The post-mortem goes on. Send your mails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ole and Lampard just about ‘good enough’
There’s been a lot of sniping recently about who had the ‘better’ season, Frank Lampard or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Why not both? Given the circumstances, expectations and context, I feel like they both did what they were meant to.
Lampard inherited a squad which had just lost its best player. He was hamstrung by the transfer ban, and consequently had to tap into the youth system at the club. What helped him here was Chelsea’s ridiculously prolific loan set-up – most of those youngsters (James, Tomori, Abraham, Mount etc) had played at least one season of senior football before this one. So they weren’t exactly coming in from the cold, but he still managed them all very well, and some of them are now arguably mainstays of the first-team squad (from an outsider’s perspective, at least). Given that Chelsea had finished in the top four and won a trophy last season, one could argue that was the bare minimum this time too, even though nobody necessarily expected it (expect his cousin – Ed). And yet, Lampard is halfway to delivering exactly that. Ergo, a very good season overall.
Solskjaer had a six-month headstart on Lamps, but he faced an entirely different set of problems. The squad was bloated with underperforming players, and to his credit, he’s managed to get rid of most of them, or at least phase them out completely. Fitness was also a glaring issue, and he seems to have largely fixed that too, despite the players flagging a bit in recent weeks. Recruitment needed to improve, and it has, along with a few youth players being promoted to the first team. With all the variables surrounding the money from sponsorship deals, top four was a necessity, even in what has arguably been a transition season. He has delivered that, even if by the skin of his teeth, and still has a chance to win a trophy. Basically, a good season, all things considered.
Long story short, context matters. Not everything is binary. So many football fans these days seem to be in a desperate rush to categorise people as either “world class” or “shit” – sometimes, they’re just “good enough”. That’s where these two currently seem to lie, now to wait and see if they both move forward or not.
DJ, MUFC (nuance is dead) India
…The dust has settled, finally, a protracted season is over, F365 are getting abuse for their opinions as to who is a winner and who is a loser, all very entertaining stuff. There is one thing that I have noticed in the day or so since the season ended from pundits (particularly on sky) and various other media sources, and I keep wondering why is Frank Lampard getting such adulation?
Cards on the table, I’m a Utd fan and do obviously have some bias towards Ole, not to say that he’s better per se, and this is not a ‘well we got third’ bit, there has been enough of that, what I am surprised about is that people have been banging on all season, even on Sunday, about how he did the job essentially with one hand behind his back.
The theme seems to be Lampard has worked a miracle with a crap side/squad who couldn’t buy in the summer, now, I‘m not saying that this wasn’t a hindrance, nor am I saying he hasn’t done a good job, but its not like when the season kicked off his squad was rubbish, have a look at it, most expensive keeper in the world, a midfield with Kante, Kovacic, Pulsic, Willian and Pedro just name a few, a decent if not amazing selection of defenders and in fairness not the most amazing front line but not totally naff either, Olivier Giroud is a World Cup winner and proven goal scorer. Me thinks the narrative has been spun and everyone has heard it so much they forgot to check and see if it was true. Now it’s just the first thing that comes out of the pundit’s mouth.
The bottom line here is that both Utd and Chelsea have managers that have at least some degree surprised people, third and fourth in what is essentially a tie, Chelsea couldn’t spent in the summer, but, have a much better squad (that’s squad not first 11) depth than Utd, Utd have a better first 11 but had to run them into the ground trying to secure Champions League, who did a better job, again a tie, they did equally well with the squads they had in the end, Lampard though has been showered with praise in a way that makes no sense to me. He didn’t do anything remarkable, outside of the top two, everyone else this season has been inconsistent to say the least, to be blunt he finished six points and one place lower than the year before, has he made progress? Sure but, in my opinion, he is not exactly at Burnley is he, Chelsea have a good squad with quality players, money spent or not.
Vernon, Dublin, Ireland
Grading Ole’s season
I’m reading a lot of stories of Utd fans unhappy that Ole didn’t get praised. My opinion is that Ole is a nice honest chap that says what’s right for Utd in interviews and is honestly trying to do what’s best for the club. Now for Utd’s season performance. A lot of Utd fans want to forget about pre corona where Utd were a very average side, which took an impressive unbeaten run just to match what Utd achieved last year.
The Utd fans saying that points totals don’t matter? Of course they do they are the quintessential stat that determines how good a side you are as the league doesn’t lie. Pre carona Utd where a shambles, they bought Fernandes in January and his professional attitude dragged Utd up the table. He has seven goals (6 are penalties) and a few assists. Which I suggest are slightly padded stats as coincidentally pre Fernandes, Rashford was the utd media’s poster boy and peno taker. He’s now dried up scoring 8 goals in open play in the league this season and a further seven from the spot in a record breaking penalty season.
I believe Ole isn’t getting too carried away because he is aware of this too. I believe due to the immaturity of the utd squad, post corona having no fans actually helped Utd. The younger players looking to break out now didn’t have 79,000 fans demanding them to win matches, they could go out and play without fear. Prime example is Martial who was outstanding post-corona but often went into his shell when faced with a full stadium.
All the praise has landed at Bruno’s feet but if we are honest utd started looking like a proper football team when Pogba was reintroduced. Utds squad is still one of the most expensive squads assembled and will be judged on that basis but Utd fans want the media to treat them like they’re a Leicester fighting amongst the big boys and doing a stellar job, wise up. I would commend Ole for turning the Pogba situation around and getting a tune out of Martial, which a lot of managers failed at.
But all in all it was a pretty average season from Utd and the lack of headlines convey that. Oh and the reason Ole didn’t rotate the squad and you looked tired is your back ups are not up to it and Ole knows this so he’s not going to play players that have had plenty of opportunities and let him down previously. So if I was a Utd fan I would keep the head down and realise finishing third, Utd got away with one there and look to the summer for recruitment because the current squad is nowhere near the level they should be. Would Real Madrid settle for this? Nope. And they’re the only side who are on par with the resources and sheer size of club that Utd are. C+ season for me.
Fanmail for William
Well William is quite the charmer, isn’t he? What a lovely chap. So calm and even-handed. Definitely not the kind of person who keeps a hammer and gaffer tape in his glove box. Definitely not on any lists.
You should fulfil his wishes and actually go for the anti-United market. All guns blazing, scathing articles about that absolutely f**king appalling team. One thousand harsh words on their £80m centre back/meat-packer. Even more on the general creepy vibe that most of the squad gives off (you know it’s true, bunch of dead-eyed waxworks). Hell, just make things up. Will’s frantic F5s alone should pay your mortgages.
Will probably writes angry letters to the official programme for their anti-United stance. Because Will is a f**king maniac. Whatever provocation you can send his way is a boon to the rest of us, because there is little more amusing than a man having a complete breakdown over what he perceives as unfair attacks on his football club. It’s like he cannot fathom that United are no longer a truly competitive side, and is almost confused as to why they weren’t given the title. Will, the clues are there. The main one being your fawning manchild of a manager. Imagine that guy being your boss. Wouldn’t that be lovely? He’d make all the tea, bring you biscuits, and wouldn’t even use the car park out of respect for some guy who left years ago.
William, all this ABU365 talk makes you look unhinged. Not as much as your regular full-kit shopping trips, eyeballing all of those ABUALDI workers, but still a bit crazed. Maybe you should just write your own versions of the articles that unsettle you so? Your handlers can probably help hold the pen. Red ink only, obviously. The ubiquity of blue pens is just ABUBIC in action.
City being consistently better than United has really messed some people up, hasn’t it?
Remember where you came from, Liverpool fans
We can’t be that short-sighted can we? C’mon LFC fans and others. Remember three and four years ago… Finishing fourth or third? Big celebrations? Can you remember how many points we got? If you can… well… just bugger off if you can. The point is Manu and Chelsea got Champions League. They’re huge clubs, spending multiples of what LFC spend and if you want to make fun of them that’s fine but they will bite you in the ass. Sooner rather than later. Of course Klopp and Pep won’t fall into these traps but let’s not set the narrative up too early.
I think it’ll be great to have these teams coming after the top two along with Arsenal, Spurs, Wolves and Leicester, but the reality is, it’ll happen whether we wish it or not. While two out of the past three seasons have been strolls for the winners, I didn’t entirely love the shootout with City last year either. I found it a bit grim watching City demolish teams while Liverpool found an answer every single week- surely we want smaller points totals with more teams involved. More twists and turns. That’s what the Premier League has been bereft of over the past three years. You want those matches that change things around completely. If Leicester and Wolves had made Champions League it would have been amazing. But… I’d bet your famous predictions for next year would’ve been far less interesting than they will be now!
What do Manchester United need?
With the transfer window opening up again Manchester United has some clear areas that need to be addressed – RW, AM/CM, CDM, CB, LB(?). Here is my evaluation of what the squad needs since its highly unlikely we bring in 4-5 new players this window.
Defence – I think our current CBs can manage to put in another season before we need to evaluate bringing in someone new. Bailly, Tuanzebe have been unlucky with injuries and with Mengi being brought up to the first team for next season I think we should have enough depth to at least get through till Jan if not next summer. Other positions are in more serious need of investment, and our current options seem passable. At RB, we have AwB as the obvious starter. Laird being called up will give Dalot some competition. I think this next season might be make or break for Dalot, he’s been unlucky with injuries but seems to be the best crosser in the team. At LB Shaw remains first choice but Brandon Williams’ discomfort over the last few games is a cause for concern, a natural left-footed fullback would be worth looking at and Brandon can be switched to the other flank.
Midfield – I see at least one of Pereira/Lingard leaving this summer. Scott has been great when called upon, but at times I feel his passing is too safe and unimaginative (no wonder Jose liked him), I hope he can add some more penetration with the ball on his feet. Fred too was great for a period in the middle before Pogba came in. Unluckily for him Pogba brings a lot more than him and Fred himself feels like a rhythm player who needs a couple of games before he can start playing well. How OGS manages him next season will be interesting to see because I still feel Fred at his best can be an important part of this squad. A player who can play as backup to Pogba/Bruno is also needed, and VdB seems to fit that profile. Coming to CDM, Matic is the only true CDM in the squad with both McT and Fred more mobile destroyers rather than a defensive screen. OGS hopefully will be looking to add a young CDM who can screen the defence and who has the technical ability on the ball to start our attacks. Would love to see someone in the mould of Zakaria being considered.
Attack – For once, United’s attack seems to be clicking, but there is an obvious hole at RW that needs to be addressed to let Greenwood develop at his own pace. Three players for four spots will give us cover for injuries and give the players some healthy competition. Hopefully we can get someone (Sancho being the obvious name that has come up) who can complement the rest of the attack and the style of play OGS is looking to implement.
The general consensus among everyone seems to be that Wan Bissaka is piss poor with the ball. I want to debunk this.
I have always thought that he is not given enough credit for the work he does in attacking positions. He seems to lack a bit of composure, but he is very good at dribbling (as proven by whoscored). He is also pretty good at holding onto the ball. Multiple times he gets put in difficult positions by his teammates but always seem to be able to pass out or at least get a throw in. When he crosses (he has to start getting into crossing positions more), it is generally a good cross. I would say that the strikers should be doing more to get on the end of his crosses. In addition to his 4 assists, I remember at least 3 instances where he put the ball on a plate for the strikers but they missed. This is not considering the numerous times he put the ball in “a good area”.
So can we stop at this idea that Wan Bissaka is not good with the ball? If someone hasn’t watched him play, it would seem as if all he does is tackle the winger and nothing else.
Reviewing Chelsea’s season
Writing after a while (became a dad recently, so you can imagine life!). So, we’ve finished 4th and qualified for CL with some super signings already. Here are some views:
1. Before the season began, I ‘expected’ us to finish top four. This is not a revisionist statement, this is because I follow our youth teams and know the potential of the academy players. The transfer ban was a blessing (as much as Eden’s loss a big one). It was a question of giving these awesomely talented youngsters the time to thrive. Side note – didn’t expect Abraham to hit 15 league goals, big bonus for me! I did expect us to be there or thereabouts top four this season because I know what Mount, CHO (later on him), Reece James are capable of.
2. That said, I have developed a love for xG and data-based addition to my eye test in general and this is what I dug out from the excellent fbref: Chelsea’s xG for is 68.5, xG against is 38.2. We scored 69 goals and conceded 54. We’ve scored at par as expected over a full season but conceded easily 16 goals more. Further, we faced 115 shots on target, whilst Pool and City faced 107 (we’re not far behind), and United faced 125. Compared to overall league data, this means we faced the third fewest shots in the league.
What is interesting is now the save percentage – we are the league lowest 54%. One argument here is that though we faced fewer shots, the eye test told us teams just let us have ball and easily broke through our midfield and counterattacked. So, I dug up post shots expected goals data (that accounts for shot quality and % chance a shot goes in, measuring the quality of opponent’s shot). Our PSxG is alarmingly 41.4. For Pool and City, it is 32.9 and 34.3 respectively (actual xGA being 41.3 and 35.3 respectively). What this means is that Liverpool and Man City in general don’t concede many shots, and factoring in PS data, it tells us that the shots they give opponents in general are okay for top teams as they’re not so dangerous.
On the other hand, Chelsea’s PSxGA is alarmingly 41.4 compared to xGA of 38.2, this means though we concede few shots on aggregate like Pool and City, the kind of shots we allow opponents is of high quality. To verify why this happens, I dug further to find our midfield set up. The first clue was there – Jorginho (for all the hilarious defensive stats to prove he’s good) has been dribbled past 76 times the entire season!!! Till the lockdown break, Jorginho was our deepest player. Now, with Sarri there was a structural way of playing which Jorginho was made to look good and for all its flaws it worked okay. Lamps obviously wants pace and pressure, which is not Jorginho’s game, neither is blocking passing lanes of opponents and stopping dribbles. As a result, Chelsea’s midfield gets turned over quite a bit in an average game – so opponent attackers get a free run at us.
3. That brings me to the final point. Now that I’ve established with eye test + fbref data about our midfield issues (that we let opponent turnover easily), the last stop is our defence. I looked at the GK stats from fbref again. The difference between our actual conceded (54) and PSxGA (41.4) is alarming. Kepa has faced tough shots due to the midfield, but this is where the difference between a poor keeper and an elite keeper comes. He has still managed to concede 13 more than what he should factoring in the quality of shots he’s faced! I don’t even need to look at the league average and compare Kepa, it would be worse.
4. Last point – our defence and set-pieces. I was unhappy when Lampard used the term height to say why we concede. It’s one thing to not able to sign players, it’s another to coach them well. Lampard and his staff have to quickly figure out a way not to concede set piece chances to opponents. Pep’s teams normally don’t concede corners. Liverpool manage set pieces well. Chelsea teams of old were a nuisance in both boxes. FWIW Mikel Arteta is making to look Arsenal’s defence competent. Lampard and co need to figure a method to the set-piece problem and that is in the coaching ground.
5. In summary – Chelsea’s midfield set up ensures comfortable turnover for opponents in general that leads to quality shots against, and Kepa ensures the shots look more difficult than what he faces by a combination of not even attempting to save some and hilariously letting some. Chelsea need to fix these problems next.
Tomorrow, will write about our attacking output summary!
Aravind, Chelsea fan
Awards of the season
As we take a breath before European competitions kick in again, I think it’s a good time for some end of season awards.
Disclaimer: this mail contains mild traces of humour and sarcasm, and is not therefore to be taken 100% seriously Liverpool fans. In other words, calm down.
Player of the Season
VVD – Liverpool have generally been imperious in defence and it was a major factor in them winning the league, most of the credit for this has to go to VVD’s leadership. They won a lot more games by a margin of one goal this year (14 compared to 9 the season before), games they might have drawn had it not been down to resolute defending. As an aside, Henderson was a bad choice for the writers’ award in my opinion. Ignoring his ability (or lack of it depending on your viewpoint), he missed eight games and barely featured in another 4 (less than 30 mins); so effectively didn’t contribute on the pitch for a third of the season, whereas VVD played every minute. KDB runner up because the POTS should always go to a league winner.
Team of the Season
Sheffield Utd – surprised most of us with how well they coped in the PL. Well-drilled, well-organised and capable of a shock result against the “bigger teams”. Like most promoted teams they struggled to score goals but the system, and how they defended as a team, meant they didn’t concede many. This award could have easily gone to Liverpool, but sure where’s the fun in that?
Manager of the Season
Herr Klopp – he built a team of winners over four years, spending circa £400m wisely in the transfer market and it came to fruition this year. Seems to be a great motivator, tactician, and a likeable chap most of the time, occasionally losing the plot like all good managers. Winning teams have a cycle of about four years, I would say this Liverpool team are halfway through this, so it will be interesting to see how he goes about building another team to peak before his departure in 2024 (if reports are to be believed).
Young Player of the Season
TAA – wasn’t really a difficult choice this; although I did have the debate about cut-off age for a young player, then reminded myself that TAA is only 21. 4 goals and 15 assists is a fantastic return from a player who has a sweet right foot. Whilst the fact that he takes set-pieces will inflate his figures above other players in his position somewhat, it is his deliveries and free-kicks which have helped Liverpool score the most goals from set-pieces. Honourable mentions to the two Masons and AWB.
Signing of the Season
Bruno Fernandes – the little Portuguese magician has come into the league just as we are losing a little Spanish magician (Silva – one of the finest midfielders to play in the league). Likes to take risks and pass through the lines, plus takes a penalty like Tiger Roll jumps a fence at Aintree. United were struggling for creativity in MF and he gave us the shot in the arm required to catapult us back into the CL. What’s not to like? Honourable shout-out to Danny Ings, if signing a permanent contract after a loan spell counts (which it does, because I make the rules here), and Maguire for helping transform a defence.
Biggest Farce of the Season
VAR – it’s not that VAR doesn’t or can’t work, it’s just the teething problems that need to be sorted out. The onus should be on the match referee to review their own decision at pitch side when required (for penalties and cards). The clear and obvious error criteria is a VARce (you can see what I did there). Honourable mention to FFP, with the CAS decision enabling (alleged) cheating, and Liverpool fans hilariously suggesting they know what humility is when people were accusing their team of being arrogant. (Have to get one or two digs in, have been perfectly pleasant thus far).
Best VAR Decision of the Season
Chelsea 0 Man Utd 2 – this was the game that VAR really came into its own. Batshuayi dangerously thrust his groin towards Maguire’s boot and VAR correctly adjudged poor Maguire to be innocent. Chelsea then had two goals CORRECTLY chalked off by VAR. Honourable mention to Utd v Liverpool where Mane had a goal CORRECTLY ruled out, and all the CORRECT penalty decisions which went to United this season. Proof if needed that VAR can indeed work.
Worst Supporters of the Season
Liverpool – Might have gone to the City fans trying to defend their club’s (alleged) financial misdoings but they’re not really here, so it’s another award for Liverpool. Not because of how they smugly celebrated their league victory, it was a long 30 years for goodness sake who can blame them, but how they didn’t have the grace to allow us poor United supporters to celebrate our third place trophy without trying to pi$$ on our chips. They should take a leaf out of our book and be magnanimous in victory, gracious in defeat.
Most toxic yet intriguing place to visit
The underbox/comments section – some real issues down there, although truthfully there has been for years, where psychologists would have a field day. The mailbox is generally more rational (although has its moments) but it’s a free-for-all in the underbelly of dysfunction. It’s like the scene from Ghostbusters 2 – all calm on top in the City streets but down below something evil and unpleasant festers, bubbling up to the surface on occasion. A bit like Shutter Island, well worth a visit but stay there at your own risk. Still, you can’t choose your family and all that.
Garey Vance, MUFC
Loser: Ryan Sessegnon
I’d like to nominate a wildcard for the 2020 Losers column. Ryan Sessegnon.
It’s mad how far he has fallen out of the general football conversation. In the summer build up to the last season there was so much coverage around Mount, Foden and Sessegnon – the future of English football. He was everyone’s dark horse pick in Fantasy Football because he was obviously going to come and be amazing, assisting and scoring while listed as a left-back.
Then the season happened and he just..didn’t really do much. It wasn’t even as if he was the standout in a poor like Grealish was this season for Villa. He just looked a bit average – which is totally fine for a young player in their debut Premier League season but was a bit disappointing nonetheless.
Then comes the Spurs move and he has all but disappeared. He got his ‘big’ move and even bagged some appearances in the Champions League but he was clearly unfancied by both Pochettino and Mourinho. Mount, Foden, James, Abraham, Williams and Greenwood all had breakthrough seasons while Sessegnon does nothing.
He obviously has plenty of time and shouldn’t be written off. He clearly had things in his game that needed to be worked on but to be 20 years old with 112 league games under your belt and only six of them for the team you’ve been at for a year must feel rubbish. If Fulham make it through the playoffs, would it be the worst thing for him to go back on loan for a year?
Dan (If it turns out he broke his leg or something and it isn’t on his wiki page I’m going to look like a right muppet)
Coming late to Clough
So I have been an avid F365 ‘consumer’ and a Chelsea Fan from 2007 and this is my first Mailbox mail. Still remember reading Neville’s Diaries and the Doppleganger sections fondly and remember chuckling.
With how the PL is prominent in Asian Countries, we were all Fans of one of the Sky Four, all teams minus Spurs and the Citizens. To be honest I really did not know much about the game prior to its PL origins because over here the game was invented in ’92. Being a football fanatic, I had heard of the Forest Team of the 70s-80s winning the European Cup two times, but I could never really appreciate the magnitude of the achievement.
After a Youtube video randomly popping up of Cloughie, I went into a rabbit hole yesterday to learn more about this great man. And holy moly, what a legend. From taking Derby from the second division to winning the first and then again repeating the same with Forest and going one better to win not one but two European Cups is extraordinary. This is Football Manager stuff. Really we just don’t make them like him anymore, From his staunch principles of playing on the grass instead of the clouds, everyone who is interviewed now about him, speaks of how unique and how he has touched each of their lives in an unique way. Like a funny story of Kevin Campbell of the Gunners getting kicked in the shins by Cloughie before the game!
Maybe the Greatest Manager England never had, and definitely should have gotten the job after Don Revie. But be that as it may, this is a mail to eulogise one of the most unique personalities that the beautiful game has given us. A man whose achievements will never be repeated, a man whose mere presence has benefitted us all. I would love it if the older readers of the mailbox, if by any chance have any anecdotes of the great man and could share them, I am sure it would make our day.
One and Only!
RIP Cloughie. Wish I was fortunate enough to have been a football fan when you were active but not to be.
Samik Sen(CFC), Kolkata, India
Relegation, Raddy Antic and redemption
In April this year, following a long battle with pancreatitis, the only man ever to manage Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atleti passed away. He was a man who also managed his native Serbian national team, and, most memorably for me and 80s football fans, played with distinction for Luton Town, being an integral part of our Second Division title winning team in 81/82, seeing us promoted to the promised land in the days before Super Sundays. He was of course the one and only Radomir Antić. For a generation of Luton fans, however, he was known simply and affectionately as Raddy.
Raddy gave Luton the most recognisable and memorable moment in our history when, in the 82/83 season in a loser-goes-down relegation-settling match against Manchester City, he scored four minutes from time in the last game of the season to save us from the drop and condemned City to the second tier. At the final whistle, this led to the iconic celebration ‘dance’ of David Pleat as he took to the pitch like a drugged up gorilla that had inexplicably managed to squeeze into a beige suit. This image is seared into the memory of every Lutonian of my generation, and, along with plastic pitches (and in rarer cases, Scott Oakes and Brian Stein) it is often the only moment that anybody remembers or associates with Luton Town FC. Raddy’s loss was also Luton’s loss, and in a town that was not renowned for overwhelming hope or happiness (see also: Blinded By The Light), Raddy, and his moment, were rays of light in a challenging moment of both Lutonian and UK history.
Therefore, I couldn’t help but feel that Raddy was watching over us when Luton once again managed to escape relegation on the final day of the season. It may not have been from the top flight, but given our recent past, and the fact that we were as much as 10 points adrift at the bottom of the Championship, this was an incredible achievement that most of us had given up on before Graeme Jones steadied the ship and Nathan Jones returned. However, my thoughts upon the final whistle against Blackburn didn’t turn to Jones, or match-winning James Collins, they were reserved for the Serbian maestro who came to our sh*thole town from Real Zaragoza and breathed life and pumped adrenalin into our moribund footballing lives. Sometimes the stars just align. That one was for you Raddy; rest in peace, and thanks for the memories.
Dicky (‘Oh it’s there, they’ve done it’) Malb@lls