First Impressions and Second Thoughts - Manchester Derby Weekend

Nani's Reaction Upon Reading Our Review Below
Before we get to the specifics related to the Premier League action on the field.  I'm going to start out with a random thought that I had over the weekend.  As these soccer-related thoughts usually do, it ended up being an SMS conversation with Jeremy which was interesting enough that we both thought that it was worth using as the opening for a column.  Then, when I saw that Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) was set to announce his retirement from professional football tomorrow, I knew it was Karma telling me that I had found the right opener for First Impressions.  What was the thought?

What happened to the Brazilians? I watched the International Friendly between Brazil and France this past week and it got my brain to thinking (yes, it happens from time to time) - how is it that there are no Brazilian superstars?  There are lots of very, very good Brazilian players in the game right now and even some who might be considered among the very best at their positions in the world.  That said, there isn't a Brazilian player who demands you say "WOW" as a result of his performances.  On the eve of Ronaldo's retirement, we are left wondering who the heir to the recent run of attacking superstars - Romario, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho might be.

If you start listing the world's best attacking players you have to go a long way before you'd get to a Brazilian based on performance (as opposed to reputation).  The list of the best attackers has to start with Messi and that other Ronaldo fellow and then you start talking about Sneijder, Drogba, Ibra, Xavi, Iniesta, and others before you'd get to the first Brazilian on your list.  So what happened? Kaka was supposed to be the headliner of his generation but he's been pretty invisible for about 18 months now.  Robinho was supposed to be the "next Henry" combining pace, shooting, passing, and dribbling ability but he's been through just about every big club in Europe and no one really seems to want him.  Pato was supposed to be the "next big thing" after those two but his last two seasons have been derailed.  His strike rate for Milan has been very strong but he's only played a total of 35 league matches across the two seasons.  Not exactly the stuff of legends.

Oddly, the only place that Brazilians can claim to be at the absolute top of their professions is in the back.  Alves and Maicon are both exceptional players. That said, it isn't often that an outside defender can really be considered a superstar.  Roberto Carlos was the exception to this rule but neither Alves nor Maicon are up to that standard.  There are also very good Brazilian central defenders but again, you wouldn't say that there are any absolute superstars among them.  Very, very good? Definitely, but you wouldn't necessarily pick any Brazilian defender over Vidic if you were starting a team from scratch.

So what happened? Is it just one of those things?  A slight downward trend that will be remedied in a couple of years when the "next big thing" comes along?  Is it that the rest of the world - most notably Africa - are catching up to the Brazilians and making the difference between the best Brazilians and the best of the rest not seem so big? I can't claim to have an answer but as I watched Sandro try to adapt to life in the Prem and added to that the fact that he was playing for his country in mid-week, I could help but think about the fact that this isn't the Brazil of the last 25 or 30 years.  Any thoughts from you guys on why?

OK, with that international football aside out of the way, here are some observations on the weekend that was in the Prem:

  • The Leaders - They were the better team, they had the better tactics but they were close to dropping two points despite that.  There are so many things about Rooney's spectacular goal to talk about.  It kept United's local rival from serious title contention.  It revived their momentum after the big upset loss at Wolves.  It kept Arsenal at a respectable distance going into United's matches @CHE and @LIV (assuming the @CHE match isn't postponed due to the FA Cup schedule).  It re-established United as a team that will find a way to win late.  Finally, even as someone who has no personal love for United, it was just damn impressive.  Great goal in a huge situation.  The only note of caution here is that it took what will likely end up being the goal of the season to keep them in the driver's seat.
  • Arsenal - Very business-like win against the team that upended their title rivals last weekend.  Honestly, it should have been 4 or 5 to nil.  What it showed me is that Arsenal really miss Nasri who, along with van Persie, are the two players who have shown themselves to be clinical in front of the net this season.  
  • Citeh - Time to start focusing on staying in the Top Four.  With Spurs winning and Chelsea having purchased reinforcements Citeh's road will be tough down the stretch.  
  • Spurs - Big win against strong opposition on the road for Spurs, especially with VDV, Bale, and Modric all out.  If they can continue to show that sort of fortitude then you have to really like their chances to make the race for the final two Champions League spots a spirited one.  
  • Chelsea - Just a little bit of pressure on them heading into the West London derby at Craven Cottage tomorrow.  Should be interesting to see how they react after a tepid showing against Liverpool.
  • Birmingham - HUGE points for them at the death this weekend.  On results like that are relegation battles turned.  
  • Everton - Switched places with Birmingham as the unexpected team most likely to go down.  Losing at Bolton isn't particularly embarrassing for anyone outside the top teams but it barely felt like Everton showed up for the match.  If they continue to play like that then they're definitely not too talented to go down. 
  • The Rest of the Relegation Group -  A lot of stagnation as Villa, Wigan, WBA, Blackpool, and WHU all claimed a point.  You could suggest that Wolves lost ground, but the fact is they got 3 points from MAN and @ARS when by all rights they should have expected no points from those two matches. I'd consider them in the same "treading water" group with the rest of those listed here.
  • Meireles - Let the lovefest continue.  He just can't stop scoring goals.  
  • Suarez - He looks like he's going to do well.  No end result this past weekend but he was certainly dangerous all match.
  • Nani - Rooney's goal got all the press, and rightfully so, but Nani's goal was impressive in a much more subtle way.  His take down of Giggs' pass that allowed him to stay in stride and continue past the last defender was a thing of beauty.  Now we know what Bergkamp would have looked like if he were fast. (NOTE: I'm not comparing Nani to Bergkamp overall, but in that instance, Nani's play was Bergkamp-esque and for those of you who know the esteem I hold Bergy in, that's about as high praise as I can give).  Oh yeah, unlike Rooney, Nani was also dangerous throughout the match.
  • Smalling - Credit to him for stepping onto a big stage and being pretty darn good.  In my view, Mancini helped him by not doing the best with his many attacking assets (so what else is new?) but still, you have to believe that if it has been Evans instead of Smalling there would have been a glaring error that would have nullified Rooney's glory strike and ended things 2-2. 
  • Walcott - What happened to that clinical form from early in the season?  He's going to need that back if Arsenal are going to mount a challenge.
  • Cesc - Playing deeper and less assertive as an attacker over the last couple of months.  I don't think this is a bad thing, it just is.  I think it mostly has to do with there being so many other potent options in the Arsenal attack this season.  It may not be the SAME potent options but between RvP, Nasri, Walcott, Chamakh, and Arshavin there have typically been at least two Arsenal players other than Cesc in goal-scoring form at any given time.  With less required of him in that regard, he has reverted to being more of a playmaker than a scorer.
  • Kranjcar - He should have a starting job somewhere in the Premier League next season.  Maybe a well-heeled newcomer to the league like QPR will make the right offer.  Maybe an established team like Newcastle will decide he's an improvement on the left side of midfield.  Maybe Villa will consider him as an Ashley Young replacement if, as rumored, AY heads to United or Liverpool.  Regardless of how it happens, he should play regularly somewhere. (And somewhere in Southern California Jeremy shouts "Free Niko")
  • KRich - Could it be he's finally found his calling?  Hopefully he can stay healthy long enough for us to find out.  He's certainly on an impressive run of form.
  • Sturridge - That's 3-0 with Chelsea still to play this week in his match-up with Torres to see which of the two scores more as a regular starter.  If Sturridge ends up winning this "competition" I'm sure Aresene Wenger will have a small chuckle to himself as he prepares a quote about the value of bringing up young players rather than going out and spending a fortune on established ones.  Great and needed acquisition for Bolton as Elmander and Davies have gone really, really silent.
  • Ba - That's the sort of match that will endear you to your new supporters pretty quickly.  Now lets see if he can help the Hammers stay up so he can enjoy the relationship for more than a couple of months.
That's about it from here.  I'm sure there will be more to say after the matches on Monday and Tuesday as well as related to Champions League and Europa Cup action as it unfolds this week.


  1. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Great post to read as always Neal.
    This may be a little irrelevant, but the prices of BFDB and Best jumped up significantly today as both played their 7th game. And guess what? Szczesny is just about to play his 7th this week. Even if he scores negative points, he will get a significant raise after his 7th and be much harder to afford after that. I'm even thinking about keeping him at 5-ish and taking a zero for week 28, as he has some nice match-ups coming up after that.



  2. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Great post to read as always Neal.
    This may be a little irrelevant, but the prices of BFDB and Best jumped up significantly today as both played their 7th game. And guess what? Szczesny is just about to play his 7th this week. Even if he scores negative points, he will get a significant raise after his 7th and be much harder to afford after that. I'm even thinking about keeping him at 5-ish and taking a zero for week 28, as he has some nice match-ups coming up after that.


  3. Le Pantouflard10:25 PM

    I can't claim to be original on this (credit to the Legendinho) but several things may explain why Brazil doesn't have a superstar. One, more Brazilians are staying put in their domestic league because of the booming economy. Two, the Brazil team is being remade after Dunga and the new coach is blooding new players, several of whom promise to be real superstars.

  4. Anonymous12:29 AM

    MU is old. Did you calculate the average age for MU in the Manchester Derby match?

    Because MU is old, MU cannot do good when it's out of Old Trafford.

    How many away matches are left for MU?

    7!! That means it will lose lots of points.

    I don't know which team will finally win the League this season. But I don't think MU can.

  5. on the seleccao, brazil has had plenty of new comers, but no place to play on the national team. dunga coached the olympic team for 2 years, where he blamed diego and ronaldinho gaucho for the loss, even though elano and robinho had the same number of chances and misses. that is why diego and ronaldinho never made it back to the national team. the next 4 years dunga kept the same group of players to keep the unity so the youngsters are again closed off.
    is it no secret that the minute dunga left, hernanes, ganso and andre santos came straight into the team. andre santos, even though he played for corinthians and i am a Sao Pauliista, will be the most dominating left back in the world. hernanes was Sao Pualos gem in the central midfield and played sometimes like schweinsteiger, box to box, and sometimes like sneijder. he was voted 3 times player of the year in the campeonato brasileiro. then he goes to lazio and was voted 2nd best player, for the first half of the season behind ibrahimovic. ganso plays for the hated Santos, but is the next zidane. he can create a pass and score at will. neymar and andre are not nearly the same without him. he has that petulance that zidane had from getting fouled everytime he has the ball, but it doesn't stop him from coming up with play after play.
    the lesson is hernanes is 25, he would have had 4 years or more of national team play, plus the added confidence of that. andre santos, would have had the same 4 years and he is in his mid 20s too. ganso came on strong 2 years ago and is 3 or 4 years younger, but he would have had the last 2 years, definitely. these 3 alone can give you an example of the lack of planning that dunga had for the team. there are countless others that were blocked for dunga's favorites.
    as far as the comment, that the players stay home in brasil because the better economic situation. that is actually not the reason. the teams try to sell every player, but the world wide economy is down. just Sao Paulo changed its philosophy of trying to keep players and won 3 titles in a row, as well as 1 copa libertadores. the rest of the teams make far more money selling players and continue its practice. the teams get frustrated with the fact that they can't just name their price anymore. i can't remember, but wasn't the fee for anderson outrageous?

  6. Greginho,
    Thanks for the comments on Brazil - it certainly answered a lot of questions. As the world economy rebounds over the next two years (and it will) it will be interesting to see how the players you mention find their way into Europe and whether they start asserting themselves more with the national team. The world is certainly a better place with a Brazilian megastar or three on the footie landscape.

    @Ryan - also a great point on Bentley and Best you must be unlocking a detail of the Yahoo algorithm. That said, Szczesny isn't likely to go up during the week when he's not playing so you might be able to sell him for this coming week and then buy him back before his 7th match in the following matchweek. His price went up a little bit after his 10 this past weekend but still not too tragic.

    Cheers - Neal

  7. Anonymous11:34 AM

    Rooney = wonderful goal but still crappy point/price return for fantasy managers...who knew that of the MU forwards, Berbatov would be the more reliable fantasy option? I'm ecstatic that I dropped Rooney @ ~17 and took Zigic this week for ~6, and took a 2x return for value from just the one game, when Rooney would have reached ~.88 return. Do you have a Rooney-meter working along the same lines as Berb-o-meter?

  8. We also learned that Djourou is a stud and simply indispensable for Arsenal right now.

  9. i like the rooney meter question. where as the berbatov meter has a lot to do with the opponent and if it as at home. the rooney meter will have to do with off field issues.

    every team has been hit by injuries this year and having some effect on each team.
    djourou missed some of this year and vermaelen the whole, that defense, with sczcesny in goal, would have been pretty reliable.

  10. Anonymous1:41 PM

    @Neal - I'm a bit confused here. Doesn't Szczesny play his 7th game on the 23rd? Isn't he like to go up after that match, which is before the deadline (26th) ? Looking at his average, he will cost at least 11.


  11. @Ryan - my mistake, I'm so focused on the next match week I forgot that we still have matches left to play in this match week.

    Cheers - Neal

  12. I praised Rooney's goal at the time, and subsequently I've given it props to my friends, because you can't underestimate the importance of the timing. It's huge for United's title hunt, the confidence of the team in general, and most importantly for Rooney's confidence. The thing that's been missing most from his game this season is confidence, which may explain why he gives the ball away SO much.

    All that being said, from closer look on HD replay... he hit it off his shin. So it doesn't rank up there with the great overhead kicks of all time. Really, really good goal, but a bit of luck as well.

  13. Anonymous10:37 PM

    I don't understand why Kranjcar didn't get bonus points. He scored the winning goal for Tottenham (again).