Sunday, 30 March 2014

OF DAVID MOYES, VILLA AND BAYERN

The past week has been rather difficult for this fan to blog anything about Manchester United. There was an inevitability about the game against the Bitters on Tuesday that left me powerless to write a preview or review. More than anything though, this past week has been about the manager.

David Moyes has officially replaced Danny Welbeck as the most divisive figure at Manchester United. Of the 659 million United fans on the planet, you could almost get half in the pro Moyes camp and the other half in the anti Moyes group. Of the two sentiments, the anti-Moyes one has been steadily winning over converts throughout the season. In fact, almost every bad result has seen a few thousand join it whilst the pro Moyes camp has not benefitted much from the few good results we've posted this season.

The increase in the anti-Moyes subscribers has this past week seen to the first public protest against the club management by fans. In a bid to challenge the Chosen One banner at the Stretford End, a plane would be hired to fly over Old Trafford with the words 'WrongOne--Moyes Out'. That plan came to fruition yesterday in the lunchtime kickoff against Aston Villa.

Crucially for the manager, that other pro Moyes camp is predominantly made up of season ticket holders and generally matchday going Reds. It's why when the aforementioned plane took to the Manchester skies, the stadium erupted in a chorous of boos. There's divisive for you.

While this blog has not particulary declared to which camp it belongs, it is not to suggest that all is well from this viewpoint. David Moyes will at least get another transfer window and 6 months before his position becomes untenable. Until then, no amount of planes in the sky will force the Board's hand. What remains for us is to will the team on to better days. That though has to be counter balanced with some expectations from the prevailing management.

Case in point: David Moyes should not expect many fans to stand by him if he's going to be coming up with comments like he's been doing all season in his press briefs. The nadir was this week when, after the City game, he asserted that we, Manchester United, aspire to get to the level that City are at. Whereas to a neutral, it is easy to see where he was coming from and what he meant, it gets personal when it comes to derbies and seeing our own manager place us below our less successful neighbours is a poke in the eye. Regardless of the merits of your argument, you do not say that as a Manchester United manager. You simply do not.

Just when you thought it was a PR hiccup that we would all get past, on Friday, the boss came up with the latest excuse in a bid to further explain away United's season. He claimed that even Sir Alex would have struggled to get anything much out of this squad. Without explaining myself on this point, logically Moyes is wrong because Sir Alex made an £80m less squad champions last season. How we've become worse by adding to it defeats basic reasoning.

The point here is not to slate the manager or anything, but to merely point out that it is difficult enough watching the team play this season but reading the paper should not be as difficult. The boss needs to come to terms with the media responsibilities of being a United manager. He is now more quottable than he will ever be in his career so it helps that comments and responses are calculated to a level akin to a head of state of a global power, because in football, that is exactly what Manchester United are.

On a lighter side, we actually scored 4 goals at Old Trafford yesterday. That it is hard to remember the last time we scored 4 in the league at home tells its own story. The performance was nothing to write home about but Mata scored at the Stretford End for his first United goal and that in itself made everybody's day.

As if we haven't struggled enough against lesser opposition, the European Champions visit on Tuesday seeking to make the second leg an irrelevance. Quite how David Moyes fares against Pep Guardiola will make for amusing viewing. Strange things do happen in football, but there comes a fixture where strange goes out the window and normal service prevails.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

ANOTHER JOYOUS AWAY DAY

It is those that get to watch United only at Old Trafford that have been hard done by this season. It's hard to believe but United have picked up more points away from home than any other side in the division.  It sobers the mind to the reality and how better off we would be if we made home advantage count.

Upton Park is high on my list of worst grounds. West Ham themselves are not the most fanciful of opponents given their agricultural approach to a game of football. Sandwitched between two fierce derbies, this fixture was always looking awkward. That we came away with full points is very much welcome in the circumstances.

I blogged a week ago that even though the board has a long term vision with the current manager, sometimes such plans can be overtaken by prevailing momentum borne of current events. Moyes had a northwest derby, a deficit to overcome in Europe, and a Manchester derby in 10 days. Of those fixtures, only the Olympiakos game was feasibly within the club's powers at the moment. After adding three points at West Ham, you'd imagine he has done enough to avert that momentum that had built after the demoralizing defeat to the vermin last Sunday. It goes without saying therefore that Tuesday's derby has become a no pressure fixture for him.

Having Michael Carrick in defence did cause many to gulp, and I reckon the likes of Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll were rubbing their hands at the prospect of coming up against a patched up defence. No worry though because Fellaini was effectively a third centre back for us and Darren Fletcher neutralised their midfield threat leaving us with a rather good base to free our front four. Rooney, Mata, Kagawa and Young thrived with little defensive responsibility. Surely David Moyes must use this next month without RVP to make all our creative and destructive talents take charge of the midfield. Without Robin, Wayne leaves the  midfield equation and hence opens up room for Mata, Kagawa and Januzaj, then Fellaini, Carrick and Fletch-depending on who is selected, to dominate the middle of the park. It will be interesting how they cope on Tuesday.

When you factor in the derby, 7th place could be our base camp for now unless something extra-ordinary happens between Sunday during the Spurs game and Tuesday at close of play. Our position therefore is dependent on how we perform in the run in, given that City and Everton are the only fixtures left against sides above us in the league.

Finally, Wayne Rooney, take a bow.....but for as long as he earns 300k a week, more of the same will be expected. With great sums of money comes great responsibility. Just like we've come to expect Cristiano and Lionel to do some alien stuff akin to their alien wages.

Cheers!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

ONE LAST HURRAH!

There was something about last night's team selection that was Sir Alex Ferguson-ish. It's not easy guessing a Manchester United line up but considering the pressure and singular importance of the game, few expected David Moyes to name Rio, Welbz, Valencia and Giggs in our biggest game of the season. Only Sir Alex could and get away with it because he always had the leverage. Seeing Moyes do it prematch sent timelines crashing with how the manager had picked a perfect time to write a suicide note.

When it comes to taking risks in just about every aspect of life, there can only be two outcomes. You either look genuis incarnate or quite simply a fool. David Moyes looked the former on a night that has already taken its place in the archive of famous European nights at Old Trafford.

Make no mistake, as a club, Manchester United shouldn't be too giddy about the events of last night. However, given the nature of season that the club has suffered, Wednesday was about the fans. The manner in which nursed wounds have been re-opened this season has caused an unspeakable hurt to supporters so much so that on Sunday during the derby, fans were forced to sing through the misery in an attempt to drown out the pain. With virtually nothing left to play for this season, Wednesday was the last available straw to clutch on and boy did the players clutch.

The passion, energy and desire on show last night is what fans have been baying for all season. If only we could play with that every game. It's a shame that they still have it in them and yet we find ourselves in this pridicament.

The heroes on the night were quite many as is often the case when it's a collective effort but I thought this result was ultimately down to the ageless class that is Ryan Giggs. How he plays once a month but still turns in a better performance than any of our midfielders is as freakish as the fact that a 40 year old can still play a Champions League game for 90 minutes.
De Gea, Rooney, Valencia, Welbz and of course RVP deserve their plaudits but we all know they won't be doing it at 40. Certainly not at this level.

The last 8 draw is tomorrow but I couldn't care less who we drew for we're now in a pressure-less zone. It's great to be among the best 8 teams in Europe in this season of all seasons. It's great that we've not yet played our last Champions League match for the foreseeable future. And just for 2 days at least, it's great to have that divine feeling about being a Manchester United dan.

Monday, 17 March 2014

NUMBER 9

So it wasn't as bad as Olympiacos, but yet again the spirit wasn't there, neither was the drive nor the will to avert what was in many ways the accident waiting to happen.
It's never nice to lose to the old enemy, especially at home and maybe that's what hurt the most yesterday.

There's nothing about the in game action that hasn't been blogged about this season so it saves more column inches to address the elephant in the room. The popular line from the heirachy at Old Trafford is that David Moyes will not be sacked at least until after the next transfer window. However, given the nature of the fixture list in March, there could be a great deal of momentum that could cause fault lines in the board room.

After Liverpool, March still has Olympiacos, West Ham away and City at home. We've already lost the first of those, and overturning a two goal deficit against the Greek champions is going to be noble from this position. It very well means that 3 defeats in this period could cause sparks.

It will be impressive of the board to stay firm and weather the storm, but counting 9 league defeats already is very worrying at any rate. The problem with sinking so low is that 4th place next season becomes acceptable which is not supposed to be the case. The target is immediately restored to first place once the season closes.

There's a lot of our play that suggests the players have given up. Nobody takes the risks akin to the club anymore. It's increasingly becoming difficult to blog about lost causes. It would be eassier if the players showed cause and care but alas!

If they don't make a show of it on Wednesday, they might as well simulate the rest if the season and put a lot of souls out of their mysery.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

DERBY TIME IN THE NORTH WEST

The North West derby has traditionally been England's premier club game. Rarely though has this fixture determined the winner of the domestic league title. In fact, 2009 is probably the only time these two sides competed for a league title. Liverpool's dominance during the times of black and white television coincided with dark days at United. When the skies cleared for the Red Devils, their arch rivals plunged into a pit of league title poverty that has seen them clear a quarter of a century without being tagged English champions. In fact, despite holding an 11 titles lead over the current champions back in 1990, they've watched on as United have not only wiped out that lead but established a 2 titles lead themselves to become England's principal club.

True to the contrasting form of the sides in this fixture, this weekend sees the two old rivals meet with the Dippers in form, at the top end of the league and United enduring a forgettable season. It's hard to remember the last time Liverpool came to Old Trafford as favourites but such are the times. Brendan Rogers has done a great job of building his side around the talents of a cannibal and a lad that was not told he couldn't dance well back in school.

As it is, this game marks a run of crucial games in a ten day period that will define what is left for our season. In the grand scheme of things though, a lot about the attitude of the current crop will be put to the test in these fixtures. Lying down against a foreign opponent in Europe is one thing but doing it against our arch rivals is another. Regardless of the futures of some players, they should be seen to be giving a hundred percent on a day when you feel anything less could be punished.

We've beaten Liverpool at home already this season in the League Cup with a weaker side so there's nothing to suggest that the job is beyond our means. In a season where we shall look back and struggle to pick positives, you feel such games are all that is left to toast about this season.
Whether the playing staff is tuned to that reality is something we shall find out on Sunday.

Monday, 10 March 2014

ROUTINE JOB

Manchester United produced a professional performance to ease past West Brom Saturday lunchtime. In a game that followed the proverbial Greek tragedy, United were under pressure to bounce back especially when the next fixtures are put in contemplation.

On a day when all three goals were scored by Englishmen in the side, United never really looked troubled at the Hawthorns. The last couple of fixtures in which Marrouanne Fellaini has played from injury have resulted in credible performances from the Belgian, so much so that the boss will receive more stick from fans if the Belgian does not make the team for the testing home games against City and Liverpool.

The one adverse on the day was a rather cold afternoon for Robin van Persie who escaped a red card and seemed to cut a frustrated figure on an afternoon when you'd imagine there was no need to be  frustrated especially considering how the game panned out for United. It has sparked plenty of bile from the press regarding his future. The reality is there's a lot of deconstruction and reconstruction to be done in the summer, so much so that it's at best hit and miss to predict any happening in June and July.

I know we kept a second straight clean sheet but our defending has been a source of nerves for us this season. They say David Moyes is a defensive minded manager but United have been anything but solid this season. Everytime a team has dared to run at our defence, we've been at sixes and sevens. On Saturday, Jones and Smalling did not look like a central defensive partnership, even in the making. I know they've hardly played together and Phil is only coming back from injury but it was a bag of nerves when they were up against it. That usually transits to the goalkeeper and the midfield as the defence is the bedrock on which the team is built. City and Liverpool will run at us at will next week, so you hope something can be done on the training ground this week to make the defence more assured.

Because of how far back we've fallen, the win merely maintains our status in 6th or 7th in a merry-go-round that is swapping positions with Everton at the moment. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks we shall learn if we shall ultimately finish above the toffees. Yes, it has become that bad.  

Friday, 7 March 2014

BACK TO BASICS

The last time Manchester United took to the pitch was a write off. Listening in to the phone ins via the BBC Red Wednesday podcast post Olympiakos, alerted me to the reality that I was not the only Red that was deeply hurt by that particular performance. I blogged here post match that the one expectation that we fans have of the club is to defend the traits that the club stands for and that have embodied the shirt since the Second World War.
It was shocking seeing the team without a care in the world as the clock made it's way to the 90th minute.

Many a Red on phone-ins made the point that they've stuck by the team through this horrible of seasons but were not willing to put up with the rubbish that was on display in Athens. Manchester United as a club has literally been to hell and back in its 136 year history but it was amazing when a senior citizen of the Republic of Mancunia, a fan since 1928, phoned in to confirm that it was the worst performance he had seen from a Manchester United side in his 86 years of watching United. When you consider our history since 1928, it speaks volumes what we witnessed last week. His assertion was corroborated by various callers who have followed United since the 1940s and 1950s. At first I thought I was harsh with my assesment of the team but when those lads had their say, I was vindicated. There was something about that game that really begged for a loaded gun pointed to the head.

Perhaps it was not a good thing that that performance was quickly followed by a 2 week break of no football to remedy that. It has lingered a little bit on and sometimes when such performances are allowed to sink in, they become a sort of acceptable low and yet even on bad days we can't afford to put in the kind of show we did in Greece. That said, this season we've specialised in finding new lows even when the nadir has long been reached. It leaves one wondering how it could get much worse. But who knows? Maybe tomorrow the team will choose to score 7 own goals just to achieve a new nadir.

We're first up on the telly for Matchday 29 with a trip to the Midlands. Traditionally, we would be looking at three easy points but West Brom are one of the sides that have profited from United's lacklustre approach this season (in truth, who hasn't?). The 3 points tomorrow will only be got at premium sweat. What is even more certain is that we are not going to have a similar result to the one posted at the Hawthorns last season. 5-5 is as sure a long bet as you will get from the bookies.

Given the showing in our last game, the thing most Reds will be looking out for is an improvement on the performance. It surely cannot be that hard to better what we saw in Greece. But it will be demanded!