They are ten matches unbeaten and only two stoppage time levellers have prevented them from chalking up six league victories on the trot, including a magnificent display of determination and grit to out-battle and defeat the current league leaders. The club are within three points of second place, only require two points from two games to progress from their Champions League group and have safely negotiated two top-flight opponents in the League Cup. Read more…
It’s hard to think of a more underwhelming major signing in recent times. The previous big splash of Glazer cash to have failed to hit the heights expected was Dimitar Berbatov; yet even he could always rely on a vocal band of admirers to fight his corner. Fellaini has had no such luck. Whereas the capture of the Bulgarian mercurial enigma (cliché klaxon ago go) represented a thrilling, logic defying pursuit of yet more attacking adventure, our Belgian acquisition is by contrast a depressingly sensible acceptance of functionality over flair.
What a time for a break. You’d certainly forgive David Moyes for taking some time out to enjoy some rest and recuperation following a suffocating opening few months to life as manager of Manchester United. The old adage that ‘everyone thinks they can be manager’ was traditionally aimed at the national team job but in today’s globalised world debate on who should make up the first eleven of Manchester United rages untamed. Southampton at home should represent the most routine of fixtures yet given the contrasting fortunes of the two sides thus far it has emerged as the pick of the weekend fixtures at betting sites like news.coral.co.uk.
Rather than engage in some downtime, it is far more likely that workaholic Moyes spent every waking hour wrestling with the challenges he faces over the next few weeks, months and even years. Whereas Ferguson became an expert at managing in the face of restriction from above, his successor has found himself roundly criticised for attempting to manage expectations of a manically demanding fanbase. The facebook and twitter mafia might be expected to hit the panic button more readily than the wise old match goer; but both sets of fan groups have legitimate concerns which need to be addressed over the coming series of fixtures.
So what are these challenges that Moyes needs to approach head on?
It isn’t all about talent and performance, not when it comes to choosing your favourite footballer. George Best was just one among the myriad of talented performers to grace the beautiful game and having grown up watching the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, in their unmistakable pomp and undeniable glory, his talent was not what drew my attention to him. Instead, it was something else entirely. Read more…
Kevin Levingston examines one of the most hotly debated topics of the early season and argues in favour of a little restraint…
If Wayne Rooney’s future was the main story of the summer around Old Trafford, the situation regarding Shinji Kagawa has jumped to the fore now that the season has begun. To say it is a “situation” is perhaps inappropriate. In truth it is uncertain if there is a situation to address as far as the player or the club is concerned. The facts are as follows; Shinji Kagawa has yet to make a competitive appearance for Manchester United this season. The season is three games old and Kagawa has played no games. And fans of Manchester United and Dortmund alike have absolutely lost their minds. Anyone who used a bwin free bet prior to the season on United and Kagawa to have an influential campaign would have been left regretting their bet already. Read more…
This summer I had to ask myself a question. A question that had just never occurred to me before. Like many people in their early thirties and younger, I was facing my first season as a Manchester United fan with a new manager. After a solid decade of the gaffer telling people ‘Three more years’ whenever retirement was brought up, the question I had to ask myself was ‘Am I a United fan, or an Alex Ferguson fan?’ Read more…
With rolling 24-hour sports channels and the social media flourishing more than ever, it should not come as a great surprise that what happens off the pitch is now given more scrutiny than what happens on it. The lust for breaking news and getting ‘the story’ has accelerated out of control, while providing in-depth tactical analysis and insight into the games has become an after-thought.
Many now anticipate the biannual ‘transfer deadline day’ more than the actual football matches which is insane. Each club is heavily scrutinised in the market business and not making big-money signings to appease the fans now portrays club as weak and vulnerable.
And let’s make one thing clear – the new combination of David Moyes and Ed Woodward being thrown in at the same time to work on transfers was a significant error of judgement. Manchester United don’t use a Director of Football as Moyes is famed for scouting many of his own players and playing a large role in club recruitment policy. In any case, a Director of Football doesn’t fit into United’s ideals and more commonly seen at club’s who expect a high turnover of managers. Ed Woodward’s success comes from his tough financial negotiating and helping the club write off large sums of debt accumulated from the Glazer takeover. Both have been hugely successful in their respective fields, but neither is directly familiar with overseeing the intricacies of big-name and big-money transfers. In hindsight, the vastly experienced and successful David Gill should have been persuaded to remain in his role as Chief Executive for twelve more months to ease Moyes’ into his job.
Large swathes of the media are now opening fire on the Moyes and Woodward combination. They were embarrassed by Thiago Alcantara’s last-minute switch to Bayern Munich, before being humiliated by the public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. There were bizarre attempts to negotiate a non-negotiable deal with Anders Herrera, numerous failed bids for Leighton Baines, reportedly turning down the wonderfully gifted Mesut Ozil, further unsuccessful attempts for Danielle De Rossi and Sami Khedira before missing out on the loan-deal for Fabio Coentrao. To top it all off, they even paid £4 million more for their one major signing than they should have after dithering on triggering his release clause in time.
The wholesale doom and gloom is unfounded and misplaced. Manchester United made a significant number of vital errors over the past number of months but one vital fact has been overlooked by the media vultures circling around their proposed demise of the club. With the acquisition of Marouane Fellaini and the holding of Wayne Rooney, Manchester United have accomplished their two immediate priorities from the start of summer and have thus, strengthened their title-winning squad.
Wholesale changes to the playing staff would have been a grave error and one that was, thankfully, avoided. Much has been made of the impact of new managers on this year’s title race but their influence over proceedings pales in comparison to that of the mentality of a squad.
Sir Alex Ferguson possessed an endless array of attributes but the most crucial was that he was a natural-born winner who despised losing and knew how to be successful. He knew what players matched this and was an expert at spotting which players shared this mind-set and which didn’t. Fergie may be gone but this attitude remains and he has shown full trust in Moyes that this blueprint will not waver.
What United have lacked in recent times is a domineering central midfielder who will assert himself on the game both with his ability and physicality. A midfielder whose robustness and energy could complement the silky passing and fluent rhythm of Michael Carrick. It is telling that Shinji Kagawa (six goals) was the only United midfielder to net more than twice last season and a more significant goal-threat was required. Ideally a new midfielder would be strong in the air, play short, succinct passes to complement United’s counter-attacking threat and be a box-to-box player.
Marouane Fellaini is the perfect fit. He scored twelve times last season, averaging a goal every three matches, finishing as Everton’s top goalscorer, and was the league’s player of the month for November. He can play in a holding midfield role, as a box-to-box player or sit nestle in behind the front-line, such quality in versatility is a greatly underrated asset. He made 82 tackles in the league last season – from the top clubs, only Michael Carrick (83) made more, having played an extra two games.
He is a player Moyes trusts and has a close bond with – a signing virtually with no risks and countless benefits. It also fits the United policy of spending big on established Premiership players, only seriously delving into the European market on the rare occasions to sign promising youngsters when no home-based equivalent is on the market.
Fellaini has helped propel Everton to finishes of 7th and 6th in the past two seasons due to his contributions at both ends of the pitch and was the club’s most technically gifted asset. At 25 years old the big Belgian is now only entering his prime and is sure to improve his game yet further in the coming years. He has an eye for a pass and will bring much needed creativity to United, whilst there should be less focus on his need to contribute defensively which theoretically should improve his attacking attributes further.
Moyes also retained Wayne Rooney and the early indications are that he will use him in his preferred free-roaming attacking role, and will be less burdened defensively. Automatically this strengthens United not just in terms of ability within their squad, but of weakening major rivals Chelsea.
After his summer courtship of Rooney, Mourinho was forced into signing an ageing Eto’o and bizarrely loaning out Romelu Lukaku. Chelsea have an impressive squad with an equally strong-minded coach but the weaknesses which hampered their progress last season remain. Question marks remain over their defensive strength-in-depth, lacking a quality holding midfielder and most crucially of all, firepower up top. Eto’o will score goals and is arguably an upgrade on Torres, but their rival fans will breathe a massive sigh of relief that they didn’t invest more heavily in that area.
Manchester City have also strengthened their squad, but they have already shown massive defensive vulnerability without injured skipper Vincent Kompany. Joe Hart is going through a prolonged spell of poor form and whilst there is now less reliance on Yaya Toure and Aguero, they haven’t made the marquee signing some fans expected after a disastrous 2012/13 campaign.
Arsenal grabbed the headlines with the remarkable coup of the outrageously talented Mesut Ozil, but buying new leather seats for your car without replacing a faulty engine could be dangerous. That said, Wenger has got the fans back on side and the club has made a statement, but they are not quite ready for a title tilt just yet.
Spurs have bought impressively from the windfall of funds generated from Bale’s sale, but the Welshman’s loss to the side cannot be underrated. They failed to break into the top four even with the genius of Bale and have also lost a raft of players adapted to the Premiership. The loss of Dempsey, Parker, Huddlestone and Caulker may not significantly weaken the first team, but the experience and know-how of home-based players can never be underestimated. None of their signings will obviously settle and acclimatise immediately, so the optimism of Spurs fans may have come a little too hastily.
Manchester United romped to the title last year and despite widespread criticism they were mightily impressive. There are no signs that the any of the existing squad will let their impeccable standards slip and the additions of powerhouse Fellaini and the sublimely skilled young winger Wilfred Zaha are purchases which should excite the United faithful.
It is impossible to ignore the on-going incompetencies of their main Premiership rivals, namely Manchester City and Chelsea who despite a limitless supply of wealth have squandered much of their early promise. This summer has seen the furore of management changes but none have taken the transfer window by storm. Inefficiencies have been left unaddressed and no-one has obviously taken the initiative.
It would be an understatement to say United have blundered and dithered at times this summer but the core objectives have been met. Moyes and Woodward will of course need to acclimatise themselves to a learning curve which can be unforgiving and potentially excruciatingly embarrassing, but the next two transfer windows will be the litmus test.
Fellaini could well achieve ‘cult hero’ status at Old Trafford, Rooney may well rejuvenate himself and become the club’s all-time leading goal scorer and in Robin van Persie they have the world’s most complete striker. This is a squad of champions with a winning mentality, and the continuous widespread doubt over their credentials should provide the hunger and determination to once again succeed. You’d be a fool to bet against them.
Every team needs that sort of player that make the opposition quake in their boots. The type of player that will force his opponent to commit, gamble and eventually crumble. The type of player that, when the other team’s manager reads out the opposing eleven, you hear a unified sigh throughout the dressing room: you know it’s going to be a long afternoon as soon as you spot his name on the team sheet.
It doesn’t really come down to technical ability or passing range, it comes down to your willingness to combat your opposition to the ground. Roy Keane, even though underrated, was never the most technical player. However, when teams saw his name on the team sheet, they knew what was coming. That alone won games. The fear and the anticipation, knowing that across the pitch stands a man who doesn’t think twice before sacrificing his body for his team. Manchester United have lacked that. A man that can dominate a game just by being who he is. That man can be Marouane Fellaini.
If there’s something fans have complained about for the past years, it’s United’s lack of presence in midfield. Despite catching a lot of grief, Sir Alex Ferguson did try to address the issue several times in his last few seasons at Old Trafford. Owen Hargreaves was unlucky, so was Darren Fletcher and Anderson never fit the role to begin with. The emergence of Tom Cleverley gave United a new perspective to how the midfield was to be run, while Phil Jones, who really is a centre back, was the only pure physical specimen when called upon in midfield. This has left Michael Carrick with the herculean task of controlling a midfield by positioning himself excellently, balancing the midfield and defence and acting as a deep-lying playmaker. A test which he has passed with flying colours, but that perhaps needs a bit revamping under David Moyes.
Although Carrick controls a game from the deep, even he has seem himself being combatted to the ground by the likes Yaya Touré. When faced with intense pressure from teams such as Man City, Liverpool and Everton, that task becomes too great even for Carrick. This is where Marouane Fellaini comes in. At 6’4” and with the frame of a barn door, there’s only one adjective that could describe him at the heart of Manchester United’s midfield: Brobdingnagian. Despite not being credited for it, Fellaini levels out his lack of pace with a high footballing IQ. He’ll position himself where he thinks things will happen. This may also be the reason why David Moyes used him as an offensive midfielder for a great part of the 2012/2013-season. As midfields would be running at Carrick and Fellaini, they’d face a battering ram of gigantic proportions in Fellaini before Michael Carrick elegantly sweeps away what Fellaini misses, somewhat in a similar manner to how Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand made their partnership in the heart of defence function.
But this is midfield, right? And Fellaini adds plenty of things to a Manchester United midfield that severely lacks presence. He’s not a midfield maestro and nor does he need to be. Looking at how Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney interchange in terms of dropping deep and establishing play from the back, Fellaini won’t need to part take in that. He will be called upon to carry the ball between the opposing lines. Again, something which he often did do at Everton, knowing that someone would secure the space left behind.
The undervalued factor, however, is the intimidation he’ll scare out of opposing teams. In his first interview with MUTV after having signed Fellaini, Moyes mentioned how teams absolutely hate playing against Fellaini. United fans will know this all too well having seen United struggle to keep up with the behemoth in the league opener against Everton last season. This is also where the comparison to Roy Keane comes in. Fellaini is no Roy Keane, let’s put that to bed already, but he’s the player you’re looking over your shoulder for. Because you know he’s coming. And you know it’s going to hurt when he gets there.
In what has been a summer of change at Old Trafford, fans have been at pains to point out the clear areas in which the squad needs to be improved. Kevin Levingston examines the current state of affairs as the transfer window draws to a close….
Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”. At time of writing it is less than sixty hours until the transfer window closes. Let us be frank. Mistakes have been made. The very public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas; a player who had never considered leaving a club who themselves had no intention of selling him. Allowing the release clause in Fellaini’s contract expire and putting ourselves in a position where we will surely pay over the odds for a very good, if less than brilliant midfielder. Offering a sum for Leighton Baines that even his critics would view as paltry. While nowhere never in danger of approaching the bravado emanating from the Emirates, the message from Moyes and Co. very early on in this transfer window was that of money to burn and price being a non factor. With three days to go until the curtain finally falls on the blessed thing, The Reds’ only signing has come in the form of Guillermo Varela, a young right back prospect from Uruguay. Yes, mistakes have surely been made.
A lot can be accomplished in three days, however, and the noises coming from Old Trafford have been cautious, but not inherently negative. It seems that already lessons have been learned from the very public way in which Fabregas was pursued, with the new Gaffer remaining very tight-lipped about potential targets. Reassurance can be taken from the type of players we seem to be targeting. It may turn out to be too late this time round, but it’s clear that Moyes is fully aware of where the squad needs improving. We need midfielders.
With three days to go the time for audacious bids for the likes of Fabregas and Ozil has passed. The new boss has returned to former club Everton one more time with a successful move for Marouane Fellaini looking all the more inevitable. Such a move, while not one to set pulses racing will add a little steel to Michael Carrick’s silk in midfield, while also providing us an able alternative should the Tyne and Wear born playmaker, heaven forbid, be injured. A late bid for Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera, the schemer who tore United’s midfield apart two seasons ago, has been rejected. A sizeable release clause in the player’s contract as well as a hornet’s nest of tax issues therein may ultimately prove to be a deal breaker, but it is without question that the Herrera would provide some much-needed creativity to our engine room. A far more puzzling move for Roma’s Danieli De Rossi has also been reported, though it’s hard to say whether this one would be pursued should the aforementioned deals be completed. Adding Fellaini and Herrera to United’s Carrick and Cleverley would go a long way to solving our midfield woes. It seems that Moyes, while late to the party, has at least brought some pavlova and a bottle of wine – Though it’s fair to say he’s knocked on every other door in the street before finding the right house.
One could be forgiven for casting envious glances towards Tottenham and the swashbuckling way in which they have reacted to the imminent sale of their best player. While it is almost impossible to replace a Gareth Bale in your team, Spurs are giving it a heck of a try, signing two central midfielders, two wingers, a striker and an attacking midfielder. The manner in which Chairman Daniel Levy and Football Director Franco Baldini have conducted business this summer has been nothing short of stunning. It will take time for all the new signings to bed in and gel, but if potential and press are to be believed, it won’t be long before Tottenham are competing for the title, let alone the top four. Time will reveal whether that is the case, but what cannot be denied is the ruthlessly efficient manner in which Spurs have secured their transfer targets. The masterstroke in this regard was the decision to secure the players needed to improve the team before the Bale transfer windfall was burning a hole in their pockets. Tottenham were in the rare position this year of having money to burn without being perceived as such. Kudos.
No such luck with United. The Reds are not, like Tottenham, in a position where they need wholesale changes. This is still a team that ran away with the league comfortably last season. It is vital that any players signed are improving on the current playing staff, or at least have the potential to do so. Such players come at a premium. Add United as the buying club and more often than not, the price goes up even further. For Moyes and Woodward this is perhaps where the inexperience of negotiating such transfers at the highest level has had an effect. A puzzling reluctance to add an extra five million pounds where thirty million has already been bid is particularly frustrating, but it’s not our only worry. It’s hard to believe that United would have been so public in the pursuit of Fabregas had they not been given an indication of interest on the Spaniard’s part, but nevertheless it was an embarrassing lesson in negotiations at footballs top table, and hopefully a lesson learned well. Thankfully a similar move for Real Madrid’s Mezut Ozil was dismissed by the player before a bid could be made.
So now it seems that after giving up on Fabregas, Ozil and the like, Moyes is prepared to take the experience on the chin and bid for more realistic targets to improve our ranks. How much favour with which one looks toward the transfer window as a whole is usually defined by the activity of your team over the summer. For Spurs fans it’s been a fantastic summer. For Arsenal fans it has been a curse. For The Reds it’s looking like being neither hot nor cold, neither amazing nor terrible. It’s not too late to sign the players needed. Aristotle once said that “Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.” The next three days will tell how true this is of United’s summer.
Tick Tock David.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance blogger who has contributed to the likes of StrettyNews, TheGloriousUnited and, of course, CanTheyScore? in the past. Follow him on twitter here
“I don’t know what Jose’s thoughts were, but I know what ours were- you could tell by the team we picked.”
-David Moyes, post game Chelsea v Manchester United, August 26, 2013
The newly christened “Chosen One” has now managed, and survived, the first ‘real’ test of his managerial career at Old Trafford. After the match David Moyes took a jab at Jose Mourinho- the undisputed champion of verbal pugilism- when he intimated that perhaps the Portuguese manager did not show as much interest in scoring goals as he did in keeping them out. Read more…