Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Vodacom Premier League returns

After two months of tedious waiting the Vodacom Premier League finally kicks off this weekend. The race for Lesotho’s football crown can begin.

There’s change to the top division. The Vodacom Premier League is now a 14-team division after Nyenye Rovers and Mpharane Celtic survived relegation playoffs and Melele and Mphatlalatsane gained automatic promotion from the First Division. It should be interesting…

The favourites
Lioli are going for a repeat
Lioli have spent big in the off-season adding seven new faces to the squad. Jeremia Kamela, Basia Makepe, Kopano Tseka, Lekhanya Lekhanya, Nkoto Masoabi, Tokelo Majoro and Themba Mzamane have all arrived as the champions look to ensure the title stays in Teyateyaneng. Lioli perhaps rode their fortune last season as Bantu let the league slip away, but this season Tse Nala look like the outright favourites for the title.

They have added serious quality to their squad. Kamela, the heir apparent to Bokang Mothoana on the left for Lesotho, looks the best piece of business. But it’s a close-run thing, Lekhanya is a supremely talented attacker and Tse Nala have also signed the 2011 Makoanyane XI centre-back pair of Makepe and Tseka to add to a defence that conceded the least goals last season. Lioli look seriously scary.

Prediction: 1st

Last season feels like it was Bantu’s best chance to win the first-ever title in club history. Bantu were in the driving seat for much of the campaign but a late season collapse saw them gift the title to Lioli. This year they have lost their premier attacking talent, Litsepe Marabe, who has joined United FC in South Africa. Another profitable forward in Lekhanya has joined title rivals Lioli. A Matšo Matebele have made some additions, such as Tsebang Lebata, and remain a quality-laden side but they are a clear second to Lioli as things stand.

LCS, as always, are counted as amongst the favourites thanks to their recent history; Masheshena have won four of the last seven league titles. LCS are a well-organised club and are the only team in Lesotho that can claim to be on a semi-professional level. Unlike most teams, LCS have good facilities and are able to train more often than other sides.

However, their squad is ageing and LCS haven’t revitalised the group so far this transfer window. They will also have a new coach with Katiso Mojakhomo returning to lead the team. Mojakhomo is well versed in the Masheshena ways having led the side to titles in 2006/07 and 2007/08. But he has a job on his hands to return LCS to the top again.


LDF are similar to LCS but they haven’t won the league since 2004 and aren’t the same scary proposition they used to be. LDF have the consistency to stay in the hunt; they finished third last season and haven’t finished outside the top four for over a decade. However, Sohle-Sohle don’t have the firepower to make the leap onto the winners’ podium.

Linare are a few signings away from being a title contender. They have had a promising pre-season, beating Lioli and Matlama en route to winning the Kings Cup. Tse Tala have also managed to retain the services of captain Mabuti Potloane who was coveted by Lioli. He has grown into a game-breaker of note and a regular in the Likuena squad. Tse Tala have also acquired the firepower of Lebajoa Mosehlanyane from Mpharane Celtic. However, Linare still lack the championship experience to compete with what is beginning to feel like an established top four of Lioli, Bantu, LCS and LDF.
Like for like
Both LDF (in yellow) and LMPS are outsiders
LMPS are similar to LDF and they will once again be relying on old stagers such Bokang Mohasi and Shetsane Ramoseeka. Simunye are a hard nut to crack but lack the creativity and guile to unlock opponents. Another top-six finish seems the best LMPS can hope for.

No man’s land

Matlama’s story, as is often the case at this time of the year, is a crazy one. Champions three years ago and Lesotho’s most successful club, Tse Putsoa have fallen again thanks to their usual squabbles and iffy management. It has distracted from the team’s preparations, and thus, prospects. Matlama do welcome back prodigal sons Pali Tšalong and Tefo Maipato, but even they won’t be enough to save Matlama from what’s set to be an average season.

Likhopo, champions in 2005 and 2006, have stagnated over the last few years. They are losing Thapelo Tale who is set to join Santos in South Africa. He was expected to be Likhopo’s shining light after his fine performances at the Cosafa Cup, but without him Likhopo are looking distinctly average.

Likhopo, as always, have several young gems that can embarrass any team on their day. But Likhopo’s days as a contending team, at least for now, seem over.

Qoaling Highlanders
Qoaling Highlanders performed admirably in their first ever top-flight campaign last season. And after weathering that first season storm Highlanders look equipped to remain in the Premier League for a while. Certainly they have hit the jackpot with the expansion of the league – there are several worse sides than them. Highlanders also have their own positives – an intimidating home venue teams don’t like visiting and a football mad neighbourhood with talented players wishing to play for the hood team. Highlanders should have another decent season.

Newly-promoted Mphatlalatsane have had a solid pre-season which included competitive workouts against LCS and Likhopo. They are well-organised off the field and well prepared on it. Mphatlalatsane won’t raise many roofs but they are solid enough to stay in the division.
No man's land...
Danger times

Joy have lost their biggest assets – Jeremia Kamela and Basia Makepe – and look set to struggle this season. The last three seasons have each turned into nail-biting relegation battles for the Sebothoane side. This coming campaign is set to be their toughest since promotion to the top-flight in 2007.

Nyenye Rovers
Nyenye Rovers kept their Vodacom Premier League status only after a promotion-relegation playoff win over Rovers. Things don’t look much brighter this season for the Leribe side. Their only saving grace may be their home form.

Mpharane Celtic
Like Nyenye Rovers, Celtic survived relegation by the skin of their teeth last season beating Sefothafotha in a playoff. They will struggle again. Celtic have lost their main attacking threat in Lebajoa Mosehlanyane and don’t have the easiest start playing against Lioli on the opening weekend. It’s not looking good.

The new-boys have a very difficult task on their hands. Yes, teams won’t look forward to the scenic but arduous trip to Qacha’s Nek. However, Melele simply don’t have the quality to aim for anything other than survival. The first few weeks are crucial to Melele’s hopes.

Opening Weekend
Saturday, 24 August
Linare v LMPS
LCS v Joy

Sunday, 25 August
Lioli v Mpharane Celtic
Matlama v Mphatlalatsane
Bantu v Qoaling Highlanders
Nyenye Rovers v Melele
LDF v Likhopo

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Arsenal, a massive season ahead

The spotlight is on...
Arsene Wenger
This is Arsenal’s most important season, ever.

If that sounds like hyperbole, it really isn’t.

Without a trophy in eight years, Arsenal supporters are increasingly desperate for silverware. And with the rest of the top four – Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea – undergoing major changes, it’s reasonable to suppose this is Arsenal’s best chance to challenge for the title.

Logic dictates that this is a window of opportunity for Arsenal to build on their stability and steal a march on opponents that are in respective transition periods.

However, with the clock rapidly counting down to the season’s kick-off, this optimistic view is fading somewhat.

At the time of writing Arsenal were still to complete the signing of Luiz Gustavo meaning Arsenal’s only notable addition has been the capture of France Under-20 striker, Yaya Sanogo, on a free transfer from Auxerre.


Arsenal’s needs

I. Luiz Gustavo

Midfield anchor needed...
Luiz Gustavo
It seems, despite the talk of a new super-striker, Bayern Munich’s Luiz Gustavo will be Arsenal’s first major signing. If completed, the signing of the Brazilian anchorman would represent a quality addition and the filling of pressing a need.

Gustavo is just the defensive midfielder – with high tactical nous and supreme physical capabilities – Arsenal needs.

Arsenal’s need for this type of player is due to their style of play.

Arsenal rely greatly on their fullbacks on offence. Arsenal’s fullbacks routinely push up to provide width in the final third as the wide attacking players – be it Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott or Santi Cazorla – move infield, as is their preference.

Without an athletic anchorman to cover space, the result has been a major weakness in transition and the brutal exposure of Arsenal’s two centre-backs. Exhibit A: Michu’s brace for Swansea at the Emirates.

Exhibit B: Andreas Weimann’s equaliser for Aston Villa, also at the Emirates.

Mikel Arteta did a commendable job at the base of the midfield, but his lack of physicality and speed was exposed on occasion. Arteta, by trade, is a creative midfielder and isn’t naturally versed in the defensive aspects of the game.

This is where Gustavo – with his astute tactical positioning and covering, exhibited at the Confederations Cup with Brazil – comes in.

Last season Gustavo attempted 81 tackles in 26 appearances for Bayern, an impressive rate of a tackle every 17.4 minutes. He also managed 44 interceptions, one every 32 minutes. And, in keeping with Arsenal tradition, Gustavo is also excellent in possession boasting a pass completion rate of 89% last season.

This is one area of need, addressed or otherwise, that could well define Arsenal’s season.

II. A clinical finisher

Off to Napoli...
Gonzalo Higuain
It’s simplistic to say Arsenal haven’t recovered from losing Robin van Persie; any team would miss his goals. In the 2011/12 season Van Persie’s scored 30 of Arsenal’s 74 league goals. However, Arsenal haven’t had adequate contingencies for the Dutchman’s loss.

(I.e. when Henry left, Adebayor took over; when Adebayor left, van Persie took the baton.)

Olivier Giroud had a decent first season scoring 11 league goals in 24 starts. Podolski and Cazorla chipped in with 11 and 12 goals, and Walcott top scored with 14.

But, none of Arsenal’s strikers were the consistent, clinical force in front of goal required to reach the top. For example, Giroud had a shooting accuracy of 43%; he converted just 13% of his chances and put-away only 17% of his clear-cut chances.

The upshot: Arsenal only scored five goals in six games against fellow top four teams.

The Replacements: Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski Stats

It was no surprise, then, Arsenal were linked with a host of big-name forwards as soon as the transfer window opened.

However, the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Stevan Jovetic, Edinson Cavani and Roberto Soldado have since moved elsewhere while there’s little movement on Luis Suarez or Wayne Rooney.

Failure to sign a top-class striker before the window closes would represent a disappointment given the club’s very public declarations of vast transfer funds available to Arsene Wenger this season.

Prospects for the season

It’s difficult to effectively predict how Arsenal will fare this season because of the eternal unknowns when it comes to Wenger’s team.

On paper Arsenal have a manageable start to the 2012/13 campaign playing five teams (Aston Villa, Fulham, Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich) that finished in the bottom half last season as well as newly-promoted Crystal Palace. The two testing matches – versus Tottenham and Liverpool – are both at home.

All the same, in order to challenge, Arsenal have to improve drastically in several areas.

One is their performances against other top teams.

Arsenal were winless against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea last season, picking up just two points in six matches.

2012/13 Top Four Head-to-Head

Points Won
Man United
10 from 18
Man City
11 from 18
10 from 18
2 from 18

Widening the scope to encompass the top seven clubs (adding Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool), Arsenal won only two of 12 games – against ten-man Spurs at the Emirates and Liverpool.

Time to step it up...
Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott
Arsenal have supreme talent; Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are magical footballers.

They are the reason Arsenal, on their day, can beat anyone, the reason why Wenger remains confident of a trophy as he enters the final year of his contract and the hope Arsenal fans cling onto in what is a critical season.

But, without any significant additions to the squad, it seems Arsenal’s target once again is just to make it into the top four.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A life without Suarez

Luis Suarez - El Pistolero
There’s probably no way back for Luis Suarez at Liverpool.

With the Uruguayan adamant he wants leave the English Premiership, public discourse has turned to the price tag Liverpool should slap on the 26 year-old’s head and justifications that he’s expendable to the Anfield cause.

While there are always several layers to any story, Suarez’s value as a footballer is undoubted, even with his occasional disciplinary lapses.

He is, unquestionably, one of world football’s finest acts.

Last season in 33 league appearances Suarez registered 23 goals and five assists, a splendid return by any measure but even more impressive on a team that often lacked seasoned offensive quality (apart from Daniel Sturridge, with 10 goals, no other Liverpool player reached double figures in the league).

But, what’s most unique about Suarez is his ability as a game-breaker and a relentless creator of chances both for himself and his teammates.

Consider this: in 2012-13 Suarez not only topped the charts for shots per game, but he also had the most successful dribbles while only two players – Manchester’s City David Silva (3.3) and Everton’s Leighton Baines (3.1) – completed more key passes per match than Suarez (2.7).

The upshot of this creativity was an incredible 90 goal-scoring chances created by Suarez over the season, almost three a game, and more than any striker in Europe.

A picture of inefficiency, instead, has been painted of Suarez. For example, that he was joint-second in both turnovers conceded and number of times dispossessed per game but leaving out that Suarez also ranked second for the number of times a player won possession in the attacking third.

The greater on-field consideration from Liverpool’s perspective, rather, when it comes to selling Suarez is the direction manager Brendan Rodgers wishes to take as he seeks to implement his vision and identity.

Rodgers’ template for Liverpool is of a team that dominates through possession while playing his preferred 4-3-3 formation.

Rodgers, thus, prefers versatile attacking players who have a tactical appreciation of several positions. This has been illustrated by his signings of Fabio Borini, Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and most recently Iago Aspas.

Suarez’s free-spirited, roaming, gunslinger mentality is a nightmare for any coach whose aim is to establish a stable, methodical and lasting system of play.

Liverpool with Suarez, Sturridge and Coutinho

Example of tactical dilemma caused

Example of Rodgers’ preferred 4-3-3 shape

So, yes, in this sense Suarez’s reported £40 million fee may be useful in acquiring players who will improve Liverpool’s squad and Rodgers’ system. However, if the mission is to return Liverpool to the Champions League, then losing Suarez would be a considerable blow.

There is no substitute for a proven match-winner, no matter how enigmatic.

Indeed, when genius is in the midst, a manager’s greatest achievement is to build a system – like Arsenal did with Thierry Henry or Manchester United with Cristiano Ronaldo – that brings the best out of everyone.

Suarez is a special player with the ability to create something out of nothing for himself, and for those around him. Liverpool will be losing a diamond, one that is entering his prime.

Luis Suarez’s improvement

Minutes per goal
Minutes per shot
Chance conversion
Chances created (CC)
Minutes per CC
Pass accuracy

Stats and info-graphics courtesy of www.eplindex.com

Written: July 7, 2013