In Defence of the Away Goals Rule

It seems each year as the European competitions reach their knockout stages, louder chime the cries of those who say we should dispose of the controversial ‘away goals rule’. The rule itself is a simple one. If the two teams in a cup tie finish level on aggregate after the two legs, the team who has scored the most away goals progress. If both teams are level on ‘away goals’, they then progress into extra time, and if needed, a penalty shootout.

The rule was introduced over 50 years ago, to replace the then current method of having neutral replays, or in some competitions, a coin toss. Clearly, since then, the game has moved on. The format of extra time and penalties have since been introduced, but the away goal rule is still prioritised, and in my mind rightly so.

Yes, I’m one of what seems to be a dwindling group of fans of the rule, a rule I believe is a great addition to the game. The rationale behind the rule nowadays is to avoid extra time and penalties deciding the ties, and to encourage the visiting teams to be more aggressive. Something you’d think that everyone wants to see.

One common argument is that the game is completely different to when the rule was introduced. Of course it is, no one is denying that. But that doesn’t mean the rule doesn’t have a place in today’s game. When the rule was introduced, getting an away victory in European competition was rare. Because of the difficulties of travel and conditions, home advantage was far greater. The percentage of away victories in European competitions has doubled since then, mainly because home advantage is less prominent, but also, I believe because of the away goals rule.

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Is it time for a Video Referee?

Long has been the discussion about the need for future technology use in football; and after every bad decision, or every 50/50 call, there are constant cries for the introduction of video referees into the game. Compared to other popular sports, Football has always been behind the times in its use of technology, and now that these measures have been successfully integrated into Cricket, Rugby, and Tennis, and pressure is on for Football to join the club.

It wasn’t long ago we saw the introduction of goal-line technology into the game, and it’s fairly unanimously agreed that it’s been a positive step. So, what is the next step for Football? What other technologies could be harnessed to improve the game?

Most believe there is room for a video referee in the game. It’s worked for Rugby; as the video referee can investigate tries and fouls, and can provide an answer to the on-pitch referee within 1-2 minutes. Say a video referee was introduced into the game, what would the scope of the role be? Would they look at fouls? Offsides? Penalty decisions? Red and yellow cards? In addition, when would the referee be called upon, and whom by? Would the referee ask for help on a decision? Would each team be able to appeal decisions like is currently utilised in the NFL? One thing is for sure, implementing video technology into Football will be more complicated than any other sport previously, and will need thorough consideration, and planning.

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The Brady Bunch Reign Once More

Once again, far too quickly, the NFL season is over. And once again us NFL fanatics must wait until September before the action begins once more. Last Sunday’s SuperBowl was arguably one of the best of all time, as Brady and Belichick’s Patriots somehow fought back from 28-3 down to defeat the Falcons in overtime. However, the Falcons and Matt Ryan will be well aware some wiser decisions will have made sure they left Houston with the Lombardi Trophy.

Now, I should quickly cover the issue that is my preseason predictions. Back in August, I posted my predictions for the season, and although my two SuperBowl picks didn’t quite make it all the way to the NRG stadium, I think it’s fair to say I did relatively well. 9 of my 12 playoff picks did make it through to the post-season, and my two SuperBowl picks did both make it through to what is effectively the final 8. Below is my quick summation for the season, and how each team will be feeling, and preparing for the 2017/18 season.

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A Giant Step Forward

Back in August I made my predictions for the NFL Season, and in it I picked my beloved Giants to make it to the playoffs for the first time since back in 2012. I’m not entirely sure whether I made this prediction through pure hope or through actual belief, but if back in August you had told me we’d make the playoffs, (albeit only the wildcard round), I’d have taken that.

These last few months have been very positive for the boys in blue, and it holds us in good stead heading into the future. The Giants finished the previous season looking good on offence, but with a whole host of problems elsewhere. We finished 31st in the league on defence (only the Saints were below us), were blowing games in the final 2 minutes, and we lost our long-term coach in the form of experienced Tom Coughlin.

In the off-season, we were bold; we spent big on the defence, bringing in Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison on big contracts, and hired young coach Ben McAdoo into his first head coaching role. Another masterstroke was re-signing Pierre-Paul, and the Giants seemed to have drafted in good areas.

The season started well for the Big Blue with 2 wins against Dallas and New Orleans, and the defence was already showing vast signs of improvement by restricting the points conceded. What these results also showed was more character throughout the team, as both these games went to the wire, but unlike the season before we were getting the job done.

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SuperBowl of Steel(ers)

In just 2 days, the NFL returns to our screens, and a new season of highs, lows, cheers, and jeers begins. Last year we saw unlikely winners in the Denver Broncos which allowed Peyton Manning to retire on a high, and we saw the emergence of young guns, and teams on a revival. I’m going to briefly look at all of the teams and their prospects for the season, before ultimately looking stupid by trying to predict what will happen.

Firstly, the NFC East, and the division of my team, the New York Giants. This is probably the hardest of the divisions to predict, with all 4 teams fairly evenly matched. The Redskins took the division last year, and have managed to hold on to their big guns, although Alfred Morris left for Dallas. The Cowboys as usual are struggling to keep their squad fit but boast two impressive lines, and the Eagles once again are trying to build under a new coach so are unpredictable. My pick will have to be the Giants; not only because they’re my team, but we have vastly improved our defence in the off-season, and the combination of Manning/Beckham Jnr is destructive.

Now the NFC North, last year won by the Vikings in the final week. The Vikings last year benefitted from an out of sorts Packers, and a feeble Detroit who started 1-7. This year I think the division will be completely different, but with once constant, the Bears finish 4th. They haven’t significantly strengthened, and are far too weak on both sides of the ball. Losing Bridgewater to injury will be a huge blow to the Vikings and will make them much more reliant on an ageing Adrian Peterson, although they do boast an impressive defence. For me it’s a shootout between the Packers and Lions, with the Packers edging it in the final couple of weeks, and the Lions also making the playoffs.

The NFC West is another hugely competitive division, with arguably 3 teams fighting for top spot. I’m immediately giving the 49ers no chance, and I think the Rams will just miss out on the playoffs once again. Last year the Seahawks got off to a slow start, and the Cardinals came out flying, but I see things different this year. I do think both of these teams will make it to the playoffs come January, and I think the Seahawks will edge the division. Seahawks trio Wilson, Rawls, and Baldwin will light up the league once again, and should achieve a bye.

The final NFC division, the NFC South, looks a lot easier to predict. Last year the Panthers walked the division, and went on to lose in the SuperBowl to the Broncos. The Panthers have lost a couple of their big players this year, but I still expect them to take this division with ease, with the other 3 teams tightly bunched. The theme within the other 3 teams are leaky defences, and if one of them could sure up that side of their game, they’d be in with a chance.

Now onto the AFC, and we’ll start in the East. A division which has been ruled by the Patriots for over a decade. And I can’t see that changing this year. Even though Brady misses the first 3 games, he and the Patriot spine should comfortably take the division; although I don’t see them near the SuperBowl. The Jets and the Bills should take fairly even records, and I expect the Dolphins to once again prop up the division after letting young talent go in the off season.

The AFC North is arguably one of the strongest divisions in the league, and is a tough one to call. Last year both the Bengals and the Steelers made it through to the playoffs, and I would put money on the same results again. The Browns are a better team this year, but I think they’re 1-2 years away from a playoff push. The Ravens are a tough team to call, and pride themselves on a tough defence, but I don’t believe they have enough on offence. For me the Steelers are pretty much the complete team, especially on offence where they boast Big Ben, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams. I see them taking the division, but Bengals also make the playoffs.

The AFC West is another tough division to call, with 3 teams fighting for that top spot. Like the 49ers I am immediately ruling out the Chargers, who are far too reliant on Rivers. The Broncos are a much weaker team than last year, and although many defensive figures remain, I believe they will struggle this year. The Chiefs last year were the most improved team, and I can see another solid year, especially if Jamall Charles can stay fit. I see them grabbing a second playoff spot, but just finishing behind the division winners, the Raiders. Yes, I said it. The Raiders will win the AFC West. They’re a young talented team with huge potential. I can’t see them reaching the SuperBowl yet, but they will give it a push.

Finally, the AFC South. A division which last year was won through a tough defence, rather than an irresistible offence. And for me the Texans have only improved from there. Osweiler and Miller sure up the offence, and I believe they take this division again. The Colts are a team who 2 years ago were close to the SuperBowl, but now seem to be heading backwards. Like the Raiders, the Jaguars are a young improving team, and I see them making the playoffs in 1-2 years, and the Titans should once again prop up the division in last place.

So there’s my predictions for the 8 divisions, and now for the SuperBowl. I’d love to be able to tell you that my beloved Giants will make it to the big game, but I really cannot see it quite yet. My prediction for the SuperBowl is that we will have the Steelers from the AFC, and the Seahawks from the NFC, with Big Ben lifting the Lombardi Trophy for the Steelers.

Mour Success for United?

The news broke not long after Saturday’s FA Cup final that Mourinho joining United was all but done. This wasn’t a surprise to many, as it’s been coming for months. Winning the FA Cup was never going to be enough for Van Gaal, as United missed out on the top 4 for a second time in the past three years. It was enough for Moyes to be sacked, so the writing was on the wall.

I am a lifelong Chelsea fan; so when it comes to the subject of Jose Mourinho I have nothing but praise, and a host of incredible footballing memories. Jose has won 3 league titles at the Bridge, 3 league cups, and an FA Cup. Not just this but he brought a style of play to Chelsea that was not popular to all, but was a pleasure to watch for me. My footballing philosophy has always been one of structure, discipline, and clean sheets the priority, so his style did resonate with me.

But I will never be able to forgive him for joining United.

Sure the respect will be there, so will the memories. But joining one of our biggest rivals is just unforgivable. And I wouldn’t be surprised if when he returns to the Bridge there’s a mixture of cheers and jeers.

Now there’s many who are discussing just how will Mourinho fare at United, and it’s true that this is a situation he’s never really faced as a manager. Firstly, he had a nightmare this season, and showed just how destructive he can be at a club. For the first time in his career he has to bounce back, and reprove himself somewhat. Which won’t be an easy task. Also he’s taking over a club without Champions League football, something he’s never done.

Minus the season just gone, Mourinho has an unmatched record in management. He has won pretty much everything wherever he has gone, including both European competitions with Porto, countless trophies at Chelsea, the treble at Inter, and the double at Madrid. For me, him and Simeone are currently the two best managers in the world (that I’ve seen regularly), and all signs point towards him bringing success to United.

However, I have my doubts.

Mourinho has always brought short term success to all the clubs he’s managed, but has yet to stay at a club for 4 or more season and bring long term success. I really cannot see this changing here. United are a club that value long term management, and Jose won’t be able to do that. United are also a club that value width, and attacking football all year round. As previously mentioned Mourinho prefers to employ a more pragmatic style in his play, and although it’s not particularly boring like Van Gaal’s, it may not satisfy the football United fans want.

Finally Mourinho has a history of not embracing the youth of a club, one of the reasons for his lack of long term success. United have always championed themselves on bringing through youth players, and many have come through this season. The question is will he continue to use these players and bring through his own? I think yes to the former, and no to the latter. Already established stars like Lingard and Rashford will likely be used, but many on the fringes will likely go to waste.

To conclude on the matter, I think Mourinho will bring success to United, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win a title within 2 years. However there is a clear pattern with Jose’s management, and in 3 years time I could be writing a piece on his new club…

 

 

NFL Week 16 Predictions

I finished Week 14 with a score of 9/16 correct meaning that my total is now 136 correct and 88 wrong. Here are my predictions for Week 16 of the season.

Chargers @ Raiders – Oakland more settled so I’ll give them the win – Raiders
Redskins @ Eagles  – Well Giants need the Eagles to win really – Eagles
Colts @ Dolphins – Both not looking good, Dolphins take this for me – Dolphins
Bears @ Buccaneers – Buccs take the win, both running backs key – Buccs
Browns @ Chiefs – Lock of the week, no doubt in this matchup – Chiefs
Patriots @ Jets – I smell an upset here to be honest, Jets take this one – Jets
Cowboys @ Bills – Bills let me down last two weeks, shouldn’t here – Bills
Panthers @ Falcons – Just can’t see Panthers being beat yet – Panthers
49ers @ Lions – Should be a home banker, 49ers can’t do much – Lions
Texans @ Titans – Because Mariota’s out, Texans will take it easily – Texans
Steelers @ Ravens – Steelers destroy the Ravens secondary – Steelers
Jaguars @ Saints – If Brees is out then Jaguars take the game – Jaguars
Rams @ Seahawks – Seahawks are on a big roll right now – Seahawks
Packers @ Cardinals – The Cardinals should take it easily at home – Cardinals
Giants @ Vikings – Vikes slight favourites, but will go for my Giants – Giants
Bengals @ Broncos – Broncos need to stop their 2nd half slumps – Broncos