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F*** you, Leicester
I’m actually very pleased for Leicester, they’re playing exciting football, their players generally* don’t seem like kn*bs, and it’s great to see such an unfancied team doing well.
However, it is really quite ridiculous to see the slew of ink/toner spilled on the subject of whether it can last. With every fresh win, people seem to be more and more coming down on the side that it CAN last, and not only CAN it last, but anyone who says different is committed to the TOP 4 HEGEMONY and probably worships at the altar of capitalism and would include Thatcher and Trump at their fantasy dinner table.
Well, look, I say it CAN’T last, and that Leicester will finish 4th at best, but most likely 8th or something like that. The reason I say that is from cold hard experience. When have a Leicester (narrowly avoided relegation last year) ever actually won the league the next year? In fact, when has a team not in the traditional top 4 ever won it? The last team to do so was Blackburn, and that was pre-Abramovich, pre-Sheikh, pre-Wenger.
However, what has quite often happened is that an unfancied team has done very well for a while (Ipswich, Southampton, Liverpool…), but then not won the league because they couldn’t last the pace. If Leicester win the league I’ll be absolutely delighted for them, but I take issue with any suggestion that I’m some kind of twisted b*stard for not thinking it will happen.
Firstly, the Foxes’ season is mightily impressive. And they are in a wonderful state right now, where all their players are hitting form at the right time, in contrast to Chelsea who have the opposite state. However there’s a but coming, as big as Robert Huth’s.. have they actually beaten a team from the top 10 yet, or a team in form? I’m sure they have, just going through the fixtures, I couldn’t see one.
The Everton match next week will be their first ‘big test’ in my opinion..
Humbug Scrooge, London.
MC – They’ve played six of the rest of the top 10, beating Crystal Palace, Watford and West Ham, drawing with Manchester United and Spurs, and losing to Arsenal.
A lovely mail on Chelsea
I’ve delayed writing in about Chelsea’s woes this season, mainly due to the fact I haven’t been able to put my finger on the root of the problem. I don’t know if there’s any truth to rumours of players falling out with the manager or with each other but blaming ‘dark forces’ behind the scenes generally feels like a bit of a cop out to me so I’m focusing purely on what I see on and off the pitch.
Chelsea could conceivably be in the relegation zone come Christmas and with European football off the table next season, I think it’s time to take a serious look at what we want to salvage from this season. My head says we’re too big (in terms of cash/quality at our disposal) to go down but results say otherwise and I think it’s time to admit Mourinho doesn’t have the tools to turn this around anymore and if he does, how long until he has another meltdown.
The tactical pragmatism he’s built a career around has seemingly deserted him and he seems incapable of structuring a plan to win games. Where is the counterattack from 2013/14 when up against pacey opposition? Where is the 4-3-3 when control of central midfield is paramount? Why do all our attacks still come through Ivanovic (can’t cross) or Hazard (won’t cross) even though this has been sussed and they’re bang out of form? Why – and this one really boils my p*ss – can’t Remy get a look in over a disinterested, ill-disciplined and unfit Diego Costa? He’s not Drogba, he doesn’t hold the ball up or bring others into play and his erratic positioning means there is no focal point to our attack. We don’t need a misfiring bulldozer upfront and last night again demonstrated the extra pace and sharpness around the box Remy brings to the side. These aren’t genius suggestions which makes it all the more baffling.
Tactical inflexibility aside, it’s clearly one thing to motivate a winning team to keep on winning and an entirely different proposition to pick winners up when they’re down. When he’s not giving a first rate impression of a paranoid dictator in his post match interviews, even in Mourinho’s more measured moments he’s throwing his players under the bus with such regularity that only a man with an ego the size of his could fail to consider the buck stopping with him at some point. The entire team bar a handful of players is underperforming to such a degree that management is clearly an issue yet he’s the last person who’ll ever conceded this.
The last point I’d like to make is with regard to the poor squad management. Too many good players have been sold off without adequate replacement and too much trust has been given to underperforming players. As a result he’s run a strong core into the ground over two and a half seasons yet persists with playing them in the hope they’ll magically come good. What must Loftus-Cheek, Traore and Kenedy think about Mourinho’s handling of this crisis when on the one hand he’s making all the right noises about giving youth a chance and simultaneously picking underperforming players over young, hungry prospects in need of minutes? You don’t throw these guys on with 15 minutes to go chasing a win; all that teaches them is ‘you’re a gamble’. This doesn’t even take into account the wealth of talent we have on loan and you can’t tell me with a straight face that Mourinho should be trusted with their development long term.
In closing then, I guess I’m reluctantly now a #JoseOuter column but my hunch is the lack of a viable alternative will stay Roman’s hand for the time being. The season’s a write-off (bar another miraculous run in Europe) and now, I believe, is the time to accept another cycle has ended and to start building something new. We have some of the best teenagers in Europe and a star studded team that can be rejuvenated (or sold off for reinvestment if needs be) and I no longer believe Mourinho can be tasked with overseeing this. In truth, I probably never did but then short-termism is nothing new down in SW6.
Simon (I actually think we played OK yesterday but were beaten by a better team on the day) CFC
Giving Mourinho time
As hilarious as this whole Chelsea/Mourinho situation is, and it is hilarious, I must praise Roman Abramovich. In a period of the game where chopping and changing is chic, it is refreshing to see Roman sticking by his man. Time and again a manager is let go and the first thing someone says or writes is “he should have been given more time.” When Mourinho finally does go those words cannot be spoken.
Clearly there must be a change at Chelsea and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the manager. The reported 35 million pound “sack” clause in Mourinho’s contract is going to look like chump change compared to how much it’s going to cost Abramovich to fix this mess.
Congratulations to Leicester on their accomplishment up to this point. They have made this season marvelous. This season has been like one long acid trip
Brian (This season has been like one long acid trip) LFC
Told you so
At the back end of last season when Chelsea were cruising towards the title I and a few others had the temerity to suggest that they weren’t actually playing very well. The accusation was that in the narrow 1-0 victories vs United and QPR, the 0-0 draw at the emirates and of course losing 3-0 to West brom – that actually they simply weren’t playing very well at all. It is irrefutable that they had an excellent first half or even ¾ of a season but they seemed to end with a whimper of poor performances, narrow/dull victories (often being out played) they were of course dumped out of the champions league as well during this run (and dumped out of the cup by Bradford going back slightly further). We were shouted down at the time as no nothings and told that this was just a team who knew they had the title in the bag doing the bare minimum – we were told winners celebrate and losers complain about style and other such bland statements.
I wonder now several months on and the poor performances becoming the norm whether anybody would look back on that and say the rot actually set in way back in their title winning season? I mean when was their last truly good performance? I would argue the League cup final against my own team Spurs on March 1st was probably the last time you could really say they played well (even that wasn’t really an exhilarating victory). Maybe (ironically) the win at Leicester, but the point remains that the options to choose from are very limited, even going as far back as mid-January.
What is my point? Well I suppose it is two-fold. Firstly in most Sport it just seems accepted that the team that wins is fine and can receive no criticism, but of course sport is ever evolving, once the Title is won that is done and it time to look at the next one – so when you end the season as Chelsea did the easy thing is just to say well yeah but we won the Title. Yes you did and genuinely congratulations to you, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have seen this coming (well not quite this bad but certainly a less successful season). The second point well basically I am not too proud to look back smugly and say I told you they were playing shit, it wasn’t just a team cantering and doing the bare minimum, it was a team actually playing shit football, not working hard enough, not creating enough and generally scraping by.
James ‘Nostradamus’ (it really is glorious seeing Mourinho become an expert in Failure) W
Who’s the specialist in failure now?
Sometime ago, when things were going very differently for both men, Jose Mourinho called Arsene Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’. Why someone so respected and successful in their job would feel the need to say that to one of his peers, is beyond me. But as time has passed I’ve come to think that Mourinho was right.
One of Wenger’s biggest strengths has got to be his ability to bounce back from disappointment. Because, let’s be honest, there has been a fair few disappointments over the last few years. When half the squad is crocked at a crucial stage of the season he pulls a Coquelin or a Bellerin out of his hat. When it seems that ‘this will be the year that Tottenham will finish above Arsenal’ he goes on an incredible run and scrapes into the Top 4 on the final day. When things are going badly, when crisis strikes, he always manages to steady the boat. He is a specialist in situations of failure.
On the other hand, when things have gone badly for Mourinho, they have continued to go badly and they haven’t stopped going badly. It appears badly was just one of the stops on the way to Terrible Town. Throughout his career he hasn’t had an opportunity to ‘steady the ship’. A similar situation did arise when he was at Real Madrid, he just didn’t stay around for long enough to see it get this bad. The last few months have shown that when things go bad, he is lost out at sea. It seems, Mourinho really sucks at failure.
Ben Pugh – here’s what Klopp actually said. “This wasn’t a game to lose, because the opponent played only long balls and only set plays..and if you can get points like this, do it. But not here anymore, we have to stop this…if you want to play long balls, it’s not allowed to win against us anymore.”
What I got from that quote, was not a criticism of West Brom at all. More a message to the league, and his own players, that whilst Liverpool may have been vunerable to a more robust direct team in the past, it’s no excuse in the future for not winning those home games.
I heard those quotes on MOTD2, and my immediate thought was “I wonder if that’s what Wenger wishes he’d said many years ago when Stoke and Blackburn used to bully them out of points”. Probably not, but it’s an interesting contrast to blaming others (Jose being the primary exponent), I’d say one is more effective long term.
I’ve been a bit on the fence over the Klopp love-in for his first few weeks, but I’m a convert now and would definitely buy him a nice steak dinner in return for one of those hugs.
Jeremy (#Klopp) Aves
Long live the minnows
I rarely write in to the mailbox as it is dominated by fans of the supposed top four either gloating about another win and thus staking their claim as to why they will win the league, or more recently trying to reason why they have lost again. This last point is becoming more and more common, fans of the big teams trying to understand why they have been upstaged by a supposed premier league minnow when they have a supposed ‘right’ to win, a right to be in the top four. And so they should have a right to the top four with the amount they spend, with the big name players they bring in on vast wages.
But I am afraid to say they no longer deserve a place at the top table and it is all their fault. And it is this simple – whilst the bigger clubs have become afraid to lose in fear of giving up their monopoly on the top of the league and European football, the ‘smaller’ clubs have decided it is time to stand up and attack these teams.
Jose Mourinho is partly to blame for this, as I believe it is him who first brought the mentality to the league of starting a game with the intent of not losing. Prior to his reigns, Manchester United under Fergie, Arsenal, Leeds under David O’Leary and the glory Keegan Newcastle teams all went out to attack teams and win games. For some reason in the last 5 – 7 years or so, the mentality of the big clubs has become not to lose. You can see it evidently when the big clubs play each other in what seem to be the most boring occasions on earth, often 0-0, or 1-0s. When there is a bigger scoreline it tends to come late on in games on the counter attack.
However it seems whilst all of this has been going on, the smaller clubs have decided that actually, football is about winning and entertaining. And thus Pardiola’s expansive Crystal Palace team with two proper wingers who run at teams sit 6th. Leicester who play in behind with pace are top of the league. And Bournemouth who have played the right way all season have picked up back to back wins against Chelsea and Manchester United. Meanwhile the big teams are all stuttering, too afraid of losing to win. Too afraid of losing to play the beautiful game the beautiful way. And playing with TWO defensive midfield players at home, flanked by defence minded wingers doubling up as full back.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the league will return to its normal state over the second half of the season but it would be interesting to receive everyone else’s thoughts. As a neutral, long live the unpredictability and the rise of the small teams playing the right way.
Tom (Tony Mowbray is leading the charge of beautiful football lower down the leagues) Coventry
Albright on the night
Quick response to Shehzad Ghias, mufc, Karachi – Villa weren’t crazy when they released Albrighton, they made a business decision based on the fact that he’d made a total of 86 appearances and scored 7 goals across 5 seasons and never looked likely to make the step up required. It is also believed that he was asking for a new contract of £40,000 per week which, admittedly is not a huge sum of money for a Premier League club, is far too high for a then 25 year old who looked a Championship player at best.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing as we’d take him over much of the dross currently ‘playing’ at Villa Park but I’d also take Tony Morley (aged 61), Tony Daley (aged 48) or the ghost of Pongo Waring over Scott Sinclair but hey ho.
Philip (Depressed Villa Fan – is there any other kind?), Birmingham
Daniel Levy, activate
Wild shot in the dark, but: seeing the photos of hazard stropping off last night I just remembered the talk that hazard was going to sign for Spurs until Chelsea took our champions league spot by winning the thing.. Chelsea are a long way from top 4 and aren’t showing any great likelihood of repeating their escape plan..
So hazard wants to leave. And he favoured London last time. It’s a short list… So start waving that chequebook, levy.. Wave it like you’ve never waved it before!
Dan (anyone checked the odds on spurs 4th and denied by Chelsea winning again?)
The Mailbox hat-trick
It is with a heavy heart that I read Bobby (also, when’s my “profile of an icon” for being the only living member of the mailbox hattrick club?) Foster-Westgarth’s mail this morning. My sincere condolences to the family and friends of the legend JDigga, EFC – the first person to score a mailbox hat-trick.
Having previously netted a brace with an assist from John O’Shea, JDigga, EFC (‘Digsy’) nailed three perfect mails in succession.
Three weeks shy of the five-year anniversary, I had my ‘Profile of an icon: Digsy’ piece written and ready to send to Daniel Storey, just incase he was lacking inspiration around the festive period. It seems in bad taste now (although not as bad taste as bragging about being the only living member of the hat-trick club).
RIP Digsy – gone, but – thanks to an longer-than-hoped-for archive search – not forgotten.
James (Some of the MUFC mails from 5 years ago make interesting reading)
I’m very sorry Bobby (also, when’s my “profile of an icon” for being the only living member of the mailbox hattrick club?) Foster-Westgarth
But hopefully this email….
MC – Sorry Bradley, your other mails went straight to the junk folder.