Monday, 26 January 2015

SINCE I LAST BLOGGED

Manchester United bounced back from their defeat at home to the Saints with an away victory at QPR after a 20 minute period or so of ass twitching from the manager in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

The club then went three steps back with a bore 0-0 draw against Cambridge United of League 2 in the FA Cup.

Since then; A) It's been established that the manager is aware that United perform better in a 4-4-2 but he'd rather be better off spending his time in the dug out free of ass twitching.

B) That somehow, United, for all their strengths going forward are short of ideas on how to create goal scoring chances consistently enough to allow the forwards enough opportunities to score goals.

In response to A; Manchester United have, throughout their history been about Risk. It was risky for the club to engage in European competition in the late 1950s as it was uncharted territory on British soil. Sir Alex Ferguson built his reign at United around risk. The truth is he won more than most because he took the most risks. At the end of a game, the conventional wisdom was that play it safe and see it out or quite simply give up. Sir Alex made it a habit to throw everything at teams in the closing stages which carried with it an element of risk of being exposed at the back. United have indeed suffered a few times because of that strategy, but those times will scarcely be recalled because of the reaps of the risk.

It's much more exciting, and more into the DNA of the club to have us ass twitching than sit through 90 drub minutes. Manchester United do not play it safe, they risk it.

In response to B; WHAT?

Monday, 12 January 2015

A KICK IN THE TEETH

So it was all going fairly well until we got everyone fit. More injuries please!

As ever when the media is full of bombshells aimed at the club, there's no point in adding to that. This blog shall take Sunday's events in perspective but also in light of the season so far and what's remaining of it.

The last time we failed to register a shot on target at home was May 2009 against Arsenal. That stalemate won us the title. It's safe to say that Sunday's result at least confirmed we shall not win it this season, but that was never the target.

United were poor yesterday in the final third. For a team whose strength is in the forward line, it is damning that the post mortem report yesterday includes a distinct lack of cutting edge. It was all too predictible and then quickly moved to desperate when Marouanne Fellaini was sent on to receive long balls up front.

That is not to take anything away from Southampton who were brilliant in executing their game plan to perfection. They are a difficult lot to play against. Ronald Koeman excelled in getting Michael Carrick man marked throughout and goodness knows Carrick is the pipe through which all our juice runs. (Okay maybe that didn't come out right....but therein lies the point).

And that was just it really from yesterday. United were short of ideas upfront whilst the Saints were well drilled in their game plan. So, to move from that and stretch the crisis to comparing Louis van Gaal and David Moyes is not quite clever.

Statistics should be used to back up a point and not to make the point itself. For instance the fact that only 3 sides have breached our defence more than once in the league so far does not mean that we have a great defence. And yet the same reasoning is being used to compare the two managers in the post Sir Alex era.

We're fans. Look back at the Moyes era about this time and think long and hard if you had any hope for the future. Now ask yourself if you think that despite yesterday's result, there is hope about the future under Louis van Gaal.

Admittedly, after the summer splurge, we probably are entitled to expecting much better from United. What is key though is that the manager is still on course to deliver what he was asked of by the board back in August. For that, and for the fact that he is one of the few coaches excellent at building long term projects at clubs, he deserves a lot more respect than David Moyes was afforded.

This is not to suggest I am board with everything he is doing; for instance I still think the 3-5-2 is making us suffer unnecessarily through games, but there's a reason I'm just a blogger and he's the manager of the biggest club in the world.

Sunday was a huge setback, but it's effects could still be avoided if we get up next Saturday and go again. We still have a run of winnable games to easily restore ourselves to third place. So more than anything, it's the reaction that matters.
    

Friday, 9 January 2015

THE NEED TO WIN

It's fast becoming a given that we cannot win away from home. The victory over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup was only our third away win in all competitions this season. It means everything good about United this term has been down to our home form. At home, regardless of the formation, there is such a lot more composure and ruthlessness about the side that in quite a short space of time Old Traffford has become the fortress that it once upon a time was.

We shouldn't therefore be too worried that that the 4th best side in the league is coming over on Sunday evening, right? Unfortunately football doesn't quite work that way. The evidence on paper is that Southampton have the tools to undo United even on their own patch if what we witnessed against them a month back is anything to go by.

That one of our 2 away wins in the league this season has come at St Marys is still one of the mysteries of this premier league season. At the time I was very defensive for United because the media reaction was as if United had to issue an apology to Southampton, the FA, UEFA and FIFA for coming away with all three points. With that negativity past us, I can now give the honest conclusion that if we play as poorly as we did on that night in the South Coast, we'll get beaten. The manager post match pointed out how we made our luck that evening but in truth, cats would be envious of the amount of luck that came our way in those 90 minutes. I mean it's all good praising Robin van Persie's insticts in being alive to that back-pass to put us a goal up with our first shot on goal, but it's a mistake that is made only once every 15 games.

Salvation on Sunday though could be from the fact that Southampton are a one dimensional club in terms of their strategy. Having had front row seats to assess them that December evening, you feel that Louis van Gaal will get it spot on this time against his modern foe Ronald Koeman.

This game is much more significant than just the three points. Having deposed of Arsenal last time out, Southampton have emerged as the club that will threaten our hitherto comfortable third place in the league. Forget Champions League football, this is a down right battle for third place. The psychological edge that the victor in this one will have on the loser will be crucial heading into the third quarter of the season.

For United, Sunday marks the start of an 8 winnable games run. It goes without saying that the last 8 games of the season are difficult on paper. Everton, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, City, and Liverpool feature in our last 8 games of the season. Therefore, much of our points total in May will depend on how many points from the next 24 available we shall have collected before that trip to Anfield in March.
We're currently on an 11 match unbeaten run but the couple of draws over the festive season have somewhat taken the shine off the current improvement in form. Because we've done underwhelmingly in the victory column away from home, it is imperative that we get back to winning ways against the Saints.

Finally, this week the club have announced the signing of former Barcelona stopper Victor Valdes on an intial 18 month deal with an option of a further year. It's a brilliant move whichever way you look at it. I think De Gea's progreess has been a little hampered by a lack of competition in his role. Despite how good Dave is, I think he can only get better with an able deputy, moreso a mentor in Valdez. The other way of looking at it is that United have insulated themselves considerably in the event our Number 1 moves on to Real Madrid as is rumoured in the press. I do get his importance to the club and would love him to stay but with Spanish speaking players, you cannot quite buy off their desire to play for the big two sides in Spain. It therefore comes down to the player's desire to stay where he is. Secondly, contracts mean little more than monetary compensation these days. Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez both signed contract extensions at Spurs and Liverpool within a season of being sold off reluctantly by their clubs. Therefore as and when Dave signs that new contract is not a bar to him moving on if that is his wish. The stage is there for him to become our all time greattest goalkeeper if he commits the rest of his career at the club, because at his age, he could eclipse the achievements of Schmichael and Van Der Sar by time he is 35 at the club.

The ball is really now in his court, but with or without a new contract, there was always the possibility that we would be forced yet again to search for an able goalkeeper when David moved on. I think in Valdez, the club can now safely negotiate De Gea's contract from a reasonably strong position. Let's not forget that he is not the worst goalkeeper to have on the bench especially when you look at the goalkeeping situation at a couple of top EPL clubs.

Monday, 5 January 2015

THE GLADIOLI IT WAS

In the end United just about kept their balance long enough to avoid a possible fall from the banana split that was Yeovil Town in the FA Cup yesterday.

Louis van Gaal sent out the strongest FA Cup United team in years for this third round tie but you wouldn't know it from the first half display. The bottom side of League Two seemed to copy well from the script of United's away games this year by easily nullifying the 3-4-1-2 formation that is a mainstay under the manager this season. Our width was tamed and that left us with the usual exchanges at the back between the 3 man defence and the goalkeeper.....except that we weren't even comfortable with that as well cue hurried clearances out of play and concesssion of avoidable corner kicks.

Ironically our saving grace came from a couple of injuries to wing backs Rafael and Shaw. It forced the manager to go with a back 4 in the second half and goodness knows we looked more defensively secure despite having centre backs fill the full back positions. Juan Mata came on to improve chance creation up front. His introduction appeared to make Ander Herrera more at home and boy how homely did he take that half volley on the turn. Yeah, it was only against Yeovil and all, but if there's one thing we've learned about him that we didn't when he arrived is that he does have a lovely eye for goal.

It is increasingly apparent that inter-play upfront and making inroads in opposition defences through the middle is not yet a developed facet of our game. Wayne Rooney more often than not looks to play in the wing backs....and rightly so. It meant in the absence of Mata, United looked a bit lost of ideas even against minor opposition. Whether that is a product of the wing back system or a lack of trust among players to find a way through the middle, is up for debate. It's why Herrera's option to have a go from outside the box with that accuracy was more important than many will have realised. Against lower league opposition, you're always in danger up against adrenaline until that first goal goes in.

Di Maria came on to head off the line and win the game with a stoppage time goal so maybe we can put the performance behind us and dwell on the fact that we're in the hat for the 4th round draw tonight.

The third round of the Cup marks an end to the festive season. LVG thinks we've survived the period by clawing a point on Chelsea and progressing in the Cup. It's 7 days until the next assignment in the league is due and judging by the shape of the league table, Sunday might, in a wider context, turn out to be our most important game of the season so far. It is increasingly becoming the case that anyone that will make the top 4 by May needs to finish above Southampton. The last thing we need now is to let the Saints get above us again this season. But we have all of 6 days before we worry about that.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

DEATH OR THE GLADIOLI

In his pre-match presser ahead of the FA Cup third round against Yeovil Town on Sunday, Louis van Gaal described Cup matches as a matter of death or a floral honour in the Netherlands called the Gladioli. The 4-0 reverse at MK Dons back in August was nothing new to the Dutchman if only because he has sufferred lower league elimination from the Cups in his time at Barcelona and Ajax.
The lesson, albeit lacking in novelty, should not be lost. In all probability, United will line up against the bottom League 2 side with a much stronger side than the one knocked out of the League Cup.

It's now a full decade since we last won the FA Cup. More players at United have Champions League winners medals than have FA Cup medals. It's been an itch that we've so desperately sought to scratch except that focus on other competitions has always rendered the trophy a third alternative in the heirarchy of priorities.
With a clear schedule of fixtures between now and the end of the season, you feel that this is the best shot United have got to galvanise themselves for a real go at the FA Cup.

Indeed, this time next year, ahead of third round weekend, chances are United will be eyeing a title surge in the second half of the season above all other engagements. The manager has described it as the shortest route to success and rightly so because winning 6 games for major silverware is about as short as it can get in England.

The buzz around the club is that the players cannot wait to win the competition and so there's a real excitement about it. Well, it's as simple as taking every Cup game as seriously as we do take league matches (if we genuinely belive that we actually take league matches seriously).

Yeovil town pride themselves in being Britain's most popular giant killers in Cup competition. United are rebuilding themselves from a lot of damage sustained last season. It's important that we do not stain the rebuilding process with a result that could once again shake the confidence of the group to detrimental effect in the league.

Because it's Yeovil's biggest game in aeons, adrenaline among their players usually makes such games tough nut for top tier sides, but with patience and persistence, over 90 minutes, the resistence ought to be broken.
It should make for fantastic Sunday evening football watching from Huish Park. Let's hope for our own pride it's not as drub as the Sunday League football style we put up at Stoke on Thursday.

Friday, 2 January 2015

AGRICULTURAL STUFF AT STOKE

Manchester United just can't seem to get out of gear 2 away from home. 20 games into the league season and there's just the two away wins to show for our efforts away from home. In the context of our season's targets, it's by no means a disaster to come away from Spurs and Stoke with two points. It is however frustrating when you consider how close to the summit we would have been if we had at least turned one of those draws into wins.

Over at the Brittannia, it made for difficult viewing because a lof the football was simply agricultural. United struggled to string decent passes consistently in the final third and as a result created very little. Just like in the Villa game, we were not able to push on from the equaliser. Not to get carried away though, we played so poorly at times that we could have lost the game. United were too slow going forward that Stoke hardly broke sweat in regaining their shape when defending. Our defence was yet again a sorry bag of nerves not least because Jonny Evans was determined to make a mistake that would lead to a goal.

Ironically, Stoke's comfort in agricultural football possibly saved us from defeat. When Mame Biram Diouf was through on goal at 1-0 up for the hosts, a striker in a silkier team would have found no problem bending that past De Gea and into the net. Thank heavens then that Diouf's feet were so tuned into raw football that he couldn't quite achieve the curl on the ball that was required at that particular time.

Besides the fact that we did not lose, the other positive to take away from the goal was a third league goal for Radamel Falcao. 2015 has got to be a good year for him if he is to force the club into a £50m investment. He was slightly better yesterday than he was at White Harte Lane and possibly deserved to stay on the pitch much longer than he did.

What we've managed to do is to lose our points advantage over the chasing pack with our next fixture coming up against the side that is just a point behind us.
There's no more credit left in the bank ahead of the next set of games. If we don't do better next time out, we will relinquish the comfort of 3rd place.

Incredibly without winning, we've clawed back one point on the league leaders. You will therefore hear whispers of title talk between now and 11th January. Sort out the away form and anything is still possible, but as it is, we already have a fight on our hands to keep third.