Jumaat, 9 November 2012

Top Ten Missing Men Of The Season

From departed players to injury victims and those out of form, some teams are suffering from a missing player or two.

10) Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
Since twanging his groin in rather painful-sounding circumstances at Euro 2012, Dunne hasn't played or indeed even trained this season. While he is hardly Franco Baresi and his lack of pace was often comical last season, Villa have arguably missed those two most intangible qualities of 'experience' and 'leadership'. Their defence so far this season can charitably be described as 'callow', with the 27-year-old Ron Vlaar being the old man of the Villa back line and the other regulars (Joe Bennett, Ciaran Clark, Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker) being no older than 23. Of course, Dunne will probably lumber back into the team and make a dreadful cock-up, just to make me look bad.

9) Heidur Helguson (QPR)
Don't laugh. At this stage last season, Helguson had scored six goals, including winners against Chelsea and Stoke. This campaign, they have Bobby Zamora - much more expensive, but with five goals in 22 starts since his transfer from Fulham and three goals this season, not quite as effective. Of course, Helguson's relatively meagre contribution for the rest of last season might suggest that QPR haven't exactly lost a dead-eye finisher, but for a team with no wins and just eight goals in ten games, they need all the attacking options they can get.

8) Steven Caulker (Swansea)
While their attacking play has perhaps been more incisive since Michael Laudrup and Michu arrived, and Joe Allen's passing has been neatly replaced by Ki, Swansea have suffered a fair few defensive 'issues' this campaign. Ashley Williams made a couple of pretty comical errors at the start of the season, while Chico Flores is a lot of fun but perhaps a little...erratic. They have missed the rather more calming presence of Caulker, perhaps the outstanding young defender in the Premier League who has become a regular at Spurs.

7) Woijech Szczesny (Arsenal)
Arsenal's Polish keeper is not this generation's answer to Lev Yashin. Hell, he might not even be this generation's answer to Jan Tomaszewski, but he's sure as sh*t a better option than Vito Mannone in goal. A reader e-mailed us recently to wonder how well the other challenging sides would do with their third-choice keepers between the sticks, and it's a reasonable point. 

Mannone, despite looking like a cross between one of the Klitschko brothers and a Yates's bouncer, does not exactly inspire confidence in the Arsenal defence which, despite actually having a perfectly respectable 'goals conceded' record, can be sliced apart far too easily. Of all the men currently in the Arsenal treatment room, Arsene Wenger will hope for the return of his consonant-heavy stopper the most.

6) The Bellamy/Kuyt/Maxi options (Liverpool)
All left for assorted individual reasons, and Brendan Rodgers cannot be blamed for Craig Bellamy's desire to go home or Dirk Kuyt taking advantage of an exit clause in his contract, but boy could he have used some attacking support this season. All three (certainly Maxi and Bellamy) would have fitted nicely into Rodgers' favoured system, and at the very least would have provided some support for Luis Suarez and the pair of children currently flanking him. 

Given how Raheem Sterling and Suso are currently performing, it's debatable whether any of the three would be starting every week, but they would at least have given Rodgers an alternative when Liverpool need a goal. As it is, the best he can presently conjure when turning to his bench is Stewart Downing.

5) Last season's Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland)
This season, Sunderland have scored just six goals. One of them was slotted away by Demba Ba, who the shrewd among you will have spotted plays for Newcastle. There's a reason for this too - they've had just 12 shots on target in their nine games - the next least is 34 by Stoke. Steven Fletcher is doing his best, as five of those goals and eight of the shots on target have come from him. He's trying, bless him, but he's not getting a great deal of support, and much of that support should be coming from Sessegnon. 

"They are good players just lacking in confidence but that will come," said Martin O'Neill last week, and no player fits that description more than Sessegnon, so often at the heart of Sunderland's creative play last season. When the Beninese playmaker's form returns, one suspects Sunderland's will too.

4) The Tiote/Cabaye partnership (Newcastle)
At stages last season, it hardly seemed fair for other midfielders that Cabaye and Tiote were allowed to play together. It was like a couple of under-16s had been dropped into an under-12s game, running further, tackling harder and just looking much tougher than almost any other combination in the Premier League. It was how they got away with basically a 4-4-2 while many other teams packed the midfield in an attempt to control games. 

This season, the pair have only started three games together, and Cabaye went off injured in one of those and Tiote was sent off after 25 minutes of another - in total, they've only spent 180 minutes on the pitch together. There could be many reasons for Newcastle's relative woes this season - the form of Hatem Ben Arfa and it being Demba Ba's turn to score goals rather than Papiss Cisse's being two - but the lack of their midfield powerhouse combo is certainly a significant factor.

3) Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
On the face of it, and for all the mocking, Fernando Torres's strike-rate of four goals in ten Premier League games this season is actually perfectly respectable. However, the importance of his goals is questionable at best. Indeed, only one of Torres's goals this season - his opener against Arsenal - has actually made any difference to the result of any games. Acutally, scratch that - that's the only goal in his entire time at Chelsea that has made a difference to results. 

The strike in the Nou Camp last season changed the score on the night, but Chelsea still would've gone through on away goals, even if he hadn't caused Gary Neville's 'gentleman's moment'. If you'd removed his entire goal-scoring contribution to Chelsea in nearly two years there, they would be precisely two points worse off - that's £50million that might have been better used making hats to keep the rain off.

Drogba, on the other hand, is what Americans would call 'clutch'. Only last season Drogba scored the goals that beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final, Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final and forced penalties against Bayern Munich in the final. Oh, and he rolled in the winning penalty as well. A useful man to have around. Chelsea may have changed styles these days, but they lack the option of the Drogba battering ram, the sheer physical force that could seemingly win games by size of chest-span, something that will come in handy as the season progresses.

2) Luka Modric and Rafa van der Vaart (Tottenham)
Tottenham's primary problem this season is not the dicking around with goalkeepers, it's not their fans booing the removal of Jermain Defoe after having touched the ball 11 times in 60 minutes, and it's not even Andre Villas-Boas's voice reaching the point of croaky where it's beginning to sound like radio interference. It's that they simply don't have the creative outlets they had last season. 

Modric and Van der Vaart were replaced by Mousa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson, both fine players and the former has certainly taken a chunk of the creative burden, but when he is missing then Spurs basically have nobody to pick apart teams like - to choose a completely random example - Wigan. 

Sandro and Tom Huddlestone are good at their jobs, Clint Dempsey is a handy attacker to have around but hardly a string-puller, while Sigurdsson is basically no use unless he's scoring goals. The failure to agree a deal for Joao Moutinho in August might turn out to be their most costly move of the season.

1) Robin van Persie (Arsenal)
It's obvious, but true. Arsene Wenger may like to pretend that he adequately replaced the Dutchman by purchasing Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud in the summer, but the evidence so far suggests - nay, bangs on a big metal pan and shouts - that it is not. Arsenal have scored 15 goals this season, which is the worst in the top seven, as many as Manchester United have scored just at Old Trafford, and only one more than Southampton - who are bottom of the league. 

If Arsenal had scored one more goal in each game this season, they would have nine more points and would be unbeaten. This logic is inexact for various reasons, not least that it assumes nobody has played in his place, but it does illustrate that Arsenal have rather missed Van Persie, as would any team that had lost a player who has scored 56 goals in 73 Premier League games since the start of 2010/11.

source: http://www.football365.com/topical-top-10/8227520/Top-Ten-Missing-Men-Of-The-Season

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