Arsenal fans are largely positive after their top four finish, whilst one wag suggest buying Bale from their rivals. We also have an interesting final mail. Enjoy...
He is one of a number of solid shouts for players that look old before their time. We also have the final words on lovely D-Beck and a rejection of end of season playoffs...
If you have anything to add on any subject, mail us at email@example.com
The Four-Year Decline Of Man United
Having been described as 'pessimistic', and with a likely hammering against Madrid to come in the new year, I think it's worth exploring why and how United, for me, have diminished massively in the past four years. Four years ago, with a front line of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez, talented youngsters in Nani and Anderson, and a strong midfield with Carrick, Hargreaves and Scholes, United were the best, and most exciting, side in Europe. Using Ronaldo as a false 9, and emulating Spalletti's Roma with a striker-less formation, United were tactically exciting too.
Now, United are tactically mundane and functional (how stupid has the decision to replace Queiroz with Phelan proved to be?), have an ageing squad, have lost key players and replaced them with inferior ones, and, crucially, are no longer able to exercise the same leverage in the transfer market.
When United play Madrid in February, three of Madrid's likely front four (Benzema, Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria) will either have played for, or been actively sought by, United. In all three cases, the players made an active decision to go to Madrid. Modric, another recent Madrid signing, was linked consistently with United, and would have been a perfect addition to the midfield.
Compare the Madrid front four to that which United will likely play (notwithstanding a role for Kagawa, hopefully in place of Young), and United are conspicuously inferior. Ashley Young is never, ever good enough to play for United, and is patently inferior to any of Ozil, Ronaldo or Di Maria. Rooney is impressive enough as a 10, but I'd sooner have the creativity and passing of Ozil. And, looked at objectively, rather than through the rose-tinted 'Tony V' prism, Valencia is a functional winger who poses little goal threat himself, and can only play as a pure right winger. Di Maria or Nani may be more inconsistent, but they scare defenders far more.
There's a much wider trend of United repeatedly failing to secure their primary transfer target: Benzema in 2009, Ozil in 2010, Snjeider/Nasri/Varane in 2011, Lucas Moura/Hazard in 2012. Whatever the reasons for this (typically either money, or the greater appeal of Madrid), United are simply not acquiring the talent requisite to compete properly on the highest stage.
In addition, whilst not signing obvious superstar talent, United aren't using their scouting network to find cheaper players from elsewhere in key positions: Rafael and Fabio are excellent players, Hernandez is fantastic, and Angelo Henriquez looks t'riffic, but United desperately need a decent young regista and volante. Marco Verratti (who cost far less than Ahley Young) would have been a good signing, but instead Fergie persists with known, trusted and conspicuously diminished players like Scholes, Giggs and Fletcher. Add to this an inability to retain key talent, notably Ronaldo, to a lesser extent Tevez, and the bewildering case of Pogba, and United are plainly a much poorer team, individually and collectively, than four years ago.
So that's why I'm a pessimist about United. We've wasted a truly fantastic position, and retreated to comfortable mediocrity.
Away Goals Anger And More
Hey Ed...so it's Real Madrid vs Man U in the last 16 of the Champions League....wow...just WOW, I personally think it is morally wrong to allow oneself to become sexually aroused in the office, but having seen the draw, I'm getting there. However, I really must argue with the theory that playing the away leg first is an 'advantage', this is a fallacy, utter cobblers and gets right on my tits, allow me to explain. The 'advantage' in any two-leg game are away goals, pure and simple, so the team who goes into the second 'decisive' leg with the possibility of bagging away goals is the one who holds the advantage irrespective of the score from the first leg, as they count as double. We've seen Man U suffer at the hands of this many times down the years and I for one am tired of sitting back staring at the pitch thinking 'where the f*ck was the advantage in that?', so please, change your thinking, for my sanity's sake. A list of potential scenarios should clear this up:
1st leg 0-0: Disaster! Respectable draw at the Bernabeu my arse and the away goals advantage has gone...so if (more like when) Madrid score at OT, United have to score two.
1st leg 0-1: Marvellous, we've played well and got an away goal, Madrid come to OT and score, you're hanging on for dear life for the rest of the game, cos if they score another, Utd have to get two.
1st leg 0-2: F*ck me, we battered them, should be easy at OT, just shut up shop...Madrid score early, United are under massive pressure to keep out the second goal thus forgetting to actually attack...Madrid get it, we're out.
I could go on, but unless Man U win 0-5 at the Bernabeu, which ain't gonna happen, there is NO advantage to playing the second leg at home, just pressure, which to be honest our leaky (to put it mildly) defence could do without!
While I'm at it, here is a list of other things that get on my tits:
1. The word 'Hyperbole' - Seriously, stop using this sodding word, it's irritating to the extreme, if anyone actually dropped this word into a conversation they would be kicked very hard in the jaffas.
2. Made-up teams - 'Here's a team of players who were born in the 90's', 'here's a team of players starting with 'B'', always ending with the sign off 'can anyone else do better?' Well yes, probably, but we really can't be arsed, so stop doing it please!
3. Mails that start with 'Is it just me ?' - Yes, of course it is, you're so bloody special no-one else in the universe could possibly come up with such a unique opinion!
4. Mails that end with 'Discuss' - no thanks.
5. Samir Nasri's face.
Sorry for the rant, I'm stuck at work with a hangover, but I'm feeling better now.
Stretchy (I have a lot of things on my tits today) MUFC
Messi, Ronaldo, Van Persie And...Rooney?!
To Leon, Basel: If you actually knew what I was thinking you might have thought twice before including Rooney in that little dream attack.
The others would be an unstoppable front three. Rooney would be like the annoying little pug-faced dog chasing the ball when you're trying to have a kick-around at the park, funny at first but eventually it ruins the fun and everyone gets a bit annoyed when the owner doesn't get it off the pitch.
Luke, Red in Sussex
Seedings For Big Clubs Are Necessary Evil
Whilst I get the point of Jon Nic's 'rant' about the unfairness of big teams being seeded for Champions League which European Cup final would you want to see Barcelona v Man United/Real/Bayern etc or something like Malaga v Shahktar? If you say the latter, then you are either a fan of one of those two or a big fat liar.
I remember there were moans about the 2002 World Cup latter stages because some big teams got knocked out early doors (Italy, France and (in)famously Spain) hence the semi-finals were damp squibs as both South Korea and Turkey lacked the quality to really test Brazil and Germany.
Anyone remember anything from Porto v Monaco final apart from an up and coming Portuguese manager? Then compare that with those 'Nights in Barcelona/Istanbul' (copyright C. Tyldesley).
Big teams getting humbled by minnows are fun when they happen but ultimately the overall quality of the tournament suffers for the next round.
Simon Fitzwilliams, Cambridge
...Think Johnny is off the mark. Firstly, seeding makes financial sense and like it or not more money in football is a good thing as money flows down to juniors. Sponsors who throw massive sums at teams/players want maximum exposure and seeding aids this. You may have a sock it to the man attitude but these outlooks are generally not progressive and don't suit the greater good.
Secondly, if the two best teams meet in the first knock-out stage the rest of the competition if pretty much irrelevant as we are not stupid and know who the best teams in Europe are. This applies to other sports too, imagine over the last ten years in tennis there was no seeding and Roger and Rafa were drawn in the first round. The rest of the tournament would be abysmal, no one would watch.
We all want the two beasts of their respective sports meeting in finals, these spectacles make for great entertainment and is good for the respective sports.
What About Double Elimination?
Interesting point raised by Johnny Nic in his article on seeding.
Although it is certainly widespread and accepted as the norm (not just for football, virtually all sports have seeded tournaments) it's certainly true that seeding does favour the better teams and offer them an improved chance to progress.
Although I think seeding is here to stay, it would be interesting to see (for example) a double-elimination format (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-elimination_tournament) which essentially allows for an open, unseeded draw but also offers a lifeline to 'big teams' that go out early by dropping them into the second half of the draw - teams only go out once they have lost a second time.
This also has the 'excitement factor' of each round being a knock-out round, and due to teams having to lose twice to go out, it would still mean plenty of games to generate those lucrative TV revenues.
Indeed, with Platini's proposal of merging the Champions League and Europa League, one possible format would be a huge Europe-wide home-and-away leg double elimination knockout tournament. Tremendous entertainment, lots of games, lots for the fans to be excited about, and even if Barcelona play Real Madrid in the first round, the loser would still have a shot at redemption - and imagine the headlines if they then went on to meet again in the final - the ultimate grudge match Clasico..?
Surely worth pondering - which of course means it will never happen.
Terry Hall, Switzerland
It Ain't Tough To Travel Anymore
Can we finally put to bed the idea of a European fixture being a tough one based on the the distance travelled. I have travelled to Prague and St Petersburg in recent times on business and they are not 'that' far away, and are both wonderful, comfortable cities even for a man whose company is notoriously stingy. Premier League players will travel Diamond Class all the way for feck's sake and will be pampered every step of the way by club nutritionists and physicians etc, they will have constant wireless contact with family and friends back home - it simply isn't the hardship it used to be.
And whilst I freely admit to never having been to Kharkiv, I am assured it is a major cultural, scientific, and educational hub of the Ukraine, easily able to support a host of Premier League footballers in their first-class bubble and simpering entourage so please, give us a break with headlines of hardship - times have changed.
Jay Tea, Wallingford
In response to Harsha (Haven't had a mail published in a while and it is Friday...almost. Go on then.) Arsenal, Michael Jordan did not take up baseball because he was 'bored'. Jordan took up baseball because he was mourning the death of his father who was brutally murdered. His father always wanted him to play baseball and as a tribute to his late father, he stepped away from basketball to fulfill his father's dream...certainly not 'hilarious' as you described it. Furthermore, I also don't think Tiger Woods went on a sex rampage because he was bored, he did it because he is an idiot. Lastly, how could anyone ever get 'bored' with being the best footballer on earth playing for one of the greatest club teams in history?
Youth Football Referee On Holding
Recent emails were bemoaning the fact that referees do not seem to penalise holding at corners/free-kicks and suggesting that there is some sort of 'top down' direction not to do so. At youth level (and this surely is the only point at which we will begin to re-educate players of the future), most referees do not penalise these offences. The reason being that the offences are very difficult to see. A typical youth game has only one 'qualified' official with the assistants being provided by the clubs. In this case, they are not supposed to flag for fouls etc. leaving the referee to spot everything themselves. It is also important that the supporters are even less able to see the offences, meaning that when a referee does blow for holding, the supporters are often up in arms and questioning "What the hell was that for?". Now it shouldn't make a difference what the supporters think, but this is the real world.
Personally, I would rather stop the holding before the set-piece is taken - speaking to all players involved and making it crystal clear what will happen if the holding continues. In the space of 24 games this season, I have awarded 11 penalties for holding at corners/free kicks and a further seven yellow cards for dissent following these decisions. Frankly, I don't care about the invective that comes flying my way...in fact, I love it. Not all referees are the same though.
Bye-Bye Ba Sheep
Now I may be alone amongst Newcastle fans, but I'm kind of hoping that Demba Ba does leave in January. Yes, I know he has scored more then half our league goals this season. And yes I am aware of his scoring record for us since joining. But there's a few things that are bugging me.
1) Formation. In the second half of last season it was well documented that Ba was unhappy about being shunted onto the left wing to accommodate Cisse, which (combined with the requirements of the position) led to him only scoring once in the second half of the season. To keep both front men happy Pardew has switched to a 4-4-2, which as many have mentioned simply isn't working. The simple fact is Ba and Cisse, from what I have seen, are far too similar. A number of times watching Ba's goals this season Cisse appears to be making the same run, or is occupying a very similar position. This leads me to believe that Ba's departure wouldn't prove too costly, as Cisse would simply occupy the same position as last season (hopefully with a switch back to 4-3-3, with Ben Arfa playing further forward).
2) Cost. Given his age and current form, Demba is in a very strong bargaining position. I imagine he is already on a considerable wage (given that we signed him on a free) and the simple fact is we'd have to pay far more then we can possibly afford to keep him here. In an ideal world were he to leave, the funds from his departure and gap in the wage bill could be reinvested into the team, giving us more options up top.
Just don't sell him to Liverpool please.
Kevin (Chris ITFC all the way), Boston
Don't Take Away Bolton's Sunshine
Good article by Alex Hess about Daniel Sturridge, but he should probably do a little more research into his article, and this line in particular:
'Two years ago, Sturridge swaggered into the relegation-threatened club, mid-season, and helped keep them afloat with eight goals in 12 games.'
This 'relegation-threatened club' only dropped into the bottom half of the table in the last week of the season having been in the top half since the the first couple of months of the season, was on the fringes of challenging for Europe through their league position (I believe we were eighth going into the Cup semi final), and even after the defeat to Stoke at Wembley still had a chance of finishing in the European places. If anything, his success at Bolton should add support to his ability to fit in at Anfield (pressure to succeed aside).
Times may be tough at the moment, but try not to take our few successful periods away!
Chris, (Standing on Posh's terrace this weekend), BWFC
How old are you, John? You are aware that Sports Personality means sportsman or sportsperson, aren't you? Aka the person with the greatest sporting achievement, who was the best in sport. If it was personality it'd be Ian 'Ollie' (I don't get why he's Ollie, nor do I get why Jose Reina is Pepe) Holloway obviously.
Anyway, Madrid. Let's f*****g av ya!
Silvio (Let's keep Robin wrapped up until February 13th) Dante
I think Leeds fans owe Jonny Nic an apology, my understanding is that the Sports Personality award was a public vote until Leeds fans successfully managed to get Michael Duberry onto the final list and the BBC refused to allow this as an option so removed the public vote for the shortlist.
The Chris Battle
Long-time reader, first-time mailer. The answer to Simon (leave your answers here) CFC's question is whichever one isn't Chris ITFC. I didn't realise it was possible to dislike someone, anyone at all, as much as I dislike that guy. His mails always anger me, and then I get to his name and I get angrier. Hating myself for reading his utter tripe. Despicable mailboxer, and I imagine a terrible human.
You Probably Don't Want To Read This Then, Barrington
Many thanks to Simon (please leave your answers here), CFC for posing the question of which Chris is more popular, myself ITFC, or MUFC. This instantly reopened memories of my childhood waiting to be picked for either side as increasingly useless players are chosen purely for their team allegiance as opposed to me, in my blue T-shirt with an Ipswich badge sewn on crooked.
And so, many years on, I am now the focus of a popularity contest, on the worldwide web no less, with a Man U fan with the same name as I. How cruel that upon reaching my zenith it transpires the world will end tomorrow. What a sod.
Chris ITFC, (Realistically fearing a score akin to the 9-0 drubbing) Liverpool