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10 Things Learned About the EPL in August

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September is here, the summer is all but a few fading memories and lots of videos of wannabe reality stars playing the lead role in their own blockbuster beach movie.

The days are noticeably shorter, the evenings cooler. Football pundits, fans, commentators and just about anyone interested in football scores will be looking at how the new season is shaping up.

With the first month of Premier League fixtures and resulting Premier League scores consigned to the dustbin of history, based on the Premiership results from August, these are the top ten things we have learned.

  1. Forget Spurs as a title contender. For over an hour Spurs were behind and laboured against Aston Villa. They couldn’t even beat Arsenal which, arguably, is one of the worst Arsenal line ups for years. Top four finish at the end of the season to qualify for Champions League next season? “Not on your Nelly” as my good friend from Arsenal would say.
  2. Crystal Palace are not as fragile as crystal. Their defence the tightest in the Prem and through guile and perseverance (and a few good players) they beat Manchester United for the first time since Dinosaurs and Alex Ferguson roamed the earth. Top ten finish easily, maybe an outside odds bet for Europa league.
  3. Manchester United is a club in decline. When the football live scores are coming in at the end of Saturday afternoon, few armchair fans expect Manchester United to have had a bad day at the office. Well, one clean sheet in four games, too many players who aren’t good enough and very little in the way of in-depth quality, and with little if any ideas at the top as to how to stop the freefall, United are in B-I-G trouble.
  4. Newcastle MIGHT just escape relegation. With Steve Bruce at the helm, he is the most experienced top flight manager currently working in the Premier League. OK, so they were demolished 3-1 away to Norwich but that win away from home at Spurs may just be the lift the players and the long suffering fans needed.
  5. Chelsea re-branded to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. At the end of the season, when we look back at the Premier League football results Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham will have fired Frank Lampard’s Chelsea to a top four finish at the very least. There is an outside chance they could just finish top of the pile. For Chelsea fans the future is bright – no need to feel blue.
  6. Bournemouth will avoid relegation – AGAIN! With a stadium capacity of 10,000, one of the lowest budgets in the Premier League and un-fancied players, steady Eddie Howe will lead his troops to safety once again. Now, if Eddie Howe was French, Spanish, German or Italian, he would probably be managing one of the top four clubs by now- but he’s English – so he won’t.
  7. Norwich play with flair and no fear.  If you go watch your team away at Norwich, listen to the song the Carrow Road faithful sing in homage to their German head coach Daniel Farke. OK, so Norwich has lost 3 out of 4 of their opening games. But the way in which they played against Liverpool and Chelsea, the German head coach has instilled an attacking philosophy which delivered the Championship title in style. Norwich will survive because they have Pukki banging in goals for fun.
  8. West Ham is bubbling! One of the most promising Premier League predictions is West Ham as a potential Europa league qualifier. Marko Arnautović along with his sulks has been offloaded to an unsuspecting Chinese club; the perennial offside Hernandez will now be permanently offside in Spain. West Ham fans can now begin to hope their dreams don’t fade and die – unlike their annoying bubbles.
  9. Arsenal have taken on a liability in Luiz. Perhaps one of the best bits of business for Chelsea was to offload David Luiz. And to arsenal as well – what a great bonus for Chelsea fans. Arsenal fans must be shaking their head in disbelief and asking ‘why?’ Don’t worry Arsenal fans; most Premier League supporters are wondering why you signed such a potentially disruptive player. We’re all glad you did though.
  10. Hasenhüttl is similar to Klopp! Hasenhüttl’s first part-season in English football’s elite division has striking parallels with that of Jurgen Klopp’s first part season at Anfield. However, Klopp had some world class and very experienced players to call upon to raise the stakes. Hasenhüttl does not – which is probably why the bookies have Southampton at 9/2 to avoid the drop.

What are your thoughts? On a postcard please.

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Southampton’s 9-0 defeat was all of their own making

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Southampton’s 9-0 defeat was all of their own making

Southampton’s 9-0 defeat to Leicester City was ‘horrible’ – well, according to the Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl it was, but I doubt if any of the Leicester fans or players would agree. Neither would the astute punters who wagered a 9-0 win to Leicester, some of them coming out £1500 better off for their highly speculative bets.

A record English Premier League Away Win

Hasenhuttl blamed himself and took responsibility for the staggering defeat, a record home defeat of any team in the top flight Premier League era. Indeed, it is also a record defeat for The Saints, which saw Southampton drop into the relegation zone as a result.

Hasenhuttl shouldn’t have been so quick to take the blame, however, but should have taken the time to review the game and say something like:

…’ my players were an absolute disgrace and should hang their heads in shame and maybe send a letter to every Southampton fan with a sincere apology’…

But of course he won’t in this sanitised era of political correctness, so maybe we should look at where it all went wrong for the long-suffering S’ton fans and call out the team and tell it like it really is.

The wrong type of rain

Judging from the body language of some of the Soton players on the night, the rain didn’t help matters. Some of them looked as if they would rather be tucked away in the games room of their sprawling mansions, playing FIFA on X-box. Others looked as if they were not happy with the way in which the downpour messed their expensive (and ridiculous) hairstyles. Still, others probably wished they had remembered to bring their gloves with them so their poor little hands didn’t feel the cold.

The wrong type of defenders

Let’s face it, the S’oton defence was atrocious. At some point, one or two would be jabbing a finger and pointing at a teammate for a defensive lapse and then, a few minutes later, those same players would be making howlers of their own. Poor old Angus Gunn – I’ll bet he wished he had stayed put at Norwich City rather than join this bunch of clowns.

Red nose night

By the time the second half started, the stadium had been deserted by some forty percent of the home fans, some going home in the hope they could watch red nose night on the telly instead of on the pitch at Saint Mary’s stadium. Sadly, their hopes were dashed – too early for red nose day.

Some wag on Twitter had called out the S’oton defence as an ‘Alley of clowns’ which was quite an educational announcement. How many people knew that the collective noun for a group of clowns was ‘alley’? Perhaps that wag should have called them a ‘pratfall of clowns’ – much more appropriate.

Strikers on strike?

Where were Southampton’s strikers? Were they on strike for the night? Not one decent shot on goal from the front men and only one real shot on target all game by Nathan Redmond just about summed up the night. Leicester was rampant and Southampton players were easy pickings. If Southampton doesn’t get relegated this season, the players will have learned a valuable lesson from this drubbing and turned their season around.

And Hasenhuttl? He will take the can for the players again because that seems to be the way of the world, given modern-day players’ egos are so fragile, the truth might just tip them over the edge.

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Is the offside law in football completely offside?

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When the offside law was first incorporated into the laws of Association Football, it was pretty simple and everyone grasped its intent. When a ball is played to a member of the attacking team and where there isn’t 2 or more of the defending team between the attacking player and the goal, the attacking player is deemed ‘offside’ resulting in an indirect free-kick to the defending team.

Moving forward a century or so and we find that now a player has to be ‘active’ in order to be in an offside position.

How do we define ‘active’ in the context of open play?

Let’s say for instance the ball is played forward to a teammate who is in an onside position but another teammate is in an offside position but not interfering in play (another contentious issue) when the ball is played. That player cannot be flagged for offside, even though he is in an offside position.

Then, if the player has taken the ball forward and then passes the ball to his previously offside teammate who, two seconds later, is now in an onside position when the ball is passed, he is no longer deemed in an offside position. The trouble is, even though he was classed as being inactive at the time of the original pass to his teammate, he had gained a territorial advantage at the time.

All straightforward so far?

Probably not, as the law is now open to interpretation. Whereas before a player could be flagged offside because he was, now it is up to the individual linesman’s interpretation of the law and the player’s position at the time of the original pass.

All is fine and dandy if the offside player is on the opposite of the pitch, but not so fine if he is in the centre of the pitch where a short pass can rapidly turn in to a potential goal-scoring position and a goal results from the attacking move. The change in the law was made to promote attacking football but all it seems to have done is cause a lot of confusion amongst players and fans alike.

FIFA offers the following definition of being active as in the following:

…”Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate”…

The problem arises when a player in an offside position doesn’t touch the ball BUT causes confusion between the defenders of the opposing team and gains an advantage, even though the offside player does not get the advantage himself.

Now that we have VAR in operation the issue is a little more complicated because now a player is either ON SIDE or OFFSIDE as judged by a panel of referees looking at a stop-frame viewing of the incident, and players deemed to be unable to be LEVEL.

The offside law worked before there was any tinkering and also before cameras were positioned at almost every available angle which takes away the human element of the game.

Perhaps things will settle down in time but, I wonder if there will be a football player somewhere who decides to have green-tinted toes of his boots so the cameras cannot see if his toe is on or offside.

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Are VAR and football a good fit?

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Having seen VAR in operation in football, there is so much wrong in the way in which it has been rolled out and implemented. VAR is a laudable development and goes some way to removing doubt about decisions made by referees in the heat of the moment. Camera angles give pundits and TV audiences an instant confirmation if a foul is committed, a free kick or penalty is due or any other infringement has taken place, but not so the referee.

The referee on the pitch has a split second to make a decision and once that decision is made, VAR officials have little in the way of potential of righting a perceived (or definitive) infraction of the laws of the game. Rather than help the referee and ultimately the players and fans, VAR has muddied the waters. Rather than learning from the sports which have introduced technology into the game to improve decision making by officials, the football authorities have made the decision more chaotic than ever.

Cricket and ‘VAR’

Currently, in cricket, the ‘VAR’ system is a success because the onus on instigating a review of an appeal is down to the players on the field, not the umpire. If an appeal for, shall we say, a potential leg before wicket (LBW) is turned down by the umpire, the players have the right to appeal that decision. However, they only have one review available per innings and if a review is subsequently undertaken and the umpire’s decision is upheld, the appealing team loses that appeal.

As a result, players are extremely cautious in making an appeal if they are unsure. Indeed, they have a 15 second time limit to confirm the appeal and only challenge the umpire if they are CERTAIN he or she is wrong in their decision. The players are in effect still able to make an appeal and ultimately it is the players who have to shoulder that responsibility, and can no longer blame the umpires for poor decision making.

NFL and ‘VAR’

American football is perhaps the best-suited sport for a television audience and ‘VAR’ used in NFL has penalties in built into the system. Players can appeal an on-field decision made by the referee, but they seldom do. They are aware of the penalties doe an unsuccessful appeal of a decision, and therefore only make appeals if they are absolutely sure that the officials have got it wrong.

An unsuccessful appeal of a referee’s decision will cost them a time out. Time outs are sacrosanct and are used tactically by teams for many reasons, not least to break up play when things aren’t going according to plan. So to say the punishment for an unsuccessful appeal could be potentially massive for the team, appeals for perceived poor decision making by the officials are seldom implemented.

Football and VAR

The way in which VAR is used in football has left the responsibility of decisions firmly in the hands of the referee and abdicated all responsibility for VAR appeals from the players. Consequently, players and management teams still hound the officials and, with VAR the appeal can be upheld but, if the appealing team gets it wrong there is no punishment for their getting it wrong.

Perhaps appeals could be launched by the captain of the team when the ball next goes out of play if the team believe an infraction of the laws of the game has gone against them and not been punished. If an appeal is made and it subsequently upholds the referee’s decision, perhaps one of the three substitutions can be forfeited. Substitutions are now a major tactical weapon deployed by managers and coaches which often change the way in which a game is going.

Give each team the potential of three in-game appeals and take away the potential of an available substitute if the appeal upholds the referee’s initial decision.

The football authorities had the chance to introduce technology to help the game move forward but chose not to learn the lessons from other sports which implemented VAR systems many years ago.

Given the way in which VAR is deployed, currently it is not a good fit for football. That is not to say it will remain so.

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