Scouting for Fixtures: Jan 30 – Feb 05

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. As well as seeking out the most entertaining games, each preview weaves the clubs into a greater football narrative. Each article is a selection of hand picked upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action. 

All times are GMT.

Liverpool vs Chelsea ( Tue 31 20:00 )

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If you’re a Chelsea fan you must be on cloud 9 considering you were the biggest laughing stock of last season. The rest of us are worried. We all know full well that a few more points to Chelsea’s considerable lead mark the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s, Tottenham’s, Liverpool’s, Manchester City’s and – let’s be inclusive – even Manchester United’s title race. If I had to pick the team most likely to beat Chelsea, it would be Liverpool. Why? Mainly because:

1. They are the only side to beat Chelsea at Stanford Bridge so far

2. Liverpool has the best record of playing the top 6 sides

3. Chelsea have yet to beat Liverpool since Jurgen Klopp became Liverpool manager

But looking at their seasons overall, Liverpool have been slipping (no pun intended*) where Chelsea remain on firm footing. Now I attempt to explore what is believed to be the most elusive aspect of a footballer… the brain. Instead of the analytical, logical left brain, the focus is on the emotion-centred right brain. Now I make a clear distinction between self-help faff and science when I say positivity is a precursor to success. Costa may have had his falling out but overall it’s smiles all round at Stanford Bridge, outlined by Thibaut Courtois recently stating I have never felt so good since I arrived in Chelsea’,’There’s a good atmosphere in the group. Lots of jokes and banter but we work hard and enjoy it.’ On top of that Antonio Conte ‘spent the evening getting to know the relatives of his players.’ How can that not put a smile on your face if you’re a Chelsea player? Looking to the home side, it wouldn’t surprise me if Klopp injected dopamine in his bloodstream by the buckets, but his side is struggling to find the same mentality.The Guardian reported Klopp stating ‘The feeling around the club is not quite as positive as it was, and it’s our job to bring that positivity back.’ Are these tenuous links? Of course, they are, as I am not a psychologist and this more is an obscure type of analysis not common in the mainstream, not to mention I don’t know the inner workings of these 2 clubs. But when you have 2 sides as good as Liverpool and Chelsea, it is the difference in mentality that can determine the share of the points.

*I lied.

Chelsea vs Arsenal ( Sat 04 12:30 )

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In an otherwise simple Super-Sunday match between 2 premier league heavyweights has been overcomplicated by a fixture list. The task of planning a year of football is taken for granted; they have to juggle the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in conjunction with the Champions League, Europa League and any international tournament that year.‘They think names go into a hat and it’s almost like a draw.’ says, the officer of football league fixtures Paul Snellgrove, but that’s what it feels like for Arsenal. The Gunners played Southampton on the 28th of January, 3 days later they face Watford in the league and 4 days later they travel to Stanford Bridge. You could say that it evens out to an extent, as Chelsea would have played Liverpool only 4 days prior to this game. Hopefully, the packed fixture list is not going to infringe on the quality of football we expect from these two sides. As for any scenarios of consequence, there are too many variables to give you anything with substance. It depends on Chelsea’s result against Liverpool and if Arsenal can keep winning games that on paper they should be. For a neutral, if Arsenal could hold back Chelsea from collecting 3 more points, may keep the competition for the Premier League title alive, barely. But I, nor anyone, can call with any certainty whether that will happen because Arsenal remains – to their advantage, or to their detriment  – unpredictable.

Monaco vs Nice ( Sat 04 16:00 )

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We have only just crossed the halfway point of the Ligue 1 season, but at 21 games in, it looks like these two are the frontrunners (along with PSG) for the French title. For Nice especially, this is a long time coming. The last time they won a Ligue 1 title was all the way back in 1959. The idea of Nice breaking does not look promising, even though they are 2nd. 3 game weeks ago Nice was 1st, 4 points ahead of Monaco. Now, Nice have been superseded by Monaco who edges them by 2 points. While the away side maintain their status of being the best defence in the league (conceded 14 goals all season), they have only won 1 of their last 6 games in all competitions. This is in part, due to their huge stack of injuries, 11 out in total. You also have to account that Nice play a 3 back defence, with wingbacks who need to be at their physical prime to carry out their defensive and offensive responsibilities. To exacerbate issues, they play Monaco, who look like they can score goals at will. The diametrically opposing approaches of these 2 clubs stand out most in this stat: Monaco spends the most time of any team in the league in their opposition third (32%) and the least amount of time in their own third (24%). Nice spend the most amount of time of any team in the league, in their own third ( 31%) and the least amount of time in the opposition third (19%). While Monaco’s stat looks more productive than Nice, it really isn’t. Both teams are neck and neck, and on Saturday we will see the best French attack against the best French defence.

Other Mentions: 

Inter Milan vs Lazio ( Tue 31 19:45 )

Marseille vs Lyon ( Tue 31 20:05 )

Melbourne Victory vs Melbourne City FC ( Sat 04 08:50 )

Bayern Munich vs Schalke 04 ( Sat 04 14:30 )

Barcelona vs Athletic Club ( Sat 04 15:15 )

Borussia Dortmund vs RasenBallsport Leipzig ( Sat 04 17:30 )

FC Porto vs Sporting Club Portugal ( Sat 04 20:30 )

Juventus vs Inter Milan ( Sun 05 19:45 )

Feel like I missed out any matches or want to give any feedback? Comment Below!


Sources:

https://hbr.org/2012/01/positive-intelligence

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/diego-costa-left-out-of-chelsea-squad-to-face-leicester-city-after-furious-row-with-antonio-conte-a7526816.html

http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11668/10740724/thibaut-courtois-loving-life-at-chelsea-and-not-interested-in-move-to-china

http://www.express.co.uk/sport/football/747781/Chelsea-Antonio-Conte-Christmas-Premier-League

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jan/23/jurgen-klopp-liverpool-southampton-efl-cup

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/jun/15/fixtures-premier-league-football-league-compiled

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OGC_Nice#Honours

http://outsideoftheboot.com/2016/11/22/ogc-nice-a-revolution-in-ligue-1/

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Scouting for Fixtures: Jan 23 – Jan 29

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. As well as seeking out the most entertaining games, each preview weaves the clubs into a greater football narrative. Each article is a selection of hand picked upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action. 

All times are GMT.

Napoli vs Fiorentina ( Tue 24 19:45 )

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The rise of Napoli and steady decline of Fiorentina can be mapped almost in tandem since 2006. At the end of the 2005/06 season Fiorentina finally, after years of crawling through the lower tiers of Italian football, secured a Champions league qualifying spot. Just days later, word gets out of an Italian football scandal involving Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio, Reggina and – you guessed it – Fiorentina. While the rigging was orchestrated by Juve, Fiorentina still had their part to play, to which the club was docked 15 points in the following season and stripped of their precious UCL qualifying spot. In an even more bizarre turn of events, the following season they finished as high up as they ever would till this day, securing a spot in the UCL group stages at 3rd*. The following season a newly promoted Napoli burst onto the scene, finishing their first season back in Serie A 9th. Along with the rise of Napoli, Lazio and Roma’s recent resurrection, Fiorentina was pushed out. Now La Viola sits between Torino and Cagliari in 9th place while Napoli is playing some of the best football in the league. Napoli’s stats are those akin to champions, with the most goals scored (45), shots per game (18.2), pass accuracy (87.5%) and possession (59.4%). Now Fiorentina is not to be underestimated. Yes, their league form is shaky, but they are capable of punching well above their weight. When La viola faced Napoli just 1 month ago, they kept up with Napoli’s firing squad up front, retaining a 3-3 draw. But what got heads turning was when last week Fiorentina beat the champions Juventus 2-1. Now Fiorentina is 3 steps away from winning the Coppa Italia, which they haven’t done in 16 years, and along with it arrives a ticket to the Champions league.

*If you though the Serie isn’t competitive enough now, imagine the gulf in 2006/07, where a team deducted 15 points managed to finish 3rd. So let’s take another league which is now stigmatised with the label uncompetitive, Ligue 1. If we go back to the 2006/07 season, turns out if the team who finished 3rd (Rennes) was docked 15 points from their total points at the end of the season, they would finish 18th and be relegated to Ligue 2!

RB Leipzig vs Hoffenheim ( Sat 28 14:30 )

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For those unfamiliar with geomagnetic reversal, it’s the process of the Earth’s magnetic poles, switching, usually every 450,000 years. A similar process is taking place in the Bundesliga as we speak, literally being turned on its head, apart from the unmoving FC Bayern*. You see top teams like Schalke, Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz switch places with sides which would usually be predicted to be lower down the table. In the football equivalent of Freaky Friday*2, RB Leipzig is 2nd, Hoffenheim are 5th. Now usually I would give you a synopsis on how Hoffenheim reached 5th place, but in this case, I found an article by These Football Times explaining it perfectly:

‘A key factor in Nagelsmann’s [Hoffenheim manager] philosophy is lodged in his ability to understand how to use his youth and lack of top-tier professional playing experience to his benefit rather than allow it be a hindrance.’

‘We have a plan for every match situation. It’s an incredibly flexible system. We can switch easily between three, four and five at the back during a game. We’re more unpredictable to play against this season, which is one of our big strengths.’ – Niklas Sule, Hoffenheim defender.

As good as Hoffenheim are, RB Leipzig has scored more goals and conceded fewer goals while also placed higher on the table. The synergy in Leipzig is so successful in part due to having a young, malleable squad, with an age limit on any signings above 24. Promoting youth also is integral to the fuel intensive gegenpress employed by Ragnick. However, even the energetic youth of Leipzig may struggle in the upcoming weeks. On the 21st of January, the home side plays an another rising team, Eintracht Frankfurt. They will kick lumps out of their opposition, accredited as the most aggressive side in the league with 47 yellow cards and 3 red cards so far. The following week they play the ingenious Hoffenheim followed by Dortmund, managed by Tomas Tuchel, the man who gave Nagelsmann’s football education. Both sides are beginning to bear the fruit of their hard work; two separate but equally captivating fairy tales converge for 90 minutes.

*My analogy wasn’t built to withstand any substantial scrutiny.

*2Freaky Friday is a movie about people who switch bodies, subsequently living the lives of the person who’s body they now inhabit. In fairness, these two clubs earned their way to the top instead of simply reading a fortune cookie.

Paris Saint-Germain vs Monaco ( Sun 29 20:00 )

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PSG are so strong compared to the other teams. I do not really take pleasure in matches. Italy is different, you have eight big matches in a season but in France it is two. And that’s coming from a former PSG player (Lavezzi), after they beat Troyes 9-0 in March with 8 games to spare, winning their fourth league title in a row and 25 points ahead of the next closest team. Fair enough. The words competition and Ligue 1 were almost considered antonyms after Lyon collected every league title from 2001-08, then you saw the hallmarks of PSG replicating that success after they collected their 4th title in 4 years. At least now we have 3 sides with a good chance of winning the league this season: Nice, Monaco and PSG. Right now, if you want to be entertained, Monaco is THE side to watch. Most surprising about Monaco’s insane goal tally is the shots per game. When a side scores 60 goals in 20 games, you’d expect a pulp-fiction level of shots fired, yet it’s only 13.2 per game. In shots to goal conversion (STG), Monaco is the most clinical in the world (of first division sides). To compare to the other elite sides (Monaco has an STG of 22.7%), Barcelona has 15.6%, Feyenoord 15.0%, Real Madrid 14.5%, while PSG has a respectable 13.8%. The away side face one of their toughest trips of the year, as PSG are currently undefeated in Parc de Princes. The top 3 are separated by 3 points, and if PSG can beat Monaco they are on equal points as them, while Monaco looks to keep up with Nice, only 1 point ahead.

Other Mentions: 

Juventus vs AC Milan ( Wed 25 19:45 )

Celta Vigo vs Real Madrid ( Wed 25 20:15 )

Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC ( Thu 26 08:50 )

Barcelona vs Real Sociedad ( Thu 26 20:15 )

Lyon vs Lille ( Sat 28 16:00 )

Boca Juniors vs River Plate ( Sun 29 01:10 )

Torino vs Atalanta ( Sun 29 11:30 )

Real Madrid vs Real Sociedad ( Sun 29 19:45 )

Feel like I missed out any matches or want to give any feedback? Comment Below!


Sources:

WhoScored

http://thesefootballtimes.co/2016/05/25/juventus-calciopoli-and-a-year-in-serie-b/

http://thesefootballtimes.co/2017/01/10/julian-nagelsmann-and-the-reshaping-of-football-management/

http://www.foxsportsasia.com/news/leipzig-bundesliga-flying-start-analysis/

http://www.goal.com/en/news/1722/ligue-1/2016/03/13/21272902/paris-saint-germain-win-the-ligue-1-title-with-club-record

http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/465/france/2016/03/16/21372472/i-didnt-like-playing-in-ligue-1-says-former-psg-forward

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_French_football_champions

Scouting for Fixtures: Jan 16 – Jan 22

Scouting for fixtures is a weekly blog for people who love the beautiful game. They come out every Sunday and hand picks upcoming matches worldwide that week, which looks set for 90 minutes of non-stop action.

All times are GMT.

Manchester City vs Tottenham ( Sat 21 17:30 )

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The levels of punditry are about to reach pandemic in the coming weeks as the premier league tapped into a run of top tier fixtures to analyse (at least 1 game between 2 top 6 sides for 6 game weeks). This means the top 6 teams are going to be shifting constantly which also means from now on the top third of the table has the consistency of custard cream. These two are right in the midst of that, with Man City in 5th and Tottenham 2nd as I type. Now Man City will be without Fernandinho, who at this point is channelling either clumsy smurf or prime Vinnie Jones depending on your standpoint. Guardiola gives importance to Fernandinho, starting the most games of any City player (despite being banned for 6 games, 17) as well as the most tackles (2.2) and interceptions (1.8) for a midfielder per game. With Gundogan ruled out due to possible death, to partner Fernando in the favoured 4-2-3-1* are Yaya Toure (only playing 3/31 games together), Delph, Garcia or left back Zabaleta, who are fringe players for a reason. This really could not come at a much worse time as Tottenham are capable of slapping around an inadequate defence like they did last week against West Brom (4-0). From what we saw last week against Burnley, Guardiola still has a few bugs to work in his backline as the pinball haphazard defending is demonstrated here. As if it couldn’t get any more pessimistic for Manchester City, Tottenham are 1 of the only 3 teams to beat City, as well as having the lowest away losses in the league (along with Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, but still). While I don’t think that the Man City fans should get the rosary beads out, as they too have a world class side and manager to match; Tottenham are well capable of an upset and continuing their form, (similar to an Olympic diver) which is perfect: WWWWWW.

*Unless Guardiola wants to experiment with other formations against Everton, I don’t know maybe 4-1-2-1-2 could work… nevermind.

AC Milan vs Napoli ( Sat 21 19:45 )

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The Calcio A has teams who can ping uncontrollably within 3rd to 7th position as the 5 are separated by only 3 points. Again, AC Milan (6th) and Napoli (3rd) are in the middle of that whirlwind. So using my knowledge (an amalgam of FIFA player ratings over the years) on the Italian league, my instant prediction was that this would be very tight. Well in retrospect I think more research must be done, but in short, there’s a good chance of Napoli putting a few past the home side. On paper, AC Milan have only lost once at home back in September last year against Udinese. But look up from the paper and onto the red Spartak Moscow scarf held by former AC Milan player Luiz Adriano. Can you make out what it says? It is, in fact, a little heartfelt message for his former club, reading: Thanks, F*ck You. The former attacker flopped hard, and while AC Milan have a not-small-but-nothing-special type of goal tally at 28, the attack needs a lot of work. For all the praise you can laud over Bocca and Suso, they remain the least penetrating attack in the league. You don’t need to have decades of managerial experience to deduce that the closer you are to the goal, the likely you are to score. So when you see that AC Milan have a taken the highest % of shots from outside the box (56%) and the lowest % of shots inside the 6-yard box (3%) in the entire league, you wonder how they are 6th. Partially due to the fact they have a quality side, but also due to the misfortune of other teams (Inter) who as a unit was flopping harder than Adriano ever could for a while. If you also take into account Milan’s good run of fixtures until recently, it makes sense how they remained 3rd for a while until teetering at their current spot, 6th. Now Napoli has superseded AC Milan, and remain the top goalscorers (42). In every other department, they can match or outdo their opposition. The goals conceded is very similar (22 for Napoli, 20 for AC Milan) and Napoli have the most *inhales* shots per game (17.9), possession (59.1%), pass success (87.3%), the least fouls conceded per game (9.9) and are the most disciplined with the lowest card tally (30 yellow, 1 red) in the league. Good luck AC Milan, because they will need it.

RB Leipzig vs Eintracht Frankfurt ( Sat 21 17:30 )

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Have you seen Real Madrid vs Athletico Madrid? The game has one side famous for it’s attacking prowess and the other is known for it’s bullish defending. The same dynamics are present in this fixture, except RB Leipzig take the place of Real while Frankfurt replaces Atleti. Turns out, Leipzig are out-Dortmunding Dortmund, utilising the gegenpress Jurgen Klopp had trademarked during his time in West Germany. It’s in part why their goal tally is so high, scoring the most goals as a result of counter-attacking in the league (7), making up 23% of all their goals. The away side are analogous to Atleti’s defence, conceding the least goals bar Bayern Munich (12). The spotlight has been on the home side with their pigs head, polarising public opinion and what not, but Frankfurt are unrecognisable from last season. The same team who finished 17th last season are holding down a champions league spot in January. Both sides are punching well above their weight, now they face each other.

Other Mentions: 

Torino vs AC Milan ( Mon 16 19:45 )

Twente vs Heracles ( Fri 20 19:00 )

Bordeaux vs Toulouse ( Sat 21 19:00 )

Juventus vs Lazio ( Sun 22 11:30 )

Roma vs Cagliari ( Sun 22 19:45 )

Lyon vs Marseille ( Sun 22 20:00 )

Feel like I missed out any matches or want to give any feedback? Comment Below!