A typical Mourinho away performance that seemed to indicate that the title was Chelsea's, until narrative came back to haunt them. Daniel Storey enjoyed it immensely...
Liverpool fans are seemingly resigned to slipping back into mediocrity, which in September isn't exactly ideal. Plus better Arsenal, Allardyce praise and an excited Saint...
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Where Are The Transfer Targets?
After switching my brain off from football following what was a most enjoyable World Cup (we all need a rest, right?), I have switched it back on and prepared to wade through the plethora of lies that is the transfer window. One thing stands out above everything else: English clubs are struggling to sign players.
The World Cup alluded to this. There were very few games where any one player grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and dominated it in the sort of manner we have seen in previous years. Domination of games was tactical, based around the collective. This leads me on to the transfer window. The biggest losers in all of this are Man United (though all of England's big clubs face a similar quandary). They desperately need new recruits more than any of the other clubs in the top seven, but there is a nagging question. Just who the hell should they actually buy?
Many of the best players in the world play for the super-rich clubs. These clubs are quite happy to carry bloated squads to prevent their rivals from strengthening. This shouldn't be news. Look where these clubs are. Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Monaco, Munich. All desirable places to live. England perhaps only has London that can compete.
It's widely accepted that the Premier League doesn't buy superstars; it creates them. City and Chelsea have tried to change that. However both of those clubs are now in a place where they are struggling to buy players that are better than those they already have. Liverpool aren't rich enough to attract the very best so they have bought from the next tier of talent. Arsenal have made arguably the biggest splash of the summer in signing Sanchez, but have been otherwise quiet. Spurs and Everton can't attract the quality of player they need to get back on equal footing with the rest of the top seven, and then we have United.
Try to write down a list of 'realistic' transfer targets for any of the top seven clubs. There isn't a great deal of quality out there. Full back seems to be the worst afflicted position. There is a real lack of top class full backs in the game right now. The same could be said of centre forwards. Chelsea have just signed a player for £32m who has had one good season in his career, and re-signed Drogba. Liverpool have signed a 32 year-old Southampton player and are chasing a 19 year-old Belgian that no-one (even Belgium's World Cup squad) had heard of two months ago. It feels like every club in the top seven are fluttering their eyelashes at Arturo Vidal. United's need for a top quality centre half is obvious, but who can they realistically sign? It's not a great looking list is it? Yet United fans demand the very best for their club. I have some sympathy for Mr Woodward.
Going forward, are we now reaching a point where the level of Premier League football, in terms of individual talent, has plateaued? Is this as good as it can get? We have some good players in this country, but it appears we can't attract any better ones. Almost since its inception, the Premier League has been dominated by individuals. Cantona was perhaps the first, but Gerrard, Henry, Shearer, Ronaldo, Rooney (at times), Suarez, Yaya Toure and Van Persie have all dragged teams to success seemingly singlehandedly. The mantra that a team must have a 'Roy of the Rovers' character, a focal point, a difference maker, has long been ingrained into the English psyche. Are we moving into an era now where the power of the superstar is dimming?
Personally, I hope so. Managers are often lauded or scorned when things go well or badly. Realistically however (and there are much publicised exceptions) it doesn't matter who is in charge of a football club, as money is the predominant driving factor in success. There is little skill in buying the best players available. Building a collective and a system that brings sustained success with players apparently less stellar than your rivals and nurturing young talent? Now that is something I want to watch.
On Youth Development
I just want to say a thing or two about Southampton. Mainly - I love what they're doing. It's everything I try and achieve (and fail, usually) when I play Football Manager. What I don't understand and I'm included in this, and, actually, so is the one other person in the office that I managed to poll, is why it seems so unnatural to expect Southampton to have players coming through the youth team to take the place of all the players sold.
I've seen so many comments about how Southampton can't have academy players up to standard, or about the odds of another generation of players like the one before coming through, but surely, surely, this is the academy's job? Why is it so unnatural to expect this to happen?
As I mentioned, I struggle to believe that they will, but I don't know why. Is youth development in this country so awful that we come to expect no end product from our academies at the top level? I wouldn't bat an eyelid if Barca, or Ajax came out and said they weren't signing people because they have plenty of youth coming through. Is an academy's job now to provide players for the Football League (or Belgium)? I'm genuinely confused by my feelings on this and would like someone to tell me how to feel.
Thanks, in the meantime. I'm going to start a new game with Southampton on FM...
More on 3-5-2
Whilst I'm loath to get dragged into the 3-5-2/United debate I wanted to point out to Stanley Millworth, Portland Timbers that play a 3-5-2 system doesn't necessarily mean that both your wing backs support at the same time, leaving you with a "Bob's your uncle" end result, if you use the horse-shoe system.
Basically think of a horse-shoe. If you tilt the left hand side up (LWB), the right drops (RWB). Using this system leaves you with 4 defenders and one attacking defender while attacking. The defensive 5 need to be able to read the movement of the attackers to pivot left or right giving the CM an outlet or the AM/ST an overlap. It's a system that needs plenty of practice though.
Alternately you could deploy an anchor man in DM ready to sit into CB when defending counters, letting the RCB and LCB fill in at RFB/LFB respectively giving you a nice flat back four. This allows both WB's to provide outlets.
The 3-5-2 can be susceptible to counter attacks but not if you play it right!
Anthony Kane, Milan
Blackpool: A Ballsy Idea
A well supported, community club, struggling for investment and looking like they will enter the season with a squad of cast-offs and journeymen, if even a squad at all, looking very likely to go down.
The FA should intervene, buy/seize control of the club (this has a precedent in the NBA) as it is not in the interest of the league for Blackpool to fail. All stakeholders will suffer if one team starts the season at such a competitive disadvantage.
The FA could make Blackpool the academy of the North-West, with footballing hotbeds like Liverpool and Greater Manchester, there is potential to build a strong youth set up as well as get young English players from premier league clubs to give them game time.
Owning/running a club gives the FA an opportunity to offer the first team football and philosophical guidance/influence that it desires. It will be unfair, but if Blackpool entered the season with a squad of their current 9, plus the multiple youngsters released by the big boys as well as a few of the rising stars on loan, there is potential to have a massive impact on the future of English football.
Even if it is one season of guidance, with minimal investment, the simple influence of the FA would have an impact on the running of the club. Buy the decrepit training ground, re-develop it into a new football centre and then at the end of the season re-evaluate, hand control/sell the club to responsible ownership and move on to the next club that will find itself in this predicament.
The idea may be far-fetched and impractical, but people talk about copying other nations and their systems, the English 'fix it' model would be something of ours and something that could work.
Very Productive Worker (Forest)
Learn From Rugby
I know football fans hate rugby fans and vice versa, but as a fan of both, I thought I might add some thoughts, especially after the excellent article last week about cricket and football.
There are a lot of thing rugby gets wrong, but I think there are two areas football could learn from.
1) Time keeping. No injury time, the clock stops when there is a break in play (decided by the ref) and therefore you don't get anything for time wasting. You also don't get seemingly random amounts of injury time, no get away with wasting time in injury time without penalty.
2) Concussions - what seemed like a hot topic with Lloris then the WC, but now seems to have gone quiet. Just copy rugby. Ref orders player off - 'blood' replacement whilst an independent doctor assesses the concussion, always making a decision that is impartial. No more ridiculous scenarios where players who are clearly out of it (Kramer etc) allowed to play on because they want to. I think the issue has been glossed over, but we shouldn't wait until someone suffers a serious brain injury to act.
Anyhow, just my tuppence worth.
Steven (fan of all sport, AFC), Herts
The argument Adam puts forward for Toni Kroos being purchased simply to be sold on at a profit is flawed, mainly due to one salient point; Real don't care about FFP, nor do they have to.
Real Madrid are a financial juggernaut in the sports world, the volume of cash they generate is remarkable. This means they can afford to buy players for extravegant fees with little fear from FFP, If anything FFP locks in the current status quo and will give the established footballing giants an even greater advantage over the smaller clubs. With Real Madrids ability to generate revenue, they will pass any FFP test. So while selling players on at a profit is indeed crucial for some of the smaller clubs, it certainly isn't valid in the case of Real Madrid.
Besides financial reasons, the idea seems more nonsensical given that he is "one of the best passers and free-kick takers in the world" and will surely be starting a vast majority of game for Real Madrid this coming season. Surely his value is more important on the pitch than to Real Madrids coffers.
...Adam, NYC; I think the reason Real Madrid signed Toni Kroos is because Xabi Alonso turns 34 this year.