Can this Man United have another trophyless season?

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A big old season for…
First email to the inbox and whilst reading other letters I had a few thoughts.

Transfer nonsense – a friend once said that if club X wanted player Y they would just get them, or that if they were good enough then another big club would get them. If not good enough, then they won’t move and ultimately the rumour is rubbish. I agree with this. Reminds me so much of the Camavinga to Man Utd rumours and similar, whereby the talk of ‘tabling bids’ or ‘planning offers’ is bollocks, as I suspect. Anyone else as cynical as me?

Big seasons (a selection):

Leeds – can they solidify and even climb the table or will they be ‘found out’ as is always quoted during the second season? Will they bother with the cups (I’m a fan and relieved we had less games but would have loved a cup run).

Man City – does Pep need the Champions League to avoid the sack?

Man Utd – surely their best chance to win a trophy with Sancho and potentially Varane and Trippier to join?

Spurs – can they be fun again under Nuno? Can they get one season out of Kane (ala Fergie persuading Ronaldo to stay one more season)?

Liverpool – time for a proper fight to reclaim their title and in my opinion, give the cups a good go.

Norwich – will they just settle for being back in the top flight and get their bellies tickled or can they give it a good go and get settled at the top table?

Mediawatch – I like reading it but avoid reviewing local papers – biased, nonsense clickbait (like the redtops but you need to review something I suppose).

Take care of yourselves,
Tom, Leeds fan in Newcastle


Everton and their sensible signings
I saw some comments regarding Everton’s recent acquisitions being a little underwhelming, especially considering the big ‘name’, well at least price, acquisitions more recently. It made me wonder how much it costs to build a decent data analysis team, because it was clear Everton didn’t have one during that manic spending spree. I would imagine the profit on even one ‘junior’ player would more than cover the outlay. It just seems like such an incredible return on investment and makes you wonder why more clubs don’t.

United always seem to be looking at ‘galacticos’ – proven but highly expensive players – both in transfer fee and wages. Then we have clubs like Leicester and Liverpool who seem to be able to either get a bargain, be able to sell players on at a profit or both. Even clubs like Brentford have used this approach to gradually increase their spending budget and finally make it to the Premier League.

While clubs like City, Chelsea and Utd can afford to buy big and even take a hit, it amazes me that more clubs vying to get into the top end aren’t doing what Leicester are doing. So many are hoping to be acquired by a deep pockets benefactor. But even if you are, it would still make sense to spend on a great back office team – data analytics, physio, etc.

Of course, when they do look for ways to find an edge or in Clive Woodward-ese, marginal gains, the traditional football ‘journalists’ deride the teams for being a bit whacked. Clive was constantly mocked – until he brought home the World Cup. Same happens all the time in football. Using stats and data analysis – hahaha. Then the Sunday Times runs an article by Moyes where he talks about how data is being used to improve training, set pieces, etc. Oh, if dour old Dave is using them then it must be okay.

Anyway, given Everton have already spent a wad, they seem to be spending more frugally now.

One can only hope they are also doing so using data and not just filling holes. After all, recently it seemed they more like the fable about the boy trying to stick his fingers in the dyke (now, now) in a futile attempt to prevent a breach. If not, Benitez is literally going to have his hands full.
Paul McDevitt


Just not getting it…
In reply to Stu, Southampton, the player that I don’t get is Marco Veratti. Most games I’ve seen him in he hits simple five-yard sideways passes, gives away stupid free kicks, acts like he has been shot any time an opposition player gets within two yards of him and then spends the rest of the time chasing the referee around the pitch trying to get someone sent off. I genuinely can’t stand him.
Sam, Newtownabbey


…Stu, Southampton asked about players that we ‘Simply Do Not Get’, now I thought I would take my time with this one for obvious reasons, recently I’ve warmed to Jordan Henderson because I never understood why he was seen as this outstanding player but he is a winner of two major trophies in Liverpool’s history and of course he is the embodiment of “Captain” in the modern era, great personality, and for all the work he has done on and off the field i do understand the love and admiration he gets.

Anyway on to players I do not get:

Javier Pastore – I love him as a playmaker, he does have a top game now and then but whenever I have watched him play he never sets the game a light, he cost a lot of money and has never even once lived up to the value or the hype.

Willian – Yes I am including a former blue, when his contract was expiring i have never seen a player divide our fanbase so much, but i still cannot understand why so many wanted him to be offered the ridiculous high wage, long term deal he wanted, he literally puts in one or two 8/10 performances a season, the rest are below average, think most Arsenal fans now know our pain of seeing that.

Kevin Strootman – Feels like he is always injured, yet Manchester United were always linked with big money moves for the midfielder.
Mikey, CFC


Penalty talk
I see the oracle of penalties is referenced yet again, having seemingly made a post-playing career out of critiquing anyone who dares to miss/fail to score one. While Le Tissier certainly had an excellent penalty record, did he ever take one under the kind of pressure that was experienced by the team against Italy? It isn’t even remotely comparable. Being the regular penalty taker for your club – a club at which you are hero-worshipped – is not the same. Shearer has written of the mental pressure involved in shootouts, and speaks from a position of understanding. Matt Le Tissier understands the concept of taking a penalty, but not what it means nor how it feels to take one in an international knockout match. And considering his reluctance to leave his comfort zone, I’m not sure how replicable his penalty success would have been at the elite level.

Let’s stop pretending that penalty success is purely an issue of practice. It will help, but nothing ‘artificial’ can help truly prepare a player for that long walk from the centre circle. Not an air horn, not an hour knocking shots past a 15-year-old keeper. The thing that hurts us in penalty shootouts is the psychological barrier, which will only grow stronger when players know that an innocent mistake will see them viciously and disgustingly hounded by scum.

If we want our players to be more effective in shootouts, the first thing we need them to understand is that, miss or score, we support them regardless.


…A few people have mailed in (or posted comments) on penalties and what England can do to improve.

As a few people have mentioned, the biggest issue with England and penalty shoot-outs is firmly in the heads of the players in question. If you believe something will happen, odds are it will quite a lot of the time. England believe they won’t do well with penalties, so they don’t do well with penalties.

This England team, needs to forget about what happened before. The penalty shoot-out record for this team is now 2 wins and 1 loss. Players missing penalties 15-30 years ago should have zero impact on these guys.

The guys who don’t regularly take penalties in matches should be looking towards the kickers in rugby to learn what to do. They develop a routine which allows them to tune everything else out and concentrate on just taking the kick. The routine helps them to focus on doing something they’ve done countless times a day for months on end, rather than on the idea that they’re about to take a kick to win a tournament.

The guys who don’t regularly take penalties need to be able to walk up to the penalty spot knowing exactly what they are going to do down to the tiniest detail, i.e. ‘I’m going to place the ball, take four steps back at this angle, take a deep breathe, take six steps in my run up before kicking the ball high to my left’.

The reality is you don’t want your players to be thinking about what scoring, or missing, this penalty will mean. You want them to be completely focused on the process they are going to follow. Of course, sometimes they’ll mishit it or the keeper will get a hand to it, but those are things you can’t really control (as long as you haven’t just hit it straight at him). If the players follow the process, 9 times out of 10 it will work the way it’s meant to.

In regards to having penalty shoot-outs after drawn league matches, I think the biggest problem with that is that you’re creating a huge database for the opposition, without actually gaining too many benefits from them (there’s no real pressure when failure leads to exactly what you would have gotten anyway). Donnarumma and his coaches would have had a spreadsheet of where every player put every penalty. Why give them that much help for pretty much zero benefit?

Also, Paul mentions that shoot-outs at the end of a drawn game sounds like something from the USA, and he’s right, kind of. It was the J-League who ended drawn matches with penalty shoot-outs. The MLS did end drawn matches with a shoot-out but it was differently in two ways from the mentioned suggestions. Firstly, if you won a match on a penalty shoot-out you only got 1 point, instead of the 3 for a normal win. The losing team received nothing. Secondly, they used what they called Wild West shoot-outs, instead of penalties. In short, the attacker started with the ball 32 metres out, with the keeper on the line. They then had 5 seconds to score. The keeper could do what he wanted to stop them, as long as he started on the line. It sounds crazy, but it looks fun.


…How about winning the game in normal time, rather than wait for penalties to win a game.

Look at England’s penalty history in all major tournaments over the last 55 years, have we won any?

Southgate knows the pain of missing a penalty shootout, would he now want to avoid going through that again!

Italy were the better team by far, but this has to be one of the “poorest” Italian sides we have seen in a long time. They didn’t even qualify for the last World Cup.

In contrast, this has to be one of the better England team we have seen in a long while. Certainly better than the so called golden generation.

Bringing on Grealish, Rashford and Sancho at the beginning of extra time surely would have yielded a different result. Heck if we lost in an extra time so be it.
Christian Gooner Toronto


…Just a quick one on the penalty debate. For the record I am not English but I think penalties as a way to decide the biggest games in football is a ridiculous concept that should have been done away with ages ago.

Instead of picking your five best penalty takers, why not select your five best ‘futsal’ players to play 15 minutes of five a side across half of the pitch. There is a very small chance of this ending goalless or in a stalemate but if it does, then the other five come on and play golden goal until someone scores. This way a larger range of skills are in play and it retains the element of being a team game rather than individuals feeling all of the pressure/taking all of the blame.
Lawrence (I was cheering for Italy but still irked by the way England bottled it) SA


He’s 27 until he’s 28
Sorry but my biggest pet pieve of the mailbox is when people say the age of a player at their next birthday. So last mailbox was an email saying Gini will be 31 in November. I get if the birthday is in 1 month but 4 months away just seems ridiculous to me. This always happens. A player can be 27 as of January and someone will say he is getting old and turns 28 in August. Just say their current age. We are all able to plus one! Rant over. Any other massive pet peeves people have from the mailbox?
David (they will always be one year older) Morris

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