John Stones has explained why he received a telling off from Pep Guardiola during Manchester City’s 5-1 victory over Atalanta on Tuesday night.

Raheem Sterling struck three times in 11 minutes after Sergio Aguero had earlier netted twice to cancel out Ruslan Malinovskyi’s penalty opener at the Etihad Stadium.

The result took City five points clear at the top of Group C and within touching distance of the last 16 with three games still to play.

Guardiola called for Stones to come on just before the interval when Rodri went down with a hamstring injury.

However, the England international still needed to adjust his shin pads before climbing off the bench which seemed to incense Guardiola, who slammed a seat in his rage.

Stones told BT Sport: “I had them on but I just needed to fix them up properly. Time is of the essence and that’s what he wanted.”

Despite that, it was a good night for Guardiola, who feels City now have one foot in the knockout stages after another important victory.

“It was a really tough game against a really tough opponent. It was an incredible effort because they have a lot of quality,” Guardiola said.

“That is why I am so satisfied with the result. Three more points in the next game and we will be in the next stage.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

1) If one of the main complaints surrounding the implementation of VAR is that it removes the basic human instinct of uninhibitedly celebrating a crucial goal, the sights and sounds in the Etihad Stadium at around 7.21pm disproved that theory completely. No Manchester City fan paused to contemplate whether Gabriel Jesus’s stoppage-time goal would be disallowed; no Tottenham supporter took solace in the fact it could be overturned. No manager, player or coach thought of anything other than how a 3-2 result would affect them.

Fate dictated that it was in this exact fixture where that argument was first put forward. When Raheem Sterling’s late winner in the Champions League quarter-final last season was disallowed for a marginal offside, there was outrage as to how fans could no longer celebrate for fear of being made to look rather silly. Everyone would have to temporarily suspend their reaction to a goal for a minute to ensure it would stand.

Not so. The case against VAR is strong enough without having to manufacture reasons to hate it. Fans in the stadium are inexplicably the most ignored when it comes to the new technology, but their ability to unashamedly celebrate a goal has not been impinged upon. Their ability to bask in it for a little longer than 30 seconds? Well…

 

2) As someone with no strong opinion for or against VAR – and such disenfranchised disillusionment is likely a problem in itself – it seems necessary to also defend it with regards to that handball call. Aymeric Laporte did not intend to handle the ball and seemingly did not even realise he had done so from a late corner before Jesus struck. But under the new laws, that no longer matters. Any instance of ball striking hand in the build-up to a goal will see it ruled out, intentional or otherwise.

Those laws have been set out by the International FA board and no-one else. VAR exists purely to implement that and many of the game’s other problematic rules. It has many legitimate teething issues – the amount of time taken to come to a decision and the alienation of fans in attendance among them – but anger needs to be directed to the right places and for the right reasons.

 

3) It just so happened that Tottenham benefited again, as they did in April. But Mauricio Pochettino will be under no illusions: they just lasted 12 rounds with Mike Tyson because he kept on tripping over his shoelaces, not because they came even close to out-punching him.

The most alarming thing for large swathes of this match is that the visitors had no tactical identity, no clear game plan. They stumbled through the first half before improving in the second, particularly in defence. But for much of the game City treated them like training ground dummies solely because they resembled them.

Yet this is a sensational draw against a team that had not dropped a single Premier League point since January 29. It is a mark of champions to secure a result when not playing well; it is something else altogether to do so against the champions when not playing well. They have found that mental strength and backbone Pochettino has so craved.

 

4) City will be disappointed, particularly having had victory snatched away so cruelly, but this was a freak result. They had ten times as many shots as their opponent, five times as many on target and more than six times the amount of corners. Even with such reckless levels of poor finishing, that would have been enough to overcome any ordinary side. The Champions League runners-up are anything but.

It will be of no consolation to Guardiola, who will not be accustomed to his side showing such human characteristics for anything more than a fleeting moment. Failing to beat top-six opposition at home in the league for only the second time since April 2017 presents the slightest of chinks in this previously unyielding armour.

 

5) Even from City’s first shot of 30, Tottenham should have realised how the hosts had planned to hurt them. After a quiet opening, Kyle Walker burst forward past Davinson Sanchez after Danny Rose was caught out of position on seven minutes. He stopped in his tracks, changed direction and quickly cut the ball back to Sterling, whose effort was blocked by Kyle Walker-Peters.

The 22-year-old was carrying a massive bullseye on his back as by far the most inexperienced player on the pitch, yet the champions would actually target Rose down the left for most of the match. Guardiola perhaps expected Christian Eriksen to offer less defensive support than Moussa Sissoko, but even he could not have predicted Tanguy Ndombele to be so passive as to let City overload on Rose at will. It is no coincidence both of City’s goals came down his flank – and the only reason it wasn’t more was because of profligate finishing rather than the gaping hole eventually being patched up.

 

6) “Where VAR has been implemented successfully in other competitions it’s been a very high bar,” said Mike Riley, general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, in July. “We don’t want VAR to come in and try to re-referee the game. We actually want it to protect the referees from making serious errors, the ones where everybody goes: ‘Well, actually, that’s wrong.’”

The above line goes someway to explaining why Erik Lamela’s apparent foul on Rodri from a 12th-minute corner went unpunished by both Michael Oliver and his VAR overlords. As the delivery came in, Lamela’s arm was wrapped around the midfielder’s neck and he was applying enough pressure to send both to the ground. Play went on as the stadium waited for an intervention that never came.

The football layman has heard the phrase “clear and obvious error” repeated ad infinitum, but just as important here was the advent of “minimum interference for maximum benefit”, and the desire not to “re-referee the game”. The threshold that must be cleared to change an official’s decision – or advise them to do so, at least – is considerably higher than that to support it. Had Oliver given the penalty, VAR would likely have judged it to be the right call. It was an incident riddled with grey areas and opinions, thus it would have been difficult to claim that the official made a “clear and obvious error” either way.

“If we keep to that really high bar there is more chance of keeping the flow of the game, the intensity of the game and people enjoying the spectacle of it rather than constantly referring to the video screen for changing decisions,” Dean added last month. Therein lies the explanation for City not being awarded a penalty: the importance of the “flow of the game” justifiably outweighed the need to interrupt it to mull further over a debatable decision.

 

7) Undeterred, City would soon find their breakthrough. It felt like only a matter of time before one of their waves of attack carried Tottenham away, particularly as Pochettino’s side were happily floating along instead of fighting the tide.

The move started and finished with Sterling, but not in the traditional sense. The winger was faced with a wall of resistance on the left-hand side and so played the ball back to Oleksandr Zinchenko, then Aymeric Laporte and finally Nicolas Otamendi. City, a matter of yards from the opposition penalty area, were back at the halfway line.

Within the course of a few passes, one sensational cross and one excellent header, they were in front. Otamendi quickly played it out to the right-hand side where Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were parked, and after the pair combined to create space, De Bruyne destroyed the defence with a cross from deep. Sterling ghosted in behind Walker-Peters at the back post to guide his header beyond Hugo Lloris.

It was a perfect summary of City: a team who will gladly approach any obstacle from a different angle if it seems impenetrable at first. The computer had frozen, so Sterling simply turned it off at the back to reset it, waited patiently and soon logged back in.

 

8) And it was a mightily fine finish, one that should not be underplayed. De Bruyne’s cross was brilliant but bending and fiercely hit. Sterling had to time his run and, even then, had the smallest of spaces of the goal to aim at from such a wide position. He duly obliged.

After the opening-day hat-trick, those familiar questions over his finishing are no longer relevant. Guardiola has coaxed an elite-level forward out of a clearly talented but frustrating winger.

The only question now is how long he will remain at the Etihad. Sterling has become a two-time Premier League winner and one-time FWA Footballer of the Year in four seasons, yet it feels as though his City cycle could be coming to an end. For a player who once professed that his childhood “dream” to “play abroad somewhere” was fuelled by a quaint desire “to finish training and go home and sit in your garden and eat some dinner,” money is clearly not his main ambition (be quiet, Liverpool fans). The power of a kid’s ambitions should not be underplayed.

This is already the 24-year-old’s ninth season dining at the Premier League table; it will only be so long until he decides to expand his footballing diet and broaden his European horizons. Who can blame him?

 

9) Tottenham had 28% possession and zero shots to City’s seven from the first minute to the 20th, then 59.8% possession and zero shots to City’s seven from the 25th minute to half-time. An almost crippling inertia became an unfathomable level of control against such an overbearing side, yet they had nothing to show for their efforts.

Save for those five bizarre minutes during which they barely misplaced a pass, started to press and harry and equalised Sterling’s opener within 203 seconds, of course. Erik Lamela’s effort from outside the box seemed so out of place from what came before it and stunned the Etihad into silence.

The pass that preceded it from Ndombele seemed simple but it achieved what Spurs had struggled to before then. He received the ball in space from Winks and immediately looked up, found Lamela in a small space between Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan, and played a short, sharp pass to the Argentine.

Not only did it break the lines, but it almost goaded Lamela to press forward instead of taking stock to play it sideways or backwards. Ndombele’s pass was ever so slightly ahead of him and encouraged Lamela to attack. He dribbled ten or so yards before a curled finish.

If the intricacies in Ndombele’s pass were by design, you can see why Pochettino was so desperate to sign him. It might have been a happy accident, but there is something special about a player who can conjure such moments even during otherwise average performances.

 

10) Not that it should have ever got that far. Lamela was under no pressure when receiving the pass and faced a further lack of opposition as he sprinted forward with the ball. Guardiola was incensed as his midfielders and defenders simply stood off.

But Ederson was the main culprit. His positioning was lackadaisical and his reactions too slow to compensate as a fairly central shot flew past him. It was the first of two on-target shots he would concede over 90 minutes to cap a disappointing evening. You know you’ve f**ked it as a goalkeeper if David Preece digs you out.

 

11) Lloris was as impactful as Ederson was ineffective. The Frenchman still induces a couple of heart palpitations throughout any given match with his kicking and distribution, which was tested to its absolute limit by a ferocious City press. Yet this was a man-of-the-match performance to remember.

Bernardo Silva was denied from close range. Laporte was kept out. Zinchenko saw his rasping effort stopped. And that was just in the first half; Zinchenko, Silva, Sterling and, most acrobatically of all, Rodri were thwarted in the second.

Even when it seemed certain he would be beaten after Silva hooked a corner onto his crossbar as Otamendi waited to finish the rebound, Lloris predicted the flight of the ball and, facing his own goal with the City centre-half behind him, pounced to avert danger. Were the two keepers to have swapped sides and replicated their displays it would have been a decisive home victory.

 

12) Parity would be restored for no longer than 12 minutes. As Tottenham started to grow into the game City reminded them and the viewing public what makes them so dangerous: a predictable but unpreventable attack.

Walker, De Bruyne, Silva, De Bruyne, Aguero, goal. It looks simple because it is simple, yet there is no simple way to stop it. Do teams just fall into a default tactic of putting a defender in front of the six-yard box and a midfielder on the penalty spot when they sense City slipping into their mechanical mode? Would that even be enough?

Not with the quality of De Bruyne’s delivery. The way City manufactured space by pulling Rose out of position for the Belgian to find space down the right was magnificent, and his low, driven cross was masterful. Aguero’s movement baffled the centre-halves and he could hardly miss.

Jurgen Klopp can put forward Adam Lallana as “a new signing” if he so wishes, but the greatest buy City made this summer was that of time for De Bruyne to recover and regain full fitness. He really could be the difference.

 

13) From then on, the question was again how Pochettino actually wanted to approach this game. His line-up was industrious and, for want of a better phrase, trained in the art of sh*thousery. Lamela, Sissoko and Ndombele in the same side promises a few bruises and bloodied noses. But they were down 11-9 on tackles at half-time, with no suggestion that they could create another goal out of nothing.

Did this game call for the experience of Jan Vertonghen instead of Sanchez? Might Juan Foyth have offered a little more solidity than Walker-Peters? Was the balance of Giovani Lo Celso required? Was it possible not to leave Kane so isolated up front?

Yet perhaps Pochettino’s biggest call, starting Lamela ahead of Lucas Moura, doubly paid off. The former opened the scoring and the latter closed it within seconds of his introduction. For a manager who once struggled to alter the course of games with his changes, he has clearly learned. Having such talent on the bench helps, mind.

 

14) Moura’s looping, front-post header was excellent – although Ederson should have done better. Walker will be equally dissatisfied at being beaten in the air so definitively.

There was a delicious contrast in Lamela’s corner being converted after finding the first man and Eriksen’s generally failing to reach that point. The Dane was integral in helping Tottenham beat Villa last week, but could do worse than asking his teammate for set-piece tips.

 

15) That, in the 56th minute, was to be Tottenham’s penultimate shot. Their last arrived via the feet of Kane two minutes later, but did not find the target.

The final half an hour therefore saw City having 11 efforts without reply. It gave Sanchez and, to a lesser extent, Alderweireld an opportunity to atone for their earlier mistakes. It provided Ndombele, Winks and Sissoko the platform to prove that their collective first-half defensive aberration was the outlier. It offered Tottenham a reprieve as a side more famed for their goalscoring ability was allowed to show another dimension to their game.

They did not hold City at arm’s length, nor did they cling on by their fingertips. It was a performance riddled with mistakes but typified by a killer instinct at the right end. September is a fortnight away and Tottenham are already battle-hardened by a comeback victory and a smash-and-grab point away at the champions.

 

16) Sterling (6), Silva (5) and De Bruyne (4) all had more shots than Tottenham (3), as did Jesus (4) in 25 substitute minutes. Left-back Zinchenko, who seemed to pick up an injury at one point, matched them for efforts on target (2).

VAR will be blamed, but this was more of a mortal failure than a technological one. Perhaps City should have had a first-half penalty and a stoppage-time winner, but had they taken just one more of their many chances they would not be mourning either. VAR is undeniably imperfect but, on this rarest of occasions, City were even more so.

Matt Stead

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

That it took 76 minutes to break down Aston Villa last weekend will not fill Tottenham Hotspur fans with confidence ahead of a trip to Manchester City, who barely had to move out of first gear on Saturday to destroy West Ham. Three years of Pep Guardiola’s tactical training have given City the muscle memory to pass and move in perfect triangles, making them vastly superior to any other team in England.

But Tottenham do tend to raise their game when facing Man City, pressing aggressively to create a tense and oppressive midfield battle. The win won’t come easy for Guardiola’s side, and yet with Tottenham looking vulnerable in the full-back positions and missing both Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli, the hosts should collect the three points.

Here are five tactical questions ahead of Man City v Spurs:

 

1) Will Pochettino go three at the back to sure up Rose and Walker-Peters?
Tottenham lined up in a 3-5-2 formation the last time these sides met, a 1-0 victory for Man City at the Etihad in April, and Mauricio Pochettino could deploy the same formation to provide additional support to Danny Rose and Kyle Walker-Peters. Both full-backs have an error in them, Rose having been beaten too easily by John McGinn in Spurs’ opener and 22-year-old Walker-Peters still raw. Playing with three centre-backs also has its advantages in helping to close out the inside-forward spaces in which Raheem Sterling tends to occupy.

However, it is more likely that Pochettino will use the diamond 4-4-2 that began the Aston Villa match, not least because Juan Foyth’s injury and apparent fitness concerns over Jan Vertonghen leaves the Tottenham manager with limited options at the back. In a diamond, Spurs can pack the midfield with bodies while giving Christian Eriksen the creative freedom he enjoyed against Villa from an advanced role – as well as pick Harry Kane and Lucas Moura to counter-attack together up front.

 

2) Will Ndombele be able to prevent De Bruyne from running the right channel?
The diamond formation, essentially using four central midfielders, should create a claustrophobic and compact game at the Etihad, more reminiscent of the three 1-0s between the sides last year than City’s 4-3 win in the Champions League. In such a cluttered midfield battle, the key head-to-head is between Tanguy Ndombele and Kevin de Bruyne.

De Bruyne’s role has changed slightly this season. The Belgian alternates between dropping alongside Rodri to help out his new team-mate defensively and drifting out into the right half-space to collaborate with Riyad Mahrez in attack. These two overloaded West Ham left-back Aaron Cresswell last weekend to devastating effect, and should be able to similarly trouble Rose on Saturday – particularly if Spurs play with such a narrow midfield.

Moussa Sissoko is likely to be the midfielder closest to Rose, but it is Ndombele’s presence at both ends that should either force De Bruyne alongside Rodri or allow him to roam up the pitch. Should the Frenchman burst forward in possession and seek to support Eriksen, then De Bruyne’s influence will be limited; theirs is a territorial battle that will go some way to deciding which side is on top.

 

3) Can Kane put pressure on Rodri?
Against both Liverpool and West Ham, Rodri was caught in possession on a couple of occasions in the opening 20 minutes, a typical sign of teething problems after arriving in such a fast and physical division. The mainstream narrative is that Rodri managed to adapt as each game wore on, but in reality it’s just that both of City’s opponents lowered the intensity of their pressing and tackling at around the half-hour mark.

Spurs are unlikely to similarly let up. Harry Kane in particular has a big role to play dropping into his favoured number ten position and nicking possession from Rodri, but it would be naïve to pinpoint just one player looking to harass the Spaniard off the ball. The only times West Ham looked close to scoring at London Stadium last Saturday was when Rodri was pickpocketed and space suddenly opened up in the final third. Pochettino will most definitely instruct his players to swarm Rodri.

 

4) How can Spurs target Zinchenko?
The obvious weak point in the Man City team is Oleksandr Zinchenko, who always looks a bit shaky and positionally unsure when playing left-back. However, Tottenham’s probable formation doesn’t provide a clear pathway to target the Ukrainian, particularly given that Walker-Peters will be instructed to play cautiously with Sterling lurking on the left.

Lucas Moura, peeling off to the right, is the only quick attacker in the Spurs team while Heung-Min Son serves his suspension, and so he is their best option to run in behind Zinchenko when Tottenham launch counters. Long balls into the channels from Toby Alderweireld would be a good idea in such a restrictive, high-pressing game.

But such is the complexity and efficiency of Guardiola’s tactic,s Zinchenko is unlikely to be exposed. In fact, he will pop up in central midfield just as often as left-back, providing cover for when Rodri strides into the Spurs half and making himself available for the connecting ball between Kyle Walker and Sterling. Chinks in City’s armour are so minute Spurs probably won’t discover them.

 

5) Will Sterling versus Walker-Peters settle the contest?
The machine-like efficiency of Sterling at the moment should strike fear into Spurs fans, particularly as the game wears on and gaps begin to open up. That he faces Walker-Peters is problematic. The right-back has the athleticism to stand Sterling up when one on one, but the bigger risk is during moments when City counter-attack on the outside of Tottenham’s narrow midfield, with Sterling particularly threatening making runs on the inside of the opposition full-back.

In all probability City’s superiority across the pitch will bring them victory, but should Spurs manage to restrict the hosts then Guardiola will look to Sterling’s one-on-one with Walker-Peters as the main source of a late goal.

 

Alex Keble

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

The vast majority of them – no. Clubs must register new signings with the FA by 12noon on the day before a match to be eligible to play in that match.

So it the clock ticks past noon on deadline day and your club still hasn’t announced their signing, you’re likely going to have to wait until August 17 to see them play.

What about players signed after the transfer deadline passes?

Anyone to have seen a transfer deadline day knows full well that a huge amount of deals get done after the window ‘slams shut’.

That is because something called the ‘deal sheet’ exists, which allows for more time to complete a deal that has passed a certain point in the process. The Premier League explains:

“Clubs sometimes conclude deals at the last minute and it is not always easy for them to get everything completed and sent over by the deadline.

“The deal sheet allows a club to confirm that a deal has been reached in order to allow for additional time to submit the remaining documentation.

“For a deadline of 17:00 BST, the deal sheet cannot be used before 15:00 and needs to arrive fully completed before the transfer window closes.

“Once the sheet arrives, clubs have got until 19:00 in which to submit the full paperwork.”

One point of note here is that international transfers working under ‘deal sheet’ principles have until midnight to complete.

Harry Maguire TEAMtalk

Can we expect many deals on transfer deadline day?

Probably not as many as in years gone by, in truth. It’s fair to say that the top clubs have figured out transfer windows much better in recent years and generally avoid the last-minute frenzy now.

Last summer, spending dropped by £100m on deadline day to £110m.

Indeed, should a deadline day frenzy not materialise, we will probably be looking at a record low number of total Premier League summer deals since the transfer window was introduced in 2002.

Can we expect the big clubs to be active on transfer deadline day?

It’s probably unlikely. The bigger the club the more transfer-savvy they seem to be this year and they get deals done earlier and on their terms.

They have all splashed the cash already, with Manchester United spending £130million on Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Manchester City paying Atletico Madrid £62.8million for Rodri, and Tottenham capturing Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for £55million.

Man Utd may still be in the market for more and Liverpool may have a little look, but I’d not expect too many signings for the bigger clubs. Traditionally, they have focused more on offloading unwanted contracts on deadline day.

Chelsea certainly won’t be signing anyone, as they are currently under a transfer ban.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Send your thoughts to theeditor@football365.com

 

The hope has returned (along with some theories)
Dear MC,

Oh Gawd, not again. Arsenal are resurrecting that most vicious of commodities, hope.

I mean, I’ve found myself, as a 40 year old pawing through YouTube clips of Pepe while I should be doing you know, actual work. If we do finally get Tierney then it will be the majority of transfer business done.

Shifting Koscielny should be an absolute priority. He can literally p*ss off for all I care. Second should be Mustafi who inexplicably might actually be attracting interest. Who could we go in for? Lascelle? It would be great just to have a solid Premier League defender. I’m not even fussed if it isn’t anyone more glamourous than that.

However, I’ve now started developing some theories (not my end of the world prepper ones, just football related this time). Zaha wants to come to Arsenal and we want him but with Pepe joining there will be no space, right? Well, maybe there still could be. Aubameyang’s agent has been flirting with ManYoo if you believe an internet. That may actually be no bad thing if he were to go as the funds would give us the ability to go back in for Zaha and possibly even a proper centre back as well.

Crikey, can you imagine a front three of Zaha, Pepe and Lacazette? Wow.

Now who on earth could we attract as a decent *cough* centre *Alderweireld* back?
JazGooner

 

Liverpool expectations
I get that it’s very difficult to work out what constitutes a reasonable expectation for Liverpool this season, but jeez, fourth place and a Europa League? In effect conceding a 25 point swing to two rival teams, back to the days of finishing 20+ points off the title, a dismal CL defence that falls at the first hurdle? There is no way this could be considered anything but abject failure, regardless of the Europa League trophy.

Maybe it needs repeating that but for the unprecedented brilliance of Pep-era Man City, Liverpool would be coming off the back of a PL/CL double, a record premier league points total and an invincible season. They would be, unarguably, the best club side England had ever seen. The fact that City have somehow managed to be even better should not deflect from this. So, to go from matching them almost step for step to being an unremarkable part of the chasing pack 25 points back would represent a huge regression, proving last season to be a 2013/14 style aberration rather than part of a journey.

I’m not saying that fourth + EL is not a realistic expectation by the way; just that we couldn’t be happy with it in the context of last season. We all know that City will win the league every season under Pep, so the mission is to keep as close to them as possible and make sure we’re first in line to capitalise on the inevitable transitional season when he eventually leaves. If City walk the title again in 19/20 and their European ban is upheld, that could even be next season – so if we’re serious about actually winning the league at some point then our priority has to be to maintain position ahead of the chasing pack, far more so than fleeting FA Cup or Europa League success.

For what it’s worth I can’t see us being as strong as last season again as we’ll struggle for goals with the front three all in desperate need of some time off but with no serious cover for any of them. City will barely wobble with the departing Kompany and ageing Aguero, D Silva and Fernandinho being compensated for by Rodri, B Silva and a full season of KDB. On this basis I’d happily take second now; even a narrow third would be acceptable as Spurs will likely reach the low 80s as well. Fourth, though, would mean finishing below one of the basket cases of Chelsea, Arsenal and Utd – all of whom have significant problems to deal with and none of whom are likely to get more than 70odd points – which would be disastrous.
JG LFC

 

Hello

A short mail.

To answer would fourth and Europa League be a successful season for Liverpool.

Er no.

Loving the thinking that last season was as good as it gets for them.
Ged Biglin

 

Weighing in with my two cents on this one. If Liverpool fail to make any significant signings capable of challenging for a first team position my sense is that we are in trouble. By trouble I mean I don’t think top four will be a given let alone challenging for the league which is, as FSG announced recently, our number one target this season.

People keep referring to Spurs achieving 4th with no signings – Spurs imploded last season (Spurs fans this is not a dig). They scrapped fourth and only just because of the sheer incompetence of the teams around them. I’m genuinely not having a go at Spurs and can understand why the season should be deemed a huge success given their achievements with no investment but that doesn’t mean it should be a measure of success for Liverpool to benchmark against for the coming season.

Chelsea aside, all other top eight sides have strengthened or continue to do so. Pre-season has only served to demonstrate that we do not have the players required to make an impact when key players are missing. I’m delighted the club is investing in the future and giving youth players opportunities but that doesn’t mean the club cannot add to its ranks, especially with the amount of games the squad is facing next season.

Origi might just suffice as cover for Firmino with a more direct style of play but he clearly requires quality around him to create the space he needs to operate in. Current cover for the wings isn’t good enough, especially not if Liverpool are willing to sell which they are. At least one player capable of challenging Mane or Salah is needed. Personally I think a LW makes more sense as Mane is capable of operating on the right and could cover Salah if needed.

The squad is also screaming for an attacking midfielder to link play between midfield and create opportunities for the front free. The existing pool needs a fresh face to liven things up, especially if the alternative is to watch Lallana do Cruyff turns in his new holding position. You’d think proper cover for Robertson would be mandatory but apparently Milner and Gomez will be expected to do a job here.

I believe in Klopp and the LFC management team but if the squad remains as is I get the feeling we’re in for a rocky 2019/20 season. To answer Minty’s question I’d take your hand off if an FA Cup win and 2nd or 3rd in the league was offered..

I hope I’m wrong, please prove me wrong lads..
Dazza, LFC, Dublin

 

Man United’s transfer policy
I wrote a few emails of why I thought Solskjaer isn’t an improvement on Mourinho and was laughed at especially after the Tottenham win where I myself waivered but I predicted no top 4 and so it has come.

But now we are where we are I would like to focus on transfer policy. There seems to be an idea amongst fans that signing good players is bad. Because they don’t fit the system. Pogba, and others are named as proof of this. I don’t think Pogba is a great player. I think Ferguson saw that for all his natural ability his mentality isn’t there and got rid. I think a lot of players we were told were great, ready made players weren’t.

Who in the current team was a world class player when bought? Lukaku was playing for Everton and no offence to them but they aren’t competing with the Barcelonas Reals and Munichs of this world. Rashford, young untested, Martial young untested. We went from the best CB pairing in the world in Rio and Vidic to Smalling Jones Lindeloff Bailly.

The issue is we are unable to tell which not yet world class players will go on to be world class. Vidic was a relative unknown untested player when he came from CSKA, Rooney was an Everton player when he came but unlike Lukaku he proved to be a good buy. Until we learn to get these players again and considering the rut we are in buying world class players is the best path. For the money United spent on Pogba and Lukaku you could have bought Neymar.

Instead of buying Chiellini we got Bailly (really just injury prone, could be good if he stayed healthy for a few seasons) and Lindeloff. Instead of tempting Eriksen with a 100 million offer we got Fred. We are buying in the bargain bin and have for a while and it isn’t working out. We already have more than enough kids, we need leaders.
Dino (Both Dybala and Maguire fall under the umbrella of not yet proven, though Dybala is better) Kantardzic

 

United optimism
So it seems coming closer to the start of the new season United fans are quietly optimistic, now if the purported transfers of Fernandez, Maguire and Dybala actually happen then we start looking like an exciting prospect again.

De Gea, Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Pogba, Fernandez, McTominey, Martial, Rashford, Dybala with a supporting cast of exciting kids gives me hope for the future, make it happen Woodward.
On the footballing musical theme I love Don Fardon’s Belfast Boy about a certain George Best, when it comes to terrace chants there are a few United ones which were funny rather than goose bump creating, the Tim Howard chant regarding his tourettes and the subsequent chant when he asked fans not to sing it. My favourite United chant though had to be What a friend we have in Jesus in relation to Eric Cantona.

Cheers,
Paul Murphy, Manchester

 

Watching over pre-season, you can very much see the style Solskjaer wants to play in copying City, Liverpool and Spurs high press. I hope some good early results in the season will give him time to work and implement this as he gets to add players over a number of transfer windows, people need to remember City and Liverpool especially took some hammerings in the first season or so of Klopp and Guardiola implementing this, as getting it wrong can leave you very open.

My greater concern while all the media focus on needing a Centre Back, is where are the goals coming from? We have been encouraging right up until the final ball in pre-season but do not seem to have anyone in the box who wants to score tap ins, both Martial and Rashford holding positon on the penalty spot, we need a player to look for the tap ins.
Duncan

 

Sorry, Gareth Bale…
I wrote in a few months ago about Gareth Bale and the nonsense that seems to be written about him.  In short it was about how the things he does can either paint him to be an anti-social weirdo or a model professional.  If you come out on the side of anti-social weirdo you’ve not only read the reports but just swallowed the media’s narrative hook line and sinker.  Think for yourselves.
The thing that made me write in again is Ashley Metcalfe’s mail yesterday.  Skimming over the opinion that paying young working class men a wage in line with the money they bring in for their employer is somehow a Tory ideal, let’s talk about tax.  Now I’m not a tax expert and I’m assuming that Wan Bissaka and Gareth Bale actually pay tax.  Wan Bissaka will pay £1,785,000 in tax in a year.  If Bale moves to China and is still resident in the UK he’ll pay £23,385,000 in tax per year.  Also, Gareth Bale’s money is coming from a foreign country so he earns the UK government, and by extension the NHS, more money than most UK export businesses.  This is all based on the assumption that their reported wage is before tax; if it’s after tax then inflate those figures massively.  I don’t know how much Ashley earns but I’d suspect that Gareth Bale will pay more tax in a week than Ashley will in his entire working life but feel free to stay up there on your high horse.  Football seems to be one of the incredibly few industries where the workers get an equitable share of the companies income, turn your attention to CEO’s wages if you want to pretend to be socialist.

The bottom line is that player’s wages come from gate receipts and media rights.  Clubs and the media get their money directly from the fans through tickets, subscriptions and merchandise.  If you have a problem with players’ wages then stop consuming the media, you’re enabling the problem you’re complaining about.

It’s hurts me to say this but I’ve always loved Liquidator by The Harry J All Stars that Chelsea play before their home matches.
SC, Belfast

 

Things that bug me
Just a couple of thing s that always bug me about transfer windows, not about who X is signing or when, or for how much, rather the language used in the press, most of the time I’m left thinking, why is it worded that way, it makes no sense, here are some examples

X manager has a 100 million war chest, probably the most stupid word to use for a budget ever. The  the definition of a war chest is either:  reserve of funds used for fighting a war or, a sum of money used for conducting a campaign “the party’s election war chest”, dumb as it comes! This is neither a war or an election, it’s an attempt to buy a player, please stop using this

X club is braced for a bid from Y club, eh…..no, no they are not, I’m pretty sure they are doing their own business probably with their “war chest” and will deal with things if and when they happen. Its hard to imagine the CEO sitting there braced like he’s about to get punched by Mike Tyson for 2 months straight, please stop using this

X club is preparing a bid, what’s this about? Preparing a bid? So, does this mean they send a full blown contract to club Y when they submit a bid? Although I understand there will be plenty of paperwork down the road of the deal, surely the initial contact is something along the lines of a phone call or meeting where they ask about a player and mention a price, when you hear about some of the deals that have happened (say on deadline day) its literally, how much do you want? We want 50 million, Great let’s do this! Isn’t much preparation in that.

I’m sure there are loads more but they are the 3 that spring to mind, maybe other reads have some that irritate them?
Vernon (Dublin, Ireland)

 

More football songs
Not exactly a rival song but my favourite football related song for me has to me Mas Que Nada.

It immediately brings up images of The Greatest Football Advert EVER ™, that Nike one in the airport.

Romario smashing it through the x-ray machine and R9 unbelievably hitting the post at the end, scenes.
Benjamin (Mikey, Wavin’ Flag is a certified banger)

 

Not sure about wage caps
Just a quick note on wage caps for footballers, though I fully agree that they earn obscene amounts of money I still believe a wage cap would not only be detrimental to attracting the best players but would also not win many fans at the Treasury.

From firsthand experience they are treated as employees, which means they’ll pay top rates of tax on their earnings via PAYE (as they should of course) which on a superstar earning £100-250k a week is quite a large amount of dough being transferred to the treasury. In some cases they’ll need to do a tax return at the end of the year to scoop up any unpaid tax on things like investments, sponsorships and image rights etc (although the structure of image rights deals has been well publicized as, if not illegal, morally ambiguous and potentially an abuse of the system. That’s a whole different email)

Long story short, If we cap footballers wages, we’re capping the potential to tax whatever obscene amounts of money being thrown their way. That’s money we need to pay for schools, the NHS, police officers etc. We shouldn’t do that. Especially not now, with the country potentially heading over a cliff.
Al (THFC)

 

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