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Win, Lose or Draw: World Cup Qualifier Style

It was make or break in CONCACAF, time to grab the group by the throat in UEFA and the beginning of the campaign’s second half in CONMEBOL. Here are three of the big results from the last round of qualifying.Win: United States

It should never have come to this: a last group stage home game against Guatemala in which a loss could have put the US out

of World Cup qualification. Regardless, the Yanks got the win they needed, despite a rocky start.

The shaky American defense was again exposed just five minutes into the game, when Carlos Ruiz easily slipped US captain Carlos Bocanegra before poking the ball past a flailing Tim Howard and passing the ball home. Lucky for the home side, Clint Dempsey was ready to take the team on his shoulders.

Dempsey took six of the Americans’ 14 total shots on the night, with two of their seven shots on target coming from his two goals. As if it weren’t enough to grab the 18th minute game-winner, the Texan also assisted Bocanegra on the equalizer minutes earlier.

The US dominated every stat except, unsurprisingly for the opposition, fouls, and held a devastating 80% of the ball. But there

are concerns about an American defense that allowed eight shots from a sub-par Guatemalan side and has been far from convincing in the last few games. Clint Dempsey (and his giant replica Deuce Face) won’t always be able to save the day come the Hex.

Lose: Messi Haters

The few remaining Lionel Messi skeptics have long pointed to the Argentinian’s lack of production for his national team as an indication that he’s simply a good player surrounded by a superb cast at Barcelona. That lone blemish on Messi’s playing career looks to be disappearing.

The Little Magician notched the first goal in a 2-1 road win against Chile on Tuesday, closing this year’s qualifying schedule with seven goals and two assists in nine games. Those goals have him tied with teammate Gonzalo Higuain for top scorer in qualifying and hot on the tail of Diego Maradona’s total for Argentina.

Tuesday’s game was a difficult test, in which Chile put the visitors under intense pressure with five shots in the first 17 minutes. At a time when his side were dangerously close to falling behind in hostile territory, Messi stepped up to cooly give his team the lead. And with the win, they now sit comfortably atop their challengers, much like the little man himself.

Draw: Germany

A 4-0 lead, less than half an hour left to play and Germany sitting comfortably on home turf. No doubt some fans thought they were better off heading out and finding something else to do with their time. The Swedes, though, didn’t get the memo.

A four goal outburst in the last 30 minutes of the game saw Sweden roar back to a near impossible draw and keep themselves safely (for now) in second place in their qualifying group. Germany, on the other hand, passed up an opportunity to move out of Swedish striking distance, aside from discovering that their lineups aren’t the only leak they need to fix.

The Germans only lost buy cialis online one major battle, surrendering 63% of aerial duels to the Swedes which will be a worry to a team traditionally dominant in the air. Even so, only one of Sweden’s goals came from a header. The home side took 62% of possession and took 18 shots to Sweden’s 11. With so much in their favor, allowing the opposition to score four goals from their only four shots on target all night is unacceptable. Die Mannschaft may well feel die wrath of Jogi Low.

What teams impressed you in the last qualifiers of 2012? Who was disappointing? Let us know in the comments.

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Win, Lose or Draw: Liverpool's Woes Continue

Problems persist for Liverpool as they continue to flounder just three points above the relegation zone. Photo courtesy of edition.cnn.com

Win: Arsenal

The Gunners bounced back from last weekend’s self-inflicted loss to Chelsea with a 3-1 away win against West Ham to carry them into the international break. A 21st minute goal from West Ham’s Mohamed Diame had Arsenal fans wary of a Chelsea hangover, but Olivier Giroud answered decisively with his first Premier League goal of the season in the 41st minute.

Theo Walcott

came on in the second half with something to prove to his manager and did just that, firing the game winner in the 77th. Santi Cazorla capped things off with a left-footed strike from outside the box in the 83rd minute, after which West Ham could only manage a couple of chances.

Despite claims early in the week that they would press Arsenal, West Ham seemed happy to concede possession, 69% of it in fact. The away side also dominated shots (21 to nine) and shots on goal (seven to three). The Gunners even managed to assert themselves physically, completing 21 tackles to West Ham’s 15.

Lose: Newcastle United

A terrible opening 15 from the opposition defense all but handed the three points to United from the start of the game.

Newcastle’s back line was in chaos out of the gate as Jonny Evans was allowed to head home in the 8th minute followed by Patrice Evra (yes, the 5’9’’ Patrice Evra) in the 15th.

Newcastle managed to settle in the second half, but the damage was already done. Despite a couple of near misses from the home side, courtesy of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, they were no better off when Tom Cleverly launched a cross in the 71st minute that failed to find its target but, fortuitously, found the top corner instead.

Overall, United took their positive start and used it to dominate proceedings, gladly taking 54% possession for the remainder of the game. Newcastle did, in fact take more shots than their opponent (14 to 13), but failed to find the target nearly as often with just two shots on goal to United’s eight. All in all, a 3-0 loss may not be what Newcastle deserved, but it’s what they got.

Draw: Liverpool

The frustrating start to Liverpool’s season continued at the Kop, as they faced the famously stubborn Stoke City. The scoreless draw brings their record to 1-3-3 in their first seven games, and leaves them in 14th place in the league hovering just three points above the relegation zone.

Things were very nearly much worse as poor passing out of the back presented Stoke, and former Liverpool man Charlie Adam in particular, a flurry of chances. As the home team got into the game in the second half, the period during which they took 12 of their 18 shots, they did look the much better side, but Stoke’s incessant fouling and often illegal physicality proved too much for a team still reeling from a mid-week berating from it’s coach.

Numerically, it’s no surprise that Stoke conceded the lion’s share of possession, on the ball themselves for only 37% of the game. Likewise, they took only six shots, with just two of those finding the face of goal, while Liverpool attempted 18, though only two of theirs found the target. Poor shooting aside, where Liverpool buy cialis online really struggled was physically. Stoke dominated both tackles (25 to Liverpool’s 13) and fouls (18 to nine). Stoke did provide chances for the home side, and had Liverpool been able to find their shooting boots, they might have at least gotten something out of the beating.

What were your standout games of the last round in the EPL? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Win, Lose or Draw: Finishers take the honors

Clint Dempsey celebrates his game-winning goal against Manchester United. Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Clint Dempsey celebrates his game-winning goal against Manchester United. Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

It was a weekend for ruthless finishers as chance creation took second fiddle to chance conversion. Three high profile match-ups saw teams with all the shots fall short to teams with all the goals.

Win: Tottenham

Clint Dempsey’s goal proved to be the winner in Tottenham’s first victory at Old Trafford since 1989. His side was quick to strike, as Jan Vertonghen gave Spurs the lead just two minutes into play. Gareth Bale doubled the lead in the 32nd minute as the visitors took advantage of a Manchester United side reeling from the early onslaught and struggling to deal with the energy of their opponents.

The defining period of the game proved to last just four minutes, as United

came out firing in the second half, lifted by the introduction

of Wayne Rooney. Goals in the 51st and 53rd minutes looked to spark United into life, but Dempsey’s goal between them in the 52nd minute proved decisive.

Tottenham had to fight to hold onto that lead as they spent the remainder of the game pinned back into their own half by United. Nowhere was their defensive posture more apparent than the lopsided possession stats, which favored United 74% to 26%. The home side also produced more shots, 16 total and seven on target whereas Tottenham was limited to 10 and four. Staunch defensive work and efficient finishing locked up the three points and an historic win.

Lose: Arsenal

Arsene Wenger’s frustrated sideline tantrums were well earned against Chelsea. Despite playing solid enough defense in open play, he was forced to watch as his side conceded two goals from two set pieces. Each was the result of a careless tackle by center back and captain Thomas Vermaelen and generally poor organization.

The

Gunners started brightly enough, and Chelsea’s first goal came against the run of play. It looked like the home side might rally as Gervinho produced a fine finish in the 42nd minute to square things up before halftime. Unfortunately for the home fans, a second set piece goal from almost an identical position as the first shortly into the second half was enough to knock the wind out of Arsenal’s sails.

What many thought could prove a statement game for the Gunners proved to be just that, only for Chelsea. The Blues, despite holding the short end of the possession stick and taking only 10 shots to Arsenal’s 17, finished the chances they took, converting two of their three shots on target all game. They walk away as winners at the Emirates and clear league frontrunners.

Draw: Reading

Newcastle once again found itself the beneficiary of a controversial call in the 83rd minute, with Reading looking bound for its first win of the season. In the game’s final minutes, Magpies forward Demba Ba stole a point for the away side with what appeared to be a headed equalizer. Except that the ball missed his head and hit his hand instead.

It was a harsh way for the Royals to drop points at home, especially at the hands of Alan Pardew. They looked to make it an embarrassing result for their former manager, who just signed an eight-year contract with Newcastle, after Jimmy Kebe and Noel Hunt tallied second-half goals to give them a 2-1 lead. Ba had managed to tally an equalizer in the 58th minute before his ridiculous second goal in the final 10.

Numerically, Reading was much the better side, giving Newcastle 53% of possession but dominating in front of goal. The Royals produced 16 shots, and five on target, compared with just nine for Newcastle, who scored with their only two shots on goal.

What trends did you notice this week? Let us know in the comments.

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They say it wins championships

Arsenal right back Carl Jenkinson got the better of City's Scott Sinclair in Sunday's contest. Photo courtesy of menmedia.co.uk

Arsenal right back Carl Jenkinson got the better of City's Scott Sinclair in Sunday's contest. Photo courtesy of menmedia.co.uk

Until the concession of Joleon Lescott’s header off a Manchester City corner this weekend set off a debate surrounding the merits of zonal marking, the primary talking point surrounding Arsenal’s defense just how stingy it’s been early in the new season.

Even with that goal, the Gunners have rarely pulled the ball out of their own net this season, and only as the result of goal-keeping errors, the first a wild bobble from Wojciech Szczesny and the second a missed punch from Vito Mannone. That brings their goals allowed to a league low of two, tied with table-toppers Chelsea.

So what’s new? Certainly not the players, as three out of the four regularly starting defenders this season are veterans of last year. Much of the credit has gone to new assistant manager Steve Bould, an Arsenal defender himself in his younger days.

Under Bould’s guidance, fans at the Emirates have been treated to a hard-working team that gets back, forwards and all, when they lose possession. Friend and foe alike have likely noticed two clear banks of four whenever Arsenal find themselves under pressure, a welcome sight to the back four, who no longer have to do everything on their own.

While it’s still early days, the new system has yielded tangible results that have already improved on last

season, when the Gunners gave up a club record 49 goals.

For the purposes of the table

below, I took the numbers for the first-choice back four last season (Gibbs, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Sagna) and compared them with the numbers for the first-choice back four for the five league games this season (Gibbs, Vermaelen,

Koscielny and Jenkinson). All numbers are combined averages per game for the back four as a whole, with the exception of passing percentages.
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As you can see, Arsenal have already proven to be much more physical in defense this campaign, averaging more tackles per game than last season. They also haven’t been shy about booting the ball out when necessary, attempting almost three more clearances per game than last year, with around 9 of them proving successful. As a result, turnovers in the back have dropped significantly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Arsenal if the defense didn’t try to build the attack, and the back four this season has proved themselves able readers of the game. So far, they have averaged at least one more interception per game while increasing their average successful key passes from the back. Long balls have seen a marked increase as well, nearly double what was attempted last season.

One number that sticks out in particular is the drop in offsides won. This could be read as a negative, a failure in that aspect of the defense, but I think it’s more of a reflection on a different strategy altogether. Steve Bould has instilled the discipline in his defense to stop passes directly, rather than trying to step up and catch opposing strikers in the offside trap. One of the most frustrating sights for Arsenal fans last season was the back line helplessly waving their arms for an offside call as the opposition tucked the ball into the net. So far, there has been far less of this.

Another interesting development has been the rise of right back Carl Jenkinson, a bit part player last season thrust into the starting lineup this year as the result of an injury to Bacary Sagna. While most fans feel Jenkinson still has more to prove before he can keep Sagna out of the starting 11, he’s certainly gotten off to a good start.

Jenkinson has, thus far, put up numbers better than Sagna’s last season averages in tackles, dribbles, blocks and long balls. While his predecessor still has the far better passing percentage, interception and turnover rate, it’s enough to create some healthy competition for that spot when he makes his return.

Arsenal now faces an equally miserly defense in Chelsea this Saturday. If neither side blinks, the difference could be down to whose attack comes out all guns blazing.

Who do you think has the tightest defense in the league? What do you make of this weekend’s contest? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Win, Lose or Draw: League table takes shape

Newcastle sub Demba Ba netted two goals in his side's 2-2 draw with Everton. Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Newcastle sub Demba Ba netted two goals in his side's 2-2 draw with Everton. Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk

After a busy weekend

of Premier League soccer, most clubs have four games under their belts and an early picture of the league table has begun to emerge. Who put their mark on this season’s campaign and who lost ground?

Tottenham: Win

It took four games, but Spurs finally have their first win under new manager Andres Villas-Boas. After a 2-1 loss to Newcastle United, Tottenham faced successive 1-1 draws in which they were denied the full three points, first by a 91st minute goal from West Brom and then by an 85th minute goal from Norwich.

There were no such dramatics against Reading this Sunday. Spurs dominated the newly-promoted Royals in almost every conceivable way, opening the scoring after 18 minutes of play and adding two more for comfort in the 71st and 74th minutes.

The visitors were rarely in the game, their best opportunity coming from a denied penalty shout in the 11th minute. The Londoners bossed the game from there on out, taking 58% of possession and firing off 23 shots, with 8 of them on target. Reading managed only 6 the entire game. One of their 2 shots on target did manage to find the goal as the visitors snatched one bit of consolation in the 90th minute.

Wigan: Lose

After making it to halftime with a 0-0 draw against Manchester United intact, Wigan surely began to have some hope of taking a result away from Old Trafford. That first half success came courtesy of solid defending, and more than a little luck, the most obvious being Javier Hernandez’s 6th minute penalty miss.
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The Latics deserve credit for their physicality in the first half, though, something that disrupted United’s game in the first half but began to catch up with them as the game wore on. Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur both ended up in the book within the first 15 minutes of the second half, effectively tying their hands for the rest of the game. In fact, fouls committed was the only stat Wigan led in, committing 14 to United’s 10.

It couldn’t hold, of course, as United inevitably found the breakthrough in the 51st minute through none other than Paul Scholes. Hernandez, Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell would join him on the score sheet before game’s end, making for a lopsided score line.

Everton: Draw

In the thriller of this match week, Everton found themselves the victims, not of Newcastle, but of two controversial calls from the refereeing staff. The Blues were justifiably frustrated with the result after a Marouane Fellaini goal was incorrectly ruled to

be offside and Victor Anichebe’s header, which appeared to cross the goal line, was not awarded.

The draw was even more disappointing in a game that Everton controlled for long stretches, and one that could have lifted them to third place had they taken all three points. The home side created 18 chances, compared to Newcastle’s 11, doubling the visitors’ shots

on target 6 to 3. Their superior stats in possession and fouls also reflect a team that was able to retain the ball while still going toe-to-toe on physical challenges.

Everton will feel justifiably shorted, and will surely become a sub point in the ongoing goal-line technology debate.

What were your biggest results of Week 4? Share them in the comments.

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A little too relieved?

Goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Fabian Johnson celebrate the Americans' crucial home win against Jamaica. Photo courtesy of mlssoccer.com

There was a palpable sense of relief in the upper level of Jack Demsey’s Pub after the US men’s national team’s 1-0 win over Jamaica.  Those who had been concerned

before kickoff now claimed they were never that worried, while fans who were too nervous to admit any anxiety before the game threw back celebratory shots and basked in the warmth of victory.

Yes, the US was back where it should be: in the driver’s seat of their World Cup qualification group, if ever so slightly.  But through the toasts and cheers there was still one question from before the game that remained unanswered.

How did we get to this point?

CONCACAF qualifying is notoriously messy.  Terrible fields, questionable refereeing and overtly hostile crowds make for unpredictable road trips in which the guiding philosophy has long been to get out with what you can and make sure you win at home.

But the sort of nail biting US fans had been doing since last Friday’s loss in Kingston is usually reserved for the Hex, the final round of qualifying when the US is forced to slug it out with the other big boys in the region.  Yes, the US lost away games in the same round of the last qualifying cycle, but only after safe passage to the next round was guaranteed.

Scrutiny has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Jurgen Klinsmann, the supposed savior of US soccer who has led the Yanks to several high-profile friendly results, including the first ever wins in Mexico and Italy, but has also seen them to their first meaningful loss in the third round of World Cup qualifying in over 12 years.  And many question his efficacy compared to his more pragmatic, if less charismatic, predecessor, Bob Bradley.

An earlier post broke down exactly how each manager performed out of the blocks for the US, but now that the Americans are in the midst of a meaningful qualifying campaign the time for training wheels is over.  Klinsmann’s 17-game record, while not as representative as Bradley’s 80-games, can no longer be viewed through the rosy glasses of a “work-in-progress.”  It’s time to see progress.

And yet, Klinsmann’s win percentage is almost unchanged from Bradley’s.  At 52.9%, in fact, he trails his forerunner by just over 1%.  On losses the difference is a bit more pronounced, and not in the German’s favor.  Klinsmann has lost 35% of his games at the helm, while Bradley lost just 31%.  Combined with drawing 12% of games in the new era versus 15% in the old, a picture begins to form of a US team that was certainly not flashy, but significantly tougher to beat under Bradley.

Of course, the US doesn’t just want to be hard to beat; they want to take it to their opponents.    Throughout his reign, Klinsmann has spoken optimistically of an attacking brand of soccer that will give the team the on-field

swagger they should have against CONCACAF minnows.  Despite his talk, Klinsmann still trails Bradley in goals scored per game.  He has, thus far, managed 1.2 goals per game, while Bradley sits happily at 1.7.

In fairness, Klinsmann’s team has faced stronger opposition in its early days than Bradley’s.  Between friendlies intended to

test the US against some of the greatest teams in the world and a qualifying group that is much tougher than the last time around, it has been difficult for this iteration of the team to stamp themselves on games.

Even Klinsmann seems to recognize the need to get results before style at this point.  Both goals the US scored against Jamaica seem to come straight out of the Bob Bradley playbook: a gritty goal scored off a ball Herculez Gomez refused to give up on and a lethal set-piece by the same.  Rather than push for a second goal on Tuesday night, the Yanks even sat back and defended in a way reminiscent of their old game plan.

Which raises another question: Why pay Jurgen Klinsmann more than double his predecessor to be a less effective Bob Bradley?
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What did you think of the US performance against Jamaica?  Will Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans ever come to fruition?

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Win, Lose or Draw: Week 3's big results

Robin van Persie celebrates his hat-trick in a comeback victory for Manchester United. Photo courtesy of irrawaddy.org

Robin van Persie celebrates his hat-trick in a comeback victory for Manchester United. Photo courtesy of irrawaddy.org

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The table is slowly taking shape as teams are starting to hit their stride, just in time to be thrown off again by the international break. Here’s a closer look at a few of this weekend’s big matchups.

Arsenal: Win

The Gunners finally snatched their first goals, along with their first win, of the season on a road trip to Anfield, courtesy of new signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla. And yet, despite the initial focus falling on the resumption of business as usual for the Arsenal attack, the real story here is in defense.

Arsenal conceded a total of 49 goals last season, more than any other team in the top eight save Newcastle United. In fact, at this point last season, the Gunners had already bled 10 of those goals.

This year, though, is a different story. Three games in, the North London club has yet to see the ball hit the back of their net (legally, for all you Stoke fans), a stat largely chalked up to the level of opposition. Even against Liverpool, it’s true that Arsenal faced a team not exactly ruthless in front of goal. Still, the home side launched 19 shots goalward, while the defense stood strong, something not often seen in Arsenal sides of late.

Possession highlights another change in this Arsenal team, for whom victory would usually accompany domination on the ball. Liverpool, though, took the majority of possession, if slightly, revealing Arsenal’s willingness to sit back more after taking the lead. We may be looking at a much more pragmatic Arsenal side this season, and one that has set Liverpool on its worst start in 50 years.

Southampton: Lose

Saints fans must still be scratching their heads as to how they didn’t take something from their game against Manchester United. Holding a 2-1 lead with just seven minutes left, including two minutes of stoppage time, the home fans couldn’t have been faulted for expecting at least a draw, especially after Robin van Persie’s saved penalty seemed to indicate fate might just be on their side.

The Dutchman wasn’t done, though. Having tallied United’s first goal in the 23rd minute he would go on to snag two more, claiming his first hat-trick for the Manchester side and ensuring that the Red Devils took all three points home with them.

Statistically, United was probably due, having taken 20 shots throughout the game, five more than the home side, and putting seven of them on target, compared with Southampton’s four. They dominated possession as well, taking 55 percent of the ball. The numbers all read in Manchester United’s favor, but Southampton must have thought they were living a promoted team’s dream for a while.

Tottenham: Draw

The Saints weren’t the only team to be devastated by a late goal. Moussa Dembele thought he’d conjured up Andres Villas-Boas’ first win as Tottenham manager, but Spurs gave up a second consecutive late goal to walk away with only a draw.

Playing at home, there was no reason why Tottenham shouldn’t have been able to snatch their first three points of the season against Norwich City. The match started optimistically, and Spurs owned possession, taking 62 percent of the ball. Despite dry spells, they weren’t even

terrible in front of goal, creating 15 opportunities, five of which found the target. The home side did lack creativity in midfield, though, as Luka Modric’s former teammates surely felt his

absence.

What’s particularly interesting is that Villas-Boas seems to have recognized the problems and actively adjusted his strategy to avoid a replay of last week’s result against West Bromwich Albion. He introduced Dembele and Emmanual Adebayor in the second half to liven things up, and dropped Tom Huddleston into the midfield after taking a 1-0 lead in an attempt to buy cialis close out the game.

The move blew up in his face. Not only did Robert Snodgrass equalize in the 85th minute, but Huddleston, on the field for just seven minutes, was given a straight red card in the 89th minute for his tackle on Jonathan Howson.

Spurs fans greeted the final whistle with boos. Perhaps the only bright side to Tottenham’s horrendous start (they now reside in 14th place, with two points from three games) is an opportunity for new American midfielder, Clint Dempsey.

What are your thoughts on Week 3 of Premiere League action? Tell us in the comments.

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The Luka the draw

How much will Spurs miss Luka Modric? The numbers don't lie. Photo courtesy of caughtoffside.com

How much will Spurs miss Luka Modric? The numbers don't lie. Photo courtesy of caughtoffside.com

How much will Spurs miss Luka Modric? The numbers don't lie. Photo courtesy of caughtoffside.com

It’s a North London sell-off, but Arsenal isn’t the only club to see its best player go. Luka Modric completed his transfer to Spanish giants Real Madrid Monday, bringing the saga that has plagued Spurs fans all summer to a close.

The Croatian midfielder has been pulling the strings for Tottenham for the last four seasons, tallying 17 goals and 20 assists in all competitions in 160 appearances. But as solid as those numbers are, they don’t do justice to the buoyant effect his presence has had on the team.

For the six seasons preceding Modric’s arrival, Spurs struggled to finish in the top half of the league table, just barely getting themselves over the hump on two occasions when they finished 10th and 9th, slipping

below it when they settled in 11th after the 2007-2008 season and embarrassingly close to relegation in 14th during the 2003-2004 season.

Modric’s landing at White Hart Lane in 2008 coincided conveniently with a step up in quality, finishing in the top four two of the four seasons he played with them. The 2009-2010 season even marked the first time Tottenham FC qualified for the Champions League.

So how exactly did Modric influence Tottenham’s standing so much? Scoring 17 goals and setting up 20 in four seasons is nice, but certainly not earth shattering. Juan Mata performed almost as admirably for Chelsea last season alone and they still finished 6th.

Where Modric’s real value shines through is in the players around him. On top of his own goal creation, Modric’s tenure with Spurs improved average production per-game for several of the team’s key offensive players.

Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon are particularly interesting cases here, since they both played several seasons with Tottenham before Modric joined the squad. Defoe was a five-year veteran of the team by the time the Croatian came around, having made 170 appearances for the club in that time. Over

the following four seasons with Modric in the team, Defoe would improve on his goals scored, shots taken, and goals assisted per game, more than doubling the last from 0.06 per game to 0.13 per game. All this despite seeing a significant drop in his shooting accuracy as his shots on goal fell from 1.42 per game to 1.24 per game.

The same is true of Aaron Lennon in the midfield, who made 35 more appearances during Modric's tenure than in the three seasons before. In those games, he scored 15 goals, up from 9 before, took 130 shots, up from 80, and made 32 assists, up from 24. Lennon’s average production per game in each category also increased, despite his accuracy dipping as well, and

he suffered more fouls per game, indicating that opposing players considered him more of a threat.

Gareth Bale is perhaps the most difficult player to read in this regard, having made only 9 appearances for Tottenham before Modric swooped in. His goal and assist tallies for the pre-Modric era, therefore, aren’t particularly representative, even as averages. The one number that does jump out, though, is his average shots per game, a stat that leaped from 1.67 per game to 2.25 per game after Modric’s arrival.

This slew of numbers just serves to confirm an old soccer cliché, that Modric is a player who not only contributes to the team directly, but also makes the players around him better. Spurs will have a tough time replacing their midfield maestro, and it will be interesting to see how the players mentioned above continue to perform in his absence.

Which players will be missed most by their old clubs this season? Share your opinion in the comments.

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Win, Lose or Draw: Checking the numbers on the Prem’s opening weekend

Marouane Fellaini celebrates his game-winning goal against Manchester United. Photo courtesy of football365.com

Marouane Fellaini celebrates his game-winning goal against Manchester United. Photo courtesy of football365.com

Fans across the globe welcomed back the spectacle of the English Premiere League this weekend, but some were more pleased with their team’s showing than others.

Manchester City: Win

Roberto Mancini surely wasn’t expecting a stern test from newly promoted Southampton, but he got one nonetheless. Carlos Tevez started things off according to plan, putting City up in the 40th minute, but it was the visitors’ response that shocked the home fans. Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis converted two chances in the 59th and 68th minutes to take an unlikely lead.

City didn’t take long to answer, with Edin Dzeko equalizing just four minutes later before Samir Nasri snatched the

winner in the 80th minute.

In truth, City dominated the game in almost every way. They held 64% of the ball, hogged corner kicks and took 23 shots over the course of the match, more than double the 10 opportunities Southampton created. The visitors, on the other hand, were efficient with their chances, converting the only two shots on goal that they created. The blue side of Manchester will be happy to have bagged three points on opening day, while Southampton can be proud of landing in the Premiere League with a splash.

Manchester United: Lose

The red side

of Manchester will be decidedly grumpier, with Manchester United failing to take any points from their trip to Everton. The thrillingly open match lent itself to spells of ascendancy for both sides, but United found themselves well and truly bested for most of the game.

Everton’s afro with a nose for goal stepped up against the Manchester side, as Marouane Fellaini once again proved a menace to United’s defenders. The Belgian notched a goal and an assist in the last meeting between the two teams, but needed just the one goal this time to take all three points for the home side.

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Despite being on the losing side of possession and corner kicks, Everton was far the better side when it came to chance creation. They took 18 shots to United’s 14, and put 7 of them on target while their opponents put only 4 on goal. The Red Devils were lucky that Everton didn’t take more of their chances, Fellaini especially, or they might have been facing more than just a one-goal loss.

Arsenal: Draw

With the high profile departure of England’s top scorer, Robin van Persie, from the club, a goalless draw to open Arsenal’s new season practically wrote its own headlines. No sooner had Olivier Giroud spurned his golden opportunity in the 82nd minute than journalists across the globe began talking about a toothless Arsenal attack.

The numbers seem to tell a slightly different story, though. Not the 70% of possession the Gunners took or the 7 corners to Sunderland’s 0, but the 23 shots taken throughout the match. That’s just as many opportunities as Manchester City’s offense created in its much-lauded comeback against Southampton, this in the face of a Sunderland side whose complete lack of attacking ambition was illustrated by its measly 4 shots for the whole game.

Where the attack broke down was the finishing touch. Arsenal only put 3 of their 23 shots on target, a fact lazily chalked up to the absence of van Persie. Sunderland deserves credit for playing tight

defensively and closing down space in a way that made it difficult for Arsenal to get the ball to their central striker. It’s also worth noting that, even with the Dutchman on the field, Manchester United only managed one more shot on target than Arsenal against a much more proactive opponent.

There’s no doubt that this new Arsenal side will need to find a way to break down tough defenses if they want to taste success this season, but time for new signings to settle in and full fitness to take hold should help them find their scoring boots.

What did you notice from the opening round of games? Tell us in the comments.

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Entrances, Exits and the Hype Machine

Eden Hazard had fun toying with his suitors this summer, but will he prove as creative for Chelsea? Photo courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

Eden Hazard had fun toying with his suitors this summer, but will he prove as creative for Chelsea? Photo courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

Eden Hazard had fun toying with his suitors this summer, but will he prove as creative for Chelsea? Photo courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

The so-called silly season is nearing completion, and while there’s sure to be a flurry of last minute wheeling and dealing as deadline day approaches, many major clubs have already made big moves in the market. These are just a few of the new faces you can see as the new EPL season kicks off, from a few of the more high profile players in the transfer market this summer.

Arsenal

The swirling transfer saga of Robin van Persie, and its less than satisfactory conclusion, have taken some of the wind out of Arsenal’s summer signings, but Gunners can be optimistic about some of the new faces they’ll be seeing around the Emirates this season.

Santi Cazorla may well be the steal of the summer, as Malaga’s financial crisis allowed Arsene Wenger to hold them over a barrel and score a cut-rate transfer fee. Cazorla will fill the creative midfield role that Cesc Fabregas’ departure left empty last season with the ability to get forward and supply ammunition for forwards. He averaged 58.5 passes per game last season for Malaga, with an average 2.2 key passes per game. He also gives Arsenal the option they desperately need to attack from distance, scoring 8 of his 9 goals from outside the box.

The acquisition of Oliver Giroud and Lukas Podolski now looks to have been an obvious move to soften the blow of van Persie’s transfer. And while it’s impossible to replace the sheer number of goals the Dutchman produced for Arsenal last season, their new forward options should spread the burden of scoring around.

Giroud will be the replacement in the central forward role, one he filled well at Montepllier where he scored 24 goals in 41 appearances. He averaged 4.5 shots per game, just behind van Persie’s 4.7 per game, and will provide an aerial threat, ranking 10th among all players in the top five leagues for aerial duels.

Manchester United

No one accused United

of being a one-man team last season, but Wayne Rooney’s goal haul of 34 in all competitions left any other contributors in the dust (Danny Welbeck was the second highest scorer on the team with 13).

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It makes sense, then, that a player like Robin van Persie could provide much needed support for Rogaine’s new poster boy. Even if van Persie produced half as many goals as he did last season it would take a heavy weight off Rooney’s shoulders.

The big question hovering around the high-profile signing has been where will van Persie possibly fit in. Ferguson chose to play a 4-4-1-1 the majority of last season, with Rooney sitting back and Welbeck taking the forward role. The signing of Shinji Kagawa this summer seemed to suggest that he would take the withdrawn role, pushing Rooney forward to compete with Welbeck, while Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov represented Plan B.

Van Persie’s presence crowds that field even further, even if there are rumors that Hernandez is looking for an out. In fact, the apparent wastefulness of bringing the Arsenal man into that same system has led some to

believe Ferguson might have his eye on an attacking loadout not unlike fans saw in the 2007-08 season, one in which Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez all rotated up front.

Such a formation would sacrifice the wing play of pieces like Antonio Valencia and Nani, but could represent the best way to incorporate all of United’s attacking options. That is, if van Persie can stay fit.

Chelsea

Roman Abramovich’s capture of the highly sought after Belgian, Eden Hazard, was one of the early dramas of this transfer season. The former Lille man clearly had fun playing with his English suitors, dropping cryptic hints like “I’ve made up my mind” and that he would wear blue in the coming season via Twitter. That hype comes with an equally hefty price tag, a transfer fee of £32 million.

The song and dance comes on the heels of a stellar season in France’s Ligue 1, in which he netted 20 goals and provided 16 assists for his teammates. Roberto Di Matteo will hope those assists can support Juan Mata, who assisted 20% of Chelsea’s goals last season, a higher proportion than any player in the EPL.

Chelsea fans should be cautious about their young up and comer, though. With Mata likely to play in the center, Hazard will be pushed out to the left. His wing play has not been the strongest part of his game, completing 23% of his crosses last season for Lille. That’s certainly nothing special in the Premiere League, and Hazard will be forced to step his game up in viagra pills order to excel against top opposition.

What new players are you looking forward to seeing on the field for your club? Be sure to check out FootballrRating all season long to see how your favorite players stack up.

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