Arsenal, Liverpool or Man United: Who will win the PL first?

Date published: Sunday 31st December 2017 10:54

Send your thoughts to theeditor@football365.com, and we shall see you next year.

 

Remember when…
“… Y’all should calm down; the league is still very open, we are second on the table, we have the best defence and we are the second highest goal scorers. Also, remember Mourinho wins the league in his second season always..”Oh good ol’ days.
Olaotan, Nigeria. 

 

Ginger Mourinho? Pah
At this rate instead of calling Sean Dyche the Ginger Mourinho, we should start calling Jose the Dark Dyche
Tunji, Lagod

 

Who would win?
Jose’s United or Van Gaal’s United?
SS (it’s got 0-0 written all over it, and two red cards. Both for Rojo)

 

Time for a whip round?
Much has been said, written, tweeted and f***ted out recently about the plight of our favourite miserable Portuguese and his poor-mouthing vis-a-vis a certain Catalonian genius currently in situ across town.  After having witnessed the latest sporting extravaganza at the Theatre Of Dreams™, I think Jose has a point.  After all, how is his team supposed to score, AT HOME, against a team that had recorded one victory in its last 11 matches, a team that has been sliding down the table AND had just sold its best DEFENDER for a world record fee?  Clearly, those middle eastern billions that have been showered on the blue half of Manchester have had a detrimental effect on Jose’s players and, as such, they couldn’t possibly be expected to, you know, play actual football.

Given this state of affairs, 3 points from the last 9 on offer is more than could be expected from the richest football team in the world given their obvious dire financial straits.  So I’m suggesting that all concerned parties, stakeholders, casual observers, genuine fans, PFM’s, Kool Aid drinkers and even ABU’s have a quick whip round to supplement the clearly depleted kitty on Matt Busby Way so that Jose can once again walk amongst the elite.

The alternative, of course, is to actually coach the f***king team!
Sincerely, CourtneyB, LFC (Brackets are so 2017)

 

Mourinho’s tactical issues
As a United fan, I have had mixed feelings about Mourinho over the years. Seeing his work up close, I will attempt to explain his tactical failings at United.

1. Possession football – Under Mourinho, United have regressed from the strong possession foundations laid by LvG. Possession is an essential part of today’s game and we seem to get worse at it after every game against top 6 opposition. Our ability to keep the ball and pass sensibly and progressively when under pressure is abysmal. This problem rears its ugly head when we are pressed and harried by lesser teams. We resort to lumping the ball and general aimless play. Herrera seems to be the biggest victim here as he has lost his ability to pass under pressure. This is not a ringing endorsement of LvG. He did a mediocre job overall but laid foundations that should have been built on.

2.  Positioning – This is what affects the tempo of United’s game. The players take up poor positions on the board and this affects how quickly we can play and the quality of chances we create. Advanced tactical systems often give the ball holder about 2 or 3 passing options at every single phase in transition. At United, the easiest and most readily available pass is backwards. This is why United are very predictable on the ball. There is also a general lethargy when United have the ball. This is because the players aren’t being given options. This is a coaching problem. Plain and simple. Watch the average positions taken. Firstly, De Gea sits way too deep. We lose time and verve every time the ball gets to him. He needs to stay a few yards higher. Defenders need to push higher and so on. If we do this, we reduce the distance the players run with the ball and we then allow the ball do the work. Also, we compress the playing space and can actually win the ball faster. Jose won’t allow this because of his fears (more on this below). Instead, we find ourselves in a situation where Pogba has to travel with the ball and beat a few players before releasing. He needs to do this in order to compress the playing space. He isn’t helped by the fact that he starts deep at CDM anyway.

3. Wing and box overloads – As an example, When Martial/Rashford get the ball on the left, they are usually doubled up on. At this point, have a look at what the wingback is doing. Instead of the wingback to offer support via the overlapping run, the wingback stays back, perhaps to prevent the counter attack (an on-pitch manifestation of Jose and his fears). The result is that instead of having the fullback drag one defender away, you have Martial/Rashford attempt to beat 3 men (adding the covering defender), cross perfectly and do both whilst being as predictable as a right footer playing on the left. As an aside, look at how Sterling and Walker combine on the other side for City.

When the ball finally gets into the box, only Lukaku is attacking the ball and he is about as aggressive as a human sized teddy bear. If your plan is to cross and nod, does it not make sense to actually overload the box? Again, Jose’s fear of the counter attack prevents him from loading the box and we end up requiring precise balls to Lukaku and a high shot conversion from Rom. Neither is possible because we are discussing a Martial to Lukaku connection, not a Beckham to Van Nistelrooy one.

4. Lack of Attacking System – This is perhaps Jose’s biggest flaw. He is adept at installing defensive systems but poor at making attacking systems. He’s pretty much the opposite of Klopp, which is why I don’t believe VVD solves any problems. I also believe that United buying Messi and Neymar won’t make a difference as long as Mourinho is at the helm. Mourinho’s archaic view of football is that the game is not one. Instead, it is broken into attackers and defenders. There is nothing ‘total’ about Mourinho’s football.

His system is highly dependent on individual brilliance. This becomes a problem when the individuals are injured, suspended or out of form. Modern managers build systems, whilst Mourinho is all about individual components. This is why Mourinho’s team will never be bigger than the sum of its parts. It is all about the parts working individually! Take a vital cog like Pogba for example. Mourinho has no system for transporting the ball from defence to attack. His system doesn’t involve quick fire passes and exchanges, neither does it involve 3rd man runners. His system is simply Pogba. This is why Herrera came in and did not make a difference. His United formula is dependent on an actual ball transporter between defence and attack. The ball does not do the work. Pogba does!

It gets worse in the final third. As stated above, without a wing overload system, he requires Martial to beat his markers and cross perfectly to the one man in the box every time. He also needs Lukaku to have a very high shot conversion. This affects the actual quality of our chances as well. To put it bluntly, Jose requires his attacking players to play with ‘common sense’ as well as some sort of magic in every single game. This isn’t sustainable.

5. Fear – Fear of the counter attack, fear of conceding, fear of losing, fear of missing out on silverware, fear of imposing his game on the opposition, fear of everything that could go wrong.

Should Jose be given a hefty investment fund? Honestly, I don’t think he should. He hasn’t done as much as he can with the current crop of players he has and that’s why I don’t think he deserves more to spend. He can call out City’s spending all he likes but it won’t change the fact that it’s tactics and fear that have caused our last three draws and not the inability to get Perisic.
Chuck MUFC, London

 

Pep v Jose: who really had it harder?
The mailbox has been plagued with the Mourinho vs Pep debate for the last fortnight so I thought I’d add my thoughts as a neutral Bayern fan. The biggest problem is that it’s United fans bickering between themselves and we’ve already seen with Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans that there’s too much emotion involved for there every to be a common consensus in issues like this.

The point I wanted to address is that of who got the harder task. A lot of people have mailed in saying Pep had the easier gig while many disagreed. The obvious and simplest measurement is to see where each team finished in the last 3 years. Going backwards in time, City finished 4th, 2nd and 1st while United finished 5th, 4th and 7th. This should probably be enough to prove that point but let’s look at the squads each manager inherited. I know it’s simplistic but let’s divide the players into 4 categories.

A: Excellent player that is performing at a high level and you’d be happy with in a Champions League semi-final.
B: Talented or even excellent player but either due to injuries, tactics, lack of development or confidence isn’t performing at that level currently.
C: A good squad player. Isn’t first choice and never will be but you’d be confident with them filling in even in important games without having to make too many tweaks to the side.
D: Should be replaced. There’s too many reasons to list here but could be attitude, age, unsuitability or just being sh*te.

So, let’s split up the squads each manager inherited into these categories. There will obviously be a few you may not agree with but I’m sure most people will be fine with the majority of them.

A: David Silva, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Aguero, De Gea

B: Kompany, Otamendi, Sterling, Fosu-Mensah, Luke Shaw, Martial

C: Mangala, Delph, Toure, Iheanacho, Romero, Darmian, Borthwick-Jackson, Jones, Rojo, Valencia, Herrera, Fellaini, Lingard, Mata, Schneiderlin, Tuanzebe, Young, Depay, Rashford

D: Hart, Cabellero, Clichy, Kolarov, Sagna, Zabaleta, Fernando, Navas, Nasri, Bony, Blind, Smalling, Carrick, Januzaj, Schweinsteiger, Rooney

I think we can agree on most of these. It’s pretty obvious that Pep walked into a vastly better situation. He had 4 world class players playing at that level compared to Mourinho’s 1. Luke Shaw is in a similar situation to Kompany and neither manager can be blamed. However, Mourinho has to take responsibility for not developing Fosu-Mensah and Martial. Fosu-Mensah was playing much better than Stones at the time and Martial was considered a different league to Sterling. Guardiola has absolutely smashed him in this regard.

Looking at the D players, City have managed to clear them out quickly and replace them with Ederson, Bravo, Mendy, Danilo, Walker, Gundogan, Sane and Bernardo. One misstep but excellent business. United are yet to finish cleaning out and the replacements they brought have been Matic, Mkhtaryan and Lukaku which are ok but not great.

The biggest problem for Mourinho lies in the massive number of C players he inherited. This is worse than having D players as ‘C’ players have too much value to justify simply discarding. He is stuck because they do not fit his style at all and he has to make do with them. City having so many ‘D’ players with little to no value allowed them to clear them easily and replace them.

If we were to do that for the current squads, it would look something like this:

A: Ederson, Mendy, Otamendi, Stones, Walker, David Silva, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Gundogan, Aguero, Jesus, Sane, Sterling, De Gea, Bailly, Pogba, Matic

B: Bernardo, Foden, Adarabioyo, Fosu-Mensah, Shaw, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Lukaku

C: Bravo, Danilo, Kompany, Mangala, Delph, Romero, Jones, Lindelof, Rojo, Valencia, Young, Herrera, Fellaini, Lingard, Mata, Rashford

D: Toure, Blind, Darmian, Smalling, Carrick, Zlatan

It’s pretty obvious how much of an improvement Guardiola has made to the squad. The majority of his squad are top class players while most of the others are good enough to step in and do a job and also fit the Pep’s style. Mourinho on the other had has failed to improve the squad much. This is both due to the difficult position he was in as well as what he did with it. He should have completed a clear out a long time ago. His shtick is to join pretty complete teams who have disappointed recently and purchase players in important positions to complete the team. He has never had to do a rebuilding job and he underestimated the work he had to do here.

In conclusion, Pep had an easier job but has also done a better job. Looking at the squads now, it’s pretty obvious United need an overhaul and I don’t think £300m is enough. City are scary enough as they are and they’re likely to spend another £200m this summer and Mourinho knows he won’t win shit anytime soon. That’s why he’s pushing these narratives and preparing a cushion for his reputation if things go awry. There won’t be any jobs for him in Spain, Germany or England if he loses this one and no Italian clubs can fund him.

United should not let him go. If they do, they’ll be giving the next manager four sets of expensive players bought for wildly different systems. They’ll need more than £500m to clear it up. Don’t get me wrong, City are too far ahead of United and for as long as Pep is in charge, Mourinho won’t win shit but they’re better off cleaning out the squad and attracting top players with him in charge than making another big change.
Klaus, Munich

 

Will Arsenal, Liverpool or United win the Prem first?
Another meandering , unfocused performance by Utd. Pogba seems to have regressed to his effectiveness of last season, playing holding midfielder. So rather than do another bit on how terrible we are, I thought I should pose a question to the mailers. Which of the 3 spent forces will win the PL first? Arsenal, Liverpool or Utd?

Of course with the signing of VVD and continued excellence of Salah, I would say Liverpool as likeliest. Not because they seem likely to perform better than City or even Chelsea once Conte gets his way with the squad, but because Klopp seems to have a definite plan at the moment. Although, the extent of damage Coutinho’s departure would do remains to be seen.

With Arsenal of course, its a question of when Arsene leaves and who they appoint after him. With Utd, it just seems they are Arsenal in waiting, With an incompetent director, you genuinely fear how long it would take the American numbskulls to appoint a manager with some chance of restoring the club to its glory days, but even then with the current realities of club football, it would not be for any long period of time. So what do you think?
Aditya, MUFC, India

 

Que Salah, Salah
Hard to find anything new to say about Mo, but I’ll try anyway.

What really impressed me yesterday was that despite missing a hat-trick of chances, his head didn’t go down for a second. Kept showing for the ball, kept getting chances, eventually won us the game.

We really have got something special in him. His confidence must be sky high and boy, does it deserve to be. He has class and a ton of character. What a signing he’s turned out to be!

As for the all the other teams, this divisions completely open after City now isn’t it? Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, ourselves – all capable of winning by bucket loads  , all capable of dropping points when you least expect it. 2nd through 6th -predict that if you can…

As for United…Mourinho never was a *United* manager. Too much negativity, too much drama. He just sucks the soul out of his teams these days. His trophies in the first year bought him time , but Pep is making Jose look very ordinary indeed . And not for the first time.

I genuinely can’t see Mou making it out of this season.
James, Liverpool 

 

That Mo Salah has scored all those goals regardless of his sloppy finishing is a testament to how good he is at other aspects of offensive football.

Yes, he will waste a few (or several) chances in a match, obviously, but his all round play and movement to get himself at the end of chances means that he eventually puts away one of them.

If he improves his finishing he could post silly stats before he buggers off to Barcelona as the only human being half as good as Leo Messi.

For now, let’s endure the frustration at missed sitters that are soon consigned to unconsciousness of mind after he gets the winner.
Sommi, Nairobi

 

Where’s the Mane?
– While the acquisition of Salah has been undoubtedly a success story for Liverpool this year, conversely it has seen Mane’s form fall off a cliff. The very same system that Salah has thrived in also utilised Mane’s two greatest assets last season- namely his pace and power. Now that he seems to have been taken out of the spotlight to allow the Egyptian to do the damage, the limitations to the rest of his game have been exposed.

He doesn’t drop deep, hold-up play and nick back possession as well as Firmino, nor does he link up or quick-interchange as proficiently as Coutinho. His decision-making too is questionable, the most famous example being that squandered assist in the Merseyside derby. Okay, he conjured up a neat assist today (this missive was being composed at HT), but since THAT (deserved) red card, he has scored one goal, while his other three assists in the same time-frame came in two cake-walks against Stoke and West Ham. At present, he is very much the Pete Best of the Fab Four*

– Speaking of new signings, the conventional wisdom is that Matip is the obvious choice to partner Van Dijk. Well I genuinely feel he is as liable for the odd mistake as the much-maligned Lovren and Klavan (as evident from his brain-fart for Vardy’s goal). He is one of those players whose stock rises the longer they are out of the team.

* SAS in the “nearly” season. Fab Four this season. It’s those sort of hip monikers so prevalent in the twitter age (but yet seem only exclusive to Liverpool within the English game) that grate so much to neutrals. Yeah we had MSN and BBC at Barca and Real Madrid respectively, but at least they were dominating Europe and the nicknames weren’t self-anointed by local media.
Brian, Wexford

 

More Liverpool thoughts
1) The kind of game we needed to win for I cannot remember the last time Liverpool showed some resilience after conceding the early goal. After missing those chances in the first half, I thought it was going to be one of those frustrating nights. But huge credit to the Anfield crowd who were instrumental in our comeback. Ridiculously early time wasting by Puel’s men after the goal irked the crowd and that probably was the factor in them spurring us on.

2) Has Jurgen been so scarred by last season’s festive fixtures? That horrid January without Mane and a lot of other injuries has led to this season’s frequent squad rotation. That and having quality like Lallana and AOC on the bench. Expect Salah and Coutinho to be left back at home for the away game to Burnley.

3) Every team needs a strong spine and the Liverpool of 08/09 had Reina/Carragher/Alonso/Gerrard/Torres. The current Liverpool squad only have Firmino and Coutinho to count as part of that spine. Virgil van Dijk wont be our savior, but with Naby Kieta will help almost complete the Liverpool spine. Add a top GK and Liverpool look set for a title challenge next season.

4) After the Arsenal game, a lot of fans said that there has been no real progress under Jurgen over the last two years. Let me define progression under Jurgen in a different way over a longer time scale. For that, I look at the current Barcelona team.

The current Barcelona squad are good, but are not spectacular and are behind the likes of Man City, PSG and probably Bayern Munich. They are over reliant on Busquets, Messi and ter Stegen and have not blown away the opposition at any point over the last two months. But their football ideology, the ideology of passing and ball retention perfected by Pep has been maintained. Therefore they always tend to win matches and will end up winning trophies.

Similar to Pep, allow Jurgen to stay for 5-7 years, ingrain his football ideology at the club ( similar to the excellent Pocchetino at Spurs) and then judge. If at the end of five years, Klopp’s system of geggenpressing, rapid counterattacks and attacking football is followed at every level in LFC, you can consider his tenure a success.
Sid, LFC

 

Value for money
One aspect of team’s tactics against the top six by defending deep with no ambition is that spectators who have seat at one end only get half a game to enjoy(?)

I took my brother to Wembley recently to see Spurs struggle to break down a dogged West Brom.

We had seats near one corner so for one half we could see Spurs clever interplay getting them nowhere very fast but at least we could see it.

In the other half the same thing was happening but we could hardly make out what was going on. West Brom only ventured into the Spurs half twice in the second period.

The home side will always attack the away side but normally fans can expect to see the occasional counter attack or even a period of sustained pressure by the away side, but it is all too common now for away teams to just stay put on the edge of their own penalty area in the hope of gaining a precious point.

I understand that it is a legitimate game plan and it is Spurs’ job to break the opposition down but it is actually quite boring to watch, and primarily only visible for one half, which is my point. £60 for a decent view for 45 minutes?

OK maybe it was less entertaining on this occasion because Spurs were pants on that day and if I had gone the games where we spanked teams I wouldn’t be writing this.

Have any other fans felt short changed by this attack versus defence game?
Roger 
THFC


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