A Football Q&A

So a week ago I asked people to submit their football-related questions to me for a Q&A type thing, and a number of you helped me by sending something in. I've filtered through them a little bit and picked out what I feel are the most interesting ones, then I've answered that selection of them below. Because y'know, it'd be a bit pointless if I didn't do that. Enjoy!

In order, who are your top 10 players in the world?

I tweeted this a little while back (December) and nothing’s really happened to change my opinion since, so I’m happy to repeat it: Messi, Busquets, Neymar, Ronaldo, Suárez, Alaba, Özil, Boateng, Lewandowski, Müller. For those who disagree with my opinion, please don't hate me too much.

Who do you rate more highly, Joshua Kimmich or Julian Weigl?

Deciding between the two is incredibly tough, but if I was forced to pick one then the thing that slightly sways it for me is the versatility that Kimmich has shown lately. Coming into a team like Bayern Munich at such a young age and adapting to a number of different roles like he has in their complex system is an incredible feat that shouldn’t be underrated in difficulty. I’d also say he’s a little more adept at splitting lines with passes, but for the most part that’s quite subjective and is something that Weigl’s still very good at too. So by a very small margin, Kimmich, though I’d prefer to see both for more than just one season before making a definitive judgement.

Which young player have you been most impressed with this season?

Alongside Kimmich and Weigl, funnily enough, it’s actually another young German midfield player (albeit a Syrian-born one) who’s impressed me the most this season – Mahmoud Dahoud. Dahoud has quite arguably been Borussia Mönchengladbach’s best player in 2015/16, and he’s a superbly well-rounded, all-action central midfielder with lovely technique and exquisite vision to match. He hasn’t quite had the hype that others have had, but he’s as deserving of it as anyone right now. Special mentions should also be given to Dele Alli and Kingsley Coman, too.

What is Aaron Ramsey’s best position for Arsenal?

I think it ultimately depends on what system Ramsey's played in and who plays alongside him. The roaming and general lack of discipline that he typically shows in a double-pivot means that I’m not really a fan of him there though, but use him as part of a central trio where he can be given more freedom to make forward runs and that wouldn't be anywhere near as detrimental to the balance of the side. In a 4-2-3-1, then, seeing as that's Arsenal’s most used system right now, I’d use him on the inside-right rather than the midfield two. That means he can still contribute to attacks without leaving the centre open, but also has the opportunity to drift inside and create overloads when necessary.

I read that the first thing to watch to understand how a team plays is who brings the ball up the field. Do you agree?

I’d say there’s an element of truth to that, though in my opinion the emphasis should be just as largely directed towards *how* a team brings the ball up the field. The way that a team gets the ball from back to front is very important, and when analysing it can often be used to help provide an explanation for certain failures and successes in the final third (and even in other areas when they don’t have the ball), so looking at the different patterns of play that they use to do it can reveal quite a lot. That’s not to say it’s the be-all and end-all, but that would be a pretty good place to start, yeah.

Compared to the players, how much does a formation influence how a team plays?

The players are the most important thing because, well, for want of a much better way of putting it, playing in a certain formation isn’t going to win you a game. No formation is better than another on its own. They just represent a loose shape that a manager wants his side to play in, and act as a benchmark way to describe that; the individuals and how they carry out the instructions that are given to them are what will ultimately determine the success of a team. So I wouldn’t say much at all, although having some kind of structure and a method of building connections within it has to be clear to players in order for any method of playing to work. And formations are probably the easiest way to describe that.

How big a danger is there of football writing becoming oversaturated? Or, as a blogger / writer yourself, do you feel that point has already been reached?

I think in a way we’ve sort of reached that point – there are more people writing things and more websites hosting articles than ever before, and that’s most likely only going to continue increasing. Nobody has less of a right than anyone else to produce content, of course, but a lot of stuff does end up being massively overdone. If people are trying to make unique things or at least add their own spin to it, then I don’t think a huge amount of writing is really an issue. The real problem seems to be that the increasing competition has primarily led to a rise in clickbait and that sort of thing, rather than the prioritising of quality content for people to set themselves apart.

Do you think that analytics and tactical analysis should have a stronger usage together in football writing?

Oh absolutely, they definitely should. It’s quite rare that the two are combined right now, at least in public anyway, but using data as a way to validate – or go against – what analysts see with their eyes can have a huge amount of value in terms of making analysis more accurate. Using more than just fairly basic statistics is something that I’ve been considering trying to integrate into my own pieces actually, and hopefully others can do the same. Maybe people could do more of that if they want to produce something unique!