Tag Archives: champions league

Que Sera, Sera

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The recent Champions League QF between Liverpool and City proved to be a bit of a conundrum, didn’t it? Whilst the eventual result spared us the possibility of the idiot neighbours being crowned Europe’s finest for at least another year, it’s left us with the utterly nauseating prospect of the scousers winning it. What a charmed life they lead in that competition. It doesn’t matter that they remain a completely unremarkable side if you discount Salah’s heroics this season; somehow they’re in the semi-finals again drawn against sodding Roma.

I do have to give Liverpool fans some credit though as they routinely treat the Champions League with the reverence it deserves. Although the ‘famous European nights at Anfield’ legend is teeth-grindingly irritating to all of us who’ve been force-fed this mantra over the years, they genuinely believe it to the extent it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s been repeated so often that it’s now accepted as fact and actually bears fruit for them on a regular basis.

Despite being one of the cringiest things I’ve ever seen, you can’t deny that pre-organised ‘coach welcome’ thing they did against City worked an absolute treat. Flares going off, missiles thudding against coach windows, loads of singing… it was nothing like as sinister as was subsequently claimed but it was more than enough to put City off their stroke. Whilst my natural inclination would be to steer well clear of anything so staged and contrived, part of me at least respects the fact the scousers can still rouse themselves for such occasions.

Hypothetically speaking, say if United were ever inclined to put on a similar show, do you reckon we could still manage it? I have my doubts. The days of Roma and Leeds getting legged all over the forecourt seem a world away now. If the Liverpool team coach turned up for a Champions League tie at OT there’d be more chance of them getting ambushed by selfie sticks and autograph hunters than a hail of bottles and cans.

If you think I’m exaggerating here then just cast your mind back to the recent Seville home game and ask yourself, ‘would Anfield have been so deathly quiet?’ Would it bollocks. The uncomfortable truth is they can still do it when required whereas we’re reliant on a couple of hundred J stand barmies clad in garish bobble hats and Adidas Originals to generate any kind of atmosphere.

Due to deadlines and time constraints, I’m writing this pre-match so I’ve got no idea what happened at Wembley against Spurs last weekend. Given you’re reading this a week later, the players have either been revelling in self-congratulatory bullshit on Instagram all week or they’ve been keeping a very low profile having neglected to turn up once again. Quite honestly, I’m struggling to care either way about the bunch of frauds at present. Whatever will be, will be…

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This team do my head in. Just as you manage to convince yourself that they are making some progress and have moved beyond that 4 years and counting spell of looking like a disinterested rabble, they go and turn in that West Brom performance. All the good vibes and positivity generated by that Lazarus-like comeback in the derby obliterated in the space of 90 stupefyingly predictable minutes. It’s just so completely typical of them, the utter bastards.

I dunno. I suppose I’m as guilty as anyone of trying to accentuate the positives under Mourinho but you can’t continue to excuse afternoons like that. It was flashback to what was witnessed week in, week out during Van Gaal’s 2nd season. Quite simply, we should have moved beyond those kind of results by now. It’s all well and good producing a stirring comeback to beat City, but it means nothing if you hand them the title by failing to show against rock bottom relegation certs a week later. It’s just embarrassing.

My hope for the summer is that Mourinho just goes for it. No doubt we’ll spend big yet again but I’d be more encouraged if he concentrated solely on shipping out some of the deadwood. Fuck that, actually just bin ALL of the deadwood. Let’s face it, if we don’t challenge for the title next season (which we evidently won’t, because we’re still capable of losing at home to West fucking Brom) then Jose will end up falling out with absolutely everybody and getting sacked anyway. This is his last season coming up, so he may as well just go all out now rather than continuing with the never-ending re-building job he’s currently embroiled in.

If it were me, I’d start by asking the goalie if he wants to stay. If he doesn’t, then I’d shake his hand, wish him all the best for the future and drive him to the airport. He’s been an absolute star and has already suffered enough. I’d then bin every fullback at the club – the dreamy Dutch one, the rubbish Italian one and both of the failed winger ones. Smalling and Jones will be placed on the transfer list with immediate effect; Eric Bailly gets to stay with the proviso he stops being injured.

Fellaini should get the remaining few weeks of his contract cancelled for having the cheek to turn down a completely unmerited new deal. Seriously, who the fuck does he think he is? Pogba gets to stay on the condition he parts company with his agent and endeavours to become the player we all know he could be. Mata, Herrera and Matic are permitted to remain at the club, mainly due to the fact it would be foolish to get rid of the entire playing staff in the space of a single transfer window.

Jesse Lingard should be congratulated for his remarkable upturn in form but warned about his conduct off the field and tested for undiagnosed ADHD. Lukaku gets to stay on condition he practises basic passing and trapping a ball over the summer. Martial should be binned for looking permanently miserable and having a very irritating fan club on social media. Marcus Rashford to be offered a new deal on the condition he gets himself a girlfriend who’ll make him realise spending 18 hours a day in Lingard’s company is not only mentally exhausting, it’s also affecting his development as a functioning adult.

I’m done with them for now. See you in August.

Copyright Red News – April 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

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Highway To Hell

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Good old Juan Mata. Whilst everyone was losing the plot after the Champions League exit, the nicest man in football™ also proved himself a master of understatement by summing up events as merely, “a complicated week.” That’s one way of putting it, though I can’t help thinking ‘calamitous’ might have been a more fitting adjective.

After Ben Yedder’s 2nd goal prompted the mass exodus from the ground, the mood walking away wasn’t one of resigned disappointment, it felt almost mutinous. I know plenty of people have never really warmed to Mourinho, but I was genuinely surprised at the level of invective being aired. This wasn’t just the usual handful of gobshites sounding off, it was more than that. It felt like a tipping point had been reached.

Jose, true to form, came out swinging. Whilst he was obviously correct in pointing out that our recent Champions League is poor and home exits are nothing new, it was pretty disingenuous of him to ignore the fact that he was brought here to try and change that. Yes, he may well have been in charge of Porto and Real Madrid when they knocked us out, but using that fact to justify failings on his current watch was somewhat spurious reasoning.

As regular readers know, I’ve always defended Mourinho and would have been happy to see him appointed as Fergie’s successor 5 years ago. We needed someone with the same self-belief, drive and winning mentality who would be completely unfazed by the size of the club and level of expectation. Clearly he has his character flaws, but then so did Ferguson. We revelled in his malevolent side and siege mentality for many years, reaping the rewards of his similarly gargantuan personality and monstrous ego.

The major difference between the two was hammered home after the Seville game, however. Whereas you always sensed Ferguson took defeats personally and everything we experienced (good or bad) could be used to impact on his players’ long-term development, there was no evidence of that from Jose’s reaction. He didn’t defend his tactics or his squad, or even seem that chastened by the result – he merely used the opportunity to defend his own reputation.

Needless to say, it wasn’t great timing by Mourinho to remind us of his previous successes over United in the competition. We’re acutely aware of his past pedigree as it’s one of the main reasons he was appointed manager in the first place. His press conference might have been better received if he’d at least sounded contrite rather than brushing criticism away and offering the somewhat lame excuse of, ‘well you’ve seen all this before, haven’t you lads?’

He wasn’t done yet. Jose was back in front of the press prior to the Brighton game, this time armed with a list of Rafa-style facts detailing each of our European exits in recent years. His tone was just as bullish as had been 3 days earlier, although this time he was at pains to stress that the Seville result needed to be viewed in context. His main point being that this United team are still a work in progress lacking experience at the very top level. A fair point I suppose, and at least this time he resisted the temptation to big up his own past achievements.

Manchester United v CSKA Moskva - UEFA Champions League

At least the defeat took the ongoing beef with Pogba off the back pages briefly, but that one is certain to rear its head again given his ongoing absence from the starting line up . The fact he was left out for the biggest game of the season speaks volumes, and that’s before you consider the minimal impact he had after he eventually came on as sub. Regardless of form, I don’t think any of us would picked Fellaini over Pogba versus Seville, especially as we were starting another 2 holding midfielders in Matic and McTominay. Relations between the pair don’t appear to have improved and as I said last month, it won’t come as much of a surprise if Pogba’s gone in the summer.

Ditto Luke Shaw, another player subject to Jose’s oft-schizophrenic approach to motivational techniques. Now we all know that Shaw needs a regular kick up his sizeable arse and it’s long been a cause for concern that his attitude and approach require constant tuning. Mourinho isn’t the first coach to experience this and I doubt he’ll be the last. However, it was only 6 weeks ago that Shaw was being praised for his consistency and a new contract was being mentioned. Was this just an attempt to alert potential suitors? If so, why the abrupt change of heart within a couple of months?

Another in the firing line is Alexis Sanchez, a player whose descent into utter mediocrity has been impressive even by recent United standards. I mean, at least Di Maria gave us 6 weeks of good form before downing tools and viewing apartments on the Champs-Élysées. It came as no surprise to see him dropped for the Brighton game as he’s been absolutely shocking since he signed. Fingers crossed we’ll start to see the best of Alexis after he’s had a break in the summer and a full pre-season behind him.

The FA Cup, as it has been on a couple of notable occasions in United’s history, could turn out to be Mourinho’s salvation in what has become a very testing 2nd term in charge. That however, remains a very remote possibility considering the state of our record against both Spurs and potential finalists Chelsea in recent years – we haven’t beaten either team away from Old Trafford since 2012.

All things considered, last week’s international break probably came at the right time to give several figures in the dressing room a few days break from each other. Just be thankful for Will Grigg and Wigan Athletic’s recent heroics, otherwise we might have been facing a genuine end of days scenario in the not too distant future. Watching City win the treble would be the most “complicated week” imaginable.

Copyright Red News – March 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

You’re Wondering Now

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Sigh. So the gloomy outlook described last month turned out to be depressingly accurate – 1 win, another 2 stupefyingly dull 0-0’s, and our best performance coming as we cruised out of Europe on a night where circumstances dictated that the usual Van Gaal playbook was abandoned. Rather than taking off, the season has instead veered off-track and nosedived into a ditch.

As far as United bad weeks go, this has been an absolute humdinger. Drawing at home to West Ham was a poor start, but then defeat in Germany and being comprehensively outclassed by Bournemouth has taken us to new, uncharted levels of gloom. I’m not even sure it can be classed as a crisis because all this happening comes as no surprise whatsoever. I’m no football sage but I called it to a couple of mates immediately after West Ham, “next week, we’ll go out of Europe and Bournemouth will beat us.” I wasn’t being facetious either, it was an entirely serious prediction.

Of course there are mitigating circumstances. The injury situation has reached farcical levels now, with half the team sheet comprising of players no one but seasoned Academy watchers had even heard of until 2-3 months ago. Pereira, Varela, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson, Lingard… Christ almighty, even Nick Powell has been exhumed. You can get away with including 1 or 2 of these lads at a time but expecting them to flourish en masse in an already misfiring, dysfunctional team is wildly optimistic. It simply wasn’t going to happen. Our 1st team is goal shy and struggles to break sides down, so why expect a team of reserves and youth players to fare any better?

It’s been suggested that this sudden influx of fresh faces and an attacking display in spite of losing to Wolfsburg should be seen as grounds for optimism – indeed, I’ve heard the phrases ‘brave performance’ and ‘hope for the future’ uttered over the last week. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Of course United went on the offensive in Germany, we had no other option given the urgent need for goals to qualify. This didn’t demonstrate any change in Van Gaal’s mindset or provide evidence he’ll now decide to abandon the safety first approach – he was simply forced into doing something different for once.

The most telling moment of the entire European campaign was with 30 mins left in the penultimate game versus PSV. That was the time when we needed to push on and press for a winner that would’ve assured qualification. And what did we do? Precisely nothing. There was no discernible attacking threat in the final half hour as instead our possession game became more and more ragged. Belief visibly drained from everyone on the pitch, Mata finally introduced with just 5 minutes left, the opponents ending the match looking the more likely to score. All in all, it was textbook United under Van Gaal. We were out then… and it was fully deserved after such a timid home performance against limited opposition.

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Van Gaal himself appears to have changed over the last couple of weeks. Whilst he’s always been a stoic figure on the bench, when facing the press he’s always come across as dogmatic and assured. All of a sudden he doesn’t seem quite so consistent in the noises he’s making. The standard of refereeing has had a mention, certain players have been singled out and best of all, supporters’ expectation levels are now being questioned too. Picking holes in his claims is unnecessary, but the fact he’s decided to start criticising fans when he’s had a very easy ride and relatively little stick from that direction speaks volumes. This, let’s not forget, was the ebullient character confidently instructing us to “boo me, not the team” just a few weeks ago.

Even more perplexing, is Van Gaal’s assertion that the team is making progress… which we undoubtedly are providing you disregard the abysmal football witnessed week in, week out and instead squint your eyes and study the stats from a certain angle. I just don’t think going out in the CL group stages and losing on pens to Middlesborough in the League Cup is going to prove progress enough when it comes to deciding if his services are to be retained beyond the end of the season. Yes, things are slightly better than when Moyes was here, but if Moyes had been given £250M to spend with a further 18 months in charge would things really be that much different now?

Nothing Van Gaal has done gives me much confidence we’re going to be seeing a noticeable upturn in fortunes any time soon. The signings (Martial aside) haven’t had any impact, with most looking like bang average additions to an already bang average squad. Depay has been mostly terrible, inheriting Nani’s football brain minus his first touch; Sneiderlin is completely and utterly Southampton; Schweinsteiger looks every inch the 31 year old warhorse whose legs have started to fail him. The only player who looks to have progressed under Van Gaal is Chris Smalling who’s having a fantastic season. Our best performer, once again, is the goalkeeper… which says a lot about the paucity of entertainment on offer each week.

No doubt in January we’ll see another couple of expensive signings. A goalscorer would be nice considering we sold two in the summer and it’s difficult to envisage Rooney ever being good ever again – sorry Wayne, it pains me to admit it, but even a long-term, staunch believer like me wakes up to reality eventually. Defensive cover too must surely be a priority considering we’re currently down to the bare bones of an already threadbare squad, plus I don’t think it’s actually legal to start playing U-13’s at senior level.

What United are most desperate for though, is a playmaker. One of those rarely seen, mythical creatures capable of coming in and releasing the potential that’s lurking within each of the other current underachievers. Problem is, even if we did unearth the next Eric Cantona, do you honestly think that Van Gaal would share the vision? Sadly, I’d hazard a guess that he wouldn’t… and that’s ultimately one of the main reasons he won’t be here much longer.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Copyright Red News – December 2015

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