You’ve Gotta Hand It To Them

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After the downbeat tone of last month’s piece, 3 consecutive league victories have steadied the ship and (just about) prevented City from disappearing out of sight before Christmas. Note that statement comes with a major caveat given they are today’s opposition and I’m writing this without knowing the result of last Saturday’s Arsenal trip. Reading this then, you’re either buzzing at the fact we’re still in contention, or resigned to the fact this season’s league ambitions stretch no further than a comfortable top 4 finish.

In any other season, we’d probably be thrilled at United’s overall form but there’s no getting away from the fact that City have upped the bar to an almost unassailable level at present. 20 consecutive wins (or something) is an incredible feat no matter what era it occurs in or whatever the level of football. They are utterly relentless at the moment. The only solace I can take from this is that before today, I genuinely haven’t seen a single minute of them in action this season. It’s just easier on the blood pressure to avoid the television and radio and let things take their natural course.

Every now and then you get a reminder why this is definitely the most sensible option. It’d slipped my mind they were playing Southampton until a message popped up in the Red News WhatsApp group chat that simply said “fuck, fuck, fuck”. Ah right… that’ll be their late winner then – only six minutes into injury time as it turned out. I honestly don’t know why people put themselves through it. I got suckered into listening to the last 5 minutes of their game at Bournemouth back in August which had a similarly demoralising conclusion. The radio went off and I drove to OT in silence, cursing my stupidity.

As regards today’s fixture, it’s got ‘season-defining’ written all over it. If this United side is going to take the difficult step up from being merely good to great, then now is the perfect time to suggest that with a positive result in a game of this magnitude. Allowing City to dominate possession would appear to be a recipe for disaster, so l’m just praying we try and seize the initiative rather than cautiously sitting back and letting them have the ball. The form they are in though, we may well get rolled over whatever tactics are employed.

Continuing the theme of begrudging praise, the recent form of Ashley Young deserves a mention. Despite him being something of a model professional who’s a thoroughly nice guy off the pitch by all accounts, it’s fair to say that I’ve never warmed to Ashley Young the footballer. However, credit where credit’s due, he’s been excellent this season. It just goes to show that the old cliché about ‘needing a run in the side’ is true and perhaps we’re sometimes too quick to write off players who’re struggling for form on the fringes of the team. Oh, hello Nani. *cough*

That said, I still maintain that despite both Young and Valencia regularly putting in decent shifts, both full-back positions need addressing at some point. Offensively and defensively, they do an alright job but I remain unconvinced we can’t do better in that department. It’s fair to assume both Darmian and Shaw are on their way out sooner rather than later, and Jones/Smalling/Rojo/Blind never look entirely comfortable there despite being able to fill in when called upon. Oh for a young Denis Irwin, Gary Neville or Patrice Evra…

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The Watford game also saw Jesse Lingard turning in one of his infrequent star turns, making up somewhat for his execrable performance at Huddersfield which had me ready to strangle him last month. Ever the social-media savant, he immediately took to Twitter and proclaimed that he felt “like Hercules”. Hercules? Do me a favour. Jesse lad, you aren’t no Young Thug no matter how much time you spend stood in front of the mirror listening to absolutely shit hip-hop and practising gangster poses. You haven’t got a ‘Mink Flow’, you’re from Warrington. Grow up.

Down at the other end of the table, I note that soul-sucking, fun vacuum David ‘6 year contract’ Moyes is back in football on his latest destroy and exit mission. One can only assume the shysters in charge at West Ham have lost the plot completely. What possible grounds are there for thinking the bloke will do anything other than guide them to certain relegation? Obviously the Duane Duvatts were absolutely livid with the appointment, whereas Moyes his usual sanguine self. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then I’ll see the East End of London for seven months, then I’ll go elsewhere.” Textbook Moyes, that.

Another one not yet done with snaffling all he can from football’s trough is Sam Allardyce. Amazingly, the Everton job is now his 12th managerial appointment. This takes him comfortably past Harry Redknapp who’s had 9, but still some way behind Neil Warnock who’s now at his 15th different club. It makes you wonder how these blokes keep getting offered work in spite of repeated failures, whereas other managers disappear off-radar completely. Is it just coincidence that the above-mentioned are some of the most media-friendly in football? Keeping friendly hacks onside to generate undue praise and gloss over any evidence of incompetence (or indeed financial impropriety), seems to be the way to go. It’s no wonder Moyes is so blasé about getting another job beyond his next disastrous reign.

Anyway, that’s me done here for another year. Merry Christmas all, and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing for City to hit some sort of metaphorical iceberg before I appear here again in early January. Have a good one…

Copyright Red News – December 2017

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Nowhere Fast

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I honestly try not to get too wound up about football these days, but I was approaching apoplectic after Huddersfield away. The performance, the post-match monsoon and the hordes of deliriously happy locals made for a thoroughly toxic combination that’s still irritating me now, nearly a month on.

Firstly, Huddersfield itself. Wow, what a place. Now it’s easy to be dismissive of the provincial backwaters we get to visit on our travels, but this lot earned top marks in the ‘how to behave when Man United come to town’ stakes. We’re talking Swindon levels of giddiness, here. The fact they’d barely managed a shot on target in their previous 7 games and then set about United like they’d received a bye to the World Cup final was predictable enough, but seriously… a brass band? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything so completely and utterly Yorkshire.

Once upon a time we’d go to these places and swat them aside like the swaggering, metropolitan sophisticates we like to think we are, but those days are long behind us. That first half… where to start? Herrera loves to talk the talk about ‘getting’ United and what it means to play for the club but it shouldn’t draw attention away from his regular sub-par performances. Lingard too gets a lot of stick, but also has many defenders due to the ‘boyhood red’ thing. I’m sorry, but running round aimlessly whilst doing lots of pointing just doesn’t cut it. It happens too many times. It’s one thing taking Swansea apart in the League Cup, but when it really matters he’s routinely nowhere to be seen.

Now from the merely bad, to the downright atrocious. People have justifiably pointed out that we shouldn’t write-off Victor Lindelof too early due to the likes of Pallister and Vidic having inauspicious starts to their ultimately fruitful United careers. However, the fact he looks acutely unaware of whether to head the ball or whether to pass it doesn’t bode well for a 23 year old central defender. ‘Rabbit in the headlights’ doesn’t even begin to describe his afternoon. Delving even further into the past, Pat McGibbon and William Prunier both endured similarly nightmarish debuts and neither was ever heard of again.

In truth, the entire afternoon was the culmination of what had been coming for about 6 weeks. Injuries mounting up, the first choice XL dismantled and we steadily reverted to the stumbling, directionless football witnessed for much of the last 4 years. We can carry the likes of Mata and Mkhitaryan with a full strength team, but they lack the cojones to get you through situations like being 2-0 down facing essentially crap, albeit temporarily inspired opponents like Huddersfield.

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After this setback, the team roused themselves to earn a hard-fought, narrow victory over Spurs before suffering the now annual defeat at Stamford Bridge. This game was notable due to Mourinho deviating from his usual Cat A away game script by sending the team out to attack. Sadly, that was the only surprise of the afternoon as otherwise it was standard United at Chelsea fodder. A few bright moments, home team settle down, we concede after a defensive lapse and then rally too late to do anything about it.

We never seem to get any luck there, but in truth we didn’t deserve much this time out. Aimlessly punting long balls towards Fellaini for the last 10 minutes is a tactic that has failed us repeatedly, so I’ve got no idea why we still persevere with it. I can just about stomach the ultra-negative, defensive football Mourinho employs at times as at least it can bring results. Launching it forward to the big feller in the box NEVER works though. It’s desperate stuff, and we’ll never become a truly great side whilst it remains our only viable Plan B.

Despite recent results accentuating the sense of doom around the place, it clearly isn’t the root cause. As numerous commenters have noted, Jose is oozing bad vibes at the minute and doesn’t look happy with life at all. On face value, United are still doing okay. 7 wins and 2 draws from the first 11 games isn’t terrible by any stretch. We’re 2nd in the league and virtually home and dry in the CL group stages, but you wouldn’t guess that based on Mourinho’s expression or any words out of his mouth over the last few weeks.

So is it the lack of progress on his new contract, Woodward’s failure to land Perisic in the summer or merely a passive-aggressive response to the plaudits heading City’s way at present? Who knows. In all likelihood it’s a combination of each of these factors. Mourinho’s many detractors would no doubt claim this is just par for the course, given his previous managerial gigs have imploded following similar periods of pent-up acrimony.

I suppose worst case scenario is that this is all part of some underhand masterplan to try and force an exit and fall into the open arms of PSG. Taking a completely impassive stance, you can see why such a switch might appeal. It would be a shithouse move for sure, but avoiding the spectre of Guardiola domestically whilst taking him on with an unlimited budget in Europe must seem quite an enticing prospect.

On the other hand, this could all prove to be nothing more than speculative clickbait. I don’t want Jose to be content with being 8 points behind in November. I expect him to be angry about it and for his foul mood to persist as long as we’re trailing behind City. I also expect him to exert maximum pressure on Woodward to land designated transfer targets and to vent his dissatisfaction whenever they don’t happen. The constant background noise, his sour disposition… well that’s just how he gets results. This is just Mourinho being Mourinho, isn’t it?

Copyright Red News – November 2017

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Adiós Señor Pussycat

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“Are you looking forward to the game on Saturday?”, I was asked prior to the trip to Anfield. Of course I wasn’t. In all my years watching, I’ve rarely gone there confident and expecting to win and this year proved no different. It doesn’t matter who’s playing or if either side is in form, ultimately you’re just hoping to get out of there without having suffered a defeat. There was a brief spell in the late 90’s where United would go there looking to exploit their obvious weaknesses and win, but for the most part it’s a tortuous 90 minutes to endure.

Mourinho’s approach to these type of fixtures (ie any tough away game at home or abroad) often comes in for criticism, but in truth it’s not that far removed from how Fergie usually set his stall out. If Lukaku had buried that chance in the first half during that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it period when United actually took the game to them, the day would have been hailed as a perfect smash and grab. Given the fact he didn’t and we barely managed to string 3 passes together for the rest of game, I was quite content with the point. Utterly painful viewing though, that last 10 minutes.

If Anfield proved anything, it’s that United are in no way the finished article yet. The free-scoring, relatively simple start to the campaign has been encouraging but faced with the first real test against non-useless opposition we couldn’t have looked much more uninspiring if we’d tried. With Spurs and Chelsea incoming, we desperately need to get back some of the momentum gained during August/September to avoid nosediving into a similar slump to that witnessed this time last year.

The sense of foreboding isn’t exactly helped by our mounting injury list. I don’t know what it is with this club, but year-on-year we seem to have 7-8 players missing as a matter of routine. Is it all down to bad luck or are we just doing football wrong or something? I’ve got absolutely zero statistics on this but City never appear to have half their team missing in action. Do you reckon there’s some special footballer medicine we can try? Not trying to insinuate anything here but perhaps we should ask Guardiola what he gives to his players? That stuff seems to work pretty well.

Losing Pogba at the precise moment he was starting to look imperious was a classic United injury. Then Fellaini comes in and starts to resemble an actual footballer and he goes down too. Brilliant. The biggest miracle amidst suffering several long-term absences, is both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have remained fit for the last couple of months. I mean, how? This freak occurrence is surely some sort of record in itself and can only mean that double leg fractures for the pair must now be imminent.

Mourinho’s post-Benfica claim that “I never speak about injuries” (whilst speaking about injuries), clearly isn’t the only thing irritating him at the moment even if he suggests otherwise. It didn’t take a genius to work out the source of long-term Mou mouthpiece Duncan Castles’ Daily Record piece suggesting that Jose could depart at the end of his current deal; and that no talks had begun on the contract extension most assumed would be on the table by now.

Placed alongside some recent quotes of him bigging up the “fantastic” PSG, I expect this was little more than a public word in Woodward’s ear that he might want to pull his finger out on any new proposal, with Jose clearly miffed one hasn’t been forthcoming already. PSG would certainly love to secure Mourinho’s services in future, a fact that United must surely be aware of and which serves to strengthen Mendez’s hand even further in any forthcoming negotiations.

So basically, this doesn’t look like anything to get too worked up over. Probably nothing more than a standard case of agent briefing journalist to help clear the path towards his client receiving a whopping new pay rise. In fairness, the United board probably needed the reminder that this needs to be addressed sometime in the near future. As ever, suspicions persist their day-to-day priorities are focused more on generating new revenue streams as opposed to trivial matters like securing the manager on a new 5 year deal.

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The latest ‘strategic partnership’ announced sees the club jumping into bed with the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia to help “create a sustainable and thriving football sector.” (Translation: play in several lucrative friendlies.) How lovely. If this is United’s attempt at keeping up with Barcelona and City, “we need to develop an alliance with tyrannical dictators with an appalling record on human rights too!”, then I can only despair. I suppose this latest move does at least explain the club’s long-held reticence towards investing in a women’s team.

Quite how an alliance with the Saudi regime fits in with United’s commitment towards corporate social responsibility is unclear. This is what it says on the club’s website

Everyone at the club is committed to tackling environmental and social issues at regional, national and international level, using the Manchester United brand to leverage support and create awareness of the issues facing the planet.

I’m assuming this will now be amended to “we don’t actually care that much because we’re making lots of money.” All the atrocities Saudi Arabia is regularly accused of (try corporal punishment, sexual slavery, torture and human trafficking for starters) aren’t conjecture or hearsay, they happen there every day. I just find it incredibly sad United are entertaining these despots when they’re in an almost unique position of being able to reject such overtures if they wanted. When City leapt into the arms of Thaksin Shinawatra and later Sheikh Mansour, we poured scorn on their willingness to turn a blind eye to the source of their new-found wealth. United heading down a similar path is every bit as depressing.

Copyright Red News – October 2017

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