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Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The End is Nigh. Match preview: Leicester City v Atletico Madrid

"10% possession lads. That's all"


It’s not very often that Life throws us a bone here at Spongers HQ, probably because if that hateful bastard did decide to throw one at us it’d somehow break all our windows just as we’d agreed to sell Spongers HQ based on its incredible windows. That’s the kind of relationship we have – Life is generally only interested in building us up to tear us down.

So imagine the scenes when not only were Leicester City drawn against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League – the soon-to-be-infamous 38% possession tie, as we predicted back on the old Twitter back in 2016 – but somehow, Macclesfield Town and York City beat Tranmere and Lincoln respectively to set up a Spongers Wembley final. A Spongers. Wembley. Final. 

The scenes were of elation, obviously. Elation immediately replaced by trepidation. How is Life going to ruin this one for us?

The answer, of course, is that with only 38% possession each in their first leg tie at the Vicente Calderon, Atletico and Leicester are going to open a vortex and the world is going to end. So we won’t even make it to the Spongers final. Which you have to admit is staggeringly well played by Life. Most of us thought it would be Trump nuking China. But no. It’s Life not being able to stand Bushby and MacDonald enjoying a day out at Wembley with their friends.

Anyway. Why is Leicester-Atletico going to cause the end of the world? We’ll tell you why.

This is what we opined about Leicester mid-way through their title-winning season:

“Leicester are still going into games, especially away from home, as underdogs, so the home team feels bound to boss possession, which plays right into the hands of a team who are electric on the break."

This underdog nature still plays into Leicester’s favour, of course, though it helps to cement it by being shit for two-thirds of a season. But let’s deal with this distinct style thing and, as this is 2017, let’s do so by making a point via arbitrarily quoting from a website whose veracity is ultimately unknown, but seems on the surface to be very impressive.

Having a look around whoscored.com suggests to us that Leicester’s average possession per match is 43.9%. Atletico’s is 48.9%. Not that instructive, albeit both are less than 50%. The instructive comparison is to look at what we’d consider ‘big’ games – against, in most cases, superior opposition, in which they’ve got a positive result. Not that it matters, because the world’s going to end.

When Atletico beat Bayern Munich at home in the group stage in September, they did so with 33% possession. When they won 4-2 at Leverkusen, they did so with 38% possession, with the goalless draw in the return seeing them with only 44%. Similarly, Leicester overcame Porto at home (44%) and beat Sevilla 2-0 with just 29% possession (having had 27% away). In the Premier League, just because the numbers are so remarkable, they’ve beaten Manchester City and Liverpool with 22% and 31% respectively.

In each of these games, whoscored.com notes, the main principle of each side is frequently winning the ball from the opposition and creating large numbers of chances relative to possession. Neither is going to boss possession, which is exactly what the other team needs to be successful. It’s going to be pretty bloody tough to win the ball and be direct against a side that specialises in winning the ball off you and being direct. And 33% possession plus 22% possession does not 100% of possession make. Where the hell is the rest of it going to go?

Into creating a vortex, that’s where. Into creating the end of the world. The end of the world as 22 lads just keep aggressively winning the ball off each other every three seconds then leave it for the other team to pass it around so they can hit them on the break, which they won’t because they are waiting for the other team to pass it around so they can hit them on the break. This, until the ground opens up and the Earth turns inside out.

But wait a minute. This all sounds kind of familiar. Like there’ll be lots of running. And plenty of tackling. And then some more running. Possibly a header. A run. A tackle. Some pride thrown in for good measure. A clearance or two into touch. A lovely sideways pass from a defensive midfielder to the full back in space that English fans so love. Followed by some more running and a tackle. And what’s that? A fucking BEARD?

It’s shite football, as expounded by us back when we got our UEFA badges a few months ago and vowed to change football. Little did we know. Little did we know that it’d lead to Riyad Mahrez’s spindly legs being ripped off by the massive gravitational pull of the Earth’s core, or Jamie Vardy’s little wrist bandage being completely melted by molten magma. Or Fernando Torres still missing presentable chances even though he has the entire universe to aim at. Or Marc Albrighton still just running around regardless.

Shite football, our guaranteed way to win any match no matter who you’re playing against, will ultimately do for us all. Sorry about that everyone. Turns out this is all our fault. But you do have to sit back and admire just how well Life has stitched us up on this one.

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