Monthly Archives: December 2016

Why is football punditry so hated?

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Monday Night Football seems to be a fan favourite, so why don’t others follow suit? Source: Daily Mirror

On Saturday evening, many people watching Match of the Day on BBC One HD were without sound for the first 45 minutes or so.

Some would call that a blessing in disguise.

It didn’t matter to this writer, who skips through the analysis in the studio and sticks to the in-game action instead. Even if he did feel like a mad man either watching silence or commentating himself like he was playing Football Manager.

Don’t judge me, please.

But it did lead me to think about something that seems a hot button with everyone these days. Are pundits getting worse? Are they taking a little too much flak? Do we really know what we want from our half-time talking heads?

Let us start with those paid for their opinions. There’s a number of different styles to pick through with all varying degrees of usefulness over every media platform, the know-it-alls, the not-too-risqué and the all-too-risqué.

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Sometimes right, sometimes absolutely wrong, always a little bland, Jamie Redknapp everyone! Source: Sky Sports

Starting with everyone’s favourites with the know-it-alls. These are your Monday Night Football, European football clever-clogs that tell you the little bits you didn’t see and what you should be expecting from your overpaid superstars.

There’s a lot to like about what they bring. They pry through the game long and hard to give you something extra that you might not have caught on first viewing or simply didn’t know about to even look out for.

Sometimes what they can say is overly complicated, sometimes you are left a little lingering, hoping they’d delve in deeper. But the likes of Gary Neville or Jamie Carragher can’t give all their secrets away, otherwise they may be out of a job.

Honestly, there should be more in this category. A few are on the borderline, mainly the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, but at least these are trying to add something to the game you’ve just watched rather than telling you with words what you’ve already seen with your eyes.

That moves us perfectly on to the next type, the not-too-risqué types. This eclipses most of your pundits you see, the non-offending smart shirt-wearing former professional who doesn’t try to stray too far from the given path.

They may go on a slight angry rant if something has grieved them over the course of the game or if it has been grinding them down in the past few weeks but they stick by the line. Say nothing too untoward, don’t have too much explanation it what has happened and give us a brief overview.

The perfect middle-managers of the pundit world. Keep it short, sharp and to the point so that everyone can understand what is said without making those tuning in feel like morons.

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Two hot-head mouthpieces that should no longer be on television. So fond of butting heads they thought they’d try each other for size. Source: BT Sport

Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with the Jamie Redknapp’s and the Alan Shearer’s of the world. They sometimes come up with something interesting but it’s more of a shame that they don’t go deeper when you want them too.

All in all, they are just a little too vanilla.

For those that prefer the taste of hot sauce and blood, there is the all-too-risqué types. The blood and thunder types that thrive in saying the exact opposite to everyone else just for the kicks and then thrive in their role as the heel to the watching audience.

I shouldn’t even have to mention names here, it’s the ones that sound ridiculous even when they make a valid point. They go over-the-top, get annoyed at the slightest thing and a fair few of them still live in the dark ages where you could kick seven shades of something out of the opponent without consequence.

These glorified shock masters should be culled. A controversial opinion should be welcomed with evidence but they never present any, hoping their shouty and aggressive attitude is enough to convince you that they are right.

So what do we want? The general feeling as we just want something added to our content. The more conscious viewer of the modern age wants analysis that gives us more of a “why” instead of a “how”, examples to show us both and ideas that give us though on how our own teams perform on a weekly basis.

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An example of what we could see, the European Football Show is always an interesting watch. Source: BT

We want stories, insight into the different teams and the reasons why certain things are done in a certain way. For example, the excellent panel of journalists on the European Football Show always come packed with little tid-bits on every team or even player that adds to the experience, even if they aren’t ex-pros that “know” every in and out.

Which is why there’s such a backlash against the status quo. We aren’t Neanderthals any more, the holier-than-thou attitude from those that act like it simply because they were gifted the talent to make a career out of it does not mean they can look down on us that only have the mind as sharp.

It’s proven in some of the absolutely outstanding work done out there by writers across Europe, by the superb stuff done by analysists and the social media age that have given us more access than ever. Former agents, coaches, scouts have given us tools we could have only hoped for in the past and it’s time for ex-pros to step up their game in time with that.

Overall, punditry should continue to be varied and give us a little more on every broadcast. The additions like those from writers and even ex-referees explaining decisions thoroughly without any bias has given us more, stating the rules as they are written rather than with the tinted glasses of a footballer.

The hope is that the current generation coming through are watching the love for the likes of Neville and Carragher and they follow suit. Give us a little more, fill our minds with your knowledge and more importantly, stop those who can fast-forwarding.

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Loss of Derek Carr cripples Oakland’s Super Bowl dreams

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A sight no one in Black and Silver wanted to see, their quarterback limping off the field on Christmas Eve. Source: Houston Chronicle

The NFL giveth and the NFL taketh away. After breaking their 14-year playoff drought last week and looking like potential Super Bowl contenders for the first time since that loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, star quarterback Derek Carr broke his fibula on Christmas Eve.

Surrounded by his entire team on the field and many players covering the view as he was treated on the sidelines, it was clear by the mood that it was serious. On the floor and on the verge of tears, you could see number three mouth the words “it’s broken” and every Black Hole fan’s worst nightmare came true.

Now their players might be telling you through the media and social networks that this team isn’t done, that they can make an impact in the post-season, but they are wrong. This entire team swings on the quarterback and without Carr for the foreseeable future, the Raiders are cooked.

Before going down against the Indianapolis Colts, Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate. Let’s start with that offence and its leader, MVP candidate Derek Carr. The former second-round pick had been outstanding, throwing for 3,933 yards which included 28 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.

Combine that with a 63.7% completion rating and a 96.7 passer rating, it’s not hard to see why he was the lifeblood of this team. Carr finally gave them hope where they previously had none and with his drive to pull his team out of the mire, he could have been the x-factor once the post-season rolled around.

When you also look at those stats and the surging runs he led in close gains, then add the fact that the Raiders have led the league in dropped passes with 26, you can see why they were so devastated to lose him. No offence meant to Matt McGloin, but he has enormous shoes to fill.

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Mack has been a machine but it may be in vain. Source: Bleacher Report

That will likely mean the team leans on a strong run game, which is currently sixth in yards per game in the NFL. That efficiency on the ground helped open the space up for Carr and if they can continue to pound the football, it may at least alleviate some pressure from McGloin when he does throw the ball.

The issue will be whether they can lean on their defence, which should be the case when you have a destroyer like Khalil Mack on your side. With 11 sacks on the season, yet none in the last two weeks, combined with five forced fumbles and an interception, he is a difference maker on that side of the ball.

He’s even great in the run game, registering six stuffs and forcing teams like the Chargers to force their run game away from him. Mack has become a monster and combined with Bruce Irvin on the other side, who has seven sacks of his own, it has created a beast that strikes fear into every offensive lineman.

However, the worry is the secondary. They rank 30th in yards per game and 21st in points, highlighted by a ball-hawking secondary that maybe takes a couple too many chances and could get burnt by better quality quarterbacks in the playoffs.

That being said, their turnover differential is excellent. In fact, the Raiders lead the league in turnover differential with plus 15 and that is a big driving force in how they have succeeded this season. Simply put, they have given themselves more opportunities per game and restricted their opponents.

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Del Rio has changed the culture in Oakland and should have a shot at stardom for years to come. Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Add to that a good kicking game from Sebastian Janikowski and a solid punting game from dancing extraordinaire Marquette King, they have the start of a quality team. The coaching from Jack Del Rio and his win-or-die attitude has been really infectious as Oakland caught fire from an early aggressive call against the New Orleans Saints.

General manager Reggie McKenzie deserves a lot of credit too for building a solid unit mainly through the draft as well. Regardless of how this season now finishes, he’s given them a foundation for them to compete for years to come.

I had written a piece ready to go last week before Christmas got in the way, saying that if the defence could show something against the Colts, they had a real chance. They did, until Carr went down, now everything is in doubt.

A divisional match-up against a raging Denver Broncos who have nothing to lose could have disastrous consequences. A loss leaves the door open for the Kansas City Chiefs to steal the division from under their noses and could put the Raiders in the playoffs earlier than initially expected.

In fact, it’s hard to see them win a playoff game now. It’s clear from how they’ve won games this season how much Carr means to them and with him gone, so too go their playoff ambitions.

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Kevin Love is breaking out of his Cleveland funk

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Love has been excellent and had a real statement performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Source: Sports Illustrated

Often seen as the third wheel, the one that could be discarded if the cart started rocking, Kevin Love never quite hit his stride in his first two years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unable to replicate the form he showed in Minnesota with the Timberwolves and the definitive option C behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, many thought that the power forward would always stay as the odd man out.

However, the first third of the 2016/17 NBA season says different as Love has broken out as a real breakout option on any given night.

The first glaringly obvious difference is the points he’s putting up on every night he’s on the field. So far this season, the former UCLA man has averaged 22.3 points, up a huge six points per game compared to his averages in the first two seasons at The Q.

That added firepower in his game was emphatically emphasised in his first quarter outpouring against the Portland Trail Blazers. Love notched 34 points, the most ever in the opening portion of a basketball and only second to Klay Thompson’s 37 points in a quarter from last year.

He shot 11-from-14, outscoring the entire Blazers team and hit eight of his 10 three-point attempts. Six of those were off assists from James and all but one of the shots he hit were from assists either from James, Irving or Iman Shumpert.

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These three finally feel like a real “Big Three”, even after a championship last season. Source: Sports World Report

And it wasn’t all from one spot either, with only two of the threes coming from almost an identical place on the field. Two were from the right baseline, one from the opposite side, two on either wing and one from the top of the key, while only one score came from in the paint.

Love was also a perfect four-for-four from the free throw line, just to add one last superlative to a superb performance. It displayed his ability to shoot from anywhere behind the three-point line, which is rare for a player of his size to hit with such consistency but also highlighted the fact in how Tyronn Lue is trying to get him more involved with the offence this season.

Like previously mentioned, all but one of his shots came off assists, which just tells you a little bit about the Cavaliers offensive movement in the new season. They are moving the ball more, doing that extra pass to find the open man more often than not, which is only to Love’s benefit.

The fact that it was James, who is an excellent passer in his own right, dishing the dimes only serves to highlight how this team aren’t afraid to pass the goalscoring burden onto another teammate. The King saw how hot Love was and when someone is in that kind of mood, keep feeding the basketball until they find a way to stop him.

The Blazers did to some degree afterwards but the damage was already done.

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Maybe the UCLA man got some tips on how to rise from the dead from this man? Source: Sky Sports

His field goal percentage is up to .468 even off more shots, his three-point percentage has lifted from .360 to .412 and he is posting a career-best FT percentage. All of those mean that Cleveland have another great scoring option in the prime of his career, which can only benefit an already superstar team.

However, it’s not just in scoring where Love has evolved with the Cavaliers, his entire game has benefitted from being more involved. He’s averaging 10.7 rebounds per game, the first time he’s averaged double figures since the 2012/13 season, which includes more offensive rebounds than his last two years and he’s also posting a career-high in steals with 1.1 per game.

Maybe it’s a bit of great coaching, Lue has this team playing possibly better basketball than their championship campaign last season and getting Love more involved seems like a no brainer. It makes such a difference to his game overall, with more confidence surging through his veins and that’s only a benefit to the Cavaliers.

It’ll also simmer down any silly trade talk that we’ve had over the last few years. Much like Chris Bosh in that superstar Miami Heat team, the third man is sometimes forgotten but can become someone extra they can rely on when the chips are down.

With another option when times get tough, especially come playoff time, the Cavs can make a real charge at the championship and they have evolved along with their rivals. If the star-power of the Golden State Warriors seems too much for James or Irving on any night, they now have one more trusted option in their arsenal.

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RB Leipzig are the blueprint of how to make a football club

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Keita has been terrific and the win against Dortmund lit the fir under the RB machine. Source: ESPN

Germany doesn’t particularly like it but there’s no denying that RasenBallsport Leipzig have nailed exactly how to create a football club.

Loathed for not being a traditional Deutschland club, having been born by drinks company Red Bull in 2009, they lead the Bundesliga having been unbeaten so far this season. They invested in a young, exciting squad with the potential to grow, either as part of the team or to sell on, and have also ploughed money into state-of-the-art facilities themselves to grow as a club themselves.

If you want to learn a little more, check out this great piece by Ross Dunbar on Fox Sports Asia here.

However, what they have done in the past is not what I wanted to focus on. Having watched them on TV once or twice, finally seeing them against Bayer Leverkusen live a few weeks ago just confirmed it: Ralph Hasenhuttl, along with sporting director Ralf Rangnick, have created a side that are genuine title contenders at the time of writing.

A team doesn’t remain this long unbeaten by just luck alone. Wins at home to Borussia Dortmund and away at the aforementioned Leverkusen only confirms it and when you look into how they have succeed, it becomes much clearer.

They’ve scored as many goals as BvB, they have only conceded more than Bayern Munich and another surprise package in Cologne and they have created entertainment wherever they go. They are fast, they are creative, they are strong and when on song, they can be electric.

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Forsberg has been stellar and has been the best player in the Bundesliga this season. Source: BBC

The real engine of the Leipzig machine is Swedish international Emil Forsberg. A relative unknown on the European scene with his former club Malmo, the 25-year-old has exploded this season as the main man for RB with five goals and seven assists.

Those statlines are impressive enough but when you watch Forsberg play, you understand his influence. He’s an incredibly clever player always looking for avenues to bring the abundance of quick, dangerous attacking players that are around him into areas that hurt the opposition.

The Swede always plays with his head up, eyes wandering to find an avenue to attack an opponent. He has wonderful close ball control, a surprising burst that allows him to seemingly drift past tackles and a wand for a foot that can either pick a locked defence or waft a set piece into the goal.

It’s not hard to say without him, it’s unlikely that Leipzig would still be unbeaten. He is the real heartbeat, piecing together their stern defence and their frightening attack to create a real behemoth that no one has worked out how to stop.

That’s not to say he’s the only one firing on all cylinders. Naby Keita has been superb in a box-to-box role, seemingly popping up all over the pitch to break up play and occasionally break into the final third, where he has picked up four goals so far.

Their defence is marshalled by Willy Orban, who has organised them well with his power and positioning into the joint-second best defence in the Bundesliga. They have a scary front that includes top scorer Timo Werner, Austrian winger Marcel Sabitzer, Danish striker Yussuf Poulsen, former Werder Bremen man Davie Selke and Scottish international Oliver Burke.

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Hasenhuttl has established a style and a solidity to Leipzig that has worked to perfection. Source: T-online.de

The amount of options they have in those attacking areas are staggering, especially when you then look at the stats. Each has scored and assisted at least once, with Werner excelling with seven goals and two assists. That’s not to diminish Sabitzer’s contribution of four goals and three assists or Burke’s goal and two assists from predominantly substitute appearances.

With that said, they could do with more from either Poulsen or Selke in terms of hitting the back of the net but their size and power really compliment the speed and creativity around them. It’s genuinely scary that the main strikers aren’t quite firing and yet they still lead the standings.

Hastenhuttl has also established an exciting style build on a collective strength based on restricting the opponent. They constrict the opponent when they have the ball, boxing them into a small area without easy options and can restrict them to the point of them giving them the ball, allowing them to use Forsberg and their pace to counter.

Where they need to improve in that regard is to work on being countered themselves and stopping teams playing quickly against them. When they are not allowed to settle into their structure, they can be opened up a little too easily and quick play has seen teams get in behind their defence too often.

That still feels like nit-picking on a fantastic start to the season that was built upon solid foundations that should help grow success in the future. While the next stage of their success will be in the air for a while, producing talent of your own in any club changing its culture can take five-to-ten years to bear fruit but they have started on the right track.

They have a real project that is attracting young players wishing to create their own history and if they can keep them on-board to maintain this start, we could have a new name near the head of the Bundesliga table for years to come.

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