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Ole’s comments on Rashford…
I’m really, really looking forward to Sunday’s match versus Manchester Utd, it seems to me that both teams can play their preferred game plan, Liverpool with the ball attacking and Man Utd on the break, it should be a very interesting match-up. It sticks in the throat that Utd are the only team to take points off us and Utd did play well that day. In general, it’s a perfect time for the return of Lovren, Matip and especially Fabinho (who could start on Sunday), returning at this point in the season is ideal.
I’m surprised nobody picked up on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s comment regarding Rashford last night. Who would have thought that putting your already injured best player on the pitch and him picking up a further injury might happen? He seemed genuinely shocked that it ‘backfired’ just a few days before playing your fiercest rivals (are the two teams even rivals these days?).
Moving swiftly on, I’ve heard a few arguments (No not the absurd ‘Klopp started just like Ole’ argument) a month or so ago (Hi Garey) that the reason to keep Ole on is because he gets the team to perform against the ‘top 6’ so all he has to do is figure out a plan for the rest of the league and progress will be made.
Since Manchester Utd have been outclassed by Arsenal and Manchester City in recent weeks, it will be interesting if the argument will still stack up after Utd have played Liverpool and the return game against City in the coming weeks. We shall see.
Jimmy (Bring it on) Spain
Certain to lose on Sunday
I was a little bit surprised at some of the reaction to Seb’s article about the United vs Wolves game last night; I thought his assertion that United did nothing was fairly accurate to be honest. Alright, statistically, we appeared to be in control of the game but surely upon actually watching the game, rather than relying on just the numbers, you could see that it was – at best – fairly even. In defensive areas we were shambolic, panicked and without a plan. There were exceptions – Williams was excellent on the left and nullified virtually everything that came his way – but I thought the other three really struggled, particularly in the first half.
Adama Traore got a lot of joy down the left in the first half, and still managed to get plenty of crosses and passes into the strikers. Only a tame shot from JIminez, after a beautiful turn in the box, and VAR intervention for a handball by the same player kept the scores level. But the worry for us was how rattled we appeared. Maguire and Lindelof kept out the routine stuff but any time anyone showed a bit of invention – Jiminez’s aforementioned turn, for example – they were at sixes and sevens. The midfield duo didn’t really do them any favours and weren’t especially effective at screening the defence, which led to rapid overloading by Wolves. That we kept a clean sheet was more down to good fortune than our brilliance.
Attacking-wise, we might have had a few shots on goal but Ruddy was very rarely tested to any degree of concern for Wolves; James and Martial might have had a few shots but none of them really looked like beating their ‘keeper. It was only when Rashford came on for his brief cameo that their defence started to become stretched, which in itself is a worry – we can’t keep relying on him to bail us out of these games otherwise injuries will not be far away. But until that one moment of quality, I think “nothing” is a perfectly fair description of our performance last night.
Last night was yet more evidence, were it needed, that United are still missing two or three players – one or two central midfielders and a right-winger absolutely have to be the priority, because we need something different to start unlocking defences like Wolves’ with more regularity. I remain convinced that Bruno Fernandes isn’t going to happen, though still hope to be proved wrong, and a right-winger hasn’t even been mentioned (presumably it’s because they want Sancho, but I doubt whether he will be seen in a United shirt any time in the future). Talk of getting Llorente on loan is a non-starter as well – it came from the MEN, so that tells you all you need to know there really. For me, however, there is another signing we absolutely have to make: a really good defensive coach. I still believe that we have the players we need in defence – maybe with a centre back addition if we can finally shift Jones and Rojo – but they just need better coaching. If we can improve the performance of the personnel we have right now I think we would be ok.
Still, we managed to get the job done and finally beat Wolves, but I certainly don’t hold any hope of progressing any further, assuming Watford overcome Tranmere in their replay. I think we’re pretty much certain to lose on Sunday, the only thing that Rashford’s availability would change is whether Liverpool keep a clean sheet along the way or not.
With regards to AC in Milan’s piece about playing AWB for England to allow TAA to move inside ala Kyle Walker in the World Cup, I’m not convinced personally, mainly because it’d involve moving away from 4-3-3 and back to 3-5-2, which as we’ve seen creates a ton of issues if you continue to use Henderson as your lone pivot-type player in the middle and also takes away the dangerous 3-man attack that England have used since the Nations League games.
Besides, a lot of the issues with England’s defence (when it’s Maguire and Gomez that is…) comes from the fact that when you use a double pivot like Henderson and Rice (or Delph/Dier) nobody collects the ball from the centre-backs, leaving them to either hoof it or make an error. It’s why England have to start Winks in the summer and not be tempted to assume that because he looks good for Liverpool, Henderson has the ability on the ball that you need at international level. He simply doesn’t.
If Southgate plays Henderson and Winks together though with someone like Maddison, Grealish, Mount or Alli ahead of them (ie not Barkley) then we’ll immediately look more robust. And of course, the defenders will be given the credit while Winks (like Carrick before him) goes unnoticed because England fans just don’t seem to appreciate that kind of player unless they’re playing against us (Modric, Pirlo etc).
Reviving competition in the Premier League
Football clubs are like balloons. Fill it to the brim with buoyant gases and a club can rise up, up up through the league tables with each promotion leading to bigger rooms with higher ceilings. The problem is that the biggest (and bestest) room is a mezzanine. Balloon clubs can bounce around the top 6 for a while but eventually the gas disperses, the balloon shrivels up and the club sinks to the floor. This is the case for Bournemouth fans at the moment, but the analogy fits for Southhampton before them and Wolves likely after.
The premier league does not promote (or promulgate for JN fans) genuine competition. Southampton is the club that I always remember as being the victims of the premier league set-up. Having almost dropped out of the league pyramid, the club re-assessed and restructured from top to bottom. What followed was a meteoric rise fueled by a fantastic academy, innovative coaching appointments and, for a few years at least, a genuinely world class recruitment strategy.
At the time, Southampton was the benchmark for how a club should be run, posing a genuine threat to traditional top six clubs Tottenham and Liverpool (who were both dross at the time.) But within a couple of seasons, their manager, playing staff and recruitment team had been poached by the very clubs they were threatening and they dropped into midtable obscurity. Today, they’re a relegation fixture.
The lack of real competitive opportunity affects fans of pretty much all clubs in the premier league. For me, the only solution is to open up the champions league to a playoff. Eighth is a reachable goal for all clubs in the premier league providing they innovate to offset their financial disadvantages. The top two clubs deserve a champions league berth. From 3rd to 8th a playout with 3rd and 4th entering at a later stage. An FA cup winner outside the top eight could take the eighth spot. For me, opening up the champs league brings genuine competition into the grasp of all premier league clubs while keeping the traditional top six on their toes.
Liam Gabriel Hoskins (Who wouldn’t want to see Burnley against Barcelona) AFC
What if headers were banned at all levels?
With the news that the Scottish FA are banning headers in under-12 football, it got me thinking what the result would be if football as a whole banned it.
The way I would see it working is making your head similar to your hand – a deliberate playing of the ball with your head is a foul, yellow card, maybe red if it stops a goal. Accidental touches are a pain with handball at the moment, but let’s assume we work something out for “headball” (the newly named offence).
So what are the consequences for football?
Opening it out to discussion with the Mailbox:
1. Free kicks / corners become less valuable, because you can’t thunderblast a header in?
2. Free kicks / corners become more valuable because defenders can’t just thunderblast a header away and have to let the ball drop?
3. Overall skill levels improve? Particularly amongst defenders.
4. More goals? Not quite sure on this one, but maybe related to the fact that clearances are harder.
5. Less goals? No headed ones obviously. But also no headed flick-ons from long balls to tee up a striker.
6. Phil Jones pulls less faces as he no longer throws his head in the way of shots.
Running out of ideas now, am sure other people will have lots more.
Luke, London (Rugby fan since José)
With regards to the 2020 vision articles over the past two days, it would be interesting to see what F365 think the squad ladder is looking like now. In my view the squad is likely to look something like this:
1. Jordan Pickford
3. Ben Chillwell
4. Declan Rice
5. Harry Maguire
6. Joe Gomez
7. Raheem Sterling
8. Jordan Henderson
9. Harry Kane*
10. Marcus Rashford
11. Jadon Sancho
12. Nick Pope
13. Dean Henderson
14. Tammy Abraham*
15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
16. Kieron Trippier
17. Mason Mount
18. Backup LB
19. Backup CB
20. Second Backup CB
21. Backup W/AM
22. Backup ST
23. Backup CM/AM
Who takes the back up slots is a matter of opinions with experience, form, potential and versatility all factors. At LB for example the fitness of both Shaw and Rose would mean I would rather take someone who is definitely going to be fit like Brandon Williams or even Ryan Bertrand. Likewise at CB I’d rather see form players like Coady and Tomori go instead of Stones.
Kane and Abraham are starred due to Kane’s fitness doubt. Given Rooney, Gerrard, Alli and Wilshere have shown in the past that injured/unfit players damage tournament prospects, I really hope Southgate learns from the past. If Kane won’t be fully fit by the second group game then I would argue he shouldn’t go as he is an injury waiting to happen and potentially redundant squad place if we lose our first two games.
If Kane is injured, there aren’t really any other strikers who can play the false 9 in build-up/target man for set pieces role that we have adopted in qualifying. Without those abilities, would the wide players be as effective? If not we are likely to score less but still be defensively vulnerable as Abraham will not mask the issues in midfield and defence. If Kane is out, I would prefer a reversion to 3-5-2 to make England more solid but also allow the mobile forwards to flourish. The line up would be something along the lines of: