How the Premier League is being won

Let’s look at how Leicester City and Tottenham are battling it out for their first Premier League titles. There must be something that everyone has missed and there must be something they are doing better than everyone else (outside of winning more games). Leicester City are poised to win the title after escaping relegation last season. Tottenham have always been an outsider for the title but have never been close to ever winning it. What is different? Have Man City/Chelsea/Arsenal/Man United (The big 4) declined or have  Tottenham and Leicester got something that the perennial title contenders do not have.

Using statistics, I will explore and compare stats from the Premier League and see where there is a huge difference because surely that must be where the difference between the sides lies, right?

Leicester City – How are they winning games?

This season the have always found a way to win games, home or away. The power of Leicester’s rise comes away from home. Leicester have found a way to win games away from home, this is something that is ALWAYS crucial to winning the title, Leicester have won 10 of their 16 away games this season. This has put them at an advantage over ever other title contender. A league best 34 points away from home has them at the top. How do the rest compare?

Away Points –

Tottenham – 29 points

Arsenal – 28 points

Man Utd – 22 points

Man City – 20 points

Chelsea – 19 points

The North London teams have done well away from home but the gap is created through the away record and that has been the difference in the title race. 38 points away was the amount that won the title for Chelsea last season as they cruised to the title. All the title contenders will be great at home but being great away is the difference between finishing in the top 4 and being the Champions.

Taking the lead –

Leicester in 8 of their 31 games have fallen behind. Like the other stats, that is the best in the Premier League. In those 8 games where they have fallen behind 1-0 they have only lost once. Leicester are rarely giving up the lead and if they do they always seem to find a way to come back and make sure they get something out of the game. They have what most football fans and experts would call ‘bouncebackability’. They rarely give up a lead when they get it and that has fuelled their rise. Having scored 25 goals where they take the lead they have conceded just 6 goals which led to an equaliser in the game. The only team that have similar stats in this department, as if you need to guess, is Tottenham.

It’s not really surprising that the teams that get the most points, score the most goals and don’t concede the lead are at the top of the table. It is something that your traditional big teams have struggled with. Man Utd have struggled with scoring goals. Man City have had trouble keeping goals out. Arsenal continue their trend of blowing it when it is in their hands and Chelsea, well, everything seemed to go wrong before Guus Hiddink has steadied things. So what do Tottenham and Leicester have that Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City don’t? The ability to win games away, the ability to not leak too many goals and score enough to win games and keep leads. It makes winning the title seem so simple.

 

 

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Retirements – NFL 2016

Every year players, in every sport, hang up their relevant equipment that is used to demonstrate they are retiring. The NFL has provided a whole spectrum of retirements from the totally expected and rumoured for months, Peyton Manning (who got his own piece dedicated to him) to the out of nowhere retirements that left people stunned. This will be about the two biggest retirements in the offseason that were not Peyton Manning. Two players who will be hard to replace for their teams and two players who will be missed by the NFL because they were still playing well.

Calvin ‘Megatron’ Johnson Jr. – It’s always the Lions. That is what comes to mind with this retirement. The best player they have had since Barry Sanders was winning games on his own and his retirement is all to similar. The Lions, a couple of years ago, were a playoff team. They had some good young players and they were heading in the right place but they missed the window. Defensive Tackle, Suh, left his partner in crime Nick Fairley left. The Offensive line fell to pieces and suddenly a once promising team fell to pieces. It is the Lions way. Like Sanders, Johnson was the best at his position in the NFL at his peak. Johnson is about a year past his best but after just 9 years in the NFL, ranging from an 0 (Yes Zero) – 16 season to two double digit win seasons and a playoff trip (finishing 10-6 in 2011 and 11-5 in 2014). The best receiver in the NFL and one of the best ever retired. Johnson could still be a top 10 receiver and change games but he felt it was time to hang up his boots/gloves and enjoy life after the NFL. He had a foot injury he could never really shake and his strive to be the best was what made him jaded with the sport. That is the factors in his retirement and like Barry Sanders, he cut his own career short and the Lions are left with a huge hole to fill after a once in a generation player leaves.

Marshawn Lynch – A player who never quite lived up to his potential until he suddenly did.  Drafted in 2007 (Like Calvin Johnson Jr.) by the Buffalo Bills with the 12th overall pick. The Bills believed they had a running back that could carry them over the hump to a Lombardi Trophy. When he arrived in Buffalo he came out flying with great early success in his career showing what he could become. Then he ran into legal troubles in his third year in the NFL and the Bills, once young stud, fell by the wayside. In 2010 Buffalo managed to find a trade for Marshawn and he was sent packing to the Seattle Seahawks. Where Lynch would evolve from Marshawn Lynch to the Skittle Loving Monster Running Back known as Beast Mode. In Seattle he was beloved for his hard hitting style that carried them to back-to-back Superbowl (winning one and losing one) and helping develop a potential star QB in Russell Wilson who knew he always had the option of handing it off to his stud RB. Lynch was always a guy who knew what he wanted. He knew who he was and he was comfortable with that. He didn’t want attention. He didn’t like being in the bright lights because that is not who he was. Lynch was about letting his game do all his talking after a bumpy road it did a lot of talking. Even the way Lynch announced his retirement was typical of Lynch. He posted his announcement (A pair of boots hanging) during the NFC Championship game. He was a quiet man who let his game do the talking and the NFL will miss his game.

 

 

NFL Free Agent Frenzy

March 9th 2016 was the day that the new NFL year started. Which means players get released officially. Any Trades are ratified by the League and any player out of contract not under the Franchise Tag becomes a Free Agent out to get the best deal possible out of his current, or a new, team.

It is the first part of 2016 that fans of all 32 teams can get excited as they get the chance to dream of signing the perfect piece of the puzzle they might have been missing. With a 2 day negotiation period before the start of Free Agency the first day isn’t a surprise anymore as players often agree, but don’t sign, deals before the deadline. This happened this year with a lot of the top free agents getting new contracts before the start of the NFL year. The biggest movers on the opening of Free Agency were the New York Giants, The Oakland Raiders and The Houston Texans. Three teams desperate to get to the next level. The Giants and the Raiders missed the playoffs after flirting with getting in for a while and The Texans won the terrible AFC South and snuck in the play-offs before being blowout 30-0 at home.

Why? The Giants: The Giants made some big moves on Day 1 that will instantly help their defence, which was torched all year by potent passers and rushers, they needed help next year and drafting at 10 gives them a chance to get 1 real impact player on Defence should an elite draft prospect fall but the chances were slim and they retooled their Defensive Line and Secondary to a level where it should be one of the better DLs next season. They resigned Jason Pierre-Paul who, after an accident, will play with one five digit hand. Olivier Vernon had a chance to not hit Free Agency but The Dolphins released him from his Franchise Tag after they signed Mario Williams and he got a HUGE deal from The Giants, An NFL record for a Defensive End, 5 year $85 million deal with $52.5 million of that guaranteed. That contract is an overpay for a good DE but not the best in the League. That type of contract belongs to one DE in the NFL, JJ Watt. Finally, Damon Harrison of City Rivals New York Jets completed the revamp of their Defensive Line. He is a big, run stuffing Defensive Tackle who will dominate the centre of the line and block rushers from dominating the line.

Why? The Raiders: The Raiders have improved their team in the last two years through the draft and free agency. Khalil Mack is the key part of their defence and a young stud that will be dominant for the next 10 years in the NFL. The Raiders have sought out a partner for him at OLB/DE by signing Bruce Irvin from the Seattle Seahawks. Irvin will provide a dangerous partner for Mack and give the Raiders two great OLBs to hunt QBs.

Why? The Texans: The Texans provided the biggest surprise of Day 1. They swooped in a stole The Heir from the Super Bowl Champion, Denver Broncos, Brock Osweiler was the heir to the Broncos throne but Brock is rumoured to have had little interest in re-signing there and the QB needy Texans got a QB that they hope lives up to his potential. Osweiler will surely be better than Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden and the rest of the QBs they have tried recently. It has been a problem for the Texans since Matt Schaub declined rapidly. They didn’t just bring in Osweiler they signed the top RB on the market, Lamar Miller, who is in line to replace Texans Legend but Injury Prone and Cap Burden Arian Foster who was released. Miller is a much safer player to bring in as he has demonstrated more ability to play in the NFL and has more than 7 starts. The Texans have a Defence that can hold teams and an Offense that will start to score some points with Elite WR DeAndre Hopkins getting a new QB and a new RB. They should probably be the favourites to win the AFC South next season but will face tough competition from all three other teams as they have all started to improve.

USK Mock Draft

The combine is over and the draft talk is in full swing as the prospect find out where they will be playing. As is tradition for sports writers I have produced a Mock Draft for the first round of the draft (as is typical). The top 10 in the draft is the most difficult as there are many players who could go anywhere from 10 – 1 without anyone raising an eyebrow. With 31 (instead of the normal 32 due to the New England Patriots being stripped of their 1st round draft pick in the on-going Deflategate investigation) it doesn’t make things easier. This mock will change as Draft season heightens in April. Not all these players will have great careers but this is a projection of where players will go. The 1st pick in the draft seems to be the only pick that is a lock and I continue that trend.

 

                                                             USK NFL Mock Draft
                                                                            Version 1.0
Team Player Position College

1

Tennessee Titans Laremy Tunsil OT Ole Miss

2

Cleveland Browns Jared Goff QB California

3

San Diego Chargers Myles Jack LB UCLA

4

Dallas Cowboys Joey Bosa DE Ohio State

5

Jacksonville Jaguars Jalen Ramsey CB Florida State

6

Baltimore Ravens Deforest Buckner DE Oregon

7

San Francisco 49ers Carson Wentz QB North Dakota State

8

Miami Dolphins Ronnie Stanley OT Norte Dame

9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vernon Hargreaves III CB Norte Dame

10

New York Giants Shaq Lawson DE Clemson

11

Chicago Bears Reggie Ragland LB Alabama

12

New Orleans Saints A’Shawn Robinson DT Alabama

13

Philadelphia Eagles Taylor Decker OT Ohio State

14

Oakland Raiders Mackenzie Alexander CB Clemson

15

Los Angeles Rams Paxton Lynch QB Memphis

16

Detroit Lions Jack Conklin OT Michigan State

17

Atlanta Falcons Leonard Floyd LB/DE Georgia

18

Indianapolis Colts Darron Lee LB Ohio State

19

Buffalo Bills Robert Nkemdiche DT Ole Miss

20

New York Jets Vernon Butler DT Louisiana Tech

21

Washington Redskins Sheldon Rankins DT Louisville

22

Houston Texans Ezekiel Elliot RB Ohio State

23

Minnesota Vikings Cody Whitehair OG Kansas State

24

Cincinnati Bengals Corey Coleman WR Baylor

25

Pittsburgh Steelers Eli Apple CB Ohio State

26

Seattle Seahawks Le’Raven Clark OT Texas Tech

27

Green Bay Packers Andrew Billings DT Baylor

28

Kansas City Chiefs Jarran Reed DT Alabama

29

Arizona Cardinals Noah Spence DE Eastern Kentucky

30

Carolina Panthers Will Fuller WR Norte Dame

31

Denver Broncos Hunter Henry TE Arkansas

Goodbye to Peyton

Since lifting the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara there have been rumours that it was Peyton Manning’s final game in the NFL. There were some who believed that at 40 years old he could come back for one more run with a new team but Peyton Manning has decided that it is time to say Goodbye to the NFL. He has finished his ‘football race’.

Unlike a lot of number 1 overall draft picks, Peyton Manning, not only met the expectations but he smashed them as he broke almost every record that a Quarterback can break. He led two teams to Superbowls and spent most of his career carrying some poor Indianapolis Colts teams late into the Play-offs. He will be a First Ballot Hall of Famer in 5 years when he becomes eligible. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest to ever be a Quarterback in the NFL. He redefined the position and often beat teams at the line of scrimmage as there were not many defences that he couldn’t pick apart at the line of Scrimmage.

This video highlights the frustration that even his own offensive lineman had with Peyton Manning’s brilliance at the line. Just Snap The Damn Ball shows how much Peyton did at the line at his peak. In later years he would become a human tourist video for Ohama, Nebraska as that was his audible at the line.

Number 18 had a hell of a career and as an avid watcher. Thank You for 18 great years!

Arsenal: Chokers?

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Arsene Wenger

It appears that Arsenal have pulled their favourite trick. For most of the season they have been legitimate title contenders. They fooled the Premier League into believing that Arsenal were over their issues and they were capable of actually going all the way and winning the title for the first time since their Invincibles season in 2004 (See more here).

From that moment Arsenal have had two types of seasons. They have been nowhere near the title race but finish in the top four to maintain their streak of Champions League Qualification or they have a season like they have been having now. For half of the season they are unplayable. They win most of their games against the big teams and they finally look to be over the hump. Then February or March comes along and just takes all the air out of Arsenal.

This was meant to be the year they did it. With Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Mezsut Ozil, Petr Cech. They were a strong team with great players that Arsene Wenger was getting the best out of. Once again they pulled the same trick again. I was fooled into believing that this was their year with my prediction that they would win the league. They had pulled the wool over our eyes and once everyone finally believed, they cracked under the pressure of success. They had all eyes on them and they couldn’t produce. Leicester City, the unlikeliest title favourites/potential winners since Blackburn, have continued to demonstrate their ability to win games. They got to see Arsenal and Tottenham deliver a huge blow to each other in the Lunch Time kick off in the North London Derby and then in the late game live on Sky Sports they found a way to beat Watford to increase their gap on a day where everything could have gone wrong.

That is the major difference between winning the title and missing out. The area of their play that Arsenal lack. They win the games when the pressure is off but they cannot win the important games. The ones that decide the titles. Going away to difficult, noisy and enclosed away grounds has been something that Arsenal have failed to do. There is something that always seems to trip Arsenal up and it has to go beyond the players. This has happened to the many post-title winning iterations of the team. They have World Cup Winners, Copa America Winners, Champions League Winners, Premier League Winners. They do not lack players who don’t know what it takes to win competitions and leagues but when they play for Arsenal they seem to forget how to win when it matters. Is it Arsene Wenger? It is the club? It is a mental block for the players? We may never know and mostly it relies on speculation and opinion but something in the red parts of North London is preventing Arsenal from getting over the line and to rub it in their arch rivals and neighbours Tottenham look likely to finish above them and present the biggest threat to the fairytale of a Leicester Premier League win.

The best strike partnerships in Football

Are Barcelona Unstoppable? That is the question everyone is asking. Messi, Suarez and Neymar (MSN) are three of the best strikers in the world and they all play for one of the best teams in the world, Barcelona. It begs the question whether Barca are unstoppable. With Messi and Neymar it was possible, if extremely difficult, to stop both of them but with the addition of Suarez it has become impossible to stop all three of them if they are all on the pitch at the same time.

S.A.S – Shearer and Sutton 

Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton were one of the deadliest strike forces in the Premier League in the 90s. In the 1994/95 season they were together at Blackburn Rovers. They scored a combined 49 goals as Blackburn Rovers won their first and only Premier League. Shearer carried the strike partnership with a Premier League Record 34 goals in 42 games (The Premier League was 22 teams at the time.) and Chris Sutton scored 15 games and provided Shearer with a reliable strike partner.

The New S.A.S

Suarez (In another great partnership) and Sturridge. Branded by the media in Liverpool as the new S.A.S as Liverpool found two reliable strikers at the top of their games. Here is a video containing all their goals together as they blew past the original S.A.S to amass a combined 61 goals, with Suarez contributing 33 goals and Sturridge 28, as they ALMOST fired Liverpool to their first Premier League Title but they fell just short and finished 2nd. The pair only lasted one season as Suarez fell o

ut with Liverpool management over another biting incident and Sturridge has spent most of his time on the treatment table since the New S.A.S

Bergkamp and Henry 

One of the greatest and long-lasting partnerships in Premier League history. Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. They are the only Premier League Strike Partnership to complete an undefeated since as the 2004 Invincibles of Arsenal FC became a legend. Henry and Bergkamp were key parts in turning Arsenal into perennial title contenders in the late 90s and early 2000s. Henry and Bergkamp are club legends and two of the most gifted footballers to ever play in England. Combined they scored 266 goals in a combined 610 appearances and formed one of the longest lasting and deadliest partnerships. It is a partnership that has remained unmatched in longevity both players had fantastic careers as Bergkamp retired at Arsenal and Henry left to join Barcelona and later New York Red Bulls before returning on loan to Arsenal for one more spell before retiring.

Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole

Yorke and Cole were another great strike partnership of the late 90s. They were competing against Arsenal year in year out for the title and they, along with Arsenal’s strikers, competed at the top of the goalscoring charts. Yorke and Cole were both natural finishers who could score from anywhere if given the opportunity. With a combined 129 in 285 appearances they were one of the best partnership of the late 90s. The pair helped Manchester United to the Treble with the help of backup striker Teddy Sheringham.