Manchester Derby: Opta stats analysed

It might not have the same aura of an El Classico but recent power shifts, and the presence of two managers who made Real Madrid v Barcelona matches a mouth-watering affair in the last decade, will make for an exciting Manchester Derby on Saturday.

This is the match that fans have been eagerly waiting for since Manchester United announced that Jose Mourinho was taking over the managerial position left vacant by Louis van Gaal. Portugese mastermind Jose Mourinho against former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola — an extra element to the ever-feisty Manchester derbies!

PHOTOS: Top 5 Manchester Derbies

The managers endured a difficult relationship when in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and the duo will renew rivalries when Mourinho’s Manchester United hosts Guardiola’s City at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday.

Mourinho’s pragmatic approach is often in stark contrast to the ‘tiki-taka’ possession-based game played by Guardiola’s teams. But regardless of their approach, both have been successful at the highest levels of the game.

Marcus Rashford Manchester United Kelechi Iheanacho Manchester City
Young guns! In Marcus Rashford (left) and Kelechi Iheanacho, the Manchester clubs have two of the most talented strikers in EPL.   –Getty Images

Goals guaranteed

While derbies often tend to cagey affairs, the ones in Manchester have a history of producing goals. An average of 2.82 goals are scored when the two teams meet in the Premier League, with a knack of producing some really special ones such as the Wayne Rooney bicyle-kick when United hosted City in 2011.

The highest-capped English footballer, who is also the highest scorer in Manchester derbies with 11 goals, is no longer the fulcrum of United attacks though. The red side of Manchester has a new hero in Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who also openly shares a disliking towards his former coach Guardiola. The six feet five inches tall striker has taken to Premier League life with ease and has already scored three goals.

With eight goals, Argentina forward Sergio Aguero is fifth in the all-time list of Manchester derby goals scorers. But the diminutive forward, who has started the season in top form, will not be a part of the City squad travelling to Old Trafford, owing to a three match retrospective suspension he received for elbowing West Ham United’s Winston Reid.

Young Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho has performed admirably for The Citizens in Aguero’s absence and Guardiola will be hoping the academy graduate can spark up some derby magic similar to what Red Devils’ youngster Marcus Rashford did to them last season, in the process becoming the youngest scorer in Manchester derby (18 years 141 days).

Rashford, meanwhile, will be hoping his hat-trick for England Under-21s will be good enough to please coach Mourinho, who has stayed away from using the striker unlike predecessor van Gaal.

Bastian Schweinsteiger Yaya Toure Manchester Derby Jose Mourinho Pep Guardiola
Not wanted! Midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Yaya Toure have been deemed surplus by their respective teams.   –Getty Images

Unclear formations

Mourinho and Guardiola might vary in their styles of play, but both like to have a well-drilled team that can execute their plans to perfection on the football pitch. The ‘Mourinho v Guardiola’ El Classicos were never about surprising formations, with most matches decided on individual brilliance.

READ: Mourinho v Guardiola: Transfer battle

Guardiola had a summer clearance with former Manchester City pillars Joe Hart, Samir Nasri and big signings Wilfred Bony and Eliaquim Mangala making their way out of the club. Yaya Toure is now a frozen figure in the squad. Mourinho went out and bought players who are tailor-made for his style of play and the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Chris Smalling are now struggling to make the playing eleven.

Manchester City has employed an attacking 4-1-4-1 formation so far this season with Fernandinho playing the role of a single pivot with David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Nolito and Raheem Sterling forming the rest of the midfield behind Sergio Aguero. But with Ilkay Gundogan termed fit to play, Guardiola might opt for a double pivot against a United midfield that has the likes of Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney. The City coach also has decision to make about his goalkeeper. With Hart gone, Claudio Bravo should be first choice but to make a debut on a derby would be no easy task for the ex-Barcelona caoch.

Mourinho certainly has more clarity with his team selection, with the position of Paul Pogba the only major doubt. The French midfielder has so far played in a pivot role along with Marouane Fellaini but the ex-Chelsea manager might opt to bulk up the midfield by adding the experienced Michael Carrick in the line-up and relieving Pogba of his defensive duties.

Assured spectacle

Jose Mourinho has won just three of his 16 matches against Pep Guardiola (W3, D6, L7) but the latter has never won the opening four league matches with any team he has managed so far.

Manchester United leads the head-to-head count in the Premier League having won 20 of the 38 ties. What is more interesting is how eight of the last 10 Premier League Manchester derbies at Old Trafford have seen three or more goals scored.

Seven of the last EPL titles were won by the Manchester Clubs (United 5, City 2). The other teams to have won are Chelsea (2) and current champion Leicester City.

All these facts point to a high-voltage Manchester derby on Saturday.

(With inputs from Opta)

Mohanraj & Dhanpal: Not here to merely make up the numbers

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Football clubs aren’t merely a place where men gather to play the sport. It is an institution that unites the people of a particular region in the name of sport. Hence it is not surprising that successful clubs across the world have always relied on local players — from Manchester United’s class of ’92 that brought a decade of success to the Red Devils to Barcelona’s La Masia products who were the key figures behind the ‘Tiki Taka’ revolution.

This article first appeared on Sportstarlive

Indian Super League (ISL) club Chennaiyin FC certainly seems to be a firm believer in the ideology. After roping in Syed Sabir Pasha, one of the greatest players the State has ever produced, as its assistant manager, the Chennai-based club has signed two exciting Tamil Nadu talents in left-back Nallappan Mohanraj and central midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh.

Sportstar caught up with the two players for a quick chat on the upcoming season of ISL and the state of football in the country.

Excerpts:

Question: Mohanraj, how much of a role did Materazzi, who was perhaps one of the finest left-backs in the world in his days, play in convincing you to join Chennaiyin FC? You also play in the same position, so what are you hoping to learn?

Mohanraj: He’s a champion footballer and I’m looking forward to learn from him. I’m left-footed like him and that will help me learn a great deal from him both in terms of tactics and technique. He has also won a Champions League under (Jose) Mourinho. So I’m hoping to learn a lot under him. He’s the one who wanted me in the squad and I’m grateful for it.

Did you manage to talk to him before making the move?

Mohanraj: I did not have a direct conversation but we communicated through the media manager. I have been selected for my abilities and I’ve come here to play. It is not because I am from the State.

Your story is quite inspiring. Apparently you did not make the cut in the State trials in both under-16 and under-19 before joining HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) and then moving to Mohun Bagan, one of the country’s biggest clubs. How did you overcome the disappointments to reach where you are today?

Mohanraj: Not only me but this, perhaps, is the story of all young footballers suffering in Tamil Nadu at the moment. When I was young, I went for the trials but got rejected all the time. I was sure I had whatever it took to make the cut but they always rejected me as the others had some recommendation and influence.

I had no support. I was there alone. Every time I got rejected I used to cry. But I wanted to prove to them that I was not finished. I was motivated by the rejection. I kept working hard even though it was really tough. Today they can see that I am not yet finished.

We see Tamil Nadu players having to go out of the State to make a mark. What do you think is lacking in the State?

Mohanraj: We have no clubs here. It is after 10 years that we have a club from the State playing a major league. For the up and coming players there is a club now to look up to. Every region needs a club. Kolkata has always had Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Goa had Salgaocar and Dempo. All regions had their teams.

From a small age I’ve wanted to play for the country, so I moved out of the State looking for an opportunity. It was difficult initially because I didn’t know Hindi or English. And those days I used to wonder why we never had a team from Chennai.

How much of a difference will it make to have someone like Sabir Pasha as the assistant coach? He will now work closely with Chennaiyin for talent hunting within the State as well.

Mohanraj: I think he will be more understanding of the local players in the squad and he can certainly communicate more effectively and establish an emotional connect with the local players. He can help them communicate as well.

Dhanpal: Indian Bank was the last team from Tamil Nadu to play in a major league. The team was led by Sabir Pasha and coached by the late V. P. Sathyan. After that we had no opportunity within the State, so all the players moved out. When we were kids we used to look up to players from the State such as Raman Vijayan who plied his trade in Kolkata. So we also thought that was the way to go about things. But now with Chennaiyin, up and coming players have a team within the State to play for.

Dhanpal, last season you missed out due to an injury. What is this season’s target?

Dhanpal: I couldn’t play last ISL due to an injury. So my immediate aim is to get fit again and ensure that I make it to the playing XI. Eventually the goal is to win the title with the team.

Do you hope to be a regular with the National team soon?

Dhanpal: There is a lot of quality in the Indian squad today with the likes of Eugeneson (Lyngdoh) and Rowllin Borges impressing really well. So there is a lot of competition for the spot. (Stephen) Constantine’s India plays a 4-4-2 formation, so the central defenders have to attack and defend. There is no clear defensive or offensive midfielder.

You have been in Indian camps under Constantine. Tell us more about it.

Dhanpal: He is a good coach and under him the team has started relying a lot more on science. There are GPS trackers on us, so they monitor everything we do on the pitch including how much we ran, what positions we took up… This has helped us improve a lot.

These monitoring techniques that you mentioned, don’t you think we should be doing that from a young stage, say while under SAI (Sports Authority of India)?

Mohanraj: Not really. At that age what is required is basic training. We need qualified coaches to teach the kids the basics of football. I think that is still lacking today. Till the age of 17, the focus should be in developing his/her all-round understanding of the game. Once you have the basics right then we can go for all this.

The position of a wing-back has come back to prominence with the likes of Florenzi and Neil Taylor performing admirably. Do you fancy yourself in that role, Mohanraj?

Mohanraj: I’m ready to do whatever the coach demands of me. I can play both on the offensive and defensive. It’s not like I have played only as a left-back. For Atletico de Kolkata I played in the wings a couple of times — against Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin. It all depends on what the teams wants me to do.

Dhanpal, you started off with Pune FC. You had a stint at Pailan Arrows before coming back to Pune. Now both teams have been disbanded. How frustrating is it to have to keep changing clubs and looking for opportunities? How does that affect the growth of a player?

Dhanpal: It certainly helps to get to stick to the same setup annually for a long time. But playing for different clubs has its advantage in the sense there’s exposure to varied team cultures, philosophies and tactics. I have played in 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations and these help you to develop different sets of skills.

Mohanraj: But you also have to understand that it is the same if a team keeps changing coaches every year. Chennaiyin is exciting that way because they have managed to retain their core staff and you can see the massive improvements someone like Jeje has made.

Has ISL helped that way? To know there will be one league? Are you excited about AIFF’s plans of a merger?

Mohanraj: It does help if you are playing at one place for a regular 7-8 months season. Nobody likes to keep jumping from one team to another. If the proposed plans come true then it will be good, I think, with a clear three-tier system. But we do not know much about it.

Pink Panthers open up on Pro Kabaddi and team’s chances

Ever since its inception in 2014, the Pro Kabaddi League has been creating waves around the country. It is the second most-viewed tournament on television after the Indian Premier League.

The run-up to the Pro Kabaddi League Season 4, which kicked off on June 25, was marked by massive player auction and major overhaul of squads. Sportstar recently caught up with two former Pro Kabaddi League champions, Shabeer Bappu, who recently moved to Jaipur Pink Panthers after three successful seasons with U Mumba, and Jasvir Singh, who was retained by Pink Panthers for the fourth straight season. The two players with contrasting fortunes spoke about what the League has done for the sport and what they expect in the upcoming season.

Excerpts:

Question: We had just one pro kabaddi season each in 2014 and 2015. What could be the logic behind having two seasons in a single year now? How does that affect a player? And do you think it will affect the viewership?

Shabeer: There are both benefits and losses with this new move. The disadvantage is that players hardly get any time to recover from their injuries. It’s just been a few months since the last season, and in a contact sport like kabaddi, there is bound to be serious injuries. Something like a knee injury can take a long time to heal.

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Shabeer Bappu… “Pro Kabaddi League has opened up plenty of opportunities for the future generation.”   –K. V. Srinivasan

 

Financially, it is great for us, players. We get to earn more with multiple seasons. The base price for the auction was also increased from Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 12 lakh. Yes, we keep hearing concerns about the viewership. They (organisers) were concerned that the gap between the seasons was too much perhaps. Anyway, we won’t know that until this season gets going.

Shabeer, you work for State Bank of Mysore when not playing in the Pro Kabaddi League. And Jasvir, you work with the ONGC. Can you throw light on the kind of support that the PKL teams give their players during off-season? Who takes care of you, say if you suffer an injury, during that time?

Shabeer: It’s our department (company) that will take care of the medical expenses, unless the PKL teams want to do something about it. U Mumba paid all medical expenses for my injury even after the season. Usually PKL will take care of us from the time we join the training camp, which starts 1-2 months prior to the tournament, to the end of the season. Rest depends on the franchise. Some do it, some don’t, but there is no contractual obligation to help.

Jasvir: After the season, I go back to ONGC where they provide me all the facilities to train and prepare myself. I also represent them in tournaments. All the facilities are provided to us there. And for youngsters who aren’t working anywhere, there is always the SAI (Sports Authority of India). They provide whatever is required.

Pro kabaddi is played on the mat. Is it true that the chances of getting injured on the mat are higher than playing on sand?

Shabeer: It’s a faster game. Sometimes, probably because we are used to other surfaces, we do not get the same grip that we expect. Our calculations go wrong at times. And chances of slipping are also higher. It takes more time to recover from the injuries, as they are usually internal. You don’t bleed or anything, but you end up fracturing a bone or pulling a muscle.

Jasvir: There is a lot of difference between mat and sand. But now, players are slowly getting used to the mat and learning how to deal with it, resulting in lesser injuries than before. Now even in villages and towns they have started using mats, so the training is starting from early stages.

Shabeer, in U Mumba, you were with legends such as Anup Kumar and Rakesh Kumar. How has it helped you improve your game?

Shabeer: It was sad for me to leave U Mumba. I had so many great experiences being in that team. I learnt a lot there. The senior players would point out the mistakes during the game and while training. Their experience helped us keep a cool head even in tight situations.

One of the criticisms against the Pro Kabaddi League has been the constant shuffling of players. Last season we saw Manjeet Chhillar, the face of Bengaluru Bulls, move to Pune (Puneri Paltan); Rakesh Kumar of Patna Pirates switch to U Mumba. Now we have Shabeer joining Pink Panthers. Seeing their stars switch teams after every season, don’t you think it will affect the fan following?

Shabeer: Yes, that is true to a certain extent. This season we had no choice, as the Pro Kabaddi League followed the style of the IPL player auction. So, we had no option but to move. Each team could retain only two players and U Mumba chose to retain Rishank (Devadiga) and Anup (Kumar). Until last season, players could move as per their wish. Players chose to move for various reasons. Some moved for more playing opportunities, while others moved for financial reasons. It will affect the fans because some of them support players and not the team as such. But I guess that is the case in every sport. Economically, it is definitely good. But yeah, players who are auctioned cannot choose which team they want to go to.

Jasvir: Mumbai didn’t take Shabeer, so we took him. He is a senior player with great experience. And today it won’t affect the fans so much. You can always communicate to the fans that you have changed teams. All you need to do is update it in your Facebook account.

Jasvir, unlike other raiders in the League, you have a smaller frame. Yet you have consistently been one of the highest scoring raiders so far. What are your strengths?

Jasvir Singh… “Professional Kabaddi League has helped us take care of our fitness well.”   –K. V. Srinivasan

Jasvir: Yes, compared to the others, I’m a little smaller, but I have fast movements to make up for it. I constantly move fast so that defenders don’t have time to settle down. I keep hustling. I don’t try for bonus points very often. Instead, I focus on my back-kick, which is my most effective weapon. For this, you have to keep practising and do a lot of hard work.

How has the Pro Kabaddi League changed the sport apart from increasing its popularity? How has the training or the diet changed for players?

Shabeer: There is no question that the Pro Kabaddi League has changed the game. It has taken the game from the fields and truly made it a pan-Indian sport. We are also recognised wherever we go. It also opens up plenty of opportunities for the future generation. Now a lot more players will be interested in taking up the sport. Already we see a lot of youngsters getting a chance to learn with the very best.

As far as professionalism goes, we have to be careful throughout the year now. We have to maintain our diet and train regularly because there are more tournaments. We are expected to be at our best.

Jasvir: They take care of our fitness really well. The pre-season training camp that lasts for almost one and a half months really gets us into top shape for the tournament. There are doctors, physios… they constantly take care of our needs. And during the off-season, the ONGC provides for whatever is required.

Who is the favourite to lift the Pro Kabaddi League title this season?

Shabeer: Every team is strong now due to the player auction. In the previous seasons, you had an idea of what to expect. Now, the squads have changed so much that we really can’t tell.

Jasvir: Everybody is working hard in the pre-season training camp and I think it will be a tough fight. We will definitely be geared up for winning it. Things didn’t go well for us in the previous two campaigns because we missed some key players due to injury. I was injured and could play only a few matches. It was the case with Rohit Rana too. It’s kabaddi, and injuries are a part of the game. But this season, we will come back strongly and definitely win the title.

Abhishek Bachchan: ‘No problem in Bollywood being face of Indian football’

Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan, who is the co-owner of Indian Super League (ISL) side Chennaiyin FC, said he doesn’t mind Bollywood actors being the face of football in the country, as long as it aided in attracting huge crowds to the grounds.

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“If I need to use my face to use whatever little stardom I have to help develop Indian football then I am ready to do it. I am not hijacking anything on the field. End of the day people, come to watch the players and not Abhishek Bachchan,” said the actor, who was responding to a query on ace-shooter Abhinav Bindra’s tweet pointing out the overbearing presence of Bollywood during ISL’s opening ceremony.

No Mendoza, no problem

Bachchan also said he expects Chennaiyin to do well this season even without influential midfielder Elano and striker Stiven Mendoza in its ranks.

“We won’t be able to replace Elano and Mendoza from a sentimental point of view. They were with us since the beginning and were instrumental in winning the title last year. But from a positional point of view, we have to adapt.

“Marco (Materazzi) is playing a different system this year. We have managed to plug the void left by them. This year we have a better team and the team is more complete now. Someone like John Arne Riise is a wonderful asset to have. He spends a lot of time with the young kids. Hans Mulder has lots of experience playing in the ISL too,” he said.

Chennaiyin FC recently announced new sponsorship deals with Lloyd Electronics and TVS TYRES, and Abhishek believes winning the title last year has helped increase team’s popularity.

“Being defending champions always helps you with your commercial partners though I can’t comment on them because we are contractually bound. We launched our merchandise sales today and it was something we needed to work on. The merchandise market is in its nascent stage and there is a lot of counterfeiting. But you had to make a start somewhere and we have taken that plunge”, said Bachchan.

League merger the way forward

The actor, who is a big football enthusiast and huge fan of Premier League side Chelsea FC, also said he agrees to the three-tier football league proposed by AIFF and that merging ISL and I-League was the best way to go forward.

READ: Indian football structure set for major makeover

“The football leagues need to merge and make it one big league which has multiple tiers in it. That is the way to improve football. I am not worried about attracting talent. These players are professional. If they know they have a guaranteed employment through the year and have a club that loves them, I don’t think any professional who wouldn’t want to come. It will be beneficial to have a longer league,” said Bachchan.