U.S.-Costa Rica – What Klinsmann Got Wrong

ImageThere is a reason why long winning streaks are rare in soccer – stuff can easily go wrong! This was evident against Costa Rica. Michael Bradley is without a doubt the most important Yank and his injury before the game clearly unsettled the team. While the US should have expected an early onslaught, they looked totally shocked and were in some ways fortunate not to give up a third goal. All looked lost. 

 
Yet… and there is a very big YET… the US fought there way back into the game. By the second half the US looked likely to level. Dempsey hit the post and Donovan was terrorizing Costa Rica. Unfortunately, Costa Rica hit on the break effectively ending the game. 
 
It is tough to be too critical of Klinsmann, especially after such a great run of games.  But last night we saw some of Klinsmann’s managerial tendencies back fire, namely his continuing willingness to play players out of position. 
 
First, Fiscal was totally lost at right back. The second goal was caused by him allowing CR to get behind him, forcing Gonzalez to come over. Even then Fiscal didn’t provide any help. As a result Gonzalez was isolated and could do little to prevent the cross into the box – a cross he would have cleared on the other end if he hadn’t had to cover for Fiscal. That wasn’t the only time Fiscal was beat on the wing. Furthermore, Fiscal offered nothing going forward. It is one thing if Fiscal was the emergency option. But Klinsmann had him there over Cameron who plays there for a Premier League side. Granted Cameron doesn’t get forward very much with Stoke, but if he is your back up DM, then he is clearly better on the ball than Fiscal.  The lack of true fullbacks is clearly the major hole in the US side. 
 
Second, the substitutions hurt, rather than helped. I thought Klinsmann decision to bring on Eddie Johnson was a good one. A true CF would through something new at a CR backline that was on its heels. But by taking off Zusi he forced Donovan – who at that point was terrorizing the CR back line out wide. All of sudden the US attack began to sputter without Donovan. A better move would have been to bring on EJ for Fiscal and shift Fabian Johnson to RB with the direction to get forward. Donovan would have then have had defensive responsibilities on the left, but wouldn’t have needed to stay wide as Beasley could have provided the width. Instead, with Fiscal offering little going forward and exposed defensively, Donovan had to stay wide and play more as a true RM. 
 
Furthermore, it made little sense to bring on Johnson if you wanted to bring on Altidore a few minutes later. Bringing on Altidore and taking off Fabian Johnson may seem like an attacking move, but in reality it was anything but. The problem wasn’t Jozy. It is that by bringing on Jozy required Eddie to play deeper and wide (once again a player not playing his normal position). With Donovan isolated wide, and Eddie Johnson having to link the play the US became completely disjointed. While the third goal was clearly demoralizing, the U.S. barely strung passes together once the subs were made. 
 
Also a note on Howard. From my view the third goal was on him. He got his positioning entirely wrong. First, at the time the ball was booted forward, Howard was very deep, essentially at his penalty spot. He should have been further forward prepared to come out and clear balls over the top. Second, his first reaction was to go backward toward his goal once the ball is kicked. If he decides to go for the ball he gets there. Even if it is close he forces Campbell to round him allowing the CB to recover. He had to see that Besler had no chance of catching Campbell. Third, even if he didn’t want to leave the box, he still needs to charge at Campbell to shut down the angle. He literally just stood there – just outside his six yard box – and was beaten low. He has to attack the ball there. Now some of this might be on the coaching staff, as Howard might have been told to stay back and not to venture out as a sweeper keeper. If so that’s a mistake, especially when chasing the game. 
 
Overall, the game probably couldn’t have gone much worse.  The injury to Bradley and the yellow cards (especially the boneheaded one by Altidore) will really test the depth of the US.
 
That being said, the US is still in very good shape for qualification and if Dempsey’s shot hits the inside, rather than the outside, of the post, we are talking about the tremendous resilience of this US side. This game highlighted some areas for the US to improve, what it didn’t do is cause reason for panic. 

Why Spurs Aren’t Going To Sell Bale (or at least why they shouldn’t)

article-2359033-1ABC8FC1000005DC-12_634x521It has been largely assumed that Spurs would have to sell Bale and would not be able to resist an 85 million pound offer from Real Madrid. Daniel Levy is now seen as just holding out to get a better deal from Madrid.  But when analyzing Spurs past transfer history and the current dynamics of the market, it becomes clear that Spurs are most likely not bluffing. They want to keep Bale and have no intention of selling Bale this summer for anything less than an absurd 100+ million pounds.  And Spurs are exactly right in their approach. Bale is worth more to Spurs in 2013-14 than 85 million pounds.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean Bale is worth more than 85 million pounds. Bale is an asset. And just like any property, just  because someone offers you a huge amount for your house doesn’t mean it makes sense to sell. Timing matters and the timing doesn’t make sense here.

But what about Spurs spending?
One reason to think Bale is on his way is that Spurs are spending likely drunken sailors – only Manchester City in the EPL has spent more this season. The logic goes that poor Spurs can’t afford this, so they must already be using the money they plan to get for Bale now. But there are reasons to doubt this.

As the transfer history shows, Spurs have money.  But until this summer, Spurs haven’t really spent considerably since Harry Redknapp’s first two years. Look at the last 8-9 years of transfer activity:

  • 2013-14 (-47 mil euros net): Spurs have spent 69 million euros (Paulinho, Soldaldo, Capoue, Chadli) and sold 22 million
  • 2012-13 (-4 mil): Spurs last year spent 72 mil euros and sold 68 million euros
  • 2011-12 (+36 mil): (Redknapp’s last season), Spurs spent just 6 mill euros (Scott Parker) and sold 42 million euros.
  • 2010-2011 (-23 mil): spent 26 million, and sold just 3 million.
  • 09-10 (-9 mil):  spent 40 and sold 31.
  • 08-09 (-50 mil): This was the year Spurs sold Berbatov and Keane (2 pts, 8 games) and then got Redknapp and had to panic buy in the January window, Spurs spent 140 mill and sold 90 mil
  • 07-08 (-72 mil): 94 spent (Bent, Bale), 22 mil sold
  • 06-07 (-23 mil): 61 spent (Berbatov), 38 mil sold
  • 05-06 (-14 mil): 36 spent, 22 mil sold.

Over the last 8 years (excluding this summer), Spurs have spent an average of 20 million euros more per season than they have sold. But if you don’t count the last two seasons Spurs were spending 30 million euros more per season than selling for the 6 seasons between 2005 and 2011. But the past two seasons Spurs have been a selling club netting 32 million euros. So if Spurs could maintain spending at 30 million per season for the six years prior to 2011-2012 than Tottenham have likely been banking revenue the past two seasons.

This means that not only do Spurs have the 32 million euros they have netted the past two seasons, but likely are capable of spending an additional 60 million from a lack of spending. In other words, Spurs have not spent their transfer allotment the past two years.  That would equate to Spurs being able to afford to spend about 90 million euros netHence, despite already having a net outflow of 47 million euros this window, Spurs should have about an additional 30-40 million euros more they could spend, given the lack of spending the past two years.  This is what makes Tottenham’s bid for Willan and others financially viable. Furthermore, if Spurs plan on selling Bale next season, they can count on likely being in the black in terms of spending, likely making them more willing to push their spending limit.

Lastly, my guess is that part of the agreement in keeping AVB at Spurs (he turned down Real and PSG) is that he will be given the resources to compete. This current rate of spending is probably part of that deal.  So Spurs spending could easily be disconnected from any Bale sale.

But still why not sell at 85 million pounds – a Premier League record?
First, Spurs will increase their chances at qualifying for Champions League. With Bale Spurs, while not assured, will be favorites for the Champions League. That’s likely an additional 20 to 40 million pounds in revenue. Without Bale, Spurs have a good shot at CL, but the odds get lowered. So lets assume you don’t sell Bale this year and his value drops to 60 million, just because the amount that Real is willing to pay lessens. You still have likely come out even by keeping him and getting into the CL than by selling.

Second, it is harder to replace Bale now because you don’t have the attraction of CL. Next year, if Spurs make the CL they can actually use the funds to lure current CL quality players. Right now Spurs have to speculate more in the transfer market, as they have to find players that they think will be of that calibre.

Third, you gain global market share by keeping Bale. Bale is the best player in the Premier League and a human highlight reel. There’s a reason why Spurs ranked top in NBC’s chose your club promotion and its Bale. He’s on the Time’s Square billboard for god sakes. In politics this is called “earned media” – ie free publicity. Spurs will never be able to get this sort of free publicity again. This could hugely impact the potential earnings of the club, as new markets, with a growing fan base have thousands of people looking for a team to cheer for, for jersey’s to buy.

Fourth, Spurs actually have a shot at winning the league with Bale. Yes, with Bale (and with AVB and new signings), Spurs can win the title. The top 3 EPL clubs have new managers this season and while Mourinho isn’t exactly “new” he has to reshape the squad and could face a couple hiccups. The winning point totals the past four seasons have been 89, 86, 80, and 86 points. There are reasons to believe that it will be less this year, due to competitive balance and new coaches. Let’s say 82-86 points wins this year. With Bale likely playing as a striker/attacking midfield from the get go and with Soldaldo and other new signings, Spurs will likely improve on the 72 points last year when they had no strikers scoring more than a handful of goals and had a new manager. It is by no means unreasonable to think Spurs could potentially be about 10 points better than they were last year. And at around 82 points they are fully in the title race.

Harry Redknapp’s Brilliant Tactical Pragmatism

Lost in Stoke’s controversial win on Sunday, in which referee Chris Foy failed to award Spurs two clear penalties and a legitimate goal, was Harry Redknapp’s magnificent tactical switch to a 3-5-2 at halftime.

Redknapp is frequently described in the UK as an old school football manager that doesn’t really do tactics. He is credited with being popular among the players and of having restored solidity to Spurs (an expected trait of English managers), but overall he is widely considered a rather simplistic thinker when it comes to tactics and strategies. During Spurs Champions’ League run last year, UK journalists often expressed doubt that Redknapp had the tactical nous to cut it against the Europe’s best tacticians. With victories over Inter Milan and AC Milan that should have been put to rest. But the notion that Redknapp is more of a working class meat and potatoes football coach that is good for some great quotes in the press but lacks the intellectual sophistication to ever be elite – continues to hang around Redknapp. Some of this is that he has a Joe Bidenesque ability to provide the blue collar sound bite – exhibit A was Redknapp’s fantastic zinger this weekend at Mr. Foy, “But he’ll look at it tonight on TV when his wife’s making him a bacon sandwich and he’ll think ‘**** me, what have I done there’.” Interestingly, many of Spurs fans buy into this line of thinking and are only just now realizing that Redknapp is an internationally elite manager and can cut it tactically with the best of them.

What is different about Redknapp is that he is a pragmatist. He is not dogmatic about how his team plays. He doesn’t care if he plays route one or plays tiki-tak or plays narrow or with width. He is about finding what works with the players that he has. But just because he doesn’t have a style like Arsene Wenger or Barcelona, or is tactically obsessive like a Rafa Benitez does not mean he isn’t a master tactician.
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Dalglish should try Dirk Kuyt as Lucas replacement for Liverpool

Dirk Kuyt should be Lucas' replacement; photo by Danny Molyneux

The news that Lucas Leiva has been lost for the season with a torn ACL (something with which I can empathize as I am five weeks out from surgery to repair my own torn ACL, it sucks - best wishes to Lucas) will really test Liverpool’s squad as there is not a natural replacement for the Brazilian. The importance of the defense midfielder is one of the tactical evolutions of the last fifteen years. Charlie Adam is too slow, Jordan Henderson and the also injured Steven Gerrard are too attack minded, and Jay Spearing (who will probably get the job) has yet to prove himself. But Liverpool have a player with all the qualities you want in a defensive midfielder – quickness, energy, endeavor, discipline, and  the willingness to put in tackle after tackle – he just isn’t thought of for this position because he’s nominally a striker: Dirk Kuyt. 

It’s hard for me to say this, as I have long been down on Lucas - even last season when he was named the team’s player of the year, but Lucas has really come into his own and is one of the main reasons that Liverpool enter this weekend as the joint best-defense in the Premier League. He learned from a master when Javier Mascherano was at the club, and Lucas can now be seen breaking up play from sideline to sideline. He still struggles with his distribution, especially going forward, and he at times can get caught ahead of the ball. But there is no question that Lucas has emerged as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league and his presence in the Liverpool XI will be missed. Continue reading

The Dilemma of Jermaine Defoe: Why Redknapp Should Keep Benching Him

When Jermaine Defoe is on he scores goals and right now he is on. He has five premier league goals this season, despite getting limited minutes off the bench. Against West Brom on Saturday, Defoe scored a fantastic goal that gave Spurs a late lead. This seems to create a real managerial problem for Harry Redknapp over who to start. Past attempts to start Rafael Van Der Vaart out wide have exposed his defensive weaknesses and Adebayor isn’t going to be benched. So tactically there just isn’t room for both Defoe and Rafael Van Der Vaart. So who to start?

While the English press have made this seem a real dilemma, it isn’t. The fact is that it is hard to imagine Defoe starting for any of the other top 6 sides (City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool). This is because, besides scoring an occasional goal, Defoe does little else when on the pitch. One only has to look at the Guardian chalkboards. Against West Brom Defoe attempted just 22 passes, lowest of all the Spurs starters. Adebayor attempted 52. In just 70 minutes against Aston Villa and 66 minutes against Fulham Van Der Vaart attempted 62 and 42 passes respectively. As a substitute Defoe completed just 1 pass in 20+ minutes against Villa and just 4 passes in 25+ minutes against Fulham. The plain fact is that when Spurs play Defoe they are playing with a specialist – a goal poacher – who adds little to the team except when in the goal mouth area.
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Can Spurs keep it going to capitalize on City wobble?

Redknapp's Spurs keep pressure on City; photo by James Boyes

Manchester City have looked like Champions-elect since their strong start to the season was capped with the 6-1 destruction of the holders Manchester United at Old Trafford. But with Liverpool giving City their first real domestic contest after another disapointing outing in the Champions League, a Spurs team which has quietly taken 28 from its last 30 available points must keep their amazing run going as City deal with adversity for the first time. The Premier League title may not just be a Manchester preserve this season.

City had dropped only two points all year, an improbable give-away at Craven Cottage after dominating the game and even going two ahead against Fulham. But their form in Europe has been indifferent–two wins, two losses, and a draw–and they look likely to drop out of the Champions League at the group stage. But earlier European disappointments, even when coupled with controversy in the shape of Carlos Tevez, had not spilled over into their league form. Yet Liverpool really took it to City at Anfield on Sunday, capitalizing on a tiring City squad that hardly threatened in attack and can thank Joe Hart for several world class saves to keep it level. Continue reading

U.S. gets win and goals but defense looks porous against Slovenia

Carlos Bocanegra earned his 100th cap in the American's 3-2 win; photo by Paul Blank

Scoring more goals in one half than the team had in Jurgen Klinsmann’s first six games in charge combined was a welcome change, as was the resulting 3-2 victory, only the German’s second as manager. For the first time in his tenure, Klinsmann set out two dedicated strikers and the change in tactics certainly contributed to the increase in chances and goals. Getting the win ended a three-year drought for the US squad in Europe and sends the national team into its January training camp on a high note.

The news wasn’t all good from the Ljubljana, however, as the defense reverted the worst of the Bob Bradley era, poorly organized and conceding chances and goals at an unsustainable rate. A tactical shift also was a factor here, as Klinsmann deployed just one defensive midfielder to screen the back line. But the problems that plagued the U.S. defense in the past, which Klinsmann appeared to have left in the past, returned with a vengeance. The defenders struggled to keep a consistent line and the spacing was terrible, leaving huge gaps which were frequently exploited by the Slovenes. Continue reading

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