That's if reports that Calum Chambers cost Arsenal £16m are to be believed. The English premium shows no signs of disappearing. Plus, worrying about poor Southampton...
Some supporters sound oh so confident on Louis Van Gaal's excellence. Plus thoughts on shirt sales, best signings, football sevens and a good deal more besides...
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I can't be the only one who laughed heartily at the sight of Chelsea players trying to usher Costa off the pitch to avoid him time-wasting?
And presumably I'm not the only one who thought it odd that, having lost the game, it was Gary Cahill who appeared for the after-match interviews, and not Captain, Leader, Legend (¿). I seem to remember this happening in Paris as well, although mysteriously John Terry was the interviewee after the home leg against PSG.
Can anyone explain this strange phenomenon?
Jose Right Not To Go For Goals In Spain
There appears to be a footballing trend over the last week or so and I'm not referring to the image of a bus being parked in front of a goal. That trend is revisionism - hindsight, a nice lecture after the fact. We saw it after the Liverpool game and quite predictably we're seeing it following the match last night. The main criticism is that Chelsea should have looked for an away goal as it was them conceding one that put the cat among the pigeons and led to them being knocked out. Now, there is obviously no argument about the benefit of getting an away goal but we need to look at the bigger picture.
Football is a game of percentages where nothing is 100% certain to happen. Mourinho decided that he had a very good chance of getting it to Stamford Bridge at 0-0 where he then had an alright chance to win the game or draw 0-0 and maybe get to penalties. Now I cannot fault him for this at all, it is pragmatism and the best chance for Chelsea to reach the final. That it won't be pretty to watch is none of his concern, his job is to give his team the best possible chance to win. The option was to attack more in the first leg at risk of conceding a few and being in a terrible position going into the second leg. Where the revisionism comes in is people telling him he should have done that as if it was guaranteed to win him the tie when the percentages suggest the opposite. Chelsea would have been more likely to be beaten in the first leg and leave themselves with more work to do than they ultimately had.
Managers make decisions in good faith. Rubbish pundits spew rubbish with the benefit of hindsight. They also like to do it as if their suggestions were 100% certain to have achieved the desired result. Much of the time the things they say demonstrate why they are rent-a-gob pundits and not managers. I think Rodgers set Liverpool up to give them the best chance of a result against Chelsea but a freak miscontrol put paid to that plan. I think Mourinho gave Chelsea the best chance of progressing to the final. I also recognise that in the world of football where everyone has an opinion and it needs to be more hyperbolic and outrageous than the last one that these are quite dull opinions but maybe the level of criticism and vitriol should be dialled down a little bit.
...Chelsea are out because they didn't go for away goals if the mailbox is to be believed. Strange, I thought they lost 3-1.
In the away leg Chelsea played it tight and got a draw. In the home leg Chelsea went for the win and lost 3-1. yet on the basis of this evidence it seems obvious to all these purists that if Chelsea had attacked in Madrid they would somehow have managed to go through.
Surely it would have been easy to go to Madrid and turn them over 4-2 on their own patch if only Chelsea had been braver?
More likely they would have lost both legs. Chelsea lost because Madrid were the better team simple. Had they gone to Madrid and defended and lost 1-0 then won 2-1 at home to go out on away goals, then the 'lack of ambition costs Chelsea' argument would have some merit. When you lose 3-1 over two legs it doesn't. Bear in mind Chelsea are a team who needed 30 chances to score one goal against Sunderland and managed no goals from a similar number of shots against West Ham. Atletico Madrid have possibly the best defence in Europe, they have conceded only nine goals at home in 18 league games this season and only two at home in six Champions League games. Barcelona have visited them twice and not scored in either match. In this situation the only way to give yourself a chance is to keep it tight and sneak a 1-0.
Jose's Mistake Was Not In Madrid
I watched both Chelsea games against Atletico. Last week was perfect, a very defensive team parking the bus got an away draw (the best aim for an away European tie, according to that famous numpty Sir Alex Ferguson). This week, Chelsea played further up the pitch, brought back their two most effective attacking talents in Hazard and William, and included an out-and-out striker. They at no point sat on their 18-yard line as a strategy. They scored, sure, and I thought we would see a half-time change back to bus parking, something Benitez, that other terrible cup tactician may have done. They concede an extremely well-taken goal (the cross and finish were perfect).
Mourinho then makes a massive mistake. They needed one more goal in 40 minutes and he went to 4-4-2 against a fast and brilliant attacking side. I said at the time, he will lose now, he should have stayed defensive and hope to pick one up. 'He' lost. He talked about their class and whatnot and a reasonably average save from a header in the middle of the goal. But his change was why they lost.
Hamish (LFC, Edinburgh)
Jose: A Rich Man's Wenger
Wait, so not one mention of Jose's abject semi-final record in the morning mailbox?
This is the problem you face when you set up your team to play a system to the manager's strength rather than the squad's strength. At the start of the season, Jose had Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Willian, De Bruyne, Schurrle, Marin, Lukaku, Piazon among other talented attackers. That he chose to start a must-win Champions League semifinal with six (six!) defenders on the pitch is shocking and abysmal. The problems with not bothering to play any of that entertaining football stuff that Hazard and co are built for (see Hazard's statement after the game) is that when the results don't go your way, the blame lies at the feet of the manager, not his players. Jose has been unable to come up with a system to suit the strength of his players, instead demonstrating his inflexibility and shipping out clearly talented players that don't suit HIS system. It's always about him, never about the team after all.
Moreover, the results this season demonstrate just how tactically inflexible Mourinho has been. Without a doubt the best planner for the start of games, that fact that he has been unable to react when things aren't going his way show his inflexibility. He has now been unable to react in any way to going behind at Everton, Newcastle, Stoke, Villa, Palace and Atletico. His substitutions have not been up to the par and his lack of the fabled Plan B is now approaching Guardiola territory.
The fact of the matter is that his management style has held his multi-talented squad back to what is now likely to be a trophy-less season. That's no trophies for Jose in over two years after managing two of the most expensively assembled squads in history. It's also two trophies won out of 14 possible in four years after personally managing an expenditure of 370 million on players brought in. The last fact is especially shocking as it points to a failure of Jose to manage any existing elite level squad without resorting to a complete overhaul of the team. This also a fourth consecutive semi-final loss as well as a sixth semi-final loss for him overall. Not quite a specialist in failure yet, but after getting hopes of the team up only to let the team down with his one-track mind, Jose has essentially become a rich man's Wenger.
Falooda in NY
...Casillas, Cech, Courtois, Varane, Pepe, Cole, Ramos, Cahill, Terry, Coentrao, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, Marcelo, Khedira, Matic, Ramires, Lampard, Ozil, Ronaldo, Oscar, Willian, Schurrle, Benzema, Hazard, Higuain, Xabi Alonso, Modric, Eto'o, Di Maria, Torres, Lukaku
Let's put it in perspective. These are the limited resources available to the special wan**er over the past two seasons. He's provided nothing but turgid football, unpleasantness, vindictiveness, violence, cheating - and worst of all no trophies.
So can we please just put an end to lauding his ability to ride a 'little horse' so expertly? When you actually look at the players he has had at his disposal it's literally embarrassing that he's managed to achieve nothing and bore us to death.
Rafa >> Mourinho
I whispered it tentatively at the start of last summer, but Rafa would of been a better choice than Mou.
Although I like many others was devastated when Roman decided Jose was no longer good enough, the thought of him coming back to the Bridge filled me with fear.
The problem with a Mourinho team is that we scrape past 'smaller teams' and restrict top-seven teams. and as such have no style of play or identity ourselves for the times when we need to play 'our own game'.
Atletico outlined exactly how Chelsea should play with the talent at our disposal, to use the excuse that this is not Jose's team is reductionist. He brought in five new players to add to his five players from his previous era.
In the last week I have been struck by how tedious and exhausting it is with Jose at the helm. The mind games, the constant defending against rival teams, the constant defending of how we play to rival fans.
With the money spent Roman is right to ask for Chelsea to play a particular way, I just wish the fans would as well. I have come to the conclusion that Jose is a glorified Tony Pulis. We are like Crystal Palace without the atmosphere. How any manager can think it is a tactic to put Demba Ba on for half an hour and play long balls is beyond me.
I don't know if his use of Ba is just to prove a point that our striking selection is poor, but surely he can just tell the Chelsea hierarchy instead of inflicting Ba upon paying fans.
Rafa would not have been the greatest manager Chelsea would ever have, but he did fit within the club's plans for the future. He had begun to bring through Ake, and had identified Loftus-Cheek and Christensen. In contrast Mourinho has identified our (admittedly controversial) vast array of talent as a means to fund the building of 'his team'.
Sorry for the rant
Paul T, London (bring back Thibaut!)
But Chelsea Are Building For Future
Sympathy, who wants sympathy?
Chelsea fans are not looking for sympathy, Jose was not looking for sympathy. We got a lot further than we thought we would and were beaten by a very good Atletico Madrid team playing out of their skin for the past season. We know that we are progressing, allowing ourselves time to grow as a team, and are not losing our sh*t like other clubs when are not winning. Even though Jose can be a little embarassing at times he has said all along that this year was a building year, next year is where you will see us start to flourish. I know Chelsea like to have an 'us against the world' mentality but it really does feel like every other club's supporters and the media is waiting for us to fail and jump on us when we don't.
The money spend figure is thrown at Chelsea all the time but we have bought for the future, our team is a work in progress we have players in two main catergories ATM, either younger with potential to be among the best in the World (Hazard, Oscar, Matic, Azpi, Courtois, Shurrle, Salah, Willian), fading lights who will need replacing in the next season or two (Lamps, Terry, Cole, Torres, Etoo, Hilario, Schwarzer). The rest (seven players) are at their peak in that 27-30-year-old bracket. (Cech, Cahill, Ivan, Ram, Mikel). We are building ourselves around those younger players and it may take 3-4 seasons to transition. 6th, 3rd and 3rd with a CL and EU cup in the process could be worse.
Compare this to our competition, City are almost exclusively (14 players) in the 27-30-year-old bracket with only seven of their 25-man squad under 27 (Chelsea have 14) and will need an overhaul in 4-5 years time (They can already hear the drums of FFP beating in their ears). Arsenal are a in a similar position as City with 12 playes in their peak years, although they have a lot of very decent players about to come into their peak (Ramsay, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Szczesny) and very few over the hill, history tells us that as soon as their players get near actually achieving their potential they jump ship for more ca$hley elsewhere. Man Utd are in a similar position as Chelsea although more extreme and in my opinion not as talented, or as well led (Where are they in the table?). Liverpool are a team playing out of their skin, no doubt about it. They are having a truly remarkable season and looking at the profile of their team, with a few key signings could maintain this for years.
Chelsea played badly yesterday, Madrid were better than us. We weren't robbed, apart from a few injuries and suspensions in key areas (CM) we can really have no complaints about the match. Our squad is still 1-2 seasons and 2-3 players away from completion and most of us are excited for next year.
Aston Taylor CFC (Not contentious enough, too long, won't get posted)
Points From Chelsea Fans
I was at the match last night (despite the best efforts of the RMT), and of course one must congratulate Atletico Madrid on a superb performance. Just a few quick points:
Bus Parking - Chelsea had over 50% of possession. But our moving bus was no match for Atletico's far more effective bulldozer.
Hazard - was mobile, but not match fit. Failed to have an impact on the game offensively, and failed to track back. He should have been subbed for Schurrle at half time. Everybody in the Matthew Harding stand could see that. Why Jose didn't is beyond me. If he had been creating chances, then fair play. But he wasn't; he was being carried.
Second-half formation switch - Mourinho bet the house on removing Ashley Cole, and going 4-4-2 by bringing on Eto'o as a second striker, pushing Cesar 'Dave' Azpilicueta back to left back, with Hazard as his cover. Unfortunately, Hazard wasn't tracking back half as much as he should have been, and thus Dave was frequently overlapped. By only having two in the middle, plus Atletico successfully doubling down on Dave, it was only a matter of time before we conceded. And not only did Eto'o have no impact up front, he conceded the penalty that put Atletico in full control of the tie.
Margins of Error - I have been watching the snooker this week, and at the very top, it comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes. The same was true last night at Stamford Bridge. The game was evenly balanced, but then a handful of mistakes makes all the difference to the outcome.
Minute's applause silence - When an old person who has lived a great life full of achievements dies, they should be celebrated and applauded (like Bobby Robson). When somebody young dies, it is a tragedy that should be marked by silence. Tito had a great life, but for it to end so soon is a tragedy. Thus whilst I understand why applause broke out, I don't believe it was appropriate.
M Hynes (Bad day at the office/worse things happen at sea/always look on the bright side of life *delete as appropriate*)
...Have been a regular reader of the site for a while and now contributing to my first mail. I wouldnt normally do this but I want to add my two pennies from the Chelsea game last night and how irritating I find it being a Chelsea fan right now. Yes I am a Chelsea fan, but I also hate Mourinho. Sorry fellow Blues, I just can't get behind the man who will play such dull unattractive football with an amazing squad. Anyway, I though I would add a few points from last night and then realised a few of them were a look at this season as a whole.
- Last night's game, we were on top as far as I could see in the first 20 minutes, bar the cross-cum-shot that hit the bar. A slight scare but this should have given Chelsea the drive to go and get that goal as any little mistake could be so costly. As it was the only person I saw who was determined to play any kind of football rather than just tackle and hoof was Willian, more on him later.
- Azpilicueta at right wing? Surely would've been better off playing Ramires there and Oscar in the middle with Willian just in front of Luiz? Equally as much running, pace and drive, but also a bit more forward-minded so could be in the right positions and pick the right passes a bit more? There were times where Ivanovic had the ball on the half-way line but 'Dave' was more playing centre-forward. Not sure if this was because he wasn't sure where he was supposed to stand or if Jose told him to stand there, but the amount of times Ivanovic passed to Cahill to Terry, to Cole, to Hazard, to dribble, fall over and possession lost, I couldn't stand it. The one time 'Dave' actually played towards the right-wing position we scored.
- Onto another Dave, and I thought David Luiz was excellent, as ever, and with him and Matic next season we should be looking at the strongest midfield in the league (even with Fernandtoure) Hopefully then it will eliminate the need for Ramires and his silly fouls on the edge of the area (notice how we didn't concede one vs Liverpool because he was suspended?) then Fat Frank can play his bit-part role in the bigger games or against West Ham.
- Now to Willian, easily Chelsea's second best player this season, when he first came I was sceptical, I'll admit I hadn't seen much of him so didn't know what he could offer that wasnt any better than the beautiful Juan Mata. (still sore he was sold to Man Utd) but I have been proved wrong. He was brilliant yesterday, as he was against the Pool and as he has been all season
- Now onto the season. Jose. If you are reading this then please dear God please play with some attacking intent in games. By all means shore up the defence but I thought that was the point in playing with those two holding midfield players? They drop back and create a six, while the attacking players attack? Don't like seeing Hazard try and dribble out from left-back every week. Use the squillion pounds worth of talent that we have in the squad, I would really like to see us play a bit more similar to Southampton. We have the energy and the drive in attack, Torres, Oscar, Willian, Hazard, Shurrle, Salah are all quick, (plus the players we have on loan) and can, as we have seen at times this season, track back. Why are we constantly defending on the edge of our box when we can defend on the half-way line? That way when we do break we are 30 yards closer to the opponents# goal? It would stop Torres being so isolated and having to hug the wings just to see the ball. (On that note, Jose have a word, he is a striker, tell him to stay central and run into the channels not sit in the channels and try to run central). Who knows he might even score a bit more if he stays central, sorta like the goal last night.
For next season I'd like to see Jose open up a little more and attack from the front (like we did against Arsenal) we shouldn't go into games defending our box like a little horse (yes it worked marvellously against Liverpool, but it won't work every time) We should be galloping into battle each game and taking it to other teams, given how much we have spent. Also, Jose complains about the strikers, its his job to improve them isnt it? All this talk of Lukaku going in the summer is horrible too, surely if there was a man Jose would want it is Lukaku? Quick, skillful, great finisher, big and powerful, he has all the attributes of our current three strike force in one and he is still only 20! I would have him as number 1 with Torres as 2 and Eto'o as third choice. Ba has been good to us but I dont think it's fair to keep him on (swap Ba for Lukaku at Everton?) Save the £50mil for Diego Costa and buy a left-back to replace Ashley? Also bye bye Cech and hello Courtois.
Anyway I'll sign off on one question to my fellow mailboxers, who are you annoyed about that your team is being linked with in the gossips and who would you rather have? I'm thinking Kroos to United, yes they need a midfielder but surely defensive midfield and defenders are priorities? They don't even know what to do with Mata and Kagawa how would they get Kroos in there too?!
Stefan (The little horse is boring me) D
Supporting Brits In Europe? Why?
Many times in the past I've had the same discussion about supporting British teams in European competition. I can not, for the life of me, bring myself to support another British team other than my own (Arsenal) in Europe. Why would I? A neighbour of mine is also a season ticket holder at Arsenal and I'll always remember hearing him screaming with joy when Utd won in 99.
A big Spurs fan I know went crazy when Liverpool scored the equaliser against AC Milan in 2005.
People say I should support the British club, why should I? I hate those teams for the rest of the season, why would I wish them well in another competition?
The only real attempt at an answer someone gave me was about it boosting our participants in Europe. Well I'd say that is not exactly the positive it sounds like. I've had to see my team reduced to celebrating fourth each year because of this co-efficiency thing. An indirect result of having four teams in the Champions League is a team that was challenging for the league each year now targets fourth.
I was massively delighted to see Chelsea get spanked last night and I hope their fans were happy to see us go out to Munich too.
Why Atletico Still Need To Sell
Unfortunately, teams like Athleti have to build their business model around being able to pick up talent, develop it, and sell it on. If you just look at their strikers over the last ten or so years you can see a distinct pattern emerging...Torres, Aguero, Falcao and now Costa...all sold on at a massive profit.
Due to the peculiarities of La Liga's TV deals, Real and Barcelona get the lion's share of revenue and the rest are effectively picking up the scraps. So when a team does begin to do well outside of the duopoly it isn't long before it gets asset-stripped by the bigger boys (even Bilbao haven't been completely immune to this predation, and that's a club built around local identity).
This isn't quite as pronounced in other top leagues, but the same logic more or less applies. A couple of good seasons is very unlikely to change the status quo, and unless it's backed by the billions of a sheik/oil baron/etc there isn't a strong likelihood of a team breaking through. We've also seen what happens when a team gambles its long-term future on a shot at the big time *cough* Leeds *cough* and we've all seen a league get won by comparative tiddlers for a number of years before normality asserts itself (the Bundesliga).
What this boils down to is that firstly, and rather obviously, dominant teams can easily double a player's salary, as well as putting them in the limelight so that lucrative endorsements follow. Whilst most of us would be more than happy on £30k a week, footballers operate in a different market and it's completely understandable that occasionally filthy lucre will overrule club loyalty. The implicit pact many clubs make with their players is that they will provide a springboard for them to go on to bigger and better things.
Secondly, they promise long-term success, either because they're footballing behemoths or are backed by oil money. Teams like Dortmund and Athleti have had to punch far above their weight to reach Champions League finals, and it's far from certain whether they have it in them to challenge over the longer term (consider for example, how Dortmund would cope if Klopp departed).
As much as I'd like it not to happen, next season Athleti will probably lose at least a couple of their key players, and Real will splurge another £100m on their squad. In the meantime we should sit back and appreciate that occasionally the stars align and a wonderful footballing team emerges - in the case of Dortmund and Athleti they hit the jackpot of possessing inspirational managers, some outstanding natural talent and the inculcation of an outsider mentality and turned it into something truly brilliant.
Mike (AUF WIEDERSEN PEP)
(Slightly Premature) End-Of-Season Awards
I know the season isn't finished yet but I can't see a handful of games changing an opinion that has been built over whole season. As there have been so many ups and downs this year I've decided to list the best and worst performers using a simple gold-silver-bronze medal system to keep things as short as possible.
Team of the season.
(Gold) Liverpool. Yes it's obvious but there are a number of factors that valorise their place on top of the podium. Regardless of whether they finish first, second or third, Liverpool have been the most exciting team to watch this season by a mile. As someone who considers themselves a neutral (though apparently that's just simply not possible anymore) I have particularly enjoyed Liverpool because they score and concede plenty. Sometimes they destroy teams, sometimes they win with a late winner such as against Man City. Put simply, they have overachieved and their season will be considered a huge success regardless of where they now finish. That they've done so whilst remaining a great advert for the Premier League as a spectacle only affirms my belief that they are the team of the year.
(Silver) Southampton - Excuse the nepotism but let me make my case. Of the 24 players to make an appearance in the league for Southampton this season, 14 of them played for the club when they were in League One. 13 of those 24 players are British. 11 of them are English. Five of them have come through the Saints academy. They have been exciting to watch and, despite the amount of media attention being over the top at times, are currently the champions for opportunities for young, British players. They have achieved their highest-ever points total/position in the PL. They currently have the highest average possession in the league, the fewest shots conceded per game, have had no red cards and have managed all this despite having to play Jos Hooiveld and Paulo Gazzaniga at times as well.
(Bronze) Crystal Palace - Let's have it straight; nobody, and I mean NOBODY could have predicted Crystal Palace would be in 11th position with 43 points with two games to go. It is simply extraordinary and while enormous credit obviously goes to Tony Pulis (more on him later), the players and fans deserve credit for their exceptional performances this year. Jedinak, Chamakh, Jerome, Speroni, Bolasie, Puncheon, Delaney, Ward...the list of outstanding performers goes on and on. While their football hasn't been as scintillating as many other teams, the players have all done jobs for the team which has resulted in an exceptional finishing position. Also I was lucky enough to be at Selhurst for the Saints away game I had shivers down my spine from the incredible atmosphere the Palace fans created. Well done.
(Gold) Manchester United - there wasn't really another candidate, was there? The problems have been dissected numerous times already so I'll summarise quite simply; United finishing seventh is simply unacceptable. What's worse is their performances have been so bad it's been cringe-worthy. The first season I remember as a boy was the 1993-94 season so I've only known United as the team you have to hate because they're so bloody good. This season has been nothing short of a disaster but despite having hated them for so many years I hope they improve next season. Seeing United look so poor has made me feel uncomfortable. Whoever is in charge next year I hope they sort out the situation immediately because another year of failure may prove to be the beginning of the end for one of football's greatest clubs.
(Silver) Aston Villa. This is where it got tricky. There have been so many poor teams in the league this year but I've gone for Aston Villa simply because they have hit so many new lows after several seasons of regression. 36 goals scored in 35 games is poor before you consider that they have actually handed out a few thumpings this year. They've failed to score on numerous occasions and have a terrible home record (I feel for their fans). They have been playing awful football and when Benteke is not in the team they look like a Championship side, albeit with a decent keeper. Villa still aren't safe but even if they manage to stay up the season has to be considered a dramatic failure. In some ways I feel for Paul Lambert because he is definitely trying to bring young players through and play a decent style of football but unfortunately he is failing miserably. I'll be surprised if he's still in charge come August.
(Bronze) Norwich. God this is getting tough. I've gone for Norwich ahead of the likes of Fulham or Cardiff because at least those two teams have been occasionally unpredictable and interesting to watch. Norwich have been as dire as they have been predictable. I like Chris Hughton as he genuinely seems like a decent chap and I always appreciated him for the work he did at Newcastle (and the way his hair matched their kit) but he just hasn't cut it at Norwich. They've spent a lot of money on players who haven't performed and look as though they've just been waiting for relegation all season. They should be put out of their misery in coming weeks.
This email is already too long so I'll speed things up now.
(Gold) - Luis Suarez. Little need for an explanation here. He's been absolute class all year and I refute the suggestion that he has underperformed in the big games. While he may not have scored against the other top-four teams he has assisted plenty and has scored big goals in other big games such as against United. Class.
(Silver) Yaya Toure - He came bloody close to being my number one. The guy frightens me. Anyone who has played football regularly has faced someone who just worries you every time they get the ball, especially when it's your job to mark them. As Alan Hansen would say; Pace. Power. Good passer. Good crosser. Great shot...the lad's got everything.
(Bronze) Raheem Sterling - did anyone see this coming? I truly hope this isn't just a flash in the pan because the boy looks incredible. Pace combined with a willingness to attack, good eye for a pass, composure in front of goal and the kind of confidence that allows you to play to the maximum of your ability has made Sterling one of the best performers this year. And he's only 19. Let's hope his development continues.
(Gold) Tony Pulis. Say what you want about the man's style or his cap but you can't ignore the job he's done at Crystal Palace. It's extraordinary. If you need reminding what an incredible job he's done just look at where Palace where in the league when he took over. Some bookies were almost at the point where they stopped taking bets on Palace being relegated. And then came Tony.
(Silver) Bobby Martinez. Everton finishing fifth isn't the biggest surprise but the manner in which they've gone about it has been amazing. To make such a huge change in playing style so successfully makes a mockery of the idea that managers need a whole season to impose their ideas. I remember watching Match of the Day after the first game of the season and they compared the average player positions under Martinez compared to Moyes. Possession went up as did the pass completion %. Martinez regularly adapted this team and tactics to combat those of his opponents and, for the most part, it has worked. It's a shame they probably won't get the Champions League place because they have been excellent all season.
(Bronze) Brendan Rogers. Yes Rodgers has made some questionable purchases during his time at Liverpool but he has brought CL football back to Anfield and has given them a genuine chance of winning the league. If that's not enough he has made Liverpool and absolute joy to watch and has won some huge games which, at the start of the season at least, looked highly unlikely. Whether he wins the league or not Rogers has done an incredible job.
(Gold) David Moyes. Where to begin? Much as with Man Utd above, the majority of the work has been done for me by pretty much every person in the media. The only thing I can really add is that never before in my life have I stood in front of a television screaming "What are you doing!? You can't say that! You're the ********* Manchester United Manager!". And that was just one of his press conferences.
(Silver) Chunky Pardew/Sam Allardyce. I'm cheating a bit here but allow me to explain why. If you looked at the positions these managers' clubs are in then you'd think that nothing was amiss. Management, however, requires more than just getting your team up the table. In Pardew's case performances this season have been pretty awful without Cabaye/Reme - and no team should be so reliant on just one or two players - but his head-shove in the Hull game was a new low for a man who's entire career has been littered with unacceptable touchline behaviour. If a footballer is asked for behave in a way befitting their role model status then the manager should be the model for the players. Pardew fails miserably in this category and should be ashamed of himself.
Fat Sam has been regularly derided for his team's style of play, and rightly so, but what really gets on my tits is when he always seems so surprised that he is so hated. It's not that your team plays dire football, Sam. It's that your team plays dire football and yet you act as though you are better than everyone else. It's your ego, mate. The reason people are now taking to Tony Pulis is because, despite generally playing boring football he doesn't come across as a trumped-up, know-it-all, smug pr*ck. You do. That's why your fans are calling for you to be sacked. You were brought in to do a job and you did it. If you get West Ham into Europe I'll happily eat my words but you cannot talk yourself up the way you do while only achieving the minimum by playing terrible football.
(Bronze) Ole Gunnar Solskaer. Potentially a controversial choice but I think that would merely be down to his popularity as a player. He definitely inherited a difficult job but the results and performances have not been at all good enough. I was at the game that Cardiff won at St Mary's and even the Cardiff fans I spoke to after the game weren't sure how they won. They were one of the worst teams I've ever seen play and a quick return to the Championship is surely on the cards. While this can't all be attributed to the baby-faced assassin he has not improved results or performances despite having a reasonable amount of time to have an impact.
That's all my awards handed out. Anyone think I'm way off?
Picking The World Cup Squad
With the announcement of the World Cup squad date, I've spent my lunch time like a 14-year-old, picking my 1st XI.
Basically, I think back five picks itself, and front six I'd mirror Liverpool, Everton and Southampton with their flexible movement and fast-paced pressing as much as possible, with Rooney/Welbeck/Lambert instead of Suarez, and The Ox/Barkley/Lallana instead of Coutinho:
Johnson | Cahill | Jagielka | Baines
Henderson | The Ox
Rooney | Sturridge
I'd take all those names for impact off the bench too/injuries to 1st XI, so that's 15 of my 23, with two GKs (I'd take Foster and Ruddy just because of Premier League experience) giving 17 and leaving six to use as cover holes in the squad.
- Barry gets in on this season's form for Gerrard instead of Carrick.
- Wilshere gets it for Henderson.
- Jones and Smalling I'd take as flexible cover across the RB and CB positions.
- One of Cole, Shaw, or possibly even Flanagan for LB, they're not going to play so probably Cole for penalties but I'd like to take one of the others.
- Milner gets the last place as a utility player who can do a defensive wide job, and other than Welbeck I don't have one.
(1) Hart (2) Foster (3) Ruddy
(4) Johnson (5) Cahill (6) Jagielka (7) Baines (8) Smalling (9) Jones (10) Cole/Shaw/Flanagan
(11) Gerrard (12) Henderson (13) The Ox (14) Sterling (15) Barkley (16) Lallana (17) Barry (18) Wilshire (19) Milner
(20) Rooney (21) Sturridge (22) Welbeck (23) Lambert
That squad would get me vaguely excited. Hodgson though will take Carrick, Carroll, Cleverley and Lampard. And probably start them with Milner.
David P (looking forward to the F365 England ladder!) Manchester
In the spirit of Jose Mourinho, I'd just like to say thank you to Football365 for introducing its readers to the term 'schadenfreude'. It hasn't yet become even slightly annoying.
Every day I wake up and am delighted to see that yet another Mailboxer has felt the need to shoehorn the word into their email. And it never seems at all laboured.
Chris, AFC, London