Monday, 30 December 2013

SINCE WE LAST BLOGGED...

Rather belatedly but seasons greetings to all FLOM readers. The blog has been dormant of late and will most probably b so until the middle of January as it undergoes maintenance.

That notwithstanding, United have don their job in December, as surely was expected given the trouble we have had dispatching sides that sit above us in the league. This was the kind set of fixtures that the club was desperate for to instill a bit of confidence in the side after those 2 damaging defeats at the start of the month.

12 points out of 12 over the festive period has built us a base camp in 6th place from which to launch our assault on that last Champions League position. We are now just the three points off 4th placed Everton but have Liverpool to overtake in 5th as well. It is increasingly becoming apparent that the final champions league place will inform the rest of our league season. Optimists have started to look at the title again as we are now just 8 points off the top but United are yet to embody that confidence in their play that you feel could be vital in the title run in. Perhaps the litmus test for our new found resolve is as soon as New Years Day when we host Spurs in the league.

Victory will keep those immediately above us biting their finger nails and shuddering a late season challenge from the champions. It would also allow us to put to bed the challenge of one of the sides that will already be eyeing that 4th place as a late season target.

Of the traditional big sides in England, we have so far managed to beat just one. It is excusable that we have had most of those games away from home so we really have to make home advantage count when they visit starting with Spurs on Wednesday.

Old Trafford has been a sea of nerves so far this season, so much so that we have a poorer record there than away from home. I would like that the fans do away with the nerves and cheer on the lads in the same venomous tones that we did for the Arsenal match. If we can turn those home games into wins, there is no reason why we cannot move even into that top three.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

INTO THE FINAL FOUR

Manchester United did the bare minimum last night and eased through the final four of the League Cup. David Moyes' first major semifinal in charge at United will be against Sunderland in early 2014. The other contender for the Cup turns out to be our neighbours so you'd imagine that the likely final of the competition is likely to be a Manchester derby--much to the delight of the FA.

Game proper; The match had to be stopped for 10 minutes as hail and rain pelted the players in conditions that some might relish playing in (I mean Fellaini wouldn't feel the hail conditions in the same way Steven Ireland did on the night.) The weather though meant for a literally cold Wednesday night at Stoke but that did not stop the away fans from singing their hearts out. We really do have an amazing set of fans on the road.

Ashley Young did the unthinkable on the night by turning in a match performance. A piledriver of a goal and an assist for the second was definitely not in the script for most reds when they saw the team sheet ahead of the fixture. That said, it was only a token of what he owes his manager and indeed the club for putting up with his antics for all this while.

The most important aspect about the game for me was a clean sheet. Clean sheets have been at a premium this season and yet of the five games we've lost so far this season, four have been by the odd goal. When the attack has had an off-day, we've not really had the defence to bail us out. It's good to see that Evans and Jones are getting to grips with the task of replacing the ageing Rio-Vidic axis. That could be a bedrock on which we build our next great base.



The most important game this week however remains the one on Saturday. This result will not even come in the reckoning if the lads fail to pick all three points at the weekend. West Ham at home should be a fixture we traditionally win, but so were the last few games at home. Surprisingly, we've found much joy away from home than at home. You get the feeling that the players and indeed the manager are crumbling under the weight of expectation at Old Trafford and thriving on less pressure away from home. Wouldn't it be great if Old Trafford sung out their hearts for 94minutes in the same way the away fans did last night. Players do react to the mood and atmosphere of the fans. At the moment the nerves are killing it for us at home and you'd like to see the fans getting behind the players and sucking that ball into the Stretford End.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

POST VILLA NOTES, UCL DRAW AND A LOOK AHEAD TO THE COC

United got back to winning ways in the league away to Aston Villa on Sunday. It was the start of what should be a must win 12 points for United over the festive period as they play sides that are below them in the league until the meeting of Tottenham on New Years Day.

Danny Welbeck repaid the manager's faith in starting him upfront with a couple of goals. Tom Cleverely scored a goal that we've been crying out for him to score all throughout his career. If only he could do that on a more regular basis.
The immediate target for us in the league has got to be top 4 for now. We've spent a huge chuck of the season outside it and given the form of a lot of the sides in that top 4, we will drop off the pace in that respect as well if results are going to be as sporadic as they've been.

The Champions League draw pitted us against Olympiacos in the Round of 16. It has to be said that we couldn't have gotten an easier tie given the sides available. Everyone in our pot wanted Olympiacos so we can't complain much.
You do get the feeling though that the quarterfinal draw will really be a mouthwatering one.

United take on Stoke in the Capital One Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday. Cup competitions have become the most realistic prospects of a trophy for David Moyes. We've also had a number of fringe players that could do with another opportunity to please the boss before an inevitable clearout. The chances are there. Wednesday is another chance so you hope that they take it. There's still a good few sides unusually left in the competition at this stage. Stoke are therefore not the kind against whom it would be okay to be eliminated.

Priority though remains the league. Attention must already be on those three points against West Ham at the weekend.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Friday, 13 December 2013

KICK STARTING PLAN B IN THE LEAGUE

Plan A was obviously to retain our trophy and status as league champions, but it is already obvious that Manchester United will not win the league this year unless they play the rest of their games in Uruguay where marijuana is now legal.

Plan B has got to be something next to being in the top 4. As it stands , the current occupants of those 4 places are teams that will rarely drop points between now and the end of the season. It means, we already have a battle on our hands to make the Champions League places. I say so because we're not in any kind of form to dictate an automatic Champions League place next year and unless we win it (which will require a solution of marijuana and cocaine served to the players) we could be starring at the real possibility of having a season without Champions League football for the first time in an aeon.

Aston Villa on Sunday kick starts a run of 5 games against sides that are below us in the league table. It is not too ambitious to say that United desperately need to win all those games. Given the schedule we have in January, you really have to wonder where our season will go from here if we do not win these next five games. In that quintet of games is of course a Capital One tie against Stoke and you'd imagine that this season of all seasons requires that we hold on to every Cup competition for as long as possible.

With all the available mid-table fodder over the Christmas period (where the title is usually won and lost), one can only wonder what an advantage we would have had over our rivals going into this period if we hadn't messed up the entire first half of the season. Still, with about 16 wins required between now and May to stand any chance of Champions League football, United could do with knocking off some of those wins now because it only gets tougher ahead.

I've critical in the past of the sluggish and lacklustre play of our players in the league. I'd like us to use more speed and tempo to the game as that has made us marginally better in Europe. Given that teams attack us more often than ever, using quick counter attacks throughout our game-play could easily make for chances and goals in the same way it happens in Europe. The idea of a slow build up to our opponent's box in hope that somehow the ball will work its way into the net cannot still be relied on.

We've sunk so low in the league standings that a win will hardly improve our standing in the table. But the next 12 points on offer for us could improve our standing by a mile if we bag all of them. Anything less and my word it will hurt so bad.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

SEEDED FOR THE LAST 16!

Against all odds and expectations, United managed 14 points from a rather tricky group and topped the group as well in a season with a manager who has little or no Champions League experience. That however cannot blur the fact that domestically, United have been average and looked like nothing like Champions.

The champions league run has pumped up the manager's hopes to the extent that he's now thinking about winning the competition. Whereas it's nice and all for David to show the 'big-club' mindset of targeting Europe's most prestigious piece of silverware, the reality is that this United team would have to pull off a greater escape than Chelsea did in 2012 to even get to Benfica 2013.


The draw for the last 16 takes place on Monday but you have admit that there are some good footballing sides that will end up in pot 2. It means that Moyes' chances of 'taking us to another final' come down to how shrewd he'll be in January or how good he can get this Manchester United side to be by February when the competition resumes. At the moment, winning the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup seem more realistic targets than a trophy coveted by much stronger clubs on the continent as well.

Game Proper: It remains to be investigated what happens to United between midweek Champions League games and league games at the weekend. United have been quick on the attack and counter in Europe but have been incredibly slow in the league. Football matches these days are won by speed on the move as much as anything else. We've been incredibly slow in the league so much so that it has been easy for sides in the league to defend our attacks. It's possibly the least improvement once can ask of United at the moment.

We still looked shabby in terms of passing the ball and (especially) in defence where we were very fortunate to keep a clean sheet. At times the defence was all over the place as our guests intricately passed the ball around our box, looking for openings. Must improve.

Ashley Young justified why he won't be improving his starts record anytime soon for the club by missing chances you would expect to be put away at this level. I'm not entirely confident in the fact that we always seek to play the ball behind our opponents before we shoot at goal. We need more shots around the edge of the area and unfortunately we lack a midfielder who is willing to put his foot in. It's why I would rather we had kept one of Lingaard or Powell in the side. Lingaard's ability and confidence to shoot from range won us a number of pre-season games and boy could we do with that ability now. None of Cleverley, Kagawa or anyone else for that matter shoots often enough from range. It is a handy tool knowing that you don't have to play in behind your opponents to score a goal. We've relied on it in the past with Scholes, but have not really replaced those goals from outside the box and all.

Aston Villa provide the opposition on Sunday this week. It doesn't need stating that we need those points more than a vampire needs blood. But again, we've needed the past 6 just as bad and look what United served up.....

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

MORE THAN JUST A QUICK LOOK AHEAD TO TONIGHT

True to general form and mood around Old Trafford lately, the U-19s were eliminated from the Youth League by the equivalent of our opponents tonight. Of course the senior side are already through to the next round, but the only thing that will raise eye-brows is if United produce the kind of performance that they did in Germany a couple of weeks back.

A Shaktar win at Old Trafford tonight would be the first time we've lost three home games in a row in 51 years. The rate at which we're losing our records this season means that even that particular one could be wiped out before the end of the day.

That, however, is as negative as this post will get. There's too much bile on the Internet these days from United fans and rivals alike to add to. Yours truly has always confided himself in the joys of supporting Manchester United rather than the ills that come with it. Sitting in 9th place in the league does not take away anything from Manchester United. No situation on earth is permanent (as all United fans know well and truly well now) and so that in itself means that we will be good enough again. But even in the dark days, I can't see how I wouldn't be jealous of United if I supported a club other than the Reds. Supporting Manchester United is like being a part of a movie script (I mean there's at least 3 silver screen simulated productions about the club), and therefore just like any movie, it has its low moments. What makes United's highs special is usually the predicament that the club found itself in before that high.  

About 6 years ago, pub-mate of mine asked why I celebrate every United goal (even in a 6-0 win) with as much enthusiasm as I would if we won the Champions League final at Anfield against Liverpool. My simple reply has always been that I appreciate the humble beginnings of the club and the times it has sunk to rock bottom depth throughout its history, so much so that I never take a goal for granted. There was a time during the Sir Alex reign that some mates of mine had become so comfortable in success that there was a serious inquisition in the manager's abilities, for instance after the 2007 Champions League 3-0 drubbing handed to us by AC Milan at the San Siro (after we had won the first leg 3-2). Winning the league that year kept a bitter taste in their mouth because we did not win the Champions League. How those boys would do with the league this year.

The point is, Manchester United's success has never really gotten to my head. I've always been mindful of potential days ahead because no club in history has ever had a consistent run of success spanning a generation. Even under Sir Alex, United had to morph about 4 times to keep that run going, but that meant a few bad seasons therein. So just because we had won the last 2 titles, it didn't make celebrating the 2009 title less of a joy for me because you never really know when its going to stop for a while before you get another chance. 

Any of us could easily been born in that 26 year period when United did not win the league and even suffered relegation. But that did not make the occasional FA Cups therein that period and indeed the European Cup less of a reason to celebrate. 

Expectations have since risen, United are a much bigger global force than then, but all that change has never changed how I feel about United. I still think that I'm fortunate to support the club. I still feel that every goal is worth a party, and I'll certainly continue to cherish every 'small' trophy that United win. I'll take the dark days in with the natural promise that no situation is permanent because ultimately, I just love Manchester United, not as a tool whose success I could easily use to taunt our rivals, but as a football club whose success is my personal success. 

Now you know why it was easy to come up with the name of this blog.          



Monday, 9 December 2013

THE DEFEATS JUST KEEP COMING

Slowly but surely, you get the feeling that we're being eased into the new Manchester United. If we manage to digest 2 home defeats in a row, you imagine that we shall have fully morphed into a mid-table side. There was a time, not so far ago, this scenario that we find ourselves in was unthinkable. Whereas we've faced sides with the venom to easily inflict 2 straight home defeats in succession, it was out of sheer will than skill that we managed to avoid such a scenario.


In fact, it could be said that comparing last season's title winners with the current side is a tad unfair for the simple fact that it was the will of the team that got United over the line in many of the fixtures last season, so much so that going behind in games was of little concern compared to this season. After conceding the two goals at Old Trafford this week, you got the immediate feeling that we were not going to recover from those positions. Therein lies the brute genius that is Sir Alex Ferguson.

It therefore becomes a tad unfair to expect the current side to perform as well as they did last season since the once vital ingredient that made them champions is not in the mix. It then calls into perspective what the Moyes era should be about.

David Moyes has inherited a side that plays to the tune of the will of the manager. In the absence of that will, he's got to get the team to adapt to play in a different way from the approach hitherto used. It speaks volumes that in his pre-match press conference, Alan Pardew was sure of how United would play and turned the question to how Newcastle would play to counter it. The traditional wing-play approach of wingers and full backs a like has been utilised as a mode of attack so often by United that they hardly play through teams anymore. It is no secret that our best attacking moves have always involved spraying the ball into the box and hopping for cross into the box. That approach is perhaps the most basic and easiest to defend against. All you have to do is win the header in the box and that snuffs out the attack.
We need o vary the play, that bit more to avoid being easily predictable by opponents. The modern European style is to play a midfield three of only creative players who can occasionally take to the by-line to put in a cross. The idea is that the ingenuity of three creative players in the middle is too unpredictable to effectively plan for. It's what makes Dortmund, Manchester City and (this season) Arsenal that much difficult to plan for. We obviously do not have to completely do away with our wing play but a variation would help add a lot to our attack.

The other aspect of our play that Moyes might have to work on is the speed at which United play these days in the league. We've been slow in our build up to attacks so much so that we've allowed teams to re-organise in time to defend our attacks. What made the Old Trafford love our wing play is the fact that our wingers were always speedy and fast in attacks so much so that we were always a threat on the counter attack. It will help to have the speed of our play increased.

In the end of season projections, the latest defeat leaves us with a total of 56 points in May which is only good enough for 8th based on current projections and effectively out of the European places altogether. The top 4 is increasingly becoming harder to get given that it is now occupied by sides that will more often than not get maximum points from here to the end of the season. Unless United can dig in and fight for the shirt, this season could yet turn out to be our worst nightmare, if it hasn't already been.

Friday, 6 December 2013

LIMPING UNITED WELCOME NEWCASTLE TEST

So the post mortem is done and dusted, but you'd imagine that a lot of those emotions from Wednesday will be carried on to Saturday lunchtime for the visit of Newcastle United. It is becoming fairly common now for United to go into games against teams that are ahead of them in the league standings---such is the tragic tale of our defence of the domestic championship.

Without key players and poor form reigning supreme for the Champions, it is no longer inconceivable that United could lose two games at home on the bounce and drop 15 points behind leaders Arsenal. With confidence low among the players and the manager up for severe criticism, you get the feeling that United could yet again fall prey to trying too hard in the same way they did against Everton.

Newcastle have beaten Chelsea and Spurs at White Harte Lane so you can imagine the danger they possess on a good day for them. At the moment we've succeeded in making it a good day for just about everyone that plays against us. Its hard to remember the last time we went into the third fixture of December looking for only our 7th win of the season, but alas, here we are.

David Moyes will be under pressure to record a win at this time of times. The man looks jaded by the pressure that the job attracts and I can't tell if he'll make it to the tunnel past the Stretford End after another defeat at home. At least he's getting to realise the levels he will have to notch in order to get this United team to return to its table topping days. That realisation, you'd imagine should inform his transfer policy.

That ladies and gentlemen is as much a preview as I can muster.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

DOMESTIC LIGHTS TURNED OFF AT OLD TRAFFORD

I can't believe I'm blogging this before Christmas but as far as the domestic league is concerned, Manchester United's title challenge is over. Whereas it is mathematically possible to win the league, our form in the first half of the season only represents what lies ahead in the second half of the season because its is the same opposition and challenge we shall face.

It is such a sad state of affairs considering I'm one of those who rates winning the league as a bigger achievement than winning the Champions League. It is the bread and butter whereas the other Cup competitions are sporadic and so you never really ever get the feel of anything going.

Our defeat to Everton last night means that even getting into the Champions League places will be a battle in itself for us. Unless the club really breaks the bank in January to sort out a couple of immediate problems, we're in for a fight to get into the top 4. At the moment we've found it hard to keep pace with the likes of Everton and Newcastle not to mention the rest of our traditional rivals. We're on course to become the worst ever defending champions of a league title. Our worst start to the season in the Premier League era was always going to be the one in which we changed management but you can never really prepare yourself for what lies ahead, if it is going to be as bad as the 70s and 80s.


If the board have taken the route of getting behind the manager and trying to build long terms from scratch then as fans we need to brace ourselves for a potentially damaging season. David Moyes is on for the long term, and you can only hope that he gets it right and steadies the ship as fast as possible. The big catch here though is that how low can Manchester United fall? The Glazer family are well aware what missing out on the Champions League altogether can do for their finances and the debt. It also becomes that much harder to attract the very top players when you are not in the elite league. Of course it's still early to rule out European football at this stage of the season but increasingly, it seems we are living in denial of the grim realities.

About the game: You cannot really say we played badly on the night. For some reason it just didn't go in for us. Whereas last season against Everton, the ball hit the post and went in, this time it came right back into play. You'd assume that Arsenal will not have such ill luck at the weekend against them. Such has been our season.

Newcastle cannot come soon enough....or perhaps it just shouldn't come and we roll on to next season.
 


Monday, 2 December 2013

UNITED LOSE FURTHER GROUND ON THE LEAGUE LEADERS

In isolation, yesterday's 2-2 draw with Spurs at White Harte Lane is a decent result. Chelsea posted the same result there earlier in the season and not many of our rivals will go down there and win. However, the fact that we went into the game on the back of 2 dropped points at Cardiff last weekend meant that we had to post all three points yesterday if only to keep pace with the other London clubs.

Chelsea and Arsenal all recorded victories at the weekend to relegate us to 9 points (3 games) off the summit of the league. It is by no means impossible a gap to bridge but we're now in a position where we cannot afford to drop points until the leaders drop a handful. Any further slip ups now will see us drop into a double digit deficit---and that is ground lost to a side we so easily beat at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago. It is a timely reminder of how well you need to do against the also-runs of the league and not just do well against the big sides. It's something we've been good at until this season.

Two points from 2 games have seen the likes of Everton, Newcastle and Southampton sit above us heading into the busy December schedule. The home games against Everton and Newcastle have become must wins. The manager thinks we cannot afford to drop any more points now and he's right. Title talk will start going out of the window if we do not make the top three by New Years' Day. It's all good talking about winning a title from behind but that is rarely possible when you have more than one side ahead of you. The reasoning is that realistically it becomes difficult to expect more than one side to crumble and cede top position to you.

Our poor first half of the season showing means that we need to up the ante for the December schedule where I still think the title is won and lost. The 6 games to be played during this festive period mean that by the turn of the year, the league table will have taken a more final look about it. Teams rarely shift to many positions between January and May. It is why we need to do something about being in 8th place at this stage of the season.

Against Spurs, we only seemed to play when we went behind and yet the game was very much within our means to snatch that victory. Slowly but surely, you get the feeling that if we are destined to be Champions this season, we would have won the games against Southampton, Cardiff and the recent one against Spurs.
The situation remains recoverable if United can churn out wins over the festive period. It is, however, commendable that United have found a way to avoid defeats as its now 12 games unbeaten. Long may that continue.



   

Friday, 29 November 2013

TRIBUTE TO UNITED'S ALL TIME GREATEST PLAYER AT 40 AND A LOOK AHEAD TO SUNDAY IN THE CAPITAL

Manchester United have a plethora of legends in the true sense of the word. The question has often been asked that who of the lot is United's stand out outright to legend. From the class of the Busby Babes, to the survivors of the Munich disaster, to the Class of 92 that will be immortalized this weekend on DVD, to the individual brilliance of marvel players Robson, Cantona, Keane et al, it is really difficult to come up with a name that does justice to the term legend supreme at the club.

Recently, Manchester United fans were asked to vote on the club's official website on who they regard as United's all time greatest player. Ryan Giggs came out on top of that poll and it's really hard to argue with that result. The Welshman joined United at 14yrs and has been a part of United's first team establishment since 1991. It's a testament of Giggs' talent and fitness that he has been playing at the top level since, morphing time and time again to suit the changes that modern football has demanded of his body. He has scored the club's greatest FA Cup goal todate and has won more than any other professional to have played for the club. He also holds the club's record appearances total and you can bet that by the time he retires, the figure will be such that we shall not see another surpass it in our lifetime.

Ryan Giggs ticks all the boxes when it comes to the model Manchester United professional and the club has been lucky to have him in the dressing room for nearly 3 decades as he has been the inspiration of a lot of the younger players that have been at the club since. Seeing a man who has won it all still do the basics and the hard stuff early morning on the training pitch has helped the club avoid a situation of players slacking off just because the club has won a couple of medals.

It is testament to the legendary status of the man that on United's visits to big European venues in the Champions League, he has been given standing ovations from fans that owe him nothing and have no right to follow his career. The legend that is Giggs has been recognised in Rome, at the San Siro and at the Bernabeau and these are fans that have witnessed some of the game's greatest payers of all time. More recently, Wayne Rooney has spoken of how the Bayer centre-half  asked how Giggs managed to play at that level 2 days short of his 40th birthday.

Ryan Giggs is Manchester United's legend supreme. Admittedly, he cannot perform to top levels anymore---I mean he's now a 40 year old---but the fact that he has remained relevant to United's cause for the best part of 30 years is remarkable. Having the mental resolve to take to the pitch and risk his reputation even at the age of 40 is perhaps the biggest endearment to Ryan. He has allowed the club to get the best out of him for virtually all of his athletic life. If that is not sacrifice, then I do not know what is.

This weekend, a Ryan Giggs-less United travel to the capital to take on a Spurs side that is still smarting from that 6-0 drubbing at the Etihad. However, you'd imagine that they'll be fired up for this one, especially with United's problems well documented and Spurs in search of a morale booting win. What better than to beat the champions. United are likely to have RVP available for the tie which in all certainty means that Kagawa will give way for Rooney in the hole and Nani will probably be replaced by the Japanese on the left.

The result at Cardiff last week means that in order to stay in touch with the league leaders, we need to find a way of wining against a team from whom we only harvested a point last season. It will undoubtedly be a difficult game but Spurs have failed to score more than one goal on so many occasions in the league and we've just hit 5 away in Europe. Confidence should be sky high among the players but hard work, more than anything else will be required. Spurs enjoy fast tempo football at home, slowing them down could take the sting out of the fans and hence the adrenaline from their players.

The game kickstarts a December that will make or break our title challenge this season. The 6 winnable games therein are just what we need ahead of a tricky January. Anything less than the 15 points from the month will make the title run in down to the mistakes of our rivals rather than our own brilliance. Our league form at the moment means that we shall register about 75 points if the current trend is anything to go by and that is usually not enough to win the league. It can also be difficult to make the top 4 with that total these days so you do hope that the club starts shipping in more points that we're doing on average.

United have a good record at Spurs but their recent signings have made them more than a match for us in any one off. That they won at Old Trafford last season shows how the gap between us and them has reduced in terms of quality on the pitch. It is why hardwork and discipline will be the ultimate difference between the sides this weekend. Fingers crossed it's us.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

 




Thursday, 28 November 2013

UNITED BAYER 05 LEVERKUSEN

Forget the title of this post. Sometimes United puts on performances in both extremes that make it rather difficult to come up with headings for blog-posts.
Last night was such a performance as David Moyes and his team ripped apart the script and turned in a master class of a performance to record the club's biggest UEFA Champions League result away from home.
David Moyes was might have been predicted to match a couple of records that Sir Alex set in his time, but setting his own records was not quite on the agenda. Such is the low opinion certain reds have of him.

Admittedly, United have put on a stinker in the league so far, but it was in Europe that they were really expected to come short. In a somewhat bizarre twist of the script, United have looked as good as they've ever been in Europe so far, going five games unbeaten from a group that contains sides fully studied in the latest styles of European football. That the club remains unbeaten after 5 games in the competition is worth a toast.

Last night, having RVP, Carrick and Fellaini injured and suspended accordingly, allowed Moyes to check out Kagawa in the hole position behind Wayne Rooney and what he has learnt about he Japanese in those 90 minutes alone will go a long way in helping him determine the shape of the side in the latter stages of this competition.

Wayne Rooney is an early favourite for player of the year. It's amazing the impact David Moyes has had on him. I've blogged it before and I'll do it again; in spending 2 months of the transfer window trying to keep Rooney instead of improving the side, David Moyes perhaps secured United's most important business in the last transfer window. With the injuries that RVP has had to deal with this season, you shudder to think how much worse off we would be without Wayne this season. Crucially, it wasn't just about keeping Wayne that did it for Moyes, because we had him last season, but it was getting him back to his best, to the player we won't mind paying a million pounds a month. Long may that form continue.

Last night was really the first time I watched United this season without losing a finger nail. How one wishes we would maintain that level of professionalism and ruthlessness in front of goal. But ah well....

A point on match day 6 will win us the group so that should be Europe done and dusted for now. The business remains very much in the domestic league with Spurs this Sunday in London. Our record in the capital has been good enough to warrant us confidence ahead of the fixture but alas, if only we were sue which personality United will show up on the day. At times we've been disgusting this season and the next week in fantasia. At least we've still got a semblance of consistency in the fact that it's now 11 games since we last tasted defeat.



 
  
  
 

Monday, 25 November 2013

SHAME!

It's a shame that Manchester United cannot see out close games anymore. It's a shame that Wayne Rooney still has one or two issues with his temper. It's a shame that we cannot seem to win games by more than just the one goal more often. It's a shame that we are not as ruthless in front of goal as we used to be. It's a shame that none of our midfielders yesterday could really up their game to levels that be-fit a Manchester United player. It's a big shame that on a weekend when the teams in and around us were playing each other, all we could muster was a draw at Cardiff. It's a shame that we've not built on that win against Arsenal to crack up the pressure on our rivals.

Sunday was a huge disappointment, that's not to run away from. In the grand scheme of things, it's not all doom and gloom as the 7 point gap between us and the summit is by no means recoverable. However, there is a feeling that given how we've done so far, the projections in the league are that we shall end up with 70 odd points this season and that will not be enough to win the title in this season of all seasons. It's therefore frustrating that we've not really put on a run of wins that is very necessary for a title challenge. I'm all for unbeaten runs and all but draws can be just as damaging as defeats. If we add those four points lost in the last minute to Southampton and Cardiff, we're suddenly looking at being in the top 2 at this stage. As it stands, we're left to rue yet another couple of points that could have come in handy in the run-in. I know Cardiff have beaten City, but City have made up for those patch away performances by being in superhuman form at home. I mean, if they keep thrashing teams 4, 5 and 6 goals at home, including United and Spurs, then they might just buy themselves a ticket into the reckoning.

The result leaves us needing three points at White Harte Lane next Sunday to avoid dropping into a double digit deficit. It's a tall order given the kind of football we're currently playing but one that the lads have put themselves into after that result.

Before then, we have to sort out our Champions League group. Admittedly, the same demons that haunt is in the domestic league are bedeviling our European campaign as we've persistently failed to kill off our opponents in the last 3 Euro ties especially the latter 2. Better finishing in Germany on Wednesday is all that this United  fan can ask for.

Friday, 22 November 2013

BANANA SKIN WEEKEND IN WALES AND A LOOK AHEAD TO THE TRIP TO COLOGNE

It's a clear run of fixtures of here into the new year; no more international breaks to disrupt rhythms and add bodies to the treatment table. Manchester United left domestic business on a season high before the break after registering that important win against the league leaders Arsenal. The momentum that such a result carries is usually enough to take you through another four or five wins on the bounce but alas, the international break meant that we had to spend the next couple of weeks wondering what the next 2 months could have in store for United.


Five points off the summit heading into the 12th fixture has put United firmly back in the reckoning for this season's title. The name of the game so far has been developing a bit of consistency in our season. 9 games unbeaten in all competitions has put us in a position to turn the heat on those above us in the league. City and Everton have since given way and 8th place has become 5th. The next round of games in the league presents us with an opportunity to launch ourselves into the top 4 for the first time since the opening weekend of this season's championship.

With Southampton visiting Arsenal on the Saturday and City hosting Spurs in the early fixture on Sunday, we have the chance to leapfrog 2 sides late Sunday evening if we can negotiate past a slippery trip to Wales too face Cardiff City for the first time in 68 years.

United have been dealt a couple of blows on the injury front from international duty with Phil Jones for England and Michael Carrick having to undergo an operation for a troublesome Achilles that has left him on the sidelines for the best part of 6 weeks. It means midfield will be a sore headache for the manager for the trip to Wales and for that tricky Champions League decider against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.

You'd still fancy United to get past Cardiff though given the quality that we have upfront, but after the shock City suffered there and the manner in which Spurs had to eek out a victory, it is not altogether impossible that we can come away from Cardiff without all three points. You'd like to think that the manager and players will appreciate the fact that beating Arsenal will have counted for nothing if we do not win at Cardiff. Winning a league title has always come down to how many 'small teams' you beat and not beating direct rivals simply because the supposed small ones are numerically more than the big ones and therefore mathematically the points tally from the bottom half teams will always outgun the tally from the top 4 or 5 sides.

Playing last has the advantage of knowing exactly what to do after knowing other teams' results but experience has also shown that it can work against you especially when all your rivals post positive results and the onus is on you to keep up. Ultimately though, the atmosphere down there will ensure that Sunday is feisty, so you hope that the players are up for a fight as that's what it could take to take all three points from the side that has fashioned itself as a potential banana skin for visiting top sides.

The Champions League resumes next week with a trip to Cologne to face Bayer Leverkusen in a match that will go a long way to deciding who qualifies from the group. Victory will guarantee us passage into the next phase of the competition, but defeat will make the final group game against Shaktar Donetsk at Old Trafford a play off final for the final spot in the group. We cannot afford to ourselves in that situation as we all know what happened last time we went into Match Day 6 with unresolved business. You'd therefore hope that in the least we grind out another draw if we cannot finish better than we did in Spain.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!  
 

Monday, 11 November 2013

OOOH ROBIN VAN PERSIE!

Sing along Reds, Oooh Robin van Persie! Oooh Robin van Persie!

Nine years ago, it was one Dutchman serving revenge on Arsenal for assaulting him the season before, yesterday it was another returning the favour to Arsenal for the disrespect they've shown since his move to United.
Robin van Persie chose not to celebrate last season's goals against Arsenal and the Arsenal fans returned that respect with jeers. Last night, there would be no letting back as the Dutchman let rip of a pile of emotion that this fixture has always conjured up. That, however, was only a minor plot to the whole context of the EPL's main event this weekend.



Manchester United's season was up for examination last night and they needed to tick all boxes to keep their domestic season relevant going into winter and boy did they ace it! In a performance that laid bare their mettle, United put a halt to everything about Arsenal that has made them the toast of English football in the early part of the season to haul themselves back into the reckoning for the season's title race.

On a weekend in which all our traditional rivals dropped points, the importance of a victory on the night was not lost on United who went about their business with the kind of professionalism that has typified them in games of reckoning. That we managed to win 1-0 was all the more sweeter since our defending has not been up to speed so far this season. Phil Jones was in particular exceptional both in his holding position and when he had to replace the Captain in defence. But it was Wayne Rooney's miles on the turf that made the difference in the end. David Moyes has been criticised for the manner in which United conducted themselves in the transfer market but it has to be said that keeping Wayne and getting the best out of him this season is something that even Sir Alex wouldn't have managed to do if he were still in charge. David Moyes is starting to make the team his own and he appears to have picked Wayne as the player around whom his first team will thrive. The England striker did play 'leader of the pack' by planting seeds of doubt in Arsenal ahead of the tie and backed that up with a performance that scared the daylights out of Arsenal's happy-party boys that have since been trick or treating on the doors of EPL sides for 3 points. Last night, they knocked on one of those doors where resident owner opens with a cocked gun.

Fifth place is by no means reason to pop the champagne but considering that we're having our worst season since the start of the EPL and that Manchester City who are title favourites are in 8th, we can't be too unhappy about how our new manager is coping. Wayne Rooney has laid bare the target is to be top or thereabouts by the turn of the new year and you get the feeling that if we soldier on to the top by January, we might be involved in a most unlikely title race.

Next up is the International break so there's a whole 12 days or so in which to package DVDs of the game and send to your Arsenal supporting neighbor, colleague and workmate!




Thursday, 7 November 2013

A TIME TO GET STUCK IN!---MANCHESTER UNITED VS ARSENAL PREVIEW!

October 24th 2004. Arsenal are on an unbeaten run of 49 games, United still smarting from a poor start to the league season. Arsenal to visit Old Trafford in their next league match to accomplish an unprecedented and record breaking 50th unbeaten league game. Lose their next game and that's the domestic season for them.

Full time: Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal.

That game will live long in the memory of many Reds who were fortunate to witness Old Trafford play 'party-crusher'. If Arsenal's unbeaten run and dominance the season made United lose their fear factor, that game restored the uncertainty teams had on their way to Old Trafford. The most damning verdict about that result was that it should have happened 12 months earlier when a similar game plan and performance ended with Ruud van Nistelrooy starring at Jens Lehmann from 12 yards in the 90th minute. One kick and there would be no unbeaten run. As fate would have it, Ruud, who was always the assured penalty taker, smashed his kick against the frame of the goal and given the venom with which the game had been played, Martin Kenwon literally hauled himself into van Nistelrooy's face and the rest of the Arsenal players followed suit. Arsenal had survived by a lick of paint and they would go on to make the most of it.

Arsenal would go on to bully the rest of the league into submission until the inevitability of going back to Old Trafford on October 24th 2004 caught up with them.

In that game, Sir Alex had to devise a means of stopping Arsene Wenger's fluent machine that had Jose Antonio Reyes as the lubricant of devastating football. The answers lay in old school football, a brand that Sir Alex is all too well versed with. He realised that teams gave Arsenal an easy ride in the game by not 'turning up'. It appears as though teams were so much overawed by the style of play of Arsenal that instead of playing against them, they watched them play and almost simply just stood by.

Sir Alex set his side up during the week to turn up. They were going into the game as underdogs, but by the end of the game, Arsenal would know that they had played against Manchester United---just as they did the season before.
In place of deploying another free-lance midfielder, the manager chose to ask Phillip Neville to make himself a physical presence in the middle of the pitch as well as Gary Neville to remind Reyes that he was actually playing in England---where the culture is to get stuck in, go hard in the fair tackle. Boy did it work like magic. Antonio Reyes didn't last the game, and quite frankly his career, despite not sustaining a major injury, seemed psychologically permanently injured to the extent that Arsenal had to sell their most expensive signing less than a year later. It wasn't just the Neville brothers though, United put in the miles on pitch and never allowed Arsenal to build any sort of momentum and rhythm to their game. The Gunners were hardly allowed the time and space that they had been afforded throughout their unbeaten run.

As fate would again have it, with the scores yet again tied at 0-0 between the sides, Ruud van Nistelrooy found himself 12 yards from Jens Lehmann with a chance to bury the ghosts that had haunted him since that penalty miss a year earlier. Three steps later, and Lehmann dived the wrong way, van Nistelrooy burried it, relif, and a cry of joy filled the Dutchman as United went 1-0 up against the North Londoners.
Twenty odd minutes on and  Wayne Rooney' close range finish later  and Arsenal were, in the words of commentator Jon Champion, bowled out at 49! Manchester United had tamed a beast that was threatening to consume English football and take their place as the dominant force of the Premier League era. It was a result whose shock waves are still felt to-date for since then, Arsenal have not won the league title.

Fast forward to this Sunday and there are plenty of similarities between this season's tie and then. Arsenal have earned similar status to that side given their impressive start to the season and the grim reality that United will be faced with if they are beaten on the day. 11 points behind them will just about put paid to United's hopes of defending their league title. Sunday's game is, like that famous tie, a must win game at Old Trafford.

Our ties against the other big sides in the league so far have seen us come worse off without even turning up on the day. Sunday has now become a must turn up game for us. David Moyes needs to ask that much more from his team on the day because allowing Arsenal to play has not helped the cause of any other team that has played them so far. The only side that has really dealt perfectly with Arsenal's fluid movement this season has been BVB Dortmund, and that is not because of the beautiful football that BVB play. It is rather down to the pressing system that makes Jurgen Klopp's sides chock the life out of their opponents.
Whereas there is a tendency for us to fall back when we lose possession, Sunday will require that we hurt Arsenal without the ball a lot more than we've been doing in games. We need to hurry them in possession as they will surely do to us and get stuck in the tackle when we have to. We can talk tactics all all but the reality is that nothing seems to have puzzled this Arsenal team more than not being allowed to play and get into their rhythm.

Manchester United, being England's first club means that they remain the biggest sellers of the old British system of hurrying the opposition and going in hard on the tackle. Arsenal need a dose of the same. It is noticeable that teams are now playing Arsenal at their own game and expecting to win by virtue of the club's underachievement for the last 8 years. I think it is time that teams revert to stopping Arsenal playing and succumbing to their own raw styles. Arsenal cannot certainly complain of being treated harshly on pitch when their own players assaulted Ruud van Nistelrooy for missing a penalty. We can only promise that we will not return the exact favour.

*Of curse the assumption is that David Moyes is a reader of this blog which in all probability is wrong, so do not expect a character filled United on the pitch on Sunday but I really hope the lads bleed for three points as the reward for getting the win on the night will be a return to the glory days of being in the mix for the league title. It certainly is a game to break a leg for. And in some of the last words of Duncan Edwards on his death bed in that Munich hospital, Let's 'get stuck in'!

SO COME ON UNITED!  

          



Wednesday, 6 November 2013

POOR FINISHING COSTS UNITED LAST 16 PLACE....ALBEIT FOR NOW


In the first game of the double header against Real Soceidad, United had 18 shots at the Basque side's goal, none found the net, and it took an own goal for us to get the breakthrough. Last night, United had 6 shots at Soceidad's goal, none found the net despite the fact that those 6 included 2 open goals and a penalty.

This is not a critique of our strikers for it is trite that all strikers miss chances, but this is quickly becoming a theme in our season so far that has already cost us a number of points in the league. Given that a shot against the frame of the goal is considered off-target, I'd like to think that it's therefore not ill-luck but poor finishing that is at the moment responsible for our lack of goals in games. A couple of games come to mind: the chances we had whilst leading Southampton 1-0 including hitting the frame of the goal twice and the chances we had at Anfield when for the entire second half we attacked their goal but failed to make the openings count. There was a time when a missed chance was not so much of a disaster but teams all over Europe and indeed in the country have improved and hence a missed chance is almost certainly going to come back and haunt you in a game. It's no wonder why leading 1-0 or 2-0 these days is not as comfortable as it used to be.

Javier Hernandez missed a couple of sitters in the League Cup against Norwich but his 2 goals and the nature of the game meant that that did not come under scrutiny. I do like the boy and think that he is destined to end his career as a goal scoring legend, at least for his country. However for what his contribution is on the pitch, you expect that he puts away the vital chances more often than he does for us. Ruud van Nistelrooy didn't do much in terms of inter-play and hold-up play up-front, but boy didn't he always bloody finish it when it was in that 6 yard box.

To be fair to Chicharito, the ball bubbled up just before he hit it but such is the expectation of world class strikers of which he is among. Given that his job is essentially to tap in goals, you'd think he's known about all sorts of ways of effectively dealing with balls at that pace. Just to be clear, the issue is not his goals per game ratio (which is very good by the way), it's his goals per chance ratio. Whereas he's come off the bench too score a few one chance winners for us, he does often get more than the one chance. In the same breath, it is also vital to note that RVP has one of the worst chance conversion rates in the league, but unlike the Mexican, RVP bring a load more to his game that excuses that particular fault. Hernadez however doesn't need all those other traits if he can perfect the art of putting away not just the routine goals (which is is already good at) but even the vital ones more often. It's a trade that was mastered by football greats Fillippo Inzaghi and Ruud van Nistelrooy before him. He is perhaps the only striker in world football (and that is some complement) that has the ability to be as great as the above names in terms of simply putting the ball away no matter the height, angle, or fixture. You do have to feel sympathy for him given his place in our hierarchy of strikers, but something tells me if he had scored last night, he'd have made the selection for Sunday that much harder for the manager simply because fans would not want a striker that puts away just about every crumb that comes his way on the bench. Now its easy to drop him without incurring dissent from the fans.

 In the grand scheme of things, the point leaves us needing a result in Germany against Bayer Leverkusen to make it to the last 16. We've got 2 games against the trickier sides in the group and we have to win one of them. That cannot be too much to ask from the team.

Attention shifts to Sunday in what is our biggest game of the season to date. Arsenal are 8 points ahead of us in the league and just like it was when they visited us in 2004/05 season looking to make it 50 games unbeaten, we simply have no choice but to win the game by the final whistle come Sunday. More on that later in the week.





Tuesday, 5 November 2013

OFF TO SAN SEBASTIAN

Manchester United have been different proposition in the Champions League so far this season. It's only Match Day 4 but a win tonight in the Basque County of Spain will ensure that United will have negotiated a path to the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition.

However, being a trip to Spain, and against a side that has re-discovered its form of late, the tie dictates caution on United's part. Whereas victory will virtually see us though, a defeat will make the last 2 trickier ties harder to negotiate as it would mean both Bayer and Shaktar will still be able to make it through the group if both can beat us.

David Moyes parked the bus in Ukraine, very understandable in the circumstances, but you wonder whether he'll ask his players to go for it at the Antone stadium. We've got a bigger game this Sunday in the league so you'd imagine anything other than another flood of injuries like we had at the weekend will, in the grand scheme of things do for us. We don't have Evans or Rafael at the back so you'd imagine that Rio and Vida will take up the central defence positions. It remains to be seen which central midfield pair will be chosen but given the nature of the game, I expect Kagawa to start the game in a midfield 5 that should also comprise of Antonio Valencia. Playing just 2 in the middle is suicide in Europe these days, let alone in the league.


Ultimately, it is important not to upset the momentum in the squad with a poor performance and result tonight. We need to make winning the habit so that games like Sunday are within our means to win even when we do not deserve the victory. A win tonight will certainly give Arsenal something to think about on Sunday.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Monday, 4 November 2013

SLOWLY, BUT SURELY

Critics will point to the fact that United have picked up their form against the also-runs of the league and dropped points at the start of the season against stronger opposition. Be that as it may, the reality is that football is largely a game of confidence. Case in point; Aaron Ramsey has always had the talent in him too score and be what he is for Arsenal at the moment; but injuries and a drop in confidence meant that for the last one and a half seasons, he was one of those players Arsenal fans wouldn't care a jot if he was not in the team. The early season goals this term--against the also rans--have instilled in him such levels of confidence that he is playing like and attempting to score goals reserved for Arsenal legends.


Manchester United might have only registered wins against the Premier League minnows but their start to the season never afforded them time to build confidence especially at a time when the club was under new management in all departments of the club. The worry therefore was not in United's failure to pick up the points then, but in their failure to win winnable games. It's why the West Brom and Southampton points remain the biggest loss to United's season. If we had bagged those winnable 5 dropped points, we would be within 3 points of the league leaders. As it is we've nearly completing a month in 8th place.

On Saturday, United had to overcome one of those teams that they should beat and credit to the team for those 13 first half minutes that saw the team get three goals and virtually seal the points half-way into the first half. It must have been the easiest United game to watch in quite a while. I certainly cannot remember the last time we took a three goal lead in the Premier League. True to form this season, United still managed to make a 3 goal lead look vulnerable by dropping off the pace in the second half. It was by no means aided by the 3 injuries and substitutions but you'd expect that in the least we keep a clean sheet as we've not been good at that for a while.

Anyhow, Rooney and RVP seemed to find their mojo whilst Adnan Januzaj put on yet another impressive performance that should see him play in the Champions League soon. Sloppy passing in the second half contrived to make the game a little nervy but it's still about the three points given where we are in the league.

I blogged in the preview to the game that the three points would be massive simply because the fixture list dictated that a lot of the teams above us would drop three points. We've therefore done ourselves a massive favour by moving to within 3 points of second placed Chelsea. It means the prize gets even bigger for our next league outing, but more on that later in the week.

In the meantime, we should look to seal Champions League last 16 qualification in Spain this week so as to give the squad a chance to the squad members to per-take the last 2 games of the group stage.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!  
    

Friday, 1 November 2013

COTTAGE TEST OF UNITED'S RESOLVE

It's a testament of United's start to their title defence that we're in November and the club has not yet put a couple of wins together in the league. It is however notable that the Reds have gone through October unbeaten in 6 games, including 3 wins on the bounce in all competitions.
With a foot into the last 16 of the Champions League and progression into the last 8 of the League Cup, United's real concern this side of Christmas is their league form and position.

It's an 8 point gap between United and the summit of the league. You'd like to think that by the end of November, we shall have a clearer picture of United's league status this season. Experience shows that the table hardly changes at all after November. That is essentially because by December, most teams have played each other at least once, and so the second half of the season usually tends to reflect the results of the first round. For instance in November, the likes of Southampton, Everton, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal which are unusually occupying positions ahead of us in the league will have played each other and hence taken points off each other.

It means after November, the chances of moving a place up the table become increasingly slim. An illustration of this is that currently, United can only move a place in the log if  they better Manchester City's results at the weekend. That is usually a battle for the summit of the league, but given that both Everton and Southampton are a mega 4 points ahead of United, it means a win and a defeat for the two mid-table sides, will not change United's position until similar results are posted the following weekend for the same clubs.

Therefore, given that Spurs and Everton face off  this weekend, and Liverpool and Arsenal meet at the Emirates, it means that United's fixture at Fulham tomorrow is far more important than people realise. Unlike other weekends, it is for certain that a few teams  above them will drop 2 or three points. It means United will substantially move themselves into the reckoning with another league win this weekend of all weekends.
In fact, if results go their way, United could find themselves within 2 points of Arsenal by the end of next weekend when Arsenal visit. Obviously it doesn't mean Arsenal will still be top but it does show you how the league table can be manipulated to suit you if you strategise over just a couple of wins.

With that in mind, you'd expect that the players should bleed to the three points in London tomorrow. Fulham are not at their tricky-best but all you need is a bit of complacency and teams in this league will take maximum advantage. I'd like to think that after the shock against West Brom and the sickener against Southampton, United will know all about the wages of not turning up.

The position we're in in the Champions League means we need to prioritise the game ahead of the trip to Real Soceidad on Tuesday. It is by all means, a big game for United.


So Come on You Reds!

    

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

UNITED EASE INTO CUP QUARTER-FINAL

Last night turned out to be not just the biggest win so far under David Moyes but also the the calmest game for fans at Old Trafford this season so far. For once, there was no desperation for that second goal as it never looked like it was necessary and it also came pretty early in the second half to give fans almost nothing to 'do' for the last half hour of the match.

David Moyes put out the expected side and it was great seeing the likes of Zaha, Januzaj and Chicharito bully the Norwich defence at will. It was always important that we remained in the competition just so as to keep our squad players happy with a run of games so I'm glad that we've made it to the last 8. You'd expect that the likes of Chicharito and Januzaj are pleased with the amount of minutes they've been afforded since the International break.

You can't read too much into the result but it was great to see the likes of Jones and Fabio get on the score-sheet as that can only improve their lives. The biggest take from this result is that it has kept the momentum going. A run of wins, regardless the opposition serves to work up the confidence of the team and that is exactly what you need to develop consistency that we so desperately need in the league to work our way up the table.


The only selection headache that the manager has is whether to consider the returning Vidic and Ferdinand for the next league game as Jones and Evans seemed uncertain against Stoke. Vidic seems a certainty, but Rio now has a question mark on his head regarding his ability to keep pace with opponents as they will have watched how West Brom exposed him.

Attention quickly switches to the weekend trip to Craven Cottage, a small tight venue that can turn into a mini-hell if teams go there when Fulham are up for it. Given that Arsenal visit in the next round of fixtures, it is all too important that we collect maximum points at the weekend.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

NORWICH IN THE CUP

The micro-blogging site, Twitter, can surprise you with the permutations people can come up with. I recently received a tweet from a colleague that featured Manchester United's-in-need-of-playing-time XI. Whereas it was a demonstration of the strength in depth at United, it was far from the depth in quality that the likes of Bayern Munich boast.
That line-up featured Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Evans, Smalling, Zaha, Young, Kagawa, Anderson, Chicharito and Welbeck/Giggs. 

A lot of those players will feature tonight in the League Cup tie against Norwich at home. It is expected that the manager shall rest a number of first team stars, but it is also expected that we should be able to put up a side that can win the match---in normal time. The League Cup is never top of United's priority least every season but given the possible permutations of this season, we might need to play it safe and keep in a couple of Cup competitions to keep our season vibrant and relevant.

Norwich are in the middle of a bad spell in the league but you just know that they might be desperate for such a game to turn their season. We've ejected Liverpool from the competition and so it will be disappointing to fall at the hands of the troubled Cannaries. 

We have a large squad that could do with a run in the competition so as to get games and others to work on their fitness. It is imperative therefore that we progress to the last 8. Rather than treat it as a less important fixture, I'd like that the squad players put on a performance and use the tie as a means of showing the manager what they can do. Whether, they take the opportunity remains to be seen.



 

Monday, 28 October 2013

FEEL THE RELIEF!

Saturday was all about the three points. Thankfully, given the manner in which we secured the points, you hope that we've taken more than three points from the game. The difference between this season and last season is that we often out-scored the opposition last term whilst this term, we've found it that much harder to even break down teams.

Think back to last season and remember that we started just about every game of the first half of the season a goal down. At one point we were even 3-2 down in a first half (vs Reading Away), but still managed to win the half 4-3. This season though, it's been much harder for us to out-score the opposition. It's why hearts sank when Stoke went 2-1 up. That we eventually managed to turn it around in the last fifteen minutes means that the players have summoned one or two traits of the Ferguson script and used it to overcome adversity.
You hope that that belief remains a part of the ethos at the club this season as well. It will hold them in good stead for the rest of the campaign.

In terms of the game proper, it was slightly worrying that we kept turning to the wings to score against a team that is full of 6ft plus players. In that respect, I thought Kagawa struggled to have the midfield-probing impact that he did in the Champions League on Tuesday. I still think the manager should stick with him, as given the game plan, it was Nani who turned out to be the biggest disappointment as he failed to turn in a decent cross. His inconsistency remains a trait that is yet to leave him. Valencia on the other hand seemed to carry his European form into the match and so one should understand if the manager starts him for the next league outing. The frustrating thing is that most of our players seem to play well when axed from the starting XI and perform incredibly poorly when restored. It's incredibly frustrating.

In the grand scheme of things, we're better off winning after playing badly. Evra has asked that we go on a 10 match winning run and I agree if we are to challenge for the title. We shall, however, need to play to greater urgency and fight than we've been showing up lately. I still think that the players need to play for the manager a bit more than they're doing. This season was never about wining anything, but about showing how the club responds in times of uncertainty. As fans we're not pleased when our side comes short of honours, but we're even more displeased by that failure to put up a fight, to show up the United colours. Even in defeat, our competition must know that we were there, not putting up a disappearance act in the middle of the league table.

The win keeps us 8th, but the placing doesn't matter if the points are being posted. Next up is Norwich at home in the league Cup---a home tie means that it should be negotiable; then its Fulham away in the league; a game whose importance I shall explain later in the week.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!