100 points, 106 goals and enough sour grapes to make fans blind to what is special about Man City

Manchester City – the Centurions. But Martin, how do you expect Liverpool to make up a 25-point gap next season when City will also strengthen? Liverpool have typically lost points in the easier games in the last few years, they must address that. And they need to win nine more games next season. Big ask. Crossie, Manchester.

Don’t get your hopes up, everybody. It’s not all like this. There’s one of those big club p***ing contests coming – you know the kind, my club’s better than your club, where’s your double/treble/five European Cups/unbeaten season – and some people still appear to have Jonjo Shelvey confused with Xavi, but Crossie this is an intelligent question and deserves a logical reply. 

I agree, 25 points is huge. But Liverpool will feel they have the beating of Manchester City, home and away, after this season. So take three points from City’s 100 and add them to Liverpool’s 75. Now we’re playing 97 against 78. Still big. Still 19 points to find. So here goes. Is it feasible that home draws against Burnley, Everton, West Brom and Stoke (or their promoted equivalents) could be turned into wins? If the answer is yes, that’s another eight points. Is it also possible that away draws at Watford, Newcastle and West Brom, could be improved upon? If yes, we’ve found six more. And Liverpool lost at Swansea, too. Let’s replace them with Cardiff. Might Liverpool win in Cardiff? If yes, add three. Now that’s 17 points and we need 19. Meaning, Liverpool will have to take more than the two points they got this season from matches with Manchester United and Tottenham. Might they win one of those four games? If they are going to be title contenders the answer has to be yes again, and we’re at 19. And, of course, it sounds so easy on paper. The reality of turning seven draws and three defeats into victories – including Manchester City away – is considerably harder. Yet it is not illogical, not impossible. Liverpool are improving. They are a better team now than at the start of the season. Jurgen Klopp will not expect these slip-ups against inferiors, he will demand greater consistency – and may get it with a full season of Virgil van Dijk and the addition of Naby Keita, and perhaps others. So I’m not saying it is straightforward, or even that it will happen – just that I expect more of a challenge, at least, from Liverpool next season, and the results they need to make it happen are not unimaginable. And from Crossie in Manchester to crossing the dancefloor. Five points up next.

Point one: Darren Moore – a return to Conspiracy Island.

Not racism? That’s a lie and you know it. There are question marks over him getting the job and I don’t know why. West Brom overlooked him for Alan Pardew whose win percentage was six per cent. Apart from race why are there questions? Ahijah Sellassie, Birmingham.

Experience is the main one, as you must surely acknowledge. Moore has only had six matches in charge of West Brom’s first team. That means he also hasn’t had the experience of stripping down a team in the summer, and rebuilding it. He hasn’t managed matches in the Championship, hasn’t managed a Championship-level squad, hasn’t taken a senior team through pre-season, bought and sold, worked under the pressure of expectation – because West Brom will expect to come up, while Moore took the job this season when it was expected they would go down – or been the bad guy around the players, rather than the caretaker coming in at the end and lifting the mood when all was seemingly lost. Now, for all this, I think he should get the job. He deserves the chance to show he can make this step, given the way he handled his brief time in charge at the end of the season. And Moore seems an intelligent manager; I am sure he could do it. But I do understand why there will be voices inside the club who would prefer a manager with more experience in a front-line role, and I think it is foolish to consider racism the sole explanation if he is overlooked. I think there are a number of reasons not to give Moore the job – I don’t happen to agree with them, but that does not mean they don’t exist. By the way, Pardew’s win percentage was 14.3 per cent at West Brom, and 40.2 per cent at his previous club Crystal Palace. Neither figure is great, but I don’t know where your six per cent comes from.

Darren Moore lost to Crystal Palace last weekend - it was his only defeat in six games

Darren Moore lost to Crystal Palace last weekend - it was his only defeat in six games

Darren Moore lost to Crystal Palace last weekend – it was his only defeat in six games

So the owners won’t want a ‘face’ they can market in the Far East then? Mr Bumble, London.

Interesting one this. Depends what you mean by face. If you are saying Moore’s face won’t fit in the Far East market because he is black, that is a novel approach to racism – calling it out by as good as branding an entire continent racist. Is Moore’s face a problem in the Asian market? As of January this year there were 27 players in the Chinese Super League from Nigeria alone. Equally, Michael Jordan’s first visit to China bordered on a religious experience. People were fainting and crying, there were reports of seizures. He was known as Kong Zhong Fei Ren, which translates as Mid-Air Flying Man, or as we would say ‘trapeze artist’. So I don’t think West Brom would refuse Moore the job for fear of a backlash in the East. If you mean he is not famous enough to promote West Brom’s brand in Asia, that is different. The decision to replace Gary Rowett with Gianfranco Zola at Birmingham was driven by comparative profiles. I would say, however, that after his recent run Moore’s fame is probably greater than Dean Smith or Michael Appleton, the two names most commonly touted as West Brom’s managerial contenders.

You didn’t address the overarching themes. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Paul Ince and John Barnes have not been given the repeated opportunities of others. Steve Bruce, Darren Ferguson, Pardew have a track record of failure but also of repeated opportunities at big or top-flight clubs. Are they better? Statistics show not. There’s a clear hierarchy of selection with chairmen, an unwritten, unspoken code that is evident in practice: foreign managers, British managers, relegation specialists, black ethnic managers. NaSei Bonsu, London.

Over-arching themes? What, your poorly-researched half-baked list of names? Hasselbaink had four jobs in five years. He had a 27.7 per cent win rate at Queens Park Rangers, yet still landed a position at Northampton and was in place until getting the sack last month. Paul Ince had six jobs across eight years. His success in League Two with MK Dons gave him a crack at a big club, Blackburn, where he struggled, but he got three jobs after that, still. John Barnes received the biggest break of any of the names you mention, black or white because he landed Celtic as a first job. Unfortunately, he did poorly but that didn’t stop him getting another chance at Tranmere where he won three games in 12. So every coach you mention was given repeated opportunities. Pardew has had seven jobs – one more than Ince – but over 20 years. In that time, he has reached two FA Cup finals, won promotion twice and was LMA Manager of the Year for 2011-12. Bruce has also been going 20 years, across nine jobs, but has done reasonably well in just about all of them, including four promotions and an FA Cup final appearance. Now he has got Aston Villa into the play-off final. And Ferguson has coached Peterborough, Preston and Doncaster across 11 years – so I don’t see where repeated opportunities at ‘big or top-flight clubs’ are coming from. The facts do not back up the emotion of your argument. It’s the modern way.

You keep defending English football against racism and fighting change at every turn, Martin, but how is it that 35-40 per cent of players are black but only two per cent of managers? It’s the old brawn over brain stereotypical argument from the 1970s – added to the fact that I have never seen a brown face representing the Football Association. It is a complete farce to argue anything but institutional racism from the boardroom to the pitch. The Rooney Rule works in the United States but you don’t like it so let’s change nothing and hope it gets better. Footydad1, United Kingdom.

Actually, I advocated a Rooney Rule for football club executives many years ago. I think I first wrote about the Rooney Rule on September 12, 2011 and soon after that said that institutional change would only occur when black men were conducting the interviews, not just sitting for them. In the follow up piece I said I’d have a black guy appointed to a non-executive position on every board to be part of the appointment process, and my view has never shifted. I’ve long made my reservations about the Rooney Rule for managers clear. It can work in the NFL because there are no consequences for failure. Here, coaches are sacked mid-season when teams may be playing twice each week. Candidates are picked quickly, appointments made the same way. A Rooney Rule would work in the close season, but not under the time pressure of a managerial change in, say, December. A black man with input into the process, however, might throw up a different first choice. You imply I’m conservative but I’d say my way is far more radical than the managerial Rooney Rule because, providing the black voice on the board is included in discussions, it addresses the seat of power.

Martin, you say you can name a number of black managers who have done decent jobs – and then name the only other one in the league. Begforthebagel, Scotland.

There isn’t one. He is mixed race. Blakmusleftsnowiegy, United Kingdom.

I used Chris Hughton as an example. I could have used others. Chris Powell, now with Southend, always seems to do a solid job, as did Keith Curle at Carlisle. As for that second point, I’m not about to lecture black folk on who is black. I’ll leave it to the Jungle Brothers to expose that nonsense.

Point two: the fix is in, sort of.

If they can arrange fixtures for the top teams why can’t they stop the ridiculous situation of fans having to travel stupid miles on Boxing Day? David1020, Bedford.

But they do. They probably don’t put the most local derbies on December 26, because the ground will be full no matter the opponents, so why waste a bumper day on a fixture that can be a sell-out later in the season? It’s a business after all. But looking at Boxing Day 2017, I don’t see any ludicrous journeys. Swansea had to travel to Liverpool, but Swansea are out on a limb. At least they kept them west. Manchester City went to Newcastle on December 27 but, hey, somebody has to. None of it seemed unreasonable to me – and I went to West Ham’s match at Bournemouth as a spectator, before you ask, as did six other members of my family.

It’s fixing. Idiot. This article just show the bias towards the top six that exists with journalists, referees and the FA. Joke. Newcastle haven’t been given a penalty all season. Wtf? Bobby Charlton, Newcastle.

WTF? As in WTF has that to do with the subject? Nothing. But conflate away if that hones your misplaced yet well developed sense of injustice. Just do not presume you are alone in the silly belief the world has it in for your team. Listen to this next guy.

And they arranged for Chelsea to play Manchester City and Manchester United in between must win Champions League knockout games. Bluto, London.

When? This season, the Manchester fixtures came between the two legs against Barcelona, but not directly before. Chelsea played Barcelona at home on Tuesday, February 20, Manchester United away the following Sunday, Manchester City away a full seven days after that and then Crystal Palace on March 10 before playing the second leg in Nou Camp on March 14. So there were 10 days between the City fixture and Barcelona, and close to three weeks since Chelsea played United. How much time off should the mighty Chelsea be given before a big game then? Weren’t you supposed to be a big club?

Liverpool played Chelsea after a very important, intense, energy-sapping Champions League game at Roma. Imagine if they played them on the final day instead after seven days rest? Roscoe, Sydney.

Here’s a way of making it less intense and energy sapping. Don’t let in six goals. Rather than requiring the fixture list to be rearranged to suit your purposes and unbecoming sense of entitlement, try defending.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool let in four goals at Roma as they reached the Champions League final 

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool let in four goals at Roma as they reached the Champions League final 

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool let in four goals at Roma as they reached the Champions League final 

We all knew the fixtures were planned but I can never work out why they choose to hinder our teams in Europe by putting matches between the big six in the same week as European matches. MrNonPC, Cwmbran.

It’s all there in the broadcast document: because if you want a television deal measured in billions, you’ve got to ensure the bulk of the fixture programme contains at least one match-up between major clubs, every weekend. There is an alternative – but I get the feeling the big clubs won’t like that, either.

We are Wolves. We don’t play Mondays. We don’t play Thursdays. We don’t play Fridays. Thank you. WOLFRIK, China.

What do you care? All you do is walk across the room and turn the television on. Just set your alarm.

Liverpool had to play four early fixtures after the international breaks. They were the only team in the top six to have played in these early games with very little preparation. Now try telling me that was the super computer’s work. If this is not clear fixing of Liverpool by the FA, what is? And what about last season’s fix of Liverpool’s start to the season – playing all top-four rivals in the first 10 matches of the season? Yes, there is a need to arrange certain games for commercial reasons, but why is it that Liverpool are the victims most of the time? Sasidharen, Singapore.

Because everyone hates your club, mate. That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it? We all hate Liverpool. Just like everyone hates Newcastle and Chelsea and Manchester United and (insert names of other 16 clubs here). Yes, Liverpool got a bad break after the international matches, and were given the early Saturday kick-off three out of four times (not four, as you claim, because in November it was Arsenal vs Tottenham). But it’s the FA that decide this, is it? Not the random factor of the television companies? Is that how you think English football works? The FA arrange all the games? Do some research. It’s not even their league anymore. Here’s how I see it. If you look at the games immediately after the international break, there is invariably a humdinger. That is placed there to ensure the Premier League grabs the news agenda back from the international game. Often, as the preceding England game has been a friendly, or a mismatch, it also serves to make the Premier League considerably more appealing by comparison. So, after England played Slovakia on September 4, first game up was Manchester City vs Liverpool; after England played in Lithuania on October 8, everyone began anticipating Liverpool vs Manchester United. So it’s swings and roundabouts. You won’t ever have to play Manchester United on the last day of the season in some potentially ruinous big showdown, but you may have to face them with less preparation time after an international break. Unless you don’t want the money. But I’d check with your owners first. They seem rather keen on it.

Martin, stop trying to justify it. If the top six matches are planned, maybe so are the other fixtures. Now that’s a proper outrage. All the examples you mentioned – Leicester winning the league and Sergio Aguero scoring in the last minute – are great examples of scripts we’ve seen in the past few years. I know you know what I’m talking about. Welé, United Kingdom.

No, I really don’t. I think you sound barmy, to be frank. Aguero’s goal – scripted? Leicester’s title victory – scripted? So Sir Alex Ferguson must have been in on Manchester City’s first title win of the Premier League era, and every elite club was persuaded to take a dive for Leicester? I’d say that’s ridiculous but it goes way, way, beyond that. We should give out tin foil hats with this column, really we should.

Tell that to the minnows like Huddersfield who had three top-six opponents in a row for the final games. It stinks – preferential run-ins for the big clubs. David11, Yarm.

Surely that’s the best time to play the big teams? They have to face them anyway, but in the final games most have nothing left to play for. In fact, four of the big six had nothing left to gain in the final match. Manchester City had already won the league when they played Huddersfield, Chelsea needed points, but Arsenal also had nothing on it, too. Mr Burns, United Kingdom.

Exactly. Plus, it also gave Huddersfield the opportunity to pick up early points against lesser teams and establish a stronger position. I was against the 39th game because I thought the spare match gave an unfair advantage – someone would get Manchester City, someone else would get Bournemouth – but as long as all 20 teams meet, home and away, across the same time period, I’m not greatly fussed about the order.

Point three: and now the much anticipated p***ing contest, between followers of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and, er, Aston Villa and Birmingham.

Manchester City were excellent in parts this season but you can’t compare them with a team that went unbeaten. The fact that this City side were so good and still lost twice shows you what an achievement the unbeaten season was – and City lost at home to their rivals. TGB, London.

Actually, you can compare them. You can very easily compare them because both played 38 games. So that’s – Games won: Manchester City 32, Arsenal 26; Goals scored, Manchester City 106, Arsenal 73; Goal difference, Manchester City 79, Arsenal 47; Points, Manchester City 100, Arsenal 90. City let one more goal in and lost twice. Against that, City drew four matches to Arsenal’s 12. Now, I’m not diminishing Arsenal’s achievement. The reason I put the Invincible season alongside Manchester United’s Treble winners and Manchester City’s 100 points is because I think each is special, in different ways. But to say you can’t compare is wrong. You can: and I think anyone with an open mind can process the evidence, too.

You can certainly compare Man City's record-breakers (above) to Arsenal's Invincibles

You can certainly compare Man City's record-breakers (above) to Arsenal's Invincibles

You can certainly compare Man City’s record-breakers (above) to Arsenal’s Invincibles

I think it might be the first time in football history that coming second is a poisoned chalice. People forget that United have risen from sixth last year so, excluding Manchester City, the four teams above Manchester United should really be thinking about what happened. Yes, we spent a lot of money, and that got us from sixth to second, but City’s money got them to first. What has everyone else’s money got them? Lewis, Manchester.

Well, Liverpool’s has got them to the Champions League final, which United fans would kill for, and Tottenham’s has got them Champions League football at their new stadium next season. Chelsea will be disappointed and Arsenal, too – which is why both clubs will be changing manager this summer – but I don’t think it’s the time to be smug from United’s point of view. The reason coming second is a poisoned chalice is that the club were anticipating first after such an impressive start and have ended up 19 points off the pace. It’s the most second second in English football history.

When Manchester City win four titles in six seasons, losing out on the other two by a point and goal difference, and get to three Champions League finals in the same period – winning one and losing two to arguably the greatest club side of all time, Barcelona – then we can talk about City being the best Premier League side. Until then they are a rich man’s Leicester. Absolutemuppet, Dublin.

Until City win back-to-back Premier League titles and win the Champions League, they are simply another Leeds United. Davidj, Manchester.

You say City won’t be a great team until they win back-to-back titles. Then, if they do, you will say they won’t be a great team until they win back-to-back Champions League titles, then it will be back-to-back having played all your matches away, then it will be they won’t be a great team unless they play with five men and a dog in goal. Why not just stop whinging and be man enough to admit Manchester City played well this season. Thehill, Manchester.

They’re just another Leeds, they’re just another Leicester – it really is so much sour grapes. If your club allegiance blinds you to what is special about this season, and these champions, you have missed an extraordinary achievement and an extraordinary team.

In 1930-31, Aston Villa averaged 3.047 goals per game by scoring 128 times in a 42 match season. Before the advent of the Premier League with its gross inequality of wealth and the concentration of the best players in a few teams, the Football League was far less predictable and more closely fought. I expect Manchester City to win the Premier League next season by a comfortable margin, but if you wish to call them a great team they need to win the Champions League. City’s oil wealth made their domination of the Premier League inevitable; the only surprise is that it has taken them this long. DaiDunga, United Kingdom.

More twaddle. Villa’s 128 goals did not even win the league that season. Arsenal, the champions, scored 127. These were entirely different times. Middlesbrough scored 98 goals and came seventh. Leicester scored 80 goals and came 16th. Blackpool conceded 125 goals and didn’t go down. There were three teams that cracked the 100 goal barrier in Division One, Everton scored 121 goals to win Division Two, Chesterfield and Lincoln scored 102 goals in Division Three (North) and Crystal Palace amassed 107 in Division Three (South). Lincoln and Palace didn’t even come up. And while the names in the top four were more fluid in the old days, Liverpool still won the league 10 out of 15 seasons between 1976 and 1990. Indeed, now the title has changed hands in nine consecutive seasons we are back to how it was in the years immediately before the Premier League was formed. Far from City’s success being guaranteed, the title race is as vibrant as it has been since the years 1984 to 1993 – the last time it went nine seasons without retention. Anyway, here’s a worthier contribution from Brazil.

All I see at City is ridiculously expensive squad. There are no risks, no young lads are given a chance – and when England are knocked out of the World Cup after three games you’ll be writing a piece about why English football is dying and clubs need to start bringing through young British players. Dr Manyhands, United Kingdom.

Will I? Because I haven’t after previous failures. The penny has dropped with young English players now and a lot of them are moving abroad. The more that happens, then clubs will get the message. Use them, or lose them – and keep spending tens of millions on imports as a result, you mugs. Do you think Everton’s owners are happy to be watching such predictable football while Ademola Lookman thrives at RB Leipzig? Do you think Manchester City aren’t wondering what they might have done differently to keep Jadon Sancho? Anyway, City aren’t really the culprits here. Phil Foden is the youngest player ever to win a Premier League medal, and they will also provide John Stones, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph for England this summer.

So it all boils down to Manchester City’s 1-0 wins against Chelsea. If those results had both been 1-0 to Chelsea, which is hardly an outrageous suggestion for any game of football bearing in mind the real possibility of referee errors or luck, Chelsea would still hold the Premier League record for most points, most wins, most away wins, and most away points. Point being – none really, except that some people are making it sound as if City have outstripped previous records by some distance, when in fact the differences are very small. Sir Cecil, San Francisco.

But you didn’t win 1-0, in either game. You lost. The first should have been 10-0 and the second you didn’t emerge from your half because you feared it actually might be, so I don’t know where this goal you could have scored was going to come from. Still ‘point being, none really…’ is the most self-aware opinion I have ever seen associated with your name, so you might want to work with that sentiment in mind in future.

Seems Tottenham are overlooked in your article which is great; they are relevant and you, like most of the media, can’t handle it. Well done to cheque book Pep Guardiola, great football. Well done to next season’s title contenders Liverpool, who yet again finish below Tottenham. Nanny State, Cardiff.

Tottenham were mentioned. I mentioned the good football they played, and I mentioned Harry Kane’s fine year. But a review of the season has to focus on notable events and finishing one place below last season, while winning three fewer games, scoring 12 fewer goals, conceding 10 more, having an inferior goal difference by 22, 11 fewer points and no trophies didn’t strike me as greatly remarkable – but you’re right, it probably is relevant.

Spurs finished the season with a win - but they were a place worse than last term in the table

Spurs finished the season with a win - but they were a place worse than last term in the table

Spurs finished the season with a win – but they were a place worse than last term in the table

Journalists can’t stop fawning, it’s ridiculous. Other teams in the league are shambolic and you cannot compare City to the previous champions. The Premier League was at its prime when there were two teams from England in the Champions League final. Those days are long gone now. City have played well but have won a single title. There is no John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole or even William Gallas. Rollerblade, Edinburgh.

City have actually won three titles out of the last seven during the most competitive era ever. And if you’re trying to claim that Carragher, Gallas, Cole and Vidic were better players than Vincent Kompany, Aguero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure, then you need to seek professional help. Johnny B, Exeter.

The competitive era was 2000-2010 at most. How many Champions League finals have featured English teams in the last eight years? Plus, your most competitive era has seen Leicester crowned champions. You’re a joke. And I was talking about defenders, comparing defenders of old to this time. Only Kompany is on a par. I mentioned four different teams to show you that the defending was better back in those days and that this City team wouldn’t be doing so well. But maybe it’s some education you need and not professional help, as you’re not able to grasp the simplest of ideas. Rollerblade, Edinburgh.

I’m a professional, can I help? So the season you are talking about is 2007-08, and that was a great year for English football. The only teams that knocked Premier League clubs out of the Champions League in that campaign were other Premier League clubs. Liverpool beat Arsenal, Chelsea beat Liverpool and then Manchester United beat Chelsea in the final. And, yes, the defences were better: the top five teams let in 27 fewer goals than this season. Having said this, the second best team were managed by Avram Grant, not the defensively astute Jose Mourinho. And Derby finished bottom of the league with 11 points. Plus, the elite group stopped at four – with 11 points down to Everton in fifth place, rather than five this season. Arsenal were in the midst of stadium-related austerity, too. I’m not saying it was easier then, but I don’t think you appreciate quite what City have done this season. They have accrued points at such a lick that Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Anfield didn’t feel good enough, when in any other season it would have been a great result. And, far from showing weakness, Leicester’s title win demonstrated just how competitive the modern era is – that if the elite lower their standards even a little, a team can come from nowhere to win the league. As for defenders, I think the goals being conceded are as much because of the investment in forwards as any inferiority. Yes, the names you mentioned are superior, and you’ve included four of the best defenders of this, or any, era, but when Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea have all broken records recruiting defenders, I don’t see the current batch as wholly weak. Certainly, Van Dijk, Toby Alderweireld, Kompany, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jan Vertonghen and Antonio Rudiger would hold their own across many generations.

Point four: Wayne Rooney and a novel idea.

Thank you, Martin, for your recognition of Wayne Rooney as one of the greatest of all time. He has been unfairly subjected to abuse for years from so-called football fans who don’t know a great player when they see one. The criticism from Manchester United fans particularly irks me. What more did they want from him? Of course, his powers have diminished but that goal for Everton against West Ham was proof, if any were needed, that he’s still capable of magic. And while he can perform like that he should stay in England – or Scotland, if he wants to go to Rangers. If Rangers fans can get excited by the appointment of a great England player as their manager, they will certainly be thrilled at the prospect of getting another one on the pitch. Gbtbag, Los Angeles.

The pay gap aside, that is far from the worst idea I have heard. And does Rooney really need the money now? He could be a huge signing for Rangers.

Could Wayne Rooney be leaving behind the blue shirt of Everton for one at Rangers?

Could Wayne Rooney be leaving behind the blue shirt of Everton for one at Rangers?

Could Wayne Rooney be leaving behind the blue shirt of Everton for one at Rangers?

Point five: Jonjo Shelvey is not Pirlo, and neither is anyone else.

I’m not overly enamoured by Shelvey, but he is in form and therefore to play Delph in the midfield ‘Andrea Pirlo’ role instead is a ridiculous proposition. He’s a left wing-back now. It smacks of Graham Taylor putting David Batty at right back during the 1992 European Championship. Also to compare Jordan Henderson’s five-yard crab-style passing to Shelvey’s more expansive range is false. Considering his extremely limited three-chord repertoire and the fact he has far more talented team-mates getting on the end of his passes, I think Henderson’s 84.4 per cent pass completion statistics are much worse. Mr Kevin, London.

Delph isn’t in the Pirlo role. Nobody is in the Pirlo role. I really couldn’t have made it any clearer that we don’t have a Pirlo. We have diligent workers, some more gifted than others, but none that are world class. So we work with that. I think Delph is the best option beside Henderson, maybe Eric Dier instead if we need belt and braces against Belgium. Delph started off in midfield and was converted to full back by Guardiola. In the circumstances, he has performed superbly. That doesn’t mean he has forgotten how to play his original role. As for the passing statistics, not all of Shelvey’s balls are long, not all of Henderson’s short. I think the difference reflects care as much as expansion. Henderson is a very conscientious player and that is reflected in his numbers this season. He is getting better all the time, the more responsibility Jurgen Klopp gives him. I think, initially, he tried to be Steven Gerrard. With more modest ambitions his qualities are shining through.

Martin, I am genuinely surprised at your dismissal of Shelvey. He has a range of passing that surpasses his England contemporaries and he does try the difficult pass. De Bryune does the same. I’m not saying Shelvey is England’s answer to De Bruyne but he is braver in the pass than Henderson or Eric Dier. In Kane, Jamie Vardy, and even Marcus Rashford, England have quick, clinical finishers. With Shelvey popping passes to these guys, there is a very good chance of completion and a goal. Also, what on Earth has Danny Welbeck done to justify selection in your 23? PPhillips, London.

He was the 23rd name. I’m not thinking he will play, but there could be an occasion when a shift is required to close a game out, and Welbeck is an unselfish worker. His England scoring record is also decent: 15 goals in 37 games. As for Shelvey, more than a quarter of his passes go astray. We cannot afford that against teams who play possession football. Also, I am surprised how many people who laud the pace in England’s team fail to notice that Shelvey is not especially mobile. If we haven’t got guile in the middle, we need athletes.

Many were talking up Jonjo Shelvey for England but he didn't make Gareth Southgate's squad

Many were talking up Jonjo Shelvey for England but he didn't make Gareth Southgate's squad

Many were talking up Jonjo Shelvey for England but he didn’t make Gareth Southgate’s squad

You could put Pirlo in any England team in recent years, even in his prime, and we wouldn’t have won a major tournament. Over the years we’ve had to put up with poor journalism, building up the golden generation, telling people how great we are with so many world-class players like Rooney, when in truth England have never been good enough. Whatever tactics, whatever manager, whatever players you pick, technically we are still light years behind, which is why you get so many foreign players in our league. For once let’s hear the truth from pundits and journalists. England are not good enough, even with Pirlo. Redmist21, Port Talbot.

Here’s my truth: I don’t agree. Had Rooney stayed fit, England would have had a very good chance of winning Euro 2004. And we did have a world-class generation of players, we just lacked a coach with the wit to do that squad justice. Are you seriously saying Paul Scholes was light years behind? Steven Gerrard? Frank Lampard? John Terry? Rio Ferdinand? Ashley Cole? Owen Hargreaves? Have a look at the individual honours they won, the awards from European coaches. That should have been a great team. Sven Goran Eriksson underachieved, hugely.

No mention of Ruben Loftus-Cheek? He is a massive upgrade on Delph. Long Donkey, Manchester.

Loftus-Cheek was in my squad, but not my team. I was looking for a midfielder to start deeper, alongside Henderson. Loftus-Cheek is better in a forward midfield role.

But why do we need Delph, Dier and Henderson in the squad Martin? Three defensively minded midfielders – surely taking all of them is a waste of a spot. Nobody is saying Shelvey is anywhere near the level of Pirlo but the fact is he is a player who has been in great form in recent months – instrumental in victories over Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Surely Southgate should be taking players in form who have confidence going into a tournament where there is no time to get up to speed. Harry, Leicester.

Delph won’t be confident after what Manchester City have achieved? Henderson, the captain of Champions League finalists Liverpool? Even Dier has played in a team that has just qualified for the Champions League for an unprecedented third straight season. I see no reason why they should be shrinking violets compared to Shelvey. As I explained, Southgate needs midfielders that can work in his system, not one whose presence would require a complete tactical change.

Anyone who picks Henderson as first choice cannot be taken seriously. Man in a Suitcase, United Kingdom.

Will you tell Klopp, or shall I? Maybe wait until after the Champions League final, though.

Michael Carrick? Peterohara, United Kingdom.

Retired. But before that, while a very good player for Manchester United, he never really distinguished himself in an England shirt. Have a look at his competitive starts, they include some truly lifeless performances. He played when England beat Ecuador 1-0 at the 2006 World Cup, a terrible game won by a David Beckham free-kick, with England ponderous in midfield and Carrick ineffectual. He played in the disastrous double header under Steve McClaren – 0-0 at Old Trafford against Macedonia, then the 2-0 defeat in Croatia in 2006. I’m sorry, I like Carrick, but he wasn’t the answer at international level. Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes and Hargreaves were all better and against the very best – Manchester United’s Champions League final against Barcelona in Rome, for instance – he was just short.

Martin Samuel, you obviously live in London and are very, very biased. Shelvey has totally transformed himself under Rafa Benitez. Dave, Yarm.

Shelvey is from Romford. His family, I believe, support West Ham. How is it southern bias when the players I am advocating in his position are Henderson (born Sunderland, plays for Liverpool) and Delph (born Bradford, plays for Manchester City)? Ever thought the stronger bias might be yours, Dave? Anyway here’s something that’s a little bit north, but a lot more London. Until next time.

  

 

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