Why are Man Utd and Chelsea waiting for ‘competent leadership’? thumbnail

Why are Man Utd and Chelsea waiting for ‘competent leadership’?

Some crackers this afternoon. Keep them coming to theeditor@football365.com

The naked emperor

Last year was an odd one for Chelsea.

They did not do well. They did not win anything, and never looked like winning anything. Normally that would mean the door for the man in charge, but Lampard – for a combination of Transfer ban and historical reasons – was protected.

This season is surely different. Chelsea has been able to operate in the transfer market from a position of strength they haven’t seen since the mid-noughties (god I had that word). To put it bluntly: no covid, no Werner or Havertz.

So this year Lampard has to deliver. But even a cursory look tells you that despite Chelsea’s strong squad, the league is way out of reach. Which then means it’s for time a cup win. Something that wouldn’t have saved other Chelsea coaches, but you suspect will be enough for Lamps.

The strange thing is that, despite claims to the contrary, this is a hella strong Chelsea side. Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic are – player-for-player – better than the midfield they faced on Sunday. They’re excellent, world class players. That forward line is superb. The defense is not weak (well, left back/goalie excepted).

Much like Manchester United, this is a squad waiting for competent leadership. Maybe that’s why the United and Chelsea fans are constantly sniping at each other in the mailbox. If you keep everyone looking at that naked emperor, no-one will notice yours has no clothes.

Either way, Chelsea fans, what keeps Lampard in the job at the end of the season?

Andrew M, Joburg

PS. Everyone talking about Liverpool missing no-one. Did you not notice Fabinho (a midfielder/emergency right back) in the middle of defence with literally no CBs on the bench?

Allow Kante to be world class

It is obviously very early in the race, but I noticed a familiar failing from the last two seasons  in the last game. Kante kills so many Chelsea attacks. He always seems to pass backwards no matter how advanced he is or how much space he is in. He was good against Liverpool but he was a liability in the final third. Why doesn’t he stay in central midfield and let Kovacic make those runs into the final third? I think he should use that world class engine of his to cover for Kovacic or someone else while they make the offensive runs. Kante is a good dribbler, and while he might be good enough to make creative passes and shoot in the final third,  he certainly doesn’t trust himself enough. Why not allow a world class player do what makes him world class?

Lawrence, CFC, Abuja

Did Kepa believe his own hype?

I’m interested in the Chelsea fan perspective on Kepa. Even as a Liverpool fan it was painful to watch his performance on Sunday. My brother has great sympathy for his loss of form and situation he finds himself in.

However i struggle to have sympathy for him considering the absolute arrogance and disdain he showed to his manager Sarri when he tried to substitute him that time in the Carabao Cup before penalties.

It reminds me of Karius at Liverpool – started believing his own hype a little too much ( a regular around Liverpool city centre thinking he was a rock star giving it the big I am) – and hence the lack fo sympathy from Liverpool fans when he fell from grace.

What is the Chelsea fan perspective on this? Kepa started to believe his own hype and flew too close to the sun?

Alan (LFC)

Mike, LFC, London asks if Kepa is the worst signing in history.  He makes a very, very strong argument, and if it were limited to actual footballers, it probably wins.  Certainly of recent times.  The Chelsea purchase of Kepa as a goalkeeper is about as successful as my recent purchase of a treadmill.

But the sheer brazenness, hilarity and all the things that had to go wrong and the order in which they had to go wrong for Ali Dia to not only go to Southampton, but end up on the field, surely takes the cake.

Oh, and it made Sousness look like a briefcase, which is always a reason to celebrate.

Dr Oyvind, Earth

Let’s all cool it with the Kepa skewering. Kepa was wanted by Real Madrid the season before he was signed by Chelsea. Spain won the Euro U-19 tournament with him in goal, he made his debut for the Spanish senior side at 22 and was picked for the 2018 world cup. He was even Spain’s number one for a while during his first season at Chelsea. Maybe you all are bastions of football intelligence but even if you know more than some experts, how likely is it that you know more than the people selecting talent for Real Madrid, Chelsea and the Spanish National Team, combined? If you think you do, congrats!

You’re a Liverpool fan. Admittedly, the transfer hasn’t borne the fruits expected for now, but many Spanish players have struggled with the physicality of the English game. Even eventual world class players like Pique and De Gea looked like crappy players in England. Juventus are about to sign Morata who was a laughing stock in England. Iago Aspas didn’t fare badly after leaving Liverpool. In his first season, I noticed that while he didn’t make any obvious errors, Kepa seldom made saves that set pulses racing, but even that has been lost due to an apparent loss of confidence. Some transfers don’t work out, some take a while.

Chelsea never had the plan to sign Kepa that summer, but while Hazard remained professional and stayed at the club, Courtois went on strike and effectively forced the club’s hand, so Athletic naturally leveraged Chelsea’s obvious desperation by refusing to negotiate a fee  with not long to go in the transfer window. So you can see that global warming is actually Courtois’ fault. Kepa had promise, but at 23 as a goalkeeper, he was not  £72M good yet. Circumstances set his price and the pressure has made his development a steady regression.

Kepa is on the third year of a seven year deal worth  £150,000 per week (so not Ozil or Sanchez money)  and he is still 25. All hope is not lost. He might find form at Chelsea in future, he might go back to Spain on loan and find his feet again, or he might just flop everywhere for the next five years. It is however too early to write-off a player (and asset) that displayed such early promise for falling at a hurdle which has tripped up many great players.

Lawrence, CFC (He is really bad at the moment though), Abuja

Liverpool’s worst signings

Off the top of my head, the worst signings for Liverpool are probably in some order – Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and El Hadj Diouf. I feel sorry for Aquilani and Carroll as they were signed for too much money to replace fan favourites and just got hurt a lot.

Diouf was just a shit.

Dan, Plastic LFC 

Solskjaer and Woodward talk a different language

I thought Mark’s email at the top of this morning’s mailbox was great – the downside of that is that I feel compelled to chuck my thoughts in as a Liverpool fan.

Ferguson and Gill seemed hand-in-glove on anything and everything to do with United. When those two left, it left an immense void of strategy throughout the club. United have ostensibly tried to do the same sorts of things that had led to success in the past but it no longer seemed to work – and without that institutional knowledge, there’s no-one who can accurately answer why.

As Liverpool have shown, getting it “right” again is an exceptionally tall order and doing so, in truth, seems to me to be as much about luck as it is about judgement. But it starts with a clear vision for the whole organisation and getting the right structure in place through players, coaches, management and leadership. That’s really hard in the absence of a clear strategy, and then the work to get the winning culture back right through the club is tougher still – and I just don’t see where it’s coming from at United. Solskjaer says the right things, which is encouraging, but it seems he’s talking a different language to Woodward.

A big part of the problem for United, I think, is that while they’re not really successful on the pitch, they are successful by just about every other metric that a commercial behemoth will have in place. I wonder if that is to the detriment of a “one team” culture within the organisation that sets up conflicts between e.g. the manager and the chief exec where there ought not be any. This has very obviously been cracked at Liverpool and while our model might be at the bleeding edge of sports analysis, City and Chelsea seem to have their respective houses pretty well in order, too.

Like Mark, my dad is a United fan and so my preference would be for Liverpool to beat United to the title every season – don’t get me wrong, winning the thing was bloody marvellous, but you kinda want to beat your historic rivals rather than whoever just happens to be really good at the moment. But until some of the strategy, structure and culture questions are answered, it’s difficult to see United sustaining any real success.

Nick Glover, Scouser in Brum

One bad game and OGS is dogmeat

So around early June, when Man Utd were playing half-decent Bruno Fernandes led football, and slowly closing the gap to their eventual 3rd place, the world was relatively happy with OGS.  His long term strategy looked a little sharper.

The team was coming together – AWB had sorted the right side of the defense, the centre backs were improving as a pair (although still not good enough and we hoped for an upgrade), Fred was playing better, Pogba looked a little more interested, Martial was finally showing some consistency, Greenwood looked like a breath of fresh air, and Bruno pulled strings and made everyone happy.  The only player not really on song (other than the GK) was Rashford, but he was returning from a double stress fracture of his spine, so kind of understandable, not holding that against him.

Fast forward barely 3 months.  The team had some kind of break after Europe’s elongated season.  Pogba got the virus.  Lots of players werent training, and barely back from holidays.  One went to the wrong place on holiday, and couldnt be picked.  One is a teenager, and it shows.  DVB turned up from Ajax, which is exciting.  Upstairs, there seems to be some kind of impasse with getting transfers sorted – we assume the fault lies with Woodward, but noone really knows.  A left back is apparently arriving, and a DC would be nice.

And yet all of a sudden, OGS is dogmeat.  We’re told he cant improve any players (really ? – Fred, Martial, Shaw, AWB, Rashford before injury, ……..)  The fact United had one bad game has him written off as not good enough.  All the players are now not fit for purpose, even though but 3 months ago they all seemed to be ok and pulling in the same direction.  Sure, the same inability to break down a low block is there, but that will hopefully get better with time as the midfield fits together.

And all this “Oh we’re United, we should be better, we shouldn’t be accepting being this bad”.  Just remember where OGS started from, and be happy where we are.  The squad was horrendous, fractious, unbalanced and downright shit.  Rome wasnt built in 24 hours.  It wasnt built in a season.  It wasnt build in 4 seasons.  Have a look over yonder at Klopp.  Took him 5 years…..

Ben (OGS might not be the answer, but one game cant be that bad.  Spurs were appalling against Everton, and seemed to bounce back ok)

Roy The Boy

Can we have some acknowledgement for Roy Hodgson and the performance of Palace please?

I know it doesn’t sit well with Liverpool fans (your club ownership was in the midst of turmoil during his tenure), and a very dodgy England result will always put valid doubts over his ability to manage at the very pinnacle.

However here is a man who season in, season out, manages to perform with sensibly limited resources. He rarely complains about that, or referees, pitches, and the weather. He’s outdone the likes of Moyes, Allardyce, Pulis, Pardew, Hughton, and others for years.

He does so with smart recruitment, intelligent coaching and team setup, playing to players strengths without the need for awful spoiling tactics, and experienced game management.

Would you put it past him to also outlive and outperform the next tranche of Dyche, Potter, Wilder, Bruce, Bilic, maybe even Nuno? He’s done it consistently, often bloodying the big boys, and mostly keeping out of any relegation dramas.

I’m happy to acknowledge he doesn’t trouble the trophy cabinet, but he is damn effective with a brand of football that is not often spectacular, but on occasion is a bit special, and never eye wateringly dull (I’m looking at you Pulis!).

While for the glory hunters, and those fortunate to be born followers of the big 4/5/6 he wont ever be their choice, most of the rest of us further down the football pyramid can see and enjoy what he gets out of his teams.

Rusty Gray (CB’s and CF’s please Slav!) WBA

Lindelof F365

I wouldn’t normally read the topical top tens (I’m not a huge fan of buzzfeed style list articles) but I was drawn by the thumbnail including a pic of Victor Lindelof today. The reason being I was under the impression he had the best / most reliable CB at United relatively recently and though I haven’t seen the last two or three games, I was a little surprised that he is now near the top if a list of players who need urgent replacing.

My super sleuth skills led me to the bastion of Internet knowledge that is Google search (other search engines are available) and sure enough, “Lindelof F365” brings up a bunch of articles, a few from the last few weeks which are quite negative, but also this one from just a couple of months ago: https://www.football365.com/news/premier-league-unsung-heroes-lindelof-wijnaldum.

Now, I’m not saying that editorial lines can’t change, nor that writers can’t have different opinions but has so much really changed in the 4 or 5 competitive games since June 30th?

Alex, Ayr

Small club hypocrisy

I’ve wanted to write about this topic since the Bury and Bolton situations 12 months ago (time sure does fly, doesn’t it?!), but have been prompted to by JN’s Six Ways To Save The Crumbling Football League Pyramid. It will be difficult to crowbar all of my thoughts on the subject into one reasonably-lengthed mailbox entry, I could probably write a full op-ed on it, but here goes:

I do not understand the sympathy for football clubs going bankrupt due to fan disinterest. It’s fine to say that the owners of these clubs mismanaged them and that a good owner could have kept them afloat, but that is a case of ‘raging against the dying of the light’. Bury averaged 4000 home fans per game in their final season. This means there were literally close to as many media outlets reporting on Bury FC’s demise as there were fans actually attending their games during their final season. Why are others supposed to sympathize with the town of Bury for losing their football club’s professional status? Why should everyone else be sad that they will be watching the 11th tier of English football instead of the 4th?

I do not ask this rhetorically. From my perspective, the sadness has nothing to do with whether clubs go bankrupt and get relegated to the 427th tier. It is rather that while clubs’ finances spiral out of control, there is nothing preventing them from selling their stadiums and renting them back, or taking out massive loans against them (which they then fail to repay). This is what can lead to football clubs and their surrounding communities actually losing out on something tangible, when the stadium gets sold to a property developer and converted into a TESCO or a block of flats, leaving the bankrupted club with nowhere suitable to play.

If governments allowed clubs the right to purchase land and build their own stadiums, but expressly prohibited clubs from ever splitting the land/stadium from the football club, this would protect fans of Bolton and Bury and all other clubs, guaranteeing them that they will continue to be able to watch their local clubs play football. If they can’t then be bothered to turn up because ‘the standard isn’t good enough’, that’s on them, not on anyone else, not even the feckless former club owner who accelerated their plummet into bankruptcy.

The bottom line is that everyone wants small clubs to exist, but very few people actually want to support them. When Bury was going under, everyone rightly lauded the Neville family for all of their contributions to the club. But nobody ever asked “this is all great Gary, but why didn’t you all support your local club growing up, instead of supporting Manchester United?”. I bring this up as absolutely zero criticism of the Neville family, but as an illustration of the dynamic which is causing small clubs to get smaller + rely on charity handouts while everyone supports the big teams, regardless of how much they appreciate the existence of lower league football.

I also bring up the Nevilles because this shows that this is not a new phenomenon. This is not about “your Messis and Ronaldos”, this is not about FIFA Ultimate Team or Playstation/Xbox. This is about human nature and psychology, and about parenting + which values and expectations we have of our children. And to reiterate, I’m not having a go at anyone who supports anyone-but-the-club-closest-to-their-home, or at anyone’s kids. I’m having a go, rather, at the hypocrisy of wanting small clubs to exist without actually wanting to support them.

Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland

Sir Les’ false equivalence

I realise the opinion of a white person on this is largely irrelevant, however I must say that I believe Sir Les’s statement comparing taking a knee to clap for carers is a false equivalence. It has taken a global health crisis for this government to openly recognise the members of society that make the most critical contribution to keeping everyone’s lives running. Clapping for carers was a nice gesture at first, however it quickly became empty and performative when it was clear the government’s “thanks” during the most difficult time in generations amounted to a pat on the head.

Taking a knee is a statement in support of BLM, against police and state brutality. Premier league and Championship players are watched by millions. Every time it happens, someone new will see it, will ask the question, why are they doing this, what does it mean? And maybe we take a few steps closer to change. The power and influence of sporting heroes has never been greater. If they are seen every week doing this, it says that they have not forgotten that things are still bad, that they continue to support the marginalised and oppressed. It may be a performative gesture, but it keeps the message in the public eye at a time when it must not be swept under the rug.

Mike Hall, AFC

City disingenuity

Here we go again, A dominant City performance for 45 mins, then our old foibles come out? What not pasting Wolves like every other team do?! Who didn’t expect Wolves to come back? City lost from the same position last year. Liverpool got 2 pens to start and finish Leeds off, played 10 men for a second half but they are a gulf apart? Spare me, we have Injuries so that result was top notch, trying to make it out as a lucky win is disingenuous to say the least.

Aggravated Keith

Sterling theatrics

So about two minutes into Man City’s first game of the season Raheem Sterling dives against Wolves.

Blatant cheating I’m sure you’ll agree.

Good news for Football365 though as now you have someone other than Jose to be honoured with the title of “prick of the week.”


Is VAR causing more goals?

Following on from the record number of goals scored in the last round of the EPL. I had this thought. Is the introduction of VAR having a significant impact on the increased number of goals being scored? Hear me out.

If we take the last two winners of the Champions League as exemplars of the best practices of top teams then one of the things these two clubs (Bayern Munich and Liverpool) do, is play a high line.

Now the arguments about playing a high defensive line are very akin to the old arguments about zonal versus man-to-man marking.  The old pros used to rage against zonal “never done in my day” etc. Now, never a Liverpool or Man City match starts without Jamie or Gary muttering about how a high line is “very dangerous, gives the opposition a chance, unnecessary risk” etc.

Is the fact that  Bayern and Liverpool do it so well is encouraging other clubs to follow their lead (though perhaps not as effectively)?

One of the key reasons for playing a high line (and Klopp alluded to this at the time of  VAR’s introduction) is that VAR will get all the offside decisions, no matter how marginal, correct.

A high line gives you the chance to press higher and more compactly and clearly works if done correctly. It is the failure to do it correctly that is contributing to the glut of goals (at least that’s my thesis)

To play a high line you need very skilful and very quick  defenders who have tremendous discipline for example at free kicks when they hold a high line and let the opposition run offside. This works for Bayern and Liverpool because of the quality of the players and coaching.

It does however genuinely give the opposition a chance if they are good enough and that’s what is happening – there are not enough fast defenders to go round all the EPL clubs but there are plenty of very fast forwards about. To play it correctly you need 4 good defenders but to beat it you need only 2 good attackers (Kane and Son anybody?)


The Jeep 

Dodgy United fax manchines

Jesus Christ, if this morning’s transfer gossip is to be believed, then United are even more of a disgrace than I thought.

Only just now – once the season has already started, and proper, organised clubs have their business done so that players can bed in and have a pre-season – does Ed Woodward and the lads decide it’s time to start shifting some players out so that they can try and bring people in?

And for what possible reason are United the only club in the world that can seemingly only talk to one agent or club at a time? I assume Ed has a commercial partner in the email game – the inboxes could surely take the strain of a second or third email chain… Maybe we’re still persevering with dodgy fax machines…

James, MUFC (van der Sar back as DoF and Patrice Evra as MC on top of the SAF Stand when crowds return please)

Matt doesn’t know his moles from his monotremes

If Matt Stead is going to try and make a clever alliteration to making mountains out of molehills, then he needs to know that moles are not egg-laying mammals. Those are the monotremes and consist of the platypus and various species of echidnas. While all of them can dig to varying degrees, none of the leave hills behind and even if they did, they wouldn’t be molehills if they are not made by moles.

There you go, don’t say I never learn you nothing.

Dave Hone

P.S. Birds are of course also warm-blooded (technically endothermic homeotherms) and egg-laying but the few species that dig don’t leave hills behind them either.

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