Monday, 29 October 2012

UNITED PULL OF AN ITALIAN JOB AT THE BRIDGE

Wow!

During his press conference on Friday, the manager joked about an 80 year old lady that phoned in during a programme on the club's in-house MUTV Channel. She was disgusted by the diamond and blamed it on our porousness at the back. She literally threatened Sir Alex if he played the diamond on Sunday.
When the team news came out an hour to kick-off, Sir Alex had bowed to the lady's pressure after all as we lined up in a traditional 4-4-2 that would occasionally switch to a 4-4-1-1.

It didn't take long into the game for us to know what this formation was about. Sir Alex had set his team out to 'steal the points at Stamford Bridge'. A squad that told the story of 'going for it' and yet the reality was sit back and hit them hard on the break.
It therefore came as a surprise to most betting men that United were 2-0 up within the first 20 minutes of the match, for the simple reason that the script initially read United would be the one a couple of goals down the first few minutes because of their leaky defence.

The talking points of the game were undoubtedly the 2 red cards Chelsea suffered but this i what I'll say in regard to that:

I was still a high-school kid when I watched Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes score in that 3-0 win at Stamford Bride in 2002 Since then I've endured a decade f harsh decision go against United in the league at Stamford Bridge. To list them all here would serve to re-open the wounds I've since nursed, but I trust United fans know too well ow many times Chelsea have got the rub of the Green against us. I mean it should suffice that in hos post match interview, Sir Alex said it was the first time he'd got lucky there in a decade.

I therefore feel no sympathy whatsoever in regard to the decisions that fell our way last night. Ivanovic can have no complaints about that sending off, while Torres shouldn't have been on the pitch that long anyway as I thought his chest stamp on Cleverley was a red card all day. The only luck we had therefore was the Chicharito goal that was offside. But again, it was nowhere as blatant as the one Drogba capitalised on in 2010 at OT to score the winner in a season Chelsea would go on to pip us to the title by a point.

My thoughts going into this game was that we couldn't afford to be beaten as I thought a 7 point gap---even in October would be a mountain for us to climb. To come away with all three has had me thinking about what we could actually achieve this season if our attack keeps banging in an average of 3 goals per match.
The next 33 points on offer in the league are well within our means to get, so one wonders where we could be if we go on a run throughout November to the end of December before the City game.
We shall see, but at the moment, it appears that our best shot at anything will be down to how fit and sharp our forwards are on the day(since we've proved that we can't defend anymore). So far, they've been terrific and long may that continue.


ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Friday, 26 October 2012

REVEALED---WHY UNITED ARE LETTING IN SO MANY GOALS!

We take on Chelsea this weekend in a top of the table clash in the EPL but this past week has seen me do a little inquest into why I get to choke on my drink every time I take a seat to watch a United game.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past four months, you should be aware that United have so far this season been generous enough at the back to afford opponents at least a goal or two every other game. The reason as to why this has been happening has been attributed to the lack of defensive cover. The manager on the other hand seems lost for words at every post match press conference when asked about the same old question. Evidently he's baffled by it.

With the nano-hope that Sir Alex reads this blog, here is my opinion as to why I think we're letting in very many goals.

The reason has nothing to do with the injury to Vidic or Smalling because we weren't any tighter when we had the captain for instance against Fulham. Rather, I had to take a little dig into how the game has been adopted to be played by teams from the start of the new decade. Barcelona were arguably the creators of this change. It's not tiki taka mind you---it's simply hassling the opposition when you don't have the ball. The reason Pep Guardiola became so successful at Barca is because he not only taught Barca how to play with the ball, but he also taught them how to play without the ball.
You'll notice after watching a few Barca clips with Pep in charge that they ran and hassled the opposition when they lost possession instead of simply falling back and waiting for their opponents to make a mistake.


Manchester United, like many teams, have traditionally fallen back when they lose possession instead of hassling the opposition with the ball. However, I also took time to notice that teams across Europe and indeed good student managers on the game in England have adopted this philosophy and are hence making it tough for opponents. You'll notice for instance how Everton hassled us on the opening day of the season, so much so that we hardly bothered Tim Howard for the majority of the match.
Falling back is essentially zonal marking in many ways because the philosophy of the team is to get behind the ball and not necessarily keeping an eye on the forward players of the opposition. The weakness in this is that given the improved ability of teams across Europe and in the EPL as well, it is very easy for an averagely creative player to pick out a pass and find their man regardless of the number of bodies you have at the back. You'll notice that for Alan's second goal for Braga on Tuesday, he stepped in to the box against FOUR United defenders but was easily picked out and almost unchallenged slotted the ball past De Gea. The falling back philosophy is essentially an invitation to the opposition to have a go at you for the simple reason that you allow them all the time and space to get as close as possible to your box.

On the other hand, hassling the opposition means that you may even re-gain possession from an already attacking formation and hence improve your chances of scoring or at least quickly regain possession. The other advantage with hassling is that in the worst case scenario, the free-kicks that you'll give away are less likely to be near your box as you'll not wait for your opponents to get so close to your goal-keeper.
It explains why a team like Schalkle 04 can go to the Emirates and restrict Arsenal to ONE attempt on target. Now we all know that given the fluidity of Arsenal's play, it's near unlikely that they'll have such few shots on goal. Try and contrast that to the number of times United allowed Braga to shoot at De Gea.  Dortmund did the same to Man City the other week and of course we all know too well that the Spanish clubs are masters of the hassle.

In short therefore I know it is cultural that Sir Alex has built all his teams to fall back when they lose the ball until they regain it. But times have changed since. In order to remain a European power, we might have to adapt to the same as well. Whereas falling back shouldn't necessarily be done away with, there is a method of falling back while trying to win the ball that I think we should exploit. That way, we should be able to retain a foothold of games and not allow our opponents all the time in the world to settle into the game and pick out whatever passes they please.

I'd like to see us hassle Chelsea when they have the ball on Sunday. I mean you can't fall back and wait for Hazard or Mata or Oscar or Ramirez to pick out a pass because they will.

Alas, if only Sir Alex read this blog!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

NEW GAME. SAME OLD PROBLEMS!

Manchester United are truly a special team. I cannot really point to another team in Europe that can get about their job and pinch wins with a porous midfield and defence. It's getting to absurd levels now that it is customary for us to start a goal or two down in every game we play, so much so that one of my mates, at the start of the game, thought that we should just put the ball in our net from the start so that we get that part out of the way and start playing from the off. My mates worry was that Braga might take long to score and hence limit our time available to launch yet another comeback.


Thankfully for him he only had to wait a minute and a half before we were down, but this time, United thought they'd make the comeback extra special by going 2 goals down--cue the attackers we have at our disposal. This time, it was Javier Hernandez that claimed the headlines ahead of RVP and Wayne but it has to be said, his only role last night was to put the ball in the back of the net. That's essentially because the Dutchstar and the Wayne were all about doing the creativity for him.

In the end, its still worth a toast that we've won all three group games and are now on the brink on qualification to the next stage.

Next up is a small matter of going to Stamford Bridge this Sunday. But seriously, in training, the coaching staff owe it to the fans to devise a method of defending or at least making us less porous in the middle. We cannot hope to outscore Chelsea on Sunday and we could be looking at a humiliation if we don't tighten up.
Something's got to be done...and fast!

Monday, 22 October 2012

ANOTHER POOR SHOW AT THE BACK, ALBEIT WITH A WIN

At the moment, it;s fair to say that we're winning games in spite of our lacklustre defending. The manager was right to point out that its the forwards that are digging us out of a hole at the moment. I mean where would we be without the attacking talents we've got?
Wayne Rooney was also right to point out that if we do not find a way of shutting up shop, of avoiding conceding first in just about every other game, then better teams will punish us.
The striker's comment is supposed to be a warning about an event that could happen but hasn't yet happened and yet if memory serves us right, we've already been punished for it.
Spurs did just that a few weeks ago at OT and claimed all three points in a fixture even the worst possible United sides have won.
So then how many more warning do we need before we can put our house in order?

It appears that at the moment, the diamond formation, employed at Newcastle is perhaps the only way we can dominate a game. It is therefore in order that the manager perfects it while we still can before top European opposition  does another 'Barcelona' on us.

On the lighter side of things, it was good to see yet another opponent fail to contain the dynamic trio of Welbeck, Rooney and RVP. Admittedly, we could have scored more goals and we shall when Welbeck improves on his only weakness--finishing. But nonetheless, if the manager keeps the trio in the side, we shall give most teams a hell of a time.

Next up in the league is Chelsea away. The pacesetters have an army of creative players that can and will punish us if we put up similar lacklustre defensive displays so hopefully the manager and players will get things right for then.

Before all that is the Champions League clash with what should be our toughest opposition of the group in SC Braga. The former Portuguese champs have not had it all their way at home lately but you just have to take a look at other groups to know that in this era, when you take off your eye off the ball, any opposition can make you pay heavily for it. A win therefore is in good order tomorrow. It would be nice to qualify early such that we don't have any real urgency going into December to make it out of the group.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

BACK TO BUSINESS AGAINST STOKE CITY

What a load of a nagging wait that International break was! We were on the back of a very excellent result at Newcastle the last time out so the biggest hope, heading into the return of the domestic schedule will undoubtedly be that Manchester United resumes domestic duty from where they left off.

The England players of the squad played later than the rest and yet we still have Chicharito and Valencia to come from South America. It means the manager will have a busy Friday trying to sort out which players are fit and able to take on the challenge of  a very fit Stoke side that will be relishing the opportunity to get stuck in.
This is where you ideally hope that the rested players like Scholes and Giggs hit the ground running as they will be fresher than the rest.

On the injury front, we're thankful that so far no injuries have been reported form International duty. There is an outside chance that we'll have Ashley Young and Chris Smalling available for selection on Saturday---confirmation of that will be from the manager's press conference on Friday morning.

The other big headache for the manager should be what formation he'll use for the game. After trying as many options since the start of the season, the only time the performance of the team has drawn praise was last time out against Newcastle. On that day, we didn't have our traditional wingers Young, Valencia or Nani starting. It therefore begs the question if the manager will stick to the diamond formation with a plethora of attackers as opposed to our wing play that usually leaves us porous in the middle. I know in games like this Sir Alex selects basing on outside issues like height to combat the aerial prowess of our opponents.

Ultimately though, we'll be expecting a comfortable home win that should put us in good stead for the UEFA Champions League game with Braga on Tuesday evening.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

HUGE RESULT FOR UNITED!

This is a bit late but anyways...

If there's one fixture that I was dreading in these last few weeks, it would be this one and rightly so. I mean suddenly, we had forgotten how to defend and had got into the habit of giving teams a head start of a one goal lead minutes into the game.
We did manage to recover against Fulham, Southampton and Cluj but you can't get yourself out of that mess if you're up against top quality as we found out against Spurs. Newcastle United fall into that category of teams against whom you can't afford to defend the way we've been defending.

I was therefore thankful to see us grab a threshold of the game and go 2-0 up within the first quarter of an hour. We were 7 points behind the leaders going into this game, so the faster we found a way to get all three points, the easier our afternoon was going to get.


Just about all our players were up for it but a lot of that credit should be down to the new diamond system that Sir Alex employed. It hurried our opponents so much so that it dis coordinated their moves.
Special mention to Wayne Rooney who has once again taken the hit for the team by moving deeper to ensure that we maintained a dictatorship over the play.

The result is so huge for Manchester United. It's important to retain a less than 5 points gap between you and the leaders if you are to keep tabs on them to stand a chance at the title. It's unfortunate that the International break has come at a time when many fans thought we could build on this win for another run.

Tough games are coming up after the break, but perhaps for the sake of ironing out complacency, you do feel they are the type we need.
Hopefully last weekend was the start of something special.

Oh and Tom Cleverley meant it!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

ANOTHER WORRYING PERFORMANCE BUT THREE POINTS!

As far as improvements go, last night was as minor as they come from Manchester United. The only area that we did much better compared to the Saturday game was in midfield where Darren Fletcher and Anderson got a better hold of proceedings than the men on show at the weekend.
Worryingly however, we've failed to actually put up a mean defence. It beats my understanding that it only takes a cross in the box and one opposing striker to find a way past all of our defenders and get a goal. Last night's conceded goal has further dented my confidence going into the game on Sunday. We've been poor up against average forwards an now we're up against two of the most deadly strike partnerships in the EPL. Goodness knows how that's going to go.

There is an apsect of our play that I'm yet to come to terms with and that is sitting off teams when they win possession from us. I've noticed it for quite a while now and it is my considered opinion that it allows teams to get much closer t our box and get shots away. It possibly explains why De Gea ended up with the highest shots per save ratio in the league----I mean how is it possible that a team that attacks as much as we do also ends up with one of the highest tallys of shots against. I'd like to see the manager encourage the players to press up the opposition and not simply fall back.

On a lighter note, it was great to see RVP get his first Champions League goals for us. He's really paying back that transfer fee bit by bit. He was brought for the now so its important that he gets the goods now.
Wayne Rooney seemed not to have an issue playing with the Dutchman. The next question however is if those two can play together with Shinji Kagawa also on pitch.

Ultimately though, the win is all important because we're now four points away from qualification and yet at this stage last year, we only had a tally of two.

Right now though we need to get our thoughts tuned to Sunday and find a way of defending.

Monday, 1 October 2012

UNACCEPTABLE!

Harsh title you say? Well it's unacceptable that Manchester United at the moment cannot defend. It's unacceptable that we go into some games thinking its a divine right that we'll come away with the three points without even trying. Quite frankly, as far as defence is concerned, its been coming throughout the start of the season. We were poor at Southampton defensively and against Fulham. Spurs only served to expose that at the weekend so our fears were only being confirmed.
You didn't have to be at the stadium to notice the gap in our defence that Vertogehen (sp) dashed into for the first goal. Any quality team would have punished that lacklustre defending.
Then Gareth Bale was suddenly given the freedom of the park to race from his own half to our penalty box and put away a chance. The question begs; do we have a midfield?

I don't buy into that talk of how well we played in the second half because quite frankly, we'll win nothing if we only play 45 minutes a match. The only positive we can take from Saturday is that this realisation has happened quite early in the season---possibly early enough for us to save our season. But you bet all our opponents will have been watching that DVD and they'll know quite well how to get the better of us. Unless the manager can work our a defensive solution to the back line quite soon, the Demba twins will have a field day on Sunday.
What that first half performance has done is that it has knocked a great deal of confidence out of me going into games. If I were a manager coming up against United now, I'd know one or two ways to go about beating them. Get a player running at their defence or boss the midfield (which is not hard to do currently). That is a pretty worrying picture especially heading into Europe where the difference between victory and defeat comes down to a team's weaknesses.

We head to Romania to take on CFR Cluj and God knows they'll punish us if we head into that game with an aura of favourites. The more worrying upcoming fixture is on Sunday at the Sports Direct. United have to put on a bit of a show tomorrow to convince us that Saturday was just one of those days that has to be written off.
Anything less and we'll be the subject of mockery for the next few weeks. It doesn't help that this reality check has come at the time we are in the middle of a terrible fixture list so its really up to the boss and the players to stick their finger up.