Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Chelsea’s unique Premier League record against Man Utd tempers title upset

Friday, April 17th, 2015

By Brian Sears

17 April 2015

The Premier League season could still have significant twists and turns at both ends of the table. When Chelsea host Manchester United this weekend, there’s a real chance of one. Or is there?

Manchester United have been ever-present in England’s top division since it was revamped to become the Premier League from 1992-93. They have been the dominant club of the PL era. They have faced 45 different Premier League opponents in that time. And they have a positive head-to-head record against all of them in that period … except Chelsea.

As the graphic below shows, United have dominated most teams over the piece, for example winning 107 points in head-to-heads with Aston Villa against Villa’s 20 points (from 46 meetings) to winning 49 points in PL games against Coventry, as Coventry picked up a measly four points from 18 meetings.

United have lorded it over everyone from Tottenham to Everton, Bolton to Fulham to Leeds and Arsenal …. and everyone except Chelsea.

The records of all the clubs against United are below, ranked by the sheer number of points by which United have dominated each team in PL games on aggregate. Apart from Chelsea, that is, who have played United 45 times in the PL era and won 62 points from those games compared to United’s 56 points.

If United are to upset the apple cart and throw a spanner in the works of Chelsea’s title hopes, they will need to do so in the face of historical Chelsea dominance in this fixture.

And if United can win, they will still be in deficit to Chelsea by three points in the PL era.

Article continues below

Man Utd h2h in PL

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And another thing …

Stoke City can already look forward to an eighth consecutive season of Premier League football come August. On the way to that they will be hoping to register their first Premier League victory over Southampton when the Saints visit the Britannia Stadium this weekend. The first four PL meetings of the two clubs were all drawn but Mane’s goal gave Southampton victory last October.

Stoke will also be after a first Premier League win over Burnley when they visit Turf Moor in May. But first Premier League wins over Blackpool and Cardiff will have to wait a little longer ….

Stoke all-time PL

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…. And finally

The statistics in these pages will often be in relation to the Premier League era when they deal with English football. We know the game is a bit older than that. We know Preston won as Invincibles in the league’s first season in 1888-89. But the Premier League is a distinct era if only because of the money that has transformed the picture. This is the ‘monied era’.

To get some idea of how the financial situations of these clubs have changed over time – and finance is a big influence in success in football – further reading and related articles spring from Sportingintelligence’s annual global sports salaries reports, are linked here:

2014 Report             2013 Report            2012 Report         2011 Report          2010 Report

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More on Liverpool / Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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Resurgent United hope Manchester derby shows rivals City have passed peak oil

Friday, April 10th, 2015

By Brian Sears

10 April 2015

Manchester City have been brilliant at times in recent seasons, thrilling to watch as they’ve scored at will and won two of the past three Premier League titles.

But lately they’ve looked old, inconsistent and brittle, as well as costly in more senses than one.

The defeat at Crystal Palace was a case in point. It highlighted City have the oldest squad in England’s top division. Eight of the starting XI were aged 29 or older, and one of those under 29, Vincent Kompany, turns 29 today (10th April). If this XI isn’t quite on its last legs then it is creaking and in need of fresh blood. Joe Hart is one of those with good years ahead at 27, turning 28 this month, while Sagna is 32, Kompany is 29 today, Demichelis 34, Clichy 29, Navas 29, Toure 31, Fernandinho 29, Silva 29, Aguero 26 and Dzeko 29.

Costly? We all know City’s title-winning sides have been expensively assembled. City fans are hugely grateful to Sheikh Mansour’s largesse. The flip side is that when they lose to well-heeled rivals, they are open to jokes, costly jokes, at their expense. Palace’s starting XI combined at less than £19m cost less than half of the price for Eliaquim Mangala alone. He sat on City’s bench at Palace, his £42m price tag* weighing heavier by the week.

Brittle? Gary Neville opined City have a ‘mentality problem‘, saying they are a club who cannot sustain success. The result at Palace highlighted that they have lacked backbone in specific situations away from home …. for 20 years. One quite remarkable statistic arose from the Palace defeat: City have not won an away game in the Premier League since 1995 where they have trailed at half-time. Leaving aside the five years City went meandering to the lower divisions, that’s still a lot of away games with no comebacks after falling behind by the break.

As they prepare to face one of their most intense fixtures of the season, away at Old Trafford, it is certainly worth posing the question: Have City passed peak oil?

For now let us just restrict the question to the Manchester derby, a fixture they fared so badly in for many years in the Premier League era before dominating it of late. As we noted in October, City have won five of the past six Manchester derbies. That remains the case. United have not won a Manchester derby on their own turf since February 2011. Victory that day, courtesy of  Wayne Rooney’s spectacular late overhead kick, extended City’s dismal sequence of only one league win in their previous 27 visits to Old Trafford.

Since then, City have won at Old Trafford in the league in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 as well as beating United on their own ground in three of the last four league meetings there.

City have been well and truly in control of local bragging rights recently, despite only 11 PL wins to 18 in the PL in total, despite 10 derbies without a win at the start of the PL era and despite United being the bigger, richer and better (higher-placed) club in every Premier League season bar the two in which City have won the title.

But United sense change. They are on a run of five consecutive Premier League victories for the second time this season. And City are trying to avoid a fourth successive away Premier League defeat, after losing to the mighty Palace, Burnley and Liverpool.

The last time City lost three PL games away from home in a row and went into a fourth seeking to stop the rot was the end of the 2005-06 season (when they lost at Blackburn) and the first games of the 2006-07 season, when they lost at Chelsea and Reading. Then the fourth game of that streak was at Blackburn. And they lost.

Article continues below

Manc derby PL to 10.4.15

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* On Mangala’s price tag, oft disputed by ill-informed City fans who believe ‘the media’ is out to ‘get them’, Porto released an official statement to the Portuguese Stock Exchange verifying their own take of €30.5m for 56.67% of the player (that’s here), while two third-party entities, Doyen and Robi Plus, have confirmed to journalists they received the proportionate sums for their own shares in the player. That means Mangala cost City €53.8m, or £42m at the prevailing exchange rates, plus agent’s fees to Jorge Mendes. For reasons unknown, City erroneously briefed some journalists last summer that Mangala cost £32m. It wasn’t true and isn’t true, as those same journalists now acknowledge and as official documents including the club’s own accounts now show. (The “post-balance sheet events” show spending on players since the accounts ended and any fan adding up the player purchases and sales can see Mangala must have cost a lot more than £32m to make this legal document stack up).

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And another thing … Swans find Toffees leave a bitter taste

Swansea are spending a fourth consecutive season in the Premier League and are guaranteed a fifth in August. They have already welcomed 27 different clubs to Wales for PL games but there’s only one club that has a 100 per cent record against the Swans on those visits on their own turf. That’s this weekend’s visitors: Everton.

Indeed, home and away the Swans have only managed to gain two points in total from seven games against the Toffees, both at Goodison, from goalless draw last November and another goalless draw there in January 2013.

Only against Tottenham and Chelsea have Swansea won fewer points per game than the 0.29 they have won in PL games against Everton. And the two points against Chelsea and one against Spurs have both been won at home.

The table below shows Swansea’s all-time PL record by opponent (current up top, former below), ranked in each case by points per game, and noting the percentage of points won against each opponent that were won at home. Swansea’s haul of 181 Premier League points from 145 games to date equates to 1.25 per game, with 108 of those won at home, or 60 per cent.

Article continues below

Swansea v Everton

 

…. And finally

The statistics in these pages will often be in relation to the Premier League era when they deal with English football. We know the game is a bit older than that. We know Preston won as Invincibles in the league’s first season in 1888-89. But the Premier League is a distinct era if only because of the money that has transformed the picture. This is the ‘monied era’.

To get some idea of how the financial situations of these clubs have changed over time – and finance is a big influence in success in football – further reading and related articles spring from Sportingintelligence’s annual global sports salaries reports, are linked here:

2014 Report             2013 Report            2012 Report         2011 Report          2010 Report

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More on Liverpool / Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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Man Utd v Aston Villa: the perfect Premier League example of lording it over a rival

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

By Brian Sears

3 April 2015

Manchester United play at home against Aston Villa this Easter weekend seeking a resurrection of their Champions League participation from next season. United could arguably not wish for better opponents when all-time Premier League records are considered. United have won more Premier League points against Villa – or 104 in 45 PL games – than against any other team since the top division was revamped in 1992-93.

That equates to 2.31 points per game for United from 31 wins in those 45 games, plus 11 draws. Villa meanwhile have taken just 20 points in total from those games, from three wins and 11 draws, equating to 0.44 points per game. Villa have only ever won once in the PL at Old Trafford, and that was back in December 2009, with their other two wins at home, and those back in 1995 and 1992 respectively.

It was on 15 December 2013 when United beat Villa 3-0 that United chalked up the first century of points from any Premier League head-to-head pairing. In March 2014, United completed the double over Villa for that season and then last December the 1-1 draw at Villa Park took United to 104 points.

Last October, United beat Everton 2-1 at Old Trafford to record a second century of Premier League points against another club. And two weeks ago, United’s 3-0 victory at Old Trafford over Tottenham completed the third century.

It is not mathematically possible for another century of this type to occur now until next season at the earliest, and that will only come about if Arsenal achieve the double over Everton next season. Here are the current biggest head-to-head tallies in the PL era.

Article continues below

Lording it ... MUFC v AVFC .

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And another thing …

Jose Mourinho first became manager of Chelsea in June 2004.  He remained at the helm until September 2007, famously not losing a home league game at Stamford Bridge in that spell. He did, however, have to settle for draws in 14 of the 60 home games played in the league. That set a pattern Chelsea have largely followed since: losing rarely at home but drawing a sizeable minority of their home games.

In the 11th season since Mourinho’s first advent and in 204 home league games in that time (with and without Jose), Chelsea have only lost 12 of them but home draws now total 44.  The pattern has persisted since Mourinho’s return. In his present spell he has had 33 home games with only the one defeat but six draws.

Over 11 seasons, Manchester United have gained 13 more home points than Chelsea, and more points per game, while suffering 22 home defeats. United have won 11 more home games than have Chelsea and drawn fewer. Only eight clubs have been ever-present in the PL since 2004-05. Here are their respective home records for the era.

Article continues below

Home in PL since 2004-05

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Chelsea are at home this Saturday to Stoke.  Stoke have visited Stamford Bridge six times in Premier League action and have lost all six games. Here is the Chelsea home record against all 45 clubs they have entertained at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. Chelsea have only failed to win at least half of the possible points against two teams at the Bridge in PL games over the era: Oldham and Sheffield Wednesday, albeit from a limited number of games.

 CFC at SB in PL era

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And another thing …

There’s a big game in the north-east this weekend when Sunderland host Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby. Whatever happens it’s highly likely Newcastle will finish the season as the ‘better’ north-east club, higher up the table.

In the Premier League era as a whole Newcastle have been the ‘biggest’ and objectively the best club in the north-east.  They’re been in the PL for 21 of the 23 seasons, for a start. They’re finished as the best north-east side in 13 of the 22 completed PL seasons. They’ve won 1,142 PL points at a rate of 1.43 per game, which is far superior to Middlesbrough in second place in the north-east (1.19 pts per PL game) and Sunderland (1.04).

Sunderland have finished highest up five times, and Middlesbrough four times. Sunderland are on a par with Middlesbrough in terms of PL seasons played: 14. One of that pair, perhaps both, could be adding a 15th PL season next year. Then again, neither might. Before we look at this weekend’s match, here is a summary of the north-east clubs in the PL era.

Article continues below

n:e clubs in PL era

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Sunderland and Newcastle meet at the Stadium of Light this weekend. Sunderland have played second fiddle to Newcastle in their derby games until the most four meetings, all won by Sunderland; 1-0 at Newcastle in December, 3-0 at Newcastle in February last year, 2-1 at home in October 2013 and 3-0 at Newcastle in April 2013.

But overall, Newcastle still have a better head-to-head record in the PL against Sunderland than vice versa. Newcastle have won nine and draw nine of the 25 PL meetings to date; Sunderland have won seven and drawn nine, winning those last four on the bounce.

n:e h2h in PL era

 

 

…. And finally

The statistics in these pages will often be in relation to the Premier League era when they deal with English football. We know the game is a bit older than that. We know Preston won as Invincibles in the league’s first season in 1888-89. But the Premier League is a distinct era if only because of the money that has transformed the picture. This is the ‘monied era’.

To get some idea of how the financial situations of these clubs have changed over time – and finance is a big influence in success in football – further reading and related articles spring from Sportingintelligence’s annual global sports salaries reports, are linked here:

2014 Report             2013 Report            2012 Report         2011 Report          2010 Report

 

More on Liverpool / Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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“As in 1998, professional cycling in 2015 is fostering a culture of secrecy”

Monday, March 30th, 2015

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“Our vision is to continue to play a leadership role in charting a better future for this great sport of ours and

changing the culture that so damaged it. That means continued leadership on anti-doping.” 

Sir Dave Brailsford, 2014

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Teddy CutlerBy Teddy Cutler                           Follow Teddy Cutler on Twitter

30 March 2015

It was back in 2012 that Team Sky, home at that time to the defending Tour de France champion Sir Bradley Wiggins, carried out a purge of staff.

In an autumn of the long knives, Bobby Julich and Steven de Jongh left their posts after an exhaustive and, presumably, exhausting interrogation of their doping pasts. Sean Yates left for ‘family reasons’; Michael Rogers and Juan Antonio Flecha both departed at the end of the season.

Julich and De Jongh had taken EPO, cycling’s miracle ‘blood boosting’ drug, in the late 1990s. When Sky reaffirmed and strengthened their ‘zero tolerance’ policy on doping in the wake of the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s ‘Reasoned Decision’ on Lance Armstrong, which saw the seven-times Tour winner stripped of his titles and banned for life, Julich and De Jongh went.

They eventually found work elsewhere – the American at BMC; the Dutchman at Tinkoff-Saxo, where they both now serve important roles, along with Yates and Rogers, who is the ‘road captain’ on that Russian team.

Servais Knaven, a friend and co-rider of De Jongh on the Dutch TVM team when it was thrown from the 1998 Tour after doping products were discovered in their hotel, remained with Sky. He still works with them as sports director.

Sky’s policy, that any doping in the past will mean you can no longer work for them was, and is, laudable … in a utopian world where the past refuses to intrude upon the present and where humans are removed of their ability and innate desire to wriggle and lie.

But as outlined in detail in a review of the so-called ‘EPO era’ in December (summarised visually, below right), a clean break from cycling’s past is impossible and wholly unrealistic.

Professional cycling in 2015 is populated with people who were deeply involved in the EPO era that began in earnest in the mid to late 1990s, either still riding or, more often, serving as team officials.Cycle-Of-Suspicion-A3

The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report, commissioned by the UCI, and available here, had a remit that included exploring how the EPO era unfolded, and making recommendations on cycling’s future.

This website’s own review explored, pre-CIRC, some of the areas it might touch upon. That review looked at all major teams, past and present. All riders. All doctors. All team managers. All nationalities.

It did not set out to highlight any one team or group over another. That should be absolutely clear from the briefest perusal of the 12,500 words in that review, and in the poster brilliantly realised by Matt Morris for Sportingintelligence that summarised the findings.

That review, in fact – which over many months gained input from riders and officials, past and present, banned and never sanctioned – laid the groundwork for an investigation published in the Mail on Sunday, over two weeks, here and here.

A full six weeks before the first part was published, Team Sky had declined to answer some fairly rudimentary questions about their own policy. Then as fresh information became available – as well as access to documents never scrutinised or published before*, by any media – the focus intensified on a particular person at Team Sky. But the issues at the heart of it are much wider than any one person.

The issues include the serious flaws and inconsistencies in the ‘zero tolerance’ policy, and a pervasive culture of omertà.

(*Click here to send an email requesting our 12-page PDF sample of key Reims court documents; put ‘Reims papers’ in the subject line).

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“I took EPO on a few occasions from 1998 to 2000. It was very easy to get hold of and I knew it couldn’t be detected. I was a fairly young rider, the opportunity was there right in front of me and it was a pretty big challenge to stay away from the temptation. There was no pressure at all from my team, the Directors or the Doctors to take it. This was my choice.”

Steven de Jongh, 2012, in an open letter to Team Sky.

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The issue is not Servais Knaven. Team Sky have employed and almost certainly continue to employ former dopers, plural. They are not limited to De Jongh and Julich, or Geert Leinders and Michael Barry. They know who they are. Team Sky must have a decent idea too. But it is Knaven’s case that highlights a sorry situation.

He co-operated, along with De Jongh and others, with legal authorities in the summer and winter of 1998, as part of proceedings that led to a drug trafficking trial involving TVM team staff Cees Priem, Jan Moors and Dr Andrei Mikhailov – who even now works at the Katusha team.

The case came to an end in May 2001 with convictions for those three men, but with no sporting sanctions for the riders involved.

There were no sporting sanctions, we have been told – in person, by officials who worked on the case at the time -  because the prosecutors were far more interested in the facilitators than the beneficiaries.

The nature of these documents, then, was something of a mystery. We knew Jeroen Blijlevens and Bart Voskamp, two of Knaven’s teammates, took EPO, because they confessed in 2014. De Jongh likewise, although his confession came earlier.

But Knaven? There were second-hand newspaper reports in French and Dutch that claimed he was one of the riders to have tested positive for EPO in blood tests taken at an Albertville hospital after TVM  were ejected from the 1998 Tour.

Nothing conclusive. And if course, no direct test for EPO was available in 1998.

It only took a telephone call and some email correspondence with a senior official in the Reims courthouse where Knaven, De Jongh and their teammates had come to testify in December 1998 for us to gain access to the case documents, some pictured below.

Reims documentsAt the Palais de Justice in Reims just a few weeks ago we had access to thousands of pages of evidence from the three-year TVM trial. There is detailed scientific evidence there, and contemporary police statements signed in the presence of lawyers. There are test results from blood, urine and hair samples, and reams of legal papers.

Knaven’s name and the names of his TVM team-mates are all over the documents, which tell, often in their own words, what was going on during that disgraced 1998 Tour de France.

A toxicology report concluded Knaven had used EPO, by measuring the level of natural EPO in his body through a ‘negative feedback’ system, the theory being that if you use recombinant (synthetic) EPO then you stop producing the natural stuff.

He admitted, in a police report, to using Persantin, a blood-thinner, but said it was to treat ‘heavy legs’. He had taken Naftidrofuryl, a vasodilator whose medical use is to prevent heart disease and blood circulation problems. Cortisone, a steroid whose use in cycling is illegal without a therapeutic use exemption, was found in his urine. It is unknown whether Knaven had a TUE, because he and Sky have still to answer our questions.

Servais Knaven has always maintained, and continues to maintain to this day, that he never played any part in the TVM doping scandal. The evidence and statements we found – much or which had never been seen before or published by anyone – suggested otherwise.

But this is not about Knaven, who is good at his job and does not, in my opinion, deserve to lose it for indiscretions committed 17 years ago in a very different era. Knaven is simply a symptom of a system that is still broken.

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It was apt that as we were returning from Reims with our evidence, the UCI was preparing to release the CIRC report. Three senior officials in law and anti-doping had been beavering away at great expense for over a year, in an attempt to dig up ghosts and in the process wipe professional cycling’s slate clean.

It was a brave effort, even if results were mixed.

Chris Froome, of Sky, was the only named, active rider who spoke to CIRC, which had no mandate to force people into coming forward.

Most revealingly, not one past or present rider who has never admitted to an anti-doping rule violation came forward to volunteer information. No-one like Knaven stepped from the shadows. And with no incentive to, why would they?

The report produced some interesting information, like the revelation by two unnamed sources that from 20 to 90 per cent of the peloton are still doping. But Brian Cookson, the President of the UCI who established the commission, said he would “like to think the figure is closer to 20 per cent than 90.”

That is problematic. Cookson called for the report, and now appears to want to dismiss its findings.

It all adds up to a pervading feeling that very little has changed. Just as in 1998, when TVM and Festina were rumbled, professional cycling is an environment that encourages secrecy.

The CIRC report had the praiseworthy aim of illuminating the recesses of the sport but ended up by showing how dark those recesses remain. If it accomplished one thing, it was to show how powerful a force the omerta remains.

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When we returned and presented our evidence to Sky, they questioned Knaven and he gave the same answer he gave back in the autumn of 2012. I never doped. Sky took our evidence to three experts, none of them named, and announced they had concluded there was no proof of doping.

We asked the world’s leading authority on the detection of banned performance-enhancing drug EPO in blood, Robin Parisotto, what he thought. Parisotto invented the first EPO tests, used at the 2000 Olympics. As the pertinent MoS article explained, these tests have morphed into the athlete biological passport and since been adopted by a number of international sporting bodies.

Parisotto also currently sits on the biological passport panel of cycling’s world governing body, the UCI. He said a particularly low level of natural EPO – as found in Knaven’s blood, as agreed was found in his blood by Knaven himself at the time – is explicable only by renal damage or doping.

This is the tipping-point at which what should be a laudable attempt at transparency slips uncomfortably into obfuscation.

Knaven said in 1998 that he had never taken Naftidrofuryl. Now he admits that he did. Knaven admitted in 1998 that he was happy to take whatever Mikhailov gave him, and that everything was allowed ‘as long as what Mikhailov gives me doesn’t make me test positive’.

Knaven said in a police statement on 3 December 1998 (right) that he did not contest the abnormally low level of natural EPO in his body but that there could be ‘numerous other reasons’ to explain it other than having recently stopped a course of synthetic EPO.Knaven statement

Not one of these other reasons has yet been forthcoming. We would, obviously, be more than happy to hear one. We asked questions of Knaven and other current Team Sky staff a full six weeks before ever going to Reims.

Sky’s policy was to answer nothing, put up nobody.

After publication of the first story of the investigation in the MoS, in an interview with The Telegraph’s Cycling Podcast (linked here), Brailsford said: “Unfortunately there is nothing concrete…that says to us this is undeniable. Whilst he [Knaven] maintains that position and without anything absolute to the contrary we have to take him at his word.”

Sky have repeatedly declined to answer general questions we have posed relating to the team and the zero tolerance policy, as well as fresh ones to have resulted from the evidence we uncovered in Reims.

It’s easy to see where this obfuscation originates from. Zero tolerance is impractical – unworkable, even – in an era still so closely wedded to cycling’s EPO generation.

The situation Sky find themselves in now is deeply uncomfortable. They have questioned Knaven twice over his time at TVM. They now know that he has withheld certain key information from them.

Yet they cannot sack him, because he will not confess, and, from their point of view, there is no proof. (Nor, it should be stressed, again, do I think Knaven should be sacked).

It is to be hoped Sky don’t take what would be, ultimately, the most cynical option of all: to quietly release Knaven at the end of the season, when the hubbub has died down and they can avoid any more difficult questions. If they do, this sentence will stand as a record, and prediction, of their artifice.

All of this leads to the inevitable question: what, really, is the point of zero tolerance?

Is it really a policy to ensure that not a single figure on the team has ever had an association with doping?

Or is it, as it appears, a policy that seeks to give the impression nobody on the team has ever doped?

There is an obvious gulf between those two positions.

The latter option is where zero tolerance and the failure of CIRC intercept. Both end up in a dangerous hinterland, and in fact reinforce a dangerous culture of secrecy.

There are still figures working at Sky who the team must be confident were involved in or saw doping offences being committed in the past. Now, thanks to the treatment of Knaven, these figures know that silence is golden, just as it was for those who declined to speak to CIRC.

The response to the MoS reports, and the CIRC report, were telling.

Geraint Thomas, Sky’s form rider of the year so far, described the suggestion that 90 per cent of the peloton are still doping as “insulting”.  Most in cycling simply met its release with silence. Former Sky sprinter Mark Cavendish has said there is “nothing new” in the CIRC report and that he was “unaware” riders could approach the Commission.

The MoS story was mentioned, much to his credit, by Matt Dickinson of The Times. Tom Cary in The Telegraph also referenced it. Every other major British newspaper ignored it. (Well, I say ignored it; several cycling correspondents got in touch privately to say, and I paraphrase: ‘Interesting work, but it’s tough to follow-up without pissing off Sky’).

Are we living through another era where everyone knows the truth, but few have the guts to acknowledge it? Sky exert a considerable influence in the British sporting media – all the more laudable, then, that The Times even acknowledged the Knaven story.

The irony is that nobody set out to ‘get Sky’.

Astana, for instance, deserve far more scrutiny on a regular basis than Sky do. So too Katusha; why, for instance, is Mikhailov still a doctor at a professional cycling team in 2015, despite having a criminal conviction for assisting doping, a criminal conviction never appealed?

But if asked that question, Katusha owner Igor Makarov would simply shrug his shoulders and move you on – he’s under no obligation not to employ those with a doping past.

Sky’s policy, on the other hand, leaves them open to accusations of rank hypocrisy, and, perhaps worse, a lack of transparency, because of those who are gone, and those who have been left behind at the team.

Zero tolerance, as I see it, is not an anti-doping policy. It’s one that drives dopers and their lies further underground; that backs them into a corner where it’s the truth or your job on the line.

I absolutely get it that reasonable observers might think it churlish to have gone digging so far back into someone’s past, whether that was Knaven, any of this team-mates, or any of the other figures in our cycle of suspicion.

What Knaven and others do now in their roles at Sky or elsewhere should not be defined by what they did or did not do in the past – and it is worth reiterating that in 2015 he maintains his innocence.

Knaven should be free to pursue his post-riding career free from suspicion. He would be doing so now, were it not for zero tolerance.

If Sky had a policy like the one Jonathan Vaughters employs at Cannondale-Garmin of being open about the sins of the past, the trip to Reims would have become an exercise in stating the obvious.

MoS Zero tolerance‘Hey Dave, look at all the evidence we have collected that shows Servais Knaven used blood-thinners and vasodilators suitable for 70-year-olds with heart conditions’, we would have said.

And Brailsford would have turned around and told us methodically that none of that mattered a jot, because in 1998 there was an entrenched culture of doping in cycling, and that we should all – journalists included – jolly well move on by acknowledging rather than demonising that culture.

“F*** protecting our image,” said Vaughters in 2013, after Ryder Hesjedal admitted to using EPO during his mountain-biking career. “Let’s actually do the right thing.”

It seems to me that at Sky, image protection comes first. Which makes it all the more ironic that zero tolerance has the ticking timebomb ability to dent that image.

Across the world of professional cycling, the battle between the past and the present continues. Only yesterday, Bjarne Riis left his post as manager of Tinkoff-Saxo by “mutual consent” after disagreements over the way the team is run.

Tinkoff-Saxo have no zero tolerance policy, as is clear from the presence of Julich and De Jongh as staff. Riis has already admitted to doping for his Tour de France victory in 1996. Still, the ghosts of the past will not lie down.

No-one is saying this is an easy issue to deal with. It’s incredibly complex both morally and legally. We tried to explore – in the context of a sport as a whole – what Sky’s flagship policy actually means.

The results of our investigation should make anyone interested and with a vested interest in professional cycling deeply uneasy.

Zero tolerance leaves us further than ever from the truth, and leads us back to the quote from the start of this piece.

Are Sky “changing the culture that so damaged” cycling? In some ways – nutrition, training, ‘marginal gains’ – yes.

But as our investigation revealed, they are not really interested in doing their background checks into the individuals who participated in that damaging culture.

And when evidence pops up, like the documents we presented, that incriminates those individuals, they have an extreme black-and-white policy in place that encourages inconsistency and, perhaps, lies.

And are they “leaders on anti-doping?”

Not until they draw a line under the past and embrace the concept of honesty.

Until then, their efforts are all so much spin. And men like Servais Knaven will continue to suffer the uncomfortable whispers of the past.

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More on this site mentioning doping

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Liverpool the form horse as Premier League heads for the home straight

Friday, March 20th, 2015

By Brian Sears

20 March 2015

Liverpool are not just the form team in the Premier League since the start of the year but have a better league record in 2015 so far than any team among the 92 in the top four divisions. Brendan Rodgers’ side have won eight, drawn two and lost none of their 10 league games this year, amassing 26 points at an average of 2.6 per game. No other team in England can top that.

The context of this is that Liverpool meet Manchester United this weekend with a place in the top four at stake. The outcome of that match could be hugely significant to which of those side qualifies for the Champions League next season. A Liverpool win would send them above United in the table and make them statistically more likely than United to finish in the top four. A draw would leave United as favourites. A United win would make United stronger favourites. It’s a huge game, in so many ways.

The first graphic below ranks the 20 Premier League clubs in order of their form (points per game) in 2015 so far. Liverpool top this table ahead of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea, all of whom have won two or more points per game this year. Note Manchester City down in 10th place. The bottom three form teams are QPR, Sunderland and Leicester.

The graphic also shows each team’s position in the table on the last day of 2014, the position now and the number of places they have moved up or down. Crystal Palace under Alan Pardew are in top-6 form in 2015, whereas West Ham’s form in 2015 is only 16th best out of 20.

What might this mean? Well, if the 20 clubs continued their form of 2015 so far for the rest of the season then Chelsea will win the title with Arsenal second, Liverpool third, United fourth and City missing out on the top four altogether. It’s a big ‘IF’, of course. At the other end, the relegated teams on current form would be QPR, Sunderland and Leicester.

Article continues below

PL form since 1 Jan

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The next three graphs are the equivalent form guides for the 72 clubs in the Football League, by division.

Watford are the form team in the Championship, with Norwich, Middlesbrough and Leeds also doing well. Ipswich’s dip by contrast has come at the wrong time. Bristol City in League One are the form team and have kept their top slot because of that. Barnsley are the big climbers in that division while Notts County’s form has dropped off a cliff, causing their tumble. In League Two the notable upsurge in form of Northampton and Dagenham has helped those sides climb from relegation concerns and the form team in the division, Burton, have risen to top spot on the back of it.

Article continues below

Champ form since 1 Jan

League One form since 1 Jan

League Two form since 1 Jan

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…. And another thing

In 2015, West Brom have so far gained one more point than Manchester City, who they visit on Saturday. City have had a chastening week, stung by Bs, losing 0-1 at Burnley and 0-1 in Barcelona.

City might take some comfort from recent history as they prepare for the Baggies. This is the fifth consecutive season of West Brom’s current stay in the Premier League and they have found City to be their toughest opponents in this time, as the table below show.

WBA in PL h2h

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…. And finally

The statistics in these pages will often be in relation to the Premier League era when they deal with English football. We know the game is a bit older than that. We know Preston won as Invincibles in the league’s first season in 1888-89. But the Premier League is a distinct era if only because of the money that has transformed the picture. This is the ‘monied era’.

To get some idea of how the financial situations of these clubs have changed over time – and finance is a big influence in success in football – further reading and related articles spring from Sportingintelligence’s annual global sports salaries reports, are linked here:

2014 Report             2013 Report            2012 Report         2011 Report          2010 Report

 

More on Liverpool / Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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Spurs head to Man Utd looking for first ever hat-trick of Old Trafford wins

Friday, March 13th, 2015

By Brian Sears

13 March 2015

So here’s the thing: Tottenham Hotspur have been playing league football against Manchester United on and off since the 1909-10 season, when they first met in the old, old First Division. Spurs drew 2-2 at home that year and got thumped 5-0 away.

In more than a century since, the two clubs have been in the same division for 77 seasons, with only times apart being when one or other dropped briefly from the top flight.

And on Sunday, Spurs visit Old Trafford looking to complete a first-ever hat-trick of consecutive league wins at United.

Their all-time record at United in the league is 12 wins, 14 draws and 51 defeats. Only once before the modern era have Spurs gained consecutive victories there: 4-1 in 1972-73 followed by 1-0 in 1973-74.  In that 4-1 win, Martin Peters scored all four of Tottenham’s goals and Bobby Charlton replied for United. And in the following season the only goal of the Old Trafford game was scored by Ralph Coates.

Tottenham must be visiting Old Trafford these days in a much more positive frame of mind than they used to do. For the first 20 Premier League seasons (from 1992-93), Spurs failed to record a single win at Old Trafford, losing 17 and drawing three; indeed they only managed three wins against United at White Hart Lane in that time.

But in the last three seasons Spurs have gone five games unbeaten against United, including three White Hart Lane draws and a brace of Old Trafford wins: 2-1 last season and 3-2 the season before that.

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And another thing …

There are two London derbies this weekend in the Premier League, as Crystal Palace host QPR on Saturday lunchtime before Arsenal host West Ham. Derbies alone will not define a season but most people accept they are hugely important and in London it is often the case that there is a correlation between where you finish in the inter-London table and where you finish in the real table.

Here is the current inter-London PL table for this season (article continues below)

inter-London PL 14-15

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When the London clubs have played each other this season a gulf has emerged. From Chelsea who have lost just one of their seven derbies played (5-3 at Tottenham) down to QPR who have gained only the single point from their seven derbies played (0-0 at home to Palace).

QPR however, do, like Chelsea, have three derbies left to play starting with Saturday’s visit to Palace.  After this weekend there will be only four London derby games left in the rest of the season. Tottenham have already completed their derby programme of matches.

Currently QPR occupy the relegation spots along with fellow promoted sides Burnley and Leicester. Only in one previous season have all three promoted clubs been relegated that same season. That was 17 seasons ago in 1997-98 when it happened to Bolton, Barnsley and Crystal Palace.

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And yet another thing …

Stoke are enjoying their seventh consecutive Premier League season and are role models for Championship clubs with Premier League ambition. And West Brom have been up with Stoke for six of those seasons. Indeed three times the Baggies have finished higher in the final Premier League table than Stoke.

But on the 11 occasions the two clubs have played each other in the Premier League, Stoke have been the dominant force, winning seven, drawing three and only losing once. The results are below.

The upshot? Six points to West Brom and 24 points to Stoke. And more remarkably Stoke have been victorious on all five of their Premier League visits to the Hawthorns. They will be trying to make it six when they visit West Brom this Saturday.

The only crumb of comfort for West Brom is that at least they managed last May to score their first home goal in five tries against Stoke.

inter-London PL 14-15

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…. And finally

The statistics in these pages will often be in relation to the Premier League era when they deal with English football. We know the game is a bit older than that. We know Preston won as Invincibles in the league’s first season in 1888-89. But the Premier League is a distinct era if only because of the money that has transformed the picture. This is the ‘monied era’.

To get some idea of how the financial situations of these clubs have changed over time – and finance is a big influence in success in football – further reading and related articles spring from Sportingintelligence’s annual global sports salaries reports, are linked here:

2014 Report             2013 Report            2012 Report         2011 Report          2010 Report

 

More on Liverpool / Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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‘EPO in cycling, HGH in the NFL – the complicated truths of cheating’

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Roger PielkeBy Roger Pielke Jr

12 March 2015

Sport, it is often said, is a mirror to society. That is no more true than in the revelations found in the report of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (downloadable as a PDF on this website), which earlier this week released its report on doping in professional cycling. We may not like what we see when we look into that mirror. Here are three uncomfortable truths that The CIRC forces us to confront.

A first uncomfortable truth: cheating is complicated. On the face of it, the downfall of Lance Armstrong is pretty easy to explain. The taking of performance enhancing substances in cycling was prohibited; Armstrong took those substances during his seven-year reign as Tour de France champion. He lied about it. Case closed. He is guilty. Right?

Reality has a way of making even the most obvious moral judgments more complicated. The CIRC report (“word clouded” below) explains that the international body which oversees cycling and its annual Tour de France, the UCI, knew for a generation that systematic doping was going on among cyclists. The organization’s “anti-doping strategy was directed at the abuse of doping substances rather than the use of them.”

With cycling’s main oversight and governing body turning a blind eye to doping, and with doping offering 10-15% performance gains, it is not at all surprising that the CIRC concludes a significant majority of all cyclists took prohibited substances during the Armstrong era. Teddy Cutler, writing here at Sportingintelligence late last year, estimated this number to be at least 65 per cent and probably much higher.

Like it or not, doping and covering it up was a part of cycling. As Armstrong’s lawyers note, “the sport he encountered in Europe in the 1990s was a cesspool where doctors, coaches and riders participated daily in doping and covering up doping. Young riders on elite teams competing in Europe faced a simple choice: dope and lie about it or accept that you could not compete clean.”CIRC.cloud

None of this makes Armstrong less guilty, but it does make his guilt more complex. We allow the norms of behavior in sport to deviate from the norms of broader society at some risk to the integrity of sport. Cycling has found that out the hard way when the gap between its public stated values and its internal norms became too great to sustain.

It is easy to lay blame on one or a few individuals, but anyone judging Armstrong and his fellow competitors harshly needs to be on the watch for deep hypocrisy.

Another uncomfortable truth is that doping is endemic in sport, and not just cycling. This goes for the elite Olympic sports as well as for professional sports.

A study just out in the journal Sports Medicine estimates that as many as 39 per cent of elite, international athletes dope, that is two out of every five.  Professional cyclists interviewed by the CIRC offered estimates of 20 per cent to 90 per cent of riders today are still doping. But nobody really knows, other than it is a lot.

In the US last month Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton told USA Today that doping in the National Football League (NFL) was common. The league recently implemented test for human growth hormone, but it has caught no one. Scientists say that the test is not state of the art and is thus unlikely to catch anyone.  One reason for using that weak test is objections to stronger testing by the NFL Players Union.

When asked about the prevalence of HGH use in the NFL, former Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots tight end Christian Fauria said, “Some say 90%, [but] I don’t know. I know a lot of guys were taking stuff and looking for stuff, but I couldn’t put a percentage on it.”

Even if a player is caught using HGH the NFL penalty is a suspension for only four games for a first violation, and 10 games for a second. Under the new WADA code the same infraction results in a four-year ban – that’s four YEARS – in the first instance of being caught, and possible lifetime ban for a second. The NFL is obviously not too worried about doping.

The inevitable conclusion is that neither athletes nor sports fans seem to mind doping. At least not too much. A little is OK. How else can we explain the lack of interest in knowing how many athletes actually dope or the effectiveness of anti-doping regulations?

The inevitable result of this charade is a series of scandals involving individuals – Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Dwain Chambers – followed by professed changes, which are ultimately not up to the task of actually dealing with the stated concern about doping, thus setting the stage for the next superstar to fall from grace.

A final uncomfortable truth is that sport is a largely a public endeavour.

UK Sport is funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, along with the National Lottery.

WADA is funded and partially overseen by national governments.

In the US, Major League Baseball and other professional sports operate under an anti-trust exemption provided in US law.

The NFL has seen Its Sunday television broadcasts protected from competition under an act of Congress.

Even the US Anti-Doping Agency which caught Lance Armstrong is funded almost entirely by the US taxpayer under the provisions of an international treaty.

We all share responsibility for the governance of sport, whether we know it or not. When there is a big doping scandal it is as much a public failure as the failure of an individual, maybe more so.

The investigative report into cycling has laid bare some difficult truths about sport in modern society. Yes, Lance Armstrong and many others cheated and sport leaders failed miserably in carrying out their responsibilities. But the reality here also is that we are all complicit. And we are setting the stage for it to happen again.

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Roger Pielke Jr. is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, where he also directs its Center for Science and technology Policy Research. He studies, teaches and writes about science, innovation, politics and sports. He has written for The New York TimesThe GuardianFiveThirtyEight, and The Wall Street Journal among many other places. He is thrilled to join Sportingintelligence as a regular contributor. Follow Roger on Twitter: @RogerPielkeJR and on his blog

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Everton and City getting better at drawing conclusions at Arsenal and Liverpool

Friday, February 27th, 2015

By Brian Sears

27 February 2015

Sunday’s two big games in the Premier League throw up contrasting challenges for the two Merseyside clubs, with Liverpool outsiders at home against a team they have a brilliant home record against (Manchester City), and Everton outsiders away against a team that history says will thump them.

The history we are considering is the Premier League era, so the 23 years since the top division revamped in 1992-93, kick-starting the ‘monied era’ explained in greater detail here. It goes without saying that the circumstances in place 23 years ago have little bearing on what happens between teams now owned respectively by billionaires from Abu Dhabi, America and Uzbekistan (and by a millionaire from Lancs).

But there remain some strong and consistent patterns of outcome in certain fixtures over time, for whatever reasons. And whether we think they will have a bearing on what happens this weekend or not, it is worth noting statistically that Arsenal at home to Everton and Liverpool at home to City in the Premier League era have been remarkably one-sided contests.

Arsenal have lost just once to Everton at home in the Premier League era. Once in 22 games. That’s just 4.5 per cent of the time. They have won 16 times from 22 games. That’s 73 per cent of the time. The other five games have been draws.

Liverpool have also lost just once at home to Manchester City in the Premier League.  Once in 17 games; there have been only 17 because City meandered for a period to the lower divisions. That’s a loss rate of below 6 per cent. They have won 11 of 17 games. That’s 65 per cent. The other five games have been draws.

Nor have Liverpool seen a plunge in performance particularly since City were fortunate to come into money after Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008. Their sole home defeat to City in the PL era was in May 2003. Everton have to go further back for their only PL win at Arsenal: 1996.

But. There is always a but.

Recent results have been getting closer for both Everton and City. Four of Everton’s five Premier League draws at Arsenal have come in their last eight visits (or in other words, half of their last eight visits have been draws) and four of Man City’s five Premier League draws at Anfield have come in their last six visits (or in other words, two-thirds of their last six visits have been draws).

The bookmakers are expecting a home win for Arsenal and an away win for City. Premier League history says two home wins. Value in betting terms is found in two draws. But this is not a tipping site so draw your own conclusions and think instead on this: only once before in the Premier League have both fixtures come on the same day. That was 4 May 2008, and both games ended in single-goal wins for the home team.

Article continues below

AFC v EFC and LFC v MCFC

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To get some idea of how the financial situations of these clubs have changed over time – and finance is a big influence in success in football – further reading and related articles spring from Sportingintelligence’s annual global sports salaries reports, linked here..

2014 Report             2013 Report            2012 Report         2011 Report          2010 Report

 

More on Liverpool / Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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Aston Villa’s stupendously woeful scoring record puts ever-present status in peril

Friday, February 20th, 2015

By Brian Sears

20 February 2015

Aston Villa are enduring another horrible season, one from which new manager Tim Sherwood is expected to salvage Premier League survival. Villa remain for now one of just seven ‘ever present’ Premier League clubs, constant members of England’s top division since it revamped and rebranded from the 1992-1993 season. The other six are Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton.

So just how poor are Villa? How long have they been this poor? And can Sherwood lead them to safety?

In one sense, the scoring sense, Villa are on course to be as poor as any team in Premier League history. It goes without saying things can still change. But as of now, Villa have scored just 12 goals in 25 Premier League matches at a rate of 0.48 goals per game. Derby County hold the record for the fewest goals scored in any Premier League season: that was 20 in 38 games (0.53 per game) in the season they were relegated seven years ago. And after 25 games, Derby had 13 goals, or one more than Villa now.

So Villa are record-breakingly terrible at scoring this season.

In fact as the first graphic below shows, no other team among the  368 clubs in the 16 divisions in the top eight levels of the English pyramid system have scored as few goals per game as Aston Villa in the 2014-15 season. Only Bashley FC of the Southern Football League Division One South & West come close to Villa’s woefulness. And even Bashley’s 15 goals in 31 games represents a slightly better record in GPG terms than Villa’s 12 in 25.

And looking at other top divisions in leagues around the world to see which team has the worst GPG record this season, Villa are worse than pretty much everyone, aside from Niki Volos of the Greek Superleague. Niki Volos’s record of seven goals in 24 league games is worse than Villa’s. But then Niki Volos have had such a turbulent season because of financial crisis that were on the brink of extinction and expulsion from the start, and have effectively now folded.

(As statistician Constantinos Chappas points out, Niki’s GPG rate before ceasing was 0.5 goals per game, so actually not even as bad as Villa’s. Subsequent games have counted as ‘played’ while not having been so, reducing the rate in the table below).

So yes, Villa are bad, certainly in terms of scoring goals. But not as bad as they’ve ever been in terms of points, as we’ll see.

Article continues below

Villa atrocious ii

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The second graphic considers Aston Villa’s record at this stage – after 25 games – for every season of the Premier League era, ranking the seasons from the best returns from 25 games in each of those seasons, to the worst.

Their best ever season after 25 games was in 2008-09 when they had 51 points or 2.04 per game, and went on to finish sixth after that form dropped off in the final part of the season. Their best-ever finish, of second place in 1992-93, came after their second-best start after 25 games, of 47 points or 1.88 per game.

One thing of note in this table is that Villa were actually worse off than now at this stage just two seasons ago, with just 21 points from 25 games, ie a point less than now. And two seasons ago they rallied to collect 20 points from their last 13 games for a total of 41 points, good enough for a 15th-place finish, five points clear of a drop zone eventually filled by Wigan, Reading and QPR. So it is certainly possible for Sherwood to turn things around and there is even a recent precedent at Villa.

But before we look at their remaining games it is also worth noting that Villa’s five worst seasons of the Premier League era, at this stage at least, have been the last five seasons, ie this current season and the four before it. The five seasons since Martin O’Neill left in summer 2010 in other words, after a hat-trick of seasons finishing 6th, 6th and 6th.

As we all know now, O’Neill wanted to push on above that, and Randy Lerner, probably knowing full well that the marginal cost of getting higher than 6th would be a cost he could not afford (background here and more here), saw his manager walk away. How ultimately costly that might be remains to be seen.

Article continues below

Villa after 25 games

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So onto this weekend – and the rest of the season, comprising 13 league games where Sherwood needs to work his magic to keep Villa up.

Goals will be key. Elusive goals. Villa have failed to score in 15 of their 25 league games this season, more than any other team.

Their first league match with Sherwood in charge sees them play Stoke, against whom they won the reverse fixture 1-0. They then face 12 other opponents against whom they have only drawn or lost this season.

Villa's 15 no score games

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Spurs and Everton uncannily similar in underdog rivalries with Arsenal and Liverpool

Friday, February 6th, 2015

By Brian Sears

6 February 2015

Saturday’s matches in the Premier League begin with a major derby (Tottenham v Arsenal at lunchtime) and end with a major derby (Everton v Liverpool at tea-time).

Both home sides have found it tough against the neighbours over the course of the Premier League era as a whole. And they have uncannily similar records against their local rivals.

In the Premier League era:

  • Tottenham have most often finished below Arsenal, but not always; Everton have most often finished below Liverpool, but not always.
  • Tottenham trail Arsenal by 40-something points to 70-something points (45-72) in PL games; Everton trail Liverpool by 40-something points to 70-something points (44-74) in PL games.
  • Tottenham claim just a 20 per cent win rate against Arsenal in the PL era. Everton claim just a 20 per cent win rate against Liverpool in the PL era.
  • Tottenham have won seven of their nine PL victories over Arsenal at home and two away. Everton have won seven of their nine PL victories over Liverpool at home and two away.
  • The last time Tottenham played Arsenal in the league it was 1-1. The last time Everton played Liverpool in the league it was 1-1.

The graphic below summarises the similarities.

One difference is Everton fans have been longer for a win over Liverpool than Spurs fans have over Arsenal; more than four years and counting. And those Everton fans might worringly note not a single one of their wins over Liverpool in the PL era has taken place after Christmas.

Article continues below

Derby days THFC AFC EFC LFC

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And another thing …

Aston Villa have become only the eighth in the Premier League era to go six full consecutive games without scoring. They last scored a league goal on the Saturday before Christmas in the 1-1 draw at home to Man Utd when Benteke gave them the lead after 18 minutes.  Since then six games and 612 minutes have elapsed without them finding the back of the net.

Of the other sides to do this Sheffield United, Everton sides twice and Reading scored in the 7th game. Villa fans will hope that happens when Chelsea visit Villa Park this weekend. Ipswich and Derby scored at their 8th attempts and Crystal Palace in 1994-95 had to wait until their tenth game.

That Palace goal famine went from the 87th minute of a 3-0 victory over Ipswich with John Salako scoring on 5th November 1994 until 14th January 1995 when Ricky Newman scored after 23 minutes of a 2-0 win over Leicester, after 836 goalless minutes.

Villa fans may or may not be encouraged by the fact that Everton survived their goalless runs and kept their Premier League status but the other five sides were all relegated at the season’s end.

AV mins no goals

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