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Last Updated: 29/07/14 at 11:06

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United Woefully Short Of Defenders
The predictions game is something we mercilessly debate every pre-season, tinted by the colours of our preferred tribe. I'd like to rein in the sense, and perhaps even offer some sort of objectivity (lo!) to the argument.

I think it's safe to say that possible success is reliant on (not wholly) the depth of a club's squad, and of course the quality within that depth. Let's assume that an ideal squad compromises of two players in every position. First team and back up. To say that a squad is strong is to have two players of a high ability competing for one position, but moving aside quality for the moment, let's concentrate purely on head count for the foundation of the argument.

The squad you may build is defined by the desired system - for example a 3-5-2 should need six centre backs, four wing-backs, six central midfielders and four strikers. Apply to whichever formation desired (this makes for difficult system changes, but that is why you would have more than a 22-man squad).

Using the above idea, it's easy to identify where each club is deficient (or bloated), thus illustrating the strength of their current squad. Let's use Manchester United as a case study -

MU - 3-5-2

GK - De Gea + Lindgaard
CB - Smalling/Jones/Evans + M.Keane/?/?
WB - Shaw/Rafael + Valencia/?
CM - Carrick/Herrera/Mata + Fellaini/Kagawa/Cleverley
FW - Rooney/RVP + Welbeck/Hernandez

Players missing out because their preferred position isn't in the system - Nani, Young, Zaha, Januzaj - or overfilled position - Anderson (boohoo), Fletcher, Powell.

Feel free to continue senselessly arguing the quality of players available, but the above suggests that Manchester United, using the preferred LVG system, are alarmingly deficient in defensive positions.

If we could all agree that from hence forth we will apply this logic when arguing who has the bestest squad, or before making statements such as 'we need more midfielders', we'd all get along just fine.

There's More Than One Formation...

Reading the Transfer Blog and seeing all the Utd fans banging on about 3-5-2.

'Oh he's going to get this player because of 3-5-2.'

'He'll bin this player because of 3-5-2.'

'These players would never suit a 3-5-2.'

Good lord. You'd think Van Gaal just reinvented the wheel the way you're all going on about it. Yes, it's not an oft-used formation in this league but does that mean all your wingers are getting shipped out? Come on.

It's his preferred formation right now but making plans purely for one formation is asking for trouble and I wouldn't think he'd be that stupid. He'll understand you need flexibility and it's likely your 'outs' column won't be too hefty this window while he gets to know your squad properly. Sorry lads, you're probably stuck with Valencia, Young and Nani (with Nani being the most likely to move on IMO) for the foreseeable.

Yes, 3-5-2 can cover a lot of deficiencies in your squad, such as your crippling lack of pace in midfield (Herrera aside) and your weak defence but I'd bet my bottom dollar that you don't JUST buy players to play this system and that you probably won't end the season playing it.
Kris, LFC, Manchester

...I don't have an opinion on LVG other than 'this is gonna be interesting', but I have to say that this 3-5-2 formation is getting way too much hype. Adam Bate had some good tactical points, but 3-5-2 is a formation like any other: useful given the selection of players and opponent.

3-5-2 was used by Brendan Rodgers, mostly to accommodate two threatening strikers. However even Kenny Dalglish used 3-5-2 in a win against Chelsea, which was lauded by Zonal Marking and his 'strikers' were Kuyt and Meireles! The formation makes good sense against a 4-3-3 basically because you're overloaded both in the center and in defense, making it incredibly hard for the opposition to create that key transitional play between midfield and attack.

However everyone who uses a 3-5-2 in the league usually drops it after a while (I think Juve kept with it but haven't seen enough of them to comment). It works great in a tournament but if you try playing that every week people will wise up. 3-5-2 is incredibly susceptible to counter-attacks, particularly if the opposition has a midfielder or two capable of bursting runs.

Say you've got the ball in the other half. Your wing-backs are pushing up and supplying width when the ball is lost to the opposition. A runner pulls into one of the channels left open by the wing backs and a hoofed ball reaches him. Your three CB's now stretch out across the line, trying to occupy the space of a typical four-man line until you're wing backs return. This sparse back line is inevitable susceptible to any opposition player capable of beating your retreating players, either by starting position or pace. A half-decent cross or through ball and Bob's your uncle.

Basically, 3-5-2 ain't the new 4-3-3. It's usually a result of losing players (Strootman) in a key position, for which you change to this formation and have a few good games after which you have some not so good games and realize that's why you don't marry the mistress.
Stanley Millworth, Portland Timbers

What Next For Wilf?

Wilf Zaha is not a striker, he is a winger. If you put him down the middle then he doesn't have enough space to use his pace and speed of trickery to get round the back of players so to my mind, Van Gaal is essentially building the blocks to ship him out after he doesn't impress up top. It is a shame that such a talent, and this kid is special, has stalled and that his move to a big club looks like it hasn't worked. I'd love him to be given a run of games on the wing for United but I just can't see it.

His next move is important and while I'd love him back at Palace I would suggest he find a loan in the Spanish league. A season or two playing in La Liga would do wonders for him as I think he'd develop his technique a lot better over there. He'd also benefit from a game which gives him a little bit more time and also teach him when to pass and when to use a burst of pace. With full-backs pushing up the pitch a more common occurrence in that league he'd also develop some positional intelligence.

Unfortunately I think the more likely thing to happen is that he spends a season on loan at a lower-half Premier League team being criticised when he gambles and loses the ball and be sold next year for about £6m. That would be a real shame, for everyone, as he really is fun to watch when he is at the top of his game.

Paying Over The Odds

There's a lot of talk at the moment about paying excessive prices for British talent, usually guys who fall somewhere between the 'future first teamer' and 'current first teamer under the age of 26' labels. The thing is, from what I see I don't think it's just British players that are overpriced - it's about playing in the EPL.

Though experiment: two French strikers, one in the EPL, one in Ligue 1. Same age, similar level club, both have a nice first season scoring 15 goals. The one from the EPL club now has a 25M price tag, while the guy playing in France gets bought by Newcastle (one could assume) for 8-10M. It's more about the overexposure players get in the global monster that is the EPL. Take a club like Lille, if Callum Chambers came through the ranks there nobody is playing 16M for him - in a parallel universe, after a solid first season in Germany does Wilfred Bony get slapped with the you'll-have-to-pay-silly-money tag?

While for fairly obvious reasons a lot of the talent which comes through at EPL clubs is English, I think this has led to English players being incorrectly singled out as expensive. In reality it's the degree of exposure (in no small part for that snivelling, meretricious, detestable swarm of pond-scum you call the tabloid media - but that's a rant for another day) a player of any nationality gets in the EPL which lead to inflated prices. It's no wonder Arsene likes to nab his young talent for France/Spain/Germany.
Rowan Hansberry

...All the talk of the English premium is really started to annoy me. The premium is with all Premier League players, not just English ones. People use it as yet another stick to beat English players with (as if that's needed) but if you're proven in the Premier League, you are going to command a greater fee as the risk of the player not being good enough is far smaller than signing an unproven player from outside. The transfer of Lovren to Liverpool, Fellaini to Man Utd last summer and the impending Schneiderlin deal prove that nationality is pretty irrelevant when it comes to massive fees. If any of those players were English then the old 'English premium' rubbish would be trotted out, but because they're not it gets conveniently overlooked. The reason it seems English players go for more is because that is the nationality that transfers the most frequently, which is fairly obvious given that the most common nationality in the Premier League is still English.

Another point to make is that, whether the hipsters choose to believe it or not, there are very good young English players out there. Calum Chambers is one, and so guess what? They're going to cost a fair whack. Last year a similarly inexperienced Marquinhos joined Paris St Germain for £27million. Oddly I don't recall talk of the 'Brazilian Premium'. Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for large fees when they were very young, yet both have proved to be value for money, so saying that Wenger doesn't like English players because they're overpriced doesn't really make a lot of sense.
Matt (cannot justify £35m for Andy Carroll however), Bognor Regis

Don't Worry About Southampton

Ted can stop worrying about Southampton. Imagine a worst-case scenario and Schneiderlin, Rodriguez and Osvaldo all get sold and complete the 'exodus'. Southampton are then left with a squad including a Premier League standard core of Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Cork, Ward-Prowse, Davis, Wanyama, Ramirez. They are also left with one of the best academies in Europe. More importantly - Southampton will be left with close to £150million in transfer fees.

If the board make all of the money available they can spend more than Manchester City have ever spent in a season and if the board makes even two thirds of that money available for transfers Southampton can spend more than Abramovich has spent in any but one of the years he has been at Chelsea. This is a club that was League One three years ago. This is a club that was in administration, couldn't pay staff wages and was near bankruptcy five years ago.

When Cortese and Pochettino were talking about a project they weren't talking about building a title or Champions League-challenging side, they were almost certainly talking about the final stages of saving a football club from annihilation. With the modern stadium, successful academy, £75 million in TV rights, £150 million in transfer income and still (according to Wikipedia) able to name 22 firs- team players, I'd say "Way to go, Southampton...way to go".
Jonathan Jones

Madrid Will Sell Kroos Next Year

I agree with Tim Stannard's assessment of Toni Kroos being a great value signing, but not for the same reason. I think that Madrid bought him with the intention of selling him on next summer for a big profit to an English club. With the signing of James Rodriguez, Kroos will find probably find it hard to hold down a first-team space and I don't think that he came to Madrid to sit on the bench.

In the FFP era, making signings of players that you don't need but can sell on for a guaranteed profit is crucial. In Kroos, they will have one of the best passers and free-kick takers in the world, still 25 years old next summer, and on modest wages by Real's standards. With how mental transfer prices have become in recent years, I see no way how he is not worth at least 45 million Euros next year. Given that there are now five 'big' English clubs competing for four CL spots and the increasing cost of not qualifying, I could see United or Arsenal paying up to 50 million GBP for him, especially since they wouldn't need to pay him obscenely.
Adam, NYC

Phil Neville: YouTube Player

I couldn't agree more. In my office there are regularly youtube clips flying around on email of some young whippersnapper who has been linked with some club or another. Invariably sent by a fan of said club who will use this footage of a couple of step-overs and the odd dropped shoulder/defence splitting pass/shot spooned into the top corner from outside the box etc as undeniable evidence of the brilliance of this player.

My standard response is to say that if I were to take the time to review all of Phil Neville's 300+ appearances for Everton I honestly think I could compile a 3-4 minute compilation video that would make him look like one of the worlds most accomplished defensive midfielders.

And when I inevitably get fired from my job for spending too much time on the F365 transfer blog I may just have the time to do it.
Tim, EFC (if I have my way, future generations will call it 'the Neville Role'! Screw that Makelele nonsense!)

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sn'tthis strange. Last season we were worried that we were stuck with a Dinosaur in Moyes while Liverpool and Everton were disappearing into the distance with their young, spritely managerts, playing football from heaven. Progressive managers, they said. Managers who understand the modern game.........

Rodgers: The pressure's on


eing consistently and unrelentingly dog turd really takes it out of you. Try shadow boxing. That's what it's like watching Liverpool, punching thin air.

Neville: Reds need a rest


ood list, some crackers in there. For me, I'd have had Steve McManaman for Liverpool away at Celtic in the UEFA cup in 1997. I was in the ground that night and everyone kept screaming at him to make a pass, but he just kept going and going and going...brilliant, and in the dying minutes too.

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Mails: Quit Massaging Mourinho's Ego

That's the message from the afternoon mailbox after it was claimed that the Chelsea boss has transformed Cesc Fabregas into a complete player. Plus, more on Arsenal...

F365: Saving You From Bad Relationships

A cracking Mailbox, with thoughts on Chelsea, Willian, Jurgen Klopp, Brendan Rodgers and Aguero. Plus how Football365 saved one man from an unhappy relationship...

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