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!

 

Friday, 25 October 2013

THE MID-TABLE CLASH!

Recently, United found themselves involved in a 'relegation' battle with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Given the club's 8th placing at the moment, its fair to call their clash with Stoke City at Old Trafford a mid-table clash as the Potters more often than not finish in mid-table.

The above is part of the stick that rival fans have enjoyed throwing in the way of United fans as the club endures its worst start to a top flight league campaign in over a two and a half decades. As already poited out in the Real Soceidad review post, the measure of how far back we've fallen is evidenced by the fact that a win and defeat for all teams above us would still leave us in 8th place going into the 9th fixture of the season. It's a testament of the work that we have to put in between now and Christmas to get to near the top by New Years' Day. Sir Alex always spoke of the need to be at the top or thereabouts by the turn of the year to have a chance to challenge for the title so its imperative that we make up for our horror start these next few months.

Stoke City are abysmal. They should be one of the weakest side in the division that will make the trip to Old Trafford this season so it should be three points for us come Saturday evening. The problem is so should have the 4 points dropped to West Brom and Stoke. The Manchester United that is turning up for Champions League games seems more accomplished and up to the task than the one turning out for league games. Perhaps the manager is under less pressure in Europe because goodness knows United will not win the European Cup this year, and yet he finds himself under the expectation of wins in domestic fixtures. That however is a theory, but you'd like to think that Moyes will now find a place for Shinji Kagawa in the team or at least ahead of the likes of Valencia and Ashley Young. Maybe Soceidad are that bad, but the Shinji I saw on Wednesday was the one I saw two years ago doing it for BVB Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Given our apparent difficulty in breaking down the opposition and finding goals, having Shinhi and Januzaj plus the attacking duo of Wayne and RVP upfront, perhaps supported by Nani is as creative as we can get.

We've been unlucky with our chances of late and so you feel that someone is due a hiding at Old Trafford. It would be a much needed hiding tomorrow. We're desperately in need of a run of wins and we must get that run started tomorrow. It is not yet too late for United to win the league even from this position, but you feel that only a run of wins can save us in that respect at the moment. On the flip side, you feel that we are just the one bad result from relinquishing our title. If that isn't motivation to kick-start our season, then I don't know what is.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!
  

Thursday, 24 October 2013

ONE REASON TO SMILE

Manchester United took charge of Group A with what should have been an easy win against a nervy Real Soceidad side at Old Trafford last night. The scoreline does not reflect the story of the match in any way as the Reds were dominant from the off. However, its that lack of ruthlessness infront of goal that is currently the biggest concern for us in games. We've so far failed to turn in chances against Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, West Brom, Southampton and now Real Soceidad. In some of those games, we've managed to got off lightly but given the law of averages, we've been punished severely in most of those games.

 The biggest concern though on the night was the result as it will serve us well to get the group sorted as soon as possible given the attention demanded by our domestic form. In that respect though, we did well to get to within three points of qualification; you'd imagine that given what we saw on the night, we should be able to complete the job in the return leg of the fixture in a couple of week's time.

The night was full of rarities, none more important than the fact that we actually managed to get a clean sheet in Europe. It's 10 games since our last so in that respect, its easy to see why we've suffered in the competition in recent seasons. There was also a rare start for Shinji Kagawa who impressed on the night along with Wayne and Giggs. You'd imagine that now that Moyes has seen enough of the Japan International, he'll be much closer to the regular starting line-up than before.
RVP missed the match through injury but it was nice to see Javier Hernandez start a game and I thought he did well to press the opposition from attacking positions.



In the grand scheme of things, the bread and butter that is the EPL needs to be sorted. Stoke are the visitors to Old Trafford in a another rare Saturday tea-time fixture. The importance of the three points is underlined by the fact that even a 6-0 win will not lift us from 8th position in the log. We've made it a heck of a mountain to climb so much so that the only results that will benefit us on Sunday when our two main rivals for the title face off is a draw. We're one bad result from making it realistically impossible to fight for the title and yet we're yet to string a couple of league wins together. Stoke is start, but we shall be kidding ourselves if we think we can keep rationalising poor league results. The so called difficult start is over, so its time we put points on the board and stop making Arsenal seem like Bayern Munich!




 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

EUROPEAN CUP SOLACE CHANCE FOR UNITED

So far, David Moyes has done well in the Cup competitions in which many thought United would struggle, especially in the European Cup for his limited experience in the competition. As it stands though, United are top of Champions League Group A and victory tonight at home against Real Soceidad will put them within 3 points of qualifying for the last 16 with 9 points to spare.

The other scenario of course is that United could lose today and in effect throw the group into a frenzy of some sort as suddenly all four sides will have a very realistic chance of making it through. Winning the double header against the Spaniards effectively eliminates them from the competition so you can expect a hell of a challenge from them. Soceidad were unfortunate to lose in the last minute in Germany last time out, but they remain Spanish opposition which United have failed to beat on the last 4 occasions at Old Trafford.

United on the other hand yet again head into European competition on the back of a disappointing league result. This is the second of 4 straight league games at home; we've disappointed in our first, fingers crossed we do the job in what has so far been a successful European campaign.

The worry on Wednesday is that Soceidad are a Spanissh side and hence are very capable of causing an embarrassment if we're not up for it. It's the type of game where you feel that Kagawa could thrive on so you do hope that he starts. Everything else will be up to the manager.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!  

Monday, 21 October 2013

''THE SICKENER''

Up until the 89th minute, I  thought we were on course for an important three points that would have lifted the mood at United. As it turned out, David Moyes was left rueing what he termed a 'sickener' as Southampton successfully did a smash and grab job right at the end to take what was in the end a deserved point for them.

Being the better side at Old Trafford has never guaranteed anyone even a point. So despite the good performance by Pochettinho's side, we should have been able to see out the game. Many reds have criticised the boss' changes while at 1-0 but I can't remember a manager making too many attacking changes whilst they're trying to see out a game. Moreover, in Saturday's case, Moyes brought on Welbeck---an attacking change that should have merited a goal if he had found Rooney late on.

The one thing many will overlook on the day was the sheer ill-luck before that 'sickener'. We hit the bar twice at 1-0 up through efforts by RVP and Wayne. You then start to think that its one of those games where a second will not go in. The question then turns to whether you can keep a clean sheet and to be fair, De Gea was hardly troubled for all of the Saint's good inter-play and attempts at goal. That they finally scrambled one in at the death was in many ways down to ill-luck rather than any fault from the players. On the whole, I thought we gave a better account of ourselves than we did against West Brom. The only flaw in the side is a sore lack of a killer instinct---the one we showed when Swansea got a goal back or the one we showed against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

Ultimately though, we've now lost further ground on the early pace-setters Arsenal. It's difficult to say now what the league campaign holds for United as the number of sides vying for the Champions League places are at the moment more consistent than us. We need to--in the least---string a couple of wins together and try to make home advantage count because a win once a fortnight will only leave us in the Europa League places at best.

It's 8 games in now and its becoming a recurring theme from the club that after a bad result, we move on to the next game. I'd like the post-match comments have a little more reflection of how good we performed more often. As a fan, I cannot say that this slow start was somewhat very unexpected and all, but I surely can't have been expected it to be this slow. My interpretation of slow is losing the difficult games that we did at the start of the season then beating the likes of West Brom and Southampton at home.

In my points table that I usually draft before the start of the season, United are currently 5 points off the pace and its easy to see where those 5 points have been lost. It's perfectly understandable to lose points against Chelsea, City and Liverpool but not quite at home to Southampton and WBA.

The next good result cannot come sooner enough.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

DESPERATELY IN NEED OF SECOND GEAR WHEN THE SAINTS COME MARCHING IN

The league resumes this weekend after a ten day break to allow for world cup qualification. The break came off the heels of an  Adnan Januzaj show at the stadium of light that has since dominated the back pages for all sorts of reasons. It's possibly the last thing that Manchester United would have wanted but the written press are mentioning his name in the same sentence as the phrase 'Europe's most wanted teenager'. The attention he secured himself after that volleyed second strike can't have made it easy negotiating that contract with his agent. At the moment, a deal is yet to be signed--not good news when the likes of Juventus and Barcelona are hovering. You do hope though that the club will sort that out sooner rather than later.

As far as basic business is concerned, one of the league's in-form teams and the very difficult to beat Southampton provide the opposition this weekend. At the moment, the club is yet to get out of gear one as far as EPL business is concerned. We've not won 2 on the bounce as yet and yet we're soon getting into double-digits in the column of games played. David Moyes has to get the team in the habbit of getting results and hence points on the board as we risk falling too far behind in the grans scheme of things. I know it's just a 6 points gap off the top, but there's 8 other sides that have done better than us so far in the league. It's worrying that even if all results goo our way this weekend, we cannot get into the top four in the middle of October. That is the concern for us---that we've found the likes of West Brom a very tough proposition and made Sunderland appear better than their league position suggests.

It all bodes for another nervy afternoon at Old Trafford as one wonders which United team will turn up against Pochetinho's side. Southampton currently sit in fourth and have already beaten Liverpool at Anfield this season. We desperately need the points and you only hope the manager will have worked out a way to take all three points on the day by negating the attacking threat of the Saints as well as a side capable of getting the job done upfront. One thing that we need to sort out quickly is the defending. We've so far leaked a hatfull of goals and even though its better than last season, the goals last term meant that we could still out-score the opposition. At the moment, we're finding it hard to do both tasks of defending and bagging goals. It's why we might still need to start Adnan in a fxture like this because of the defensive organisation of the opposition.

The money in the league right now has made the gap between the 'small teams' and bigger teams is now considerably reduced. Freak results will now be more frequent than ever but surely United have served their time under that particular jinx with the defeat against WBA. Now is the time to get stuck in and do a job.

We've got 4 straight home games and as such you feel that everything is i place to build that little bit of momentum to take into the first clear run of club football. Whether the side capitalises on this though is a matter of finger nails, teeth and David Moyes.

  



Monday, 7 October 2013

AND ALONG CAME ADNAN--THE WEEKEND REVIEW!

For romantic reds and indeed those that appreciate the traditions of Manchester United, there is hardly a better moment than when an Academy graduate makes his first team bow. Seeing Adnan Januzaj in the starting line-up for the trip to Sunderland was a joy to behold in itself. That he turned on a match winning performance in what turned out to be a difficult afternoon was blissful. He's the toast of the club and indeed the media right now, and God knows his agent couldn't have asked for a better time to start those contract negotiations for this is one player that the club cannot afford to lose.

Ultimately though, Saturday was all about three points as we're quite short in that respect. Forget what the media have been saying recently, if we hadn't gotten the result on Saturday, we would have thrown ourselves into a real crisis of sorts. We really need a result to build on a run of wins to keep us in the mix at the top of the league. We're currently 6 points off the top and so considering our start, we're not that badly off, but that gap tends to be harder to make up as the season goes on. For instance, 6 points behind in October is not the same as 6 points behind in February. Point is, you don't want to be that many points behind when the finish line comes into view.

Back to the game; it's sad that we're yet to develop a solid base at the back and that defensive errors are costing us an average of a goal a game. Given the indifferent form of our strikers, it makes it that harder that we're giving away cheap goals and hence making our games that much harder for ourselves. The irony is that the manager is apparently known for his defensive methods and excellence in that part of the field, so you wonder why it's fast becoming our weak-link even when we have so much quality in the department.
The faster it gets sorted out, the better for all.

In the main, it would have been hell spending this International break mulling over another FAIL performance from the team. We can now thankfully look ahead to putting our home form right as we have 4 straight home games when we re-start. It's set up perfectly for us to go on a run of a few wins that could make October the month that really spring-boards our season.

Enjoy the break reds!



Friday, 4 October 2013

A TIME TO BE DESPERATE---SUNDERLAND VS MANCHESTER UNITED PREVIEW!

If ever there was a time that Manchester United were desperate for the three points, this weekend has to be it. The Champions are off the back of their worst start to a league season and feature in the bottom half of the table. It's just as well that they get to play the worst side in the league so far.

Sunderland have since fired Paolo Di Canio for guiding them to a horror start so with care-taker management comes the possibility of putting up a show for the new boss and seeking a scalp of a victory from which to build on their rest of the season. It's why in some ways Saturday's teatime clash could be the worst possible fixture for David Moyes.

Regardless of what Sunderland have to offer, Manchester United cannot afford to come away from the Stadium of Light short of all three points. We're all of 8 points off the summit after 6 games and yet even in the bad times, we had a knack of keeping in touch with the table leaders right up to the new year and then hitting form when it really matters. As it stands, we risk losing that touch with the leadership at the table if the gap gets to double-digits.
For all our shortcomings and problems this year, we're still good enough to pick three points against most sides in the league and by that very logic should be challenging for the title. It's why dropping all three against WBA last week could yet turn out to be a potential fatal blow.

We've got an international break coming up after this one, so you'd like that we're not left to moan about a result for 2 weeks like we had to do in the last international break.

Being Manchester United means that we can't languish in the bottom half of the table and use the excuse of ''transition'' etc. It means that we can still make our presence felt right at the top of the league in spite of being a ''crisis''. The tough start is done so its time we start making up for points dropped within the first 6.
That time starts at 5:30 on Saturday!






Thursday, 3 October 2013

WALKING ALL THE WAY BACK FROM UKRAINE, WITH A MINOR LIMP!

Given the state in which we went to Ukraine this week (limping), it's hard to argue with last night's result. Last night was all about not losing in what could yet be our most difficult game of the group phase. David Moyes had to simply find a way of getting a point from a venue no English club had ever come away short of a defeat.

Ahead of the game, we were dealt a huge blow with the news that Wayne was unwell and hence unable to make the squad. Danny Welbeck took his place and thankfully for us managed to get himself another big Champions league away goal. Turns out that he might never be a great goalscorer but could yet be a scorer of great goals.
We lost our advantage largely due to a poor second half display that robbed us of any real attacking impetus. In absence of attacking play though, we still managed to defend well. The goal conceded was more of an accident than anything else as the otherwise excellent Vidic was surprised by the cross-shot that came out to him.

In the end though, we did just enough to keep us top of the group after MatchDay 2 and as long as we're there, we can't really complain. You feel though that we have to beat Real Soceidad to take advantage of the meeting between our two challengers in the group; Leverkusen and Shaktar.

Attention will now turn to that trip to Sunderland which became a very important fixture from the momet West Brom scored a second goal last weekend. We can't afford anything other than a win there. For all our problems and apparent 'crisis', we still have enough in us to get the points against the also-runs in the league. Last weekend is the kind of weekend we must shed blood to avoid, if only for the fact that we are Manchester United.

 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

LIMPING ALL THE WAY TO UKRAINE!

To be honest at the moment, you feel that Manchester United could do without the distraction of European club competition. No fan thinks we can win it this year, even the manager has publicly [albeit ill advised] dismissed the club's chances in Europe this season. It all becomes rather difficult to look ahead to tomorrow's Champions League away tie against Shaktar Donetsk in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Champions are full of Latin American players and have caused one too many top sides huge embarrassment in the competition in recent times. It therefore makes for painful viewing that United are hobbling to play against a well drilled, well organised machine when we cannot even break down mid-table teams in the league at the very large Old Trafford pitch. Football however follows no logic.

So it's three points on the board and search of 7 more to seal progression to the last 16. Given that Old Trafford is unlikely to be our fortress this season, it means we shall need to bag an away win in th group to put ourselves within contention for progression. Germany, Spain and Ukraine are hardly trips you'd fancy to pull off an away win but perhaps this one could turn out to be our best shot at an away victory, simply because we're not in the shape to seek results against any Spanish or German opposition away.



Regardless of his thoughts about whether we can win it, Moyes will go with a full strength side seeking a result to ease what is becoming a hurricane of pressure on him, the players and the club at large. It is evident to all that we shall struggle to beat any top side this season, but he'll win himself some slack if he can keep bagging the results against the also-runs. It's why the defeat at the weekend against West Brom could cost us more than the defeat at the Shittyhad. If I were a Manchester City fan, I'd be gutted beyond repair that one week, we play United off the park and the next we get beaten by an Aston Villa side missing Bentenke. Whereas drawing or losing to United can be explained, the same cannot about Villa or Cardiff or Stoke.
It's the same with United. Whenever the fixtures are out, regardless of their arrangement, we never pencil in 3 points at Anfield or the Shittyhad. One thing we definitely do is pencil in the three against West Brom AT HOME. Losing those three therefore means that we have to win at a place like Stamford Bridge to make up for them over the season. It all falls within the logic of trying to maintain the points accumulation stats that make you a title challenger.

It's going to be a little odd watching United tomorrow. The feeling is that United fans would rather see the team spend all efforts this week preparing for three point at Sunderland and then the next league match and then the next league match, because defeat to another also run could condem us to a fight we shall not be able to recover from.

Finally I'd like to see David Moyes get angry. Enough with being awed by the whole United thing and on to reminding us why he was selected for the job. A siege mentality could do for us in the circumstances. Take a media black-out for all I care. Just get those boys playing their blood out ad post a couple of results to give the one eyed fans something to hang on because Swansea is now that far back.