MUFC Class of 2013 End of Term Report: Goalkeepers and defenders.
In England it is the time of year when teachers begin to reflect on the performance of individual students since last summer; have they met their targets? What went well? What could they do better? In a blatant act of procrastination I’ve put my own reports on hold and instead turned my attention to reflecting on the last nine months of Manchester United’s first team squad; starting with the back five.
I have evaluated every player who made a minimum of ten appearances over the season. For each I have followed a standard school report format: identified what I considered a realistic objective for the start of the season (OBJ), identified what went well (WWW) and even better if (EBI). Each player has also been graded. The judgments are based on performance against expectations and in no way should be considered a hierarchy of ability.
Why did we Evra doubt him? Patrice is back.
Whisper it quietly, but under the radar of RvP-mania a resurgence has taken place. The real Patrice Evra is back.
Some would argue he never left us, certainly the decline of Evra has been exaggerated in line with his status of favourite whipping boy since Carrick and Evans played their way out of ignominy. Tactics seemed ill-suited to his ageing legs, leaving him exposed with little support from those stationed in front of him. Most United fans would still agree however that the displays of the French full back between 2010 and 2012 have been less consistent and increasingly erratic.
What a difference a couple of months make. The stand-in skipper will always have his critics, but undeniably his performances in recent weeks have been his best since 2009. An intimidating list of opponents blessed with pace (Walcott and Sterling) or craft (Ben Arfa, Mata) were expected to finish him off. Indeed those too quick to judge even ludicrously called for Buttner to keep the shirt on the back of a goal against Wigan. The reality was each opponent was either contained or forced to move elsewhere to inflict any damage. Much has rightly been made of the performances of Rafael yet his fellow full back has posted virtually identical stats for tackles and interceptions per game. In fact considering he is a full back, it is remarkable that six players have been dribbled past more often than a player facing a winger on a weekly basis.
Not only has Evra been defensively sound but despite a revolving door of players in front of him his link up play going forward has been excellent. He has been involved in much of United’s enterprise in attack, providing a constant wide option and even emerging as an unlikely aerial assassin with a brace of important headed goals. His successful dribbles per game rank behind only Valencia, Nani and Cleverley at the club demonstrating the incisive qualities he is bringing to our free scoring side. Not only that but you can rely on Evra to provide more key passes in a game than Carrick, Cleverley and even Paul Scholes.
If Patrice can continue to show the form that had the Qatar Foundation sponsored Barcelona and Bwin sponsored Real Madrid hovering a few seasons ago, the odds of United retaining the Premier League title will certainly increase. The presence of a genuinely world class left back instantly increases the chances of Manchester United taking the title back at the first time of asking and may even encourage a few punters to put some money on it happening.
Does this mean speculation over his successor can be put off for the foreseeable future? Perhaps not. Only time will tell if Evra is experiencing an Indian summer, or something more permanent. Age is the enemy of athletes reliant on pace and stamina. There is something special when a former champion recovers from being written off to scale the heights again (think Roger Federer or even Rocky Balboa!) If we are seeing the last courageous act from a superb club servant credit must be given to the indomitable Frenchman who never ducks a challenge.
For many reasons 2011/12 was the most difficult season of Patrice Evra’s career; how fantastic to see him back on top.
Can you believe it’s not Büttner?
People are drawn to characters. Whether they are outrageous, mysterious or commanding. If they exude a unique charisma, they catch people’s attention. Whether this popularity equates to footballing talent remains to be seen as Manchester United’s new Dutch left sided enigma finds his feet in the Premier League.
When news broke that Manchester United had signed Alexander Büttner, it trigged a universal scratch of the head. Even the wisest football mind threw in the towel over their lack of knowledge of this seemingly enthusiastic new acquisition. Once the protagonist himself started posting photos of his new training gear, at his new club, it seemed even more bizarre. To top that off; he looked like someone who shouldn’t even be playing football. It could be the haircut, it could be the thuggish grin he naturally puts on or it could be the tattoos.
In fact, his demeanour is best described by the man himself when talking about his performances in the Dutch domestic league;
“I played against the best wingers in the Eredivisie and none of them played me off the pitch. On the contrary, I owned them all.”
He’s cocky. He has to be as he was brought up in the suburban area of Doetinchem. Known to the residents as “The Camp” for its low form of living and its somewhat grimey society. Büttner talks of himself as being “a rat” when playing football with the older boys on the streets.
The attitude he carries stems from there- from those rough days when the older boys would tackle him a little harder than most kids, give him a harder pass than they’d give to one of their mates. To test him. To see what he’s made of. An examination to see if could survive amongst the older ones. A process many of us have had to undertake in our lives when growing up playing football. In this environment, cockiness is a shield and something the Dutchman has in abundance.
Aleksander Schau on Norwegian TV2 compared Büttner to a windup car after the announcement was made of Dutchman’s arrival at United. The essence of it being that he’d take off running down the wing and you’d see him just disappear, much like a windup car. Exaggerated in his offensive contribution, not too composed in his defensive work. Perhaps a way to back this claim was to note that for those of us who had never seen anything of Alexander Büttner were caught by surprise when his YouTube videos were labeled “Alexander Büttner: All goals and skills”. Not exactly what you’d expect from a leftback. It does belong to the story that after leaving Ajax for Vitesse he was moved back from an attacking winger to an attacking wingback. To the naked eye, and perhaps to those with a touch of experience with football, moving an established player to a new position usually means the coach has no idea how he wants to use the player. To Alexander Büttner, however, it was just another shantytown-challenge. And he’d overcome this one too. As he had all his life.
Upon signing with Manchester United one would say he seemed nervous. United fans were laughing at he they called “Tom Cleverley’s evil twin” for his rugged appearance. Therefore it was a bit anticlimactic to hear the man himself stutter over his words, not seeming assured and generally seemed nervous when interview by MUTV after signing. The aura about him was that he was a badass, wasn’t it? The video of his home community throwing a huge block party in honour of their prodigy son had further spiked the assessment that here arrived this tough, take-no-prisoners bully who’d hack down any defender that had the audacity of trying to pass him. This just couldn’t be right.
I was there when Alexander Büttner made his debut against Wigan. At first, I had to confess to myself that perhaps the interview had given away some of his true persona. Uncertain of himself, not understanding of how United played and generally nervous. He didn’t belong in that team. He even picked up a stupid yellow card in the first half and lost the ball in his own area, creating a huge chance for Wigan.
Then something happened.
As he came back on, it seemed like just another one of those days with the older boys having thrown “the rat” around. It was his turn to dish some back as he bombed up and down the wing, pumping in cross after cross. He was in his attacker’s face at all times, not giving away anything. This was his time. He assist to Chicharito would have crowned what seemed to a bad debut salvaged by a heroic second half performance. But this is Alexander Büttner we’re talking about. In a run that saw him beat four players, he muscled past the Wigan defence and hammered a ball through Ali Al-Habsi’s guard to seal his dream debut. The goal in itself was nowhere near pretty. But it was edgy, it was daring, it was ruthless, it was rugged.
In many ways, it showed character. A performance by someone adored just for who they are and how they have decided to leave a mark just for what they personify. It was Alexander Büttner. The rat from the streets of Doetinchem, the eccentric wingback at Vitesse, the unknown thug at Manchester United.
2-5-6-3. Back line Brilliance from United.
Last week, our back four was seriously at fault as Spurs cut through our defence like a hot knife through butter. This week, they turned it around and delivered a clean sheet which brought with it our first victory at St James Park since March 2009.
Amazingly, they did not just reply with a clean sheet but they also produced goals from Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra as the Red Devils took advantage of the Toon’s disorganisation at set pieces. Overall, it was an exciting display from the team as a whole who pleased Sir Alex with their play.
New Summer Signings- Midfielder, Left Back – Job Done
Bobby Hare – @BobbyHare – assesses the state of United’s squad and concludes that, contrary to common opinion, there isn’t a great deal wrong with it…
With the Euros nearly finished, we can begin to focus all our attention on what really matters during the close season – transfers. It’s been a familiar tournament summer for United, with England crashing out and the club’s star turn getting it in the neck for the failure. United have already been active in adding to their squad, but transfer hungry muppets are already twitching like crack fiends, desperate for their ‘marquee’ hit.
Rough Diamonds Hold The Key to United’s Fortune Next Season
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.
Full Time Thoughts: Man United 2-1 Liverpool
In a game where incidents before kick-off and after the final whistle have grabbed the spotlight, it has been almost forgotten that a dominant United team sealed a return to the top of the Premier League.
Two well taken goals from Wayne Rooney cancelled out Luis Suarez’s efforts at the other end and ensured United earned the three points.