A really varied Mailbox, which is lovely. We much prefer them like this. Send yours in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A fine assessment of Chelsea’s youth departures
Bit late to the party as most of these deals are weeks old, but I’ve been stewing over the sales/loans of some of our young players this summer and thought I’d rate our dealings.
Zouma – Great bit of business. He flew way under the radar in his first couple of seasons, hugely underrated talent who rarely put a foot wrong. Seemed to save his best performances for games against Aguero, which is impressive in itself. The old Stoke blueprint was ‘bloody big f**ers’, but the new one seems to be ‘bloody big f**ckers who also have a bit of X-factor’; and with his pace and intelligence he’ll be a perfect fit. I can see him having a barnstorming season if his injury hasn’t affected him too much. 9/10
Kalas – He’ll always have that glorious afternoon at Anfield where he was the best player on the pitch, but I’ve come to the conclusion he probably isn’t good enough. How can this many managers be wrong? He’s definitely too good for the Championship either way, hopefully he’ll find somewhere a little better. ?/10
Christensen – I have a bad feeling about this one. He’s got the potential to be World Class, but he’s going to be fifth choice centre back this year, and barring long term injuries isn’t going to get many minutes. I can see us selling him at a cut price next summer and watching on as he fulfils his potential elsewhere. Hopefully I’ll be proved wrong. ?/10
Ake – Very sad to see him go. Ever since his first appearance as a 17 year old he’s looked mature beyond his years; cultured, calm, and intelligent with the ball at his feet, tenacious and determined in defence, quality across the back, at wing back, and defensive mid. This one hurts because he’s a fan favourite, but £20 million and a buy-back clause? Can’t say it doesn’t make sense. 7/10
Ola Aina – He’s looked great every time he’s played – bags of pace and energy with composure to boot. He can cover at both right and left wing back, and considering we’ve only got Moses on the right it seems bizarre that we haven’t kept him, and even more bizarre that’s he’s gone to a Championship club. Boy’s too good. 4/10
Ruben Loftus Cheek – Taken Oscar’s mantle of being the most frustrating player on our books, incredible talent but watching him is painful at times – hesitant, sluggish, unmotivated, you name it. Has a tendency to completely disappear from games, and seems unsure of what kind of midfielder he wants to be. I think Allardyce will be the perfect make or break manager for him. I predict a season with flashes of brilliance and long stretches of anonymity, but if anyone’s going to make the kid consistent, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I trust Allardici. 8/10
Solanke – Good, but not good enough. Shame we ran his contract out though. 5/10.
Bertrand Traore – Good, but not good enough. Exciting to watch but between Batshuayi & Abrahams we’re sorted for young striker prospects. 7/10
Abrahams – A Manager that gives plenty of chances to youth, and tries to play attacking football? Check. A Team that’ll likely be fighting against the drop, i.e. the exact situation in which Abrahams flourished last year? Check. Learning from and playing alongside an experienced striker that Conte clearly adores? Check.
Jolly good. 9/10
Piazon & Van Ginkel – They’ll still be on loan when they’re 35, won’t they? ?/10.
Chalobah – Hoo boy. Absolutely gutted. Make no mistake, this is the best Academy graduate we’ve produced since John Terry. He’s always looked promising, but when called upon this season he’s been bloody class. Composed, intelligent, and creative on the ball, tireless and tactically astute off of it, Chalobah might be the complete package. Whenever we moan about the lack of skilful, intelligent English midfielders, and half-heartedly pin our hopes on the next flash dan, it always amazes me that no-one mentions Chalobah. If he was Spanish we’d be raving about him.
The only possible black-mark against him is his lack of upper body strength compared to most modern defensive/box to box mids, but he’s got a tackling technique comparable to Azpilicueta and Kante, and is only going to improve in this regard. I’d happily gamble on him being better than Matic if given a regular spot in the team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays his way into the World Cup Squad this Season. The worst part? We sold him for just 5 million (5!), which would be ridiculous even if we don’t take the English premium into account. There’s also conflicting reports on whether we inserted a buy back clause…..mark my words, we’ll rue the day if we haven’t. Bakayoko better be bloody good.
Matec Delac – Poor bloke. Let’s hope we send him somewhere nice and sunny.
Peter G on striker intelligence
Responding to Liam Gabriel Hoskins AFC’s letter in praise of brainless strikers, I’d argue that making good runs is a key measure of footballing intelligence. You have to sense where the ball is likely to arrive and time your movement accordingly. Strikers score lots of goals with brilliant shooting and powerful heading, but they also score goals by being in the right place at the right time.
Good strikers who aren’t physically dominant, and many who are, succeed by knowing when and where to be. When a striker is in form, it’s instinctive, and “unthinking” action is paradoxically one of the best indicators of footballing intelligence.
A related point I don’t think has been mentioned in the debate: intelligence, in the IQ sense (and IQ tests usually show class bias, which often correlates to race bias), is very different from sporting intelligence. You don’t have to understand Finnegan’s Wake to be an intelligent footballer. You have to instinctively know what actions in what situations will best serve your team.
It’s an interesting question, though, whether the first measure of intelligence can aid you in obtaining the second. No idea whether anyone’s done a study on that.
Oh, and Lukaku is 1) nowhere near lazy; 2) not the target man some people say (career 39.7% in aerial duels, compare Giroud’s 53.6%); 3) surprisingly good at exchanging quick short passes at the top of the penalty area.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA (can you believe the women’s Euros aren’t televised here?)
Not that impressed with England’s women
Was that the men’s team playing out in Breda? Long balls, panic in possession, head down running into cul de sacs. Looks awfully familiar.
Although I guess a couple of scrappy goals against the run of play seems to be even beyond the men so maybe that’s some improvement.
Some Liverpool preseason thoughts
The following are a collection of thoughts regarding Liverpool offered up as fodder for a Sunday mailbox.
1. Liverpool lack a b*stard in defence. I’m sure Liverpool’s (badly managed) pursuit of Van Dijk is a response to lacking a real tough-as-nails leader at the back. Liverpool were making the same sloppy mistakes against Leicester yesterday that they made all last season. The response was a lot of apologetic raised hands where I would have liked some lunatic roaring his head of and getting in faces.
The lack of intensity is worrying and I expect Liverpool to continue conceding the same crap goals as last year. I would be delighted to be wrong of course and would welcome some fervent urgency from our defenders.
2. There are some young Liverpool players on the verge of making the next step. I fully expect Alexander Arnold to genuinely to making a claim for a starting position. I find him already on Clyne’s level defensively and he is more composed and inventive going forward. Gomez looks motivated and capable enough to stake a claim at Centre Back. Grujic has enough to be pushing for starts in league games against lesser teams and has a thunderbastard in his locker.
Woodburn has looked very composed although I worry that he always plays everything as safe as possible. There’s more skill and guile in his locker than we’ve seen in senior appearances thus far. Solanke looks very very handy and I think will benefit from playing with Sturridge. Biggest surprise is Ryan Kent. I think he’s shown enough to be retained for the year. Aggressive running, good passing and hard work; I like him. Some may look at Liverpool’s squad as a bit light but my feeling is that Kloppo is expecting a few younger boys to step up and step in where needed.
3. Coutinho must play in the midfield 3. It suits him to have space to attack or time to find a pass. This year could see him reach world class level. Imagine Coutinho slightly deeper threading passes through to any of Mane, Firmino, Salah and Sturridge? Serious potential there.
4. With all my heart I want Sturridge to have a good season. He looks strong, sharp and surprisingly quick over 10 yards for someone with crystal thighs and hips. Klopp reckons this is the best shape he’s ever seen him in. It’s all there for him this year.
5. Kloppo is interested in the right cog for the machine, not just a signing to appease the fans. I might give the fans angst but I like Klopp’s clarity with regards the signings he wants. Each target seems to have been identified because fit a specific role exactly, not just ‘oh we need a centre back, a midfielder and a winger’. The profile is more exact and I appreciate this and believe it will bring success.
6. Season prediction. Expecting a ‘Rafa’ year, by which I mean good cup performances supplemented with sketchy league performances. If we get into the group stages in the Champions League then I have a feeling they could do well. So predictions: Champions League: Quarter Finals (although I’m extremely nervous of the qualifier). FA cup: Quarter Finals. League: Consolidating 4th would be an achievement considering the ridiculous competition but I think it’s possible, anything more would be unreal. Bringing home a trophy would be a sweet relief but ultimately keeping forward momentum is the most important thing. Also if we could get Emre locked into a contract I’d be delighted.
Paul, LFC, Mönchengladbach.
And some Crystal Palace weekend thoughts
A few thoughts on the men’s football from the weekend.
*In the unlikely event of anyone reading this being among those who sent racist messages to Wilfried Zaha, you’re a c##t.
*Frank de Boer endeared himself greatly to the Crystal Palace fans during their game against WBA, by having a go at Tony Pulis.
*I’ve enjoyed Peter G’s series taking us through the laws of the game, but what I haven’t seen so far is any mention from him about the rules being applied differently in preseason or friendly matches. There is a recurring frustration on this site that referees use different levels of leniency in different fixtures, or at different times of the same game.
While “Tony Pulis side being overly physical” isn’t the most surprising headline – and we played similarly under him – it’s still preseason. WBA clearly set out to kick Wilfried Zaha from pillar to post, but definitely took advantage of a referee’s reticence to wave cards around because it wasn’t a “competitive” fixture. Given both teams are “competing” to win, surely if something is worthy of a yellow or red card in one type of fixture, it should be the same in every type?
What really doesn’t help is pundits like John Barnes telling him to “man up”, or when journalists like John Cross take five minutes off from their deep tactical insights to portray Zaha as this pampered, spoilt brat. As the Palace blog HLTCO pointed out, no Eagles manager has ever questioned Zaha’s ability or his application, and yet it feels like the comments made earlier this year when he opted to play for Cote d’Ivoire, when the less cerebral pundits suggested this was because he didn’t have the “fight” to get into the England squad, still seem to be carrying weight, despite obviously being b0ll0cks.
*In both “Premier League Asia” fixtures, the Eagles have played in a 3-5-2. Against the Throstles, this meant midfield destroyer Luka Milivojevic playing as part of the back three, which I couldn’t help worrying was a red card waiting to happen. In the end, by all accounts he played quite well and got himself on the scoresheet.
The real star was Julian Speroni, who belied his age and made some superb saves.
*When Jason Puncheon went off, he handed the captain’s armband to Yohan Cabaye. There are rumours the Frenchman is off soon, but as the originator for it seems to be a tabloid newspaper far from synonymous with honest reporting, perhaps we should wait and see.
Why Watford will be good this season
Seeing as the Mailbox has been filled recently with big-boy shit about the most-likely-will-be top six, I thought I’d chuck some thoughts on My Little Watford into the mix.
At the beginning of last season I thought Watford would be relegated. Walter Mazzarri had a fairly decent CV, but nothing to get overly excited about. He also never had managed outside of Italy and spoke very little english – where was the cause for optimism there?
As for our signings, even though we made about 50 of them as usual, they were largely pretty ‘meh’, with the exceptions of Isaac Success for having a cool name, and the superb Roberto Pereyra who promptly was ruled out for about two thirds of the season. Ultimately all this resulted in a campaign about as memorable as… I don’t know, a traffic cone (this is why you are paid to write and I’m not), and I wasn’t too far off with my relegation prediction.
This season though, I’m a very excited boy. Marco Silva would have been my first choice as Mazzarri’s replacement, and I genuinely am a bit giddy at the prospect of having him in the driving seat for a couple of seasons before one of the aforementioned big-boys snaps him up. I love any manager where you can see the cogs turning tactically and can have a bit of faith that if there’s a problem, they can fix it (very much not the impression made by Mazzarri). With a much better squad than Hull’s last season, I can’t wait to see what he can do.
As for our signings for the season, it all looks fairly good so far. Will Hughes looks like a handy player and Nat Chalobah coming back for just £5m seems like an absolute steal. I’m not overly happy with £8m being spent on Tom Cleverley, whose playing style actually is fairly similar to that of a traffic cone, but you can’t win them all I guess.
Most exciting of all though is what Silva might be able to do with some of the players already at the club. Pereyra really is mustard and I think he’s going to be a real revolution this season. He’s got to be one of the best players outside the top 7, but was somewhat forgotten about after picking up his injury.
Forgive me for rambling but I guess that just happens when you’re excited.
Not sure what all the fuss is about re United players meeting Ronald McDonald.
I believe Anderson met him many, many times.
Our man in Japan is back
We’ve reached the halfway point of the J1 season and there’s an unexpected team sitting top of the table. Cerezo Osaka finished 4th in J2 last year and were promoted through the playoffs with a 1-1 draw against a team they finished above in the league and a 1-0 win in the final.
They now find themselves top of the first division, with a four-point lead over the world’s second best club, Kashima Antlers. For comparison, last season’s J2 winners, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo are currently just outside the relegation zone in 15th, while the runners up, Shimizu S-Pulse, are 12th. For further context, since the current playoff system was introduced in 2012, every team to gain promotion through the playoffs has finished bottom of J1 the following season.
J1 has been won by a promoted team once before, but it was Gamba Osaka in 2014 – a big club who easily won J2 after their shock relegation – but never by a team promoted through the playoffs, so we could be on for a huge shock. Unfortunately, the J League recently announced that from next year the promotion playoffs will have an extra hurdle: the team who wins the J2 playoff final will then have to beat the 16th-placed team in J1. That means the top division will become something of a closed shop, with the same few teams yo-yoing between the divisions, and that we’re unlikely to see anything as exciting or unexpected as Cerezo’s performance this season (until they change the format again a few years later).
There were some great mails last summer about miraculous title wins, but does anyone have any examples of promoted teams winning their country’s first division title at the first attempt? (I know about Forest, obviously.) What about title wins for teams promoted through the playoffs?
James T, Kanazawa, Japan
This doesn’t immediately feel like a compliment
Preseason conclusion: If Fellaini is a man united player then Daniel storey is superman