Klopp, Guardiola would struggle to do better than Erik Ten Hag at ‘broken’ Man Utd

Editor F365
Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag
Erik ten Hag looks up during a Premier League match.

The Mailbox insists that ‘no manager in the world is going to get a tune out of’ Erik ten Hag’s ‘broken’ Man Utd squad. Plus, Liverpool vs. Chelsea youth, neutrality, Government’s political football, squad numbers and lots more…

Send your views to theeditor@football365.com


Arteta/Ten Hag 
Reading the morning mailbox, is Joe’s contention seriously that the position is different because Arteta was a rookie manager and therefore Arsenal accepted he’d do a crap job for his first two years at the club while he was learning on the job?

Arsenal, one of the biggest clubs in world football, wrote off two years just to let Arteta learn the ropes? They hired him and said “don’t worry mate, you’re learning, if this season is a bust, take a mulligan, two if you need them…”

Not having that… The expectation on Arteta was probably exactly the same as it would’ve been if they managed to poach Pep Guardiola. Expectations for Arteta were set contextually – Arsenal were a big club in a bit of a mess and it was unrealistic to expect that Arteta would challenge for the league in year one, or year two, or year three… they made organisational changes, made good changes to the squad and steadily progressed to where they are now.

The comparison with Arteta and Ten Hag is an apt one. United too, are and have for years been, a mess. Ten Hag did a great job and exceeded expectations in his first season. This season, less so, but there has been material mitigation – United played the most games of any side in Europe last season (he said, without bothering to fact check…) and the subsequent chronic injury crisis this season is unsurprising.

Last year, a similar injury crisis after a very heavy preceding season saw Liverpool absolutely collapse from one of the best in the world on 92 points to also-rans on 67 (and FYI, one fewer point after 26 games than United currently have…) As funny as rival fans find United’s season (and I found Liverpool’s last year), the honest truth is that these things happen sometimes and its understandable.

Add to that other factors that aren’t his doing, like the takeover, having only one 11-year old striker who arrived injured at the end of the window, having a bunch of immovable dross on £300k a week contracts… that his team aren’t currently world beaters isn’t necessarily a shocker.

I’m not even saying I’d necessarily keep him long term, nor am I sure that Ineos will wave in a brave new era (though I’m optimistic) but one thing Ratcliffe has been clear on is that fixing United is not a one transfer window job – they look like they’re making root and branch changes and say they’re going for “best in class”.

Is Ten Hag best in class? Probably not, but who do you replace him with? My take is that Ten Hag is/has been doing alot of good work contributing to fixing the structural problems at the club (that are within a manager’s remit – and signing mediocre wingers for £85m isn’t in his remit). Results on the pitch have been disappointing but there is serious mitigation and, notwithstanding that, they aren’t a million miles from CL qualification with a third of the season left to play… with a new chief exec, new director of football, probably new head of recruitment and other meaningful staff changes in the offing… unless Klopp or Guardiola fancy making a controversial switch, I’m not sure replacing Ten Hag is near the top of United’s list of priorities!
Andy (MUFC)


Judging Ten Hag 
Listen, I’m having to suffer through these United performances just like everyone else. Every United fan is disappointed how we’re playing at the moment, especially given the momentum this time last year. And of course, in the end the buck stops with the coach. But we’ve got to look at the whole picture imo.

Firstly, let’s address the lazy man’s argument: ETH has spent hundreds of millions and the team doesn’t play like City/Liverpool etc. What I know is that ETH’s favoured back 4 was excellent last year, and was the main reason United looked good again. And that back 4 has played together (checks notes) once this season. Once. The promising young LB who looked a reasonable alternative to the ever-injured Luke Shaw has played exactly zero times this season. United have fielded 24 different back 4s in just over 30 matches. Jonny Evans and Harry Maguire have been the main fixtures. Some brilliant tactician can explain to me how to play modern football with those two, because I don’t think it’s possible.

In midfield, the big purchase was Mason Mount. An answer to a question we didn’t really understand, but ETH seemed very keen. He’s basically not played due to injury. Does ETH’s vision of him, Mainoo and, erm, someone represent the future? We have no idea. Oh yeah, ETH seems to have perfectly brought him into the first team.

At the top of the pitch, everyone is keen to cudgel ETH for Antony. Fair enough, young Brazilian who won’t cut it in the premier league. Fine. ETH does seem to be getting the best out of an inexperienced, raw striker who came into the season with an injury, and is now injured again. ETH has brought through an incredibly exciting teenager, who is now firmly in the first XI. ETH literally has no fit strikers in his squad right now. He tried to buy others, but United’s mismanagement down the years rendered that impossible.

When ETH has even 10 players that he wants in their right positions, this team looks pretty good. However, that basically hasn’t happened this whole season. I don’t care how good Klopp and Pep (much less a De Zerbi or Potter) are, you’re not going to make a great team with the players ETH is forced to play.

If the new leadership can actually purchase a decent quantity of players, rather than just spend big money, that fit the system, I think we can judge ETH after that. Right now, I’m not sure any manager in the world is going to get a tune out of this broken, injured squad.
Ryan, Bermuda


Erik’s focus
I heard an interesting stat the other day. In 64 Prem games he has managed, United have faced 20+ shots 12 times – roughly once every 5 games. In 322 Prem games under Klopp, LFC have faced 20+ shots… twice. So United regularly surpass a benchmark of absolute defensive ineptitude under him, while LFC practically never do on a much longer timeline (Pep’s number is similar to Klopp’s – 6 times in 290 odd games). Maybe that’s why Erik is so focused on social media protocol – because looking at the stuff that matters is too depressing? Or conversely, maybe the stat is down to the fact Erik has spent his whole time focused on the wrong things – his permanently tenuous future, his useless signings, PR battles with other clubs, wars of words with pundits – instead of managing, coaching and improving his team?
Ian, Dublin


Liverpool vs. Chelsea youth, now with bare minimum stats 
I doubt this will be published, because it only serves to extend the tireless “did Liverpool play the kids or not?” debate from the Carling Cup final. As an aside, I never thought we were underdogs, just that the injury enforced starting XI/bench made the game much more of an even matchup as a one-off cup match (where the form book is defenstrated, etc.). But when people keep putting forth bad faith comparisons…

This is a longer email than I intended, though it didn’t take long to put this email together. Kind of disappointed that even F365 articles stopped at the low hanging fruit of “well ACTUALLY, Chelsea were younger” and left it at that. We live in an age where information is everywhere, and quite easily accessible if you take the time to look. So Badwolf’s assertion that the performance of Liverpool’s youth last weekend was the same as Man U in the 1996 FA Cup final falls apart under the barest amount of research, so I’m biting. Giggs was a Wales international from 1991 onwards (he had 15-18 caps by May 1996), Gary Neville was a full English international in 1995, Phil Neville got his first competitive England cap two weeks after the FA Cup Final, and Beckham got his first cap in September 1996. So these were not exactly fresh faced young boys with barely any ekit number xperience. At a club level, Phil Neville had 37 caps by the end of the 95/96 season but the rest all fell somewhere in the 50-80 region and Giggs was well over 200 caps.

While the squad number argument from Paul McDevitt earlier this week was a bit of an odd angle to take, it was a creative way to get to the correct point. Using average age stats is a bit pointless without context – yes the players used by Chelsea were on average just as young, but it’s facile to only consider age. Putting aside the difference in fees overall I looked at the 21 or younger players for each, on both cost and senior minutes played (per Transfermarkt). All of these players got at least half an hour, while LFC youth spent less time on the pitch they were also far less experienced than Chelsea’s subs. There is clearly a gulf between the two:

Cole Palmer – 21 – €47m – 3,867 senior minutes

Noni Madueke – 21 – €35m – 5,177′
Malo Gusto – 20 – €30m – 5,694′
Levi Colwill – 21 – academy – 6,238′

Total cost of €112m, all with 3600+ minutes played in senior competitions.

Jayden Danns – 18 – 61′
James McConnell – 19 – 191′
Bobby Clark – 19 – 258′

Jarell Quansah – 21 – 2,843′
Conor Bradley – 20 – 5,514′
Harvey Elliott – 20 – 8,087′

Harvey Elliott is the outlier here, in that the rest are academy players but he cost an initial fee of €1.7m per Transfermarkt, which is potentially rising to a £4.3m/€5m tribunal fee.

Colwill followed a similar route to Elliott/Quansah/Bradley with loans to League One or Championship clubs, but the other three Chelsea players broke through at PSV/Lyon/Man City so have a bit more to them. Liverpool’s teens have barely played at all at the senior level but came on in the League Cup Final and then followed up with a strong performance against Southampton in the cup. While Bradley and Quansah aren’t quite the senior level novices I expected, as Paul McD was pointing out – none of these LFC youngsters were expected to play much this year, a much different case to the four youngest Chelsea players. Some LFC fans are definitely being over the top, but they’re coming from a place of fact, and I think it’s fair to celebrate that!

Danny, LFC NY


Is anyone truly neutral? 
A nod to Sparky, LFC for a considered mail on Man Utd. It was a lovely change from the nonsense spouted in the Mailbox comments section day after day by (what may or my not be) Liverpool and Man Utd ‘fans’. Quite why it can’t just be acknowledged that Liverpool did well to win the League Cup with the players they had injured is beyond me. Who cares about average ages or senior games played? Any football fan knows that isn’t Liverpool’s first team. Yes Chelsea had issues too, but clearly not as many. Anyway, I’m getting away from my main point. I would paint myself as a neutral in situations like this but then I wondered ‘am I actually?’…

Man Utd’s 90’s superiority means I just have a leaning towards Liverpool. They’ve irked me less. I also prefer Liverpool to Everton. No idea why. Arsenal above Spurs. Again, not sure why. Roma are my Italian team but I’d always say AC above Inter. Celtic over Rangers. No reason. Barca above Madrid, but I’ve much more time for Sevilla generally. Maybe the ‘villa’ bit? Dortmund over Bayern Munich. I have little care for French football. Meh, Monaco.

It goes even deeper. Sheff W over Sheff U. Ipswich over Norwich. Newcastle above Sunderland, although this one may be more susceptible to change. I could go on forever. I reckon if anyone named two clubs, rivals or otherwise, most of us would always prefer one above the other. Maybe it’s results against your team? A specific player a team had who was a bit of a d*%k. Just some lingering memory somewhere of something you didn’t like. Kit colour?

Anyone got any thoughts about where these subconscious biases come from? Or arbitrary reasons for preferring one team over another when you support neither?
Gary, AVFC (WBA over Wolves for the father-in-law).

Has Liverpool's season peaked? Does it really matter?

Kids’ minutes shows the value of structure
Your article on the number of minutes played by academy graduates really shows up the value of having a good youth infrastructure in place.

The top teams, for years, have hoovered up the best young talent from across the country, then either bringing them through the academy to play or to then be sold on for profits. Liverpool are a great example of this, where the standard of players coming through the academy is very high because of great coaching set up and investing, as well as buying very promising youngsters from elsewhere (Harvey Elliott is a prime example but that list is littered with them).

Instead, smaller teams can’t attract as many youngsters into their academies. Brentford and Fulham begin right down the list while Chelsea are near the top is a great example.

In my team, Newcastle’s, case, our academy has been let down for years by chronic underinvestment, and we’ve started trying to turn it round under new ownership but it’ll take time. We’ve even joined in trying to buy up youngsters from elsewhere.

But what it shows is just another way the rich get richer – investing in academies, scouting the best youngsters and doing so at a stage where smaller teams can’t compete.

Well done to Liverpool’s young players for breaking through, but this praise of all these Liverpool youngsters playing needs to be given some important context.

James (NUFC)


A red card for the Government’s political football 
Westminster has a stench of desperation as the Government keeps threatening to regulate football. This knee-jerk reaction, conveniently timed after the public revolt against the European Super League debacle, reeks of a cynical PR ploy aimed at deflecting attention from their own failures. It seems like the threat is meant to force the teams to work together better, but the government’s true intentions are yet to be unveiled.

The EPL has become a force in world football precisely because of its fairer distribution of funds across all participating clubs. Teams receive an equal share of the domestic and overseas TV deals and commercial income, whereas in Spain, for example, Real Madrid and Barcelona had hoovered up the bulk of those funds. The prize money is based on the final league position, and a ‘facility’ fee per broadcast game varies by club. The fact that other countries’ leagues feel threatened indicates how successful the EPL has become, as envisioned many years ago.

While the government’s proposal claims to address financial sustainability within the pyramid, we need to acknowledge the EFL’s issues. The Championship created an economic arms race to get to the EPL promised land. This created unsustainable losses for many (most?) clubs, with the EPL parachute payments for relegated teams exacerbating this. The EFL wants a fairer distribution of the EPL income, as the parachute payments are a significant portion of the total. But with the self-interest of clubs at the bottom of the EPL, those likelier to get relegated are unlikely to agree to the reduced parachute payments they may need.

The government also wants to tighten club ownership. This might be a contentious issue for football supporters once their team begins to thrive after financial supercharging. Remember, this is the same government that dragged its feet for decades over the Hillsborough Disaster, initially blaming the victims instead of holding the authorities accountable. Their recent track record, from bungling Brexit to gutting environmental protections, cozying up to questionable foreign investors, and profiting from COVID, hardly inspires confidence in their ability to handle the complexities of football governance.

The government’s proposed interventions in football miss a crucial target – the Football Association. The FA oversees the football pyramid but has long struggled with diversity, transparency, and effective leadership. By neglecting to address the FA’s shortcomings, the government overlooks the potential to impact a broader segment of society positively.

So, is this a genuine concern for the beautiful game or a desperate attempt to score political brownie points? The only certainty is that this doomed government will score an own goal.
Paul McDevit


Having fun with iconic silly squad numbers
Inspired by Conor Malone’s reflection on the significance and the fun of squad numbers, I couldn’t help but reminisce about some of the most iconic and quirky choices made by players over the years.

From Tommy Oar’s unexpected donning of number 121 for Australia due to a registration mix-up to Bixente Lizarazu’s selection of 69, aligned with his birth year, height, and weight, the world of football has seen its fair share of interesting shirt number tales that is for sure.

For current stars first up is Trent Alexander-Arnold’s acquisition of number 66, courtesy of a random choice by the Liverpool kitman, while Bruno Guimaraes pays homage to his father’s former taxi dispatch number with his choice of 39. And who could forget the legendary Ivan Zamorano, who famously adorned his jersey with the unconventional combination of 1+8, ingeniously creating the number 9. Would be awesome to hear what other iconic shirt number and player combos the mailbox readers have fond memories of.
The Admin @ At The Bridge Pod


To be fair, I chuckled smugly at the theory of aggregated squad numbers as a metric and – after looking at the other games from the same weekend – was surprised and amused to discover 6/8 supported the theory.

It was further suggested – in the original mail – that this might be a sign of the quality of the team and manager which defied the numbers: the 3 (including the final) that didn’t fit the theory are managed by Klopp, Guardiola and, er, Moyes. Which bolsters the idea?
It’s a meaninglessly small sample size for sure.

On original Ronaldo, he wore 99 for AC Milan where he won one ESC. His major trophies were won with the number 9 on his back, which kinda supports the theory?

Food for thought.
Hartley MCFC Somerset (whatever the aggregate squad numbers, not looking forward to the Liverpool game after an easy 3pts on Sunday)


This means more…
So Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland says that it is not Liverpool fans that say it means more but rival fans. It’s a marketing slogan is all. But from reading the last few mailboxes I have been left with the impression that the opposite is true. Kids in the League Cup? Unheard of, must be because of Klopp. Or is it because of injuries? Pick one. Klopp has not integrated them until he had to. In the League Cup. You won the League Cup. The worst Manchester United side in decades won it last year. Celebrate it, of course. Enjoy the kids. But you have achieved nothing great, OR Liverpool have not been great over the last few years. Pick one.

Also please do not compare them to The Man Utd kids from the 90’s just yet. They won a lot more then a League Cup. If you want to compare them to United kids, how about the ones that destroyed Wengers kids 8-2. Arsene build that squad for years, and he was great at developing youngsters, but for Fergie it was just the latest rebuild, full of kids. Remember Cleverly the Manchester United savior and future in the middle with Anderson. The Anderson that toyed with Fabregas every time they played. Neither of those teams went on to achieve great things despite the obvious talent in both teams. I believe that if Ferguson had stayed for another couple of years that would be different, but hey, I am a United fan so of course I do.

Basically, beating this Chelsea team in the League Cup is not a sign of greatness, unless this is your teams first silverware in ages or something along the line.


I find it hilarious that Oliver’s methodical deconstruction of the myth that Liverpool fans don’t buy into the ‘this means more’ gimmick sat directly below a submission entitled ‘No one does it quite like Liverpool.’

I’m really glad we have Klopp’s Liverpool to demonstrate how to go on an emotional footballing journey. I fear I would have been quite lost without it.
Matt (respect the achievement, detest the hyperbole)