07 February 2012

2011-2012; Notes on a scandal

By Dr3

The past year for me was about three things; The Weeknd, talking more football with my brother, and a decreased urgency to deposit my two cents. The third has meant that while by the time of posting a subject may have become banal, I would have avoided sounding like this or a staffer at Liverpool Fc. Even better it meant that I enjoyed my football more; without thinking back to talking-points, I thought back instead to brilliant play. It also means that while I enjoyed the football in the moment; in hindsight I can rant my ass off, like a staffer at Liverpool Fc.

Why are you referring to me in work, about anything other than my work?

On that very note I will start sadly by saying what I feel needs to be said about Liverpool Fc versus Good Sense. Racism is black and white. Saying something racist doesn't mean that you’re a racist. Racism doesn’t have to be intended. What is said/done in a ‘racist’ incident is far less important than the fact that it was said/done, at least until punishment. Throughout the entire debacle the context being provided has been about what was said, and where it came from, forgetting that in a world of Good Sense the debacle wouldn't exist since it wouldn't be said at all.  I have had too many conversations about this situation really, resulting in many analogies some of which I am more proud of than others;

  •  Did Andy Gray have to make a kitchen reference to be sexist?
  • Is rape only rape when there is bludgeoning and rope?
  • As an immigrant from a country in which beer bottles can be displayed in public can I do the same in the U.S. and claim ignorance?
  • Beyond laws, is it also the U.S’s responsibility to even teach me what American faux pas are?
I was forgetting though that there is nothing quite analogous to the savage history of everything ethno-religious/racist. In defending Saurez as a non-racist of that sense, the goal is lost and instead a villain is cast in Evra. By fucking parading black men on television as spokespersons for blackness everywhere, there’s validation; Evra is card-playing, and the FA should know better. There really should be no prize, and I shouldn’t have to link to good sense as an exception, but here are perhaps some of the more measured summations (born out of fear no doubt) of the events I really hope to never see again from an institution.

There was another fear though, more rampant than ever in 2011; the fear of admitting groundless preferences.

Usually intelligent person: Eggs taste better than sausages.
Me: Why?
Usually intelligent person Egg-fan: Egg-eaters make more money annually

Think about that the next time you jump into X-league is the best in the world, or X-player is better because of titles won. It’s amazing to me just how plausible people seem to think winning titles in a team, reflect so definitively the quality of an individual. The refrain of ‘carrying his team’ a la Zidane 98’ or Napoli-Maradona is undoubtedly going to continue as nostalgia battles present and past reality. It’s annoying, in that good and even great players are bastardized into amateurs for the sake of the glorification of some icon, something that Brian Phillips has a field day with here (read it twice). It will carry on though, as football brains struggle to face the non-existence of differentiating ‘traits’ amongst a certain quality of player. As such, the tangible, no matter how obviously skewed and flawed, is and will be purported as the proof positive of true champions; “Did he win?” “How did he play in the WC final?” “What happened in the head-to-head?”

Football is in the details

2011-2012 has also been the year in which ‘tactics’ has become a buzzword in football, like safety or sustainability in big business. It’s ubiquitous. ZonalMarking talk is everywhere.  A game decided by a flying squirrel redirecting a deflected shot towards a player’s own goal, is still a tactical victory. False nines, high pressing, interchanging wingers and high defensive lines have replaced pace, tuff tackling, and getting crosses into the danger area; at a cost. I wrote before about disinformation as regards to defense-attorney-like, one sided presentation of information on calciopoli. The danger this time though is misinformation. In this year of talking more about football with my brother we shared one thing; ZonalMarking is dangerous. As with Garganese, the reality is that I am not nearly pompous enough to hate a person or even have a problem with a person for having a different opinion/position to mine.  The issue arises when an opinion with its inherent bias, is not being seen as such, and instead is being taken as fact. A result of the nature of the presentation of information at ZonalMarking (stats, facts, and bar graphs), is that what are in fact opinion pieces, are being read, recycled, and cited, as fact. 3-5-2 is a “tactic”, and positional changes regardless of context are presented unintentionally, as factual, intentional, strategic deployments that won a game (as a side note, formations are not tactics. Tactical set-ups; yes. The tactics would be how it functions; for example all of Napoli, Udinese and Barcelona roughly play a 3-5-2, yet their styles are immensely different due to ‘tactics’).

A case study in talking with my brother;

In one of the 20,000 Classicos of 2011  Benzema scored after Victor Valdez made an error while doing what can perhaps result in less goals conceded in the long run as shown on some graphs here, or something. What followed was Barcelona taking the game back and winning convincingly. The verdict; tactics?

ZonalMarkingman: Change from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 allowing Busquets to command the midfield rendering Madrid’s midfield as helpless as a bunch of Angus Eve’s
My Brother, coaching license and all: Overloading of the right flank to expose Coentrao on a switch of play with a constant 3-4-3/3-5-2, Dani Alves nullifying Marcelo’s threat.

Me: Entire game was 3-4-3/3-5-2 where Cristiano missed two sitters and Marcelo deflected a Xavi shot in the process deflating egos.


ZonalMarkingman: Jose lost

My Brother, coaching license and all: Jose lost

Me: Details

Therein lays the issue. Even though they had the same conclusion, how do we explain the disparity in how the conclusion was reached? Looking at the average heat map, and average position versus ZonalMarking depictions of formations supposedly before and after the tactical switch, again how can there be a disparity? Even then what is the correlation between this change and what happened in the game, and how can it be shown to have stronger correlation than say, wet grass or fatigue or that same flying squirrel?? Preventing myself from the ridiculous here’s just a quick example of opinion meets ‘fact’;

Busquets’ average position can be seen to be very deep comparative to the rest of the midfielders. ZM purports that he was playing in defense. My brother, myself, and two other people with whom I watched the game didn’t think so. The formation to me was obviously  3-5-2 from the very beginning and Busquets’ apparent changing of position was a result of Real Madrid’s changing pressure. When Real pressed hard and high, Busquets had to support deeper. When Real didn’t, he could play higher up the field. The other train of thought though is that it was as a result of Busquets being pushed further up the field with Dani Alves also advancing further, that Real Madrid could no longer dictate and stifle the midfield. Do I care which is right or wrong? No. What I care about is going to a forum, or facebook, or youtube, or a blog, or googlereader, and having to read the excruciatingly banal analyses that quip about tactical battles, variations and victories citing an opinion piece, as proof.

Punditry needs to stay the same

It is in this vein that I really hope that the evolution of football on-field is not going to result in one off it. 2011 was the year in which the traditional no.9 was slowly rendered obsolete in World (European) Football, coinciding with other changes. Goal droughts were far from exceptions for the Pazzini’s and Carroll’s, and only in England (where flat 4-4-2 is the average formation) are out and out wingers still plying their trade. Sadly, we are seeing the end of an era of football; Beckham/Yorke style is now done, ushering in a new one. It will make for some interesting viewing seeing Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Lennon, and the like going through this transition if at all English teams adapt to the rest of Europe. With the death of no. 9’s comes the death of wingers a little more slowly. The revolution should see many English teams shelve the 4-4-2 in favor of less tactically rigid set ups. Off-field though, my concern is that there might be more and more slightly misinformed versions of ZM attempting to explain the revolution. More and more Opta statisticians that don’t understand sample sizes and degrees of correlation between statistics (for example a stat showing x is true doesn’t show that the opposite of x is false or vice versa). I fear that this transition is going to hurt too much to read and hear. While we currently lament the mundane nature of punditry, imagining Warren Barton talking ‘tactics’ and statistics is a scarier prospect than hearing him talk about pace and whipping it in there. If I’m being honest, I would much rather deal with intelligent people fully aware of the hackneyed nature and shortcomings of some klutz, than those same people armed but misguided with scandalous ‘knowledge’ from a pseudo-Cox.

Very special mentions: Please note even the humble one (Ranieri) screaming and angry with a ref

Inter selling these: 

and buying this:

Last but not least Wayne:

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