Monthly Archives: April 2014

Squad harmony: it’s importance and it’s fragility

Gerrard's tears and his team's embrace of him has shown the team's togetherness.  Source: The Mirror

Gerrard’s tears and his team’s embrace of him has shown the team’s togetherness. Source: The Mirror

It’s something that’s not on any stat sheet but something many managers point to when they talk about success. Squad harmony is vital; it can inject a side with the belief that they can beat anyone in the world or kill their confidence to the point where punches and insults are thrown.

The perfect example of it working is at Liverpool, currently in control of their own destiny in the Premier League and just four wins from the title. After their victory against Manchester City you could see just how much it meant to Steven Gerrard but what was more spectacular was how many of his teammates said they were doing it for him.

They had a big huddle after the game, their captain keeping them focused but them all celebrating the fact that they now had the best chance they have had in years to lift the Premier League trophy. They all did it for Gerrard, they aren’t just motivated by winning it for themselves but for someone they all feel deserves it and that togetherness shows in their play. They know that on their day with that confidence, they can beat anyone.

A team that's together don't single out one player, especially someone who's inexperienced like Berahino.  Source: The Times

A team that’s together don’t single out one player, especially someone who’s inexperienced like Berahino. Source: The Times

On the other side of the coin, not having that squad harmony can cripple that belief and limits how much you give to the cause. Case and point is obvious at a place like West Brom, where after a 3-3 draw in the final seconds certain members of the squad turned on youngster Saido Berahino, who’d lost the ball in the lead-up to Cardiff’s equaliser.

There was plenty of time between then and the goal, so why didn’t anyone else stop what was happening? Isn’t it a little unprofessional to pinpoint the entire blame on a 20-year-old in his first Premier League season? It was and it showed the fractures in the club that has led them to be fighting for their survival this season.

But this kind of team ethic should be an example set by the manager to get the players on each other’s sides and into the fans hearts. Take a look at Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team hit by successive relegations and an over bloated wage structure that was restructured by incoming boss Kenny Jackett.

Kenny Jackett has done an excellent job, he's moulded the team and they've worked for themselves and for their fans.  Source: The Times

Kenny Jackett has done an excellent job, he’s moulded the team and they’ve worked for themselves and for their fans. Source: The Times

Not only has he done a great job on the field, he’s changed the club’s culture off of it by shifting the squad to have the right ethos, the need to play for each other but also giving what those loyal fans deserved. It’s something that a manager has to get right, not just a dressing room itself, so that he can sift out any cancers within that team.

However, sometimes the person rubbing everyone up the wrong way can be the manager which was shown during Paolo Di Canio’s reign at Sunderland. The way he dictated the players meant they weren’t enjoying the environment they were in and that’s toxic to a dressing room even if the players have a good relationship.

It’s really disappointing that some cases of a bad feeling within the dressing room leads to something like the incident at Port Vale, which was a real blight on a club that was actually doing well, but it also highlights the very fragile nature of team chemistry. It’s not always easy for everyone to be pulling in the right direction but with the right manager and right characters in place you can improve even a poor team.

When you can’t get that respect from your players as a manager, whether through your conduct or your speeches, it will only be time before you are removed. It’s in part cost David Moyes his job at Manchester United and it’ll cost plenty more managers until the end of time. There are pretty much three key elements to football, defending well, attacking efficiently and a squad that believes in their abilities, many are beginning to see that the third element is the most important of all.

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The Hillsborough Disaster and it’s impact on us all

#JFT96  Source: worldsoccertalk.com

#JFT96 Source: worldsoccertalk.com

25 years ago, 96 people went to watch a football game and never returned home. The Hillsborough disaster hit football so hard that it changed almost every single stadium in the country so that a real tragedy like this could be avoided in the future.

It’s incredible when you look back at an incident and see the impact that it’s had on so many different people. The community of Liverpool was in shock, disbelief and then anger as both The Sun and the police tried to blame for the fans entirely for the crush. That anger still resonates but hopefully justice can finally come to light in the new inquiry.

 

The memorial at Hillsborough.  Source: geograph.org.uk

The memorial at Hillsborough. Source: geograph.org.uk

The footballing community, as we’ve seen in the many reports and displays from clubs around the globe today, came together in a show of strength that Liverpool aren’t alone in their grief. It’s a pain that we can’t even comprehend but the entire footballing world wants to show its support in the most testing of times.

The city of Sheffield, where I spent my University life, still feels the pain from that day in 1989. Many of the shops in the city have signs saying they would hold a silence at 15:06 with the staff to commemorate those we lost and it shows the beautiful unity of people when the worst happens (thanks to Holly Evans for the information).

It’s even affected my own life, not just because we now watch in much safer stadiums but personally. My dad, uncle and granddad were in the Nottingham Forest end of the ground, oblivious to the tragedy happening at the other end until they set off home after the match was called off. I’ve also been to Hillsborough several times and paid my respects every time I go.

Watching the video above (I wanted to credit who found it on YouTube but I’ve lost who it was, apologies) it feels very eerie, a day that stood still because of such a tragedy. But what resonates with me is when Des Lynam said: “FA Cup semi-finals aren’t a rarity at Hillsborough, there’s always something of a crush.”

For someone that grew up with all-seater stadiums, that sentence feels so alien. That being even slightly crushed was just something you dealt with to watch football, it begins to make you wonder whether something should have been done earlier to avoid such a tragedy from happening.

I love football, but there are much bigger things in the world than watching a ball being kicked around a field. My thoughts are with the families of the 96 today and I hope that in the near future they find the justice they have sought for so long.

Is Virtual Reality going to be a fad or a cornerstone of video games?

Project Morpheus seems likely to be the one closest to come to market, will it boom or bust?  Source: mixmag.net

Project Morpheus seems likely to be the one closest to come to market, will it boom or bust? Source: mixmag.net

It’s pretty much been every 10 year old’s’ dream to one day have virtual reality as a possibility in gaming. It’s littered through popular culture, it’s been attempted before but with the Oculus Rift and Playstation’s Project Morpheus, it finally looks like we will be getting the genuine article within the next year or so. But many are wondering if this will be another one of gaming’s fads or will it become the way we game for the rest of our lives?

There have been attempts to add to the way we play video games before, namely the push of motion controls in the previous generation in particular. Whilst the Wii sold incredibly well it was something that was bought then put away whilst Sony and Microsoft’s attempts seemed to fall flat on their face, despite Microsoft’s inclusion of the new Kinect with the Xbox One.

At the time of development, many thought that it would be the way many consoles would go in the future but that just hasn’t seemed to be the case, Sony’s camera isn’t bundled with the console, Microsoft’s Kinect is used more for its voice functionality and the Wii U has ditched at least part of its motion controller past.

Ahh the Virtual Boy, the ghost of past failures.  Source: wikipedia

Ahh the Virtual Boy, the ghost of past failures. Source: wikipedia

It’s not just how we play that’s been adapted recently, the release of 3D televisions looked like the new way to see video games but again it has yet to catch fire with the wider public. The sets are still expensive but even so, very few developers are willing to add it in as they feel the market isn’t too bothered about having it as a feature. Nintendo tried to create a stir with it in the 3DS but it’s very hit-and-miss, especially with them having to bring out a 2DS and in my experience the preference to keep the 3D off and play it like a regular DS.

So this is where the worry starts to stem from, VR is something many youngsters have idolised and there has been positive impressions of the Oculus Rift’s hardware despite its recent acquisition by Facebook. Many want it to succeed but is there enough support from developers in the technology? Will enough regular gamers get on board to give the right sales figures for companies to stay on board? Will it be too gimmicky or get old too quickly?

The Oculus Rift got people excited again and still has great potential since it's purchase by Facebook.  Source: vg247.it

The Oculus Rift got people excited again and still has great potential since it’s purchase by Facebook. Source: vg247.it

The positives to take are that Facebook tend to leave properties they buy to do their own thing, so Oculus still has a positive gaming future but that’s obviously not a certainty. Hope also stems from the newly announced Project Morpheus, Sony’s attempt at VR before anyone else comes in with a viable commercial counterpart and it at least shows the company’s knowledge that people are excited by the idea.

That’s where the idea that this might be different really comes from, it’s something that people have really wanted for a while and if it delivers then it could be a huge hit. There’s still a lot of time before anything comes out in stores, but hopefully anyone coming out with VR headsets wait until it is ready because if they don’t, early disappointment tends to end in disaster.

 

Can Eintracht Braunschweig actually stay in the Bundesliga?

Domi Kumbela has been a big part in Braunschweig's resurgence.  Source: eversoccer.com

Domi Kumbela has been a big part in Braunschweig’s resurgence. Source: eversoccer.com

Written off from the first minute and still expected to be certainties to be relegated, Eintracht Braunshweig can still stage the most unlikely of rescue missions. It’s not because they’ve been far from other teams this season or because they’ve occupied the drop-zone since Week 3, it’s because no-one gave them a chance.

Ten weeks ago, the club had picked up just 12 points all season and five points off of even a relegation play-off place. Fast forward nine games and they have more than doubled their tally to 25 and sit just two points from complete safety in the German top division, even that at this stage is considered.

They closed the gap this weekend with probably their best performance and result, a 3-0 home win in the Lower Saxony derby against Hannover. It’s a result that the team and fans craved that has also pulled every other team closer to them with just five games to go.

Credit to the fans too, they have been behind them all season long.  Source: gettyimages.co.uk

Credit to the fans too, they have been behind them all season long. Source: gettyimages.co.uk

Before the season had even begun, some thought that Braunschweig would have almost have the worst Bundesliga season on record but so far, they’ve hung in there and produced some quality results. Wins against Wolfsburg and Leverkusen have been highlights but a run of just one loss in their last seven have given them the chance at survival.

You can tell where the doubters have sprung from, Braunschweig were a surprise package in the 2. Bundesliga last season and had limited funds to improve their squad to the lofty standards of the Bundesliga. They’ve also struggled to score goals, partly with Domi Kumbela injured then out-of-sorts and they got so desperate they had Simeon Jackson up front in the first half of the season.

How dramatically that has changed for them though, with 17 of their 28 goals this season coming in their last nine games, an incredible turn of fortunes. They are still struggling to keep sides out at the other end but they are now beginning to keep themselves in games, which is winning them points and admirers.

Lieberknecht has really turned things around, it'll be such an achievement for the club if they can escape the drop zone.  Source: The Guardian

Lieberknecht has really turned things around, it’ll be such an achievement for the club if they can escape the drop zone. Source: The Guardian

There is such a great incentive to stay in the top division in any country, the monetary gain alone is good enough but the pride of the fans to be part of the best football that their nation can offer is unsurpassed. Even more incredible, if they managed to remain in the division and a side the size of Hamburg went down for the first time in their history, it would be a monumental achievement.

And with the five remaining games, there are chances to be had within them. A home game against Augsburg and away ties against Hertha Berlin and Hoffenheim should present chances facing teams that have only pride to play for. A bout against Bayern Munich might be asking too much but they have already sealed the league, only the game against Freiburg presents a real threat but a win there could really shift the tide.

Relegation-threatened sides should take notes from Eintracht Braunshweig this season. With little in terms of a budget and a terrible first half of the season, they still stood by Torsten Lieberknecht which could prove to be a stroke of genius. But even if he can’t give Braunschweig a second season in the Bundesliga, his side have won many fans for their sheer desire to prove the many doubters wrong.

When is it the right time to sack a manager?

Hughton hadn't done the best of jobs but deserved to stay at least until the end of the season.  Source: Sky Sports

Hughton hadn’t done the best of jobs but deserved to stay at least until the end of the season. Source: Sky Sports

News broke out last night that Norwich City, currently sitting just five points above the drop zone and with a game against Fulham to come next week, have sacked their manager Chris Hughton. Whilst many of the club’s fans were happy with the dismissal, others have questioned the timing especially with the torrid fixture list that now Neil Adams has to face. So is there a right time to sack a manager? Does patching things up at the last second ever work?

Since the 2005-06 season, there have been five teams that have replaced their manager with 10 or less games to go whilst in a relegation dogfight. Of those five, two have managed to steer their clubs to safety whilst the other three fell through the trap door.

This was the one positive moment of the Di Canio reign. It did keep them up, though. Source: BBC

This was the one positive moment of the Di Canio reign. It did keep them up, though. Source: BBC

Looking at the most recent success story, Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland managed to get eight points from the Black Cat’s remaining seven games to keep them in the top flight. Many felt that was a job well done, especially with wins over Everton and local rivals Newcastle, but it’s also overshadowed by a dreadful 6-1 loss away to Aston Villa.

The other manager to keep his side up, Lawrie Sanchez at Fulham in the 2006-07 season, relied more on luck than managerial prowess. In his five games in charge that season, Sanchez managed just one win, one draw and three defeats with his side beating the drop by just a point.

The other three, Alan Shearer at Newcastle, Iain Dowie at Hull and Kevin Ball at Sunderland, all failed to lift struggling sides which led to their relegation and their removal from management. In fact, none of the five managers lasted over a year. None of them have managed in the Premier League since and only one of them is still employed as a manager, Lawrie Sanchez is currently boss of Greek side Apollon Smyrini.

Pulis was an inspired appointment, he's transformed Palace and he was given enough time to do it.  Source: Daily Mail

Pulis was an inspired appointment, he’s transformed Palace and he was given enough time to do it. Source: Daily Mail

There can be a right time to sack a manager, poor performances over an extended period of time has to come down on someone’s head, but some teams have taken this to an extreme. All of the bottom seven teams have sacked their manager this season and only one side seems to have got it right, with Palace hiring Tony Pulis.

Norwich have an incredibly key game this weekend against Fulham which could essentially see them safe but if they lose, with the fixtures they have left it could signal their doom. Neil Adams has to get it right first time or his side is doomed and he’ll be another stop-gap Premier League appointment destined to be yet another pub quiz answer.

This weekend also saw Catania sack the same man for the second time this season. The absurdity of managerial reigns hasn’t quite got that far in England yet but with the high price of falling out of the top division, owners might just be getting ever more desperate to keep their side afloat.

Brendan Rodgers and his use of tactical flexability

Rodgers should be Manager of the Year, he's transformed Liverpool.  Source: The Guardian

Rodgers should be Manager of the Year, he’s transformed Liverpool. Source: The Guardian

Liverpool currently sit atop of the Premier League with six games to go and the credit has rightfully been directed to their manager Brendan Rodgers. Since his appointment, it felt like the right move for the club to put in place a boss that could change the culture of the club and set them on the right path to recovery.

Last season, many saw faults initially with the results and the team finished in a disappointing seventh. The reds stuck by their man, backed him in his refusal to sell star man Luis Suarez and those decisions have paid off in abundance.  The team play exciting football, can match up to any team in the league and confidence is flowing in players many saw as failures.

But it’s not just his man-management skills that have been on display this season, the most impressive feat is his tactical nuances and how he’s got this team to be able to adapt to any situation thrown at them.

On the face of things, Liverpool are a side built to go all-out in an attacking sense. With attacking options like Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho, Rodgers is well aware of where his side’s strength lies so will tend to play two up-top when he can. He also likes the use of the modern full-back, whether that’s in a back four or as wing backs in a back five.

The transformation of Steven Gerrard might have added 4 more years to his career.  Source: fansided.com

The transformation of Steven Gerrard might have added 4 more years to his career. Source: fansided.com

This has led to several different formations that he can choose from or change to during a game. His most prominent recently has been a 4-2-3-1 style that allows the two wingers and the lone striker to constantly change their positions to their own will. This would usually start with Sturridge as the man up front with Suarez allowing himself to come deep and wide whilst Sterling plays as the natural winger.

The more significant changes are to what they do in midfield, both from a formation point of view and how the players play. Liverpool employ mostly three formations, the one already mentioned, an adapted diamond and the Italian-style 3-5-2. In all those formations, Gerrard plays as a subdued deep-lying playmaker, tasked with using his aggression to win the ball back and begin attacks rather than joining them. Henderson will fill the former role of the captain as a box-to-box midfielder that can both create and score in attacking movements (if he improved his finishing consistency).

That’s how they both play in the 4-2-3-1, playing towards the pace and creativity they have up front, whilst Gerrard might even fill in as a third centre-back as the full backs bomb forward. In the diamond, Gerrard plays just in front of the defence whilst Henderson will play alongside someone like Joe Allen.

They are both given the licence to find the spaces in attacking movements while allowing the point of the diamond, either Sterling or Coutinho, to find attacking spaces out wide with one of the two strikers.It worked perfectly against Manchester United, allowing Allen and Henderson to find spots in between the wingers and full backs before supplying balls to the front men.

 

Henderson is the most improved player in the league and by some distance.  Source: Sky Sports

Henderson is the most improved player in the league and by some distance. Source: Sky Sports

The final formation they have deployed prominently is the 3-5-2, mainly used at the beginning of the season. With the three centre-back safety net, much like what sometimes happens in the 4-2-3-1, Gerrard is allowed to sit in the middle of the park and dictate play whilst easing his defensive responsibility. It’s surprisingly more offense and mainly used against weaker teams, with the attacking wing backs bombarding forward to put balls into a crowded box.

Whilst it’s not been perfect, especially at the beginning of the season, the fact that the team can change the way they play with ease has massively contributed to a very successful season that could yet get even better. It’s surprising that other teams haven’t attempted to do something similar in the past, with many heralding successful systems as the “way to go” but like anything, they have their weaknesses but something like this can be difficult to counter.

If you don’t know how the opposition could set up or the fact they could change mid-game can be almost impossible to prepare for. It’s why Liverpool have been so difficult to play, combined with their belief in the system and confidence they are beginning to beat some teams before they even play. It’s an excellent feat by Rodgers, building a side that is very entertaining to watch and with another summer focusing on strengthening their defensive capabilities, can get even better yet.