This is a piece about the recent child migrants entering the UK from Calais, and has absolutely nothing to do with football. I realise this is a football blog (whenever I can be bothered to actually update it) so I’ll throw in a few pictures of Wayne Rooney to keep up the illusion.
We, as a country, have turned into a nation of Jose Mourinhos.
The treatment of the migrants in the Calais migrant camps- I refuse to use the term “Calais jungle”, because of the obvious racist undertones inherent in that label and the allusion to the “Harlem jungle” beloved of white supremacists during the Civil Rights movement- has been little short of appalling (almost as little as the contribution Wayne Rooney makes during England games nowadays). People- and they are people, with all that word entails, no matter how they are portrayed in a frankly disgraceful national media- have been forced to live in diabolical squalor, forced to drink water teeming with bacteria and contaminated by faeces, forced to cohabitate in disease-ridden less-than-hovels whilst governments of two rich, European countries have attempted to ignore them and demonise them in almost equal measure. Those few who have managed to escape have suffered abuse, attacks, and levels of approbation that makes away days at Millwall seem like happy trips to the park.
And now, now, in this country which has one of the highest GDPs in the world (however much 52% of the population are trying to reduce that), which has available land, labour shortages in key areas, and a history of genuine social progression and decency and tolerance, there are news articles in major newspapers which are attacking some of the incoming children for appearing older than they are.
Here is a picture of Wayne Rooney, as promised:
He was 16 when this picture was taken. He looks about thirty, as I’m pretty sure he did when he was about three months old. Some people look older than they actually are, a fact which seems lost in a sea of rabid-mouthed abuse (also known as the Daily Mail).
Attacking children for their physical appearance, throwing hatred and spite in their faces because those faces look weary beyond their years, lobbing missiles of disgust and anger like West Ham fans at a Manchester United team bus… It is disgraceful. There is no other word for it. Stupid, idiotic, bigoted, xenophobic, racist… yes, all of these, but above all, disgraceful.
There are, of course, reasons that these children are being attacked. It is absolutely nothing to do with the children themselves- they are entirely blameless, forced to flee their homes because they have been bombed (illegally, by the UK, I might add), and then forced into a state one wouldn’t wish on an animal, that one wouldn’t wish even on Joey Barton.
No, the reasons are entirely British in nature- small-mindedness and xenophobia that has been bubbling under the surface, fires stoked by the same press which is now goading people into hating anyone who doesn’t fit their ridiculous, narrow, paradoxically rigid and ever-changing and ill-defined paradigm of “British”. They might be redefined by that same press into economic reasons, as if a country with an economy as large as ours to which immigration contributes billions is unable to accommodate a few more people; as if the influx of a few hundred, or a few thousand, people, is what is causing strain on the NHS rather than this institution both depending on immigration to function and being gutted by increasing, Tory-led privatisation which the press is curiously shy to mention; as if slight, debated evidence for a tiny, almost negligible potential for wage depression justifies foulness one would have found extreme in the 1930s.
But the reality is, the reasons for opposing immigration are not economic. They are ideological, a natural progression of a reductionist, backwards-looking ideology that has been on the rise in this country, and others, for a long time. It is an ideology that the Tory government has done nothing to combat and in fact quite a lot to strengthen; it is an ideology that has been seen in greater levels ever since the Brexit vote gave an implicit authority to hatred and discrimination; it is an ideology that has found avatars in Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, in anger and hatred against manifestations of imagined threats, in fear-mongering and isolation and blame-outsourcing.
It’s as if Jose Mourinho became a national identity.
That’s not as glib an analogy as it may first appear, actually. Like Mourinho, Britain- or at least a significant proportion of those who inhabit it- have become insular-, cautious, more accustomed to being compact and defensive than expansive and forward-looking. Like Mourinho, Britain-or at least a significant proportion of those who inhabit it – has chosen to blame others for recent setbacks, to engage in paranoid unhinged ranting rather than working to find innovative and progressive solutions to the problems it faces. Like Mourinho, Britain- or at least a significant proportion of those who inhabit it- has thrown money at things it didn’t need, rather than investing into areas which need investment (the Paul Pogba approach). Austerity, inequality, greed, neo-liberalism, slavish devotion to market forces, globalisation… all have contributed to this ideology, all have certainly contributed to the anger and fear felt by the population at large, but, much like Mourinho blaming referees and team doctors and Luke Shaw, instead of embracing and engaging with the complexities of society’s problems and trying to find answers, Britain at large has chosen to blame immigration and direct their fury at innocent parties instead.
What is happening in Calais is morally reprehensible. What has been directed at people entering, or trying to enter, the UK from Calais is morally reprehensible. What disgraces the front pages of the Mail and the Express, the Star and the Sun is morally reprehensible. There are better ways than this, inclusive, compassionate, hopeful ways, that require little more than a little kindness, a little thought, a recognition that people are people no matter what bit of rock they happen to have been born on and a recognition that, if we take a little time to understand each other, we can help each other negotiate a better future.
Or we can park the bus like Jose across the cliffs of Dover. It’s our choice.
£77! For a ticket! £77! I mean… £77! £77! For one match! £77! Are you angry yet!? £77!
Except that this is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the story, isn’t it…
The figure being bandied about is… well, it’s one price, for a small number of tickets, for a small number of games. The actual figures (from the Liverpool website, http://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/announcements/206306-ian-ayre-addresses-the-media-on-new-lfc-ticket-structure), are that there will be 200 of these priced tickets per match, for six (A-list) matches in a year. In other words, less than half a per cent of Anfield’s capacity on matchdays over the course of the season.
Less than half a per cent.
Getting angry at just this figure-nothing else, just this figure…That’s like eating less than half of a forkful of a dinner at a restaurant and deciding that the meal is entirely worthless. While blindfolded. It’s ridiculous. There’s basically a whole other meal out there, another 99.5 mouthfuls that you haven’t even considered, looked at, smelled, let alone tasted. Ridiculous.
So let’s have a gander at the rest of the meal, then.
For a start, Liverpool are introducing £9 tickets for Category C games, 500 per fixture. There are three Category C games in the league, for a total number of tickets just a little higher than the £77 ones. So, just as many (incredibly) cheap tickets as expensive tickets, admittedly for less exciting games. Hardly pricing out the “normal man on the street”, are they?
The next figures I’ll quote directly from the website (again, from the above link):
“64 per cent of season ticket prices will decrease or freeze under the new structure, with the lowest priced at £685. 818 season tickets will go on sale at a cost of £1,029, taking up 1.5 per cent of the stadium’s capacity on matchday.
Other initiatives include: local supporters being given priority access to over 20,000 tickets; over 20,000 extra tickets in a new pricing category for fans aged between 17 and 21 offering a 50 per cent reduction on prices; and in excess of 1,000 free tickets being provided to schools across Merseyside for each home game.”
Free tickets, priority access for locals, a new reduced-price category for young (i.e probably lower-incomed) fans… It’s hardly the blueprint for anger-inducing price increases, is it? It’s almost as if the £77 figure has been chosen by those responsible for disseminating information to the general public (and these other, far less infuriating figures suppressed at first) to create as much anger as possible amongst said public. You’d almost think there was something to be gained by this, like, just off the top of my head, increased revenue from sales due to the interest and emotion generated by such sensationalism. Not that anyone would be so manipulative as to shatter their journalistic integrity for such selfish reasons, of course.
Certainly, the protest will be headline (back-page) news on tomorrow’s media vehicles. It’s already a massive topic on social media, accompanied by a wave of anger and righteous fist-waving. This is, many are saying, the last straw.
It just… well, it’s anger directed at the wrong target. Directed at a very tiny figure amongst a sea of far less damning figures. Directed at a piece of information plucked from context and displayed, naked and ashamed, in front of an audience, with a massive target painted across its chest. A straw man, if you will.
Now, you can argue that, even with the new price structure actually helping lower prices for many fans, £77 tickets are still ridiculous. Phil Thompson certainly thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree; it isn’t like Liverpool really need that extra few pounds, and the whole affair is at best evidence of poor PR on Liverpool’s behalf (if not downright greed). Hell, you might even make the point that this is a natural, and horrible, manifestation of the kind of market-driven over-ideological establishment-enforcing capitalism that we’re forced to endure nowadays, shitting onto our heads like George Osborne’s caviar-induced diarrhoea. Because, frankly, it is.
But please, please, if you are going to make an angry blog about it… if you are going to righteously express your opinion down the pub… if you are going to walk out of stadiums on 77 minutes and miss your team crumble to Sunderland of all teams… at least do it for the right reasons. Do it because you don’t like the narrow consumer-capitalist agenda driving our politics. Do it because you don’t think Liverpool needs the extra revenue from this small amount of tickets. Hell, do it because we always seem to concede in the last ten minutes of games lately, or simply in bafflement at Simon Mignolet’s continued presence between the sticks (or indeed in the stadium, though mentally he seemed to have joined the protest against Sunderland today).
But don’t do it because of misinformation. Because of propaganda. Because a few people have chosen a figure designed to cause the maximum of anger to sell their ridiculous, hate-mongering product.
Enough trouble is stirred up by this, in thousands of facets of life. Don’t let football be one of them.
It’s nearly Christmas, and to stave off the interminable terrible songs that remain popular simply because they have the word “snow” in them, here are a few thoughts on the Premier League ‘til now.
Leicester aren’t going to win the title
Leicester have been brilliant this season. Propelled by Riyad Mahrez’s creativity and Jamie Vardy’s goals, and based on the excellent N’Golo Kante’s industry in midfield, they somehow, against all odds, are first in the table at Christmas.
They won’t be there come May.
In many ways, Leicester’s current predicament echoes that of Liverpool’s in the Suarez era. Like the reds, their current run is based on incredible speed on the counter-attack, with a couple of forwards in the absolute form of their lives and with belief coursing through the team, but with a small depth-lacking squad and a potentially leaky defence. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have managed to hold it together so far, but neither of them are particularly mobile or skilful centre-backs, and good as Kante is he can’t hold a midfield together on his own indefinitely. Leicester have been lucky so far in the big games, not so much on the pitch but benefiting from matters off it (whether the breakdown of Mourinho’s Faustian pact or van Gaal’s attempts to keep possession against the backdrop of fans bealting about actually scoring goals occasionally). But a couple of heavy defeats, a real possibility once tiredness comes in and other teams start to work them out (i.e. start sitting deep and man-marking Mahrez), and they might find they start slipping back down the table.
They’ll still beat Liverpool on Boxing Day, though. And will probably beat them to fourth place, too.
City need a new manager
If Manchester City are going to be the ones to take over at the top, however, their manager needs to bit the bullet and be a bit more pragmatic.
City have fantastic forward players, but their defence is (still) incredibly shaky when Kompany isn’t playing. This isn’t so much a personnel issue- Otamendi, Kolarov, Sagna and Managala are perfectly adequate defenders, though admittedly Martin Demichelis is increasingly resembling a fan who’s won a competition to appear for his team- as a systemic one. Pellegrini likes his defence to keep a high line and play offside even on the edge of their own box, whilst aggressively pressuring the space in front. This only works if you have a ridiculously aggressive, strong centre-back like Kompany who can organise them; if not, they’ll make mistakes and let in space either in front (like for Walcott’s goal) or behind (for Giroud’s).
There’s a similar issue in the midfield. Whether it’s laziness or simply the ravages of time, Toure (the Ivorian Steven
Gerrard) can’t be trusted in a midfield two in the big games any more- he just doesn’t cover the space well enough any longer. Like most incredibly athletic players, Toure hasn’t developed the keen position sense of, say, a Pirlo; he’s always been able to use his pace and power to recover from this before, but now, well, he looks like a life-devastating slip is just around the corner. In the big games especially, he needs to be an impact player at best, with Delph and Fernandinho (ideally) providing some energy in the middle.
Of course, even if this season goes (relatively) tits-up, Guardiola will be at the Etihad next season. So really, this season is just a deep breath before the three consecutive league titles anyway.
Arsenal look better than ever
Well, OK, maybe not up to the Invincible standards, but still, Arsenal look very strong this season. They just beat Manchester City without four of their first-choice central midfielders and lacking their second-best forward as well, and what’s more, apart from about ten minutes at the end, didn’t really seem under any pressure. Olivier Giroud actually looks like a centre-forward at the moment, Theo Walcott isn’t letting him rest on his laurels, and the presence of Petr Cech means that, for the first time in about ten years, Arsenal have a goalkeeper who doesn’t look like he’s eyeing a role in an upcoming Three Stooges reboot. Add to that the absolutely incredible Mesut Ozil, probably the best proper Number 10 in the world at the moment (sorry, Philippe), and they look poised to, finally, win another league title to add to Wenger’s haul.
What’s really impressive about them, though, is their flexibility. It used to be that there was an obvious way to play against Arsenal: play deep, be physical, and exploit the space behind their full-backs on the counter-attack. Arsenal were, tactically, too naïve to deal with this; they only played one way, Barcelona-lite, trying to walk it in. But now…
Now there’s a physicality to the team that means, unlike a couple of years ago, simply being big and strong isn’t enough to beat them. Now, there’s a defensive solidity and an abundance of pace in attack that means they can, quite happily, play deep and counter-attack, like they did against Bayern Munich. Now, they can play with speed up front, or strength and height, or, as against Manchester City with Walcott pushed right up against Sagna, with a bit of both. Now, there’s a discipline in midfield that means Aaron Ramsey doesn’t just run around like a headless chicken and that they can deal with the absence of a defensive midfielder without immediately capitulating their next few games.
Two points off the top at Christmas, Arsenal should be looking up for the first time in a long time.
Same old issues at Liverpool
Liverpool’s game against Watford was depressing, and not just because of the scoreline. All of the Brendan Rodgers faults seemed to surface again; the goalkeeping errors (though Bogdan was a little unfortunate for the first goal, because the ball was kicked out of his hands), the mental collapse after going behind, the lack of composure in front of goal, the presence of Adam Lallana… The list goes on.
The difference, of course, is that the current manager is better than Rodgers, and should be able to arrest the slide.
I like Klopp, and he obviously has talent. In his brief spell, he’s already transformed Alberto Moreno into one of the
best attacking full-backs in the league, made Emre Can look like an excellent player in the making, and even turned Divock Origi into something resembling a footballer. The wins against Chelsea, City and Southampton were genuinely excellent, the loss against Newcastle undeserved, the comeback against West Brom encouraging. Of course, this being Liverpool, supporters of every other club decided the Liverpool fans thought they could win the title on the backs of the first three results, which is obviously absurd. The players haven’t been able to sustain the required levels of energy- their pre-season preparation was inadequate and they looked tired even in the first few games of the season- and the issues of the defence, the goalkeeper (oh my, there are issues with the goalkeeper) and the lack of speed and finishing ability in attack still need sorting. But with Klopp in the dugout, at least there’s some optimism that Liverpool will be able to turn it around, even if they have to wait until next season to do it.
Jose Mourinho and the Tale of Dr Faustus
I’m not usually one to indulge in schadenfreude but… Hee hee, hee hee, hee hee hee.
So, Jose is finally gone, allowed to prepare for the moment when Satan Himself comes to drag him back down to Hell*. His peculiar brand of successful anti-football obviously finally got to some of his actually talented players- I can’t imagine Pedro and Fabregas, for one, enjoying being told to sit in deep and waste time from the opening minutes against any of the clubs from the top ten in the league- though it’s also difficult to escape the feeling that the players themselves should have conducted themselves rather better. The poison atmosphere of the dressing room- “Why, this is Hell, nor are we out of it”- and Chelsea’s very own allegedly-racist thug Mephistopheles John Terry have done for several managers before this, and I even felt a little sorry for Jose before I remembered he’d pretty much bought this upon himself. Given that a lot of Mourinho’s tactics consisted of kicking the good players until they couldn’t play anymore, I don’t think he’ll be missed by any but the most signet-ringed members of Chelsea’s support.
The question now is, who next? I doubt many of the top managers are going to want to go to Chelsea now, not with the continued demonstrations of petulance and power from the players. It’s starting to look like Chelsea are going to have to take the punt on another Villas-Boas-like figure, and if that happens, well… it could be Pandemonium.
*I’m aware that I’ve grossly misrepresented the plot, morality and beauty of Marlowe’s play here, but I’m also aware that only one person ever reads this, so it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.
Man Utd are boring, aren’t they?
There have been a few comparisons with Barcelona recently, cries of “tiki-taka” dogging Utd’s every game. Not the good Barca, obviously; fans would kill to see a Messi-Neymar-Suarez axis at Old Trafford, or Villa-Messi-Pedro, and at this point would probably even settle for Jeffren-Bojan-Cuenca (anyone remember them?). Watching their games isn’t like watching paint dry; it’s like watching already dried paint, missing even the thin sliver of anticipation at some form of movement or motion or, frankly, any point.
And the cause of this isn’t the players. Any squad containing Martial, Mata, Herrera, Young, Valencia (yup, he still exists), Darmian, Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay should be able to play reasonably attractive football, at least some of the time; they are all good players, technically gifted and, in various ways, creative footballers. No, it isn’t the players. It’s what they’re being told to do.
Man Utd’s “philiosophy” isn’t tiki-taka, or even a reasonable interpretation of it. Tiki-taka is about drawing opposition players out of position with a series of short intricate passes, then exploiting that newly-created space. Utd don’t do that. They employ possession as a purely defensive tactic (which, in true tiki-taka, is only one aspect, perhaps even only a by-product, of the style of play), passing almost exclusively sideways and backwards. And this, often, results in fairly sterile games; fairly straightforward, really, but it doesn’t explain why Utd simply can’t look exciting in attack, ever.
Well, happily, and unlike Louis van Gaal apparently, I have the answer.
Man Utd are boring because they play almost exclusively in straight lines.
Hear me out. When a team attacks- a good team- it is, primarily, attempting to gain or create some space which it can exploit, whether out wide, through the centre or whatever. To do this, forwards make various types of runs in varied directions, hoping to pull defenders out of position and so create this space. It might be runs in behind, runs towards the ball, runs to the back or near post or down the sides- whatever. The point is, forwards don’t move in rigid lines, they curve around and cross over and change direction constantly. They move, interchange and overlap, creating fluid patterns which draw defenders into them like miniature whirlpools (when it works, obviously. Some just run around a lot).
Man Utd’s forwards don’t do that. They move in strict, regimented ways, either up and down a touchline or across lateral lines on the pitch. It’s not just the forwards, either; the fullbacks do it too. When does Darmian, for example, vary his runs, make diagonal movements, peel off to run in behind? For Torino, he did it often. For Man Utd, never- because he’s told not to.
The midfield are at it, too; each has a strict and rigid position that they are not allowed to break. Utd’s system has one deep-lying centre midfielder (who moves in a straight line between his centre-backs and the edge of the centre-circle in the opponent’s half), one “box-to-box” midfielder (who moves in a straight line between the centre spot and the opposition penalty spot), and one creative midfielder (who moves across the width of the pitch but rarely, if ever, is allowed to move vertically, say, into the penalty area). Which is fine for keeping possession; all the players know where the other players are, so can play passes without really having to look, and know exactly where their support is when they are in trouble. They don’t lost the ball often, and that, coupled with David de Gea and the still strange reluctance of teams to actually attack them, explains the defensive record.
But when it comes to, well, actually scoring goals, or providing some entertainment… well, any properly organised team can pretty easily defend, because they aren’t really being asked any questions by clever (or any) movement. It’s only a combination of the soporific effect of seeing a hundred sideways passes in a row and the sight of an animated beanpole with a giant afro warming up on the touchline that lets Utd score at all.
Actually, this is being unfair to Man Utd, because one player in the system does have a little freedom, and this player is usually Antony Martial.
And Martial is talented, no doubt about it. Quick, stronger than he looks, and an excellent dribbler, I’d quite like him if he hadn’t made a Faustian pact and sold his soul to the Red Devils. Recent criticism of him by, among others, Paul Scholes, was a little unfair- but it is also understandable, and comes about because Martial is being asked to do too much. Being the only player who is actually allowed to dribble, to make runs, to move away from his tramline and act like a careening out-of-control car flying off the sharp bend in the motorway- allowed, in other words, to actually be a forward- he is tasked with, basically, creating enough space for all the other straight-line people to exploit. And he’s 19, in a new league, with a strike partner who both looks and increasingly plays like a potato. Messi and Neymar wouldn’t look brilliant doing that, because it’s practically impossible.
You might argue that this doesn’t matter, given that Utd are third in the table and still in with a shout of qualifying for the next round of the Champions League. Football’s a results business, after all, and endless 1-0s are just as good as 5-0 thumpings…
Except that they aren’t, are they. Football is about entertainment, especially when a team has the quality and resources to be entertaining, especially when a team has the legacy of thrilling Champions League finals and fantastic (if annoying) attacking players and moves. I’m not a Manchester United fan- the most recent Arsenal-Utd game had me laughing for about three days afterwards- but at least it used to be that, when I did watch them, I was entertained. Annoyed, sickened, and often furious, yes, but entertained.
When that’s gone- when football really is about grinding out results, about rigid lines and results above all… well, then, it will be like watching dried paint. Unfulfilling, pointless… and boring.
Regular readers of my blog (which is the same as saying “imaginary friends” in many ways) will know that, when last we saw him, Mystic Matt was in hiding after several Russian gentlemen objected to his continuous slander of a certain London-based football team. Well, it’s impossible to hide forever, and so Matt has spent the last few months tied to a chair somewhere in Siberia, undergoing the worst torture imaginable: watching all of Manchester United’s games on repeat. However, following recent difficulties on the pitch, the Russians were distracted long enough for Matt to escape (rumours that a certain doctor was involved are, of course, entirely spurious), and so…
He’s back! And ready to type up some Premier League predictions with the fingers he has left…
Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool (Sterling (obviously), De Bruyne)
The best attack in the Premier League against Dejan Lovren and Simon Mignolet. Jurgen Klopp has already made an impact at Liverpool, the team looking far more solid and organised under the German than it ever did under the “outstanding” Brendan Rodgers. But his methods will take time to properly implement, especially given the general lack of tactical intelligence inherent in English football, and he seems to lose another key player to injury every week.
The latest, of course, being Mamadou Sakho, who is quite possibly my favourite Premiership player (he’s like a talented Djimi Traore, a phrase which admittedly constitutes one of the signs of the Apocalypse). Without him martialling the backline and providing incisive passes into the front men, Liverpool will struggle both in defence and attack. Man City, on the other hand, have two of the best defenders in the league in Kompany and Otamendi, currently the best Belgian in the Premier League in Kevin De Bruyne, and morality’s Raheem Sterling stepping up in place of the injured Silva. Oh, and Aguero might be back (so might Daniel Sturridge, but only if he avoids being injured by a light breeze in the next couple of days). Still, at least Chelsea are crap…
Chelsea 2-1 Norwich City (Willian, Costa; Mbokani)
…but they’re still more than capable of beating Norwich, a team that made Liverpool look half-decent earlier in the season. Whilst Chelsea’s back line is increasingly resembling one of those elderly rock bands that reform after losing all their money and realise that while the wallet’s willing the vocal chords just can’t cut it any more (deep breath), Norwich don’t have enough to really exploit that. Having said that, big powerful strikers do seem to be doing well against John Terry in particular, so Mbokani (or Cameron Jerome, although “striker” isn’t the best word to describe him) could snatch something there. Chelsea have better players, even if one of them spends more time telling people they smell than actually playing football, and after 3-1 defeats to both Southampton and Liverpool, won’t want to let Norwich extend the talk of a Chelsea crisis. See, I managed to get through a whole piece about Chelsea without mentioning how much Jose Mourinho is coming to resemble Peter Finch’s character from Network….
Everton 3- 0 Aston Villa (Lukaku (2), Kone)
Everton are in a good place right now. Keeping John Stones at the club over the summer and signing the excellent Gerard Deulofeu (who has scored 5 goals for Spain Under-21s in the last two games) were both excellent pieces of business, and with their passing game, so stale last season, has shown signs of rediscovering its zip and zing this
season. Defensive injuries apart, they should prove too much for an Aston Villa side that approached last summer’s transfer window like a twelve-year-old who’s discovered Football Manager for the first time. Admittedly, they looked much better against Swansea than they have at any other point this season, possibly due to having a manager who realises it takes more to build a team than a gilet, but they’re still weak in both defence and attack and have Alan Hutton in the starting line-up. Expect Lukaku to avoid Micah Richards, who’s actually half-decent, and pull onto Ciaran Clark/ Joleon Lescott, who aren’t.
Newcastle United 2-2 Leicester City (Wijnaldum, Sissoko; Mahrez (2))
Will Jamie Vardy break a Premier League record? Nope- partly because he might not shake off an injury, partly because fairy tales don’t happen in football (oh, Stevie…). Leicester, though, have been brilliant this season. Mahrez has obviously been their creative spark, but Kante, Schlupp, Albrighton and Kasper Schmeichel have been excellent too, and Claudio Raneiri has deservedly shaken off all the critics who deem getting Chelsea into second place somehow proof that he’s rubbish. As for Newcastle… well, sometimes the league table does lie, and they’re better than the 17th place they currently find themselves in. Steve Maclaren is another manager who’s been unfairly pilloried by the media, and despite the annual inexplicable loss to Sunderland the Magpies have looked pretty decent in recent weeks. With the aforementioned Leicester players facing off against Mitrovic, Wijnaldum, Sissoko and the superb if mercurial Florian Thauvin, expect lots of goals in this one.
It’s been a while, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the Premier League so far.
Man City look good…
There are some players that you want to hate, but can’t quite bring yourself to. Maybe they’re a bit rubbish but seem like nice people (the Jose Enrique/ Peter Crouch syndrome); maybe they cost you a title by slipping at the worst possible moment but were bloody good in their day (oh, Stevie…). And then there are those who seem like petty, egotistical, badly-advised arseholes who nevertheless happen to be fantastic players. Raheem Sterling is one of them.
He’s been brilliant at times this season, dovetailing with Aguero, Silva, and Bony, beating full-backs for fun and proving tactically intelligent to boot. Along with the also-excellent De Bruyne, who seems out to prove some form of point to an ex-manager who didn’t think he was good enough, he’s given City another dimension this season. Added to the acquisition of Nicholas Otamendi, and with Fabian “U-Turn” Delph still to come, this team is going places, and with style.
Unless they still have a bit of the old Man City in them, in which case they’ll somehow manage to mess it up.
…but Man Utd don’t…
Pragmatism can be an excellent trait. If you’re starving in a forest, for example, with nothing to eat except your elderly relative who, let’s face it, won’t last much longer anyway, well, pragmatism will save your life (and quite possibly keep a therapist in business further down the line, so there’s that). When you’re Manchester United, when you’ve spent hundreds of millions of pounds, and when pragmatism takes the form, still, of lumping a ball up to Fellaini, well, it’s not so admirable. Frankly, despite being fourth, that United are still scraping out wins whilst looking stodgy and dull is a bit concerning.
There’s an argument to be had, as well, that Van Gaal isn’t even being pragmatic with his stifling style of play. Pragmatism (in football) is about taking the best route to victory, no matter the ethics or unwritten rules it breaks. Being incredibly boring, with a squad containing Depay, Mata, Herrera, Schweinsteiger, Darmian and the genuinely Henry-like Martial… well, there’s probably a better way for them to play than passing it back to Chris (Michael?) Smalling every twenty seconds.
…and Chelsea are even worse…
What the hell is going on at Chelsea?
I’m not a Mourinho fan. Not in the slightest. But even I’m starting to feel sorry for a man who, at times, seems like
he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Some of his decisions- dropping Matic for Mikel (which is like, on the opening night of a Led Zeppelin tour, replacing Jimmy Page with Mr Blobby), persisting with a clearly struggling Ivanovic, the whole Eva Carneiro debacle, buying Radamael Falcao- have been bewildering, so much so that you wonder if he’s channelling Willy Wonka without any of the magic. Add that to the paranoia, and there’s some inkling as to why things are derailing…
But then, you have to look at the players too. When they have played, Matic and Fabregas have been shadows of what they were last season, Hazard even more so. Ivanovic seems to have deteriorated faster than a molecule of Hydrogen-7. Terry, who looked impervious last season (admittedly with a great deal of midfield protection in front of him)…well, if he was a Grand National horse, the boltgun would be being loaded by now, however much that might get me the Robbie Savage treatment.* All the defensive solidity exhibited – well, not just this season, but by every single Mourinho team that’s ever existed- it’s gone, in the blink of an eye.
Not that it won’t get sorted out in short order. But still, enjoy while it lasts.
Speaking of which…
Isn’t the Premier League odd?
On the one hand, it just seems a bit…well, dull, this season. Leicester (and the usual City and Arsenal) aside, a lot of the games have been a bit turgid, a bit lacking in quality, a bit blood-and-thunder without the usual excitement these things bring. There aren’t many games I can think of that will go down as classics- maybe the Arsenal-Man Utd game, maybe Newcastle’s 6-2, maybe a couple of Leicester’s comebacks. But otherwise, it seems to have been a case of teams cancelling each other out (possibly because everyone wants to play on the counter-attack these days, so everyone sits too deep and can’t break down packed defences)…
And on the other hand, have you seen some of the players mid-table clubs have managed to get? Stoke now have Shaqiri to push alongside Bojan (who I really, really like). Newcastle have Florian Thauvin. Swansea have Andre Ayew. Saido Mane looks excellent for Southampton. And, perhaps best of all, West Ham have managed to lure Dimitri Payer to the Boleyn Ground, the best player in France last season (sorry, Zlatan) who already looks a cut above in terms of class. Add that to Salomon Rondon, Gerard Deulofeu, and Yohann Cabaye, and the Premier League, at least on paper, looks better than it has for a long time.
There are some early relegation candidates…
Bournemouth might be the unluckiest club in the league. Having lost half of their first-team to long term injuries, having lost to Liverpool thanks to an incredibly offside goal and a wrongly-disallowed effort of their own, and having by far the lowest budget of any of the league teams, their goalkeeper goes and does this. They’re on course to join Burnley and Blackpool in the elite “Teams you didn’t really want to go down but did” club, almost certainly not just because of the alliteration.
Aston Villa are crap. That’s all that really needs to be said, there; their defence is poor, their midfield is poor, and their strikers are poor as well. Remi Garde (see, Villa, I can spell his name right) has a hell of a job.
As does Sam Allardyce, the man with chip onn his shoulder so big that it could feed a family for a fortnight. This isn’t a new observation- it holds true for the last three seasons, at least- but Sunderland are awful. Their defenders, indeed, have managed to reach a new peak of awfulness which makes it look like they’re just vessels controlled by small alien life-forms who’ve never seen football before but quite enjoy the round white thing going past the tall man with the disbelieving expression on his face. I mean, of course they beat Newcastle, but even George “Tax-Credit-Defeat” Osborne could have predicted that one.
And the obligatory Liverpool analysis…
Klopp is fantastic. That is all.
This is the first in a planned series that will end with me crying because none of the highly-paid Premier League managers have taken any notice of an unemployed semi-blogger.
Transfers are a tricky business. It’s hard to judge if a player will work for your club, let alone if they’ll settle in with new team-mates, if they’ll enjoy their new homes, and whether or not their rat-turd shitehawk of an agent will try and stir up as much trouble as possible in an attempt to cash in on a naïve young man’s talent (you know who I mean, dear reader). So wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if someone could give clubs a short, handy guide to who they should sign, and who they shouldn’t. Someone like…
Well, not me, really, but I’m going to do it anyway. Screw it.
Given that I’m a supporter, let’s start with….
Contrary to popular opinion, Liverpool actually didn’t have a bad season last year. OK, a 6-1 defeat to a Stoke team containing 49-year-old Scottish chip shop worker Charlie Adam wasn’t the best experience of many Liverpool fans’ lives, and 6th in the table is a bit disappointing after the Luis-Suarez-turbo-charged title challenge, but… honestly, what did you expect? A squad of 20-year olds plus Steven Gerrard needed major reinforcement in the transfer window, especially after losing Suarez, and instead received an influx of more 20-year-olds, Ricky Lambert and
pointlessness’ Mario Balotelli, who turned out to be so lacking in any kind of giving-a-shitedness that he didn’t even have a proper off-field controversy. In the grand scheme of things (ie in wage bill, which is where leagues are usually measured), Liverpool are probably on par with a sixth-placed finish, and will be again next season, I expect.
Unless, of course, they follow these transfer suggestions. Then, Jose Mourinho, you’d better be watching your back, mate.
Areas to Strengthen: Defence and Forwards
Current: Where to start… I like Sakho a lot. He’s aggressive, excellent in one-on-ones, good in the air, and built like a Belgian Blue, even if he is prone to a Titus Bramble moment now and then. He’s also a much better passer of the ball than people think; a big reason for the improvement in both attack and defence in the middle of the season was due to Sakho’s presence, his threaded balls into Coutinho meaning our weakfish midfield didn’t have too much creative pressure on their shoulders. Skrtel is… ok, I guess, and Moreno has shown glimpses of quality.
The rest are crap. But Glen “can’t be arsed” Johnson is gone, Jon Flanagan might be back to scare opponents talentless with his face, and Dejan Lovren now looks to be worth at least a tenth of what Rodgers paid for him, so things aren’t entirely doom and gloom. There is definitely, however, room for improvement across the back 4/5.
Who to realistically sign: Well, this is cheating a bit, but as Sebastian Coates played for Sunderland last season (despite being on Liverpool’s books), I feel like I can recommend him like a new signing. He’s added a lot of aggression to his game during his couple of seasons on loan; comfortable on the ball and an excellent reader of the game, I think this is his season to shine, if he gets the opportunity.
Otherwise, what’s really needed is a proper right-back (Emre Can is not the answer) and at least a back-up left back, if not proper competition for Moreno. As to who is available in these positions… Nathaniel Clyne is the obvious choice, but after Manchester United sign him, Liverpool could do worse than trying someone like Rafael, out of favour at the Red Devils, or Matteo Darmian, the Torino right-back who tore England apart at the last World Cup. Not, admittedly, a perfect measure of quality, but still, he’s powerful, excellent defensively, and most importantly better than Glen Johnson. Micah Richards is also looking for a new club, and might be worth a punt.
As to back-up left-backs… bringing back Ali Cissokho, a key component of that Suarez-led charge, would be interesting and cheap. Ashley Cole has also struggled with Roma, and might be looking for a way back into the Premier League. Failing that… well, Paul Konchesky isavailable. You know it makes sense (he says through bitter rage-tears).
Oh, boy. Reeling off a list of Liverpool forwards isn’t a fun thing to do, unless you support any other club than Liverpool. Fabio Borini, the man who could be outmuscled by a weedy church mouse. Rickie Lambert, the poor man’s Emile Heskey (that’s unfair, but I never claimed to be nice). And Mario Balotelli, who seems intent to be the antithesis of everything his talent claims he should be. Oh, and Daniel Sturridge, who was unavailable for insult due to injury.
8 league goals between them. Steven Gerrard, the man who looked like he was carrying the burden of previously being good every time he attempted to shuffle into a jog, scored more than all of them combined.
Of the four, Sturridge is given a pass for this season (a hospital one… oh, the hilarity). He obviously has talent, if he can steer clear of injury a bit more. But the other three need to be offloaded, pronto (as does on-loan Iago Aspas, of course), and replaced by…
Who to realistically sign: Well, the club has stolen a march on me here, having already signed Divock Origi (8 league goals last season) and Danny Ings (11). Both could be excellent signings-they have pace and intelligence, and still apparently think Liverpool is a big club so might, y’know, try (unlike a certain maverick Italian). But the club still needs another striker, preferably a nice experienced one.
Unfortunately, the two players Liverpool are being linked to are both wrong for the club. Alexandre Lacazette would be a wonderful addition if it weren’t for the fact that Liverpool don’t have a prayer of signing him, and Christian Benteke is just a second Balotelli waiting to happen. He’s big, he’s strong, his movement isn’t very good and he only just started trying again after a six-month football-sulk.
No, Liverpool should be going for Theo Walcott.
Hear me out. He’s quick (which fits in with Liverpool’s style of play), he’s intelligent (ditto), and unlike the rest of our fit forwards he can actually finish. He’s only 27 but has played in pretty much every competition you can name, and
is capable of the same kind of individual brilliance as Phillippe Coutinho or Raheem Sterling (when not being distracted by his pisskidney moron of an agent, of course). With Theo Walcott, we might even be able to cha-
Oh. He’s signing a new Arsenal contract, is he?