Solskjaer has improved at least five players at Man Utd…

Date published: Monday 24th February 2020 2:33

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Fred Manchester United

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Solskjaer improves players
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been rightly criticised for failing to inspire or set this team up to win against weaker opponents.

The fact that my nerves were more prevalent in the Watford game than the Chelsea game says enough.

Nobody, however, seems to ever praise Ole for the players who have improved under him.

Rashford, Martial, McTominay, Fred, Williams and Greenwood have all had their best season at Manchester United thus far. While you can’t necessarily say that Ole has improved Williams or Greenwood, he is the one giving them the minutes to keep getting better. Martial and Rashford have a combined 34 goals in all competitions this season too, which is a very high tally for a team who struggles to score goals. Fred’s resurrection and his partnership with McTominay before the latter got injured also seems to be a direct result of Ole’s coaching (everyone needs to remember just how bad Fred was.) I’d even go as far as saying that Ole is improving the already excellent Wan-Bissaka, as his attacking intent seems to be growing with each week.

This could all obviously be a coincidence, and all these players could very likely have gotten better in the past year with or without Ole, but it feels like the ridiculous lack of ability in players like Lingard and Peirera has retracted from acknowledging the players who actually have improved. I also cannot think of a player who has actively gotten worse under Ole, which is more than I can say for Mourinho.

Point is, maybe sometimes you can praise Ole a little more.
Gaaavie, Kaapstad


We need to talk about Tony…
It’s time for a proper conversation about Tony Martial, possibly the most enigmatic player to grace our league since Dimitar himself.

He divides fans’ opinions because, on the one hand he’s clearly highly technically gifted but, on the other, often seems lethargic or even disinterested.

Personally, I don’t hold sway with the ‘disinterested’ thing at all. Yes, he seems unusually devoid of facial expression, but that does not mean he’s lazy. To assume so would be just that. However, it is fair to say that he’s not one to bust a gut to get into the six yard box and sniff out a tap-in a la Nistelrooy or Owen. I think it’s a matter of his style of play more than anything else, personally.

Then there are those who say he’s simply not a good enough goal scorer to lead the line for a club that would like to challenge for the league/UCL again in the coming years. Here’s where I’m on the fence. To me, it seems his actual finishing ability is certainly good enough for the very top level (maybe he’s not Henry or Aguero but the boy can clearly put his chances away). So what has stopped him from scoring more prolifically in recent years? I think there’s a few factors:

1 – he has often been asked to play wide, where goals are harder to come by;

2 – he has played for a United team that have struggled for their own consistency in style/shape/tactics for the last 6 years;

3 – he only recently turned 24. It’s perfectly possible that he’s yet to reach his peak as a striker (Jamie Vardy was playing for Halifax at this age); and

4 – he has suffered a chronic lack of chance-creation from midfield for years.

For me, the last factor is most important. It can be no coincidence that he has scored in his last three games, benefiting hugely from having a decent no.10 (Bruno) in the side to give him a bit of service. One wonders what he might be capable of when being supplied by a combination of Pogba, Bruno and Rashford?

Personally I remain undecided as to whether or not we could improve the front line by replacing Tony. One part of me wonders whether an all-action, scampering opportunist (like Tevez) would work better in Ole’s system. But I do believe Tony is now showing enough form to be given the fans’ full support to try to make the no.9 shirt his own. If he can do that, he could lead the line for the next 6/7 years. He’s at a fascinating crossroads.

I’d be interested to hear people’s (grown-up) thoughts…


Troy Parrott could be the answer…
A good few years ago spurs were having striker issues and f365 quite reasonably said something along the lines of ‘they need an answer and that answer is not harry kane’. Kane was completely untested at that stage and his style, which we now know leads to lots of goals, did not make him look particularly impressive. But by necessity/luck/incredible foresight they stuck with playing Kane and he kept scoring (and was real).

Maybe another manager would take the same chance on Parrot. But Jose won’t. Nothing but excuses and just generally poo poo the idea of playing an unproven young player, especially a striker.

Parrot may never be good enough or he may be amazing, but we may never know until it is too late.
Joe lfc


Referees should be a commodity
After watching the VAR debacle this weekend (you can decide which one I’m referring to) it got me wondering why it is that good referees are not viewed as a valuable commodity. Players, coaches and managers are paid millions a year to ensure that they are performing to the highest standard, yet those in charge of the game are viewed more of a hindrance than a valuable asset.

To this end, I ask why referees aren’t transferrable in the same way that players are. Why hasn’t the Premier League looked at standards and said we could use some more elite referees lets go and employ some. A certain Damir Skomina spends his time refereeing in Slovenia yet was voted best referee in the world last year. He refereed the 2019 CL final and surely if you can referee that, you’re good enough to do Burnley Bournemouth…

The purpose of this exercise would be to drive up standards. Commoditise the referees and free up their salaries. Theoretically it results in the elite referees being paid more, and being held to higher standards as a result. Each league competes over the best referees and that should therefore drive standards up across the board. It also means that top referees in Africa/Asia/S America et al could also move into higher quality leagues, thus resulting in better refereeing in major tournaments. As an aside it could also make refereeing a more attractive prospect and thus encourage more people into it at the lower level.

In a sport where everything and anyone is a commodity, it just seems a bit weird that ultimately the person with the ability to impact the game more than anyone else is so widely undervalued…
Charles Benson (can we not just clone Collina?


VAR Taboo
On F365’s 16 Conclusions of the Chelsea v Spurs game, point 15 was a rather brief “Lo Celso should have been sent off. Michael Oliver should have checked the monitor. VAR should have advised him far more effectively – and have since admitted as such. Next.”

All I ever hear or see on every podcast, radio show or article, is people pleading “please don’t talk about VAR” or “We won’t bore you with any VAR chat because I’m sure you’re sick to death of it”.

Why are we burying our head in the sand over how much of a shambles it is? It’s so infuriating. I look forward to seeing the backlash after another weekend of laughably inept VAR decisions, because I hate it, and am thoroughly enjoying it crashing and burning.

We are treating it like an act of God, a natural disaster that we have to just brace ourselves for. But this isn’t a Coronavirus pandemic, this is a MAN MADE, implemented solution to incorrect refereeing decisions that is getting just as many decisions wrong, at the expense of time, money, and the ire of everyone. That is insanity. It is pretty much unanimously scorned by all pundits, fans, managers and players.

However instead of speaking up and voicing our disdain against it, we bottle it up and move on. Heaven forbid we would want to embarass the likes of the official who couldn’t see that a Lo Celso’s stamp is a red card offence. That level of ineptitude should not be protected. It’s not the same as turning the camera away from pitch invaders to starve them of attention, this is something that is genuinely ruining the game we love, and all we are doing is sweeping our disgust under the rug and accepting it.

Stop treating VAR like an inevitable cold winter.

(Oh and Garth Crooks, the VAR being 25-30 miles away has nothing to do with it. You could watch a game from the ISS and see a foul, just as long as you’re not an idiot.)
Gerard, Belfast


Keeper liberties
Interesting email from Graham, LFC (Retired member of the GK Union) about protection for goalkeepers. As a former member of the GK Union myself this is a topic I have mixed feelings about, as I do think keepers get away with bloody murder at times as well.

Taking the exact law from Graham’s email re jumping at an opponent in a careless manner, can anyone explain why it seems to be perfectly permissible for goalkeepers to jump to claim a high ball with one of their legs raised in front of them for protection? Having a leg raised is surely careless given that the whole intention of jumping with a raised leg is to make contact with one’s opponent – if the keeper was giving care or attention to avoid harm their leg would be lowered.

Also, and forgive me for this is a long-standing gripe, but has anyone actually bothered to count how long keepers hold onto the ball for these days? The law says 6 seconds – it’s very often 10 or more, and towards the end of tight games you often see keepers claim the ball, slowly drop to the ground to hug the ball tighter for a few more seconds whilst watching the ref, slowly get to their feet, start to look around for options and then spend well over the allotted 6 seconds before releasing. I’ve seen this regularly take in excess of 15 seconds and in some cases over 20. Surely there’s a quick, simple VAR-free solution, which is a verbal count from the ref. It’s not difficult, requires no additional technology and instances of referees being capable of counting in other sports include rugby league (tackle count, also to 6) and boxing (obvious, and all the way up to 10). Alternatively why not have a clock, a bit like the shot clock in basketball. You could also enact this count-down at other stoppages e.g. throw-ins, goal kicks etc… to reduce time-wasting.

I’ve also wondered why opponents, noticing this practice, don’t start their own loud verbal count as soon as the keeper claims the ball, to highlight the issue to the ref.
Jonny Dance


What happens to England goalkeepers?
Dear F365,

The mails about Jordan Pickford got me thinking about England’s recent sequence of goalkeepers – and made me wonder why apparently good goalkeepers seem to regress so badly over time.

Received wisdom has it that unlike outfield players, ‘keepers don’t peak until they are in their 30s, and can carry on until they are 40-odd like Shilton or Seaman (or Buffon, Friedel etc.). But England’s recent ‘keepers seem to have gone the opposite way. Since Seaman retired, there has been a succession of ‘keepers that have been picked very young and initially done well, but then regressed so badly that they have been dropped by the time they are 30.

Paul Robinson (picked at 21, dropped by 29); Ben Foster (picked at 22, never picked consistently); Joe Hart (picked at 21, dropped by 30); Jack Butland (picked at 19, currently out of favour); now Pickford (picked at 23, dropped by 25?). There has also been a succession of ‘keepers under 30 who have been selected but only, so far, made a handful of appearances (Wright, Kirkland, Carson, Forster, Pope).

Rob Green got the last of his caps at 32, and Tom Heaton has made a few appearances aged 30/31. But since Seaman, only David James has played for England significantly into his 30s, carrying on until he was 39. I can fully imagine England picking Henderson in the near future, only to ditch him a few years down the line.

So what’s going on? Is the idea that ‘keepers peak in their 30s just not true in the first place? Have England ‘keepers actually regressed for some reason (loss of confidence associated with England pressure/changing role of ‘keepers in the modern game)? Or were they just not much cop to start with and it took a few years for them to be found out?

What does the mailbox think?
Benedict, Sussex


James T in Japan
I was lucky enough to read James’ email on Friday just before the Shonan Bellmare v Urawa Reds game – which I got home for having missed the opening 20 mins.

What a ridiculous game of football.

Lots of great things – passionate fans, some skilled players, a frenetic pace, one manager in a tracksuit,  the other looking like he had strolled out of Savile Row, a silly penalty concession and then the penalty itself which was missed and a 3-2 scoreline which doesnt even begin to tell the story of a topsy-turvy game, and a ref who looked at VAR himself (very happy to see this)

The bad things – the overall standard of defending, a Brazilian who looked good when he wasn’t trying to get people carded…that’s about it.

It was in fact a great way to spend a Friday morning. Long live free football on the TV!!

Aidan, EFC, London


Crystal Palace
Dear Football365,

So much moaning to referees and about decisions, both on the field and after video review. Why oh why can’t rugby union be more like football?

*There remains just one team in the professional divisions of English football yet to win in 2020: for banter purposes, it’s Brighton and Hove Albion. Less banterously, it should be said that Crystal Palace were the penultimate team to get all three points.

*This was a huge win for the Eagles, and came with a much-improved performance. Scoring a rare first half goal, they managed six shots on target; according to CPFC Analytics, in all their previous home games, they’d managed a pathetic total of just eight. Just generally, there was a lot more energy about the team, clearly benefitting from the winter break, that enabled them to play on the front foot.

*However, this is still a Roy Hodgson team, so it was not all attacking verve and swagger. In fact, Palace restricted United to an xG of 0.16, the lowest of any opponent this season. Though the score was only 1-0, this was a dominant performance.

*In the battle of the underfiring strikers, both Christian Benteke and Joelinton lived up to their billing by failing to trouble the scorers, Benteke’s commitment to this reputation epitomised by endeavouring to head wide a chance that was significantly easier to score than to miss. Now that Cenk Tosun is on the way back from injury, surely he will be the first choice for the rest of the season.  Tosun offers more mobility than his Belgian counterpart, as demonstrated by his tracking back to win the ball near his own penalty area with a sliding tackle that started a counterattack.

Given that Miguel Almiron scored his first goal for United in the reverse of this fixture, it seemed that the stage was set for Joelinton to break his duck on Saturday. That he didn’t have many clear cut chances is great testament to how well Palace defended as a team.

*A deeper selection dilemma for the Eagles is what to do about Luka Milivojevic. A few weeks ago Michael Cox wrote a piece for the Athletic in which he (while winking down the camera with his tongue firmly in his cheek) described Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kevin de Bruyne and Wilfried Zaha as “failures”, because statistics show how many times they concede possession, shoot off target and get dispossessed respectively. The point of the article was to highlight the difference between what the data tells us and what we can see with our own eyes, though the real entertainment came from those who believe the numbers don’t lie queuing up to tell Cox he wasn’t using them correctly. Anyway, to a lot of people the obvious reason for the increase in dynamism in the midfield was the combination of James McCarthy, James McArthur and Cheikhou Kouyate or, to put it another way, the absence of Luka Milivojevic. He has become a bit of a bete noire for certain elements of the Palace fanbase, with many believing he come to embody many of the negative aspects of the team’s play, and that the Eagles are far better to watch when he isn’t playing. On the other hand:

*The red card for Valentino Lazaro shows why cynical fouls can never be punished appropriately. In allowing the defending team to assemble their players who were previously unable to affect the play, in a perverse way United gained from the transgression of one of their number, while Palace lost their advantage – specifically Zaha running in one on one with the goalkeeper. One way to properly punish cynical fouls would be to put a ten-metre halo around the ball at the spot of the foul, with only the fouled player allowed within it, and only defenders who were goalside at the time of the foul allowed goalside of the free kick, with everyone else behind the ball. Then, the fouled player can restart play by shooting, passing or dribbling, at which point everyone else is eligible to touch the ball. Anyone got Arsene Wenger’s number?

*Next up for the Eagles is the “why is this a derby” derby against Brighton & Hove Albion, in Saturday’s early kickoff. A revitalised Palace away at their fiercest rivals? Could be fun, could also be another chapter in the ongoing battle between the Five Year Plan fanzine/podcast and Sussex Police.
Ed Quoththeraven


What is football really about?
Good Day Kind Editor.

After reading John Nic’s piece about Haaland reminding us of what football was about, I started questioning whether football in its total package was really that much better before. I was born in the late 80s, my first experiences of top level football was the mid to late 90s, so I experienced the transition of the game into the commercial product that it is today. My aim is not to try to change any minds, rather it is to bring perspective to both sides.

I’ll start off with what was good about football of days gone by… I don’t mind football from every league in the world being televised, depending on how much you can consume it is interesting to watch something different. However, it does get tedious when some random person on social media constantly tells everyone how good “Carlos Kickaball” is and prides themselves as being the “first” to know about how good said player is. It removes the mysteriousness of having a player arrive as a relative unknown but turn into a cult hero. The amount of football on offer has also resulted in numerous podcasts and the likes of the FPL show providing analysis on what is essentially an elaborate guessing game. It’s a bit too much of side content, video games, etc, so there’s a reason why shows like Football Italia or games like Champ Manager 93 bring back such fond memories.

The commercialism of the game also means that local fan bases of bigger clubs get priced out, and very little can be done about ticket prices because there’s always someone who is willing to pay that amount to make a “pilgrimage” to their favourite club. When we talk about “famous European nights at Anfield” or “Tuesday nights in Stoke”, that uniqueness is only made possible by the local support. It must have been a great feeling for a group of mates to scrape enough money together for a match ticket and a few pints at 3pm on a Saturday. Imagine, not having 7pm kick offs…

As for the actual football, there’s obviously an enjoyment in having the unpredictability of mostly technically flawed teams playing each other, which makes the game feel more human and something we as mere mortals can relate to. And when a team does enter a period of dominance, it just felt that much more spectacular.

And now for the modern day bit…

It’s safe to say that the overall quality of the game has improved, with players conducting themselves more professionally, with better fitness regimes and diets and more focus on the tactical side of the game. This has contributed to making the game more interesting for the analysts, journalists and podcasters, but not so much for the people who are in it for the thrill that comes with unpredictability. Which is why there will be those who would be happier to accept an incorrect decision over having celebrations cut short because VAR has disallowed a late winning goal.

As for VAR, everything changes and the technology is required to make the game better. However, like every technology that has been invented, the product that we see today is far more sophisticated compared to the first version, so we have to give it a chance. Very few of us would be keen on using cars or electricity if it was still the same as it was 100 years ago.

The commercial part of the game is hard for most of us to digest, however football has become a global game with global sponsorship money which for the most part has made the overall spectacle better. The unpredictability which came with having a lower quality across board has decreased, but the standard has improved so much more because of the access to greater resources.

Now I’ve mentioned all the feel good stuff, but the defining factor for me is the crowd treatment and behaviour, which is probably one of those things that JN had at the back of his mind when he wrote “The future of football will be forged from the best of yesterday and the best of now, to make a new hybrid tomorrow”. Football supporters were unjustly treated by police etc, the tragedies of Hillsborough, the fences around the field caging supporters in and so on. There was the bust ups, hooliganism, racism, the banana throwing, the monkey noises and overall a place where you would not feel comfortable taking your kids. These incidents still happen in the modern game, but it doesn’t get overlooked and definitely doesn’t get treated like something normal. The atmosphere is obviously sterilised to a certain extent because of the better policing and the better treatment of match going fans, and if this means that we never see another Hillsborough tragedy again, and you can take your kids to a game feeling that its much safer then for me, football is better now. Let’s leave the people in suits to worry about money. When it’s time to fight against it, I have no doubt that fans will continue to fight against the exorbitant ticket prices and so on.

But for the players and supporters, football will always be just for that, the enjoyment of the game. For every passing generation this will always transcend every new element which disrupts our beautiful game.
Clyde, Tax Brackets


Complaining about things that haven’t happened recently
I think Steve, Los Angeles meant to be referring to the Northwest Derby, rather than the Merseyside Derby (hard to imagine any fans less likely to mock Hillsborough than Everton fans!) Three quick points:

First, the obvious: fans singing horrible songs to each other is horrible.

Second: why has the behavior of the majority of United and Watford matchday fans respecting the death of Harry Gregg provoked a lengthy riposte towards the behavior of a minority of United and Liverpool matchday fans?

Third: I watch every single Liverpool fixture, obviously including games against United – are you sure you can really “hear” these songs being sung at “every derby”? In my experience it is a rarity for any explicit mention of either disaster to be audible over the TV broadcast, from either set of fans. The last time I remember clearly hearing “Murderers, Murderers” was probably the 2008/09 title challenge year? Obviously there will always be individuals or even small pockets of morons being horrible to each other at each game, but I don’t think those of us watching on TV would perceive that when tuning in.

Given the above, I’d be willing to bet that the horrible behavior being referenced by Steve was witnessed on social media, especially Twitter, rather than from matchgoing fans inside the ground. In which case, I’d desperately ask again for everyone to stop conflating Twitter/social media behavior and views with those of matchgoing fans.
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland


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