An excellent Mailbox. Give yourselves a pat on the back, then send us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Messi Lingard? No, he’s…
I didn’t like the dancing,
I didn’t like the handshakes,
I hated the West Ham bus video,
I never thought he was good enough,
I always thought he never took it seriously enough,
I always thought he looked like a mascot straight out of the club shop.
But I’m in. I’m on board. This past week has made me change my mind about Jesse Lingard. His performances against Watford and Arsenal, both away, have convinced me he is worthy of his place.
I saw a tweet at the weekend saying that United played that way with Lingard in the team, imagine what it would be like with Mkhitarayan/Mata/Rashford, but this completely ignores the fact that United played that way thanks in no small part to the role Lingard plays.
I am not buying into the whole Messi Lingard thing though. But I will say this, he reminds me more of one of Fergie’s most trusted lieutenants and someone he trusted in the biggest games.
Forget Messi Lingard, he’s more Ji Sung Gard. And I mean that as the highest of compliments.
I still don’t like the dancing.
Watching the Arsenal vs Manchester United game was a frustrating experience for me. It was an excellent game from a neutral’s perspective and after going 2-0 up I would not expect my team to continue to press and attack in the same way. However, for our midfield to just disappear from that point on was not acceptable. Matic did not, in my opinion have a particularly good game and aside from the odd moment of brilliance, Pogba did not exert the influence on the midfield that he should have. I really think that Manchester United missed the influence and experience of Carrick in this instance.
When they should have been in the driving seat, holding on to the ball, recycling possession, passing the ball around – things Carrick does excellently, Matic and Pogba were making clearances at every opportunity and essentially surrendered possession to Arsenal. For all the criticism he has received this season, once Herrera came on I felt we had a bit more control in midfield than we had and were starting to move up the pitch from being camped in our box – ultimately showed by Pogba’s position when he got sent off. I’m not saying that Herrera is always the answer (I actually thought that Mata should have come on too), but Matic and Pogba are not receiving the criticism their performances merit and Herrera is being whipped for them. I’m not saying that Matic and Pogba had awful games – they didn’t – but one shouldn’t overlook that Manchester United lost the midfield battle (not sure they even turned up for it) and placed the defence and De Gea under a lot of pressure as a result.
And we should be avoiding that because neither Rojo, Smalling or Lindelof fill me with confidence that they aren’t going to make an error that will cost us. Arsenal had two penalties waived away and one of them was definitely Rojo. Ultimately, we put in an excellent team performance, but it could and should have been better.
To end on a positive note, what a game for assists! Ramsey will rightly win the assist of the match award, but Pogba’s second and Martial’s cute twisting lay off deserve more attention than they will receive.
Daniel (get well soon Carrick!) Cambridge
Arsenal defending was no anomaly
The general consensus seems to be that Arsenal put in a masterclass attacking performance bar finishing but were let down by a few defensive brain farts that Man United took full advantage of. This in part helped by the belief that Arsenal’s defence had turned a corner in the last month. But, if you look at each goal plus the Lingard attempt that hit the post, you’ll see that each chance was created by the incompetence that has been embedded in the fabric of this team and is symptomatic of problems that have existed for years.
For the first goal, Koscielny has scurried forward to clear danger. There’s nothing wrong with this and it’s one of the advantage of having three centre-backs. But at the same time, Xhaka and Ramsey have somehow left the entire midfield bare and are somehow both closer to the right touchline than they are to the horizontal centre of the pitch even though they are meant to be covering one side of the pitch each. This is nothing new and the worst part about this is that I’d wager a large majority of Arsenal fans who watch every game don’t know which side Xhaka and Ramsey usually play. This is absolutely ridiculous the more you think about and I don’t this applies to any other team. Imagine not knowing which is your right or left centre-back after a single game together let alone a year.
Koscielny wins the ball and can now lay the ball off to Xhaka but decides a no-look pass across the field is the best option. Kolasinac sees Valencia coming for it and he has time to adjust his position but continues in his direction. He does this with an attacking opportunity in mind that entirely relies on Valencia missing the ball. To clarify, in his own third of the pitch, Kolasinac risks leaving his side exposed on the off chance that a professional footballer will let a loose ball slip past him so that he can then counter attack. Again, the situation is still salvageable but, staying true to form, Kolasinac makes absolutely no attempt to get back. He has 6 seconds to return and cover Valencia and it would take a professional footballer a maximum of 2 to 3 seconds to do this even from a standing start. This is the most infuriating aspect of his game and one that has punished Arsenal numerous times this season. It could be fixed with a 30-second dressing down or gentle conversation if that’s more your thing, but it’s been allowed to continue half a season. In this sort of situation, all a team has to do is get as many bodies in between the ball and the goal but only Bellerin and Ramsey sprint back into position while Koscielny takes his time and Xhaka makes absolutely no attempt at all. I’ve said in the past that Mustafi’s only fault is that he’s an idiot and he shows this again by choosing to leave Lukaku open and close down Pogba. This leaves Lukaku completely open and Monreal is forced to run inside to cover; leaving Valencia open. Cech concedes yet another goal through his legs.
For the second goal, again, notice how there is absolutely no one covering the left side of midfield. When Mustafi collects the ball; him, Monreal and Koscielny have made an actual fucking triangle leaving him with no passing options. He does well to evade Lingard well and this is when we see the side effect of training against the likes of Giroud, Sanchez and Ozil 4 times a week. He simply isn’t used to an attacking player making a second attempt to win the ball and dawdles on it. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind here, but Mustafi seems to have completely forgotten the existence of Lingard a second after dribbling away from him, turning back towards him. I also don’t understand how it’s acceptable to have a centre-back of comparable stature to Lingard. Again, the situation is still salvageable if everyone tries to get back in position but Mustafi mindlessly chased after Lukaku and is rolled yet again. If Monreal starts sprinting two seconds earlier he would have easily blocked Lingard’s run but was ball-watching. Kolasinac also makes no attempt to get back. This is a bigger issue than it seems in this particular goal. None of these players know how many touches United will take or how much time it will take; they simply have to sprint back and cover their position but we seem to have a squad of ball-watching defenders. Also notice how Mustafi immediately pulls up with an injury the moment the ball goes in. He now has to go off with injuries that include pain to the ego, fear of failure, fear of accountability and symptoms of brain damage. The revelation that both his heart and brain happen to reside in his hamstrings is the best learning point to come from this game and explains a lot of his career up.
For the Lingard chance, Monreal refuses to form a line with the rest of the defence and leaves a gap behind him that Lingard exposes. Bellerin has all the time in the world now to get behind Cech and cover the goal. This happens at least once in 80% of games as our left side is always exposed and Bellerin always has time to cover Cech when he’s one on one with an opposition player but he has yet to this day taken up that option; instead choosing to hold the offside line that has already been breached. Gibbs was a god at getting back and he even has a compilation of goal line clearances. I was published about Bellerin a few months ago and everything I said still holds true. I would cut my losses with him if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t believe he is being coached at all currently.
For the third goal, when Lukaku lays off the ball to Lingard, Pogba is level to Kolasinac. Pogba sprints and it’s quite clear Arsenal are exposed and Kolasinac sees this as he begins to follow Pogba but he suddenly gives up and jogs. Koscielny did extremely well to force Lingard to pass wide to Pogba and his only job here is to stay between him and the goal. This isn’t about Pogba being strong or having ability on the ball. This is basic positioning and I would have been able to stand in his way. Koscielny fights for the ball and predictably loses. Besides Kolasinac and Koscielny, Belleirn’s lack of effort is completely unacceptable. He refuses to utilise his speed and does the bare minimum by getting himself into the box. I really don’t know what his athleticism is for. He can’t run past people or run to people. His only role in this team seems to be as a wall to bounce the ball off on the right touchline. I think it’s quite clear that this team isn’t coached at all but while some like Bellerin and Kolasinac seem salvageable the likes of Mustafi and Xhaka have to be scrapped and replaced.
This game isn’t an anomaly in which individual brain farts let down a manager. This is a systematic and cultural issue that has plagued Arsenal for years. And a word to all the people who get offended when an ‘armchair fan’ has an opinion on football or a professional manager. These professional managers were also, at one point in their lives, young fans who had opinions on football. They aren’t higher beings created for the sole purpose of understanding football better than us. Some of us may not be able to handle the politics that comes with a job like this until we experience it, but I can be sure as fuck that Bellerin would be able to cross a ball and that Kolasinac would be capable of tracking back if I had them 5 days a week. This isn’t the comments section of the daily mail, have some respect for the medium you choose to invest your time in.
How do you actually stop City?
A fair question with absolutely no bias for the wonderful writers as well as mailbox regulars – how exactly is a team/manager supposed to stop Pep’s performers?
Seriously. I’m not going to wax lyrical about them because this site and the regulars have written all about them (and rightly so). I’m just asking honestly – if you’re a current top six manager about to play them next weekend – how do you line up?
Liverpool tried to match them with their own dazzling display of attacking and were undone by the red card. Arsenal looked under prepared. Conte tried his damndest best to keep it tight and was undone by the “delicious” left foot of KdB. Napoli’s gung ho approach was bettered by a more offensive display. So – what’s left in the kitchen cupboard?
I’m not going to bother defending what every United faithful is fearing (especially with the absence of Pogba). I am just going to say – please expect 10 men in the United third at all times and one lone striker. Please expect less than 30% possession for the home team and three holding midfielders. Please do not bother trying to vilify Jose’s approach in 16 conclusions – alternatively, write two of them right now for you can be sure this is what he will do.
Jose’s seen the results for City and he is going to trust himself. Any other coach in possession of Lukaku, Zlatan, Mkhi, Mata, Martial and Rashford might have welcomed City with a blazing attack (a la the home leg of European ties under Fergie). But not Jose. He will sit back, he will expect his team to defend compactly and solidly (see Inter vs Barca) and he will want to snatch a goal from a set piece if possible. The rest of the time he will stick two fingers in his ears and one at the media who dare suggest that he should play expansive football.
Again – this is not a defense for Jose to play this way. I’m not sure what the United fans would prefer – being picked apart in a 4-2 defeat at home or trying to stifle them for a 0-0 draw with 11% possession. But knowing Jose – he would much rather keep the gap at 8 points without Pogba rather than see it rise to 11. Perhaps he doesn’t trust his team without Pogba (and the results without him and definitely borne that lack of faith out).
What do the neutrals want in the derby?
Quick question for the mailbox, mainly towards any none Manchester fans and even to any ABU’s heading into the derby next weekend…
Would you rather see City destroy United and move at least 11 points clear of anybody else and basically all but win the league in December, or would you rather see a Jose special master class 1-0 away defensive smash and grab? At least conserving City’s title until January at least?
As a die hard United fan of 31 years I would love to see an entertaining game for sure but I would much rather take a win under any circumstances necessary.
(Pogbas red card really is such a shame for any sort of footballing neutral. That one idiotic tackle has single handedly forced Jose to park the bus and slash the tyres.)
Phil MUFC Salford
Sorry I just can’t let that lie. An absolute pile of nonsense from Bano in Sundays mailbox. I’m not saying that Rafa is above criticism but tediously banging the drum for Mitrovic isn’t the way to go about it.
Mitro isn’t up to it. Neither is Rolando Aarons. If those two are the answer I’ve got no idea what the question is.
Mitro wasn’t showing some form for us earlier in the season. He scored once against lower league opposition in the cup and the third in a 3 0 win against a tiring and beaten West Ham defence.
Before he dropped an elbow on a defender and got banned. Aarons also scored in that Forest game but that’s quite a small sample size from which to conclude he’s our best player .
Gayles our best finisher and Joselu links the play, They’ve both deserved a chance at some point this season.
Dropping Shelvey was an unusual one but the lad was a passenger against Watford and Bournemouth . Diame isn’t good but he was the least of our worries yesterday.
The view from the away end yesterday was that silly mistakes cost us against a much better team . No qualms from me.
For all Rafa has come up short recently , nobody has done more to bridge the gap between supporters and club. I’ll forgive him leaving a radge Serbian on the bench for what he’s done for re engaging the fanbase. Yesterday was a good trip out amidst a positive atmosphere, just as most matches have been during his tenure. We’re treading water until we hear more about the potential takeover but Rafa shouldn’t be taking too much of the blame
Assorted weekend thoughts
*Mourinho teams win those kinds of games; Wenger teams don’t.
*I’m going to say something nice about Alan Pardew: he kept Sam Field in the lineup. That’s 19-year-old Sam Field, who grabbed a place in the starting XI under Gary Megson, and isn’t likely to give it up soon. He looked good in defence against Tottenham and in attack against Newcastle, and a bit of both against Crystal Palace. Left-footed, good skills, no fear.
*Wilfried Bony is starting to look his old self for Swansea—now whoever winds up managing the team has to figure out how to pair him and Tammy Abraham. In 90 minutes against Stoke, Abraham had only 19 touches, with zero shots and zero key passes.
*Sam Allardyce takes over, and in his first game the two teams combine for only 11 shots. The previous low this season for an Everton game was 15, and only twice had the total been below 20.
*Brighton have scored only one goal in their last three games, and that on a gift penalty. A big reason is that Pascal Gross is off form. Almost everything passes through him, and at the moment he’s tentative and uncertain.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA
* First of All damn that Arsenal Man U game was a throwback to when big games involving Utd actually delivered. Like it or not Jose got his attacking tactics right but must feel a bit worried about our ability to defend. I have to give the Arsenal team a lot of credit for making a game of it.Forget squeaky bum i’m sure some Man U fans straight up sh*t themselves during that onslaught.
*Another game, another late victory, another stunning statistic. The 13 game winning sequence has now been matched and they got a points tally that some teams in the top ten will struggle to get. Well played City, win it this year while the late goals are going in.
* With their failure to win games since his injury, are Spurs actually the Toby Alderweireld team? They’ve deserved all the pats on the back they’ve gotten over the last few years but Poch needs two things: depth and a trophy. Otherwise there is the nagging suspicion that City’s brilliance will finally break this team up. Players will start looking at Kyle Walker with his shiny medals (at the rate city are going) and asking themselves are we going to get that if we stay here.
* A moment of silence for three more undefeated streaks Napoli lost to the one team they didn’t want to and Valencia and PSG lost surprisingly. So congrats to Atletico, Barca and Inter for continuing their runs for another week.
*Inter’s run has seen them climb to the top of the table in a pretty tight race at the top of the Italian league which makes AC Milan’s failings in League football even more startling. Having won the transfer window they have been utter rubbish in the league and this week was probably the nadir becoming the first team to drop a point to Benevento after conceding a goal in the 90th minute the way we all like to see those sort of equalisers …… from the opposing keeper going up for a corner and scoring with a header.
Not the start the new coach (Gattuso no less) would have wanted . They’ve got FFP issues so need the champions league next year I’m not sure anyone needs to win Europa this year more than they do.
* The battle for champions league spots is getting mighty interesting and probably in no country more than France. Lyon, Monaco and Marseille are separated by 8 goals there’s little chance of PSG slipping up enough for any of these teams to catch them and the prize for finishing last in this race is a Europa spot so keeping an eye on this one might not be a bad thing.
The story from Japan
Saturday was the final day of the J1 season and things at both ends of the table went right to the wire. The title was won by Kawasaki Frontale – their first ever – on goal difference, ahead of Kashima Antlers. Kashima had a strange year: after a poor start they sacked their manager, surged up the table and were top from week 21 to week 33, only to fall away in the final two games, both goalless draws. Kawasaki’s season followed a similar arc, but they were able to sustain their stellar run of results – 15 games unbeaten – to the final day with a 5-0 thrashing of Omiya Ardija. Third place was taken by Cerezo Osaka, who were top at the halfway point of the season and looked like they were on for a shock title win. Someone somewhere must’ve jinxed them.
At the bottom, Albirex Niigata and Omiya Ardija were relegated with weeks to go, but the other spot went to the last day. Shimizu S-Pulse came from behind to beat Vissel Kobe and survived to inflict their terrible kits on J1 for another season. Ventforet Kofu won 1-0 against Velgata Sendai but were relegated.
Incidentally, Vissel Kobe had an underwhelming season finishing 9th and would’ve been hoping for a better return from Lukas Podolski than 5 goals in 17 games after he joined in July. He struggled, and was thoroughly outshone by another mid-season overseas signing: things were looking precarious for Consadole Sapporo when they signed Briton Jay Bothroyd, who didn’t have a club for the first half of the season. He scored 10 goals in 14 games to lead them to a relatively comfortable 11th place finish.
That’s not quite the end of the Japanese season though: there’s a three-week break, then the semi-finals and final of the Emperor’s Cup at the end of the year.
James T, Kanazawa, Japan
The Wright stuff
Ian Wright saying that someone is “doing someone’s head in”, I’m sure the irony is not lost on anyone who has watched him cover an England game.
Adam, LFC, Belfast
The bearded wonder
I was watching Feyenoord play Vitesse over here in the Dutch Eredivisie on Saturday evening when I noticed that the referee had a full beard and moustache. Somehow I don’t think I’ve ever seen a referee before with a beard. Plenty of shaved heads but no beard!
Tim Royall GFC