Friday, December 14, 2012

Marginal at Best

Ed types all of his pieces on a Royal KMM Magic Margin Typewriter
photo by Twylovia PhotoRee

Ed has a point -- for once:

Watching Manchester United play Manchester City this weekend reinforced the value of intangibles in the game. When City were down by 2, you just knew David Silva, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and the rest would force some goals to put the game back in reach. In fact, before each goal you could literally see it coming. 

But then there's United. They began the game with two terrific goals by Wayne Rooney. Then they spent the second half like a boxer against the ropes, being dominated and bullied by City. But in the end when Robin Van Persie lined up that free kick you just knew it was trouble for City. Again, you could literally see that goal coming.
So what is it? What is it about United that enables them to squeak by time and time again? Part of it is in the margins. Everyone is pretty good in the EPL, and the top teams have roughly equivalent talent. But United's talent is also just that much better with RVP. But also, United must simply believe it more. I'm not sure what else it could be. The same thing happens so many times with them, it seems that being a tight place makes them focus all the more.

I've quoted NFL coach Bill Parcells before in this column, and I'll paraphrase him here again. His philosophy was that every player reacts to pressure, it was just a matter of how they did so. His mission was always to find those players -- even if they weren't always the most talented -- who seemed to get better when the pressure was on.

Is that Sir Alex's philosophy? Is that the type of player he's looking for? Or is it the coach that inspires the players to act that way under pressure?
Let's contrast that with Tottenham Hotspur's tough loss against Everton. For most of the game Everton was the better team for sure, but when Clint Dempsey scored on a deflection (you can't score if you don't shoot!) it seemed they had the game won. But then Everton turned it on and Spurs seemed, as is almost always the case in these situations, to get worse.

Many believe the problem was tactical -- the removal of Lennon unleashed Leighton Baines who proceeded to rampage forward inumpede time and again. There's some truth to this, but there's also history -- pre-AVB history, to be fair -- that can't be ignored. In short, Spurs lose games this way frequently. Pressure, particularly pressure at the end of games, seems to make them wilt rather than get better.
So what's the reason that Spurs flop and United reach higher? Is it simply because the Spurs players are less talented, and therefore the odds run against them as the time gets long? Or is it because Spurs players get worse under pressure rather than better?
Probably some of both, but regardless the way these games are won and lost makes it clear to me that the difference between the top and the boring middle is more in the margins than might first appear.
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I've heard the league is taking another look at post-game punishments for flopping after the Santi Carzola incident. It was reported that reviewing flops was harder than it seemed, and that there was much disagreement in what the video expected when theItalian league tried this. Unfortunately, I don't think the Italian league is reliable control -- lets face it, the league has had its struggles with corruption among other things. But one proposed solution is to require the unanimous approval of three viewers. Well, okay, but I still think we're making something harder than it is. Flops are pretty obvious to me -- at least the ones that deserve suspension. Plus they're ruining the game without a doubt. It's high time the BPL to tries to do something about it.
This is farlieonfootie for December 14.

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