Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 The Final Rounds

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 The Final Rounds

Hey guys, sorry for the delay in getting back to this series. It took me a little longer than I expected to catch up on life after my trip away so by the time I had caught up the final round of games was upon us.

So the Premier League is now over for another season. Manchester City are the Champions of England and have broken most records on the way to their title. Meanwhile West Brom’s valiant efforts under caretaker manager Darren Moore were not enough to overcome the odds and they were relegated along with Stoke and Swansea (even more galling as Cardiff have been promoted). Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle on the final day means that they will be playing in the Europa League next season along with Arsenal and Burnley, while Manchester United, Spurs (who waved goodbye to Wembley with a goal-fest against Leicester) and Liverpool will be joining City in the Champions League next season.

 


Record Breakers

What season City had. They ended up proving my prediction that their defence would lose them the league completely wrong, not only winning by 19 points, but also facing the fewest shots over a season since Opta records began (236). Their possession (71.9%), total passes (28,242) and pass accuracy (89%) were all records since Opta records began, as was their 15.9% shot conversion rate, which helped them towards a league-record 106 goals in a season. Their 32 wins and 4 draws saw them become the first team in the history of the league to reach 100 points, 10 more than the famed Arsenal “Invincibles” of 2003/4! This is a fantastic achievement and while I would expect their rivals to improve and get closer to them next season, it is hard to imagine this team not defending their title in 2018/19.

Along with all these records they broke, they also held the top 4 spots on the list of assists this season, with Kevin De Bruyne’s last minute assist for Gabriel Jesus earning him the top spot with 16, one ahead of Leroy Sané and 5 ahead of Raheem Sterling and David Silva.

In fact, pretty much the only record City didn’t break this season was that of most goals for a player in a 38-game season. That went to Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah, whose opener against Brighton put him on 32 goals for the season, not only 2 goals ahead of Harry Kane’s impressive haul of 30 goals, but also enough to break Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez’s record of 31 goals. Unlike City’s dominance, I doubt that Salah will be able to live up to these heights next year (though I would not be surprised with him making it into the 20s), but the guy has been on fire this season and rightfully earned his spot in the record books. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool can hold off attention from the more attractive clubs like Man City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, especially if he fires the Reds to Champions League glory.


Down but not out

With the season coming to an end, teams will now begin to turn their eyes to the future and start considering who they will sign for the coming season. While Stoke, Swansea and West Brom go down to the Championship, there are some players who I am sure will be leaving, either for another Premiership team or a different league. Stoke especially have a number of Premiership quality players who I will likely be finding a new club in the coming months:

Having spent time at Bayern Munich and Inter in the past, there is no way Xherdan Shaqiri will follow Stoke to the Championship. The Swiss international was one of Stoke’s stars in an awful season and topped the stats for goals (8) and assists (7) in the league this season. Only Joe Allen and Jack Butland played more minutes for Stoke than him in the league in 2017/18. With Marko Arnautovic leaving for West Ham and Jesé not working out as hoped, Shaqiri was not left with much help up front but still looked impressive during a doomed campaign. He may decide to move back to the continent, but if he does choose to remain in the Premier League, I could see him working well as a rotational player in the Spurs attack. They need more depth and more players who can chip in with goals and Shaqiri can certainly provide that, whilst also allowing the men up front to stay fresh throughout the season.

As mentioned above, Joe Allen’s 3,142 minutes in the league for Stoke was bested only by Jack Butland this season. He was also second to Shaqiri for assists (5) while also scoring 2 league goals. Though the numbers may not be anything special, he is a much more talented player than these stats suggest. The “Welsh Xavi” played 189 more passes than anyone else in a Stoke shirt and his 1,977 touches was almost 200 more than the next on the list for Stoke. He may not be the flair player that top teams will be looking for, but with 7 years of Premier League experience under his belt – including 4 at Liverpool – he will be an attractive prospect to a team towards the middle of the table hoping to push for Europe. With it announced that Scott Arfield will be leaving Burnley for Rangers, I think that Burnley are a potential landing spot for Allen, as they will want to get some players in to help them live up to this season’s exploits and also hold their own in the Europa League.

Jack Butland played more minutes than any Stoke player in the league this season and finished the season with the most saves of any keeper (144) despite Stoke having the joint worst number of goals conceded. A potential member of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, there is no way that he will be playing Championship football next season. He will want to maximise his chance of playing for England by signing for the best team he can, and as such I can see Liverpool as an attractive option, or Arsenal if they decide to move on from Petr Cech. Both squads have had somewhat questionable defences over recent years but will still look more secure than what he has had in front of him at Stoke, while both teams will appreciate a young, talented shot stopper who is English-qualified but due to relegation can probably come at a discounted price.

With so many influential players likely to leave Stoke, it will be a difficult job for whoever is in charge next season to bring them straight back into the top flight.


Back fighting?

What a great end to the season for Newcastle! At one point earlier in the season they looked at real risk of relegation, but pulled themselves up the table in 2018 and despite a string of losses towards the end of the season finished on a high with a dominant 3-0 victory over Chelsea to finish 10th. The Premier League needs a Newcastle side that is competing in the top half of the table, but that has been a rarity in recent seasons. But what do they need to do to give themselves the best chance of this?

  • Keep hold of Rafa – Rafael Benitez is a former Champions League winner and has arguably worked wonders with the side he has this season. A manager of his quality should not have been relegated to the Championship but such was his willingness to take on the role at Newcastle in 2016 despite their precarious position, and his willingness to see the Magpies back into the Premier League at the first opportunity, he has the good graces of the fans. The worry now will be losing him. He has been frequently frustrated by the lack of support financially in the transfer market and many will be worried that he may look for greener pastures, especially with an attractive position available at Arsenal and possibly a spot at Chelsea too. With Rafa at the helm, I feel that this Newcastle side can do better than expected, but I do worry for them should he leave.
  • Make the loans permanent – Newcastle’s results improved in 2018 following the arrivals of Kenedy and Martin Dubravka on loan. These 2 players made such a huge impression on matches the improvement in performance was clear to see. If Newcastle want to compete in the right parts of the league, they need to be getting players like this on the books as permanent deals rather than as short-term loans, otherwise the squad will struggle to get the consistency over the seasons.
  • Get a reliable striker – Especially in the first half of the season, Newcastle struggled with goals. Though they improved as they went through 2018, only Burnley (36) scored less goals out of the top 14 than Newcastle’s 39. Ayoze Perez was their top scorer with a “whopping” 8 goals, whereas fellow strikers Dwight Gayle and Joselu only managed 6 and 4 goals respectively. When your centre back is 4th on the list of goals scored with 3, you know there’s a problem! Newcastle desperately need a player who can score 12-15 goals per season if they want to regularly challenge in the top half of the table. Jay Rodriguez may not have head the best couple of seasons since his injury issues, but 7 goals in a struggling West Brom team suggested he could be getting back to his best and a better supporting cast. Southampton may have only just avoided relegation this season but they will be at risk next year if they don’t substantially improve after the season. Charlie Austin missed a number of matches through injury and yet still ended up as their top scorer with 7 goals. He’s a quality striker but has never quite managed to hold down a starting spot at Southampton on a regular basis, so I would not be surprised to see him move on to a team that can guarantee him a starting spot while also providing him the players around him to provide him with the opportunities. But of course for this, Newcastle will need to likely put their hand in their pocket and spend a bit of money.

And each of these ends up coming back to the same point: Newcastle needs to spend money to get the players in that Rafa Benitez wants. I have genuinely felt sorry for Newcastle fans in recent years when prospective takeovers have fallen through. If Mike Ashley will continue to refuse to spend money then he needs to find a buyer soon!


 

Thanks to everyone who has been reading this series over the past year. I do not know if I will do exactly the same next year but writing these has really helped me get back into the Premier League after a couple of years of not really caring, so I’m sure there will be something. Watch this space guys!

Aber 7s 2018: A Shrimpy Adventure

Aber 7s 2018: A Shrimpy Adventure

The 2018 Aberystwyth 7s tournament saw the return of the Pistol Shrimps for a 7th consecutive year. 11 lads in perfect shape (round is a shape) packed their bags and as the mist descended on Aber, the Shrimps came back.

Having formed the team in 2012, this was my 5th Aber 7s and I was looking forward to getting back with the Shrimps, having not seen any of them for 12 months. Some of the regulars weren’t able to make it this year due to other commitments (apparently we’re meant to be responsible adults now) but we still had 3 lads making their Shrimpy debuts this year.

Friday

Travelling from Gloucester to Aberystwyth by train is not a quick journey. I left Gloucester just before 11am knowing that I would be back in the bubble about half 3. Luckily after a quick stop at Birmingham New Street – including a frantic run around trying to figure out the new layout to get to my second train – I joined fellow Shrimp Limmer on the Birmingham – Aberystwyth stage of the journey. With 2 Shrimps now together it would be rude not to start drinking and luckily the ever-prepared Limmer had some lagers for us classy blokes to get through. We arrived in Aber to the flat we were renting to find that the Chairman of the Bridge himself, Mike Gledhill had already arrived and filled the treasure chest (fridge) with the nectar of the gods.IMG-20180504-WA0003

The next few hours were spent making a start on the collection of beers while more Shrimps arrived as the afternoon went on, and once the majority of the team were there we went to our sponsors Scholars for our annual pre-tournament dinner, wearing previous years kits and in the case of Meat Bag a banana outfit (for being the dope who almost turned up a week early). As a huge Star Wars fan, the decision to wear old kits out on May 4th (Star Wars Day) was great as it left me wearing my original kit with “Chewbacca” on the back! From Scholars, we could have gone for an early night to prepare for the next day… but instead decided to follow our Shrimpy instincts and began a long tour of half the pubs in town – and there’s a lot of pubs! As any night in Aberystwyth goes, we ended up dancing the night away in Yokos until it closed – not caring at all that we’re about double the age of the freshers – and making our eventual way back to the flat at 5:30am. Personal highlights of the night included a rousing rendition of YMCA in Downies and my helpful attempts at wingmanning for a fellow Shrimp (when it turns out that was the last thing he wanted/needed) and repeated hugs and cries of “Why are we both still out?!” every time I ran into one of the backs for our first opponents, Lingboks in the middle of Yokos.

Saturday

Whose stupid idea was it to stay out until half 5 when our first match was at 9:40am?! After a measly 2 and a half hours sleep I fell out of bed and made a beeline for the toilet to become the weekend’s first chunder bumder. Feeling very much worse for wear, we dragged ourselves down to Blaendolau playing fields for our opening match, which we lost 14-34 to Lingboks – who went on to top the group.

With the sun out in full force and my skin partial to burning under a full moon, the sun cream was out every 30 minutes and by our next match the team were feeling more alive, helped by the arrival of Seb who had missed the first match having got lost on the night out and slept in the back of his car! No luck catching them Swans then? faced a much-revived Pistol Shrimps and we ran out 17-29 victors in our second match, but we then lost our third match of the day 19-28 to Al-try-eda. To me this match was probably my biggest disappointment of the weekend as we should have had a penalty try on the stroke of halftime as their last man deliberately knocked on what would have been the killer pass to put our captain Ste over in the corner, only for a scrum to be awarded. The automatic 7 points, combined with the 2 minutes he would have spent in the sin bin would have been the turning point in this match.

IMG-20180506-WA0004With results being very up-and-down, we finished Day 1 on a high with a 52-0 win over A bit Pongy and a 14-22 victory against Budgie Smugglers to leave us 3-2 for the day. Our match with A bit Pongy will stick long in my memory as twice I was denied my first ever Shrimps try mere metres from the line.

Back to the flat and the old man in me wanted nothing more than to climb into bed and sleep for a year, but I dragged myself out with the team to watch the Haye v Bellew fight – which I surprised myself by calling a Bellew win. Once that was over, the old man in me won out and I went home to recover ahead of Sunday’s guaranteed 3 matches.

Sunday

As one of the few Shrimps to get an early night, I was certainly one of the fresher lads on Sunday morning. Luckily we had a slightly later start, but not by much, and after a delay getting through the gates we had about 15 minutes to get our boots on and warm up (if you can call 2 half-hearted stretches and a couple of passes of a ball a warm-up). We saw off Fish and a Rice Cake 29-12 and then completed our group with a 24-5 loss at the hands of Aukland BLBs to finish in 5th place on points difference.

We then had a couple of hours off before our Trophy quarter-final, so I took a chance to go watch a friend’s team Wolfpack Legends – who we have developed a relationship with due to both playing decent standards of rugby and coming back for the rugby (and the sesh) every year and having often played in the same league – win their next couple of matches.

Losing track of time, I almost missed our own match and after finally finding the pitch (as far away from our regular pitch as possible) I turned up for what proved to be our final match: a 0-5 loss to Triglycerides. To say this was not a classic 7s match is an understatement, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many scrums in a game before. Lack of sleep and proper stretching between matches took its toll on both teams and the handling ability of pretty much every player and Triglycerides finally got the only score of the game from first phase off a scrum (shock!) with the final play of the game.

From the field, we stopped at a pub on the way back to fill up with as much food as we can, and prepared for the big night out with some drinking games. I don’t know if it has a real name, but it was introduced to us by Andy the year before as the Stacky Cuppy Drinking Game… I now like to call it the Stacky Cuppy Fucky Timmy Uppy Drinking Game as a general lack of motor skills led to me getting absolutely ruined before the night out even began.

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Big thanks to Scholars for their hospitality yet again and also for the show of support behind the bar

When we left the flat, it was off to Harrys for a GAA – can’t have a trip to Aber without one of them! – before returning to Scholars for Kangaroo Court, led this year by The Right “Honourable” Judge Limmer. I wish I could tell you some fun stories from this and from the night after, but I’ll be honest I was such a state I don’t really remember anything and I’m not sure I even made it to 11pm before being back in the flat passed out in my bed.

Monday

The biggest benefit of being passed out so early on the Sunday night? No hangover on Monday! Though saying that I still had to be woke 30 minutes before our 10:30am checkout and still felt dead to the world.

After cleaning up the flat and checking out, it was off to Wetherspoons for the annual Monday debrief over a giant breakfast. As the next couple of hours went on, the group began to thin out as people began to leave to go home, and at half 12 I waved goodbye to Aber for another year and began my journey back to Gloucester, arriving back just after 6 and proudly showing off my numerous bruises on the way home.

Getting in, it was pretty much a case of going straight to bed and continuing my recovery, being very thankful that I had booked time off so I did not have to be back in work until Friday.

Same again next year chaps!

Caligo est descendens

In squilis venire

South Africa Tour: The England Squad

South Africa Tour: The England Squad

This morning, Eddie Jones named his 34-man squad to tour South Africa this summer. Coming off 3 consecutive losses in a disappointing 6 Nations campaign, Jones has decided to include a number of regulars despite having played long seasons (some have barely had a break since the start of last season due to the Lions Tour), but he has also rested a number of players.

As per every Eddie Jones squad, there were a few surprises, including a heavily publicised England recall (more on that shortly) and 8 uncapped players as the England boss continues to look at his options less than 500 days before the World Cup. In this article I will be looking at the players selected and giving my thoughts on the Australian’s decisions. There was also a 31-man training squad announced for training in Brighton ahead of the Barbarians match. As this squad will contain replacements for the England players still involved in the Premiership playoffs, I will not discuss it too much, but there may be some moments I refer to it to get a better idea of Eddie’s mind.

So without further ado, let’s look at the squad…

Front Row: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams

A bit of a mixed bag here for me. No real surprises in the selections other than some of the players who weren’t given a rest. Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola are both well established in the England squad, so given they both featured for the Lions I thought that they would be rested to give Beno Obano and Alex Hepburn (who have both been in fine form of late) a chance along with Ellis Genge to break the established one-two punch at loosehead.

Jamie George is another I thought may have been rested, but with Dylan Hartley missing, this is his chance to prove he deserves the number 2 shirt, while Luke Cowan-Dickie will be dangerous in the loose.

At tighthead, Dan Cole is getting a ell-earned rest and Kyle Sinckler will finally have the chance to wrest the number 3 shirt from his grasp as he did on the Lions Tour. There may not be the same depth at 3 as there is at 1 but Harry Williams has impressed for Exeter in recent seasons and is rightfully the next in line for England.

Back Five: Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw, Brad Shields, Sam Simmonds, Billy Vunipola, Jack Willis, Mark Wilson

While it’s great to see Billy Vunipola named in the squad after such a long absence, after his recent injury history I would have quite liked to see him given the summer off just to rest and fully recover, similar to Sam Underhill. Chris Robshaw is another I was surprised to see included as everybody knows what he can and can’t do, so I felt this was the perfect time to rest him.

Brad Shields is a highly controversial call here but I have no problem for it. He has been a big part of a successful Hurricanes back row and has captained the side, so brings a lot of experience to the team. A lot of people feel that he has been fast-tracked in but I think he has earned hist shot with his performances in Super Rugby, while his move to Wasps next summer makes him eligible in the same way Piers Francis’ move to Northampton allowed him to be selected last year (yet I don’t remember the arguments against him being selected despite a lot less top-level experience).

Curry, Earl, Willis and Wilson have all had wonderful seasons but I cannot understand how Zach Mercer has dropped out of the squad. Simmonds was a great option at number 8 but I still see his international future on the flank, whereas Mercer’s natural ability gives England a completely different option at the position to Vunipola. More than that, the omission of Don Armand despite being one of the best players in the Premiership this year baffles me. He brings a strength that was missing in Vunipola’s abscence and has been a vital piece in Exeter’s run to the playoffs.

Moving into the second row and I am a bit surprised at the inclusion of Launchbury and Itoje, though with Kruis, Lawes and Ewels unavailable I can understand the need to get some experience in there. Isiekwe could potentially be the next big thing in the second row, but the selection of Jonny Hill admittedly surprises me. He may have won the most lineouts in the Premiership, but Dave Attwood has been in such good form while on loan at Toulon and has previous international experience, so I thought this may be a chance for him to break back into the squad.

Inside Backs: Danny Cipriani, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Alex Lozowski, Cameron Redpath, Dan Robson, Henry Slade, Ben Spencer, Ben Te’o, Ben Youngs

And now we come to the biggest shock of the entire squad: Eddie’s taking 3 scrum halves! OK, I kid, that’s not the biggest shock, but it is a big change for Eddie Jones and one I’m not sure I fully understand. It’s great to see Robson and Spencer in there finally, but the selection of Ben Youngs makes me worry that they will be reduced to a handful of minutes each. Youngs is clearly the starting 9 for the World Cup as it stands, so why risk him picking up another injury and instead give Robson and Spencer all the minutes so that they can get used to the international game. They both have the ability to start for England in Japan so should be given every chance possible to compete with the established options of Youngs and Care.

I was shocked to see Farrell named in the squad as he was another I was sure would be given a well-earned summer off. However in my eyes he is the clear successor to Dylan Hartley as captain so I think Eddie maybe taking him to prove himself in the leadership role in case he does decide to move on from Hartley come the World Cup. The decision to take 3 other fly halves (Cipriani, Redpath and Ford) suggests to me that Farrell will again be used as a centre rather than at 10.

Cipriani’s return to the England squad is understandably getting the headlines. He is an incredible player especially in attack, but as it stands his future is unknown as he is leaving Wasps but his next club has not yet been announced. If he decides to move to France now, this will have been a wasted opportunity to give a younger player some experience. What interests me a lot is Eddie Jones commenting about him as a 10 or a 15. With the aforementioned other 3 fly halves and Alex Lozowski and Henry Slade both experienced at 10, it would seem very odd to select Cipriani as a 15 considering Alex Goode has had another stunning season for Saracens, making a record 1,808m over the gainline in the Premiership this season (according to Opta stats).

Cameron Redpath’s inclusion is an odd one for me. I would have personally selected Marcus Smith and Joe Simmonds over Redpath, and I can’t help feel that Redpath is being capped so quickly to capture him before Scotland can (which then surprises me as to why Ben Vellacott only made the training squad). I assume that Smith’s omission means that he will be allowed to take part in the U20s World Championship this summer, which is a highly exciting prospect and may work out better for hi in the long term.

With Slade, Lozowski and Te’o joining Farrell in the centre, I can’t help but feeling there are too many centre/fly half hybrids. Slade has looked fantastic for Exeter at 13, but has not yet lived up to the expectations when wearing the rose, while Lozowski is clearly a good player but I do not see what he brings to the squad different to the other hybrids. Ben Te’o clearly gives a more physical option at either 12 or 13, and I feel that another specialised centre should have been included at the expense of Lozowski/Farrell/Redpath. How Henry Trinder has not been included in either the touring squad or the training squad is beyond me as he appears to have put his injury issues largely behind him while also being one of the form 13s in the Premiership. With Eddie Jones bringing in Scott Wisemantel as attacking coach for the tour, we will hopefully see more from the midfield in South Africa, but I still worry about this area of the pitch as we near the World Cup.

Full Backs: Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Nathan Earle, Jonny May, Denny Solomona

Why is Mike Brown in this squad? Nothing against him, but we already clearly know what he can do in this squad. I imagine were Anthony Watson avaialable, Brown would have been given the summer off. Elliot Daly has been one of the form wingers in recent internationals, so unless he is to be played as a fullback (unlikely given Brown’s inclusion and Jones’ mention of Cipriani as a 15) I do not see the point of taking him following his exertions on the Lions Tour. This would have been the perfect time to bring Alex Goode back into the fold, or even to test Jason Woodward, who is clearly in Eddie Jones’ thinking judging by his place in the training squad, but apparently experience and reputation once again counts for more than form.

On the wings it will be interesting to see Jones’ selections on the wing for the First Test. May and Earle have bags of pace, as does Daly, whereas Solomona is adept at finding the try line. If I was picking the starting lineup for the First Test, I would be going for May and Solomona on the wings, with Daly at 15, so I can pretty much guarantee Eddie Jones will select something completely different!

 

What are your thoughts on Eddie’s selections? Is there anyone missing you would have selected? How do you see this squad faring in South Africa? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Experience Counts

Experience Counts

In the 2008 film Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Captain Rex says to Ahsoka Tano “In my book, experience outranks everything”. That doesn’t apply to just fighting a war in a galaxy far far away, but also to title matches in the Movie Trivia Schmoedown. The most recent title matches in the Singles League and Innergeekdom League both saw competitors taking part in their first ever title match (Rachel Cushing and Mark Donica respectively) only to lose to the defending champions. In both cases, the matches were effectively decided by the dominant performances of Samm Levine and Jason Inman in Round 4.

For those less familiar with the Schmoedown, the title matches have the following rounds:

  1. General Knowledge Round – as in regular matches
  2. Wheel Round – as in regular matches
  3. Betting Round – the leader/higher ranked competitor spins the wheel once to select a category. Both competitors choose to bet 1-3 points on their answer and are then given the same question. Competitors gain or lose the number of points they bet depending on whether they get the answer right
  4. Speed Round – Both competitors are asked the same questions and have to buzz in, whoever buzzes in first has 2 seconds to give the correct answer. A correct answer gets them a point, an incorrect answer/taking to long loses a point
  5. Final Round – as in regular matches

The specific format of some rounds may have changed slightly but the general title format has remained the same through the Collider era

While the betting round can cause a 6-point swing, it is the speed round that often seems to be the turning point for title match rookies and get controversy. Watching Cushing v Levine and Inman v Donica, I couldn’t help but feel that the experience of the champions in title matches proved the deciding factor in these matches and it made me wonder if this had been the case over recent seasons. So, let’s have a look back through the history of the title matches.

sing
Dan Murrell is the only competitor to defeat an established champion without having any previous experience of the title match format

Singles League

At the time that The Schmoedown came onto Collider, Mark “Yodi” Reilly was the defending champion having defeated Josh Macuga in October 2014, however this title format was different to what was mentioned above. Reilly’s first match under the new format was against JTE, where successfully defended his title, only to lose it to Dan Murrell who was making his title debut.

Murrell defended the belt twice against Clarke Wolfe and Mark Ellis, but it was third time unlucky as he lost to John Rocha. The Outlaw may have been making his Singles title match debut, but by this point he had played in 2 Team title matches as a part of Top 10. The next couple of matches all featured former champions as Yodi won the title back from Rocha, before losing it to Murrell in a Triple Threat match also containing rota.

Murrell then cemented his GOAT status by defeating “The Inglorious One” Samm Levine immediately after winning the Triple Threat. Murrell’s run soon came to an end though as he lost in his next outing to the true Commissioner Kristian Harloff. Much like Rocha before him, this may have been Harloff’s first time in a Singles title match, but he had played for Team Schmoes in 2 Team title matches. Harloff was unable to defend his belt at Schmoedown Spectacular II however, losing to The Inglorious One, who by this point had added to his earlier experience of this format by featuring in 2 5-round matches with Above The Line (2017 Ultimate Schmoedown Final & Schmoedown Spectacular II Team title match). And that brings us up to Levine’s first successful defence against Rachel Cushing.

TeamorIG
Though The Patriots had never appeared in a Team title match, JTE’s previous title experience meant they had more title experience than Rocha & Knost’s sole match against Team Schmoes * This title match was for Team B.O.B (JTE & Finstock). Sneider had no previous title match experience

Teams League

The first Team Title match was played early in the Collider era between Team Schmoes and Team B.O.B. Team Schmoes won to become the first ever Team Champions, but they lost their first title defence to Top 10 (Rocha & Matt Knost), who were making their debuts in any title format. Top 10 were also unable to defend their title as they lost to The Patriots at Schmoedown Spectacular. Though this may have been their first title match as a team, JTE came into this match as the competitor with the most title match experience, having lost in Singles to Reilly and also been part of Team B.O.B. in the inaugural Team title match.

Since then, The Patriots have defeated all comers, regardless of their prior experience. Wolves of Steel, Team Trek, Modok and Above The Line have all failed to wrest the title from The Patriots’ hands, while Top 10 have now been blocked from challenging the current champions again following 2 unsuccessful attempts to win the title back. Often in these matches we have seen JTE coming to the fore in the speed round, while Matt Atchity was too busy trying to keep his Russian spy persona intact to pay attention to the Round 4 rules and cost Modok the match.

TeamorIG
Navarro’s win over Burnett was the first time either of them competed in the regular title format

Innergeekdom League

Having debuted at Schmoedown Spectacular, the Innergeekdom League is still in its relative infancy. The first title match was the Fatal Fiveway at Schmoedown Spectacular, where the first 2 rounds both followed the Round 1 format and the lowest-scoring competitor being eliminated after each round (the scores were reset at the end of each round). Round 3 was the Wheel Round then Round 4 was the Speed Round, with the first competitor to 5 points being awarded the title. Robert Meyer Burnett emerged the winner, but then lost the title to Hector Navarro in the first regular-format title match. “The Nightmare” successfully defended his belt against Jeremy Jahns at Collider Collision but then lost at Schmoedown Spectacular II to Jason “Justice” Inman. Inman had never featured in a Singles or Innergeekdom title match before, having been denied the chance to make the Burnett v Navarro match a Triple Threat match. However, like Harloff and Rocha in the Singles League, Inman had experience of the title match format from Team Trek’s loss to the Patriots. So that brings up to date with the Innergeekdom League and Inman’s TKO of Mark Donica.

 

We have had  different champions over the Singles and Innergeekdom Leagues and so far, Dan Murrell’s defeat of Mark Reilly is the only time a Number 1 Contender with no previous experience of the title match format has defeated a champion that has experience of the format. In the Teams League, The Patriots’ dominance has made it harder to know if the same pattern exists. To make this decision, the matches must be looked at a little deeper. JTE is arguably one of the best in the Schmoedown at the Speed Round, while as mentioned above, Modok would have beat The Patriots were it not for Atchity’s mistakes in Round 4. I would argue that having a teammate to cover an individual’s knowledge gaps somewhat negates the importance of experience, but having at least one member of the team is an advantage.

buzzer
The buzzer round increased Inman’s lead from 2 to 5 points

“I definitely think that having touched those buzzers before you do get a sense of them, but I… The biggest lesson I learned the last time I was in Speed Round is ‘Try to figure out what the question is before they finish it and beat your opponent'”

Jason “Justice” Inman speaking after defending his title against Mark “The Enforcer” Donica

So now the question becomes “should Number 1 Contender matches follow the title match format?” In my opinion, the answer is no. The champions have worked hard and earned their belts, their role deserves some advantages and other than being able to decide if the Wheel includes Spinners Choice and Opponents Choice, the experience in the extra rounds is the clear benefit for a champion. Contenders can practice the Speed Round outside of competition if they want to improve their chances in a title match, and this is where a faction will often come in handy. Having a faction will not just give you other competitors to practice with, but it may also give a title match rookie the chance to get tips from a former champion/number 1 contender.

 

Edit: Apologies to Samm Levine for doing him a disservice when looking at his experience in the 4-Round format. Thank you to Michael Campbell on the Movie Trivia Schmoedown Facebook group for reminding me that Samm competed in both the Singles and Teams finals of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown, so he had actually competed in the 5-Round format 4 times in total before facing Harloff.

 

Do you think that title match experience helps? Does it apply to 1v1 matches only rather than Team matches? Do you think that Number 1 Contender matches should follow the 5 round format? Sound off in the comments.

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 36

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 36

We are now just 2 and a half rounds away from the end of the season and for some teams there is still plenty to play for. West Brom’s late revival has probably come too late to save them from the drop, but their 0-1 win at Newcastle leaves them currently just 3 points behind Swansea in 17th, though the Swans do have a game in hand. Burnley’s point against Brighton has secured them a place in the top 7 barring a 15-goal swing in goal difference, while Crystal Palace’s 5-0 victory at Leicester (their largest win in the Premier League) sees them jump up to 11th and be all-but certain of safety. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s hold on 3rd place is under threat as their goalless draw with Stoke means Spurs will leapfrog them if they win their game in hand.


Right guy, wrong time?

Looking at their results in recent weeks, I can’t help but wonder what might have been for West Brom. Following Alan Pardew’s introduction, the Baggies won just 1 league game out of 18 and took just 8 out of a possible 54. Yet under caretaker boss Darren Moore they are unbeaten in the league and have picked up 8 points from a possible 12, including wins against Manchester United and Newcastle. West Brom have earned 28.6% of their points under Moore despite him having only been in charge for 11.1% of their matches this season! It’s not even just the results, but the quality of teams played as he has taken 7 points off of Mourinho, Klopp and Benitez – 3 of the best managers in the league!

Moore has got these players working for him in a way they never did under Pardew. The Barcelona incident was a clear indication that he did not have the support of the dressing room that he need to keep the club up, but Moore appears to have their support and also got results by – as suggested by Chris Brunt – going back to the West Brom way. Whatever he is doing, it is working! A couple of weeks back, the Baggies looked certain to be down. I still find survival unlikely, but under Moore there is at least a belief that the great escape could be possible.

At the moment, he is merely the caretaker manager, but I hope he has shown enough over the last couple of weeks to convince the board to make him permanent. Dropping down to the Championship could see them lose a number of top players, but a manager like Moore may convince some of them to stay and also give them the confidence to push for an immediate return to the top flight.


Handball?

Burnley just can’t buy a penalty in the league this season! They had 2 appeals turned down in their draw against Brighton, the first when the ball ricocheted off the post and onto Shane Duffy during a goalmouth scramble, the second when a knock-down at a set piece struck Bruno’s outstretched arm from close range. Away from Turf Moor, Erik Pieters survived a late handball shout at Anfield as Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross hit him on the arm in the 87th minute.

So what actually constitutes a handball? The FA website’s rules and regulations section states:

HANDLING THE BALL

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm. The following must be considered:

  • The movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • The distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • The position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence
  • Touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
  • Hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
  • The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. Inside their penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick or any related sanction but can be guilty of handling offences that incur an indirect free kick.

That leaves a lot of discretion for referees, and anytime there is too much discretion involved, mistakes can be made far too easily. We the viewing public get the benefit of multiple replays whereas the officials get one chance and will not necessarily have the best angle. This may be a controversial suggestion, but I wonder if it would benefit the FA to trial a zero-tolerance approach to handling the ball in a similar way to touching the ball with the foot in hockey. It may lead to a number of penalties initially as defenders get used to the new rules, but in the long run the clear stance on what constitutes a handball could be a real benefit.


Sliding down and out?

Things are not looking good for Huddersfield right now. They started the season so well but in recent months they have been sliding down the table and now find themselves just 3 points above the drop zone. They have just 3 matches left in the league this season but they are away to Manchester City, away to Chelsea and at home to Arsenal… not really the way you want to end the season when fighting for survival. It gets even worse when you realise that they are yet to win a match where they have gone behind!

Southampton looked much improved in their 2-1 win over Bournemouth and have a slightly easier set of remaining games (away at Everton, away at Swansea and at home to Manchester City). None of these are easy matches, but I still see more potential for Southampton to build some momentum off this week’s win and pick up the points to leapfrog Huddersfield by virtue of their better goal difference.

Right now I can see Huddersfield joining Stoke and West Brom in the Championship next season.


Round 37 predictions and the missing matches:

I’m going to be away this weekend so Round 37’s write-up will join with my thoughts on the games in hand. At that point we will have just one round left in the Premier League this season.

 

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United – United win

Stoke City v Crystal Palace – Palace win

AFC Bournemouth v Swansea City – Swansea win

Leicester City v West Ham – Leicester win

Watford v Newcastle United – Newcastle win

West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Everton v Southampton – Draw

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town – City win

Arsenal v Burnley – Draw

Chelsea v Liverpool – Draw

 

Swansea City v Southampton – Southampton win

Chelsea v Huddersfield Town – Chelsea win

Leicester City v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion – City win

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United – Spurs win

West Ham v Manchester United – United win