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.
#97 Oh Captain, My Captain
During this week’s episode of the Can They Score podcast, we look back on United’s pre season friendly against Valencia before moving onto a wider discussion of the season ahead. We hope you enjoy this week’s podcast. Come on you Reds!
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 du0 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 when Brazil should beat Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico in Group A. 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.
Jonny Evans is the Captain Man United Need Right Now!
When Nemanja Vidic announced his intention to leave Manchester for Internazionale in the summer people have began to speculate about the future destination of the prestigious captains armband at Manchester United. With Patrice Evra looking similarly likely to head off to a footballing retirement destination in the summer, it seems increasingly likely that there will be a new general to marshall the troops in the 2014-15 season. Many people have had their say on the subject and now I’m going to have mine.
Reliant Robin Fires United Into Last 8
Manchester United last night staged a great European comeback as they overhauled the 2-0 deficit to win 3-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate. A stunning hat-trick from Robin Van Persie was the headline act. After the crushing defeat at home to Liverpool, it was left to Patrice Evra to rally his troops and the fans, calling for the team to pull out all the stops for the win. Whatever was said in the dressing room pre-match certainly worked. True, it was not without nerves, but remaining in Europe continues to be a shining light in the otherwise flickering season.
Assured, Confident and like ‘The Old’ United
An encouraging performance at the Hawthorns this afternoon saw three goals, three points and three Englishmen on the scoresheet. Goals from Rooney, Jones and Welbeck saw United regain 6th place on goal difference from Everton as the side look to build momentum. The game failed to match the drama seen in last season’s 5-5 draw, but it was not without controversy and turmoil.
A Broken Manchester United
Broken. That’s the one word that sums up Manchester United right now.
There’s a lot that’s broken. The fans’ faith for one. After Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace, there was a new sense of belief. Rooney had signed a new contract, scored a lovely goal and the team seemed to want to play football. That hope, that incredibly small glimmer of hope, was shattered into a thousand pieces last night when Gianluca Rocchi blew the final whistle in the Karaiskákis Stadium.
Many fans, myself included, saw last night as the point of no return for David Moyes. The team, sauntering around the pitch, failed to close down and challenge an Olympiakos side who, albeit incredibly good at home, should never have posed a threat to a team like Manchester United. The problem is, they did. Manchester United made Olympiakos feel like they were the team to be feared.
The last point has been one of the major issues all season, repeated over and over again by bloggers, journalists and pundits. The fear factor has disappeared. The only team, this season, who have seemed remotely scared of Manchester United were Leverkusen, and look what happened. The fans were blessed with a rare, exciting performance under David Moyes.
The defeats against Newcastle, West Brom, Everton and so forth exemplify this. Something needs to change.
I think I speak for the vast majority of supporters when I say that last night really hurt. Just like breaking a leg, watching your favoured team collapse in front of you is painful.
The players look like they have given up on their manager and last night felt like a message. The Champions League was the last straw for Manchester United fans to clutch at and Olympiakos got to it first to help them take their own victory sip. Even Van Persie, normally as relaxed as they come, vented a bit of frustration after the match, stating that other players were getting in his way and were hindering his game. Whether this was a dig at Moyes’ tactics or at his teammates, it’s not exactly clear, but it shows how low the morale is in Manchester United’s dressing room.
Sacking Moyes now seems like the easy way out. I wrote a piece after the Swansea defeat in the FA Cup on this very website asking for fans to stay behind David Moyes and support him whilst he is here, but I would be lying if I said that, since then, the thought of him leaving hadn’t crossed my mind.
Getting rid of Moyes before the West Brom game would certainly go against everything the club has said over the past year about giving the new manager time. The lack of eligible candidates to replace him is also a problem. Many have suggested Heynckes. Unfortunately, the former Borussia Mönchengladbach striker has retired from football after leaving on a high and would be foolish to taint such a perfect ending to a managerial career by helping Manchester United try and reach 5th in the Premier League.
The only realistic and eligible option is Hiddink, but with the club, barring a miracle in the return leg at Old Trafford, already on its way out of the Champions League, there is really nothing left for an interim manager to play for. Whether the club gets a Europa League spot or not is not something many Manchester United fans care about and, let’s be honest, it would probably hinder next season a fair bit.
If Moyes is to leave, the summer is the best time. The season will be over and other managers will be more willing to leave their current clubs and try and be the one to turn things around at one of the greatest football clubs in the world.
Moyes is not entirely to blame for this season’s failures (Elijah’s very good piece from a week or so ago analyses how problems at the club go a lot deeper than just the manager), but it does seem like the Scotsman has come in and become some sort of Wreck-It Ralph. The lack of Fix-It Felixes out there means that all we can do is hope that Moyes manages to end the season on a good vein of form and let the club analyse this season with plenty of time to make a level-headed decision in the summer.
They say patience is a virtue. Well, it seems now has come the time to become very virtuous.