Wednesday, 26 February 2014

JESUS WEPT

After the heart breaking last minute collapse against Fulham at home recently, David Moyes told us how the season had gotten as bad as it could possibly have become. In hindsight, he probably jinxed it, because last night was surely the nadir. Quite how professional players at that level could turn in such a performance still baffles me.

Forget the tactics or whatever you might want to rationalise the performance with, there is no possible explanation to justify what was surely the worst Manchester United performance in memory. I mean it's difficult finding an adjective that does justice to it. Lethargic? Lacklustre? Laboured? Take a pick, none will suffice.

As fans watching the game last night, we are supposed to keep in mind that these are professionals good at what they do and therefore are much better than us on the pitch, but it was hard to rate yourself below the standards displayed last night. And yet some of those players earn just short of a million quid a month. A look at the wages of the Greek champions in comparison to the side they so easily outsmarted will literally make you weep.

We've seen bad managers before, but at a club of United's stature, with the quality of players they have, no one bad manager would get them to play as unbothered as last night. They're not sheep. But it appears they chose to be. David Moyes must have been shocked as much as anyone. For all his flaws as a manager, he doesn't have the dark powers to blind an entire team to the extent of not recognising the badge on the shirt they are wearing.

Defeat is acceptable, but not in the manner in which United succumbed last night. For a side that embodies the traits of ambition, desire, entertainment and a never say die attitude, that was hollow, and the entire personnel employed to live up to those ideals must now take a long hard look at themselves, probably have a word with themselves too.

Our job as fans is to support the team even during the not so great seasons. We're not asking the team to suddenly make top 4 and qualify for the Champions League, we're not asking the team to win this season's European Cup, because we appreciate that this season was always going to be tough. But the one thing we are entitled to demand from our club is to try. To care. To show effort. At the moment, they all look like they can't wait for their next cheque. If only they understood how many of those who travelled to watch them in Athens would do their jobs for free.

If only they knew.

Monday, 24 February 2014

IN ATHENS

The Greek capital provides the venue for one of the less profile last 16 ties of this season's Champions League. The worldwide fame of the English champions however will easily make it one of the more watched ties.

For a season that easily makes it to the top 5 most disappointing seasons of the club, Manchester United have been exceptional in the champions league. To be fair, that has undoubtedly got a lot to do with the plum draw that we got in the group stages, but almost all our best performances have come in the competition that was supposed to expose David Moyes' flaws as a manager. In a bizzare twist of things, he has looked assured in Europe---using Kagawa to deadly effect---while he has been made to look out of sorts in the bread and butter that is domestic football. That we go into the tie tomorrow with the best defensive record is a minor baffling statistic in itself considering we've had a differenet defensive partnership for just about every group stage game. Still, the fact that we've not been severely tested or at least punished could account for that but you can only beat what is in front of you.

Speaking of  what is in front of us, Olympiakos stand between us and a place in the final eight of Europe's premier club competition. Given the state in which United find themselves, you cannot authoritatively say that it is a tie which United should easily negotiate. If the United we've come to know lately shows up, it suddenly becomes anyone's game on the night.

There is a tempetation to play for just the one away goal on away days in Europe just as we did in Shaktar, but I'd like us to show teeth at every opportunity, get more than the one goal if we can. Old Trafford has not been home this season so we might need a couple of away goals to offset any eventuality in the home leg.

We've got another couple of weeks break after this so you hope that the players break a leg and put in a shift to get us a result to keep us happy for another ten days or so. So come on United!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

UNITED FINALLY WIN A FOOTBALL MATCH

It's been the exception rather the norm this season that we get to have a weekend during which United did the basic business of winning a league match. To be honest, even in this calamitous of seasons, we are still expected to win matches at venues like Selhurst park. It therefore goes without saying that nothing extraordinary was achieved last evening. That however did not stop yours truly from getting out of his seat when both goals went in. There's just something about Manchester United that he cannot control.

For the first time ever, the manager had his 4 amigos all out on the pitch at the same time. Januzaj, Mata, Rooney and RVP took to the pitch after relegating Young and Valencia to the bench. You would think that this would eliminate basic wing play from the side but it did not. Much of our attacks continued to be built from out wide with Smalling, Evra and Januzaj swinging balls into the area. We hardly attempted to go through the middle. Thankfully though, the amount of flair on the pitch made it less predictible as Mata and Rooney constantly swapped roles all over the attacking areas to give Palace a nightmare job of defending.

It was also notable how the midfield of Carrick and Fellaini held their own. Of course it was merely Palace but we've been overrun there by the likes of Cardiff City so it helps that they covered themselves in some glory yesterday. The  Belgian in particular could have scored at least a couple.  Hopefully those goal scoring instincs return soon enough.

The result moves us to 6th place for the time being but in all probability, Everton will win their game in hand to relegate us to 7th. The focus though shoul now be on Tuesday evening in Athens. There's every need for us to go there and get a great result.

Omwards and Upwards!

Friday, 21 February 2014

WITH WARMTH FROM DUBAI

Manchestet United returned from Dubai Wednesday, just in time to get a bodily reminder of the gale and usual wind that has bedevilled Manchester recently. The warm weather training in Dubai was frowned upon by many as it has luxurious holiday written all over what would otherwise be a great team bonding opportunity.

Regardless of your opinion about that break, the managerial staff  can only be vindicated by two victories over the next two games, in four days. The domestic crisis means that Crystal Palace away on Saturday tea time falls in the category of must win games if the current management is to be tolerated in this so called transition period while in Athens on Tuesday, the competition presents the only realistically available route to the Champions League next term. That though is for Monday's preview.

The immediate concern is Crystal Palace tomorrow. I've been trying to work out if there's some jinx or record that is up for smashing against the Eagles. These records have come more often than not against the smaller sides so hopefully the fact that I haven't found one yet should hold us in good stead on the night.

The league itself is obviously one that United fans will not hold long in memory, save for if we suffer relegation, but we're in a position where we cannot realistically challenge for the fresh crumbs off the table. It has left us in the uneviable position of challenging for cold stale left over crumbs that would have sent the Bibilical Prodigal Son back to his rich father sooner than is Bibilically recorded. The Europa league is those cold stale left over crumbs. The number of games in the competition coupled with the low revenues means that it is a competition that teams like United could do without. Given that United will aim to win the league next year, the Europa league becomes a nasty distraction.

Unless Sunderland win the Cup, we are perfectly placed to avoid that horrible competition next year. However, one cannot simply hope that United ease off and finish 7th this year as pride dictates we fight on to finish as high as possible. It's why yours truly will still be berating the side to beat Palace. However, that could again come with the ramifications of the Europa league next term since we will more likely finish 5th or 6th if we launch an assault on 4th. That, dear reader, is the crux of the dillemma this fan faces ahead of the next MatchDay.

In other more contentious news, Wayne Rooney has agreed a new 5 year deal at the club that will see him earn 50p per second untill 2019. I can only wish him well during those nights at the bar and the afternoons at the shopping malls. I never take time to covet a player's wages if that player is doing the business when we take our seats in the pubs. What Wayne has done for himself is cashed in on all the sympathy in the bank when he has those off weeks or off months for instance as he hasn't yet scored since Boxing Day 2013.

It will be great watching United after 10 days or so of not watching them, but of the two quick games coming up, Tuesday is the one that will get my blood boiling for the away win.
So come on United!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

COMPETITIVE STALEMATE

Arsenal and Manchester United played out an engaging stalemate in a match both sides could not afford to lose. In the end, none lost as the title challengers and the champions cancelled each other out on a night of positives and negatives for both sides.

United can take heart from a rather rare solid defensive display that kept the Gunners at arms length all evening. David Moyes set up his side in pretty much the only way you can set up at the Emirates, on the counter attack. And his tactics can be justified on the premise that on another evening, we could have come away with all 3 points. Robin van Persie in particular could have got himself at least a couple if he had last season's boots on. To be fair to the Dutchman, he has got himself a good goal return since making his comeback from injury.

In the end, the point can only be frowned upon for a couple of minutes as David de Gea had to produce a couple of outstanding stops to prevent us from going behind late on into the match. That both goalkeepers ended up being up for the man of the match award tells you something about the edge of the tie.


United fans obviously look at the result in the grand scheme of things but in isolation, its a decent result. We've only let ourselves down in the other winnable fixtures, for instance a win against Fulham would have made this result all the more impressive. As it stands though, we're now light years behind 4th and the job now seems to be all about pride and finding a way of avoiding the Europa league next term.

In the meantime, the squad is off to Dubai--some reward for a poor season. I'm intriguingly thankful that it will be a while till we next see United in action. It was becoming all too much to take in in such a short space of time. Maybe they'll return next week with that red fire restored in their eyes.
re

Monday, 10 February 2014

MORE PAIN

David Moyes must be wondering how many black cats he drives past on his way to Carrington every morning. It always seems that just when it appears that things cannot get any worse for United, the club always seems to find a new low every matchday.

In his post match press conference, the boss confessed that he didn't know what we had to do to win. Perhaps the answer lies in Rene Mulensteen's post match comments where he asserted that his side found it easy to defend against United"s game plan. If that is a rival manager's opinion, then questions have to be asked as to why United couldn't diversify their play enough to give Fulham much more to think about than clearing crosses. Wing based attack is a Manchester United tradition but the club have also been about variety of style play than merely whipping the ball into the box. It appears that will be the one aspect that has to be improved upon before United get better. You can spend all you want in the summer, heck, you can stick Lionel Messi in the box but if your only game plan is to whip it in the box, defenders will be laughing their way to aerial duels all afternoon.

In further reference to those black cats Moyes drives past to Carrington, yesterday was the 5th time we've conceeded a crucial late goal at Old Trafford. We used to save that punch for opponents in the past, but it appears we've been dealt a taste of our own medicine this term. The concern for me has been our defending this season. Forget the fruitless attacks, we've not been solid enough at the back. They say David Moyes is a defensive minded manager, but I've hardly seen any resoluteness at the back all season. Teams have picked off our back four at will. I mean Fulham got a goal for each of the two times that they searched for one. If your defenders cannot sniff out just 2 attacks over 90 minutes, what prayer do you have when you're up against sides that will register 30 attempts at your goal? There's a school of thought that we have not had a permanent pair at the back, but our four centre backs have played so often together in the past 2 seasons that you'd imagine they have a fair understanding of themselves. Think of it in the mould of consistent inconsistency.

In the grand scheme of things, the result effectively means that United cannot possibly make 4th without an almighty collapse from each of the three sides above chasing the same position. Next up is a small matter of a trip to the Emirates where we shall be relying on recent history of the fixture more than our abilities on the pitch. You just hope that the boss doesn't drive past another Black cat enroute to London.

Friday, 7 February 2014

LOOK AHEAD TO FULHAM PLUS A TRIBUTE TO CAPTAIN NEMANJA

The biggest news coming out of the club today is that the team captain Nemanja Vidic will leave the club in the summer having come to a mutual agreement with the club. Whereas we all knew that the next 6 months will see a lot of the older players and fringe players leave, the statement confirming Vidic's departure brings to mind the realisation of the squad overhaul to come.

The Serbian has been a tremendous servant to the club in his 8 year stay and played his part in a 15 trophy haul during his stay with us. He peaked in 2008, just in time to mould a rock solid defensive partnership with Rio in front of Edwin van der Sar. That wall was responsible for the victory over Barcelona in the 2008 European Cup semifinal. Vidic grew into one of the best raw defenders of the game during his time at United and will go down as one of the greatest defenders the club has ever had alongside the likes of Stam, Pallister and Bruce. We wish him all the best ahead.

On to the actual football: This season that just won't end already has thrown up another fixture for us this weekend despite our best efforts to get eliminated from every competition. Fulham visit Old Trafford on Sunday evening looking to do what so many sides have already done this season, beat United on their own turf.

United have struggled to beat half decent opposition this season but Fulham are not even half decent at all on current form. Quite how we lose this one will baffle even Fulham themselves. With our champions league rivals almost certain to drop points this weekend, you do not have to wait till May to mourn United's failure to make 4th if they don't bag all three points.

At the moment it's asking too much of United to put on a performance. So the result will do from now on. The way I see it, 4th place is currently only attainable if we win all the remaining games. Given that that is unlikely in this season of all seasons, my hopes are no higher than I will get this weekend. There's every chance we could win on Sunday but lose at the Emirates in midweek, after which our weekend result will not matter.

Ultimately, it all starts with just the one step, so let's get Fulham out of the way then worry about what lies ahead.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

EUROPE FADES

There surely can't have been people that imagined the start of the Moyes era to be worse than it has already been. It is therefore accurate to assert that life under the new boss has gotten off the worst possible start. Quite how we can sink further from this position is hard to fathom, but if this season has taught us anything it is not to underestimate how far off we can fall.

About the game, I really hope Stoke are the last side against whom we had a long unbeaten run. At the moment, those records have served to jinx us. Life ahead would be much better if we did not have another of those records to protect. It is however alarming that United cannot impose their game on teams anymore.
The play has been laboured all too frequently that it's a tad too easu to defend United attacks. Increasingly, it appears that more than the odd couple of players will have to make way in the summer. It is, succinctly puy, not good enough.

The result all but means that Champions League football is not an option next season. In all probability, we shall end the week 9 points behind Liverpool in 4th. Whereas the gap is not an impossible job to close, our consistency levels do not allow is to challenge.

Sometimes you are left wondering if we should cancel this season and start afresh. As we await to realise that dream, we'll be hopping for a reaction against Filham.