Manchester United 0 – 1 Newcastle United
Consecutive defeats is not something we are used too.
Having seen a below par performance on Wednesday night, albeit with some encouraging moments, the pressure was on to deliver against a Newcastle side who also suffered defeat midweek. Yet again a blip in defence allowed Newcastle to capitalise and take the lead in the second half from a Cabaye goal.
The first half was mediocre at best, frustrating to watch for the majority. Whilst Januzaj and Nani were not too bad on the wings and often interchanging, Cleverley was his usual safe self. The only exception being a beautiful pass out to find Evra on the left wing, but that aside he did not opt for anything other than the safe option. The central midfield again was poor but nothing less than we had seen in other dull performances this season. Players were neither pressing forward with intent, nor were they tightly marking their man. Phil Jones was playing well in the centre of the park as he often sought to drive things forward. As for the front men, Chicharito provided some energy and liveliness as he made up for the anonymous first half performance of RVP.
The hopefuls among the United crowd would have looked for a real electric start for the second half. Some neat link up play between RVP and Chicarito saw the Mexican have his shot palmed over by Krul. The resulting corner saw first an Evra header followed by a goal mouth scramble before Newcastle managed to clear. Then came the Newcastle goal: Evra’s header ricocheted off Sissoko, who was then allowed to cross for a calm finish from Cabaye. Despite this, there was no refreshed sense of urgency from United, often seen standing still on the ball with no creativity whatsoever. The late introduction of Zaha and Anderson introduced more pace down the wing and RVP was unlucky to have a goal disallowed after a well taken freekick from Januzaj. Late efforts from Zaha and Januzaj were off target and, as the full time whistle went, Old Trafford was met by a chorus of boos as they succumbed to their second successive home defeat.
There were again reasons to worry; Cleverley’s performance was weak and one in which he again failed to live up to the signature red football kit he was wearing. Too often, he opted for a safe two yard pass and failed to show the dynamic creativity we should expect. Van Persie too was anonymous until the late stages of the second half. Often such was the standard of midfield that he was required to come deep to get the ball much out of his natural position.
Januzaj played with his usual level of flair and creativity, despite the frequent attempts of the Newcastle defence to hack him to ground. This again shows that we really can’t afford to rely on an 18 year old who is bound to encounter a poor run of form at some point. The heads dropped today and rarely looked like rising. Moyes must rally his players ahead of a key match on Tuesday as we look to top our group and avoid the European big guns in the last 16. Plenty of thought for Moyes as he looks forward to the Champions League group decider, and a trip down to Villa next weekend.
Madness of Social Media Era Removes Perspective
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.
#74 November Wayne
Welcome to the 74th episode of the Can They Score podcast. During this week’s show we will be looking back at our unimpressive yet incredibly important 1-0 victory against top of the league Arsenal before previewing the two upcoming games against foreign opposition: Cardiff & Bayer Leverkusen . Providing a detailed and holistic review of Manchester United’s ramblings over the last couple of weeks, be sure to listen in to the podcast now!
#70 Januzaj Does It
During the 70th edition of the Can They Score podcast, we look back over the Sunderland & Shakhtar fixtures before talking at length about the exciting prospect that is Adnan Januzaj. We finish with an incredibly creative question involving body parts. Listen to this week’s Can They Score podcast to get our full analysis!
#68 Young Haters, Run Free
During the 68th edition of the Can They Score podcast, we reluctantly analyse the 4-1 defeat to Manchester City in the local derby, before moving on to previewing yet another derby against Liverpool and the upcoming Premier League fixture against West Brom. Listen to this week’s Can They Score podcast to get our full analysis!
Whisper it quietly, but United got their priorities right
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.
Bring the big Fella!
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.
The Two Faces of Antonio Valencia
He had delivered cross after cross. Whipped them high across the box. Smacked them across the turf. No result. Manchester United were battling to stay alive in the race for the title and he was carrying them on the back. In the 81st minute he had had enough. If they couldn’t finish the job, he’d do it himself. And so he did.
There’s something beautifully nostalgic about a winger who thrives on getting chalk on his boots. They ply their trade bombing down the sides of the pitch just waiting for a chance to run at their defender and deliver a ball in. In the days where wingers are relied to move inwards and act as a wide attacker, the job the traditional winger used to do is passed on to the modern wingback. Nevertheless, any Manchester United fan relishes any time Antonio Valencia gets on the ball. Because things will happen. Well, they used to happen.
When Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009 the torch was passed on to the Ecuadorian. That was never fair. To be the man to replace the irreplaceable is never really fair. Valencia, however, brought something new to the table. When the ball was passed out to him, he’d hesitate, wait until he found a chink in his defender’s armor and then hammer at him. On the outside of his defender he’d get the first yard and would smash cross after cross in. A throwback to the days of Andrei Kanchelskis or David Beckham, Valencia represented something old, yet fresh, at Manchester United. With Ronaldo gone, United seemed perhaps a bit more like a unit whereas with Cristiano Ronaldo it was pretty much all about him.
As the season progressed, so did Valencia’s improvement. It was therefore valid to believe that he would really stake his claim in his second season. Unfortunately, a freak injury to his ankle saw Valencia out for five months. When he returned, it seemed like he hadn’t even skipped a beat. Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s even said ahead of the 2011 Champions League final that Antonio Valencia was the best pure winger this world had to offer. Another testament to the development and importance Valencia had. The next season proved even greater for Valencia as delivering 5 goals and 15 assists in 32 games was enough reason for Valencia to be named both the “Fans’ Player of the Season” and “The Player’s Player of the Season”. He also completed his hat trick by having his goal against Blackburn named “Goal of the Season”. Having had endless crosses result in nothing, he took matter into his own hands and kept United in the title race with an absolute thunderbolt of a strike from the edge of the area. It seemed as if Antonio Valencia really had become “Toño Maravilla” (Amazing Tony).
Before the start of the 2012/2013-season Antonio Valencia switched his no.25 shirt for the legendary no.7. Does a shirt really matter in terms of performances? There are many theories both ways, but perhaps there are valid claims that it has become too big of a burden for the broad-shouldered Ecuadorian. There certainly weren’t any obvious factors that led to the drop in form. In fact, Valencia recorded the second highest amount of games as Manchester United player last season, second only to his first season at the club. Yet, the end product seemed increasingly worse. The one thing said about Antonio Valencia was “it’s one thing knowing what he’s going to do, it’s another to stop him from doing it”. The bombing down the flanks, the variation in crossing, the ferocious shot he unleashed from time to time had turned into short backpasses, getting caught out by his man and generally not looking comfortable on the wing. Sure, there were injury niggles here and there, but nothing that really would explain his sudden fall from grace. So what stopped Tony in his tracks?
The answer is that there really is no definite answer. Having gone from one of Manchester United’s brightest attacking weapons to somewhat of liability in under a season is nothing short of bizarre. With no real reports of there being an injury problem, it would seem plausible that the bright lights and big stage at Old Trafford just became a bit too bright and a bit too big when Valencia adorned the no.7. From having been a maverick, an alternative out wide, he suddenly became the headliner. It is one thing to deal with it in Ecuador, it’s another to deal with it at Manchester United. What does ring through is that the managerial change at Manchester United will lead to a career defining season for United’s no.7. As David Moyes continues to tinker with his team, it seems possible that Antonio Valencia will eventually get the chance to redeem himself. And as the 2013/2014 season brings to life a whole new era at Manchester United, the timing couldn’t be any more perfect for “Toño Maravilla” to make his long-awaited comeback.
From Sneijder to Schneiderlin
The name has been in the back of my mind for a while now. Morgan Schneiderlin. Maybe it’s because his name sounds strangely familiar. Maybe it’s because I have been subliminally impressed with the young French midfielder. I have no idea why.
With Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara stealing the Manchester United headlines over the summer, the need for a stellar signing at the club is becoming more and more apparent. Fans are craving that big name midfielder who will complement Carrick perfectly. I’m sure that midfielder will come. Whether it is Fabregas or Luka Modric, someone will be signed to appease the expectations placed upon Carrick.
However, rumour has it that David Moyes is searching for a bit more than just the one midfielder. If certain articles are to be believed, Moyes has identified the need for two new additions in the midfield to render the team competitive for the forthcoming season.
Logically, the type of player needed would be a more defensive midfielder, someone capable of breaking up the opposition’s play. Not necessarily a tough tackling man made of steel, but someone capable of reading the game, positioning himself and intercepting a pass to regain possession.
3.9. The number of interceptions made per game (on average) by Schneiderlin last season in the Premier League; more than any other player.
4.1. The number of successful tackles (on average) per game last season. Only Lucas Leiva made more.
Combine those two statistics with a very solid 85% pass completion rate and you find yourself with one of the most efficient, tactically aware defensive midfielders in the league.
It could be said that Carrick does a similar job at Manchester United already. Carrick averaged 2.3 interceptions and 2.1 tackles per game last season, near half of what Schneiderlin accomplished.
Moving away from statistics (some people don’t particularly like them), you only have to look at how important he has become to Southampton, especially over the past year, to notice his potential. Walking away with both Player’s Player and Fan’s Player of the Year awards last year, it’s hard to believe that Morgan is only 23 years old.
Where does he fit?
Sitting in front of the back four, mopping up any stray passes and pouncing onto any poor touch from the opposition before quickly finding one of his partners in midfield with a short, accurate pass. That is what Morgan Schneiderlin does, incredibly well.
With Carrick and whomever Manchester United decide to sign sat in front of him, Schneiderlin would excel. Having that safety net in front of the defence would also allow the full backs to go forward, with Schneiderlin slotting in, in a similar fashion Busquets does at Barcelona or for Spain, when required.
Returning to “similar role to Carrick” argument, the inclusion of Morgan Schneiderlin in the Manchester United could also allow the English midfielder (nearing the age of 32) some well-earned rest in games where only 2 central midfielders are necessary.
Watching Schneiderlin play, it’s extremely difficult not to draw comparison with Javi Martinez. His reading of the game is similar and it is evident that the youngster has an outstanding footballing brain. The only downside to his game could possibly be the number of fouls committed (on average) per game (1.8), but when you tackle as much as he does in a game, the chances of mistiming the odd challenge increase considerably.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Southampton wanting to part with Morgan Schneiderlin easily. His importance and potential mean that a hefty fee of around £20-25m would be necessary for the club to consider parting with him.
A considerable but most definitely affordable fee for Manchester United, especially with talk of Moyes being handed an “unlimited transfer budget”, but we’ll save the dreaming for later, shall we?
The Day That Was Never Supposed To Come
I was sitting in my friend’s car earlier today. We were discussing what the players were referred to by their teammates. He’s a Liverpool fan. We had gone through all the Liverpool players. I started going through the United players. «…Giggsy…Chris…Anders…Chicha..Well, Sir Alex usually called him Chico..». Usually called him. He won’t anymore. Because it’s not his job. Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer manager of Manchester United.
We have all grown up in different circumstances. Some with a huge family with uncles, aunts, grandparents and the solid unit you call your mother and father. Some of us grew up in homes with just a mother or father. Maybe an older sibling. Maybe not. They were people on whom you could always rely. People who would never really go away. Through good times and bad times you’d stand together. United. Many of us grew up with Sir Alex Ferguson. Many of us have never known anything else. Many of us do not wish to know anything else. It would be to replace the reliable unity you formed. It was never a unity you chose to form. It was just the way it became. Sir Alex Ferguson was Manchester United.
The past couple of days have been a rollercoaster. For us all. I have danced through my entire emotional register. I have been heartbroken, I have been angry, I have been hopeful and I have been fearful. I was born in 1992. I have never known anything different than what stands ahead of me. My unity with Manchester United was chosen through a radical Frenchman and a baby faced Norwegian who never looked a day older than 14. Behind them stood this authoriative, proud Scot who didn’t need to gesticulate or make a mockery of himself to get his point across. He would, from time to time, lose his cool. But that was his passion, his heart, his relentlessness. He was a winner and he demanded that they transpired him whenever they stepped on the pitch.
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think about all the trophies he won when I think about the legacy Sir Alex Ferguson leaves at Old Trafford. Sure, he took the club from a fallen giant to the juggernaut of modern football. He made it the biggest and most popular club in the world. But what he did was provide a sense on consistency. You could always rely on Sir Alex Ferguson. You always knew his mentality. His work rate. As the son of a plater’s helper in the shipbuilding industry in Govan his working man’s principles were something we all grew to cherrish. Nothing was done without hard work. Look at the players he created. David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, their talent was obvious, but they were a product of hard work. Sir Alex Ferguson’s hard work alongside them. And in the end, we were the ones who benefited. Had I received had a penny for every time I have been told that Manchester United was the only thing that made a person smile, I would now be a millionaire.
And so came the day. The day that was never supposed to come. It happened so quickly. Too quickly. We never got a chance to react. He was just… gone. Sure, the rumours were there. They were there every summer. Every time the league was won, every time the season ended, every time something monumental happened at the club. This was the time for Sir Alex Ferguson to retire. And we laughed. Because we all knew it was untrue. He would never leave us. But, he did. He had won us the league. Number thirteen for him, number twenty for the club. He had knocked Liverpool off their perch. He had regained control of Europe. He had ruled the world. But more importantly, he had conquered all of our hearts. 26 years. 9692 days. And so he’ll ride off into the sunset. Having appointed his favorite deputy to lead the march on. But it will never be the same. We will all support David Moyes. Because he’s one of us now. We who grew with Sir Alex Ferguson, however, will forever have a section of out heart reserved to the greatest of them all. The hairdryer, the red nose, the chewing gum, the glasses, the rants, the smiles, the glory, the triumphs, the sadness, the grief and the anger. But more than ever, the unity. And the years we spent finding sense and normality in comfortably knowing that Sir Alex Ferguson would always be able to make us feel good about ourselves again.
When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer
Thank you for the memories, Sir Alex Ferguson.