Obviously quite a bit of the admin in the Champions League group stage is already done, dusted and polished, but Daniel Storey finds five matches that still have plenty at stake...
Moyes is lacking 'charismatic authority', Kieran Gibbs is defended, Chelsea's problems are examined and a dreadful chant attacked. It's a glorious mailbox...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at email@example.com
Thank f**k that's over.
Can we have the proper football back now please?
A few thoughts from last night's borefest.
1) Why was the safety blanket that is James Milner not deployed in front of Walker rather than Cole? Cole is our best full back and he didn't need much help last night. Whereas Walker was struggling. This was evident pretty early doors. Walker was up against their best player (by a country mile) as well as a left back who overlapped regularly. Even when Walcott tried to help out (which wasn't often enough) he just caused more confusion. Had Milner and Walcott swapped flanks we would have coped a lot better. Plus, Milner can actually cross the ball.
2) A few years ago Joe Hart was deemed to be England's saving grace. It turns out he is average. No more, no less. He had very little to do last night yet almost contrived to concede a penalty after 5 seconds and almost made himself look very silly when charging to the edge of his area after the ball when there was no need at all. A mistake never looks far away.
3) The overall performance last night reminded me of Spurs this season. No Rooney/Bale = No cutting edge (literally none).
4) Tom Cleverley must be epic in training
5) Michael Carrick must be rubbish in training
Dave THFC, London
USA Or England?
Unfortunately I was unable to watch the England match, from what I have heard it was a real barnstormer. One game I did watch, however, was the USA-Mexico match so I feel obligated to relay my thoughts from CONCACAF to UEFA.
If you didn't know already, the good ol' US of A has qualified for the World Cup for the 7th straight time. A solid display and tactical set up from Klinsmann led to Mexico growing increasingly frustrated and a few genuine counter attacking opportunities for the US. Eventually our physical presence shone through when Eddie Johnson rose up and powered home from a corner (he had the exact same opportunity earlier in the game but headed straight at the keeper). A late goal from Landon Donovan wrapped up the match before Clint Dempsey managed to look like an amateur from the penalty spot and skewed his shot horribly wide. By this time though, the fans were already in party mode.
I have to admit I was skeptical when Jurgen first took over as I didn't think his style would suit our technically limited squad. However, as evidenced last night, he is able to adapt his system to fit our personnel as well as the opposition. Even without 3 starters the USA was able to neutralize the threat of Mexico and go on to earn a well-deserved victory. Which brings me to my point: Seriously, who do my fellow mailboxers think has a better chance of winning the World Cup in the next 30 years? England or the USA?
Paul (Philadelphia Eagles FC) Atlantic City, NJ
Defending Stevie G
Tom (Lambert was useless ...etc)'s email about Gerrard being England's problem - and needing to be replaced by Carrick - ignores a few key facts. Firstly, Carrick played in the away qualifiers against Poland and Montenegro. In the former, the BBC report says 'England were desperately wasteful in possession'. In the latter, England were overrun in midfield, which brings me to the second point - in the absence of a Parker-type player, Carrick lacks the steel to play a deeper role against better sides. I think he often gets an armchair ride for Man Utd, as oppositions are frequently too scared to send numbers forwards in attack (even on the counter). Finally, in defence of Gerrrard, please can Tom explain how the ball has been appearing at the feet of Coutinho and Sturridge in between the lines for the last 8 months for Liverpool? Is it Lucas Leiva? So it's not as if Gerrard is not capable of playing that way, as he suggests.
Anytime England did play those forward balls last night, Wilshere, Walcott and to a lesser extent Lambert contrived to lose it. I actually think the problem is more that England don't appear to have the confidence or appetite to take a quick free-kick or throw in their own half- and that must come from the coaches, not the captain/players. It's like we want teams to be well set up before we begin our attacks.. And what leading team still has the goalkeeper take freekicks 40 yards from his goal, apart from in the last few seconds chasing an equaliser?? England that's who. On a more optimistic note, England will be a completely different team when Rooney, Sturridge, Johnson and the Ox come back (and maybe a fully fit Wilshere), so need to panic.
...Tom Goldenballs says 'If you took Gerrard's best bits he looks like the best player on the pitch'. True enough. Conversely Tom, if you take his worst bits, as you have, he looks like the worst player on the pitch. The truth, as ever with these things, is that he's somewhere in the middle more often than not (though he's usually pretty near the top).
Tom, I suggest you go and watch any of Italy's matches from Euro 2012 and see what 'best player on the pitch' Andrea Pirlo did (clue: plenty of balls in behind). Alternatively, go and watch the Moldova game, and in particular look out for the pass from Gerrard that sets up Barkley's effort on goal. I didn't see too much evidence of any England player trying to play balls in behind last night. Most of it was aimed at Lambert's throat (and mostly from the defence) or Walcott's feet, I thought.
Carrick's a decent player, but my biggest issue with him is that he doesn't get the ball back for you, which admittedly might not have been an issue last night because Ukraine were pretty intent on giving us the thing back but I can understand his omission. The way I saw it last night was that Ukraine dropped deep and attempted to use their wingers on the counter attack. This left the midfield very congested and it was difficult to play through and as a consequence the midfield three struggled in possession. There was very little space in behind, so naturally the likes of Walcott have to come short to get the ball. If he's incapable of maintaining possession in that situation, then perhaps Theo is the real hindrance? Likewise, I thought Lambert started well, but the ball eventually stopped sticking.
Look, I'm not a Roy Hodgson fan particularly, but the point is this: he knows more about picking a football team than you or I. As do Fabio Capello, Steve McLaren and Svennis Goran Eriksson. None of the aforementioned ever plumped for Carrick over Gerrard and there's probably a very good reason for that.
...Surprise surprise, another call to include Carrick at the expense of one of England's myriad underperforming midfielders.
There does seem to be a hipsterish obsession with Carrick as the closest England have to Pirlo/Alonso/Busquets - technically true, but Carrick lacks what makes all these players so effective in this role - the ability to receive the ball when tightly marked and manufacture a yard of space to use it. When given the freedom of Old Trafford by overawed opposition in the PL he looks great, strolling about and recycling the ball with impunity. When he comes under pressure, he drowns. His two most recent appearances for England, against Poland and Montenegro this campaign, produced laboured displays in stilted and uninspiring away draws in which he struggled to have any influence on the game (this should sound familiar).
Tom goes on to complain that England's poor display last night was down to Gerrard just lumping it forward. This is also mainly true, but it's not like he really had much choice. England would pass it up to midfield at which point the man in possession would be closed down. The midfielders' inability to play under pressure or to get away from an opponent dictated that the ball would then be lumped forward (or passed backward for the CBs to lump) to Lambert, who did reasonably well to hold up the ball but was far too isolated to do anything with it. Not that this should excuse Gerrard from criticism - he was awful - but replacing him with Carrick would have made exactly zero difference. And generally over the last 12-18 months Gerrard has been one of England's best players, faint praise though this is, and at least he and Lampard offer an occasional goal threat and wicked set piece delivery, neither of which Carrick can match.
Finally the suggestions that Gerrard might be better used as a 'scruff-of-the-neck' impact sub. Tom, it may interest you to know that Gerrard has not played the all action role for about three years now - for his club he plays as the deepest lying midfielder, in exactly the same role he has for England, and plays it reasonably well I might add. In fact all of England's players assumed their standard club roles last night, and most were appalling - certainly none matched their usual club standards. But this is hardly a new concern for our national team.
To suggest one man as the one true answer to England's problems that will make everything brilliant is emblematic of the myopic response to the England team over recent years. In reality the problem is a complete lack of technical ability and creativity across the squad, coupled with Roy Hodgson's refusal to violate the sanctity of the Line of Five in midfield. There's nothing we can do about either of these in the short term so we might as well get used to displays last night; there will be no magical improvement just because we swap one reasonably talented midfielder with another.
Jon Gibson LFC
Do Ireland Need A Stronger League?
Has anyone thought the reason behind Ireland's malaise at international level may be linked with the malaise in their domestic game.
The fact few Irishmen play for the top clubs in England is symptomatic of the rise of the English Premiership. While the likes of Arsenal would include David O'Leary in their ranks, these days we have Germany's premier centre back Per Metersacker - given the choice you would be mad not to opt for the German.
Our is a well-supported game and it's because of the money going around that our top clubs are able to choose from the world's best but let's not kid ourselves that the likes of Ryo Myachi is playing for Arsenal purely due to his talent. Myachi opens up the Far Eastern market to the club. When we toured Japan Myachi was given the opportunity to take a penalty - if we were up at Old Trafford in the league that just wouldn't happen.
In the same way in the 1970s the Finsbury park area was awash with Irish immigrants - signing O'Leary and Brady helped get a few more Irishmen through the turnstiles. I'm not saying they were both signed purely due to their nationalities but it was an added bonus for the club which they cannot have failed to notice. If you go to the Emirates, you'll see a number of Irish flags - TV's Dermot O'Leary is perhaps one of the more famous Anglo-Irish fans.
But herein perhaps lies the root of the malaise in Ireland's international game. If Ireland is truly to cast off the shackles of relying on the English game to offer a living to the country's top talent then it's up to the fans to start supporting the Irish domestic game. Everyone knows an Irish Man Utd fan but how many of you know an Irishman or woman that supports a domestic team or goes and watches them regularly?
The days of the likes of O'Leary, Brady or McGrath gracing the English national game have long gone - if Ireland is to punch its weight on the national stage then its fans need to be travelling to Dublin and Cork on Saturday rather than Liverpool, Highbury or Manchester.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London
RE: Duck's question: I'm not a fair-weather fan, and I really don't mind the lack of major success - losing is always frustrating, but the last 4 seasons of finishing 6th-8th has not exasperated me or made me care any less. But if I had more perspective and football knowledge as a 17 year old 10 years ago, when picking a club, I would have chosen Chelsea.
At the time, I ruled out supporting United and Arsenal because they were too successful and popular, and ruled out Chelsea because they were too successful and rich. I did not want to be accused of being a glory-hunter, so I chose Liverpool, figuring they were the next biggest club that might win something but were unlikely to do so. Then, Istanbul happened, and the glory-hunter accusations came anyway. If I had chosen a team in June 2005, I would certainly have ended up supporting Spurs, to avoid that. (Bullet dodged, despite current league standings.)
Knowing what I know now, I would have chosen Chelsea because I will almost certainly never live in Liverpool, but might one day live in London. Chelsea are easy to buy season tickets and match tickets for, Liverpool and other big clubs have life-long waiting lists. Chelsea need new fans, and actively want them.
You might say I could support other London clubs like Fulham, or Palace, or Charlton, or West Ham - but I always found foreign fans who chose to support deliberately average clubs to be irritating in a hipster-y kind of way. Like, "Yeah, we get it, you're non-mainstream, well done. You never see your club on television, you never meet fellow fans, nobody else has an opinion about your club. That must be a real hoot." The only choice, as I see it, would be between Chelsea and Spurs, and I just don't care for Tottenham at all, despite spending a year half-living in Tottenham Hale.
The main drawback, besides the notoriously unpleasant away fans, is that Chelsea still have John Terry and Frank Lampard. But they won't be around forever. Also, despite its reputation, Liverpool is a wonderful city and scousers are a wonderful people, and I would greatly miss making the weekend trips up there, never mind the matches at Anfield and Wembley themselves.
Oliver (my first published mailbox entry back in 2006 was about why I chose to support LFC, as it happens.) Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland
He's Hanging On
The anticipation of who would be at number 50 on your world cup ladder was almost too much to bear! But I waited, and read it in order.
Thank you! It made me both happy, and a bit sad. Happy that he is still there, sad that he hasn't played for England since 2007.
I hope the feature is still going in 20 years, and he is still there. Then the youngsters of the day just won't understand why the then Everton manager(?) is on the list at all, but it will warm my heart!
DF (Also a bit sad that there are no better options for most of the 13 - 50 places)
Praise For Big Miroslav
This is quite late and I don't know if it's already been done, but I wanted to pay tribute to Miroslav Klose, who, after scoring against Austria last Friday is now Germany's joint highest scorer ever alongside Gerd Muller. This is a brilliant achievement (even though Klose has almost twice as many caps) for a very unglamorous striker. Muller is considered by many as one of the greatest strikers to grace the game.
Der Bomber scored an incredible 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany. For Klose to match his goal tally and still in with a chance to overtake him, both for goals scored overall and goals scored in world cups (14 so far, one behind the ridiculous and original Ronaldo), is amazing. So, well done, Klose and hopefully, you will break those scoring records and take your place alongside the greats of the Mannschaft!
Jay (apparently he has twice confessed to referees, in the past, about being the guilty party after the official had already penalised the opposition. Seems like a cool guy.), York
These Men Are HeroesOn a day when the tedium of International football stretches out in front of me like the ghost of the most protracted and mind numbing transfer window ever, I have managed to stumble across two new heroes. Step up Johnny Giles on RTE and past St. Johnstone substitute, Roddy Grant. Not only did their words make me laugh on such a dreary day but they did that rare and precious thing of telling it straight, down to earth style. So rare in football these days. Incidentally, talking of rare in football, did everyone know that St. Johnstone is the only team in the English, Welsh and Scottish football leagues that has the letter J in its name? You did, marvellous.
Patrice Lazylob (Bring back Gerald Sindstat)
A Great Day For Ireland
As the originator and administrator of facebook's first and best 'TRAP OUT' group, let me declare today a great victory for Irish football.
I don't claim that there's a perfect manager out there just waiting to be offered the awesome gig of managing James McClean, but there are plenty of respectably-employable options available on a budget that won't see the job as an opportunity to top-up their pension funds while simply nipping over on a flight five times a year to p1ss on the biscotti and bemoan the paucity of talent available (without ever bothering to turn up to watch them, obviously).
The departure of Trapattoni doesn't solve the lack of any great ability in the current Irish ranks. But it may well create the space for a hungrier manager to view the reasonable squad depth and options available as a challenge to be accepted rather than an excuse to be grasped in leathery, begrudging hands.
Agreed, our goalkeeping options seem no better than competent, and at CB we've worked with worse than Clarke and St. Ledger in the past (assuming Dunne and O'Shea are past it- which may not be true).
Wilson at left back is a better option than any we've had in years, allowing that Harte was useful at setplays but nothing more. Coleman on the right is certainly a bright enough option.
We have three or four central midfielders that are well fit to perform at the necessary level. McCarthy is a complete central midfielder of reasonable note, and plenty of other small nations would make a big fuss over players with the spark of Hoolahan or Pilkington. A three selected from those guys supplemented according to tactical requirements by Gibson, Andrews and Whelan (but never together. Ever) would not be at all embarrassed by comparison to a lot of the midfields that will see game time in Brazil next year.
Width and flair in general are admittedly problems, though they've hardly been encouraged under Trap. Options from McGeady, Brady, McClean will have to do for now, with the note that Coleman would more than accommodate a tactically-capable player of less natural width on the right.
Up front, Long is a decent target man who works hard and creates plenty of space and second ball, that he doesn't score under Trap is no criticism- Pele would struggle with the level of service afforded our lads lately. Kevin Doyle is a player I have a lot of time for, again his goalscoring record at both club and country belies the work he does on the pitch (in direct contrast to Keane). Walters one of a number of adequate backup options in the hold-up role. If Keane can be persuaded to accept competition and rotation then he is obviously a player with a lot to offer from the bench, but no more than that these days.
I think a team picked consistently from the above, set up to keep the ball better and offer the occasional threat (as opposed to the turtleshell invite of constant pressure of the Trap era) would stand a greater chance of beating smaller teams (a huge failing under Trap, for all that he pointed to his 'loss %' column as acceptable), challenge and do no worse against similarly-equipped other nations (of which Austria and Sweden are two) and learn from defeats against the likes of Germany as opposed to being scarred by 7-0 abject surrenders.
I've been following Spurs and Ireland too long to assume that any new manager will come in and make the obvious, sensible changes and stick with them, but to say that this approach wouldn't get far more out of our limited-but-we're-not-Scotland-ffs resources is at best contrarianism. Liam Brady I'm talking to you.
Darragh, Spurs, Ireland