Keep those mails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org…
Has Solskjaer been ‘spooked’?
Daniel Storey has written about his hypothesis of Ole being “spooked” by the 6-1 and basically telling his players not to attack anyone else for the remainder of the season for fear of losing.
I’d like to present a different take on the situation. First, is there any difference between Ole getting spooked by one result and Pep opting to not go all out against United when they played us in PL, knowing what happened the last time City did that (twice) against us last season? City push their full-backs as high as they will go against pretty much every team. Against United in the two games this season, they were waiting for the right moments to go forward and were more focused on not playing to United’s strengths, which is the counter. Pretty much every team knows this about United, so they alter their tactics accordingly. The point I’m trying to make is that United, or any other team for that matter, doesn’t get to play out their tactics in isolation to what the other team is doing. Whatever is the playstyle that you choose, other teams have the option of playing in a way that neutralizes you.
At the moment, United are not good enough to dominate these games and have completely shifted away from just trying to counterattack (which was very effective last season). This shift has resulted in a better PPG overall for the season, but worse results against the bigger teams. United aren’t very good at dominating games (yet) because we have really only started trying to play this way this season. Mourinho certainly didn’t try to dominate games of this nature, and last season we only played to defend and then counterattack. Basically, at the highest level, against the Big 6 or teams with high quality players, dominating games is hard, and the shift in playstyle is not minor so it will take time to develop. Also, Rashford, Martial, James, and Greenwood are all still pretty young players.
So why is Ole trying to get United to play a different way? Obviously because that is a more sustainable way to win things long-term (or at least Ole believes so, and I agree with him). But, in all honesty, we are not suited to play any other style other than counterattack with the players we have at the moment. Fred and McT aren’t really going to dominate the midfield and our forwards are far too inconsistent/have poor decision making. We are also playing without our best CM (in-form Pogba) and our best CF at the moment. Bruno is man-marked pretty heavily wherever he goes on the pitch, and there isn’t a consistent threat from pretty much anyone else at the moment Mou would most certainly have had us sit back and counter, but at the moment, United are trying to learn how to play a different style. I like that we are at least making the attempt to control these “Big Games”. IMO, it’s also an explanation for the haphazard, inconsistent and unpredictable nature of United’s games and our season as a whole so far. Bearing that in mind, I don’t think our record against the ‘Big 6’ this season is as much of a disaster as it is being portrayed. Also, we are picking up 1.92 points per game this season despite a much worse record against the Big 6 as opposed to 1.73 ppg last season when we had a much better record against the Big 6. This improvement is largely down to the shift in our playstyle.
MM, Man United, India
Do people like Roy Keane as a pundit?
I want to start this rather long email by making a few things clear:
1. I have huge respect and admiration for Keane as a person and a player.
2. This is not because I’m a Spurs fan and feel aggrieved at his comments about Spurs having an average team. We have a lot of average players I agree.
3. I realise that this question also comes down to personal preference of what you want out of a pundit, along with Keane being hired to express his opinions.
Do people like Roy Keane as a pundit? Personally I don’t. He is far from the worst, there are certainly many pundits who are far weaker, some who are only there to be blatant fans of their former clubs offering little else or who struggle to speak let alone express an opinion. Naturally many people, myself included, are more likely to respect Keane’s views as a pundit because of who he is and what he achieved in comparison to other former players.
Over the last 10 years there has been a shift to more detailed analysis by pundits of tactics, systems and statistics – this is typified by Neville, Carragher and their work on MNF. Personally, this is something I enjoy greatly not just in football but across other sports. I had a debate with a friend recently (a Man Utd fan from Cork no less) after we both read a piece online about Keane’s comments that Liverpool were “bad champions”. The piece suggested that Keane’s comments were nonsensical, what did ‘bad champions’ even mean and that Keane could potentially be more interesting if he gave his thoughts, for example, on why Thiago has struggled as a former great central midfielder. Again, personally, I agreed I’d much rather hear Keane’s thoughts on such topics. My friend argued that Keane keeps things simple and focuses on the basics of the game – work rate, energy, passion, hunger, desire.
These basics are undoubtedly essential to success in sport but I often feel nowadays pundits lose me when it’s all they speak about without much tactical analysis. It has been a great coup on Sky’s part to hire Keane for the amount of interest, controversy and viewership he brings. How many times have the words “HEATED DEBATE” been used in the title of videos containing Keane, and how many millions of views have they brought to Sky across YouTube and social media. Keane is box office entertainment, something he knows himself and I believe plays up to. He’s hired to express his opinions, there is no onus on him to give a tactical analysis if he doesn’t wish too. While it makes for great TV to hear Keane say he’d box the head off De Gea or roll his eyes at Gary Neville, I’ve grown tired of it. Curious to hear if others agree.
Fionn, Dublin. (Still Jose Out)
United v Chelsea thoughts
I found your 16 conclusions article on the Chelsea v united game extremely strange.
You wait till conclusion 9 to discuss the most defining part of the match with the United penalty incident & then just brush over it like it didn’t happen or wasn’t important. You then go on to hammer United for not scoring. Pretty sure a deserved penalty would have helped.
With two equally match, flawed teams, these kind of decisions absolutely define a game & to gloss over it, just feels bizarre.
The penalty incident gets about four lines so go elsewhere if you want to masturbate furiously over that…https://t.co/HIXRKyhrO4
— Football365 (@F365) March 1, 2021
In addition, Mounts kick out on Fred goes unmentioned, which should have been a red in the 50th minute. This was very similar to the Maguire kick out that v Chelsea that Chelsea fans still talk about & numerous media outlets wrote about at length claiming that the non-red card defined the game, which I agree with.
United can now add this game to the Shef United & West Brom matches where the on field ref has made the wrong call & then compounded by VAR. That’s 7 points. If they go in our favour & to be honest all of them should have, we’d find ourselves in an unlikely title race (which we wouldn’t have won). You could even chuck in that city v Villa offside decision to make it even tighter.
And yet, despite all this it’s still commonly written & said by opposition managers that United get all the favourable decisions. When United do get decisions, we’re treated too articles reviewing those decisions in the finest detail, like your article last year when you broke down every united penalty decision, but when they go against us, they’re just brushed off like they’re not important.
I don’t know if Matt Stead likes United or not & frankly I don’t care, I do however, want to read balanced informative articles whereby the big issues are discussed & dissected by really good football writers. Seemingly all the big issues of yesterdays game were dismissed.
The penalty issue, mounts potential red card, Lindelofs excellent performance, Tuchels missed opportunity by not playing pace & instead opting to target DDG’s reluctance to come for crosses hence playing Giroud & Ziyech, United’s lack of a true number 9 continuing to cost them.
As a final separate point, I’ve come to conclusion that I’m not enjoying football as much with VAR in place. VAR brings with it a (misplaced) belief that by & large the right decision will be reached, however, all it does is to increase the annoyance when different decisions on similar matters are made every game.
Lee Mason is the only villian
Chris Bridgeman, I fear you have allowed your self confessed hatred of VAR to cloud your judgement of Saturday’s incident.
There’s only one man who is to blame for it and that’s the man who’s proven over the months and years to be, as Nuno Santos paid £25,000 to highlight, incompetent as a referee (and its saying something to be visible more incompetent amongst this current standard of PL refereeing!!)… The one and only Lee Mason!
Incompetence No.1 – telling Dunk he can now take a quick free kick when WBA are still setting up their defensive all.
You rightly point out this is not the current interpretation of the law and so he should never have said yes.
Incompetence No.2 – having told Dunk he can take it quickly, he then backtracks and blows his whistle a 2nd time. You can argue this is him making up for his initial mistake; but I’d say it’s just a man who’s mind has no clue what to do!!
Incompetence 3 – allowing Dunk to convince him to change his mind again and now ALLOW the goal to be given!!!! I mean seriously, this guy is more weak minded than a Storm Trooper!!! This IS the goal you’re looking for!!!!!
VAR, who Chris wants to blame for this whole mess, actually doesn’t get involved until Mason nearly takes his f**kwittery to unprecedented levels and awards a ridiculously unfair goal!! If anything, VAR is the saviour of the situation. Their reasoning may be stupid and feel made up (it’s not, the moment a ref’s whistle blows in the Laws is the end of all situations and always has been), but at least they came to the right conclusion eventually!!!
Paul (Spurs), T.Wells
First things first, to Chris Bridgeman, Kingston upon Thames, you ask “Does anyone think, for a second, that in those circumstances three or four years ago, Lee Mason wouldn’t have simply called back play and had the kick retaken?” and essentially place the blame for the entire situation squarely at the feet of VAR. To me, it appears you’re ignoring or forgetting one vital piece of information: Lee Mason awarded the goal. VAR brought him back and pointed out that he had blown the whistle a second time before the ball crossed the line. The goal wasn’t disallowed because the keeper wasn’t set, it was disallowed because Mason for whatever reason decided to blow the whistle a second time. (Also, the English huddle had broken up before the penalty to Wales, the English winger on the other side was already back in a defensive position when the kick was taken – some English defenders were just slow to get into position)
This brings me to my next point. I know people don’t like comparing sports, but football really could learn from sports, like rugby, which have the refs mic’d up to the broadcast (or even the NFL where the umpires announce to the crowd in the stadium why penalties are being given). The ‘he said, he said’ issue around Luke Shaw and Stuart Attwell would never have occurred if everyone could hear what the ref is saying. Lewis Dunk pointed out that he has to go out and face the media but Lee Mason doesn’t. Again, if the ref is mic’d to the broadcast we wouldn’t really need the ref to face the press because we’d already know what he said and his reasoning behind it.
I know the big issue with this is that the various footballing authorities don’t want the refs mic’d up because then everyone would hear the abuse they get from players during the game, but if the refs actually punished abusive behaviour like they’re meant to, that would be stamped out fairly quick too.
Barca job for Arteta
Seeing reports Arteta is in the running for Barcelona.
If he did, following what he came into with Arsenal, we’ll know comprehensively that he’s a masochist.
That club isn’t so much a tyre fire as an unchecked Australian wildfire. They’ll be uncovering financial ‘irregularities’ there for the next decade.
Think of adding “sat beside Pep for a bit” to my CV. Clearly does wonders for potential employment opportunities. https://t.co/ntZ6nSHE1c
— Enda Higgins (@endahiggins88) March 1, 2021
Another farcical weekend for English football. Brighton have been mugged, and that could affect them staying in the league. Poor really, how the standard of refereeing can stay so poor. VAR is meant to help not cause more and more aggro. I don’t think it helps the majority of refs probably never played any form of football so don’t really understand the game, but it’s getting ridiculous. Again in the Chelsea/United game, it’s probably a penalty on the balance of how they’ve been given, whether people like it or not, you can’t change the rules half way through a season as it’s not a level playing field then, like the fa cup, can only use VAR at a premier league ground, whole basis of the competition isn’t fair and equal then so what literally is the point. The English game is becoming a joke. I know a lot of things are opinion based, but how can do many people have the wrong opinion when they can view it about 40 times is beyond me.
Football is broken…
Watching this seasons premier league has been terrible. Yes we can blame the pandemic for the majority of it, but mostly because of the lack of fans. Football’s integrity is upheld by the fans and without the fans, cheating, play acting etc has become a lot more prevalent.
Yesterday Manchester United manager all but said there is a conspiracy against his side which was backed up by his captain over the past few weeks and Luke shaw yesterday.
This is terrible for football. The problem is there is nobody holding these guys accountable. Would Maguire rashford fernandes etc., flop around on the ground like a vintage neymar if 50,000 were in the stands looking at them. Maybe but not nearly half as much.
I for one cringe now when watching some teams in the premier league. Like Maguire diving last week, that’s a 6’5 centre back who has been in conversations for England captaincy and he’s showing character like that??? It’s embarrassing, i can’t recall many centre backs diving.
No team is without its ‘play actors’ and it’s ruining football. Massive problem is utd are probably the worst for it and the United media are painting a narrative that what they are doing is completely acceptable. It’s ruining the game and I for one cannot wait for fans to be allowed back into grounds to hold these players accountable.
Excellent article @JN, really brought out the salient points. It’s weird to hear that some profit off such mindless abuse, and rake in the cash regardless.
The article mentions that closing off the the comments may also mean losing out on the good stuff. Perhaps, for sanity and integrity’s sake, this is what should be done. Because, until we begin to speak up for ourselves in the battle, the abuse will continue.
The greatest responsibility, however, lies with those who gather around and watch a fight, rather than break it up, and those who create an avenue for evil to thrive. Indeed, the love of money does strange things to a man’s soul, and those who are normal yet quietly find entertainment in another’s anguish should be held to account, and those who are silent should be challenged to speak out too.
Excellent article, it was heart warming to read, and the indignation did pour forth.
One can only assume that John Nicholson has never read the daily lunchtime feature on a popular football website that watches media activity and often criticises journalists, and may have inadvertently had a hand in stoking the fires of those on social media who take things too far.
Or maybe he does and chose to ignore it.
John Nicholson’s most recent books have put forth the theory that top flight football on free to air television will inspire more children to play football and gain the health benefits of being active. I can’t imagine he had games like yesterday’s meeting of Crystal Palace and Fulham in mind, unless it was the sense of “oh, Palace are on, let’s go for a walk instead of watching this tripe”. That’s a bit harsh on the Cottagers, who created some decent chances and kept Gary Cahill and Vicente Guaita busy.
Palace seemed to approach this game with all the enthusiasm of an academic child made to do a cross country run in PE. This was something to be endured and got through with as little effort expended as possible. This was perhaps summed up midway through the second half, when a potential counterattack was neutralised by Luka Milivojevic walking the ball through midfield, allowing the acres of space in front of him to shrink. Or maybe by Patrick van Aanholt, whose forward runs from left-back usually provide valuable support for Wilfried Zaha, but who seemed to spend most of Palace’s time in possession standing still. Apparently, an “unnamed Champions League side” is interested in his services for next season, possibly narrowed down by him being a player you can easily imagine moving to Turkey.
In a way, I’m glad that there was a chance for other people to see what Palace fans are annoyed about, and all the elements were there. The absolute lack of attacking endeavour for long periods; the way that Roy Hodgson’s reaction was to take off the only player with the potential to spark something, and replace him with a defensive midfielder; the way that they approach every game in the manner of a non-league side facing a Premier League club in the FA Cup, uncomfortable with all the attention they are receiving. In some ways, it seems like he is using the lack of fans – who would certainly be vocal in their displeasure – to indulge in his penchant for dire football. Or maybe he’s doing it to get the rubbish games out of the system so that when fans can come back, things are much better, a footballing version of theatre’s bad rehearsal, great performance maxim.
The BBC even covered these complaints with the cursory mentions for “be careful what you wish for” in discussion of who will take over from Hodgson when his contract expires, with a reference to Charlton Athletic and Alan Curbishley. What gets forgotten about that situation is that Curbishley agreed not to renew his contract to take some time away from football, and the Addicks turned first to Iain Dowie, then Les Reed and Alan Pardew, which I don’t think will be an issue for Palace. In case the message of “stick with what you know or someone who knows the league” was too subtle, the BBC even had Mark Hughes in the studio, giving further credence to the At the Bridge podcast’s theory he will be the next man in charge at Selhurst Park (hi Mikey).
Next up for the Eagles, they host Manchester United. This will either be a bloodbath, or incredibly funny for someone.