Tag Archives: Arsenal

Santi: The Santa of Statistical Analysis


Santi Cazorla Arsenal

An immediate impact

Our story opens on the Eastern seaboard of Spain in the quaint, orange-picking town of Villarreal. A place devoid of the rampant lonely planet summation or the general scrawling modernisation of the West, Villarreal sits firmly in the shadow of neighbouring Valencia, and in footballing terms (for what other terms could exist) the town sits equidistant from the two most important titans of Spanish culture, Barcelona in the North-East and Madrid in the West. What this Spanish microcosm does possess, is a football side that appears atop the all-conquering hit list of a Google search for “Villarreal”, just as it embodies the town itself; first and foremost.

Villarreal are the archetypal model for overachieving outfits. The Yellow Submarine has been a veritable symbol of success against the odds; and the cheque book. Their first junket into the Primera Liga was a fleeting visit in 1998. It was an inauspicious beginning to the long and complex entanglement that was to follow over the next decade. It took a further consolidating season in the lower tiers before establishing themselves from relative obscurity to 1st division mediocrity. The UEFA Intertoto Cup, far from a household name, marks the next stage in progress for the, by this stage, burgeoning club. It also marked the entrée to a glorious stretch of European adventure that so nearly culminated in a Champions League final place, were it not for an errant Riquelme penalty at Highbury in 2005. With this gallant over-achieving came a drastic decline, that ended in last season’s drab relegation.

More Santi Overleaf

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Top Players by Club – Part 1 of 4


Welcome to our look at the players that made the Premier League as watchable as ever, earned the respect of their peer group and endeared themself to their club’s fanbase – here’s our top player from every side:

Arsenal

Alex Song Arsenal Football Soccer Cameroon

melodic at the emirates

In a season dominated by the rampant Dutchman up front, Alex Song has been overlooked by many in a year of progress for the Gunners. Without Wilshere for most of the campaign, Song has established himself as a cunning midfielder with the nous to unlock the most ardent defensive structures. At this stage he has 12 assists for the year – double the output for the more highly fancied Luka Modric. If RVP has provided the goals, then Song has provided midfield authority across the pitch, proving he’s more than just a changing hair style. Wenger’s midfield mob for 2013 looks outstanding with the resurgent Rosicky, returning Wilshere and Diaby, Song, Walcott and a crafty Benayoun inflating the ballooning expectations of the red half of North London. It will be interesting to see how the arrival of M’Vila, who is considered a close replica to Song, fits into the system.

Aston Villa

Darren Bent England Villa Injury

#sigh

What a miserable 9 months for the Villians and what a fall from grace following the departure of M. O’Neill from the managerial hot seat at Villa Park. Picking a standout has been difficult, near impossible, and the choice of Darren Bent from our ardent stargazing tells its own story. Bent was dynamic and prolific before his season was curtailed by injury; a setback that few predicted would add such significant impetus towards relegation. No side in the league is more dependant on one asset.

Blackburn

Blackburn Chicken Venkys Yakubu

too many captions…

Football for the Day’s favourite shambles have ended up precisely where many predicted. We await with bated breath to see Venkys grace the luxurious Barnsley or bask in the glamour of Watford. Never before has a playing group been so absolved of responsibility for a measly return of 31 points, with owners, managers and everyone else barred from actually taking part between the white lines being liable according to the persistent protests. So persistent, a fan protest 3 weeks ago failed to even warrant a mention during coverage. So persistent, FFTD wonders if seasoned patrons even saw the glimpses of promise seeping from the boots of Junior Hoilett, who’s our clear standout. At times, Hoilett was the only viable route to goal and we think he’s bound for continued premier league action. A close second was that chicken that hit the back of the net against Wigan, overcoming driving rain and the unflappable Al-Habsi.

Bolton

Fabrice Muamba Bolton English Premier League Heart Attack Ovation Crying

Bolton – a miserable tale

The Reebok was a place of discontent over the last 38 weeks – bottom at Christmas, their great escape has stuttered, more than flourished. Picking a player that has seen his stock appreciate makes us feel like a Wall St broker back in 2008. Maybe it was Petrov, or could it be Eagles? In truth, it was calamitous and we’ll opt for sentimental favourite Fabrice Muamba for no other reason than his underperforming heart and his tears with the Bolton Lion. Mates that follow the Trotters fear that the fairly pedestrian (am I allowed to say bad things about Fab?) midfielder, and his feel good episode, may have sealed a new indefinite, uncapped contract with the Trotters.

 

Chelsea

Juan Mata Chelsea FA Cup Spain

thank you for your fantasy points

For the KGB bankrolled London outfit, the league has proved challenging and frustrating throughout. But in cups, both European and domestic, Didier and his merry bunch have shown glimpses of the output such a team of stars warrants – stifling the irrepressible Messi et al with a display of adhesive defensive efforts and swatting the pretence of Spurs and Liverpool in the cup. The AVB saga, that effectively ended a vehement title quest with the early season calamity at home to Arsenal, weighed heavily on the more experienced and traditional lifeblood of the side in Franky, Johnny, Ashley, Petry, Mikey and Droggy D’zz, and it was a new addition that glistened brightest. Juan Mata has joined David Silva as quality Spanish additions to the EPL with a consistently superb first year in the league. Mr Mata has 16 assists and 6 goals in the league – a return that few have exceeded. Mata is a constant menace on the left; the bane of right sided defenders across England. It will be a shoot out between Silva and Mata for a Euro12 adventure that involves more than perusing the standards of Polish/Ukranian pitchside facilities. Possibly the best input AVB added to the Blues, something RDM, RA and maybe PG can utilise going forward.

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Sunday’s Saturday Recap


wigan soccer football premier league

#wearepremierleaguewearepremierleague

It was an outstanding afternoon of football that saw a resurgent Wigan showcasing a brand more akin to European endeavours than relegation struggles and a mercurial Luis hatrick as the standout results. This is FFTD’s Sunday review:

We’ll start at the Hawthorns where a fledgling Aston Villa visited their traditional rivals with the chance to steer clear of a nervy month of May. Instead, it was the Baggies who looked the more likely, with Dorrans, Brunt and Thomas in particular finding ample space within a disorganised McLeish setup. At times it was difficult to see a holding player for Villa and in the end it was the much maligned Shay Given and a dubious goal line clearance from Hutton that rescued a point away from home. Their 16th draw of the season is a decent away point, but does little to arrest their worrying slide towards a Championship ready to swallow them whole (maybe spitting out the likes of Bent, Agbonlahor and Dunne to fuel the media’s transfer addiction).

Next we travel to Wigan where two of the form sides of the league square off in a match that had bearing on both ends of the table. In any other week, this would be the match of the round, but apparently only Mr Martinez got the memo with his side producing a scintillating opening 45 minutes, a just reward for Dave Wheelan and his managerial stickability. The Wigan front four were dynamic with the electric Moses an ever-present threat. The back 3 was resolute lead by the usual brilliance of their Omani shot stopper allowing a red hot Newcastle collective scant opportunity in front of goal. Wigan have grabbed 15 points from their last 7 outings, including wins over United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle in that run, to see them surely secure Premier League football in 2013, with winnable fixtures against Blackburn and Wolves to follow.

For Newcastle, it was a day of extreme disappointment; possibly a day that has been looming for some time. After such an emphatic string of victories, a loss was just around the corner, and with City and Chelsea looming, this result could spell the end of their admirable top 4 challenge. Their irresistible attacking quartet were off colour in the final third, producing just the 2 shots on goal for the afternoon. Similarly, their impressive defensive pressure was left on Tyneside in what must surely be their worst day of this campaign. Pardew can look forward to trips to the glamour and glitz of Romania, Poland and the Ukraine next season.

Ironically, the game with no bearing on the league produced a fine spectacle with an entertaining 4-4 for the second time in a week. Swansea and Wolves left their defensive plans on the training paddock and decided goals were a more acceptable option. For Wolves, who have conceded a whopping 79 times, they may have been more accustomed to such a flippant, carefree defensive attitude, but our Welsh brethren looked less than impressed after capitulating from their 4-1 stranglehold. Make sure you get the highlights from this one.

Sunderland and Bolton provided another absolute belter that must be disheartening for the precariously poised Trotters who may have used up any emotional impetus from the fortunes of Fabrice. While Coyle was upbeat about his side’s chances and Davies’ late equaliser may have felt like a point saved rather than 2 that slipped away, coming into the game, many pundits earmarked this as a chance to move clear of serious trouble. Instead, Bolton remain well and truly in the mire of relegation and now three points from a home tie with the Albion may not be enough. Instead, they require possibly more than a point from tough away trips to Spurs and the Britannia to book their place in the league going forward.

In a game less consequential than a UN summit, Liverpool travelled to Carrow road without their glistening starlet in Andy Carroll, but with a rampant Suarez who in the end was the difference between the sides. Rumblings from within the Kop about the outdated Dogleish have been momentarily quashed and a strong finish in the league and cup success could keep King Kenny in a job for 2013 – an unfavourable outcome in FFTD’s opinion. Don’t watch this game whatever you do, but catch that Suarez goal from here.

I hate Stoke – so yeh whatever…


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An Alternate Pecking Order…


How it Works:

This is our attempt at ranking the sides according to their expectations with position 10 being a perfect meeting of predictions with reality, position 1 representing maximum outperformance and 20 signalling quite the opposite. For example, United and City were largely expected to compete for the title, hence they’ll be stuck mid table in our rating system, and Swansea/Norwich were expected to take their parachute payments straight back to the Championship, meaning they’ll feature towards the top.

 

#toonarrific

#toonarrific

1. Newcastle.

It’s difficult to recall the seemingly dire context that the Geordie’s season was facing from the outset. With the departure of Barton, Carroll, Enrique and Nolan (amongst others) prior to the season and the arrival of almost no one, save for unknowns such as Cabaye, many were predicting a difficult period for Mike Cashley and his boys. Further, there were murmurs of discontent around the tactical nous of Alan Pardew, who had been labelled as dour and unimaginative pointing to a season of discomfort on Tyneside. Much has been written around the Moneyball renaissance of the club having laid the blueprint for those perennially facing the malaise of mid table to step up as realistic challengers to the traditional top 4. See more around about here:

2. Norwich

I’ve revisited a feature in fourfourtwo from July 2011 that included all 10 football “experts” tipping the Canaries to face the drop. Not so. Mr Lambert has combined the three elements of a successful first season in the top flight: a goal scoring striker (Holt), Solidity at the back and Determination/Self Belief. Norwich have epitomised efficiency; beating the teams below them at home, and turning Carrow Road into a tricky encounter whether your name is RVP or Gary Caldwell.

3. Swansea

In a similar vein to Norwich, the Swans have proven that Welsh football does deserve its spot in the English top flight. Bringing a fluid style to the League, Brendan Rodgers has given supporters a refreshing change from the typically drab brand served up by some of the sides adjacent to the Welshmen on the table. As with Norwich, they’ve secured their defence first, with Ashley Williams surely developing into one of the more underrated players in the league. Next they’ve added proven creative quality all over the pitch, particularly with the mercurial Sigurdsson since January. Lastly they’ve made the Liberty into a place of respect and trepidation for visiting supporters.

4. Arsenal

The North Londoners were coming off a somewhat tumultuous summer and were facing constant taunts about their youth and lack of physicality when that 8-2 happened. The Gunners displayed a resolve that many believed they were incapable of, to turn their campaign into a success having ensconced themselves squarely into European football for next year. They’re just a decent centre back and a Wilshere away from a serious title challenge in 2013. While 4 may seem a tad high, rewind to September and you’ll recall the back pages awash with the demise of the Emirates and Mr Wenger.

5. Tottenham

While Spurs now have a veritable title contending squad on paper, their current disappointing standing should not undermine their outperformance for the majority of the season. Much maligned in recent times, the Yids have surely been distracted by off-field managerial developments, undoing the considerable progress made in the first 2 thirds of the league. With the easiest run in, the Londoners could still secure the coveted fourth position that could be crucial in retaining the spine of their carefully constructed side.

6. West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies have avoided second-season-syndrome with aplomb under the masterful guidance of Woy. They continue to operate within the tightest of budgetary constraints and have uncovered even more quality free-bees in Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones. They look to have established themselves as part of the Premier League furniture; the way it should be for a club with such a richly developed history. Improving on 11th and 47 points from last time around will be an outstanding achievment.

7. Manchester City

I’ll put the blue half of England’s footballing capital just ahead of their red counterparts, as even though several pundits predicted Tevez et al to win from the outset, actually following through, and putting the title within their own grasp with 3 fixtures remaining is another story all together. Distracting European struggles and the oft unfathomable off field antics of Super Mario and his golfing buddy in Tevez couldn’t sway Mancini from his own rights of passage. Most importantly, the Blue Moon Rising looks set to continue, with a 2013 that could see further development both on and off the pitch.

8. Manchester United

Sir Alex and his boys are tracking squarely to where we expected and slot neatly into the striker’s jersey. Disappointing cup and European adventures have marred a season that has produced results, but has been enveloped by a pervasive backwards looking bias with the continued dominance of Scholes and to a lesser extent Giggs. A major plus is the flourishing partnership between Welbeck and the hairy-again Rooney – but their season hasn’t been anything spectacular.

9. Chelsea

With an ageing squad many feared the worst, but the revelation of Mata, the obvious benefit of experience and the defiant change in fortunes under Di Matteo, has seen Chelsea finish the season in a strong manner. While missing European football would be nearly calamitous for our favourite Russian oligarch, the Blues have beaten Barcelona somewhat convincingly in Europe and could still lift the much sought after symbol of power that is the European Cup. So much relies on the final month of the playing year for this side that will surely undergo a rampant reconstruction through the summer.

10. Everton

It still bemuses to watch the Toffees struggle through January, leading to rumblings about the Moyes’ use by date and the shoestring budget, before predictably embarking on their customary second half run that includes big team scalps and persistently positive results. Lower-top half with a decent cup run is getting a little predictable and if marked improvements aren’t forthcoming over the next 2 seasons, the Blues will begin the slide downwards. This is not a league for standing still.

11. Sunderland

The Wearsiders have made progress under O’Neill but have somewhat failed to capitalise on their outstanding vein of form over the festive period and sit in a disappointing lower half position. Not too much to report here – bang on average for me.

12. Fulham

Fulham could easily be lower, but expectations of a realistic European push should be tempered with the addition of a new manager and an array of fresh faces gracing Craven Cottage. In promising signs for the future, many of their signings have shown enough to suggest an optimistic outlook. The continued development of Dembele into a proven talent (should progress to Ben Arfa next year), Dempsey into a genuine top-liner (should progress to Arteta next year) and Pogrebnyak into a prolific sharp-shooter (should progress into Ba/Cisse next year) could spell a strong challenge in 2013 from the noisy neighbours from London.

13. Wigan

In Roberto Martinez, Wigan has one of the finest young managers in football and their apparent survival for another season can be largely attested to the gaffer and his swelling reputation in the game. On paper the worst squad in the league, Wigan haven’t really progressed, nor digressed through 2011/12 and could find themselves feeling a form of final day deja vu.

14. QPR

The Premier League new boys were expected to be the strongest of the sides coming up, but for much of the season the R’s have struggled to build any form of momentum. In saying that, their best run has developed at the pointy end and Mark Hughes is using every reserve of his managerial experience to build a case for 2013 in the top division. With serious financial investments being made, it is disappointing to see the side still scrapping for survival, but in the end, 17th and up will be acceptable.

15. Bolton

Bolton’s primary objective from the outset will always be 40 points as quickly as possible and a team of their calibre should not be struggling as they are. Bolton have been entrenched in the relegation doldrums for more than 50% of the footballing year and if they return to the first division, it will be due to inept off-field dealings that saw the departure of Elmander and Sturridge without replacements – leaving an attack devoid of quality in Klasnic, N’gog and Kakuta. Could easily be lower than 15th.

16. Stoke

The Potters invested heavily with a number of seemingly astute purchases of proven top-flight quality. Tony Pulis’ fantastical ride may be grinding to a halt, however, with a year of taking steps firmly in the wrong direction. Europe was simply too much to ask for a seemingly ageing and threadbare squad. Their no-frills and, more than occasionally, dour style has lead to more detractors than supporters, as the likes of Swansea have shown it is possible to survive without wasting on average 13.8% of your games on Rory Delap’s arms. Distinctly below average.

17. Blackburn

When it emerged that Steve Kean’s new employers were unaware of the possibility of relegation, the tone was set for an overwhelmingly forgettable campaign for all those involved. There have been few protagonists from this sorry saga to emerge with any flicker of credibility, maybe Hoilett and Yakubu are the only ones, and while still undecided, relegation seems deserved for this season of underperformance.

18. Aston Villa

Villa were a difficult team to place. Almost everyone questioned the arrival of the Big Eck to the Midlands, but I’m sure few could sincerely predict the woeful events that have followed. Watching the Villians is a truly difficult thing at current, with consistent fan discontent from the terraces juxtaposed with a non-existant goal threat on the pitch. Villa Park has become the worst place for football and is a crude characterisation of everything that is wrong and outdated with the English game. Too many quality departures over recent years.

19. Liverpool

So much has been written that any expansive comment feels unnecessary. In a year that produced such rampant, flagrant spending and such inept on field performances only Liverpool and their continued arrogance could ensure they dominate footballing rhetoric. Welcome to mid table anonymity Mr Dogleish.

20. Wolves

In the end, it wasn’t third time lucky with the West Midlander’s challenge whimpering into submission with the shambolic Terry Connor at the helm. Wolves were devoid of creativity up front, apart from the sometimes dangerous Fletcher, and were woeful at the back with summer signing and captain Roger Johnson becoming the home fan’s boo boy early on in the piece. With stadium expansions well underway, the club could face serious financial struggles over the next 5 years.

So there we have it:

Newcastle, Norwich, Swansea, Arsenal, Tottenham and West Brom take the European places with a season of outperformance. City, United, Chelsea, Everton, Sunderland, Fulham and Wigan are aligned with pre-season hypotheses. QPR, Bolton, Stoke, Blackburn, Villa, Liverpool and Wolves end a diffcult season.

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The 0-6 Predicament: A thing of Pure Beauty


The supporters of Wigan, Blackburn or West Bromwich Albion understand the searing pangs of incompetency that they face at least 10 times a year, when their sides are drawn against the remodelled top 5. Away at Man City for a team like Wolves can give serious impetus for such a fan to abandon their halfway tickets and choose the theatre with the missus. Away at Old Trafford is an unspeakable; too appalling to comprehend.

So what does an away trip to The Library, or Emirates as it’s more affectionately referred to, mean to a club battling for its television revenue in 2012?

The diversity of revenues and spending predicates the most nauseating of images for those fans that follow the proverbial beggars of English Premier League football. And it is this diversity that can lead to a trip to United becoming an envy-filled 90 minute ogle at the rich merchants of our town; where diatribes will bemoan Nani, Rooney, Vidic sitting on their racing-car-seat viewpoints. But, undoubtedly, the most dissatisfying feature of this whole painstaking ordeal is the petulant arrogance of the opposition fans who belittle, as if their choice of stock gives them privilege over you (you = Neanderthal preferring self-deprivation and perennial unfulfillment them = accustomed to victory and other unimaginable glories).

When your side is worth around 0.84% (West Brom vs Man City) of the opposing squad’s historical book values, it is certainly difficult to feel anything but abject despair, but nevertheless, the human psyche seems to demand a certain optimism. This cruel disposition is the result of the transient nature of the sport itself; for football is surely the one sport in which an upset is more commonplace than most (the rarity of goals ensures this fact). And indeed, this unfledgling positivity, or should I saw fantastical musings, is to some degree warranted by historical performances. It was points against the supposed top 5 that invariably kept a number of clubs afloat last season – most notably Wolves who beat City, Liverpool, Chelsea and United in a simply unbelievable turn of events. Under this milieu, the dream of Grant Holt’s thunderbolt from closer to the circle develops; nay flourishes.

While a match up such as Gareth McAuley vs Sergio Aguero is simply terrifying for any self-respecting Baggie, it surely would be a thing of great savour for the Irishman. For him, and his playing mates, the pressure is largely off. It is one of the few occasions all year where a 3-0 loss could be met with shrugs and despondency from supporters, rather than rage or ridicule on any other Saturday afternoon. Further, with weights of expectations amounting to a paltry feather, what better chance to upstage the young Argentinian with a grumbling studs up boot crusher, or a neat flick of the elbow when rising for a clearance. The risks really are skewed to the upside.

For the gaffer, the prospects are slightly less perfect. Looming camera, radio and print media interviews must be at the forefront of his balding head. Placid dismissal of the result as unimportant, or good experience, could be met with the perpetual lambasting from supporters that the side is unambitious, while an honest appraisal (“they were simply better”) is never a welcome soother for those same fans. For him, the downside is not as negligible, but even the Neil Warnocks or Brendan Rodgers of our universe can appreciate that the scales of expectation are well in their favour.

For the less perceptive of you, playing the biggest teams on the biggest stage is simply the best – for everyone. A cathartic experience for some, a chance to let your wildest fantasies develop, a chance to herald an arrival, or simply a chance to prove to your girlfriend in Sydney that your team actually exists. There really is nothing like an underdog grasping to a 1-0 lead in the 89th minute with all 11 players flooding back to thwart F Lampard et al. A sort of ironic admittance of inferiority that makes the whole sugar-coated predicament all the more delectable. And devouring this satisfying meal is more than enough fuel to last at least a season of drubbings from the burgeoning class of foreign-owned English beneficiaries.

These are the days that fans relish most. Where a loss won’t ruin their evening plans or squander their job performance throughout the “days off football” each week. (Sunday to Friday).  While a loss against Bolton midweek could conspire to make living itself a task of extreme difficulty until the next match day. Watching your team defend a lead against Liverpool, where you would have snatched at a point 2 hours ago, is simply incomparable to defending a lead against Blackburn when Formica has space down the right…(even this example is making me uncomfortably shift in my chair).

There is only one scenario where Arsenal (A) breathes a sort of terror into any fan’s perusal of the fixture list. For everyone knows that the last game of the season, where invariably you’ll need points to survive as a newly promoted nobody, is not a time for a team in the big four, top 5, super 6 or even fantastic 15. Give me 20th on the final day every year; please and thank you. But otherwise, give me top of the league each week!

PS: If you don’t believe me and need further proof, see Wolves fans’ reactions when they lost to West Brom. QED.

PPS: Any Spurs fan that thinks it’s a top 6 – fuck off and come back when you’ve won something. QED.


		
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World Cup Preview – Group A – Mexico


The Mexicans are famous for more novelty items than anyone else, and when it comes to the football field they have a particularly novel approach – attack, attack, attack!

Check out the other Group A contenders – Uruguay South Africa France

The Basics

• Nickname: El Tri
• Colors: Green and white with a hint of red
• FIFA Ranking: 17
• How They Got Here: Qualified second in CONCACAF.
• World Cup pedigree: 14 World Cups, advanced as far as the quarterfinals only twice (’70 and ’86, when they were hosts).

The Plot

Historically the Mexicans have struggled and to be honest don’t look to have the side to mount any serious challenge this time round. A largely anonymous bunch of youngsters and attack-minded, right-sided players leave them unbalanced at best. They’re ranked 17th so are right on the cuff of the next stage on paper. They couldn’t have hoped for a better draw and should feature beyond the group stages.

The Director

Javier Aguirre (Mexico)

In the central American nation, Aguirre is considered somewhat of a sporting god, having overturned the run of poor results under the guise of Sven Goran Eriksson. El Tri were very much an under fire side, but since he’s stepped into the role, they’ve gone 5 wins, 1 draw and just the 1 loss. They’re yet to face any serious tests however, with a relatively timid qualifying zone, and Aguirre will have to ensure that they’re not underdone in South Africa. He hasn’t been afraid to shake things up – handing recalls to legendary Cuauthtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Ochoa between the sticks.

Leading Man

Giovani Dos Santos (midfielder, on loan to Galatasaray from Tottenham)

Dos Santos is a typically Mexican player. Largely overrated, and a bit of a flop. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of quality in the youngster who wears much of the attacking responsibility for the side, both in terms of creating and finishing chances. He’s featured at a number of clubs on several loan deals. The latest is a spell at Turkish giants Galatasaray. He has plenty of pedigree, winning the prestigious silver ball for second best player in the 2005 under 17 World Cup in a side that took the cookies. By all reports, Dos Santos has progressed considerably in a team full of experience with the likes of Kewell and Neill sure to pass on a few world cup secrets to the boy. On the big stage, however, he’s known to struggle, achieving little in spells at Barcelona and Tottenham. If he fires, however, the Mexicans should be a handful. Check him out below…

Supporting Cast

Mexico have enough quality across the pitch to be a bit of a dark horse. Indeed, it was a tough challenge to pick one standout player, and in the end Dos Santos isn’t that much of a star. Instead, the Mexicans have a core group of players who possess the talent to succeed (get passed the group) in South Africa. One of the most publicised moves by the new manager has been the inclusion of Blanco (midfielder, Veracruz) who has already attended Korea and Germany as a World Cup participant. He’s the centre of everything for the Mexicans and his performance and ability to stay injury free (he’s 37 years young) will go a long way to determining their success. Rafael Marquez (defender, Barcelona) is struggling under an injury cloud. If he recovers he could be the difference between qualification and failure. Their largely porous defence will get a huge boost with his inclusion in the lineup. Additionally, Ocho (goalkeeper, Club America) is held by many expert pundits to be the best shot stopper on the planet.

Unknown Talent

It seems a little strange to include Carlos Vela (forward, Arsenal) in this category, but he hasn’t made his mark just yet and remains on the fringes at Arsenal (Wenger picked him up as a 16 year old out of absolutely nowhere for the measly 150 00 smackaroos). He’s the type of player that could really shine at the Cup and make a name for himself as one of the best young talents in the world. However, in keeping with the name of this section, the bloke that you wouldn’t know about is Andres Guardado (winger, Deportivo de La Coruna), who is yet another quality attacker to wear the green shirt. He’s in the same mould as a Lennon or Walcott and is a nightmare for defences. He was also a member of that under 17 winning side. If he shines then look for Wenger to come running for this creative youngster.

The Likely Villian

Marquez. No one in America has forgotten his studs up challenge on keeper Tim Howard. He has a worrying history of dismissals in big games. It may be true that we only chose him because of the photo – but it looks as if he’s about to launch a zorro-like attack on the dude who he’s staring at.

Formation

Mexico claim to play the conventional 4-4-2, but on the pitch its more like a 4-1-5, not dissimilar to the Gunners (is this about Mexico or Arsenal). Guillermo Franco will partner Vela up front and then the rest of the midfield is given free reign in a fluid and attacking set up. Dos Santos, Blanco and Guardado often feature as forwards in their club sides and will constantly press up the pitch. In qualifying this trio was described as lazy and disinterested as they often fail to trackback and help out in their own half. This makes the holding midfielder Gerardo Torrado (whoever that is – but say his name five times fast and you’ll get the idea) a pivotal player.

The Strip

It’s Sorta Like…
The Mexican
Pretty bizarre and very confusing, but featuring enough big name players to just get it over the line. In a typically two-faced story, you’re sure to be left guessing what’ll happen next.
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Usless Trivia

Mexico is the proud record holder of the most people to ever dance the Michael Jackson epic “Thriller” thanks to their tough jail standards. It’s the one in orange jumpsuits if you can’t remember. And yes, there’s 12,937 of them. And yes, I’m running outta hosting space, so you’ll have to search youtube for this one yourself.

The Fairytale Script

The Mexicans will burst onto the World Cup radar with an impressive 4-0 victory over the hapless South Africans to spoil their party (and possibly kill already underwhelming local interest in the tournament). They’ll snatch an impressive draw against under fire France and with a narrow win over the dangerous Uruguayans, they’ll be sitting pretty top of the group on goal difference. They’ll account for the Nigerians/Koreans in the round of 16 and key man Marquez will have put his injury woes aside in time for a showdown with the Poms. The arrogant and pompous English will sing a lot but be played off the park by their prodigal attacking force winning in a classic 4-3. They’ll go all the way from here gaining a wave of momentum on the back of special taco sauce that is shipped to their training camp. Alternatively, they’ll finish second in the group and polish off the Argentinians next. USA will follow suit and oblige by knocking off Group D winners Germany. Confused? Well… this would leave a mouth watering clash between bitter rivals USA and Mexico and for many, this will be enough of a fairytale…

Final Verdict

The side, under new manager Aguirre, looks electric. They’ll loom large as a danger game for the Frogs and could have enough class to upset the group favourites. Even if they progress in second and face the Pumas they’ll be a darkhorse to keep going forward. They have an extremely solid looking spine to the line up in keeper Ochoa, defender, Marquez midfielder, Blanco and Dos Santos and forward, Vela. Goals won’t be a problem and if Marquez recovers in time then they’ll be good value to outperform their surprisingly poor official ranking of 17. The Mexicans typically struggle away from home and discipline is not their strong suit either. They have the world cup opener against South Africa which is not a kind draw and will have to spoil the entire continents party to progress to the next stage. If they look good at the outset then start telling your mates that they’re a real darkhorse threat. Most of their world cup winning under 17 team will be pushing for a start and they’ll be expected to put forward a strong showing. However, this may not be their time and they’ll be building for a cup winning side in nearby Brazil ’14. (You heard it here first)

Outstanding attacking weapons + impressive qualification + easy draw – poor discipline – weak defence – inexperience = top of the group and a loss to England in the quarter finals.

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