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It’s all Greek to Leicester
Can Leicester win the title? Of course they can. Why? Because far, far, far crazier things have happened in football.
Lest we forget, Greece won Euro 2004.
We held the trophy aloft despite never having previously won a match at a tournament.
Greece. Who beat hosts Portugal twice, beat France, beat the Czech Republic, and drew with Spain.
Once again, that’s Greece.
It remains the high watermark for bonkers sporting achievements.
So of course Leicester can win the title.
Plus Claudio Ranieri lost to the Faroe Islands in Athens when manager of…
So he’s no stranger to barking footballing results.
Mikey P, Cardiff
Just you wait, Leicester
Dr Oyvind, it may be a bit discourteous to some people to discount Leicester from your title calculations, but I can see your point.
For me, Leicester seem to be in this weird situation where STILL no-one is taking them seriously as title/top four contenders, despite the fact that they are top after 16 games. You can tell by the general apathy around their title/top four aspirations that is evident from fellow fans and pundits; the general presumption from most seems to be that they will fade away/it can’t last.
The upside of this for Leicester is that other teams in the league are still turning up at the KP and thinking ‘we can win here’. They are going there to win and playing attacking football because they are underestimating them, but as we have seen this season, you try and play Leicester at football and they will hurt you!
Never mind the lazy old “but they haven’t played anyone good yet” line that I have seen trotted out. The real test for Leicester will be when teams start showing up at their ground and doing a P*lis, i.e 10 gnarly old dogs behind the ball, a gang of thugs kicking seven kinds of sh*te out of them for 90 minutes and trying to nick it on a set-piece. And not just West Brom, they’ll all do it; proper footballing teams like Southampton, Newcastle and even Swansea will be at it! They still do it to us at Anfield now and we’ve been cr@p for about six years!
That is why I can’t see it lasting because there will come a tipping point this season where Leicester become a big scalp (Monday might even have been it) and teams will start playing horrific 1980’s football against them, which will really stifle their fluid, attacking style of play. If they can come through when this happens though, fair play to them, their rewards will be richly deserved.
PG, Liverpool (my money is on Arsenal for the title)
How to win the title…
Okay, since it’s coming up to Christmas, I made my own list about what I would like Santa to bring Arsenal. Three signings, all in the realms of possibility (we just have to splash some cash) that will pretty much guarantee us the title.
1. Wanyama – Simple really. Ready-made replacement for our most important missing player.
2. Lukaku – It’s no secret he wants to be at a bigger club and he would certainly add something to our strikeforce.
3. Mahrez – He’s French and he’s very good. I know he has said he won’t be leaving in January but if Arsenal come calling I’m not sure he wouldn’t be changing his mind to play against Barca.
Just imagine, Lukaku up front, Sanchez and Mahrez either side of him, Ozil behind him, Ramsay making late runs into the box and Wanyama keeping it all tidy behind them. We might even stand a chance against Barca.
Obviously it will never happen but a man can dream right?
Adonis Stevenson, AFC
Are Arsenal at peak age to triumph?
As a fan of 20 years, I have seen the best and the worst of Arsenal since Arsene Wenger took over. One of the ‘new’ characteristics of this Arsenal team I have come to appreciate is their age. In the past seasons, we have had to watch boys play men in the form of Fabregas, Djourou, Nasri, Clichy, Song, Denilson, young Theo et al in the near-forlorn hope that we could ‘win something with kids’. So we waited. The question whether they would mature into something special was always answered by the likes of City and Barca with a ‘Yes, but not with you’ handshake and money-exchange. What made this harder personally was looking back at the Invincibles XI (average age 27.5) & observing how that having a core squad at peak age contributed to making us so good.
The injuries may persist, but today I watch Arsenal and feel much better in entrusting my hopes with men and not boys. If footballers peak in their late 20s to early 30s, then Arsenal have a lot of players at their peak. A back five (33, 31,30, 29, 20) only has one young player in Bellerin. The front six (24, 24, 26, 26, 27, 29) is hardly young. (Ramsey will probably play more than Cazorla this season). My question is – ‘Based on age and player performance, is this the best chance for Arsenal to win the league since 2004? Is this (age-wise) peak Arsenal?
Liverpool, Spurs and ManU have young starting XIs with average age around 25 or less while Man City (29) may be seen as relatively too old. Chelsea (27.4) and Arsenal (27.2) 1st XIs are simply at their peak. No more waiting.
On the other hand, a sub-plot emerges as Wenger’s current contract runs out in 18 months. If he doesn’t renew, will he leave behind a starting XI averaging 30, and be accused of not planning for the future like SAF?
Lee Moyo, AFC (Whooah, just reached peak footballer’s age myself)
Enough with the WOBs and AKBs
Murray Whiteford’s mail in this morning’s Mailbox started with the words ‘I am in the Wengerout camp…’ which immediately made me despair that even at a time when the club and team are in good shape the debate about whether Wenger should stay or go persists. The tribes are out in full force, their opinions entrenched, mindless of the circumstances we find ourselves in and with a fervent desire to be proved right. Not that I don’t see either camp’s point of view. It’s just that discussing the manager’s position in the middle the season, especially one in which his team is challenging for the title, seems so pointless.
Murray expresses frustration at the fact that Arsenal always seem ‘1 or 2 players short’. Of course he is alluding to the striker and midfielder Wenger ought to have bought. With regards to the striker – simply put, there just isn’t anyone available who would represent an improvement. As for the back-up defensive midfielder – it is deceptively tricky to buy a “back up” because the sort of players one wants aren’t willing to sign on as bench fodder and the ones who are willing aren’t exactly the sort of players one wants at their club. So while I understand the desire to simply throw money at the problem to make the pain go away, there are unfortunately no takers. Arsenal are currently two points off the top and weathering the storm of an injury crisis reasonably well. Overall, the situation at the club has improved and holding any sort of strong opinions regarding the tenability of the manager’s job at this point in the season just doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like Wenger’s occupation of the post in the meantime comes at a cost.
Of course, this could all change. Which is why those who write in to praise Wenger to the skies and herald him as the only suitable manager are being equally ridiculous. I too have been guilty of riding the high-horse in the past whilst waxing lyrical about Wenger’s longevity and Arsenal’s sustainable model. However, it’s perhaps time for Arsenal fans to realize that once Wenger leaves even their beloved club will most likely fall into the circle of hiring and firing managers every three years. It just seems to be the way. The demons that have plagued Arsenal in the past haven’t been banished completely. The European struggles and the performances against Norwich, West Brom and Spurs illustrate that quite well. Arsenal’s position in the league reads well however it would be unwise to forget that that is owed in part to the shortcomings of the teams around us. Murray makes a fair point about fatigue management although it would perhaps have been easier for Wenger to manage had he not been missing Rosicky, Wilshere and Welbeck, all of whom are options out wide. So while Wenger has managed to keep us ahead of the rest (except Leicester) let’s not kid ourselves into believing that he’s doing brilliantly.
In the lead-up to a tricky Christmas schedule (seriously, Southampton and Bournemouth almost back to back!) perhaps the wisest thing to do is to wait and watch. It won’t be an arduous wait either, as long as the performances stay as good as they have been lately. Also, enjoy the shambles at the Bridge while you wait. Can’t ask for more than that.
Pranav, AFC (100% certain that the prospect of being managed by Juande Ramos will propel Chelsea to European glory)
Having seen a headline in The Sun (bear with me) that LVG is in danger of being sacked, it got me thinking. What would Chelsea and United supporters think of manager swapsies? Mourinho to Old Trafford. LVG to Stamford Bridge.
Robb, AFC, USA (Any takers?)
United have no specialists
When he first took over, I’m sure I remember Louis van Gaal saying how he preferred players who could play in more than one position, or that he didn’t value as highly players who could only play in one position – like Hernandez. This might go some way to explaining the current malaise in the squad; how many specialists do we actually have in the squad, other than the ‘keepers? The only ones who, to my knowledge, have consistently played in their natural position are Shaw and Smalling.
Daley Blind, Ashley Young and Rooney have been used in at least four positions across the pitch each. The central midfielders are playing in similar positions but frequently being asked to perform different roles (e.g. attacking, play-making or defensive midfield duties). Basically all the forward players are being moved around from game to game, with none of them really making their position their own.
Perhaps this ‘jack of all trades’ state of the squad is the reason why we’ve managed to beat the teams on a poor run of form, struggling for confidence or that got their tactics wrong – e.g. Liverpool, Everton, Sunderland, Southampton. Yet against teams in decent form, high on confidence or that have any kind of intelligent game plan, we have struggled, e.g Arsenal, Palace, West Ham, Leicester, Bournemouth.
Versatility proves very useful in international tournaments; look how well van Gaal did with Holland because his players were able to fulfil different duties when the first choice was unavailable. But over the course of a domestic season, the physical demands aren’t as high and should allow you to have at least a team’s worth of specialists who play most of the games, with a handful of versatile squad players ready to step in when needed.
I don’t know whether it would make any difference, or if it really is the tactics stifling our progress, but it goes some way to explain why we’re not killing off games like we should. We’re not going to be able to sign any ‘world-class’ players but we could definitely go out and buy some top-20% ones (not potential – ready to go, aged 24 and upwards) and use them to their strengths. If that doesn’t work then it has to be time for a change. Over the last 12 games we’ve won 3, lost 2 and drawn 7, scoring 10 and conceding 8 in the process – that’s just nowhere near good enough. If van Gaal either fails to strengthen the squad in January and/or turn around this abysmal form by the time the window shuts, then I cannot see any justification for keeping him.
Pedro not such a loss after all
The transfer saga surrounding Pedro before his move to Chelsea always had one constant; Man United was the destination. Only the price was unclear. Chelsea was an absolute curveball and when he did (not eventually) move to Chelsea, the mockery on everyone at united that followed was huge. Everyone from Van Gaal to Woodward the wolf, to the team chef was criticised for letting him slip through their fingers.
A couple of months later and hindsight being what it is, I don’t think it was such a c**k up after all. I will admit that when he scored in his first game, I thought that he was going to do a Sanchez on us. But that turned out to be the one-hit wonder.
It has gotten so bad that he isn’t even in the starting eleven (Yes I know Chelsea can’t name an automatic eleven). Given and especially because of the way things are going at Chelsea this season his failure is all the more glaring to me. The starting eleven of last season having mysteriously lost any semblance of form at the same time, it’s amazing that Pedro more often than not finds himself on the bench. Remember he was supposed to be the last cog in the United team to help in the title challenge.
I know it can be argued that the mediocrity of Chelsea have brought down his game but I submit that had he been as good he would lift this Chelsea team at their hour of need. Instead he has disappeared into the crowd and even rarely gets mentioned in the match reports.
I think he is a good squad player. The kind you go to if you want to rotate your key players. Definitely not one to carry a team through a season and lift his teammates a la the Rooney of yesteryears, or Sanchez.
Kanyenje, Kenya (May be Van Gaal is the genius he clearly thinks he is..)
Maybe United bought the right attackers…
Cian, Ireland fell into the classic trap this morning. It’s all very well stating that United needed to buy an established attacker this summer (albeit with the benefit of hindsight). I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, actually. Interesting though, that Cian didn’t have any suggestions as to who this established attacker might have been.
Not that I can really blame him. Because, who are the established attackers these days? They are becoming ever rarer, and as a result, ever more expensive. A look round the top clubs in Europe gives you a list containing Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Rodriguez, Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Lewandowski, Muller, Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Higuain, Aguero, Tevez, Ozil, Sanchez and it has to be said… Rooney. There are a couple of obvious, deliberate omissions there, as we’ll see later.
Now, if the stories this summer were anything to go by, United tried pretty hard to lure a couple of those players to Old Trafford, but failed. Because it’s incredibly difficult to replace a player like that, so it’s not in the interests of clubs to sell.
So what do you do? You shop in the next tier, and buy a young player with potential that could one day join the list above. That’s what United did. Liverpool did it with Firmino and Benteke. Although they are arguably a little more ‘established’ than Martial and Depay, they still carried a fair amount of risk, as we’re all finding out. Lukaku would have been the obvious one for United to go after, with hindsight. Next summer, I expect there will be a huge clamour for his signature.
It should also be said that buying established talent isn’t always the answer. Chelsea have bought Diego Costa and Pedro in the last 18 months, and both have been, on balance, underwhelming.
Time will tell, but it’s easy to draw a parallel between Martial and Depay and the signings of Rooney and Ronaldo, who grew to be the heartbeat of United’s attack. They may not reach the same levels, but just under half a season isn’t the right timescale to judge them. And despite all that, United aren’t doing so badly in the league. I still have a horrible suspicion they’re going to win the thing.
And maybe he would break them anyway…
Cian, Ireland (John Walters’s for player of the tournament this summer) didn’t suggest any names of these top class attackers/wingers for Man United and Woodward to have signed, so let me have a go. For the wing, could I suggest maybe someone like Angel Di Maria? Man of the match in the 2014 Champions league final. Or for attackers what about someone like Javier Hernandez (10 goals in 13 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen this season)?
My point? Van Gaal would play the same football and make them look like present-day Wayne Rooney.
AF, LFC, Belfast
Jose does one thing well
The Mourinho saga is an interesting one partly because of his personality but also because of his success. Here’s my tuppence. It seems to me he does one thing and one thing only, he also happens to do it better than anyone else. He takes over a team who are desperate for success, and I mean really desperate (see first reign at Chelsea, Madrid wanting to overthrow Barca, Inter wanting to reclaim past glories.) These teams and clubs are willing to do anything for success, and he is able to bleed them dry of energy, run them into the ground, and in fairness inspire them to be better than the sum of their parts – they’re also willing to lie, cheat and steal beyond the realms of acceptability (See Drogba/Costa.)
The problem therefore arrives once success and trophies are delivered because most players or people for that matter don’t want every single day of their lives being a struggle, a fight against the world. They also have to meet players from other teams who ask how they’re willing to play anti-football most games and be so despised by the footballing world. I think eventually they tire of it. Hazard has to be the best example, why would someone as talented as he is want to play every game in this manner?
I think the answer is – he doesn’t!
It will be interesting to see where he goes after this, who is desperate enough for that kind of success, I’m sure there will be many!
Jose’s cunning plan
Reading some of the mails on the demise of Chelsea a thought occurred to me that maybe Jose is actually a cunning genius and the current malaise at Chelsea could be of his doing. Looking at it from another perspective he has basically came back to Chelsea, spent a wedge on creating a title0winning team therefore securing himself a massive four-year contract with a huge pay-off clause, and is now in the process in doing everything within his power to get himself sacked so he can toddle off to Paris to pick up another huge wedge for doing, what is, a pretty easy job. Jose cares about Jose more than Kanye loves Kanye, make no mistake about that.
From day pone and the castigation of Eva Carniero and Jon Fearne through to the current claim his players are ‘betraying’ him, he’s a man on a mission. The only thing that is preventing his cunning plan from coming to fruition is the owner giving his public backing. Mark my words, if Roman comes out and gives Jose his backing expect to see some choice words from The Special One on how his boss never backs his plans, has shocking dress sense and needs a shave. It makes more sense than last year’s champions are actually crap, surely.
Trust me, before the start of next season he will have already moved into his new apartment on Rue Royale plotting his next heist.
Chris ITFC, Liverpool
Hazard injured himself!
On Eden Hazard, He clearly injured himself diving! He WAS definitely fouled, but instead of falling naturally he took a huge leap to make it look more dramatic and bounced himself off the ground awkwardly and unnecessarily injured himself. I said it straight away when it happened. I was sure he would get a lot of stick about it in the media but so far there’s been nothing. Surely I’m not the only one who saw it that way?
Pierce, LFC (Waterford, Ireland)
‘Hazard will undergo a scan on the hip injury in order to ascertain its severity, but it is thought he will be fit to face Sunderland in a relegation six-pointer on Saturday.’
Extract from F365 report, wrote without a hint of sarcasm!!
What a time to be alive!!
Jamie, Kilkenny, Ireland
Flores holding Watford back? Behave
As a Watford fan, I’m not really used to my team getting any attention outside of the local paper, so to see someone using Watford as a subject in order to try and stir up a bit of controversy for its own sake is truly unique, but I can only assume that’s what Colin, Watford FC (Hope Klopp is celebrating dropping more points next weekend) is trying to do.
While Colin does raise an interesting trend, there is more than one way to look at it. Is it not possible that teams have performed better in seasons following Quique’s departure because he left them in great shape having built a platform for continuous improvement. That could explain Watford’s decision to appoint him in the first place.
When he was first appointed, I assumed he’d been hired mainly as a name – a well-known figure who had managed at the top level, who would make it easier to attract a better quality of player. Beyond that, it almost didn’t matter who the manager was. The Watford owners have a philosophy for the club, in much the same way that the likes of Swansea and Southampton do, which makes it easier for almost any manager to come in and continue the good work of those before him. But actually, Quique has Watford performing well above expectations. He has enabled a large number of new players to settle quickly, fostered a tremendous team spirit within the dressing room and got us playing some very good football. I don’t care what pattern his career has followed previously; right now I wouldn’t swap him for anyone.
Less icon, more football please
I wrote in last week (unpublished) to comment on Daniel Storey’s piece on Paul McGrath – my point was that Storey was guilty of patronizing the man instead of celebrating the player. I’m afraid he’s done the same thing with Mia Hamm. I’ve read the article twice now and I’m still no wiser about what made her such a good player. There is no discussion of her playing style at all. Was she a dribbler, a playmaker, a ball-winner? Was she quick? Did she have a signature skill? I don’t even know which position she played in. I presume up front, given she scored a lot of goals, although, interestingly, not one of those goals seems to merit any closer analysis. I’m pretty sure she was a woman, though. Yes, definitely a woman.
A slightly altered reality
Re: Dr Oyvind, Earth.
I too live in your slightly altered reality. I have have decided to ignore the 30 teams that finished above Cardiff City last season so I have chosen to take them as Premier League champions. That’s how it works isn’t it?
I’m looking forward to our Champions League triumph at the San Siro in May. What a time to be alive!