The debate over the importance of pre-season continues, including a league table from last season for stats fans. Plus travelling to watch your team and Blackpool...
We have some conclusions from Louis van Gaal's perfect start, plus a dismissal of fantasy football, worries about La Liga's greediness and thoughts on Real with Ham-ez...
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I'm writing in reply to Dan's piece on Italy. Are Italy really resurgent? Is it wise to take only competitive matches as an indicator of how good a team really are? When Italy reached the Euro 2012 final they had won just two of their last eight games, and since the start of 2012 they have won only 11 of 35. It's perhaps a bad comparison but that's the form of a lower mid-table Premier League side. Statistically, this is as poor as Italy have been since 1984. And they reached a major final two years prior to that as well!
However Italy are in many ways the exact opposite to England in that they rise to the big occasion. If we take Argentina, Brazil, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia and Spain and look at all their results since 1970, we see that in terms of their record overall, Italy are eighth (of 11) in the standings. That's lower than England, which may surprise a few. However, when we only look at games between the sides mentioned above, Italy are fourth, and if we restrict it further, to only competitive games, they are second, only behind Brazil.
Basically, Italy love playing against the big boys. The draw against Luxembourg is typical of Italy. This is why I'm backing them to perform against England and Uruguay and shoot themselves in the foot by dropping points to Costa Rica.
It's dangerous to write Italy off of course, but with their main goal threat being Mario Balotelli, who despite the hype is yet to establish himself as a genuine one in two goalscorer at international level, and with the only goals from midfield likely to come from Pirlo's set pieces, I find it hard to justify backing Italy to make it out of the group.
Right To Reply
I know you don't normally post replies-to-replies in the mailbox, but Paul Watson's entry about Liverpool's defenders has called for one:
1. First, set pieces are defended by entire teams, not by defenders only. Second, defending set pieces is something you work on - signing new defenders who are unfamiliar with the system and teammates is no quick fix.
2. Individual errors come from discomfort and unfamiliarity with the system. This is why Brendan took responsibility for the errors Touré made, for example. Again, Skrtel's improvement season-to-season proves that players can adapt if given time.
3. The goals conceded due to committing too many men forward (Crystanbul aside) were typically due to midfielders not providing enough cover, rather than defenders being stranded upfield.
If buying new centre backs was a guarantee of improving these problems, I would be all for it. But Sakho proves that is not the case. Rodgers' system is quite different from what most centre backs are used to. It takes time to adapt.
Oliver (unless we signed Mascherano as a CB from Barca...?) Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland
Lallana Can Snuff Out Pirlo
A good article by Ian Watson on how (or not) to nulify the threat of Pirlo, his conclusion being pretty much 'Not Rooney'. Welbeck is highlighted as the man for the job and he may well be. However, it surprises me that Adam Lallana hasn't been mentioned.
He headed the Premier League last year in winning the ball in the opposition's half. This was due to his ability to close down and harass backed up with excellent fitness and tactical intelligence. In turn when he gets the ball with it he usually does something fairly useful to put someone in on goal. Or a Cruyff turn.
Still On Suarez
As I said in my email yesterday, Suarez is a very good footballer, he is an excellent player but the responses of Liverpool fans this morning have justified my point completely. Oliver Thompson trying to say that Suarez would have surpassed Ronaldo this season if Stevie G let Luis hit the 13 penalties Liverpool were awarded this season summed it up for me. This attitude that Liverpool fans seem to have of the slightest criticism to one of their players is wrong no matter what it is, and anyone raising a valid point is automatically a troll. All these stats thrown out about Copa America and World Cup qualifying goals and things like " In 2012/2013 Suarez scored six league goals and had two assists against the other Premier League big six..." WOW, REALLY!! Somebody get that man a Ballon d'Or!! Stats can back up any argument, just like 16 of his 31 goals this season came against the leagues bottom five clubs. Flat truck bully?
Lindsay, Melbourne says "He was also a standout performer at the last World Cup where he helped (literally single-handedly!) Uruguay to a semi-final." Ha-ha. He hand-balled. Standout performer? He scored two goals against South Korea and one against Mexico. You do realise that his countryman Diego Forlan won the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player and finished joint-top scorer? But of course Suarez was the main man, cos he plays for Liverpool now doesn't he? Cristiano Ronaldo actually single-handedly got Portugal to the World Cup this year, his performances and goals in the play-off with Sweden and constantly this season have been on another level to anyone else in Europe.
Until this season Suarez was known more for the Evra incident and being a bitey, diving, handballing, cheating so-and-so. He scored 31 goals this season - a grand total of nine of them came against teams above 11th the league. He has only ever scored five goals in the Champions League and they came four years ago - against PAOK, Auxerre and Dynamo Kiev.
He is an excellent player, but please stop trying to compare him to the world's very best. Until he consistently performs at the very highest level, he isn't one of them.
Conor, (going back under my bridge), London
...We all may agree to disagree on whether or not Suarez is world class in the same bracket as Ronaldo & Messi etc but I think most of us can still agree on the fact he is a world class Twunt.
Paul Murphy, Manchester
Giver Her A Hand
A hat-tip to Lindsay, Melbourne for the correct use of 'literally' while mentioning that Suarez literally single-handedly took Uruguay to the WC semi-final.
I am literally standing up and applauding.
Remembering Every Republic Of Ireland World Cup Memory, Ever.
As an Irishman, we probably have a higher memories to World Cup ratio than a lot of other countries.
Sheedys goal v England in Italia 90; Packie Bonner's face as he hoofed the ball up to Niall Quinn to equalise v the Dutch in the same tournament; the penalty shootout v Romania; the heartache v Schillaci's Italy; USA 94 Ray Houghton chipping the keeper to beat Italy in Giants Stadium; Japan/Korea 2002, Robbie Keane equalising v the Germans; Damien Duff v Saudi Arabia; not realising we were playing against 10 men against Spain and losing on penalties; we all dream of a team of Gary Breens.
I guess what I am saying is, this email has no point other than to say, God I wish Ireland were there this summer.
Dear Mr Mailbox Editor (Who puts empty milk bottles back in the fridge? Still living with Mum so never had to even think about milk bottles before).
Men, all men that live with anyone, and probably a good few that live on their own (Ah sure the fridge door is nearly empty and the empties will keep the full ones from tipping over). Otherwise we'd have to wash them and we can't be having that.