Conclusions on England reaching WC semi-final…

Date published: Friday 28th June 2019 10:02

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Conclusions on Lionesses
Fifteen shots to 12. 51% possession to 49%. If you looked at these stats you might conclude it an even game. In reality, these statistics are an illusion, masking a result that only complacency could have thrown in doubt. All Norway’s main chances stemmed from England errors and sloppiness rather than their own endeavour.

And so after some promise in the last 16, it is back to the old Norway. Almost all their goal have come from defensive incompetence or the penalty spot, and the only difference this time was a lack of the killer instinct. Did they bottle it? Both Herlovsen and Graham Hansen were meek in front of goal, and the latter along with Chelsea-bound Guro Reiten were found wanting when the final pass was needed.

In truth, Norway’s most creative player was Millie Bright, who regularly played blind or lazy passes that got her colleagues into trouble. Perhaps these are the effects of the fitness concerns she apparently had before this game, but in any case it may be time for either Leah Williamson or Abbie McManus to come in her place.

The defending was desperate in general, with Houghton making several crucial blocks and interceptions and Bardsley confident when called into action. Indeed, England’s overconfidence was on display in the former’s elegant drag back in her own 6-yard box before calmy passing it out. As with the men’s team in the Nations League, the defence were the symptom not the cause. Yet again, their problems were caused by weak midfield performances by Kirby, Scott and Walsh who all struggled to get on the ball and retain possession. Their failure to drop deep and give the defence passing options forced the defence, and Bright in particular, into taking risks.

The big disappointment is Fran Kirby, who has looked out of sorts whenever she plays in complete contrast to the efferverscence or composure that Georgia Stanway and Karen Carney show respectively. Particularly with the existing problems in midfield, perhaps Carney is a good option to provide a bit of stability and ball retention.

The good news is that no matter who plays in the attacking trident, there is a joyous connection between them. England’s best work stems from someone dropping deep and then driving at the defence. There is strong cohesion in the movement, and Ellen White is on fire, despite her airshot before Jill Scott’s goal.

There is a clear bias to England’s attacks, with all three goals came from down the right wing. Of course this makes sense when you have such an exceptional player as Lucy Bronze. Her soon-to-be Lyon teammate Nikita Parris links so well with her, her movement enabling Bronze to storm into space at will. This is also because of the defensive solidity of Demi Stokes, as it is notable that Alex Greenwood has more possession on the left when she plays.

Speaking of Lucy Bronze. Or not, because some things she does leaves you speechless. Another contender for goal of the tournament.

Nikita Parris needs to be removed from penalty duty immediately. Both her misses have come from poorly directed shots near the goalkeeper and it could cost the team at this World Cup in particular.

Roll on France v USA!
MN Aditya


…This is my first Women’s World Cup and although I haven’t committed as much time to it as another tournament I’ve been really impressed watching England.
Particularly Phil Neville- constantly exuding belief in his players, but also getting them playing quick incisive football.
It’s sophisticated and effective. I love Parris’ runs and White has been excellent all tournament.
No match has been perfect but they are showing the men of different age groups how to play. And there seems to be real pool of talent and they can bring quality off the bench.

Really hope they go on and win it!
Paul in Brussels


Some clips are just iconic, just 30 seconds of perfectly clipped together images.

Englands third last night on the BBC was just that.

0:00 Kirby and Mead standing over a free kick, probably going to knock it to the back post.
0:05 Oh cheaky, Mead has knocked it back to the edge of the box.
0:08 Jonathon Pearce “What a Goal, What a Goal”
0:10 Crivens, Bronze smashed that.
0:13 P Neville (No. 50) in waistcoat pumps the air.
0:17 The Lionesses celebrate, a semi is almost guaranteed.
0:21 Beckham clapping, (“yeah, I’d have been happy with that”), high fives Baroness Campbell.

Will be remembered in years to come.


…Anyone else have a worrying feeling that Nikita Parris’ lack of composure in high-pressure moments will cause a big problem somewhere in the future…

Concentrate, Nikita. Concentrate. It’s in your head.
Jonno McSchmonno


WWC tickets
Erm, in response to Tim Royall, to be fair to UEFA, I think that sit together code is so you can buy your four tickets together, and someone else could buy more tickets on their own credit card, enter the code and you could all sit together. Quite thoughtful of them really.

Lots of sticks to beat UEFA with, this isn’t really one of them.

On to a more serious topic though, Tim and I have clearly both entered the lottery for tickets, so I would appreciate if he would stop making my odds worse by drawing the ticket lottery, which closes on 12 July and can be found on UEFA’s website, to other people’s attention and diluting our chances…
Andy (MUFC) – May have shot myself in the foot there…


…I think Tim Royall GFC, might have gotten the wrong end of the stick regarding the Euro 2020 ‘seated with friends’ function. As far as I can see, this refers to being able to sit with friends who have also applied for tickets, rather than guaranteeing that all of your own tickets will be located together. So if you get 2 tickets for a match, and your friends each get 2 tickets for the same match, you will be able to sit together as a group. Mind you, in light of the issues around the Women’s World Cup and UEFA generally being UEFA, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if Tim’s interpretation is closer to the truth.
Tom, Vancouver


Mbappe to Liverpool
Mediawatch has been having its usual snarky fun lately, especially on the topic of Mbappe to Liverpool, treating it all as complete nonsense fuelled by over-excited reactions to trivial tweets. Before going further, I want to say that I don’t expect Mbappe to Liverpool to happen, just that it isn’t quite as ridiculous as Mediawatch ‘s scoffing might suggest.

There was an interesting discussion last week on one of the excellent Anfield Wrap podcasts which took this as a serious proposition (with tongue only slightly in cheek). Essentially, the argument is that Liverpool are positioning themselves to be in the conversation when Mbappe’s next move comes up. It seems clear that the player will leave PSG sooner or later, probably not this year but in 2020 or 2021, so the question then becomes two-fold 1) who can afford him and 2) which clubs can offer him what he wants?

1) Real Madrid (though probably not this summer, another reason why Mbappe won’t move this summer); Man Utd; Man City. Can Liverpool afford him given that he’ll probably cost c.£200-250m? If they have a quiet summer this year, bank the CL money and ensure that all their best players are on long-deals then, yes, they probably could afford the fee, especially if they sold one of the current front three. As for wages, they won’t be able to afford the kind of wages that PSG, Utd and Real can but, as the Wrap argument goes, the meeting with LeBron James was about showing Mbappe that wages are just one part of how a superstar can maximise the value of his asset. Salah has become a genuine global figure while at Liverpool with a reach beyond just the sport he plays and Mbappe can do that at Liverpool too (not just at Liverpool, of course, but Liverpool is a club which has global reach in a way that only a very few clubs do). Signing Mbappe would be a big departure from the current Liverpool transfer structure but that structure has been in place to help Liverpool *get* to the very top table, signing Mbappe would be a transition into ensuring that Liverpool *stay* at the top table. Liverpool have shown that they’re prepared to spend world record fees in certain positions when the right player became available – this would just be moving that level of ambition to the front of the pitch.

2) What does Mbappe want? He wants to win the CL and the Ballon d’Or. Obviously this is possible at Real. It’s unlikely to happen at Man Utd any time soon. Despite Pep’s travails in the CL, one feels that it s only a matter of time before they do get one (like Chelsea in 2012, if you keep buying the ticket at some point your number is going to come up) and Mbappe would certainly help. He doesn’t fit the City mould, though, as City have spent big while at the top table but not Big Big. City don’t have the kind of global reach yet of a Real, a Utd, a Barca, or a Liverpool. Only two City players were in the top 30 of the Ballon D’Or last year (the highest, KDB, was 9th), despite their 100-point season. Liverpool had four despite winning zilch. This year they have one of the main contenders in Van Djik and, lest I remind everyone, have won the CL for a 6th time. Of course there is the inconvenient fact of us not having won the league for 30 years but, hey, we might rectify that next year and, if not, Mbappe wins the league every year so maybe it will be a nice change not to win it!

None of this means that Liverpool are going to sign Mbappe. Madrid remain the prohibitive favourite, just that the idea isn’t quite so ridiculous as Mediawatch is making out – you’re going to look pretty silly when Kylian does the Melwood Lean in July 2020, I’m just saying!
Andrew, Cambridge


Buy-back fire-sale
Been thinking about the best way for a clubs to exploit the potential of youth players. The dilemma is whether to cash in before it becomes clear their potential will never be realised, whilst minimising the chance you let a valuable asset leave for peanuts. Maximse return whilst minimising risk.

The LFC transfer Rafa Camacho points in the right direction; but the “buyback” model could be deployed much more aggressively.

There are several more players LFC could cash in on now to raise funds to buy an established star, namely Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent, Sheyi Ojo, Ovie Ejaria, Ben Woodburn and even Marko Grujic. Potentially £60-80 million there – or one Wilf Zaha – but most likely only one will be sold. Some may end up leaving for nothing in a few years.

The idea is to have a buy back clause which is a multiple of the initial transfer price.

Step 1 – Announce that the above 6 are available and the highest offer for each on 30 July WILL be accepted, no matter how small.

Step 2 – But, a condition of sale is that LFC have the right to buy the player back for a multiple of the initial fee, which rises each year. After Year 1, LFC could buy him back for double the initial fee. After Year 2, they’d pay treble. After Year 3, quadruple.

This encourages clubs to bid higher, to ensure that if LFC buy the player back, they’ll have to pay. But if anyone does really succeed, LFC have first refusal.

So take Harry Wilson.

If Sheff Utd wanted to buy him, they could bid £4 million. If they get him for that, and he has a similar season to last one, LFC would obviously exercise their option to buy him for £8m in a years time, as he will have proved he can perform at Prem level.

So they would be encouraged to pay more – say they go with £9 million. A reasonable season means LFC have a dilemma – £18 million isn’t peanuts (though in reality it’s an incremental £9 million).

The protection for the buying club is that the longer they keep the player, the more expensive he becomes. A moderate first season means the clause is unlikely to be activated, and they have some security in the knowledge that a stellar second season means they’ll at least get paid.

And if they were to match the current LFC valuation of approx £15 million, then they’d make an excellent profit whenever he’s sold.

Effectively, LFC would be paying other teams to find out whether these players extraordinary potential is ever realised, and can bring them back if it is. But the longer they wait, the more expensive the talent becomes.

Barry (can you guess I’m an accountant?), New York


FPL is back
Today is a momentous day: Fantasy Premier League is back!

Already, a ferocious WhatsApp debate is raging amongst the members of the Elite Chieftan League (we’re very good). In the spirit of whimsical summer mailboxes, I thought I’d involve the esteemed F365 , so that you can all take my side and help me win the argument.

The issue? It’s a contentious one: FPL team names. There are several categories.

Some people pick one and stick with it year after year. Fair enough. Maybe it’s something that represents them as a person. “Bad Men FC” But that gets boring fast.

Or there’s the boastful approach: “Champions Elect”. Hmmm. Arsehole – midtable mediocrity awaits. Again.

Pop culture references that betray your age: “Smell My Cheese!” Decidedly whiffy, Old Man!

Something involving your name: “FC Kezinthians” – sod off Kez, no one cares!

More common is the clever but ubiquitous pun-based name. I expect to see a lot of “The Joy of Six”, for example, this year. Nothing wrong there, except the lack of originality.

And so to my point. For years now, I have dedicated an inordinate amount of mental energy into creating a team name contrived purely of tortured, contorted, laboured, Liverpool player name-based puns. The more tenuous/painfully stretched, the better. Recent years have seen such phenomenal efforts as:

Origi-nal Can-sta
(Original Gangster)

Ibe Ings-clyned to Coutinho
(I be inclined to continue – what? You’re a pirate, shut-up!)

And, best of all:

Nab-ojo-y D’Ox it Keita

(…I shouldn’t have to do this, but for the avoidance of doubt, that last one should be sung to the tune of Bond/Carly Simon classic Nobody Does It Better. And the components there are (obviously) ‘NAB’y, ‘OJO’, nab’Y’, ‘D’aniel Sturridge ‘OX’lade Chamberlain, ‘keITa’, KEITA)

My mates think that’s rubbish. I think I’m a pun-genius. Who’s right?!

And how do you name your FPL team? And if Liverpool don’t sign anyone significant, how the hell do I top that this ???

Suggestions welcome,
Steve, Belfast


Market crash
I have been thinking about this for a while and the idea of football without transfer fees came to light in the last couple of mailboxes. The reason why transfer fees are so high is because there is a huge disparity between the revenue generated by football clubs and the wage bill. Teams are able to offer huge transfer fees because of the influx of huge tv deals and merchandise on a world scale.

Eventually, however, the increases will diminish and the market will become saturated leading to a relative stagnation of yearly revenue. Once stagnation occurs we will see wages catch up to revenue and the fees clubs will pay will naturally be lower as the main reason a club will want to sell a player in the future will be to free up room on their wage bill. We of course will still see the odd ridiculous fee but we are living in a unique age where the game has been flooded with money and teams are basically trying hard to spend it.

I think in the long run we will see more money spent on wages and less on transfer fees as teams’ budgets begin to shift. It will be interesting looking forward as I can’t see where the next big influx of money will come into football. The market is already saturated on a global scale and it wont be long until capacity is reached and you will see football economics mimic global economics.

Oisin (right now football teams are like mules with spinning wheels)


VAR encourages diving
Another disadvantage of the VAR: it will encourage diving. Why stay on your feet if there was contact? If you go down and the referee doesn’t give the penalty, then it’s nigh on certain that the VAR will. If you go down, you have two chances of winning a penalty. Stay on your feet and the VAR doesn’t even take a second look, apparently. Last night, a Norwegian went past the England keeper, the keeper caught her leg, but she decided to stay on her feet and Houghton ended up clearing off the line. The Norwegian forward’s honesty was therefore punished. Obviously, there has to be contact. Doing a Robben every time a defender comes near you will not work with the VAR. As Cruyff once said, every disadvantage has its advantage.
By the way, if I start a petition to ban the England band from all sporting venues, will millions of people sign it? I’m dreading England – Holland, there’ll two of them spoiling it for everybody.
G Thomas, Holland


Numbers game
The idea behind the book Moneyball is truly way understood and most people who comment on it haven’t actually read it – they may have seen the movie – but it doesn’t get anywhere near the detail behind it. Plus, there are other books like Soccernomics and The Numbers Game that are specific to football and should are worth a read. Given the time we have with no football to watch, might be worthwhile.

The major point was to use real data – statistics – as part of the process to evaluate players. Too much was based on the gut feel of ex-players who became scouts. What makes a good or great player? Their answer would be they ‘looked good.’

What Billy Beane did was use those stats to find outliers – people were outside the norm in certain areas. Areas that could impact a team’s overall performance. Of course, it takes time to determine which of those stats had the biggest impact and therefore worth pursuing. I was listening to a recent pod and a football data analyst was berating a pundit who had said corners don’t work – just take short corners – because the average for goals scored was about 1%. What the analyst pointed out was they should be looking for the outliers – those teams who score much higher – and look at what they do. Look at England in the World Cup or Liverpool last season – they had focused on getting more out of set pieces.

Clearly there are differences between Football and Baseball but the concept is the same. Unlike Wik’s point in the afternoon, it is NOT just about value. In Billy Beane’s case that was the driver – they didn’t have the funds to compete – but about finding someone whose ability was being overlooked. Overlooked because they didn’t ‘look’ like a player (even ugly literally a reason in one case) but their stats showed they could make the team better – get players on base, better catcher, etc. His team consistently get to the playoffs despite their much lower spend. So something works.

Liverpool’s buys in the period Wik mentions was not a great example. I think we all know they were panic buys. It wasn’t Liverpool using moneyball tactics to find value and it failing. Lord knows, Carroll was not value. FSG are proving that once they got fully immersed in the team and the game their use of stats to guide the process works. While Van Dyke wasn’t cheap they clearly saw in their data he was the exact right fit for the team and waited. There were other top players they could have gone for but they didn’t bite. In the case of Robertson you can see he not only fit their profile using the data but they did get value. And given they have done very well in the last few years getting great returns on the players they sell – it is clearly working out.

Finally, on the issue of no contracts – the Draft system (accurately) mentioned by Mike also works because there is a fixed set of teams. No relegation. No European teams with different rules to compete against. It’s a closed shop – NBA, NHL, etc. All closed shops. They all get a shot, based on last season’s performance – and whether they have traded draft picks – to pick prospects one by one. Players and their contract are part of the overall value of a football team. If you just blew away contracts who would cover the loss in value? City and Liverpool squads are valued at over 1 Billion.
Paul McDevitt


…The term “Moneyball” has been thrown around a fair bit recently but there seems to be a bit of confusion about what it means. Moneyball is more than stats based analysis. It is about looking at stats that other teams don’t realise are important, thereby identifying players that are undervalued by the league.

The classic example was Billy Beane’s assertion that the stat they should be looking at was on-base%, or in simple terms, who gets on first base the most. The theory was that this was actually more important to the team than how often you could hit a home run, but most teams didn’t realise it. This was reflected in salaries. In 2003, on-base% was a fairly accurate predictor of wins but not of salary. I.e. players were not being appreciated for what they did. With the advance of statistical analysis, this has now changed and there is a correlation between on-base% and salary. Teams now know the value of this stat and are paying players accordingly.

This is why Moneyball doesn’t work in football. For it to be effective, there would have to be a stat that teams are undervaluing. Looking at goals scored, assists or chances created is not a Moneyball strategy, because everyone knows those stats are important. If someone identified that % of passes completed in the final third was a predictor of wins, and players were undervalued accordingly, that would be Moneyball. That doesn’t seem to be the case though.

In any event, the more statistical analysis advances, across all sports, the less likely it is that a team will be able to use a Moneyball approach. If all teams have the same understanding of what helps them win, then it’s not possible to use stats to figure out a competitive advantage.

Consider as well that the whole principle of the theory was that it allowed less well funded teams compete with the big spenders.. Valuable players could be got on the cheap because they were under rated. Spending £50m on a right back, who is regarded as one of England’s top young talents is therefore about as far from Moneyball as you can get.
Mike, LFC, London


Dreaming of Jorge Campos
I was watching the news the yesterday and was horrified to see the political uprising in Paraguay going on. The broadcaster was interviewing locals and every single one of them was calling for Jorge Campos to step up and sort the situation out. Fair enough I thought, he was a hero in between the sticks during the nineties and why wouldn’t a successful and world famous goalkeeper be able to sort out the heightened political tensions of his nation.

Then I woke up. And whilst recalling this ridiculously specific dream I came to the conclusion that Jorge Campos’ goalkeeping Jersey’s are so bright and garish that they have the power to divert your subconscious from its obviously correct path to Jose Luis Chilavert as the goalkeeper who had the power to calm tensions in Paraguay. It’s a shame I wasn’t allowed to sleep longer as I would have loved to have seen where Rene Higuita fit in to all this.

Made me wonder if any eccentric footballers of yesteryear had hijacked anyone else’s dreams. I haven’t thought about either Campos or Chilavert in years, I have no idea where the f*ck this came from.

Chris (COYS)

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