An encouraging performance at the Hawthorns this afternoon saw three goals, three points and three Englishmen on the scoresheet. Goals from Rooney, Jones and Welbeck saw United regain 6th place on goal difference from Everton as the side look to build momentum. The game failed to match the drama seen in last season’s 5-5 draw, but it was not without controversy and turmoil. Read more…
United finally won a game in 2014 by settling the score straight with a 2-0 win at home to Swansea City. A welcome result to avenge the defeat 6 days ago in the FA cup third round. In truth, t was a tale of two halves, United had a flat first 45 which concerned a nervous crowd, before improving greatly in the second period to score via Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck. The result will come as a relief to Moyes, who has come under significant pressure, on the back of a tough start to the New Year. After mid-week disappointment away to Sunderland, a win was much-needed and showed that the side has a little bit of fight left in it yet. Read more…
Manchester United ended their run of six consecutive wins with a 2-1 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur, marking an unhappy start to 2014 for David Moyes. It was a game in which there were many chances, but a lack of clinical finishing proved costly. Read more…
United kicked off their run of festive fixtures with an important three points at home to West Ham this afternoon. An attacking themed line up saw Rooney and Januzaj restored to the team, perhaps cruelly at the expense of star mid-week performer Ashley Young. The decision to hand Rooney the captaincy was once again controversial whilst Jones was moved to midfield with Smalling coming in alongside Evans at the back. Read more…
Despite the arrival of Robin van Persie in the summer, United only managed to muster a meagre 86 goals this season, 3 less than last time around. In reality, this was probably more attributable to the limited contribution from the wings this season because, in reality, it was a fairly positive season for the forwards. Whilst the defence did it’s best to throw away the title within the first few months – as the odds on Unibet suggested at the time – the forwards did enough up front to compensate for the kamikaze attitude on display elsewhere.
Following on from the defence and midfield reports, this report assesses how well everyone actually performed in comparison to their expected performance at the start of August. It is not a quantified ranking of individual ability, as most typical season reviews are:
Rooney has been replaced. He looks on grim-faced as the young pretender relishes the opportunity and rapidly graduates from little known understudy to the main event whilst the team’s former talisman looks on. Rooney faces the reality that his best days are past. No longer do his team mates and supporters entrust him with their hopes and dreams. As much as they revere the part he has played in the club’s history; it is clear to all that the future belongs to others.
Fortunately for the man who goes by a teenager’s nickname, the Rooney in question is Jack rather than ’Wazza’. This scene from Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday plays like a disconcerting premonition of things to come for United’s number ten.
Like Jack, having got used to being the main man, Wayne has found his billing reduced. Not only has Robin van Persie usurped him as the team’s star attraction, but both Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck have in the eyes of many fans emerged as the men most likely. Like in all his films, Stone’s message lacks subtlety but rings true regardless. Everyone can be replaced. Today’s star can become Yesterday’s man before he even knows it.
In Wayne’s case, you can inevitably trace the beginning of his fall from grace to that distasteful episode where in league with his agent he either a) extorted the club or b) took on the Glazers, depending on your view of the man. Regardless of the motivation, his appeal for the acquisition of world class talent has both enhanced the team and diluted his influence. Proven high quality arrived in the form of Robin van Persie, along with potential greatness in De Gea, Jones and Kagawa. The last title-winning side – so reliant upon its talisman – was remoulded, no longer centred upon Rooney. He is not alone in finding himself a functional sentry where once he was a centurion. Both Nani, and even Valencia , have found themselves at odds with the manager’s tactical vision.
To describe Rooney as having a poor season would be ridiculous. He provided a staggering number of assists, delivered a reasonable return in front of goal and earned plaudits for his willingness to adapt to deeper roles. This last element is where the questions lie. Arguments rage over Rooney’s potential to become a central midfielder but the fact these debates continue as he finishes his eighth season at the club is proof of the state of flux in which he finds himself. In the wake of Ronaldo’s sale, expectations rose that Rooney would fulfil his promise to emerge as a player equal to the greatest in world football. For a time he threatened to do so; memorably eviscerating a Milan side who had no answer to his combination of explosive power and intelligent movement. This was not to be sustained, as inconsistency in performance (if not output) convinced his manager to look elsewhere. The call for more goals to fight back against City brought a new face rather than a renewal of faith in the existing star. To paraphrase OFSTED, Rooney has been ‘good, with outstanding features.’
Should Rooney have become the player we hoped? Perhaps we asked for too much. The teen prodigy has edged close to becoming the record goalscorer for one of the world’s greatest clubs. Precious few precocious sportsmen have ever gone on to fulfil the lofty expectations lavished upon them – I give you Robinho for example. Yet like Robinho, the suspicions remain that lifestyle choices away from the field have undermined his achievements on it. None too subtle regular references to his ‘conditioning’ suggest his manager agrees. Even those Reds who defended his actions in the contract saga could not defend his return from the summer clearly overweight. We hoped the arrival of RvP and Kagawa would fuel his appetite to prove his worth, but sadly it seemed only to have fuelled his appetite. On the field Rooney has cut an unusually isolated figure at times this season; appearances punctuated by unforced errors and the now familiar throwing up of the arms when things don’t go his way. Life on the football field frequently looks a chore rather than the pleasure it once was.
Apologists might point to his manager as the reason for a failure to press on. The tombola has forced Rooney to play markedly different roles from week to week. It is an oft heard lament that Rooney’s selfless flexibility has been exploited at the cost of excelling in one particular role. ‘He can play anywhere’ is meant as a compliment, yet the great players don’t. For them it is an endorsement of capability as oppose to a statement of intention. Robson and Keane were both praised as such yet positional changes for those two only came in the darkest of injury crises. The reality for Rooney is that despite being given opportunities to establish himself as both a striker and a creator, he has not convinced his manager of his ability to excel in either role. In the two biggest matches of the season, he was used either as a grafter or not at all. As much as supporters tried to underplay the significance of both selections, the inescapable fact was that Wayne Rooney is no longer considered essential to success. The era of ‘the big man’ is over.
The perverse reality is that in the month that he has added yet another title to his burgeoning collection, Rooney is perceived to be mulling over his next move. Stay, sign a new deal and fight for his desired place? All power to him if he does, but Ferguson’s fluttering of eyelashes at Dortmund’s lethal Pole don’t suggest a man preparing to restore Rooney to frontline service. Nor does the pointed praise of Kagawa and promises of a big future ahead suggest Rooney’s future role will replicate that of his shirt number. An alternative then is stay, sign a new deal and continue to serve in a variety of roles. Those who claim that Rooney could convert to a champions league quality central midfielder after ten draining years have admirable faith I sadly lack. His expensive use of the ball and frequent heavy touch don’t meet the criteria for the mobile, technical number 8 Ferguson craves.
The real alternative could be out of Rooney’s hands, yet ruefully I feel it best for the player and most probably the club. His contribution to our club derserves respect; at times he has carried us. Yet despite the occasional moments of brilliance; the consistent excellence that characterises the true greats has proved elusive once again this season. If a suitor is prepared to cross the Glazers palms with sufficient silver; a new club, with a new manager, could be precisely the fresh challenge needed to make the next five years of Rooney’s career the peak rather than the epilogue.
During this week’s Can They Score podcast, we talk about the surprisingly easy victory against Newcastle, the International Break and all that entails (or doesn’t), Burton’s opening and some silly transfer rumours. Joining us in the studio for this episode is Tom, Jonas and Adam.
Now that was more like it! From front to back a proper Manchester United away performance. Lacklustre starts have been our downfall of late, yet the first quarter of this game was our most impressive of the season. The only criticism being our failure to put the game truly out of sight.
The principle reason for this was the wayward finishing from Danny Welbeck. For all his technical ability, he continually snatches at the chances that fall his way and should have been celebrating a brace on his return to the starting eleven. However to condemn his display on this basis would be foolhardy.
Welbeck’s performance was understandably overshadowed by the star turns of Rooney’s homage to Keane, and a back four who didn’t look like they had been introduced to one another minutes before kick off. Yet the influence of the young forward should not be underplayed.
There has been much talk of an evolution to a fluid, pacey style this season; in no small part down to the arrival of Kagawa. The man from Japan is still finding his feet, meaning we have struggled for fluency. At the Wongabowl it was a much more familiar name who helped make us tick. Groans usually follow the realisation of a striker banished to the wing – yet Welbeck’s appreciation of space make him a perfect candidate for the dual forward role.
He may have failed to make the most of the opportunities afforded him but his uncanny knack of appearing in the right place at the right time is one few players possess. Harper’s heavy touch might ordinarily have gone unpunished but for Welbeck’s awareness and tenacity. Credit may also be given from some quarters for the determination to stay upright and attempt an unbalanced finish following the keeper’s desperate last man lunge. I suspect we’ll be waiting a while for the moral guardians of the British press to reconsider their stance of Danny the Diver. Welbeck’s link play with Rooney, Cleverley and van Persie left the home side chasing shadows and reduced to using baser instincts to try and disrupt our rhythm.
Not only did Welbeck inject urgency and unpredictability to our attack but he offered some desperately needed support to our overworked left back. It is no coincidence that our much maligned Frenchman produced his best display for years when aided by a left sided attacker willing to press high up the pitch and force the opposing wide-man to worry more about assisting the full back behind him than attacking the one in front.
Alan Pardew certainly recognised this when switching his most dangerous player Ben Arfa to the other side of the pitch. It was fitting that against the expectations of the majority, it was the dream team of Rooney and van Persie who were withdrawn early meaning the local lad from Longsight remained on the pitch to hear the whistle that called time on his best performance since April.
Amidst a gloomy economic outlook, loans of some sort or the other seem to be dominating the front pages of news. Loan news in the footballing world occupies tiny, three-inch column spaces in the middle pages, but appear to have proven far more fruitful. Last season saw the return of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley following successful loan spells in the premier league with Sunderland and Wigan Athletic.
Previous beneficiaries of the loan system have included stars such as Paul Scholes and notably David Beckham. With the yoke of ‘Glazeronomics’ unlikely to depart any time soon, it becomes all the more imperative for a club like United to reap returns on loanees which they can reinvest on the pitch or the market. So who are the ones likely to be farmed out for a season or two? And when they return, do they stand a chance of cutting it at United?
The reserve team captain tops this list. Over the last couple of years, Old Trafford has seen overseas talents, in Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique, hone their skills at the club, but eventually grow to world class players elsewhere. Paul Pogba could, and most likely will, follow them to achieve stardom away from Old Trafford. Is there a trend beginning to surface? If so, it must end here. Petrucci isn’t likely to make the cut immediately at OT. However a string of impressive performances for the reserves have convinced this writer that he could light up the theatre of dreams in the years to come, IF he sticks around long enough.
As this campaign teased out to an exciting yet somewhat inevitable climax, United fans cant help but have a bitter taste in our mouth at how the season has gone.
After the superb, flowing football exhibited in pre season and community shield, as well as our first few performances against Spurs and Bolton particularly, not to mention the demolition of the Gooners on a glorious Sunday at Old Trafford, United supporters and pundits alike were no-doubt wondering if Sir Alex had spent his holiday at Hotel La Masia. It was exciting, exhilarating and most importantly full of promise.
Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck made instant impacts returning from loan spells at Wigan and Sunderland respectively. Almost instantaneously partnerships were struck up, Welbeck linking with Rooney and fellow new-boy Ashley Young who In turn seemed to have no trouble linking up with our dynamic midfield duo of Cleverley and the resurgent Anderson. Smalling too, looked very comfortable at right back and Phil Jones partnering the terminator Vidic. This young side looked as if it could not only be in contention for the title, but win it in a style of football that was, quite simply, enthralling.
Then the wheels came off. Key injuries to Cleverley, Welbeck, the prolonged absence of Javier Hernandez and most significantly the long term injuries to Vidic, Fletcher and Anderson come some way to explaining our struggles this year, however, deeper problems emerged. It was plain that without Cleverley, Anderson and Fletcher our midfield was terribly anaemic.