Keep your mails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org…
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Like so many already have, John Nic is here to tell us how profoundly weird a season we have going on. It’s all supposed to be scraped off and disregarded as an anomaly; an asterisk on everything. But just how weird has this season been?
Sure the absence of crowds is a big loss and not just to a club’s bottom line. That atmosphere at Anfield for that glorious Barca game was truly something else and a joy currently not on offer. But does that, all on it’s own, taint a whole season of football? No.
Unlike what John thinks, this season hasn’t been a deviation from the norm nor unique in terms of the actual football played. There have been some unexpected batshit results but let’s not pretend we’ve not seen 7-2s, 9-0s, 4-3s, 5-2s before.
Starting from the top of the table, Man City sit comfortably (surprise surprise) with 59pts and 13 games left. On current form, they can concievably secure 30 more points – perhaps more. That leaves them just short of 90pts for the season. Not less than 20 of the 28 premier league seasons have featured champions with <90pts. That has been the norm; 98, 99, 100pts are the anomalies.
Perhaps Liverpool’s drastic fall (seemingly all down to lack of fans at home) has contributed to this weird season narrative. But a combined league table of the last ten completed seasons, and, indeed, the all-time Premier League table both have Liverpool in 4th. So maybe Liverpool scrambling around for a top four finish isn’t so strange but rather an inevitable regression to the mean. In fact one can legitimately argue that last season was a gross anomaly which saw Liverpool winning the premier league – which has literally never happened before.
Another reason to misguidedly think this season is unique is the whole lot of different teams to have been top of the league (9). That’s crazy right? Well not that much. Four other seasons (1998/99, 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2007/08) have had eight different leaders. One more team briefly sitting on top feels more like one of those things that just happens.
Aside from all that, the rest is pretty much standard fare. Manchester United have drifted frustratingly between brilliant and rotten in the post-Fergie years, finishing 7th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2nd, 6th and 3rd. They’re currently on course for 2nd. Chelsea are still the same old Chelsea. Winning, losing, sacking managers, expensive strikers who flop really hard etc. Tottenham being a mess isn’t bucking any trend. Not for the club nor the manager. Mourinho’s Death Spiral is now a legendary trademark. Arsenal have been quietly sleepwalking to mediocrity for the better part of ten years. For Burnley, Newcastle, Brighton, Southampton (insert 9-0 gag here), West Brom, Crystal Palace, Fulham etc., it’s just another season in the EPL. While Sheffield United have reverted to a position far closer to what they merit in terms of squad depth and quality.
The notable surprises have been the form and performances of West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa. Everton are more familiar with struggling to finish in the top half than champions league ticket. But they’ve not had a manager of Ancelotti’s calibre, have they? Coupled with the quality of their squad, a European place is an easily predictable outcome. Aston Villa have spent significant sums since promotion, more than even some of the big boys. For that investment, a comfortable midtable finish isn’t an unreasonable expectation. That leaves West Ham whose continued brilliance is entirely unexpected and is in no way keeping with the recent history of club or manager. But then stranger things have happened. We all know football has the capacity throw up the genuinely odd once in a while. You know, like Leicester winning the sodding league or Greece winning Euro 2004. Lack of fans wasn’t responsible for those things then, it’s disingenious to attribute every new things to it now.
My point is: this season hasn’t been different at all so there’s no reason to write off the achievements or failures as merely a freak brought about by a global pandemic. We may not enjoy the games quite as much as viewers but it doesn’t seem like the competitiveness or the established order has been disrupted. The same way we’re not going to write off the last year of our lives and subtract one from our ages or put an asterisk on it (e.g I am 32+ *1 years old) because we have been affected by the pandemic. Whether we like it or not, life always go on and so does football. Even if some circumstances have been unprecedented like the shortened pre-season, packed-than-usual schedule, all teams play under those same conditions, so the winners are worthy of their achievements while the losers should not expect any asterisk nonsense but rather own up to their failures and move on.
So ladies and gentlemen, there it is, the 2020/21 season. The maddeningly strange and freakishly unique season in which nothing is actually changing.
…There has been a lot of opinions on how covid has disrupted the season, with too many matches crammed in. However, looking at the table across the top 5 leagues in Europe, it’s been a brilliant season.
Ligue 1- 4 teams have a shot at the title. When was the last time the league was this open?
Bundesliga – 4 teams with a shot, 2 realistically. Could this be the first one bayern lose in a long time?
Serie a -7 teams with a chance; though you would expect 3 of these to fight to the end. Has Juventus lost the plot?
La Liga – 4 teams with a chance. Could this year see athletico finally overcome their madrid rivals?
Epl – 3 teams with a chance, city do look ominous though, so it’s tough for United and Leicester.
It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable season and while there is still ~40% of the season remaining it promises to be entertaining!!
Trivia – when was the last time that the winners of all the top 5 European leagues failed to defend their title?
Lukaku, Martial and woodwork
I was glad to read Tom, Wathamstow’s email about Lukaku earlier because Lukaku has been an ongoing discussion point between me and an Inter supporting friend. At the time we sold Lukaku I was pretty happy, not because I thought we were offloading a terrible striker, but because I thought it was a deal that would make all parties happy. Man Utd got back nearly all the money they spent for a player who was never really suited to how they wanted to play him, Inter would get a good young striker with a proven track record who I always thought would do well in the Italian league, and Lukaku got a new start away from the negativity and racism of the British tabloid media and also the toxicity of some of the fans. And lo and behold, Lukaku is thriving at Inter, he’s shed some of the bulk he had put on at Man Utd, looks leaner, fitter and faster where in Manchester it looked like he was trying to win a bodybuilding competition. Now he isn’t being played as a Belgian Heskey, but is being played balls to run on to, to drive at defences, he’s showing what a phenomenal talent he always was.
However, at Man Utd, fans were convinced he was an awful player. Completely wasteful, useless at holding the ball up etc. Now these same fans are on Martial’s back. For the record, I don’t think he’s having a good season, he needs to get more goals and he needs to do everything else better if he’s in the team and not scoring. But he’s also clearly low on confidence in a team where none of the strikers are really excelling, where I would argue the style of play where we are essentially either trying to play completely in front of teams who are sitting back or trying to hit teams on the counter is not really the best use of Martial’s (or Rashford’s or Greenwood’s) talents. It’s no surprise that in such a system, the only striker we have that “looks like a striker” is Cavani.
To provide an analogy, I recently got into woodworking and there happens to be way more to saws than I imagined. A saw is not just a saw. If you use a hacksaw to try to make a dovetail joint, you might be able to get away with it, but more often than not you’re going to create a mess that you have to then clean up with a series of convoluted workarounds that you would not have needed if you just used a dovetail saw in the first place.
Daniel (Lukaku has really been incredible for Inter this season!) Cambridge
Fernandes making United worse?
So Abdi, Nairobi believes that Bruno Fernandes is making Man United worse because he is so good? Jaysus, where do you start with that one? Maybe we should pretend he never said it at all and just accept that a great player who is improving his team is still a good thing – until this hypothetical long-term injury actually happens, because hey, it may never do so, which will confirm Abdi’s theory as the steaming pile of guff that it really is.
…From a Utd fan – following from 1960s.
Has anybody actually counted the number of times Bruno Fernandes gives the ball away during a game? He’s lauded frequently for how much chasing and pressing he does but a high percentage of it is because he has lost possession or carelessly misplaced a pass!!
Alexis Sanchez was rightly criticised for this but Fernandes seems to escape it!!
Calm over Liverpool
Crikey, some really detailed, thorough and conjecture-less missives on the state of LFC. I’m glad knowing all those facts gives people some level of comfort.
I was at peace with the clubs decision not to sign players due to the fact that they were/are utterly skint? What with the accounts posted last year highlighting no operating profit, given expenditure on new contracts, agent fees, and infrastructure investment. And that’s before a season of no matchday income, advertising revenue plateauxing, and fears that international broadcasting rights may not be honoured as deals go under. The guardian article today highlighting some clubs mortgaging their grounds at 9% interest just to stay afloat? Nah, that’s not a warning sign. For goodness sake clubs, ‘chase the dream’ and throw cash at Champions League qualification. It’s never, ever not worked!
I’d wager a lot of execs are worrying now that their squad valuations of fringe players have taken a nose dive. LFC probably budgeted 20 million for Origi and he’s now likely only going to get a loan fee, so that’s probably a few million of the balance sheet up in smoke. But sod all that; it’s a dereliction of duty if the club don’t invest 200 billion on Mbappe. seems right.
My attitude is somewhat based on the fact our owners have significantly improved the stadium, the first team squad, and the training ground, when the club they bought was ‘days away from insolvency’ so I trust them. (and they hugely invested in the womens team, winning their first and only two league titles, before realising that no-one cared so reducing that expenditure down to the level warranted by their fans. but the general consensus is that never happened, as united spend more now). Whatever the club has brought in, has been spent. No more, no less. So if there’s no spending, I’m assuming there’s nowt to spend. So i don’t have to pretend to be a financial guru or an ITK half-wit, and just get to support the players we currently have. And i really like a large number of them, including the fringe players like Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Matip, shaqiri. It’s not El Zhar is it.
That team was top at Christmas, and top of their Champions League group. If they are in the Europa next year, well hopefully they win that whilst also challenging for the title again. they have the current second best player in the world in defence, and the likely golden boot winner up top. some crisis.
As for the playing style, I can’t for the life of me understand why what is currently happening can be extrapolated to how Klopp will coach the team next year? Who the bloody hell does he have to coach, at present? The club started the season with four centre backs (including Fabinho), and all four are out. That left 7 midfielders (Henderson, Milner, Thiago, Keita, Ox, Curtis and Wijnaldum), and all but the latter two have had significant injury absences. even moving to 4231 has been limited as the star signing is in the third month out injured. Seems staggeringly unfair to suggest he can’t coach a different stye when literally the current starting 11 is whomever is able to literally get on the pitch, regardless of form and fitness.
Basically, even the current laughable state of the club is nowhere near to how bad it has been in the past. so have a bit of faith.
…After a brief reprieve with the win over Leipzig, it did take a turn for the worse on Saturday. Had to get the sackcloth and ashes back out. It’s always hard right after the loss, takes time to get up the effort to read Football365 etc.
However, getting angry at the team, as some supporters have, hardly seems right, but get why anger gets you reaching out straight away.
Sure, Liverpool aren’t where they were over the last few years but still a better overall team and squad than 3+ years ago. If you watch the games and read the stats, Liverpool have been well in all the games recently. Most possession by a long way in all but the City game. Creating a lot of chances. Their conversion is horrible right now and clearly losing focus near the end of the game. Looks like trying too hard and the challenge of a team that was finely tuned struggling with the changes to defence and midfield.
I am confident it will come together. As it happens all the teams bar City have been struggling with consistency this season. So still plenty of time to get it straightened out. Plus, several of the team are starting to come back from long layoffs. There is still the CL to look forward to.
Just stunned but the ‘blame’ on the transfer analysts (for the ‘terrible’ recent buys), Klopp for not changing things, players for not playing well, etc.
Get off their backs and remember, YNWA applies equally to those in the club trying to get rhino back on track.
Arsenal on the up
I was intrigued by Sam’s email and was thinking this might be a nice debate. Then he suggested that Mainland-Niles (not good enough in any one position), Willock (nobody thinks he’s Fabregas 2), Nketiah (out of contract soon with no renewal on the cards) and Smith-Rowe (actually someone we are excited by) as our exciting crop of youngsters, ruined that. Saka is better than all 4 Chelsea players he mentioned, talk about chosing your argument. Billy Gilmore has only got 8 appearances in the Premier League so bold to include him vs Willock (43) AMN (66) and even Nketiah (35) so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I do like Mount though.
Your right Sam, we arent happy to be tenth. But you can’t compare Mourinhos season, which started amazingly as title contenders and has now gone to the dumps, with our terrible relegation form start to the season which has been slowly improving. Pep 3 months ago was in danger of losing his job and he is now on an 18 match winning streak and has all but won the Premier League. Narratives follow the team and Arsenals narrative is one of cautious optimism. Nobody expected us to look good vs City, they are incredible right now, probably why no-one is talking about it.
Why are we (and presumably the press/media) cautiously optimistically? The youngsters we are actually excited are Saka (19), Martinelli (19), Saliba (19) and Smith-Rowe (20) with Tierney and Gabriel at 23 not quite youngsters but still young. We have a world class midfielder in Partey and a very good goalie in Leno. By end of summer, we will have gotten rid of more deadwood, shaving over 1m off our weekly wage bill in the last 12 months. We are 4th for goals conceded. Auba is having a rough season but he was golden boot contender the last 2 seasons. We are slowly building up a style of play which takes time when you don’t have hundreds of millions to spend. Arteta seems like he might be a good manager, especially when you look at the defensive improvements. Of the 11 losses this season, 9 were by only 1 goal, including both games against City. We’ve played 4 matches with 1 or 2 players sent off and in 2 of those (Burnley and Wolves) we were clearly the better team and likely to win.
So yea, tenth is rubbish. But I’d rather be tenth and be cautiously optimistic than 9th with Mourhinho as a manager any day of the week.
Rob A (only Mount is likely to be starting in August 2021 out of that list) AFC
…Lovely mail about Arsenal and my main question for Sam whilst reading his dreadful attempt at being a wum is why do you care that people aren’t slating Arsenal more? Why do you feel is that particular area of journalism is missing from your life? Who hurt you buddy? Bit of a weird thing to be so worked up about to be honest. Almost feels like you support a team that’s been slated a bit recently and you’re lashing out and trying to divert attention by yelling at the clouds.
Anyhow truth be told no one really cares about us anymore. We’re very obviously in a transitional season and if you’ve watched every game this season you’ll have noticed some things have improved, some haven’t and some can’t until we change personnel. Slowly slowly we’ve seen green shoots but rebuilding a squad, mentality and for lack of a better term philosophy takes time and I’m quite ok with it. There’s enough positives for me to judge Arteta at the end of the season rather than now and let’s be fair we aren’t going to finish much higher than 10th but…big but…if we continue to see the structure on the pitch and the players carrying on to move and play how they have been recently and start to cut out the stupidity (hi luiz/edu) then the feeling will be we’re moving in the right direction.
Finally I completely agree that Arsenal should buy an entire new first XI and honestly I have no idea why they haven’t yet, seems too easy and the board (which doesn’t exist it’s an owner) should leave straight away for missing such a salient point. Great insight bud. Oh oh oh and you forgot Saka who is a bit good and Smith Rowe is a bit tasty too. The others being heralded is great because guess what? We want to sell them and make cash money money and they may not be as good as the regular first team starter Gilmour but if Liverpool can sell their utter shite English kids for as much as they do then we’re going to laughing when people come in for Willock, Maitland Niles and Nketiah.
Lee (have a nice day Sam and try not to dim others light to make yours shine brighter, very corrosive personality trait) Bristol
Apologies for being pedantic but I’ve just heard Martin Tyler refer to the Brighton Palace game as a ‘derby’ for the 420th time, and can help feeling it’s a bit of a stretch isn’t it?
Last I checked, Palace are in South London and nowhere near the coast (as per the ‘South Coast derby’ Martin keeps saying). Appreciate there may be no other significant team between the two, but 50 miles or so is pushing it.
Anyone think of a derby including teams furthest apart geographically?
The Big P, Vancouver