Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Liverpool’s 2019-20 campaign in perspective

Liverpool’s campaign in perspective
By Rick Olivares

One of the biggest stories in sports these days is Liverpool Football Club’s pursuit of its first Premier League title, the trophies and records they are taking and smashing, and their undefeated run. That makes for plenty of copy and talk show fodder just about anywhere. 

Let me wade in.

I find it a bit surprising that lately -- week after week – football pundits talk about Liverpool not playing well and winning games by the skin of their teeth.

In my opinion, it is doubly harder for Liverpool because of the following: 
-       They are reigning UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup champions and combined with their being title favorites, it all adds to the pressure. 
-       There is the burden of the keeping the streak going. Yes, they may not talk about it, but there is immense pride in keeping it going. 
-       And everyone wants to knock them off their perch even if to deny them a season of being invincible. Every team has circled those Liverpool dates in red; no pun intended. 

Let’s compare this Liverpool 2019-20 season to Arsenal’s 2003-04 season when they were undefeated and won the Premier League title.

One Goal-wins from Aug-Jan.
Draws from Aug-Jan
Goals for Aug-Jan
Goals against Aug-Jan
Clean Sheets
Goals for last 20 mins by team Aug-Jan
Goals against in last 20 mins by opponent Aug-Jan

What can we infer from this data?

Thus far, Liverpool is better. They have more wins and fewer draws than Arsenal. The Reds also have more goals, more clean sheets, and more late goals. Liverpool has won two cups in this season – the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. They were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Arsenal scored more goals early but conceded slightly more in the last 20 minutes. At that point in time (January of 2004), Arsenal was in contention for the League Cup, FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. The Gunners reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup, were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Entering the 2003-04 season, Arsenal were the defending champions, but crucial losses late in the season to Blackburn and Leeds plus three draws saw Manchester United move past them for the title. They were five points off United in the final tally. So entering the 2003-04 season, they were still favorites. 

Liverpool on the other hand, even if they won the UEFA Champions League had lots of questions. They lost the Community Shield to Manchester City at the start of the season. In all the previous seasons when they finished second in the Premier League, they disappointed in the next.

This one has been much different. They have a 40-match unbeaten run dating back to the 2018-19 season. They need to cap the season with their first Premier League trophy.

An undefeated season is gravy. What they are after are more trophies. More silverware further validates what they are doing and will help in attracting more and better players to the club (not to mention more revenue).

However, going back to my initial premise, I think the reason why they are not at their free-flowing best is the opposing clubs have been trying to play them better. They are also a little more pragmatic on defense. During manager Jurgen Klopp’s early years with the club, they leaked a lot of goals because they committed more players forward. They are selective in their press now and have placed a premium on defense.

They have a 16-point lead against defending champions Manchester City and have a game in hand. This has been their best stretch of December and January matches in all the seasons where they challenged for the title. 

In those failed campaigns past, it is these months is where their dreams came crashing; where they coughed up leads. Some might point to the slip of former captain Steven Gerrard against Chelsea several years ago (and the loss to Crystal Palace) or the loss to Man City last year as what killed their chances, but in my opinion, it is the December chill and the January brain freeze that has let them down.

Now they are past that. A new set of challenges await them.

This remains an interesting season and I am not listening to those who say that, “It’s over!” I hear you Alberto Moreno.

Monday, January 6, 2020

A shift in tactics for UP?

A shift in tactics for UP?
By Rick Olivares

Have the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons changed their team tactics?

Looking at the past four years during head coach Bo Perasol’s tenure, at the most, they had three or four players (Diego Dario and the Gomez de Liaño brothers with Will Gozum coming in) coming up from the Junior Fighting Maroons to add to the recruits. For the longest time, UP has stuck to the players who came up from their first year. However, in the last three years, they have gone for transferees.

In Season 80, they picked up Jun Manzo from the University of Visayas and Rob Ricafort (who started out with De La Salle then transferred to the University of Santo Tomas before changing his zip codes to that of UP Diliman). 

In Season 81, It was Manzo, Bright Akhuetie (University of Perpetual Help System Dalta), and JD Tungcab (Adamson University).

This past Season 82, in addition to Manzo, Akhuetie, and Tungcab, they added Kobe Paras (Cal State Northridge), Ricci Rivero and Jayboy Gob (DLSU), and Jaybie Mantilla (University of San Jose Recoletos). 

In this off-UAAP season, they have brought in Centro Escolar’ University’s Malik Diouf and one player who cannot be named right now from another UAAP college team.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, some of these players left their previous schools of their own volition or were jettisoned for one reason or another. It is to UP’s advantage and fortune that they were able to scoop up all this talent.

Does this represent a shift in putting together a team that will bring home that elusive title back to Diliman? Possibly. They have spent a lot of money in making this team very competitive. I think this also signifies that Perasol has been very good at recruitment. He has shown this also during his three seasons in charge of the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Many schools have resorted to acquiring transferees because you are getting players who are tried and tested.

Letran made good use of that this past season when they upset San Beda for the NCAA Season 95 title behind Larry Muyang (who transferred from DLSU) and Bonbon Batiller and Fran Yu (who were left out in the cold at the University of the East by their former coach). They were also able to pry away rookie Paolo Javillonar who gave a good account of himself during the summer leagues with College of St. Benilde.

The time is now for UP to win while La Salle is in the process of re-arming and while Ateneo has lost vital cogs in their three-peat charge. UST has soaked in a lot of experience, but they will need to find a couple of players to fill in the slots vacated by Renzo Subido and Zach Huang. FEU also is in a state of flux having lost the remnants of their last title team as they have completed their youth movement. 

There is nothing that says that one needs a homegrown program to win. Ideally. But it isn’t a prerequisite even for all of Ateneo’s success or to a certain extent, San Beda. 

National University has beefed up its high school team and have seen a number of them move up to the seniors ranks.

The Mapua Cardinals have gone that route in the last few years since they brought in local hero, Randy Alcantara, first to coach the juniors team, and now the seniors squad. The homegrown route though isn’t a standard. It is the exception.

Back to UP… the Fighting Maroons finished Season 82 with a 9-7 record. In Season 81, they were 9-8. In Season 80, they finished 6-8, and in Season 79, during Coach Bo’s first year at the helm, they ended with a 5-9 slate.

Yes, they have definitely gotten better over the years, and having accomplished that, I think Perasol deserves another shot at the opportunity to win his alma mater the big prize.

And UP – all schools in fact -- being competitive is good for college basketball.