Power Kings: Leceister Wins It All

Written by :
Published on : May 3, 2016

 

 

By now you’ve read the numbers, the plaudits, the hyperbole and celebration of it all. All deserved, scraped and fought for, Leceister City won the Barclays Premier League without actually playing on Monday. It was the heated cross-town rivalry between Tottenham Hotspurs and Chelsea Oligarchs that determined the champions’ fate. Chelsea roared back to tie Tottenham and hamstring the Spurs’ last hopes of keeping up with the Fearless Foxes.

 

This year’s Leceister FC was a panacea for international football. They were such a force of luck, energy, positivity, and consistency, that everything seemed to be written. They were pulled together through excellent scouting, redemptive second-chances, and hard work. There were no big-money transfers — N’Golo Kante cost less than £10 million, chump change in a league ruled by oil money.

 

NGolo-Kante

 

Even when Jamie Vardy revealed that he isn’t the greatest dude, then scored in eleven straight games, the narrative remained relentless. Although Vardy popped in the most goals, the beating heart of the team’s attack was Riyad Mahrez, whose timeliness, touch, and sense of space created as many goals. Unsurprising that he was named the player of the year in the Premier League.

 

The team had spine. The triad of N’Golo Kante, footballing golem Robert Huth, and team captain Wes Morgan all combined as a formidable shield for 2nd-generation starting Premier League goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Kante prowled the field with speed and ferocity like a Strong Safety, never putting a wrong foot or mis-timing a tackle. Huth and Morgan were mobile pillars, dominant in the air and just fast enough to survive. Austrian Bundesliga castoff, Christian Fuchs, was a learned presence on the flank and provided reliable crossing service.

 

There’s also the luck. Leceister used the fewest players of any team this season, 23. Once famed for being such a restless manager they called him “The Tinkerman,” Claudio Ranieri barely changed his lineup all year. He barely had to, sustaining few injuries throughout the year. This, more than anything, is the most un-repeatable aspect of Leceister’s title.

 

Vardy

 

Though if you saw him, Ranieri’s kindly visage might make you wonder what he was doing not feeding ducks bread at a pond, he played luck’s harp expertly. He retained the assistant coaching staff so the players wouldn’t hate him. He made Jamie Vardy not shoot in practice, so as to have more time to be racist in private. This worked out in heavenly fashion, as everyone was essentially healthy for the entire year, they all loved and fought for each other, and they turned out to be champions.

 

The solution might not be billions, or a “special” manager, or galactic star power. Sometimes it’s more about the lightning and how you catch it.

 

 


Barclays Premier League: Christmas Carousel

Written by :
Published on : December 30, 2015

 

 

For anyone interested in watching footy in America, the Christmas season is unparalleled. Many teams in Barclays Premier League play an absurd three matches in a week, eschewing all reasonable expectations for the human body to maintain itself. Luckily, teams like Arsenal have already gone through their yearly pandemic of injuries, so hopefully the Gunners are now in the clear, especially after persevering to a relatively successful holiday slate.

 

The highlight of this Christmas season was Tuesday’s match between Premiership contenders Leceister City and Manchester City, in second and third place, respectively. It was a fascinating, albeit scoreless contest, as English football’s pre-eminent economic powerhouse, Manchester City, battled the upstart Leceister City. Leceister rode in on an unlikely wave of brilliance from a trio of unheralded players in Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, and N’Golo Kante. The teams were surprisingly even, as City’s big guns couldn’t find any fluid combinations. Their best chances came by way of Raheem Sterling and his highly-overrated jet boosters; on the other side, each of the aforementioned troika had various opportunities borne of Leceister’s high pressure.

 

Yet the most buzzy match was clearly Monday’s supposed clash of titans, Manchester United and Chelsea. Each team has experienced its own brand of turmoil of late, with both managers being raked over the coals by the petulant English media. Whereas Jose Mourinho was the architect of his own demise as Chelsea’s season collapsed, Louis Van Gaal has had to navigate a morass of impulsive criticism about a fairly bad, but not disastrous run of form.

 

 Van Gaal

 

Van Gaal’s problem has stemmed from the appearance that his team is bereft of creativity; similarly, many of the transfers under Van Gaal have not panned out fully (Darmian, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin) or fizzled out terribly (Depay, Di Maria). It was clear, however, that on Monday, Manchester United was a team that simply was having hard luck. Absurdly inconsistent officiating, two shots off the woodwork, and near-misses all contributed to an ineffectual afternoon. But the performance was dominant in possession and they generated far more chances than did Chelsea. Anthony Martial, arguably Van Gaal’s best signing, continues to look like the next Thierry Henry; the 19 year-old may not be there yet, but he’s special. Juan Mata similarly buzzed around the pitch. Even Ander Herrera, another holdover from the David Moyes era of acquisitions, looked like a heady contributor.

 

On the opposite side, Chelsea looked like a team that was utterly psychologically broken. Their play was so disjointed that it seemed more a collection of talented athletes who may or may not have had any experience at all playing soccer. This is the indelible mark of Jose Mourinho, the Special One, the coach with a personality (disorder) that is inexorably stamped on all of his teams. The lovely problem Jose brings to bear is that his team has been so stamped with his personality that they are now flattened into oblivion. It’s almost as if, with every basic pass misfired, every buffoonish first touch, the voice of Jose remains in the heads of these players, undermining and second-guessing every decision.

 

 Mourinho

 

Last year the Telegraph published an article about sports psychology in football, describing “positive self-talk,” a key strategy used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The idea is that the more positive things you tell yourself, the more positive influence that has on neuro-psychological functioning:

“Negativity and criticism is associated with the stress hormone cortisol, which reduces the ability of the frontal lobe to function effectively. Positive, energized language releases dopamine, which is linked to certainty and confidence, as well as noradrenaline and DHEA which enable your prefrontal lobe to fire more effectively.”

 

Jose’s lingering ghost serves an opposite function; after all, he’s the manager whose work is “betrayed” by players. A manager who berates team doctors. Jose has a flair for maddening opponents with the perfect cutting remark. Imagine the cumulative effect this type of personality has on the players; no wonder Jose flames out of every job after a few years.

 

 

This is why Monday’s listless, scoreless draw in which Manchester dominated and Chelsea looked a disaster was such pleasurable schadenfreude. The rumor mill churns, and the folks at Old Trafford are considering bringing old Jose on to replace the venerable Van Gaal, as if no manager is ever afforded the benefit of the doubt amid a run of bad luck. It’s a dangerous game to look past the picket fence and long for greener grass; there is little guarantee that anything will improve. Even with one of football’s most accomplished managers in Mourinho, the coaching carousel can be a treacherous ride. Judging from Monday’s Chelsea performance, Manchester United’s faithful may want to consider staying on their current horse for the time being.

 

 


Champ and Chump: Week 12

Written by :
Published on : December 3, 2015

 

As we flip the calendar to December, we enter championship season in college football as the conference championships take place this weekend, and we’ll get to see who makes it to the second ever College Football Playoff. The NFL enters it’s final five weeks and the Philadelphia 76ers have even decided to win a game. Can I just say, this NBA season is setting up to be the all-time worst. Aside from watching the Warriors and their quest to win 70+ or hell, even go undefeated at this point, the league is pure filth right now. But ’tis the season of giving and being nice so instead, let’s take the time to recognize this week’s great performances while also seeing who had NBA-esque moments. This week the champs and chumps all come from football and futbol, as their seasons begin to wind down. We’ve got old and young, teams that have surprised us and teams that just flat out don’t get it. To the Champ and Chump!

 

Champ: Matt Hasselbeck

26-42 for 315 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 turnovers

The Ageless Wonder, Matt Hasselbeck.

 

Statistically speaking, Hasselbeck wasn’t the top quarterback this week, but it’s what he’s done over the course of the last four weeks that gives him the nod here. Hasselbeck is now 4-0 as a starter this year while filling in for injured Andrew Luck, and has put the Colts in a tie for first place in the AFC South. At 6-5, the Colts remaining five games aren’t the toughest, and Luck is only expected to remain sidelined until around mid-December. However, Indy can wait patiently with this 40-year old arm slinging it like he’s 25 again. Hasselbeck became only the third 40-year old quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win four straight, joining Brett Favre and Warren Moon.

 

Honorable Mention:

Jamie Vardy-  From Leicester City of the Barclay’s Premier League, he scored a goal in a 1-1 draw vs Manchester United. It marked the 11th consecutive game Vardy has found the back of the net, breaking Ruud Van Nistelroy’s record.

Ezekiel Elliott- A week after throwing his coaches under the bus, Elliott ran all over the Michigan defense for 214 yards on 30 carries and 2 touchdowns in a 42-13 victory for the Buckeyes over their rival Wolverines.

Iowa football- Debate all you want about their strength of schedule, it’s about time Iowa gets their due. Following a win in Nebraska on Saturday, Iowa is one of two undefeated teams as they head into the Big Ten Conference Championship this weekend where they’ll play Michigan State.

 

 

Chump: The Cleveland Browns

This organization has continually brought shame to its players, fans and the city itself.

 

“The Mistake by the Lake” is how a lot of Michiganders like to refer to Cleveland, and with the Cleveland Browns organization the mistakes seem to happen in bunches. Being a Lions fan, it’s hard to say too much about other NFL teams and their struggles, but it is the Browns. On Monday night, Cleveland lost in a way that only a few unfortunate teams have, when they had their potential game-winning field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown. Yet that isn’t even why the Browns find themselves as this week’s Chump. Instead, it’s because of how they have handled Johnny Manziel. Sitting on the bench as a 3rd stringer, Manziel watched Austin Davis take over late when starter Josh McCown went down with a broken collarbone. While Davis did relatively well and gave Cleveland a shot to win, Manziel needs to be the guy. To make matter’s worse, Austin Davis has been named the starter for next week over Johnny Football.

 

While it’s clear Manziel has to mature and has some issues to work out, we are talking about issues that don’t even involve arrests. While Cleveland tries to send a message to Johnny, what message are they sending to their fans? After years of mediocrity, they draft the most exciting player in football, and in almost two full seasons now, he’s started just a few games. This year in fact, those few games he has started in he has actually done quite well. With 5 passing touchdowns and just 2 interceptions Manziel has a QB Rating of 88.4 which would put him 20th in the league (Cam Newton has a QBR of 89.5), if he qualified with enough attempts. Even though 20th is just the final third of the league, you have to consider he has had no chance to establish a rhythm, one week he practices with the first unit, one week it’s the second unit, and this week with the practice squad. He’s had no chance to prove what he can do on the field consistently and the Browns have put themselves in a position where they eventually are going to have to make a decision to keep him or see him get the chance somewhere else. Meanwhile for coach Pettine, who keeps sending Johnny to timeout, he’s a few weeks from being a coordinator somewhere else.

 

Dishonorable Mention:

Tommy Armstrong- The quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished with 4 picks in a loss vs the Iowa Hawkeyes and was held without a touchdown in a game the Cornhuskers needed to win to solidify a bowl game

Florida Gators- While the Gators will still play for the SEC Championship on Saturday, the last couple weeks are incredibly discouraging for their fans. Needing overtime to beat FAU a couple weeks ago, the Gators played Florida State with an opportunity to remain in the playoff hunt. Unable to score a single point on offense, the Seminoles dominated the Gators 27-2.

Todd Gurley- The St Louis Rams’ running back had a fantastic start to his NFL career rushing for 125+ yards in four of his first five games but is yet to hit the century mark since, and is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry in his last two games.

 

 


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