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The Myth of the Meaningful Pre-Season

08/08/2014 16:26 BST | Updated 08/10/2014 10:59 BST

This pre-season has been fun. Manchester United gave Liverpool a sound 3-1 beating to allow their fans to hark back to a time when they used to win silverware, a 'nerveless' Manchester City made a massive mess of a penalty shootout and one of the standout individual performances came from Yaya Sanogo of all people.

Sanogo's four-goal display drew a lot of attention, especially as it didn't even come against a traditionally weak team. Portuguese champions and Europa League finalists Benfica were the unlucky ones on the receiving end of the 21-year-old Frenchman's clinical display.

A lot of writers have suggested that Sanogo's performances show that he's over his problems in front of goal, or that United's pre-season shows that they - under new manager Louis van Gaal - will be favourites for this season's title.

That's, by and large, complete nonsense.

A performance in a pre-season friendly isn't completely meaningless, but it's as close as a football match can get.

Even if the games are played at the intensity of a league match (a big 'if', although some of this summer's games got close), there's so much less pressure on the matches that everything must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Take Sanogo, for instance. His problem last season was a massive lack of composure in front of goal. It was said that he was fine in training, but froze up whenever anything important was on the line.

Lo and behold, he scored a hatful against a weakened Benfica side, in a friendly match, past a goalkeeper who was having a horror-show performance. It might be a bit premature to hail him as the second coming of Pele.

This isn't to beat up on the guy specifically. It could be that the goals he scored against Benfica will give him confidence to go into the new season and fire Arsenal to the title. It's possible. Just about.

If we're talking about individual players showing good early form and disappointing later, then it's worth mentioning Ashley Young's pair of goals against European Champions Real Madrid. Not that he didn't earn the goals at the time, but put it this way - you'd get very long odds on that happening in a 'real' match situation.

The point is that pre-season performances are - in terms of giving a read on the forthcoming season - about as much use as tossing a coin. Manchester City lost four games last summer before going on to win the Premier League. Roberto Soldado scored a hattrick for Spurs, before... well, we all know how his season went.

None of this is to say that playing pre-season games is inherently pointless - far from it. It's a massively valuable exercise to get players match-fit and to help a manager tweak his tactics for the new season.

It's also helpful for teams who, like Liverpool, have made wholesale changes to their playing staff over the summer. It's the first time that a number of these players will take to the field together and it's important to build those bonds before the result actually matters.

It's just important to remember that your opponents will almost certainly be doing the same as you. Tottenham destroyed Celtic 6-1 recently, but all the talk after the game was about Celtic's massively weakened side - cut down to the point that not even manager Ronny Delia was at the ground.

So, sit back. Revel in your team's pre-season performances if they've done well. Don't get too downhearted if they got hammered once or twice. Don't give up on a new player who's under performed so far. And above all - exercise some critical thought. At the risk of being a massive buzzkill - if a result seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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