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FA Cup Chelsea thoughts…
Through to the next round after a routine win against League 2 opposition, has Frank Lampard finally found his level?
Okay all jokes aside, you can never take a result in the FA Cup to quickly to heart when you are playing much lower down the football pyramid side, but my takeaway from the game was Callum Hudson-Odoi must play ahead of Christian Pulisic based on form, the question now is can he sustain this form and take advantage?
Also what on earth does Fikayo Tomori need to do to earn a first team start? A player who was decent last season for us, as well as a reliable defender for Derby during Lampard’s tenure, can see him being sold this month which I’d be gutted about, It is hard to judge where in the pecking order his talent is based on lack of games but surely he is a much better player than Andreas Christensen who can remain on the ground, cost the team a goal and yet still be seen as the better player by Frank.
So what’s the point in football?
Oh good. We’ve got the slew of “it’s better to be out of the cup and focus on the league” emails.
Which raises a question for me. What’s the point of football? Is it to have a consistent team that’s ticking over in the middle of the top division, diving out of the cups at the earliest opportunity, avoiding the poisoned chalice of the Europa League?
Or is it to, you know, have fun?
Andrew from Canada posits that we’d be better off not winning anything and finishing midtable every year, holding up Wigan as some sort of dark fable. Well, I live close to Wigan. I speak to Wigan fans. And I can’t think of any of them who celebrate their midtable finishes with the joy and gusto that they remember beating City in a Cup Final. Yes, it’s a bit rubbish now, but it was fantastic then.
My favourite season as a Leeds fan was our first year in League One. Why? What joy could there be in beating Hartlepool at Elland Road while we were bottom of the table?
Because it was fun. We won most weeks, we overturned a 15 points deduction to stay up – and to make the playoffs. Those two playoff semi finals against Carlisle were as fun and dramatic and fantastic as the CL quarter finals against Deportivo. Oldham away might not be the San Siro, but a day out with your mates and a dramatic last minute winner is completely venue-agnostic. I enjoyed that season – and huge chunks of our time out of the Premier League – as much as I’ve enjoyed anything I’ve seen Leeds do in the top flight.
I’d ask my Canadian counterpart whether he’d swap the ups and downs of the past 16 years for the serene solidity of being an Everton fan during the same time period. Never really challenging for honours, never threatened with relegation. Just finishing round about half way, forever, and ever, and ever. Great for shareholders, but maybe lacking in drama for the fans?
So yes. Given the choice of seeing my team win the FA Cup for the first time in half a century at the expense of a few more years in a division I quite enjoyed, I’d take the glory thanks. Because I’d remember winning at Wembley for the rest of my life.
Although good on Bielsa for saving the cup run for a season when fans will be allowed in to enjoy it. Proper deep thinker, that man.
Andy (Leeds fan in Salford)
PS: If football is about having fun, I suggest Jonny Nic finds a new hobby. He’s bloody miserable at the moment.
Johnny’s latest piece…
Johnny’s latest piece about the money gap being bigger than the talent gap in football was a fascinating one but I would argue it’s somewhat flawed.
Johnny suggests that the biggest gap between the top flight and the lower levels is a fitness one rather than a skill one. I’d counter that by saying neither is the case and it’s actually consistency that’s the difference.
We saw in the massively one-sided Marine vs. Spurs game that there’s a world of difference between a professional and a part-timer, despite Marine’s tremendous efforts. But in reality, even Marine are a side who play in the eighth tier, are part-time, and would probably wipe the floor with a strong pub side. The strong pub side in turn would wipe the floor with a weaker pub side.
Basically what Johnny seems to forget is that there’s literally thousands of blokes who play football (in a pre-Covid era anyway) every single weekend and so the cream of the crop aren’t just Premier League players, they’re actually anyone who’s professional, i.e. Championship, League One and League Two players. Realistically, if you dropped an experienced League One player into a pub side, they’d look just as out of place as a top PL player.
So what’s the difference between a top PL player and a solid League One player? Consistency. The PL player more often than not is going to do his job competently if not excellently against fellow consistently good players. PL players can make mistakes and misplace passes but that’s because they’re human.
Compare a PL game to a League One game and you’d probably see a similar amount of errors. But if you compared a massive sample, there’d be far more errors in the League One games – hence why the PL players are where they are. It’s all about the consistency. And that’s how the *real* greats like Ronaldo and Messi are then able to set themselves apart from even the best. If it were all about skill, someone like Dimitri Payet would be revered above Ronaldo, but it’s not and he isn’t that consistent despite all of his skills.
And in turn, of course a League One side can raise their game against a PL side in the FA Cup as its a one-off game, perhaps the most important fixture in a season for the lower side, and that means that the team’s players are always going to try to perform at their best rather than their average.
Not everything in football is tainted by money like Johnny suggests. A lot of it is, but in this instance, he’s talking a lot of nonsense.
VAR and ref seniority
One thing about VAR that doesn’t get much attention is the psychology of the overruling of decisions by one ref over another. On judgement calls (penalties/red cards, not offsides), it’s a bit like contradicting a colleague at work. In fact, it’s that but also in front of your customers – and most people wouldn’t be that comfortable doing that to someone more senior at work. That’s why it seems a bit strange that there is often a big gap between the experience/seniority of the onfield ref and the VAR. Maybe it’s a small sample, but two of the games where Liverpool have felt most aggrieved at the VAR were Everton (Pickford on VVD) and Southampton (a couple of penalty decisions and a possible red for Walcott). The referees in those games were two of the most experienced – Michael Oliver and Andre Marriner. But the VARs were two of the least experienced – David Coote and Andy Madley. Maybe it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t overrule their more illustrious colleagues on anything but 100% certainty (at least Michael Oliver seems to be owning the Everton mistake now).
By contrast, there were two red card decisions overturned by VAR at the weekend – Jon Moss’s red card for Keogh at MK Dons and Chris Kavanagh’s for Emile Smith Rowe at Arsenal. In both cases the VAR’s were more experienced (Anthony Taylor and Andre Marriner). Marriner has 13 years more experience in the PL than Kavanagh – would Kavanagh be as likely to tell Marriner he got it wrong if the roles had been reversed?
These are only the ones I’ve noticed and maybe they’re the exception, but it makes sense to me from a workplace psychology perspective. So any time you say to yourself ‘how has the VAR not intervened there?’, check if the VAR is a scary top dog or a trembling newbie too scared to say boo to Mike Dean.
Like many, I find managerial moaning an irritating and pointless by product of the football world. So the arrival of the Moaner Lisa himself at my beloved Spurs was hardly welcome. But even I must concede he’s right to be miffed with our current situation.
Spurs are the busiest team in the league, having played 3-12 games more than any of our league opponents already. And with the cups we can expect that gap to grow. Needing to pack in 3 rescheduled matches in the run-in would be ridiculous.
I’m not in favour of forfeits, especially in the league, as it distorts the competition. And Villa and Fulham, whilst having outbreaks, weren’t the ones with 3 players flaunting an illegal Christmas party. And we can expect the Covid wheel of fortune to land on most clubs eventually.
But the league must still do everything to minimise disruption. Decisions must be made days, not hours in advance, with clubs given a clear deadline. And schedules must be shifted, starting with us facing Fulham this week.
So instead of cancelling or suspending either cup competitions or, if sanity prevails, football entirely until thousands of people aren’t dying every day from an infectious disease spread through close contact.. the FA are considering telling Fulham and Tottenham they are now playing each other, at 48 hours notice.
Fulham, after 2 weeks of C19 in their squad spreading faster than my lockdown waistline and ruining conditioning and training, have just played 120 minutes of a cup tie expecting not to have to play again until Friday. We still have players isolating, and personally I would not want to be anywhere near our players or staff currently.
Tottenham were expecting to play Aston Villa on Wednesday and so at least made team selections in the cup that took account of 48 hour turnaround to their next game.
But their preparations, selections, tactical training and individual assignments were based on playing Aston Villa, not Fulham.
This is just.. stupid. How is this remotely fair on either club, or on every other club in the league? There can be no equal levels of competition if the barriers clubs need to get over to win a game are so utterly random.
It’s crap, and while I’m definitely more angry because I’m a Fulham fan, it will still be crap if we manage to get a point or a win against a Spurs side who had no chance to properly prepare.
Stop the fucking season, it’s ridiculous