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Making his debut

Yet another footballing Substack

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Mark Thompson

Mar 08 2019

6 mins read

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Hello! I’m (sincerely) glad you’re here! Exclamation marks may or may not adequately convey this!

So, the way this is gonna go, I will start each newsletter with a short little hello - like this one, but better - and then put down a contents of what’s gonna be in the missive, so that you can scroll down to what you’re interested in if you’re in a scroll-y mood.

  • A further hello (a little bit more about what this newsletter’s gonna be)
  • Shkodran Mustafi is a nonsense
  • The Kimpembe Incident
  • ‘Til the next time

A further hello

So, I usually write for Football Whispers and I still do, but not everything fits in there and it’s nice to have a place to put all the little nick-nacks.

I’m using this first post as a way of gauging how this will go, and am still deciding on a day to put it out. It will be a regular weekly thing, but football’s going on all the damn time. Maybe Tuesday. Tuesday is a day in need of something positive.

For the moment, my idea is that this’ll be a place to offer my takes and analysis on big centre-back moments of the weekend/past week, and any other tidbits that pop up in other games I watch. Sometimes you may even get a teaser on something that’ll become a properly fleshed out Football Whispers article.

Shkodran Mustafi is a nonsense

Ok, so you probably don’t need convincing of that. But I was skimming through the recording of the North London derby and there was just a ‘that’s so Mustafi’ moment.

It’s late in the game, and Spurs are attacking down Arsenal’s right, where Mustafi has been playing all game as right-back. Jan Vertonghen shapes to play a very obvious 1-2 with Christian Eriksen around Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

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Mustafi being Mustafi, his eyes light up. He’s not close to Eriksen, but you can see that he wants to go for the ball, and sure enough he does. But he’s too far from Eriksen for this to be a sensible idea, even for a player who has a long and quick reach with his legs.

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Vertonghen’s run hides the ball on this angle, but I’m assuming it’s about where Vertonghen’s shoulder is. The sensible thing to do would be for Mustafi to fake like he’s going for the ball, forcing Eriksen to play the return pass to Vertonghen, but to stay on his feet and angle his body so that he’s already facing in the direction he needs to run to chase that pass.

Because now, Spurs have space to move into, and Arsenal’s defence needs to shift.

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Sokratis (the nearest centre-back) feels he needs to come across just to discourage Vertonghen from advancing too far into the box. Because of the angle of the situation, Sokratis’ centre-back partner Koscielny moves deep into the box so that he can see the ball, and also to put him into the centre, the most dangerous part of the penalty area.

This, though, leaves Fernando Llorente running free into space behind him. Fortunately, Koscielny cuts out the cross.

In part, this was because Mustafi actually got a touch on the 1-2 (I think). The camera hides it, but it looks like it bobbles off Mustafi, onto Mkhitaryan, and out to Vertonghen. The pace was taken off the pass, forcing Vertonghen wider and allowing Mkhitaryan to recover enough to put pressure on the cross.

Mustafi’s decision to dive in was silly, but it also worked enough to limit the damage that came from it. Such a nonsense.

The Kimpembe incident

So, there’s an entire essay you could write about penalties and handball and the way that football’s rules are interpreted. I’ll try and keep this focussed on the penalty given against Presnel Kimpembe in the Champions League as much as possible.

Apologies for the crummy image quality, but this is Kimpembe just as the shot is hit by Diogo Dalot. I’ve gone over his arms slightly as they’ll become important.

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Kimpembe starts to jump across to his left (our right), turning in midair (so that if the ball hits him it’ll hit his backside instead of somewhere more sensitive). While he’s rotating around, his arms don’t follow that movement, they move in the other direction - outwards.

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I would argue that it’s undeniable that his arms are moving in opposition to the natural movement of the jumping turn. After all, the rotation you can get from the top half of your body is a significant way to power a turning movement (try jumping and spinning without using your arms to coil up some momentum).

I would guess that the referee also thought this. I think that this (below) is where his arms would have been had they followed the movement of the turn, with his right arm - the one the ball hit - tucked in front of his chest, and the other outwards on the other side of his body. The tucking of that arm in front of his chest is partly momentum, partly a natural inclination to want to avoid the ball hitting your arm as your back is turned.

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Based on this momentum argument, I’d say that Kimpembe has deliberately left his arms out there, knowing that he can plausibly deny intent.

A sidenote: it amused me that Rio Ferdinand was in BT’s studio saying it wasn’t a penalty. I distinctly remember a game towards the end of his career where he leaned heavily into an opponent shot and it hit him in the lower shoulder/upper arm area. He could have moved his arm out of the way, but by leaning into it he had enough plausible deniability of intent to handball it to get away with it, even though he’ll surely have known that the shot hitting his arm was a possibility as he leaned towards it.

In putting this bit together, I’ve come up with another reason for Kimpembe’s arms to be there though, and that’s if he started jumping and wanted to slow down his rotation in the air. I’m not sure I believe that that’s what was going on, but it’s a possibility at least.

‘Til the next time

Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this and/or think you’ll enjoy future newsletters, please subscribe and tell friends/messageboards/etc.

Similarly, if you think I’ve made a good point in here that you’d like to share, feel free to screenshot it and perhaps link back to the newsletter so that people can subscribe.

‘Til the next time

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