Mails: We’re all privileged to watch Pep’s City…

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Buffon’s a bufoon
Spot on this morning Johnny Nic, eloquently summarising all that makes me so frustrated with the game I love that culminated in the downright anger I have felt towards Buffon since THAT incident.

There is an element of ‘won’t someone think of the children!’ hysteria here but, all I can do is think that this will only add grist to the local football mill and make such behaviour acceptable on the field the following Sunday.

Having said that, I don’t know how it will be possible to make any cultural changes though as it is so entrenched. This is summed up by one of my old mates who was once the head of refereeing at a local County FA. His job was to organise the referee activity for that county, booking refs for fixtures, organising training and development, dealing with match issues, etc, etc. A pretty full on job most of us who have been exposed to local Sunday morning football would agree. And someone who would have a degree of empathy with the man/woman in black you would assume.

And yet whenever I watched a game with him, either on telly or in person something flipped and he turned into the fan-coach caricature Johnny so finely captured. Including down to the abuse and beration of officials of that game. When questioned why he did this when, clearly, due to his profession he might want to be a bit more thoughtful to the colleagues he works with each week, he merely said that his personal viewing had nothing to do with his profession and he was merely objectively calling out bad decisions and mistakes (in his view).

So here is someone at the heart of the game, with intimate knowledge and understanding of the issues faced by officials at local and national level and he still chose to indulge in his right to abuse officials when watching a game. It’s enough to make you weep.
Anon (for a change to protect the, ahem, ‘guilty’ party), Somewhere

Clever Trev
A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure of coaching footie at a summer school for kids aged eight to about 14 run by Trevor Brooking and my brother in law.

People who saw him as a player used to refer to him as a gentleman. Well I can confirm this transferred itself to his coaching of youngsters.

Unlike some professionals who put their name to a summer school and turn up at the beginning and the end, Trevor was there all day, every day chatting to kids and parents.

The point of this is to say he was passionate about the fact that the game should be played in the correct manner which was to win if at all possible, but for kids it’s about learning skills, making mistakes without judgement or criticism and above all to enjoy themselves. Also, not to challenge the decision of the referee.

At the end of every session there would be a game of some sort. We devised a mini World Cup tournament. Parents would turn up for these games and guess what? There would be one or more of these ‘coaching ‘ parents shouting ridiculous things at these kids who would look scared and embarrassed if the comments were directed at them.

What I respected Trevor for was that if these comments started he would stop the game and give everyone a firm reminder that this was a summer school and that kids were there to enjoy themselves. This speech would always receive a round of applause confirming perhaps that these idiots are in the minority but their influence can be significant as they are the ones shouting loudest.

For that school at least, the curse of parent ‘coaching’ was eradicated but unfortunately, it is so endemic in the coaching of our youngsters now, I suspect that the games where there are no parent ‘coaches’ are few and far between.
Roger, THFC

Blinded by Sterling
Another mailbox, another gripe about Raheem Sterling’s finishing. Apparently, he’s a “hindrance” because he misses *so* many chances.

Let’s start by saying outright that this is obvious nonsense, even before we look at the stats. Guardiola is a coach who clearly knows what he’s doing and who has a bunch of other attacking options at his disposal. Sterling plays because he brings quality. Their 2nd top scorer is not conceivably a “hindrance” for god’s sake. In any case, Sterling’s scored 22 times from 88 shots in the PL and Champions League, a conversion rate of 25%. That’s better than Kane, Aguero and Salah.

But let’s say we still think Sterling is a poor finisher, that we believe our eyes not the stats, that he’s only fourth top scorer in the league because he’s had so many easy chances. Why isn’t that valued? Movement is one of football’s key skills. The ability to pick up space, to time runs, to anticipate where the ball will drop or when and where your team mate will have time to pick you out, these aren’t abilities that everyone has. It’s baffling to me that such a contribution for a team dependent on finding small spaces in packed penalty areas could be dismissed so readily.

Like Andrew Cole before him, Sterling occasionally snatching at presentable chances seems to be blinding people to just how impressive it is to arrive at the right time so often.
Jack Saunders

…Below is a list of the top 5 goal scorers in the Premier League. The first number is the amount of shots they take per game, the second is total shots taken this season, the 3rd is goals scored and the last is conversion rate (Stats taken from Whoscored this morning and all Premier League).

Mohamed Salah 4 128 30 23.44%
Harry Kane 5.2 165 25 15.15%
Sergio Agüero 3.8 94 21 22.34%
Raheem Sterling 2.7 78 17 21.79%
Jamie Vardy 1.9 60 17 28.33%

I understand that just looking at stats can be misleading, and Sterling has had a rough week with the misses in the derby and a couple in the Spurs game but frankly I think to claim he is a hindrance is complete rubbish. Firstly, the fact Sterling is even on the above list shows a simple metric of his huge importance. He is a winger, though given licence to get into the box regularly, he still ends up with a fair amount of chalk on his boots. If being in the top 5 goal scorers the weekend after the league was won, doubling your best ever goal return and being an integral part of a team that is talked about being one of the best (however right or wrong) is a hindrance then I think you are setting the bar too high for a 23 year old. Even forgetting the points Sterling’s late goals won us at the beginning of the season where we set the foundations for our dominant season he has still maintained a very high level throughout the season. I haven’t read much of the reaction to the Liverpool game at the Etihad due to being too gutted, but Sterling had a great game in terms of pressing harrying and winning the ball back. Frankly if a player who is so clearly a confidence player can make such a marked improvement from last season to this season while being repeatedly put down and told he’s not good enough I can’t wait to see him next year.

I think because Sterling has now been about since 2012 which feels like an age in Premier League terms, people think he’s done improving and is as close to the finished article as he ever will be. Danny Mills on the BBC was saying that Pep has improved his positioning and confidence but hasn’t ‘made him strike the ball any better’ and technically he’s at the same level. I disagree with that, and have read Sterling point towards extra training with Arteta specifically on how he strikes the ball for a cleaner contact. Clearly, he has a huge amount of room to improve, but I don’t think there’s anything to stop him from reaching that level. In context Sane is only a year younger than him, but no one thinks he’s done improving.

This is a 23 year old who in the Premier League has played under 3 different managers in Rogers, Pellegrini and Pep changing every 2 years who, while all playing attacking football, have very different styles, both as tacticians and as human managers. Now presuming Pep doesn’t leave in the summer (and hopefully extends his contract) Sterling will get the consistency of playing in a style, with the same young players around him and the same manager. Personally, I am backing him to remain an integral part of this team for many years to come.
DBM (This Monday morning is definitely a lot better in the office than last) MCFC

Now I’m a believer
When City appointed Pep I had real doubts. I never doubted his skill as a manager or tactician, I simply consider the Premier League to be a level above La Liga and the Bundesliga in terms of overall quality and competitive, in addition to there being more top quality teams in the Premier League. I also doubted that generally more open and expansive Premier League would allow him to play his open and expansive football without burning him on the break. He proved me incredibly wrong on both accounts.

I still think the overall quality of the Premier League is higher, what I think underlines his brilliance is that not only did he come in and win, he raised the bar so much higher. I think the job he’s done has and will continue to raise the level of the other elite teams. Liverpool and Spurs continue improving (I’m biased but I think Liverpool have a higher ceiling right now) and with a change of manager at Arsenal and Chelsea (Arsenal also need heavy investment) will also be back up there. Man United are a special case to me because I don’t think they are sustainable because of the way Mourinho manages but I still think they are generally better than when LVG was there (although god help me that performance against Went Brom was an inexplicable footballing equivalent of white dwarf collapsing into a neutron star).

What impresses me most about the way his team performs is that the onslaught of their footballing blitzkrieg largely prevents their opponents from striking back on the break. And I don’t blame the tactical fouling, I don’t believe they’re the only team that does it and I don’t think that’s down to their success. The way he pushes his team up looking for the incisive pass means that the first thing the opposing team needs to do is find an outlet to get the ball out of danger rather than immediately go on the front foot.

The bottom line is that while I had my doubts, Pep made a believer out of me. Even though I am not a City supporter, I view watching this City side as like watching the F1 greats (Schumacher/Senna/Prost) at the peak of their power, you just feel privileged to witness such greatness.
Paul S., LFC, Baltimore, MD, USA

City and United
As a United fan, I can wholeheartedly say that City 100% deserve the title with 5 games to spare, top notch from them and Pep. Not only did they playing entertaining, high tempo and attractive football ALL season, they managed to defend better as a unit since last season and develop youngster at the same time in players such as Stones, Sane, Sterling & Jesus. Watching the game against Spurs, they found a weakness with Spurs playing a very high line and took advantage of it and sustained the high pressure they have been showing all season. They may have lost 3 on the bounce recently, but when it came down to overall consistency and quality over the duration of the season, they have made some teams look laughable.

With United though, there seems to be a great mix of complacency (Due to Mourinho) and ruthfulness in-front of goal. I for one have no bloody idea why it took United so long to get into second gear yesterday, its as if the players thought they had won before the game got started. It was great spirit from Untied for coming back against a City team (who did rest Walker, De Bruyne & Aguero because they had bigger things to worry about for Champions League Quarter final 2nd leg), but it seemed like the team only responded because they didn’t have a choice in the matter. City did get complacent at half time, but one thing City do is that they actually try and develop the players they purchase, especially the younger ones. Compare Sterling & Martial for example, two very similar players, as Sterling has 22 goals in 42 appearances this year, and Martial hasn’t even scored 22 goals in his last two seasons at the club. Mind you this is a player who was bought for 40 Million. Its the same with Rashford too. Mourinho does not know how to develop young players at all and does not even give them a fair chance. Okay sure, he cannot play EVERY player week in week out, but he needs to starting trusting in some players more. Although I did agree with his reaction in the post match press conference, saying “consistency” is the main problem with not properly challenging for the title, he couldn’t be more correct. However when you draw to Stoke away from home, lose to Newcastle away, lost to Huddersfield away, lost to West Brom at home, you are going to be punished in the long term, and with City setting the bar so high now, these are defeats and slip ups United cannot afford to do anymore next season, if the players and Jose really want to win the league.

Get the dead weight of players not good enough to play for the shirt out first, make some intelligent signings for value of money rather than just throwing money aimlessly and rebuild and start playing entertaining football again. I stopped watching the United game at half time yesterday because it was dull as fuck, boring to watch, and I almost expected West Brom to score at some point in the second half. In my opinion, Jose needs to win the FA Cup this season to get some belief back into the team, and win two trophies next year too. There has been an improvement overall this season, but Mourinho needs to change his style of play overall against smaller teams. It might of worked 10-15 years ago when you scrapped plenty of 1-0 victories when he first arrived at Chelsea, but that defence was much better than the current United defence and the game has evolved too. United need to actually start scoring in the first half of a football game too, something Mourinho has to take responsibility for.
Rami, London

…Your Losers of the week includes Mourinho but by doing so you absolve the Man Utd players of any blame. I know the manager sets up the team, prescribes the style of play and also influences the mentality with which a team goes out on to the pitch with but once in a while a talent bunch of players (many experienced) must take responsibility! The players played sideways and crossed the ball which represents the easy option. They whinged at the ref a lot, instead of focusing on playing football. No one grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and said follow me; Man Utd should have the characters to do that or perhaps we need to blow the whole team up and start again. If you praise the players one week for their comeback versus City, then they deserve blame this.
TG, Leamington Spa

…I am a casual Manchester United fan. As someone in their mid 20s who lives in Ireland and has no real connection with the city nor the club I find it hard to see how I could be anymore than a casual fan. I watch the games, offer my support and own a jersey or two, but if they lose it doesn’t really affect my day or week.

I actually thought it was pretty funny the way that City won the title. In a sort of vindictive way it was kind of good – the City players weren’t on the pitch together when they did so and they didn’t seem to be in a collective group to celebrate it. I’m sure Jose – who I despise – probably had a little smile at that given his personality.

Anyways, I hope everyone has a good week and doesn’t get too downtrodden about the results in football. After all, it’s largely just talented millionaires kicking a ball around for our entertainment.
Paddy (supporting Roma but would be equally happy to see Liverpool win the CL) Ireland

What about West Brom?
This morning’s mailbox featured a lot of Man Utd fans being very angry, and understandably so. I’m angry too – that result cost me my accumulator. But can we talk about West Brom for a minute? This is the kind of result that can happen when the players actually want to play for the manager. Despite their performances for most of this season, there is talent in that squad. Every player in the starting lineup against Man Utd is Premier League quality. The team that beat Man Utd is not the same as the team who are bottom of the Premier League.

A word for Darren Moore too. While almost anyone could have been dropped into that position and inspired an improvement from where Alan Pardew had taken the team, he still deserves praise for the way he set the team up and the tactical changes he made. It was clear West Brom would need to be defensively solid first and foremost, but he didn’t go out too negatively. By picking a disciplined, hard-working lineup in a 4-4-2, he made sure they were difficult to breakdown but still carried an attacking threat. When they took the lead, he replaced Matt Phillips with Gregorz Krychowiak and switched to a more defensive 4-5-1 in order to protect the lead. He’s not just sending the players out and hoping for the best. He’s got a plan and he’s managing the game. That’s now 4 points from 2 games since he took over; that’s as many points as Pardew picked up in his last 10 games!

Unfortunately, they probably left it too late to make the change. Realistically, they need to win all of their remaining games to have any hope of surviving, and their fixtures are Liverpool(H), Newcastle(A), Spurs(H) and Palace(A). But I expect them to be able to keep most of their squad together, and they should have high hopes of coming straight back up next season.
Jimbles, WFC

A pertinent question
We have 0 points from away games in 2018 and we’ve only won three times away from home all season.

How the f*ck are we 6th?!
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London

Olivier’s reward
Watching Giroud save the day on Saturday was brilliant. Until Sunday came around and Arsenal found themselves in dire need of a super sub striker to salvage at least a point… I sure do miss that beautiful, beautiful, man!
Mike AFC

Saints slump
With other results going against us this weekend, the future is looking increasingly bleak for Southampton. This is much harder to take than the previous relegation as it was easily avoidable had we not got a board believing their own hype and becoming complacent/ arrogant. The fall in the last two years is truly astonishing:

15/16 – 6th, 63 points
16/17 – 8th, 46 points
17/18, 18th, 30-33 points?

The mismanagement in this period is unforgivable. Selling Mane, Pelle and Waynama in the same summer without adequate replacements, selling Fonte in January without any replacement, not buying attacking players last summer despite not being able to score goals, selling our best player and only leader (Van Dyke) in January without any replacement, while spending 20m on a striker with an abysmal goal record (yet to score). Every transfer window we are a couple of steps behind where we should be which is such a contrast to the 3 seasons before.

Despite how much weaker our team is compared to previous seasons though, there is still enough in this team to be in mid-table mediocrity. More unforgivable mismanagement is sticking with Pellegrino for so long. What were they playing at? It was clear early on in the season he wasn’t up to it. The team had no shape and no idea how to work together to get the ball in the net, while losing our normally solid defensive resolve. Football has been rubbish, results have been rubbish and he should have gone in November.

From being the posterboy for mid-sized clubs, finishing top 8 for 4 seasons in a row and playing attractive attacking football to certain relegation in April. And lets be honest, we won’t be missed.

#LesReedOut
James

Happy with Liverpool’s lot
Dear Leon from this morning’s mailbox, thanks very much for your comment this morning, but to put it politely no, I won’t shut up. Why? Well to be quite frank, there are a lot of things to be positive about as a Liverpool fan at the moment. Champions League semi-finalists, looking increasingly likely to be back in it next year, top manager, a quality team that has got better as the season has gone on and great entertaining football week in week out.

Now, as a lot of Liverpool fans will admit, I took our regular appearances in the latter stages of the champions league during the noughties for granted, I sort of expected it as the norm and I never expected it to end (If you had told me that night we beat Real 5-0 over 2 legs in 2009 that we wouldn’t be back in the knockout rounds of the champions league for 9 years, I’d have laughed in your face). But it did end, and not only did it end it got worse and worse. Terrible ownership, mediocre players, fighting with Everton for 7th/8th place and even losing that fight, those were dark times compared with what we were accustomed to.

But now things are good again, and I feel more cruising down the open road with the windows down than being stuck on a roundabout or turning a corner or whatever you said. Not only that, I am really appreciating what I am seeing after having it taken away for so long. I am enjoying the moment. Isn’t that why we all watch football and support our beloved teams anyway, to make us happy?

So I will bask in the glory, I will shout from the rooftops when I see great football, and great wins and see us getting to the latter stages of the biggest club competition on our continent, purely because it makes me happy. It’s why I pay my money each week, it makes work a better place to be in, it makes life good and enjoyable. I will also bask in the glory, however, because I don’t know when it will happen again, it may not be for 10, 20, 30 years, who knows. It may happen every year for the next 10 years, it may not, so what I will do is enjoy the moment while it is here and I won’t let any misery like yourself pi** on my parade thanks very much.

Football Fan + Great Football + Big Wins + Great Manager + Great Players = Happy Football Fan

It’s a simple formula, and one I am really enjoying being a part of at the minute.
Ryan (Enjoying the Good Times), Liverpool

Long shot
…Just have to add in Shane Long playing as a reason for Mark Hughes being in the losers section. Having watched him in the green of Ireland for years, I will always have a soft spot for him but there is just no way any team fighting for their lives in the relegation zone should be putting all their eggs in a Shane Long shaped basket. Plenty of endeavour but no finishing touch, Kicking the ball off his standing leg and actually nearly scoring could have been good though!
Paul, Ireland

The opposite of St Totteringham’s Day
Don’t let it be forgotten that St. Arsenhole’s day is approaching soon. How will the f365 family celebrate it? I plan to watch following peak arsenal games:

– Chelsea- Arsenal 2004 Champions league 2nd leg – Invincibles not really

– Arsenal – Barcelona 2006 – 1-0 and mad Jens f’ed up

– Birmingham – Arsenal 2008 – Proof that Gallas was the better deal in the Cashley saga

– Man Utd- Arsenal 2011- I would 8-2 leave this one out

-Chelsea – Arsenal – 2014- 1000th game present

Thanks,
Sagar (Boston)

Spare what you can for hard-up Harry
This is late but I have a different view on the Harry Kane goal claim.

Has anyone considered the possibility he was just in a bad spot financially and needed to claim his goal bonus to meet up with some financial obligations.

Everyone and their dog knows Tottenham’s wage structure doesn’t reflect their elite status in the Premier League with even Wayne Rooney and Fraser Forster taking home higher wages than the two-time golden Boot winner.

It’s likely that they make up for the deficit in performance-related bonuses and thus there could be a significant difference in the take-home pay with/without bonuses.
Mark

Palace delight
Not sure about anyone else but I quite enjoyed the football this weekend. Sunday’s results were absolutely hilarious, and Saturday saw wins for both Grantham Town and Crystal Palace.

*I was actually quite nervous before the game, but then I won a free pint of beer from a nearby pub so went there for the afternoon. Prior to this season, there hadn’t been an M23 derby in the top flight since before I was born, and over time the rivalry has seen one side’s success coincide with the other’s misery. Crystal Palace’s years of yo-yoing between the top two divisions came at the same time as Brighton & Hove’s slide down the divisions to near extinction, while Albion’s recovery was mirrored by Palace’s financial difficulties.

*As much as I like to call it the “why is this even a derby” derby, it’s one of those rivalries that only really comes to life when you’re on the inside. From the outside, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say neither team is especially hated by the general populace, and the two managers are generally well-liked, or at least are far less odious than some of their counterparts elsewhere. However, once the game started, it was every bit as feisty as any other proper derby game, with chippiness and roughhousing going both ways. Several players were booked early on, and a couple could have even received a second yellow card. However, it’s worth pointing out that despite a hotly contested game, there was no suggestion of any crowd trouble.

There was also plenty of trash talk. Quotes ran from the Palace side that Wilfried Zaha wanted to “send Brighton back where they came from”, while Brighton defenders Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy were both on Twitter expressing admirable (if misplaced) confidence in their ability to get the job done.

*Roy Hodgson made two big calls with his team selection. Firstly he opted to leave Christian Benteke and Alexander Sørloth on the bench, but still played 4-4-2. As Alan Shearer pointed out on Match of the Day, Brighton & Hove struggled with Palace’s front two of Andros Townsend and Zaha, who both drifted to the left-hand side, having identified that Ezequiel Schelotto and Duffy was the weaker side of Albion’s defence. That said, all four of the visitors’ defenders struggled to keep their shape against an unconventional frontline.

His second call was to recall Joel Ward at right-back in place of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. This was likely to cause some second-guessing if the Eagles hadn’t won. Ward was largely ok, if a bit rusty – Jose Izquierdo outpaced him for Albion’s second goal. According to Rednbluearmy.co.uk, one of the reasons behind this call was Ward’s supposedly better heading ability (Wan-Bissaka had lost Josh King for one of Bournemouth’s goals last week). Reading this I couldn’t help wondering if this was something Frank de Boer had spotted at the start of the season, that Ward on the right of a three-man defence, with a pacier full-back (or wing-back) outside him, was a viable longer-term plan.

*Zaha was once again magnificent. A thread re-emerged on Twitter of fans convinced he only ever plays well against their team, with just about every Premier League side represented. He lined up as a striker despite not really being one, and yet scored two proper centre-forward’s goals. The first was a back post tap-in, having evaded the visiting defence. His second showed remarkable timing and off the ball movement to evade two defenders and find the net with a rare header. The technique for the header was also impressive – this was tougher than meeting a cross or corner, as in order to meet the ball with forward momentum, he had to head a ball that came almost over his shoulder.

*Whisper it but once again Luka Milivojevic is staking a claim to be one of the best central midfielders outside the top five. The Guardian ran a quote on Saturday morning from Hodgson, suggesting Serbia could surprise people at the World Cup with a central midfield of Nemanja Matic and Milivojevic. Initially signed to bring defensive steel, he has shown this season he can contribute goals, and of course superb assists, such as for Zaha’s second goal.

*One of the oddest clichés in football is that a goal such as Palace’s opener is described as “off the training ground”, as though teams don’t practice corners where the ball is aimed towards the six-yard box for someone to head.

*Duffy and Dunk have earned plaudits this season for their performances, with Dunk even being touted for an England call-up. It’s hard to justify selecting someone who struggles to keep track of the opposition’s one good player. Likewise, Glenn Murray scored a tap-in to make it 2-1, but missed several good chances (one metric suggested the late chance he squandered had an xG of 0.89). Clearly, you can take the striker out of Palace, but you can’t take the Palace out of the striker.

Albion did not play especially well in the first half. Mat Ryan made a couple of errors, had James Tomkins not scored the second goal then they would likely have conceded a penalty and been down to ten men after James McArthur’s shot was blocked by a defender’s arm. They had the better of the play in the second half, but couldn’t convert any of several very good chances.

*This was a huge result for the Eagles, not just because they beat their rivals, and in claiming all three points took a huge step towards survival. There is still plenty of scope for them to make a pig’s ear of things and get relegated. More importantly, that was Brighton’s last game against a team below them in the table, with all of their five remaining games against teams in the top seven. They will need an unlikely result, probably against a side rotating players for European competitions or who have little to play for. There is an unwelcome echo of Hughton’s time at Norwich City, where having been just about afloat for most of the season, they lost the few winnable games they had before an tough run-in and couldn’t recover in time.

*Last time Wilfried Zaha scored twice against Brighton & Hove, the next game was against Watford in the playoff final. Next up for the Eagles is a trip to Vicarage Road, for another match-up that has picked up quite a bit of needle as time has gone on.
Ed Quoththeraven

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