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.