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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World Cup: Still Good
Can't say I agree that the World Cup has been a disappointment after the group stages. It has stopped being a free flowing goalfest, which is a shame, but instead we've been treated to some incredibly tight, tense affairs, where each chance, twist, and dramatic moment has been amplified all the more by the closeness of the games. Sure there are no real underdogs left in the tournament, but it's the semi-finals - there rarely are! Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, the USA and more all overachieved, and all pushed their more established opposition to breaking point. Writing that off as 'it was all nearly and they lost anyway' doesn't give enough credit to those sides, and how good those matches were.
The drama produced by the Netherlands and Brazil in both rounds has been cracking entertainment. I'd put Belgium-USA and Netherlands-Costa Rica up there with any game in the tournament. We don't have a dominant side, but that's made things more interesting in many ways. It would be better if the likes of Argentina and Germany had shown a bit more, but I don't think it's detracted from the overall tournament that much. Seems a shame to me to write off the tournament just because it hasn't been as open as the group stages were, I've enjoyed it immensely.
Van Gaal's Balls
To all the naysayers in the morning mailbox saying that Van Gaal shouldn't be hailed as a genius, I should just tell you that the "what if his decision hadn't worked?" argument is rather weak. The point is that his substitutions (hauling off Van Persie in the round of 16, putting on Krul in the quarters) have worked. This is without even talking about his tactical tweaks (putting on Huntelaar and going 4-2-2-2 for the final 60 minutes against Costa Rica).
He might not be a genius, but what United fans appreciate is the will to change things, changes that can bring you massive flak if they don't work. This is a refreshing change from the era of Moyes' pragmatism and his safety-first approach.
AB MUFC (If my aunty had balls...) Atlanta, Stateside
...Some very spurious logic in the mailbox this morning.
Kieran, plastic LFC fan: So you say that Louis Van Gaal should've made an attacking substitution against Costa Rica, then you support that assertion by pointing to an instance where Van Gaal's atacking subsitution failed to work? Riiiight. (Also, it's 'Sneijder', Kieran, not 'Schneider'. We'll thank you for not confusing us with the Germans.)
Dom, London says Van Gaal would be a 'reckless maverick' if Holland had lost after the keeper subsitution. Well, duh. That's what 'taking a risk' is, Dom. If the risk fails to pay off, the risk taker looks stupid. If it does pay off, he's a hero. Do you think Maradona would be revered in Argentina if his risky use of the 'Hand of God' had resulted in a red card instead of a goal? Or that Charles Lindbergh would be an American icon if he'd crashed into the middle of the ocean? On this occasion, Van Gaal's risk paid off very handsomely, and so praise is due.
Stick is due too though, for failing to replace an absolutely abject Robin van Persie. The man got caught offside countless times by four defenders whom, with the best will in the world, few of us would be able to name. Then, on one of the few occasions he did get through unflagged, he failed at one of the most elementary aspects of the game: 'making contact with the ball when taking a shot'. If Van Gaal really has those big brass balls that Foootball365 keeps talking about (get help), then he really ought to give the The Hunter a much deserved start against Argentina.
Joe (Revenge for 2010? Check. Overcoming penalty trauma? Check. Revenge for 1978 and 1974? Coming up.), Dutch Londoner
...Just as predictable as the "fawning" over Van Gaal is the cool, anti-establishment backlash over the "fawning" (for fawn, read praise) from those desperate to prove that they haven't had the wool pulled over their eyes, and in fact, Van Gaal is good, but not particularly good.
Facile comparison to Moyes along the lines of "if Moyes did that, what would people say?" (rather ignoring the fact that he didn't. just like if Messi had bitten someone, he'd get a ban too. But he didn't) was less easy to foresee, but I'd still have taken odds of around 5-1.
But really, did you have to print as your lead anti Van Gaal letter one that:
•Seemingly manages to criticise Van Gaal for preparing his sub keeper for the eventuality of coming on in penalties, then does it, then succeeds, because having done the groundwork to be able to do that, actually doing it become an easy decision. Bit like lampooning someone who climbs Mount Everest for the "easy task" of sticking a flag in it.
•Says if he was a genius he'd be beating Costa Rica a million - nil, and they'd already have given him the World Cup because THAT'S WHAT GENIUSES DO!! No regard for any nuances then, like the fact Costa Rica's keeper had a blinder, the fact that Costa Rica were clearly more suited to the climate, and that sometimes it's just hard to break down ultra-organised teams in a one-off knockout match? Nah, if he was truly a genius, he'd have done to Costa Rica what Chris ITFC did to them when he was Holland on FIFA. Football is a lot like computer games actually.
•Actually uses this sentence: "To be honest if the penalty result had gone the way of the Central Americans what's to say that the result wouldn't have been in the style of a certain David Moyes?" What on earth does this mean? It didn't go the way of the Central Americans! What's David Moyes got to do with this? What do you mean "in the style of David Moyes"? Did Man U batter teams like Holland did, but eventually win the game? Would Moyes have ever made a huge decision like Van Gaal did? What is the point of the comparison? I genuinely don't get it.
Football is a difficult game (whatever Tim Sherwood says), and just because someone is brilliant, doesn't mean they win every game 15-0 and win the award of Most Genius-y Genius of the Year every week. Winning at the top level is often by fine margins (except for Man U against any Spanish team it seems), and so you have to be impressed at the decisions and moves that give your team a slender advantage over the other. That's what Van Gaal did. He had a plan, executed it to perfection but is criticised for not living up to bizarre standards set by Chris ITFC, who, is still perhaps scarred by Man U's 9-0 win over Ipswich Town in the mid 90s, and just wants to console himself that such a result is actually pretty normal and any old genius can do it and if they don't, they're not a genius?
Shaun (Van Gaal for president! Of whoever really, don't mind, I just think he deserves that sort of a title, it could be a of a University Bellringing society for all I care, I just think he's clearly Presidential) Livingston
Just read Kieran's mail this morning and I have to say I found it both shocking and disgusting. I probably would have choked on my cornflakes if I ever ate them for breakfast or spat my tea on my keyboard if I was drinking a cup at that exact moment.
Personally, I'm just very disappointed that this substitution/tactic that van Gaal used 13 years ago was not picked up in the interview process. I find it sickening that United have once again botched the recruitment process of their manager. Does anyone have Ed Woodward's phone number? Maybe he can still get Moyes back?
I'm dreading more revelations like this coming out.
AS Camden (disgusted).
Pool The New Spurs?
After a better than expected season a team led by a young, admired manager is challenging to get back in with the big boys but are hotly tipped to sell their star player to Spanish giants for an absolute fortune. Before selling they buy in host of exciting players from across Europe. Lots of talk of how Elvis has been sold but it is OK as the Beatles have been signed as his replacement.
A few months later, the young admired manager has been dumped after failing to get the performances expected and is replaced by a couple of former players who ensure that the team remains a good joke for the rest of the league.
Jason McAteer and Neil Ruddock to be in the Anfield dugout by February?
Jo (Scouse maths says that even though I wasted work time to write this my boss shouldn't worry as that time is sunk and only what else I could do this afternoon matters)
...Is £25m the starting price for every singletransfer nowadays?
Here's a little comparison of two attacking players who were plying their trade in the Portuguese Primeira Liga in the 2013/14 season.
Lazar Markovic: 5 goals in 26 appearances
Bebé: 12 goals in 27 appearances
One is now apparently on the verge of being transferred for £25m, the other is (probably quite rightly) dismissed as a bit of a joke despite scoring twice as many goals in the same amount of games for a significantly worse team who only beat relegation by 3 points.
LOH, Basel asks pertinent question in 'would the FA prefer to be able to call on a small number of highly talented individuals, or a larger group of mediocre talent?'.
Many have raved about the team performances of the smaller nations at this world cup. This is largely due to the settled teams brought about from a smaller pool of talent.
So, don't moan about foreigners and the fewer English players rising to the top, but take advantage of it. Introduce central England contracts along similar lines to the ECB. This way the FA pays a portion of the players salary, but in return gets greater access to the player for England Squad training. Centrally contract (say) 16-23 players and have these train together 1 day per week. Then only adjust these players every season.
This will give us an opportunity to work on a style of play (hell even a Plan B) rather than relying of pointless friendlies when half the players don't turn up anyway.
Lee M, The Mighty Gills