Plenty of fall out from Manchester United's shambolic 4-0 League Cup defeat, plus thoughts on Van Persie, Arsenal strikers, Benik Afobe, Celtic and Astroturf...
A couple of Spurs fans have broken rank to admit that they are bloody excited about things down the Lane. Plus Glen Johnson, Arsene on strikers and Moreno...
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The Big Question
Dan (edgy opinion) Hull City Tigers Acadamicals United. Go SportsBall's email about Hull's identity has prompted me to ask any Newcastle fans a question which hopefully won't be swallowed up over the weekend mails: Why on earth do you have seahorses on your emblem?
Simon (I miss the old lion) CFC
This Is Good
Would be interested to know if myself and a few friends in work are very unusual or if anyone else does this. We basically re-work any football cliches into the workplace setting. Here's what I mean:
Any trip to the HR office involves 'showdown talks'. May or may not include issuing a 'take it or leave it offer'.
Colleagues routinely do various tasks 'almost too well'.
Any mistakes whatsoever are 'schoolboy errors' unless they are committed by a foreigner in which case they were being 'naive'.
Unpopular edits/instructions from a manager and they have 'lost the office'.
There are lots of 'top' employees but very few 'top top' ones.
Anyone fired have 'been given their marching orders/sent for an early bath'.
Wondering what kind of bonus you're going to get? 'How much will be in the warchest'?
Getting a promotion = being 'put straight into the first team'.
Literally anything written down: 'He's put pen to paper'.
Looking for alternative employment? Other companies have been put on 'red-alert'.
Updating your CV is 'putting yourself in the shop window'.
The office is 'down to the bare bones' if anyone at all is out sick.
Any disappointments, no matter how minor, will result in 'dusting oneself down' and subsequently getting 'back to the drawing board'.
Stephen and James, Dublin
Whatever the result of Sunday's Liverpool v City game, how much fun would it be if the two teams stood on the same points and the same goal difference (+/- 1) going into the last day of the season? Both have easily winnable home games on paper (Newcastle & West Ham). The one who wins by the most goals gets the title.
Chris Mac LFC
Worried About Gerrard
It's finally here. I've been shuffling around anxiously all week willing this weekend to get here once the referee blew his whistle after that nervy finish against West Ham last Sunday. To see if Liverpool really can step up to the plate and embrace this huge test.
I know it's unfashionable to say so in case of jinxing them but I really believe that this Lpool team could and should beat this Man City side. They really put it up and at em back in December. They played their own game without fearing City, and the feeling after the game was that they could have come away with a lot more than a sense of pride, only for an unfortunate goalkeeping error by Mignolet for the second goal and a ridiculous offside decision for sterling's effort. Not only that but they now play in front of a fired up Anfield crowd on an emotional weekend and we now have Sturridge back in the mix, who was injured for that encouraging December period.
However I have one fear come kickoff. It's the fear that Stevie G could be potentially found out on Sunday. It's the first time this season that Gerrard will have come up against a really menacing and attacking midfield. The Arsenals, Tottenhams and Evertons don't come close to to the bullying attacking juggernauts of Man City and Chelsea (both games that Gerrard missed through injury earlier this season) Don't get me wrong, Gerrard has been immense with his distribution from the deep role, playing a huge part of having guided Liverpool to this lofty position in the league. But the defensive side of his game will be pushed to limits that he has not yet experienced this season. I know it seems crazy suggesting that Stevie G may not be up to the task, considering he is on the crest of a wave at the moment, but he comes up against a whole new test on Sunday. Lucas and Allen were brilliant on the park in the absence of Gerrard last December and I would love to see these two starting instead of Coutinho and Gerrard on Sunday. I know, I'm going to get ridiculed and accused of treachery for even suggesting this, especially the weekend that is in it.
Lucas made an appearance after half time last Sunday and brought some sense of control and security as he covered the park, closed up channels and put in vital tackles. Not only that but he also showed that there is more to him than perfecting the "ugly" side of the game when he put Flanagan through for the resulting penalty. Whenever Allen and Lucas have been given the opportunities they have impressed this season. This match on Sunday is designed for these two players to be on the park. There was a real balance in the midfield when Lucas, Allen and Henderson played together. Both on a defensive level and linking up an attack with Suarez, Sturridge, or Sterling. I believe that they would negate the Man City midfield far more effectively.
I really hope that Gerrard proves me wrong and plays the game of his season on Sunday and wins man of the match. I'd gladly eat humble pie. But I somehow feel that if he starts it could potentially lessen the opportunity of achieving three vital points.
Tough Draw For Chelsea
I've already spoken to a few Chelsea fans who seem to have no doubt that they are getting to the Champions League final. "Athletico? Who are they? We'll do them, no doubt. Easy draw."
Not only did he spell Atletico wrong, he clearly has no idea what they're up against. Whilst I don't pretend that he speaks for all Chelsea fans, I also expect that there are many that share a similar reaction. In reality, they should be fearful - Atletico are their worst possible draw.
Yes, its true that Bayern are the best team left on paper. Perhaps even Real are better on paper than Atleti, unless the paper you're looking at is the La Liga table. But those two teams would've played into Chelsea's hands. Attacking football that Chelsea could've countered after organised, compact and rough defence.
But Chelsea can't do that against Atletico, because AM would just out-Chelsea Chelsea. They run faster, hit harder, counter better and have more quality in every area of the pitch (including goalkeeper - how Chelsea continue to pick the pretty good Cech over the world class Cortouis I don't know). Chelsea's normal gameplan that would frustrate the other big teams won't faze Atleti, because they're better at it than Chelsea.
That leaves Jose 2 choices - continue with the gameplan and likely lose to a side who are better at it than you, or attack against a big team (something Chelsea haven't done this year) and get cut down by a team that have been practicing against better attacking sides all season. It's very possible that Jose could spring a tactical surprise, but Atletico would probably be able to counter it. They're simply better than Chelsea, but Chelsea can't mitigate that through defensive strategy like they have done in the past.
I'm going to predict an all-Madrid final just because I'd love to see it, but in truth the other game is harder to call. I do believe that Atletico will go through though - they're Chelsea, but better. And that is Chelsea's worst nightmare.
Mike (hoping AM do a LL-CL double and Simeone seeks a new challenge at Old Trafford), MUFC
More Thoughts On Everton
"DF (The letter in the summer was probably actually published because there was little else to talk about) AFC" - you still smarting a little from the weekend, mate? Your letter has more holes than a string vest and is just the ramblings of someone desperate for us to fail.
To say Martinez has not messed with the defence is blasé, in my opinion. Yes, the personnel are the same, but their style of play is completely different. Obviously, he has mainly broken Jagielkas ingrained instinct to hoof, and him and Distin are now decent at playing to the full backs or Barry or McCarthy. Now, we play a higher line with the ball, and the full backs are utilised in a more subtle way. At times under Moyes, our only out was through Baines, and if a team shut that down we were useless. Now, Baines and Coleman are used for supporting our attacking players rather than being the out and out creators, hence Baines's sole assist this season. The fact that Coleman is outstanding this season, may just be his coming of age, but I'd say a lot is also down to Martinez showing his trust to allow him to get into goalscoring positions naturally without the worry of leaving gaping holes, which our 4-4-1-1 often did (especially if Pienaar wasn't there to support Baines). Also evident in our lack of right winger for the last 74 years.
Alcaraz has only only played a few games for us and has, generally, been one of our better players. His only poor game was the 4 - 0 Anfield derby when him and 5 others were barely fit and we gave our worst performance of the season. He can pass the ball very well, brings it out of defence better than Jagielka and Distin and is very good at reading the game. He's never going to be more than a squad player for us, and for that reason he is a good signing in my opinion - if he can get and stay fit.
Jagielka and Distin have both been injured at times this season. Jags hasn't played since 22nd Feb, and we've won 6 in a row since, conceding 4 and keeping 3 clean sheets. Stones has come in and played very well for a 19 year old. Martinez tried to buy Stones when he was at Wigan, but he chose us. Isolated case perhaps, but it shows he can spot a defender. Also, attracting players to relegation battling Wigan and attracting players to European hopefuls Everton is a completely different prospect. Too early to say otherwise, but to base things on the hypothetical is just daft.
...I'd just like to weigh in on the Martinez vs. Moyes debate, if I may. Has anyone else considered the fact that they might both be partially responsible for Everton's current impressive form?
Everton, under David Moyes, were, as many people have said: pragmatic, hard working and difficult to break down. Wigan under Martinez were: good passers, holders of possession and capable of beating the top teams on their day.
Everton had their weaknesses; they weren't particularly expansive, they weren't particularly free-scoring and they generally played the same tactics/formation against most opponents. Wigan also had their deficiencies; they couldn't defend for toffee (so to speak), lacked cutting edge in the box and often tried to play too many passes in defence.
What we're seeing at Everton now is a combination of both schools of thought. It's basically Moyes' defence, with the addition of John Stones; solid, consistent and well organised at the back. That's now combined with Martinez's forward approach; creative, fluid and possession and attack-minded.
Neither manager at their previous clubs were the "complete manager", but both their strong suits are currently being implemented at Everton to great effect. I agree that it's going to be interesting when the back line gets broken up, whether it's retirement, injury or transfers. Martinez didn't have a great record of signing defenders at Wigan, but he's able to attract a much higher standard of player now and has a (you would think) bigger budget to work with.
If he can keep the defence working as well at it has done this season, as well as firming up his forward options (replacing or permanently recruiting Deulofeu and Lukaku is going to be key) then they will be pushing for more than just 4th place in the years to come. "If" being the operative word. Whichever way you look at this season, though, they've done remarkably well in a season where everything was/is to play for.
Lots Of These
Alex, LFC, no Zola in your Z list team??? For shame! For shame!
John Whelan, Dublin
The mailbox today must, surely, be the first one ever to witness a contribution containing the word "pusillanimous"?
It was a joy to behold such a wonderful word, and in such perfect context.
I was so surprised, I nearly choked on my pan-seared scallop with minted pea puree.
With regards to this quite messy issue of whether Courtois will be allowed to play, it might be worth considering UEFA's stance earlier this season regarding Mo Bangura vs Celtic. Whilst they accepted that there are no regulations preventing a player from playing against their parent club, they also made this interesting statement:
'If a player is duly registered on the play list of IF Elfsborg then he can play against any team that Elfborg are drawn against. Any agreement between the two clubs that this player wouldn't play against Celtic should Elfsborg be drawn against them is purely between the clubs. UEFA would not have any involvement or consideration of this agreement, it would neither be endorsed or enforceable by UEFA.'
Now, I'm not suggesting Courtois shouldn't play, after all, Chelsea were happy for him to play when it didn't count (2013 Super Cup), an we can certainly debate endlessly whether it is morally right for a player to play against their parent/future club (although we got over it quite quickly when Goetze was 'injured' for the Champions League final). Nevertheless, it always troubles me when UEFA wade in on these issues, supposedly taking the moral ground. The Bangura case appears to be curiously at odds with their latest position on Courtois. It looks like UEFA's regular ad hoc reasoning, which, lacking any formal procedure or reference to precedents, seems to be the basis for most people's distrust of the body.
It's my first time writing in after a long time reading so I thought I'd chance a relaxed Friday afternoon mailbox.
Just writing in to point out what seems to me to be a direct correlation between how well a team's season is going and the number of transfer rumours emanating from the club. I noticed it particularly in the case of Liverpool. At this stage last year there was an abundance of rumors regarding transfers yet this season there are none. The opposite can be seen in the case of Man Utd this season who are constantly linked with wonderful players they have no chance of buying.
It's almost as if these rumours are complete nonsense and the papers don't bother making them up if they have any other news about the club which the fans will be happy to read.
Also did anyone else find the Uefa ruling on the Courtois Loan strange. You regularly hear of premiership players on loan having clauses which prevent them from playing against their parent clubs and there doesn't seem to be any problems. I realize that there is a financial element to this clause but it seems to be essentially the same thing?
Jack, Lfc (Sickened by the Champions League draw)
A brief word on the 'Eye on the Experts' pieces. Today's Motty offering was just as generous and good natured as the rest. No snide or snobbery - which I must admit I expected when John and Alan first began writing these. Instead they are a wonderful tonic to all the endless "isn't [insert pundit name here] rubbish" churned out by newspapers and the internet. Anything that inspires vague feelings of fondness towards Robbie Savage is clearly an impressive achievement.
Also, on the subject of under-appreciated footballers: my fellow Palace fan nominated Puncheon but Julian Speroni is an absolute God. Just a rock for us this season, so many crucial saves, and if rumours that Pulis wants to offload him are true then he better have a damn good replacement lined up. If Julian were English...blah blah blah. But we love him at Palace, The man has a bloody restaurant named after him at Selhurst Park. Cult hero doesn't do it justice.
In response to the parentheses sign-off of Alex (the only other player I'd take off United is De Gea, and possibly Jones.. How the mighty etc etc) LFC this morning - it reminded me of one of my most hated football supporter cliches, that of counting the number of rival players who would "get in your team" and thinking the result is as mathematically sound as Pythagoros' theorem.
Unless you're Arsene Wenger, you only buy players who you think will significantly improve your side. A slight effect isn't worth it. Hence, if a rival team has a player (Luis Suarez) clearly better than your equivalent player (Wayne Rooney), you would gladly have them; but if their player is the same or only slightly better, then what's the point?
For example, I think Lucas and Darren Fletcher are more or less of equal quality, one of them is probably a bit better than the other, I don't know which, you could argue about it but life's too short and as a Manchester United supporter with an emotional attachment to the Fletch, I'll stick with him.
Even when a rival player is better, other issues come in to it. Robin Van Persie is obviously better at football than Daniel Sturridge is, but a Liverpool supporter would probably think why break up the partnership for someone nearing thirty? That would make sense to me. But I certainly don't think Sturridge would add much to Man United.
Anyway, this is all academic. United could go to the magical footballer swap-shop tomorrow and come back with Suarez, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, but the three of them would only lapse into an existential funk after a week of David Moyes and Phil Neville trying to tell them what to do.
Stephen O'S, MUFC
I was going to write in to provide some analysis of City's season in advance of the hyperbole surrounding the match on Sunday, but instead it was far more fun to come up with a team of X-men to take on Alex LFC's Z-listers from this morning's mailbox:
GK: Alex Stepney
LB: Alexander Kolarov
CB: Alexey Smertin
CB: Alexi Lalas
RB: Lee Dixon
MF: Xabi Alonso
MF: Maxi Rodriguez
S: Mixu Paatelainen
S: Dixie Dean
Subs: Abel Xavier, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (2 Xs!)
Manager: Felix Magath
Phew- that was harder than it looked!!
Good midfield, but a little lacking elsewhere....
Ben B, MCFC