Mails on Bielsa being outsmarted by Ole, and Arteta’s exit…

Ian Watson

Keep your mails coming to…

Ole > Bielsa
Would love to offer some perspective on that defeat, but there is nothing I can say.

We are always told that with Bielsa’s style, comes risk. And the risk is an undeserved defeat when you are profligate, as we often are. But the even bigger risk is that you will often come up with teams hungrier, more dynamic and teams that are better tactically drilled than you.

And thats what we got against Manchester United. Its not really the defeat that hurts – we were without two first team centre backs, had our right back at centre defence, and then lost our remaining senior centre back to injury. It’s the manner of the defeat that hurt. It was insipid, weak and humiliating. I don’t think 8 or 9 would have flattered Manchester United. The defeat largely lays at our midfield or lack of:

Kalvin Phillips – once he is neutralised, or when Klich and Rodrigo are bypassed its game over. He effectively has to cover two midfielders instead of one but he was so below par. Failed to track his man and we concede. His passing range was off tonight too.

Mateusz Klich – too easily bypassed as he was by Ngolo Kante. Once he is beaten the pitch opens up. Failed to track his man, McTominay for two goals.

Rodrigo – no effort, loose passes. One sublime game followed by an awful game . Seemed to give up chasing at one point.

We struggled outwide – gone were the triangles and patterns of play that have defined our time under Bielsa.

Now, this isn’t a Bielsa out email, far from it. What he has achieved with meagre resources in the Championship is nothing short of remarkable. No parachute payments, staying within FFP, no big purchases in the Championship – but I think this season has raised expectations. We have played some scintillating football (Villa, Arsenal, Man City, Fulham), and we’ve suffered some unfathomable defeats (Palace, Leicester, West Ham). Interestingly when we’ve faced the managers most Leeds fans ridiculed, we’ve come unstuck because they’ve tactically bettered us (OGS and Lampard).

I’m confident we’ll stay up, but it won’t be with the optimism that early season form brought. Would I take staying up scoring 60 and conceding 60 over scoring 30 and conceding 60? You betcha.
Mat, Liverpool (Leeds Leeds Leeds!)


…It’s exactly 2 years now since Ole took over from Jose. At the time we were 19 points behind Liverpool. Now we’re 2 points behind if we win our game in hand. Yes, we don’t ever want to be behind Liverpool but we’re trending in the right direction with a young, exciting team. Is Ole the second coming of Fergie? No. Is he as bad as some of the over top criticism from F365 and others made him out to be? Absolutely not. He’s a decent manager, great at man-management, made some good acquisitions in the transfer market, and has got us playing the most entertaining football since Sir Alex left. Crucially he has been an important rebuild manager for the club after Mourinho’s mess in a way that someone like Ancelotti or Allegri would never have been. He doesn’t have a footballing philosophy like Pep, Klopp, or Bielsa and that’s always going to displease some. But Real Madrid won 3 UCLs in a row and you’d struggle to explain their tactical philosophy under Zidane. I don’t mind Ole changing his approach from game to game. What I do want to see is a bit more maturity and ruthlessness in this team, and from the manager too (see not taking Fred off at HT vs PSG for example). Get that and we could really go places.
Aniruddh, Pittsburgh, MUFC

READ MORE: Man Utd tear through Leeds as Solskjaer nears perfect blend

That Man Utd – Leeds game, I’ve actually had to rewatch on Sky tonight because it was truly epic! Utd conceded another 2 at home, but it continues to be refreshing after the Jose era, to see a team actually trying to score a few and leave space at the back!

The last 2 Utd wins (Sheff Utd and Leeds) were vital with Leicester and Wolves on the way over Xmas. A little pressure relief for Ole sitting above the likes of Jose and Frank, who are apparently having a fantastic season!

In typical fashion, I will say that after the last few games…this Ole boy is some manager isn’t he?! 😛
In typical predictions, he will be favourite for the sack in a few weeks.
I still stand by the belief that he learnt a great deal on the subs bench before coming on to try and win a game at Utd….and he seems to be slowly learning in a similar manner, as the manager, as he goes along.

Football, bloody ‘el!!
Gary B (Happy Xmas, even to the ABUs)


Good win for Utd against possibly the team that suits their style of play more than any in the PL. Leeds will just keep coming at you. Same doubts remain though about defence. A lot of chances given up and another goal conceded from a corner. Who is coaching the defending of corners? Fred, probably their smallest player, was the guy challenging the Leeds centre half for the goal. And while we are on Fred. Although he has his critics (me among them) i think he is the guy who sets the tempo for Utd. His pressing is missed when he is not there and Utd seem to move the ball quicker when he plays.
Ken, Cork, Ireland


…Good thing Leeds were playing a non-tactician nothingist’s side otherwise they could have lost 6-2 or something…
Manyooligan SoC


…Maybe tactics are overrated. #OleIn


Bielsa’s cup
In all my time as a Leeds fan I’ve never seen anything as disgusting and offensive as what I saw in the first half at Old Trafford!

The god of football himself was forced to drink his Yorkshire tea from a Manch*ster United branded paper cup. Despicable. Probably not even recyclable either.


Arteta and Arsenal
I watched the Everton arsenal game and during it something really curious happened which I’ve honestly not seen before.

Side note : I rate Ancelotti as one of the best coaches in football

I saw Everton go ahead…and then just let arsenal have the ball. They rarely tried to take it off them, they rarely pressed, they just let arsenal pass the ball back and forth harmlessly. You might think this would have resulted in shots and attacks raining on goal, but it didn’t. In fact after Everton switched to this odd tactic there was only one shot from arsenal (in the 96 Min). During this time arsenal had 82% possession.

If they did that against any other team they’d have got pounded. So what gives? Why did ancelotti do it? (And I’m sure its intentional). The answer lies in previous arsenal defeats.

You see whenever arsenal have the lions share of possession they lose. They can play only one way, defend and counter because they have zero creativity. The way to beat arsenal is literally to let them have the ball because they e no idea what to do with it.

With that in mind here’s a prediction (you can all mock me if I end up being wrong) arsenal will lose against Newcastle in both league and cup, they’ll lose against West brom and they’ll lose against crystal palace. At which point arteta will be let go.

Why? All these teams regularly play with less possession and set themselves up to be comfortable with that. But they are all better on the counter than arsenal.


Things were never that bad
I’m a big Arsenal and Wenger fan but can this narrative that Wenger got top 4 with all these crap players please stop. You mention Almunia, Andre Santos, Denilson, Gervinho, Eboue and Bendtner. Gervinho never even played with Almunia, Bendtner, Eboue or Denilson. Santos never played with those 4 either. People just look at that one graphic of the arsenal team vs Olympiakos dead rubber group game and think that’s the 11 Arsenal had for every season during the Wenger era. Why are we forgetting players like Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Ramsey, Rosicky, Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie and a lot of the good players that actually got them top 4 finishes. It’s a small thing but it annoys me when people just try to change the history what actually happened. Wenger had to field a lot of worse players at time due to injuries but it was never to the extent people seem to remember.
Dion, Arsenal.


Wenger in
Wenger in as Director of Football to return some sanity and decency to the USS Kroenke before it sinks to the bottom? Not the worst idea in the world. Who else would take the job?
Danny (Anyone seen Stewie Griffin?) Warner, Bali United FC


Klopp’s first year
A lot of people like to point back to Jurgen Klopp’s first season at Liverpool as a way to defend their under-fire managers. Mourinho himself has even taken to it recently.

The latest was the guy defending Arteta: “I do know, however, that fans and the media were calling him a fraud in his first season.”

No they weren’t. The main thing that gets forgotten is that Liverpool fans were generally having a great time. The team was playing good football, there were promising signs everywhere, and although results didn’t always go Liverpool’s way it wasn’t for lack of effort. And generally the games were entertaining. Where Klopp was talking about turning doubters to believers, Arteta is trying to persuade everyone that Arsenal are dominating teams.

I hope everyone keeps doing it and gives their unsuitable managers three or four years a time to get it wrong.
Joel, London


Football DNA
I’ve argued previously in these columns against the use of the word philosophy in football, unsuccessfully, but there is clearly something general at work in the relative success of clubs over time, a decade say. I think it’s like DNA. Success over time for a club will always be relative because, for instance, what constitutes success over a decade for a club like Liverpool or Arsenal will always be different than that for a club like WBA or Norwich. My contention is that for a club to be successful consistently over time it has to have an identifiable DNA that is respected. As an aside, DNA differs from a philosophy in that it can contain elements that are destructive as well as constructive and it doesn’t determine outcomes, just potential and probability. Let’s take some examples and then draw some conclusions.

First a club doesn’t necessarily have identifiable DNA. If it does, it has to be recognised by those running it and it always has identifiable elements. If a club has identifiable positive DNA to be consistently successful that DNA has to be recognised but those running the club and and only small «genes» changed at any one time. This can easily be seen in both Liverpools and MU’s successful decades. I think (as a CFC supporter) it can also be seen in Chelsea’s fortunes in the early 2000s. When Mourinho left, he had already created a positive DNA within the team. Avram Grant, who took over, is generally decried as a «do nothing» and unsuccessful manager but had relative success at Chelsea (they finished second and CL finalists) by doing just that: nothing, but in doing that he respectd the DNA of the team. Those who tried to change it, Big Phil and Villa Boas, failed because they didn’t understand the DNA. They would have needed 2-3 years to succeed, longer than Abramovic’s patience span. Di Matteo succeeded (for a while) because he understood and respected the DNA; he failed afterwards because he didn’t know which genes to change.

Arsenal had an identifiable DNA under Wenger but, after the first few years, it was clear that they lacked a gene (an immune gene?) which Wenger couldn’t identify.

So how does a team acquire identifiable and positive DNA? One thing that is clear is that continual significant change can’t create it (Watford?). It has to come from a club determined to create it or from a manager. In the case of Mourinho, it is clearly the manager. His successful teams have an easily identifiable DNA. Some clubs claim a «philosophy», an identifiable style of play, but that is difficult to substantiate. It happens from time to time but is far from consistent. In the case of Liverpool in their decade of success, it came from the club. In the case of MU, it came from the manager, Ferguson. It doesn’t really matter; the important point is that it is created. Where can it be seen being created? Possibly at Brighton, Norwich, definitely at Tottenham and it is definitely already present at Liverpool and Manchester City. How relatively successful these teams will be over the next decade will be determined by how well the team’s DNA is understood and respected.
Ian (CFC) Hugo


Pep is the Spanish Brendan
I’m always in a little quandry about Guardiola. Like everyone else when he first took over Barca I was in awe of what he created. A beautiful slick attacking machine which relentlessly pursued their opponents.

As time went on, I began to get tired of it. It seemed to be the opposite end of the spectrum to tactics like Tony pulis Stoke and equally as dull.

I think del Bosque Madrid from the early 00s probably got the right balance.

Into peps final season at Barca it wasn’t working quite so well anymore, as teams like Rubin Kazan provided the blueprint for success against peps Barca – let them make their 200 passes, you only need to stop the final pass.

Then came stints at Bayern and city. Bayern is arguably peps biggest failure. He was hired to win the champs league and never did and shortly after his departure his successor managed it almost immediately.

You can argue that his aim at city wasn’t to win the champs league but I would argue it certainly was because while the team were not the current champs when he took over they had already achieved that hurdle twice before so I think he was brought in for the one trophy the club still lacked. And they’re still waiting.

Pep has released or allowed to be released numerous books and holds numerous talks at coaching events as people really love to pick his brain. But why? Is he really that great?

His positives are his team’s have good flowing attacking play, they tend to score lots of goals and they tend to be heavy passers and pressers of the ball. His flaws are he is shocking in the transfer market when it comes to identifying players to improve his team (he is also quite bad for overlooking areas of improvement – ain’t that right Sergio?) And he has trouble organising defences.

There is another manager who has all the same positives and flaws in the premier League. A manager who actually had his best season the same time pep did playing the exact same way with the exact same flaws – Brendan Rodgers.

The only difference between the two ( besides trophy cabinets) is that Rogers has not had the budgets of Barca, Bayern or city and he never inherited a group of players already accustomed to winning titles like Barca, Bayern and city.

Is pep really a mastermind? Or his he just a Spanish Brendan Rogers who was lucky enough to fall into certain teams at the right time?

I’ll give guardiola some (more) credit here though – he has stayed at city to rebuild them. This is something he’s never done before and I applaud the ambition to try. For me the next 2-3 years will define if peps a great coach, not the past 8

READ MORE: Allardyce is the king of the false gods of survival

Relegation is the end of the world
Just read Johnny’s latest piece on Big Sam and it’s nonsense, sorry. Try telling fans of Aston Villa – who finished 17th last season – that it would’ve been fine had they gone down (and lost all of their best players in the process). They’re actually progressing now because well, that’s the point of being involved in a competitive sport.

Sure the Premier League is just the First Division but you can call it what you want, it’s still the top flight. There’s a reason professional footballers want to play at the top. It doesn’t matter that a side might get hammered by the top teams at first, the goal should be to survive and then build on that, basically doing a Leicester and now what Villa have done.

Does it take a ton of money to do so? Of course, which is why it’s impossible for some clubs, but that genie is sadly out of the lamp now.

Personally I’d rather watch my side facing top teams with top players than see them suffer in a so called “exciting league” like the Championship where a great deal of the sides are only interested in sh*tty, physical, spoiling football, even if it means they lose a lot.


Questions for Frank
Disclaimer – my first ever letter to this beautiful website/mailbox was exactly about 8 years ago, in the 12-13 season, after the only game that David Moyes lost at home in his last season at Everton thanks to a sensational performance from Frank <my all time favorite Chelsea player> Lampard.

How do you evaluate the performance of a coach/manager? I look at the pool of players available to him/her, the organizational structure, infrastructure, data science team etc. Given all this, here are some questions for Chelsea and Lampard before we play West Ham

1. Quoting Mourinho, do Chelsea have a clear “principles of play”? With Conte and Sarri I could clearly say (even when things were not great) what we were trying to do. With Lampard I am still figuring it as it’s not that clear to me.
2. Obviously, since Claudio Ranieri and to an extent Jose, Frank Lampard is the one who has a sensational eye for identifying talent (and also realizing who is not great). That is not something coaches are in general known for. His picks on players have been nothing short of phenomenal. He understands what kind of players, what skills are needed for a good team. Chelsea’s first 11 when all fit can beat any team in the league.
3. The problem occurs when Ziyech is not fit. When the wingers are not fit. Frank’s limitations start to show up. We play as though Ziyech is still conducting business. And we randomly take the ball to Reece james for a useless cross.
4. Kai Havertz – he’s sensational. In games he does things that’s not easily catchable. That little drop of shoulder, that deft movement, that feather touch with an angle. The big problem is, the build up is not at all in sync with his attributes and he ends up picking ball deep with no runners/passers near by many times, and even loses ball – and you have idiots like Paul Merson talk crap about him on TV after that. Kai needs to be up the pitch. Centrally or near the half spaces. It is the coaching staff’s duty to ensure Chelsea have a build up that ensures sustainably ball is near Kai in those zones.
5. Mount, Kai, Ziyech and our full backs can cause damage to a lot of teams. It is just that they’re not consistently playing due to injuries or the coaching is not maximizing their output.
6. Conte and Sarri built 3-4 good circuits on ball circulation from the keeper to middle and final third of pitch. A combination of short and long passes with good wing play. I understand Lampard likes players to solve problems, but that need not be mutually exclusive to playing on a circuit. The best teams today do both – coached for synchronous play and the unexpected play from players. Lampard needs to help with the former and do the good things he’s doing with the latter. That way, we may see Chelsea solve problems real time when teams give us trouble (like the Man City v Pool game).
7. If Chelsea scrap for a top 4 or miss out I would call this a big failure not least becasue of money spent, but given talent pool, we simply have to nail top 3 and close gap to champions within half of last season. Less than 80 points would be an abject failure to me.
Aravind, Chelsea Fan.


Palace won’t crumble
*Let’s start with a bold prediction: between now and the end of the season, Liverpool will register a bigger win than the one they earned against Crystal Palace.

*From a Palace perspective, without straying too far into Jose Mourinho delusional territory, this result does not have to be the end of the world. Last season, Southampton lost 9-0 to Leicester City, but picked up more points than the Foxes between that game and the end of the season. I agree with Michael Cox in situations like this, that it’s better in the long run to lose one game heavily than lots of games narrowly.

*It’s up to Roy Hodgson and his coaches to re-establish the context of this result: Palace have been playing well and getting good results (occasionally both at the same time) in recent weeks; a game against Aston Villa on Boxing Day is one the Eagles should believe they *can* win, which means it’s a good opportunity to put the Liverpool game to bed; a poor showing – as distinct from a poor result – next time out risks people starting to forget that previous good run.

*On a personal level, this game came at the perfect time for me: I won’t be bantered by a load of gloryhunting nine year olds on the school run, as it’s the holidays.
Ed Quoththeraven


A bit rich
From Sunday’s gossip: “And what is it with players still desperate to move to Barcelona or Real Madrid? It’s no longer a step up from Liverpool – it’s a significant step down.”

1. Liverpool are 2 or 3 bad transfer windows and a new manager away from Liverpool (90-19)
2. Step out of England and most would disagree. Step into England and you will find the same.
3. ‘How many European cups have you won?!’
4. Lastly, as a United fan I actually feel the same way but then reality reminds me that they are what they are and it is what it is, couldn’t stop Ronaldo, Hazard, Henry, Van Nistelrooy from heading there… but Stevie did stay?
5. Who’s the greatest to say no to the big Spanish two, like a Totti of the Premier League, a striker? The best I can think of is.. I couldn’t?!
Ps. Anyone else find it weird how cheap Henry and RVN went to Spain for? The two cost less than Shevchenko


Dybala for Wolves
There’s been a lot of talk about Juve trying to get Dybala off their books. Pirlo however, has come out stating how important the player is to the club’s future. Whether this is a ploy by Dybala’s camp to get a better contract or not isn’t the point, Imagine a world with him in Wolves’ yellow. Bring us joy Nuno.
Taz (imaginary worlds and all are my thing)


Going soft on Liverpool and City
As the league table seems to be starting to take shape I’ve been wondering why my hatred levels have been severely off balance of late – am I the only one?

Being a utd fan, I of course have an in built dislike for Liverpool and City. However, I’ve really not been disliking either of them much this season, I can’t explain or understand it but I can only point to the fact that a lot of my disdain has been stacked up for other teams that usually don’t command those hatred levels. I think the scousers have also chilled a bit now they have the title monkey off their back – they’re just not as annoying as they should be. I really miss the “next year will be our year” now that it has lost all relevance and necessity.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Spurs, liking their attacking philosophy. Now with Jose there I just can’t stand them and am enjoying their current poor run that is putting them back in their rightful place amongst the irrelevant chasing pack fighting for Thursday night football.

My Arsenal dislike is even weirder and media fuelled. I used to have a heavy dislike for them in the Fergie-Wenger toe-to-toe years (with a healthy dose of respect too) but as they invented the 4th place trophy they became the harmless adopted pet with serious issues from a previous broken home you can’t dislike and have to just feel sorry for. But now that the media decided to lump Frank, Ole and Mikel into the same club and annoint Mikel as the second coming I’ve taken far too much joy in their demise. Can we now move on from this narrative? From today I pledge to stop taking pleasure from Arsenal losses and will rather start cheering them on to hopefully take a few scalps from our rivals. And good luck to Mikel finding a way to manage a football team, clearly he has a lot to learn.

I really need to re-learn how to dislike Liverpool and City. Maybe a heated Derby or two settled by a controversial goal will do the trick but without fans these derbies are a bit too friendly. I guess I need to get some old VHS tapes out (metaphorically speaking – will need to get them off the you tube). Any tips on what to watch? The game where Stevie G came on at half time against utd and got sent off within a couple of minutes will be a good one to start with…
Jon, Cape Town 


A word on luck
Im a huge fan of Roberto Baggio and back in his prime while playing for Fiorentina he was involved in a match where he hit both posts and the crossbar and never scored.

After a journalist referred to him being very unlucky. Baggio being the self driven and ambitious person he is said “if i hit the post or the bar it’s because I didn’t aim in the goal.” I’ve always liked that approach.

The treble winners were no lucky, whoever it was that looked at the final matches in a vacuum forgot that none of those games were the only ones in those competitions, they were simply the end result of many games. You don’t get to any cup final being lucky. Win one game ? Yeah sure that can sometimes be lucky. But if you’re in a final it’s because you were one of the best two teams in that competition over the course of many games. Not just one.

There a couple of different types of luck which do sometimes occur, there is flat out good luck – like when you shoot and the ball bounces off a beach ball and deflects into the net and the ref allows the goal when it’s 100% illegal. There is bad luck – like when you are defending and someone shoots and it hits a beach ball and deflects in.
Those are occurrences of luck, when the end result is something which is outside anyone’s control. That’s luck. Anything else is either good work or bad work. Let’s stop using the term lucky or unlucky because it applies in such a minuscule amount of games that it almost is not a factor at all.
United won three trophies because they were the best team in those three trophies..
Arsenal went undefeated because they were the best in the prem that season.
Liverpool won a cup treble ( six if we count the minor trophies but people rarely do) because they were the best team in those three trophies.

To paraphrase a true great of the game – if you won a trophy it’s because you aimed for it.