s probably best enjoyed in small doses.

Myths and Facts about Football: The Economics and Psychology of the World’s Greatest Sport, Editors: Andersson, Ayton, Schmidt. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Posted in Academic, Non-United | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »