Featuring XI players who have been in pre-season action for Premier League clubs who you might be forgiven for forgetting. Like N'Zogbia, Boyata, Obertan and...
The mailbox defends Everton's enormous outlay on Romelu Lukaku, while we also have mails on Spurs and Suarez. Oh, and worrying about the new magic spray...
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Pep, Philosophy And Natural Talent
I wanted to write in and perhaps shed some light on the semi-kneejerk reactions to the "death of tiki-taka" and why a perceived schadenfreude (hitherto suspected in many "tiki-taka" doubters) has surfaced online. Quite a few commenters appear to think that it's borne of a jealousy felt towards Guardiola's Barcelona at their very height. However, I think goes much deeper than anything tribal and touches on what Adam Bate was discussing last week on this very site in his piece on the battle for football's "soul".
I think it really comes down to your attitude towards that that can be deemed "exclusive", such as individual talent , and that what you find to be "inclusive", the obvious example being teamwork, how those things interact and what you respect the most.
I'm big a fan of natural talent in sport, thoroughly enjoy it when I see it and can accept that some people are quite simply better at something than everybody else is. To this end, I have no issue whatsoever seeing precocious talent demonstrated with vigour to the point of arrogance - on the contrary, I often find it very entertaining, and in football there is a wonderful purity to playing to the strengths of individual players. Last night we were treated to the combination of Ronaldo/Bale/Di Maria/Modric and a lesson in blending pure, raucous talent (the aforementioned "exclusive") into an efficient team unit (the "inclusive"). It was the type of power/strength/guile/skill combination we last saw demonstrated by, ironically, Jupp Heynckes Bayern Munich side last year. Heynckes's Bayern side could be great passers, fast counter-attackers, muscular, powerful defenders...the play developed and adjusted to suit the 11 players currently selected and the situation in the game itself.
Pep Guardiola's philosophy is well documented so there's no point covering it again, suffice to say that his complete dedication to a "system" rather than the skillset of his available personnel has proven to be double-edged sword: Take Sergio Busquets as and Alexis Sanchez as examples. Busquets is comparable to a D/C grade student, who with extra tutoring has got his average up to a B/B+: Coming up from Secunda and then trained to concentrate on recycling the ball from a deep midfield position. Despite having made that "quarterback" or "watercarrier" position his, there is still a nagging feeling that with the right training drills pretty much any professional football could perform this role. Sanchez however didn't have his game raised by Guardiola's tiki-taka system: Instead, his natural attacking instincts were curbed and the player (ten times the natural talent of Busquets) became ineffective.
Bayern Munich should not be playing within themselves, their natural talent overly-harnessed and ultimately restricted in the dedication to one system, in a Champions League semi-final. This is where the tiki-taka doubters (myself included) take issue: Talent, precociously and vigorously demonstrated, is not arrogant or vulgar. It is natural strength, it is who you were born to be. The likes of Kroos, Gotze and Schweinstiger should not ever have their individual attributes stripped back to be little more than a foot to pass the ball onwards.
I'd hazard a guess that those who continuously defend Pep's ever-slowing passing merry-go-round have never truly excelled at something to the point of justified pride. Where some see humble, others see meekness. I honestly believe this "battle for the soul" is about more than just football.
Guardiola's Just Lucky
Pep Guardiola is a very lucky manager. He took over a Barca team that was already in the ascendancy and was able to fully ride the wave of Messi coming to prominence - under the previous regime Messi was still emerging and his emergence very much coincided with Guardiola becoming manager. Without Messi being so good I doubt that Barcelona would have enjoyed the domination that they did.
When his system was found out and Messi had his 1st 'bad' season (by his standards) Pep did what any self-respecting manager would do...he quit
Fast-forward and he takes over a Bayern Munich team that have just won the treble and in some style. He sets his team up to be Barcelona mk2 and all is well. They dominate the league and make easy progress through the Champions League quarter finals where they come up against an out of sorts Man Utd. To say that Bayern looked poor against Utd would be an understatement and then Real Madrid came calling.
It was only 1 year ago that Bayern were demolishing Barcelona - they now look clueless. The difference? Bayern's version of Messi is called Franck Ribery. I rest my case.
Andrew 'Real for La Decima' Steer
Why I Am Pardew Out
He played a weakened team in the FA Cup when it was obvious it was the only thing we could play for from January. Safe from relegation, no chance of Champions League qualification, and little or no hope of reaching a Europa League spot. Why save players like Remy and Krul for the league? For what? We lost that game at home to Cardiff, by the way. Previous years has seen us bow out at the first stages with sorry performances against Brighton (twice).
The team has no fight. These games we are losing aren't close 2-1 or 3-2 defeats, where we make last ditch efforts to salvage a draw from a closely fought match. We often lose 3-0 and 4-0. The team rolls over and lets the opposition win at ease. A manager must instil some determination and commitment into his players. Pardew is clearly unable to do this. We have just 13 points from the past 18 games! Bottom of the table Cardiff are averaging more than this!
He constantly makes excuse after excuse. "We had 10 players unavailable today" after a recent defeat (there have been so many losses I can't remember which match it was). No we didn't. Only 4 were missing. Many teams miss 4 players at any given time. The other 6? Were they reserve or youth team players? Or can Pardew not count?
Another excuse for Newcastle not being very good is that we aren't producing any home-grown talent. The reason for this, according to Pardew? Because Newcastle is a working class city and has uneducated local players, which hinders their development. Southampton lads are well educated so are better at football. Erm what?!
Pardew felt his presence missing from the touchline was costing the team, hence the long run of defeats. I doubt he can influence the side much anyway, but if it is the case that the team suffered with him not around, then why was he not there? Oh, that's right! He was banned for headbutting an opposition player!
He also blames the media for the team underperforming and the fans being disgruntled. No, the fans are disgruntled because of your's and the team's performances. Nothing to do with the media.
And what else is he unable to do? Work out a way we can actually score a goal. We rarely look like scoring now, and seldom do (10 goals in the past 18 matches). And he can't stand up to a board lacking any sort of ambition. We knew Cabaye would go in the last transfer window. He is a class player and deserved to go to PSG. A replacement should have already been lined up and brought in when it was clear early on in January that Cabaye would be on his way.
I know Alan Shearer didn't exactly do well in his 8 game stint as manager 5 years ago, but I'd take him back in a shot instead of Pardew. At least he would be able to stand up to the board, and knows what the fans want. And he has openly criticised Pardew for playing that weakened side against Cardiff. So we know he will go for it in the cups.
Tim (I'd even take Tim Sherwood)
A Sad Birminghammer
I could write a lot about this season at Birmingham- about how the farcical ownership situation has left us crippled and at the whim of a convict in HK, or how we've binned players off on loan (even taking their squad number) only to now be relying on them, or even how we started a game 2 weeks ago with half the outfield squad playing out of position, with predictable results.
But I won't. Instead i'm just hoping someone can make me feel a bit better:
I've got a season ticket and travel up from South London for the games. Early in the season I missed a couple of games due to other commitments, they turned out to be the only 2 games we've won all season. As a result I've managed the ridiculous feat of going a season without seeing a home win. Can anybody beat that and give me some crumb of comfort? Or have I had the worse value for money season ticket in the land this year?
Sighing At Rooney
Whatever Rooney is paying his agent, it ain't enough - Mediawatch picked up on another bit of media manipulation today from Stretford (who I like to imagine is exactly like Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad), making it quite clear that his Rooneyness doesn't fancy van Gaal very much. If Fergie stayed at the club for another season then the ways things were going I'm positive he would have been frozen out and sold - Rooney and Stretford must have sensed Moyes' desperation and used it as leverage to negotiate a frankly obscene contract.
I have defended Rooney's performances many times as he is generally a very effective player but I am sick of him. His wages do not reflect his ability and the obvious pandering to him by Moyes must have had a negative effect on the rest of the team - he is not Ronaldo or Messi who can justify an enormous wage gap. I was in Germany for my stag do last year and I got talking to some extremely German (and extremely fun) Bayern Munich fans who seemed to find Rooney very funny, I asked them why and they told me that it was because off all the fuss that is made about him over here compared to his actual performances. He is the English answer to Franck Ribery.
Rooney moving on might well revitalise his career, I think a clean break from the club would be in the interest of all parties and would certainly ease our wage bill - his contract is another hangover leftover from Moyes' disaster of a season. In his ideal positions of striker or number 10 we now how have better options - lovely beard owner Juan Mata and placenta enthusiast van Persie are both better in those positions than Rooney, who never really specialises in either.
I think Rooney is a mostly excellent player and of course he would be missed but I think there would be more to be gained in parting ways (especially for Rooney himself) than carrying on. If van Gaal, with his reputation for handling big egos, does take over it will be interesting to see how he treats Rooney.
Unhappy Chappy's Slappy
I am wondering why there has been so much silence on the Franck Ribery slap ?
He was clearly seen slapping Carvajal on the face. Surely that has to be looked at ?
This Man Needs Fewer Energy Drinks
EVEN YEARS! EVEN YEARS! REAL MADRID ALWAYS WIN THE EUROPEAN CUP IN EVEN YEARS.
This is of course absolutely negligent of the 50s/60s period, where they won about 5 years in a row or something. 1998. 2000. 2002. In a year from now I can tell you there's no point speculating if they can be the first modern team to retain the cup, because they only win on EVEN YEARS.
Even more stuff. As it is even years, they always win just before a major international tournament. In 1998, the home team won the tourny. In 2000, that home team went on to another level. In 2002, the tournament was won by none other than Brazil. Do you see what's happening here? Brazil will definitely be world champions. The home team is the best, the home team is still the best, and Brazil are the best! Or, err, France. But the suggestion of them destroys this insane chaos theory of mine.
So this means that Spain are not going to retain their winning streak. Cue more Death of Tiki Taka statements.
Jeff G, Dublin