Is Kepa the worst signing in football history? And more mails…

Joe Williams
Kepa Arrizabalaga Chelsea

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Excruciating to watch
One thing is for sure. This Chelsea team cannot use bus-parking as a tactic. Not with this defense. I’ve lost count on how many times Zouma and Christensen had to frantically clear the ball after trying to pass the ball from the back.

Our only tactic yesterday:

Kepa->Zouma-> Alonso -> Jorginho/Kovacic – Liverpool press -> Christensen -> Kepa -> boot the ball aimlessly

Passing from the back will only work when the back four are excellent ball playing players who can escape from a tight spot and have an eye and intelligence to send a ball through the channels. They may get away against some smaller teams but not against the Gods of press themselves. It was clear from the first 10 minutes that it won’t work, but what do we do ? Continue the same tactic for the whole 90 minutes like a bunch of toy robots. These are the kind of tactics which gets managers sacked.

As well as Liverpool played, and they were excellent, their defense were there for the taking if we had an ambition. Turbo Timo was electric. Apart from two specific instances when Fabinho had the better of him, they were finding it difficult to handle him whenever he had the ball at his feet and it almost ruined Thiago’s debut. He had absolutely Zero support from the others. Pulisic and Ziyech can’t come back soon enough.

Hopefully, we will get better when everyone gets embedded in the team and a new keeper joins us. But the only place for yesterday’s tactics is in the deepest parts of the Mariana trench.

Finally, Mané – what a beautiful player. He gets top marks for his efforts alone.
Sreekanth, Germany


Christensen brain fart cost Chelsea…
Just thought I would shoot a quick mail in regards to Chelsea and all the scathing editorials and articles about how Lampard has no excuses and Chelsea haven’t improved.

Chelsea played a peak and I mean peak Liverpool team. Been together 3/4 years won trophies and are probably the best team in Europe bar Bayern.

Chelsea done well for 45 mins until AC had a brain fart because he doesn’t trust his goalkeeper. Chelsea have half their 1st choice 11 out. Chilwell, Ziyech, Pulisic, Silva arguably all would have started if fit plus the new goalkeeper if reports are correct in regards to Mendy.

Liverpool however at full strength against 10 men for 45 mins bar the Kepa mistake I think Chelsea done quite well. 2 games in its a but shotgun to write Chelsea off just yet. I dont think they will win the league but I think they will be a lot closer to Liverpool than a lot of people think. People wrote them off last year and they finished level on points with United and ahead of Spurs amd Arsenal.
Nathan Summers, Genosha


Blood on Lampard’s hands
I haven’t read F365’s 16 conclusions yet (too depressed to read).  I have always disgustingly hated Liverpool and anyone associated with it (though I have the maturity to applaud how Henry, Edwards and Klopp have run it, I can sing praises of that, a diff. story) and losing to Liverpool (now we’ve lost 4/6 seasons at home, and last 4 PL games) is something that disturbs me at a deep level.  Ok, that’s off my chest, over to my take

1. This game my entire blame will go to Frank Lampard.  By now it is clear Chelsea’s goal keeper, defenders and (though fans won’t accept) midfield are a problem.  That means this team cannot maintain leads or see a game that easily.  The summer, rightly the fix was on attack, and though not everyone was fit, I don’t get the logic of trying to play a defensive game when our best games vs Pool last season (each game actually), we could’ve come out with a win/draw as we gave them as good as we got.  I don’t get the logic of a defensive game plan given personnel at stake.  Let me elucidate on that further..

2. Why Lampard plays Mount (a natural central midfielder a 8/10 and someone who can play deeper) on the wing I never understand.  That means we don’t have natural width or wide attackers who stretch opponents and allow the CF to flourish.  And it also spoils the entire build up! The worst excuse for not starting CHO is “he needs to train better” – as if I haven’t heard JM do the same to KDB.  CHO is a brilliant wide player who is game intelligent, produces good moments and is also *defensively* very good contrary to what you read.

3. That brings me to our midfield.  Kovacic-Jorginho-Kante is not a good midfield.  In fact any half decent team can play this midfield comfortably.  I didn’t want to hand pick anyone, but this midfield doesnt create, doesnt progress ball methodically, neither can it get the ball quickly to forwards – hilariously which was our plan.  Play deep, suck Pool in and counter attack.  I’m sorry, Jovacic alone will slow a game big time and on top of that if tactics are to play quick CA, then it wont work.  This is on Lampard.  If this midfield trio has to succeed, then the game plan has to be methodical and patient (which Sarri succeeded to an okaish extent) but when that’s not the idea, pray might I ask – why play these three? The number of times Jovacic in particular kept passing to red shirts under no pressure in the opening 20 minutes annoyed me as heck.  I was told by every Chelsea fan I know that Kovacic in particular is press resistant – I didn’t see any of that crap last night.  These players aren’t individually bad footballers, just that as a midfield, they aren’t great! Ideally I would’ve benched Jorginho, started Kante-Kovacic and played CHO thus making one of Havertz/Mount as a no 10 who press and can score.  At least we could’ve stretched Pool and given them a good game.

4. Make no mistake, even 11 v 11 we were pathetic.  Red card accelerated the inevitability.  The worst part that hurts me is Liverpool (Again) didn’t have to be at their best to beat us.  They didn’t even have to make an effort to attack/defend to ensure they score/dont let us score.  That hurt me more than anything else, especially in a home game.

5. Fikayo Tomori.  Why he was absent suddenly last season (again I am hating this has to train better excuse daily) I never know.  Rudiger is finished (good Lampard knows that), and Tomori was brilliant last night in the second half.  If Lampard swaps Tomori (or Zouma who had another brilliant night) for Rudiger any time soon, then I’m asking for his head.

6. To me, the concern is this: Forget quality of players and injury list, when Klopp took charge in 15-16 mid-season, it was immediately visible that Liverpool even with not so great players then had a clear plan and were performing superbly.  Anyone who saw their games then knew that if they get recruitment right, that team will be something which is what we’re seeing now.  My worry is, even with not-so-great players (not the kids, they’re alright, its those Kepas, Rudigers, the midfield as it is, Willians etc.) I did not see a plan – now, I am ok if Lampard wants to have a base structure and allow attackers to solve issues, but even that wasnt visible.

Now we obviously have better players in the forward line – but the in game plan is not yet clear to me (only things I know is we press as a team, we win ball back soon, but what happens then is not clear).  Regardless of fitness concerns and injury levels, Lampard and co need to sort this out ASAP on the training pitch.
Aravind, an absolutely annoyed Chelsea Fan


Kepa blunder and the super rich…
After another Kepa blunder it got me thinking about the true advantage of the financially doped clubs.  Of course teams with more money can afford better players, but such is the money that has rolled in to the Premier League over the past 5-10 years in particular a lot of clubs can afford to sign £30-40m players.  We have seen players from top european clubs come to the Prem to play for lower mid table teams for the experience of the prem and the wods of money being shoved across the table. The ability of weaker teams to sign £30-40m players is one of the reasons the Prem is the most exciting and competitive leagues in Europe.

However, the thing that really stands the very rich away from just the rich (in global terms) is the ability to easily mop up an expensive mistake in the transfer market.  Buy a £40m player who is absolutely useless?  Send him on loan, pick up his wages and just buy another £40m player to replace him in the next window.  Which brings me back to Kepa.  £70m for one of the worst GK’s in the league, most teams would be made to suffer for that horrendous mistake.  I realise Chelsea are suffering because of his performances right now, but I mean suffer in that they’ve committed a huge amount of transfer budget to him, can’t just replace him immediately and have a £70m problem on their hands they can’t shift.

You could also look at the likes of Drinkwater and Bakayoko for similar examples of terrible transfers who are just replaced and replaced until you find a £40m man that does work.  Is that excellent work in the transfer market or is it just playing the odds that if you buy enough eventually one will come good. Chelsea of course aren’t alone, City with a £40m Mangala mistake can be swiftly covered with another centre back at a similar price.  Man U have gone through a fair few CB and midfielders trying to find the right one.  Most of these players stay at the club, usually shifted on loan and covering chunks of their wages.  They run their contract down because their wages are impossible to be covered by another team.

This can all be covered by the super rich and neatly brushed under the carpet because they have a new toy to play with and don’t have to worry about the one they broke.  Essentially lot of clubs can afford very expensive players but very few have the luxury of knowing it doesn’t really matter if they don’t work out.  The rest are forced to live with their mistake either by taking a hit financially, setting them back in their squad building goals, or by having to suffer them being in the team and somehow trying to make them better.So Mendy will come in to replace Kepa at Chelsea and Kepa will likely go on loan or sit in the reserves.  The ability to have a £70m player out on loan or in your reserves and therefore not having to suffer from your transfer market mistakes is the real advantage for the super rich.
Rich AFC


The worst signing in football history
I was texting my dad during the game yesterday and he said that he thought Kepa was the worst signing in football history. I thought, “Is he right?” I was racking my brains and I really struggle to think of one that is worse.

There are many players that have gone for big fees and then haven’t reached the heights expected. But that’s not the case with Kepa. It’s not that he isn’t one of the best keepers in the world, it’s that he’s not even a very good keeper.

You can look at a transfer like Coutinho and say that was an enormous waste of money. £140m for a player that ended up being loaned out. But he was still a good player. He ended up winning the Champions League with a brace in the semi-finals. He wasn’t actually a terrible footballer, he just wasn’t used correctly. If you offered Countino to a middle to lower tier team in La Laga, a straight swap for one of the players, I’m sure they’d take him in a heartbeat. Could the same be true of Kepa? Is there a single team in the Premier League who would swap their keeper for Kepa? I’m not sure there is. For the most goalkeeper expensive signing of all time, that is staggering.

Even looking at Liverpool’s worst ever deal, at least they had some resale value. Liverpool clawed back over 50% of what they paid there. Would anyone pay remotely close to Kepa’s fee? Not a chance. They’d be lucky if someone took a punt at him for £15-£20m.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but if there’s a worse transfer in football, I’m struggling to think what it is.
Mike, LFC, London


Prematurely writing Man Utd off?
Until I read the mailbox yesterday I was under the impression that the match against Palace on Saturday was our first of the season. I also believed that most of the team hadn’t played a match in 5 weeks and only got back to training a week and a half ago. But it turns out the third best team last season are to be judged after one game this year, and not 38.

No doubt it was a poor performance and aside from the VAR decisions, which I will come to, Palace were good value for the win. Given the circumstances of our “summer”, including some self-inflicted issues, is it really any wonder we didn’t play well?

Pogba, only recovered from covid (and so was presumably behind in fitness work) puts in an under-par performance and the knives are out again from the ill-informed. You could argue Ole should have started someone else but you know how to get players match fit? By playing them. Maguire and Greenwood had colourful breaks to say the least, Bruno just had a baby then rushed back to the UK to avoid the need to quarantine, heck even Lindelof spent his summer chasing muggers!  They may need a couple of games to get back to their best, bearing in mind others teams had a few pre-season games, so give them a break. We still need a couple of players but give the ones we have a chance to get match fit before writing them off.

In terms of the VAR decisions, anyone who thinks that penalty should have been awarded is trolling or needs their head looked at. And retaking the penalty because the keeper was an inch off his line, what a joke. Let the ref decide in real time; at least that way it is likely to be clear and obvious infringement instead of dealing in cms ffs. You’ll see us getting most calls going against us this season as the media kicked up enough stink about all the correct penalty decisions we got last year. Note they’ll not make much fuss when others massively benefit – are Liverpool now 3 or 4 decisions up in 2 games? Remember now, it doesn’t matter that these were correct decisions; it’s the number of correct decisions in your favour that shows you have unfairly benefited for some reason. C’est la vie.
Garey Vance, MUFC


I told you so…
I’ve written a few stories bashing Utd and some of their players (I go hard on Rashford). Now this is always thought of as a rival fan sticking the boot in and some of my close to the bone comments on some players would lend weight to that, but the actual critique was always from an objective position.   Utd are very good at propaganda and before a football was kicked Utd fans actually thought that they were a shout for the title this season. This is due to the glutinous amount of pro united articles that the tabloids release for the big fan base clicks. Larger fan bases will have larger portions of ‘casual’ fans that lap up this crapola being spread as they know no better, which is nobody’s fault that’s just how it is.

Then comes summer and they buy a midfielder, possibly the strongest area of team, but who cares right? He’s a name. Then you must look at the sancho situation, do utd require a right winger? Probably, but high priority? When you have top shagger Mason Greenwood with a clear pathway to the first team. The ‘speedster’ Dan James also looking to develop.

Here lies the problem, do players develop at Utd? For whatever reason players look like they are stuck in a time warp when they join the Manchester club. Rashford looks identical to his first game, making the same mistakes, James, wan bissaka, Lindelof, Lingard, Shaw. All young when they joined, all haven’t progressed at all. Who’s fault is that? Manager? Players? I couldn’t say but it needs addressing. Then there is the transfer scatter gun approach. The utd fans I know are crying out for a cb and a left back ( they need a rb too in my opinion) but Utd still looking for a right winger and are saying no cb in this window??? Is it the board punishing the manager for the 80m Maguire choke? Quite possibly, but I get the feeling that Utd are not trying to compete for the title currently. I feel that they’ll spend to get top 4 for champions league money but the bankers have decided it’s a poor investment putting money into a club while Liverpool and City are streaks ahead. You’ve even heard number 1 cheerleader Gary Neville allude too “in a couple of years utd will compete” Well Gary if you’re looking for these players to get better, what part of the last few years they’ve been at the club lead you to believe that that’s what will happen.

It’s strange times at Utd, they looked terrible at the weekend and no excuse to do so. Transfer window has been poor, players behaviour has been terrible, Maguire ( arrested) greenwood (huffing hippy crack and cant keep it in his pants) and wan bissaka (being unable to play the first match due to being quarantined for going on holiday to a place on Covid watch). All avoidable stuff.

With arsenal looking the real deal I think it’s Europa league again next year. Window is still open so there’s always hope.


Penalty penalties…
I almost didn’t read the bore-fest that was the Palace v Man Utd mailbox but I couldn’t help myself, mostly for the lolz. Having done so I found Ryan’s missive particularly sour grapes. And my response is, why should they change the penalty kick rules? Let’s never forget, a defending team committed an infringement that resulted in a penalty. Tough luck.

But then with the penalty given, the onus should be on the attacking team having all the advantages, NOT the transgressors. It is bad enough that for free kicks outside the area we accept the ref stopping the match and allow the defending team time to set up a literal wall of humans to stop them having a decent shot. Why should the defending team be allowed to do this and gain a huge advantage for their transgression?

So, for penalties, why should the goalkeeper be allowed to come off his line (even an inch) giving him the advantage over the taker? You have to stay on your line, deal with it – don’t give away a foul next time.

Why shouldn’t the taker use all the tricks in the book to hoodwink the goalkeeper by stuttering, stopping, etc. If it was elsewhere on the pitch, would a free kick taker be told to take again if he stopped in his run up and decided to pass to a different player than originally intended?

The reason this is so contentious is because penalties can be given for relatively ‘minor’ infringements, like accidental handball, sometimes. So the punishment outweighs the ‘crime’ in some cases. Maybe for certain transgressions a free kick in the box would seem fairer but that is a debate for another day I suspect.
Rob (Belgium is my favourite country right now), Leicester


Are midfielders better centre-backs than centre-backs?
A weird trend has emerged in the opening couple of rounds of the returning premier league, namely defensive midfielders filling in at centre back and actually doing a really good job.

We’ve seen Kouyate at Palace, Ndidi at Leicester and now Fabinho for Liverpool, all doing remarkably well in a supposedly unfamiliar role. However, is their defensive midfielder skillset actually exactly what a modern centre back needs against teams that press high, counter quickly and often look to play through balls? Perhaps a bit of extra energy, anticipation for interceptions and being comfortable on the ball against the press are all actually vital qualities to play in central defence. Maybe that was why Guardiola was so insistent on using Fernandinho there last season instead of pretty much any of his actual centre backs? Or indeed why he first started using Mascherano there at Barca and Javi Martinez at Bayern.

All three of the above examples will certainly return to their more familiar beat as soon as their colleagues return from injury or suspension, but it’s an interesting trend in how defenders are expected to play.
Pierre (scratching his chin), LFC, Bristol



Managing expectations
This was a weekend of amazing results, which I am sure have got fans excited for the season. Everton look great under Ancelotti, Spurs’ front 3 with the addition of Bale is intimidating, and Liverpool seem to be their usual, imperious selves.

I want to talk however about the Arsenal v West Ham match and how grateful I am, not just in the result, but more that it has successfully managed my expectations. As much as I love Arteta, I know he needs time. Seeing how poor our midfield was, how weak some of our back up players are, it has reminded me to not get too excited, and be prepared for some tough games ahead….especially Liverpool.

I wonder if any other Arsenal fans are feeling the same, because it has helped me to not say anything too stupid or optimistic on social
John Matrix AFC


VAR and “shocking decisions”
I’m not a fan of VAR. It’s our fault we have it. Every time we howled about a decision missed by a ref, after we viewed it four times from three different angles in slow motion, we made this a problem that needed to be solved. And this is the only solution. Personally, I would love to see it scrapped along with slow mo replays. If you want to review a refs decision, do it in real time like they have to. The whinging may decrease.

Anyway, I’ve seen lots of people complaining about the “shocking decision” to retake the penalty against De Gea. It was the right decision. The laws of the game state that the keeper must stay on his line. He was, marginally, off his line. This is what you wanted. Accuracy above all else. If you still think that is not right, your problem is with the laws of the game, not the ref. If you want “common sense” to be applied, that’s not in the laws of the game. Its simple, keeper comes off his line, penalty gets retaken. We are only seeing more of these incidents now because the ref has VAR to assist him. After all that, if you still think it was a shocking decision, then the problem is that you just want every decision to go your teams way regardless. And it was your howling that led to VAR in the first place.
Kev (as for the pundits and experts…..)


Who’s to blame?
United fans seem very keen on saying Woodward is to blame for everything.

And while he is very slow and cumbersome in the transfer market let’s look at the things united fans actually asked for which he delivered –
Pogba, Jose as manager, maguire, Fernandes.

You ask for a better defense he buys you maguire and wan bissaka, you ask for a better midfield he buys you pogba, Fernandes and van der beek, you ask for managers who have won things he gives you van gaal and Jose. You ask for a manager who knows the club and he gives you ole. You ask to steal the Sanchez transfer from city (so you can prove you’re still the biggest club in Manchester).

The biggest issue at United isn’t transfers. It’s coaching, or lack thereof. You need to start laying some blame at ole and his staff for taking over 100m worth of defensive talent and making every player worse. You need to blame ole for taking a better team than Jose had and not winning the same trophy he did.

The difference between City, Liverpool and United is city and Liverpool both have managers who actively try and improve the players they have, in klopps case its a definite success. Ole has literally not improved anyone and has actually made a large amount of players worse.

Be grateful you’ve not signed Sancho because in six months ole will make him worse and you’ll all be saying what a waste of 100m he is just like you’re doing with maguire and wan bissaka now.
Lee Baron


Thiago here we go here we go
Yes we are in love with Thiago Alcantara. Everything has gone so quickly. Our heads are in a spin. He says that he loves us. Then again he also loves Bayern. Even the song arrived before him. And it’s a great song. I think it broke the premier league record for the most… great… song… in the… you know… and then he played and he shouted to Robbo. ‘Go on Robbo’ he said. I think he said that to six other players also but him and Robbo must be thick as thieves. He also set the record for the fastest penalty given away and saved by a keeper whose name begins with ‘A’ F**king great!!!! The two African lads are doing well also.
Michael Ireland


16 conclusions

So Liverpool remain on the March, poor Lampard and Chelsea have stood still. Strange conclusion given that there are 5 first team players to still to come in. Liverpool without the likes of Alisson, VVD, Robertson, Mane and Salah would present a different force on the day. With Pulisic, Ziyech, Chillwell, Silva and soon to be announced Mendy, time will tell whether Chelsea have stood still.

One observation of the first two games is that the arrival of coach Anthony Barrié has seen more defensive pragmatism, but defensive shape without pressuring the man on the ball feels impotent. So the challenge for Lampard is not to lose attacking fluidity for defensive pragmatism.

Interesting times ahead for Chelsea, for Liverpool, hard to tell really, but looking at that their forward press, defensive high line and space in behind must present opportunity for opponents this season.

Fascinating season awaits, some great footballing sides out there
Pete B


Matt Stead provides absolutely negative/ simplistic view of match from Chelsea standpoint.

Chelsea having 150million £ worth attacking players on treatment table against full strength champions … we were just let down by individual mistakes.  Infact Chelsea managed game well till the sending off.

Till that time Liverpool had nothing of substance created. Mane might or might not have scored if he was not tackled but with Var being used … I really think it would better to be smart and let Mane attempt to score than to get sent off. One goal down is so much better than being a man down.

Also, I saw no one blaming Klopp for the mistake by Virgil last week or Guardiola being flayed for issues with his defense or Biesla being hammered for conceding 4 . Why blame Lampard for individual mistakes in second game of the season against full strength champions.

It’s obvious that it will be a few months before the full strength Chelsea team can play to its potential. Surely Timo Werner should be asked to take future penalties.  And I guess Kepa issue is being remedied at the moment.

We need to look at the performances after first 12-15 games and if even then the team is on ropes against top teams then we need to be critical of the manager. Until then it’s time to be supportive and watch with anticipation for the team to start clicking .. I have a feeling with 4-2-3-1 ..Timo up top with Havertz as 10 , Pulisic and Hakim on the wings and Kante + Kovacic as DM ..We will rip teams apart.
B Cfc (Poch will be my top pick if it ever comes to Lamp being let go)


Wow Matt, getting all your frustration out on Chelsea and Frank in one go there with your 16 Conclusions.

Chelsea were quite comfortable in the first half even though we didn’t have majority possession. If Werner had beaten Fabinho (who had an excellent game) with one of his one-on-ones we’d have gone into half time 1-0 up.
I’m sure Frank would love to have eased Havertz into the league but, by your own admission, we’re really struggling with injuries. Who would you suggest we play instead of him in that position?
And don’t pretend you agreed with Frank when he left Pulisic out at the beginning of last season. I remember the media, pretty much as one, saying Frank doesn’t know what he’s doing by not playing him.
And claiming this result and the one in April 2019 which had the same scoreline underlines that we’ve not progressed is absurd. I’d say the fact that we had the same scoreline while playing a man down for half the game is a sign we have progressed.
Frank has identified his problem areas and addressed them all, but those players have yet to be incorporated. How can you jump to the conclusions you have done after a game like this? Oh man…

I don’t know if Frank is any good or not. At times I really enjoy him while at others I wonder if he’s just told his players to go out and express themselves without actually giving them the right tools to do so, but to judge him harshly based on this game is the reason more and more of F365 articles should appear in your weekly Mediawatch.
Ed B


A couple of things…
Must have woken up grumpy this morning as 2 things are really bugging me from the weekend mailboxes.

1 – The re-taken penalty.

De Gea moved off his line and that’s against the rules. Why this obsession with centimetres (he’s only a centimetre off his line, he’s only a centimetre offside, etc)? He’s off his line, ergo rules broken. If you want to see a keeper make a great save and do it properly, watch Allisson. Plants a foot on the line as he dives and saves from someone we all thought never misses. Whether or not it’s harsh given that De Gea didn’t really gain an advantage is irrelevant, the rules are the rules and the referee reminded him off them before the kick was taken.

2 – United buying themselves out of trouble

Firstly, I’ll say that Palace were excellent on Saturday and thoroughly deserved the win but why does the answer have to be that United simply have to buy? I’m sorry Eagles fans but none of you could hand on heart disagree with the statement that Man Utd have a better team on paper. Palace simply outfought and outthought them. I’m not saying United don’t need players but are you really trying to tell me that a squad with the quality (and cost) of United should not beat a squad of the quality (and cost) of Palace? Buying players won’t solve all of their problems. Picking the right ones will (Greenwood on the bench anyone?!) and coaching them on how to play at the right pace would help.

Sometimes fans have to stop their bleating and face reality. De Gea broke the rules and United could have played better. Simples.
Adam (LFC) Handballs could have been a third grumpy paragraph but it’s too complicated!


Crystal Palace…
Dear Football365,

*Red cards were first used in 1970. Fifty years later, on 19 September, the worst  example of their use in history took place in the game between Morpeth Town and Grantham Town. A bouncing ball hit the arm of a Grantham defender 25 yards out from goal and rebounded to a Morpeth forward, but the referee and his assistant deemed that a goalscoring opportunity had been denied. Seriously no idea. Still, with this in mind, a 1-1 draw having played with ten men for over an hour is a good result for the Gingerbreads, even if the wait for an away win in the Northern Premier League creeps closer to the two-year mark.

*I grew up in the 1990s, Manchester United losing is nice for their opposition but football’s the real winner for me, Clive. The Sunday mailbox, however, was one of the finest things ever published on this website.

*As a second lockdown inches closer, food shortages in supermarkets seem inevitable again. Luckily, some football managers will have no shortage of words to eat. Before the Saturday teatime kickoff, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested that last season’s meeting of Manchester United and Crystal Palace was “a freak result”, which was interpreted by some as a mix of patronising and sour grapes; in every sense the teams were very evenly matched. This year however, there was no question of a fluke – Palace outworked, outsmarted and outplayed their opponents.

*Roy Hodgson lined his team up in a 4-4-2 and built his team on a series of duos: Match of the Day highlighted the close work of James McArthur and James McCarthy in midfield, but just as important were the mentoring partnerships of Mamadou Sakho/Cheikhou Kouyate and Jeffrey Schlupp/Tyrick Mitchell. If the former sounds a bit odd, Kouyate is still learning the centre-back position, but Sakho marshalled him superbly – against them, the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial barely got a sniff.

Schlupp’s selection ahead of Eberechi Eze did raise a few eyebrows, but he was Palace’s best player, offering protection for Mitchell and contributing to the attack. Their combination led to Schlupp earning an assist on a goal for Andros Townsend.

*Though lining up in a central striking duo,Wilfried Zaha was actually freed to roam across the field and choose his opponents. One expert writing in the Football365 mailbox last Monday said that Harry Maguire would hold the key to their fortunes. Maguire has a terrible record against the Eagles, who seem capable of making an otherwise fine centre-back look awful.

That said, he probably just comes out of the game better than Victor Lindelof. He was perhaps unfortunate to concede a penalty but he was absolutely wretched. At the big six clubs there are a surprising number of centre-backs who seem incapable of defending to anything remotely approaching the required standard. Against such pathetic opposition, Zaha was absolutely magnificent and deserving all the praise that came his way.

*Solskjaer couldn’t have done Palace more of a favour if he tried. It was like watching a rugby union team (something I wouldn’t overly recommend) failing to break through the defensive line. The defence holds its position and forces the attack to move 20 yards laterally to go even half a yard forwards. Eventually, frustration takes over at a lack of progress and everything breaks down. That’s what happened at Old Trafford. Manchester United dominated possession but it just proved how redundant that statistic is, because it mainly shows that they passed the ball among themselves across the midfield while the Eagles stood watching them and waiting for a mistake.

Until they address this inability to devise and execute a plan, they will fall short of their expectations, no matter how much they stamp their feet and shout and demand new players, shiny players, like Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

*I don’t like VAR. Never have, never will. But it needs to be used properly, and if one of its designated uses is to confirm a goalkeeper stays on his line at penalty kicks, then unlike Danny Murphy on MOTD, I think the “common sense” approach is to enforce the laws of the game. It’s naïve to think players won’t push the envelope to see what they can get away with, and if players weren’t trying to gain unfair advantages all the time, there wouldn’t be the need for VAR.

*Ultimately, Palace fans began to fall out of love with the team last because they sacrificed almost all of their attacking endeavour in favour of stodgy, safety first play. What sums this up best is that they were the first team to score two or fewer goals in every game and avoid relegation. This season, they’ve scored three goals in their second game of the season and done so combining defensive solidarity with attacking swagger. Very few of us expect this sort of thing to last, but it’s an encouraging start. For the wider Premier League competition, it shows that instead of trembling in fear against the big clubs it is possible, with a bit of courage, to reap the rewards of going toe to toe with them.
Ed Quoththeraven