There's more in the afternoon Mailbox about Jose Mourinho and his potential return to Chelsea, while there's also a link to some pictures of eagles that look like Arsene Wenger...
After a disappointing end to his three years at Real Madrid, could Jose Mourinho struggle to bring immediate success if he completes his anticipated return to Chelsea?
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But This League Is Sodding Fun
Just what the hell is Stanger bitching about? I'd rather watch the United-Newcastle fixture than the 8-0 thrashing that Chelsea handed Villa (well done Blues). Instead of the top two showing less quality, how about the rest 18 not scared of having a go at them? Yes Utd have conceded a lot, but I've never felt so excited watching Utd fixtures in a long time.
That game had everything about it. Goals, drama, end-to-end flow and even close chances. True, Utd keep riding their luck a lot but by now it's not even luck. It's like you are almost expecting something to happen and most probably, a goal for Utd after the 80th minute or in injury time. Why is it necessary that the top two have to steamroll every team they come across to see who lasts at the end? Towards, the end of last season, Utd threw away about eight points in a matter of 2-3 weeks. And yet it was one of the best title race finishes to a Premier League season.
As an Arsenal supporter, yes we're back to the race for fourth spot. But I'd rather watch a league where the top scorer, if I'm not mistaken, RVP is tied with a person who was available for peanuts, Michu. Where teams are not afraid of dishing it out to Utd at their home ground. Where despite all that money spent, Sunderland can still manage to nick it from City and Stoke can surprisingly put on a class act like they did against Liverpool.
I love this league. Let the goals flow!
Carl (I'd easily pick the City Utd fixture over the Barca Atletico Madrid one for sheer entertainment.), AFC
Amother Mail For Matt
Matt Stanger is, as always, about bashing United. And City for a change as well this time. Here's a small breakdown on why he's partly correct...
Robbie Savage is doing well in Gary Nev's company. He did well to point out that teams are starting to figure City
out this season. They're crowding up the middle of the pitch and forcing City to play it wide, from where they can be dealt with. City don't have any out-and-out wingers and if Dzeko doesn't work as a Plan B, with some luck, City don't score. More than that, City are now coming to terms with the fact that every game they play, teams will fight
to the death to get points off you; and obviously not dealing with it all too well.
Let me start by defending United in comparison to City first. United are the kind of side that are not much fun to defend against. If they don't get joy through the middle, they go wide, they play it long, and a healthy return from set-pieces is another evidence of the diversity of sources for goals this season. For goals in the PL, Dzeko + Balotelli = 7 = Evans + Evra. 'Nuff said. United mix it up a lot compared to City's dynamic, but sole weapon of possession, passing and breaking teams down. Also, United are used to teams scrapping for their lives against them, home and away for decades now. City aren't.
But, where the fault does lie is in the flip side of this multi-pronged spear of attacking prowess. United were missing Kagawa, Webeck, Young and Rooney in attack vs Newcastle. These are probably the most mobile players in the league on their day. Their absence must be acknowledged when we start moaning about Giggs and Scholes starting. All due respect to the old lads, but if they start against a side, that must be taken as an invite to dominate. The sheer lack of mobility and stamina means they will simply not come to terms with a team that can pass, move and keep the ball. Sir Alex, towards the end of last season and this, has had a mad time with injuries but one can see that when he has that full squad, United flourish.
In my opinion, no top team drops levels more from injuries than United. There was no panache vs Newcastle at all, apart from the amazing Michael Carrick, Van Persie and the introduction Tom Cleverley. Just laborious play all-round, that sickening courage and never-say-die c**p.
Akshat Pande, Mumbai, India
(Sir Alex would've been sold Hernandez to QPR had he not scored the eventual winner, period.)
Newcastle Have Taught Teams How To Spend
Reading about the worrying lack of quality of the top two sides in the league, I started thinking about the competitive nature of the league so far this season.
A precedent was set by the Newcastle team of last season and Pardew's transfer policy, which showed the other mid- table sides that it is possible for them to compete for Champions League spots with a limited budget by scouting effectively, with players like Cabaye, Tiote and Ba being bought for around 8 million pounds altogether. Swansea have followed their example in buying Michu, Ki and Flores, with all of them being proven performers and calculated gambles being taken. This is in stark contrast to QPR's pension squad and their group of over the hill slow ex-relegation battlers.
So maybe the seemingly alarming change in the dominance of the top two sides in the league is more down to the improved nature of the league which has made games more open with all the sides, with the exception of Reading and QPR being able to beat any team, including Manchester United and City at home or away, even Liverpool, with a more open-minded, Wenger-like approach to transfers being the main factor.
Albert Troost, Cape Town
Jekyll And Hyde
Where on earth should one begin when trying to analyse the visit of Newcastle to Old Trafford? When football was invented back in the early 90s, these two teams consistently produced some of the most entertaining football this country has seen. While Newcastle have always been, at best, described as a schizophrenic football team, Manchester United have become one of the most dominant forces in the world of sport.
It was of no surprise, then, that the match between the two created so many flashpoints. The easiest way to describe the match is with the old 'it's a game of two halves' cliché. United clearly lost the first half, and were definitely the better of the two in the second. They were clearly lucky to only be trailing by a solitary goal going into the break.
Newcastle didn't so much dominate the first half, has be the slightly more attractive sister in a family of blobfish (seriously, look them up...hideous). I can't imagine they could believe their luck. Wobbly attacking, weak in defence, were I a Newcastle supporter I would have been slightly disappointed to only be beating a very weak Manchester United 2-1.
Removing Paul Scholes after a very ineffective hour with the score at 2-3 was the only thing Sir Alex could do to try and make a creative substitution. This fine website has pointed out a couple of times that in the absence of Anderson, the pairing of Cleverley and Carrick is clearly United's best option in the middle of the park. Cleverley's energy and harrying allows Carrick time on the ball to start picking his passes.
It was of no real surprise that van Persie got the equaliser. United had been pressing and probing for the majority of the second half. Van Persie himself had seemingly decided to take it upon himself to try and drag United back into the match; dropping deep, linking play, he was doing everything Rooney didn't do against Swansea.
The Dutchman's strike partner, though, endured an odd day. Had he not scored a goal it would have been a performance described as 'clutching at straws'. With the goal, however, it could be described as 'knocking on the door all day, and got what he deserved'.
What will be of real concern, though, for Manchester United was the disappointingly weak bench. Struggling in this game was never going to be an ideal situation with probably only one player capable of making a difference on the bench. It seems that after getting over a bit of a defensive crisis United now find themselves short of forward players. Ryan Giggs completed the full 90 minutes, and that says it all.
After being thoroughly outplayed, outfought and out-thought for 45 minutes United needed a convincing second half and they got it. With Manchester City dropping points and Chelsea quietly trying to climb the table it was imperative that three points were won at home and they were. Job done and now to focus on a team at the opposite end of the form table.
Points On United
1; Carrick looks a lot better playing longer passes. Much like in 2007-9, when he typically either played short to Anderson/Scholes, or direct to Rooney and Ronaldo, Carrick seems now to be being encouraged to play direct and create opportunities. Gratifying to see him receive wider praise; if he was six inches shorter, we'd moon over him.
2; At least Ashley Young is a better option than the 39-year-old Giggs.
3; Hernandez was actually rather wasteful, and illustrated how much United have benefited from van Persie's conversion of chances.
4; Valencia was wasteful, lacked penetration or accuracy.
5; Smalling's selection made a certain sense, given Newcastle's physicality, height, and habit of playing long. But he was turned far too easily, and looks far too cumbersome when wingers run at him.
6; United still lack any sort of cohesion, fluency or control. Even allowing for injuries, this suggests a lack of structural and tactical direction at United (which has been the case since Queiroz left anyway).
7; Ferdinand was horrifically out of position for Cisse's goal (hence why Evra ended up trying to block a shot at United's right-hand post). Remember when Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra and Van der Saar didn't concede a goal for three months?
8; Curious how Rooney was conspicuous by his absence, for three reasons. Firstly, his ability to play both as a 10, and a deeper attacking midfielder, gives United creativity and manpower in midfield. Secondly, he liberates van Persie to play as a 9, where he's undoubtedly better than Hernandez. Thirdly, Rooney's Kate Middleton-esque scouse brow is a joy to watch as it contorts in rage at the referee.
9; Giggs and Scholes should perhaps do the decent thing and retire. They plainly are no longer good enough to play in the first team, but Fergie will persist with them, and not buy replacements, until they retire.
10; It still vexes me beyond belief that Hernandez has 'Chicharito' on his shirt. It's bloody stupid.
11; If the Sun's suggestion that Ronaldo might come back is true, I may well explode with happiness, and then relish how poor the gibbering mediocrities that currently play on United's wings look in comparison.
12; Kagawa cannot return soon enough. Even if he plays on the left (to accomodate Rooney at 10), he'll offer United a mobile, technical threat in attack, and pose a greater threat with through balls and assists around the area.
13; Evra's beard is superb. I hold out hope for a Ming the Merciless arrangement by May.
14; If Fergie persists with a double pivot, he must buy another midfielder, as Fletcher and Scholes are done, Anderson too unreliable, and Carrick and Cleverley cannot play every game. Pogba would have been ideal (mobile, physical, capable in attack).
15; That said, United's inability to play with a coventional three-man midfield is curious. It would suit them so well, were Jones to play as a holding midfielder, and liberate Evra, Rafael, Carrick and Cleverley to attack.
16; Great spirit, what resilience, blah blah blah. Winning late and winning ugly might be the marks of champions, but so is playing well occassionally.
Fergie And Women Drivers
Ted (quite rightly) took a bit of a verbal kicking in the last Mailbox but, some of what he said about 'poor' United teams was just so silly, I have to wonder if his real intention was to deliberately fire up United supporters? If so, he certainly succeeded. If not, then perhaps football is not the game for you, Ted.
See, I used to work with a bloke here in Melbourne who, whenever he got really bored, used to send in a mail to 'The Letters' section of one of the larger local papers along the lines that all women drivers were dangerous idiots and should all have to hand their driving licences in immediately before they either killed or maimed anyone else with their stupid driving habits. He considered anything less than five or six angry replies calling him a moron, a misogynist or worse a great failure. His idea of a good mail on his part was one where the editor had to resort to the use of asterisks to be able to include the responses.
If you were in on 'the joke', I have to admit it was fairly amusing although the rest of us did have to judiciously shake our heads or agree that he was a simpleton if a female ever asked for our own opinions on this. And, of course, we all had to deny any knowledge of who this 'fool' was.
So, Ted, I'm giving you an easy way out here - if you want to grab a lifeline, that is.
PS. I don't want anyone thinking for a moment that I agree with my workmate, because I don't. Women, generally, are pretty good behind the wheel and are no worse than men drivers. Certainly, I feel very comfortable in the passenger seat if Mrs. Jonesey is driving.
Heirachy of Transfer Needs
Having watched some up and down performances from the top Prem clubs this season, I have come to the conclusion that they all need some players in the transfer window that will shortly be upon us. Forget well thought-out training techniques to develop current squads and building a long-term, sustainable model for repeated success - they all need to spend some cash, preferably sprayed from a hosepipe connected to a big bag with £££s written on the side. This is how they should do it...
Club: Man United
What they need: Another striker...Just kidding, we already have 800 of them - obviously a midfielder is needed.
But who? Kevin Strootman seems a popular chap with the internet these days, but having never seen him play I wouldn't know if he's any good. Personally I would like Fergie point the cashpipe at Newcastle and see Yohan Cabaye arrive at Old Trafford.
What they need: Another striker - not kidding this time
But who? Falcao is on his hunky way somewhere and it may be Chelsea. It would also be worth their while to see if fellow South American hunk Edinson Cavani is entirely happy playing in a league in which a top club has boasted an away crowd of one.
What they need: Another manager
But who? My vote goes to bringing back Svennis. But then I am a United fan.
What they need: Some balls
But who? I haven't seen them but I reckon De Rossi has a massive pair of swingers, his beardy leadership skills would be just the ticket..
What they need: Joao Moutinho
But who? Joao Moutinho - The return of Scott Parker may allow Dembele to play further up the pitch thus negating the requirement of Moutinho but he is absoloute class and I want to see him the Premier League.
What they need: Quite a lot
But who? Well, another striker (possibly two), another winger and some centre-half cover who is not Seb Coates. Huntelaar would've been a shout but whoever they get will be better than Fabio Borini.
Problems solved - it's easy this football lark.
Flaws In Rodgers' Dossier
Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a kneejerk call for Rodgers to be sacked, but there are some serious flaws (or 'room for improvement' in corporate consultant speak) in Brendan Rodgers' plan:
1) The Defence: possibly the most distinctive tactical change in the way Liverpool have played this season has been how far forward the full-backs have been pushed. Fortunately both Enrique and Johnson happen to be pretty handy at that part, however this leaves only the two centre-backs to deal with the inevitable quick counter-attack. Skrtel's slip against Walters yesterday, Benteke's second goal against villa are examples of this vulnerability. When your full--backs are in the opposition half, you need the defensive midfielder (Lucas in this case) to drop deep enough to give you a three-man backline. This clearly isn't happening and we've let substantial leads slip (Everton) and lost a match we had been dominating to easy goals on the counter (Villa).
3) Crossing. Why does no one cross the first time they reach the byline, even with multiple attackers in the box. It seems whoever it is almost always decides to cut back, let the defence regain their shape and face away from their goal, before deciding to put in a poor cross anyway. The one time a good early ball has been put in was by Henderson for the third goal v West Ham.
2) It had been mentioned on these hallowed pages that Liverpool fans should take positives from Rodgers' perceived ability to make the correct tactical changes and substitutions. Can someone explain how the hell Jonjo Shelvey managed to play a full 90 minutes yesterday? He was abject, and I genuinely believe he was hungover from the festivities.
3) Character: Rodgers made some comment about the 'character' of the team in light of our (quite fortunate) comeback win against West Ham. That result seems to be the anomaly rather than the norm. Losing a goal or a lead seems to cause a nervous breakdown in the squad. I'd like to see a stat of how quickly Liverpool having conceded a second goal after the first this season.
You have time Brendan but you also have significant problems to work out.
Sid (missing Rafa's mean defence) LFC
Fulham v Saints Thoughts
Fulham are playing terribly. No heart, no energy and a distinct lack of talent right now. Against a better team we would have been mauled (see games against Spurs/Pool)
Luckily we played Southampton, who deserved a point for their efforts and with a few ounces more quality would have won. Maya Yoshida is the worst Premier League player I have seen live this year.
Just an awful game to watch.
The Peng, FFC, SW6