Archive for February, 2011

Yesterday, Manchester United produced a 4-0 victory away against Wigan.

After Wednesday’s dismal nil-nil draw with Marseille in the Champion’s League, the Reds were lambasted by many of their supporters about the stuttering, toothless display that was put on by United.  Chris Smalling was the only player to come out of the game with his reputation unscathed, surprising given that he was the youngest member of the Reds’ starting eleven.

With yesterday’s victory, which included two goals from Javier Hernandez and one from Wayne Rooney, one might think that the fans would have forgotten – or at least forgave – the midweek speed bump.

However, that was not the case as mere hours after the game topics such as “Which players would you sign and why?” and “Nuri Sahin is a must…” appearing on the United forums, indicating a general dis-satisfaction with the way the team is heading.

One of the major themes of this type of topic is that Manchester United need to go out and sign almost ten top-quality players in the summer to avoid falling from the top of the Premiership perch next season.

I think that this is complete BS, and I’ll tell you why: Manchester United’s youth system is stocked so full of talent that they have to loan out players who are too good to play reserves football, but are not good enough to make the Reds’ squad.  Some of these players will be ready to join the squad next season and they should be given the chance before Sir Alex Ferguson goes out and spends like he’s Roberto Mancini.

To really get a good picture of what I’m talking about, let’s go through the Reds’ roster and look at what might happen next season.

Looking at the goaltenders, I want to take you back a couple years to when Edwin van der Sar was first establishing himself at United.  Tim Howard was the incumbent keeper and Ben Foster was signed as a depth option.  By the start of the next season, Howard was gone and Tomasz Kuszczak was brought in to be Edwin’s backup, slotting in directly in front of Foster.  As Foster was denied game time by Edwin and Tomasz, he became frustrated and eventually left the club.  Kuszczak has been stuck behind van der Sar ever since as well, which will likely result in his departure from Old Trafford this summer coming.

Now, because of van der Sar’s impending retirement, United is left in a dangerous position.  They potentially have three keepers on their books in newly-signed Anders Lindegaard, Kuszczak, and reserve keeper Ben Amos.  With Kuszczak’s predicted departure, the Reds could do one of three things: (a) bring in a proven international keeper to replace van der Sar outright, (b) sign another keeper to push Lindegaard for the number 1 job, or (c) continue with Lindegaard and Amos as their two keepers.  I would choose option (c).  For one, Lindegaard has shown to be a very capable keeper in the few games he has played with the club and actually reminds me a lot of van der Sar himself.  The second reason I have is that options (a) and (b) risk alienating either Lindegaard or Amos by not giving them the game time they need to succeed and become better players.  By alienating them United could have another Kuszczak or Foster on their hands, neither of which is beneficial to the club.

Moving on to the defence, there isn’t really much to do here in the summer.  Any concerns about replacing Rio Ferdinand seem to have been alleviated by the emergence of Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva has shown signs of becoming Gary Neville’s long-term successor at right back.  Therefore, any changes to the back line is just tinkering under the hood.  The only possible change that I could see happening is that Sir Alex gives some game time to youngsters Ritchie de Laet or Marnick Vermijl at the expense of either John O’Shea or Wes Brown.  Both de Laet and Vermijl have come up through the United ranks, signifying another change from within for the Reds.

The midfield is where things get complicated and to make things easier I’m going to break the midfield down into two sections, the central midfield and the wings.

First, let’s tackle the wings.  Despite being forced to deploy Wayne Rooney on the left wing against Marseille, the Reds aren’t in a bad position in terms of wingers.  Nani is steadily improving and Ryan Giggs is just steady (even at 63…).  What will make a difference for the Reds in this department next season is the impending returns to action for Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park.  These two players have missed most of the season so far (Park did put in a few outstanding games in the first half of the season) and their absence has really been putting a lot of pressure on Nani and Giggs to stay fit and consistently perform to the best of their abilities.  When Valencia and Park return, United will have options on both wings.  Also in the system are Gabriel Obertan, Bebe, and youngster Ravel Morrison.  Obertan and Bebe should probably go out on loan, but Morrison could find himself playing some first-team football if one of Nani, Giggs, Valencia, or Park miss an extended period of time next season.

The center of midfield is where most of the frustration has been leveled after the Marseille game.  The trio of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, and Darron Gibson were mostly ineffective in the game and it wasn’t until aging veteran Paul Scholes replaced Gibson that United started to move forward with any kind of purpose.  Perhaps the criticism that the aforementioned trio has received has been a bit harsh, but it is not wholly undeserved.  The main problem lies in that all three are basically the same player, and none of them an adequate replacement for the likely-departing Owen Hargreaves.  United really only need one of them and I can offer no real evidence for one over the others.  Combine this conundrum to Scholes’ impending retirement, and the center of midfield is quite a mess.

So, how do I propose on tackling the problem?  Like a broken record that keeps spinning over the same worn patch, the answer lies in United’s youth.  If we take it as a given (although it likely won’t work out this way) that two of Gibson, Carrick, and Fletcher will be following Hargeaves out the door, then it follows that there are three places open in United’s midfield.  The first should go to Tom Cleverley, who is currently out on loan.  Cleverley has been playing well for Wigan (although he didn’t suit up against United yesterday due to a clause in the loan agreement) and surely deserves a chance to make a mark with the Reds.  Another of the places should go to one of Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe, or Daniel Drinkwater, with Pogba and Tunnicliffe being the frontrunners.  All three are talented youngsters who can play almost anywhere in the midfield.  All three are products of the United youth system.

That leaves one space open in the center of midfield.  This is the one purchase I believe United need to make.  They need to find an experienced midfield general who can both patrol in front of the back four and win the ball and press forward to join the attack; in short, they need an all-rounder.  I use the word experienced here because United doesn’t need to sign someone that they plan on developing into a superstar.  They need someone who can step in now and steady the ship while the prospects they already have grow into experienced players in their own right.

You’ll notice that I’ve said nothing about replacing Scholes in this section.  That is because I feel that United are well on the way to replacing Scholes with Brazilian midfielder Anderson.  Anderson showed glimpses of what he could do in a smattering of games before he came off injured against Crawley in the FA Cup.  With hopefully another year of learning from the master, Anderson should be primed and ready to step into Scholes’ shoes when the legend eventually calls it a day.

Finally, we get to the forwards.  This picture is pretty clear.  Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney sit atop the pecking order with Javier Hernandez just a notch below.  The status of Michael Owen is unclear for next season, but if he does leave Old Trafford, then the logical choices to replace him come from within in the shapes of Kiko Macheda, Danny Welbeck, or Joshua King.

I guess the message here is not to panic.  Despite some discouraging results, Manchester United is in a very good position going forward with the amount of talented youth that is pouring through the system.  As the last stragglers of the old guard say their farewells (Neville, van der Sar, Scholes, and eventually Giggs), now is a perfect time to bring along some of that talent and put it to use alongside established stars such as Berbatov, Rooney, Nani, Vidic, and Evra.

Apart from the one midfield purchase, Manchester United can fill all of their other needs from within, which bodes extremely well for a side still in the reckoning for a second Treble of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.

P.S. The Manchester United forums can be found here: http://community.manutd.com/forums/

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@bazinga_shaw just in case you don’t already follow me) and are my friends on Facebook will know what is coming here: it is my weekly comparison of the television series The Big Bang Theory and Community.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this comparison, I’ll fill you in on a little history.

When it was first announced that The Big Bang Theory would be moving from Monday nights to the 8pm on Thursday timeslot, I was torn.  It would directly conflict with another of my favourite shows: Community.  I had been routinely praising both shows for their humour, writing, and acting, so I was in quite a dilemma.  Given that I could only watch one at a time, I needed a system to figure out which one to watch.

And so the comparison system you see today was born.  The premise is simple: whichever show’s episode is better in a given week gets a point.  The show with the most points at the end of the season would be declared the best, and therefore the one to watch first.  If I can’t choose between them on a given week, half a point will be given to each show.

The current score, after 14 weeks, is 9 points for Community and 5 points for The Big Bang Theory.

So, now that you’re up to speed, it’s time to move on to this week’s episodes…and just as a head’s up, there will be spoilers…

The Contestants: The Toast Derivation (The Big Bang Theory) vs. Intro to Political Science (Community)

Let’s start by breaking down what each episode did right.

Community’s Intro to Political Science gave us a couple things that I found very interesting, both of which have been touched upon in previous episodes.

The first is the Jeff-Annie romance sparking up again.  While some viewers might not see these two characters as a good fit, the key point is that a new multi-episode arc seems to be picking up, replacing the rather mediocre Pierce-trying-to-be-accepted storyline that took up most of the season to this point.  And deep down, we really pull for characters like Jeff and Annie.  Despite Jeff’s standoffish attitude towards his friends and family, he is a likable character and Annie, because she’s so innocent most of the time, really tugs at our proverbial heart-strings.  By pairing two like-able characters in a multi-episode arc Community’s writers have given themselves a very good platform to work off of in future episodes.

The second item is the testing of Troy and Abed’s relationship.  In Early 21st Century Romanticism, the inseparable duo were tested by a shared crush on the school’s librarian.  This time the testing sets out to be more subtle.  After having their elections-coverage talkshow interrupted by FBI investigators, a relationship seems to be slowly developing between Abed and Special Agent Robin Vollers, despite her job getting in the way.  We don’t know how this storyline will develop, but at some point Troy will have to deal with Abed spending more time with Robin and how that plays out will definitely be worth watching.

Both of these items are all about moving the show forward and giving the audience something new to watch.  Without this progress, the show becomes stale (much like Season 5 of How I Met Your Mother).  Although Annie and Jeff kissed in the Season 1 finale and have shown some hints of attraction between then and now (see Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design and Asian Population Studies), we have yet to see them in any kind of real relationship with real, consistent feelings.  New relationships always signify forward movement in the story as the relationship will either fail – and the characters will learn something new about themselves – or succeed – and the characters will be one step closer to the point at which their story concludes.

Community also did a very good job depicting student elections in this week’s episode.  You UWO students out there, just picture Omid Salari as Jeff Winger talking his way past Andrew Forgione as Annie Edison, only to be undone by Annie/Andrew’s resourcefulness (except that I think you’d be hard pressed to make Omid ashamed of anything you caught him doing on camera…).  From the silly Dean Pelton-style applause-o-meter to South Park being the write-in winner, nothing seemed out of place.

On the other hand (or should I say “out of the other eye?”), The Big Bang Theory finally produced an episode that was high on substance and/or emotion and wasn’t boxed in by the same, heavily broken-in character types, instead using the traits of the characters to set up the story before letting it loose.

What I’m talking about here isn’t immediately obvious upon first viewing.  Sheldon’s initial reaction to the group moving their hangout spot to Raj’s apartment was to be expected.  In this instance, the writers have used our familiarity with Sheldon’s personality and quirky tendencies to draw us into the episode and that’s what we want.  From the point that Sheldon parts ways with the group for his conglomerate of Stewart, Barry, and Zach, the episode could have gone two different ways.  The way it went, with Sheldon and the group making up in a very co-dependent and bittersweet manner, was one way and it was a positive move on the behalf of the show’s writers as it gave us something that we wouldn’t expect.  Given what we know of the characters, we might have expected the rest of the group to be on top of the world without Sheldon to drag them down and Sheldon to engage in a maniacal scheme to bring them down.  All of which would be concluded with a yelling match between Sheldon and Leonard and an abrupt and unsatisfying make-up.

This leads perfectly into the other side of the equation: how the group fared without Sheldon.  Despite adding a member who is inherently more stable than the erratic Sheldon in Priya, the group misses its, as Sheldon would put it, “social glue.”  Given what we have seen in previous episodes like The Vegas Renormalization or, more recently, The Bus Pants Utilization, the group should get along just fine without Sheldon around.  That they don’t is a great sign that the show can still defy our expectations, which has been sadly lacking so far this season and is a big reason why the show is 4 points behind Community in the rankings.

All in all, there’s not much bad I have to say about each contestant this week.  I could have done without the Girls’ Night storyline of The Toast Derivation as I felt it just slowed down and dragged out the episode.  With Community, Pierce, Shirley, and Britta were mostly missing from the episode.  Pierce and Britta were both “candidates” for the Presidency, but apart from a few lines, they didn’t figure in the main storylines of the episode and Shirley was pretty much non-existent.

Therefore, this week I will award both shows half a point.  Both had me laughing and both impressed me with their writing, meaning that choosing between the two is a near impossible task.

The score after this week is now Community 9.5 – The Big Bang Theory 5.5.

No offense to Henri Richard, but his 11 Stanley Cup victories (an NHL record, by the way) isn’t going to help him overshadow his older brother any time soon.

‘Henri?’ you might ask.

Yes, Henri Richard, whose most famous accomplishment is being the brother of a certain Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.

He’s just one example of why winning championships, or even playing in championship games, in team sports does not make you a great player.  Some others that make this list include NFLers such as Charles Haley, Don Beebe, and Gale Gilbert and NBA players Robert Horry, Steve Kerr, and Derek Fisher.

Championships are a sign of success, with the assumption being that if a player is on a championship team – or better yet a key player on a championship team – then that player is automatically great.

But the list shown above tells us otherwise.  Haley, despite winning 5 Super Bowls, could never be considered to be a better player than Reggie White, for instance.  Horry and Fisher will always be remembered by who they played with, having ridden the coattails of sure-fire Hall Of Famers Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan.

The moral is that teams win championships, not players.  Each of Bryant, O’Neal, Robinson, and Duncan were great NBA players irrespective of whether or not they ever played in an NBA final.  However, to win those championships, they needed the help of role players like Horry or Fisher.  As a group they were able to win multiple times and each had their own part to play.

It all seems straightforward, right?  Don’t call players great just based on whether or not their team is winning.

Apparently not.

Every year players receive awards on the basis that they are the best player on the best team.  For example, to win the NBA’s MVP award, your team had better be one of the top 5 or 6 teams in the league.  Very rarely does a player buck the trend and win it on a losing or even just over .500 team.

But that’s not what bugs me the most in this situation as often a top team is a top team in a given season because of some outstanding individual displays from its players.  And those individual displays should be rewarded.

What bugs me the most is when, at the end of a player’s career, the greatness of their career is judged on how many games or championships their teams have won.  After all, no one would call Henri Richard the greater of the Richard brothers just because he won 11 titles to Maurice’s 8.

Let’s take the case of Dominik Hasek as another example.  Hasek, a former Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings legend, won 2 Stanley Cups and 389 regular season games over his career.  These “win numbers” put him quite a ways behind other goaltenders of his era such as Martin Brodeur (3 Cups, 600+ wins) and Patrick Roy (4 Cups, 551 wins).

On these considerations, Hasek would not even be in the conversation concerning the greatest goaltender of all-time.  However, if you consider what he has accomplished as a goaltender only in relation to the other two (both Brodeur and Roy are widely considered to be 2 of the top 5 goalies of all-time), then the conversation changes drastically.

Hasek has the best save percentage of any goalie in history with a .922 career mark.  His 81 shutouts place him between Brodeur (100+) and Roy (66) and his career 2.20 goals-against-average just edges Brodeur’s career mark of 2.21.  This is backed up by winning 6 Vezina Trophies for being the best goalie in a given NHL season and being the only goaltender to win multiple Hart Memorial Trophies as the league’s Most Valuable Player.  And all of this came during a career that was mostly spent with the middle-of-the-pack Buffalo Sabres, unlike Brodeur and Roy who played with consistently excellent teams.

From this information, we can firmly place Hasek amongst the greatest goalies of all-time.  He hasn’t won as many Cups, he hasn’t played on as good of teams, and his playing style can be compared to watching a freshly-caught fish writhe around on dry land, but the numbers don’t lie.

As such, Hasek is an example of why we shouldn’t place stock in championships or wins in team sports.  When we do so we risk giving credit to some great players who never got the chance to play on a championship-worthy team.

If you still disagree, explain to me why Peyton Manning is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks even though he has only won a single Super Bowl…

Hello World!

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Welcome!

This is The Shaw Show, a blog about the things that I think about.  I shall be posting on this blog regularly with my thoughts about sports, television, university, and various other things that happen in the world.

I hope you laugh, I hope you cry (not really, but…), and most of all I hope you have fun reading.

I’ll leave you with a little video I unearthed as a starter…

– Shaw