Houston Rockets: Feeling the squeeze of a championship team

Houston Rockets: Feeling the squeeze of a championship team

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Off Season Previews: Bournemouth

With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Bournemouth’s upcoming 2018/19 season.

Bournemouth

Ins: 

David Brookes, AM.

(Notable) Loan Returns:

None

Outs: 

Benik Afobe, ST. Max Gradel, LW. Lewis Grabban, ST. Adam Federici, GK. Ryan Allsop, GK.

Net Spend: -£8.01m

How do you judge Bournemouth? Often when watching them, you leave wanting more. Take in the bigger picture and its remarkable a club that size are sitting comfortably in mid table of the Premier League. They beat Arsenal and Chelsea one month. The next, Huddersfield wipe the floor with them. A lot of money has been invested in players, yet most of their key contributors were with them in the Championship. Bournemouth seem destined to be the team who wins matches they shouldn’t and loses matches they should win, until they don’t.

Looking at the transfer market, there is only really one position they can realistically improve. Begovic is as good a goalkeeper a team with no European football is likely to attain. Nathan Ake, Steve Cook and Tyrone Mings make up an impressive young core, with Ake showing to be an asset only increasing in value. They’re solid in the full back department, with perhaps a young prospect making the shortlist. It is central midfield were Bournemouth are at their strongest. With plenty of passing, ball carrying and energy between them, it is unlikely the club will target an upgrade, particularly if Harry Arter continues on his upwards curve. Up front, Josh King and Callum Wilson will stretch any defence with their pace, whilst Defoe provides the wily veteran presence the team needs.  That leaves us with just the wide areas.

The Cherries will certainly hope ex Liverpool prospect Jordon Ibe turns his late season into something more tangible, but aside from him they lack in such positions. Ryan Fraser has impressed in cameo’s but asking him to provide consistent minutes may be too big an ask. It could well be versatile 31 year old Marc Pugh’s last season at the club, who is certainly a player big Championship clubs will keep tabs on. This leaves them with only Junior Stanislas as an established option out wide, a player who is currently fighting through a knee injury.

If Bournemouth’s past blue print is anything to go by, expect the players targeted to be young and likely British. New signing David Brookes certainly fits this mould, likely playing a rotation role on the wing in his first season. Liverpool’s Harry Wilson could be a fit after an impressive loan spell at Championship club Hull. Recently relegated forward Jay Rodriguez may also hit the clubs radar. A loan signing is an option if not ideal, with Chelsea looking to find Charlie Musonda regular playing time. My personal wild card choice? Danny Welbeck. Bournemouth have shown a willingness to make a splash in seasons prior, and if Arsenal are willing to play ball who knows.

Season Aims:

Avoiding relegation will always represent some level of success, can they make a push for the top half? Develop young players already at the club and entertain the fans. Hold on to best players.

My (way too early) Prediction:  10th

The Premier League’s midtable is impossible to predict, but a points tally in the mid 40’s should see them safely wedged between European football and the battle for survival. Bournemouth are the ideal small club right now. They punch above their weight whilst looking like they belong. Their playing style entertains the fans under the stewardship of a potential England manager and they have a fun core of players to root for. It should be another sunny season on the south coast.

Off Season Previews : Arsenal

Off Season Previews: Arsenal

With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Arsenal’s upcoming 2018/19 season.

Arsenal

Ins: 

Bernd Leno, GK. Sokratis, CB. Stephan Lichtsteiner, RB. Lucas Torreira, CDM. Matteo Guendouzi, CM.

(Notable) Loan Returns:

Joel Campbell, RW. Lucas Perez, ST. Carl Jenkinson, RB.

Outs: 

Santi Cazorla, CM. Jack Wilshere, CM. Per Mertesacker, CB.

Net Spend:  £70.20m

In summers gone by, Arsenal have often been accused of leaving their business until too late. The same cannot be said of this years transfer window. The end of Arsene Wenger’s 22 year reign has brought a new sense of urgency, with heir to the throne Unai Emery looking to put his own stamp on the team.

The blue print has been clear to see immediately. Arsenal have had no trouble scoring goals for years now, however their defensive troubles have been well documented, regularly proving to be their Achilles heel in any title challenge. As a result, their attack has largely remained untouched. The new manager has immediately identified positions of weakness’ in the squad, aiming to strengthen the spine of the team with his three major signings.

Emery will be hoping £18m arrival Bernd Leno will finally give the team a long term solution at the keeper position, with Petr Cech’s age beginning to show at what has historically been a problem position for them. After over 100 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, Sokratis will be expected to slot straight in to the centre of defence to provide an experienced partner to any of their three young options, (likely Mustafi, aged 26), whilst first choice Lauren Koscielny recovers from injury. After appearing in all five games for Uruguay at this World Cup, 22 year old Lucas Torreira did not come cheap in his move from Sampdoria. The tenacious midfielder has been targeted to provide the bite in that position Arsenal  have so sorely lacked, whilst his simple passing game should allow him to fit in to the club’s famous style of play. In a more under the radar move, experienced right back Stephan Lichtsteiner was signed after his deal with Juventus expired. Hector Bellerin has done nothing to suggest he will lose his place, with Lichtsteiner likely brought in to provide depth and tutelage to his younger counter part.

The price tags also tell their own story about Arsenal’s long term goals. Whilst this is a team who clearly want to make immediate improvements to be competitive now, the larger fees have been reserved strictly for younger players. Whether or not it goes to plan is another thing, but the club will have desires for Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira and France u20 Matteo Guendouzi to make contributions for well over 5 years. 

Arsenal have been criticised in the past for focusing on young talent ahead of ready made established players, but on this occasion the time is right for the club to rebuild. Back in January I wrote about why the Gunners should focus their efforts on young players here. This current squad isn’t equipped to compete for a title, so building the next great Arsenal team has to be the aim.

Rarely do Arsenal have their main business wrapped up so early, so going forward there is little else to expect. Depending on their evaluation of Sead Kolasinac, a younger option at left back may be a potential move to make, with perhaps some smaller dealings on the edges still to come. That aside, anticipate improvement to come from within. With less emphasis to win right away, alongside added Europa League fixtures,  more opportunities should be given to the likes of Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Mustafi has an opportunity to show he can replace Koscielny, Iwobi must take the next step and Bellerin can stake a claim to be a top full back in the division.

The majority of Arsenal’s remaining transfer business should be outgoings as they look to balance the books. Defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny could be deemed surplus to requirements, whilst returning loan players Carl Jenkinson, Joel Campbell, Emiliano Martinez and Lucas Perez appear to have no place at the club. With all four players at the prime of their career, they will likely want their long term futures secured at a club who will utilize their talents better.

Season Aims:

Compete for 4th place whilst blooding through younger players, hope for a breakout star. Cup run either in Europe/domestic.

My (way too early) Prediction:   6th

An attacking tandem of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil and Mkhitaryan with Ramsey supporting will keep them in the race for Champions League football as the younger players behind them develop. However, whilst clearly a level above the teams below them, the top five teams should be able to outlast them. That said, a successful season could still be had without a top 4 finish. A good cup run, visible improvement on the pitch and a number of young players showing promise whilst the club gets back on its feet would constitute a good season for Arsenal.

“That Aged Well” – Everton Team Sheet

Analysis how previous articles have aged

Allardyce has picked two wingers in his line up to face Man United today, with the inclusion of Bolasie back from injury, as I suggested he should here in this analysis of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s start to his Everton career! However, unfortuanately for my article he has left Sigurdsson on the bench…

That said, the principle is clear and it will be interesting to see if this is a tactic Allardyce carries forward or if it is just a counter attacking measure since the opponent is United. I speculated in my article whether he might employ this tactic, but with Rooney dropping into a deeper lying midfield role and Sigurdsson playing the no. 10 role. You can understand the decision, defensively, not to play Sigurdsson and Rooney in the same midfield with the more mobile Tom Davies getting the nod on this occasion. That said, I will be sure to take notice of Everton’s team sheets in the coming week, as well as how the tactic itself performs.

I think it is important to go back and see how your previous articles age. This can help you see which stats were useful, which pieces of analysis played out well & which didn’t etc. Essentially, I just mean to analyse yourself and use it to improve.

At the time of writing this, there has been a development in the Liverpool game that has followed a pattern I wrote about in this piece from Derby Day! Thankfully for myself (Liverpool fan) they have managed to nick a late winner in a game that read like a script we have seen far too often with them prior. I will take a deeper dive in to that a little later.

A Big Fish In a Small Pond- Sigurdsson struggles and Team Building

I take a deep dive into Everton’s record signing

A Big Fish in a Small Pond

– Why can’t Everton get the best out of Gylfi Sigurdsson? An investigation in to the importance of team building and role players. 

Lets start with this. Gylfi Sigurdsson is a very good Premier League footballer. He’s arguably Everton’s best player. After a strong season in which he essentially carried Swansea to top flight safety, the silky Icelandic playmaker earned himself a £45 million move to Everton: a club with seemingly bigger ambitions than Swansea, coming off a 7th place finish and armed with a new owner intent on investing. We would expect these factors to contribute towards Sigurdsson performing even better yes? The thinking goes; if he can perform so well for a struggling Swansea team, his level of play will surely rise to an even higher level when surrounded by better talent. So why has this not been the case?

To get an idea of how to get the best out of Sigurdsson, we should start by looking at his strengths. What does he bring to the team, what are his best pieces of play and where on the pitch do they happen?

In the Barclay’s Premier League, 2016/17, Sigurdsson was responsible for (scored/assisted) 22 goals on a Swansea side that managed 45 in total, good for 12th best in the league. That accounts for a whopping 49% of his side’s goals. For context, Kevin De Bruyne, a world class player in a similar position was only responsible for 30% of Manchester City’s Premier League goals that same season. Over the course of his last 3 seasons at Swansea, he averaged 8.7 assists, 9 goals and 12 big chances created a season. What is clear from these stats is we know Sigurdsson is a player who has the ability to put teammates in a position to score, with the added bonus of chipping in with a few in himself. These seem like the type of numbers you would traditionally expect from a number 10, the role he was given in Swansea (hold that thought).

At the time of writing this, Sigurdsson has registered 2 assists and 1 goal in 13 games played, whilst only directly creating an additional 2 “big chances”. If he continues at this rate across a full 38 game season, he would finish with 5.8 assists and 2.9 goals. As seen from earlier, this is clearly below his mean average season performance. Not ideal production from your £45 million addition you spent the majority of the window courting.

Has Sigurdsson suddenly developed in to a lesser player in his aged 28 (typically prime years) season? I highly doubt it. He is clearly capable of delivering the same wicked delivery he is renowned for, seen here in this perfectly placed free kick during Everton’s underwhelming Europa League campaign.

*will insert clip when I upgrade my scouting software*

So why the lack of production? I think the most basic argument would be to start with the position he is playing. For Swansea, Sigurdsson played almost exclusively in the 10 role just behind the main striker, which most observers would agree is his natural position. He is a rangy player who is comfortable receiving the ball with his back to goal, turning the ball round the corner and starting attacking moves. He excels in making the most of open space opportunities, regularly making good decisions to exploit recovering defences, using his technical ability to release forwards with through balls and threaten the goal with his own shooting ability. It’s unsurprising that a player with these attributes produces good numbers playing from the 10. role.

However, due to the logjam of no.10s in the Everton squad (namely Rooney, Klaassen and despite not playing often, Barkley) we have seen Sigurdsson start games on the left of a front 3.

1ef9a-sigurdsson2bheatmap
via Wyscout
  • As we can see from his heat map he has spent the majority of his time in that left forward position. Also note the lack of time spent getting towards the left hand by-line compared to central edge of the box area, suggesting he tends to cut inside rather than go down the outside (there’s a theme building here…)

Now lets compare the positive contributions from the left forward position, to the traditional edge of box position we would expect to see a no.10 play in.

d663d-sigurdsson2bheatmap2bcompared
via Wyscout
  • Left: Sigurdsson left forward +ve 65%.
  • Right: Sigurdsson central +ve 71%

As we can see, there is a 6% jump in positive contributions made when he finds himself in that no.10 position. 71% is a seriously impressive number when you consider we are talking about the most difficult area on the pitch. For context, the phenomenal David Silva is at 77% and teammate Wayne Rooney is at 68%. Again, this points towards Sigurdsson being an impressive forward player. To get the best results from him we need to maximise his time spent in that central area.

This said, I think there is more to it than just playing out wide. The modern footballer often has to be versatile, especially those who operate as attacking midfielders. We have seen on numerous occasions in recent years, forward players having success by cutting in from wide on to their favoured foot. The surrounding personnel could be the bigger issue in this case.

Whilst at Swansea, Sigurdsson played with the likes of Wilfried Bony, Bafetimbi Gomis and Marvin Emnes at striker. He had Wayne Routledge, Jefferson Montero , Nathan Dyer and Andre Ayew contributing from the flanks. Are these players exclusively better footballers than his Everton team mates? Not necessarily. But they do have one thing in common. Pace. At Swansea, the team was built around Sigurdsson, so as a club they acquired players to complement their star player. There is a consistent pattern in their intent to sign pacey forward players with a willingness to run beyond the defence. This helps Sigurdsson for two main reasons, the first being the runs behind give him opportunities to use his impressive passing skills to penetrate defences. These forward runs also provide Sigurdsson with more space to work with, the defence naturally drops deeper due to the mere threat of the pacey forward runs and this is reflected in Sigurdsson’s goal return.

In contrast with Everton, Sigurdsson has routinely found himself playing in forward line ups alongside Tom Davies, Calvert Lewin, Sandro and Wayne Rooney. Who is going to make the runs in behind that Sigurdsson thrives on? Instead, he is just cutting inside in to a crowd of  players in that central area. Now this isn’t to say Everton should go out and sign players purely because they are quick. But they have been accused of signing players for players sake, with the attitude of worrying about the fit later, and so far it has provided a square peg in round holes feel to the team, reflected in their poor results.
I’m not saying it is or isn’t time to build this team around Sigurdsson (although you did just spend £45m on him). I’m personally not sure how high your ceiling is with him as your best player. However I do think it brings up an interesting question about how teams roster construct, especially with so much money being thrown around. Sigurdsson is merely an example of what can happen when you don’t play complementary players. His early season struggles are more likely accrued from not having a team built around him, not being the clear star man due to the competition of better teammates, as appose to old adages such as the pressure that comes with a big money move.
Ronald Koeman couldn’t make the find the right combination and it cost him his job. I am interested to see how Sam Allardyce will approach this conundrum. My early guess is he will move Wayne Rooney further back in to a midfield role (think: his only England game as manager) and we have seen Aaron Lennon re-introduced into the squad since Koeman left. All is not lost for Sigurdsson either, and the return of Bolasie and Mirallas to full fitness should really help his cause. Could Michael Antonio be a January target? An underperforming wide player with pace to burn and a knack for a back post goal, someone Big Sam is known to like. With West-Ham needing to rebuild he could be available.

It looks to be an interesting few months ahead for Everton Football Club, we will see the impact their record signing has on that future.

// This was written for my Blogspot on 28/11/17. All stats are accurate as of then