Jose Mourinho is getting a fair amount of credit for what Chelsea did to Tottenham while Daniel Levy and Man City are defended. Oh and there are more penii...
Is it a sacking offence if Arsenal don't win the FA Cup from here? Is it the players, the manager or the board who should go at Spurs? We have a bumper mailbox...
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Fancy An Ageing Superstar?
As any Football Manager devotee (or Sam Allardyce) will know, signing an ageing former superstar for an unfancied club can be a thing of joy. The question is, when and why did this end in real life? Think Ian Rush turning up at Leeds and Newcastle, John Barnes at Newcastle and Charlton, Ian Wright at West Ham and Celtic...all into their mid 30s by the time they left their former powerhouse employers. Let's face it, who apart from Chelsea fans, didn't want to see Frank Lampard rock up at West Ham or Fulham this year? Who wouldn't want to see Ryan Giggs running amok in the Crystal Palace midfield?!
So, which ageing superstar would you want at your club right now and which one do you think worked out the best? (Pirlo at Juventus is not allowed due to the multitude of times the media have told us about it!)
England Still Need Cole
Can't agree with Graham Simons regarding Ashley Cole.
Cole can be a noxious character at times, but even as an Arsenal fan myself, I'd be the first to admit that club certainly played their part in facilitating his exit (undervalued him, reneged on promises, then hung him out to dry), but I digress.
Its one thing to just cry 'out with the old', but the new generation won't learn anything by turning up to Brazil and getting turned over in their three group games. The better of the old guard certainly still have a part to play, Cole - being largely the most consistent over the last 5-10 years - not least of all.
Gibbs has come on leaps and bounds and should go on to play for Arsenal and England many times, but there's no need to try to force him into the set-up just yet. In fact the left-back position is one that should provide Roy and future managers with one of their easiest decisions when selecting squads.
2014 - Cole & Baines
2016 - Baines & Gibbs
2018 - Gibbs & Shaw
Its clearly one position where we should be well stocked with an experienced pro and understudy for the next decade. Obviously I'm crystal-balling it a bit there, but surely there are far more pressing debates to be had?
...I thought I would offer my two cents to the England left-back debate having recently made the transition from 'commenter' to 'mailboxer' (as 'commenters' are contributors too!) and I am entering winding down time. Although I also feel dirty saying it, I am firmly with Jonny Sauce in believing that Cashley has been consistently one of the best left-backs in the world over the past decade and still is. As a full-back his defensive positional play I believe is second to none, and he rises to the challenges of big games. Also, would Cole have left his post like Kieran Gibbs did against United last Sunday? I don't think so. Never have I seen a full-back make as many goal-line clearances throughout his career as Cashley. Baines I believe is also quality and offers more of an attacking threat, with lots of energy, great crossing ability and dangerous at set pieces. Watching him play for Everton, sometimes I think he would make a decent left winger.
With the weather and consequent fatigue bound to play a part in Brazil, squad rotation will be important. Also, England will be in Pot 2 and likely to have a couple of very testing challenges. Therefore I believe Cole and Baines are must picks, with Cole starting against the tougher tests for his defensive qualities, and Baines when England are expected to attack more.
Gibbs and Shaw will no doubt have their day.
TJ II (the needlessly pissy one- sorry TJ I- I didn't intend to be an imposter).
But Baines Is The Right (Left) Man Now
Perhaps the argument on who should start at left-back for England shouldn't focus so much on who is currently the best left-back, who has been the best left back for the last ten years or who has the most caps and medals combined, but on who would best suit England's system.
The two players are both truly excellent left-backs and a lot of the people commenting on who their preference is seem to be sticking very much along club lines - Chelsea fans putting Cole forward as the best left back of all time and everyone else taking a more reasoned view on it.
If you look at how Roy seems to be lining England up with two inverted wingers in Townsend on the right and either Welbeck/J-Rod on the left, the only way the team are going to get genuine width is from their full-backs, on the right they have Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker, who can both be described as 'marauding' at best, 'positionally inept' at worst, but neither is as good as Baines or Cole. If the crosses into the box are going to be coming from full-backs getting up and down the wing then Baines can really be the only choice in that position, if Cole were to play his lack of ability getting forward will create a lack of balance on the pitch as the team will consistently attack down the right.
Baines plays the role of attacking, ball-carrying full back at Everton, Walker and Johnson do it at their clubs, but Cole doesn't at Chelsea and his ability to deliver telling and consistently dangerous balls is nowhere near that of his colleague, that is without taking Baines' world-class set-piece delivery into account. Also, the argument of Cole being the only man in the world capable of keeping Ronaldo and Messi quiet is now defunct, as neither have played on the right wing since the 90's.
...England should drop Ashley Cole and for one of the very reasons that Jonny (can't believe I just wrote a piece praising Cashley) Sauce mentions as a foolish, English thing to do.
Leighton Baines IS better at attacking that Cashley - much, much better! I can't remember the last time I saw Cole get forwards and swing a cross in with any end result, while Baines looked excellent and a constant menace in the last two qualifiers. Defensively Cole edges it but it's not a huge gulf.
While Cole is still a great left-back and a big game player, England are a very predictable, unimaginative team going forwards and players like Baines (and Andros 'Shoooot' Townsend for that matter) that give England a few different dimensions are vital. They may not be the best individual players, but surely we've learned by now that putting the best 11 players on the pitch and hoping they click just doesn't work?
Adam B, London (keep Cole in the squad for the inevitable backs to the wall, all-out defence, knock-out match and penalty defeat though...)
Maybe He's The Right (Left) Man For The Wing?
Hasn't England always had a problem on the left side of midfield?
I'm pretty sure Baines could do a job. He would not be the deadly attacked a la Townsend or whatever other scrub they could put in there, but he could be a deadly attacker nonetheless. I think he is one of those left-backs that could easily play left midfield regularly and be an even bigger success. He has everything really, he is FAR too good for the bench, just doesn't play for one of the title contenders. He should, but it is stupid and backward that a fine player like him will always have to prove himself just because he doesn't play in red or other blue shirts.
A Cole, he is one of the best left-backs in the world, he has been like that since day one, absolute t**t does not even factor into it, he has always been great and still is. Brazil wouldn't have dropped someone like Cafu, they even made this guy their captain despite not being as big a 'name' as all of the other names. Cafu was always world class, and Ash Cole still is and always has been world class. He owns his name on the team sheet. No matter if he's 23 or 39.
Baines is a perfect attacker, Bale he ain't but to be honest I don't think he is inferior in terms of natural ability to him, just less strength and less pace. If two new hot-shot players took the world or even just national league by storm in five years, right-back and left-back, Germany still wouldn't drop Philipp Lahm, they would put these other guys into the team and depending on who was the better one Lahm would remain LB or RB. Dropping world-class players isn't 'moving on', it is stupid. And being confused over a problem position like left MF when you have a perfectly good person for the role, he would be really great at being defensive when needed, isn't something to be confused over either. You can either put Townsend there, he might make some waves, but won't have a defensive bone in his body, Wellbeck who can play the position, but not really do much else, or Baines, who can play the position, defend when needed, put in an amazing cross as well as have a guaranteed free -ick EXPERT and penalty EXPERT who if things don't work out won't have to run back manically, because he'll be covered by one of the best three left-backs of the last ten years in the world. Drop neither, moves Baines into mf, when Cole kicks the bucket, move Baines back and be hopeful that there is finally someone decent to play the wings. The last person who made that position truly his own was Joe Cole, who wasn't left midfield, Baines can play there, has played there, and should be more than trusted to make the position his own. It's only football, it's not that confusing.
Five Better Left-Backs Than Cole In PL
That bit from the Usual Suspects when Verbal is being interviewed when he says "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was convincing everyone he didn't exist".
It's a bit like Ashley isn't it? Just substitute him for the devil (a bit harsh, but stick with me) and substitute 'he didn't exist' for 'he was the best left back in the world'.
If you play for a team that sets itself out not to get beat, like all of Mourihno's teams and England under just about everyone, you can easily play full-back and just sit there and defend and look absolutely mustard at full-back. If you are to win playing with flair and panache, creating chances from wide positions and utilising 10 outfield players to move the ball, passing and moving to success, you need those full-backs to do a lot more than stand on the halfway line waiting for something to happen.
He's a decent defender, but we will not take on and beat a good international team with him in the side, he simply doesn't offer enough going forwards, can you seriously imagine him popping up in areas like Jordi Alba does now, or Phillipe Lahm has done for a decade. Yeah so he turns up in the big games, but does he, really? Defended okay in penalty defeats to Portugal in 04 and 06, but offered nothing going forwards in those games. Had a horror in defeat to Croatia in Zagreb in 2008, was owned by Klose coming in off the touchline in 2010 before spending 120 minutes retreating (just how he likes it) against Italy in 2012. Still he did get forward once, to miss his spot-kick in the shoot-out.
He simply does not positively influence games, and our minor re-birth as a national team lately has come at the exact time of him being replaced. He should be kept away from the squad, he is blocking possibly our strongest position. Baines delivers, Shaw is fantastic and Gibbs is decent too (although a little frail defensively).
Don't believe the hype, the substance never existed. Best left-back in the World? There are at least five better in the Premier League.
More On Holding Midfielders
Just some thoughts on the holding midfielder debate:
* Teams have been using players to sit back and hold the fort while their teammates moved forward for a long time. This was less evident in the days of box-to-box midfielders, as there were simply no specialists then. Teams used a pair of midfielders who simply took turns (a current example would be Toure-Fernandinho axis)
* As Dave mentions, some teams do indeed use full-backs to compensate. Most notably Brazil. For every Roberto Carlos, there was a Gilberto Silva, for every Dani Alves, a Sandro/Gustavo. Just think of all the gung-ho full-backs and sh*thouse midfielders from over there.
* This tactic is not restricted to midfielders alone. Look at the Barcelona team of 2008-2009. Dani Alves bombed forward and wasn't shy to move infield. This was balanced by the much more defensively inclined Abidal on the other side. When they had the ball, they often resembled a 3-4-3 more than 4-3-3. Sure it's more fun when Alba attacks from the left as well, but there's only so many places Busquets can be.
Girish, AFC, Chennai
...One last point apropos 'holding' midfielders (and Dave P's email was brilliant): there's a reason why Ramsey has been able to play with such freedom this season. It's because Flamini is behind him.
Raging At Sturridge
Do you know what gets my goat about Sturridge? I've always looked out for (and disliked) players who are too busy loving themselves after scoring to acknowledge their team-mates efforts in creating goals.
Sturridge can score a two-yard tap-in after a team-mate has ghosted past three men and committed the keeper, and all he wants to do is that stupid f***ing dance (whilst quite clearly thinking "Me......me......me......me") in front of the fans.
Conversely, Suarez (who I think we can all agree is one of the most horrible b**tards around), last weekend scored and immediately turned round to point at Henderson and Gerrard, whose pin-point passes had set up the goal.
In summary, that's why Sturridge can f*** off. There's no I in team, but there are several Is in 'Egotistical w**ker'.
Thanks for your time.
Anyone who hasn't read A Season with Verona by Tim Parks simply must.
Mike D, Liverpool fan in London
The Yum Centre
I was reading up on Arcade Fire's upcoming North American arena tour and noticed it kicks off in Louisville, Kentucky. You can moan about naming right for stadia in Britain all you like, at least it's not the 'KFC! Yum Centre'! That's right, not only a fast food with an exclamation mark, but in case you weren't sure, they're letting you know (they think you should think) it tastes good! Deary me...
Tim Howard's beard makes him look like his head is on upside down. I love it.