We don’t know which the best team in Europe for 2017-18 is yet but we do know where the best league is: England. There is a weighting issue but we think the decision can be made now.
Sidebar: The weighting issue is how you weight the group stage versus the knockout stage of the Champion’s League (CL). An imprecise analogy is the NCAA basketball playoffs. If your bracket has every game but the last one right you will probably lose because most of the games weight the final game heavily (see here). The CL competition is different from the NCAA because the group stage involves four teams playing six games home and home versus common competition. Still if you weight the championship highly enough then the story isn’t over.
We think the story is over because of all the data. Seven countries qualified multiple teams with England (and Wales if you want to be precise) leading with five and Spain second with four. There are eight groups of four with the top two in each group qualifying for the next stage. Since none of the countries with two or three qualifiers sent all of them to the next stage we can limit our discussion to England and Spain. England had four group winners and one second. Spain had one group winner, two seconds, and one third (not qualifying for the next round). Advantage England. What happened in groups with English and Spanish teams? Three groups had Spanish and English teams. It all three cases the English team finished ahead of the Spanish team including the Spanish elimination.
Was the English group domination happened because the strongest English teams met the weakest Spanish teams? Liverpool (currently fourth in England) beat Sevilla currently fifth in Spain). Chelsea (third in England) beat Athletico Madrid (third in Spain). Tottenham (sixth in England) beat Real Madrid (fourth in Spain but the defending CL champion). In short, the England-Spain competitions seemed reasonably fair if not favoring Spain.
We think it is more likely that a Spanish team will lift the CL trophy but the best league should be heavily weighted on the large number of observations in the group stage. Spanish teams would have to dominate the knockout stages for us to reconsider the 2017-18 league ranking.
We are big fans of Iceland: The place, the soccer team, and Arnaldur Indridason.
Sidebar: We saw the Iceland soccer team play a FiFA qualifier in Reykjavik in 2002 or so. They tied an eastern European team, Romania, we think. The echoing cheers of Is-land and the folks that looked like Vikings made the game great fun. We enjoyed, on TV, their success at the recent European tournament. End Sidebar.
Arnaldur has written many books about Inspector Erlendur but we just finished reading a stand alone book: Operation Napoleon written in 1999. All the books are written in Icelandic and translated into British English. It might be described a political fantasy that pokes fun at Americans and Icelanders alike. What got our attention was this on page 50:
“They [American politicians] were always putting themselves centre-stage. Especially Democrats, with their demands for open government, for having everything transparent and above board.”
When we first saw it we thought that Arnaldur was just another clueless European leftist but the rest of the book led us to believe he as capable of deeper insights. We would like to ask him but we think it is tongue-in-cheek. Remember that is was published in 1999 so it was written during the height of one of the Clinton scandals. Democrats arguing for open government would have seem dated by then. Certainly Obama has convinced everyone that the Venn Diagrams of open government and Democrats do not intersect.
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have agreed to a two-year contract extension. CNN thought he might be out a few months ago. The Goal.com put it this way:
Arsene Wenger admits his future should have been resolved sooner, but is “committed” to Arsenal and “forgiving” of his detractors.
Arlene’s extension was controversial. It also goes against the grain as soccer managers are usually fired regularly. Arsene was hired on October 1, 1996. The second most senior manager in the 20-team English Premier League (EPL) started in 2012. Other European leagues have similar tenures.
It was controversial because Arsenal was thumped by Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League and finished fifth in the EPL. They did end up with the most points ever for a fifth place team and won the FA Cup for the third time in four years. Arsene has the record for FA Cup wins.
We support the extension because there is only one Bill Belichick. What would have happened if the Browns kept him as head coach? Is it really the intersection of Bill, Tom, and Robert? A more relevant question is what would have happened to the Philadelphia Eagles if they kept Andy Reid as head coach? Wikipedia tells us:
Reid was previously the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, a position he held from 1999 to 2012.From 2001 to 2012, he was also the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, effectively making him the team’s general manager. He led the Eagles to five National Football Conference (NFC) championship games, including four consecutive appearances from 2001–2004, and one Super Bowl appearance in 2004. Reid was fired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie following the 2012 season.
Reid was hired by the KC Chiefs shortly after his firing by the Eagles. In the four seasons that followed the Chiefs have been 43 and 21 and made the playoffs three times with one win while the Eagles are 34 and 30 with one playoff appearance. Arsene is not Bill but he is a consistent proven winner like Andy. Arsenal is better off with him then in the job market. The constant turnover of coaches tells us that players matter and the next coach is rarely perfect either.
When you have been involved in sports as a player and fan as long as us you know about random shocks to the system. Today Arsenal overcame a red card to Granit Xhaka in the 65th minute.
Sidebar: A red card means you play a player short for the rest of the match. In this case Arsenal was a player sort for over 25 minutes. End Sidebar.
Arsenal scored on a 98th minute penalty to escape Burnley at home 2-1. An expected win became a miracle escape. They now sit second in the table.
On this side of the pond, the Patriots benefitted from an injury to Le’Veon Bell and defeated the Steelers convincingly, 36-17. As sports fans, we know that there is both skill and randomness involved in these outcomes. It brings you joy when the outcomes favor your teams. Now we try to catch Chelsea and beat the Falcons. Neither is assured but the latter is more likely but we know from experience that anything can happen.
These weeks come so rarely but this was a rare week for MWG. The Red Sox won seven games to extend their winning streak to 11. They have clinched a wild card berth and have reduced their magic number to one. They scored the winning run like this tonight.
The Patriots beat Houston 27-0 on Thursday. The Pats winning at home is not unusual but it was not expected when Brady was out and then the second stringer went down leaving a rookie to start on a short week. We saw the Pat beat Houston in Houston last year but they had Brady and Gronk and Houston had QB problems. This year, except for a cameo by Gronk, it was all different. Houston had a QB and the Pats did not. Now the Pats have a two game lead in the division while Brady is waiting to join the team.
Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Premiership 3-0 and, of lesser interest, Nottingham Forest 4-0 in the EPL Cup. Chelsea has been Arsenal’s nemesis in recent years. Even last year Arsenal finished second and Chelsea finished tenth, Chelsea won both meetings. It was Arsenal’s first win over Chelsea since 2011.
We are not big NCAA fans but it was nice that Wisconsin beat Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse won. The only downer this week was that the king, Arnold Palmer died. There are heartbreaks to come but we can enjoy this week.
Chuba Akpom scored the winning goal as Arsenal beat the MLS All-Stars 2-1. He was chosen as the MVP and got a trophy and interviewed on TV. It was a time when a 20-year old kid could have been way less impressive. It was Arsenal without its big stars. It was MLS with some old stars from the Premiership. He was gracious in victory and positive towards MLS. We hope that his soccer skills match his grace with the press. Arsenal will need all hands on deck this year.
In today’s paper Howard Fendrich is discussing Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win and says:
It has been a rough few weeks for Britain, what with its vote to leave the European Union, the drop of the pound, and the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron … [sorry no link as we have it ODT]
It would seem that two of those things are unambiguously good. The drop of the pound is a more complex topic. What was rough is that England lost to Iceland in the Euro soccer tournament. That was a difficult time for England. If Fendrich is looking for a reason why it has been a tough few weeks for England (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales all have “national” soccer teams) then that would be it. Everyone is discussing if losing to Iceland in soccer is the worst English loss in history. It is even sports.
Portugal won Euro 2016 over host France one to nil in extra time. The interesting part is that Portugal’s star, Ronaldo (named after Ronald Reagan), was injured in the first ten minutes and had to come out of the game not long after that. He was never a factor. Portugal played great defense and not much else until they finally got a goal. It wasn’t great soccer in the final and it was an up and down tournament but Portugal has a major tournament championship.
Many will say Portugal was lucky. They would not have advanced under the old rules as they finished third in their group. Finishing third because of Iceland’s last minute goal in another match put them in the weaker side of the draw. It doesn’t matter. Results do matter. They made the most of their good fortune. Enjoy the trophy Portugal.