Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adopt a Team: Newcastle and Liverpool review

Right off the bat, let's all dispose of our shock that this game didn't finish 4-3. Okay, those games happened almost 20 years but I really felt that Stan Collymore and Tino Asprilla would have a big impact on this game. In reality this game was along way from a classic, with two sides lacking something, quite what that is is hard to say. The optimist will say confidence while others will argue quality. I might argue Suarez and Cabaye.

The gap between Liverpool's dominance in possession (65%) and shot production (two SiB) is about as stark as I recall seeing and probably performs a reasonable summary for Liverpool's woes. I'm not going to make this 500 words on Balotelli's ineptitude as, simply, he just isn't a bad player. He is however not playing particularly well on a zero to Suarez scale and the system he's being used in does not seem to be working well for either party right now. The Italian seems to want to drop off the front, much like United found with Rooney playing up front in van Persie's absence and it leaves an enormous hole which doesn't have to be occupied by anyone other than a relaxed Coloccini (does Coloccini come in any states other than relaxed?).

If you look at the average position chart for the game we see Sterling about 15 yards ahead of all his teammates with Balotelli's average being the edge of the centre circle. It seems somewhat interesting to note that Balotelli's desire to get involved in the play and run back may be the issue rather than his supposed "laziness". Oh why can't you be more like Dimitar Berbatov, Mario?

That's not to say that Balotelli is poised for an explosion in production based on his underlying stats. Consider that Balotelli had one touch inside the penalty box in 94 minutes, recall that Suarez averaged 10 a game last season, and then weep.

I read that there were other players than Balotelli involved in this one, though in all honesty they don't deserve a great deal more praise than their much maligned teammate. There is of course talent here and I was once again impressed by some of the 'supporting' players on show with Henderson reminding me that he's matured into a very solid players these days, while Joe Allen had a reasonable game which I personally haven't seen too much of in a Liverpool shirt. Yet, from a fantasy perspective there is literally not a single Liverpool player here that I would single out for positive attention. Indeed, Johnson starting the game actually took value away from a prospective pickup as Manquillo sat out for the second time in three weeks. I noted in the preview that I was amazed he was becoming an every starter and it looks like perhaps that confirmation ceremony did indeed come a couple of weeks (or seasons) too early.

Where to go from here? Sterling still boasts tremendous numbers and ranks as one of the better midfielders for the coming weeks, despite his not unreasonable 8.5m tag, though his 44% ownership is something a turn off for those not already invested. At this point of the season, differentiation shouldn't be a huge factor, with maximising points and price increases both more important, yet it still makes one pause when you see that the majority of your league mates are already on board. That's probably an issue of taste though. When Sturridge returns, perhaps as soon as GW12 it will give us a chance to re-evaluate this team but until then I wouldn't be in a rush to buy into anyone, especially as they have to face Chelsea this week.

It's been quite a turnaround for Newcastle, utterly miserable through the first seven weeks of the season with just four draws and three defeats to their name. Pardew managed to hold onto his job and has really turned things around, almost certainly by willing his players to play harder, run further and pay more attention to the motivational expert they have brought in, telling them to play harder and run further. The numbers tell us all we need to know about these two Jekyll and Hyde Newcastle teams:

Attacking averages
Gameweeks 1 - 7: 16 shots per game, 7 SiB, 5 SoT
Gameweeks 8 - 10: 15 shots per game, 4 SiB, 5 SoT

Defensive averages
Gameweeks 1 - 7: 11 shots per game, 8 SiB
Gameweeks 8 - 10: 15 shots per game, 8 SIB


I sometimes wonder if judging a manager, team and entire organisation based on seven 90 minute contests (two of which came against the defending Champions and a red hot Southampton team) is such a great idea. Then I hear all the reasoned and well thought arguments by the likes of Ian Wright or Chris Kamara and I'm convinced.

Newcastle weren't amazing in this game, just as they weren't terrible in the opening few weeks of the season and they remain a team who are still arguably a bit less than the sum of their promising parts but still offer enough quality to (a) remain in this league and (b) offer fantasy intrigue.

I was most interested to see Cisse and Cabella in this one but was unfortunately limited to just 45 and 28 minutes of viewing with Cisse departing at half time, apparently still feeling the effects of a knee injury, while his teammate Cabella was relegated to the bench once again. I'm not sure Cisse was particularly spectacular here, but still managed to rack three shots with two in the box (a good haul in 45 minutes) and three touches in the opponents box. Ayoze Perez's goal is a bit of an issue as there doesn't seem to be room for both he and Cisse in this team, given Pardew's preferred shape and the presence of Sissoko in that role lurking off the front man.

A couple of goals presumably won't be enough to totally re-shape Pardew's plans, but Ayoze is not without promise of his own and brings a decent reputation with him from Tenerife. The Shields Gazette - a titan of the journalism world - reports that he snubbed advances from both Real Madrid and Barcelona to land on Tyneside, and who are we to argue with the likes of the Shield Gazaette? If the young Spaniard can land that starting job, he too could be outstanding value given that he's even cheaper than Cisse, but the unfortunate reality might be some form of ghastly job share which would see both relegated to afterthought status. Let's see how this plays out when Cisse is fully fit.

Fitness may also rob us of another option as Obertan was starting to become a viable 5th midfielder thanks to his increasing minutes, solid play and excellent price tag. He's now out for what looks like the rest of the year though with a thigh problem so it's back to the drawing board on that front. One silver lining is that his injury could open the way for the mercurial Cabella to have another crack at the starting lineup, though Pardew has a number of good alternatives with Gouffran, Ameobi and Aarons also vying for a spot (plus Cisse/Ayoze if he pushes one of his midfield spots into a more advanced role).

I'm not sure we really learned a great deal this week that we didn't know, though that's probably a conclusion we're going to say a lot in these pages as one game is rarely enough. The game confirmed that these two teams have talent in their teams and on their respective benches and - as Newcasle have started to see - their fortunes will almost surely improve to a degree based on nothing more than regression. That said, Balotelli is not going to be confused for Suarez and until Sturridge returns, Liverpool are a team who are playing at a 2011-12 level but with 2013-14 price tags.

After some internet issues at home, I'm now behind on the week's data and adopt a team review so I'm going to cancel this week's teams and instead take a quick look into the forecast numbers which I haven't really referenced to date. We'll then pickup new teams to adopt again after the international break.

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