Soccer

Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa is a genius!

If you follow English football closely, by now, you surely know about the spy-gate scandal involving Leeds and Derby County where a member of Leeds FC staff was stopped by police outside the Derby training ground with a pair of binoculars. On this incident being published in the papers, the Leeds manager – the 63 year old Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa took full responsibility for his actions saying “I’m the only one responsible for it…I’ve been using this kind of practice since the World Cup qualifiers with Argentina. This is not unlawful, we’ve done it publicly…” One can imagine the outrage as the British sporting press ran with the story and turned it into a major controversy regarding sportsmanship, ethics and legality issues especially as Leeds comfortably beat Derby 2-0 the next day. The Football Association opened an investigation and talking heads in the press are calling for Leeds to be docked points.

With this controversy swirling in the background – Bielsa called an unscheduled press conference yesterday at the Leeds training ground. There were whispers Bielsa had decided to call it quits after only 4 months in English football – that his position was untenable given he confessed to sending a spy to watch his opponents train before a match. But what happens as the press conference starts? Bielsa speaking exclusively in Spanish for over an hour using his translator gives a powerpoint presentation of his preparation for the Derby match. It is nothing short of a coaching masterclass. It was well known before the press conference that Bielsa was scrupulous in his preparation, but for him to display the amount of work he and his staff do to study every opponent before a match was still amazing: Bielsa and his staff had watched EVERY Derby County match this season and last – a staggering 51 matches, it took them 4 hours to watch and analyze ONE match, he had statistics and data of every Derby County player and what positions they had played in every game, he knew every formation Derby County had ever used in all of their 51 matches and the exact percentage of the times they played in their favorite formation. He further states he has observed all 23 teams in the league practice and he has compiled similar data on all of them. Bielsa further goes on to say, for their next match they face Stoke but since Stoke have a new manager and has only coached them for 3 matches, Bielsa and his staff watched 26 matches of the team the new manager was in charge of before Stoke. Holy mother of god, can you say indefatigable?!?

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I have known about Marcelo Bielsa since 2011 when he coached the fantastic Athletic Bilbao team that beat Manchester United twice in the Europa League. I had read sparingly that he was a football obsessive, a student of the game and a master tactician. It wasn’t until Pep Guardiola called him the “best coach in the world” in 2017, I really got interested in the man they call El Loco (Madman) Bielsa. Jorge Sampoli, Diego Simeone, Pocchetino and Guardiola have been heavily influenced by him, he favors a revolutionary attacking 3-3-1-3 formation where he uses only 2 midfielders: one to hold and the other to attack. His wingbacks tuck in, coming into the middle of the pitch – a tactic Guardiola ‘borrows.’ After a match in la liga where Pep’s Barcelona beat Bielsa’s Bilbao 3-0, Bielsa gave Guardiola all the data he had collected on Barcelona, Pep was amazed by the sheer volume of it saying, “you know Barcelona better than me.”

Bielsa did not need to spy on Derby County to beat them, he and his staff had done over 300 hours of total analysis for the match, but yet he felt that he needed that slight edge to make sure nothing was left out. This short of preparation is something most people know nothing about, but as one reads more and more about the greats in every field one realizes, this the level of practice, studying and preparation that is needed to be at an elite level to rise above the good and the ordinary. Bielsa should not get into trouble for this episode, instead he should be celebrated for his dedication and marveled for his industriousness.

 

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Soccer

4 points! Where will it be dropped?

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4 points separate Liverpool and City at the top of the premier league table. 4 points! with 17 matches and 51 points to play for. The title is still Liverpool’s to lose: 2 drawn matches by the Reds would tie City and Liverpool on equal points, and a draw and a loss would put Liverpool in second place, 1 point behind City…, granted the Skyblues do not drop another point until the end of the season – meaning winning 18 straight in the premier league – which would tie the premier league record – a tall order – which also is not going to happen.

So what lies in store for both teams going forward? Where are the pitfalls, the traps? What matches are the fans of both teams looking ahead in the schedule and getting anxious about?

Liverpool still have to visit Old Trafford in late February, and have the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in March, and they entertain Spurs and Chelsea at Anfield respectively. City host Arsenal and Chelsea back to back in early February, and visit Manchester United in mid-March while hosting Spurs in late April.

The trip to Old Trafford for both teams poses the most problems in this writer’s opinion – a tricky fixture for both teams facing a rejuvenated United squad fighting for a Champion’s League place playing for pride against their two bitterest rivals. Manchester United would like nothing more than to either spoil Liverpool or City’s season with a convincing victory at Old Trafford while moving up the table. I see either one or both teams losing at Old Trafford and leaving with serious damage done to their season.

And lest we forget about Spurs who are only 2 points behind City in third place and Chelsea in fourth, 4 points off Tottenham. Spurs and Chelsea have everything to play for  and even a daunting task of visiting Anfield and the Etihad in the spring should have both the teams motivated to make a mark in their season. If Liverpool and City drop points as both teams are likely to do – then Spurs and Chelsea could easily move to the top – crazier things have happened, like Newcastle United blowing a 12 point lead with 13 matches remaining in 1996.

With 17 matches remaining and only 6 points separating the top three teams in the league – this season is more than likely going down to the wire, which means heartburn, ruined weekends and marital problems for all of us.

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Soccer

Liverpool are going to win the League – Jan 1st, 2019.

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It is close to impossible for Manchester City to win the league now owing to the fact City cannot drop another point going forward. The Sky Blues literally have to win their next 18 Premier League matches in a row and then hope Liverpool who have been in scintillating form drop points.

The best-case scenario for City to rein in Liverpool is to beat them on Thursday, cut the deficit to 4 points and hope going forward Liverpool either:

  • Lose 2 (drop 6 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 1 (drop 5 points).
  • Tie 2 (drop 4 points).***
  • Tie 3 (drop 6 points).

If City and Liverpool tie on Thursday then it remains at 7 points, this deficit becomes super hard to make up, again City cannot drop even 1 point in the remaining 17 matches and Liverpool would have to:

  • Lose 3 (drop 9 points).
  • Lose 2 & Tie 1 (drop 8 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 2 (drop 7 points).***
  • Lose 1 & Tie 3 (drop 9 points).
  • Tie 4 (drop 8 points).

If Liverpool beat City on Thursday and open up a 10 point lead then you can crown Liverpool champions immediately, because the only way they don’t win the league is if Liverpool FC:

  • Lose 4 (drop 12 points).
  • Lose 3 & Tie 1 (drop 11 points).
  • Lose 2 & Tie 2 (drop 10 points).***
  • Lose 2 & Tie 3 (drop 12 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 4 (drop 11 points)
  • Tie 6 (drop 12 points).

You get my drift. City are not going to win 18 straight matches, and Liverpool are not going to tie or lose many games.

*** If Liverpool & City should finish with equal number of points, I gave the advantage to Liverpool on goal differential. 

 

 

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