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Yes, there’s more to football than a Jose Mourinho press conference


Did you hear about Sugar Ray Rooney, who got knocked out on his very own kitchen floor? Of course you did. The story just oozed juicy tabloid goodness, and it quickly became the biggest news in Premier League football. In the event you forgot what happened—a near impossible task—Rooney gave a not so subtle reminder after he scored United’s third goal against Tottenham. The striker threw punches before falling down, this time not right next to his dining room table. The message of the celebration, similar to Luis Suarez’s diving antics before David Moyes’ feet a couple of seasons ago, was clear: “Piss off.”

The issue with these tabloid ‘mega-incidents’ is that they steal valuable column inches from other stories—you know, about the rest of the league— that barely get an utterance from writers and pundits. Everyone wants more attention. Leicester wanted a bit of the national spotlight so bad they had to pretend to sack their manager.

Case and point: On a chilly winter night earlier this season, Liverpool trumped Tottenham in a fantastic match where even Mario Balotelli scored. Harry Kane continued his unprecedented form and the result itself had implications in an increasingly gripping race to exit the Champions League at the last 16 stage at about this time next year. But no one noticed, or really cared, that Nikica Jelavic had scored his 8th Premier League goal to help Hull claim a vital win against Aston Villa. At the time, the goal put him level with Wayne Rooney (albeit the midfield version), Pellè, and Lukaku. But, predictably, Balotelli was the spotlight.

These sorts of storylines will never shock you or anger you, and some are downright irrelevant. But you don’t know what you’re missing in the Premier League until you peel back the first few layers of media coverage. So give these a read, and then go back to the latest controversy involving a big team.

Everybody Hates Danny Rose

It’s a common sight at White Hart Lane: between the Harry Kane headers and late Christian Eriksen free kicks, an eagle eyed viewer can spot a grumbling Danny Rose knocking about down the left flank. He’s got plenty to grumble about. Rose starts for Spurs, despite arguably not even being their best left back. And no one likes him.

Not even in a fearsome way, Rose just gets on everyone’s bloody nerves. Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck had a constant tussle with him in the latest North London derby. Seriously, tune into a Spurs game. Rose will either kick someone or be kicked himself.

He’s the Mario Chalmers of the Premier League. It doesn’t matter that you might not know who Mario Chalmers is. Just know that you can type his name into YouTube and one suggestion is ‘..getting yelled at.’

West Ham’s battle with Allardyce and Carroll to play attacking football

In a squad full of Englishmen not quite good enough to play for England, one man will fight to stop a cultural rebellion and form the last stand of hoofball. Allardici – The Out-tacticer, a Netflix original.

The Hammers started off the season on fire, inspired by several figures across the pitch. Diafra Sakho has excelled, despite being a fairly risky purchase from Ligue 1; Aaron Cresswell swelled the multitude of good English left backs; Enner Valencia has been deceptively better than his goalscoring record suggests; and Stewart Downing is the latest inverted winger to emigrate to the middle of the pitch, predictably causing an uplift in his performances.

And then in came Andy Carroll, returning from injury as ever. Being a well-known Allardyce favorite, only a few were wary of the imminent threat posed to passing football as we know it.

The worst case scenario plays out before our eyes:

Carroll was suddenly undroppable and West Ham’s quality of play declined parallel to their league position. Allardyce can talk about his ability to adapt better than other managers all he wants, the guy had to be forced to implement the speedy, expansive play everyone enjoys. It then slipped all too easily back to his comfort zone in his heart where Carroll resides. Now with the pony-tailed big man inevitably ruled out for the season, we’ll see who wins this power struggle over football aesthetics.

4-2-3-1 has died down a little

Formations aren’t tactics. They’re a crucial wrinkle in analyzing football. Playing three at the back has had a weird renaissance, mostly stemming from stubborn van Gaal and Rodgers stumbling upon it. QPR, Hull, and recently Leicester have all dabbled in the system at times.

But more under the radar is the abandonment of the one striker lineup. Last season, diamonds were Liverpool’s best friend, allowing them to roll out a devastating combination of Sturridge and Suarez. It’s led to a few others trying it out, West Ham being an aforementioned example. Those that have used three central defenders have generally had more than one striker.

Inevitably there have been some diehards. North London provides a safe constituency for 4-2-3-1; Arsenal and Tottenham are unmoving, while Chelsea only deviate in the biggest games. It’s probably still the most utilized system and the template for modern football lineups. Yet it’s not encompassed the top tier as it did perhaps two years ago.

Long Live the Target Man

In a world of inside forwards and false 9s, the evolution of the game briefly looked as if it would relegate the hulking target man to the lower leagues. But it turns out the classic style of player is still thriving in the Premier League, more than it has in years.

This season, three of the league’s top five goal scorers are a snarling Diego Costa, a deceptively nimble Harry Kane, and a plain and simple Charlie Austin. It’s a great injustice to the trio to pigeonhole them as bulky bullies that score goals with the finesse of a Neil Warnock press conference. Yet while all three are talented forwards, each one of them represents at least six feet of aggression and force. Collectively, they’ve scored 10 headers, and in Costa’s case none of the goals were struck from outside the box. The two Englishmen have had to create something from nothing much of the time:  Kane often has to stimulate an apathetic Spurs attack, while Austin has carried the heaviest of loads for QPR admirably.

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