Thursday, August 12, 2010

Luchametric English Premier League 2010-2011 Preview...of Sorts [updated]

Final 2009-10 EPL Luchametric Power Rankings

 The EPL Resumes play in earnest on Saturday, and we at the Luchametric Institute rejoice in the return of early-Saturday-morning football.

To the left are the final Power Rankings from last season.  As a measure of where the teams are at the start of this year, however--they are fairly unhelpful.  As a general rule in sports ranking systems and prediction, the previous season's standings and performances are poor predictors of the subsequent season's performance.  But they at least provide us with a sense of how things stacked up at the end of last year, and so offer a baseline for evaluating to what extent, if any, the clubs have improved or slid back.  Here are just a few observations as we look forward to Saturday's fixtures.

Our Power Rankings did not penalize Pompey for going belly-up financially.  And in our rankings, they were not the worst team in the league--that honor went to Hull.  But as has been pointed out by other observers, there were other teams that might just have easily gone down if not for some good fortune here and there.  Wigan, Wolves, West Ham and even Bolton were all in danger of dropping at some point, and this suggests that at least one of these four teams will be facing a relegation battle in the Spring.

In our view, Blackpool will be this year's Burnley--Hello! Goodbye!.  And although we expect some entertaining football out of the Tangerines, who just signed four young players, their chances of staying up are slim.  The signings suggest Blackpool see this year as an opportunity to develop the club in the long term.  Note that the Tangerines finished sixth last season in the Championship, and only made it to promotion as a result of a playoff.  We think they're very much out of their league.

West Brom's chances of staying up are only slightly better, but look for the baggies to be tough at home, as all indications are there will be some defensive if not completely negative football (depending on your perspective) played at The Hawthorns under the guidance of Roberto di Matteo.

Newcastle, however, will be shooting for mid-table this season, and they have a strong enough club to do it. The year spent down in the Championship gave them an opportunity to reorganize financially and in the clubhouse.  We see them being similar to Stoke and Sunderland--solid, mid-table, average.

This leaves our final relegation team to come from among West Ham, Wigan, Wolves and Bolton.  West Ham has serious questions in the clubhouse and in the front office.  They need to get their finances straightened out and soon.  We like Wolves' chances to stick given Mick McCarthy's proven ability to find line-ups and tactics that earn points, including resting players in games when the odds are longest against them (against Man U last year) to insure points are earned when chances to earn them are more reasonable (against Bolton about a week later).  Wigan, however, is in trouble. They finished just above relegation last year, and they've lost far too many players.  In all honesty, they belong in the Championship. Which is where we think they will be next season.  Our bottom feeders this season: 20. Blackpool, 19. West Brom 18. Wigan.

At the top of the table, it's the usual suspects.  If Arsenal matures and stays healthy, they are capable of challenging for the league title.  There is much talk about Chelsea being a bit long in the tooth, but we think rumors of their demise are smack.  Unfortunately, both Chelsea and the Gunners will have to keep pace with Man U, who looked deep and deadly in the Community Shield.  When Sir Alex sent in three subs at the start of the second half, and the three were Berbatov, Chicharito and Nani, one could not help but marvel at just how deep are the Red Devils. As such, we regret to predict that both the Gunners and the Blues will be chasing Man U this season.  We'll see.

The rest of the field really comes down to Man City, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton.  We see Spurs dropping a bit from last year's form.  Redknapp recently complained that the club needed to act during the current transfer window if they hoped to make a run further up the table, and on top of the pressures of the EPL, the team is in the Champions League.  We don't think that Spurs are deep enough to survive a prolonged competition in Europe AND improve on last year's record in the league; nor do we think their back line will be able to shut down the other top clubs enough to earn many points from Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea, and Man City, which they'll need to do to make any headway.

There is trepidation and hope at Anfield, but we don't see Liverpool challenging seriously for anything more than fourth place.  Torrez is simply not the player the world thinks he is, and Hodgson could be out of his league as manager--despite his stints at Inter (over 10 years ago).

The real beast this year is Man City, who added to an already-loaded club, signing David Silva off an outstanding World Cup for World Champions Spain.  We think Adebayor represents everything that is wrong with contemporary sport---arrogant, talented, lazy, obnoxious--and there are even some signs he might not start alongside Tevez in Mancini's XI.  Regardless, we think City will be better than last year.

As such our top four are: 1. Man U 2. Gunners 3. Man City 4. Chelsea.  We, of course, could be dead wrong.  The one thing we feel very confident about is that Arsenal, City and Chelsea will be scrapping for second place this season, with Spurs dropping in to fifth.

One last point, you need to watch the transfer news every day, as a single big signing could change things.  Chelsea is now (Friday the 13th) reportedly close to signing Neymar, the Wunderkind for Santos in Brazil who looked incredible against the USMNT on Tuesday. Should they sign the young and highly-promising star we'd think it would be worth at least three points in the standings by season's end. Last year, Chelsea beat out Man U by only one point.  And this just in, (seriously, it came up on my browser as I was updating this) Man City have just signed Balotelli from Inter.  Wow.  So it goes...

Below are some links worth checking out if you haven't already. They are in no particular order, other than that we think World Football Daily is the best source out there for US fans of the beautiful game. But we also like the others very, very much.  Hagalo Villa! Te Amo Gunners!
  1. World Football Daily
  2. EPL Talk
  3. UK Guardian EPL Preview Series
  4. Football Weekly with James Richardson

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Klinsman for Bradley: Change We Can Believe In


Last night's dismantling of a veteran US squad by a young Brazilian team bursting with talent proved just how deep Brazil is and just how badly the US needs a new coach and a new direction.

Brazil advanced further than did the US in this summer's World Cup, and their coach, Dunga, was fired.  The USSF has held on to Bradley at least through last night's friendly, but the performance of the US teams begs the following question: why?  Alexi Lalas is not our favorite commentator. It's one thing to spout your mouth off and be opinionated. We like that in Maradona because the man is flat-out hilarious...and a genius.  But it's another to run your mouth and repeatedly make stupid and uninformed comments that are mere opinions--and get paid for it.  And yet Lalas got it right last night when he pointed out that the USSF should have fired Bradley after the World Cup.  Doing so would have allowed his replacement to begin the next phase of US soccer development at the national level against Brazil.

That the USSF did not at least served the following purposes: it showed just how unimaginative Bradley is as a tactician and just how desperately the US needs a new vision--perhaps a decidedly Germanic vision.

Running out a 4-4-1-1 for the first time this summer looked brilliant in the first ten minutes or so, as the US dominated the young Brazilians and Donovan especially looked outstanding.  Putting the best player the US has produced in the center of the field was reaping great dividends, as John Harkas excitedly pointed out.

But once the youngsters for La Samba settled down they proceeded to dismantle the US, sending ball after ball down the US's left side, and the 2-0 score at half time could easily have been 3-0 or worse.  And, once again, there were the usual problems for the US: our midfield was unorganized and outgunned, and our back four looked completely out of their league.  The Brazilians sent wave after wave at our back line and yours truly completely lost track of how many give-and-gos and through-balls the US was giving up.  It was a nightmare.

At what point does a coach alter not only his team's tactical organization to achieve better results but its makeup and vision?  Harkas pointed out that while the Brazilians had been able to play a bunch of new players to see who might possibly make it into the XI for the next South American Championship and eventually the next World Cup, Bradley ran out essentially the same team that had played so unevenly in South Africa.  More importantly, other than putting Donovan up top and in the middle, Bradley showed no new ideas whatsoever, as if South Africa had been a tremendous leap forward for US football.

Let's be clear. Bradley is the man who led the US to the final of the Confederations Cup last year, to the top of the CONCACAF during World Cup qualifying, and to the final 16 in South Africa.  But we think he's taken the USA as far as he's capable of taking it.

In our view, we have the players to do better.  As such, it's not that we lack talent, it's that whatever talent we do have is not being utilized to its fullest.  Donovan and Bradley (the player, not the coach) are outstanding midfielders who can start in the top divisions in Europe.  We have depth  at keeper and, finally, even at striker (Buddle, Altidore, Gomez, Findlay).  Gomez in particular is just the first of what will prove to be a whole slew of Mexican-American strikers in the years to come, as the sons of immigrants (legal and extra-legal) grow up in the US and choose to play for their homeland and not return to Mexico. In fact, we think once Gomez and his brethren come of age en masse, the US will finally have arrived internationally, with truly International-class keepers, midfielders and FINALLY fast, skilled strikers.

We have seen no indication over the last 12 months that Bradley (the coach) understands any of this, or that he understands how successful tactics are a direct function of the skills of the players on the field and the game at hand, i.e., the challenge posed by the opposition.

For example,  a 5-3-2 with Edu playing just in front of the back four in a central position, with a midfield of Bradley, Donovan (middle) and Feilhaber with Atlidore and Buddle up top would have given us a five-man back line with a flexible midfield allowing either/both Donovan and Bradley to push up.  We certainly missed Dempsey last night.  A midfield of Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley with Jozey and Edson up top would have packed a punch, and the five-man back line, with Edu pushing up into a holding-midfield position could perhaps have done better than the 4-4-1-1 did last night.  Finally, the 5-man back line can quickly  morph into a 5-4-1 or a 5-4-1 with a diamond in the middle if need be.  The point is, ANYTHING was better than what passed for tactics last night.

There was talk at half time by Lalas about Jurgen Klinsman coming in to take over for Bradley.  And this morning on Sky Sports News, Bradley was described as the "leading candidate" for the vacancy at Aston Villa.

Klinsman coming in to reshape the Yanks and Bradley graduating to greener pastures, the first US manager to ever manage in the EPl, would be a win-win for US football.  Let's hope it happens.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Luchametric MLS Handicapping: Dallas and Seattle at Home


A lot of MLS matches between Thursday and Sunday.  Some should be very entertaining.  The Crew at Philly should be quite good given the atmosphere at PPL Park, as should be New York and Henry at Chicago.

For punters, however, there are really no good values.  The two best bets are Dallas at home over Philly, and Seattle at home over Houston.

Philly will have played the Crew on Thursday before flying to Dallas.  Look for them to get trounced in the Texas heat playing with only two days rest against a Dallas team that is currently third in our Power Rankings and which has won or drawn 88% of its home games this season.

At slightly-less-than-even odds, Seattle at home against down-table Houston is, dare we say it, a very SOUND bet. LOL! Get it? "Sounders" and "sound" bet! That's freaking gold Jerry! Gold!

Anyway, that's all we got this week.  Look for our inaugural 2010-2011 EPL recommendations sometime next week.  Meanwhile, dig on this.