During this week’s Can They Score podcast, we look back at the disappointing 2-2 draw in the FA Cup against Chelsea. We look at what went wrong after such a promising start, praising Benitez, questioning Sir Alex’s substitutions once again and looking at Wayne Rooney’s attitude. After that we talk Qatar, De Gea, Ferdinand’s immaturity and preview the weekend’s match against manager- less Reading. Joining me in the studio is Jonas and Frenchy. Read more…
After securing a valuable 1-1 draw away from home in the first leg, thanks to goalkeeper David De Gea, including that all-important away goal, Manchester United will feel a lot better about the second leg, played in front of their own home crowd at Old Trafford, effectively adding an extra players to their ranks.
For the majority of its existence, the Premier League title race has followed in the principles of the Thunderdome of Mad Max fame: “two clubs enter; one team leaves… victorious.”
Genuine three-way title fights appear to have become extinct in the Premier League era (hence our focus), with each season framed around a duopoly of contenders. Of all the gladiators who have entered the league’s gruelling grand arena – Leeds, Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, City – it is Manchester United who have remained the most persistent and dominant force throughout the past 11 years.
Riding high and heading into March 12 points clear, United are in excellent shape to go on and clinch a 13th Premiership title. However, the club’s detractors have denounced their position as false, claiming that the current United team and the league itself is bereft of quality. This season is said to be a low-point in the domestic game that flatters a side lacking in skill and substance – a drought lacking in good players, teams or contests.
In truth something has been lacking in English football’s top-flight over the past five years: a full-blooded, competitive rivalry. While many great teams have come through, won and lost throughout the Premier League years, the division’s best showdowns have featured something else – another ingredient beyond the league table – to set them apart from the rest.
Roberto Mancini and Manchester City are yet to provide the sort of opposition required to make the grade. Last season’s title win wasn’t enough. Regardless of the pain inflicted, and the bitter, long-standing animosity between the two clubs, United remain as the establishment. City’s challenge must be deeper and more prolonged to qualify. English football is demanding a new cold war between two opposing ideologies whose very existence seems to threaten the survival of the other.
In the heady days of Arsene Wenger’s peak, Arsenal versus Manchester United felt more like a clash of dynasties fighting over the rights to history than two clubs sparring for a championship. With his revolutionary methods, Wenger’s new-look Arsenal reeked of progress and sophistication – a challenge that seemed to offend United’s historical sense of glamour into rabid action. Add in Keane, Viera, along with a scattering of iconic, high-stakes games, and United’s modern-day rivalry with Arsenal became loaded with the potency required for greatness.
Competition creates a different kind of rivalry, coming as it does from an animalistic sense of nervous self-preservation and fearful, pre-emptive aggression against a threat to your identity, confidence and ambition.
For many, Liverpool will always be United’s greatest adversaries – a conflict first created through contest and later super-charged by it in the 2008-09 season. Not only were Liverpool attempting to block a hat trick of league titles for United, but suddenly the club whom Sir Alex Ferguson had vowed to knock from their perch had turned up to reinforce their record directly. It is competition not history that continues to encourage revisionist rants about that season across a number of Liverpool fan forums.
Chelsea, the other most recent arrival on the title chase scene, are partly to blame for the slightly deflated nature of Manchester City’s bid for domestic domination. There’s a sense that we’ve seen it all before, and having witnessed the supposedly insurmountable empire of oil riches built by Roman Abramovich fall in its attempts at total supremacy, perhaps there’s a certain complacency and lack of respect for what City have offered so far. Rather than replacing Manchester United as the club to beat year-in year-out, Chelsea have become the largest fish in the pool of potential contenders – an under-realm Sheikh Mansour’s pet project may be destined for judging by their second season hiccups.
There is potential over at the Etihad however, with money being poured into a state-of-the-art campus designed to compete with the best youth academies in the world. Self-sufficiency and standard-raising, as displayed by Arsenal’s glory days, are the key elements of a real, substantial competitive rivalry – the sort of war where triumph offers the winner far more than the annual spoils and awards. Money alone feels oddly transient, as if the assets and success it buys are slightly superficial and cosmetic. Even with its historical context and geography, United-City will remain lukewarm compared to previous challenges until the prospect of a fully-fledged usurpation is a likely possibility.
Manchester United scored two quick goals then held off a typical Reading comeback to book their place in the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup.
The home squad was set out with important future fixtures in mind. Rooney, Rafael and Evra were given the night off with Ferdinand, Giggs, Carrick and Van Persie on the bench. Vidic returned to captain the side as Ferguson tries to gently rehabilitate his Serbian gladiator. Read more…
Following a great week for Manchester United, the Can They Score podcast is back to analyse our performances against Everton and Real Madrid with the help of our talented guests. Looking back at our 2-o win at Old Trafford and 1-1 draw at the Bernabeau, we talk about the importance of Phil Jones, maturity of Rafael da Silva, ability of David De Gea, touch of RvP and the immortality of Ryan Giggs. We also pick our players of week, do a red’s recall on Gabriel Heinze and preview our FA Cup match against Reading. Joining me in the studio is Adam, Frenchy and Tom.
Have you ever wondered why it takes so long for Manchester United to sign a decent young player?
I think every single fan has. Months and months of speculation, column after column written in the papers; after a while, fans give up on a potential signing, thinking the papers are milking a rumour for all its worth.
In yesterday’s L’Equipe, alongside Olivier Sadran, head of Toulouse FC, and Olivier Giroud’s agent Michaël Manuello, David Friio (Manchester United’s EPL and Ligue 1 scout) shed some light as to why transfer stories, especially ones regarding Manchester United, return year after year.
This year is a special one for Premier League clubs. Next year’s media coverage money is larger than ever and 20th in the Premier League will receive €85m. That’s twice what the Ligue 1 champions get. As Friio says, “For Newcastle and QPR, relegation would be terrible. They are buying whomever they can just to stay up. QPR cannot afford to go down. Redknapp is incredibly good at forcing the owner to spend his money on players. He’ll put out a B-team in the cup, lose and then point to the result and say: “See that? We got battered!” Newcastle is different. They have a different approach: to buy 10 players at €3m such as Haïdara or Sissoko in the hope that 2 or 3 will be good enough, like Papiss Cissé and Demba Ba, in order to sell them for a big profit. Players with high resell potential values are in France at the moment.”
Sadran then goes on to say “Newcastle are stacking them up. It won’t get them anywhere. We’ll see in two or three years that there was an agenda to all this… At Manchester, you spend 2 years observing players in every game, checking to see if they would be mentally capable to go get the three points in the same manner against the likes of Arsenal or Swansea, because for United, the 3 points are important each time. That’s why, when you’ve scouted him for 2 years and you have decided to buy him, there is never a problem with the price. That’s why I tell my players: “You played well in a big game and afterwards your form waned, but you forgot that they, Manchester and co., saw you play every game, against PSG but also against Sochaux. That’s the reason why you won’t go to a big club, and not because Toulouse are asking for too much money.”
When asked whether or not Manchester United will delve into the French transfer market in the summer, Friio’s answer backs up Sadran’s previous statement: “I don’t know, seeing as it takes me at least 2 years to scout a player. Do you know how many French players have come to Manchester United into the youth team? Only one! Paul Pogba. I brought him in when he was just 16. As soon as players are called up to any level of the France national team, I follow them. For example, I know over 300 players from the 1997 generation.”
As you can see, the French market is something Manchester United are taking rather seriously. Whether or not the same applies for Spain, Italy or Germany, only the club and the staff know. Having missed out on Varane (who decided to ply his trade at Real Madrid) and letting Paul Pogba leave on a free (two players who are unfortunately shining at the moment), there is no reason why, with the current influx of French players to the Premier League, Manchester United wouldn’t delve into the French market next summer. With players such as Zouma or Capoue available at reasonable prices and both capable of ameliorating the squad, one can expect plenty more rumours in the papers during the coming months. And don’t worry, if it’s a recurring story that’s been around for a year or so, it means that Manchester United are probably interested in the player.
Whenever I mention Kurt Zouma on Twitter, I get a few questions regarding who he is and where he plays so here is a short and sweet explanation from an article I wrote for Sport Witness a few months back: “Kurt Zouma, born October 27th 1994, is the perfect example of a meteoric rise in the world of football. Getting his first start at the age of 16 for Saint-Etienne, the French club have never really looked back since. Very quickly finding a place in the hearts of fans due to lively and mature performances, the bulky defender (1.85m/87kg) started 16 games for ASSE, making a grand total of 24 appearances in his first season for the first team.”
Now, as some of you may know, the subject of the ins and outs of football is something that I take a great interest in and the Zouma saga is one I have been following in particular. Why? Simply because I believe that Kurt Zouma is a player destined to achieve great things in the world of football. As the description above shows, Kurt Zouma is a player who started his first team career before most. Now aged 18, Kurt has had a rather unfortunate season with a few niggling injuries. Despite this, he has managed to start 10 games for Saint-Etienne, impressing each and every time.
Now onto the main part and the question most Manchester United fans have on their mind.
Do we need him?
My answer is rather straightforward and simple: Yes. Manchester United cannot afford to pass up yet another cheap and extremely talented player in the summer. The list has grown too long and depressing.
Whilst many view Chris Smalling as the natural replacement for Rio Ferdinand, I do not. Despite impressing lately, I firmly believe that Chris Smalling will remain a squad player at Manchester United, filling in for the likes of Rafael at right-back and for the centre-back pair. For me, there is one perfect player to replace Rio and that person is Kurt Zouma. Before you all get your pitchforks out and start making effigies out of Anderson’s body with my name on it, let Chris Atkins from The Elastico explain to you why Zouma has what it takes to be successful wherever he goes:
“When it comes to describing Zouma’s style of play, it would be easy to over-emphasise the physical attributes that he brings to the team. After all, he is a man-mountain, as well as being blessed with acceleration that belies his sizeable frame. However, it should not be ignored that the centre-back’s game shows great maturity for a player of his age. Indeed, a quick look at the statistics (whoscored.com) will tell you that whilst he makes considerably fewer tackles than his defensive colleagues, Zouma makes an astonishing number of clearances, blocked shots and interceptions each game - testament to his acute ability to read the game.
Indeed, given his physique and maturity of play, it would be difficult to work out quite how incredibly young the defender still is without being informed. There are, of course, areas that the defender must improve upon. Perhaps, despite how obvious his strength is, he could make more of this natural advantage and attempt to rob the ball from the player’s feet more often. Zouma did score twice early on in his debut campaign, but he can also look to be more forceful in the air and attempt to contribute more in an attacking sense from set pieces. However, the fact remains that Zouma plays with an authority that is rare in one so young, he displays intelligence in his positioning and, when in possession, is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and receiving the ball in tight situations. A fine, all-round prospect.”
Now comes the inevitable question: Where would he fit?
As I have previously stated, I do not believe that Chris Smalling possesses the potential to become a regular first team player for Manchester United (If I’m wrong, come back to this article in 3 years time and rub it in my face. I’ll have deserved it) and I believe that (recent selections point to this) Phil Jones will be remoulded into a defensive midfielder over the next season. This leaves only Jonny Evans as the sole quality centre-back at the club once Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic call it a day, leaving the club with no other choice but to delve once more into the transfer market for a centre-back.
I agree that, at the moment, Zouma isn’t particularly needed, nor do I believe that he is ready for the Premier League (yet); however, a deal similar to Wilfried Zaha’s in the summer could be an option. Zouma needs first team experience to fully develop as a player and loaning him back to Saint-Etienne for another season would be beneficial for both parties. In fact, buying him and loaning him out to any club, even a Premier League one (look at Welbeck and Cleverley) would be useful.
To conclude what was originally set out to be a short article: Do I believe that Manchester United are interested in the player? Yes. Do I believe that this transfer will come to fruition? We are talking about a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson here. Anything can happen.
A series of wasted opportunities, some debatable yellow cards, a near-death experience, spells of fluid passing, a header from Patrice Evra and in the end a draw with Swansea.
The Welsh side fought valiantly to take their first ever point against United, who never looked comfortable but should have won the game. One of the biggest disappointments was that Wayne Rooney didn’t have his best day at the office but the return of Nemanja Vidic was good news for the back four.
The Serbian returned to partner Jonny Evans at centre-back as Rio Ferdinand was left out completely. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were set out as tight wingers, often cutting inside to allow room for the overlapping runs of fullbacks Phil Jones and Patrice Evra. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley played to their usual strengths, with the latter pushing forward trusting Carrick to anchor the midfield from deep. Robin Van Persie spearheaded the attack in front of Wayne Rooney, who was employed as a roaming attacking midfielder.
The Manchester derby is over for this time. United beat City away at the Etihad Stadium and maintain their lead in the Barclays Premier League. Two goals from Wayne Rooney gave United the lead, until Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta brought the home team back in contention. It was beginning to look like one of those nights until Robin van Persie scored from a free-kick in the ninetieth minute to give United a solid win.
In this edition of the Scouting Report I firstly wanted to highlight the goal by Pablo Zabaleta and secondly the defending of Manchester United and, in particular, Rio Ferdinand. Read more…