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The Off the Mark Awards 2013/14: Honouring the Premier League’s best and David Moyes

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‘I used to manage Liverpool you know, Luis. Well, for a bit.’

 

With Luis Suarez having been voted the PFA Player of the Year and the title race entering the home straight, it’s certainly awards season in the Premier League.

But just who have been the best, worst, brightest and dimmest in the division? @Mark_Jones86 puts on his best tux and gets ready to dish out the gongs.

 

Best Game: There have been a couple of 6-3s, with Liverpool and Manchester City coming out as the victors of both, but for the best game you have to look at the meeting between the sides at Anfield earlier this month, which the Reds won 3-2.

It had everything. One of Liverpool’s trademark fast starts, City’s quality seeing them roar back into the game and then an error from the visiting captain which swung the match and title race in Liverpool’s favour, at least until a more recent mistake from the other captain saw it go back the other way.

 

Worst Game: Back in August no-one knew quite how bad Manchester United were going to be under David Moyes, and so Jose Mourinho thought he was being really, really ball-achingly clever when his Chelsea side turned up at Old Trafford, opted to play no forwards and bored his way to a goalless draw.

He wasn’t.

 

Best Player: During one four-game spell in December, Luis Suarez scored 10 goals. Ten in four. That’s ridiculous.

By far and away the best footballer in the Premier League, Suarez has been sensational this season. Ill-feeling and a morbid fascination in him may remain from some, but it’s called Player of the Year for a reason.

 

Best Young Player: How young is young? Eden Hazard and Daniel Sturridge were both brilliant but they are 23 and 24 respectively, so let’s go for Luke Shaw. Still only 18 and now considered good enough for one of those ridiculously over-priced transfers that English players specialise in.

 

Best Goal: A worthy late entry here from Jonjo Shelvey, and whilst Wayne Rooney’s goal at West Ham was truly special, the fact that goalkeeper Adrian was flapping around like a beached seal somewhat ruined it.

No, for sheer bloody-minded Jeeeeeesus Christ-ness its Norwich City’s Alex Tettey, with the type of goal that Norwich City’s Alex Tettey shouldn’t be scoring.

 

Luis Suarez’s best goal: Probably the third of his four against Norwich in December. The control, the flick, the unstoppable blast. Maybe that’s where Tettey got it from.

 

Best Own Goal: Nice try Everton, but John Terry was always going to clinch this award for his glancing header against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. It was the goal which ensured that Palace would improbably stay in the Premier League and that Chelsea probably wouldn’t win it.

 

Best Manager: Brendan Rodgers. Less soundbites, more scoring.

 

Worst Manager: Look Moyesy, you’ve won something! *waves* Sorry Pardew.

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The bit where I state how well Tony Pulis did at Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis did incredibly well at Crystal Palace, and is finally getting the credit he deserved at Stoke. London bias?

 

Worst refereeing decision: Not so much Andre Marriner’s genuine error in mistaking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Kieran Gibbs as a sea of red and white shirted Arsenal players surrounded him at Chelsea, but more the fact that Marriner didn’t sprint down the Stamford Bridge tunnel, grab Gibbs, haul him back on and dismiss Chamberlain once he’d learned of his error.

Do you not know what people are like on Twitter, Andre?!

 

Alternative, uncool team of the season: David Marshall, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Joel Ward, Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Jordan Henderson, Samir Nasri, Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Bony.

 

Best Signing: Romelu Lukaku was an unused Chelsea substitute in that aforementioned bore draw at Old Trafford, before Mourinho loaned him to Everton and then watched on as his forwards failed to hit several barn doors for much of the season. Meanwhile, the big Belgian was brilliant at Goodison.

 

Worst Signing: Roberto Soldado, Marouane Fellaini and Ricky van Wolfswinkel can rest easy, because we’re a little bit concerned that Tottenham might actually have killed the £30m Erik Lamela.

Actually lads, do you mind forming a search party? You’re not doing anything else.

 

Surprise of the season: Liverpool. Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool.

After years of in-fighting, grave off-field errors and mistakes at every turn, the Reds reinvented themselves as the Premier League’s great entertainers. Every match was an event. It might not be enough to secure league titles until they can back it up defensively, but it’s going to be fun watching them try.

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Funniest Manchester United game: Loads to choose from here, but strangely we’re not even going to go for a defeat.

Fulham had barely ever scored a goal north of the Watford Gap until they went to Old Trafford in February, took the lead and then pinched a point through Darren Bent in stoppage time just as the ‘Moyes turns the corner’ headlines were being written.

He’d merely found another cul-de-sac.

 

The Arsene Wenger award for repeating the same season over and over again, although at least this time he’ll probably win the FA Cup, which will finally bring an end to that long trophy drought and give an admirably hard-working, respectable figure something to enjoy, although he must still have nightmares about the league collapse, I mean, they were top of the league before they went to Liverpool in early February and got battered 5-1, I hope he doesn’t leave though, because deep down I like him and wish him well: Arsene Wenger.

 

Yaya Toure rampaging run of the season: The one against Palace the other day? Or the one against, er… you know? And that other one. He does it every week. What a player.

 

Defining moment of the season: If Liverpool win the league then it’ll be Philippe Coutinho’s winner against Manchester City, but if, as now seems likely, they don’t then of course it is Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea which allowed Demba Ba to score.

It was a moment in time which ensures that, no matter how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, how much you long for success for your team, your fans and your city, you are still susceptible to the crazy storylines which run throughout football.

And we wouldn’t want it any other way would we?

 

@Mark_Jones86

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Weekly Round Up: Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all featured

Off the Mark Special: David Moyes and Manchester United were never right for each other

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And so it came, with a devastating thump, after a visit to his former stomping ground Goodison Park.

Manchester United had taken David Moyes from Everton in the summer because of the good work he had done on that particular patch of Merseyside, stabilising the club and generally making them a nuisance for the bigger sides in the land.

But that is really all they were. A nuisance. And only ever one when they played at home, too.

Whenever Moyes’s Everton faced a big game or a big opportunity they would often go into their shells and fail to grasp the nettle. In 11 years at Goodison Moyes never won a trophy, a Merseyside derby at Anfield, an away match at any of the other big clubs or even many friends. He did well to keep Everton in the mix for the European places whilst lacking the capital of some of their rivals, but as was evident from the boos he received on Sunday, by the end he wasn’t as universally liked as many would have had you believe.

All of which made Manchester United’s decision to appoint him in the summer a very strange one, until you consider who it was who made it.

Sir Alex Ferguson will quite rightly have seen something of himself in Moyes when he decided upon his replacement. And not just because he’s a fellow Scot.

In 1986 when Ferguson came down to Manchester from Aberdeen he would have shared that same hunger, desire and ability to organise a team as Moyes undoubtedly has, but the football landscape has changed so much since then. Ferguson should know that, as he’s someone who helped change it.

Quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest managerial figures there’s ever been in the game – perhaps even the greatest – Ferguson will nonetheless tell you that the secret behind his longevity at United was surrounding himself with other minds and opinions. Steve McClaren, Carlos Queiroz and Mike Phelan were just three of his sounding boards and there were more.

Moyes has his trusted lieutenants too of course, and brought Steve Round and Phil Neville on board when he got the United job, but a failure to keep hold at least one of Phelan or Rene Meulensteen, the men Ferguson left behind, was his first error. It was to prove the first of many.

At a time in football when flexibility, tactical awareness, flair and daring are proving so successful across Europe’s major leagues and in continental competition, Moyes went to Old Trafford with a firm belief that his rigid methods at Everton would translate. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

This season United have basically lost to every talented team they’ve played, with the honourable exception of Arsenal. Make of that what you will.

Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton all beat them twice. Chelsea, Tottenham, Olympiakos and Bayern Munich once. Swansea knocked them out of the FA Cup, Sunderland out of the League Cup, West Brom and Newcastle won at Old Trafford for the first time in decades.

The defeats might have been easier for the club’s fans to take if they could see their team playing attractive, expansive football, but there was absolutely no sign of that, and nor was there an indication that any was coming.

And yet through it all, there was this mistaken belief – a belief bordering on arrogance – that everything would eventually be okay because this was Manchester United.

But Manchester United shouldn’t be seventh in the table, 23 points behind leaders Liverpool and providing fodder for Twitter jokers who have somewhat jealously watched them constantly win for 20 years. That belief eventually eroded, and then Moyes was laid bare.

Change was necessary at the club, and so it seems to have come to pass.

Moyes will forever remain a curious footnote in United’s history, and the club’s supporters must now worry just how much of the future he’ll have affected too.

Because the next appointment they make simply can’t be the wrong one again.

@Mark_Jones86

Premier League Preview: West Ham v Manchester United

Off the Mark: With the backing of Moyes, Cleverley can follow Henderson to acceptance

Off the Mark: REVEALED: The two men who could define Manchester United’s next five years, and David Moyes isn’t one of them

Off the Mark: Manchester United fear factor proving too much for David Moyes

Premier League Preview: Chelsea, United & City – It’s all change at the top!

Fantasy Premier League: Scouting for the next Michu!

FantasyYIRMA.com have brought you a range of articles from some of the best players in the game from last season as we try to delve into the mindset of the top guys to help you with your own FPL teams.

Today is no exception. @JulianZip  finished 6th Globally after a fantastic season where he led the way overall on several occasions!

Many Thanks to Julian for his exclusive piece for FY.

It Starts…

In many ways, you could argue that the teams we pick between now and the start of the FPL season, will determine a lot about how the whole season will pan out for us. Yes, we get wildcards to ‘correct’ what we’ve done on a couple of occasions during the season, but the rest of the time we are shuffling one – or a few – transfers at a time, to get to the ideal team we want…which if you are anything like me, always remains a few weeks away.

Is it Wild to use a Wildcard?

What I believe also proves the importance of our starting teams, is a quick look at the FPL managers at the top last year. The majority of them were high in the overall rankings quite quickly…they had solid teams right from the outset. Where they appeared to believe that  they didn’t, for example the overall winner Matt and also the third place getter, wildcards were used almost immediately in week 2! So I think it is fair to suggest that your position after say the first ten weeks of the season is tougher to improve substantially, than it is to try to maintain a positive start….that’s been my experience, anyway.

Is Wilfried Bony the next Michu?

Having said that, creating our initial team involves possibly the most difficult decisions of all. Once the season proper is underway, we can look at stats and the performances of teams and individuals until we’re blue in the face. Until then though, there are a lot of variables to consider, and we have only limited (and often unreliable) evidence upon which to make our predictions. For two examples of this, think about new players and new managers:

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New players are a gamble which can go either way. Where they are joining from different leagues altogether, we really are comparing apples and oranges. For example, Wilfried Bony scored more than a goal a game for Vitesse in the Eredivisie last season, but there aren’t many examples to compare him with to work out how likely it is that this will translate into immediate EPL success. Looking at the last few seasons of top 5 scorers in Holland, Suarez at Ajax is the standout example where it did work (though even he took some time to warm into it) but when I look further, I can’t see too many others. It is also of course, context specific; we need to judge them not only on their own merits, but on the existing squad options they are joining, playing style and all-important fixtures. Michu’s translation of goals from Vallecano in Spain to instant goals at Swansea is an example of where successful transition did happen quickly and spectacularly…but you had to take a bit of a leap of faith to have him before his first game last year which delivered 18 points. If you can manage to pick one or two ‘2012 Michu’s’ in your team now, you’re obviously going to have a head start on many others and be doing really well.

The alternative is to stick with what and who you know. But, even players who are proven EPL performers can become a whole different ballgame when they move clubs within the league! Look at Dempsey going from Fulham to Tottenham last season…his scoring, and FPL productivity took a pretty big swing. He scored only 2 goals in the first 15 games last year, compared to the end of the year before, when he was a ‘must-have’. The role that new players take in a team is something we can only look at the pre-season to get any evidence for…and those games are usually pretty experimental.

To confuse the issue even more, even players who stay at the same team who have had an outstanding season (and ended the previous season in form) aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be good choices…look at David Silva, Nani and Papiss Cisse last year for three examples of that. Despite them though, I still think sticking at the start of the year with a core of proven FPL performers is the way to go.

New Starts: Mourinho vs Moyes vs Pellegrini

The effect of new managers is a particularly relevant variable this season. The way a team plays i.e. formation; who the favoured ‘nailed-on’ players are; or how heavily rotation is used, obviously have a huge effect on player FPL reliability. Will Mourinho apply his (some would say sometimes ugly) Inter Milan approach, or the more free scoring Real Madrid approach (103 goals in 38 La Liga games!)?. He no doubt relies on his personnel to decide, and looking at Chelsea’s riches in the attacking midfield, it’s hopefully the latter…but we don’t know that yet – the guy is an enigma, to put it nicely. Presumably Moyes will in some ways apply a ‘it ain’t broke so don’t fix it too much’ principle, but at the same time, he’ll want to stamp his own mark on Man United. The team that I am most interested in seeing in an FPL sense though this year is Man City. Last season, I mostly steered clear of Mancini and his heavy rotation ways (never forgave him for taking Micah Richards off in the 59th minute during a clean sheet), but if Pellegrini is being straight with us when he promises an attacking style and more time in the oppositions half, then coupled with the removal of the Balotelli and Tevez options, one or two of the City attacking players might well get off to a lightening start and have consistent seasons.

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FPL players who have been around a while will know that having a good year also relies on  being able to pick a few surprise packets. I believe this is particularly true of budget defensive options. You probably did really well last year if you managed to foresee that you’d get double figure clean sheets from a few cheap Norwich or West Ham defenders. Stoke historically seem to provide a somewhat reliable option in this regard, but there again is the managerial change variable….they’ve just employed a former striker for the top job!

So when it comes to preseason, the more you think about it, the more you are probably left with questions rather than answers. Personally, I’ll be doing my best to make sure that I have a team with a solid base of proven FPL performers, with a couple of gambles – most likely on one or two from the promoted teams, or if I can be convinced the new EPL arrivals from abroad. Most importantly, I’m going to try to have a team full of people consistently playing as close to 90 minutes as possible. Toward the end of last year, when transfers were a valuable commodity, I found myself stuck with the likes of Harte and Marveaux, which is something that this year I’m keen to avoid.

Best of luck fellow addicts!

@JulianZip

I did it just looking at stats heaps, match reports, highlights, and FPL websites – @JulianZip

About the Author

Julian led the way in FPL last year including a 5 week consecutive run at #1 towards the end of the season!…Being from Australia and not getting to see as much of the Premier League as he’d like makes this even more impressive!!

Such is the feat of his achievement Julian actually featured in the National Press Down Under http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/opinion/our-man-in-the-big-league-shows-em-how-its-done-in-his-sleep/story-e6frg7t6-1226613525951

Julian epitomizes the stat based approach to the game, a great guy to interact with on twitter – make sure and drop a follow to @JulianZip .

Truly impressive guy – Best of luck this season from all at #FY

The FantasyYIRMA.com Mini-League is now open for new entries – Click the Logo below for more information on how to join and read about our increased prize pot of £100 for the winner!!

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Everton: More fuel required (@Mark_Jones86)

Arsenal v Everton

It was there again on Tuesday night, that famous battling spirit that David Moyes has instilled in Everton and watched grow for the past 11 years.

The Blues battled to a goalless draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in a match that was very much a contrast of styles but one played out with all the passion and intensity of the best Premier League contests.

It was the second of back-to-back draws that Everton have played out at the home of the two North London clubs who they have been battling with to secure a top four place all season, and whilst such results would no doubt be looked upon favourably earlier in the campaign there was a sense that they simply weren’t enough now.

With five matches left, Everton sit four points off third-placed Arsenal and two behind Chelsea and Tottenham sides who at the time of writing have two and one games in hand on Moyes’ men respectively.

Everton face a tricky trip to a revitalised Sunderland, a Merseyside derby at Anfield – where they’ve not won this century – and a final day visit to Chelsea before the season is out, leaving their hopes of reaching European football’s elite competition for the second time under Moyes somewhat hanging by a thread.

Despite using the least amount of players in the Premier League, undoubtedly this has been the most consistent season that the Blues have enjoyed under the Scot, and that probably makes it the best.

Their uncharacteristically lightning quick start all sparked from an opening weekend win over Manchester United, and from there they only seemed to grow stronger and stronger.

The likes of Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and recently Kevin Mirallas have turned in performances that indicate they’d look at home in any team in the division, and there is a real sense that Everton are performing as best they can right now. That though, could present a problem.

Although not widely covered in the mainstream media, Everton’s fans are desperate for investment in a club which needs a financial injection to move forward.

Current chairman Bill Kenwright is undoubtedly a fine man judging by the speech he gave at this week’s Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield, but in this age of billionaires and with the money swirling around the Premier League an old fashioned, homegrown owner such as him simply can’t compete. He and his team have been punching above their weight.

Investment in that team is what is needed now, especially as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are all likely to strengthen over the summer, whilst Liverpool continue to gain in momentum and confidence following their rocky few years.

At the moment, Everton are going flat out to keep up with them all. There has to be a question over whether or not they can sustain that going into a new season.

As well as facing the battle to keep hold of his key men, Moyes – if of course he stays at the club –  must also come up with a couple of squad additions that will both freshen the Blues up and keep them at the level they’ve shown this season. Anything less and there is a danger that there won’t be an awful lot left in the tank.

Young talents like Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman, as well as the improvement of Victor Anichebe mean that the club is certainly showing promise, but what use is that when you’ve run out of gas?

If Everton thought it was tough to keep up with the big boys this season then that is only likely to get even tougher next time around, and they’ll need reinforcements to do that.

That tank deserves to be filled based on this season’s efforts alone.

@Mark_Jones86

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