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10 Out of 10: Mesut Özil, Philippe Coutinho and a Dying Breed of Footballers

joshjdss
Mesut Özil and Philippe Coutinho were amongst the Premier League’s most exciting players to watch not too long ago – but why we can’t we watch them anymore? Why has football left them behind?

The ball is played over the top, into his path, as he runs infield from the right. He collects it with his left foot.

His second touch lifts the ball over the goalkeeper who’s rushed out to meet him just outside of the penalty area. He carries on towards goal.

Two defenders are arriving on the cover, attempting to protect the open goal. He takes another couple of touches with his left to set himself as continues across the area.

He lifts his left leg back to shoot. The two defenders bite. He simply takes a fifth touch near the penalty spot. The defenders are on the floor.

He takes a sixth touch and sets himself one last time. The seventh touch is him side footing the ball into an empty net from just outside the six-yard box.

That was a moment of magic from Arsenal’s Mesut Özil against Ludogrets in the Champions League in 2016. Now, less than four years later, Özil is unable to get into an Arsenal side that sits ninth in the Premier League.

But it’s not just him struggling in modern football. The Number 10 has all but disappeared from the game – from Juan Román Riquelme to Philippe Coutinho.

What happened?

In Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathon Wilson touches upon Riquelme and the problem of the Number 10 (or eganche as the Argentinians know it) in footballing tactics.

He laments Riquelme as the “last of the old-style playmakers,” the player that sits behind the strikers in a 4231 or 4312. The style that led to playmakers like Mesut Özil.

And in José Mourinho’s Real Madrid, that’s where Özil played.

He had Di Maria and Ronaldo either side of him and was just behind Benzema. In 2011/12 Real Madrid won La Liga with a then record 100 points. Özil led the league in assists, essentially creating a goal every other game. Arsenal spent just over £42 million on the German in 2013.

It’s not as if he was a failure in England either. Look at performances like this, where (even though later on in his Arsenal career) every good thing that happens for the North London side went through him. He’s won three FA Cups with Arsenal, and most importantly, a World Cup with Germany in 2014.

He was once amongst the most creative and stylish players in England, perhaps the world. Now it seems he is no longer needed.

The same can be said for Philippe Coutinho.

The Brazilian was once Anfield’s beloved Number 10 – getting into the PFA Team of the Year in 2015. Before he left for Barcelona in 2018, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp told him: “Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour.”

“Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player.”

He wasn’t wrong.

But maybe not for the reasons he implied.

Despite still retaining a penchant for the spectacular in his post-Liverpool career, Coutinho never really settled at Barcelona, and was eventually sent out on loan to Bayern Munich for the 2019/20 season. He’s not flourished in Bavaria either.

Perhaps we’ve failed to see the best of these playmakers recently, not due to them losing the tough battle for places at European Super Clubs, but due to the fact that, tactically, football has moved on.

The Number 10 has become a position that is obsolete – a word that even football isn’t immune to. Does anyone sit a sweeper behind a back four anymore?

As mentioned, football favoured a 4231 when Özil and Coutinho were at their best. Even when teams played two strikers like Liverpool did under Rodgers (Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez) they played a diamond in midfield with a player like Coutinho at the tip – just behind the forwards.

As 433 emerged as the preferred formation for clubs around the world (especially with the dominance of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona) the playmaker was put out wide. That seemed to be where the position was heading – starting on the wing and drifting infield into the space in-between the lines.

Oddly enough, Özil played on the wing for Germany when they became world champions. The position wasn’t alien to Coutinho either, who “during his best spell with Brazil, in the qualifiers for Russia 2018, played more on the left of a front three, but having the freedom to go back and act as a Number 10,” according to Natalie Gedra.

Then came the introduction of wide forwards.

Cutting inside, players like Pedro and David Villa at Guardiola’s Barcelona and Sadio Mané and Mo Salah at Klopp’s Liverpool, now looked to score the goals, not just create them. The width then came from the fullbacks pushing forwards.

Of course creativity was still wanted. Creativity was still needed.

But it now comes from two of the three midfielders in a 433.

The midfielder that can sit in the inside left or right positions. The midfielder that can carry the ball quickly and vertically from box to box. This new Number 6 position is embodied by players like Kevin De Bruyne and Luka Modrić (who Wilson calls the “first of the new” style of playmakers).

Their mobility also helps with the defensive aspect of the game, which is a part of football that classic Number 10s struggle with.

Players like Riquelme and Özil were never blessed with the pace and box to box energy of the new style of playmakers, making pressing (something integral in the modern game, from Guardiola’s blocking of the passing lanes to Jürgen Klopp’s gegenpressing) virtually impossible with them in the side.

Squeezing the pitch and winning the ball back high is now a team’s first line of defence, and it starts from the front. If one of your front three can’t do it, why play them?

“It was Riquelme, mournful of demeanour, graceful of movement and deft of touch, who best embodied the old-style eganche until his retirement in 2012,” Wilson also wrote.

“Riquelme has become less of a player than a cipher for an ideology.”

Some footballers play too early to see the tactical advancements that would truly benefit their style. Some play too late to have any part in the new world of football.

Oddly enough, when Germany manager Joachim Löw was asked about Özil in 2018 he said the same thing.

“The situation of the playmaker or Number 10 doesn’t really exist anymore and hasn’t done for a long time,” he said.

“Guys like (Gunter) Netzer, (Michel) Platini and Zidane haven’t been around for a while. These days the playmakers, the ones who make the play, are in deeper, more defensive positions. These are very important positions, the ones who control the game and have more contact with the ball than the ones further forward. The classic Number 10 no longer really exists.”

Even Juan Mata, a player who excelled as a Number 10 for Chelsea, has said that the role is “maybe not extinct, but not as used as before”.

“In the past, there was always this pure Number 10, behind the striker or the two strikers, depending on the team. With different systems now, that position has evolved into a different one,” he pointed out to The Athletic.

It seems that Jack Grealish’s preferred role (but note that he does start on the wing at times) at Aston Villa is the Number 10, and he’s had a good season – but look at where Villa are in the table.

Maybe he should look to Manchester City’s David Silva, whose role has changed throughout the years. He’s gone from the classic 10, to the wide playmaker drifting in, to now being part of a midfield three. He shows that not all playmakers are being left behind. The great ones can adapt.

The Number 10 is undoubtedly a skilled position filled by fantastic players – but can those players find a part to play in modern football?

Whatever the future holds for them, footballers like Özil and Coutinho will always know at least one thing.

They’ll know that when they were at their best, they were always a 10 out of 10.

This topic has no doubt been written to death, but I enjoyed it – hope you did too! Also, hopefully I’ll have something written that isn’t football-related to read about in the next week or so too. Who knows?

Pep Guardiola & Manchester City: Pressure Makes Diamonds

Ardfern (Cropped)
Better late than never, but here’s a look at Manchester City against Arsenal on Wednesday night – and Pep Guardiola’s old, but not outdated, tactics.

No one would disagree if someone said that sport is about evolution.

It’s about taking what those have done before you, what people are doing now, and building upon those ideas to make something better. To make something that is all conquering and unbeatable. To make something that beats even the ideas you based it upon.

Pep Guardiola has done just that, building upon the ideas of Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan and, especially, Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona.

It’s no secret how much of an impact Cruyff had on Guardiola – his famous quote is: “Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it.”

In short, what Pep does is based upon what Cruyff did. In turn, what Cruyff did was based upon what Rinus Michels, his manager at Ajax in the 1970s, did. That great Ajax side played a 433 that turned into a 343 – dominating possession and dropping a midfielder into the defence (essentially having three backs).

Cruyff did the same at Barcelona when he was in charge – playing a 343, and controlling possession with a greater number of midfielders than the opposing team. This was dependent on the fact that Cruyff’s team had, in essence, two diamonds. These diamonds helped create passing angles for both the back three and the midfielders.

The player at the tip of the diamond (in this team, Guardiola) that involved the back three, would also form the base of the diamond in the midfield (although incredibly narrow in the first one, it is seen in the two images below):

The outside centre backs would eventually sit as wide as they could (along with the wingers, who didn’t play as conventional wing backs) which made the pitch as big as possible – an advantage when attacking. This formation also helped the central midfielders in-between the lines, placing them in the inside left or right positions, allowing them to find space.

So getting to Guardiola.

He did a similar thing when he was Barcelona manager. He created a back three when on the ball by spreading his centre backs (Piqué and Puyol or Mascherano) out incredibly wide, and dropping Busquets in-between them to make a three, which is useful against teams playing two strikers (below):

With the two full backs in the wide areas of midfield, it makes a de facto 343. He did something like this at Bayern Munich, letting Thiago or Philipp Lahm come deeper and sit between the centre backs, or by completely inverting his full backs into midfielders during the build up.

What’s this got to do with Manchester City on Wednesday? This provides a little bit of context before diving into how Guardiola set his team up.

Namely, decades later, the same tactical ideas still prevail.

Where this is going may well be obvious to some. City, of course, set up in a 433 formation to start (below):

This 433 is what City held when they were defending.

The principle that Guardiola subscribes to, is that of making the pitch as big as possible when attacking and as small as possible when defending. The same principle as Cruyff.

This is done with City’s press as it prevents the other team starting comfortable build up play. If they don’t win the ball back instantly, they stay in this 433 formation – making sure the opposition have no space to exploit.

But what was noticeable (when considering the 433 becoming the 343) was what City did in possession.

In the pivot role, Gündogan still picked the ball up from the two central defenders – either Laporte or Garcia. But he wasn’t alone. Kyle Walker also stepped into midfield several times.

This let Laporte step up into the same horizontal midfield level as Walker, just behind Gündogan. By inverting a full back Manchester City had made a diamond that started at the defence (below):

That image also shows the advantage of doing so. Aubameyang has come inside and followed Walker, which, although not seen, has given Mahrez on the right acres of space. But if he didn’t come inside, City would completely overrun midfield. It’s done again here:

The space this movement created led to Manchester City’s first goal. That and David Luiz.

Mahrez and De Bruyne had swapped positions. Mahrez was in the inside right, and De Bruyne was wide, which, due to Aubameyang cutting infield to follow Walker, meant he was in plenty of space. This space allowed him to get his head up and put the ball in the box that Luiz didn’t properly clear. That mistake led to Sterling scoring (below):

As mentioned, Guardiola wants the pitch to be as big as possible when attacking. The wide men become so important in this. If Walker is inverted, De Bruyne or Mahrez need to be in that position on the right hand side to spread the defence out and create more space for others.

On the other side Mendy was the one staying wide. This came into effect with Manchester City’s first goal. Mendy’s width meant Sterling was free to come inside, allowing him to get into the box and score.

With Walker in midfield, Mendy needed to be hugging the touchline, providing width and creating space (an example of this below):

But was it specifically designed to be a diamond starting at the defence?

This becomes unclear with how the midfield was shaped at times.

The reasoning may be more to do with sheer numbers as opposed to certain shapes, but the foundation that Cruyff laid is still there. Outnumber the players in midfield to dominate the ball, all while making the pitch as big as possible. This photo shows Manchester City have the numbers – but it’s hardly a diamond (below):

You can note that Saka may be closing Gündogan down, negating their numerical advantage in midfield. But if he does, again, Mendy will be in space – as De Bruyne was with the goal.

Walker stepped into midfield to essentially create a 343. Gündogan was at the tip of the defensive diamond and – with Silva and De Bruyne in the half spaces – at the base of an attacking one. That formation would look something like (but not exactly depending on positional interchanges) this image below:

Although not using the exact same system, Pep has built upon an idea used in the 1990s, which itself was built upon an idea used in the 1970s. It’s one of those things that once noticed, cannot be unnoticed. Once it’s been done, it cannot be undone.

History repeats itself. Maybe because time is a flat circle. Or a flat diamond.

Hopefully this made sense – I thought it was amazing that the same ideas from the 1990s are still being used today. I’m only writing about football right now because it’s all that’s going on, but, who knows what the future may hold. If you want to see any videos on tactics, this is a great watch and super informative in regards to the real ins and outs of Cruyff’s system.

Cristiano Ronaldo: A Short Ronalysis

Anton Zaitsev (Cropped)
I’m attempting to dip my toe into the deep, fascinating waters of football tactics. So here’s a very simple, and very short, look at Cristiano Ronaldo against AC Milan in the Coppa Italia.

Cristiano Ronaldo is used to being the centre of attention.

Nothing’s changed in that regard here – especially since I decided to focus on him when Juventus played AC Milan in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final yesterday.

The highlighted zone below shows, incredibly simply, where he operated. In basic terms, he was looking to get touches on the ball in the space in-between the lines for a shot, or make late runs into the box to score from crosses (and sometimes, a mixture of the two).

Ronaldo played up front with Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala either side of him. Initially, Ronaldo wasn’t playing on the shoulder of Milan’s defenders, or looking to run in behind and create space either. He moved in the space in-between the Milan defence and midfield.

You can see that in the photos below. In this one, he’s in-between the midfield and defence (demonstrated by the blue lines) so he can get a shot off when he’s closer towards Milan’s goal.

In this photo you can see that even after Milan had a man sent off and were playing deeper, leaving less space, he was still finding room to move.

But as the match went on this wasn’t his only course of action.

He wasn’t just dropping deep like a False 9 to get involved, or simply sitting in space. The highlighted zone in the first image shows that he had the freedom to move out wide – which he did. This is shown in the photo below, even if it is on the break (which Ronaldo can still execute as well as anyone in the world).

Another example of this was in the 18th minute, just after the sending off. It also includes what he was doing earlier.

Ronaldo was on the left wing, and eventually drifted inside, finding a pocket of space. Even as the play moved towards Milan’s box, he still didn’t make a run into the area straight away. He was very methodical with his movement, and always wanted to get involved in the build up play.

When he did get the ball outside the box and in front of the defenders, he, as you would expect, operated a shoot on sight policy.

In the photo below Dybala has the ball on the right hand side of the penalty area. Some Centre Forwards might make runs like the ones illustrated by the blue arrows – either to receive a pass and shoot when closer to the goal, or to drag defenders with them and give Dybala more space for a one on one.

Instead Ronaldo sat outside the area, received a pass from Dybala, showed some skill on the ball to shift it on to his left foot and then shot (that movement is shown with the red arrow). He’s got it in his repertoire to score from there, so why shouldn’t he have a go when he has the chance?

That photo shows what I mean (hopefully). Combining all the points of sitting in space, shooting when possible, and not making runs into the box all the time.

The corner that led to Juventus’s penalty was from Ronaldo not running towards goal straight away. He sat off, no one was in the box, so Dybala had a shot from outside the area. It then deflected off a defender for the corner.

But this wasn’t all he did. We all know Ronaldo loves to get on the end of crosses. So when he saw the opportunity to make runs into the box he obliged – they just weren’t constant. He does this in the photos below.

Here he is looking to get on the end of Danilo’s cross.

Here he’s calling for a ball in from Bernardeschi, seeing the space in the penalty area.

Here he’s moving off the back of the midfielder.

Then after that, he runs towards goal to get on the end of a cross (if Dybala lays it off on the overlap to his right) or pick up any spills from the keeper.

So a mix of finding space deep and then making late runs is what Ronaldo went with. He did lay the ball off at times to run into the penalty area, and then get on the end of a cross. In the 12th minute he drops deep to get a touch, lays it off for Pjanic who spreads the ball out to the right, then makes a late run into the box to get on the end of a ball in.

However he did show some rust – so Ronaldo is human. Coming back with higher fitness levels than before the Serie A suspension doesn’t stop you from misplacing a few passes it seems. But I’m going to guess he’ll get back into the swing of things sooner rather than later.

Even if he did shoot nine times without scoring and had a penalty saved – this variance in play easily shows why Ronaldo is Ronaldo.

Like I said, very short and very simple. It’s a bit of something different, hopefully I’ll try and do some more tactical stuff like this, but hopefully in a bit more detail. Maybe I’m stating the obvious writing something that is essentially, ‘Ronaldo is good at football’ but, it was fun to do regardless.

Luka Dončić: The 2020/21 NBA MVP?

Javier Mendia García (Cropped)
When it comes to the NBA’s MVP, don’t get too comfortable Giannis – Luka’s got next.

Poor Phoenix.

I remember reading an article about the Phoenix Suns. It was about how the team isn’t tanking right now – they’re just losing.

Tanking is supposed to come with some kind of reward. One big win at the end of a period of small, numerous losses.

It’s a process, if you will.

You tank, you suck, you get a good draft pick, you get a good player and then they make you suck a little less.

It’s the circle of life.

To the naked eye Phoenix are tanking. Allegedly loosing on purpose to draft that can’t miss prospect. That player who would have an immediate impact on the franchise. And even if all that losing wasn’t on purpose (why would anyone admit to losing on purpose?), it did lead to the number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, however.

Deandre Ayton was the prize. The big man, the can’t miss prospect, the player who would have the immediate impact on the franchise. He played for the University of Arizona too.

It was perfect.

Now I’m not here to slate Deandre Ayton. He’s a good player don’t get me wrong – he was All-Rookie First Team. But since they drafted him the Suns are 45-102. He also had his drug policy violation and subsequent ban. I’m not pinning the fact that the Suns aren’t winning games on him – the Suns have had a host of other problems over the last few years. In fact the failings of the Phoenix Suns organisation is a whole other topic to write about in its own right.

I want to focus on the Dallas Mavericks, who had the fifth pick in that 2018 NBA Draft. They managed to get a 19 year old European after a trade with Atlanta involving another first round pick and Trae Young. They obviously saw something in this European.

That kid is 20 now. That kid is the next great NBA talent. That kid is the can’t miss prospect, the player who would have the immediate impact on his franchise.

That kid is Luka Dončić.

Luka won Rookie of the Year for the 2018/19 season, averaging 21 points, almost 8 rebounds and 6 assists a game. In NBA history, only two 19 year olds have averaged 21/6/6, or even 20/5/5, for an entire season – Luka and LeBron James.

That’s pretty good company.

But as stats exist in a vacuum, it’s important to note that both Luka and LeBron were basically handed the keys to the franchise in their rookie years – both players had their team’s highest Usage Percentage. The ball was in their hands, and the systems that they played in were designed to put it there.

LeBron’s team in his Rookie year is seen as the worst he’s ever been on, and the Mavericks traded the player they selected with their first round draft pick from the year before to make Luka the primary ball handler. These two young stars’ teams revolved around them.

But winning ROY doesn’t always mean you’re going to be MVP, or play anywhere near that level (sorry Michael Carter-Williams). But Luka was instantly seen as something special. There was even a chance in his debut NBA season he’d be the first Rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011 to play in an All-Star game. He ultimately didn’t make the cut.

Don’t get too upset he didn’t make it though, he got there in his second year.

And that second year has been pretty impressive, much like the first year. Actually, it hasn’t been “pretty impressive”.

It’s been phenomenal.

In his second year in the NBA, at 20 years old, Luka is averaging 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists a game. Only one other player has averaged that for an entire season, Oscar Robertson.

If 28/9/8 seems a little too cherry picked, Luka is one of only six players in NBA history to average 25/8/8 for a year. Luka is also one of eight players to average a ‘LeBron‘ for an entire season (27/7/7), which, in my opinion, is the gold standard for all-around basketball play. All the other players on these lists, besides Luka, are current, or future, Basketball Hall of Famers.

But again, it’s important to note that all these players always had (or have) the ball in their hands. They also led (or lead) their teams in Usage Percentage for these seasons. I’m not counting Luke Jackson’s 10 games for Cleveland in 2004/05, Coby Karl’s 3 games for Cleveland in 2009/10 and Josh Reaves’ 2 games for Dallas this season. Sue me.

Luka is the joint youngest player to put up these numbers too, so hopefully as Yazz sang, the only way is up.

That MVP could well be on the horizon.

But, for a player to be awarded the MVP, voters do concentrate on these stats, but also on the win/loss record of the player’s team and the media narrative surrounding said player (as odd as that sounds, just give it to the best player).

Allow me to explain quickly.

When Russell Westbrook won the MVP in 2017 playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was putting up absurd numbers. He became only the second player in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season. He was winning games and getting the Thunder into the Playoffs – even if it was only a six seed. But most importantly, the storyline of his season was dominated by the fact that Kevin Durant had left in free agency. Westbrook was the “one who stayed”, and he dragged his team into the Playoffs all by himself (or so it seemed, I’m not going to get into that season right now).

Russell was the “most valuable” player. He led his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, minutes – almost everything. He won MVP because his individual stats were impressive, his team won games, and because he had a story that triumphed over all others.

Luka can do this too.

The stats mentioned previously show he can put up the numbers. The man seems to stuff the stat sheet, but not in the obscene and egregious way that Westbrook does. Or maybe he does. Either way, the basketball talent this 20 year old possesses would confuse even James Naismith.

Also, the Mavericks’ system will give Luka the ball. This year he’s second only to the one-man-wrecking crew that is Giannis Antetokounmpo in Usage Percentage. He also has the sixth most isolation possessions per game in the entire NBA. Dallas give him the ball and let Luka loose.

There’s no doubt that the Mavericks can win games. They’ve got a coaching savant in Rick Carlisle sat on their bench, and a solid number two in Porzingis.

Plus, the MVP voters may get tired of Giannis’ dominance with the award. Voter fatigue is a real thing, ask Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. Voters felt that it was Malone’s “turn” in the late 90s – even if MJ was the better player. Plus, as this article from Bleacher Report points out: “Voter fatigue tends to slant toward up-and-coming players.” Luka’s only been in the league for two years, and he’s certainly up and coming to say the least.

So, voters can look at; the Slovenian wonder’s numbers, the fact that he has the ball in his hands, my assumption that the Mavericks will win games, and their possible Giannis-related boredom.

All signs point to Luka.

His play is already near MVP level too.

Luka said himself that in the NBA, “it’s easier to score compared to Europe”.

He’s got that signature move, the step back jumper. Despite not being the quickest move of all time, it’s still effective. You can see how it helps him get into his shooting rhythm and is almost unguardable.

He’s also got a strange combination of a first step and a head fake to drive towards the basket. Again, it’s not the quickest move, but it seems to get defenders off balance and get him to the hole. Even if a drive doesn’t lead to him directly going in for a score, he can set up his crafty “I’m going to stick me inbetween you and the ball” body position to keep defenders away.

His passing is already fantastic.

He seems to like to jump and pass the ball to the roller when running the pick and roll, which can be a little risky. But this elevation, combined with the height advantage he already has over smaller guards, enables him to see over the defence and zip the ball right where it needs to be. But it’s his lob passes that impress me. Just watch the touch on this one. The ball floats in the air for a second, just begging to plucked out of the sky.

However, his defending could do with some work.

His one on one defending isn’t bad, but as he’s not the most athletic player in the world, it’s hard for him to shift his feet quickly enough sometimes. But, he seems to read the game well, and knows where to stand. He’ll get better over time.

By the way, bad defending never stopped James Harden from winning the MVP.

Speaking of Harden, Luka’s 3-point percentage is slightly below the league average of 35% at 32%. In my opinion, to really take his game to the next level, he needs to get that up into the high 30s. But it’s not a bad percentage by any means. The opposition still need to respect him from 3-point range, so he spreads the floor nicely – that opens up opportunities on the pick and roll, or for Luka to drive into the paint himself.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the stupendous Slovenian enough now. The Eurostar. Ludicrous Luka. Dynamic Dončić.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype when European players come to the NBA sometimes. As a Chicago Bulls fan, I remember how excited everyone was when they drafted former Liga ACB MVP Nikola Mirotić. He was good, but, maybe not as good as everyone thought he would be.

Luka is a former Spanish league MVP too, so you can argue that he knows what it takes to win this kind of award.

Everything seems to be in place for Luka to be MVP next year.

He can put up the individual stats. He can win the games. He can steal the media spotlight from Giannis.

To get players to play at an MVP level, yes, teams do need to put a good set of complimentary players around them, coach them well, have a good win/loss record and some Playoff success.

But you have to make sure that the player is the next great NBA talent. That the player is the can’t miss prospect. That the player is the one who will have the immediate impact on the franchise.

So you need to get lucky, and you need to draft the right player.

Poor Phoenix.

I took all my stats from Basketball Reference and stats.NBA.com – which are both great if you’re into that kind of thing. Also if you’re interested in Luka’s play a little more, watch this video by Thinking Basketball on his Rookie year – it’s fantastic and the YouTube channel should have way more subscribers that it does.

Michael Jordan and The Last Dance

(Netflix)
After watching the last episode of The Last Dance on Netflix last night, here’s a few thoughts on what I learned from it all as someone who knew some, but not all of what they went in to.

Spoiler Alert: All of The Last Dance, basically. Obviously.

Pretty much all of you have seen Space Jam, so you know who Michael Jordan is. He’s the best basketball player ever, global icon, champion, gold medalist, cigar aficionado, meme, hero, villain, everything. He is basketball. The king of kings.

My name is Michael Jordan, king of kings;
Look on my rings, ye mighty, and despair!

But in all seriousness, he was the NBA in the 1990s. That smooth fadeaway jumper, the dunks with the tongue sticking out, the dominance.

Unstoppable.

I knew about the Bulls (obviously). I knew he’d won six championships in eight years, took a season and a bit off to play baseball (yes, really), won six Finals MVPs, won five regular season MVPs, was a dominant sporting force and I knew pretty much all of the Michael Jordan lore.

I knew about the game against the Celtics, The Shot, the lay-up in the 1991 Finals, The Shrug in 1992, passing to Paxson in 1993, 72-10 and winning the title on Fathers Day in 1996, The Flu Game in 1997, and his final shot in 1998.

All of that was a spoiler if you didn’t know anything about him or basketball, but it goes over it all in the documentary anyway.

Talking about spoilers, that’s one thing I felt they did well with The Last Dance. They really managed to build suspense and keep you on the edge of your seat, before you just think, “Oh yeah, this happened 20 years ago and I know exactly what happens.”

That’s probably a nice metaphor for MJ there actually.

You were on the edge of your seat watching him, but you still knew exactly what was going to happen. He was going to win. That was his thing, he was the ultimate winner. Ultra competitive, and you really saw that in The Last Dance. To look inside his head and see, in his own words, what the psychology of a winner is like, was amazing.

To be surrounded by all these professional athletes, the best basketball players in the world, and he would still think he was the best, still wanted to prove he was the best, still wanted more, and was still driven to win, was brilliant to watch.

He never wanted people to think they had one over him. Like the bit with Gary Payton and he’s all, “Oh yeah when I defended him he got tired and that’s why they lost those two games against us in the 1996 Finals.” (I’m paraphrasing there).

Then MJ laughs and goes, “I had no problem with The Glove.”

That’s some BMT stuff right there. Badass, absolute badass.

You saw he did whatever it took to win, well, did whatever it took to put himself in that situation mentally, where he could find something to motivate himself to win. You would never be able to have one over on MJ, he just wouldn’t let it happen. He had to win. He needed to win. You saw it in the documentary.

That story about LaBradford Smith saying, “Nice game Mike,” and then MJ just spanking him in the next game was absurd. It was made even more absurd when it turns out he didn’t even say it! Jordan just needed to find some way to drive himself to dominate.

Which I suppose is a strange thought in itself.

The only thing stopping him from wiping the floor with any basketball player in the world at the time, was him knowing they thought he was the best. But how can you think anyone’s better than you when people scream your name everywhere you go, there are cameras in your face all the time, and apparently five people want to deliver your pizza in Utah just to see you? (I’m not getting into that nonsense, watch it yourself). What’s the Kanye lyric? “Hood phenomenon, the LeBron of rhyme / Hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron“.

People hated LeBron for how he saw himself, thinking he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But you can see with Jordan in this documentary how people put him on that pedestal – so why would you not think it? People didn’t really seem to hate MJ for that.

They seem to hate him for that same competitiveness that made him so great. That competitiveness that appeared to make him push people to do what he was doing, even though to everyone else on the planet it was impossible. Especially his teammates. I knew he wasn’t the nicest to them.

I knew it was bad.

Those parts of him laying into Kukoc and Harper were harsh, but, poor Scott Burrell. He was going at Scott Burrell all the time. Constantly. There’s no need to call him a ho MJ, come on. The mad part about that is, if this is what he says when he knows the cameras were on, what did he do when they were off?

Oh yeah, he’d punch Steve Kerr in the face.

People counter it by saying he’s pushing his teammates to win, and I see that. He’s not asking them to train or practise any harder than he would. But like I said, not everyone is Michael Jordan.

Not everyone can do what you do MJ.

Is gambling the next logical step with competitiveness? Would he want to win everything, so would he make everything a contest by putting money on it? Again, I’m not so sure, but The Last Dance‘s step into that was interesting. I didn’t know about his trip to Atlantic City trip in the playoffs because he wanted to go gamble. And how he casually got a limo there. As you do.

But who am I to preach to Michael Jordan? He had a pretty good career, so it’s incredibly harsh to pass judgement on gambling I think. It never affected his basketball (David Stern talked about about it, and he thought the same), unless you believe the suspension baloney that led to him playing baseball.

Regardless, and again, it’s all a part of his psyche, and there for you to see.

Perhaps it wasn’t a suspension that led to him playing baseball, maybe it was more of a, “Screw you guys, I’m going to play baseball” kind of thing. Everyone was on his back for the gambling, and sadly his dad died, so he thought, “You know what? I’m gonna hit some homers in the old diamond.”

You saw he wasn’t that good at baseball to start, but again, the work ethic and the competitiveness came through. He was getting better because he was putting in the work. He couldn’t stand not being the best.

That’s the highlight of the whole documentary for me. The look into the ultimate winner’s head, and seeing why winners win. Looking at how their brains are wired.

Oh yeah, and there’s some sick basketball in it too.

Just quickly, here are a few specific points I really liked and just wanted to point out:

  • The Chicago Bulls traveling cocaine circus in the 80s. I knew cocaine was a problem for the NBA from Bill Simmons’ book, but still, hearing MJ talk about it was pretty mad.
  • How awful was the quality of competition in the NBA if MJ wasn’t lifting weights until the early 90s? Bro you gotta get that squat up! There was literally only one team that he couldn’t beat until then. Madness.
  • The individual bits on the past of Jackson, Pippen, Rodman and the like. It was interesting to see where they came from, and how little I actually knew about them. To think I was worried about how much money Pippen was making.
  • He still hates Isiah Thomas to this day. I’m sure you didn’t keep him off The Dream Team, Mike.
  • The footage of him and Kobe at the All-Star game. Awesome. RIP Kobe.
  • The bits of him talking about playing all the NBA stars when filming Space Jam. That movie has given society so much.
  • Toni Kukoc’s defending of Karl Malone (I think it was) in episode nine, when he just kind of danced on his toes and let Malone back him down. I’m not sure why but it just got me laughing.
  • That Larry Bird and MJ “bitch” exchange from episode nine. Stupendous.
  • The photo above, where he’s swinging the bat and smoking a cigar like some kind of weird mob boss. It had me, and everyone else on the internet, reeling.

All in all, it was interesting to see inside his brain, to see his competitiveness and what made him tick. It didn’t really criticise him or go into anything that was too serious, or could maybe paint him in a bad light. But MJ had a hand in making the documentary, so I’m not sure what I expected. The behind the scenes footage was ace, the basketball was ace, as was the fact you really got to see why they called him ‘Air’.

He flew.

It was so good to learn about one of the biggest celebrities ever, and even better to have something basketball related in this Coronavirus drenched world we’re living in. Give it a watch if you haven’t. If you have, watch this video on what the Bulls did after MJ retired. It’s a great video connecting what Reinsdorf talks about in the last episode, to what the Bulls became in the 2000s.

I want to live the rest of my life wanting to be as good at something as much as Michael Jordan wanted it.

Or I might just play as him on 2K.

Rose Coloured Spectacles

“I am trying to post stuff more frequently.” Whoops. Anyway, here’s D. Rose and the 2010/11 Chicago Bulls.

The Last Dance has me thinking a lot about my Chicago Bulls.

When I say my Chicago Bulls, I mean the team that I watched. The team that was mine. The Michael Jordan teams from the 90s were not my team. I barely knew what basketball was back then. I’d seen Space Jam, but that was about it.

The 2010 Finals were really when I started watching the sport, but the 2010/11 season was when I found a team and followed them. That team was the Chicago Bulls.

The 2010/11 Chicago Bulls were my team.

And looking back at them is a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong, MJ’s Bulls were a far better team than the 2010/11 Bulls, but I didn’t watch them. I watched this team, and I watched Derrick Rose in his MVP year. I loved that season too, I loved watching Derrick Rose play, it was exciting, it was fun, and they won games.

I was staying up until about 6am (especially in the Playoffs) just to watch basketball on some dodgy stream, which, depending on the stream, was so pixelated the ball was just a few orange squares on the TV.

Rose was great that year. People say that LeBron should have won the MVP, and maybe they were right, but he didn’t. Derrick Rose won it. 25 points per game, 7.7 assists per game, All-Star, All-NBA, best player on the league’s best regular season team. MVP.

I remember watching the Playoffs too, and bloody, Psycho T, Tyler Hansbrough (who? exactly.) being a story in the first round when the Bulls played the Pacers, because he had a good game. If memory serves in the first game, the Pacers were leading for most of it, but the Bulls pulled out a win down the stretch because Rose just, did what your best player should do and won the game.

I think it was Game 3 of the second round when Derrick Rose had a (then) career high in points (upon Googling it, that was 44 points) against the Hawks and that was cool to watch. They won the series, and me in 2011 was all, “Wow, basketball is ace! I can’t wait for the Bulls to win the Championship and it’s going to be even more fun that it is now, and I’m having so much fun right now!”

Hahahaha, oh god.

Yeah, losing to the Heat kind of sucked. I remember people saying, “make anyone else but Rose beat you,” and that’s what the Heat did. The team wasn’t quite there yet, as amazing as I thought they were. Luol Deng wasn’t an All-Star yet. Joakim Noah wasn’t that Defensive Player of the Year yet, or the player where you could stick him in the high post or the top of the key and run everything through him because he’s such a great passer yet. So the Heat kind of took advantage of that. They won in 5.

At least we had this:

But I remember thinking, “that sucked, but there’s next year. This is going to be a great team to watch for a while. Derrick Rose is going to be a great player to watch for a while.”

Everyone knows what happened next. The injuries ruined Rose.

I’m not here to get into that, but I believe that if he stayed healthy, the Bulls have at least one Championship. The other players become better. They have their superstar, their MVP player. They get a steal of a draft pick in Jimmy Butler. Maybe if all this happens even Carmelo Anthony joins in Free Agency. That sounds like a Championship to me.

Derrick Rose still had his moments though, see exhibits A, B and C:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but looking back at this season fills me with happy basketball memories. Maybe the fact there’s no basketball on right now is making me nostalgic, but, it’s nice to remember.

Maybe they weren’t even that good of a team. They didn’t win anything. They just had an unbelievable player. Or maybe they were. They were a great team defensively, and you have to defend as a team.

I don’t know.

Maybe they were better in my head, looking back at a team that only went as far as one Conference Championship and saying they were “my team” is a bit much.

But, they were my team.

Do I want to know how good they really were? No.

It’s just nice to think about my basketball team.

Buc-kle Up

(Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Long time no see (for all 3 of you here) but anyway – Brady is a Buc bay-bee!

Now we’ve all got lots of spare time, let’s talk about Tom Brady. He’s a Tampa Bay Buccaneer nowadays, if you didn’t know.

People seem to act like like Tom Brady is washed up, over the hill and too old. Maybe to a certain extent he is, it’s possible that numbers don’t lie. But in terms of a little context, only Carson Wentz was a quarterback on a playoff team that completed more passes than Brady, and only Russell Wilson was a quarterback on a playoff team that threw for more yards than Brady. These aren’t the only passing stats – I understand that.

27th in the league in yards per pass attempt is a little bit of a yikes. Plus, it’s not like his O-Line was as awful as some people made it out to be. He was sacked 4.2% of the time he tried to pass – that’s 5th best in the league.

But to me, it looks like he can still do job. Especially when he has a receiver that can get some separation from his defender. Can you name a receiver that The New England Patriots had (besides Edelman) this year? OK. Can you name me one who was actually any good this year? It’s pretty hard isn’t it?

No disrespect to those pass catchers, but they weren’t setting the world alight. You all saw that in the playoff game against the Titans. Yes, Tennessee’s defence played very well, but even on his pick 6 he was throwing into a tiny window, to a receiver that had no space.

If Mike Evans was on the New England Patriots they win that game. Yes, bold statement I know, one of the best Wide Receivers in the league would make a team better. But you know what I mean.

Mike Evans is going to be catching those passes from Brady in the coming season now anyway. He doesn’t need that much separation I guess, being one of the more reliable jump ball catchers in the NFL. He’s pretty good, and I reckon he’ll like playing with a quarterback that’s won stuff, and isn’t a walking interception.

Chris Godwin had a pretty good year too. 3rd in the NFL in receiving yards behind Michael Thomas and Julio Jones (but Thomas was so far ahead it’s basically second). Him and Evans are in the top 4 for receiving yards per game (2nd and 4th respectively). Heck, both of them are basically a first down in terms of receiving yards per target (Godwin had 11 and Evans had 9.8). So safe to say, Brady is throwing to better players than he was towards the end of his time in New England.

The questions come more with the running game and coaching in Tampa Bay.

Will Brady need a decent run game? I really don’t know. The Bucs were 24th in the NFL in rushing, about 300 yards behind the league average. But if they’re pumping all this money into the passing game, will they be that bothered about that?

Also, Bruce Arian’s offence is based around big plays, launching the ball down the field – so rushing might not be a concern. But does Tom Brady fit into this? His last season in New England he made more short passes, no some much dinking and dumping down the field, but he certainly wasn’t launching it all the time. Again, was that because of the receivers? Who knows. I do know he didn’t have Randy Moss to take the top off the defence like he had in years past.

Carson Palmer talked about how difficult Arian’s offensive system is – lots of formation changes, lots of changes at the line of scrimmage, and a crap load of plays that can be used in each game. But Brady is better than Palmer and Jameis Winston, and if anybody’s brain can handle that, it’s probably Tom Brady.

Andrew Luck had the most interceptions in a season of his career (18) under Arians in Indianapolis, but also the tied best record he’s ever had in a season (11-5). So will Brady be throwing loads, getting picked off loads, and scoring loads? I have no idea, but it’s likely. This is considering what Carson Palmer said, what Andrew Luck did, and especially what Jameis Winston’s season just looked like. I’m not sure what they’ll be running next season – will Brady do what Arians wants, or will Arians decide to try and stick with what his 42-year-old quarterback is used to? Either way, it’ll be interesting to see.

Either way, he’s still The GOAT, Tampa Bay still have good receivers and he went there for a reason. He’ll probably do just fine. All we need to do is watch – those cannons will more than likely be firing a fair few times in the coming season.

All information taken from somewhere not stated is from NFL.com or Pro Football Reference.

Quick side note – I am trying to post stuff more frequently, so watch this space, hopefully I’ll get back on the horse (in one way or another). Cheers!

Some Words On Nottingham Forest and The Championship

(Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Full disclosure, I am Nottingham Forest fan, but, bear with me.

First thing’s first, great win last night.

Forest hadn’t won any of the last 10 games they’d played against Cardiff, and had only picked up 2 points since beating Leeds 2-0 on the 8th of February (albiet, not scoring against QPR at home last match in, shall we say, strange circumstances).

In my time following Forest, the most successful Championship seasons were the ones under Billy Davies, when they made it to the playoffs. That was quite a while ago – basically 10 years ago.

When Billy Davies most recently took Forest into the Championship playoffs to play Swansea, they won 56 points at home that season, losing only 3 games – taking the game to the opposition. Sabri Lamouchi’s Forest don’t really play like that, their best results seeming to come when they have less of the ball.

Take Forest’s recent home loss to Charlton – more of the ball, 2 shots on target, and a 1-0 loss.

Maybe that would suggest that Forest need someone with a little creativity to make something happen at home when they should have more of the ball. Joao Carvahlo fits that mould, but, it seems pretty obvious that Lamouchi doesn’t really fancy him, and why would he change a side that is currently 3rd to fit him in? But that’s another conversation for another day.

The Reds play best on the counter, which suits playing the ‘bigger’ sides and playing away from home, when the opposition has the ball. Take that 2-0 win over Leeds – 30% possession, but only conceded 1 shot on target.

But this difference in style doesn’t matter. In the Championship it’s all about picking up points, and Lamouchi has a team that does this. A team.

And I love this team.

You saw it against West Brom when Matty Cash scored that equaliser in injury time – everyone going all out, and never quitting.

Speaking of Matty Cash, he has been superb this season – and everyone knows all about the tackles and the possible Poland call up. Last night’s goalscorer, Tiago Silva, has had a good season too, although (as a friend mentioned to me last night) could do with a little more consistency in certain parts of his game (like goalscoring).

Sammy Ameobi is an enigma, often snatching embarrassment from the jaws of pure class. Joe Lolley seems to be coming into form after shaky start to season and getting over the election. Grabban might have gone off the boil, not scoring since a 1-1 draw against Reading in January, but you saw his class with his assist for Silva last night.

But still, I love this side. Brice Samba is a hero in every sense of the word, and has been fantastic in goal this year, bringing something Forest have needed in an age – a competent goalkeeper.

But, you can have a great team in the Championship, and it means nothing. Ask Leeds last year. Yes teams like Brighton in 2015/16 and Middlesbrough the season before that struggled in the playoffs but got promoted automatically in the years after, but having a good season means nothing in the playoffs – it’s about getting hot at the right time.

This is why I hate the Championship. It’s a mess. It’s always been a mess. It’s so congested between 2nd and 6th. It’s not like good teams get promoted, and you never have to see any good sides ever again – parachute payments mean good teams go up, and the ones that come down just take their place. You have to take any chance you get in this division.

Forest have been in this league for over a decade now.

It’s incredibly tough. But (touch wood) if Forest can stay in the playoff places, I like them against a Fulham or a Brentford. They will come on to Forest and dominate the ball – which suits them perfectly. But then again, if either of them come into the playoffs with some form, it doesn’t matter – it’s the team playing well that usually wins (like Aston Villa last year).

The Championship is a tough place to be, and that’s why I hate it. One game is a win away against Brentford, the next is a loss to Birmingham. The next game is a win against Leeds, the one after that is a loss at home against Charlton. It’s not exciting, it’s stressful.

But be careful what you wish for. I’ve wanted Forest to be out of this league for so long, and I nearly got my wish few years ago – into League One.

But still, this is an opportunity for Forest, but nothing more. Nothing can be taken for granted.

The Championship – always to be here? I hope not.

Liverpool’s Constantly Moving Goalposts

(Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
I don’t mean literal moving goalposts. That’s not why they’re 22 points clear. I mean that for some reason, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool’s recent success always seems to be good, but then not good enough.

When Jurgen Klopp walked on to the pitch in Madrid for the last Champions League final, Liverpool had lost every final he’d taken them to. They hadn’t won a single thing.

At that time he’d only won one cup final as a manager – a 5-2 win over Bayern Munich in the 2012 DFB-Pokal with Borussia Dortmund. Klopp had lost 6 of his 7 appearances in major cup finals (I’m not going to list them all, look at them yourself).

And (rightly so) questions were asked of Klopp and Liverpool. Could they win anything? Could he win anything? Football teams (and pets) seem to take on the personality of their managers (and owners), and Liverpool had taken on Klopp’s image of the ‘nearly men’ – and taken on all the good stuff too, the power, the pace, the passion, you know it all.

But they hadn’t won anything. That’s why that final against Tottenham Hotspur was so important. (Side note: it was important for Mauricio Pochettino as Spurs hadn’t won anything either, and with far less appearances in cup finals. Look where he is now)

Lo and behold, Liverpool win the final. Cue scenes on Merseyside, hailing Klopp as a genius, Virgil van Dijk’s Ballon d’Or campaign, and so on and so forth. The tables had turned, and so they should have – the collective monkey was off everyone’s backs.

They also finished with 97 points in the league that season and still came second to Manchester City’s 98. (Side note: They had 0.02 less Points Per Game than City that season. What a mad season)

Pep’s Manchester City had amassed 198 points in two years, and they were absurd totals to try and beat. Again, Liverpool were football’s nearly men, letting a 10 point lead over Manchester City slip last year seemed to make them bottlers again – not cup final bottlers, now they’re league bottlers.

Did the goalposts begin to move? How can you be bottler if you’ve won a trophy? But still, letting City win after being 10 points clear is a fair criticism – if you want to be champions, you can’t let that happen. I would argue that Klopp just needed that first trophy to give them lift off, but again, fair point.

97 points would have won you the league in all but the last two Premier League seasons, by the way. Klopp’s work was brilliant, but not quite brilliant enough. But still, everything seemed set up for them to make a run at the league the next season.

Now here we are in February 2020. Liverpool have basically won the Premier League. All that’s left is for them to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. The number of Premier League records they can break is endless (again, read them yourself, it’s mind boggling). Klopp has built possibly the greatest team the Premier League has ever seen.

But in my eyes, people are moving Liverpool’s goalposts.

The metaphorical ones. Every time they seem to accomplish something, it’s all of sudden a case of “yes that’s great, but what about this“. They became the first English side to win the Continental Treble when they won the Club World Cup in December. “Yes that’s great, but what about the English treble?”.

Well, they’re certainly good enough. The league is already a formality to be quite honest, and they need only three more points to match Manchester United’s title winning treble team, and fourteen to match Arsenal’s Invincibles. There’s still 38 more points up for grabs.

However, ask any fan, of any club, in any league – if you can guarantee them a league title and nothing else, they’d bite your hand off.

But still, the goalposts were moved.

Liverpool should be winning the treble. They’ve already won the league, concentrate on the cups – win everything. “Liverpool must win the treble to be remembered like Man Utd’s 1999 heroes.” Like Example said, “Don’t give me that, that’s a load of tosh.”

Apparently being the best Premier League side of all time isn’t enough to be remembered.

Yes, they’re good enough as I’ve already said, but what Liverpool seem to have to do to impress everyone seems to constantly change.

They’re obviously 1-0 down in the tie to Atlético Madrid in the Champions League, but bigger comebacks have been made in that competition. They’re still in the FA Cup, despite Klopp taking criticism for fielding the youth team, and not showing up to game. It’s not like they’ve just completely fobbed all of those competitions off for the league.

Liverpool haven’t won the league in about 30 years. They should go for it. And they have. But why do they have to go from only having to win one thing, to winning everything – in less than a year? Why do they have to win the treble? I’m not saying don’t go for it, I’m saying everyone needs to stop changing what Liverpool have to do to become a great team.

I understand why people say it, but Liverpool are team that could dominate for a decade, not just one year.

Why do we have to move the goalposts? Why can’t we just set them down, take a seat, and enjoy what we’re watching?

Super Bowl LIV in review

(Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo)
A quick look back on the Kansas City Chief’s 31-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers. All of these things could probably be looked at in a lot more depth, but, I just wanted to get my thoughts out there while they were still fresh.

Well I don’t know about you, but I quite enjoyed that.

Patrick Mahomes is a pretty exciting player. He has been since the start of last season, to the end of this one. I’ve mentioned his arm strength before, and boy can he fling ’em, but you can tell him and the Chiefs came to play right from the start.

I thought Mahomes’ run on 3rd and 11 near the end of the first quarter, which ended in that big hit from Jimmie Ward and the ball flying out of bounds, was an example of that. He wasn’t sliding. He wanted to take that in for the touchdown.

Yes, also, exciting sometimes doesn’t mean taking care of the ball – and Mahomes had two interceptions. That first one was kind of a pretty un-Mahomes-like throw, I’m no professional Quarterback, but I really don’t know why he threw that – maybe it was a symptom of Mahomes blatantly disregarding the rules (as usual, and to some success) and thinking “I trust my arm, I can squeeze that in there”. But he couldn’t. The other interception was pretty unlucky in my opinion. It was slightly behind Tyreek Hill, but for me, he could do something with it.

But either way, big runs, big throws, big turnovers – Mahomes was exciting.

That 3rd and 11 run by Mahomes led to one of two huge 4th down conversions for the Chiefs too. For me, going for it on 4th down is super exciting, and these were both ace. The first Damien Williams one up the middle was just classic-bread-and-butter-good-old running the ball stuff. The Mahomes option/flip to Williams in the 2nd quarter was pretty slick too. Nick Bosa was right there.

Despite the two interceptions, Shea Serrano summed up Mahomes pretty well:

That bomb really changed the whole momentum of the game. That bomb was pure Mahomes. The stones to throw that pass, in that situation, at that time in the game, at that score. My lord. Patrick Mahomes take a bow if you haven’t already. He also had that pass to Sammy Watkins over Richard Sherman (who had a tough day) on a 2nd and 7 in the 4th quarter. It wasn’t Mahomes’ best game, but when they needed him, he stepped up.

Damien Williams was ace too – 104 yards and a touchdown on the ground isn’t too shabby. Many saw him as MVP but I can see why Mahomes got it. As we were saying during the game, it’s not Man of the Match like in football, it’s the Most Valuable Player. Patrick Mahomes was the most valuable.

49ers’ fans would probably argue the referees were pretty valuable for the Chief’s too.

Kansas City probably got away with a false start in the 4th quarter on a 3rd and 14 for San Francisco. That pass interference on George Kittle earlier in the game in the 2nd quarter with 14 seconds left was harsh. Let’s be honest, it was harsh. But the rule is harsh. A push is a push, even if it’s a little push – it’s still a push. You can see it bought him some space, so the right call for me. But still harsh, people have got away with more.

Speaking of George Kittle’s San Francisco 49ers, I hate to say it, but, I think they bottled it.

Jimmy Garoppolo missed a few open passes. That deep shot to Emmanuel Sanders. That wide open George Kittle over the middle. The questions were there when he only threw the ball 8 times for 77 yards against Green Bay in the conference championship. I hate to do it, but, he just wasn’t good enough. Is he good enough? I really don’t know. He had some moments in the regular season (the win in New Orleans) but, the questions have always been there.

And Poor Kyle Shanahan.

The man is a fantastic coach, there’s no doubt about it. But I think he bottled it too. Just keep running the ball. You’re up by 10 in the 4th quarter. Just keep running the ball. Yes, Chris Simms said on NBC’s Pro-Football Talk that it’s not like they were just ripping off huge runs each time, which is true, but the reason they were in the Super Bowl was because they ran the ball so well all year. Just do what you do best. To me, those weird little flips, reverses, and motions seemed to do well. Just keep doing that. Who cares if it’s a bit gimmicky, you win the Super Bowl!

Now people will always mention 28-3, and now 20-10, and I’m not slating Shanahan – but in my opinion these criticisms seem to have a bit of justification now. He will be back, and this next season will be a huge challenge for him as an NFL head coach. To pick himself up, and pick his team up, and to go again will be hard. We saw it with McVay this year. But he can do it.

All in all, I think the best team won. Well, actually maybe not. The best player won. Mahomes willed them to that win. Plus I think everyone is happy for Andy Reid (me included).

The interesting thing is to see what will happen next with Kansas City. Mahomes contract runs out at the end of next year, and you know they’re going to give him as much money as they can – and he deserves it, everyone in the world would do the same. But will it be a crippling contract? Or is now the start of the ‘Mahomes Era’?

All info from Pro Football Reference, Spotrac and me watching the ruddy Super Bowl.