TOUCHLINEUI: TO KEEP THE BALL OR TO PARK THE BUS (PT I)

INTRODUCTION

When you talk about the great Managers of the beautiful game, the following names come to mind: Arrigo Sacchi, Helenio Herrera, Rinus Michels, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Vicente Del Bosque and Pep Guardiola. Why are they greats you ask? That’s because they are constantly innovating and trying to come up one strategy that will trump through all and win the ultimate goal which is Titles and Utter Domination! We’ve witnessed the best of Catenaccio, Total Football, Tiki-Taka, Joga Bonito and Park-the-bus all set-up to conquer the football world. For someone like Jose Mourinho, it matters little to him whether he is entertaining or boring you….that bad you say.

However, underneath all these fancy names are essentially two fundamental schools of football strategy- Possession Football and Counter-Attacking Football. While this is no Philosophy class, it is safe to say the above strategies derive their source from either keep the ball approach or park the bus better known as Counter Attack.

TouchlineUI will analyze Possession Football this week and conclude with the Counter Attack next week. Read along!!

POSSESSION FOOTBALL

“Possession is nine tenth of the law”

It is the simple football philosophy that the best way to defend and attack is to hold the ball. Liverpool Coach Brendan Rodgers has this to say on keeping the ball:

“If you can dominate the game with the ball, you have a 79% chance of winning.” Possession is nine tenth of the ball.

It is seen by Purists as the true form of the game.

PROPONENTS OF POSSESSION FOOTBALL

History has shown that the very best sides have always passed beautifully, dominating opponents with their control of the ball. The first that comes to mind and the very basic form is the one adopted by the all conquering Ajax and Dutch side of the 70s. It was called Total Football. The Total Football allowed every member of the team to contribute in the final third. Ajax, with this formation, would go on to win 3 European Cups on the bounce between 1971-1974 while Netherlands reached two World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978. Though the Oranges lost both finals, they were an enterprising and all-attacking side led by a certain Johan Cruyff. They have in some quarters been called the “best side never to have won the World Cup”. This Total Football was epitomized in the 1974 World Cup Final where the Dutch scored within a couple of minutes from kickoff.

The Great Brazil side of 82 and 86 based the famous “Joga Bonito”, aka The Beautiful Game, on possession and this brought out the best in the midfield trio of Falcao, Zico and the Great Socrates. Unfortunately for the Selecao, there is no silverware to show for it.

Furthermore, Arsene Wenger is another fan of keeping the ball. His great Arsenal sides were built on that though they also possessed the ability to hit on the break through the likes of Pires, Henry and Wiltord.  Arsene Wenger and his side have, in the past, even been accused of attempting to pass the ball into the net. Alex Ferguson’s United side was also a great attacking and dominating side but not excessively obsessed with keeping the ball.

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However, when you think of possession football in its purest form, then two teams come to mind; Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona’s side and the Spanish National Team. The two teams employed a totally possession based style famously known as the ‘Tiki Taka’. Barcelona conquered Europe in 2008/09 and 2010 /11 with a tournament high possession average of 60%. Barcelona, at that time, was either a joy or agony to watch depending on what side you belonged. For the Spanish side, they conquered Europe in 2008 thanks to their endless passing which left fans in awe and opponents in disarray. It must however be stated the La Roja in that competition still counter attacked and used the direct approach most notably in their 4-1 Group win over Russia. In 2010, they went a step further and won the World Cup. The pass masters, led by Xavi and Iniesta, would pass the ball in triangles until they found an opening, scored, then lowered the tempo and saw their games out. It is worthy of mention that after that shock opening loss to Switzerland, Del Bosque side won only one match with a margin of two or more (2-0 victory over Honduras).Others either ended 2-1 or 1-0 including the final. In 2012, they will retain the European Championship with a possession average of over 60 percent. They were simply fun to watch. Barca and Spain were less direct when compared to the other great sides compared above but it is fair to say that they enjoyed the greatest success. Bayern Munchen under Pep Guardiola also employs the possession style. The Bavarians under Pep are well placed to win the German Bundesliga and are bookmaker’s favorites for the UEFA Champions League. Compared to his Barca side, this Bayern side can go direct; using the pace of Ribery and Robben, the direct play of Muller and of course the aerial threat of Pole’s Robert Lewandowski as seen in his header at the Etihad Stadium in the 3-2 loss to the Citizens. They could also retain possession and dictate play with the likes of Alonso, Thiago and Gotze.

One question though is how did these sides employ such tactic?

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HOW IT OPERATES

It all starts from the goal-kick. Let’s use Pep Barca’s side as a case study. Pep’s sides rarely employ long goal-kicks. Tiki Taka involves every member of the team. Valdes would play the kick short to one of the central defenders who would have moved wide, or to the pivot (Busquets) who drops into the space left by the Central Defenders. The Pivot is extremely important and his awareness level must be top-notch. The Pivot will help to distribute the ball once he receives it from the goalkeeper. By this time, the full-backs are high up the pitch. For example, when Chelsea plays the goal-kick short, Branislav Ivanovic (right back) moves high up the pitch while Azpilicueta (leftback) stays back. It all depends on the Coach’s instruction.  Examples of well known Pivots are Sergio Busquets of Barcelona, Xabi Alonso and Philippe Lahm of Bayern Munchen. It’s no surprise that these players have been managed by Pep Guardiola.

Should the ball successfully get to the middle of the park, then the midfield trio would exchange passes in triangles. A Guardiola Barcelona side had the trio of Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets exchange passes in a triangular pattern in order not to only keep the ball but to move towards the final third and find gaps in the opposition defence. The player’s positions are interchangeable but they must maintain that triangular pattern so as to beat any opposing player and expose the space left. Lionel Messi would also drop back to join the triumvirate in keeping the ball but more importantly lure the opposition defence out of their comfort zone and force them to play higher up the pitch.  This will eventually create space either on the flanks (because the opposing fullbacks will be fooled into playing narrower and cover the drawn out centre backs) or even down the middle. This strategy is however easier said than done as it requires great amount of trust in teammates to be at the right place at the right time. It also requires telepathic understanding to know where your teammate would go. It also requires constant movement from every member of the team so as to create those little triangles.

This constant movement of the ball will force opposition players to run after it, wastefully expending energy and thus creating openings in the tightest of defences through sheer frustration. It is often said that you cannot get tired when you have the ball. Keeping the ball will eventually wear down the opposition who have to remain compact defensively for the whole game.  A great advertisement for keeping the ball was the game between Argentina and Serbia&Montenegro in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Group Game where a 26 pass move by the Albiceleste culminated in one of the best team goals ever seen. Argentina went on to beat the Balkan side 6-0.  Also, keeping the ball alleviates the team of the physical and mental strain of defending and it also ensures that the creative players of the ball always have the ball.

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 SHORTCOMINGS WITH POSSESSION FOOTBALL

Passing the ball in triangles is a means to an end. While looking after the ball well will wear out the opposition, reduce the threat of scoring and helps to dictate the pace and tempo of the match, the end should be towards scoring. In Adrian’s words:

“Quality possession should be aimed at scoring”.

Passing in your half will help boost a team’s possession statistics but it will not help you score goals. Passing should have a purpose. Also, it is not how many passes you make that matter, it is where they are made that counts. Possession in the final third is more valuable than possession in your own half. In the EPL this season, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal have spent at least 31% of their time on the ball inside the opponent’s half. It is no surprise that these three teams are the most prolific scorers in the EPL.

Furthermore, another shortcoming which is related to the above is the fact that it can be a boring and defensive tactic. A typical example of a side that used this defensive approach was Swansea. The Welsh side in their early days in the EPL typified the confusion that possession figures can cause. Under Laudrup, they were compared to Barcelona primarily because their possession figures rivaled that of the Catalan Giants. However, whereas Barcelona possessed the ball high up the pitch in the opponent’s final third, Swansea’s use of possession was conservative and firmly rooted in their own half of the pitch, often comprising square or backward passes. This was a defensive tactic centered on ball retention to prevent the opposition from scoring. In the 2011/2012 season, Swansea had the third best possession statistic which was used to create 472 chances. On the other hand, Barcelona topped La Liga’s possession charts and created 626 opportunities. At the end season, the Blaugrana finished 2nd while the Swans, as they are fondly called, finished a respectable but a mediocre 11th. One danger of playing the ball aimlessly in ones half is conceding posseession, outnumbered on the break and then conceding a silly goal. Swansea was a victim of this against Manchester United when Ryan Giggs latched on a stray pass and duly converted. United would win 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium. The thought of playing this style against Chelsea with the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Willian and Nemanja Matic snarling at your throat is enough reason why teams should avoid being too defensive with the ball. Ball retention is good but is should produce goals.

Also, since Possession Football involves a slow tempo passing style, it allows the opposition to easily regroup and form a defensive line of two and become organized. You must have seen teams have to go back to their goalkeepers after failing to breach the opposition defence. It could be boring!

The biggest danger, however, of playing the keep the ball approach is being caught on the break; COUNTER ATTACK! The opponent retreats and attracts the team with the ball, gets the ball, takes advantage of space, strings two or three passes and the ball is in the net. Arsenal’s loss to Borussia Dortmund last season highlights that danger. As the Gunners, probed trying to score with the match tied at 1-1, the Germans got the ball through Piszczek who passed to Kuba who then fed Robert Lewandowski to stab the Gunners and steal the winner. The string of passes took less than 20 seconds to execute. How cruel! TouchlineUI will next week examine the Counter Attack and also look at whether there’s a gradual shift from Possession to Counter Attack.

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To keep the ball or the park the bus, that is the question

What is your answer?

Expect the concluding part of this article next week.

OVER THE WEEKEND: THE 6 TALKING POINTS

You could not keep track of all the happenings in the world of sport of the weekend? Not to worry, TouchlineUI brings you 6 Talking points (between last Friday and Monday) in its weekly bulletin.

The Green Jacket

A professional comeback for Tiger Woods seemed inconsequential as Jordan Spieth swept all the attention away with an historic win at the Masters. Breaking quite a number of records in the process, the talking point, however, is the fact that Spieth (at the age of 21) becomes the 2nd youngest ever to win a Masters. This feat also moves him to the 2nd position, after Rory McIlroy on the Golf World Rankings, making it the first time ever that the top 2 would not be more than 25 years of age.

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(photo credit-www.dailymail.co.uk)

It was all about the M 

Yes, it was the MotoGp, yes it was Marc and yes it was Marquez! Marc Marquez won the Grand Prix of the Americas, in a pulsating race that had all on the edge.

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(photo credit-www.sportal.com.au)

Manchester is all Red. No Blue spot!

The Manchester derby came but no one could have predicted the outcome. For the first time in a while, the Red Devils dominated, disgraced and demeaned their blue counterparts. Is this a whiff of things to come?

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(photo credit- http://www.dailymail.co.uk)

Lo! He makes us search for the Unbroken Records

It was a record-breaking weekend all right! The usual culprit, Cristiano Ronaldo, scores his 300th goal for Real Madrid to become the third player to do so in the club’s history, alongside Angelo Di Stefano (307) and Raul (323). And to think that he did so in just 288 matches, Ronalstic!!

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(photo credit-www.goal.com)

Hamilton and Roseberg Again!

In what seemed like a perfect race for Mercedes, another row between the Mercedes pair appeared to take all attention. These 2 should just enjoy the wins!

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Spahic’s Contract Terminated 

On a rather sour note, Leverkusen terminated its contract with defender Emir Spahic over a brawl to club security after a loss to Bayern Munich on penalties in the DFB Pokal.

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(photo credit-The Guardian/Getty images)

TOUCHLINEUI: THE WEATHER FORECAST FROM MANCHESTER

The second Manchester Derby of the season sees Van Gaal’s United side head into this weekend’s fixture in much better form than their noisy neighbors in the blue half of Manchester. Things look rosy at the red half of the city with the Red Devils coming into this blockbuster on the back of five successive league victories which puts them second in the form log behind Arsenal. The charge by the Red Devils has been led by an inspired and goal-scoring Wayne Rooney and a rejuvenated trio of Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini and of course a much more settled starting eleven. Manchester United has scored 11 goals and leaked in just two in their five game winning streak.

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However for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, it’s been a different and gloomy case. The Citizens loss at Selhurst Park on Monday which all but ended their title hopes. There’s been the talk of an ageing squad, the Chilean Boss being too much of a Mr. Nice Guy and of course the lack of structure at Eastland but one thing that cannot be denied is how Manchester City has once again choked in the defence of their English Premier League Crown. They will however be desperate to put things straight this weekend and the opportunity to do so could not be any better. The Sky Blues have had an upper hand in recent meetings, winning the last four on the trot. Should the League Champions manage to win at Old Trafford, they will consign their rivals to an unprecedented fifth straight derby defeat.

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Would the Red of Manchester move four points clear or will the Blues slow down their momentum in a game that will have telling consequences in the race for an automatic slot for next season’s UEFA Champions League? Come along, let’s see what the weather looks like at Manchester.

FORM

HOME FORM

MANCHESTER UNITED

 

MANCHESTER UNITED

 

P

 

W

 

D

 

L

 

GS

 

GA

 

GD

 

PTS

 

HOME FORM POSITION

16 13 1 2 36 11 +25 40 1st

 

 

AWAY FORM

MANCHESTER CITY

 

MANCHESTER CITY

 

P

 

W

 

D

 

L

 

GS

 

GA

 

GD

 

PTS

AWAY FORM POSITION
16 8 4 4 32 18 +14 28 2nd

 

OVERALL FORM (LAST SIX GAMES)

MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United 2 V Sunderland 0

Newcastle United 0 V Manchester United 1

Manchester United 1 V Arsenal 2

Manchester United 3 V Tottenham 0

Manchester United 3 V Aston Villa

MANCHESTER CITY

Liverpool 2 V Manchester City 1

Manchester City 2 V Leicester City 0

Burnley 1 V Manchester City 0

Barcelona 1 V Manchester City 0

Manchester 3 V West Bromwich Albion

Crystal Palace 2 V Manchester City 1

 

LEAGUE GOAL SCORERS

MANCHESTER UNITED

  1. ROONEY-12

R.V. PERSIE -10

J.MATA-7

A.HERRERA- 5

M.FELLAINI- 4

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MANCHESTER CITY

S.AGUERO- 17

D.SILVA-11

Y.TOURE- 8

S.JOVETIC- 5

F.LAMPARD- 5

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ASSISTS

MANCHESTER UNITED

A.D. MARIA- 10

W.ROONEY-4

FALCAO- 4

A.HERRERA- 4

J.MATA- 4

MANCHESTER CITY

  1. NAVAS- 7

S.AGUERO- 6

S.NASRI- 6

  1. MILNER 6

D.SILVA -3

SELECTION

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN

MANCHESTER UNITED

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It will be unwise for Van Gaal to tinker with his starting eleven considering how settled it’s looked of late. Only injuries or illness should force a change.

GOALKEEPER- DAVID DE GEA

DEFENDERS- ANTONIO VALENCIA- PHIL JONES- MARCO ROJO-DANNY BLIND

MIDFIELDERS- ANDER HERRERA- MICHAEL CARRICK-MAROUANE FELLAINI

FORWARDS-JUAN MATA-WAYNE ROONEY- ASHLEY YOUNG

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MANCHESTER CITY

Manuel Pellegrini might not have any injury concern but he’ll nonetheless have big selection problems given how poor some of his players have been in recent weeks. Bacary Sagna could make way for Pablo Zabaleta while the Chilean must decide whether to stick with the experience of Martin Demichelis or bring in Mangala who’s in the race to win the flop signing of the season award (The Wooden Boot?). In the midfield, Navas will most likely make way for James Milner as the consequence of a poor showing at Selhurst Park while upfront Edin Dzeko might be sacrificed for Wilfried Bony.

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GOALKEEPER- JOE HART

DEFENDERS- PABLO ZABALETA- VINCENT KOMPANY- MARTIN DEMICHELIS- GAEL CLICHY

MIDFIELDERS- JAMES MILNER- YAYA TOURE- FERNANDINHO- DAVID SILVA

FORWARDS-SERGIO AGUERO- WILFRIED BONY

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WHAT EACH SIDE SHOULD DO?

Manchester United

Take Advantage of the Extra Man in Midfield

United switch to a 4-3-3 has been a key factor in their recent upsurge in form while Pellegrini’s insistence on playing the old fashioned 4-4-2 has been one reason for their alarming drop in form. On Sunday, except the Chilean does the unlikely, the Red Devils can capitalize on the disadvantage of a two man-midfield. Man City’s duo of Toure and Fernandinho will have their hands full trying to curtail Fellaini’s playing off Rooney, Herrera’s late runs to the box and of course Carrick sitting deep and dictating the tempo.  Will the extra man count? Sunday will tell

Take Advantage of the Flanks

Man City plays with a narrow midfield with Navas the one who provides any sort of width. This means the fullbacks have to push up to create that width. That unfortunately leaves them prone to being caught on the break, something United can take full advantage of. By exploiting the space, United will stretch the backline of City with the pace of Young and of course the inside-run of Juan Mata. This will leave City short of numbers and disorganized which could also allow Herrera make those late runs.

Furthermore, when United go on the attack, they could double up the flanks especially the left as David Silva, while dangerous offensively, is not known for his defensive and tracking back ability.

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Manchester City

Close down Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick is one of the best ball passers in his position in Europe with only Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso ranking higher. He’s key to dictating the tempo and switching the ball to the flanks. It is against this background that City will do well to close the Englishman down anytime he gets on the ball. This will stop him from having any rhythm and also from switching the ball. With City most likely to play two in the midfield, Aguero or Bony could back to harry the former Spurs man off the ball.

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Track Ander’s late runs

City must track Ander’s late runs to the box, something the Spaniard has this season become adept at doing, as evidenced by his brace against Aston Villa.

United tend to feed the ball left (to cross through Blind or Young), or right to play it back in across the ground (through Mata). Mata is very adept at picking out the right option while creeping toward the byline.

With Fellaini a wrecking ball in the box and Rooney a clever near-post runner, it’s very easy to forget about Ander waiting to sweep home another finish from 18 yards. City must trust themselves to deal with Fellaini and Rooney one vs. one and must task Fernandinho/Fernando with gluing themselves to Herrera in these situations. They’ll be 1-0 down swiftly if they don’t organize themselves properly. Per Sam Tighe.

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Well, the forecast says the devils are out of hell and will do everything possible to ensure the Mancs remain citizens of hell.

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MATCH STATS
For the first time since November, 2013, Manchester United sit above their city rivals in the Premier League table after having played the same number of games.

Wayne Rooney is the all time leading goal scorer in this fixture with 11

Sergio Aguero has scored six goals in his last seven derby appearances

Manchester City has won four consecutive league games against United for the first time since December 21 1970.

Since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover, the aggregate scoreline in this league fixture stands at 25-14 to the Citizens.

United have won 8 of their last 10 in the League while Manchester City has lost 3 of their last 4 in all competition.

Manchester City has lost each of their last 3 Premier League away at Liverpool, Burnley and Crystal Palace.

No City manager has lost four successive away matches since Stuart Pearce in September 2006 per premierleague.com

PREDICTION

Both sides know the importance of this game not just for a top four finish but also for bragging right.  It could make for a cagey opening 30 minutes but where the game comes to life; it is the team who shows greater discipline and composure that will walk away with the three points.

Talking about scoreline, United certainly has the form but City has the recent history so we expect it to end in- between- a score draw.

Stats per www.whoscored.com, www.premierleague.com and www.soccerstats.com

 

 

 

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TOUCHLINEUI: 2014/15 ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE RELEGATION RUN-IN AND THE TEAMS GUNNING FOR THE DROP.

Countdown to the climax of the 2014 EPL season. While the struggle for the top honors is far from over, the fight against the drop is just as intense with eight clubs looking to preserve their Premier League status for another year.

With 3 of these sides certain to go down, TouchlineUI explores all the possible outcomes looking at the form, fixtures left, key ones and afterwards give our verdict on which teams will lose their English Premier League status and a share of the 5.1 billion pound cake. We decided to leave out Everton and Crystal Palace as we expect them to beat the drop.

  • NEWCASTLE UNITED

CURRENT POSITION: 13th with 35 points

FORM (LAST SIX GAMES)

HOME FORM: D L D W L L

AWAY FORM: L W D L L L

OVERALL: L W L L L L (20th on the Form Log)

Saturday’s Tyne-Wear derby loss to Sunderland was the Magpies fourth in a row in the Premier League. John Carver’s side currently tops the out of form chart. Mike Ashley’s club might not be in immediate danger but should they continue this stuttering form, they could find themselves in the murky waters of relegation.

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REMAINING FIXTURES

Thankfully, they have a decent run-in in the bid to avoid the drop. Away games to almost doomed Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers will be key while home games against West Brom and West Ham should provide points. However, it is almost inconceivable to think they’ll beat Liverpool away while Spurs and the Swans would be tricky away guests.

DATE TEAM FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
13th April Liverpool (A) W L
19th April Tottenham Hotspur (H) W D
25th April Swansea (H) D L
2nd May Leicester City (A) W D
9th May West Bromwich Albion (H) W D
16th May Queens Park Rangers (A) W L
24th May West Ham United (H) L W

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 41 points

  • WEST BROMWICH ALBION

CURRENT POSITION: 14th with 33 points

FORM

HOME FORM: W L W W W L

AWAY FORM: D D D D L L

OVERALL: D W L W L L (12th on the Form Log)

West Brom was on the edge not of glory but disaster before Toni Pulis came on board. With the former Crystal Palace boss steadying the ship, making the Hawthorns compact and hard to break down, relegation fears were beginning to fade especially with club record signing, Brown Ideye getting his goal-scoring mojo back. The weekend 4-1 home loss to Queens Park Rangers is however a rude reminder that whilst the relegation specialist has brought his magic wand to the Hawthorns; much still has to be done to mathematically ensure survival.

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REMAINING FIXTURES

It’s a tough run-in for the Bagpipes but a home win against Leicester City this weekend should ease any potential relegation fears. Home games against Liverpool and leaders Chelsea might prove tricky though Albion drew against Mourinho’s men in the corresponding fixture last season. Away games at Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal will complete the Baggies campaign.

DATE TEAM FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
11th April Leicester City (H) W W
18th April Crystal Palace (A) D D
25th April Liverpool (H) L D
2nd May Manchester United (A) D L
9th May Newcastle United (A) L D
18th May Chelsea FC (H) L D
24th May Arsenal FC (A) L L

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 40

  • SUNDERLAND

CURRENT POSITION: 15th with 29 points

FORM (last six games)

HOME: L W L D L W

AWAY: L L D L D L

OVERALL: D L D L L W (15th on the Form Log)

Sunderland’s 1-0 derby win over Newcastle was their first win in six games and Dick Advocaat first as the Wearside Boss. Does it mean they have turned things around the around? Their final seven games will give a clearer picture. If they are to avoid relegation, they’ll need Jermain Defoe who got the winner on Sunday to fire in the goals. The 12th EPL highest goal scorer will need to increase that tally to ensure the Black Cats beat the drop. The mythical 9 lives would come in handy too.

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REMAINING FIXTURES

Sunderland will play Arsenal, Southampton and Chelsea in their final seven games with the game at the Bridge the last of their fixtures. It’s difficult to see where the points will come from in these games though they could fancy themselves against Chelsea who by then should have won the League and possibly eased off on the pedal. Last home game to Leicester City will be key and any result there will seal their fate.

DATE OPPONENT FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
11th April Crystal Palace (H) W D
25th April Stoke City (A) W L
2nd May Southampton (H) L D
9th May Everton (A) D L
16th May Leicester City (H) D W
20th May Arsenal (A) L L
24th May Chelsea (A) D L

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 34

  • ASTON VILLA

CURRENT POSITION: 16th with 29 points

FORM:

HOME: L L L W L D

AWAY: L L L L W L

OVERALL: L W W L L D (12th in the Form Log)

Tim Sherwood’s appointment might have lifted the atmosphere but recent results still show that the work is far from finished. The Villains have suffered back to back losses though the one against Manchester United was probably expected. Much will be expected from Christian Benteke and Scott Sinclair as they bid to avoid the drop. With the Belgian bagging a hat-trick in Wednesday’s draw with QPR, it looks like the screw has finally been turned especially with the treble being his fifth goal in his last seven top flight games.

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REMAINING FIXTURES

Sherwood’s men have an easier run-in compared to their fellow relegation strugglers.  They face a number of sides in and around the relegation zone as the 2014/15 season draws to a close. The key game will however be their final game at home to Burnley.

DATE OPPONENT FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
11th April Tottenham Hotspur (A) L L
25th April Manchester City (A) L L
2nd May Everton (H) L D
9th May West Ham (H) D W
16th May Southampton (A) D D
24th May Burnley (H) D D

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 35 points

  • HULL CITY

CURRENT POSITION: 17th with 28 points

FORM

HOME: W L W W D L

AWAY: L L D L D L

OVERALL:  W L D D L L (17th on the Form Log)

With just one win their last six league games, it’s easy to see why the Tigers are back in the relegation zone after it seemingly looked like they had swum out of it weeks back. With seven games left, Steve Bruce’s men must start picking up points or risk dropping down a division.

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REMAINING FIXTURES

Away games at the Saint Mary’s and Old Trafford and home dates with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United make for a tricky countdown for the Tigers. Games at the Selhurst Park and at home to Burnley are winnable but will not come easy especially with the latter still flirting with relegation and of course capable of an upset.

DATE OPPONENT FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
11th April Southampton (A) L L
18th April Liverpool (H) D L
25th April Crystal Palace (H) W W
4th May Arsenal (H) D D
9th May Burnley (H) L D
16th May Tottenham Hotspur (A) L L
24th May Manchester United (H) L W

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 36 points

  • Burnley

CURRENT POSITION: 18th with 26 points

FORM

HOME: W L D L W D

AWAY: D L L D L L

OVERALL: D L L W L D

Burnley is humble and extremely hardworking – an ethos Sean Dyche has instilled in the side. With little funds and star players in the side, team cohesion has been the hallmark of the Clarets. TThey’vetaken points off the Manchester sides and Chelsea already which makes one wonder why they are wallowing in relegation. We think it’s down to their inability to score enough goals and their poor away form. Yes, Danny Ings has been impressive but no one has really stepped up the plate to relieve the young Englishman.

However, with Ings set to leave upon the expiry of his contract, he could do his side the favor of keeping them up in the division.

 

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REMAINING FIXTURES

Home clash against Leicester City on the 25th of April is a huge one and will go some way to determine their league status at the end of the season. Also final day game at the Villa Park is another one with high stakes.

DATE OPPONENT FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
11th April Arsenal (H) L D
18th April Everton (A) L L
25th April Leicester City (H) D W
2nd May West Ham (A) L D
9th May Hull City (A) W L
16th May Stoke City (H) W W
24th May Aston Villa (A) D D

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 35 Points

  • Queens Park Rangers

CURRENT POSITION: 19th with 26 points

FORM

HOME: D L L L L L

AWAY: L W L L W D

OVERALL: L L L L W D (18th on the Form Log)

At the beginning of the season, The Hoops found it hard to pick points outside Loftus Road…Fast forward and in their last six home games, Ramsey’s side has lost the last five while their away form has been encouraging picking up seven points in the same number of games and four in their last two which includes a 6 goal thriller at Villa Park.

If the R’s are too engineer a great escape, they have to go back to the basics and start picking points at home starting with the West London Derby against Chelsea this weekend.

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REMAINING FIXTURES

While the present looks bleak, games against Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City do not offer much hope and the final game at home to Leicester could unfortunately turn out to be meaningless.

DATE OPPONENT FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
12th April Chelsea (H) L L
25th April West Ham (H) L W
2nd May Liverpool (A) L L
10th May Manchester City (A) D L
16th May Newcastle United (H) L W
24th May Leicester City (A) W D

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 33 points

  • Leicester City

Current League Position: 20th with 30 points

FORM

HOME: L W L L D W

AWAY: D L L L D L L

OVERALL: L D L D L W (14th on the Form Log)

The Foxes are in a precarious position with eight to go for them. They are currently seven points from safety after embarking on a eight match winless run in which they picked up just two points. Though they have rarely been thrashed this season, the inability of Nigel Pearson to pick up enough victories has cost them a great deal. They have lost the most games this season which is twenty. Going going…….

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REMAINING FIXTURES

They have eight decisive fixtures and any slip up in those games and it’s the Championship next season. You suspect that their remaining games will be treated like a cup final. Looking at the games, it’s almost inconceivable to think they will pick up points against Spurs, Chelsea and Sotton but they will have to fight for everything. Fixtures against Hull, West Brom and QPR might just determine where they will be next season.

DATE OPPONENT FIRST LEG RESULT PREDICTED OUTCOME
11th April West Brom (A) L L
18th April Swansea (H) L D
25th April Burnley (A) D L
29th April Chelsea (H) L L
2nd  May Newcastle United (H) L D
9th May Southampton (H) L D
16th May Sunderland (A) D L
24th May Queens Park Rangers (H) L D

 

PREDICTED POINT HAUL: 26 points

Should our prediction be correct, Newcastle United will finish with 41 points while West Bromwich Albion will end the campaign on 40 points thus escaping the danger zone with some comfort. However, Hull City, Aston Villa and Burnley will just about escape relegation while Sunderland, Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City will suffer the ignominy of relegation which means we won’t for the first time since 1997/98 have the three newly promoted lose their Premier League status at the first time of asking.

Over to you, which sides do you think will avoid the drop and which sides in your view are destined for doom?

 

TOUCHLINEUI: THE NIGERIAN NATIONAL TEAM ON ITS BEST RUN EVER: A RUN FOR ITS VERY LIFE!

To think that they did not vote, one would have expected a win against South Africa. But it was not to be. As usual, the Super Eagles refused to fly and this has worryingly being a recurring theme for a while now. The question on worried lips is gradually shifting from ‘when will the eagles (let’s forget the super for now) fly’ to ‘will the eagles ever fly?’ Same measure of inexperience, same lack of passion and creativity, and one begins to wonder, does this team learn, ever?

The Timeline

Just after the African Cup of Nations win, everyone felt the push to greater achievements. The Confederations Cup provided just the perfect testing ground, and though the high level of naivety shown by the team shocked fans, there was still hope for a better outing at the World Cup. The Super Eagles equaled its 1994 feat of a 2nd round finish, however, the quite low level of performance left many unsure as to how successful the outing was. Let’s face it; Nigeria should have won against France. Post World Cup, the Super Eagles were expected to exert their dominance on African football but they did not; off-field drama ensured that. A failure to qualify for the Nations Cup was just the height of it. And this was followed by a loss to Uganda and a draw away to South Africa.

Comment

Keshi axed a lot of starters, selling the idea of rebuilding the team and everyone bought it. But it was quite surprising that after the Nations Cup triumph, when everyone one expected a consolidation, the Big Boss started a reconstruction. And that has been the theme for the national team for the past 2-3 years. What actually needed a reconstruction was the Big Boss’ ego. Obviously, there should be a development of the team but a certain degree of stability and consistency is needed to balance the equation and bring about a sustainable development 0f the team.

The immature and unpatriotic off-field events of contract renewal and N.F.F presidential election brought a big blow on the performances of the Super Eagles no doubt, but the stubbornness and rigid approach of Stephen Keshi did more harm than good. Keshi has shown that he lacks the tactical onus to make Nigeria a threat beyond the black shores and what is more alarming is that he is not willing to learn. We, on the other hand, have learned that Amokachi is not an option. A settled Keshi is still the best option.

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The last 2 friendly matches come to mind. Against Uganda, Enyeama’s 100th cap celebration was obviously more important than the friendly. For why else would the celebrations and emotional outbursts be done during half-time when there was still a whole match to play for! Well, we dearly paid for the loss of concentration. A loss at home to a lowly placed team was just a perfect ending, there could have been no happier ‘happily ever after’. Of course a bounce back was expected against the proud Bafana Bafana but the only thing that bounced was the football! The South Africans will feel hard done with just a draw, and they should rightly feel so. They were all over the Super Eagles like an epidemic and only an historic win would have done. The fact that such result is relatively acceptable for the men in green and white is a pointer that the team is actually at its lowest ebb. At least, it was not a loss, we should be grateful right?


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What Needs To Be Done

The first step has already been taken, i.e. Keshi should agree a deal with the N.F.F and take charge of the team.

Second, both the playing and coaching staff must learn from the previous matches. Credit to Amokachi for at least doing this, he deployed Musa on the left flank rather than the right flank he played in against Uganda and being right footed with an electric pace, it granted him the freedom to cut in to his right and shoot (he scored 2 goals against Argentina and a goal against South Africa while playing on the left).

Third, Ahmed Musa should be exploited. Obviously, he is not a good crosser of the ball but his pace is essential. Thus, a position on the right flank is not an option. A more suitable role must be found immediately, either on the left or through the middle. Running with the ball through the middle with that much pace will always be a threat to the opposition; however, a lone striker role is not advised as Musa has shown to be quite ‘prolific’ in front of goal.

Fourth, get a creative central midfielder. The team really needs a player who can distribute the ball well and find pockets of holes in the opposition’s defence with some accurate and timely passing.

Fifth, please resurrect Mikel somehow!

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CONCLUSION

This team has got the personnel to play possession football against lesser teams and the pace to play on the counter against stronger teams. All that is needed is putting the square pegs in the square holes and with some patience, create a well-oiled devastating green and white machine!

And we at Touchlineui wish to express our pride at the determination and resilience shown by Nigerian voters during the just concluded national elections, we are surely on the road to accountability and good governance; we can only hope that our national team borrows a leaf or maybe more than one leaf!