Five-a-side TOTW: May 22nd 2017

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

The final day of the Premier League season is always an odd occasion. Whether it be weakened teams, barmy goal fests, emotional farewells or even suspicious devices, there is always something intriguing that occurs, and the last day of this season was certainly no different. Realistically there was only one issue that needed to be resolved; the Champions League places. With only champions Chelsea, and runners up Tottenham assured of qualification to Europe’s premier football competition, there were still two places up for grabs, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal vying for those final two spots. City and Liverpool knew that wins against Watford and Middlesbrough respectively would guarantee their places at the high table, while Arsenal knew they had to win at home to Everton and hope that their rivals would slip up.

Goalkeeper – Castro Pereira

Who? Yes that’s right. Manchester United’s Swiss born Portuguese goalkeeper was making only his second United appearance and his first in the Premier League. He was facing a Crystal Palace side that had flirted with relegation throughout much of the season but had recently enjoyed some fairly impressive. The twenty-year-old looked confident and assured throughout United’s comfortable 2-0 victory. Standing at over 1.90 metres he certainly looks like he has the physical attributes to become a top class Premier League stopper. His United future will largely depend on where David De Gea ends up plying his trade next season, however he will have done himself no harm with this impressive display.

The Stopper – Vincent Kompany

There can be no doubt at all that Manchester City are a different team when their captain is fit. Had he been fit for the whole season we may well have seen Pep Guardiola’s team mounting a more serious title challenge. The Citizens captain only featured 11 times in the league this season yet still managed to aid his sides cause with three goals. Going into the final round of fixtures City knew that a win would guarantee them third place and as a result automatic qualification to the Champions League group stages. Nevertheless, they faced what could have been a sticky fixture away at Watford who had just confirmed that the game would be Walter Mazzari’s last in charge. Kompany led the City charge and calmed what may have been any jangling nerves with a smart header within five minutes of the kick off. It set the tone for an easy afternoon for the two-time Premier League champions, who ran out 5-0 winners in the end.

The Middleman – Georginio Wijnaldum 

My word does this guy score important goals. Already a scorer of vital goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the ex-Feyenord and Newcastle man can now add Middlesbrough to his already impressive repertoire! While the opponents might not be as illustrious, the goal itself was absolutely crucial. Liverpool knew that only a win would guarantee qualification for the Champions League and prior to Wijnaldum’s intervention Liverpool had been struggling. They were extremely fortunate not to have found themselves a man down after Dejan Lovren inexplicably pulled Patrick Bamford down when through on goal. With half time approaching, Wijnaldum grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and produced a fierce strike to give the Red Men a lead that they would never surrender. Further further goals from Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana sealed an easy 3-0 win.

The Free Role – Josh Harrop 

Again, you may ask “who?” Well this young man had a Manchester United debut to remember as he opened the scoring in United’s 2-0 win at Old Trafford. The Stockport born winger looked lively on his professional debut and capped off an impressive display with a brilliant individual goal. Receiving the ball on the left hand side, the 21 year old cut inside, jinked his way around several Palace defenders before blasting the ball beyond a hapless Wayne Hennessey. United fans love nothing more than a homegrown player and it will be really interesting to see whether Harrop is able to kick on next season.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

Realistically, who else was going to get the nod here? Kane is simply the best striker in the Premier League and one of the best, if not the best, in the world. In a season disrupted by injury, the Tottenham No.10 has still managed a staggering 29 goals in 30 Premier League appearances. His four goals against a desperately poor Leicester side in midweek were followed up by an equally impressive hat-trick against already relegated Hull City. Remarkably, there are still those who seem to be waiting, even hoping, for the wheels to fall off. On this evidence they will be waiting an awfully long time.

Wenger and Corbyn in unlikely alliance

*DISCLAIMER – This is not a real story.* 

After Theresa May’s shock decision to call a snap election in early June we look at how both Arsène Wenger and Jeremy Corbyn are experiencing a very similar crisis.

We at somoneonthepost.com can exclusively reveal that both Arsène Wenger and Jeremy Corbyn are confiding in each other. 

Both men are under increased pressure to resign and it seems that the two embattled leaders have found solace in each other’s struggles.

While Wenger and Corbyn’s alliance may seem surprising at first glance, closer inspection reveals that both men do actually have a great deal in common.

Wenger’s position at Arsenal is looking to be increasingly untenable. With fans voicing their discontent and players seeming to disobey tactics it looks like the man affectionately known as ‘Le Professeur’ may be about to end his 21 year reign.

Corbyn’s position looks as bleak, if not bleaker. After becoming Labour leader in September 2015, the MP for Islington North has presided over Labour’s worst run of results since the 1950’s.

Wenger and Corbyn, both 67, retain the support of important allies within their respective organisations. The Arsenal owner, Stan Kroenke, continues to support the veteran Frenchmen, while Corbyn has found support from the vast number of trade unions who refuse to put pressure on the hippy allotment owner to resign from his position.

However, not everything is rosy within the Corbyn camp. There have been reports that resenting Labour MP’s have organised a plane to be flown over Westminster with a ‘Corbyn Out’ banner attached. We understand that Wenger has provided his friend with advice on how to how to deal with this clearly unpleasant experience.

“I have a lot of admiration for Jeremy” declared Wenger. “He seems like a clever man, and he is brilliantly stubborn. I really do see a lot of similarities between the two of us.

“Yes it’s true that I have advised him on how to deal with dissenting fans, but I know that he has the strength to deal with it. After all, he dated Diane Abbott for a number of years, so after coming out of that largely unscathed, I am sure he will be able to deal with a few vigilante backbenchers.”

Corbyn was similarly generous in his praise for the Arsenal manager. “What Arsène has done is truly remarkable. He’s managed to hold onto his job through a succession of underwhelming campaigns. If I can do my job half as well as him I will still be Labour leader come the 2037 general election!”

Corbyn has apparently taken strength from Arsenal’s run of consecutive fourth placed finishes. Between 2006 and 2014 The Gunners finished fourth a remarkable six times.

“I remember Arsène once saying that fourth place was like a trophy. I am trying to relay this message to my shadow cabinet. If we finish in fourth place in the coming general election then we will have a chance of participating in Europe’s premier political debates next season. We will of course have to negotiate a tricky qualifying round in Brussels!”

Corbyn’s optimism is admirable yet sadly very much misplaced. With Britain all but certain to leave the EU in the coming years it would seem that he is unlikely to ever get the opportunity to lead his side in Europe.

Wenger on the other hand still has an outside chance of claiming a place in one of Europe’s top competitions next season.

“We haven’t given up on fourth place just yet. If we qualify then I can assure the fans that we will be doing our level best to scrape through the group stages before being eliminated 12-1 on aggregate in the round of 16!”

Five-a-side TOTW: April 6th 2017

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

Arsenal maintained their relatively slim top-four hopes with a comfortable 3-0 victory at home to out of form West Ham. There were also home wins for Leicester and Watford against Sunderland and West Brom respectively. Burnley secured an important win at home to Stoke to allay their relegation fears. Liverpool could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth whilst both Southampton and Chelsea won at home; the Saints defeating a resurgent Crystal Palace 3-1, and Chelsea recovering from their brief blip at the weekend to win 2-1 against Manchester City. A defeat that all but ended their visitors already slim title hopes. Hull recorded an important 4-2 win over Middlesbrough in an entertaining game at the KC. Manchester United left it late but recorded yet another home draw against Everton; Zlatan Ibrahimovic saving their blushes with a last minute spot kick. And finally Spurs scored three goals in the final five minutes to come from behind and defeat Swansea 3-1 at The Liberty Stadium. But who made it into our team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Kasper Schmeichel

Before Craig Shakespeare took the job many were expecting last seasons champions to be plying their trade in English football’s second tier next season. The appointment of Shakespeare has led to a drastic turnaround in the Foxes form. The 2-0 win over Sunderland was Leicester’s fifth Premier League win in a row and sixth in all competitions. It was also a second consecutive Premier League clean sheet for Schmeichel, only the second time he has managed this all season. Schmeichel has indisputably been Leicester’s best player this season. He has galvanised him teammates at times where they looked downtrodden and hopelessly out of form. Leicester will stay up this season, and Schmeichel will have more than played his part.

The Stopper – Phil Jagielka

This guy is an enigma. I sometimes look at him and think “how on earth can he have won 40 England caps?” Well his performance on Tuesday evening against Manchester United justified those 40 caps and probably silenced many of his critics. He was nothing short of outstanding as he captained Everton to a very deserved point at Old Trafford. The ex-Sheffield United man threw himself in front of shots, made perfectly timed tackles, and managed to silence the Stretford End with a really smart finish. Out of favour under Koeman for much of this season, the veteran centre half demonstrated that he is more than able to compete with the biggest names. Ibrahimovic was kept quiet up until his late penalty earned Manchester United a point they hardly merited.

The Enforcer – Idrissa Gueye

I said at the beginning of this season that this man would be Everton’s key summer signing. He really does look to have been a snip at £7 million. Like Jagielka he was brilliant against United; he controlled the game and won the ball back for his team on countless occasions. The Senegal international has made more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the Premier League this season. If Everton are going to make a late charge for the European places then Gueye will have to maintain his impressive form.

The Free Role – Eden Hazard

When he wants to be he is absolutely brilliant and, more often than not, when he is, so are Chelsea. Against Manchester City was one of those nights that the mercurial Belgian decided he was going to turn it on. His two goals maintained Chelsea’s seven point lead over London rivals Tottenham. He has been involved in 18 Premier League goals this season and looks likely to break his previous best Premier League goals tally which stands at 14 (he’s currently on 13). Chelsea will almost certainly go on to claim their second title in three years, and Hazard will have been one of the key players in the success.

The Finisher – Jamie Vardy

He has got six goals in the six games that Craig Shakespeare has been in charge. Prior to that he had only managed the same number in his previous 38 games. The upturn in Vardy’s form has been a key factor in Leicester’s recent run of results. After scoring an absolutely brilliant goal against Stoke in the previous game, Vardy continued his goalscoring run against the leagues basement club, Sunderland. With the Champions League returning this week and City facing a tricky trip to Atletico Madrid, Shakespeare and Leicester fans will be hoping that the Vardy party will keep going on.

Five-a-side TOTW: February 14th 2017

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

It’s time for our TOTW! Chelsea were held at Burnley, while their nearest challengers, Tottenham Hotspur, were beaten 2-0 at Liverpool. Leicester City lost for the fifth time in a row against Paul Clement’s resurgent Swansea City, a result that leaves the champions just one place and one point above the dreaded drop zone. Elsewhere, Anthony Martial scored a fine goal as Mourinho’s side maintained their top-four challenge. Sunderland were comfortably beaten at home by Southampton, and Arsenal recorded a fortuitous win over Hull City at The Emirates. But who impressed us enough to make it into the Internet’s most coveted five-a-side football team?

Keeper – Willy Caballero

This was not an easy choice – I can’t recall any keeper being particularly outstanding this weekend. I’ve gone with Willy Caballero because I think he has an unenviable task as a Manchester City keeper playing under Pep Guardiola. The City boss is desperately keen for his keepers to play out from the back – something that I don’t think comes particularly naturally to Big Willy. Despite starting the season as City’s first choice between the sticks, he knew that he was going to be likely replaced by a keeper that Guardiola considered to be better suited to the style of play that he wanted to implement. The subsequent signing of Claudio Bravo has proven to be a disastrous piece of business and Caballero has found himself back in the side for each of the last four games, keeping three clean sheets in the process. He deserves a place in this team merely for his patience, fortitude, and the fact that his name is Willy!

The Stopper – Alfie Mawson

I really thought that Swansea would go down. I even wrote an article about how Paul Clement was not the right man for the job and how chairman Huw Jenkins should be referred to as the Swansea Slayer. How wrong have I been proven? Clement, the Premier League’s choice of January Manager of the Month, has masterminded Swansea victories at Selhurst Park, Anfield, and now at home to the reigning champions. They are one of the in form teams in the league and now lie in fifteenth place and four points above the relegation places. Mawson, and his fellow defender Martin Olsson were the scorers as Swansea comfortably won at home for only the fourth time this season. The Swans have been heavily reliant on their Icelandic talisman Gylfi Sigurðsson in recent weeks, so it would have been a welcome surprise to see two defenders chip in with goals. Mawson’s was a sweetly struck volley that left Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal flapping at thin air. The ex-Barnsley man more than merits his five-a-side TOTW debut.

The Ball Winner – Joey Barton

I don’t care what anybody says – Joey Barton can play. He and his fellow midfielder Ashley Westwood were up against N’Golo Kanté (and his twin brother), yet more than matched their more illustrious opponent. Burnley’s performance was industrious, and was built on the solid foundations of hard work, discipline and concentration. Nobody exemplified those traits more than Barton. Burnley are a different team at home and have picked up a staggering 29 of their 30 points at Turf Moor this season. Three more victories should see them secure their survival – a feat few of us thought possible at the beginning of the season. As for Barton, this performance completes a remarkable turnaround. Just three months ago he was deemed surplus to requirements at Rangers and was under investigation by the FA for some fairly ill-advised betting offences. He really did look like he was destined for the football scrapheap. Nevertheless, that well known football adage “bounce-back-ability” is one that can very much be attributed to Barton. Whenever people think he has well and truly messed it up, he seems to some how find a way to prove them wrong.

The Free Role – Sadio Mané

Liverpool are a different team when he is playing. People will go on about the Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana, but Mané really is the main man. When he was away on African Cup of Nations duty Liverpool looked static, one dimensional and void of any pace. He is so direct, so strong, and so unpredictable that defenders simply don’t know what he is going to do next. Tottenham certainly couldn’t handle him on Saturday, as his two goals sealed a first league win of 2017. His first was an excellent finish after he had managed to outpace the hapless Ben Davies. His second was more of a poachers goal but it really did finish off a Spurs side that were well below par. The win keeps the Anfield side in the hunt for a Champions League place and reignites a season that, after recent results, looked to be crumbling apart.

The Finisher – Manolo Gabbiadini 

I once signed this guy on one of my Football Manager games – he was a great signing for me then and he looks like a great signing for Southampton too! His two goals helped his new side to a resounding 4-0 away win at Sunderland and took his own personal tally to three in just two games. His first was a smart near post header from a lovely Ryan Bertrand cross and his second came after a wonderful turn that left Sunderland defender Lamine Koné completely bamboozled. With the League Cup Final against Manchester United coming up in less than two weeks, Southampton fans will be hoping that the Italian can maintain his good form until then at least.

Hibernation season for Arsenal fans

*DISCLAIMER – This is not a real story.* 

A series of false dawns has led to a delay in the annual hibernation of Arsenal fans.

Arsenal fans have begun their annual hibernation. This year it was delayed by three months due to a run of surprising and rather impressive results. Usually November signals the start of what Arsenal fans unhappily refer to as the ‘period of realisation’ as their team begins an alarming descent towards failure and crushing disappointment.

This year the natural phenomenon began in early February as two poor defeats confirmed the end of any realistic title challenge. Arsenal fan Craig Williams from Barking said, “We’ve come to expect this. Usually we ‘enjoy’ a torturous run-up to Christmas before somehow scraping together a succession of good results. This year we were really at risk of being able to enjoy our season, however, sadly normality has been restored.”

Williams, an Arsenal fan for over 50 years, seemed nonchalant when recalling happier times. “I have forgotten what it’s like to smile. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it. Supporting Arsenal is a bit like waiting for the new Tarantino film. You know that it’s going to cost a lot, and it’s still always going to be grim viewing.”

Many other Arsenal fans have been caught out by this years events. In previous years fans have foreseen the dark times approaching. This usually leads to them harvesting memories from yesteryear, and recalling the events of the Invincibles season. “My friend Chris actually forgot to harvest any good memories this year” explained Williams with a sense of sadness and regret. “He thought this year may be different and so didn’t feel the need to lean back on our past successes. I’ve not spoken to him in a couple of days, but since the Watford result I know that he’s been struggling.”

A member of the Arsenal Habitat Society (AHS) since 2007, Williams has lost many close friends during hibernation season. “Losing your mates at any time is hard – but particularly under these circumstances. You try not to think about it too much but sometimes you just can’t help it!”

Kirsty Barry, the head of AHS, revealed the ways that she and fellow members try and ensure the safety of Arsenal fans during this difficult period. “We provide support networks to help them deal with their problems. We hold weekly crisis meetings where we show games from better times, like the 5-4 win at White Hart Lane back in 2004.” Yet despite these measures being put in place it would seem this year has seen an even greater number of Arsenal fans enter hibernation.

Barry added, “We don’t like to admit it but we’re overwhelmed. It gets worse year on year. We have to try and explain to people that there is still the Champions League to look forward to, but such is the level of despair, and the fact that we’re facing Bayern Munich, most fans can’t even get excited for that!”

Any prospect of Arsenal fans waking from their slumber before the end of May remains unlikely. With attendances expected to dwindle and no real prospect of achieving anything significant this season, Williams and other fans like himself have predicted that they will not be seen until early July.

“I reckon I’ll wake up in time for the transfer window. Although I don’t expect us to sign a strong and commanding central midfielder, I always live in hope.”

If you have been, or know of someone who could be, affected by the issues raised in this story then contact the Arsenal Habitat Society anonymously on 0200204444. 

Why the FA Cup is dying

Football is a game now built on money. For a long time now sentiment and history have ceased in having any influence on the beautiful game. New found riches and the prospect of even greater financial reward has led to the decrease in stature of one of the bastions of the English football calendar; the FA Cup. In this article, Simmo looks at why the FA Cup is dying and why its sister competition, the League Cup, is continuing to go from strength to strength.

The FA Cup has always had this magical, mystical, even mythical side to it. It is the only competition in English football where a real battle between David and Goliath ever seems to take place. Right from its very first appearance in the English football calendar, way back in 1871, it has taken on an importance that no other major cup competition is able to replicate across Europe’s premier footballing nations.

Yet now, in an age where it increasingly seems that money takes precedence over both pride and history, the FA Cup is sadly losing its status as Europe’s most important national cup, and perhaps, even Britain’s.

That final sentence in particular may cause a few gasps from readers, however, there is certainly considerable evidence to suggest that top clubs are now putting a greater emphasis on the League Cup. Whilst it is certainly true that the League Cup lacks the prestige of its sister competition, it has a lot of elements that lie in its favour.

One of elements is something that big teams find especially advantageous. Premier League teams that qualified for a European competition in the previous season are automatically placed in the third round. Unlike the FA Cup, where all Premier League and Championship teams get an automatic pass to the third round, the League Cup usually sees all Championship teams begin their campaign in round one.

 

Number of Games

Either seventy or seventy-two teams enter the first round, with the winners progressing to round two. Here, the Premier League teams not involved in European competitions are added to the pool. When round two is finished the Premier League teams who qualified for Europe are added. It is at this point when the cup really does begin in earnest.

The reason why this is often so favourable for bigger teams is that they are often entering the competition when many of their league rivals have already been eliminated. Let us take the 2014/15 competition as an example. By the beginning of the third round a total of seven Premier League teams had already been eliminated. A quarter of the 16 fourth round ties were all Premier League affairs, with only nine teams from Britain’s top tier progressing.

There are other advantages too; for example, the number of games that have to be played to get to the final. Round three in the League Cup has only 32 teams as opposed to 64 in the FA Cup. Additionally, there are no replays in the League Cup, meaning that up until the semi-final, teams only have to play one game per round. The maximum number of games that a Premier League team playing in Europe has to play to reach Wembley is five.

The replay issue is a contentious one. It has been violently debated by those wearing suits at the FA. Whilst we all love to see a lower league team battle valiantly and earn a replay at a big club, there is a strong argument to suggest that replaying ties has a detrimental impact.

For example, let us take a Premier League team who have qualified for the latter stages of the Champions League. They are drawn against lower league opposition in the fifth round. The match is a dull affair with the minnows frustrating their more illustrious opponents for 90 minutes. The result is a 0-0 draw and all those at the smaller club are delighted that they have secured a replay at one of Britain’s biggest clubs.

For the Premier League team however, this is the nightmare scenario. The replay is sandwiched between several important Premier League games and the first leg of their Champions League knockout round.

Where is the incentive for them? Whilst those at lower league clubs are delighted to secure replays, partly due to the financial windfall that comes with achieving such a feat, the Premier League clubs know that finishing even one place higher in the league could bring about greater financial rewards than winning the FA Cup.

 

Financial Reward

Manchester United, the current FA Cup holders, won £1.8 million for their Wembley triumph. This does not include television money, nor gate receipts. When these have been calculated in, the money received from an FA Cup run increases substantially. Ultimately a run to the final can prove to be extremely profitable, yet like all things in football, it has to be revaluated in comparison to the revenue streams that can be had elsewhere.

All things are relative – £5 million to Huddersfield Town is the equivalent of about £40 million for Manchester United. There is no factual basis for this statement – it is just merely to demonstrate how bigger clubs have a different outlook on the financial side of the game. For Huddersfield Town, winning the FA Cup and receiving that sort of money would constitute a major success. For Manchester United winning the FA Cup would only be success if they had also managed to secure other financial success.

We will continue with Manchester United because it is a good example. The 2014/15 season had seen them qualify for the Champions League after a two-year absence. Although they were eliminated in the group stages they made almost 10 times more in that competition than they did for winning the FA Cup. That is even before the TV revenue is added to the total.

Then there is the Premier League. Despite finishing fifth Manchester United were able to rake in a staggering £19.8 million in prize money. Once again, this is before the TV revenue is counted. When it is you can multiply the money received by five.

Now, before we go further it is important for us to talk about the finances involved with the League Cup. The winners of the competition only receive £100,000 – an almost irrelevant sum when placed in the grandeur that is the world of football.

 

Not just financial

It would seem then that there is a bigger reason as to why the League Cup has taken on an increased importance in recent years. It clearly is not down to financial reward – there is obviously something else that sways teams to take the competition seriously. Whilst winning the League Cup is worth substantially less than lifting the FA Cup trophy, there is no difference in the actual footballing reward.

With both finals being played at Wembley, and winners of both competitions are automatically entered into the Europa League, Europe’s second tier competition, there is little to distinguish the two competitions. One way this could be done is by introducing a Champions League qualification spot for the winners of the FA Cup. The financial rewards on offer there would encourage teams to take the competition more seriously.

Another major problem with the FA Cup is its timing. It is something that particularly affects the bigger clubs. The third round of the League Cup typically kicks off in late September, just one month into the Premier League season. In comparison, the FA Cup third round begins in early January – just after an extremely busy festive period. By the time the fourth round has started the two League Cup finalists have already been confirmed.

Essentially, a run in the League Cup comes at a better time than the equivalent run in the FA Cup. Players are fresher, and perhaps most importantly, the fixture list is less congested.

 

The Shocks

Yet there will always be the purists. The people who say, “well the FA Cup is the FA Cup, and nothing will ever beat it.” In many ways they are right. People, particularly those of older generations, have a real affinity with the FA Cup.

It was the Cup of the people. The one every young boy or girl watching football wanted to win. It was a Saturday not long after Christmas, a Saturday when the best teams came to play the smaller teams. The most famous players in the country were being tested in uncomfortable surroundings. It was the perfect recipe for a shock.

Shock is very much the operative word associated with FA Cup. There have always been shocks. Hereford vs Newcastle springs to mind, along with Wimbledon vs Liverpool. Games where the favourites were stunned, where the minnows triumphed against the odds. That was the magic of the FA Cup.

Nowadays they are less common. Indeed, Bradford were the last team to really cause an FA Cup shock when they won 4-2 at the Premier League leaders, Chelsea, after being 2-0 down. Even when surprising results do occur there are question marks regarding whether they can be truly classified as a shock result.

West Ham United, a Premier League club, lost 5-0 at Nottingham Forest, a team in the second tier, two years ago. In most normal situations people would describe this as a shock. Yet on the day West Ham had rested a number of first team players and had clearly set their sights elsewhere. Bournemouth did the same earlier this month, fielding a weakened team at League One Millwall, and in turn losing 3-0. Again, it went to prove that the FA Cup was not a priority.

Indeed, the League Cup has provided more shocks in recent seasons. Seasoned cup team, Bradford City, a club from the fourth tier of English football, enjoyed a miracle run to the final after competition four years ago. They knocked out no fewer than three Premier League teams en route to Wembley. Although they lost 5-0 to Swansea City in the final, their run had inspired many. It had brought a bit of magic to the competition.

Non-Premier League finalists are rare occurrences. In fact, since 2000 only four teams from outside the Premier League have reached the League Cup final. You have to go back a further 19 years to reach the same number in the FA Cup. Prior to that there had been six finalists from outside the top division, with three even going on to claim the trophy.

It could be argued that the League Cup has provided more memorable moments in recent years than the FA Cup. Whether it will ever overtake its rival as English footballs premier cup competition remains unlikely. Yet whilst the football rewards remain the same and the money in other competitions continues to rise, clubs will continue to treat it as an important trophy, and one that is worth competing for.

PSG: What’s gone wrong?

With PSG losing again in the league and signings failing to make an impact, Simmo looks at what’s gone wrong for the French champions. Has the quest for European success come at a domestic cost? Is Unai Emery already on borrowed time?

 

PSG have lost two of their opening seven league fixtures. On its own that statement isn’t completely shocking, lots of big teams have already lost games this season. Of the recognised title challengers across Europe’s top leagues, only Bayern Munich and Manchester City still hold a 100% record.

Yet for PSG this start is unacceptable. Last season they lost only two league games all season. Throughout the whole of Laurent Blanc’s three-year tenure, they only lost eight. During the same period Barcelona lost thirteen, Juventus ten, and Bayern Munich nine. In recent years, no club has dominated their own domestic competitions as much as PSG.

Yet there are those who will still maintain that PSG’s achievements have not been all that great. There are those who choose to dismiss Ligue 1 as merely a ‘Mickey Mouse’ league.

That sort of talk is unfair and utterly dismissive of the good work Blanc did whilst at the club. Under his stewardship PSG were lethal. Their supremacy was not accidental, nor was it because the league was exceptionally weak. No, PSG were just a very good team.

They blew teams away, scored goals for fun, and were a solid defensive unit. They accumulated a +191 goal difference during Blanc’s reign. No other team came close to matching them.

The debate will rage on about whether their success was artificial. Yes, it is true that their triumphs were largely built on Qatari oil. However, both Manchester City and Chelsea have all spent vast sums of money after being bought by foreign owners. Neither have come close to matching the complete domestic dominance that PSG has enjoyed.

Despite domestic success, the Qatari owners still craved one elusive trophy; the Champions League. For Roman Abramovich at Chelsea the Champions League had become an almost unhealthy obsession. Whilst he clearly enjoyed league titles and FA Cup victories, they only went so far. The hierarchy at PSG clearly have a similar view. Two successive trebles (Ligue 1, Coupe de France & Coupe de la Ligue) in the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons had reaffirmed PSG’s position as the Kings of French football. Yet this success was spoiled by the seeming lack of progress in Europe.

Blanc’s Champions League record was good, just not good enough to save his job. In each of his three seasons in charge PSG reached the quarter-finals but no further. PSG’s inability to make any clear progress in Europe no doubt prompted the powers that be to terminate Blanc’s contract in June. This was despite him signing an extension as early as February. It seemed therefore, that PSG were measuring Blanc solely on his team’s performance in Europe.

Blanc’s replacement was chosen entirely for his record in European competitions. Unai Emery had won the three previous Europa League titles with Sevilla. His La Liga record was solid if not spectacular. Successive fifth placed finishes during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 season was followed up by a disappointing seventh last season.

For Emery the challenge was clear; maintain PSG’s monopoly in Ligue 1 whilst also mounting a serious European challenge. It was perceived by many that PSG’s domestic dominance would continue regardless. Nobody countenanced European success at the expense of continued domestic control.

Emery’s difficult start has shocked many from the outside looking in. Internally though it’s not been completely unexpected.

When Emery arrived his first task would have been to replace talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His four years at the Parc des Princes had yielded a staggering 113 league goals in a mere 122 games. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano scored more goals over the same period.

The loss of Ibrahimovic was always going to be difficult to deal with, however, nobody suspected it would have such dire consequences. After all, PSG had French footballs record signing, Edinson Cavani, waiting in the wings. The Uruguayan was a much heralded €64 million signing from Napoli back in 2013. In reality though his time in the French capital has been underwhelming. Cavani had to accept that whilst Ibrahimovic was still at the club he would be playing second fiddle. Either shipped out to the wing or having to settle for a place on the bench, Cavani was not often given a chance in his favoured strikers role. When he was he often flattered to deceive.

Emery was quick to identify the strikers position as one that needed to be strengthened. Although he came out in support of Cavani, there was always a suspicion that he did not fully trust the former Napoli man.

Kevin Gameiro, who Emery had managed at Sevilla, was linked with a return to the club he left in 2013. Gonzalo Higuain was spoken of before Juventus paid a whopping €90 million for his services. Others were mentioned, but PSG did eventually sign two attacking players to compete with Cavani.

Jesé Rodriguez, a €25 million signing from Real Madrid, was seen as a surprising choice. Hatem Ben Arfa less so, a free signing after his contract at Nice expired. With both players fairly unproven in a central role, there was a sense, particularly with 23-year-old Jesé, that neither was first choice.

This perception has only been reinforced by Emery’s selections. Having only started one of the opening six league games, it would seem that Jesé has fallen behind young Frenchman Jean-Kévin Augustin in the pecking order. Ben Arfa’s omission is even more puzzling. Despite scoring on debut in the 4-1 Trophée des Champions victory over Lyon, the France international has not played for three weeks and not even been included in the previous four match day squads.

On the pitch, the struggles at one end have been mirrored at the other. Salvatore Sirigu’s place as PSG’s No.1 had always been a bone of contention. A team littered with world class players, Sirigu’s name stood out for being one of the few that wasn’t.

His departure in the summer, oddly to Sevilla, was hardly unexpected. Kevin Trapp had been first choice the previous season and looked destined to remain so for the coming year. However, the German’s unconvincing displays, mixed with the emergence of Alphonse Areola, has seen him be displaced. Areola is a fine prospect, yet his promotion is perhaps indicative of Emery’s inability to find the winning formula.

In midfield there have also been issues. Under Blanc there was an established midfield trio. Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi were Blanc’s favoured options. They were humbly supported by Adrien Rabiot and Javier Pastore on occasion.

To supplement them Emery added Grzegorz Krychowiak for €30 million from (surprise surprise) Sevilla. The Pole’s place in the team seemed likely to be at the expense of the ageing Motta. Yet, like Jesé and Ben Arfa, Krychowiak has failed to make any great impact.

Additionally, problems have occurred where previously none existed. Defensively last season PSG were immense, conceding only 32 goals in 58 games across all competitions. The usually reliable Thiago Silva has made a less than impressive start to the season and there are still reservations about the level of defensive cover.

With David Luiz leaving to re-join Chelsea, Presnel Kimpembe has been thrust into the first team. Whilst the young Frenchmen will be back up to Silva and fellow Brazilian Marquinhos, the lack of depth will no doubt remain a concern.

Add Serge Aurier to the mix and there would seem to be all the ingredients for a defensive crisis.  The volatile and often toxic Ivorian felt the wrath of Blanc last season with several ill-advised comments. His sending off against Toulouse on Friday night cost PSG the game, and whilst he no doubt has talent, his temperament does seem to persistently let him down.

Questions remain unanswered. Whilst its still very early into Emery-era his shaky start has certainly failed to live up to expectation. Whether this affects his immediate future remains to be seen.

It would seem that entangled within this obsession with the Champions League there is a stark reality. As Abramovich found out, chasing a Champions League can come at a cost. He went through 8 managers before eventually winning his most treasured prize. The owners at PSG have been less inclined to to wield the axe, yet they showed with Blanc that they can be ruthless.

We can at least be certain about one thing. Anything less than continued domestic dominance and a marked improvement in Europe will constitute a failure in the eyes of the owners. Emery will have to hope that he can halt this mini-crisis.