The problem with Man Utd’s McFred midfield…

Ian Watson

The Mailbox features missives on McFred, Arteta’s cautiousness, Salah staying up, and why strikers don’t make great managers. Keep your mails coming in to


McTominay is the weak link
It seems Fred has taken up the mantle from Fellaini as the scapegoat for all of Manchester United‘s ills. When in reality, in the McFred portmanteau, it’s McTominay that is the weak link.

I know Fred was too easily muscled off the ball by Gray, but there was plenty of ground to be made up after that, and McTominay was nowhere to be seen in any case “trying” to cover the space. It was the same vs. Villarreal, where he had absolutely no awareness of the dangers around him as the Spaniards created chance after chance.

McTominay seems to fall between two stools in that doesn’t have the defensive acumen to shield the defence nor the intelligence to link play. But because he is an academy product he seems immune to criticism. Fred may be limited but at least he has an engine, is playing in a role he isn’t natural in and would be revitalised with an out-and-out enforcer beside him. If both were put up for sale tomorrow, I would bet anything that Fred would at least end up at a champions league level team somewhere else on the continent- McSauce (cringy nickname btw) would end up at mid-PL level.

One more thing, I notice a lot of Liverpool fans at pains to share stats about how good Salah is, as if he is some mid-table player going under the radar. Everyone following the game knows how good he is, we don’t need constant reminders (I am in one whatsapp group where a fan constantly barrages the group with stats). Relax, and enjoy him while you can- I’m sure if he leaves you’ll give him the usual level-headed send off.
Brian, Wexford


Six reasons for optimism around Solskjaer’s Man Utd


Planning for Arteta’s replacement
It doesn’t seem right to be hard on Mikel Arteta right now.

We’ve won three games in four – including the North London derby – and we have only conceded one goal in that time.

But we’ve been here before with Mikel.

I think most fans would accept the shoring up of our defence if it led  to a gradual improvement in our attacking play. But with Mikel, we appear to have a manager who never lets go of the handbrake.

We’ve seen glimpses of what we can do it when we go for it but we’ve only seen it twice – Olympiakos away last season and in the recent game against Spurs.

A bit more bravery against Brighton could have delivered the three points but we adopted a safety-first approach and won a point.

Mikel’s contract is up at the end of the season and I think we had all hoped that the football would have improved by now but the two aforementioned games seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

The strategy of buying young seems to have been with the view of benefiting our current manager’s successor rather than Arteta himself.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London


Strikers don’t make great managers
Can anyone think of a great striker that became a great manager? A really great one.

This may be at the core of the Ole problem.

Strikers wait. That’s their job, to wait. They watch the proceedings behind them, and wait. They see the other team attack and after waiting a while dander back to lend a hand.

They wait around while the midfield pass it around, back and forth, two and fro, and hope for the ball to come towards them. Then they move. Quickly, skilfully, and with some determination, in an effort to score. That either happens or it doesn’t, then they revert to waiting. Sure they run around a bit while they wait, trying to create some space, but then you will see them going back to wandering around, waiting.

Midfielders can’t wait. They have to make things happen, rush hither and thither to get the ball, pass it back to the defence, get it again and pass it forward if they see an opening.

If you were a striker you miss more often than you score, while a good midfielder would hope to make more passes than not.

A striker cannot therefore be a good manager.

They wait around for things to happen too long. They keep a player in the team, because he might come up with a killer pass, sometime in the next month or two. They won’t have to try something different because their whole career revolved around one premise, get the ball in the net. Very few strikers need to be innovative. They just need to be in the right place, and that is in the same place, on every pitch in the world, the box.

So unless Ole starts to think like a midfielder he is not going to cut it. Unless he starts to look outside the box he is going to get the heave ho…


Captain Ole
I think Ole has done a grand job in building this Utd side.

He certainly knows how to build a plane, he just can’t fly it.
Jimmy (popped back in) Spain


…In Ole’s first couple of seasons we had a couple of great wins against PSG and I think we beat City 3 out of 4 games despite them being so much better than us on paper.

How did we do this? We did this by playing to our strengths which at the time was having 3 quick forwards in Martial, Rashford and Lukaku. Our only ither strength was De Gea. At the time I was so happy we got these wins but also couldn’t understand how a one trick pony could beat the depth in talent of City and PSG.

Utd now find themselves with the boot on the other foot. On paper, we are so much better than Villa, Everton, Young boys and the everyone else but we have 2 major faults that are too obvious. Firstly, our arrogance of just attacking because we have some divine right to score goals. And secondly, our severely weak underbelly of having no central midfield.

When your game plan and weaknesses are so obvious then you’re always ripe for an upset.

City and PSG did fine despite struggling to get results against utd. Utd are not so lucky. We may have the sames problem but ours applies to most sides we will play.

As Fred stuffed up so badly against Everton for their goal, I’m wondering that what he actually hinted at is that the double pivot is not Utds problem in the way we thought. Actually utd need a 3rd body in there as the double pivot is still too weak. While Ole tries so hard to squeeze all those attacking players in every game, actually his problem is one of discipline at the back and he’d be better off with a back 4 that prioritised defending, plus McFred, plus Donny and then whichever 3 all out attackers you want in front. They’re all good but too many of them on the pitch at once is costing us in defence.

How is it that we (not me) readily criticise defenders for not being able to attack but rarely criticise attackers for not being able to defend? Utds new problem to solve…
Jon, Cape Town (so glad for the international break for once)


Decisive moment? 
Been a Liverpool fan since decades but it’s only Klopp’s press conferences that I have actively watched- and one thing he always spoke about was “moments”.

‘In the right moment we must do the right thing; We are in a good moment; It’s about the right moments’

Hope you read the above in his trademark accent.

Everyone’s drooled over Salah’s goal (It was unbelievable) & Milner’s luck but it’s the block of Fabinho’s shot into an open goal that was and could be the defining MOMENT of the season (Again too early to start ranting or declaring the title).

Do not want another goal line clearance/ block against City to be the decider of the title.
Mihir, Mumbai, LFC. (It’s just PTSD isn’t it?)


The Premier League XI of the season so far


Salah staying up
A few weeks back, I responded to Minty LFC’s email about Mo Salah being in the pantheon of Premier League greats. If any of you recall, my snide response was while he was he wasn’t quite there yet (at this pace, he’ll certainly be there,) he could be considered in the group of greats who go down too easily. I’m sure that response, while not directly addressed by my fellow mailboxers, was met with a rolling of eyes and derision. “Another bitter blue…” they’ll say

And they’d be partially right. Part of this does go back to my long lasting bitterness towards the FA/Premier League and the infamous diving panel which punished a grand total of two people upon video review of incidents of potential diving/simulation when there have quite clearly been more than two instances of diving in the league. I freely admit this bitterness in the selective enforcement of the rules since my team was on the receiving end of one of those suspensions.

That being said,

I feel like I have to give Salah credit for NOT going down this past weekend when he was clearly stepped on just outside the box. Replays confirmed it although I don’t recall the player who inadvertently stepped on his foot as he was dribbling the City defense. If there was ever a time to hit the deck, that would have been it, VAR would have probably confirmed it, and Liverpool would have been given a dangerous free kick just outside the area in a quite clearly important match with title implications.

Rather, Salah continued his run into the box in an attempt to create another goal scoring opportunity. And who could blame him? He was unstoppable on Sunday. Salah on his feet is a much better proposition for Liverpool and a much worse proposition for opposing defenses.

So, to recap. Do I think Salah goes down too easily? Yes. Do I think credit should be given to Salah in this case for NOT going down too easily in this case? Yes. I guess the point of this mail is to give credit when and where it’s due.
TX Bill (at this point, we’ll probably end up losing Rafa to United) EFC


Just a phase
Gotta say the disallowed goal for Timo Werner left me perplexed. When does a phase begin and end, so I went to the PL website and found this.

“The starting point for a phase of play that leads to a goal or penalty incident will be limited to the immediate phase and not necessarily go back to when the attacking team gained possession. Other factors for consideration will be the ability of the defence to reset and the momentum of the attack”.

So phase 1 Walker-Peters has a dubious foul committed on him ref doesn’t see it, resulting a cross and clearance by Southampton defence. They reset as Hudson-Odoi gets control and is faced up. Phase 2 he beats the man to deliver the cross for Werner to score. How does Dean cancel the goal and award a foul from phase 1. Directly in contravention of the FA’s on laws.

P Didi


Modern movers
Found a flaw in the dude this morning’s mail re strikers: most of this lot would play elsewhere in the modern game:
Hasselbaink (clearly right-back material), Zola (false 9), Fowler (outright lifetime ban), Owen (inside forward), Shearer (outside forward), Cole (shake-it-all-about forward, Yorke (winger), Phillips (number 10), Dublin (team drummer), Sheringham (prob still a striker to be fair), Wright (forward), Ferdinand (midfielder anchor), Solskjaer (mascot), Anelka (inverted winger), Henry (inverted winger), Di Canio (midfield lynchpin)

So there


Early darters
This may have been debated before, but..I’m at Anfield on Sunday, it is the 88 minute mark. We are witnessing two of the best teams to have ever played (certainly Premier League) football, and it’s 2-2. There are at least six world class players on the pitch, and the game could go either way; managers are blowing their top, both teams are going for the win and the place is rocking.

And..some people are leaving early.

Would real Football fans leave a ground in this scenario just to make their journey a tad easier?

Seems like madness to me- why attend if you are inconvenienced by crowds and traffic queues?

Genuinely curious..

Harry Kane misses a chance against Aston Villa

Spurs conclusions
That was better. Sure, it was a step over the lowest of bars, but it was a step forward at least.

Some Spurs based conclusions from the Villa game…

1. Was this the game where Romero arrived in the Premier League? (is the question no one is asking). He was better in the air and quick into the tackle without being rash. Some good passing and some signs of leadership to boot. Not a perfect performance but much more assured.

2. Son is our most important player. When he’s on fire he causes mass panic within the opposition. He stretches defences, creates (and takes) opportunities and gives energy to the team. Kane is often the beneficiary of his brilliance.

3. In the second half Villa were doubling up on Royal. The crowd saw it but Nuno and Royal didn’t and that was where the overload happened for the Villa goal (on their second or third attempt at exploiting it).

Spurs aren’t great at adapting to in-game tactical changes by the opposition, only seemingly reacting after we’ve been punished. A lack of on-field leadership? A lack of tactical nous from Nuno? Definitely the former. Maybe also the latter.

4. The last couple of years must of done some real damage to our players passing confidence. Too often we play far too deep (where there’s more space and little pressing) and we really struggle to transition the ball up-field via ground passing. Poch really did spoil us with his football.

There was one moment in the second half where we put ourselves under pressure from a goal kick but managed to progress the ball with one touch football. This is a rare sight these days so more of this please. As Klopp would say, ‘be braver’.

5. Dele started in his best position for Spurs. He was an awesome No. 10 when playing close behind Kane, but he’s not a wide forward and he’s not a CM. Skipp is better suited in that position which is also the glaringly obvious area for massive improvement in the team. Over to you, Paratici.

A bonus Villa conclusion…

Give its a rest with the Matty Cash long throw-ins. You’re a better team than that.

The one quick throw-in Targett took resulted in more panic and a better goal scoring chance compared with the half-dozen or so throw-ins that Cash launched into the box with 18 players in the way of any potential resulting shot.
David, Battersea (Harry Kane to come good soon – he needs to get himself in that shop window)


Anfield conclusions
1. That second half was the best advert for the Premier League for many a year. All watching football fans were purring with satisfaction like well fed and petted felines by the end at which point even the commentary team seemed to be cozily in bed blowing smoke rings in their post goalgasm glow.

2. Said Sky commentary team betrayed their anti Liverpool backbones in that first half though – you’d expect it from Neville but not from Martin Tyler. They just could not hide their glee at Man City’s dominance and started getting carried away, declaring fouls and penalties which were, to put it politely, questionable – and yes I am including Milner’s soft coming together with Foden just outside the Liverpool penalty area. And yes, Milner should have been sent off in the second half. You’d have to have lost touch with reality to not admit that.

3. Still this should not detract from what a brilliant team City are. The way they made Liverpool look like a scared and slothy bunch of hasbeens in the first half might have been the most impressive display of the Premier League Era.

4. Then again so was Salah’s goal – surely one of the best ever – I cant see anything else topping it for goal of the season. His movement and pass for the assist was right up there with his best as well.

5. Bernardo Silva the machine has been my favourite Man City player for several years. If he scored more or played more passes that turned into assists he would be putting both feet into the Xavi-Iniesta bracket of greatness and who knows might even get to the Messi-Ronaldo bracket.

6. Speaking of brackets: Henderson and De Bruyne seemed intent on joining the “I’m taking half term off early this year” bracket. They need to confess to the gentleman’s agreement they made before kick off to be equally off the pace. Especially since De Bruyne broke it with his well taken if somewhat fortuitous goal – the cad!

7. Foden’s Milner sandwich must have been a very satisfying meal for the lad. Someone should ask him how it tasted.

8. Liverpool’s second half display was proof that heavy metal is back. They’ve been quietly going about their business but no other team could almost put City to the sword like that. And let’s not forget Curtis Jones is still wet behind the ears in midfield.

9. Which is more than can be said for another Liverpool midfielder, the Not so Fab-inho -he’s bossed some of these games in previous years but seemed to be marginally below his sharpest and imperious best. Why he didnt first time that ball into the back of the net or dink the dead ball he’d controlled so that it looped over a last ditch challenge will be a mystery even to himself. But lets not take anything away from:

10. Rodri’s speed of movement left mouths agape. Look at a still of Fabihno with the ball at his feet in front of an empty goal and how far away Rodri is. How did he move so quickly? A job as a Ninja should be his for the taking should this football thing not work out .

11. The deep hug and cheek snog between Guardiola and Klopp at the end was both heartwarming and an essential antidote western civilization needs to aspire to. What an amazing and inspiring rivalry! In these trying times when everyone is at each others’ throats for having irreconcilable beliefs and passions these two stand up and say “You can see things differently and be pulling in different directions and yet value, love and respect those that think differently and challenge you”. Someone needs to write an article (or screenplay?) on the ” You make me want to be a better coach” positivity with these two. It’s got “As Good As it Gets” James L Brooks feelgoods written all over it. It’s a breath of fresh air is what it is and we need more of it. Wenger-Fergie, Fergie-Mourinho, Mourinho-Wenger, Fergie-everyone were awful awful awful.

12 If Trent had played I reckon the final score could have been 4-4 …Foden would have had him on toast at least a few times and Trent would have made a couple of extra goals as well, maybe.
Miguel L (I Heart LFC – thank you for entertaining us and enthralling us once again)