UNITED ARE BACK!!! (sort of)
In lieu of a pod this week, here are a jumble of thoughts about United’s week;
Well that was fun. Ninety minutes of the commentary team desperately struggling to apply a formation to a free form display. Paddy McNair on the roam, Big Maoam dishing out lollipops like a rich child desperate for friends; this was jazz football. I loved it.
To borrow the most overused intro in the (brief) history of new media football writing ‘so what did we learn?’
We have some fast players (ADM), we have some slow players (MF), and we have some kind of in the middle players (WR). The equally demoralizing dichotomy of recent displays has been the random switches between prolific procrastination (‘We want to score but we don’t really know if we can so we will just pass it around pretty slowly for a long while and can at least point to dominating possession even if we haven’t managed to do anything remotely interesting with it.’) and hit and hope (‘The ball is hot, the ball is hot, kick it away quick, the ball is hot.’)
Last night had elements of both at times but bit by bit there seemed to be an emerging coherence to what we were trying to do. To labour a weak analogy; my son is rubbish at swimming. It’s acceptable given he is only two but until last weekend trips to the pool principally consisted of him clinging to me for dear life. On Saturday the penny dropped that if he stood on his tip toes his head stayed above the water and BANG – instant love of swimming. No longer fearing instant death he rapidly went through the repertoire of kicking, splashing, jumping in, the works. Barely pausing for a second to even acknowledge my existence he had discovered a new freedom and was damn well going to enjoy it. Perhaps the home comfort of facing a side way below the level of our usual competitors was the encouragement needed for United to embrace the madness and finally engage with the ‘wacky’ Dutch style we had been waiting for.
I’m exaggerating. I know it. Our principle game plan of get it wide and get it in was positively Moyesian; yet the relish with which McNair advanced and continued to support the creation of openings was an indication that a wind of change was a blowing. Di Maria soon joined in on the attack, hitting the nitro injection at every opportunity and having a thoroughly good time doing it. Rojo once again displayed how much more adept a footballer he is than I thought by effortlessly showing a versatility that had echoes of the great Sheasy. They weren’t alone in impressing; Mata played on the half turn all night looking to link up and make things happen. Robin proved you don’t have to score to be of use. Wilson came on and reminded us that it helps if you do. Wayne was pretty good if we gloss over the whole passing thing. Evans looked less like an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen than he has all season. Smalling did some headers. Blind was handsome. (I think that’s everyone?) On a purely personal level I enjoyed the fact that all our goals came from genuinely nice humans. I also thought the gesture of black armbands in memory of Anderson was poignant.
Tougher challenges await; Sunday sees a visit to those charming cockneys who will be sure to fill the air with bonhomie and lovely banter. They are missing loads of players so I think we’ll do well. When a team has to block the departure of Can’t Control you can confidently deduce that they are not at their strongest. We might play five at the back and restate our claim to the least interesting mega bucks side in football history but I hope not.
Ander Herrera has been the name on many a disgruntled Red’s lips in recent weeks. It is probably our most asked pod question – beating even the ever fascinating ‘When will we stop playing a back 3?’ His continued absence has certainly disproved my rib injury related theory and it seems that for whatever reason he is not to our trainer-coach’s taste. Speculation on non-pitch related reasons are best left for the informed articulate forum provided by twitter. On the pitch he hasn’t seemed to do too much wrong; he certainly seemed to vastly improve with every passing match that he wasn’t involved in. To read/hear the thoughts of some you would assume that Roy Keane himself was being left to stew on the sidelines. Last night appeared the ideal time to re-integrate him but again he was reduced to a cameo role. Whilst conclusions about his future should not be jumped to (hands up who thought Ashley Young would be an LVG favourite?), there does seem something amiss. I wouldn’t be surprised if he joins Rafael on Woodward’s secretary’s ‘Sorry your leaving’ card list come the summer. I dearly hope I’m wrong as the lad seems to have the lot – but all the more reason to suspect all is not as it seems.
Transfer deadline day came and went with a whimper. Like most United fans with a minor profile (does under 3k followers even qualify for minor?) I fielded a fair few panicked pleas ‘Why are we not signing anyone?’ The answer seems quite straightforward to me. We are in the champions league places and are doing ok as things stand. Our squad has survived the most debilitating of injury crises meaning we have several players who could legitimately argue they are yet to have a fair chance. All of that would be immaterial of course if one of Woody’s Wonder Targets had become available but that didn’t happen. Whispers of deals arranged for the summer are plausible but unless you really are in dire financial need selling your best defender in January for anything but astronomical fees makes absolutely no sense. For all our legitimate criticism of Jones, Smalling, Evans and Valencia they have proved themselves capable of performing adequately in this league. Where things get interesting is when we consider the challenge of coping with a European campaign and a genuine tilt at the title. Van Gaal knows that the goodwill he has received from United fans this season is based on this promise. It is for that reason that I fully expect one or two of the much anticipated mega-signings to materialise come the summer.
It would be remiss to end without paying tribute to one of the most courageous individuals ever to pull on the famous shirt. Ferguson always used to respond to questions about the possibility of retirement by pointing to his health as the key decision maker. It is a truly horrible experience for your body to begin to fail you at any age. As a young man reliant upon supreme physical fitness to even compete, never mind excel, in your profession; coping with the reality that you will never again be able to reach the levels to which your potential suggested is as much a challenge for the mind as the body. We hoped and he hoped that the odds could be defied but ultimately they couldn’t. A move to a less demanding environment though saddening is a decision I entirely understand. He goes with our best wishes.
Sorry for the lack of pod this week – the irritating reality of doing it for fun and for free means that sometimes we can’t fit it in. Rest assured we haven’t fallen out of love with you magnificent bunch.
Come on you Reds.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Angel di Maria
Tom’s #CTS10pBetClub prediction: 3-1 United.
*OBVIOUSLY I was talking about Super Fletch. An incredible and inspirational human being.
10 man United hold on to beat resilient Hammers
Manchester United were forced to grind out a 2-1 win at home to West Ham yesterday as captain Wayne Rooney was sent off for lashing out at Stewart Downing. The captain flung his leg wildly as Downing looked to break out of his half, and in doing so placed his team under severe pressure for the final half hour, as West Ham besieged the United penalty area. Everton, West Brom and Chelsea are the games he will miss, with Juan Mata now able to prove his worth to Van Gaal as a versatile no. 10.
Attacking Impetus Needed at Old Trafford
With Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Sunderland, Manchester United registered not only their first point of Louis van Gaal’s reign but also another abject and lacklustre display. The game saw Robin van Persie make his return to action, starting for the first time this term alongside Wayne Rooney. Despite the Dutchman’s return, an injury ravaged United side were missing Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard from last week’s defeat against Swansea and things only got worse when Chris Smalling bowed out with a hamstring injury just before half-time. Juan Mata kept his place behind the two strikers in Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 system, however, despite the attacking quality on paper, moments of actual quality were few and far between in the final third.
Mata grabbed United’s only goal after some clever play from Antonio Valencia but it is hard to think of any other real positives from the front three. Perhaps the club’s most technically gifted player, intelligent interplay is expected from the Spaniard but little of that was seen and Rooney and Van Persie were forced to come deep in an attempt to get involved in play. A lack of urgency in the build-up and an alarming deficiency of attacking penetration from the midfield made it difficult for all three attackers to play the way many supporters would like.
Van Gaal’s system has been one of the main talking points during pre-season and has again come into question following two disappointing competitive results. Earlier this month the Dutch boss called for a world-class winger and it looks, surprisingly, like the club are striving to make that happen. Angel Di Maria’s arrival is expected imminently and could lead to a shift in formation, likely back to Van Gaal’s preferred 4-3-3. Whether the use of a back three is to get the best out of a shaky defence or to allow United’s best attackers to start remains to be seen but it may become clear with the signing of a few more new faces.
Questions have been asked of Rooney and Van Persie as a front pair before and the question is likely to be raised again unless the tandem can show something else in the coming weeks. As a trio Mata, Van Persie and Rooney have started together just six times and may still be taking time to gel. Not to mention the fact that Van Persie spent much of last season out injured and Mata was a January panic buy forced into a system and position that didn’t play to his main strengths. There are reasons to be positive though, especially when it comes to United’s record signing – he’s chalked up 7 goals in his last eight Premier League appearances. Tellingly all of these goals have come when he’s played centrally.
This isn’t the first time Van Gaal has had to find a way to fit three top players into a side despite a massive lack of quality behind them, during the World Cup a similar system was put in place to get the best out of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Van Persie. The rewards were reaped as the Netherlands finished in third place with some emphatic displays along the way. The experienced manager has remained true to his vision throughout a long career and has mostly been proved right, so despite a less than ideal start there is no reason to doubt him yet.
As the transfer window draws to a close it is heavily rumored that three new players will be arriving at Old Trafford. Should this be the case and Van Gaal does prefer a shift to his usually elected 4-3-3 a big call on United’s front two may have to be made, assuming Mata retains his place. As newly appointed captain Rooney’s position would appear safe but the Dutch boss isn’t afraid to upset big names for the benefit of his teams. A familiarity with Robin van Persie could see the Netherlands captain favoured, a move that would likely agitate the club skipper. Beyond that the roles of Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck are unclear and United may have to move quickly to resolve one or more of their futures.
United’s World Cup Winners and Losers so far
As the first round of matches draws to a close, United’s representatives have had a mixed start to one of the most exciting World Cups in recent memory. With no shortage of goals on display, it has so far been a victory for free-flowing, attacking football and, after the season United fans had to witness under Moyes, it has been a welcome change.
Plane Stupid Stunt Fails To Dampen Moyes’ Men
A hard fought victory and encouraging performance saw David Moyes respond to a week of criticism with a 4-1 win over Aston Villa. Given the week that has seen him face questions over both his future, and the commitment of the fans, it was an important result- especially amidst the chaotic and frankly stupid decision to hire a plane with the slogan “Wrong one, Moyes Out.” Moyes himself opted to take to the pitch a minute before the teams and the reception was admirable. All four corners of the stadium took to their feet to support the man currently trying to recover from a very challenging period.
Forget the Premier League, We’re off to Brazil!
With all the doom and gloom surrounding Old Trafford at the moment, it is easy to forget that the greatest show on Earth is just around the corner with the World Cup due to kick off in just a few months in Brazil. Packed with flair, excitement and the inevitable English disappointment, the summer months should hopefully be a healthy distraction for players and fans alike after the torrid time they’ve had this season.
Unfortunately, United’s form this season will not have helped many player’s cause when it comes to securing their place in the national squad but there should be enough players on display to keep it interesting for every Reds supporter.
On the Plane
Captain Wazza will be the first player on Roy Hodgson’s team sheet in the summer, sure in the knowledge that tenacity, work rate and bulldog spirit are exactly the attributes that are likely to prosper when you make a man renowned for fitness problems chase around for the ball in 30C heat. Joking aside, Wayne Rooney will be one of the few genuinely feared England players in the squad and will be looking to finally show that he can perform on the world’s biggest stage. Alongside him, the young trio of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck will all likely be selected for their versatility and exuberance after all playing an important part in qualification.
Elsewhere, Robin van Persie will be hoping to lead the line for Holland if his strained ligaments manage to recover in time. As his country’s main talisman, he faces a race against time to make it to Brazil- compounded by the fact he has always been one of those players who tends to return later rather than earlier than the initial prognosis. If he does make it however, he’ll be hoping to better his tally of just 1 goal at the 2010 World Cup. Similarly, Shinji Kagawa will be looking to set Group C alight and should be very fresh considering his lack of game time this season.
In Group E, Antonio Valencia and Patrice Evra should be facing directly up to each other when Ecuador face against France in June. Considering the amount of times they must have come up against each other in training, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top of the battle with both players having had moments of weakness this season both offensively and defensively. Finally, Fellaini can rest assured of his place in the Belgium squad but will be increasingly worried that he may find his contribution limited to bench warming with the likes of Witsel, Defour and Dembele currently ahead of him in the pecking order.
Bags Packed, Waiting for the Call
Despite being an ever present in Roy Hodgson’s squads so far, the thousands of people who signed a petition to stop Tom Cleverley going to the World Cup may have their wishes answered. Based on poor form and limited opportunities, the young midfielders stock has fallen over the last few months. Meanwhile, the likes of Henderson and Barkley have improved their prospects drastically with their performances.
Both Nani and Javier Hernandez will also be nervously awaiting phone calls from their national managers after hardly featuring at all in 2014. Whilst the former has been plagued by a bad hamstring injury, the latter has simply not been selected. Regardless of their historic importance to both Portugal and Mexico, there is no room for sentiment at a World Cup and there is no guarantee they will be thrown into the squad without the requisite match fitness.
Finally, after the unfortunate injury to Victor Valdez, David de Gea will be crossing his fingers and hoping he has done enough as United’s one shining light this season to secure a place on the plane to Brazil. With the likes of Casillas and Reina seen as certainties to go, he will be battling it with Diego Lopes for the final keeper spot and will be hoping his youthfulness and potential are enough to hand him a place.
Left a Gap in the Diary
After being dropped for the latest friendly, the experienced due of Michael Carrick and Ashley Young find their position in the squad under scrutiny. Whilst both are more experienced members of the squad, they have failed to set the world alight when given the opportunity for England with the likes of Gerrard and Townsend being preferred.
Meanwhile, the dancing duo of Rafael da Silva and Anderson will be in Brazil in the summer, regardless of whether or not they are selected for a place at the World Cup they’ll be plenty of bookmakers offering short odds on a Brazilian victory. Despite a controversial run out in the Olympics, when he was blamed for their final defeat to Mexico, Rafael may harbour some hope if either Dani Alves or Rafinha goes down injured in the next few weeks but the case for Anderson looks bleak (see Kaka, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Sandro, Luis Gustavo, Oscar, Ramires, Lucas etc).
Sadly, Juan Mata will be delaying the planning of his inevitably cultured holiday this summer in the hope that he can finally find some form for Manchester United and secure a place ahead of Santi Cazorla in Spain’s squad. After forcing a transfer in the hope of making it to Brazil, he will be more disappointed than anyone if he misses out.
The tattooed trio of Buttner, Bebe and Zaha will most certainly find themselves on a beach somewhere this summer, wistfully exchanging notes on bad defending, kamikaze runs and atrocious crosses. Be warned, if you see them, beach balls hurt
Coming to a TV Screen Near You
Intent on ruining your ear buds for the first time since Rio’s World Cup Wind Ups, Rio Ferdinand will be sat along side Thierry Henry and Gary Lineker this June in an attempt to provide insight and analysis of England’s matches this summer. Good luck with that! #Merked
Which Manchester United player are you most interested in watching in Brazil?
It’s Time for Wayne Rooney to Justify his Pay Cheque
In van Persie’s absence, Wayne Rooney ensured that Manchester United secured victory against West Ham with two goals in the first half and whilst one was more spectacular than the other, they were equally important to the team’s growing confidence. Leading the team out, Rooney was the figurehead of the side in more ways than one and took the edge off the pain of van Persie’s injury.