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We are top of the league
– “Strangely Chelsea are yet to score a headed goal” – was the singular thought in my mind mere moments before Diego scored our first headed goal

– Azpilicueta definitely seems to be taking lessons from Cesc. Pardew was right, it was a Cescy pass/cross for Costa to thump in

– I disagree with the chap who said we’re more like George Graham’s Arsenal (not that I take it as an insult of course, its a compliment). We’ve comprehensively beaten the likes of United and Everton where we could’ve easily scored more. Our football was total and magnificient in those games. We’ve outplayed teams, won smash and grabs and in the tough festive period when teams are sitting off us and asking us questions by dogged defending, finding a way to win games while suffering creatively. Call it cliched, its already smelling like potential champions. The sheer variety of our wins makes me joy. And we’re not Graham’s Arsenal by any stretch of imagination

– Apart from some obvious adjustments on the pitch, Antonio has clearly done some remarkable stuff off the pitch which is being shown in the team’s trust in each other and the boss. There is a sense of unity, definitely no more of that ‘siege mentality’ which I’ve come to detest more and more. A willingness to accept defeats with humility. Its all looking good for Christmas.
Aravind, Chelsea Fan.

In response to Matthew (ITFC) from last night’s mailbox,

Compared to last season’s Mourinho-led clusterf*ck, Chelsea under Conte are drop dead bloody gorgeous thanks. That man’s tailor is a friggin genius.
Robbo Robson (CFC)

Weather in Manchester
The top managers in the EPL this season have each implemented their own signature playing style onto their teams. Klopp= gegenpressing, Pochettino= also with a high-energy press, Conte=3-4-3, Pep= possession, Arsene= the no.4. In that sense, it was nice to see Mourinho’s United slowly taking shape especially during the last few weeks.

The man’s all about the game control. In and out of possession United have gradually improved both ways throughout the course of the season. The past few victories have seen them solid defensively while the front players have all combined and interchanged well. And when all fails there’s Ibrahimovic to bail us out J Not too sure Mourinho has too much to be smug about though. He played 4-2-3-1 at the start of the season when his squad always looked best equipped for the 4-3-3. He stumbled onto his best back four. And he has criminally underused Mkhitaryan, which is being sold as some kind of powerful man-management by his fan boys.  He still hasn’t realized Shaw and Martial are his best bets on the left but I expect him to come around by the end of the season.

Which brings me to next managerial genius in Manchester, Pep Guardiola. Thanks to over enthusiastic pundits -step forward one Mr. Hoddle, saviour of English football for the last 15 odd years and the perennial next England manager- enough has been written and spoken about his defensive mistakes and his faith in Stones and Bravo. But he hasn’t exactly set the world alight in an attacking sense either apart from the run at the start of the season. At the beginning de Bruyne and Silva played as two no.8’s while Sterling and Nolito were wide forwards, stretching the pitch and opening up the space for one-twos and combination play. The return of Gundogan pushed de Bruyne to the wing and Nolito has also not featured as often since, causing congestion as too much play was being focused to the middle. The game against Arsenal was no different. In the first half, Sane (left footed) played on the right, Sterling through the middle and de Bruyne (right footed) on the left. The wide players keep cutting onto their favoured foot and there were no good passing angles created. The switch in the second half- Sane and Sterling to their natural sides, de Bruyne down the middle- paid dividends eventually. Thierry Henry spoke at length once how Guardiola insisted that his wide forwards stay wide until play reaches the final third, which makes it even weirder that he scrapped his well-functioning system just to accommodate Gundogan.

So far doing the obvious has been the most successful route in Manchester. Hopefully Liverpool will drop a couple of points tonight, which would just about cap off a very good week for United. And kudos to City for the touching tribute on the passing of their one-time teammate, Ilkay Gundogan. Pep must have a serious man crush J
JeevaM (Malaysian in Germany)

Peter G breaks it down for you
*I assume Matthew (ITFC) will be among the first of many to say that Conte’s Chelsea play boring football. I’m on the other side. That last half-hour against Palace was brilliant: not brute force but intelligence and technique, plus exciting threats on the counterattack. Palace may be near the foot of the table, but they score a lot of goals, and they never once looked like equalising. I’d be happy to watch that every week.

*Speaking of Chelsea, an enjoyable match at the Stadium of Light, in which two former Blues distinguished themselves. It’s taken some time, but Patrick van Aanholt finally looks like a complete player. He was always a dangerous attacker, but his anticipation, positioning, and overall tactical understanding are several levels improved. If Sam Allardyce deserves part of the credit for van Aanholt, David Moyes gets it all for Papy Djilobodji. As raw as you could imagine at the beginning of the season, he too now looks ready to succeed at Premier League level. Against Watford he did everything.

*There was enough in Stoke City vs. Leicester City to fill a Dickens novel, and the most remarkable page of all would be the on-screen graphic telling us the fastest sprint recorded by a Stoke player during the game was 31.81 km/h, by — wait for it — Jonathan Walters.

*The softest thing I know of is the nose of a baby goat. The second softest thing is the penalty Lee Mason gave to West Ham against Hull City. The Hammers have now played poorly at home against relegation candidates two straight weeks, and won both games because of penalties that probably shouldn’t have been awarded. Meanwhile Hull continue their lively play, and look a great deal more likely than Swansea City to be in the hunt for survival come May. For their part, the Swans look more likely to have supporters show up at their training ground with torches and pitchforks.

*Emphatic win for Southampton at Bournemouth, where after conceding early they were better in every department. Jay Rodriguez still looks well short of his former self, but you have to be happy for him, and his brace gives the Saints hope they might have a real live striker. Sofiane Boufal was again excellent, and Steven Davis, who I confess I’ve never rated, was the all-action catalyst in their second-half surge. From an attacking standpoint, Jack Wilshere had his best game for Bournemouth, significantly better than in the midweek win over Leicester.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA

Palace thoughts
Dear Football365,

Writing this on Sunday night as I’m in a different office on Monday. It’s not dedication, but it’s not far off, right?

*I was at my brother-in-law’s house this weekend for a pre-Christmas family gathering. He’s got five kids aged between 6 and 14, and they had various friends coming and going throughout the weekend. Point is, I had more important stuff to lose my sh!t over than football this weekend, in a rare moment of perspective.

That said, Crystal Palace are f###ed.

*Well done to Chelsea for their win. They had twice as many attempts on goal as Crystal Palace, and three times as many shots on target. They are top of the league for a reason, and any team whose revitalisation this season is embodied by a former Crystal Palace player cannot be all bad.

Incidentally, one of the thin silver linings to the dark cloud of this season has been the chance to stick two fingers up to everyone who ever said Palace fans overrated Victor Moses because he came through our system. I’m really pleased for him.

*There was talk on social media before the game about a mass walkout in the 21st minute. I don’t think too much came of it but there must be cause for concern at the club that this sort of idea is even being entertained. It is clear that Alan Pardew’s support amongst the fans is almost completely eroded.

*Pardew as usual didn’t help himself with his post-match comments, specifically when he described the cross for the Pensioners’ goal with “You don’t really expect a centre-half to have that quality”.

The centre-half in question was César Azpilicueta. You know, the same César Azpilicueta who has played for Chelsea since 2012, contributing 13 assists, mostly from crosses. Also, you don’t have to be Jonathan Wilson to know that a centre-half in a back three is not the same as one in a back four, especially when one of the wider centre-halves is also an accomplished full-back. This was why he was able to get into space on the wing to put a cross in, knowing an excellent striker would find a way to head it home.

*In and of itself, losing to Chelsea is not a problem; the problem is that Palace lose to everyone. It doesn’t seem to matter how the opposition play, or where they are in the league table, they all seem to find a way to breach our defence.

It’s variations on a theme every week – if it isn’t a set piece, it’s a cross that the Eagles fail to defend in the same manner as they fail to defend a corner – the centre-backs get caught out of position and the goalkeeper makes a bad decision.

*Sunday 18 December was the first anniversary of the American investors officially becoming a part of the setup at Selhurst Park. Since then the team has won 6 times out of 42 league games, which is absolutely pathetic, and it’s staggering that they’ve put up with it frankly.

Something needs to change, but it doesn’t seem like anything will.

*Palace’s next game is against Watford, a team who at the start of the season you would have expected them to be fairly close to, but who are in fact five places and six points better off than the Eagles. Pardew can’t possibly survive losing that one, can he?
Ed Quoththeraven

Jealous Carra? Nope
I know that “Steve (Top of the morning, and top of the league), Los Angeles” letter was a wind-up regarding Oscar moving to China, but I’ll bite anyway.

The gist of Carragher’s message is that at 25 years of age, with his entire future ahead of him, he is choosing to throw away any chance of gaining additional silverware in exchange for a pay-day. There is no reasonable argument that can be made for the prestige of the Chinese leagues over any European or South American competition at this stage. Any other suggestion regarding cultural or (hilariously) financial livelihood are moot points as he is already on an extraordinary wage at Chelsea.

Happy Monday,
David C. – Toronto

My initial reaction to the idea of Oscar going to China was much the same as old Grapefruit Carraghers’: embarrassing cash grab.

After all, what does it matter when in football the wages for the most middling of relegators (made that up, wanted to say Regulators as a nod to the brilliant 90s film Young Guns) are obscene when compared to every normal person on the planet?

But that assumes all the players want to do in their spare time is collect diamonds, paint them in gold, fashion them into a wealth-onesie and wear them whilst driving customised convertible cars from Italy as money flutters nonchalantly from the tailpipes.

Maybe Oscar simply wants to provide for his family (who I assume all live in Brazil) so I did some research and math:

Average annual wage in Brazil is more or less £6000. Let’s say Oscar wants the people he wants to support to be comfortable so he quadruples that to £24,000. But because I’m lazy he sticks another grand in to make it £25,000 and the math a lot easier.

Average age of a Brazilian today is about 31. Life expectancy is around 73. But as The Oscarites will be living a life of luxury they’ll live longer and get to 80 (dumb logic, but hey, this is my mail so…) which means Oscar would need to provide for 49 years per person.

So to provide a person a very comfortable life FOR life starting today in Brazil will cost Oscar an average of £25,000 x 49 years = £1.225m.

If he’s on the reported £400,000/week for 3 years he has £62.4m. He can incredibly comfortably provide for 49 people other than himself. When you think about family and extended family and a few close friends, that seems a pretty reasonable number.

Or, he’s a money grubbing scumbag, which, given his English club of choice was Chelsea, is pretty much a given.

Or, Grapefruits Carragher and friends, shut up, it’s none of your business.
Dr Oyvind, Earth.

Am a first time writer to the mailbox but a constant reader. Was baffled by a guy who said that Jamie Carragher is jealous of Oscar he was clearly stating the obvious why would a player with great potential go to a league that is in its infancy for financial gain. Oscar will make good money if he goes to another European league and to a good club. Karma is really a bitch was trusted by Jose meaning Mata had to leave now he is going to a league that will not really prove his outstanding quality.
Tony Bii MUFC, Kenya (New phrase doing the obvious, That was such an Arsenal thing you did)

Neville the PFM?
So as I understand Gary Neville, players and managers should just shut their mouths and let ex-player pundits and failed managers take pot shots to their hearts content.

Clearly the ONLY reason the story lasted was because of the player and manager and not the pundit. Neville clearly wasn’t continuing the story with his poorly thought through chef/steak comment and then his story about continuing the story.

What’s more concerning is that the ex-players being lauded for not being PFMs are fast becoming PFMs – as their commentary becomes personal and toxic and less about the tactics and strategy.

If nothing else, we are getting to see in real-time how PFMs are made.
Paul McDevitt

Winners and losers: European version

Og Nice
The french league does liechester style fairy tales even more readily than it does long periods of domination this years fairy tale could be Nice who have gone four points clear this week and a full 7 ahead of the recent perennial champions (PSG) watch this week

Gonzalo Higuain
this is why they bought him for 75m to settle the big clashes after helping decide the Turin derby last week he settled the game against their main title rivals this week

i’d like to believe somewhere there is dutch version of football365 send in mails claiming this is going to be their year.well this week they moved closer as they won and their main rivals played out a draw hey’ve got a five point lead going into the second half of the season.Lets just hope |Dirk Kuyt doesn’t slip at some point.

German fixture schedulers
RB leipzig and Bayeern winning this weekend means their game in the final game of the year will decide winter champions that should be a treat

Dries Mertens
Seven goals in two games possibly the form player on the planet.


the chasing pack in Italy
It was all set up to be a three horse race all that needed to happen was Milan and Roma winning their games.Sure Roma’s was away to Juventus but still… Instead the gap is now 7 points and it just feels like nothing has changed in the last six years.

Because their lost, because they are seven points behind,Because their manager is in trouble and LVh and Robbie Mancini are the faves to replace him because as a Man U fan I feel we robbed them and should probably go pay something for IIbra
Timi MUFC (oh and to settle the debate on father’s and Sons Paolo Maldini is the son of champions league winner Cesare and was initially thought as being chosen because of nepotism.