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Big Weekend‘s little brother
Southampton-Burnley. These teams have almost identical GF/GA: Southampton are 9/10, Burnley 9/9. Which just goes to show it’s all a matter of perspective. Burnley have hit the heights with timely goals and superb goalkeeping (Nick Pope ranks first among league shot-stoppers, just ahead of David de Gea). Southampton are on the skids with a sluggish attack and a substandard ex-England netminder. This is likely to be a low-scoring affair, with Ashley Barnes throwing his weight about and Manolo Gabbiadini and/or Shane Long finding space difficult to come by. Sofiane Boufal (dribbler) seems to be ahead of Nathan Redmond (passer) at the moment—which is more likely to unlock Burnley’s defence? Jack Cork has been in good form lately, and although he’s not going to win a match for you all by himself, his steady endeavour should be exactly what’s needed in a war of attrition like this.
Stat: Southampton are last in the league in aerial duel percentage, at 45.1%. (Guess who’s first. Guess ten more times. Give up? It’s Manchester City, at 62.1%.)
Tottenham-Crystal Palace. They couldn’t, could they? Of course they could, not because they’re Spurs but because Palace play football somewhat differently from Real Madrid. Tottenham have had some difficulties breaking down defences at home (Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth), and Roy Hodgson wasn’t born yesterday. A 4-1-4-1 with Ruben Loftus-Cheek behind Wilfried Zaha would fill the bill under the circumstances, and Luka Milivojevic has been outstanding breaking up play in recent games. A couple of weeks ago Mauricio Pochettino was hammered for breaking the team’s momentum in the Carabao Cup, but you can bet if they struggle here Spurs will be slated for relying too much on the momentum from midweek. Toby Alderweireld is injured, which might suggest a back four, but would a back four work without him in the lineup–especially with Hugo Lloris out as well?
Stat: Crystal Palace (four goals) have taken six more shots than Watford (15 goals).
Everton-Watford. No surprise that expected goals models show Everton significantly underachieving—but that means they’re not as bad as their results, and are due for a rebound of some kind. Meanwhile only three sides have conceded more goals than Watford, and they’ve gone six straight games without a clean sheet. So this might be the time for Everton to play aggressively, except that doesn’t seem to be working against anybody at all. In addition, since Troy Deeney has been punished for attempting to mold Joe Allen’s face (unfair—Jacob Epstein would have been paid for that), André Gray will get the call against a slow Everton back line. What David Unsworth is thinking is anybody’s guess, but at the very least we can hope to see Gylfi Sigurdsson at number 10 instead of striker. Nineteen-year-old DM Beni Baningime didn’t look bad at all against Leicester or Lyon, so he might just get his first league start.
Stat: Everton have eight more key passes than Watford, but Watford have four more assists.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA
It’s dustbin time
Dear Mr Wenger,
As a long time reader of F365 (it is known), I implore you to give this request some consideration.
Please throw Messrs Coquelin and Walcott in the bin. Not figuratively, not metaphorically, but literally. Build a big, comfortable (I’m not wishing to be unkind here…) wheelie bin, and make them sit in it for the remainder of their contracts.
Every time I watch Coquelin overhit yet another pass, I dream of the improvement a large bag of sand would bring to the team in his position. Every time I watch Walcott put clear on goal and subsequently fall over or scuff the ball, I wonder how much the player who released him would prefer to play with Sir David Attenborough running through onto the pass.
On the plus side, it must be quite reaffirming for the likes of Willock, Nelson and Maitland-Niles to realise that deposing these utter buffoons is all that stands between them and ten years at Arsenal.
Some Arsenal questions
How sh*t is Theo Walcott?
Why is Debuchy still allowed to call himself a footballer?
Between Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson, and Nketiah, which career will Man City ruin?
How many great performances does Wilshere have left in the bag before he leaves in Jan?
How sh*t is Theo Walcott?
Is it just me, or was Elneny actually quite good at Centre back?
Is Richmond Boakye just Bendtner in disguise?
Am I the only one who found this Arsenal performance to be more entertaining to watch than any of the first team league performances?
If Arsenal make it past the Round of 32, will Wenger bring in the big names for Europa fixtures or is this just a continental Micky Mouse cup for him?
Why were the Emirates’ stands almost empty at 85 minutes? The last 8 minutes sounded like an away fixture.
How sh*t is Theo Walcott?
Would a team of ten Wilsheres and a taller goalkeeper make it into the top four?
When Francis Coquelin does step overs, does anyone else laugh so hard they almost piss themselves?
On Unsy and football management
The idea of the Football ‘Manager’ is in its final death throes. Like it or not, the Football Manager is now being replaced by the Head Coach. Gone are the days when a manager was responsible for tactics, training, player transfers, contract negotiation and so on. Now the modern head coach is a figure in charge of organising tactics, rubber stamping transfers already made by a director of football, and generally being the face of the football club hierarchy to the outside world.
With increasing complexity comes increasing specialisation. This is logically and sensibly the way forward, especially for elite clubs where the tasks involved in running a club are immense. Imagine, for a second, walking into a hospital and the doctor you see is not just in charge of diagnosing and treating you but also responsible for hiring nurses and renewing their contracts, calculating the hospital budgets, and running all the staff training courses. This would be crazy.
Whether its machoism, or something else, I don’t know. But there is still a still large majority of British managers who cannot accept not having total control at a club. This attitude sums up why David Unsworth shouldn’t get the permanent mangers job at Everton. After reading Unsworth’s comments after the game against Lyon, it is clear that he doesn’t understand this concept.
“Sunday is a huge game for me, huge game for the club”.
Check. Yes David. Yes, it is.
“..and I’ve left the players in no uncertain terms that it’s a huge game for them.”
Whoa! Stop there David. No, its not.
What I imagine, is that Unsworth has furiously explained to them how it’s so important for them to win on Sunday. I ask, why? Say the Everton team lose on Sunday, will any of them be sacked? No. If they lose every game until the end of the season, will any of them be sacked? No.
In this football world, where a manager is simply a cog in a wheel, and a transient one at that, they have very little power over the players. If players decide to down tools they know that in about ten games, the manager will lose his job.
Those in charge of football clubs nowadays need to have a different relationship with their players, built on respect and camaraderie, rather than the traditional boss/peon roles where respect is demanded and not earned. Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”, It’s time, finally, for British managers to become more intelligent.
Is this the most important transfer window in history?
Is Everton‘s potential business in January the most important transfer window for any club in Premier League history?
Although obviously not the worst squad in the division in terms of overall talent, it is quite clearly the most lop-sided; probably the most ill put-together squad I can remember. In defence they have 2 over-the-hill centre halves and the decent-but-nothing-more Michael Keane, their best right is seriously crocked and it must be doubtful he can return to anything like his best level this side of spring, their left back is also the wrong side of 30 and not the player he was and they have no adequate replacements for either.
In midfield, they have some reasonable options in terms of winning the ball back and in Davies, arguably their best player, a decent ball carrier, but out wide it’s once again ageing players in Lennon and Mirallas, and kids in Vlasic, Lookman and Calvert-Lewin. In the hole, they’re having a right royal tussle to see who can be crowned worst signing of the season between Klaassen (a classic example of good in Holland, not good enough for the prem) and Sigurdsson, who are both very one paced, and then Wayne dropping back to make matters worse with his own particular brand of stodgy football.
Up front, it’s Wayne leaving his position, the inexperienced Calvert-Lewin and the, at the moment at least, out of his depth Sandro. Rooney looks like the only one who you’d back to finish any of the few chances that do get created, so probably has to play.
As I see it, they can appoint Dyche, they can appoint Allardyce, they can appoint Sir Alex with Arrigo Sacchi as his assistant and they still wouldn’t be able to get much of an improvement, because there’s no tactical setup that can mask that many flaws in the playing staff. Sit deep and there’s no one to hold up a long ball and no pace to counter. Shift the defence forward 10 yards to accommodate the lack of pace going forward and the lack of pace at the back will be exposed. Haven’t got anything out-wide, so can’t go for a simple 442. Can’t play a van Gaal style possession based game because too many of the squad aren’t technically accomplished enough to do it. Unless they can get in at least 3 or 4 of the following; a centre-half, a full back with some pace, wingers of any description and a striker that can either hold the ball up or with some pace and movement, I honestly think they’re screwed.
Despite not being a fan myself, one of my best mates is, so they’re a team I always look out for and one that gets tactically de-constructed over a drink on a regular basis and as it stands, with their current playing squad, I think they’re sleep walking into a relegation battle, and quite possibly going down. With the promoted teams looking well-organised and competent and there being no basket-case club like Villa or Sunderland to prop the division up (Roy and Wilf seem to have lifted Palace), it’s shaping up to the be the sort of season where staying up might require a decent points total. If they don’t get January right, they really could be in big, big trouble. Time for Steve Walsh to earn his pay.
Lewis, Busby Way
More Europa League thoughts
*Kobenhavn (F.C Copenhagen) sit top of Group F, albeit on goal difference, despite having only won one of their 4 games. The top scoring team of the same group, Lokomotiv Moscow, are only in third having scored 5 goals after 4 matches.
*Three of the top 5 goalscorers in the competition this season are found in Group H, where Zenit and Sociedad have been rather dominant.
*I can’t tell which is the worst team of the competition between Vardar Skopje and Maccabi Tel Aviv. While Maccabi are yet to score, Vardar have conceded 17 goals already.
*Yesterday finally saw the first wins of the competition this season for Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin, who everyone expected to run away with Group J. Ostersunds and Zorya continue to hold the top 2 positions.
*Lazio have been incredible to watch this season and are now the only team with a perfect win record in the competition after seeing off Nice in a tight encounter at the Stadio Olimpico. They have already qualified as the top team in their group with two games to spare after beating Nice home and away.
*Group I has sucked the joy out of football. Red Bull Salzburg, Marseille, Konyaspor and Vitoria Guimaraes have been competing to see who comes up with the most stale display of the competition.
*Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade to most of us) have scored 2 goals and conceded 2 goals in 4 games of football. Just wow. Also in this group, FC Koln actually have a chance of qualifying behind Arsenal even though they lost their first three matches.
Greg Tric, Nairobi.
Ok, so GJD, Merseyside Red decided to go on a little rant in yesterday’s mailbox about how boring Mourinho is. Let’s have a look a few stats shall we?
In his 2 full seasons in charge of Porto they were the highest scorers in each season
Inter were top scorers in Serie A in both of Mourinho’s seasons in charge
In each of his 3 seasons in charge of Real Madrid they scored over 100 league goals each season outscoring Barcelona 326 to 324 in that time period.
And Manchester United have this season scored 23 league goals so far second highest in the league and 6 more than the ever so entertaining Liverpool. This is also 42.59% of the goals scored by United all of last season, and 46.93% of the league goals for the 2015-16 season.
On a personal note, after having to suffer through LVG and his boring and much talked about ‘philosophy’ I would take Jose’s style of ‘boring football’ any day of the week.
I know what they say about opinions, but I firmly believe this is an England squad to get excited about. Kudos to Southgate on the youthful additions – A promising pacey, rangy striker. Two young, dynamic, technically proficient central midfielders (my god how England need that), and a promising young centre half (another significant weak spot for England). No one can possibly suggest Smalling and The Ox deserved to be in the squad, and Sturridge’s fitness is so unreliable (irrespective of his quality) there is no point risking him for friendlies. I’m not Ashley Young biggest fan, but there is no arguing with his form and experience, and if we’re going to play wingbacks is a low risk inclusion.
Personally (it’s an opinion, calm yourself) if big Gaz can keep Hart and Henderson away from the starting 11 … happy days.
City are too good…
As a (almost) lifelong Man Utd fan it is with great anguish that I say Man City are on a different planet. I’ve just watched them completely dominate a very talented Napoli team in a fabulous game of footie.
The way they kept nonchalantly passing the ball from the back was very Barcelona in their pomp.
Except this city team have an overall swagger that even Peps Barcelona might envy.
They possess so many tricky little f**kers in their team it makes me sick with envy. Sterling (a player I’ve written off in the past) was at times sublime yesterday. I mean I haven’t been paying attention obviously coz when the bleeding f**k did city become the best team on the sodding planet??
Meanwhile Utd stodge along to another fluky victory. While our inferior players mope around the pitch like they hate going to work like the rest of us.
Watching Aguero deftly torment the Napoli defenders got me thinking about our fiendishly expensive frontman keeping the ball for all of 2 seconds against euro also rans…
Dark times indeed I’m watching the enemy from now on.
Robin, Man Utd (sad)
An important point
Funny how people game seemingly watch games with different views altogether. Yes, City did completely overwhelm Napoli and 4 goals is a great tally. However, this only happened after Ghoulam got injured and Maggio came on for him. Before then, Napoli was leading 1-0, City was not even getting a sniff at goal and Napoli was pure class. Obviously, when Napoli has to throw on a guy like Maggio, a guy who makes running with the ball look difficult, then City’s better players will just wreak havoc. Don’t just look at the scoreline… Spurs’ on the other hand dismantled a Real team, and had to play with their own Maggio (Sissoko, obvi).
Allardyce’s whining about not getting the top jobs “because foreigners”, combined with his apparent belief that he could manage perfectly well at Bayern or Madrid if he was only given the chance, falls down on one very big point: he did actually GET a top job and he showed, for all his bleating, that he simply didn’t have the strength of personality to deal with it.
Very early on, he was asked what he was going to do about Wayne Rooney basically ignoring tactical instructions and wandering all over the pitch, out of position. His response?
“Today Wayne played wherever he wanted to. […] I can’t stop Wayne playing there. This is the most decorated outfield player in England. […] it’s not for me to say where he’s going to play.”
Yes, actually, it is. Or it’s supposed to be. That’s kind of why you’re being paid millions. With that kind of lack of assertiveness, how the hell would Allardici cope with the rampant, alpha-male, multiple egomaniacs of Madrid, PSG, Barca or Bayern…? Quite simply, he wouldn’t. He’d be laughed out of the dressing room and onto the first flight home.
Seriously, he should stick to being a big fish in a small pool. And stop f*cking moaning — he should be thankful that he’s lucky enough to be a multi-millionaire for basically doing a decent job with smaller teams, out of the intense pressure that he would obviously melt under.
(There’s a secondary point about it possibly being better if you’re not known for being so openly corrupt that, the moment you get any kind of genuinely high profile job, people can trap and expose you with ease, which might make European giants reluctant to employ you in the first place, but that’s probably best left out of the argument).
Best British performance in Europe?
In lieu of yesterday’s seemingly watershed moments for British clubs (City and Spurs in particular), I decided to think off the top of my head the best results/performances in European competition from our boys over the past few years. There is no particular formula or algorithm used here, nor have I thought too hard so don’t butcher me. Vaguely took into consideration: squad quality, context and how emphatic the performance was. Just thought I’d try and provoke a little discussion. Plus, who doesn’t like making lists?
6) Man City vs Barcelona, 3-1, 2016
City have, it’s fair to say, more or less spluttered through the Champions League. This team has a 50% win rate against a peak Bayern Munich, but also lost to this Barcelona team 4-0 a few weeks beforehand. They dominated PSG home and away in 2015, and then managed 1 meagre shot on target over two legs in the semi-final. In the 2016-17 season, City started fantastically, winning 10 games in a row, but had just started stumbling, while Barca were looking good. Not amazing, but still pretty good. Following Messi’s goal midway through the first half, City woke up and put in a performance that felt like a watershed moment. We saw glimpses of the City we’ve seen this season, with KDB excelling from deep and Sterling playing how we should really start expecting from him in Europe now.
5) Celtic vs Man City, 3-3, 2016
Brendan Rodgers is going to always be a pariah in the English press. Lots of the public and press felt betrayed by him, as his Liverpool team were supposed to be The Next Big Thing. Since his sacking, he’s been allowed to cultivate his undoubtedly attractive style of play in the greenhouse of passion that is Celtic Park far away from the Fleet Street cutting floor. Celtic were supposed to be the whipping boys of the group, especially coming up against the mighty Manchester City (their start alluded to earlier; this match precluding said stumble). What followed in the next 90 minutes was a terrific showing, which really felt like a watershed moment for Rodgers. City weren’t given a second’s rest on the ball, as Celtic, led by the superb Mousa Dembele, created chance after chance in a match they really should have won.
4) Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea, 1-2, 2017
Strange how such a performance, just a few weeks ago, can be forgotten so easily. Perhaps the sole reason Conte is still in charge is down to the showing this night. Yes, Atletico have stumbled massively this season (drew 6 of the last 7), but they are still a tremendously difficult team to beat. They still line up with the perennially-impervious Godin and the revitalised Savic, and their new stadium is still a complete cauldron. A goal before half-time could have easily knocked the stuffing out of Conte’s men, but this is a pre-crisis Chelsea. We saw the 2016-17 Chelsea team for the rest of the second half, in which they were truly magnificent. Eden Hazard finally put in a memorable Champions League performance, and Morata led the line like a £60m+ striker should. With the galling figure of Diego Costa literally watching over him, and with the lights shining brightest, Chelsea’s new Big Man Up Top was instrumental in the fightback. It truly felt like a watershed moment for the Spaniard, who Chelsea fans could really get behind now (a bit of faith goes a long way, Blues!) And then the winner, dear God, what a goal. To ignore the easy option to stick it in the mixer, and work an injury time winner from a deep free-kick… surely the goal of the competition thus far.
3) Tottenham Hotspur vs Real Madrid, 3-1, 2017
Similar to the Atleti vs Chelsea game, the significance of this result is tarnished slightly by the opposition’s current state. However, the ferocity and almost temerity Spurs showed in standing in the face of the reigning European champions makes this undoubtedly the bravest European performance of the last ten years. Powered by the belief sprouted in the Bernabeau two weeks ago, and the desire to bounce back from defeat on Saturday, Spurs thoroughly outplayed Real Madrid in what really feels like a watershed moment. Following the previous season’s utter damp squib of a European campaign, the way Spurs have conducted themselves this season has been majestic. It is largely irrelevant that their main qualification rivals are horrendously out-of-form, because Spurs haven’t allowed them the opportunity to play themselves back into form. Pochettino’s tactics and lineups have been absolutely perfect, as his young Spurs team seem to be maturing more by the week.
2) Napoli vs Manchester City, 2-4, 2017
Oooh, controversy! I’m puzzled why it’s controversial actually, to suggest that City’s win last night was a better achievement that Spurs’. Madrid are currently sat in 3rd place in their division, 8 points behind leaders Barca after 10 games after being outplayed by 13th place Girona. Napoli are top of their league, 2 points clear of 2nd place and having not lost a home match since March. I don’t need to inflate this fixture anymore than has been done nauseously over the past month or so. I believe that following last season’s mistakes and immaturity, this season’s double victory over the phenomenal Napoli, this could be a true watershed moment for the blue Manchester team. Is John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi really one of the best centre-back partnerships in Europe? Is Kevin de Bruyne really transforming into a combative box-to-box midfielder? Is Fabian Delph actually a Champions League-quality player? The reason I rate this victory so highly is due to the character shown by Pep’s expensive fledglings. No matter how much money is spent, the players must bond and believe in what they’re playing. The first 30 minutes saw them battle and grind against a Napoli in full flow. But even then, they only had 3 shots on target, 2 of which were comfortable saves. The next 60 were breathtaking. To visit the San Paolo and beat Sarri at his own game shows immense character, ability, tactics and cajones. Bravo, City.
1) Liverpool vs Dortmund, 4-3, 2016
Hipster teams. It’s a dirty term, one used by those who aren’t quite aware how good these teams on the cusp of the A-list really are. Dortmund are the stereotypical hipster team. They have players who everyone has heard of but hardly ever seen, with everyone and their goldfish hearing about Aubameyang’s goal record, Gundogan’s creation and Reus’ sheer ability. This Dortmund team had destroyed Spurs in the months just before playing Liverpool, and were worthy of a win in the first leg. However, they didn’t get the win. Livepool managed to hold them to a score-draw, and so Dortmund had to come out and go for goals at Anfield. And go for goals they did. By the 60 minute mark, they were 3-1 up, meaning Liverpool needed 3 goals in half an hour against a seemingly rampant Dortmund. For the first time in years, Anfield finally got a performance worthy of that ‘Famous European Nights at Anfield’ description. The last 30 minutes saw some of the most riotous, emotional and pure batsh*t football of the past few years. There’s nothing like seeing a football team fighting for each other, growing in belief and sensing that tantalising feeling of “Yeah! We can do this!”. This was truly meant to be a watersh-
No, I hate the joke now. The point is, maybe they are watershed moments, maybe they’re not. How about just enjoy them for what they are – fantastic football matches.