Euro Cast: Home Nations REMAIN in the Tournament

June 23, 2016 International, Rant Cast No comments
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On the day the UK goes to the polls, the Euro Cast looks back at the thrills and spills involved in major nations trying desperately not to go out of Europe. Paul and Ed talk through each of round of 16 fixtures, chatting about how each of those teams performed in the group stages.

They take a look at France’s underperformance, Wales making the Euro Cast preview episode look shoddy and ill-informed, Icelandic commentary and why Roy Hodgson really, really, REALLY should play Marcus Rashford.

All of that plus your questions and the chance to give away a superb Cal Gildart print while discussing the tournament’s funniest moments. Enjoy!

Data Rant: Mata could survive Mourinho’s arrival

June 23, 2016 Tags: , Data 3 comments
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In the previous Data Rant column, midfield was identified as key area for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. It is not simply about strengthening a weak area in United’s squad – the analysis suggest that improving the Reds’ midfield will improve the team’s goalscoring too.

First we look at the four teams that finished above United last season; Leicester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. The attacking attributes – goals, shots, assists, chances created and runs – of midfielders who played more than 25 games have been amalgamated into a per game, per player figure.

Goals/game Shots/game Assists/game Chances/game Runs/game
Leicester 0.1491 0.9323 0.1908 1.3776 3.0827
Arsenal 0.1109 0.8444 0.2240 1.8038 1.9319
Tottenham 0.1525 1.0797 0.1603 1.4407 1.7483
City 0.1320 1.0868 0.1957 1.7556 2.0616
AVERAGE 0.1361 0.9858 0.1927 1.5944 2.2061
United 0.0967 0.5357 0.0491 0.6800 1.014

In this analysis United’s group of midfielders – Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera – significantly lag behind the leaders. Yet, instead of a Moneyball approach of simply buying statistics, United has to bring in top players to replace the mediocre ones. Mourinho could do with at least two world class players to bring figures up to scratch.

It is interesting that Nemanja Matic continues to be linked to an Old Trafford move. Schneiderlin recorded no assist last season and contributed little offensively. The Serbian midfielder, on the other hand, offers a more comprehensive package, despite seemingly doing little but looking after Cesc Fabregas.

Leicester’s N’Golo Kante is king when it comes to attacking statistics from a defensive midfielder. Of defensive midfielders that make at least as many tackles and defensive actions per game as Schneiderlin, (limiting the list to “obtainable” players – Sergio Busquets probably don’t want to leave Barcelona) Kante offers the most complete package.

Turning to targetable creative central midfielders and wingers, Napoli’s Marek Hamsik and Riyad Mahrez at Leiceister rank highly in the data, together with Everton’s Ross Barkley. Hamsik and Barkley, in particular, would fit well in Mourinho’s 4-3-3 system, much as Frank Lampard succeeded under the Portuguese manager.

Out wide, Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be an ideal purchase in terms of numbers, which is interesting given that United is brazenly pursuing the Borussia Dortmund midfielder. Mkhitaryan’s 11 goals, 82 chances created and 15 assists last season would go a lot towards curing United’s midfield blues.

Goals/game Shots/game Assists/game Chances/game Runs/game
Average 0.1361 0.9858 0.1927 1.5944 2.2061
United (Current) 0.0967 0.5357 0.0491 0.6800 1.014
With Hamsik and Mkhitaryan 0.1677 1.2021 0.2262 1.6694 1.9017
With Kante also 0.1744 1.2634 0.2533 1.8245 2.3283

While the data suggests a recruitment strategy, there is never a guarantee that players from foreign leagues settle in perfectly. Still, just two players would make United’s midfield above average and ‘top-four’ in terms of theoretical quality.

Where it leaves the current crop is another question. Mata is by far United’s best midfielder when it comes to the date – the Spaniard fares favourably with top midfielders in the Premier League. The history between the Spaniard and the Portuguese manager notwithstanding, it would surprise few should Mata remain at Old Trafford and lock down a regular role.

With that said, Mkhitaryan mainly plays on the right and Chelsea’s Willian, though his numbers are lower than the Armenian winger’s. continues to be the subject of speculation. Should either arrive it is hard to see a role for Mata on the right.

Mourinho is a far more flexible as a manager than many give him credit for, but Ander Herrera or even Maroune Fellaini might be a better fit tactically than Mata. If a more complete defensive midfielder is not truly necessary, Mourinho probably has the funds to push for Mata’s replacement.

It is also true that Mourinho is not opposed to the idea of using a number 10. Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Ozil blossomed under the new United manager’s guidance, and while Mata was forced out during Mourinho’s second reign at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas is hardly known for his tactical discipline. Arsene Wenger used him in the hole, Barcelona couldn’t use the Spaniard in central midfield, and Spain turned him into a forward. Mata may very well survive and be given a central role.

Data Rant: assessing Mourinho’s transfer strategy

June 18, 2016 Tags: , , Data 8 comments
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It is often beneficial to look at the Premier League as a whole to see where Manchester United stands and to identify any general trends. Last season was an unmitigated disaster, even with the FA Cup victory, and lessons should be learned to avoid the further ‘Liverpoolization’ of the club. In earlier Data Rant columns, statistical theory was not strictly observed – emphasizing intuition and broad trends above technicalities. However, with more advanced techniques we can get a more precise picture.

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Euro Rant: Xhaka on Xhaka

June 15, 2016 Tags: , Rant Cast 4 comments
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Bonjour, et bienvenue à la deuxième Euro Cast! In this week’s show Ed & Paul look back on the first round of games from France, where the hosts beat Romania through a stunning Dimitri Payet goal, England drew with Russia and Bastian Schweinsteiger scored for Germany. It has been a week of fine goals, some good entertainment and the odd surprise. And two brothers going at it without compromise.

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Rating Reds’ week 1 Euro performances

June 14, 2016 Tags: International No comments
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Euro 2016 has brought, in no particular order of importance, spectacular goals, a minor upset, violence on the streets, fireworks in the stands, and eight United players in action. While most of the games have been tight in the opening round of fixtures, there have already been some decisive performances from Reds in France… and a couple of ex-United stars that have caught the eye.

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Euro Cast: tournament preview

June 8, 2016 Tags: , Rant Cast 6 comments
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Bonjour, et bienvenue à Euro Cast! Over the next month Ed & Paul cover the European Championships in France, with 23 teams chasing glory at Stade de France on 10 July. And England. In the first edition a tournament preview. Yes, it’s every bit as detailed and deeply researched as you hoped…

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Red Devils’ Euro 2016 preview

June 8, 2016 Tags: International 1 comment
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There are a few Reds with a very busy summer ahead. Ten Manchester United players will head to the European Championships in France, with varying roles and aspirations for the month of international fun ahead. While Memphis Depay, Daley Blind, and Michael Carrick get the summer off, their teammates jet off to France in search of glory. Rant dives into what we can expect…

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Season review and ratings 2015/16

June 5, 2016 Tags: Opinion 7 comments
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… and breathe! It ended with Manchester United missing out on fourth place in the Premier League for the second time in three seasons, an FA Cup win, Louis van Gaal’s inevitable dismissal, and José Mourinho’s much-discussed arrival. There was drama at the last to follow an otherwise immensely forgettable season. Van Gaal’s second campaign in charge should have brought real progress. It didn’t, and anything less was always going to be viewed as failure after another summer of significant spending. After all, when Rant wrote that “few at Old Trafford should celebrate becoming England’s fourth best side” this time last year, it reflected an obvious reality – failure is just not United.

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José Mourinho’s top five priorities

June 2, 2016 Tags: , , Opinion 22 comments
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Old Trafford will bounce to the chant of “José Mourinho” for the next three seasons, with the Portuguese finally taking control of the club he has always wanted to manage. Mourinho might not host his first press conference until July, but the 53-year-old’s work is underway within a week of his managerial announcement. And there is plenty of work to do.

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