Monthly Archives: November 2016

Alan Pardew: A man on the edge

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Pardew’s time is surely running out at Crystal Palace. Source: The Mirror

Some may call him a fraud, some may call him a spinster, others may say genius. Alan Pardew has been a polarising figure throughout his managerial career but he has always come out with his head high and his grin as wide as ever.

However, a bad result at the weekend should rightfully end his current run with Crystal Palace and with it will likely go his last chance both in the Premier League and at taking the national job.

Pardew’s managerial career has ebbed and flowed. It started well at Reading, he got the club promoted out of the then-Division Two before making the playoffs in his first season in England’s second tier.

At West Ham, he struggled initially before getting them into the Premier League on the second time of asking in 2005. A ninth placed finished followed along with an FA Cup final before the club’s worst run of results in 70 years eventually saw him relieved of his duties in December 2006.

Charlton then came calling and after he failed to keep them up despite an up-turn in form, he then failed to get them straight back up again. With the club in the bottom three after another poor start, he was sacked.

He then joined the Southampton revolution, helping them almost get into the playoffs despite a 10-point deduction at the start of the season. He also won the Football League Trophy before succumbing to the axe again after a string of poor results and reported low morale with staff and a poor relationship with the club chairman.

Somehow, some way, he became Newcastle United manager. After a 12th placed finish, a slew of great signings headed by chief scout Graham Carr helped the club get into the European spots and saw Pardew named Premier League Manager of the Year.

He then signed an eight-year contract extention.

After an average 2012-13 season, results dipped dramatically to end the following season. They lost 15 out of their last 21 games and the fans turned on him, despite finishing the season well above the dropzone and leading the time to six wins in a row in all competitions before leaving for Palace.

But this was where the trend continues. After a good start and a splash of cash, Palace have tumbled to the worst points-per-game ratio of any team in the 92 professional football clubs in 2016.

They did make an FA Cup final in that time as well, but it’s not enough to forgive a run of form that would have seen almost any manager in a similar position sacked. His win percentage is not bad at 41.5% but he’s also lost almost 45% of those games in charge.

He isn’t particularly tactically adept, simply working with what he’s given and hoping for the best. Sometimes it’s been with a 4-4-2 at Newcastle, that spiralled out when the two strikers were not of the quality of those previously or when the help diminished, or sometimes it’s a 4-3-3 with two quick wide men yet his defenders have seemingly forgotten how to defend, which is another trend.

Just look at the last five games. They lost all five, scoring six but conceding a whopping 13, including threes against struggling attacking sides like Leicester City and Burnley. They may argue that they were unlucky in a few of them but you can’t be unlucky for almost an entire year.

Add to that the controversies he’s had, including bust-ups with managers and a moment where headbutted an opposition player and you begin to wonder how he’s got work so easily.

Is it his cheesy grin? Is it his slimy, aggressive personality or is it his dad-dancing that puts the cherry on top.

Hopefully, Swansea City can put the final nail in his coffin. A man that is the epitome of “new manager syndrome”, Pardew can only hold on to this charade for a little bit longer.

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The tactical interest in the extra point decline

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Tomlin is a two-point purist but more will follow his suit in the next year or so. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL set an unwanted record last week. Well, at least the kickers did.

The unheralded, first-to-blame, bit-part players missed a record 12 extra points at the weekend. Formerly seen as gimmes before being moved back last season, the extra few yards have seen some tumble into drivelling messes and this has been the culmination of what has been a poor year for kickers in general.

When a game will be forever known as the one where two easy kicks were missed, you know they are having a bad time. The 6-6 tie between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy for two terrible field goal attempts that would have won it for either team.

With that, we look at the point after. It was moved from the two-yard line when it turned into an almost pointless exercise, with the knowledge that moving it to the 15 yard line still almost guaranteed a safe hit.

However, the 12 missed in Week 11 highlighted two things that NFL teams may need to think about next season. The standard of kicking across the league has regressed, with more long-distance kickers keeping their job over accurate, safe ones and now whether it really adds to the value of going for two points after a touchdown.

There are a few teams that are already moving towards that line of thinking. Mike Tomlin has had the Pittsburgh Steelers routinely going for two over the last few years, knowing that converting just one can give you a big boost against teams that aren’t as willing to risk it.

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Del Rio showed the guts to go for it and was reSource: SFBay.com

That can also become a disadvantage if you continuously go for it and fail. They were 0-4 against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season, points that could have changed the complexion of the game if they weren’t constantly trying to make up for what they had lost.

But at the same time, converting the first can be such a big boost and would have negated some of the shortcomings, it’s a real tactical piece.

Take the opening game of the season from the Oakland Raiders, where Jack Del Rio was seen as ballsy enough to call for a two-point conversion to win the game rather than a kick to tie it. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the best kickers in the league, one of the most reliable and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so why risk it?

Because they succeeded and won the game.

Many will cry that if they missed, they would have lost but that kind of attitude can really pull a team behind you. That’s not trying to say that the Oakland Raiders’ success was created solely from that but the early momentum it gave them was undeniable and that gutsy attitude has pushed them further than people could have imagined at the start of the season.

The hope will be that with these missed points, there’s a view to try and add to our options rather than restrict them. There were outcries to get rid of the extra point altogether, which is an interesting point but takes away some potentially exciting tactical ideas and opportunities from that.

What should take place is more two-point attempts, more risks and more teams willing to pile on the pressure if they can. Do you take the relatively safe, 95% extra point or the riskier two that could be the difference between a win and a loss? It adds an extra layer of intrigue, and that can only be a good thing.

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Are James Harden and DeMar DeRozan legitimate MVP candidates?

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DeRozan has become an offensive machine and could be a dark horse for MVP. Source: The Undefeated

After the first month or so of the NBA season, there are already whispers about the MVP award. With Kevin Durant unsurprisingly impressing in his new surroundings at the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James doing things only the king does and Blake Griffin rebounding on the best team in the league, there are a fair few candidates putting themselves forward.

Two that have really caught the eye are two that could be there if they keep this kind of form going. DeMar DeRozan has elevated his already great offensive game for the Toronto Raptors and James Harden is simply adding to his special tool-set down with the Houston Rockets.

DeRozan is playing some of the best basketball of his life and it’s a marketed step up from someone who is already at an All-Star level. The 27-year-old is averaging 30.9 points per game, over seven points better than his career-best set last season and is a solid .491 from the field overall.

Those are some great numbers highlighted by the fact he takes just under two three-pointers a game. With a game that is only getting more shooter-happy, it’s great to see a midrange guy showing his excellence on offence from inside the arc.

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Source: For The Win

That is also emphasised by his ability to get to the line when he does slash into the paint. DeRozan averages 9.6 free throws per game and is .807 from the line so far, solid numbers that help pad what has been an outstanding scoring run so far from him.

Another player who is great at getting to the line is fellow early season MVP candidate James Harden, who has taken the move to point guard like a duck to water. He’s averaging 28.6 points per game, a relative standard for a high-volume scorer like him, but his league-leading 12.4 assists per contest highlights the influence he’s having on his entire team this season.

Add to that some solid rebounding (7.8 per game) and a solid .365 from beyond the three-point line and you have a stat-padder ready to take on anyone in the NBA. He’s probably the best player in the entire league at getting to the free throw line, leaving teams off balance as whether to close him or to stand off him.

When they attack, he punishes them with speed and a likely foul, which a .810 FT shooter tends not to miss. If they stand off, he rises and shoots from anywhere with his beautiful arching shot that seems to touch the roof on occasion before gliding through the hoop. There is a reason many tipped him to be a dark horse in this year’s MVP race.

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Westbrook is a bigger front-runner than the two, they both need to emulate his influence. Source: Bleacher Report

However, they are both without initial deficiencies that will hold them back unless they expand their game. DeRozan is simply a scorer and while ok on defence, he isn’t quite doing enough to keep his team winning while Harden can fall asleep when holding off the opposition.

Comparing them both to another big MVP candidate in Russell Westbrook just proves that both will need that bit more to legitimately chase that title this season. He’s better than both on average at scoring, he’s hit 10.4 assists per game and 9.6 rebounds, almost a triple-double a game.

All of their teams have similar records, all are doing a great job but Westbrook is doing literally everything he can to push his team on almost single-handedly. There’s no doubting their quality and the real positive is that there is plenty of time for them to help push their games to the next level along with their teams, which will only strengthen their candidacy.

Both are going to be All-Stars this year if they keep going and both of their teams should be shoo-ins for the playoffs. The real question is, can either of them push themselves to the point where they can be considered in the running for the MVP award? Only time will tell on that one.

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The Minnesota Vikings are in an alarming tailspin

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Zimmer is a good coach, he just needs more luck and more options. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL is a fickle mistress. One week you can be the talk of the town and a month down the line, you can be shot down to no-hopers that got a little lucky.

That’s exactly what has been the case for the Minnesota Vikings, the darlings of the early season. Despite some serious injuries, they were 5-0 heading into their bye but since then, they have been 0-4 without many signs of turning that around.

So, what has gone wrong? Where have they fallen off after such a promising start?

The first issue many will point to is the running game, that sits bottom of the NFL at a staggering 69.8 yards per game. They have only had one game where they totalled over 100 yards on the ground and only two more games over the 80 mark, a figure not helped by the absence of future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.

However, this was an issue before the bye that just hasn’t got better. Their worst total of 30 yards rushing came in a victory over the Green Bay Packers, while the 93 yards they managed in the defeat in Philadelphia swaps the 58 and 65 they got in wins against the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans respectively.

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Bradford has given the team a decent return, he just needs a better offensive line, which he has for almost his entire career. Source: twincities.com

Sam Bradford’s production has declined slightly but he’s not giving the ball away from passing, with only 2 interceptions this season. Since the bye, the quarterback has been sacked 16 times, double what was given up in the first five games.

Some may pin some of that liability on the Matt Kalil injury and while he is a good left tackle, they need a better contingency plan. Now that Jake Long is out for the season as well, it doesn’t look like the poor offensive line that has struggled in both blocking and protection will recover.

Added to those woes is the fact that their offence just doesn’t always get going. They are 25th in the league on third-and-out percentages, with 23 coming this season. It was most evident in a woeful display against the Chicago Bears, where they racked up five in a row in the first half and allowed a poor team the lead that they could not claw back.

The well-liked offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned seemingly out of either pride, empathy or in an effort to save his reputation. The group has not gone forward since he left and there simply aren’t enough pieces outside Stephon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph to pull them out of the mire.

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Diggs has been a breakout star that can become a key in the future, at least. Source: Heavy

The buck is then passed on to their stout defence, something that coach Mike Zimmer is a specialist at. They trampled over teams in the opening third of the season, essentially winning them games in some respects, but have they kept it going?

The easiest way to say that is no, even if they do rank first in points allowed this season. First of all, they simply aren’t creating the havoc they had in the first few games of the season against a few teams that have struggled to keep their QB upright.

Their pass rush amassed 19 sacks in five weeks to start the season. That statistic has dropped off considerably to three in their last four, which shows that the pressure from their front liners is not as panic-inducing as previously thought.

They have also stopped turning the ball over, which was a huge factor in their wins to start the season. The defence had seven interceptions and six recovered forced fumbles in those five wins, just 3 INTs and 2 FFs since then, giving their offence less possession and their defence more time on the field that seems to have worn them out.

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Rightfully cut, it has been such a disappointing downturn for the once-promising Walsh. Source: Yahoo Sports

All of that is then compounded by a poor kicking game from Blair Walsh. He is 12/16 on field goals this year and has missed four extra points, including one against the Detroit Lions that would have seen them win the game.

It really looks like that kid has not recovered from the miss against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs last year. There was no surprise when he was cut earlier today.

All of that combines for a team going down, down, deeper and down. There is a chance for them still, with a relatively soft schedule and in a division without anyone doing much better, they could still make something of this season.

But saying that, they can’t afford many more slip-ups. If they can’t recover against the Arizona Cardinals or especially against the Lions, this team is cooked.

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No one has an answer for Chelsea’s dominant 3-4-3

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Conte has turned Chelsea into a ruthless offensive machine. Source: The Indian Express

After a muddling start to the season, people began to question whether Chelsea could recover from an abysmal season. With the same failings, as last year happening again, doubting that Antonio Conte really the savior and looked more like just another pretender to the throne.

However, five games on, five wins and everyone is purring at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are a roaring lion that are putting everyone else in the division to the sword at the moment, so what has changed?

First of all, the 3-4-3 formation has really brought the best out of this group of players. The favoured formation of Conte back at Juventus, it allows both attacking full-backs and wide players without too much danger of being caught on the counter attack.

How it works like that should be pretty clear from the setup, three centre-backs and two defensive-minded central midfielders hold the fort. The two wing-backs are encouraged to join in with attacking play, allowing a former winger like Victor Moses to be a success as almost an extra wide player rather than some tasked with simply defending and joining in when they can.

With that behind them, it allows the three forwards to sit high up the pitch without any stringent defensive responsibilities. Keeping the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro up the field has caused defences nightmares, freeing them to counter-attack and run at will, with devastating results.

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Hazard has rediscovered his devastating form. Source: The Telegraph

Especially in Hazard, who has been reborn under Conte and this formation. Five goals and an assist in his last four fixtures shows how being further up the pitch more often has affected him and with his confidence flowing back in his veins, he has returned to his scarily impressive best.

That attacking ability combined with a strong core has been a force no one has worked out how to unlock. Teams seem to allow Chelsea to push further and further up field, overloading four and even five man defences with too many bodies as they recycle possession in your half to start it all over again.

It was good against Hull City and Leicester City but the real statement of intent came against Manchester United. After an early goal, they absolutely dominated the Red Devils by keeping possession and the two wingers in narrow positions bamboozled a four-man defence.

Forced to bring their wingers back to help, United were essentially left with a six-man back line that could not counter attack in fear of giving Chelsea too much space in the final third. The Blues never let up, continuously pushed and repeatedly found space in dangerous attacking areas to grab four well deserved goals.

Worryingly for everyone else, they seemed to do even more in their 5-0 thumping of Everton at the weekend. As they continue to settle and find a rhythm in the new formation, they are finding even more exploits against teams that are even looking to set up as a counter.

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Moses has really blossomed in his new role and has finally found a home at Stamford Bridge. Source: The Telegraph

With Ronald Koeman playing a 5-3-2, he looked to match Chelsea in the key areas and make sure his team were not overloaded when Chelsea were in possession. Instead, the slick interchanging of passing in the final third killed them off, Conte’s men have simply created a great understanding quickly of this formation and add confidence to that, you can see the results.

It was fast-flowing, unselfish football at its best. All they did was shock and awe Everton with their passing play, not allowing them a moment’s rest and without an outlet to get the Toffees further up the pitch, Chelsea simply picked them off at will.

So how do you solve the riddle? Do you attack at will, hoping to overpower them? Do you defend like your lives depend on it? Do you try to counter through the wide areas left exposed when Chelsea push too far forward?

It’s quite possibly a mixture of them all but much like anything in world football, eventually someone will work a worthy counter. The two-game run against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City will be the biggest test that will really show if this formation makes Chelsea title front-runners or just another within an ever-increasing pack.

What it has been is a breath of fresh air. It’s always interesting to see something a little different in the Premier League and Conte has done that, with a thoroughly interesting formation that has left his opponents perplexed, at least for now.

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Newton should not change, the NFL should

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Newton may look like a Batman villain but he speaks the truth everyone needs to hear. Source: Twitter @Panthers

You know what, whenever I write about this topic, it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall. However, every time I do, it’s something that needs to be addressed.

Last week, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to chat about the lack of protection he has been receiving from referees for illegal hits. Then on Sunday, he was hit with a jarring shot to the head by Los Angeles Rams safety Mark Barron, which the referees did not throw a flag.

Another sack from Aaron Donald was borderline high on the quarterback in the pocket and this comes a week after Arizona Cardinals defender Calais Campbell hit Newton in the knees. The referees did not call a penalty on that play but Campbell was retrospectively punished by the league.

Let us put the record straight, there have clearly been a few pretty heinous hits on Newton this season. Some are while he is a runner and players taking a shot while it’s legal, when it really shouldn’t be to any player, and others have been whilst he’s been in the pocket, where every other quarterback is protected even if someone brushes their helmet with a hand.

Many of the players that saw him complain about this issue have simply told him to get on with the game. Repeated statements of “it’s a man’s game” and “it’s his fault for being a runner” are continuously sprouted out as bulletins hiding as insidious remarks about someone who has rubbed them up the wrong way.

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Mark Barron’s hit was dangerous, it should have been flagged. Source: The Rams

They then say that he’s a six-foot-five machine that should be able to handle smaller men with ease. That comes from when players are hurtling at him without applying the brakes, throwing their entire bodyweight into their hit and concentrating it to his cranium.

Size doesn’t factor in that as much, other than it’ll hurt even more from the bigger boys. It’s a silly comment, I’m certain that even The Mountain from Game of Thrones would moan if you shot Tyrion at his head from a cannon.

Cam Newton isn’t a wuss or a softie. Cam Newton is a man acutely aware of what numerous, damaging hits to the head can do to a person and would kindly like to be able to live a normal life once his footballing career comes to an end.

The lack of protection in the pocket by the officials on the Barron hit was astonishing. Newton was clearly in the pocket preparing to throw and the safety made no attempt not to hit him in the head, even when most defensive players know if they do that, even on a legal hit, they will be flagged.

Yet no yellow rained down on that play.

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Goodell has made his own mess, again, and he needs to fix it for good. Source: The Ledge

To anyone watching back that doesn’t have any sense of bias or longing for “the good ol’ days” knows that should have been called. If that was Peyton Manning, there would have been outcry but since it’s the dancing, smiling man that speaks his mind, it’s fine for him to get his clocks cleaned.

There should not be any head-to-head contact in the NFL period. It’s a dangerous move on both parties that has led to severe health problems for ex-professionals and the fact it still happens to anyone is shocking.

Newton said in a press conference last week that the game was becoming less fun for him. The 2015 MVP, in a season full of average play and declining ratings, simply put exactly what everyone else was thinking into perspective.

The NFL needs something to change. If this year, with all its oddities and embarrassments, isn’t enough then it may never do so.

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This is the year Sunderland don’t make the great escape happen

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A one proud career has slowly drifted down the drain for David Moyes. Source: Sky Sports

“Sunderland are in trouble” is a statement that seems to come around every single Premier League season. They start a season with optimism that fades rapidly, then for a manager to get sacked only for another man to come in and save them before the cycle repeats again.

However, this season is when they break that cycle. This year, the Black Cats have run out of lives.

10 games in, Sunderland have just two points, a new Premier League record. They have scored seven goals, the worst in the division, and have conceded 20, the second-worst record in the division.

Those plain statistics are bad enough but when you take a magnifying glass into why they have been so poor in every category and you start seeing what looks like the end of the Stadium of Light in the top flight.

Let’s start with the points total, with draws coming against Southampton and West Bromwich Albion. The first, against a notoriously slow side with a new manager, could have been a home win if they held out but an 85th minute goal from Jay Rodriguez put a pin in that idea.

In the West Brom game, they fought back to get a point in the final minute. In two games against big sides, Manchester City and Arsenal, they managed to pull back level after starting slowly but simply don’t have the quality to deny them for an entire game.

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Rodwell must be sick of starting, Kone was ripped apart by Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football. Source: mancity.com

A lot of the others were simple wins for the opposition but the Crystal Palace defeat was the toughest pill to swallow. They went 2-0 up and in full control, only for the defence to buckle almost immediately and with a lack of commanding leadership at the back, they lost 3-2.

The attack has been abysmal and would have been even worse without Jermaine Defoe. The former England international has five of those seven goals, Patrick van Aanholt has the other two, which really highlights the real lack of quality coming from their midfield.

Add to that, the club have only had two assists all season, one from Duncan Watmore and one from Jack Rodwell. While the latter will be lampooned for not being part of a winning starting line-up in 33 games, which is an astonishing statistic, it should be the other creative flair players that should take the real flack.

Former Moyes favourite Steven Pienaar looks past his best, while both Wahbi Khazri and Adnan Januzaj are luxury players that a club like this can ill-afford to carry. None are particularly defensive-minded, none have contributed in the way they should have and Moyes playing at least two of them each game along with Watmore shows a real disregard for their current plight.

Mix in a dash of Jan Kirchoff not continuing to impress and Didier Ndong slowly adapting to the Premier League and you have an awful mix. It’s haphazard, Moyes is constantly shifting players in and out, praying he can find a combination that will work.

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Adnan Januzaj was a luxury loan signing that Sunderland can ill-afford to pull through a season. Source: The Telegraph

Finally, their defence, who have looked as bamboozled as ever. Lamine Kone looks like he’s still pouting from not getting a move away, John O’Shea is a leader but not much else anymore and Papy Djilibodji trying to do something of note.

It’s a shame that Younes Kaboul is out but combined with modern attack-minded full backs and it’s easy to see why they concede so often. It’s soft in the centre, where big strikers have really flourished and the quick players are causing havoc to their lack of pace in the middle.

In all honesty, it’s been a surprise that Sunderland have got this far. It might have been a little different if Sam Allardyce was still at the helm but at the same time, it’s clear that this team needs a lot more than him to get them going.

Their chopping, swapping and praying has finally caught up with them. They will try to begin the cycle again come December but when the new man fails to lift them out of the mire, the fans will finally come to terms that the bell tolls for them this season.

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