So, it would seem that we’re about to enter a referendum period when it comes to the concept of naming a manager from among the most promising people with a connection to the club. Manchester United are already taking significant flack for the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer even if the results are at least starting to trend in the right direction recently. The shine is coming off of the Frank Lampard hire after a blazing hot start to life at Chelsea. And now comes word that Mikel Arteta will be taking over at Arsenal in the coming days.
To someone who has not grown up in the culture of English football, this concept is a baffling one to me. In my professional life (the day job version), I’ve consulted to some of the biggest companies in the world and been part of building multiple successful start-ups from the ground up. In no case have any of the commercial enterprises that I’ve been associated with gone out of their way to promote people well beyond anything they’d ever proven capable of because they’d been successful at those places earlier in their careers.
Make no mistake, connections and familiarity matter. I’ve certainly encountered places where people who have been successful in the early stages of their career at one place go off to get more education or get a promotion via leaving for another company before being tapped to come back and take a larger role at the place they had their earlier successes. The point being, you typically have to add something to your early-career stardom to prove that you’re ready for a bigger role, especially when that role includes an entirely different skill set to the one you starred in.
American sports have traditionally operated similarly to the corporate world. Star players interested in management would generally have to show at least some success in lower leagues before getting a big job. The NBA and Major League Baseball have edged closer to what we’ve seen in the Premier League in recent years to mixed success. In the NFL, I can’t think of a single instance of a star player cutting the typical line of coming up through the ranks to at least some extent.
None of this is to suggest that Frank Lampard’s side can’t bounce back or that Mikel Arteta will certainly be a success or a failure. What is odd, though, is the extent to which clubs seem to insist on hiring someone who “knows the club”. Jurgen Klopp didn’t know anything special about Liverpool but that seems to be working out just fine. Likewise, with Pep at Manchester City.
It would seem that clubs would be best served by actually expanding their horizons and hiring the best manager available based on the style they want to play. The chances that player has actually been on the books at the club previously are incredibly slim.
While we’re at it (and I’m being a bit cranky), can we please start limiting the use of the term “club legend”? Frank Lampard? Absolutely. He is one of the best players to ever play for Chelsea and is fully deserving of the label if anyone is.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Freddie Ljungberg? Good players? Absolutely. Legends? Not by my definition. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played on exceptional teams for Manchester United and was certainly part of legendary teams but, in his own right, he was a reserve more often than not. He never scored 20 goals in a season. He didn’t score a hundred goals for the club. He isn’t among their top ten all-time goal scorers.
Freddie Ljungberg was at least a starter for Arsenal and the teams he played on were the absolute best that the club ever produced. Still, I have him as the sixth or seventh best player on Arsenal’s peak Invincibles era sides. If you’re wondering, I’d go Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp, Campbell, Pires, Cole, and then Ljungberg. Are you really a legend as the seventh best player out of eleven starters? Very good player? Fun player to watch? Part of beloved club history? Yes, yes, and yes but merely an above average player who happened to be at the club when they were graced by incredible talent.
Maybe I’m overreacting to the US broadcast use of the term and that term isn’t thrown around as loosely in the UK or in other forums. If so, I apologize for the rant. I suspect, though, that it is part of the PR spin that helps fuel the notion that these managers should get opportunity and benefit of the doubt that they haven’t really earned because we can squint really hard and call them “legends”.
The best way I can close this particular rant/introduction is with the following thought. If these “legends” were such fantastic managerial prospects then why weren’t any of the other clubs needing managers trying to hire them? Ole got fired from the wrong end of the Premier League and wasn’t being mentioned for a return. Mikel Arteta is certainly talked about as a potential Pep successor but his name wasn’t being circulated for other big openings. At least Frank Lampard was gainfully employed close to the Premier League level and at least somewhat successful there getting close to promotion last season.
The Title Race
Well, the notion of Leicester City hanging in the Premier League title race didn’t last long. It was just one minor slip up in the form of a draw and it feels pretty well over unless Liverpool suffer a catastrophic injury crisis.
The Big Surprise
I’m going to give this award to José Mourinho’s Spurs for two reasons. First, I was surprised at the extent to which Wolves looked like the better side for almost the entire match. Spurs are, almost to a man, more talented than Wolves. Wolves went against type when playing a big club and dominated possession and chances. They just looked like an incredibly well-drilled team. The second surprise, though, came in the form of Spurs winning despite being dominated. Their first goal was just exceptional talent from Lucas Moura and their second was just relentless effort after weathering Wolves attacks for almost the entire match. These are the sort of performances and results that Spurs weren’t getting earlier in the season. If José Mourinho has figured out a way to tap back into the energy and resolve that had gone away in the latter stages of the Mauricio Pochettino era then Spurs’ rebound will have some serious legs to it (for at least this season and next).
The Weekly Arsenal
You might think I’d be depressed by the result against Manchester City but how can you get upset by an entirely predictable outcome? Fantasy managers should be on alert that everyone should be starting opposing forwards against Arsenal until further notice and captaining stars (like De Bruyne) when they’re facing off with the Gunners.
My former tag team partner Jeremy sent me a text during the first half asking me if I thought the issue was stubbornness, incompetence, or just a lack of alternatives given the players available. As much as it would be nice to think it’s one or both of the first two, that would point to a much quicker turnaround, my take is that the current issue is the latter. Who are you putting in there to make a difference? I like Joe Willock, perhaps as much as any Arsenal supporter does, but he’s not ready to be a featured player against Manchester City yet. With Dani Ceballos and Rob Holding both unavailable the most obvious alternatives at the weakest positions weren’t options.
If you want to point to stubbornness and incompetence, those labels could certainly be put to Arsenal’s self-evaluation heading into last summer. Persisting with Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil as the spine of midfield is certainly one or both of those things. Now that the season is in full flight, the manager – be it Emery or Ljungberg or Arteta – doesn’t have much choice but to live with the poor decisions of the summer.
Perhaps the one element of stubbornness that is worth pointing out is not making a radical adjustment to the club’s playing style. It has seemed clear since the experiment started that Arsenal’s current players, especially the defenders, aren’t well-suited to playing it out of the back. You can give me all of the analytical arguments about why that is the better way to play all other things being equal. Turns out, all other things aren’t equal. If the players stink at it, maybe swallow your pride and play like a bottom half club with the best array of counter-attacking talent ever. Sit deep, absorb pressure and then either release Aubameyang and Pepe with their speed or use Lacazette as a target man to receive the ball and lay it off to one or both of the wide attackers.
Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t but a) it can’t be much worse than what we’re watching now and b) it is a better fit for the personnel on hand as it reduces the necessity for old/slow center backs to cover vast swaths of the pitch and reduces the number of chances that Xhaka has to give away a short pass in his own half of the pitch.
Ok, maybe there’s a pretty solid combination of stubbornness, incompetence, and lack of options contributing to this disaster.
My Other Favorites
Rough weekend for Leicester City and Wolves. I’ve already talked at length about Wolves. If you subscrIbe to process over results in endeavors like this where outcomes like goals are very much fluky from week-to-week then this was a pretty solid weekend for Nuno’s side. They were very good, it just didn’t work out for them.
At the King Power, the story was similar in that the Foxes were the better side by all traditional measures – possession, shots, shots on target – but managed to lose the xG (expected goals) battle to their relegation-threatened visitors. In the grander scheme of their challenge for a top four spot, this isn’t a big deal. Sometimes you just don’t have a great day at the office. In the quest for an already-unlikely title, it is probably the sort of result that is going to be the difference given how clinical Liverpool has been.
Fantasy Ups and Downs
After each weekend, I’ll update players whose fantasy stock is up or down based on what we saw over the weekend.
Stock Down: Kasper Schmeichel – After an excellent run of results we thought he’d cap it off against Norwich City before back-to-back matches against City and Liverpool. He didn’t and now he just has two really difficult fixtures coming up next.
Stock Up: Aaron Ramsdale – After four matches without going above two points he had a big match against Chelsea with a clean sheet and five saves. The next ten matches are all very manageable.
Stock Down: Kieran Tierney – News that his shoulder injury will keep him out for three months is bad news for the new Gunner whose career at the club just hasn’t taken off due to injury.
Stock Up: Antonio Rüdiger – Speaking of injuries, here’s a player coming back from a long layoff. Chelsea didn’t get a result but things are likely to turn in a better direction with their best center back available again.
Stock Down: Andreas Christensen – After two starts in a row he was nowhere to be found with Rudiger back. Seems unlikely that he has much fantasy value at this point.
Stock Up: Jan Vertonghen – Spurs haven’t kept many clean sheets but after being just abused for much of the day by Adama Traoré, Vertonghen kept going and scored the winner. Excellent persistence from one of the veterans who looked spent as recently as a month ago.
Stock Down: Bernardo Silva – Has played a full ninety minutes only once since his suspension after starting the four previous matches and going the distance in three of the four. Oh, and this with David Silva out injured.
Stock Up: Emi Buendía – A surprising start that was rewarded with a lovely through ball for the Canaries’ only goal. He’s still not a sure starter but he seems to have come back into the mix after a few weeks out in the wilderness in favor of Cantwell and Hernandez.
Stock Down: Ayoze Pérez – Two straight matches where he didn’t play at all. Even more shocking since Kelechi Iheanacho was substituted in the first half for tactical reasons. Not good news for a guy whose stock was flying high early last month.
Stock Up: Pablo Fornals – It was a slow start to his time at the London Stadium but with assists in three of the Hammers’ past four matches in which he started all four, things are looking up for the 23-year-old Spaniard.
Stock Down: Alexandre Lacazette – Three in three from weeks 13 – 15 and his reward has been a seat on the bench for all ninety minutes of weeks 16 and 17. Just another thing to be mystified in Arsenal’s season.
Stock Up: Gabriel Martinelli – No one was actively good for Arsenal against City but Martinelli started again and certainly wasn’t part of the problem so much as just not yet ready to be the solution. The arrow is still pointing up when it comes to playing time and promise.
[UPDATE: I’m writing while Palace and Brighton are playing and Maupay just scored in his third straight so hard to give him anything other than a big “stock up”]
My Fantasy Fortunes
Another win in the League of Champions but still sitting two wins behind Steve Rothgeb (FuzzyWarbles) in the standings despite having the overall lead in points scored on the season. Hopefully, that luck will work itself out.
The inevitable loss in IEFSA came because my team is absolutely average and I was a game above even. It has been incredibly predictable. A win is almost always followed by a loss and if two of either ever come back-to-back then the following week certainly rights that wrong.
The only note of interest in my PL.com draft leagues is a rare win in the Across the Pond league with the FantasyFootballScout.co.uk staff. Steve may have the measure of me right now in the League of Champions but he was on the wrong end of losing to a really disappointing side in this one.
The Waiver Wire
With the festive fixtures approaching the strength of your squad is more important than ever, here are some thoughts on waiver priorities:
Goalkeepers – David De Gea. I had him in this spot last week and it didn’t work out but with Watford up next, I really can’t come up with a better option that is also likely to be available in 8-team leagues.
Defenders – Chelsea are struggling and have Spurs at Tottenham Stadium this coming weekend but with Antonio Rüdiger back and the schedule set to get easier – Southampton, @Arsenal, and @Brighton over the next three – I like Rudiger’s upside and availability.
Midfielders – John McGinn has been quiet for a couple of months but the upcoming schedule – Southampton, Norwich City, and @Watford – looks attractive. Anwar El Ghazi would be a viable alternative if McGinn isn’t available.
Forwards – I’m going back to Aston Villa and Wesley based on schedule unless Maupay is still available. Maupay’s schedule isn’t great but he’s in form and none of their upcoming opponents are shut down defenses.
The Top Six
I’m not ready to move Spurs past Chelsea yet but they certainly have the momentum going in their direction. Otherwise, it continues to look the same. Manchester United took a step back after two forward and aren’t worthy of the presumption of a top six spot over Wolves until they show more consistency.
No changes here. You could argue the last spot between Villa and Southampton and maybe even West Ham but Villa just seem to have a skill for making just enough mistakes to lose even when they play well. That, combined with no reliable goal scorer, has them in my bottom three despite Southampton’s frightful goal differential on the same points total. Call it the Danny Ings difference.
A reminder that West Ham and Liverpool are off this week due to the entirely silly Club World Cup. I’m sure we’d be hearing more about what an imposition that is if there were more of a title race.
As far as the actual schedule goes, Spurs vs Chelsea in the next Mourinho derby is the brand name marquis attraction on Sunday. The real schedule topper, for me at least, will be Leicester City traveling to Manchester City. City looked like they’d shrugged off their issues against Arsenal but the bar there is low. It will be fascinating to see if City can reassert themselves as the second best club in the Premier League.
Otherwise, Arsenal’s trip to Everton will be interesting given the struggles of both sides and the news that yet another rumored Arsenal managerial candidate, Carlo Ancelotti, has apparently agreed to take over the Toffees.