We’re back! After a prolonged break, the Can They Score podcast is once again out this week as we look back at our start to 2013 and look ahead to what February holds for the Red Devils. Upon our return, we’re going to look back at the January transfer window, our form, Beckham’s golden locks, Ronaldo’s shooting boots and small matter of the Real Madrid tie next Wednesday. We’ll also be wondering how Sir Alex will approach Sunday’s match against Everton and look back at Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s time at Old Trafford during Red Recall. Joining me in the studio is Frenchy and Jonas.
During a recent private conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson, cycling czar Sir David Brailsford inquired of the 26-year coach of the biggest sports team in the world, “what is your secret to constant success and longevity?”
“Get rid of the c****,” was Ferguson’s reply.
In his typically effervescent way, the response is clarion clear. In Ferguson’s view, group stability is the key to unlocking the door to a long path of success. Whether it’s brusque casting aside of important players, who had become disruptive to the regime, or the allegiant focus on youth and future potential, to his adamant refusal to publicly disrespect his contestable employers in the Glazer tribe, everything Ferguson does at the club is dogmatically focused on maintaining a stability. It’s a stability plan that’s always required him as the fulcrum of course, but he’s been doing it so well that no fan would have it any other way. The problem is, soon we will have to.
French poet and historian Voltaire once wrote; “Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes”. He didn’t know it at the time, but when it comes to football, he may have had a point. United’s opening round defeat to Everton has prompted discussion in all quarters, with every critic, journalist and punter clamouring to offer their own opinion on the state of affairs at Old Trafford. Views range from the somewhat overconfident declaration that we have a team capable of immediate domestic and European dominance, to the cynical belief that we may as well pack up and go home now; such are our slim chances of success this year. The truth is perhaps somewhere between these extremes. The signing of Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa will undoubtedly strengthen a team that missed out on the league title last season by goal difference alone, but a period of adjustment is inevitable as the team discovers how best to utilize these player’s talents. Add to this the fact the injury crisis ravaging our defence and the fragmented nature of our preseason and it’s easier to see why the Reds didn’t have the best of games against Everton. This is a team that will undoubtedly improve as the season goes on and players return to full fitness. Most detractors predictably aim the bulk of their criticisms towards our midfield. Another summer is almost gone and Sir Alex has yet to sign the midfield enforcer craved by so many. It has also become clear he has no intention of doing so.
“We’ve never had a holding player…I’ve not had it for 25 years. Why should I think about it now?” (May 2012).
This sentiment will no doubt frustrate many Reds supporters but such is the gaffer’s unwavering loyalty to Michael Carrick it is unlikely we will see a defensive midfielder added anytime soon. Add to this the re-emergence of Tom Cleverley and the signing of Kagawa and it becomes clear that Sir Alex has his own ideas of how best to move the team forward. Whether it will ultimately pay off remains to be seen, but as the Scot moves into his 26th season at the club, he is probably entitled to a little faith. It is, however, shaping up to be a career defining season for many of our players. Tom Cleverley will be looking to rediscover the form that saw Sir Alex prepared to build the team around him last year before injury curtailed his season. Impressing both in the Olympics and in pre-season the Basingstoke born midfielder will hope to build upon the promising relationship developing with Kagawa, and firmly stamp his name on the Gaffer’s team sheet. Alongside him in the centre, Anderson will be attempting to finally realize some of the form and potential that he has been on the brink of realizing for some years now. Now entering into his sixth season at the club, the charismatic Brazilian may be quickly running out of opportunities to show that he is capable of being a player for this club; a reality that is not lost on him.
“I need to prove what I can do. I know the boss and my team mates believe in me. I have just had bad luck. I need to improve…” (July 2012).
The form of Wayne Rooney was often scrutinized last season. Remarkable when you consider the sheer number of goals he scored. It is a testament to the lofty expectations placed on the former Evertonian that despite racking up a career best 35 goals in all competitions neither the fans nor indeed the player himself were pleased with his form. Over the last three or four seasons Sir Alex has successfully converted the striker into a highly functional goal scorer, capable of hitting the net even on bad days. The arrival of Robin Van Persie will hopefully breathe new life into Rooney, both lifting the burden of being United’s main man and introducing a bit of healthy competition. It would do the forward no harm to realize he is no longer immune to being dropped. The striker looked abject at time’s last season and a few games short of match fitness against Everton. Improvement is inevitable as the player embarks upon what should be his peak years. If the thought of playing up front along side Van Persie and Kagawa doesn’t whet his appetite, nothing will. In truth the Everton game may have come too soon for the Reds. International commitments saw a great number of senior players miss the opening games of pre-season. When coupled with the copious injuries wreaking havoc on our defence it is little wonder Sir Alex’s men were shy of form in the opening fixture. As players return and new signings settle in the team is certain to improve. Midfield frailties considered, it would be foolish to expect anything other than a competitive Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson is in charge. Though as always, he will do things in his own indomitable way with a clear idea of how he wants the team to form and progress. American Philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing”. This is one thing the unconquerable Scot will never be guilty of.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance writer and blogger. You can follow him on twitter here: @KevinLevingston
Check out what our Manchester United Transfer Scout has to say about all the latest player rumours.
After all the hype and excitement about the new arrivals at Manchester United this summer, it was once again the failure to sign an imposing central midfielder that stood out during last night’s 1-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park.
Worryingly for United fans, Sir Alex Ferguson remains blind to an issue that threatens to derail his side’s bid to overhaul neighbours Manchester City and reassert their dominance both at home and abroad.
With a commanding midfielder in tow, this United team could be anything it wanted to be, with such an array of intricacy, pace and power in the forward line and a solid blend of youth and experience in defence, which will only be strengthened by the returns of Ferdinand, Evans, Jones and Smalling in the weeks to come.
Was it a case of de ja vu for our new recruit?
Without that midfielder, however, United look vulnerable, lightweight, and easily bullied out of a game. Robin van Persie may have noticed some uncomfortable similarities between the side he left behind at Arsenal and his new team-mates, with both teams easily harried, hustled and chastened into these kinds of defeats.
For all the common talk about United’s mental strength and grit in adversary, Ferguson’s men failed to win a single game after falling behind in the Premier League last season, and only recovered 6 points from losing positions, the joint worst record (tied with Fulham) in the division. United lack authority, leadership and direction in the centre of that midfield. It is all so patently obvious. It is painful. Man Utd no longer crave a Yaya Touré or Daniel De Rossi, they are screaming for one, but having now splashed around £50 million on van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell and Alexander Buttner, it seems very unlikely that last season’s Premier League runners-up will do any more business.
Some will point to the significance of Michael Carrick being absent from central midfield due to the need for him to cover in defence – and, my word, Carrick will be visualising that Fellaini afro and that Fellaini chest, one more valuable than Katie Price could ever dream of having, in his nightmares for years to come.
But while Carrick is a good reader of the game, and an excellent passer of the ball, there is enough evidence from the last few seasons that United need someone more mobile and dynamic to either play alongside him or instead of him in midfield.
Cleverley’s technical skills had no answer to Fellaini’s power.
At Goodison, it was a partnership of Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes that were charged with the task of protecting the defence and instigating the attacks. Cleverley, for all his energy and movement, saw the match pass him by a little, too often beaten to the ball and slow into the challenge. It was a predictably similar story for Paul Scholes, who could easily have been dismissed, making himself a liability after picking up an idiotic booking on 12 minutes. The central two only really gained a foothold once United fell behind to that thumping Fellaini header, but that was only due to Everton sitting back and allowing United the time to play in front of them. That suits Scholes perfectly, but the opening hour of chasing shadows at a raucous GoodisonPark was something that a 37 year old man with asthma should never be subjected to.
There are some who claim that in this 4-2-3-1 system, there is no need for a ‘hardman’ or ‘destroyer’ because possession is king and if you keep the ball, there is little need to win it back. But that seems a little utopian, and in the Premier League, it isn’t that simple. Look at Chelsea, for example. They are adopting the same system this year, but they have John Obi-Mikel as one of the two holding, while Man City have Yaya Touré who is a one-man tackling, passing and goal-scoring machine. And when they need to, in certain games, they will use Nigel de Jong, to lend them that extra bit of steel. The steel was so evidently missing from Cleverley and Scholes last night.
Ahead of them, Nani was abysmal, at his erratic worst while Danny Welbeck, shunted out to the left with a licence to roam, was industrious, made some intelligent runs inside the full back, but came up against a brick wall in the majestic Phil Jagielka. Spearheading the attack, Wayne Rooney produced a familiarly sluggish performance back on Merseyside, the kind which makes you wonder whether his support for his boyhood club goes further than merely dressing his little boy Kai in replica Everton shirts.
Kagawa managed to shine despite the defeat.
And now we come to Shinji Kagawa, our ray of light, our sunshine, the apple to our eyes, the Jack to our Jill, the banana to our split, the salt to our pepper, and the joker to our Robin. But wasn’t he brilliant, eh? Now, he looks a Manchester United player. He’s one of those who float and glide between the lines, United’s answer to David Silva. Kagawa was excellent last night, portraying all the qualities of how a Manchester United player should be. He was always available, always on the half-turn, always aware and when he received the ball, he looked to make things happen. Unfortunately for Kagawa, he was often forced to pass to Rooney or Nani, both of whom displayed a remarkable tendency to turn a chance into a half-chance, or a half-chance into an Everton counter-attack.
It is now an intriguing conundrum for Ferguson as he goes about fitting Kagawa, Rooney and van Persie into the same system and indeed, for how long Ferguson persists with this more fluid and imaginative style of play. Against Everton, it didn’t work. As the lone striker, Rooney needed to be far more mobile, while Welbeck’s natural tendency to come inside left United’s play a little too narrow last night, which then asks an awful lot of the full backs to provide the natural width. Evra had one of his better games, but Valencia never seems entirely comfortable playing at right back, which would make sense, given that he is out of position there. Astute United watchers will know that Ferguson has flirted with tactical variation in the past, just last season the 4-2-3-1 system which saw Cleverley and Anderson as the ‘2’ produced initially stunning results, but was soon discarded following the 6-1 aberration and Cleverley’s injury in favour of a more traditional 4-4-2. It will be an interesting test of the supporters’ and the manager’s patience if the early results continue to be undesirable.
But although this may all seem a little negative, there is reason for optimism. Kagawa looks terrific, van Persie, though anonymous in his twenty minute cameo, will surely guarantee goals, and, despite everything, United are still ahead of Liverpool!
ADAM HAS WRITTEN FOR THE DAILY MAIL, THE PEOPLE AND THEFA.COM. YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER HERE.
Welcome back to the Can They Score podcastin time for the new 2012/13 season. During our first season pod, Tom, Jonas, James and I give our thoughts on all the DHL Pre Season Tour, Sir Alex Ferguson, all the transfer rumours and our first trip away to Everton.
Don’t forget to subscribe via iTunes here or simply search ‘Can They Score’ in the iTunes Store, where all reviews are very much welcome. Alternatively you can manually subscribe the podcast’s RSS Feed which is here. Read more…
Kevin Sheedy was an Everton Great, a sweet, sweet sentence to write as he could, and should, have been a Liverpool Great, since they had him as a youth and let him go (preferring Ronnie Whelan, with whom he shared many traits). Read more…
With Everton only recording 3 shots on target, one could say it was an easy day for the Dutchman, but he really did show his worth with another excellent display. His save from Rodwell’s deflected shot, in the 70th minute, was quite simply superb. #Vintage Read more…
Having put another point on the board, with a hard fought draw against Newcastle, Sir Alex and his men go into the match knowing 10 points, out of a possible 15, will see them crowned Premier League champions. Having once again shown our weaknesses away from home, Sir Alex will be hoping to sustain our imperious home record, against David Moyes battling side. Read more…