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Top four v FA Cup
Taxson Singapore assumed that Arsenal and Chelsea fans would rather have top four than winning the cup. As an Arsenal supporter who has been lucky enough to be at the three FA Cup finals we have won since 2014 (2014 and 2017 cup finals were honestly some of my best ever days in 35 years of watching football), and unlucky enough to have been at the numerous absolute thrashings dished out by Bayern and Barca, I can assure him that I would be happy if we never got top four ever again.
John (Please please please please please please please please win Madrid) Foster, Brighton.
Two things Taxson:
1) Days out a Wembley (well victorious ones anyway) are always better than finishing 4th, but not actually winning anything.
2) Well done on neatly summarising why pretty much every neutral I know wants Real to win on Saturday
David, Hala Madrid, Sheffield
Whenever we are sitting with our rival supporters debating about the success of our teams and who is better you cannot point to the sticky notes in your trophy cabinet that say, “Finished 4th” “Finished 2nd” “Finished 3rd” as basis for your argument.
Qualification for the Champions League is excellent of course, but it is nothing compared to your club winning honest to goodness silverware.
Let’s say for example Pochettino ensures top four finishes for Spurs for the next 7 years but does not win a single trophy. Would that be considered as successful, by the supporters, than say four top four finishes and a League Cup, an FA Cup and a Europa League? I’d say no.
A famous betting company once said in jest (paraphrasing) that Arsenal were happy to be knocked out of the Champions League so they could fully focus on securing qualification for next year’s Champions League. And that seems to be the issue.
From a club owner’s viewpoint the money that comes with qualification is the most important thing. From a supporter’s viewpoint it really should be about the silverware in your trophy cabinet.
Curtis, Belfast, LFC. (If we don’t win No. 6 then Chelsea have had a better season than us)
Does anyone who seriously thinks that coming 4th is better than winning something ever stop to take a long hard look at themselves?
Have we all become accountants; money better than success? Isn’t the excitement of winning games, leading to cups and titles why we got into following football?
I do understand the logical and financial reasons behind the thought process but if I wanted logical and financial I spend more time at work rather than sat in a pub with my mates cheering on the team on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Sport is about winning; let’s keep it that way or have the number people already won?
Restoring the magic
After reading Taxson’s email in this morning’s mailbox about Spurs and Liverpool fans should be happier than Chelsea fans this morning, it got me thinking, we should give the FA Cup winner the fourth Champions League spot, not fourth place in the league.
Firstly, I’m a Spurs fan, we’ve not won the thing in ages, so I’m not trying to be self-serving here. Surely the name of the Champions League implies it should be teams that have generally won things? I can just about understand the top 3 in the league getting a spot, because in most sporting competitions you’d get a silver or bronze medal for finishing in these spots. However fourth place? Is that really more deserving of a spot in a so called league of champions than a team that have actually won what is supposedly a premium cup competition? It would also allow for teams outside the big 4/6 to get a chance to compete in the champions league, sure a team like Wigan may have got battered, but at least they were champions of something.
I’m sure people will tell me plenty of reasons why this is a stupid idea, but making big teams go all out to win the FA cup again can only be a good thing
The real league table
Third year in a row I am having a go at my completely uneducated end of season rankings (before many, many people point it out, I know the league table does this but it doesn’t factor in the cups or relative expectations…)
1. Manchester City. Has to be. 32 wins in the league is a stunning effort, while 100 points just do not fit on most league tables formatting. +79 goal difference puts them winning every game by more than two on average. Also added the Rumbelows. However, lost 5-1 on aggregate in the Champions League, also lost to Basle at home and dumped out of the FA Cup by a League One team…
2. Bournemouth. Scored more goals in the Premier League than Everton and nine more than Burney. Hammered Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and beat Arsenal. Finished level on points with tenth in the top flight in just the eighth season in their history outside the bottom two tiers. Dean Court has a capacity of 11,360 and yet Bournemouth compete in the same league as Spurs and Man Utd who had attendances of 81,978 and 75,118 this season.
3. Liverpool. Pre-season the BBC asked 40 pundits for their top four- twelve of them had Liverpool in fourth, two in third and three in second. 23 of them had no top four for Klopp. There was a sceptical response to summer signings (Salah? Too much. Oxlade-Chamberlain? £35m for a year left on his contract. Robertson? Just been relegated with Hull). And yet- highest ever single season scorers in the Champions League, record away win in the group stage, record away win in the knockouts, scored five in the semi-final first leg, scored five in the last sixteen first leg, put five past City on aggregate in the quarters. Beat City three times in a row, including ending their unbeaten season in the league. In the final of the actual Champions League.
4. Burnley. Seventh in the Premier League when they were so many people’s tips to go down and briefly threatened to overtake Arsenal. However, after Chelsea on the opening day they didn’t really beat anyone you wouldn’t expect them to and did nothing in the cups. Scored less than a goal a game and had a negative goal difference. Possibly the biggest beneficiaries from a poor Premier League.
5. Tottenham. Those famous 40 BBC pundits- one (Chris Waddle) said champions, one said runners up and only four said third. 34 of those pundits predicted Spurs would finish lower than they did. They were supposed to struggle at Wembley but they beat Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal there. Just such a crushing disappointment against Juventus, the FA Cup semi-final curse struck again and incredibly lost at home in the Littlewoods to West Ham.
6. Brighton and Hove Albion. Chris Hughton has done an incredible job (why is he never linked with the big jobs?). Only really tanked by Liverpool and Chelsea. Got to the quarters of the FA Cup, unleashed Pascal Gross and got 11 league goals out of Glenn Murray. Beat both Arsenal and Man Utd at the Amex.
7. Leicester City. Ninth, in the Premier League, and that is somehow a disappointment? So bad they sacked their manager (Craig Shakespeare was still in charge in October- that seems weird) but still finished ninth in the top flight of English football. Lost on penalties to City in the quarters of the Worthingtons and after extra time to Chelsea in the quarters of the FA Cup, both the eventual winners. Vardy smacked 20 in the league but it was all a disappointment. I don’t get it.
8. Crystal Palace. Should be lower really when taking the whole season into consideration but we all love a bit of recentism. Missed a last minute penalty to take Man City’s unbeaten record in the league. Lead Utd two-nil only to lose three-two and also lead Liverpool amongst others. Didn’t score in their first seven matches (!) but ended the season with four wins out of five and played some lovely football. If they can keep the squad together, sign a real goalkeeper and a striker they should be pressing for Europe next season.
9. Chelsea. Won the FA Cup. Yes. Pushed Barcelona hard in the Champions League. Yes. Beat Atletico away in the Champions League. Yes. But lost to Arsenal in the semis of the Carling, lost three-nil at home to Bournemouth and four-one away at Watford in successive matches. Battered at home by Spurs and away by Newcastle. Lost at home to Burnley and somehow lost to Palace, who hadn’t scored a single goal to that point. Lost one in sixteen at one point which included eleven wins. Fair to say it was an up and down season for Chelsea.
10. Newcastle. The media narrative seems to be that Rafa has worked miracles to keep a Championship squad in the Premier League. Well, as we now know that ‘Championship squad’ had the ninth highest wage bill in the country last season, who knows what it is this season. Lost nearly half their games but crept up to tenth with results at the business end of the season. Perez was top scorer in the league with eight. For all the travails, finished level of points with a team that lost their first seven games without scoring.
11. Huddersfield Town. I am not sure I am having the Huddersfield fairy tale in the same way that everyone else seems to be. Scored 28 goals in the league (28!). Beat one half decent team all season (but that was Man Utd). Shipped four against Bournemouth and West Ham and five against Arsenal. Not much in the cups and never did get to the magical 40 points. Won one of their last ten (and three of their last twenty) in the League.
12. Manchester United. One last time with the BBC pundits- 13 of them had Man Utd as Champions, another 13 had them second. Runners-up really is minimum performance criteria stuff. Lost to Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle in the league, lost to Bristol City in the Milk Cup and dumped out of the Champions League by the seventh best team in Spain. The season was supposed to be saved by a trophy but that wasn’t to be. The manager fell out with/ alienated the players in what was supposed to be the successful second season, what will the famous Jose Mourinho third season bring?
13. Everton. Bit of a no-mans-land for the second season in a row for the Toffees. Eighth in the league after Big Sam came a saved them from the torment of thirteenth. Minus fourteen goal difference and lost only one game fewer than Southampton. Spent a metric f*ck tonne in the summer to get considerably worse. Their top scorer didn’t score after Christmas. Nothing in the cups and managed to lose five in a row in the Europa League.
14. Watford. Finished fourteenth.
15. West Ham. Crawled up to thirteenth but were so bad that they caused a riot at one point. Employed David Moyes against all reason but he got a tune out of Marko Arnautović and ultimately did enough. Quarters of the FA Cup. If they can get one of the big names they are talking about they could be OK next season, however you fear that they will unveil Tony Pulis at any point…
16. Swansea City. Looked like they would get out of it. Carvalhal was manager of the year at one point (according to Jose) after beating Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley in a run of 10 points from 12 but didn’t win in their last nine games and lost their last five. Got to the quarters of the FA Cup but ultimately you were left with the feeling that the squad just wasn’t good enough.
17. Southampton. Took the decision to sell all of their best players and replace them with rubbish ones and paid the price. Took the decision to sack the chap who took them to eighth and the Coca-Cola final last season and paid the price. Didn’t seem capable of scoring for most of the season (but somehow scored more than Burnley) and only just pulled through when it mattered. Will not be looking for a repeat next season.
18. Arsenal. Lost thirteen games in the league. Didn’t take a single point away from home in 2018 until the last day. Closer to bottom of the table than top. Lost in the third round of the FA Cup… to Nottingham Forest… conceding four. Lost to Brighton, Watford, Swansea, Newcastle and Bournemouth. The 2017/18 Season DVD will not be a big seller.
19. West Brom. I feel for Darren Moore but has to be seen as an absolute disaster for the Baggies. Alan Pardew? Alan Pardew! Who knew that would be a catastrophe? Pulis was poor and disinterested, Chunky was just poor. The Barcelona trip just crystallises the mess but they eye-bleedingly bad at points (eight defeats in a row). Somehow won at Anfield in the FA Cup.
20. Stoke City. Abject. Who employs Paul Lambert in 2018? I love Peter Crouch as much as the next man but to have him leading the line in the Premier League is criminal. Terrible signings, awful attitude and briefly fell below West Brom at the end. Still, at least Mark Hughes has never been relegated eh?
The new manager
With the new Arsenal manager yet to be decided maybe the club could take a revolutionary step and make the fans the manager – weekly votes for starting 11’s and transfers anyone?
In true Mailbox style I’ve compiled a starting 11 from players every fan wanted us to get at some point in time, surely it will wipe the floor with the rest of the league?
GK: Shay Given (when we were having ‘keeper troubles he was many fans shining beacon)
RB: Micah Richards (omg why don’t City play him? That’s why.)
CB: Phil Jones (Somehow still at a top club, everyone wanted him and his good pal….)
CB: Christopher Samba (…Samba – we could have made Blackburn part of our spine, he went to Russia and disappeared)
LB: Leighton Baines (To be fair he was pretty decent but the 60s fringe hid the fact he was actually 43)
RM: Pedro (A bit of a nothing player, nice to have when Messi is tired but never going to light up anything)
CM: Morgan Schneiderlin (The answer to a problem we ended up filling with Coq)
CM: Tom Cleverly (If Jack Wilshere had stopped learning how to play when he was 9 and concentrated purely on drinking milk for his bones you get Cleverly)
LM: Riyad Mahrez (One season wonder, like Salah will be ~controversial~)
ST: Shane Long (probably due to him being a bit of a bastard against Arsenal, never did well against anyone else)
ST: Michu (hahahahahaha remember him?)
Yeah on second thoughts can we just have Emery please…
I wrote in last week to slate Jose Mourinho for his treatment of strikers and flair players at United and stated that he has inherited attacks but not built one. I was sure I was right but decided to do some more digging across all the clubs Jose has managed. The list of the strikers (not wingers that converted) Jose has signed since he left Porto for Chelsea is below, I discounted Porto as it was 20 years ago and difficult to be objective:
Mateja Kezman – Chelsea from PSV – established
Didier Drogba – Chelsea from Marseille – established
Ben Sahar – Chelsea from Tel Aviv – back in Israel
Andrei Shevchenko – Chelsea from AC Milan – Bought by Roman?
Victor Obinna – Inter from Verona – now in South Africa
Riccardo Meggiorini – Inter from Cittadella – now at Chievo
Diego Milito – Inter from Genoa – retired
Samuel Eto’o – Inter from Barcelona – established
Emmanuel Adebayor – Real Madrid from Man City – established
Stipe Perica – Chelsea from NK Zadar – at Udinese
Diego Costa – Chelsea from Atletico Madrid – back at Atletico
Loic Remy – Chelsea from QPR – on loan at Getafe
Nathan – Chelsea from Atletico PR – on loan at Belenenses
Falcao – Chelsea from Monaco (after United had him on loan) – established
Romelu Lukaku – Man Utd from Everton
It’s not black and white but, looking through that list, Drogba was amazing, Costa effective and Lukaku doing well but the others were either already well established as top strikers and/or never made an impact. It’s also interesting that despite the large kitty, Jose only bought Adebayor at Real Madrid, as he inherited such a good forward line. This is the root of my concern at United, we’ve bought Lukaku and Sanchez, who was arguably not needed and hasn’t made much impact, instead of developing the arguably more talented Rashford and Martial. Drogba was the perfect Jose player, huge target man who scored goals, Lukaku is similar but doesn’t yet bully defences like Drogba but this all points to a manager who doesn’t change his approach. Defend like hell, hit the target man and feed off the scraps, which is why Martial and Rashford don’t get as much time as Lingard, in my opinion.
Here’s to many more years of pragmatism and target strikers! Great.
Paul, Man Utd
So Matic thinks United need more old, experienced players, does he?
As Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs are all failing with their policy of signing players to grow into a team.
No. United need to buy young and build a team over several seasons, and to stop buying 29 year olds that are already past their best.
Matic, Sanchez, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, Schweinsteiger etc etc all actively have harmed United.
Matic is an excellent player, but next season he’ll be a bit worse than this, whereas if they’d bought Fabinho instead next season he’d be a bit better. And the next. And the next. And the next.
If Sanchez hadn’t been signed, Martial and Rashford would be playing and improving Instead of rotting.
Jose is going to leave United worse off than when he found them, with the exact same rebuilding job required but minus the bright youth he inherited.
And I have no sympathy, they knew exactly what he would do.
Fulham will finish above United next season, it’s nailed on.
Tim Sutton (didn’t say which United)
Our friends in the north…
I know I may have already mentioned the lack of coverage for football ( we call it fitbaw) up here in sunny Scotland but this weekend was surely a contender for at least a half a paragraph of copy.
On the Friday we had the brilliant sportsmanship of Glasgow junior side Rossvale. Rossvale Juniors were going for the title and rejected a recent request from a rival Team to forfeit a game as the award of 3 points would have automatically confirmed Rossvale as League champions. Rossvale requested to delay the game in order to ensure any league won was based purely on merit. Congratulations are due after Friday nights clinching of the title.
On Saturday, Celtic and the sites old pal Brendan Rodgers claimed an unprecedented Double Treble. A feat never achieved before..coverage in Football 365…nada…well none that the sites Search Function could even find
On Sunday we saw Livingston FC beat Partick Thistle to attain promotion to the SPFL. Livingston have literally had more comebacks from the dead than Lazarus and shocked everyone with a double rise through the leagues in the last 2 seasons. Some Stoke fans may remember that Livingston is where Paul Lamberts Management teeth were first cut and swiftly pulled out.
I know John Nicholson lives up here and champions our game now and again but all we ask is you remember that football life in the UK doesn’t stop at Newcastle and big Mike Ashleys wallet phobia
Paul Healy, Glasgow Celtic Champions – again
Brackley v Bromley
On a weekend when two of the biggest clubs in the country gifted the world a joyless showcase of the one of the greatest cup competitions, the non-league finals day produced a wonderful antidote on the same Wembley pitch 24 hours later.
The game between Brackley Town and Bromley was genuinely spectacular – it could easily have ended 6-6. The favourites, Bromley, took a deserved 1.0 lead after twenty minutes. But even before then both sides had contrived to miss open goals. Brackley dispensed with their ineffective 3 at the back strategy and threw on all their attacking players. Bromley, to their credit, reacted by doing the same. Within the space of 5 minutes Brackley had hit the post, had the ball twice cleared off the line, and then missed another open goal. Bromley had similar chances and should sealed the win in the 88th minute; by then, those around me in Brackley end were rehearsing our ‘it was never meant to be’ speeches. Mine was perfected when, on the 94th minute, another goalmouth scramble ensued as the ball ricocheted off the post into ex-Premier League player Roger Johnson, and dribbled over line: own goal. 1.1. Scenes and ruined shins! Extra time!
I suspect many reading this share my affinity with the idea that misery and suffering is an essential and irreplaceable part of the experience of being a football fan, but by Christ it was wonderful to feel the joy for once. A 94th minute equalizer! At Wembley! That shit happens to other people! The crowd atmosphere was great all game. Extra-time followed the similarly bonkers pattern then the shoot-out began with Bromley scoring and Brackley missing. Genuine commiserations to all the superb Bromley fans as their team eventually had a kick to win it but missed. Then they missed again. Brackley scored to steal the fantastically tin-pot trophy. However, what stood-out from the occasion was just how fun it was; and all for £12. The fact both teams were a bit crap made it all the more entertaining. I’d encourage anyone in the vicinity of the stadium or with a even a tangential connection to the finalists next year to consider going.
In the meantime, I am back at Wembley for the slightly more serious business of Fulham Vs Aston Villa on Saturday. My mate supports the former and has kept taking me to games at Craven Cottage: while the fact that they are a bloody good team helps, 8 wins of out my 8 visits there this season means my friend insists I keep going. The twisted logic of football being what it is, I am now mentally preparing myself for a 4.0 Villa win…
Jake (OUFC [when permitted])
Thank you, Johnny
Can I please just say how f***ing brilliant this article by John Nicholson is.
For everyone out there, if you do nothing else today, please just read it.
Thank you John for highlighting such an issue. A touching, humbling, well written article that everyone ought to see.
Once again you guys have outdone yourself.
When I was 8 my granddad committed Suicide. I’m 31 now myself with two sons and this has had a great impact on my interaction with them.
My grandparents emigrated to England from Jamaica in the late 50’s and my grandad was a hard working real mans man. I think this is probably why there was no note left to explain his decision for my nan, mum, uncles and aunts. No doubt he thought he would be seen as soft or losing it to speak up.
I wish the knowledge and support available now was around then.
Long story less long your article this morning really hit home how important it is we speak about issues like these to our sons, dads, brothers and friends. You never know what someone could be going through.
Articles like that are why this is easily the best football website. Thanks lads.