The Mailbox offers Ralf reasons to be optimistic at Man Utd…

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Shame Ronaldo doesn’t press.
Ed, Ottawa


Conclusions from United 3-2 Arsenal
1. No other place to begin other than ‘that’ goal, one of those that you would appeal to be given if your team had scored it but you feel a little hard done by when it is scored against you. I’ll concede – it was a goal.

2. De Gea has dug himself a real hole by going down and curling up into a fetus. His worst days were early on at United when teams knew bullying him in the box works. Wouldn’t be surprised if opponents start trying to step on his feet/heels now. He really should have let the ball run out before going down. Would pay good money to see Roy Keane’s reaction to this!

3. What is Fred? Why is Fred? He was United’s most consistent performer in the first half – couldn’t pass, couldn’t defend, couldn’t head, couldn’t shoot – but ended the first half with an assist and won United a penalty in the second half. Fred pretty much embodies Manchester United under Ole – incompetent at most times but just about does enough in crucial moments to justify his selection. The block right at the end was great though.

4. This game was always going to be played under Rangnick’s shadow. The three points are always crucial but it was important for every player to impress the new boss here. On this display, I think he might have seen enough he can work with.

5. I feel United won this game with their full backs. It was evident right from the start that Dalot was offering more on the right than Wan Bissaka ever has. He constantly found himself in space in attacking positions, giving Bruno an out ball on the right every team the opponent crowded the left. Telles also constantly made runs on the outside, as good as Shaw is he tends to move inside and all of United’s play then is narrow. United had genuine width tonight.

6. Wan Bissaka to Dalot is what will signify the end of Ole into the new United era in my opinion. Dalot was more than capable in defence all game but he really played the game on the front foot. Wan Bissaka may be one of the best tacklers in the league. Maldini had a point when he said, “If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake”. Wan Bissaka is a perfect right back for a defensive team, he will run, he will press, he will tackle, he will make spectacular last minute blocks but his entire game is defensive. It is not as simple as him simply developing the ability to attack – his mentality is defensive. Dalot’s is not. Better players might punish United using all the space behind Dalot but that is where Rangnick’s drills might help United.

7. McFred has been Ole’s security blanket but the way the team was set up under Ole, Jose and Van Gaal, the idea was for the game to happen infront of them. You need two DMs when you are not stopping any attacks further upfront. Liverpool have a beast in Fabinho but Man City do great with a silky DM like Rodri, it is because they stop many attacks up top before they develop. Flipping the 2-1 in the mid-field to a 1-2 may not necessarily make it more attacking. If those 2 Number 8s are pressing and breaking attacks further up the field, there is no need for a security blanket.

8. There is consensus that Fred is sh*t but I really think he will do a lot better under Rangnick. He has never been a number 6, he is a number 8 that has been shoehorned into that role. His passing in our own half when he is pressed/hounded is abysmal but his passing in attack is not that bad. I believe Rangnick will push him up the field. McTominay has developed enough to play alone in DM till a proper number 6 is found.

9. Sancho will be a world beater under Rangnick. With all the discussions of the transfer fee, we forget that he is 21. He was born 7 months before Greenwood but Greenwood came from the youth academy so there is not the same kind of pressure on him that a huge transfer fee brings. I have no doubts Sancho will thrive at United, and Rangnick is the perfect manager for him. The counterpressing will lead to mistakes and give Sancho more space to operate.

10. All the talk is about how little Ronaldo runs but I did not see Aubameyang running around alot but the way Arsenal play they can carry Auba up top. Arsenal have their own issues to resolve but their pressing isn’t one of them. They’ve found a way to play with Auba and I am sure United will manage with Ronaldo. 801 goals is obscene. He truly may be the best finisher the game has ever seen.

11. Breaking News: Michael Carrick has been sacked for playing Fred in mid-field.

12. Lindelof is another one who will thrive under Rangnick. He is a much better player than he is given credit for. He can be bullied off the ball sometimes and his headed needs a lot of improvement but other than that he is brilliant. Put him with somebody like Varane consistently and you will see his qualities. If he was playing alongside Dias or Van Dijk, he would look like a world beater.

13. Maguire had one of his better games, especially when he stepped out of defense. No idea why he felt like he was Ronaldo with those long shots but him providing an extra body in attack really helped with the first goal. However, I think he will be seen as a relic. If United are to ever play a high line consistently or press high up the pitch, Maguire is not suited to that role. He can be great in a team built for him. John Terry won everything with the same inadequacies as Maguire.

14. De Gea is also one of the best shot stoppers ever in the Premier League but he is also not suited to a high line. Guardiola, Klopp and Chelsea were all brutal with their Goalkeeping selections. They decided quick, spent the money and got the exact man they needed. De Gea and Henderson are both good enough without being in the absolute upper echelons. I wouldn’t be surprised if De Gea isn’t in goal for United a year from now.

15. Any change would have been great for Donny but Rangnick might suit him. Rangnick is not going to overhaul everything day 1, it will take time for him to instill his philosophy, till he does, playing with the same formations the players are used to with giving more minutes to Lingard and DVB and asking them to press from the front will be the way to go.

16. Rumours that United will bid for Werner are insane. Rashford is perfect for that role and really is a phenomenal player. He is 24 and about to hit his prime. You will see the best of him under Rangnick. It really is over for Martial’s career at United though. Don’t see how he survives. Might be over for Matic and Mata too. As lovely as the bloke is, why are we still playing Mata?
Shehzad Ghias, MUFC, Karachi


Carrick leaves Man Utd with his head held high


…Let’s just take a moment to eat some humble pie. Today we saw Ronaldo sprinting to press late in the game (although it’s also fair to say that’s not normal) and saw Fred be instrumental in two vital goals as well as a number of important blocks and constant pressing.

We don’t need to get giddy and suddenly imagine him to be Beckenbauer, but he deserves credit where it’s due.

Also, Dalot and Telles showing they can be worthy options, and Lindelof looking more than half decent. Even Martial ran, briefly.

Of course we still saw Maguire being useless and committing fouls that should have been a penalty, along with another brain fart from De Gea, so thankfully the world hasn’t completely gone mad.

Green shoots? Now we wait with baited breath to see what Rangnick has planned for this little lot.


…What a treat to witness two of the plucky, smaller teams in the division duke it out this evening. The quality was, understandably, lacking and the dearth of class evident.

Congratulations though, to Manchester Utd and their septuagenarian talisman! Genuinely heartwarming to know that such passion still exists outside the conversations for the big prizes.

Bless their wee hearts.
Spoons (LFC)


…I seem to recall a game a few years ago in which two Arsenal players ran into each other near midfield. Play continued while the two players lay on the ground and our opponent scored. Should a goalkeeper in that situation be treated any differently?
Ron Jeremias, Virginia, USA


…Arteta badly needs a PR lesson. Great that he owns up to Arsenal not doing enough to get the win against Ronaldo & co but he should be calling out the lack of VAR intervention for the Maguire foul on Tomi.

Clear as day, two hands gripping his arm and yanking him back. Caughtoffside called it out in an article but no-one else does (which is a story in its own right).
Stonewall pen and a yellow right before HT – would have heavily influenced the game.

If this were a one-off, I could forgive Arteta for not calling it out and letting it go… but this kind of thing keeps happening. VAR non-interventions for key decisions against Arsenal whether it be pens or red cards not given.

Until he starts calling it out, nothing will change.
Ben (London)


…Maguire blatantly pulls backs Tomisayu and immediate replays clearly show that infringement but VAR doesn’t intervene at all!!!

Then Fred deliberately puts his leg in the path of a tackle(which was being withdrawn even) and VAR and the Referee calls a penalty? And this is not even Mike Dean! Shambles! Absolute shambles.
Posab, Botswana


Amazon primed
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a trio of pundits more than Evra, Shearer and Henry tonight on Prime.

They are witty, informed, confrontational but with HUGE mutual respect.

It’s been great, helped by a fantastic game.

The stark difference between these three and the tired Carragher, Neville and Souness is jarring.

Add in the utterly superb Gabriel Clarke and a presenter both slick and happy to facilitate rather than dominate and it’s just about perfect.

Tonight made me hope Amazon outbid Sky going forward.
Tim Sutton (United won nothing with Solskjaer)


Triggered by Ronaldo’s celebration
First off, cards on the table, I don’t like Ronaldo. I think it’s an arrogant, whinging prima donna. Signing for United twice doesn’t help either. That said, I’m big and ugly enough to admit he’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and in my ignorant option only Messi is better than him. Yes, I’m including Maradonna, Pele et al.

But this “trademark” celebration of his, is it me bias or is it really, really cringey?
I wouldn’t put it on the cringe-level of Daniel Sturridge’s flappy bird, but it’s certainly up there.
Is it my bias that is blinkering me? As an Irishman, Robbie Keane’s on never bothered me as it usually meant Ireland scored. Is it because United scored that I dislike it?
Big D, Luxembourg
PS – in the cold harsh light of retirement, I’m more than willing to now admit Robbie Keane’s was absolutely awful.


…He has scored again and I notice the crowd are getting in on it with some sort of “ooooooh” when he lands.
Sorry Sturridge, I take it all back. This is way worse.
Big D, Luxembourg


…Ronaldo’s rehearsed, branded goal celebration is incredibly annoying. It will make the next, inevitable collapse of the ludicrous clown club he plays for all the more satisfying.
Robert, Birmingham.

Dirty City?
I heartily enjoyed Scott COYS’s mail about those naughty Man City boys, especially the bit where he said “It’s time to call a spade a spade and recognise they’re probably the dirtiest side in the league.”

Unfortunately for Scott, there are stats boffins keeping track of these things, and City are in fact the team to have committed the third lowest number of fouls in the league this season, behind only Leicester and West Ham. The dirtiest team in the league at the time of writing is Watford, actually.

Last season, City committed the second fewest number of fouls in the league (behind only Arsenal) and the second fewest the season before too (behind only Liverpool).

In 2018/19 City again made the second fewest fouls in the league (Liverpool were again the cleanest that year) and in 2017/18 they also made the second fewest (behind Bournemouth).

Now you might think referees are being lenient towards City and if you want to believe in conspiracy theories, who am I to stop you? I think you’ll find it a damn sight harder to prove your theory with good old fashioned facts and figures than I did to disprove it, however.
Dan ‘vested interest’ MCFC


…Inspired by the renewed kicking our dear friend, Josep Guardiola, has been taking after the Villa game, I’ve had a relatively quick check to see if he’s still at his cynical best or if he’s retreated back into his own foreskin after being called out so often, and strangely enough the results are actually showing that while he hasn’t let up on the shithousery, he does seem to be getting punished for it more than other suspects.

For this, I’ve again looked at the minutes per foul when out of possession statistic, but I’ve beefed it up with a yellow per minute out of possession to check if they’re actually being punished for it. As before, all fouls & cards per game stats are sourced from WhoScored with some rounding to 1 or 2 decimal places in my calculations so while not entirely perfect they are certainly accurate enough for comparison purposes.

I’ve also stuck with my entirely arbitrary 96mins total per match to allow for injury time when working out the minutes out of possession. I’ve also thrown in Burnley as the modern day Stoke (perceived ‘dirty bastards’ team), and Man Utd just because it might help (or hinder??) getting this actually published. Anyway, let’s dive in…

This season, City (65.4% possession) are averaging a foul every 3min39sec out of possession which stacks up relatively speaking with the other high press teams of Liverpool (62.4% & 3:28min) and Chelsea (58.2% & 3:47min). For comparison Utd (51.7% & 4:28min) and Burnley (38.3% & 5:13min) are way behind in both the possession, pressing and tactical fouling stakes.

Where things take a little bit of an interesting turn is when we bring yellow/red cards into it. Out of the 5 teams in this analysis, Utd are the most carded team when out of possession with a card every 17:48min, followed closely by Burnley (20.42min) and City (20:48min) with Chelsea a good bit back on (28:42min), but perhaps most surprisingly Liverpool way out on their own (30:06min). For some reason Liverpool are not getting carded anywhere near as often as any of these other teams (in fact City are actually getting carded at a rate 45% higher than Liverpool when out of possession). That runs completely contrary in my view of the world famous “use your eye’s you fool and stop relying so much on statistics, ya prick” test that is favoured by so many of us of a particular upbringing which I would say indicates that City never get pulled on their tactical fouling.

Having found what I assumed was simply a quirk in the statistic due to using an incomplete season for my sample size, I had a look at last year and the numbers generally stack up the same for the frequency of cards when out of possession with Liverpool (35:48 minutes per card) actually getting carded a lot less (15% less for the “ya pricks” out there) out of possession last year while Chelsea (28:24) are the definition of consistency and City (28:54) were definitely a lot less punished last year. Rounding out the analysis, UTD were again the most carded out of possession but with a far more reasonable (25:42min) while Burnley basically shocked the arse biscuits out of me with a miserly (41:42min) between yellows out of possession (they still fouled at a rate of 5:19mins so maybe they were just allowed to kick lumps out of people last year whenever they wanted, or perhaps it was the lack of crowd pressure for a lot of the season that helped the ref’s keep their cards in their pockets)

So in summary:
– Liverpool are loved by the refs
– City and Burnley seem to be getting their comeuppance so far this year
– Chelsea are boring AF in their lack of change
– and UTD are clearly no longer part of the Big Boys (TM) that refs normally are biased towards
Kerry Culchie (Oh lordy, how many cards will UTD end up getting if they start to actually press under Rangnick)


…I’ve often thought about City’s tactical fouling, and that it was excessive, like many in the mailbox, so I’ve run some numbers.
Full disclosure – I’m a Liverpool fan aware of our relatively clean record over time.
Three inputs into my numbers – number of fouls, minutes of opposition possession, and cards.
When it comes to how often a foul is committed, the range is between 3.3 and 5.7 minutes of opposition possession. Leeds are the worst offenders at 3.3, Burnley and Everton the least likely to offend. As an example this means in a 50/50 possession game, Leeds would commit 14 fouls, Burnley would commit 8. City are third here, after Liverpool (3.4) in second. So yes, they foul often, but we already knew that.
How hard do teams foul though? Teams make an between 3.2 (Newcastle), and 7.6 (Liverpool) fouls to pick up a card (red counts as two for my purposes). City are on 5.0, pretty much right on the average, so nothing to draw on here.
When these two metrics are considered together, we have frequency of foul, and strength/punishment of foul, which are totally uncorrelated.
The teams that can feel hardest done by are Newcastle, Burnley & Everton, who despite not fouling often, are booked often.
The team that gets away with it most is easily Liverpool, who are large outliers, then Chelsea, also an outlier from the group by about half as much as Liverpool.
City are third for leniency here, though very close to a number of other teams, like Wolves, Southampton & Palace.
Conclusions? None from me as to not bias the stats, but I’ll offer up a few hypotheses.
Those that are hard done by defend deep, and commit fouls much closer to their own box, whilst those that get away with it more press more, and commit fouls further up, I know Liverpool are forever giving away fouls in the opposition full back areas for example.
Or the referees are in the pockets of the team you face. Draw your own conclusions.

Everton mess
Well, I thought I’d wait to respond to the result and subsequent mails you received about the Merseyside Derby. Not a lot to say about the result, it was expected. I expected 5-0 to Liverpool. I was close. The simple fact is that we are in a real bad way right now. Unlike years past where we knew we had the quality to dig ourselves out of the mess, I’m not seeing it this time around. Yes, we still have DCL and Mina out but is that enough?

Newcastle did the double over us last season. What do you think will happen when the only winless team in the league faces Everton? There can be only one result. I’d like the say that the schedule will eventually be kind to us after this monster session of games. Well, before that run of tough matches, we were decimated by Watford and Wolves and we looked absolutely toothless. So no, I don’t think things will significantly improve after we get past Arsenal, Chelsea, Palace, & Leicester, and that’s another four losses right there. Honestly, can you see us even getting a point out of any of those matches? No, I don’t either. Brentford needed a penalty to win but we never looked like scoring. An Everton win in that match would have been harsh on Brentford.

This is the culmination of the absolute mismanagement of a once great club. After Moyes left (and it was time for him to go,) we’ve been adrift, run by clueless owners, clueless chairmen, and clueless board members. Koeman and Walsh set us back something fierce but Moshiri hasn’t helped himself. We’ve spend 400-500M+ on players that wouldn’t even get into lesser sides (and by lesser sides, I guess I’m meaning Championship as there aren’t many lesser than us right now.) The fish rots from the top and the mentality at Finch Farm has been nothing short of toxic. Players are there just to pick up a paycheck, managers come and go. You can say Ancelotti left because Real Madrid came calling and you’d be right but it’s hard not to think that he saw what was happening at Everton and said “I can’t even fix this mess.” Nor could Martinez, nor could Silva, Koeman, Allardyce, etc…. Is Brands allowed to do what needs to be done or does Moshiri pull all the strings? What has our academy produced in the past five years? Where is our next Phil Foden, our next Callum Hudson-Odoi, our next Jack Grealish, our next Wayne Rooney? Looks bleak doesn’t it?

Our only hope right now is going on one of our traditional second half of the season runs (which we always do after we’re sure we couldn’t possibly qualify for Europe) and finishing around 14th or 15th. Yay !!! We’re saved !!! But are we? One of the issues is that we’ve been safe every season for the most part. Why change anything when you’re assured your safety at the big boys table? The Everton board have been lulled into a false sense of security because of precisely that. And now the chickens have come home to roost. Restrained from buying players due to FFP and Premier League rules, we can’t buy our way out of this one. Many Evertonians blame Benitez but I’m not one of them. He was dealt a losing hand from the start. Now I will blame him for his subs, his set up, tactics, and bringing Rondon to the club (a player who wouldn’t even start in the Championship,) but I’m not sure what manager out there right now would turn this mess around with all of the constraints put upon him by the spending rules, the board, the owner, and the players he has to work with. Hansi Flick? Sean Dyche? Throw a name against the wall, none of them stick. It’s a poisoned chalice.

Lastly, I can’t let the mails go about the Everton diving last night? Did we dive? On one yes. The other was questionable but it was clear the referee decided that this was the match he was going to stamp diving out of the league. The irony was the we were playing against the team with two of the three biggest divers in the league. So Liverpool fans would be well reminded to “clear the plank out of your own eye before you help me get the speck out of mine.” I also eagerly await the vaunted Premier League diving panel to give Townsend and Gray the obligatory three match bans that they’ve been so consistent about regarding clear and blatant diving at other clubs. The word you’re looking for is hypocrisy.
TX Bill (this may be the season we go down, and at this rate, it wouldn’t be undeserved) EFC


The art of defending is dying
Salah or Henry? Hmmmmm. I was thinking about this but it quickly spun into how football is completely different from about 15 – 20 years ago. Seems these days that attackers get more goals than their counterparts from the 90s/00s. Is this down to genuinely supremacy, or is defense a thing of the past now? Italy bossed their way to the 2006 world Cup in Germany with a defensive masterclass with just the right amount of flair to compliment the rock solid shape. Also at that world Cup Spain were looking mightily delicious until they had a typical Spain ending to their tournaments, this time departing in the round of last 16 instead of their standard quarters. In 2 years though, Italy stumbled through the euros and Spain reached their potential at long last. By 2010, the return of world Cup winning coach Lippi to the side didn’t inspire like 4 years earlier, Cannavaro was knackered, and Catenaccio was declared “not dead yet, but dying”. 4 years later, it was declared dead, Spain lost their mantle and after 3 consecutive tourney wins based around fluid football and Germany after abandoning their own defensive mindset that they had great success with for years in favour of a more vibrant fluid approach, similar to Spain, won out at the end of the day.

Italy have always been the daddies of defensive philosophy, and for many years you could argue that Germany were just as good if not better, but they never produced defenders that made people drool. Italy were on the road to abandoning their culture (and influence on the game) in the run up to 2014, and their dismal participation was highlighted by German’s new culture that abandoned defense as priority.

Good defenders now seem more like a nice thing to have than a necessity in the modern game, look at Virgil for instance. An absolute tank of a man, but he plays some beautiful football. He is the ideal modern center back, having that classical mould but also able to contribute in team building.

I’m previous generations you had some center backs who came off like people who don’t care about football itself but they just love to spoil the game, that’s where they shined, preventing goals, making the game less appealing for spectators (arguably). They wouldn’t be sad if they only won 1-0 or drew 0-0, just as long as they prevented goals. The Italians and the Germans through their successes inspired many future professionals to follow suit, football eventually began winning out against spoiler behaviour and both teams have since shit and got off the bed in pursuit of refining their resources to modern standards. Bonucci and Chiellini are relics, if they were not still around then Italy would have far less connection with the ideologies of old. Germany don’t have any great defenders anymore, Rudiger is modern, Hummels is from the beginning of the transition into ball playing center half’s and he’s old now. Ramos is arguably the biggest shithouse ever but he is beginning his decline.

So Salah or Henry? It’s hard to really gauge if Salah is less tested than Henry was back in his heyday, or if he’s better because although there has been a shift in defensive mindedness, it’s maybe not as radical as suggested. When Henry was around he owned the premiership until he left and Ronaldo took up his mantle. Salah currently owns the pl but you could say he has shared it with a few others until recently, I think he has jumped in front of everyone. When Henry was king nobody else was really close.

My point that I’m trying to illustrate is I think it was less easy to stand out as an attacker a couple of decades ago than now, they were tested far more. This could all be speculative and defenders might be just as good as they always have been its just that attackers have improved, the environment seems to favour attacking creativity (as it should really), Germany and Italy no longer being in the business of producing perfect robot cyborg defenders though is bait I can’t resist being influenced by.

So… I’ll say… Henry, sure whatever.
Dave (that Bernardo goal was too fantasy), Dublin

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