Keep your mails coming to [email protected]…
Henderson is the anti-De Gea
I find it really difficult to criticise David De Gea, even when he makes silly errors that cost us. For about three years, he carried this team, and for me personally, he is the best keeper United have ever had. He pulled off saves and delivered performances the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and he did this while having the shoddiest United defence in front of him.
And I think that is a key factor to consider when replacing a keeper – the level, and type of protection they have in front of them. When United were looking to replace Van Der Sar, they searched for a keeper with a similar profile – calm, languid, with the ability to play a bit so they could launch counters from the back (before Pep and Ederson completely changed what it meant for a keeper to be a ball player). This suited United at the time, because the centre halves we had exuded confidence and authority and knew how to read the game and organise themselves effectively. You didn’t need a keeper yelling at Vidic and Rio for them to know what to do.
We don’t have Rio and Vidic anymore, but instead Maguire and Lindelof, who have neither the ability nor the confidence needed to be commanding centre halves. This has shown multiple times this season where there doesn’t seem to be any communication between the group at the back, leading to basic and downright stupid errors. What you need in a time like this is a keeper who fills his backline with a mixture of confidence and dread, and is able to organise them effectively based on what’s happening in the game..
It’s no coincidence United have defended better, and felt more comfortable pressing high in the last two games. We already have a keeper which fits that profile. Whether Henderson will be good enough to consistently perform at an elite level and help United challenge for the big trophies is still an unknown, but what is sure is that this defence needs a keeper more in the mould of Schmeichel than VdS. His vocal nature and confidence in his abilities is supreme, and this will no doubt lead to some criticism down the line, but if he can give the backline a much-needed kick up the arse when they fall asleep, United will no doubt be better for it.
I will always love Dave, but it’s Henderson’s time now.
IP (He’s one of our own)
What’s gone wrong at Liverpool
In response to the question from Fred, London about what’s behind the malaise at Liverpool, let me offer my theory.
Firstly, the physical – the style of play is high intensity and has been for some time. For a variety of reasons (small squad, no pre-season, relentless autumn fixture list, unbelievable number of injuries) the players are knackered. So intense and well-drilled is the style that it only needs one player to a yard off the pace and cracks in the system appear, leaving it vulnerable. In addition to this, the loss of defensive pace (Van Dijk, Gomez) means the team can’t play with the high line as effectively, leaving them exposed to the quick counter and, with a loss of some of the taller players to injury (Van Dijk, Gomez, Fabinho), the aerial threat at both ends has been significantly reduced since last term, when they scored more goals from set pieces than any other side.
Secondly, the mental – throughout the long home unbeaten run you could sense the Liverpool players were drawing on the record for inspiration and visiting teams were expecting, if not to lose, then at least not to win. The problem was that that run went on for so long, even after the loss of Van Dijk and some other key players, that once it fell the team had nothing left to fall back on – without some key players, without the fans and without the sense of invincibility, the well of inspiration had run dry. Look at the way they capitulated to Manchester City and Leicester (albeit that was away) particularly for evidence of the mental state of the players.
Thirdly, the emotional. Klopp is an emotional manager and Liverpool, like it or not, are an emotional club with a very strong bond with their fans – there’s a reason that managers of the calibre of Wenger, Guardiola, Mourinho and Ancelotti, amongst others, have described Anfield as one of the toughest places to visit. Without that support the team carried on, but with the loss of the record, injuries, etc… there was nothing there to pick them back up. Additionally, the impact of not being able to celebrate ending 30 years of title hurt with their supporters cuts deep – had that happened the emotional well would have been replenished. I think it’s also telling that despite losing 6 home games in a row for the first time in their history, the away record since that first home loss to Burnley has actually been good, with wins at Spurs, West Ham and Sheffield United, a decent 70 minutes at Leicester before imploding and a well-deserved 2-0 win in Budapest over a good RB Leipzig team.
Finally, the tactics and squad. For all the claims of under-investment, we signed two first-team players in Jota and Thiago last summer, as well as a back-up left-back intended to be just that. Yeah we didn’t sign a defender to replace Lovren, which in hindsight is an easy target to point fingers at, but the reality is that even if we had signed a 4th choice centre back, they’d have still been partnered far too frequently by Fabinho, Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams and Jordan Henderson – assuming of course they weren’t injured or rested at any point themselves. Tactically the biggest issue has been the resolve to continue playing a high defensive line when we don’t posses the pace or defensive nous to pull it off – a switch back to the way we played 2-3 years ago would have suited the backline more, and ironically perhaps have drawn out teams looking to sit and defend, allowing more room for our pacy attack to get in behind.
So how do we recover?. I think the return of key players – Van Dijk particularly as the defensive talisman, but also Gomez, Fabinho and Henderson – will have a huge impact on the team. All bar Gomez are real leaders in the side and all of them are decent in the air (even Henderson despite not being that all). The confidence the rest of the team will have from having those tall, quick, experienced leaders and frankly very good players back in the heart of the defence and midfield will be immeasurable and also allow the team to play the manager wants them to. The return of fans is really important too – it will be interesting to see the reaction from fans if they do return towards the end of this season. Will they be positive, delighted to be back at Anfield to see the reigning champions and offering support to a beleaguered team and manager, or will they reflect the darker corners of social media, demanding FSG Out, Klopp’s head etc… I truly hope not, and that the more perspicacious elements of the fanbase will quickly sort them out if required.
And in terms of the squad, I feel there’s a rebuild necessary. Not a complete one, but a reasonable turnover is required. The front three have been together four years and are all 28 this summer, each with two years remaining on their contracts, and this is an obvious area to see at least one player move out and be replaced – you could make a reasonable case for each if you so wanted. In midfield we sadly have Wijnaldum out of contract and looking like leaving, Milner clearly can’t continue his Benjamin Button act for much longer and the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita and Shaqiri are all too infrequently seen at their best to be worth keeping them all and I can see at least one, if not two of that trio moving on. Defensively we need a new centre-back, whether or not that proves to be Ozan Kabak, whilst better back-up for GK, RB and LB remains a lower priority. There are other players with 2 years remaining on contracts – including Van Dijk and Fabinho – and tying them down to long-term deals is essential, though that of course leaves less in the coffers for new buys. But the nucleus of a top squad is there, we just need to do some pruning and freshening up to revitalise.
Finally, that leaves FSG and Klopp. FSG first – love them or hate them, and there are plenty of fans in the latter camp, they are the owners, they have a clear business plan of the club being self-sustaining which they have not wavered from and which has delivered a European Cup and a league title. They’re not looking to sell and so we need to accept that nothing it likely to change there, whether we like it or not. As for Klopp, he remains untouchable – for the next 12 months at the very least. He’s rebuilt this club and delivered the biggest prizes and has thoroughly deserved the chance to rebuild and fight again next season. Not to mention the fact that he’s one of the very best coaches in the world, so anyone suggesting he needs to go are either rival fans wishing that for their own benefit or need to go jump in the Mersey.
TL;DR – it’s complicated, but we’ll be back next season.
Jonny (and I didn’t even mention VAR once) Dance
Fred – I’ll try to answer some of your points from my take on the situation, why I think injuries are important in this scenario, and once all players are back for next season we shall see an upturn in playing quality with regards to each area on the pitch:
Defence: The injuries to VVD and Gomez cannot be understated for two reasons: (1) they are both very pacey players that allow Liverpool to play a very high line, safe in the knowledge that their pacey CBs can sprint back and help cover them from over the top balls. However, with these two missing, we not have much less pacey players there. This also means that Robertson and TAA have been playing much more conservatively in their attacking, therefore reducing much of our attacking output.
Midfield: With all the key injuries to CB, we had seen Fabinho and Henderson drop from midfield to CB. Both of which are not naturally suited to the position, therefore once again fullbacks are not pushing forward as much to try and protect the defence. However, Fabinho being the sole out and out CDM in the team naturally means anyone replacing him there would not be as effective, also Henderson is usually a key ‘trigger’ player is it were when it came to pressing opposition teams. With him gone the press doesn’t look half as effective (also see last season when he was missing from midfield, that issue was apparent then too).
Forwards: I think MFS are all out of form, that’s a fair conclusion. However, this ‘out of form’ process started this season when the ultimate low block was implemented, with a solid back five spanning the width of the 18 yard box and a further four not 5 yards ahead of them. Now typically we would have both fullbacks further up the pitch, as well as midfielders circling around the edge of the box. However, going back to the loss of VVD and Gomez and the knock-on effects already mentioned that is all gone and instead we have a 3v9 situation, hardly a surprise they are struggling.
Klopp: I think its unfair to say Klopp doesn’t have a record of turning teams around, after all he did get relegated with Mainz (a lull), and them brought them back up, so surely that suggests he can? As for his tactics this season, I think he accepts this season is a write-off, and the reason he is refusing to adjust his style is to know which players he has at his disposal can play in this system he wants (and therefore we should keep), and those who cant (therefore sell). But maybe that’s just me being optimistic. What I do know is that if we are to sit 20 yards further back (therefore taking the team further away from their goal and thus making it even harder to score), that still won’t help as the opposition team will be happy to remain in their low block and take the draw from Liverpool and move on.
And for anyone who states this is going beyond injuries, during MUFCs recent lull in which Pogba has been injured, we heard how they were missing Pogba and his energy and creativity in midfield, and once he is back then an upturn in form is expected? Surely its reasonable to think the same for Liverpool.
So with a fully fit squad I expect to see an improvement in our play. However, I do think this is having a big impact on the mental state of the squad, and that is something that will need to be brought back over time, so I doubt we will see the best of this team, at the very least, until Feb onwards next year.
…Fred London’s bizarre email made me laugh but I genuinely am wondering when teams NOT getting injuries suddenly became a thing??
Dont remember people whining that Cantona never got injured so that’s why Utd won the league(suspended maybe.)
Seems to have crept in the last year or 2.
And Robertson,VVD,TAA,Salah,Mane,Firmino are all of a sudden “the key sextet?”
To paraphrase Chandler after Joey referred to them as “J Man & Channy”… Who the hell calls them that??!!.
What I do find amusing is last season Liverpool were lucky to win the league as City were so poor yet now it’s a case of Liverpool being bad champions(another stupid fad that only started being used when that rent a quote Keane used it on Sky).
No mention by him that he was part of a squad that gave up the biggest lead in PL history AS champions to bottle the league in 1998…funny that.
I called it earlier than most, Klopp has a tendency to swing genius to village fool once his players get tired. The burnout eventually catches up. Now while at Dortmund, I loved him, he was humble, quirky, the player hugging manager, the under-dog going against the Munich machine. Even in that season where Dortmund were 12th and playing poorly, I personally felt it was ok. One of the best Managers to lead Dortmund in over a decade. Then he decided to take a sebartical and even as a fan, I could understand. He kept loosing his best players, year after year. Which is why I loved his move to Liverpool, they don’t normally loose players, and when they do, it’s for astronomical fees.
Now ever since Liverpool won the league, he seems to think he is Alex Ferguson for some reason. The Covid rules issue, the substitution issue, the back and forth with reporters, he literally seems to want the league to bend to his will after winning just 1 championship. He is taking the piss because he won 1 championship. I don’t mind him having an opinion, but it’s the smugness he has developed that’s annoying.
The latest one is even more bizarre. Screw the premier league, I’m focused on the Champions League. I have heard of Managers throwing away the FA, but premier league positions? I didn’t realize Liverpool had that much money to burn, or were even favorites for that cup. He cares very little for the premier league , he is just going to put kids on the team, because he is focused on the Champions League. I hope he gets Bayern next round because I think his integrity just left via the back door.
Dave (Even Solskjaer at least tried), Somewhere
There is a lot of teeth gnashing by Liverpool fans who are understandably upset about how shit their season is going. To smooth things over, how about we all make a deal. We will all forget this season ever happened if we can all also forget last season ever happened.
Two asterisks don’t make a right, but can they cancel each other out?
Pulling Pep’s pants down
Thought I’d let the inevitable (latest) Liverpool mailbox meltdown pass before chipping in with my ‘Tuppence’ worth over the Manchester derby. Firstly, well done United. Deserved winners and the best team on the day.
Now, I normally hate losing to Utd but Shaw’s goal had me thinking more “Yep. That’s this game in a nutshell” and I was more resigned than angry largely because I don’t think, ultimately, it will change anything.
That said, what worried me the most were the substitutions, or rather, the lack of them coupled with the lateness of those that did happen. For my fellow City fans, this may be heresy, but we have played far better without KDB and, Oh-God-Preserve-My-Mortal-Soul, haven’t really missed Aguero either.
Gundogan, Foden and Bernardo have all flourished, as has the team itself in their absence and I did wonder if Pep would stick with the, clearly, winning formation or immediately throw De Bruyne back in when fit? Well now we know. To be blunt, De Bruyne wasn’t ‘off his game’ on Sunday, he was a hindrance. In my view, he should’ve been hooked in the second half with both Foden and Silva brought on. In addition, either Jesus or Sterling likewise for Aguero. What must the latter be thinking if he’s not even been told to warm up when the team is chasing a two-goal deficit?
Yes, I know, I know. It was one game and De Bruyne is still very much a world-class player. But that’s not my point.
Both the pre-match plan and, I would suggest, the consequent team selection, were patently not working as the first half ended. Change was needed. It didn’t come strongly enough and what did was too little too late.
For this reason, it is perfectly realistic to expect Mourinho in the cup final and/or (enter relevant CL team name here) to pull Pep’s pants down in any one-off games coming up soon.
Mark (Has anybody heard from either Minty LFC or the Outram brothers? Just checking) MCFC.
Just a quick one but credit is due to Guardiola who, I felt, was incredibly gracious in defeat. City will romp home but he is a class act.
Disagreeing with Johnny Nic
John Nicholson’s article on City today was that rare thing – an opinion where I disagreed with every element of the argument. In turn:
– “Football is mostly watched by neutrals” – I think this is false. On the rare occasion I watch football with genuinely no interest in who wins or loses, I find it a bit boring. The rest of the time I watch with at least a sideways partisan interest – “I want team B to win so my team cements its position in the big 4”, “I have striker X in my fantasy football team”, “we might play this team in the next round” etc. And the great thing about this is that the partisan viewer almost always has something at stake
– “Football’s great selling point is jeopardy”. Again, I think for the neutral this is not true. A 9-0 victory punctuated with moments of great skill and terrible defending is vastly more enjoyable than a 1-0 victory between two evenly matched teams that mostly cancel each other out. As a case in point – the standout game for neturals in the 2014 world cup was clearly Germany 8 – Brazil 1, not the 1-0 victory over Argentina in the final
– “City’s win is all because of money”. I don’t think this is true. Play the imaginary “swap the manager” game – I think if Chelsea start this season with Guardiola and City with Lampard (same squads), Chelsea would win the league by a distance this year and City would currently be outside the Champions League places with Lampard bemoaning individual mistakes from John Stones costing them dear. City are dominant at the moment because they have the league’s (and probably the world’s) standout coach
Looking at all sports – nearly all have periods where there is a dominant force (look at F1, Men’s tennis, cycling, football in all countries, etc.). I don’t think that’s a surprise, because success breeds success – it creates confidence and momentum that gives one side in a very well-matched contest a 1-2% advantage which means they win every time; and it allows them to keep adding to that success from the front. Breaking that cycle requires something drastic to happen – SAF retiring, oligarchs pumping money into clubs, key players (or all of a team’s defenders) getting injured/ retiring, the burst through of an outrageous talent. All of that is and was ever true, with or without money being a major factor.
Tim Colyer, Chelsea fan, Singapore
Tuchel ticking along nicely
Another game and another flawless performance from Andreas Christensen under Thomas Tuchel, I feel his recent showings mean it would be incredibly unfair to bench for Thiago Silva, so another defender in our back three will be making way, talking of players who have turned a corner under Tuchel, that was easily the best game Kai Havertz has had for Chelsea as well, definitely the best position he’s played in so far.
I’m not surprised to see Kai Havertz doing so well playing that false nine position as he did it so often for Leverkusen last year, he is so good at the simple things, linking play up and arriving in the right areas for goals, now he does need to improve with his hold up play but I think with more time upfront he definitely will, I could be getting a little carried away but he does come across as a “complete forward“, and not as a midfielder who’d just grab hold of the ball and play a defence splitting pass/make a long dribble to go on and score, the difference between under Lampard and Tuchel, is with Frank he tried to fit him at the “8” position, Kai struggled with that role because he rarely had the opportunity to do what he does best because he occupied deeper areas and had to show more on the ball than off it.
The only negative as a team I see is that the finishing has to improve though, should have had at least two more, but it is an important three points.
A mixed bag
A few assorted thoughts about recent football stuff:
An interesting article from John Nic, but he could have saved himself a lot of time but just stating that rich clubs do better than poor clubs and that is unfair. I agree. Undermining John’s argument is that out of the top European leagues, the Premier League has had the most number of different teams winning it since 2010 with 5. France and Turkey have had 4, Spain and Greece have had 3, whilst Germany, Portugal, and Italy have had only 2. But I still agree.
Today’s announcement from FIFA/UEFA has proposed extending the number of teams competing in the Champions League and getting rid of the group stages and replacing it with a series of league formats. I welcome this as I am bored of the group stages. Keep the knockout stages though and the away goals rule.
How about a few other changes as well? Scrap the League Cup, or change the entry criteria for Champions League and Europa League clubs perhaps limiting them to only playing Under-23s. Scrap extra time for all domestic cups and go straight to penalties. I am pretty sure from what I have seen over the years that only a small percentage of games are decided in extra time, but I don’t know the stats. Keep the FA Cup.
Fulham are finally looking like a good side. They will stay up at the expense of Newcastle or Brighton. I’m calling it. If Newcastle go down, expect Saint-Maximin to move to a really top European club. He is so entertaining.
Liverpool are a brilliant team at the end of three years of unbelievable work. They have had terrible injuries, are all knackered, and lack motivation. Concentrate on the Champions League, and accept that next season you will have no European commitments and will have your squad back. Play the fringe players and development squads for the rest of the domestic league season.
I want more international football. I am a fan of Southgate but if he starts the next England game with 3 or 5 at the back, he should be relieved of his duties immediately. England should play a back 4 with Rice/Henderson holding, and to let loose our potentially devastating array of young attacking players to cause havoc and mayhem behind Kane. Experiments with overloading the defence and playing Winks/Phillips should be scrapped.
One for the excellent Peter G: has football gotten ‘better’ with time, or have players always run as far? Are stats from today’s game comparable with the ‘90s and ‘00s?
I am loving the free-to-air Women’s Football on the FA Player, and the continued excellent profile and coverage on BBC and BT. I have followed the Lionesses for the last three or four tournaments and I would welcome Women’s Football content and coverage on F365. Perhaps a Lionesses ladder which could still include #49 Phil Neville despite his recent departure. More needed please, perhaps at the expense of endless Roy Keane articles.
Rich (Baggies to be next year’s Norwich in the Championship), Cambridge