Tag Archives: champions league

Down To Earth

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Well it had to happen sometime, didn’t it? When the draw for the CL group stages was made back in December, most people anticipated a bit of a pasting and that’s what we received at Old Trafford the other night. I’d suggest we shouldn’t be too despondent given what’s occurred over the last couple of months. It’s testament to the fantastic progress made that many people I spoke to felt confident going into the PSG home leg, so the 2nd half capitulation must have come as a bit of a surprise in some quarters. It was a timely reality check for all concerned, nothing to get wound up about. We’ve come a long way in recent weeks, but PSG are a top side whilst United most certainly aren’t still… despite recent appearances to the contrary. 

When you consider where we were in mid-December, what Solskjaer has achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable. The players now look hungry and motivated, there’s a coherent game plan in place and for the first time in literally years, the man in charge seems to have a grasp of what our best starting XL is. To put all that in place within 8-9 weeks is a fantastic achievement. The players are happy, the fans are buoyant and results have improved immeasurably. Olé has made it all look easy when it most certainly isn’t. Our travails over the last 5 years have proven that beyond doubt. 

His first masterstroke was relegating Lukaku to the subs bench. Yes, we know he can score goals but as a mate pointed out recently, it doesn’t change the fact he possesses the touch of a phone box. He provided a couple of wonderful assists at Arsenal in the cup recently, but moments like that from him are far too infrequent. Mourinho spent a lot of money on the bloke and felt obliged to play him every week, which I can understand, but don’t we look so much better with players with a reliable first touch who can move the ball on quickly?

The other major Mourinho blind spot that’s been addressed is Fellaini, thankfully shipped off to China and out of our lives forever. I read so much utter crap about him in the immediate aftermath of his departure that it made me wonder if I’ve been watching the same player over the last 5 years. Firstly, I’m fully aware he scored 5 or 6 important goals during his time at the club. That doesn’t change the fact he was a bloody awful footballer who proved more of a hindrance than a help on the vast majority of occasions he was brought on as the much-vaunted ‘Plan B’ his deluded cheerleaders continually refer to. 

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It’s quite simple. I don’t care if a player simply ‘tries hard’. Of course players should try hard, it goes without saying. Viv Anderson ‘tried hard’, Colin Gibson ‘tried hard’, Alan Smith clenched his fists a lot and ‘tried hard’. They were still shite. Fellaini lumbered round, shinned the ball into touch and gave away fouls for the best part of his United career. His mere presence on the pitch prompted a brain-dead, lump-it-forward mentality that saw us dismantle a 20 year legacy of nuanced, pressing football in the final minutes of games where we desperately needed a goal. I’m sorry, he’s probably a nice feller and all that but I prefer to deal with the reality of what I actually witnessed time and time again. He was absolute rubbish and dragged us down to the level of a pub team at times. 

Once Lingard and Martial had been withdrawn due to injury, it didn’t take long for United’s fragilities to reveal themselves in the PSG game. Mata is no replacement for Martial when pushed out wide and Sanchez remains so hopelessly out of form that it now looks terminal. Given the miserable 12 months he’s endured since his much-hyped arrival, it’s difficult to see a way back for him from here. Solskjaer has done the right thing in taking him out of the firing line and limiting his time on the pitch, but whenever he’s briefly called upon it only provides further evidence he’s a completely spent force at this juncture. 

Much like Di Maria during his short stint at United, it clearly just isn’t working out. Unlike Di Maria though, there doesn’t seem to be any underlying domestic issue and he isn’t demonstrably agitating for a move away. Sanchez looks for all the world like a man that’s reached his peak career-wise who’s hurtling down the steep decline towards mediocrity as his long-trusted abilities elude him. I just don’t know what the answer is. Presumably I’m not the only one as I expect the coaching staff are pretty much stumped at this point too. Maybe his dogs aren’t settled? Perhaps the piano needs re-tuning? I’ve no idea to be honest. 

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Looking ahead over the next month, we’ve got some absolute belters coming up. Today we have the opportunity to upset Liverpool’s title challenge, there’s the return leg against PSG in a couple of weeks, closely followed by Arsenal away and City at home. Not wishing to sound dramatic, but a couple of months ago the prospect of that run of fixtures would have seen me tampering with the boiler and removing batteries from the carbon monoxide detector.

We won’t win each of these games coming up, in fact we will more than likely get our arses handed to us on a couple of occasions. That’s no problem, I can live with that. For the moment, I’m just content with the fact United have at least become watchable again. Football has become something to look forward to and each game no longer feels like a soul-crushing exercise in self-flagellation and excruciating boredom. Nice one Olé, that will do nicely for now. 

Copyright Red News – February 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

Gods and Monsters

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Season’s greetings, readers. The good news is that Christmas is fast approaching, whilst the bad news is United are in action more frequently over the next month or so. At least a few days off work means the opportunity exists to try and blot this out via excessive drinking and/or drug use. It’s the only sensible option now, surely? You’ve got to be some kind of masochist to be deriving any enjoyment from our football whilst sober. It’s got that bad I’ve marked next year’s international breaks on the calendar. Although once upon a time regarded as a nuisance, they now provide a welcome respite from the drudgery of watching United every week.  

The Palace and Young Boys games last month saw us reach that rarefied level of mediocrity not witnessed since the winter of discontent during Van Gaal’s final season. Some older heads compared the general mood to May 1989 when barely 20,000 turned up at OT to watch dead rubber, end-of-season snoozathons versus Wimbledon and Everton. We’ll get better in time, there’s no doubt about that. But these are dog days, my friends. The general malaise on the pitch is spreading to the stands and Old Trafford is getting emptier by the week. We’re bad at the moment, really bad. 

You know exactly how grim things are when you’re receiving texts off mates informing you that they’ve stuck a tenner on 0-0 at 18/1 and your reaction is “good value”. And that’s against Young Boys, remember… comfortably one of the worst teams we’ve faced in Europe over the last 20 years. That’s the extent to which the level of expectation has now sunk; people are turning up/tuning in and fully expecting not to be entertained. You know things aren’t going well when the manager is celebrating goals by smashing up water bottles at the side of the pitch. And the bet? He cashed out with 10 minutes to go for an easy £100. 

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The usual ‘hooray for everything’ twitter lunatics were ecstatic of course. Yes, qualification for the knockout stages was achieved, but an injury time Fellaini winner shouldn’t shift attention away from the dismal 90 minutes that preceded it. This wasn’t the team misfiring or having an off-night, it was a textbook example of our current performance level. We’ve been absolutely appalling all season. 7th position in the league and 16 points behind the leaders flatters us quite frankly. The fact we’ve qualified from the CL group stages with a game to spare is a minor miracle. 

Looking at the team, it’s hard to see any positive signs that improvement is likely over the next few months. Believe me, I’m not wallowing here… this is just an honest appraisal of where we’re at. I’m sure Lukaku will start scoring goals again at some point, but he’s not suddenly going to develop into a capable footballer. Our midfield continues to underperform. Physically imposing, yes… but we’re so static and lacking any kind of creativity. Pogba is a talent, but he doesn’t have the desire or motivation to lead us up a mountain from where we’re currently stuck. We might as well cash-in as soon as anyone offers big money because his heart simply isn’t in it. 

Matic is 30 but plays like he’s 40 and Fellaini is routinely awful despite offering a late goal every 6 months. Elsewhere, non-entities like Lingard and Herrera have somehow played themselves into peoples’ affections over the last couple of years. I can see why, because they do at least seem to care, but it doesn’t change the fact that both are incredibly limited and offer no level of consistency whatsoever. I’m not having a pop at these lads personally here, but we’re destined to struggle for a long time to come if average players are going to be rewarded with 5 year contracts just because their attitude doesn’t stink. 

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As ever, our defence is an accident waiting to happen. Current (no sniggering) ‘player of the month’ is Victor Lindelof, presumably because he managed to stay fit for a handful of games (before getting injured again) and every other player in the squad performed significantly worse. After the recent bombshell news that Young and Valencia are being offered renewed terms, it seems that Chris Smalling is also in talks over a new deal. Once again, I have absolutely no idea how or why. 

Do we offer these contracts and trigger extensions under the illusion that it might pique the interest of other clubs so they’ll inexplicably rush in waving a huge cheque? I don’t understand United’s thinking here at all. If you’ve got a player who’s underperformed throughout the entirety of his previous deal, why are we insistent on tying them down to a new one? Presumably Matteo Darmian will be the next recipient; sign him up for 5 years on £100,000 a week and then watch Milan steam in with that £60M offer. 

To my mind, given his obvious limitations, United should be nudging Smalling towards the exit door rather than attempting to secure his services for another 5 seasons. We did exactly the same with Luke Shaw, who still looks nothing like the finished article despite many people having convinced themselves otherwise. To prove yourself at United these days, it appears all you need to do is turn up for training every day and fulfil any commercial obligations the club put in front of you. Luke Shaw has been here 4 and a half years now yet I can’t recall 4 and a half standout performances from him in that time. Not to worry, there’s your new contract. 

The only current player deserving any kind of increased remuneration is the goalkeeper, who despite not enjoying his greatest run of form in recent months, continues to perform at a level that puts the rest of his teammates to shame. Keeping De Gea beyond this utter shitshow of a season would be tantamount to cruelty at this point. How demoralising must it be having an ever-evolving cast of clowns playing in front of you as opposed to the solid defensive unit most top sides tend to favour? Yet here we are, dishing out new deals like confetti and rewarding year upon year of injury-prone ineptitude. Mourinho was brought in to sort out this mess but it’s honestly getting worse. 

Copyright Red News – December 2018

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A Minor Turn

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To say the 3-2 turnaround against Newcastle came as something of a relief is quite an understatement. 8 weeks since the last win at OT, utterly devoid of ideas and confidence, 0-2 down and going absolutely nowhere… yet finally something clicked and we were treated to a glimpse, the merest flicker of professional pride in evidence. Finally our beleaguered team showed they do still possess some cojones. 

Yes, it was only Newcastle. But that isn’t the point, is it? If you can’t enjoy a comeback like that, whatever the circumstances, then you may as well give it all up. It may well turn out to just delay the inevitable but where United are currently, a win’s a win and we’ll take it. I’ve thought it for a while but home games have become even more of an ordeal of late. Against a United team with little attacking potency and defensive fragility, every opposition team turns up sensing blood. The huge crowd and the overriding sense of frustration about the place just feeds their confidence; whereas in years past they knew they were facing defeat before they’d even got off the bus.  

So does this result change anything? Will it be a turning point from which everyone chills out a bit and starts to enjoy themselves? I doubt that very much. I strongly suspect that relations between management and certain dressing room ‘personalities’ are now irreparable. There’s too much been said already and the individuals concerned are either too stubborn or too stupid to even consider embarking on a conciliatory path. No, I just can’t see it. That ship has already sailed so we’re heading towards what’ll be full on Armageddon in the not too distant future. 

This season we’ve struggled to display any cohesion whatsoever despite the fixture list throwing out a straightforward run of games throughout August and September. Now faced with Chelsea away, a Juventus double header and City away in the next few weeks, the potential for complete meltdown is staring us in the face. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic by stating if we lose 3 of them, expect Mourinho to be gone by Christmas. 

I hope I’m wrong. Personally speaking, I’m still (just about) a believer and I want the board keep their nerve and give him more time. But looking at everything that’s happened since the end of last season, I can only see the current uneasy impasse ending sooner rather than later. Mourinho was mortally offended by the club’s failure to sanction his signings in the summer and the breakdown in his relationship with Pogba, the club’s most marketable asset, only makes his position more vulnerable still. 

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As for Pogba, I don’t know any United fan above the age of 12 who still has any time for the guy. I don’t believe he ever wanted to come back here and he’s basically spent the last 3 years phoning in performances each week, biding his time waiting for the call from Spain. When he inevitably departs next summer, what will he be remembered for? He scored the opening goal in Stockholm and starred in the comeback against City last year. And ummm… that’s about it, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve missed anything. 

Other than that, he dyes his hair often, he dances round the dressing room wearing oversized headphones and he posts regular selfies on social media. He certainly generates plenty of clicks, I’ll give him that. As a footballer though, I’m sorry, the lad is just an expensive liability rather than club captain material. I can’t be doing with him anymore. If stating that makes me an embittered, out of touch gammon then fair enough. I’ll take that with chips, peas and a fried egg on top. Cheers. 

Admittedly, part of my reasoning for still clinging to the notion that Mourinho is the right man is that I have no idea who we could realistically turn to next. There’s no way Juventus would release Allegri mid-season or that Levy would allow Pochettino to leave Spurs… not that I’m convinced by either. United will always be United and hold huge appeal but as far as any outsider is concerned, we’re in the middle of a full scale civil war and there are unanswered questions about who exactly is in charge. If Mourinho goes we’ll have become one of those other clubs who changes their manager every 2 years… though we’re probably already in that bracket given what’s occurred since 2013. 

I’ll also admit that José hasn’t helped himself. The fact he’s not bought a house up here is an absolute joke and demonstrates how he’s never considered this a long term appointment. In my head, this is where I saw him settling after 10 years of flitting round Europe, a career defining appointment where he could put down some roots and build himself a legacy. The fact he’s content to live in a hotel speaks volumes and shows that he’s never fully bought into the idea of being manager of Manchester United. Fair enough if his family is settled in London, but you’d at least find yourself an apartment, surely? To me it’s all just a bit weird that he chose not to. Is 24 hour room service really that appealing? I think it would do my head in after a couple of weeks. 

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As I touched on a couple of months ago, his other fatal flaw has been his unfathomable loyalty to the not quite good enoughs who should by rights have been moved on years ago. Valencia, 10th season. Smalling, 9th season. Young, Jones… 8 seasons. Fellaini, 6 seasons. This is why we’ll continue to struggle for the foreseeable. These players are loyal foot soldiers, yes. No doubt they listen to instructions and don’t cause any him any headaches in the way that Martial and Pogba might. But let’s be honest here, this bunch score 7/10 on a good day and you don’t win major titles when the nucleus of your team are merely half-decent. I wish he’d have been far more ruthless and binned the lot within days of arriving here. 

These gripes aren’t really important in the grand scheme of things, however. The root of our problems, as we should all be aware by now, is a little further up the food chain. By staying put when the takeover took place, perhaps we’re all complicit in this shitshow and what we’re witnessing now is just the natural conclusion of the club being sold to Florida-based carpetbaggers 13 years ago. There’s no end in sight to this mess whilst investment bankers are making footballing decisions and overruling the man tasked with building a winning team. That’s the reality of what we’re faced with regardless of whether Mourinho survives beyond the next few weeks. 

Copyright Red News – October 2018

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