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The Headline Commentator – December 9

Photo by Дмитрий Голубович – via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to the “The Headline Commentator,” a new feature that gives unfiltered opinions on the week’s headlines.

It’s been a great week of football with plenty to sink my teeth into. Complaints about the Copa Libertadores rumbled on — the game was played in Madrid on Sunday, with River Plate winning in extra time. Before the game, River Plate threatened not to participate, citing its move outside of Argentina. Meanwhile, Boca Juniors appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a bid to be awarded the title.

In the Premier League, Jose Mourinho continues to dominate the news after Manchester United dropped four points in two games. The week has culminated in his agent releasing a statement claiming he is “very happy” and “fully committed” to the club. 

It’s also been a week packed with big fixtures. Arsenal v Tottenham was everything you would hope, brimming with tension, great football and goals. Manchester United v Arsenal was similarly tense with plenty of crunching tackles and a little bit of hair pulling, courtesy of Marouane Fellaini. Yesterday, Chelsea brought Manchester City back down to earth with a 2-0 victory, shutting them out remarkably well and blowing the title race wide open.

“Tim Sherwood picks ZERO Arsenal players in his combined Arsenal and Tottenham XI?”– Sky Sports

Oh Tim Sherwood, when will you learn.

During the build-up to last Sunday’s North London derby, Tim Sherwood elected to pick an Arsenal v Tottenham “combined XI” comprising completely of Tottenham players.

“I’m not biased or anything,” the former Tottenham manager said on Sky Sports’ “The Debate.”

“It would be a shock if Arsenal beat Tottenham on Sunday,” he continued.

Of course, Arsenal did beat Tottenham last Sunday. Not only that, they beat them well. Although I’m sure that “completely unbiased” Tim Sherwood was okay with that.

Could he not have found space for Lucas Torreira, who has transformed the Arsenal midfield since his arrival in the summer? He could not. Instead, he opted for Harry Winks, whose biggest contribution to the Premier League has been being the league’s best Liam Payne circa 2013 lookalike. Torreira picked up the man of the match award, while Winks came off the bench and contributed little.

Nor could he find a place for Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, with whom he demonstrated his familiarity by calling him “Auboomeyang.” Instead, Dele Alli was given a place. If Alli was better than Aubameyang, perhaps England would have fared better in the World Cup semi-final.

Not for the first time in his career, Sherwood has wound up looking like a clown.

“Jose Mourinho reveals humiliating new target for Man Utd — finish above Everton” – The Mirror 

I would love to get into Jose Mourinho’s mind. When he returned to English football with Chelsea, he was on top mind-game form. Who can forget the “little horse” quip?

Now, I just don’t know who he is toying with. Certainly not his rivals. Maybe his players. Maybe just himself.

This week, he played down his side’s chances of finishing in the top-four but assured the media that they would finish above Everton.

Yes, they are a long way away from the top-four places right now. But we are barely into December, there is a huge amount of football to be played. I cannot understand why Mourinho continues to belittle his team in the media. It is hardly a conventional motivational tactic.

A quick look at the table will tell you how well it is working. 

“Why Chelsea are still adapting to Sarri as Man City approach footballing nirvana” = BBC Sport

I love it when BBC Sport produces a lengthy football feature. I relish pretty much everything Phil McNulty writes. But this one felt weird from the start.

When I saw the headline, my first instinct was that the article was going to slam Chelsea’s chances against Manchester City. In a way, it did. After losing to Wolves midweek and Tottenham a week and a half earlier, they were an easy target.

However, people seem to have forgotten that Wolves have already taken points off Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City this season. Not only that, but Chelsea were unbeaten before they played Spurs. Yesterday, they reminded all of us just how good they can be.

Yet it wasn’t the topic of the article that unnerved me, but the way it was produced.

It was written as an “Opta insight” by Duncan Alexander, the chief data editor at Opta. I’m assuming it came from some sort of new partnership between Opta and the BBC, which tells you how much of a foothold Opta have gained in the industry by simply producing statistics.

The article is very thorough — it deals with many of the hot topics surrounding Chelsea, such as how minimise Jorginho’s threat and N’Golo Kante’s new role under Sarri. Yet, the tone of writing was uncomfortable to read, something you wouldn’t expect from the BBC.

Alexander has clearly put considerable effort into being poetic, producing phrases that belong in an academic essay, rather than a football analysis. Below are some examples:

“Jorginho can effectively become a weak link, the dynamo in a wheel that won’t turn.”

“Ultimately, football philosophy can only be reflected on at leisure if that team is scoring enough goals”

“In simple terms, City’s domination of the ball offers epoch-defining penetration, while Chelsea are on the ball a lot, but too often without much end product.”

I’m almost certain this is the first time I’ve heard or read the phrase “epoch-defining” described as “in simple terms.” Articles should be written to entertain and inform the reader, rather than to impress them with your colourful vocabulary.

Still, a partnership between Opta and BBC has bags of potential. I always find football analysis more compelling when backed up by relevant statistics. But when they work together, the two companies should stick to what they do best, with Opta producing statistics and BBC providing the great writing.

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