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Ask a simple question….
Could Tottenham actually win the league?
Kevin (looks like Kane isn’t a one season wonder, which is nice), ITFC, Vancouver
Van Gaal still winning over critics
At the 88th minute mark of Watford v United yesterday i was rather cynically thinking to myself “this is exactly why we won’t win the league, this is exactly the kind of game Champions would find a way to win”, of course I then celebrated like a nuthatrucker when Basti rather skillfully used Deeney as a backboard to win the match (he meant it!).
The issues are still abundantly clear to everybody with this United side. We still can’t kill off games against the ‘lower’ opposition like we used to, there were plenty of chances in that game where a United side of higher quality and more confidence would have buried Watford’s hopes long before Rojo had his customary brainfart. We have youngsters brimming with pace, movement, willingness and ability but currently lacking the split-second decision making skills to take advantage of counter-attacks and defensive slips from the opposition, with Depay in particular dithering for a little too long on a few occasions. We also once again showed this rather infuriating tendency to only wake up and start attacking with proper urgency and determination after conceding a goal, when you see just how forceful we were at the end of the game chasing the winning goal it begs the eternal question of “why weren’t we playing like this sooner?”.
A few weeks ago I would have been tempted to write in and offload some rather grumpy, sullen rant about how this is no longer the United side I once knew and that we’ve lost our way, identity etc. But recently I’ve had a change in heart and found myself actually giving LvG an awful lot of credit for what he’s achieved so far despite the restraints.
We started the season not knowing if our best player, De Gea, would be running off to Madrid, we lost Di Maria, Van Persie, Hernandez, Janujaz, Nani, Evans and Rafael (all valuable experience and depth of quality although admittedly some deadwood also) and have had to deal with an awful lot of injuries throughout the campaign so far. Shaw seemed to be at the start of a real standout season, Jones and Herrera can’t stay fit long enough to get a run in the side and some of our most influential players like Carrick and Rooney have been unavailable/underwhelming for long periods.
We’ve only really got 1 stand out defender at the moment in Smalling with midfielders at centre-half, wingers at full-back and constant, constant rotation across the back 4. No specialist right winger with a central playmaker currently doing a (usually good) job out there, the number 1 left winger in the club having trouble adapting to the league and our best striker is a 19 year old who, whilst being hugely impressive, has been asked to play different positions and is still very much in the toddler stages of his career. Rooney is probably the worst performing club captain in the league right now and is still being shoe-horned in to this side despite whatever sacrifices have to be made to style or personnel and a lot of youth have been brought in to the side earlier than you imagine was planned due to the amount of senior players unavailable.
To be 1 point off the top of the league above all of our normal top 4 rivals and still in a great position to qualify out of our Champions League group is something that I think warrants a great deal of praise for LvG and his coaching team. Of course we still complain because we are used to things, certainly under Fergie, being just THAT good for United and could probably benefit from learning some humility as a fan base, but I now see these things as areas for improvement rather than serious concerns. Of course there are still sticks available with which to beat LvG such as he hasn’t spent the money available in the best way possible and that a club of United’s stature shouldn’t become so lacking in options when hit by a handful of injuries, and that our current position in the league is embellished because of how inconsistent our rivals have been (when isn’t a sides position determined also by how well/poorly others are doing?) but for the most part I think he deserves respect for the progress so far. We are now far more resilient and accomplished in defence despite still not having a settled back 4 and just need to sharpen up in taking our chances at the other end. There are still plenty of painful, infuriating moments to come no doubt as we are far from the finish article but I think it is becoming rather clear that there is an end-game plan in place here, and the big chief does actually know what he’s doing.
All the best,
Ben (My sympathy for Herrera is that of an injured bird) Gleeson, Cardiff
AC Milan 1998 = Manchester United 2015
In 1987, Silvio Berlusconi hired Arrigo Sacchi in the hopes of helping AC Milan lift their first Scudetto since 1979. Sacchi immediately led them to Serie A success – pipping the might of a Diego Maradona-inspired Napoli – by scoring a lowly 43 goals in 30 games (1.43 goals/game) and also conceding a miserly 14 goals throughout (0.46 goals/game). He followed up this feat by winning back-to-back European Cups – still the last team to successfully do so. A quick glance at the teamsheet throws up many illustrious names: Baresi, Costacurta, Maldini, Tassotti, Ancelotti, Donadoni, Albertini, and the Dutch trio of Rijkaard, Gullit and van Basten.
Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United is currently scoring at a rate of 1.46 goals/game and conceding at a rate of 0.69 goals/game. Comparing these stats, van Gaal’s side have a better strike rate, and if anything, need to be more defensive to match Milan’s tightness at the back. So why is everyone so quick to pour scorn over this United side when history recalls that AC Milan as one of the best teams ever, not one considered defensive and boring to watch despite their lack of goals?
All those exciting, end-to-end stuff from the Fergie-era only ever landed them 2 Champions League’s in 25 years (and both won fortuitously against arguably better teams on the night), so maybe a more patient passage of play is what’s needed to be more successful in Europe (for more proof see early years Guardiola-led Barcelona and the then negative press over ‘tiki-taka’).
This evolution of styles might just be the beginning of something special. With the solid base Sacchi built, Fabio Capello took over and led them to 4 Serie A titles and 2 more European Cup finals, the apex being in1994 when they crushed Barcelona’s so-called Dream Team. Louis van Gaal might just be doing the same thing here with his very youth-centric squad, creating a strong base for the next manager to take it even further.Who knows, 30 years from now we might be holding Smalling, Schneiderlin, Herrera and Martial in the same regard as Maldini, Rijkaard, Gullit and van Basten. Fans, ex-players and pundits alike should perhaps take a step back and re-evaluate if they’re being too hasty in their judgements, and possibly re-educate themselves on how they watch their football.
Sanjit (or they might just end up being rubbish) Randhawa, Kuala Lumpur.
As sure as eggs are eggs, if an Arsenal results really pisses me off, the end result is a silly and pissey email in from me. I should really explain the ‘soft centre‘ bit.
There was a game against Chelsea years ago when we were one goal up, then they noticed out centre backs, Gallas and Kolo Toure were both under 6 foot. So they hoisted the ball into our box from deep repeatedly, and got 2 easy goals. At the same time there were some games when oppositions would muscle us off the ball and launch knife through hot butter attacks at us. This is what I understand by a ‘soft centre’
Since then our failings have morphed back and forth, and concentration lapses, a lack of pacey outlets or bizarrely attacking lineups have done us in. Most often though, its the momentary concentration problems resulting in disorganization. I don’t think this means having a soft centre, but certain pundits love to wheel it out.
Yesterday was one of those where keeping West Brom at Arms length was easy, but for their first goal Per forgets his job and doesn’t attack the ball. For the 2nd Bellerin forgets his job, causing some chaos, for which Arteta was harshly blamed. The ‘soft centre’ things does me like nails on a blackboard. Because I recognise something is wrong, but this analysis is a shortcut looking more to past failings than current. Soft centre is a shorthand for messing up, and not being pure winners. So ends up as a tautology where our lack of consistency or success is explained as resulting from not being consistently good at success. I may possible have my own soft centre, then it comes to reading ‘soft centre’ though
Next year could actually be their year
Dear Mr Editor,
Much as it pains me to say this as a match-going United fan, I must say that I feel the performance of the season so far, must go to Liverpool and their annihilation of Manchester City yesterday.
The job of any manager is to get the best out of their team. When your players are generally of average ability, the job is to get them to perform better than the sum of their parts. Liverpool’s manager did this in spades yesterday.
I like Klopp. He is articulate, likeable, a team player, expressive and has the ability to fire up a reasonable team and make them look fantastic. In my opinion, that was the best Liverpool performance I’ve seen in many a year.
Admittedly, watching Manchester City get well and truly beaten was the major benefit. However, I can’t remember sitting back watching a match involving a Liverpool win and enjoying it as much as that.
Manchester United continue to be unimpressive in victory. Yes, we had a good result but I can’t remember a performance in the last few years that was comprehensive and impressive as that Liverpool win yesterday. That is an ominous reality for us.
Whilst the players are to be commended, for me, the plaudits should go to Klopp.
Whilst many of my fellow United fans may disagree with my assessment, i think it is undeniable that they have a fantastic manager who in time, has the ability to take them on to great things.
Chris Wilkinson MUFC
Everything is better when naked
David (Was Sterling playing?) LFC called me out for being so ridiculously wrong on Thursday and I would have loved to try to sneak into that Sunday mailbox but I was too busy trying to rip my clothes off and celebrate the wonderful result. No matter the highs in life, they’re always better naked I say.
I do get where people are coming from when they say it reminded them of when we smashed Arsenal and United in that nearly season under Rodgers but actually I was thinking of the City game we also won in that season and how different a victory this was to that one.
The key for me was how incredibly controlled this game was compared to that one. The obvious similarities were the pressing and the interchanging positional work of the forward men however the major difference was that this wasn’t strictly an end to end game. Of course Liverpool had a 15 minute period at the start of the second half where we were pretty well penned into our own area but everytime we went forward we didn’t seem desperately vulnerable at the back. Looking back on it there was a moment where Lovren went a bit mental at Can in the first half because he didn’t think he had provided appropriate cover for Moreno who had been on a storm forward and I think this might be what Klopp has brought most to Liverpool in his time here; a sense of genuine organisation in our defensive third.
I am normally pretty critical of Lallana but I thought the front 3 fit together so well on Saturday and Can and Moreno also supported the attack brilliantly. I did feel slightly concerned that Clyne seemed maybe a touch lost in the final third of the pitch but I think the solid presence he provides at right back after the pretty meagre Johnson years means I really don’t mind this at all.
Sadly Liverpool now have an eminently winnable run of games up until the New Year which of course means we are going to collect 4 points from 15 and still be 10th come January. The last thing we need next week is to face an under pressure manager at an underperforming Swansea team at Anfield. There is a pessimism in me that is ingrained after supporting Liverpool for a long time which I think will take a very long time to shake off. The last time it fell away was after that Man City game under Rodgers which was when I started to believe we were going to win the league. It didn’t last long but the scars remain.
Messages for Arsene
I appreciate that this may seem like another rambling Arsenal fan venting his spleen after another loss but after Wenger said ‘we lacked focus‘ in the defeat to WBA this statement infuriated me.
I’ve head it all before from Wenger and I’m sick of it. Same old excuses, ‘we lacked sharpness, concentration etc’, yawn.
Why are we lacking these things? Why hasn’t Wenger installed these into the players so they have a killer instinct to grab a second and shut the game down?
Stop trotting out the same excuses and justify your 8 million salary. You made massive mistakes in the transfer window as per usual, last year you left us short of a centre back and we put no title challenge in as a result despite a strong finish.
This year you made the ridiculous decision to give Arteta and Rosicky new contracts and keep faith with Flamini. We needed a strong DM and better striker and you did nothing, absolutely nothing meaning we were the only top club in five divisions not purchase an outfield player, it’s embarrassing.
Yet again Wenger has not sufficiently strengthened the squad so we will predictably fall short as we do every season and all the apologists will come out and defend him.
Add to that our questionable training methods which seem to be injuring our players and the predictable injury crisis has happened even sooner this year. Which other top club has an injury crisis EVERY season? None, only Arsenal.
Why is anybody surprised? Why do my fellow Arsenal fans think we can challenge for the league again under this manager when the last ten years have shown we are a bunch of bottle jobs who lack the hunger to go and win despite all the statements made before games?
I suggest Mr Wenger, you stop making excuses, pull your finger out and do your job.
Mark Holmes, Arsenal Season Ticket Holder
Who the heck is going to finish in the top 4?
After reading your article on spurs it got me thinking (and worrying) about who will finish in the top 4. Being a united fan I was quite confident we would finish top 4 after watching Chelsea hilariously slip to their relegation battle. Thinking “who else will battle for forth now?”
But not so confident anymore….going through the teams I think have a chance for top 4 this season, starting from the top,
Leicester – on paper have no right to be where they are now but I don’t think anyone can be angry about this. I was happy they fought their way out of relegation last season and their non stop attacking minded players have gone from bottom last season to top this season. Can you leave them out of a top 4 finish? Will King Vardy keep scoring?
United – LVG impenetrable defence was proven to have holes against arsenal but take those 3 goals from the tally and united have a soild 6 goals conceded so far. But I can’t take them out, and I can see them being broken down again by a few of the below.
Citeh – with the correct 2 CBs and David Silva behind a fully fit aguero + De Bruyne are unstoppable in the PL. It takes a lot to break them down and as long as these players are on the pitch they won’t lose many points.
Arsenal – prove time and time again that on their day are the beat in the PL. Beating Bayern takes some doing that’s for sure. However it isn’t always their day….an inconsistent arsenal could easily see them drop out of the top 4.
Spurs – same as their north London rivals on their day are just a united force. However the difference between the two is everyday seems to be a spurs day. I would not feel confident playing spurs home or away. Every player is playing at the peak of their game nearly as impenetrable as united with the goals of City……no weaknesses I think is the beat way to describe them.
West ham – interesting to see them here…. But sorry guys I don’t see this lasting with what’s behind them.
Liverpool – what’s behind them? It is the klip klop of the kop (I hate myself for that sentence) klopp has taken mental Rodgers unbalanced team and has balanced it. Players playing where they should play, who thought it could work so well? It took some balls to not play Benteke up top but it paid of beautiful with some incredible attacking class. If Rodgers was there I wouldn’t even be mentioning Liverpool here.
Chelsea – falling down the league is Chelsea, I know I should but I can’t rule them out. Logic dictates they will not make top 4. But its Chelsea, managed by their lord and saviour. They may not finish top 4, but they will sneak back up towards the top.
Everton and Southampton as strong as they are I can’t see then reaching the top 4. (Who knows though, I’ve seen crazier things like Leicester at the top of the table)
Top 4 in my opinion has never looked harder to reach, and as a united fan I don’t feel as confident after thinking about it. I do hope that this style of football will help us keep our 4 places in Europe…
Picking the top 4 right now I think – citeh, united, spurs and Liverpool. Solely based on how consistent these 4 teams will be from now to the end of the season.
Stoky-Boy – Leicester in Europe though OMGEEEZ!
Closest season in a decade
I understand that there is a movement against statistics, but I think that is mostly because we try and use them to prove small points of incredible detail when really their strength is best applied to broad trends.
Anyway, reading your excellent story on whether Spurs can push for the title along with seeing Leicester topping the league, I thought I’d have a bit of a look at the state of the league after 12 matches (1/4 of the way in) over the last decade and here’s what I found:
– On average, there have been 5.2 teams within 10 points of the leaders, this year there are 11.
– The next closest to 11 was 13/14 when there were 8.
– In fact, take this season out of it, and there’re usually only 4.5 teams within 10 points.
If you tighten it to within 5 points:
– There are usually 1.9 teams within 5 points, this year there are 5.
– The next closest to 5 was 12/13 when there were 3.
– In fact, take this season out of it, and there’re usually only 1.6 teams within 5 points.
At the summit:
– The leading team averages 29.6 points after 12 games, this year Arsenal & City had 26 each.
– The lowest tally for the league leaders other than this is 28.
It’s a tight old season, that’s for sure and I think it will get more so with a January transfer window likely to see some action. Why? Chelsea have to do something. Other than that, with the extra TV cash on offer, a few others will look to bolster/consolidate their surprising positions while others might roll the dice to escape the vortex of relegation.
All up I think this will be a very close run race. Using my newly created Increased Competition Co-efficient and applying it to the rest of the season I’m predicting the points tallies needed to win the league and finish fourth.
Average points haul for 1st over the last decade: 87 with a low of 80 in 10/11.
In 15/16 I’m predicting 78 points will be enough
Average points haul for 4th over the last decade: 72 with a low of 68 in 10/11 and 06/07.
In 15/16 I’m predicting a paltry 63 could scrape you in this year.
So what do the swathe of statistical geniuses that frequent F365 think will be enough to win the league and finish fourth this year?
Dr Oyvind, Earth
Washing up liquid
I caught the second half of the Watford match and at one point Man. Utd. had a shot saved. A little later they showed the reaction on the bench to that chance. There were a couple of seconds of faces looking anxiously at the pitch then all arms going aloft in disbelief that they’d missed. All arms that is except for Van Gaal’s who instantly bent and started writing something in his notebook.
Washing-up liquid, I thought.
He had the look of a man who had suddenly remembered what he had to pick up from the cornershop on the way home and knew he’d be in trouble if he forgot.
I may be wrong with this, so please don’t quote me.
John THFC, Saigon
Worst run club in the world
Whilst watching Barca take Real to School on Saturday I started to think that I think Real might be one of the worst run clubs in the world. Take James – a wonderful player, but they bought him for one reason only – he was star of the 2014 World Cup.
If the star had been Hazard, they would have signed him. If it had been Rooney, they would have signed him. If it had been Aguero…etc etc. No questions as to how to integrate them into the team, just buy the star – ridiculous policy.
Barca on the other hand, strategically buy players who will improve the team whilst holding on to the remarkably talented core (Iniesta, Messi, Alves, Pique etc). Whilst I am as bored of the debate as everyone else, this adds a new angle to Messi vs Ronaldo. Messi has effectively had the team built around him and supplemented with outrageously talented players to help get the best out of him (Neymar, Suarez, Sanchez, Cesc etc).
Ronaldo has consistently had to readapt to new signings as the team alter their style of play, indeed he’s seen some of the players he has a real understanding with (Ozil, Di Maria) sold for now apparent reason other than to accommodate another ‘Galactico’. If fact, now I think about it I’m not sure if Messi has ever played in a worst team than Ronaldo since United beat Barca in 2008 (perhaps in 2012 when Real won the title).
Anyway, great game to watch, It does beg the question – does anyone else in the universe apart from Perez think that Benitez is a better coach/manager than Anchelotti? Baffling decision.
The advantage rule
Daniel Storey talks about consistency and the advantage rule (16 conclusions), specifically that there should be a specified and consistent amount of time played.
I fear he’s failed to grasp the concept of the rule. The clue is in the title; play continues until the referee can determine if the fouled team have gained an advantage. Time isn’t the key variable.
It’s subjective. One referee’s advantage may not be seen as such by another.
It would probably blow Storey’s mind to see the rule applied in rugby. Advantage can last the best part of a minute. The transgressors can even be in possession of the ball.
Life doesn’t always need to be black and white, sometimes it’s the grey that makes things interesting.
Craig (First time writer. Do we freestyle the brackets or is there a proforma?) odile
The Devon derby
I know that few other mailboxers will care, but can I take this opportunity to say, there’s only one team in Devon.
Great win on Saturday against the odds, away from home against top-of-the-league local rivals with 7 wins in their last 8 games, to run out 2-1 winners required a top (top) performance from the whole team.
A final note to any Fulham fans out there, hands off our manager.
Terry Hall, Switzerland (we sing a song for our Stanno…)