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Straw Man United
It’s a common enough phenomenon. We see it in football journalism all the time and, far more worryingly, we see it in relation to modern politics and the running of nations. Mandisi is guilty of it this morning in relation to United.
Take genuine, objective and balanced observations, concerns or criticisms. Exaggerate them as much as possible so that they seem totally absurd. Rather than addressing the initial, fair criticisms instead deride your new, invented narrative as the codswallop that it is. Straw man knocked down. Mission accomplished. Quite possibly – election won.
There are genuine concerns about United giving rise to the doom and gloom. The entirely predictable football and undermining of youth displayed by Mourinho. A lack of any coherent strategy for investment or team selection. His seemingly constant dissatisfaction. The failure to address significant weaknesses in the squad at full back and right wing. Rumoured relationship breakdown with players like Martial and Pogba. Pandering to an extremely limited player in Marouane Fellaini. Not to mention the unflattering comparisons with our nearest neighbours who are improving their players, playing great attacking football and competing for top trophies.
Nothing we have seen in the off season has allayed any of these very fair observations. Nothing has happened to suggest we can close last years huge gap to City, undo the frankly mortifying exit in the CL or even play in the traditional “United Way”. Ask yourself honestly – has Mourinho made a single player in this United squad better through coaching?
I realise that United will in all likelihood find themselves in the top 4 again and that these are problems most other clubs would kill to have. For a club of United’s stature however they are problems. To dismiss them out of hand because of Mourinho’s past record is to be guilty of the kind of rose-tinted myopia that actually caused the United mess in the first place.
Stephen (Mourinho is yesterday’s man), Dublin
Two weeks until the transfer deadline and still so many unresolved questions at Chelsea…
Will we manage to hold on to Hazard, Courtois and Willian? If they stay against their will, how will their performances be affected? If they depart, will we find decent replacements in time?
Aside from this, I find it remarkable how, after Conte’s complaints about the small squad size at the start of last season, when we were back in the Champions League, we’ve now gone full circle. We’re all set to start the new campaign with a bloated squad and a host of players who risk being confined to Thursday night football.
We potentially have Chistensen, Luiz, Cahill, Rudiger, Zouma, Ampadu, Azpilicueta, Zappacosta, Palmieri, Alonso and Moses competing for positions at the back, where Sarri is expected to go with a back four.
In centre mid we now have Kante, Jorginho, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek, Drinkwater and Barkley.
Upfront we have Giroud, Morata, Batshuayi and Abraham.
Where last season we were scrambling around to make desperate last-minute signings, this year we’ll presumably be calling round every club and begging them to take a Drinkwater or a Barkley.
If we ultimately loan these surplus players out as per usual, isn’t it better to hurry up and get this sorted so they can have some kind of pre-season at their new club and a better chance of doing well?
Jorginho looks a good signing, but do we really need Rugani and 30 year old Higuain as a priority? Given Pedro’s poor performances last season, shouldn’t we be looking for an additional attacking midfielder/winger to reduce our reliance on Willian and Hazard?
Following a brilliant World Cup, the forthcoming Premier League season could be a bit of a classic, I reckon. I realised this when I tried to work out who’s going to finish where, and realised that I don’t have a clue. Looking at the title candidates, there are arguments to be made for and against each of their chances:
City, obviously, will blow many teams away with their attack. But their failure to land Fred or Jorginho, as good as Fernandinho is (will Delph feature more in the DCM role this season?) might leave them susceptible to teams who have a go at them, a la Liverpool last season. And, historically, only adding one player to a title-winning squad is often not enough.
Liverpool blew many teams away, but sometimes struggled to break down the ‘lesser’ teams, particularly at home. Shaqiri, with his deliveries and occasional belter from outside the box, could help to counter this. They’ve also strengthened their midfield dramatically but, a title challenge will depend on Keita and Fabinho settling straight away, which is a big ask. And we don’t yet know if Salah is fully fit after his injury. A slow-ish start followed by a very strong second half of the season seems probable.
United (my lot, just for full disclosure) have a settled squad, which usually helps. Sanchez having had an actual rest pre-season should also help. Theoretically, most of the tools are there (bar perhaps a better or back-up right-back) but Mourinho needs to a) find the right first XI, b) and put games against the ‘lesser’ teams (more on them shortly) to bed early by actually attacking. He won’t do b), sadly, except for the first nine games, like last season.
Spurs have the most settled first team and squad; the glass-half-empty interpretation, of course, being that they haven’t strengthened. If they don’t suffer any injuries to Eriksen, Kane and Alli, or if Lamela and Moura can step up, they could challenge.
Arsenal have a frightening, and settled, attack – Lacazette, Aubameyang, and Ozil who may now be less distracted having got away from the national team set-up and may also get a kick up the backside from Emery, are as good an attacking trio as anywhere in the league. It’s all about new signings settled in, though – Torreira could be the DM they’ve needed for years, but he might not be straight away.
And Chelsea, if Sarri can implement his tactics sooner rather than later, could surprise teams with a much more dynamic press and attack than last season. A title push would depend on Hazard having a great season, but a compact unit of four (two CBs, Kante and Jorginho) and the best attacking full-back pairing in the league is a good start. Possibly missing a ball-playing number 10, if Hazard gets moved into a ‘false 9’ role, as has been mooted.
Meanwhile, Wolves have just bought Joao Moutinho to join Costa, Neves, Jota, and Patricio – Fulham have bought Seri, already had Sessegnon, and are apparently about to sign Schurrle, who has just returned from starring as Bill in the third Bill & Ted film. With those two looking good for survival at the very least, and West Ham having made a couple of great signings (Anderson and Yarmolenko), who will be fighting relegation? Cardiff seem the obvious choice, and Southampton, but beyond that, Brighton have invested, Newcastle have too good a manager, and Bournemouth will score their way out of trouble – so possibly Huddersfield and Watford, although it’s impossible to know what to expect from those two teams, particularly as nobody knows who plays for Watford any more, as your recent quiz highlighted.
In short, the gap between the top 6 is smaller than last season, and I believe the difference in quality between all the teams in the league will be narrower this season than in recent seasons, which should mean unpredictability and glorious chaos. Should be great.
Dan (if I’m forced off the fence I’d say City to win it, but only just; Cardiff, Watford and Huddersfield to go down), Brighton
Sturridge has a role to play
This summer is quite a pivotal one for Daniel Sturridge. On the one hand, he’ll be looking at all the talent coming into Melwood thinking “Cor blimey, we’re looking tasty now, might even win something..”. But on the other, he’s looking over at Origi & Shaqiri’s weird-shaped-slightly-less-made-of-glass-bodies thinking “Am I even gonna get a game this year?”
Under normal circumstances, he would be well within his rights to want to jog on and i’d wish him all the best. But after so many false dawns, after so many years of looking good in pre-season only to crock himself 5 games in – maybe Sturridge needs to be honest with himself and accept his body can’t handle a 40+ game season. If he dropped down the league (Saints, Watford spring to mind) he’d be a main man there but can twiglet legs handle it? If he acknowledges his physical limitations, he can be a real asset to any team.
If he stays at Liverpool he gives us something different (and not the Andy Carroll type of ‘different’) and will still probably get 15+ games over the season inc. cup games and when Bobby F. needs a rest and when Origi remembers he’s a dog and starts playing fetch along with Alberto Moreno.
It seems like everyone with half an eye can see that Sturridge’s body can’t handle playing every week, but can he? Seems to me that behind door A is staying fit and contributing as a bit-part player, or behind door B is sitting on the treatment table, knowing you’re the main man but unable to do anything about it.
Lee (I actually hope he stays), LFC
Shut up, please
Can people please shut up with these pre-season awards and punditry. It is disgustingly nauseating to rule out a team from the title race even before a football is kicked.
A few seasons ago LVG was announced Man U coach. The team played good football in the pre-season. The link up play and attacking prowess was a marvel for all to see. During the first game the team lost to Swansea! The team went on to struggle that season with uninspiring displays.
Then came Mourinho. His team blew teams apart last season in the first 4 or so games. They were declared Champions League and EPL winners by pundits and plastic fans. This is the same squad that would go on to hump it forward to Fellaini mid-season as the only path to success during laboured displays. This is the same team that would go on to sell Henrikh and bench Pogba, two of the season’s early performers. This is the same Man U that would go on to rely on Young and Smalling in the back four. Who would ever think it would reach there?
It is annoying for fans and pundits to rule out Mourinho and his team before a ball is kicked. Most of his players are post the WC sojourns. It is sad that a team with Pogba, Fred, Matic, Herrera, Martial, Mata, Lukaku, Baily, De Gea, Sanchez (born winners and classy players ) is being ruled out of the title race because the coach has lamented of a poor pre-season and the lack of adequate preparations.
How many times has Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool been declared favourites before a ball is kicked and they perennially choke. Weren’t you the same guys who announced Chelsea favourites after their title triumph the previous season? How did they perform last season?
Please shut up!!!!
F365 seem to be a bit slow on the uptake of the Ozil statements, unless I’ve missed an article? A key player for one of the most successful national teams of recent years goes head to head with the national football body and the media with major accusations of institutional racism and with national leaders from two nations getting involved – I was looking forward to a good analysis piece but we’re just getting the headlines.
For my two cents I think Ozil is right to make the statements and the comments of Uli Hoeness only solidify the point. Have none of Ozils woefully underperforming team mates from the world cup not defended him in the group exit backlash? Hopefully it also highlights the media role in this – they are so powerful in guiding popular opinion (even if wrong or blinkered) then unleash the plague that is mass anonymous abuse through social media.
He looks happy in Arsenal pre-season, maybe a weight off his shoulders to get this issue out in the open and draw a line under his international career /be free of relentless media abuse… Although not entirely until Martin Keown is put back in his box.
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