No sale, no problem for Liverpool with FSG. Now get Bellingham and Mount…

Jurgen Klopp poses with Liverpool owner John W Henry. Credit: Alamy
Jurgen Klopp poses with Liverpool owner John W Henry. Credit: Alamy

One Mailboxer welcomes the news that FSG are keeping hold of Liverpool, while another fears a Qatari takeover at Man Utd is inevitable. Also: protection for Saka, Kane’s dilemma, and more…

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The news that John Henry is not looking to sell Liverpool landed just fine with me. Extra investment will always be welcome but a lack of money is not behind this season’s failings.

We have an aging midfield that needs replacing wholesale – scarcely news to anyone. Jurgen wanted to wait for Jude rather than panic spending to fill a gap. That strategy worked with Virgil a few years ago and when he signed, we all know what happened next. Our previously porous defence became rock solid, especially when the world’s best keeper was added.

Jurgen gambled that he could get one more season out of what we had, then he’d make the changes necessary with the right players for the right positions. And who can blame him? A quadruple chasing side should have been enough to manage one year more.

But it wasn’t. Fabinho. Thiago, Henderson et al just seemed to get old overnight. Perhaps the aforementioned quad just drained them of too much physical and emotional energy. Our midfield got overrun consistently and Virgil and whoever partnered him just weren’t in form enough to pull our fat out of the fire over and over again.

We’ve also not dealt well with Mane leaving, terrific player that he was. It’s obvious Nunez has all the raw materials to be a top player. But raw he remains and he’s not completely up to the job – yet.

The point of all of this being that it’s not because we didn’t have money to spend that our season went to pot. So why do we need FSG to sell? Until this year we were the definition of a very well run club. We don’t need to become the plaything of another nation state.

What we need is to get enough out of this season to persuade Jude to come sign for us. We’re not favourites for the 4th place, whatever crap is being written now. We’ve been way too inconsistent. But the closer we get, the more attractive a proposition we become. It also seems sensible to cast our eye on Mason Mount. Chelsea will surely freeze him out with their insane spending and he’ll not want to put up with being a squad player.

Add Bellingham and Mount to our team and next year looks very different indeed. We’ll need them or someone of their equivalent class too. Arteta is doing a fantastic job at Arsenal and Pep isn’t going anywhere. Distressingly, Ten Hag looks like he’s going to be a wonderful manager for United. So at best, next year will be a four horse race.

It won’t be cheap to get those players but I have faith the funds will be provided. They always have been when we’ve needed them so far.

So let FSG stay for the foreseeable future, I think we’re safe in their hands.
James, Liverpool


Kane dilemma
As I was watching West Ham roll over and let Spurs tickle their tummy, I got to wondering about what Harry Kane’s options are for the future. He seems to have evolved from an out-an-out Center Forward / Fox-In-The-Box to more of a focal point to bring others into play. His pass to Son for the second goal was sublime and the two of them are almost telepathic. The problem for both of them, and Spurs, is that they are both approaching 30. Kane’s next contract is probably his last big one so what does he do?

The way I see it, he really only has two options. Even with an influx of petro dolalrs, I cannot see United spunking all that cash on a 30 year old when they could pay a similar amount of money for a 23 year old. ETH and United seem much more pragmatic these days. Kane’s lack of pace also seems to be a negative for teams with a faster playing style or a high press like City or Liverpool. Being a London boy, I can’t see him uprooting his family to join Newcastle or even further abroad. Having said that, for some obvious reasons he would never join Arsenal so that leaves two options.

Option A – It is plain as the nose on Kane’s face that Chelsea desperately need a forward, will no doubt have the money to spend, and would most likely offer Kane one of their imfamous long term contracts which would allow his family to stay in London. Option B – He stays at Spurs. With so many potential investors circling aorund Premier League, I am almost certain Levy will ensure some is directed his way. With such a large influx of captital, no new stadium to build, the funds could be used to build a team around Kane.

My money is on Chelsea in the summer.
Adidasmufc (I am struggling to think of three teams worse than West Ham at the moment)


Qatar resistance is futile
Good week for United on the pitch but a bad one off it. Lewis’ letter was spot on for the implications of a state backed Man United. The club have almost managed to match City spending over the last decade as it is, giving them oil barrels to stand on as well will lift them far above anyone else. Though many United fans are in favour of the Qataris, simply for the expected dominance the money might bring, I can already imagine the victories to feel somewhat hollow. The burgeoning success of the team this year has felt so good partly because its rooted in the effective coaching of existing talent and management of a team to be better than the sum of its parts. I can’t see how fans of PSG could ever feel something like that.

However, even at this early stage of bidding it seems inevitable that the club will end up in Qatari hands because no-one can out bid them. They aren’t interested in United as a financial asset but instead as an instrument of soft power, their measure of success isn’t through profit margins but in global status and social misdirection. They spent £200 billion on the world cup! No private equity or conglomerate can compete with that? We can be sure the Glazers will only be interested in what figure lands in their bank account so Qatar only has to up the bid till they say yes, the money is irrelevant, it’s as good as done.

At least for on the pitch concerns United continue to improve and excel under Ten Hag. Rashford’s finishing has developed astonishingly well this season, he seems to now take shots as part of his natural stride rather than a purposeful back lift making it much harder for keepers to react. The manager made a point of praising Bruno in his post-match interview and there was a stat going round on Twitter of how he’s only missed 2 games in his whole career through injury/illness. That’s remarkable. He’s already played over 3700 minutes across all competitions this season, the highest of any player in Europe’s top 5 leagues by about 8%. Considering he is essentially a box to box player its staggering he can maintain that intensity without significant rest. He is the embodiment of the word relentless.
Dave, Manchester


Free-kicks aren’t worth the time
Presumably the answer to John’s question is that intensively training free kick takers just isn’t worth it.

If the record number for a whole season is 34 but that was an outlier and they tended to max out in the high 20s, that means that at best teams were getting less than 0.1 free kick goals per game… not exactly a stellar return.

I imagine that some people the Sun might call “the Boffins” have run the numbers and concluded it doesn’t make sense to try that many or to focus on training them at the expense of more fruitful methods of getting goals.

I mean, the record number in PL history is 18… that took Beckham 11 years to hit. Ward-Prowse has been at it for 11 years as well… Rory Delap’s throw ins had a better success rate leading to goals, but people aren’t queuing up to duplicate that tactic either…
Andy (MUFC)

Read more: James Ward-Prowse aside, where have all the great free-kick takers gone?


One-footed fury
Johnny Nic’s latest missive on free kicks seems reasonable…

His theory being…. Practice.. Simples….
I agree with his point, totally but it seems that most players and certainly most keepers don’t even spend 15min a session or 1 session a week or whatever it takes to learn to kick with their ‘other’ foot..

Why the hell do coaches not demand that footballers can kick with both feet, There are a handful (I cant name 5 to be fair) of players that do and can
De Bruyne, Trent, Son and Adam Lallana always seemeed pretty decent either footed and then err…. err… anyone? Suggestions on a postcard please….

I would truly be interested to hear from other teams fans as to who in their team can and does kick confidently with either foot.

I fail to believe that coaches dont do a wrong foot training even for 5mins ever hour or whatever and as for keepers.. just 15mins a days kicking long with the wrong foot would save Alisson the ‘outside of the wrong boot WTF are you doing?’ kick he does so often..

Drives me mad as all hell – Seeing players miss or not even try and shoot because ‘its on the wrong / weaker foot’ just seems like crazyness

Not saying that some players arent amazing and 1 footed (Salah, Robben etc) but surely the ‘average player’ would just be better if they used both feet for kicking

Surely coaches should be doing something about it?

Or is it just me?


Still room for improvement
Having gone to OT for the game during the 3-0 win against Leicester, it was safe to say the score line was rather harsh on Leicester going into HT, with United somehow 1-0 up going into the break. Leicester had majority of the chances and if it weren’t for De Gea, United could have been 1 or 2 Nil down after 45 minutes. But I think what is showing the most in the United team in which Ten Haag has transformed is how to be coherent and confident even in sticky situations when the other team is on top. Even if United went 1-0 down yesterday before HT, I genuinely think the Team would have come out all guns blazing as they did in the 2nd half yesterday and won 3-1 or 4-1, despite the hypothetical different circumstances.

Leicester had injected a lot of energy in the 1st half, and with United putting Rashford on the left in the 2nd half following Sancho coming on for Garnacho and United overall playing with much more width (Fernandes on the right was just as good, some incredible passes and link up player with Dalot) it could and really should have really been 4 or 5 goals in the 2nd half, but can’t complain with a 3-0 scoreline at FT. Had to feel for the fullback & Leicester defence yesterday, Rashford was devastatingly good every time he got the ball with the full back not knowing what to do (At this rate, if Rashford doesn’t get injured, he could end up with 35 goals by the end of the season in all competitions, Rooney & Ronaldo levels there!)

Big shoutout to Ten Haag (Once again) and how he has re-invented a number of players in the team since arriving last summer, with what seems to be ACTUAL coaching as well as efficient man management in training, particulaly on the younger players who didn’t have a lot of confidence in the last few years. For example, Sancho seesm to now be a central/No. 10 kind of player rather than a winger, and due to his limited pace compared to Rashford/Garnacho, its a smart move. If anything, Sancho looks more comfortable in the middle and some of his link-up/play and dribbling was insanely good. His passing & ball control is excellent for someone quite young, there is still time to re-organise him as a number 10. I would start him against Barcelona with Fernandes and him switching on the right, as him Rashford & Fernandes could make a deadly front 3 behind the striker, with Weghost dropping in to make space, partcilarly for Rasfhord who looks faster than prime Usain Bolt when watching him in person these days. Another player Ten Haag has re-invented is Luke Shaw and Wan Bassaka, even Dalot too. on top of this, it goes to show Ten Haag has good connections as well, as he managed to bring in Sabitzer on a last min deal, who looks like a very tidy technical CM who can do a bit of everything, doesn’t mind a tackle too!

Given Ten Haag has found this potential in some of the younger players, I think it goes to show there are a number of other players in the team that can still improve. Malacia will surely improve with time, as well as Garnacho, Fred is looking a bit more consistent too, but would only start him providing Casemiro or Eriksen aren’t available and I would say has reached that ceiling of potential. Some players can still improve for sure, for example Sancho has to keep playing as well as he did yesterday & Leeds over a 8-10 games in a row, because the talent is there but perhaps mentality isn’t 100% there in which Ten Haag has seemed to crack the code with Rashford. Shaw and a number of other players.

As for players who will most likely move on in the summer, either because they will want more playing time or simply because they aren’t good enough in terms of the quality Ten Haag demands, these 6 players should move on the summer:

Eric Bailly (Currently on loan at Marseille, didn’t even know he was there after googling to double check I spelt his surname correctly)
Phil Jones (The definition of stealing a living & career, fair play to him)
Scott McTominay (Just not a Ten Haag type of player imo, he fits a team like Palace or Fulham as he isn’t a half bad player)
Anthony Martial (Good technically, but very lazy and no drive)
Mason Greenwood (Self-explanatory…)
Victor Lindelof or Harry Maguire (Either one, given Martinez & Varane are now first choice)

Quite a few defenders on the list provided, BUT two of them don’t ever play and goes show United need re-inforcements in defence. United will want to snap up a few decent CB’s if they get a Top 4 spot by the end of the season, and they will need to especially when Varane isn’t in the starting line up. United were good yesterday against Leicester, but you can still see that little bit of disorgnisation in defence when Varane isn’t starting, or Casemiro even with him sitting in front of defence. Him & Casemiro are by far United’s most experienced players, and will need competent players who can cover for both when unavailable, and will need to be players who United an bring in that have the potential to possibly replace those two in the long term.
Rami, Manchester


Wasn’t so Shaw
One of the things Ten Hag has shown since he joined Utd is how he has improved players. Rashford is the obvious example but another is Luke Shaw. I never rated him and like Roy Keane thought he should be moved on. Always prone to an error, bad positioning, no defensive awareness and poor going forward.

I stand corrected. This season after a shaky start he has been phenomenal either at centre back or full back. Defending well, great positioning and when at full back, always a threat going forward. On top of all that has shown good leadership .He has gone from a guy i wanted to get rid of to one of the first names on the team sheet. Be interesting to know if your readers had such a huge change of mind on any player they wanted out .
Ken, Cork, Ireland


Arsenal aren’t being unreasonable
Why can’t people have a normal reaction to Arsenal fans complaining about Saka getting kicked about the gaff? It’s not just the Villa game, it’s literally every game and a large majority of the times he either doesn’t get the free kick or his opponent doesn’t get booked for consistent bad tackles. So why do people have an issue if we want him protected a bit more? Just because Arsenal had a few players who were dirty TWENTY years ago (directed at Badwolfs mail) doesn’t mean that Saka should get kicked out of the game. Nobody is asking for our opponents to get two red cards per game.


…Oh the sanctimony of Funstar Andy railing against Arteta and his ‘touchline antics’ while supporting Emi Martinez who somehow dragged Argentina to win the world cup, won the golden glove in that tournament and still came out of looking like a massive tool. If Andy got second-hand embarrassment from watching Arteta mocking the referee (personally found it hilarious) I can only imagine how much he must have died inside seeing Martinez trying to mock Kylian Mbappe who put 4 goals past him in the final.

Martinez has had a bee in his bonnet about Arsenal since he left. Every second sentence out of his mouth since then has been about how Arsenal didn’t give him the chance he deserved. That’s why he irritates Arsenal fans. Combine this with his incessant time-wasting and constant shit-housery and all together it makes the own goal just absolutely hilarious karmic justice.

As for the arguments that Saka wasn’t kicked all over the pitch and was actually guilty of the same himself, it’s interesting to note that the foul count in the game was 14-4 in favour of Villa. Somehow seems to quash the narrative that both teams were having a go at each other. The fact is that it seems to be an accepted tactic to try kick him out of the game. It’s understandable from opponents’ point of view as he’s our best player, but if I was an England fan I would be seriously worried about the long-term effect rather than trying to insist it doesn’t happen.
Fez, JHB Gooner


…The Arsenal/Martinez issue is twofold. The perception is that he seemed to take every opportunity to bemoan his treatment by Arsenal in selling him to Villa and not making him our number one. Now, the counter to that is he is asked questions and he gave honest answers and isn’t that to be lauded. You might see it one way, I might see it another. But the tipping point for Arsenal is the second issue, he’s a dick. He’s your dick. He was our dick. And we all love our dicks don’t we. But we also have to accept that the opposition ain’t so found of our dicks. When Ramsdale messes up in front of the crowd he’s been winded up all game, they’re gonna take great delight in it. As they should.

The Saka issue isn’t about Villa. It isn’t about any footballers. It’s about the referees. Saka gets the sh*t kicked out of him most games. Because the referees let it happen. It’s a black and white issue. Very literally. But opposition players, yes including yours, know they can get away with it till the yellow card comes. Which it invariably doesn’t. Players get this treatment. Some more than others, and it’s qWhite the mystery as to how some get protection and some don’t. But it happens. And I imagine if we could chop Harry Kane’s ankles with impunity we absolutely would. Because that’s football. But it doesn’t seem to work that way round. Presumably because he’s a lily white.
Robert (Yes. I am saying that. Yes. I know you hate hearing it. Probably means you need to.)

Bukayo Saka down injured Credit: Alamy
Bukayo Saka down injured Credit: Alamy

Villans complex
I thought I’d wait for the inevitable “whataboutery” on the Saka repeated fouling. Kevin Villa and Funstar Andy, please, take a beat before getting all riled up about Arsenal getting all riled up about what we all actually want to see: yellow cards for yellow card offenses. Does Saka perform a bookable offense? Yes? Book him. No problem. The question of “protection” comes from refs not doing their jobs, and so encouraging players to repeat yellow card offenses.

I actually have been watching Arsenal games this season and it’s almost always predictable when certain teams are going to perform rotational cynical fouls on Saka. I actually put money on Rodri to get booked against us. Within 5 minutes he performs a cynical foul. I thought “easy money”. No yellow card. Silva then proceeds to perform 4 cynical fouls on Saka in the first 25 minutes. One booking. Against Villa Moreno scraped his studs down Saka’s heel, taking his boot off, and the ref doesn’t even give a foul. Was anyone surprised to then see him angry with Villa players and getting physical himself? If the refs don’t take the appropriate action then the players will take matters into their own hands and we want to avoid that.

But, you’d better f***ing believe I’m happy to see him give some back when the officials don’t seem to give a sh*t. As if you wouldn’t feel the same anger when you’re kicked so much that you’re asking to be subbed off (but instead just get bandaged up and asked to keep taking it). Before Moreno gets subbed off he flies into the back of Saka making no attempt to play the ball. Moreno was never booked. The refs aren’t doing their jobs…again. Speaking of which, I’m glad Lee Mason has gone. But, that doesn’t help Arsenal, who ought to be 4 points clear at the top with a game in hand. But, hey, at least Paul from Cambridge will be able to welcome back another ref to grass roots football as there’s no VAR. Does that sound harsh? F***ing cry more. When Truss resigned did I shake my head and say “well, she did her best and that’s all anybody can ask for”?. Did I f***. I danced in the rain for about 20 minutes. People with power over other people’s lives need to be competent or find another job. Uncle Ben already told us 20 years ago.

On the possibility of the Martinez OG being offside you’d have to say it’s quite remarkable how he’d be able to dive exactly where the ball was going if his sightline was obstructed. Hmm… On the “narrative” fluff it’s actually very easy to admit that the Arsenal winner needed a large slice of luck. Not sure what the problem is. On Arteta’s histrionics… Christ, it’s getting boring now. Like, people must want to see some stoic Japanese businessman on the touchline sipping a cup of tea. Arteta is all of us when he mocks the ref and goes absolutely ape sh*t. They can book him for all I care. I “fogging” love it. Don’t be such a Richard Keys.
Simon, Norf London Gooner
P.S. Shouldn’t Tom Hanks have been at the Forest game? Seems obvious.


Postcard from the Palace
Another game, another week in which Crystal Palace continue to tread water. Daniel Storey in his The Score column describes them as “trapped in a weird midtable vortex”, which seems like a less good version of that time Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemingly didn’t win for half a season and somehow stayed sixth.

*Much like last week’s opponents, Brighton & Hove, Brentford are a good example of how you can succeed, relatively speaking, through effective use of scouting and data instead of simply spending lots of money. Having won promotion and established themselves as a Premier League team with a reputation for possession football, on Saturday (and presumably on many previous occasions without me realising) they proved effective at playing more directly as well.

*Match of the Day suggested that Palace played a 4-4-2, but reports from the game suggested it was more of a 4-2-3-1, with Jordan Ayew operating deeper than Jean-Philippe Mateta. Albert Sambi Lokonga made his first start, having come off the bench previously. Joachim Andersen returned at centre-back, which was a big boost for the Eagles.

*This was a fairly even game. The Bees had more possession and more shots on target, but Palace had almost double the xG. Set pieces were the main early threat, Andersen forcing a couple of saves from David Raya from corners, while at the other end, several Brentford players tried their luck from distance.

*The breakthrough came just after the hour mark. Eberechi Eze had been on the field for five minutes or so when he found the net. In one of the most Jordan Ayew moments imaginable, he dribbled down the left and into the box, where he got the better of a defender with a couple of tricks, before a terrible cross went behind everyone. Cheick Doucoure collected it on the edge of the box and passed to Michael Olise on the right. Eze times a run perfectly from the penalty spot for Olise to loft a pass onto his forehead. Just two players with a brilliant understanding.

*That opened the game up. Palace had four further attempts at goal while Brentford had five. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they scored with the fifth. Again, another fun moment for Ayew, as another terrible cross was easily defended enabling the hosts to launch the counterattack from which they scored. Patrick Vieira was visibly furious with him on the touchline.

He’s a curious player: incredibly hard working and involved in several of Palace’s best moments on Saturday, but it is a bit of a head scratcher the club haven’t yet found someone who can combine that level of effort with superior decision-making and finishing. His willingness to toil means he will likely start the next game against Liverpool, but in games where the Eagles will need to play on the front foot a bit more, it remains to be seen.

*MOTD also showed a supporter behind one of the goals with an England flag that had an essay printed on it that began with “a bus stop in Hounslow”. It seemed like a vexillology equivalent to a sort of fan you find at non-league games, who start with “excuse me, Mr Referee” and then continue at length about the laws of the game and their application.

*Among different fan groups there are different interpretations of the situation based on people’s natural optimism or pessimism. Palace haven’t won in 2023, but have four draws from seven games against teams above them in the league. According to CPFC HQ on Twitter, Palace have had the toughest season so far, playing opponents who at this stage have an average of 1.51 points per game (Bournemouth and Leicester are joint second with 1.46). Meanwhile, their remaining opponents have taken an average of 1.21 points per game so far, which suggests it’s the easiest run in (slightly ahead of Spurs and Manchester City). In short, there’s plenty of reasons to think that any points they get between now and the end of March are a bonus, because they have a much easier run of fixtures in April and May. At the same time, it would be incredibly foolish to take those games lightly, given they are mostly against teams desperate to put distance between themselves and the relegation zone, and who will see an out of sorts Crystal Palace side as a team they can probably beat.

*It was good to see the Arsenal fans in the mailbox yesterday calling for action to be taken by the league and its officials to protect star players from opponents whose sole recourse is to kick them from pillar to post. As a brief reminder, whenever Palace and their fans made this point about Wilfried Zaha, we were told it was actually a compliment to his talent that opponents singled him out for bullying. Hopefully now that someone from a top club is making the same point, the league will have to act. You know, the same way that no one saw there was a problem with VAR until it started affecting Liverpool and Manchester United.

*There was sad if not unexpected news the other day that the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund (REMF) would be ceasing operations in the near future. Robert was a Brighton & Hove supporter who lost his life in the 9/11 attacks, and his father, a major driver of the charity set up in Robert’s memory, passed away recently. One of the regular activities the REMF organised was a charity football match between teams of Brighton and Palace fans (and occasionally ex-players). In its own way it’s an embodiment of what football rivalries should be: competitive friction most of the time, but when it really matters, people put aside their differences for a higher cause.

The REMF raised over £300,000 for charity, which is something everyone involved should be incredibly proud of.
Ed Quoththeraven


Derry’s dark arts
Does anyone know if Pep Guardiola or Diego Simeone have been coaching Derry City in their spare time? The cynical fouls and time wasting employed by Derry last Friday night against St Pats at Richmond Park would have made them both very proud.

22 fouls and lots of “cramping” issues that somehow went unpunished until 70th minute when the referee finally brandished the yellow card which earned him a sarcastic standing ovation from us Saints fans

Good to have the football back though
Seán Dublin

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