Thursday, 10 December 2015

England's Atletico, horses, and more

Leicester City are England's Atletico Madrid

After hugging the foot of the table for much of the campaign and finding themselves with 19 points from 29 matches played, Leicester City gathered 22 points from the final 9 games of last season to seal an incredible survival, and haven't looked back since. These numbers contribute to a total of 54 points gathered from their last 24 matches - title winning form by any manner of judgement.

Is that Nigel Pearson there?

Claudio Ranieri has taken a club promoted last season to a position where there are hushed whispers of a possible title, and the work ethic that defines Simeone's Atletico Madrid is what sees them make headlines week after week for the right reasons. The team's excellence off the ball and on the break has contributed immensely to Jamie Vardy scoring on such an incredible basis, much like the similarly possession-averse Atletico Madrid team helped Diego Costa rack up goals quicker than Messi and Ronaldo at one point. It is inevitable, despite a phenomenal team effort, that individuals get singled out for their performances.

This isn't without reason. Riyad Mahrez has 10 goals and 6 assists from the opening 15 games - already surpassing by far his contribution last season. Jamie Vardy has set a new Premier League record for consecutive matches scored, and is no flat track bully. He put two past Arsenal and scored against Man United as well - two of the division's meanest defences.

Despite a team effort, it's tempting to call them the Vardy Boys (Photo: express.co.uk)

Optimism is rife, but even amidst the cheer in the King Power stadium, they know they'll have to drink it in while it lasts. There is a difference between having quality and having power, as Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund will testify.

Blue, but not bowed

To say it's been a shit start to the season is an understatement.

1. It's worse than shit
2. It's far from a 'start'

But if there is a Will(ian), there is a Way. (Geddit? Geddit?)

Chelsea have conceded one (offside) goal in their last five games in all competitions. This shows signs of renewed defensive solidarity, which is always where recovery must begin. They pressed with intent and energy and looked deadly on the break midweek.

Rescuing Chelsea since the days of Fernando Torres (Photo: chelseanews24.com)

The team will need to follow a similar approach on Monday night to thwart the league leaders and prove that the victory against Porto wasn't another false dawn.

How many horses?

Spurs, having largely flown under the radar, are catching the eye after a 14 game unbeaten run that sees them 6 points off the top. Their position? 5th. While Klopp's Liverpool occupy an unflattering 8th in the table, they are just 9 points off the summit. In between them and the leaders lie Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and West Ham, who have all failed to take real advantage of convincing champions Chelsea's disastrous start.

It almost feels like no one wants the title.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Why are Chelsea sucking so bad?

I love bragging to my roommate about how the Premier League provides the most compelling drama every season. I guess I'll shut up about that for now.


Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois frustrated by Crystal Palace result
"I'm gonna pretend this is Ivanovic's head here"

On Saturday, Crystal Palace became only the second team to beat Mourinho's Chelsea in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.

The ensuing bedlam of unsolicited advice from the fans was predictable - Drop Fabregas. Sign Pogba. We should've kept Schurrle. Azpi at right back, Baba left. Remy needs more game time. We need to switch to a 4-3-3. Can't blame them either - This is our worst start to a season since 1995.

It's safe to say we're in a bit of a mini-crisis.

The Palace match was painful to watch. Each time the Eagles came forward, they would nonchalantly lay the ball off to Chelsea's right, knowing something would happen - An utterly predictable attack pattern that Jose strangely doesn't seem to want to fix. Ivanovic's reflex action towards any hint of a cross doesn't help.

Ivanovic's defensive stance (With all respect to the men in the photo)
Spot the Chelsea right back (Photo: The Telegraph)

Through the course of last season, Mourinho identified a first XI that was more or less insulated from any danger of rotation. They delivered almost all the time, and we won the league and the league cup. Clearly, that isn't working anymore, for a few reasons.

One, teams across the league are much stronger than they were last term. You got the sense that something wasn't quite right after the game at White Hart Lane last season, after which Chelsea fell out meekly from the Champions League and resorted to grinding out results throughout the run-in. Now those wins are turning into draws, and the draws into losses, not least because every opponent has strengthened while Chelsea have not.

Second, the leaders in the team are having a stinker. In previous years, when the team hit a rut, one could rely on Didier Drogba or Frank Lampard to take on the situation and turn it around. This time, the underperforming players are Fabregas, Hazard, Ivanovic, Matic, Terry - the precise people the squad relies on for direction and leadership. The odd off-day for a player would usually be papered over by a match-winning performance from someone else, but that just isn't happening so far.

Chelsea's leaders of yesteryear
"It's been a long day, without you my friend..." (Photo: zimbio.com)

All's not lost, however. When it seems at the start of a season like an entire champion squad has been replaced with a bunch of inferior clones, it's both good and bad. Bad, because results are going to suck for a while. Good, because there's enough time to rescue the originals from their dungeons and have them terrorise teams again. In a sense, the international break could not be more welcome. Sure, we still need to strengthen the squad to match up to the pace of growth elsewhere, but nothing too radical. Two more days to go, chop chop.

Also, all managers are figured out by their rivals at one point. What separates the great ones is their ability to evolve and adapt, ensuring it's only a matter of time before they are on top again. Mourinho has a bit of a reputation for his 'third season', which he must now change. This is his latest test - to evolve along with the team, and embark on the next phase of success.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Fantasy Premier League 2015/16 - Gameweek 2

So that was a fun initial week. Goals, snoozefests, upsets and touchline tantrums - the whole package. How did the experimental team do in FPL though?

Gameweek 1 points for the experimental FPL team

A 'grand' total of 30 points. As you can see, the results were... Not great, largely because:

  • I picked a Villa defender who didn't play (the team kept a clean sheet though)
  • I picked Ivanovic (1) instead of Azpilicueta (6)
  • I benched Gomis, who scored
In short - right ideas, wrong lineup. I lost around 16 points to human error after the machine brought me this far. It's only a natural next step to somehow have the machine tell exactly which player to pick as well.

Enough excuses though - the initial signs aren't exactly discouraging. As we move the 4-game window forward by a gameweek to make selections for Gameweek 2, we get an optimal pool of payoffs that looks a bit like this:

Fantasy Premier League payoffs - Gameweek 2

As you can see, both the goalkeeper suggestions changed from last week! This shows that Butland was probably a good idea only for the first game (and was heartbreakingly thwarted by a great late effort by Coutinho). I can't effect these many changes on one team - another lesson for the future.

As for the transfer I can and did make, I got rid of Hutton and got in Cresswell. The fixtures look good for the left back in theory as well.

The Blogger's Teams

The experimental soldiers I am going in with for this week looks a bit like this:

Fantasy Premier League experimental team - Gameweek 2

From the fixtures, it seems like they should have a far better time of it than they did last week. Heck, they may even outdo my primary FPL team, which is:

The Blogger's Fantasy Premier League team - Gameweek 2

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The road to FPL 2015-16 (part 3)

This post is the third in a 3 part series leading up to kick-off in the EPL and, of course, the FPL season. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

This post looks at the over the next few matchdays to decide a good squad to start the FPL season.

As we saw in part 1, the points output depends on:
  • Team
  • Opposition
  • Venue
  • Position
The approach to deciding a team is really simple once all the numbers are in place. We have:
  • Points scored by position-team-venue
  • Points allowed by position-team-venue
Let's consider the expected payoff from each fixture as the average between the two. For example, say Chelsea are at home to Swansea. Chelsea midfielders score 4 points per game at home, while Swansea allow midfielders 5 points per game away, yielding a payoff of 4.5 for Chelsea midfielders from this fixture.

All that's needed now is to calculate payoffs for each fixture, and pick from the highest payoffs. The actual numbers are not that important, but I'll mention them anyway.

Choosing the opening 4 weeks as a window, we get a squad with a payoff pool that looks a bit like this (cumulative payoffs over 4 weeks in brackets):


Fantasy Premier League payoffs

Which is a LOT unlike the squad mix most of us would pick. It pays testimony to two things - Southampton's easy opening fixtures, and Chelsea's propensity to score points regardless of fixture. The rest of it... Let's call it weird, but not discard it entirely.

Codifying intelligence

Besides, there is a lot of FPL know-how that remains un-automated at this point. The next steps now are to make judgements based on:
  • Set-piece takers: Set piece takers tend to be rather valuable for the chances they create from dead ball situations
  • Keeper pairings: Picking rotating keepers is an important part of the FPL strategy to generate points on a budget
  • Out of position: Players listed a position behind the pitch compared to where they play, like Bale in 2009-10.

The Blogger's Teams

To experiment with the payoffs, I have a slightly crazy team set up:

Fantasy Premier League experimental team

And this is the team I'm using in my primary account, FYI

Fantasy Premier League blogger team

The road to FPL 2015-16 (Part 2)

This post is the second in a 3 part series leading up to kick-off in the EPL and, of course, the FPL season. You can read part 1 here.

A light post on some interesting and possibly useful trivia from last season's FPL data this time before we embark on the final steps towards making a team tomorrow morning.

Quality

Players with the highest EA Sports PPI


Top performers - EA Sports PPI

Now this is obviously no sure indicator of output in terms of fantasy points, as it's more of an index calculated based on a number of attributes. The Premier League obviously loves to sing its praises, and the rankings do look interesting - Charlie Austin above Fabregas and Costa, for one?


Efficiency

Players with the best points per 90 mins played

FPL - Points per match

Now this is a more business-like metric. Note that not all these players played week in, week out. But when they did step on the pitch, they delivered. If you're sure of these guys playing, you should probably think about getting them in.


Saviours

FPL - Saves per match

The usefulness of these rankings depend on what you are looking for in a keeper. None of the keepers in the running for last season's Golden Glove feature here, so if you want clean sheets, this list isn't very useful. However, if you wanted to know which budget keepers to get in for save points, it is worth looking at. And hey, you might win a pub quiz or two.

Value

Players with the best points per 90 mins per price unit

FPL - Points per match per price unit

A list of players who managed to "return their price" in every game, and then some. We're always on the lookout for a steal, and these are the budget-priced stars from last season. The likes of Harry Kane (9.5) and Hector Bellerin (5.5) are more dearly priced this term, but the likes of Marc Albrighton (5.0), Nacer Chadli (7.0) and James Milner (7.0) might still be a worth a look based on these numbers.

Want to know anything else? Feel free to leave a comment.

*All lists created using players who played at least 900 mins through the season.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The road to FPL 2015-16 (part 1)

This post is the first in a 3 part series leading up to kick-off in the EPL and, of course, the FPL season.


While on vacation (and finally with some time on my hands), I had the opportunity to dabble with the FPL data I pulled last season, and found a few interesting things that could help forming the initial squad for this campaign. The series will get increasingly math-heavy as it progresses, but I'll try to keep it as light as possible.

Assumptions:
  • Football is like the weather
    • This season is going to be more or less like the last one
    • Data from last season can be used to form this season's teams
  • Averages are fine (for now)
  • Relegated teams are interchangeable with promoted ones
    • In place of Hull, read Bournemouth
    • In place of Burnley, read Watford
    • In place of QPR, read Norwich
  • You like looking at line charts
Picking a fantasy football team requires you to hit several sweet spots (as you'll see), and still pray things on the pitch turn out the way you want. But hey, let's leave as little to chance as possible, eh?

The plum ties

Pick apart the fixtures that would yield points for your team. Doing this is essentially ‘frisking the fixtures’, as Fantasy Football Scout calls it. Teams are ordered by the average points they allow per game per player (If you think the order looks familiar, take a peek at last season’s league table)

Fantasy points allowed per game per player

Tottenham aside, teams did better at home and worse away, as conventional wisdom suggests. The scale of the difference in performance varies by team, however. The likes of Crystal Palace and Sunderland showed consistent leniency regardless of venue, while the extent of Newcastle and Southampton’s generosity depended on where they played. While Everton were an easier opponent on average than Arsenal, it's noteworthy that Everton away was an easier fixture than Arsenal home. Enough variation to look at venue as well as opposition rather than just the black line.

The bankers

You know the pick of the plum ties, but you'd still need to be sure which pool of teams to select players from. Teams in the below chart are ordered by the average points they score per game per player.

Fantasy points scored per game per player

You would notice a minor change from the previous plot - Spurs conformed to the home-away belief when it comes to points scored, while Palace did not. This plot also confirms the idea that a mere overall number for each team will not suffice. Chelsea posed more of a threat away from home than Everton did at Goodison Park, and the teams with a noticeable difference in performances here remain more or less the same as compared to points allowed.

The roles

Now, how about positions on the pitch?

Fantasy Premier League points by position

The best performers are the keepers! This shouldn't really be surprising - Goalkeeper is one fixed role, while there are different types of defenders, midfielders and forwards, some of whom are more likely to score points than others. This variation, which we'll explore in more detail in the next post, is likely pulling down the numbers for the outfield players, and also puts paid to the use of averages for these positions.

So, we’ve got a broad idea of:
  1. Which fixtures are actually good
  2. Which teams are actually good
  3. Which positions are actually good (kind of)
This leaves us with more questions:
  1. Who are the good fixtures good for?
  2. Who is good to pick from the good teams?
  3. Who are the good players in these positions?
To answer these questions, we'll need a marriage between teams and positions to give us the clarity we need to answer these questions. Let's break down Manchester United's generosity last season by position, for example.

Points allowed by Manchester United

One thing that should jump out at you is the fact that travelling goalkeepers did almost twice as well as the defenders at Old Trafford. This difference is far less pronounced when the Red Devils travel, meaning Manchester United’s generosity towards defenders varied wildly based on whether they played home or away.

The story of variation persists in another example, when we break down Southampton's performance by position. Their strikers provided wildly varying returns based on venue – they were the best Saints assets to possess at St Mary’s and by far the worst away from home.

Points scored by Southampton

Clearly, in order to pick a team, we need to look at a combination of:
  1. The team under consideration
  2. The opposition
  3. The venue
  4. The positions
    • The players who aren't goalkeepers
That sets the agenda for part 2, we will be gathering team selection wisdom from the marriage and look at some FPL trivia.

Anyone who wishes to access 2014/15 FPL data can do so here.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Eurotrip

The story of last week is undoubtedly Juventus' triumph over Real Madrid.

While Juve rarely take complete control of a game, it's very difficult to actually dominate against them. Real Madrid boasted a lineup full of star quality but were unable to put the less-fancied Juventus away after taking the lead. Starting the game with a front line assembled for just under £200 million, Real Madrid were ultimately undone by a product of their academy.

Allegri has at his disposal a very balanced team with a mixture of flair players, energetic runners and masterful game-readers, and used it to full effect against the defending European Champions to take a big step towards emulating Jose Mourinho's achievements with Inter 5 years ago.

Alvaro Morata
Deal With It (Image credits: 101 great goals)

Alvaro Morata's strike was particularly damaging to Real's season given the home draw against Valencia days earlier that saw them fall 4 points behind Barcelona. While Atletico Madrid are more than capable of producing a performance on their day, it's highly unlikely that Barcelona, in the form they're in, will let their lead slip with two games to go.

A season without major trophies at the Bernabeu often means big changes in the summer. Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career could be in jeopardy, particularly if Ancelotti does not remain as manager. He's often been singled out for criticism this season by Real fans even when others failed as well. Bale's fans will argue that he was at least trying to make a nuisance of himself while Ronaldo was more or less absent. But that's not how Real fans will see it - In this club, the crowd's favourites are quickly exonerated while the perceived interlopers are constantly under the microscope.

Not that Bale objectively has anything to prove to anyone. Last season, he scored the winner in an El Clasico cup final with a flash of brilliance, and put Real in the lead in the Champions League final. He has 17 goals for Real in this 'terrible' season. He would walk into the starting lineup of any Premier League side. There's no point in sticking around to prove a point, and there is no shame in leaving if it isn't meant to be. Others have chosen to move out of the club and they haven't exactly wilted.

Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder
No Spain, No Pain



The fans at Anfield were fantastic, putting the result quickly behind them to orchestrate a rousing farewell for Steven Gerrard. The result itself, however, mathematically put Liverpool out of Champions League football next season. The club messed it up by doing a Tottenham - spending the Suarez money on a bunch of decent players instead of snaring a world class replacement. It will probably be years before they're playing in the Champions League again.

They have to hope that in sending off their talismanic captain, they aren't seeing off the last memory of the days when they used to mix it with the best.

Steven Gerrard glory

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Nothing new

In the season after Sir Alex departed, Man Utd struggled to emulate the results they got under the great man. They finished 7th in the league and ended the season without a major trophy. For any other club, that kind of season would've meant a few years away from the top table, like Liverpool in the 2009-13 phase. But Man Utd are different. After Moyes' season, in walked Herrera, di Maria, Shaw, Rojo and Blind, and now they look set to challenge for the title and play in the Champions League next season - just as they always have.

The amount of money they can throw at their problems is staggering, all enabled by their past success. There is no real way a team without their revenue can now hope to take their place, long term. Even before FFP became real, Man United's domination in the Premier League was only challenged when teams that could match or better their spending power came along. Realistically, how many bad seasons can a club like theirs afford before the status quo truly changes? Three? Five? Ten? Will they even allow it to get that bad?

Atletico Madrid mean business, but are little more than interlopers
Atletico mean business, but are little more than short-term interlopers

In 2013-14, Atletico Madrid won La Liga and finished as Champions League runners-up. While theirs is a heart-warming tale, the reaction to these events reflects how those holding the clout prevail in the long run.

Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis are now turning out for Chelsea. James Rodriguez and Kroos headed to the Bernabeu and Barcelona snapped up Rakitic and Suarez. The big two are now miles ahead of the rest in Spain, again. Atletico look set to end the season 3rd and trophyless, as they were before last season. The inequality in TV rights in Spain already ensured the two major clubs would be spearheading most title races, and now FFP has completed the lockdown. (It has transpired that, beginning 2016-17, TV revenue would be shared among the 20 La Liga clubs)

Bayern took back the reigns in Germany as quickly as they surrendered them to Dortmund, while snapping up two of their best players to boot. Unpredictable one-off games such as the recent cup semifinal maintain interest in the fixture itself, but the two clubs are now competing at very different levels. Wolfsburg have had a great domestic season, but they are no harbingers of true change, just like Dortmund weren't. Germany has had its own financial regulations in place for quite some time now, and the result ever since they were implemented has usually been a Bayern triumph.

The status quo is set in stone. In three of the last four seasons, Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid all made the Champions League semifinals. And they will probably do it again next season. And the one after. Clubs like Atletico Madrid and Dortmund will probably get their 15 minutes of fame, but will always be mercilessly returned to their place in the food chain.



Chelsea striker Diego Costa
Chelsea's title charge has been driven by Diego Costa (Image credits: Daily Mail)

Chelsea have lacked a top goal scorer up front since Didier Drogba in 2009-10, the last time they won the title. With 19 Premier League goals in 23 starts, Diego Costa has proved to be great value for money. His strikes put Chelsea in a position where it was just a matter of getting across the finishing line - something they went on to do with minimum fuss.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Premier League - Not so Premier

While all the money is flowing into the Premier League, the real action is taking place elsewhere.

The world's best teams and players ply their trade in Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Clubs like Atletico and Dortmund have got there without throwing large amounts of money at their problems. Results in Europe only make a stronger case. Manchester City are feared domestically, yet there are several top teams from other leagues that they would struggle to beat.

While the Champions League struggles of English clubs receive enough attention, the common belief among fans that mid-table Premiership sides are better than their foreign counterparts is wrong as well. Europa League results in the last few seasons make very poor reading for Premier League fans.

Fiorentina celebrate beating Tottenham in the Europa League
Fiorentina dumped out Spurs from the Europa League (Image credits: Daily Mail)

Fiorentina outplayed and dumped out Tottenham from the Europa League last week. Besiktas bested Tottenham in the group stages and then knocked out Liverpool, a team that scored over 100 goals in the Premier League last season and dropped down from the Champions League. Only Everton have done well, but that appears to have come at the cost of their league position. There are more teams from Russia and Ukraine than England in the Round of 16.

While Premier League teams are able to stand up to each other, they are unable to live with continental opposition of any kind. Only Chelsea compete at an elite level, thanks in large part to the nous of Jose Mourinho.

The world's most popular league simply does not have good teams.

Part of this is due to the lack of good domestic talent. Foreigners, particularly South Americans, aspire to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid. Those two pick and choose, and leave others to fight over what remains. This makes it very important to build talent from within to compete. It's also good for top teams to have players and a style they can identify with. The constant influx and outflow of foreign players isn't helping either way, but clubs are more concerned with the here and now, getting results today.

Spot the Englishman
Let's play a game of "Spot the Englishman" (Image credits: Goal.com)

The USA has done better than England in the last two World Cups. In both tournaments, their squad consisted of players largely from the MLS and the lesser teams in England and Germany. This is looking a bit alarming (shout-out to the clairvoyant title of this book), considering that England should theoretically have better players to choose from (Players from top Premier League teams).

Like Barcelona and Bayern in the mid-to-late 2000s, English football needs to take a step back and build a solid structure rather than throwing money at the problem.



With full knowledge of the craving for his signature in Europe, Marco Reus put pen to paper on a new contract when Dortmund were in the relegation zone. It would've been easy to turn it down and join Lewandowski and Gotze at Bayern, or a top club in Spain. When even the likes of Steven Gerrard admit that their heads were turned, this is a commendable display of loyalty.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Marco Reus celebrates victory of Schalke
Dortmund's superhero decided to stay (Image credits: WhoScored)

It's always a massive boost when a club's talisman shows his faith in dark circumstances. It's hard to imagine that this act (along with his return from injury) has not played a part in sparking a revival that has seen Borussia Dortmund go from a relegation battle to sitting 8 points away from Champions League qualification.

Confession: I love the Batman-Robin photo. I just wanted to write something so that I could use it!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Measured ranting

Sometimes it's nice to let off steam.

First, the frustrating treatment of Chelsea players in recent matches. The last two games have seen the opposition get away with relative impunity. Eden Hazard was fouled 9 times in Paris, and this was allowed to happen with minimal punishment. I needed two hands to count the number of fouls (including one that was a booking in itself) Marco Verratti committed before the referee finally took his name. Fabregas went into the book for his first tired foul. Barnes went into every challenge yesterday with a dash of mischief, kicking at the Chelsea player when jumping for the ball. The challenge on Matic was horrific, but there aren't any "Barnes crimes" headlines (He didn't even get a yellow card, let alone a post-match lynching from the media).

This is worrisome. It gives opposition players the message that they can get away with violent conduct, while Chelsea players should expect the worst for any transgression.

About Martin Atkinson - That was a performance of such extraordinary ineptitude it brought back memories of Tom Henning Ovrebo. Two penalty shouts that would've been given on any other day weren't heeded, and a Chelsea player was sent off and another booked for retaliation against a Barnes tackle that, on many days, would've been greeted with a straight red.

Chelsea's Matic is sent off for pushing Burnley's Barnes in anger
 Nemanja Matic sees red for pushing Barnes in reaction to a dangerous tackle (Photo Credits: Irish Examiner)

Had Chelsea been fighting relegation, that refereeing performance could've ended up costing the manager his job and the club tens of millions. In fact, there could yet be clubs aggrieved that Burnley managed to get a point from the game.

There might not be an actual campaign against Chelsea, but nobody seems to be in a hurry to prove Jose Mourinho wrong.



After watching the last few games, I find it a bit incredible that Cristiano Ronaldo is considered the best player in the world.

His goalscoring record is outstanding, but there seems to be little else to his game. Any time he gets the ball, Real Madrid seem only seconds away from having to defend a counter-attack. The goals he scores are usually the only meaningful touches he takes all game. He was a lesser goalscorer but a much better footballer at Manchester United, where he would routinely beat players and drive forward moves rather than only be at the end of them.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring against Atletico
Lionel Messi is the world's best footballer - and has been since 2009 (Image credits: International Business Times)

Lionel Messi, on the other hand, takes a full part in build-up play, makes some brilliant passes and is outstanding when moving with the ball. He has lesser physical prowess but is a more exceptional footballer. It's not like he's invisible in front of goal either - Messi has scored as many goals as Ronaldo this season, having played the same number of games. I find players like Messi, Robben, Isco and Hazard better to watch than Ronaldo.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Blue And Big Numbers

Any time I feel like dusting my keyboard and putting it to work, it seems to precipitate a Chelsea debacle. As with the last time of writing, Chelsea's season isn't by any means done. The result was frightening, however, and somewhat vindicated Jose's policy of keeping rotation to a minimum. The squad is still a work in progress, and a change in style will not come without a cost. That nearly the entire top half of the Premier League decided to sweat their cup ties was scant consolation. This is the second time the Blues have been hit for 4 this year and it's still January. By Chelsea standards, that is simply unacceptable.

Bradford City players are ecstatic after beating Chelsea in the FA Cup
The Bantams break into the Bridge and make away with the silver (Image credits: BBC)

Trust the team from Hogwarts to weave some magic in the FA Cup.



It was pleasing, then, to see Chelsea go into the weekend's big clash with wind in their sails following a huge semifinal victory on Tuesday night. The teams raised the level of the Capital One Cup and ensured it played out like a European Cup knockout tie. Mourinho certainly reacted like he had won one by the end of it. Liverpool have improved massively from the time the clubs met in the league and should be a major contender for top 4 once Sturridge returns.

Thibaut Courtois played a major part in Chelsea's Capital One Cup victory over Liverpool
The returning Thibaut Courtois played a major part in Chelsea's march to Wembley (Image credits: Daily Mail)

Chelsea didn't come away from the tie entirely unscathed - They face the prospect of playing City without Fabregas and could also be short on full back expertise as both Ivanovic and Luis are doubtful. Diego Costa might face a retrospective ban for his 'crimes'. That is a bridge that we will cross when we come to it, though.

For now, Chelsea can celebrate yet another date with Wembley, their second home.



If you've got this far wondering where the rest of the post's title is going to bear fruit, it is now. Some of my older patrons might recall a certain post I made about attempting to conquer the Fantasy Premier League world using data from the FPL API. As I was absorbed by the thug life work, I found it rather difficult to back up my initiative with anything substantial, but I should have something for everyone by this weekend.

In fact, I may have something for you right now. Dig in. It's rudimentary and I will sharpen things in the next few days, but it's a start and could be helpful given that the wildcard window will be closing by Feb 7.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Guess Who?

It's been a while, eh?

A few months of great personal change, long hours and a dash of laziness kept me from blogging all season, but a vacation filled with football discussion and a gift from Secret Santa nudged me towards picking up my pen... er, keyboard, again. There are few things that give me more joy than updating this little journal, something I hope to do more often now.



As of today, Chelsea are leading the Premier League and are yet to be knocked out of any competition. Yet, it feels like the world is ending. That is what being chewed up and spit out by Tottenham can do.

Kane applying the chokeslam (Image credits: yahoo.com)

That was some performance from the hosts. Spurs surrendered the lead but banged in four without reply before you could say "Cahill". A delightful and devastating show of pressing and movement left Chelsea reeling and bereft of ideas, outplayed for the first time in months.

My excuse is that Tottenham are used to playing on Thursday nights.



I woke up and read that Steven Gerrard is leaving Liverpool, and felt very odd. He's the latest player to decide to effectively retire among the first generation of players I grew up watching.

Nobody taught me that I was supposed to be hating him and his team, so I quite enjoyed watching him play (Goodness knows how many days of my life I spent on Lampard vs Gerrard arguments though). Reading the news this morning made me think, once again, of the 'old' Premier League, the 'classic days' when van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard did battle to win their teams supremacy among the 'Big Four'.

You know the player one instantly thinks about when his team's name is mentioned? He was one of them. Gerrard is a player that defined Liverpool for several years and emerged as one of the icons of the Premier League. His team's only hope when nothing seemed possible, a real-life Roy of the Rovers. Even as player after player left, he chose to stay and fight. And what fights some of them were.

The league title remained agonizingly out of his reach, but it doesn't matter. He's had a decorated career at one of football's revered clubs, inspiring them to several famous victories and leaving an indelible mark in the minds of a generation of supporters, Liverpool and otherwise. One of the greatest players of his generation.

What a hit, son. What a hit.