Illustration by Sam Taylor
Central Midfields Are Overrated
There’s quite a lot to loathe about Sergio Busquets. As well as the diving and niggly fouls, there are those people who used to go around saying things like, “Of course, Busquets should really win the Ballon D’Or every year,” despite the fact that while he was a key player in one of the game's greatest sides, he wouldn't improve, say, Raith Rovers any more than Jermain Defoe.
Worst of all, though, is that he’s put another nail in the coffin of the old-fashioned hatchet-man. His distinctive unflashiness, his tragic aversion to smashing haphazardly into tackles like a high-speed train ploughing into a platform full of waiting passengers, made managers around the world believe that talentless young midfielder they had would make a great sideways-passing shirt puller. So now we have Jake Livermore, we have Tom Cleverley, we have basically every bland-as-fuck Spurs midfielder since Luka Modric where once there was Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira – David Batty, even. Señor Busquets, you have a lot to answer for.
Yet the importance of these players can’t be denied in a modern game that attempts above all to stifle the chaos in the centre of the pitch. As a consequence, teams have become a little more boring in their image. But while you're pouring one out for the old legbreaker-playmaker duo of central midfields past, remember there's always Real Madrid, who've found a third way: ripping out the engine room and replacing it with a butterfly enclosure.
And guess what, it actually fucking worked! Each member of Real Madrid’s narrow midfield – Toni Kroos, Isco, Modric, James Rodriguez – has at some point been characterised in the past as too lightweight, too flimsy to work in the centre, but they dominated the game. For romanticists, Football Manager aficionados and people who aren’t José Mourinho, it’s nice to see that you can still just chuck a load of great players together any old how and it’ll work out fine.
Spurs Are Setting New Records for Tedium
It’s only the fact I’m getting paid for this and it isn’t a funny enough joke that stops me just copy-and-pasting the same thing every week after a Spurs game. What’s happening over there? For a club that’s always had a real sense of showbiz about it, the last time the club were worth watching was when Harry Redknapp was telling them to hit Crouchy with a long diagonal.
Since then, it’s impossible to describe how boring they’ve been. Appointing Tim Sherwood was an admirable attempt to break up the monotony with a complete car crash, but even then they were still a dour, bland outfit. What would they be this year without Erik Lamela's 20-yard rabona? Air. They'd literally just be air.
An "EPL" diehard rocks up to Old Trafford on Sunday (Photo via Twitter)
Seeing Mourinho and Chelsea Drop Points Is Already Getting Weird
It seemed like a classic José Mourinho performance was going to seal all three points in Sunday's game at Old Trafford. Faced with relatively desperate opposition, he kept it compact, went 1-0 up with a near-post header from a corner, brought on John Obi Mikel and told everybody to start fouling, diving and packing their own area until the time ran out.
Somehow, though, it failed. A late goal changed nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it was odd to see Mourinho lose points in such a manner; in a way it was almost too much of a Mourinho performance. They could have dispatched Man United with ease yet the gods, and Marouane Fellaini, intervened. Seeing Mourinho fail by becoming a caricature of himself would be interesting, but realistically nobody else is anywhere near good enough to punish him for his mistakes.
Sam Allardyce Might Have Been Right All Along
The new Premier League TV deal has well and truly kicked in now, and were it not for the fact the league is already over and Mourinho has won yet again, we might be heralding a new age of competitiveness. Southampton are second, Swansea are sixth, but West Ham in fourth is by far the most jarring sight to be found in the current table.
There are some clubs that good things aren’t supposed to happen to, and West Ham are one of them. Their bigger rivals are Spurs, for fuck’s sake – a sure sign that God had cast them aside, seemingly confirmed with the appointment of Sam Allardyce. Yet proof of his development as a manager was forthcoming after his victory over Manchester City. Instead of the old "Allardici" braggadocio, we got something altogether more subtle, more streamlined and efficient: “Their philosophy is different to ours. Ours is more about who we are playing against. Their philosophy is more 'we always play this way' and they won’t change, they always carry on doing the same thing. That’s why you can beat them.”
The "they" in this quote is Brendan Rodgers, Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger. So who is the "we" in Allardyce's statement – Sean Dyche, Paul Lambert and Tony Pulis, perhaps? No, he's grouping himself alongside José Mourinho and Alex Ferguson. Fuck it, I hope he wins the league just to see what happens.
All Britain's Most Notorious Clubs Are Now Run by Bond Villains
There’s a strange, disparate group of clubs in Britain who… how to put this? Are preceded by their reputation. Leeds United, Cardiff City, Rangers – you get the gist. Chelsea if you’re more upmarket. Millwall if you’re not.
Perhaps it’s fitting that all of these clubs now seem to be owned by Bond villains. Roman Abramovic’s villainy is well-documented, although he’d be from one of the new films where they try to make some hamfisted topical point. Vincent Tan’s flamboyance is pure Blofeld, and then there’s SPECTRE running the show at Ibrox. Leeds United have Massimo Cellino – I haven’t seen Thunderball but apparently the villain in that was Italian, so he can have that one.
Cellino is the type of old-school megalomaniac owner we’ve not seen much on these shores. Aside from having a weirdly alluring son posting shirtless Instagram selfies, there’s not much in the way of innovation here: he just loves sacking people. Leeds were always hated, but with Darko Milanic dismissed at the weekend after just 32 days in charge, they’ve gone way, way beyond schadenfreude. At what point does it stop being funny?
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