Friday, 26 September 2014

WEST HAM VISIT

It's since been revealed by Robin van Persie that the squad held talks in the aftermath of the shocking defeat at Leicester last Sunday. Whereas it's nice and all for the players to be seen to care and do something about events as terrible as last week, the lesson must be learned, and fast.

In the opening game at home against Swansea, there was a feeling that we would eventually go on to win the game easily as soon as Wayne had equalised. As such, little thinking was put into defending Swansea's rare forays into our half. In fact, it was just two of the three centre backs that were arsed about defending anything that came our way. No suprise then that Swansea sensed a vulnerability that they exploited.

Lest we forget, footballers are human. Lining up with an attacking force such as ours can easily get to the heads of the not so steller names and hence contribute to an arrogance and complacency in certain departments of the team. An arrogance  that breeds a mentality that ours is to attack and theirs is to defend. Manchester United enjoyed the home game against QPR because Harry Redknapp played himself into the obvious trap of coming to defend against one of the world's deadliest attacks....at least on paper. It is therefore more than likely that ahead of the Leicester City trip, United expected the Foxes to keep retreating to their goal with little or no effort to actually test United at the back.

If that is true, then it's certain that United were shell shocked by having to continuously defend their goal even at 3-1 up. The lesson then is simple. In this league, you are never really out of the woods unless you have a three goal lead deep into the second half. With just the one game per week, it should not be difficult to play at 100kmph for 95 minutes. You'd think the players would relish it after a whole week of just training.

If the lesson is learned, then taking 3 goal leads against sides this season should not be reason to slack off because we do have the attack to win games in 45 minutes. However, we do not have a defence to keep a clean sheet in 45 minites of containing football. Attacking to the last minute is therefore the only way we can be assured of reducing our opponent's opportunities to get back in games that we are cruising. Whereas in the past, 2-0 leads were enough to see out games, even having 2 goal leads twice in the same match is not enough anymore.

West Ham and Sam Allardyce know that they can go to Old Trafford and aerially test our backline with more than a chance of finding the net. That is their strength. The onus is on us to blow them out of the water with our own strengths, and keep at it until the referee has had enough. That should be plan A from hereon.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A LOT ABOUT THE WEEK

The last time I blogged here, we were enjoying the week on a high after that 4-0 drubbing of QPR. Things seemed to have turned for the better and United looked like they had finally got their mojo back. In hindsight, it seems rather easy to say but there's no way I was getting carried away by that QPR result. I mean, even the three odd times Harry Redkanpp's side got anywhere near our box, we seemed to be at sixes and sevens in trying to achieve a clearance. Fast forward a week, and its obvious that United simply cannot defend. Swansea exploited it, MK Dons announced it, Sunderland made it count whilst Burnley couldn't.

In many ways therefore Sunday taught us nothing new about Manchester United. The only after shock that mattered was that teams now have video evidence to work out a way to attack United'z soft centre, after dispossessing an otherwise very strong attack. We've got at least 5 days each week to work on whatever isn't right in our team. It will hence be a bit of a shocker if we cannot defend more decently by winter.

Conceeding 5 or more goals in the league is not a common experience for United but we've usually responded to that by shutting up shop. After City put 6 past us in the league in the 2012 season, the next 7 games saw us let in just the 1 goal. Of those 7 straight wins, 6 were by the 1 goal margin. It tells you what the players were doing on the training pitch in those 7 weeks following that shocking result. Crucially, most of those clean sheets were secured with a defence that comprised Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones more often than not. It was done then, it can be done now.

Obviously one cannot expect any manager to work the magic that Sir Alex used to. His status allowed him to go negative without suffering any bile from fans, but it was also that he delivered results, which ultimately matter most.
Now Louis van Gaal is too proud a manager to steady the ship at the expense of apparently a continuos process of learning 'the philosophy'. It means the last thing we shall see is United running back into their shells on Saturday at home against West Ham grinding out a 1-0 win. Not with the Stretford End chanting 'ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK'.

One hopes though that United will quickly learn to do it the van Gaal way. The Dutch coach blamed the Leicester result on the ease with which we lost possession. Obviously one can see where he is coming from. Possession football can be an effective way of defending if only for the simple fact that it denies your opponent opportunities to punish you. The easy example here of course is the Pep Guardiola Barcelona that hardly needed to make a last ditch tackle as they had the ball just about all the time. To avoid confusion, it's not that LVG wants United to play the Barcelona way as tiki-taka is not his style. This was merely an illustration of defending with the ball.

The problem however is that you still need defenders that can do a half decent job if only to repel that one attack that your opponents will muster against you. The point here is that LVG's solution still depends on a Jonny Evans here, or a Chris Smalling there doing a job at the back. To illustrate: Swansea City had just the 39% possession in that game, with 2 shots on target for the whole match. Nobody needs a reminder of that result. Further, Leicester  City for all the gloss about the scoreline had 5 shots on target. It means if we were good enough defensively to halt a couple of attacks, we would have come away with a point despite conceeding that many goals.

Therefore, for teams coming up against United, it's as simple as keeping it on target, never mind how many you let in.  It therefore boils down to an urgency to be assured at the back in defending from hereon. Unfortunately, most of defending in football is down to confidence which is quite low on supply at Old Trafford. It will therefore be fascinating to see how United build on defensively from here on, because what was hitherto a rumour has now been confirmed as a solemn weakness.

Again, every week gives us 5 days at least to work on our problems, so I wouldn't exactly call it learning on the job. But there is something for everyone to learn this week, because defending is not just about the defence.

All the above notwithstanding, What a Goal that was by Di Maria! The season might yet not turn out as we expected but Argentine seems to do what he's paid to do every week. Assist and score. There's not much else in his job  description.

Monday, 15 September 2014

LIFT OFF AT LAST

The win we've waited for since August 16th finally arrived on September 14th. It's been close to a month of agony, but Manchester United finally kickstarted their season yesterday with that 4-0 win against QPR.

Now QPR are not the toughest or trickiest opposition the EPL has to offer, but neither are Burnley and we know all too well how that worked out for us. More than anything, it was fantstic that it was once again enjoyable to watch Manchester United. It's not that the world does not know his worth, but Angel Di Maria justified why Cristiano Ronaldo was angered by his sale from Real Madrid. If he keeps at that level of performance weekly, and there's quite a shout that he will, then £60m will start to look like a bargain.

Perhaps more important on the day was that a few new signings got a feel of the positions they shall play for the club. At left back, Marcos Rojo looks like he's not about to allow Luke Shaw to make the position his own. It's a great headache for the manager especially considering how bleak it looked when Evra left. At the other end, Rafael keeps us wondering how good he could get if he could stay fit. His problems are no different to Phil Jones whose injury record could cost him a permanent spot in the side.

Defensively though, the biggest cheer goes to the sitting midfielder Daley Blind who looked everything we've been missing in that department. Admittedly, he's short on pace and is not the world's best in that position, but you have to admire his ability to dictate the game from deep and rack up a staggering percentage of pass completition that would befit any player in world football in that position. He was such a perfect complement to the excellent Ander Herrera that the pair covered the largest distance on the pitch. It will be great watching how that relationship develops.

The attack seemed to function more coherently in a diamond 4-4-2, allowing just about every one a turn to be the focal point of attack. The talk though is that Juan Mata could still be the biggest casualty of Falcao's arrival but with 9 goals in 11 matches, it remains difficult for the manager to overlook him.
Still a great problem to have.

A first win takes off the pressure for only a while, but the expectation keeps building. Confidence is still at a minimum among most of the players but a run of good results will remedy that. It means Sunday's trip to Leicester City is an opportunity for the players to get more into the season's stride. What is for certain though is that it will be a trickier tie, but that will not make the scrutiny in the event of a slip up any less.

An expensively assembled line-up, moreso at Manchester United--the envy of all--means that there shall be no word spared in the English language to rip into a poor display. It's something we've got to live up to now. That many were quick to water down the victory, tells you something about how desperate a few felllows in the media are for United to drop even a point from hereon, so that they can open those already bookmarked articles for an "I told you so" vent.

Well, they shall be fine. In the meantime, let's enjoy the next 6 days or so looking back at what was a satisfying result yesterday.

Friday, 12 September 2014

NEW BEGINNINGS--MAN UNITED VS QPR PREVIEW

There's every chance that at least four players will be making their Old Trafford debuts when the team sheet for this weekend's fixture against QPR is released.
The make of the squad in what could be up to 6 changes from the side that drew with Burnley remains to be seen, but the attention will well and truly be on the star dust signings Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria. You somehow get the feeling that the rest of the squad upfront has to fit in alongside the pair as they are the big money buys.

United have been anything but United so far this season, winning none of their four competitive games this season. By full time at Turf Moor, you got the feeling that we were desperate for the international break, just so as to ease our injury crisis, if not allow the players an opportunity to regroup. Two further additions to the side on deadline day has for the 3rd time this season alone raised expectations at the club. At the moment, the club has the personnel to easily command  top 4 finish, but in this league, nothing is for granted. Until we go out and start picking all three points, the so called 'Gaalacticos' project will remain fascinating only on paper.

We've been blessed with such an easy start to the season that it's baffling how the wins column still reads Not. Granted, there's no easy games, but wining after playing poorly has, more than anything, accounted for our domination of English football. That it's a rarity these days is perhaps the biggest indictment of our decline.

Sunday though is perhaps a final opportunity for the managee and indeed the players fo finally get something going for the campaign. Win Big, and the pressure is off for that first win. Win small and the knives will at least be put away for another week. Lose and winning the next fixture will become even harder, regardless of the opposition. It therefore goes without saying that Sunday's fixture could yet shape the story of our season.

Even so, it's great to have Manchester United back on the telly!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

TIME TO DO THE BUSINESS ON THE PITCH

Ed Woodward has done the substantial business, it's time for LVG to do the business on the pitch. I mean, with the players currently available to the manager, you do not need time to find a way to beat QPR or the like. Manchester United are a month into their redemption season but we have no win to show for it. For many clubs, the close of the transfer window means the real start of the season. For United, it has to. The easy part of our season is slowly getting past us without making the most of very winnable points.

At Burnley, the pace of the game was so slow and laborious that we were predictible at times, scratch that, all the time. At the moment, it's easy to defend against us and attack us. There's so sense of urgency on the pitch. It's already apparent that the ball has spent more time with our defenders than our forwards, which is a shame considering where the team's strength lies.

After adding Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria to an already strong attack, you do hope that we start pacing the ball upfront quickly to give the opposition the kind of problems we are so capable of handing out.

It's only a game a week from hereon. There's every reason to break a leg in all our fixtures. The International break should allow us to get back some players from the treatment room but that can only mean that the weight of expectation can only increase on a side so expensivley assembled.

The scrutiny will be more intense, the criticism even more. It's up to the club to deal with it in the only way that will put the knives away.....get some wins on board.