Ahead of United’s game on Sunday against Chelsea, we spoke to Ramon from “Mowing Meadows” about their season so far, José Mourinho, Manchester United’s team and the 90 minutes ahead.
Here we are, January 2014 and Chelsea are sitting comfortably in 3rd, 2 points off top. Did you expect this?
Realistically, probably not. I’m always hopeful at the start of the season so I hoped to be in a position like this (if not 3 points better off) but to be so close to the leaders in the absence of anything resembling a striker is fairly impressive. We’ve played a lot of tough games away from home during the first half of the season, so to have the reverse fixtures against the top teams predominantly at home is a good sign. This is a squad blessed in certain positions but is worryingly thin or lacking in quality in others, namely centre mids and full backs respectively, the fact we’ve managed to paper over these cracks so far is really a testament to the brilliance of individual talent and managerial quality.
Mourinho’s return to Chelsea and the Premier League was always going to be an interesting one. How important has it been and how do you think it’s affected the club?
Mourinho’s return has influenced everything that has happened so far this season, I think his arrival has been the most important factor when you consider where we are in the league. It hasn’t all been great, if you consider the aesthetics of our football compared to when Di Matteo was in charge this clearly is a team with less creative freedom but that isn’t necessarily bad if you’re successful. The ‘ostracising’ of Juan Mata whilst unpopular and virtually a crime, has not been without reason or result. In comparison to last season when we exploded out of the blocks and looked like we might be the team to waltz our way to the title before a November-December collapse, this season has been methodical in how we have accumulated points. There are many characteristics that get thrown around as to what a ‘Mourinho’ team is, but this relentless determination and drive that people often compare to a machine is definitely a feature and probably why there has been no drop off in pace in pursuit of the title.
I know that you have a small crush on Oscar, but who do you see as the main man in this current Chelsea team?
Small crush? I love the kid. It’s tough deciding who is the main man between Oscar and Hazard the pendulum always seems to shift on a game to game basis. Hazard is by far the more eye-catching and probably earns him more plaudits but Oscar is the key to how this team is set up. There have often been times when, without his presence the shape of the team almost disintegrates at times. His understanding of the game is immense for someone so young and is perhaps the biggest difference between him and all the other attacking talent the club have acquired over the past few seasons, whilst there is evident room for improvement, his decision making is near faultless. Then there’s the fact that while being slight of build, not small because you can’t really be considered small when you’re on the borderline of being 6ft tall, he is a terrier when it comes down to pressing the opposition and recovering the ball. A player that every fan would love to have playing for their team.
Your need for a striker is becoming more and more apparent, with a lot of your goals coming from midfield. Can you see someone coming in in January and if so, who?
Please God, please let someone come in January. As always the problem with January signings is their eligibility for the Champions League, so I doubt the club will splash money on someone who can’t help in that department. The obvious choice is that poor Colombian fella who got made to play for Monaco for all that money and now looks like he doesn’t want to be there. Last week I would’ve been begging the club to sign Giuseppe Rossi but his knee is dodgier than your midfield, I apologise for that. Quite frankly there aren’t many long term prospects, so here’s to another transfer window spent praying that Zlatan graces us with his presence.
It appears that, once again, Chelsea have managed to sign a player that Manchester United were interested in. What do you make of the (soon to be made official) signing of Matic?
I think in this case we can claim to be the team first interested in signing him, given the fact we sold him to Benfica for the equivalent of £3m as part of the Luiz part exchange (Yes, that deal was worth it). To be quite honest, I don’t know much about him apart from the games Benfica played against Chelsea in the Champions League and I thought Javi Garcia was the better of the two on those occasions… Please God, please be better than Javi Garcia.
Did you see Manchester United struggling this much when Sir Alex Ferguson left, and were you surprised that the club didn’t try and appoint Mourinho as his successor?
No I didn’t actually. I even offered bets to many Arsenal fans that are friends of mine that United wouldn’t slip out the top four, thankfully for me, no one took up my offer. It is strange to think one man could have had so much impact, I know there’s been problems with an ageing squad and injuries but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say United would be in the same position with Ferguson in charge. My cousin in America compared it to Phil Jackson leaving the LA Lakers who have since been pretty unsuccessful after dominating the NBA for a decade, I imagine most fear it’s going to be the same way in this case.
As for whether I’m surprised Mourinho wasn’t targeted, yes and no. He’s the best manager in the world in my opinion and it would seem outrageous that a club of United’s size not only wouldn’t want Mourinho but seemingly didn’t target any elite manager in world football but settled for David Moyes. I suppose, he too is ‘Tartan born and bred’. To be honest it is the price you have to pay when the board overlooked a manager like Mourinho for sustainability reasons which I thought they would do but quite frankly the most important thing for United Post-Ferguson was to not have a significant drop off with the team needing to be rebuilt soon. Perhaps the closest thing to a guarantee of that would’ve been Mourinho. Board will have to chalk it up as a mistake and move on with Moyes who I think they are going to have to commit to, for at least another season. A moral victory, right?
With Manchester United currently sitting 8th in the Premier League, do you see this game as less important than in previous years?
No, of course not. Any game is important by virtue that there are only 38 in a season, yes there may not be the same competition for position between the two clubs this year but it is going to be a difficult three points to get nonetheless. Chelsea need the points to keep up track with City and Arsenal, whilst United need the points to try and claw into the top four. I can’t see you repeating our, should we say ‘fortunate’ run to the Champions League trophy.
Do you see the battle for midfield as the key to Sunday’s game?
Midfield battle. Wait, do either of us have a midfield? In all seriousness, I can’t really see it being won there, it can definitely be lost if either sides midfield forget their defensive duties but both sides lack the dynamism in midfield that once dominated these games. I think United have got their hands full with Eden Hazard in the form he is in, I’m guessing Willian and Oscar will make up the trio and they haven’t been playing too badly in recent times either. It’s a shame Mata probably won’t feature seeing as he’s caused your lot plenty of problems in recent seasons
It seems that Wayne Rooney could be fit for the trip to Stamford Bridge. Other than him, who do you see as the main threat in this Manchester United side?
I saw this question asked to a Swansea fan in the build up of your game against them and the list consisted of Welbeck and Januzaj. Your strikers all have great records against us but given Van Persie’s injury and Hernandez’ form of late it is hard to find a threat comparable to Rooney. Januzaj I think is your best chance, he’s been a real star this season. Our full backs, Azpilicueta aside have struggled this season so attacking down the flanks will always reap some reward, especially if you can drag Cahill and Terry away from the middle. Of course, I have to give some credit to the form ‘dat guy’ is in (Congratulations on your reply from him by the way) but in comparison to the threat of what has arrived at the Bridge in years gone by when United have visited, I’m fairly optimistic. I’m more worried about De Gea having a cracking game.
Prediction and line-up?
Prediction – It all depends on Mourinho’s mentality, I’m hoping he takes the game to you, so I will go with 3-1.
Line up – Cech; Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Ramires, Lampard; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Eto’o (I could see Luiz starting instead of either Lampard or Willian though)
While I’m at I may as well have a stab at the United line up although I’m not sure if my choices are all fit:
De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Jones; Welbeck, Januzaj, Rooney.