Mails: *This* Man United can’t win title

Date published: Monday 18th January 2016 4:09

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I am a Man United fan and I don’t want to win the title…
Just a couple of thoughts after the north-west derby.

1. This version of United can’t win the league. That’s not to say they’re incapable of winning it – they’re only seven points off the top, after all – I mean they can’t be allowed to win the league. If they did it would be such a damning indictment of the quality of our Premier League teams. I’d rather Arsenal, City or even Leicester won it than this version of United (not Spurs though; if they won it their fans would be almost as insufferable as the scousers).

2. I’m so sick of Fellaini. It’s not (just) that he’s a terrible footballer, I’m just so tired of watching him try to hurt opponents then pretend like he’s done nothing wrong. There are loads of quality defensive midfielders out there who can put in a hard tackle without stamping and elbowing, so there’s no excuse for his behaviour. Get shot asap.

3. If Liverpool have become Newcastle, then I propose that United have become late Moyes-era Everton. Mostly scrappy but functional defensive football with the odd decent performance mixed in; big, dirty, elbowing, stampy lump of a target man in midfield; no real hope of winning a trophy, while a top four finish would be a real achievement; a few really exciting players who you fully expect to leave for a more competitive team; it’s all there. This isn’t an insult directed at Everton, by the way, just not where you would expect a club with United’s resources to be.

4. The worst thing about the derby result is that we won playing van Gaal’s patented brand of shocking football. That victory will do nothing to change his mind on his tactics, team selection or transfer plans, so it’s a hollow victory really. If we’d played well and won 1-0 then it wouldn’t be so bad but we didn’t deserve that win in the slightest, so no doubt he’ll see that as his plan working perfectly. While I didn’t want us to lose, I think if we had it might have done us more favours in the long run.

Anyway, it is what it is. I’m happy we beat Liverpool of course, but it did nothing to convince me that we’re going to be okay this season and have a genuine chance at the top four. Unless Spurs and/or Leicester start to shed points – which isn’t looking too likely so far – then we’ll be playing Europa League again, but only if we’re lucky.
Ted, Manchester


We won but…you know…meh
My body and mind have been the subject of many and varied emotions following United/‘Pool games over the years, but this was the first time I’ve ever experienced a feeling of ‘Meh’.

The two most decorated teams in the history of English football, normally a showpiece for all that is wonderful about the game – drama, excitement, passion and occasionally a bit of decent football poking its head out.

Yesterday’s game however, showcased everything that is bad about the Premier League: poor passing, long hopeful balls, rotten first touches, inaccurate shooting and a general lack of aesthetics. In truth it was god-awful…conventional pundits’ wisdom decrees that such games are decided by a moment of brilliance. No such luck yesterday. It was a goal, not a scruffy one, but a goal. That’s all that can be said of 90+ minutes’ play.

Twenty players running around like headless chickens, two bored onlookers with one occasionally having to do what he does best. And that player probably the only true world-class footballer on the payroll of both clubs.

So we have our pride intact, we have put a lid on the irritating bonhomie of Herr. Klopp for now at least, so all should be well in the hearts and minds of United supporters. But it’s not. Time for a change of direction, some new, dynamic ideas on how to win a football match, and how to entertain the paying public. And soon.
ET King (MUFC)


Manchester United = Marlon Brando
I’ve been trying to quantify how I feel about Manchester United these last few years. As a neutral I often enjoyed watching their matches under Ferguson, even if I did grow somewhat weary of their constant success.

However now we’re in the ‘post-Ferguson’ era, I find myself annoyed each time their game is televised. I think I’ve finally figured out why though, United are the Marlon Brando of football. Back in their prime they were a star everyone tuned in to see, they were dynamic, exciting and some may even say beautiful. But now, they’re a shadow of their former selves, they’ve neglected themselves and they’re bloated. They’re still given top billing on the marquee but people are watching hoping for the old but dreading the new. Walking out of the theatre (of dreams) and shaking their heads.

They’re also pig ugly.
M. (Works for Orson Welles too) Yass


You’re not using Felli in the right way…
Still baffled as I am, about the incessant criticism of Fellaini, I feel the need to write in and defend “the big woolly haired pillock” (as described by my old man).

I watched that piffling excuse for a football game yesterday and what I saw was two teams not giving each other any space to play. In that game, Fellaini actually did more than most of United’s midfield. What I remember is Martial, Rooney, Herrera, Lingard, Schneiderlin all losing the ball way more than Fellaini.

Football managers Moyes and Van Gaal both know exactly what he brings to the team yet you need the right players to be effective with it. ManU just don’t have that, Everton did.

When Felli played at Everton, he would play as the number 10 and Coleman and Baines would ping diagonal passes straight to his chest. (Note passes and not ‘long balls’). He would then control, not be knocked off the ball and switch defence to attack instantly. For those with a memory shorter than one season, Fellaini’s best game was against ManUtd at Goodison when they just couldn’t get near him. He also scored the deciding goal. This was peak Fellaini. He then followed it up to produce another towering display at old Trafford to make them “lose the title” whatever that means.

Essentially, it is pointless playing a system which doesn’t suit the players. Everton had to change their style of play this year as Lukaku just wasn’t getting any service and looked as if he couldn’t hit a barn door if he sat on the latch. Now look at him.

I’m not saying Felli is perfect, but he’s no worse than the current united crop of midfielders and in many respects he is actually better because he affects the result more than any of the others do.

Time for the witch-hunt to stop and Utd to buy some better full-backs.
Fat Man Scouse, EFC


To Liverpool fans…shush
I do enjoy reading the mailbox the day after a Liverpool game, the extreme emotional reactions from the fans is always a treat. It was a poor game in which the poorer team scored a late goal with their only shot on target. I accept that results are king in football but, as a Liverpool fan, I am far more encouraged by the showing of 3-4 quality players who could really kick on under Klopp with a few more to come back, and hopefully a few to come on. LFC fans calm down, it’ll be our year next year, and if not next year, the year after, and if not…leep the faith.
Greg, plastic LFC South Wales (Where was the Welsh Xavi when we needed him?)


…I was bitterly disappointed that we lost to Man Utd yesterday but I am not all for the doom and gloom that surrounds Liverpool after the game.

I’ve seen enough from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool so far to be optimistic going forward. He needs time, he needs money and he needs to wield the axe.

Liverpool’s biggest problem is an amazing ability to buy players who are just not up to scratch.

What I really hope Klopp is good at is buying good players.

He seemed to be able to do it at Dortmund but I’m not sure he can take all the credit as I’m not up to speed on who calls the shots at Dortmund in terms of purchasing players.

I have to give credit to FSG. They have given Liverpool managers plenty of cash to spend in their time and now is not the time to start penny pinching.
We’ve got to give Jurgen the money and let him spend it as he sees fit. While I’m not all for the “we buy young players to develop” model as I believe there’s no harm in buying the finished article I do not see a problem with buying the right young players. I’m hopeful Jurgen doesn’t need £100 million to spend. I’m hopeful he can buy the Lewandowskis for £2.5 million (ok a bit farfetched but it helps develop my point) and turn our hard-working team into one that finishes chances and shuts the back door.
Gough, LFC, Dublin (Our only problem is scoring and conceding goals…after that we have all the ingredients)


…I’ve never seen so much wild overreaction over a mid-table clash. It’s annoying that that was one of the easiest games we’ll have all season and we still lost, but have some perspective ffs.

Over the last two years there has been zero consistency in this squad. They have played variants of 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-3-3, three at the back, diamond, a range of false nines, you name it. Even within these, Rodgers’ ‘hotdesking’ approach to players and positions resulted in a confused, stultifying mess. These issues can’t be fixed overnight – and certainly not by Klopp, whose approach is not straightforward to implement and whose career so far shows it takes him a couple of years to build a team. Anyone expecting CL this season and the league next will be sorely disappointed.

There are silver linings. We have the makings of a decent young team and a manager as good as any; I am confident he’ll get it right. It might even be better to be definitively ruled out of the top-four chase earlier rather than later so we can concentrate on the cups we’re still in and use the league to build under a lesser pressure. Maybe.

There is one thing that is p***ing me off no end though: set plays. We must be the worst in the league at them, at both ends of the pitch. The last time I can remember us scoring from a corner is Skrtel against Arsenal last season. As mentioned in this morning’s mailbox, we’ve conceded from corners in each of our last three games (and also against Palace, West Ham, Watford and West Brom since November alone). If we were merely mediocre at set plays in that we scored as many as we conceded, that alone would potentially put us 15 goals better off a season – probably good enough to keep us right in the mix for fourth at this stage. It’s such an elementary part of the game and we are so, so poor at it. It’s infuriating. It’s not just the keeper either; it’s the whole team. It has to improve.
Jon Gibson LFC (though it is still mainly the keeper)


…While the result was depressing I don’t think Liverpool were as dire as everyone is making them out to be. After the first half I was quite happy with the way the Reds were playing and the only aspect missing was the goal.

What we did learn yesterday was just how big of a rebuilding job Klopp has on his hands. The lack of wide men with natural pace who can take a player on is absolutely killing us. I would have loved to have seen Ibe come on earlier to run at Borthwick-Jackson.

Not enough words can be written about Benteke being left on the bench until the 80th min after Liverpool was already down. The game was screaming for a Benteke style striker but admittedly Christian doesn’t have movement/desire to really make an impact.

Speaking of strikers would anyone like to continue to justify not moving on from Daniel Sturridge? Seeing Phil Jones et al in the away end then seeing Sturridge, in what is becoming his starting role from the club box, with his special lady friend sent me through the roof. I have said it once before but he is a luxury Liverpool cannot afford. Liverpool must buy a striker in this window.

I’ve read Henderson is getting a lot of stick but let’s not forget he has been out injured for significant portions of this season. While I agree he is not up to the standard of previous Liverpool captains, but he is not as poor as some outlets are proposing.

It is clear with the two players bought under Klopp that has identified and begun fixing some terminal issues for Liverpool. Caulker and Grujic are tall players that will help Liverpool with their set-piece dilemma.

Liverpool was fluid in transition yesterday and played some quite magnificent football in tight spaces around the opposition’s penalty area. Liverpool was one striker away from a result yesterday. I wouldn’t say Liverpool is out of the top four race just yet. They certainly have a mountain to climb but the way this season is going anything is still possible. In order for this season to be a success (i.e. win a cup/finish top 4) they need striking options that Klopp isn’t hesitant to use.
Brian (Special mention to Kolo who has rolled back the years the past three games) LFC


…Steady on there Vinnie, Phnom Penh. Your team were just beaten by Man U, yes, but they didn’t deserve to lose (or at least Man U didn’t deserve to win). They’ve just come off the back of a phenomenal 3-3 thriller with Arsenal and have some big scalps (and Chelsea) this season already.

Klopp has lifted spirits in the dressing room, has instilled belief and actually has a great and proven system that, given time, could well work here too.

As you say there is a strong core in there of seven or eight quality players, backed up by five or six squad players. Some of the deadwood you describe such as Benteke (half a season in) and Markovic (still young, has been on loan/injured I think) could be sold on for fairly big fees. And there are plenty elsewhere that could be sold on for some nice summer warchest-filler. Give Klopp a couple of transfer windows and time to mould the squad a bit and I think Liverpool will reap rich rewards.

Patience grasshopper, the season is only half over, and Klopp’s not even been in situ for all of it. You have one of the finest young (ish) managers in the game, give him time to prove himself or otherwise.
Alay (stupid Stoke), N15 Gooner


A lengthy and spineless attack on Liverpool
It’s rare that I read a mailbox that is so unified in tone. The fact it’s the morning after one of the most fractious games in the Premier League calendar is even more unusual. Man Utd fans will, of course, hold a sense of short-term joy at a smash-and-grab victory but had it been against any other mid-table side the mailbox would be awash with criticism.

Reading the comments, it’s difficult to offer any alternative analysis on the LFC v MUFC game. Two very flawed teams doing what they’ve consistently done all season. Liverpool’s combination of blunt attacking play and defensive lapses must be the most crippling deficiency possible in a Premier League team. Man Utd’s turgid style is probably the most boring. Both teams have some good players, crowded out by surrounding dross.

As a Liverpool fan, I find it particularly frustrating to see so few players with either leadership or a cutting edge.

Rafa built a team with leaders in abundance. The team had flaws (as most do) but you could see players organising to implement a game plan and being led forward on the pitch. Henderson, Can and Lucas don’t have it in them to spot an opportunity and rally the team to exploit it (Can, perhaps, shows glimpses). It’s also worth noting that Rafa’s leadership begun with the keeper and extended through the spine. Liverpool have rapidly replaced leadership with functional and have become truly spineless.

Rodgers (for one season) had a team with cutting edge. For what it lacked in solid organisation, it made up for in an ability to hit teams with lightning fast and inventive attacks. The front four could slice most teams open (forgetting THAT Chelsea game) and finish chances with confidence. Continually watching Lallana and Milner run towards the by-line only to stop, turn and pass it to Can is blood-boiling. Chances being created are often of insufficient quality and when a rare good chance opens up there is a panic which melts all confidence of finishing.

None of this has been achieved by penny pinching either. It’s a very worrying sign that things have been wrong from the very top.

Ultimately, Liverpool are left with a few decent first-team and squad players, surrounded by previously mentioned surrounding dross. All hopes are firmly rested on Klopp’s shoulders, the weight of LFC history, crushing as it has been in the last few decades. In normal circumstances I would be confident of Klopp’s ability to re-invent, re-populate and re-ignite a team. However, I know little of his ability to tackle a rudderless board and hierarchy. He’s clearly an astute man, with plenty of determination to get what he wants. I only hope he can tackle this head on in the summer and really begin to raise a club in sad but steady decline.
Sam (wondering how such an unpredictable season can feel so predictable) LFC


On Milner and Walcott…
It’s amazing the about turn in opinion directed towards James Milner after another less than impressive performance for the Reds at the weekend. I seem to recall a general air of excitement in this very mailbox when his free transfer was confirmed. Apparently he was the perfect plug for the Stevie G-shaped hole in the squad. However, all of it was essentially revisionism of a player who, while admittedly looked excellent during his time at Villa, was mainly a bit-part player for City. And should be a bit-part player for any ‘big’ club. There’s a reason why he has a parody Boring James Milner twitter account. He ain’t exactly grabbing games by the scruff of the neck. But of course excitement and over-reaction tends to be par for the course when it comes to transfer dealings associated with Liverpool or Man United in particular.

On Walcott, he is the last remnants of an era where having blistering pace was often a devastating commodity to have in a team’s locker. However, basic human evolution, and improvements in sports science, has dictated that players on a whole are now fitter, stronger and quicker than ever before, meaning that you need more in your locker than the ability to run fast. Walcott has been bottled up in this new era of footballers as a result, making him less a reliable asset for a side with designs on winning the title. Joel Campbell has shown more trickery, intelligence and work-rate to combine with pace, and has rightly caught the attention of fans and pundits alike. Unfortunately, I think Theo’s career is going to be filed in the ‘what could have been’ category.
Brian (both will be on the plane to the Euros too. Great England squad indeed), England


Don’t diss Lucas
‘For a man with the physical appearance of a tree, his ability to lose the ball in aerial duels – even to Lucas – would be impressive were it not so utterly frustrating.’

The above quote from 16 conclusions annoyed me. If I had to pick one ‘normal sized’ man to win an aerial duel with any footballer in the world it would be Lucas. He is absolutely brilliant in the air. He’s not good at directing headers but he wins so many headers in the middle of the park it stopped being funny a long time ago.
Gough, LFC, Dublin


But Lucas is dogs**t
Can a someone explain to myself and the rest of the mailbox why Lucas Leiva continues to get a game?

He adds literally nothing, I know there’s a few who offer minimal in the LFC midfield (besides the excellent Can).

But all Lucas seems to do is foul people? (a la Fellaini)

He doesn’t seem to pass the ball particularly well, he doesn’t cover a vast amount of ground, he doesn’t seem to intercept that much, and his percentage of Duels Won vs Utd was 33%. It can’t really be argued that Liverpool keep clean sheets when he plays because I think it’s just the one clean sheet.

Matthieu Flamini is Arsenal’s reserve reserve holding midfielder – yet for my money he’s no worse than Lucas? And Flamini is dog-muck – he just runs about looking like he’s trying and shouting at folk that aren’t paying attention!

I’m not really sure of the answer, a three of Henderson, Milner and Can would probably be my shout. With two from Coutinho, Firminho, Lallana, Ibe either side of Benteke or Sick Note. It’s not really that inspiring is it?
Azz (side note – sad that Lingard was only starting academy product) Notts


Wait a minute…do Liverpool need…?
Whisper it quietly, but given Jonjo Shelvey’s outstanding performance for the Toon on Saturday…isn’t he exactly what Liverpool are missing…?


No laughing at Villa
In response to Minty, LFC, saying that Villa must be laughing their balls off over getting £32m for Benteke…not so much.

We at the Villa have no strikers worthy of the name, and it seems unlikely that any player will finish with ten or more goals this season. Having recently seen some ‘review of the year’ things of recent PL seasons, I can confidently say that if Benteke was still here he’d be into double figures and we’d not be going down.

I don’t suppose we can loan him back for a few months, can we?
Andy H, Villa, London


Nobody is talking about Arsenal injuries
I am sure you will have many mails on this today, but here’s my attempt at justifying a point at Stoke. Yesterday Arsenal had the following players missing from the starting XI: Sanchez, Ozil, Cazorla, Coquelin, Wellbeck and Wilshere. Their two best players, the heart of the midfield and someone clearly more effective than both Ox and Walcott. In this circumstance a point in that atmosphere against a very good Stoke team (albeit without Shaqiri) was decent at the very least. It got me thinking, how would other challengers fair with their equivalent players to those of Arsenal, missing?

No point in doing Leicester as I couldn’t even name you six other Leicester players.

Spurs would be missing Eriksen (Ozil), Kane (Sanchez), Dier (Coquelin), Dembele (Cazorla), Son (Wellbeck), Alli (Wilshere). This would give them a front six of Carroll, Mason, Onomah, Njie, Chadli and whoever their third-choice striker is. Not good, as I’m sure you can see.

Man City would be without Silva (Ozil), De Bruyne (Sanchez), Fernandinho (Coquelin), Yaya (Cazorla), Sterling (Wellbeck), Nasri (Wilshere). Laaving them with a front six of Delph, Fernando, Navas, Roberts, Aguero, Bony. Not as bad as Spurs, but very unbalanced. I could go on with other teams.

The bottom line is that Arsenal have done exceptionally well to still be top given the players they have missing, yet we never hear it as a mitigating factor when a less than top-class performance is evident. Unlike the Liverpool and Man United injury crisis which we have heard loads about. Very optimistic for the remainder of the season given that the squad should be at almost full strength come the Barcelona game. Here’s to getting gubbed by Chelsea at home next Sunday!
Brad Smith


Walcott: A poor winger
Pranav, AFC’s email this morning
is a very accurate depiction of Walcott at the moment. I could not agree more with the assessment over the past few games about his lack of movement and seemingly of ability which prevents him from using his excellent pace and finishing. It was only a few days ago I wrote in about how I cannot wait to drop Walcott to the bench when Sanchez is back.

However, this is not because Walcott is a bad footballer. He is a bad winger.

Walcott does not have the tools to be a good winger. He is fast but he can’t dribble particularly well, his decision-making is not always top notch and he can often misplace a pass/not the best crosser of the ball (Whoscored tells me it’s a 77% pass rate vs 80% for Sanchez).

What Walcott is, is a clinical striker. When Walcott was being played up front it gave us a fantastic plan B, where the opposition defence has to sit further backwards to compensate for his pace. This allows more space for the likes of Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey and others to play into.

I wouldn’t say his time is up and I really like what he can bring to the team as a player but Wenger has to decide tactically which option works best versus which opposition. For example, had Ozil and Sanchez been fit against Stoke, I would have said exploiting pace would have been more effective than target man Giroud vs Shawcross.
Rob A (looking forward to Sanchez-Ozil-Campbell) AFC


Defending those Stoke fans
Stoke v Arsenal at the Britannia serves up the best atmosphere in the Premier League.

The Stoke fans really get on the Arsenal players backs from the get-go.

I noted in the mailbox this morning and my Arsenal-supporting mate texting me during the game that the way they treat Ramsey really gets under the skin of the Arsenal fans.

Why does a stadium winding up a player bother the fans so much. It happens all the time. I know Ramsey hasn’t done anything wrong and we know they shouldn’t have an axe to grind but they are only winding up a player. Maybe Arsenal supporters should give the Stoke players the same treatment at the Emirates. Give them some of their own medicine. Then this fixture might have the best atmosphere home and away in the Premier League. Right now the Stoke fans are winning hands down.
David Gough

(Hmmm. We wonder what kind of chanting is acceptable? Where do you draw the line if it’s ‘only’ winding up a player? – Ed)
Getting bored of Storey’s obsession with Martinez
It’s getting boring now. I almost want Everton’s season to unravel completely so a team with Lukaku goes down. The Storey tantrum would be worth it.

Get a grip. Would you rather they had Moyes?
Stu, London


Stand up, sit down, who cares?
John Nicholson’s column this week, as usual, made for interesting reading. Louis van Gaal not standing up was raised as a complaint in the mailbox when Manchester United lost to Leicester City last year. One person noted that other managers would be up on their feet, shouting at their players – given how City were running riot that day, you can understand fans wanting to see a manager giving his players an earful. However, my take on it at the time was that the players had been given a gameplan and it was up to them to execute it.

When he was at Nottingham Forest, Steve McClaren attracted ridicule from fans and journalists alike for watching games from an elevated vantage point. During one game televised on BBC, Steve Claridge, to his credit, swam against the tide and pointed out the merit of this: he had worked all week on tactics and given his team instructions for the first half; watching from higher up meant he could see more of the pitch and make adjustments at half-time as required. Nigel Pearson took a similar approach, albeit one also akin to a rugby coach, using an earpiece to give instructions to his assistants on the sideline.

Managers’ sideline antics are a bizarre sideshow to the football. Tony Pulis looks like an over-competitive dad, not just for his full trackies and cap, but for his “kick/head every ball” and OTT reactions to missed chances. Mark Hughes, it has been said elsewhere, by Adam Hurrey and others, permanently looks like a man waiting for a bus that is over 20 minutes late. Every so often MotD2 does a feature on Alan Pardew pulling faces and doing odd things with his hands/arms. Who could ever forget the joyous scenes that time West Ham United scored a late winner, and Sam Allardyce and Wally Downes did one of those jumping-hugging things so beloved of young women in American TV shows?

All of this is presumably great fun for someone, but I’d prefer to concentrate on the game. I’m not massively interested in watching the manager celebrate a goal, because he didn’t score it; a manager with his head in his hands after his star signing has missed a sitter is not relevant; unless he’s directly affecting the match, he shouldn’t be on screen. That said, I would like to see managers be allowed to run on the field to contest a call with the referee, going nose to nose baseball-style. Most managers get ejected anyway, but it is entertaining – well, it would have been 15 years ago I guess, seeing who was brave enough to take on Pierluigi Collina.

The literary Ed Quoththeraven

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