On-Song he is truly melodious. Off-key, he can be discordant.

Alex Song confounds.

At times this season, and particularly in the early weeks and months when the team effervesced, he looked ‘different gravy’, the sort of incisive and intelligent midfielder the like of which had not worn the claret and blue in some considerable time time. He could pick a pass, more pertinently deliver it, read the game and defend as well as create. He was truly a breath of fresh air to a crowd beginning to tire of the usual efficiency but lack of imagination of a Parker, a Noble, a Nolan. Here was the real deal, a bit of class and someone that the social media fraternity implored the hierarchy to go out and get, almost at whatever price.

Then Christmas came.

Like they apparently did for the rest of the team, things changed for Song. Suddenly he looked fallible, very fallible. Suddenly the pass completion looked less secure and, crucially, defensive errors began to creep into his game. That same, previously adoring social media fraternity now spoke in terms of the great man becoming a ‘liability’ and today the rumours abound that the club are no longer actively seeking to make the Cameroon player’s contract a permanent one.

I loved him early season but something is different. Is it a simple loss of form, in which case the old form is temporary – class is permanent adage should be invoked? Is it a complacency thing from Song himself? Are his best years well behind him? Has it to do with the wider loss of form and direction in terms of the first team?

Guest post by Kevin Mousley: Football by numbers

There were two pieces of radio that caught my attention this weekend.
The first was on Sport on Five on Friday when Mark ‘chappers’ Chapman
read out how LVG divides up the training week at Manchester United;
the other was David Moyes speaking to Gary Richardson, again on Five
Live, on Sunday morning.
It seems Manchester United players spend more time being briefed,
collectively and individually, on the opposition than they spend
kicking a ball on the training pitch. The stats and metrics of every
member of the opposition squad are tabulated and scrutinised over the
weeks before a fixture by the club’s corps of analysts and scouts and
as the fixture approaches, players are introduced to the dossiers
which are discussed, analysed and delivered for further home-work.
David Moyes on the other hand was surprised by the lack of such
preparation by Spanish teams. Even a lowly Championship squad is
likely to have more fitness trainers, psychologists and analysts than
employed by Barcelona or Real Madrid, he said.
It is certain that if Manchester United is doing it; so are other
Premier League clubs and as a public advocate of the power of applied
statistics I imagine that LVG may be something of an amateur compared
to Sam Alladyce who is committed to squeezing meaning out of as many
statistics as he can lay his hands on.
Now I do not suggest that a player being physically prepared to the
‘max’ is a bad thing or taking account of an opponent’s strengths is
pointless but perhaps in the blizzard of statistics something is lost
once a game kicks off. If you are very good at doing something the
last thing you need to do is think about it.
Sam, I know, is a fan of the theory of ‘the marginal gain of small
differences’. It was something that Sir Dave Brailsford developed to
take British Cycling from bankruptcy to world beaters and very clever
it was of him too but cycling is not football. To quote Donald
Rumsfeld there are very few known unknowns in cycling- or for that
matter rowing or athletics or swimming – sports that can benefit
from such an approach.
Football on the other hand is as much a game of chance as skill
because scoring is a rare event. Where it is not – cricket, rugby,
basketball, NFL- weaker teams overwhelmingly are beaten by stronger
teams because the stronger team will always get multiple opportunities
to atone for a momentary lapse.
In football control freaks rarely prosper because there is so much
that cannot be controlled: the brilliant strike, the uncharacteristic
defensive lapse, the ground giving way, the referee’s vision, a gust
of wind, you name it and that sense of not knowing what will or could
happen next or who will be responsible or that anyone can score a goal
and upset the odds is why we love the game.
I would say that one reason Sam Alladyce is well regarded by chairman
of middling clubs is that he comes as close as it is possible to
controlling outcomes, not of individual matches but over the course of
season. It may not be pretty and it may not win prizes but it keeps
you in the game.
I think the wider lesson for English Football is that the playbook
approach to football doesn’t work – not if we want to be the best,
not if we want to enjoy football rather than nervously endure it when
international competitions roll around and certainly not if we want to
see more local lads playing for local clubs.
Planning is important but having your head full of tactics and
trusting to the certainty that if you cross the ball five times from a
certain position on the pitch to a teammate running the inside right
channel statistics tell you he will score on the sixth. From what
Moyes says such thoughts do not trouble the likes of Real Madrid and
it shows. Passing and controlling the ball time after time is not an
ambition, it is a given just as the vanity of Italian footballers
means no one has to tell them what not to eat or how to look after
their bodies; from such platforms the unorthodox beauty of Ronaldo or
Messi flows.

Safety Achieved. Job Done.

I missed Saturday’s match but kept in touch via flashscores.com on refresh.

It doesn’t sound as though I missed much. That said, given the injury situation it would be difficult to expect much at the moment and a win is a win is a win. Through the 40 point barrier with 8 games to go – we’ve had worse seasons!

We now face a two week wait leading into Leicester City away and hopefully the chance for one or two to return from injury so that we can give this top 8 thing a right good go!

Anyway, prediction table update below:

Contributor

WHU vs Sunderland

Points

Total

HammerRay

2 – 0

3

13

Florida Hammer

1 – 0

5

12

Graybo

2 – 1

3

11

Roshi

1 – 0

5

11

Stelios J

2 – 1

3

10

AoF

2 – 1

3

9

ClaretNBlues

2 – 0

3

9

DevoDevo

2 – 0

3

9

Harry – son of HM

1 – 1

0

9

Headmaster

3 – 1

3

9

WHU647580

2 – 0

3

9

Alan Carter

2 – 0

3

8

Bomad

2 – 0

3

8

Goatygav

3 – 1

3

8

ADeludedCoker

No prediction

0

7

Sactown

2 – 1

3

6