Friday, 12 May 2017

UNITED LAND SECOND MAJOR FINAL DESPITE SEASON OF MARGINS


Technically, we've been here before. Nervy cum heart stopping situations are synonymous with the history of Manchester United. The territory should therefore be familiar. Except that whilst these situations have largely been about making a daring assault in a moment of adversity, this campaign has generated the same emotions out of a need to preserve the stats-quo.

As such, United have endured a season in which they've 'fought' to simply keep within margins. For instance, there is nothing spectacular that came out of United's 25 game unbeaten premier league run but it did keep the club's season alive domestically, until late April when the manager decided to tank the drab of the domestic season for Europe.

In doing so, Jose Mourinho narrowed the margin for error so much so that United were a sitter away from having their season turned upside down last night in the second leg of the semi-final.

Whilst the problem has been comprehensively diagnosed, the antidote remains elusive. Goals. Indeed, the narrative of last night fell perfectly within the narrative of the season. A failure to kill off an opponent resulting in a draw. Last night marked the club's 11th truce at Old Trafford alone.

On this occasion though, the draw was enough to see United through to the final, but only just! Nobody will remember that though if the club lifts UEFA's secondary competition for the first time at the Friends Arena in Stockholm a week on Wednesday. Indeed, few will care if United turn out as bad as they did in the EFL Cup final in February but emerge as winners over an Ajax side full of youthful exuberance.

Whilst the manager at the club has a huge job on his hands to make his side much better for the new season, it is what it is at the moment and you cannot begrudge him chasing silverware when the opportunity is there to claim it. Why? Because IF United are successful in Sweden, they'll have collected more trophies this season alone than Liverpool and Tottenham have collected combined in the past decade.

Victory in Sweden will also be a third major trophy in the 4 seasons since Sir Alex departed. The argument here is that whilst the club is ordinarily expected to be successful, 3 trophies in your worst period for more than a quarter a century is also not too bad.

The solemn reality is that winning a trophy is any kind in England is no longer the easy-peasy business of days gone by. There's up to six clubs now with genuine trophy ambitions every year and only three domestic trophies available. Indeed, at the start of the season, there were only four trophies that United could possibly win. They are on the brink of claiming 2 out of the 4 available. It's not been a great seaso

n but it could yet be the best since the fiery Scot was still around.

And yet, because the club has walked along margins all season, the season remains equally on the brink of disaster if somebody puts a foot wrong....or a fist wrong as was the case with Eric Bailly last night who will now miss the final. Against he fearless youthful attack of Ajax Amsterdam, United will play the final without their most consistent and, by far, best defender of the season.

It's all set for another nail biting affair in a couple of weeks in what will be the last game of our season. Incredibly, the past 8 months and 63 games will come down to those final 90 minutes. How's your nerve?    

Monday, 1 May 2017

EXCUSE THE EXCUSE?


On this International labour Day, let's spare a thought for Manchester United who have laboured to get through 9 games in April alone. Jose Mourinho has been quick to get in his excuses early, often pre-match and then ram them home in his post-match brief.

We lost players and we lost points, so yes today was a bad day,”.
“We did not look tired and exhausted, we are tired and exhausted.
“You cannot isolate the performance out of the context. This is the ninth match of April, it is not human.''
                                                     ---Jose Mourinho

As it is, the authority should be ashamed of itself for requiring United to play nine times in April! United do deserve the sympathy and a moment's silence their manager is asking for.

Perhaps while at it, we should factor in Real Madrid. And FC Barcelona. And FC Bayern Munchen. And Athletico Madrid. And BVB Dortmund! Plus AS Monaco. Then Olympique Lyonnais. Oh and that club we get to play on Thursday in the Europa League semi-final.....Celta Vigo, all of whom have had to share a similar experience to Manchester United's 'inhuman' 9 game month of April.

Not that the other 7 clubs are complaining, but we'll do them a favour and file their official complaints. I reckon they must be too tired from a 9 game experience to do it themselves anyway.

The sarcasm aside, the lessons here are simple; only with a 28 man squad can you successfully compete on multiple fronts. That's a quantity about Sir Ferguson's teams that is hardly mentioned. Our current manager prefers 22 players to work with, which is all nice and OK in an ordinary season but not quite in a 60 game season.

The Europa league is, by design, a hell of a slab of a competition. It's group stage draw alone exceeds the 60 available minutes in an hour. It has a 'Last 32' knock out phase, making it an essentially longer competition than the Champions League. Then there's the Thursday-Sunday schedule that has regularly formed part of pundit debates.

With that information at hand, Jose must have crossed his fingers at having a clean bill of health for the entire season in order to get by just fine with the 22 players at his disposal. It did appear to come to pass half-way through the season with hardly any injury up until that point. The temptation was there to sanction departures of the squad players who seemed in danger of suffering constructive ''unemployment'' for the whole  season.

And he gave in. Out went three members of his squad and almost immediately, his luck with injuries run out! Ahead of the final month of the season, Manchester United have just the 13-14 senior players available. It cannot be said to be an entirely an unprecedented turn of events by the Sports Scientists at the club.

It is a given that injuries are part and parcel of sport and particularly football. How the club deals with that is part of the job description of its employees. As such, it can be argued that nothing extraordinary has happened at Manchester United to warrant the world of football to take a moment's pause and reflect upon it with commiserations.

Unlucky? Absolutely. But therein the bad luck was some fortune as well to take the lead against Swansea. United just couldn't translate it into the three points that have incredibly become such a rare phenomenon at Old Trafford this season.

Thankfully for the manager, he had already filed his excuse, just in case things turned out the way they did. Indeed, in many ways, he gave his players reason to fail. The resulting listless, tired performance was the product.

Hands up if you're tired of reading this.