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The new Scholes
As someone who doesn’t like players being named the new anyone I don’t know why I’m writing this and maybe I’ll delete it rather than send but let’s see…

Since the (delayed) retirement of Paul Scholes there has been many pretenders to his crown. Particularly Carrick although he is much more defensively minded and a few others have also come in and failed to live up to those high expectations. Even Rooney has some similarities when in midfield with his ability to ping balls across to the wide men at a pretty accurate rate. The first game at centre midfield Rooney played a couple of years ago was actually a star performance, he just never hit those heights again in midfield or any other position for that matter.

However, the player now emerging as Scholes-esque for me is that little Spaniard Herrera. He doesn’t ping hollywood balls across the park but he breaks up the play well, plays intelligent passes, can hold the ball, can also get on the score sheet with late runs into the box, can control games and like Scholes is not very good at timing his tackles. Unlike Scholes, Herrera does dive a bit too much for my liking but he is a Johnny foreigner so that won’t go away any time soon.

If we could just get a striker or two the right side of 30 to finish a few chances then maybe we’d be OK. Surely there are some young strikers at Utd worth giving a run in the side (Oh wait, don’t we still have the next great England hope in Marcus Rashford and the new Terry Henry in Tony Martial?)
Jon, Jo’burg (Where would utd need to finish for Mourinho to be considered not worth another season? I’d say 5th)


The new Blade
Looking at your ‘Mourinho went ballistic‘ story this morning I noticed that the image you used for the piece had Eric Bailly in the background looking ridiculously cool… all black, leather, chain, ripped jeans, feet up, cool pose, totally calm as Jose is losing his head… He has the strength of an ox and is lighting fast. We’ve seen him play during the day so we know he isn’t a vampire but is he some kind of half vampire/half human Blade type figure?

If so he should be back from injury soon so don’t worry lads.
Simon P, Dublin

Arsenal’s attack
Hello, Mr. Storey. As always, love your work. Yesterday in Winners and Losers you talked about the increased efficiency in Arsenal’s attack. Stat-crazed as I am, I look out for those things, and although this is probably too long and stat-heavy for the mailbox, you may find it useful.

Super stat boffins will tell you that the two basic stats that overall best predict league success are 1) shots on target ratio (yours vs your opponents) and 2) total shots ratio (yours vs your opponents). They’re also stats that tend to stay relatively consistent over the course of time. Here’s a link that goes over the idea, and also talks about the much more fancy stat of Expected Goals:

At the moment, as you say, Arsenal are eighth in shots on target and ninth in chances created (another way of saying total shots). Factoring in shots they’ve allowed, Arsenal are eighth in shots on target ratio and seventh in total shots ratio. That is unequivocally bad for a title-contending team. The only team that has won the title, or even come close, with comparable stats, was Leicester City last year.

But what about the good news – that they’re more efficient this year, scoring more goals because they’re converting a higher percentage of their chances? Well, the boffins will also tell you that conversion rate is one of the least consistent stats, one of the hardest to maintain for long periods. So if you’re relying primarily on a high conversion rate on a small number of chances, you’re going against the odds. For some reason I can’t seem to find a good link for this.

But there is some good news here, and very interesting news at that. Arsenal’s current conversion rate is 15.2%. In the past ten years, five clubs in the league have managed to post a higher conversion rate for the full season. So although Arsenal’s conversion rate is unlikely to continue that high, it’s not impossible. More importantly, Arsene Wenger has recently experimented with a strategy designed to maximize conversion rate. The strategy is simple: take shots from better positions.

This started last year, when Arsenal, for the first time since we have data, took an extraordinarily low percentage of their shots from outside the area, only 27.7%, compared to a league-wide 41.4%. What was the result? The exact opposite of what you’d expect: Arsenal wound up with the lowest conversion rate they’d had in 10 years. Why? My guess is that players ordered to shoot much less from outside got off their natural rhythm, and also that teams figured out Arsenal wouldn’t shoot from distance and packed the area.

This year, though, their shots from outside the box are at 36.4%, still on the low side of the league average 42.5%, but not absurdly low. Maybe, just maybe, Wenger has figured out a balance for this squad between using longer shots to keep the defense honest and the team comfortable, and closer-in shots for better goal chances. Odds are still that they’ll have to boost their ratios of shots and shots on target. But if they can somehow keep the conversion rate high, they could make a serious run at the title.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA

Mkhi joined the wrong club
While the notion of loaning out players to other clubs for a weekend outside the Prem sounds interesting (Graham Simons) – it also assumes said team would want a player on spec without the chance to check them out in training, fit with their system, etc. Plus, if the teams were worth their salt, no one is going to walk into their side and possibly unbalance it unless someone of supreme talent like a Messi, perhaps Suarez. Even Ronaldo is getting too old and likely would want to call all the shots. The best teams rely far too much in their systems today to allow players to just walk in.

What’s more interesting is that players, in making a move to a ‘big’ club, clearly rarely check out the style of play before going. As the song ‘Mickey’ goes “You think you got the right but you’ve got it all wrong” Mikhi should have gone to a Liverpool or Spurs in the Prem which would have been a more natural fit. Instead he ends up at United. Worse than that, a United being managed by Mourinho. Of all the managers, Mourinho. Even Conte’s Chelsea would be a better fit than United.

By the time Mourinho has finished killing off Mikhi’s reputation to bolster his own, Mikhi won’t be getting games in League 1 let alone a top league overseas.
Paul McDevitt

2013/14? No, this feels different
As a Liverpool fan , whilst I do acknowledge that we concede too many goals, I don’t think its like the 2013/14 season (the first couple of games aside).

Lovren occasionally reverts to type and does something stupid, but he is now generally solid and these incidents do not occur enough to really worry about.

Lucas gifted Leicester a similar goal earlier in the season, but again, it doesn’t happen enough to worry about and he is our 4th choice center back, at best.

I feel in 2014 we would always pile forward in pursuit of more goals neglecting the defence and regularly being caught out on the counter. This is no longer the case.

Whilst a Liverpool fan will naturally feel nervous watching a game where we are narrowly winning, I suggest re-watching this season’s games with the hindsight of the result and you will generally see a very controlled performance, hardly allowing any shots on our goal. Whilst the fans are bricking it, the players are not.

Our only real defensive problem is defending set pieces. Something that I think can only improve, especially once the new goalkeeper settles into the team. I’m quietly confident of us going on a run of clean sheets sometime soon.
Oliver. (poor defending or not, I do find it quite weird how the opposition score with almost every shot on target)

P.S Miguel Sanchez, Firmino’s goal wasn’t offside

One-week loans? Erm…
To Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London:

A list of reasons that a one week loan system is a stupid idea:

1: It’s not a problem anyone should worry about.

Most players in ‘difficult’ situations with their clubs get chances to put themselves in the shop window at least, and most players who find their way into these difficult situations have got there by either being a bit waff on the pitch/in training, or acting like a tit. If not, it’s that they were brought in by a previous manager and the new one doesn’t rate them, but even then they usually get opportunities or at least shop-windowed in cup games.

Graham mentioned Mkhitaryan and Debuchy as examples of the ‘problem’, but Mkhitaryan’s situation is surely nearly unique – the same manager that brought him in has decided he doesn’t want him after pretty much never seeing him play competitively, and Debuchy is just not that good. I don’t think I can name 5 players in England who never (not mostly don’t, never) play for their club who are also top class players rather than simply players who aren’t quite good enough right now to demand a place in the current squad at their clubs – Mkhitaryan, maybe Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, maybe Yaya Toure… I’m struggling for one more, although admittedly I’m not very good with non-Liverpool squad knowledge.

Maybe I’m wrong, but mostly I think that top talent will always find a way onto the pitch (unless José is your manager and has either decided he doesn’t like you or found out you are under 25), and we really don’t need to invent a complex new week loan system so some fan-favourite players who aren’t that great anymore can get some game time.

That’s what the MLS is for.
Matt (probably only joking) LFC.

Firstly, hello to Ant, I knew as soon as I saw my name in the mailbox that you would be straight to your keyboard.

Let’s try another set of arbitrary numbers, shall we? Crystal Palace have won 5 of their last 32 games, of which 3 were in a row.  Either side of that run, they won 2 out of 29 games.  2. Out of 29.  Utterly, utterly rancid, and certainly a long enough period for Alan Pardew to have plenty of opportunity to show he had progressed beyond the cycles of peaks and troughs that dogged his previous managerial tenures; he has not done this, the only change seems to be the peaks getting shorter and the troughs getting deeper.

Ant also mentions the FA Cup Final.  Oh yes, who of course could forget the elation that came from Jason Puncheon’s goal being completely shot to sh!t by Pardew dancing like a c##t at an ar$ehole’s wedding, only for Juan Mata to equalise moments later? Once again, Pardew relaxes his focus and his team follows suit.  The dancing’s not actually the worst bit; that dubious honour goes to his insistence on negotiating a new contract for himself the day before what he kept telling everyone was the biggest day in the club’s history.  Priorities there.

Since then, he’s spent a fortune on players who are upgrades on what was previously available to him, however despite their best efforts – and those of our other good players – the overall form is not massively improved.

So yeah, maybe that’s me in pitchfork mode, and maybe I’m in the minority on this, but it just seems like standing by like Pangloss hoping everything will turn out for the best will only end badly.
Ed Quoththeraven

London Stadium violence
Just been reading up on the violence at London Stadium.  Have to admit, I’m a little but confused / intrigued.

I appreciate that the most recent culprits West Ham and Chelsea, along with many, many other clubs have in the past been notorious for problems with fan violence, but, as a regular problem inside stadiums, this seemed to be mainly confined to the history of our domestic game, at least.

So why is it all starting up again now the Hammers have moved to their new stadium?

It’s easy to blame ‘neanderthal’ Hammers fans, and cite a song about John Terry as evidence; but offensive chants are nothing new, and are not the speciality of West Ham fans.  There is nothing unique to Hammers fans that means they are more prone to thuggish, offensive or tribal behaviour than the fans of any other club.

West Ham FC and the Met Police are very experienced in controlling fans – I don’t believe that either of those parties has suddenly become incompetent either.

Seemingly, as the Euro’s showed, and is now being demonstrated by the problems at the London Stadium, the reason that fan violence has been less of a problem in recent history, may be less due to a lack of an appetite for it, and more due to a lack of opportunity.  Or a fear of greater consequences.

If this was happening all over the UK, or if many if the perpetrators weren’t seemingly well-heeled individuals, I might believe some kind of socio-economic explanation.

Maybe the plentiful (and I assume cheap) tickets are allowing groups of thugs who aren’t ‘genuine’ West Ham fans to crash the stadium?

However, I honestly can’t see a reason behind this, other than in the design of the stadium, and hence, the ability of the stewards and police to control the crowds. Assume this is to do with the flat terraces and the space the fans have to get past the security measures?  And / or maybe because the routes out of and away from the stadium make it hard to surveil and contain the culprits as they leave, so they feel they can ‘get away with it’?

Paul Fletcher could be right.  Maybe London Stadium is not fit for purpose.

It would be interesting to hear from some West Ham fans about what they think has changed.  Or from someone who knows about stadium design or policing football crowds, as to why they think this is happening.

Over to you Mailbox!

Ben, MCFC, Manchester.

Second City derby conclusions
Seeing as there has been no Mailbox reaction to the biggest game of the weekend (no, not Watford v Hull) I thought I’d share a few (to some degree biased) thoughts on the Second City derby.

Make no mistake, even ignoring Bruce’s return, this fixture is huge. There may be other local rivalries in and around Birmingham but there is no rivalry more passionately held than that of Birmingham City and Aston Villa. This was the first league meeting since 2011 and the first in the second tier since 1988, but this was a second tier game in name only. Blues fan Troy Deeney, interviewed pitch side before the game, said he’d rather be on the other side of the white line. It’s that sort of game, regardless of the division Premier League players would love to be involved.

It was a game that from start to finish matched the intensity of the atmosphere in St Andrews. Both sets of fans were exemplary. After recent crowd trouble between arguably less fierce club rivals, it was a testament to the policing, stewarding and fan behaviour. Again, the events on the pitch matched the atmosphere in the stands. An aggressive affair certainly, but not a violent one.

Football365’s excellent weekend preview failed to mention that the real appeal of this game was that one Mike Dean was gracing the pitch. Alas, no penalties, but we did get a good deal of Dean-screen-time as he gave a few players a stern talking to. After one foul, by the time the players surrounded him to appeal for punishment, Mr Dean had already assessed the situation and had time to draw out his yellow card. He just kept it in his hand by his side as he nullified the players’ appeals as if they were saying “fetch” to a dog with the ball already in his mouth. All things considered, he referred it excellently. And particular credit to his linesman who called Donaldson’s first-half header correctly not fully over the line. Who needs goal-line technology?

The aggression was clear inside the first few minutes, with Villa’s Jordan Amavii going in two footed in the 3rd minute and picking up the game’s first of (a relatively tame) five yellow cards. Blues’ Mikael Kieftenbeld picked up his for catching Jordan Ayew in the face with his studs. It was a cheap free kick to give away…

….and Villa took full advantage through Ayew’s beautifully flighted ball and a perfectly placed header from Gary Gardner. Not a bad time to get your first Villa goal. Not a bad game for a boyhood Villa fan to get the opening goal.
If Clayton Donaldson was guilty for complacency for nodding his goal-line chance up onto the underside of the bar, then he was guilty of stupidity for allowing Gardner such an easy jump for his goal. Having said that, it’s one of the best headed goals I’ve ever seen.

In the second half the Birmingham came back much stronger and were well worth the equaliser. You couldn’t write it better than the games other local lad, David Davis bagging the goal. It was another beauty too, albeit with a slight deflection that perhaps was what took it beyond Gollini. It was telling that the goal came just after Davis had been brought inside to accommodate substitute David Cotterill. The goal was a combination of Cotterill’s width and delivery, combined with Davis’ central position when the ball was cleared to the edge of the area.

Despite Birmingham having more chances to win it, a draw was probably fair. Considering Steve Bruce’s impact since his arrival at Villa Park, going into the game it felt could have been much worse for the Blues. Tactically, Gary Rowett seemed to have the advantage over Bruce’s expensively assembled Villains.

Sky showed Rowett’s (incredible) record of two 10th place finishes since taking over a Birmingham side sat 23rd, fresh from an 8-0 home defeat to then Championship Bournemouth. What they didn’t show was his net spend. I’m not exaggerating to say it’s practically nothing. No more than £3million spent, and most if not all of that recouped by the sale of Demarai Gray. Eddie Howe is rightly considered the next best English manager, but Gary Rowett perhaps has even more potential. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him at Everton, another of his former clubs as a player, in the future.

Roll on the derby at the Villa in April!
Chris Lissaman, Bluenose

Football birthdays
I’m not heavily obsessed by numerology, astrology and other -ogies, but I’ve noticed some nice patterns when it comes to footballers.

For example, today (Oct 31st) is the birthday of Marcus Rashford (which you’ve probably heard from… well, everywhere) and icons like Denis Irwin and Dunga.

Maybe the best day for football talents is February 05 – Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Carlos Tevez, Stefan de Vrij, Vedran Corluka… and Adnan Januzaj.

Based on my birthday, I know I won’t become a great player, but hey… I can be the next Mike Patton, which is something. Using this wretched tool, I’ve found that I share a date with such stars as Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Jardel (but not the good one).

Any other Mailboxer with better luck than mine?