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Would any clone side beat a Kante XI?
Kante…wow, just wow. What an extraordinary player. I was watching the game yesterday thinking if I were to pick a team of XI using just one player, it would be hard to not go for 11 Kantes. Is there a player in the Premier League that you would clone x11 that could beat Kante FC?
Are referees helping Leicester?
As a Gooner I was very disappointed with Sunday’s result for a number of reasons. Firstly it reduces Arsenal’s slim chance further, secondly they are being shown how to win pressure games, however I can’t help but feel that referees are buying into the Leicester love-in, surely at least one of them was a penalty. Leicester may still win the match of course but it would be nice to see them adapt to some real pressure.
It’s a great story but as an Arsenal fan I can’t buy into it yet, not until the day comes Arsenal can no longer win it.
I like Ranieri and the raucous atmosphere at Leicester home matches but right now I’m still behind my team and romantic notions are being put to one side, for now.
…Everyone wants Leicester to win so badly that they’re ignoring the rules of the game. Forget Simpson’s questionable defense. Huth’s handball in the box was absolutely undeniable. That the ref saw it and was unwilling to call it is a travesty, but even more tragic is the lack of mention in your match report. Had Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho’s team been denied such a stonewall penalty every one of your writers would have weighed in with their opinion. I know Leicester is a great story but it is very disappointing to see referees and journalists sticking their head in the sand to help make it happen. Leicester have been awarded ten penalties this year – TEN! – which is twice as much as the next team. And they’ve only conceded two. At some point, the narrative starts to will itself into being. What happened to Southampton today was a shame, but the silence was even worse.
…Leicester are really leaving things late to have their crumble aren’t they? I saw their Southampton game as one of their trickiest, unless something very strange happens at Sunderland next week then I think they’ve got it.
I still can’t enjoy this. And not even for Nick Miller’s high-minded reasons. They have a racist and a perpetrator of domestic violence. As celebrities tend to sit on the spectrum of horrible narcissists I’d be amazed if there’s a team without either of those nasty types.
I’m very bitter that when Arsenal’s ropey patch happened the officials seems determined to dig the knife in further. Classic Leicester to avoid a clear penalty and red card before taking the lead. And get away with another one later. I’m also starting to understand better why everyone hated George Graham’s early nineties Arsenal. It’s incredibly frustrating willing a team on the lose every weekend and seeing them scrape yet another 1-0 win.
As ever Arsenal’s promising run appears too little too late. I’m really enjoying how we’ve been playing from Spurs away onwards. Considering how functional our unit looks right now, it’s just plain bizarre that Elneny wasn’t brought in for the United or Swansea games. Losing those two games lost us the league.
Would Man United fans have welcomed Kante and Payet?
In his interview on Sky Sports yesterday evening, Sir Alex rightly stated that Steve Walsh, Leicester City’s chief scout, deserves great credit for the situation the Foxes currently find themselves in. This tied in to a thought that struck me while watching Dmitri Payet’s free kick against Palace on Saturday.
Namely, has the time gone where the big clubs will truly trust their scouting staff and bring in a relative unknown to turn around their fortunes or add the missing ingredient? With the way that this season has panned out, it’s very likely that Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City will spend and spend big in the summer. But will they be willing to take a gamble on a player such as Riyad Mahrez? Allegedly, Mahrez to Arsenal was all but a done deal at one stage, but Wenger had second thoughts as he didn’t believe that a £400k signing would appease the fans. This, I believe, is indicative of what we will see moving forward. I’m sure that others will correct me on this, but the last truly ‘unknown’ that I can remember being signed (and trusted with a first-team place) by a big team in England signed would be Javier Hernandez at United.
Obviously, one can’t exactly criticise the Uniteds and the Citys of the world for going out and buying a Di Maria or an Aguero. After all, for every Chicharito, there’s a Bébé, and we all love to see a world-class superstar arrive at our club, but I have always had a soft spot for a relative unknown, or a bargain signing, coming into a big club and against the odds being a huge success, both from a scouting point-of-view, and of course for the player himself. Taking United for example, in this day and age, can anyone see them taking a gamble on another Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (signed for £1.5m to little fanfare) to lead their charge back to the top?
We’ve seen the likes of Leicester, West Ham and Southampton recruit very well in recent years, but are the teams at the top of the league subservient to the fans and the need to spend huge sums of money in order to ‘make a statement’? (Leicester are odds-on to win the league, but were very much relegation candidates during last summer’s recruitment drive).
For example, had United signed Ngolo Kante and Dmitri Payet last summer for a combined £28m rather than Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, would the fans have been up in arms over a lack of a big name signing? Obviously, Kante and Payet have been two of the league’s best, but who would have predicted that back in August? Even when we did spend big on Anthony Martial, he was described as a “waste of money” just because not many in England were familiar with him at the time.
In this day and age, there are any God’s amount of statistics available on just about any aspect of a player’s game, but as Sir Alex said last night, nothing beats watching a player in the flesh. Do the big teams in England need to start trusting their scouting departments more and find some diamonds in the rough in order to get back to the top?
Big-ups to Big Wes
An excellent and perceptive article yesterday about Morgan.
His performances this season are absolutely astonishing. Whilst always a high quality Championship player, everyone’s perception – Leicester fans, Forest and any other observers – were that his lack of mobility and finesse meant that that was his level.
He seemed to confirm this in the first half of last season. He surely led the league in assists – for the opposition. So many last-ditch tackles, headers, deflections, went straight to a grateful attacker. Huth’s arrival settled him right down and he has grown and grown ever since. He is now a colossal presence and a true leader in a team of leaders (Huth, Fuchs, Schmeichel, Inler, Vardy).
Great article by Storey; very gracious coming from a Forest fan…
Phil Bert (looking forward to the huge European nights against Basel next year) Fox
A few (United) conclusions…
* Have to start by praising Blind – full matches vs France and England, and then lining up against the big Belgian Lukaku. Blind won his battles and did really well. Thankfully he didn’t have to deal with too many crosses in the box – although I think that was more by design than accident.
* Timothy Fosu-Mensah looks really good. He’s got the legs to play as a wing-back, and he’s big enough to play as center-back as well. At his age, having him and Shaw along with Rojo, Darmian, Varela and Young to fill in, we seem sorted in the full-backs department.
* Just when it looks like we found our CM pairing, one must admit United looked awful flat at times with Carrick and Schneiderlin. Unlike City, Everton’s full-backs and center-backs were much more mobile and came out to deal with Mata/Martial/Lingard/Rashford. When Herrera came on, it got better but we looked far too open at times because he doesn’t sit the way Carrick does.
* Schneiderlin was fantastic again. Unremarkable, solid, great hollywood pass to Mata in the build-up to the goal, snuffed out Barkley and coped with Cleverley’s work ethic well.
* Always felt sorry for the way Cleverley left United. He seems to have become a comfortable cog in Martinez’s team, will succeed Barry. Looked busy and industrious, but did nothing to make us regret selling him. Which is fine. You take care son.
* Lingard’s work off the ball has really come to the fore in this match and at City. He really puts in his shift, tackles and seems to be making up for the lack of goals/assists.
* United are over-reliant on Martial, which is fine for now. He truly is our trump card – and I’m glad Di Maria’s departure led to signing him. He seems to be striking up quite an understanding with Rashford as well. It’s great to see.
* Spurs (A), West Ham (A), Villa (A) – win these three games and a top four at the cost of City + FA Cup could be on. We’re Manchester United. We get awful excited awful too early. Herrera looked good. Young is back. Shaw trains on Monday. Rooney is soon to return as well. Apart from Basti, things are looking on the up for United. For now, a fortunate win, but lesser injuries could spark a strong finish to the season.
Akshat Pande, United fan, Mumbai IND (The shot of Herrera hugging Martial from behind after the 90 mins was really cute!)
Blind is still love
I’ve written in before about my personal man-crush on Daley Blind’s football ability (his hair and cheek bones are a given) and he’s managed to reinforce those emotions strongly over the last two weeks.
Blind spent last season playing either center midfield or left-back and being not quite enough in both positions. His lack of physicality renders him useless in midfield with Carrick still on the books to play the role of the deep-lying passer. At left-back, even though his tackling and crossing is better than most, his lack of pace on the over lap (or at all) makes Shaw, Rojo and now CB-J more preferable options. One can imagine he never asked to play center-back but also never protested against doing so.
Shaky, slow, short and not very strong, Daley Blind started the season with CB with the pressure cranked up as United missed out on defensive target after defensive target. Fast forward half a year and Daley Blind has rendered Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku ineffective in consecutive weeks. F****** class, mate.
The two finest strikers in the EPL, right? Aguero being the perfect blend of agility and predatory movement while Lukaku boasting the pace and strength of a truck. Yes David De Gea made great saves in both games (as is the norm now) and no, Mike Smalling wasn’t dead in these games but strikers very obviously targeted the Dutchman as the weak link in center defense and both were left utterly disappointed.
Yes, Blind will make silly errors every once in a while but he has performed beyond the expectations of anyone at the start of the season. He might not have a spot in the team if another center back is signed in the summer but Daley Blind has been one of quite a few players to repay his manager’s faith this season.
I hope the twanged hammy doesn’t keep him out for long but, my God, did Fosu-Mensah look like quality too.
Emad MUFC Boston
A little depressed about Liverpool…
I enjoyed watching the Liverpool-Spurs game, fast-paced and creative football on view, and in isolation 1-1 against a very talented side isn’t that bad a result…but I feel a sense of lingering disappointment at the end of the match which I imagine other Liverpool fans share. It’s dawning on me that we’re going to finish ninth, we’ve been there since 13th December and seem to have made the spot our own.
While early in the season Liverpool fans were crowing that we would finish above Man Utd, that seems a long time ago now. They’ve had generally poor performances with good results recently, we’ve had generally exciting performances with OK results. Perhaps that makes Man U more like (old) Chelsea and Liverpool more like Arsenal than I would like to think?
We knocked Man U out of the Europa League but at this rate we won’t even be in it next season. I’d be surprised if we beat Dortmund, that’s for sure. The telling stat is how many points we’ve dropped from winning positions this season: 17. That means that it’s one step forward and one step back not just from game to game but within the same match.
What’s frustrating is that most of these players are decent and are clearly putting a lot of effort in, the mood around the club is positive and Klopp is urging them to go for it; but it seems that Liverpool are just not the sum of their parts.
Also, I’m annoyed to see how Sturridge is always the first player to be subbed – it seems that is getting to him as well, and surely it’s better man-management to mix it up and sometimes show your striker some confidence by leaving him on the pitch till the end?
Rant over. Have a good end-of-season everyone.
Paul in Brussels
…Reflecting on the Spurs game, I thought they were the better team but the biggest chances did seem to fall our way. It’s reflective of our differing positions in the league that Kane finished what was probably only a half chance whilst we contrived to only score one despite three great opportunities.
Sturridge doesn’t seem that happy. I’m not commenting on his glum face when he gets subbed, it’s more his overall involvement. I wonder if he would benefit from playing with a strike partner because whilst he’s an incredibly talented player he does better when the defence isn’t solely occupied by him. It makes his movements out wide more threatening too because the defenders marking him are more isolated when someone else is loitering in the middle of the pitch. The problem with this is that it makes it harder to contest and press as hard in midfield as Klopp seems to want to.
Sakho normally looks a bit out of control but in fact is solid and steady. Saturday was not his finest showing, if it wasn’t for Lovren’s outstanding positioning I think we would’ve been bent over.
Finally, why can’t any Liverpool players cross the ball? Is it that difficult a skill? I’ve never seen a team lack threat so much when the ball is out wide. I wonder if it is related to how short our team is but it’s frustrating to know that our team lacks the threat that virtually every other side in the world seems to just have.
Rafa: Wrong man for the Toon job
I was skeptical about the appointment of Rafa Benitez at Newcastle when he was announced. The reason being that he is a manager renowned for playing at the upper part of the league table. He has zero experience in helping a club avoid relegation.
He could have waited until the summer for the perfect job. It’s clear that Bobby hasn’t quite worked out at Everton. And that job could be available in the summer as Everton have a new owner with lofty ambitions (who possibly sees what the fans see and wants a man who sees defending as part of the game). Although he could have reservations taking on that job as Everton are city neighbors with his former club Liverpool.
Basically Rafa’s skill-set is more suited to a team with the potential to challenge at the top echelons of the table. Newcastle hired the wrong man for the job and this might backfire spectacularly.
His appointment would have made perfect sense if it were made in the summer after Newcastle had secured their EPL status. He would have the time to mould the squad in his image plus the transfer Window will afford him the opportunity to bring in players well suited to his style of play.
At this time, he is left with an unbalanced team with many average players to prosecute six games that will determine if they remain in the top flight next season. I doubt if he will be willing to manage in the Championship.
Smith (The promoted trio conceded 10 goals during the weekend; with Bournemouth and Watford responsible for eight of those)
Ten conclusions on Norwich-Newcastle
* Brilliant match. Sometimes relegation six-pointers are dreary, because the quality is low and everyone’s afraid to make a mistake, but this was a classic, with both sides going all out, and four well-taken goals.
* Alex Neil is much smarter than I am. I said he had to start Wes Hoolahan, but I forgot that Hoolahan had played 72 minutes for the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday. And as it turned out, the attack functioned perfectly well without him.
* Neil went with Matt Jarvis on the right wing and Steven Naismith in place of Patrick Bamford in the middle, and both were good choices. Jarvis didn’t have a great game, but his running put pressure on the Newcastle weak spot at left back. Naismith’s movement and drive were important throughout.
* I got at least one thing right: Dieumerci Mbokani dominated up front, and scored a smashing goal to boot.
* Johnny Howson doesn’t get a lot of publicity outside of Norwich, but he always puts in an honest shift, and he was the one to keep the ball alive and feed Martin Olsson for the winner.
* But it was a real shame for Newcastle, who fought back superbly, and particularly for Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was just about man of the match in only a half-hour’s work. He’s an odd centre-forward: as a long-ball target man he’s only average, but on crosses in the area he’s a demon.
* The Magpies’ defense just wasn’t good enough, and in retrospect Benitez erred by starting Steven Taylor ahead of Jamal Lascelles. Taylor isn’t up to the challenge at this point, and it was appropriate that the winning goal went through his legs.
* But the man who should really hang his head in shame is Moussa Sissoko, who was pretty much a passenger in the biggest game of the season.
* Karl Darlow? He might have come off his line for the cross on the first goal, but Rob Elliot probably wouldn’t have either; he might have saved the second, but it would have been a very good save indeed; maybe only David de Gea at his best would have stopped the third. He wasn’t bad, and in fact made one superb save from Mbokani, but he wasn’t good enough.
* The biggest salute goes to Mike Dean. He got the two crucial calls — Jarvis’ semi-dive in the area and Gary O’Neil’s handball – exactly right, and played every advantage flawlessly. He also spared Cheick Tioté a very early yellow card, while making it clear no more would be tolerated. There are plenty of reasons to dislike him, but this was a masterclass.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA
Let Alli and the boys breathe
Why is the English media always looking for the next big thing? Daniel Storey makes a case against Ross Barkley using Delle Alli has the new benchmark.
The higher you build up young players, the harder they are likely to fall. A little dip in form from Deli Alli and the emergence of a new kid, that would be it for him and a new hero would be born.
Yesterday’s article on Grealish makes you see how quickly young talent is highlighted then discarded.
The media just needs a new story.
It was only a few years ago that Cleverley was being touted as the next Xavi. He is now struggling to be the next Gareth Barry.
Dele Alli is 19, let the boy breathe. Suddenly the hopes of a nation are on him delivering at the Euros.
Shehzad Ghias, MUFC
Weekend thoughts from Ed
Proving I can do it on a manky Monday morning in the Midlands every week since 2013.
* The winless streak continues, but Crystal Palace’s point against a much superior team is as good as a win. Yes I know that makes us sound really small time, but we’re in the relegation battle and took something from a team chasing Champions League qualification.
* Despite the shameless mailbox headline on Friday morning, the first mail was not a call for Alan Pardew to be sacked, but an expression of frustration that he seems incapable of turning things around and at the same time under no pressure. I’d hoped he would use the international break to buck his ideas up and communicate them to the players. Fortunately, this was the case, with Palace coming out with a bit of a swagger.
This was helped by the return to full fitness of Jason Puncheon and Bakary Sako. Both had good games, although along with Yanick Bolasie and Wilf Zaha, almost caused Pardew the opposite problem of trying to crowbar them all in. He did this by starting Bolasie as a nominal striker, with Puncheon at 10 and Zaha and Sako on the wings, although there was some position-swapping throughout the game.
* It was Dwight Gayle’s introduction that helped change the game. With at least one of West Ham’s centre-backs on a yellow card, his pace and poise on the ball was bound to cause problems in the Hammers’ defence. He made a real nuisance of himself and his goal was a just reward for his efforts. Hopefully this will convince Pardew to start him against Norwich.
* Cheikhou Kouyate’s foul was probably in the zone of the “orange card” – the red card seemed harsh, but only showing yellow for a reckless tackle like that would have been too lenient. He didn’t get any of the ball and caught Gayle on the shin with his studs.
* Dmitri Payet’s free-kick deserves all the praise heaped on it.
* I was at my father-in-law’s this weekend, so had the pleasure of watching Aston Villa v Chelsea on BT Sport. Not quite sure what crimes in a past life Ian Darke is being punished for that he has to work with Michael Owen and Trevor Francis. The nadir was when Francis insisted the reason for Villa’s predicament is that the players don’t have enough passion, when it’s been clear to everyone for a long time the real problem is their lack of footballing ability.
As Nick Miller pointed out on Twitter, the Villans will be relegated next weekend if they lose to Bournemouth and Norwich beat Crystal Palace. This situation has not come about because they haven’t been shouting and clapping enough.
* There could have been two red cards in the game, one for each side. I’m not quite sure how the penalty didn’t also lead to a red card, presumably because it was more of a punishment to Villa to leave their first team intact.
Also, when on a yellow card, Cesc Fabregas committed a cynical foul on the edge of his own area, and it was pointed out that had he not already been booked, he would have been for that foul. This is one of the many infuriating inconsistencies of refereeing from this season.
* A big well done to West Bromwich Albion for battling their way to mid-table. They went to relegation-threatened Sunderland and earned a 0-0 without managing a single shot on target. Well done, Baggies.
The literary Ed Quoththeraven
If I was Marcus Rashford, I would organise and whip round from all my academy mates and personally book Mr. Mourinho’s flights to Syria in order to secure some first-team football next season.
Harry, Will Somebody Think of the Kids, Leeds