Centurions

Centurions

Before 2017 was even over, pundits and fans started to ask: Is the current Manchester City side the best the Premier League has ever seen?

By April, the mere suggestion had morphed into serious debate. It seemed the crown was to be contested by Pep’s latest side, and this season’s Premier League champions, Arsenal’s Invincibles, and Manchester United’s treble winning team of ’99.

All had merits that were difficult to argue against. Arsenal hold one of the few records that the current City team didn’t break. It was of course, the honour of going a full 38 games without tasting defeat.

Nothing should take away from that feat – one which may never be beaten – but the table never lies (we’ll keep coming back to that cliché). This season, the Citizens won an incredible 32 games; the Invincibles drew 12 in their unbeaten campaign.

If Mayweather gets criticised for winning without being exciting, the old chants of “Boring, boring, Arsenal” can be shoehorned (if a little unfairly) into this debate. Arsenal took a great singular achievement – going undefeated – and have traded on it ever since. It kept Arsène Wenger in a job for a decade longer than necessary.

The United team from 1999 is remembered as an all-time great because of how it captured the perfect treble: league title, FA Cup, European Cup. The injury time heroics against Bayern Munich helped give the season a Hollywood ending, almost on a par with that Agüero moment.

But the table from that year paints a different picture. They edged out Arsenal by a solitary point, tying with them on most wins that year – 22. It was actually Leeds United that held the record for consecutive victories with seven.

It hardly reeks of domestic dominance.

By comparison, this season City smashed records for most away wins in a season (16); most goals scored in a season (106); best goal difference (79); and one that will stand the test of time like Arsenal’s Invincible record – breaking the 100 point barrier.

City were head and shoulders above the rest of the league during the 2017/18 campaign. Detractors can’t say the league isn’t as competitive as it was in 1999. Back then the traditional Big Four played without fear of failing to qualify for Europe. Nowadays there is a strong top six, and anyone outside it can win any given match.

The results, week-after-week, promote unpredictability. The only certainty, the season defining constant, was Pep’s men would continue to march onward.

The competitiveness and response to it was best summed up in the home game against Southampton. A team that would avoid relegation by three points managed to hold the Blues until the fifth minute of injury time.

Then along came Raheem Sterling, he linked up with Kevin De Bruyne with a quick return pass, and curled the ball into the net, and was probably this writer’s favourite goal of the 106 scored all season.

It kept the winning streak going, making it 19 on the bounce.

That defiance and determination to keep excelling propelled City to unimaginable heights. Guardiola’s style of football, which had faced doubters the season before, was now controlling the English game.

Armchair experts – whose simple solution to Pep’s possession-based attacking football was simply to press City into submission – had to sit stunned as the Blues steamrolled every team they faced. They made the Premier League look like the top-flight North of the border.

Unfortunately, the seven days of destiny became a week of despair as City lost to Liverpool in the Champions League twice and missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to clinch the title at home by beating arch-rivals United.

In a way, it had to be this way. A strand of “Typical City” will always exist in the club’s DNA. If there’s a hard way to do something, that places untold strain on the hearts of supporters, City will find it.

But this time, it was a blip rather than a prolonged period of pain. It acts as a slight taint on an otherwise perfect league campaign. No one remembers the three teams that beat United in the league back in 1999, or the 12 times The Invincibles dropped two points as they went unbeaten.

City’s slight imperfections make for more dramatic stories.

But they shouldn’t be the story or cloud judgement. Remember, the table really doesn’t ever lie. After 38 games the only story that matters is told by points acquired, goals scored, goals conceded, and the gap created by these in relation to other teams.

If those damning statistics aren’t enough, remember how City achieved such a massive gulf. It was by playing the sort of football that turns drunks into poets. It’s more than just possession football; the ball isn’t kept for the sake of keeping it away from the opposition, it is kept to create dreamlike sequences.

No team’s highlight reel from any era is a such a pleasurable viewing experience.

Pep’s team are the first Centurions, this alone makes them deserving of being named best team the Premier League has ever seen. The manner in which they achieved it just underlines the point.

The scary thought: they are only going to get better.

(Photo credit: http://www.mancity.com)

Mourinho’s Mindless Moanings

Mourinho’s Mindless Moanings

Mind games have been in a Premier League manager’s toolbox for a long time now. Sir Alex was lauded as a master, making Keegan and Benítez crack with it all caught on camera. Since then, every manager has, to some degree or another, attempted to manipulate the psychology of rival managers, players, even match officials.

A young José Mourinho pitched up at Chelsea, full of confidence that wasn’t quite arrogant due to its outlandishness and the cheeky glint in his eye. It undoubtedly was a form of mind games, the sort that only works if it delivers immediate success. Otherwise it makes the user appear ridiculous.

Any style of mind game needs to change over time. José knows this, even if he doesn’t believe on-field tactics need to evolve from one decade to the next. That blossoming young coach turned into a dour old man, who feels the world is against him and any team he manages.

To facilitate this belief, he relies on a heavy sprinkling of hypocrisy.

Take injuries. He famously said: “I never speak about injuries. Other managers, they cry, they cry, they cry when some player is injured. I don’t cry.”

Okay, he doesn’t literally cry, but no other manager this season has enjoyed talking about injuries more than Mourinho. It’s gotten to the point his stock remarks about his injuries have been exhausted so he’s taken to calling other managers liars when they announce an injury.

“But if I want to moan and cry like the others, I can cry for the next five minutes.”

The others aren’t crying and he’s the only one moaning. For a guy so convinced and obsessed he’s judged by different standards to the rest of planet Earth, it’s amazing he dared call out the honesty of fellow professionals. Surely that deserves some form of punishment?

He not so subtly alludes to this when concluding he wouldn’t have been allowed to make a public protest like Pep Guardiola regarding a political issue. This reveals the void of values within the man. Public figures have a duty to speak up when they see something wrong in the world.

Pep has stuck his head above the parapet to defend justice, free speech and democracy. The sort of values José likes to use and abuse.

However, you can’t expect a guy without morals to understand the need for ethical choices. He’d only ever make a modern-day equivalent of a “Free Nelson Mandela” speech if it got him off a touchline ban.

Mourinho can’t be invested in something like the Catalonia issue because it doesn’t involve him and therefore doesn’t really exist at all.

Heading into the Manchester Derby he moved onto lighter issues. After begrudgingly acknowledging City’s strengths, he added: “A little bit of wind and they fall.”

His remarks are transparent – and like his style of football – they’re boring. Clearly designed to plant a seed in the referee’s head, if there’s any justice (grab a dictionary, José), the officials will favour the City attackers to prevent accusations of playing to Mourinho’s tune.

What makes the remark more laughable (Ashley Flung aside) is how it comes on the back of Arsène Wenger being universally reprimanded for suggesting Raheem Sterling dives.

What José Mourinho requires is less in the way of mind games and a good dose of reality. It could be argued articles such as this means he’s doing something right. But he’s not getting under the skin of opposing teams anymore: he’s losing credibility.

He can’t even keep his own dressing rooms on-side, let alone disrupt others.

The biggest mind game he’s ever played and won has been on himself. He made José Mourinho think the world was against him, and keeps delivering faux evidence to plunge him deeper into an obvious depression.

 

Football Reflective Guide to Fantasy Premier League Football

Football Reflective Guide to Fantasy Premier League Football

This Friday sees the return of Premier League football. One thing more important than this is the management of your Fantasy Football team. It’ll make you look out for results that would otherwise have no bearing on your life. It’s the condensed version of Football Manager you can carry around with you every day.

For the purpose of this guide, we’re only looking at the official Premier League version. The site has an extensive rules section and even a weekly Scout that gives tips.

One rule that is missing from their page – and it’s the most important – is how you should never select a player from a rival club. If you support Manchester City, you can never play Lukaku, even if he scores a hattrick every single week.

In a private head-to-head league end of season final (more on leagues later), an Arsenal fan beat yours truly by giving Harry Kane the captain’s armband. A victory forever tainted. Said Arsenal fan shares a surname that sounds like the lead character from Highlander. The catchphrase from that movie was: “There can only be one.”

When it comes to rival players in fantasy football: There can never be one.

If you think it’s okay to select from a rival team you probably have a nice collection of half-and-half scarfs, have a second and third team (possible fourth), and passionately support Barcelona and Real Madrid in El Clásico.

About picking those players, the £50m budget doesn’t go far (most expensive player is currently £12.5m) but it’s important to have 15 active players. Many of us have a sacrificial lamb – the £4m addition we know will never play but the budget’s overstretched – however, it’s a false economy.

Values go up and down. Letting a player rot breaks the bank.

The healthiest squads are picking up points across the board, every week. Their values increase over time, giving greater flexibility with wildcards.

A squad that’s competitive is great, just be mindful of tinkering. The stats never lie. Last season’s can also be found on the site. Sticking to your guns will benefit most of you in the long run. If you could predict individual form, bookies would be going bankrupt. That said, react when it’s clear someone unexpected is having a strong season.

Etienne Capoue is a £4.5m bargain and bagged 131 points last season. In a similar vein, Carl Jenkinson scored 94 points in 2014/15, this was off the back of two seasons, scoring 50 and 51 respectively, but his form did drop off.

Another problem with tracking form, is trying to second guess real life rotation as you juggle your own.

Take Raheem Sterling, for example. He scored an impressive 149 last year and has looked positive in preseason but it’s inevitable he will be rested. So, you need to have a strong player on the bench that is guaranteed to start that week.

Sterling comes in at a hefty £8m, for a million less you can get Wilfried Zaha. He might not have the headline grabbing games Sterling enjoys but he’ll trickle feed a not too dissimilar return over 38 Gameweeks.

As for wildcards, play them as a last resort. A kneejerk, week two, wildcard will not benefit you any better than persevering.

Fantasy Premier League only has meaning if there’s a competitive edge. You’ll soon find yourself in several Classic leagues. These are great, and joining a few public ones allows you to have a peek at other teams to steal ideas (or scout, to give it it’s professional name), but the method of cumulative scoring means even after a few weeks, some participants may have an unassailable lead.

This is where head-to-head leagues help out. Instead of just adding up your Gameweek points, it pits you against someone in the league. If you score higher, you get three points, just like real life. A league table forms where the weekly highest scorer could find themselves out of the top four.

These leagues can even break down into cups after Gameweek 35.

Hopefully these little pointers will help out but they do come from a guy who finished 23rd in last season’s private head-to-head league…