Friday, 29 August 2014

FROM HEADERS TO NIPPLERS

If you wanted to sum up how low Manchester United have sunk over the past weekend, you needn't look further than the fact that we're now conceeding goals via nipples of all parts. Such was the ignomity of the second goal scored by MK Dons on Tuesday in the Capital One Cup.

That we shall play 9 games over the next three months is further testament to the irrelevance United have rendered themselves over the past 12 months. 
According to the manager, the state of the club is such that we are rebuilding and essentially that he is bestowing upon the club a philosophy that will hold us in good stead for the long term future. That has necessitated a restructuring of the playing staff to the extent that the likes of Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez are likely to have already played their last games for the club. By the time Monday kicks in, there is every chance that United shall be past phase 1 of the promised rebuilding process. 

In tune with the same process, the club expect to bring in a couple of players before Monday's deadline to join Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw Marcos Rojo and latest arrival Angel Di Maria. 

The rebuilding will be done, and everything that goes in with it. The now however is that the league season is underway and United have dropped 5 points from the opening 2 games. It's all nice and perfect that it takes time to get accustomed to the new system that the manager has so far employed but the fixture list knows no waiting.

Burnley await the visit of United tomorrow lunchtime in what is a must win big fixture for the Reds. At the moment, the title is now looking like a dream for us but we cannot allow ourselves to fall so far back by October like we did last season that Champions League becomes a target even before Christmas. We still have a good run of fixtures to make do with but the current injury crisis coupled with the form of the current crop has meant that every fixture is now as nervy as the last game of the season in a title challenging campaign. 

A lot has been said about how United have played so far this season, but I wonder whether the famous writing pad of the manager has contributed to nerves and a play it safe approach that the players have so far exhibited. It is no secret that LVG loves even the odd detail....such as a misplaced pass, and he does take note of the little things that we may not be able to remember post match. However, I wonder if that has caused a fear upon the side so much so that they are afraid to give a wrong pass or to make a decision with the ball. The result has been a lack of cutting edge because playing with such fear and nervousness ironically leads you to make the same mistakes you were afraid to make.

As a result the team has taken less risks in the couple of games played so far which invariably results in dumb squib performances and results. The best players in the world, heck, the best teams in the world take the most risks. It's always the difference between scoring a goal and not. Merely taking the ball out of your half is a risk in football. Is it any wonder that no player in the world loses more balls than Lionel Messi? The answer is in the simple reality that the little Argentine attempts more risks in a match than any other player. It also goes without saying that the best goals scored are those taken with the highest risk.....such as a risk of looking silly if you score from the halfway line like David Beckham.

I'd like to see us take more risks on the pitch. Tear into the opposition, but not look to play the safe pass back to Tyler Blackett. 

Maybe United are not cut out for the title this season, but fixtures such as Saturday's are the kind we are expected to win even with 10 injured players.
Again, I thought the same on Tuesday.


Monday, 25 August 2014

OF BAD BEGINNINGS

One out of 6 is what the report card currently reads for Manchester United this season. Against conventional thought, LVG has not hit the ground running in the Premier League, not least because he faces his biggest injury crisis as a manager. The Dutch boss amitted on Friday that he has never been without as many as 9 players through injury at any of the clubs he has managed n his 30 year managerial career.

News that Ander Herrera joined the list of casualities on Friday suddenly made the trip to the Stadium of Light much trickier than anticipated. Those fears were confirmed when midway through the second half, Adnan Januzaj partnered Tom Cleverely in the most novel of midfield combinations United have come up with in recent times.

Therefore, that in the end we came away with a point was not all doom and gloom moreso because fulltime was greeted by confirmation that the club had agreed a British record £65 fee for perhaps the world's leading out and out winger in Angel Di Maria. It means therein the disappointment of a slow start to the season, lies a hope that LVG will sort it out sooner rather than later.

In the grand scheme of things though, we remain short of incission and precission in the final third of the pitch, a shame really considering its our strongest department. It remains to be seen whether the purchase of a world class winger shall now give the manager the options that he needs to play his favoured 4-3-3.

Manchester United are not unfamiliar with slow starts as we've often started slower than not in the past couple of decades. Two games are therefore unlikely to raffle many a faithful, but it is important that we do not let the smooth start to the season in terms of fixtures pass us by without capitalising. Besides, the squad still knows how to play badly and win.

On the transfer front, a couple more additions especially in midfield and defence could go a long way in restoring a swag about the side ahead of matchday.

Next up is anrather embarrasing Second round tie in the League Cup. The silver lining though is that it presents the boss wity an opportunity to get that first competitive win jinx out of the way ahead of another winnable league fixture on Saturday at Turf Moor.

Friday, 22 August 2014

SECOND CHANCES; SUNDERLAND VS MANCHESTER UNITED PREVIEW

The start of the new league season was everything about a kick in the teeth for the club and fans. It appeared nothing we did or indeed achieved in pre season was worthy preparation for the business end of things. Swansea got all three points from Old Trafford without really breaking sweat. It appeared that the defeat could be attributed more to ourselves than the opposition.

The players seemed to have no confidence whatsoever in anything that was done in summer tour of the USA. United were nervous. Ultimately they froze. It was a pity. The week ahead led to social media calls for the owners to invest some of the hundreds of millions that they make from the club. In came Marcos Rojo from Sporting Lisbon to provide more cover for a defence that is severely short of bodies let alone quality.

Rojo though was not the difference between us and the Swans on opening day. In any event, at least three more big names will have to get in before the end of the month if the squad is going to be largely impacted on by new signings. It means United simply performed at excess capacity last week and need to go all out this time round.

We travel to Sunderland on Sunday in a bid to get our season started. We have been blessed with the easiest start to a season in ages and yet we are already playing catch up to our rivals. Sunday has therefore taken on a new importance. It's a about putting something on the board. It is inconceivable that come close of EPL business on Sunday, we could have Nil points to show out of a very winnable 6 at the start of the season. If LVG says confidence was smashed by last week's result, how much more shall we lose if we come away from the Stadium of Light without the points?

Pictures from the training ground indicate that Evans, RVP, and Valencia are back in training. Welbeck seems to have recovered as well. That in itself gives us better options for Sunday. It will be interesting to see who the manager starts in the wing back position given his options this week.
Ultimately though, it will come down to whether the players can turn up and express themselves come kick off. It was difficult to analyse last week's result because a lot about it was hard to explain....not when we had just completed the best pre season in recent memory.

This weekend might just be one for second chances.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

A PITY

The boss perhaps summed it all up aptly when he labelled our opening day defeat at home to Swansea as a pity. For a side that has swept all before them in pre season against some of the best sides in Europe, it was a pity that they suddenly became nervous when it finally mattered. The decision making, the patience, nothing was like what we've come to expect of the side under the new regime. Perhaps it was a timely reminder of the shortage of guarantees in this league but there is a sense that United cheated themselves of all three points yesterday.

In tune with the narrative last season, the opposition defended well, bided their time, attacked when offered the opportunity and made it count. That was not least because for the first time under the new regime, we defended like the horror days of last season. It doesn't matter if your opponent attacks once, if you defend by retreating deep into your box, the opposition will inevitably score. That it did not happen throughout preseason now makes it seem like the players were saving it for the real business. It's a pity indeed.

It's a pity that Jesse Lingaard lasted just 24minutes of his competitive debut for United. It's a shame because it's youngsters like him who have been able to quickly learn the "new information' offered by the new regime.

For the new manager, he has now been given the leeway to dispose of a lot of the players he feels are not up to standard. None will lay claim to having not been given the opportunity to impress him. In the most subtle way, the boss post match took a swipe at his players by saying that it's not all about effort but use of the brain. There was hardly any use of the brain yesterday, save of course for the excellent Ander Herrera in midfield and the improvisation of Wayne Rooney to net the equaliser with an overhead kick at point blank range.

Obviously the defeat piles more pressure on the club's heirarchy to spend a lot more in this transfer window. The sad reality is that the Glazer business model is designed to get United in the Champions League. It means even the spending that shall be mustered from here on will only be enough to land a top 4 place. How LVG uses the resources available to deliver any form of silverware is going to be interesting to watch from a neutrals perspective. He has already privately ruled out the title for next season rather than this but as United fans, the league title shalll always remain a target until it is mathematically impossible to achieve it.

There's a full 8 days for the club to analyse that defeat before Sunderland away next week. The theory is that like las season when Old Trafford became a difficult ground for us, the away games should still go better as I imagine there shall be no nerves, less pressure from the crowd, but a brilliant away fans contingent as ever.
In the meantime, we can only hope that the injuries ease up on a couple of key players or that a few bodies are brought in to cover the apparent shortage.

Friday, 15 August 2014

THE ULTIMATE SEASON PREVIEW

We can stop pretending to love tennis and golf and some of those weird spors at the Commonwealth games (one such as Small Bore) because the football is back! After enduring 12 months of dreading the prospect of league fixtures because of what turned out to be a managerial disaster, it's great to have that feeling again of looking forward to the Saturday afternoon with an aura of expectancy. Long gone are the days we used to 'try' to make it difficult for our opponents. It's back to the days when the opposition how to figure out how to contend with Manchester United at Old Trafford. How to deal wth a 3-5-2 formation.

Admitedy, United have not strengthened in crucial areas of the team and have been dealt with a few injuries already, but it's a breath of fresh air that we shall head into the seaaon favourites to win all our games until a top 4 side comes round about mid October.

The defence is perhaps the most fragile in terms of bodies, let alone quality. Luke Shaw, Tony V, Rafael and Evans are all injured. It means the likes of James Reece and Tyler BLackett could be in for their Premier League debuts much earlier than expected. The failure to sign at least one centre half before the big kick off might yet prove to be a mistake, but if the youngsters can play to the rules of LVG, it is unlikely that experience will matter just yet. Besides, for all its demands, the Premier league is not the Champions League. In truth though, young Tyler Blackett has looked the best defender of the lot in the cameos that rdhe's had on tour. He also came out with his head held high after Tuesday's fixture against Valencia. Ultimately though, the defenders at the back need a cohesion to be able to deal with a large chuck of the pitch marshalled by just the three at the back.

The best news about the change in system by the manager is that midfield shall hardly be a problem for us this year despite the absence of a defensive midfielder. The 5 in midfield means that we shall match if not dominate our opponents in the most crucial part of the pitch. It is quite long since United could go into a game comfortable with their midfield resources. Ander Herrera and Darren Fletcher should continue to perform in that role until something happens in the transfer window. Juan Mata has been liberated of all unnatural midfield duties to concentrate on goals and assists upfront. It means we can afford to get  Ander and Darren to provide the all important sheild for the back three. It will be interesting whether Reece James will be entrusted with RWB if Valencia doesn't make it. He and Ashley Young are the best available options for the demanding wing back positions. Young has redefined himself to thrive in the LWB position and the injury to Luke means that he has at least a month in the season to try and make that number his own. His performances in pre season have a times beggared belief to the extent that he might have just given Shaw a good run for his money in that position.

We still have one of the best forward lines in the country. Wayne Rooney ought to make the most of being played in his favourite position for the first time in quite a while. Number 10 duties are no longer in his Terms of Reference, so you hope that he concentrates on banging them in more frequently this season. He is captain of the team now, so it will be interesting to see how he is liberated by the new role. Robin van Persie is still not fit enough but as and when he does, our attack should just about pick itself week in, week out. Javier Hernandez is still subject of transfer speculation, but for as long as Welbeck is still injured, he is a shoe in to start the season alongside Wayne upfront.

The season starts at home against Swansea City, who have managed to eek themsleves in Manchester United history by providing the opposition at the behinning or end of a new era at United recently. Old Trafford was a horror ground for us last season, the challenge is there to make it a horror ground for opponents again.

Tuesday's performance was the worst so far under the new regime. We shall have to perform much better to get the three points tomorrow. Given the low levels of confidence from last season, it is important to hit the ground running so as to build momentum early on and get our mojo back.
It's quite a while since we started the league season at home. Saturday should be a special occassion. The real business starts now.

SO COME ON UNITED!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

QUICK POST VALENCIA NOTES

United rounded up the best pre season since memory can recollect with a 2-1 win over Valencia at Old Trafford.
In what has been a near flawless 6 games, it's a shame that the worst performance came in last night's return home. The boss was rightly critical of the players. It baffles how this team could produce scinthilating football on NFL pitches and yet laboured at times last night.

The biggest positive though remains what has been the underlying theme of all our games under the new management---win. Not since the Sir Alex days can United claim the winning run they've been on, albeit in pre season. Marrouanne Fellaini has always been the scapegoat of the David Moyes era. His last minute winner was perhaps a touch of poetic justice after having his every touch ironically cheered by those in the stands.
It remains to be seen if LVG will hold him down as a Plan C or seek to ship him out as soon as a fee is agreed with Napoli.

The playstuff is done for another season though. The business starts Saturday lunchtime against Swansea City. With a host of first team regulars unavailable for selection for various reasons last night, what would have been a straight forward fixture takes on an awkward look. What's for certain though is that United have to play much better than they did last night to get the desired result on opening day.

A look ahead to that will follow closer to the weekend.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

UNITED WRAP UP PERFECT TOUR WITH SILVERWARE

Not that the Chevrolet Cup and the International Champions Cup will matter when accolades are tallied next May, but for a side that was a pale shadow of itself last season, they might just do a world of a difference to their confidence. More than anything, it is the manner in which United have dispatched top class opposition that will encourage fans ahead of the big kickoff.

16 goals in 5 games, with just the 4 conceded largely from the penalty spot, has made for arguably the best pre season preparation in quite a while. After dispatching LA Galaxy, AS Roma, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, United were expected to meet their first real test in Liverpool, who would provide a bit of what to expect in the domestic schedule next term. Resistance they got, as Liverpool started sharper, brighter, causing panic in the United defence whenever they got forward. The early pressure resulted into a 4th penalty for Liverpool vs United in the last 103 minutes of football againt them.

It was notable in that first half how uncomfortable the back 3 were with the ball. Darren Fletcher did not help matters with a poor passing display. The Scott however cannot be expected to put in 2 great shifts in 2 days after what be has been through medically. The same excuse cannot go for the defence though. Inexperience between Evans, Jones and Smalling is the reason we need at least one more experienced defender before the window closes.
At the other end, Hernandez missed our only real chance of an otherwise poor first half. The Mexican did provide the assist for the leveller in the second period but he did little to make a case for himself as far as nudging ahead of Danny Welbeck in the pecking order. It is already appafent that the hold up play provided by Danny is quite a complement to LVG's system of play.

Normal service was resumed in the second half however as the introduction of Tyler Blackett restored the much needed composure at the back. United were now able to pass it calmly from behind as the system dictates. Rooney got United level before Mata turned the game on its head. The Spaniard has really flourished in his favourite number 10 position. He is one of those destined for a steller season ahead. Jesse Lingaard added a third late on to add fuel to the argument that he deserves his chance in the United team having done it on pre season twice, on loan and obviously for the reserve side. I really hope he gets it this season.

Perhaps though, the most important pointer in the game was the difference a new manager is going to make for us this season. United have not played as badly and trailed at halftime on tour before. We were in such a position countless times last season and yet hardly improved. Changes were never made to alter the course of a game radically. At halftime tonight, LVG made the change to the defence, and change to the midfield that we could not pinpoint but wanted. We were not certain of Blackett's composure on the ball as compared to, say, Evans but he was aware and brought on the youngster to that exact effect. The withdrawal of Fletcher as well made for a better ball distribution and accuracy. In effect, that is all that was needed to convert a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead in the blink of an eye.

I've already blogged that some of the opposition we have faced on tour is the toughest we shall face for a year, but it was important to beat Liverpool in this fixture if only for the fact it will give the players a huge confidence boost ahead of the season. The first 7 or 8 games of the season are very winnable, so it sets us up for a very good start to the season if the players can take this form to Manchester.

Exciting football, exciting times again. Next up is a friendly vs Valencia, back home (thankfully, given the time schedules of US fixtures) which should be a dress rehearsal to how we shall line up the following Saturday to kick off the campaign.

Onwards and Upwards!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

ALMOST TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, ALMOST

Either Manchester United are back or they're really setting us up for a massive joke. Even in the best of times, you cannot expect to go play the kind of pre season fixtures United have had and come out with a flawless record. Compared to what we've been served for the last 12 months, watching United ahead of the up coming season has been incredibly unbelievable.

After making light work of tests against LA Galaxy, AS Roma and Inter Milan, we wondered if Real Madrid would be the side to expose United's new system. Besides the fact that they have a good chunk of quality players, they are a well coached team under Ancellotti who ranks equal to Louis van Gaal in terms of achievements if not experience. However, by the time United were through with the European champions, Ancellotti had sent on the world's best player, a certain former red, in a bid to salvage the situation even after ruling him out of the match due to fitness concerns.
Not that it mattered though, as United claimed a third goal even after the introduction of Ronaldo.

Before all that though, Ashley Young managed to get the attention of the anti-dopping authorities by putting on another blinder of a performance. They will require a urine sample soon.

In light of the performances of some of the would be fringe players, you understand Louis van Gaal's reluctance in the transfer market. This is a manager who trusts a system more than individual players. It's the product of the sum of the parts that counts for him. It doesn't bother him that its Ashley Young on left wing back producing the goods as opposed to Luke Shaw. Such is the reality we shall soon have to come to terms with because in the new system, Ashley Young is playing himself to a song on the terraces.

Again though, it wasn't about the brilliance of one player as the entire team was once again at the races. It's notable that we are yet to concede a goal in the penalty box from open play, something those worried about our 3 man defence should consider. I've already blogged that in a 3-5-2 formation, you defend 5 because of the added presence of wing backs or cover from the holding midfielders. It's the beauty of the system, you alwaya out number your opponent in just about every area of the pitch. Again, not that it's flawless, as we shall soon find out, but when executed perfectly, it will win you more games than cost you.

In the main though, it was impressive seeing this United team outclass a side of Madrid's quality. We shall find out how ready we are for the season when we play the vermin on Monday, but from the evidence so far, we're more ready for this season than we were for the last. LVG wants more time to train the players but he will get that in between league matches since we thankfully failed to make the Europa league.

Till then, cheers!