Tag Archives: chelsea

State of the Nation

sladexmas

As well as saving me a considerable sum of money, the lack of Champions League football appears to have had the effect of making the season progress remarkably quickly. Perhaps it’s just my addled brain, but it only feels like 5 minutes since Van Gaal arrived, doesn’t it? However, a glance at the calendar and the annual onslaught of Slade and Jona Lewie over the airwaves provide confirmation that we’re already in mid-December.

Despite complaining of Champions League fatigue in previous years, when the group stages resembled a mind-numbing series of easy hurdles before inevitable progression to the knock-out stages, it’s (unsurprisingly) proven a big loss this season. For a start, trying to bed in new players and a new formation would have proven a less fraught process with our usual, congested fixture schedule. Instead we’ve endured lengthy gaps in-between games after getting turfed out of the League Cup early doors and ever present menace of international football.

Secondly, something that I hadn’t previously anticipated, I’ve missed routinely turning up at Old Trafford on cold, dark November nights. Indeed, Stoke the other week was the first home game of the season under floodlights. Despite it often feeling like a pain in the arse when I’m knackered after work and the weather is crap, there’s a familiarity to that midweek routine that’s been absent this season. I meet my mates for a couple of pints in town, we jump a cab to the ground, then pay minimal attention to the actual match and instead argue/abuse each other and generally put the world to rights for 90 minutes.

It’s doesn’t feel right watching City or Liverpool on telly when United should be playing, so I’ve studiously avoided every single minute of the Champions League this season. I was delighted to hear Ronaldo downed Liverpool and equally amused that City have struggled thus far, but I can’t bring myself to actually watch them. Having spent years telling City fans that European football was “none of their business”, it’s only fair that I impose a similar mandate on myself whilst United are marooned in the European football wilderness. I’ll start watching again when they’re both knocked out, which will hopefully be very soon.

Given the wholesale changes that were made in the summer and an appalling run of injuries since then, it’s no surprise that it’s taken a bit longer than anticipated to see a settled team that is beginning to look comfortable with Van Gaal’s oft-mentioned ‘philosophy’. I’d argue that the biggest difference over the last few weeks has been the return of Michael Carrick, that and finally experiencing a bit of good fortune in a season where we’ve been on the receiving end of some ridiculous decisions against us.

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After a terrible August which extinguished any lingering pre-season optimism, since then our form hasn’t been all that bad if you can overlook Chris Smalling’s brainstorm and the resultant non-performance at Eastlands. There’s not been very much to get excited about, but players are slowly starting to look more comfortable with the new system and their roles within it. As I said, crucially, we’ve also had to contend with the worst injury record in the league and some awful refereeing. I hate resorting to moaning about refs, it’s the hallmark of a loser – but Martin Atkinson failing to spot a blatant penalty at Sunderland and then at Leicester, Mark Clattenburg choosing to disregard Varney’s foul on Rafael and then milliseconds later, giving a pen for minimal contact, were both absolute shockers.

The Arsenal game could potentially be seen as a turning point – the first big league game won in over a year as we were finally the recipients of some good fortune. An awful 1st half featuring three teenagers in defence, Shaw (this is getting ridiculous now) injured after a quarter of an hour and United being completely outplayed. Then we are gifted a flukey own goal, Rooney scores on the counter attack and all of a sudden, we’ve somehow come away with an unexpected victory.

Factor in a handful of unspectacular home wins and United, whisper it, appear to have discovered something resembling a run of form. I’m typing these words with extreme caution because after a similarly mixed bag of results at the start of last season, we recorded 4 successive league wins last December before everything went very pear-shaped against Spurs on New Year’s Day. Still, I can’t help myself studying the league table and thinking, “hmmmm, can we?” Chelsea have at last faltered, so a win at Southampton on Monday will put us in 3rd, 8 points behind them. Winning the league won’t happen, clearly… but I haven’t quite reached the stage where I can fully admit that to myself yet.

As long as we can stay within 10 points or so, I reckon I can maintain this level of delusion/optimism until at least March. Then as we lose a couple more games and Chelsea/City win the league, we’ll only have to endure a disappointing end to the season with nothing to play for, as opposed to a 6 month period watching them disappear into the distance now. There can’t be any repeat of last season where everything unravelled to the extent the team gave up and couldn’t be arsed in the end. Even if we don’t win it, let’s at least finish 3rd (which should be a minimum aim given the absolute state of the rest of the league), continue our much improved home form and get ourselves sorted in preparation for a proper title challenge next season.

garycahill

In the meantime, if you’re stuck for gift ideas this Christmas, join me in wishing for a centre half so we can solve that particular problem before it becomes a running joke on a par with our 5 year wait for a decent midfielder. It took all of 3 weeks before Evans, Jones and Smalling were missing in action, so I’ve now abandoned hope that any of them will manage to play 5 games in succession without succumbing to to a broken leg or a bad case of impetigo. We desperately need someone, anyone in fact, capable of heading a football, tackling a bit and not being injured. The potential candidate’s ability to speak Spanish would be welcome but is not essential.

I don’t watch enough football to know who the player is, but there must be somebody out there. I never rated Gary Cahill when he was at Bolton, but someone like him would be perfect. He only cost Chelsea £7M but he’s barely missed a game in the last 3 years. A proper old fashioned stopper who wins headers, makes tackles, lumps it into touch and goes up for corners to score the odd goal. How hard can it be? Don’t talk to me about Mats Hummels. Dortmund are a spent force, he’ll cost an absolute fortune and he’s always injured. Find us the next Gary Cahill, Louis.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Copyright Red News – December 2014

www.rednews.co.uk

Serenity Now

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Champions again. 11 months later than hoped for, title No. 20 is in the bag and we can finally look forward to a little respite on the “Aguerooooooooo….” front. I’m reasonably confident MOTD will remove the clip from their opening titles next season and one assumes that Sky might cease playing it every 15 minutes. Persuading every single City fan I know to change their ringtone might prove a tad ambitious, however.

Despite talk of trebles and doubles ultimately proving just that, we’re left with a more than satisfactory single to savour – one that all of us would have settled for before a ball was kicked. Of course winning the league is always something to cherish, but winning it back from ‘them’ after ‘that’? This title feels more cathartic than celebratory.

After the final day drama last season, history will no doubt show this years title was won at a canter – but I remained somewhat twitchy up to the point we went 3-0 up v’s Villa. The bookies paying out early happens every year now, but the fact pretty much the whole of the football world (with the exception of Brian Kidd) declared the title race over and done with weeks ago only increased my sense of agitation. Talksport were dismissively telling listeners, “United have nothing to play for” prior to the West Ham game – pretty much the same line they were trotting out on the night we lost at Wigan 12 months previously. “Nothing to play for”? – we still needed another 7 points for fuck’s sake.

So despite being ‘inevitable’ and a ‘procession’ it never felt entirely comfortable. The thrills and spills of the opening half of the season were replaced by a return of the defensively solid, wildly unspectacular football that’s become our trademark over the last 3-4 years. Whilst there were some fantastic moments with late winners and goonage aplenty, it’s difficult to recall many games where the team performed for 90 minutes – the manner of the crucial 3 away victories at Liverpool, Chelsea and City being especially indicative.

Liverpool dominated us for the best part of the game and we only began to get a foot in the game once they’d had a man sent off; the trip to Stamford Bridge saw us storm into the lead then go to pieces before Clattenburg intervened and handed us back the initiative; RVP’s free kick at City, surely THE moment of the season – came off the back of a 20 minute spell where we’d barely had a kick and were hanging on desperately for a point. 3 pivotal games, 3 slightly fortuitous yet insanely satisfying wins. Our luck couldn’t last.

If those 3 fixtures were representative of United pre-Christmas, the 3 games biggest games during the 2nd half of the season resulted in 3 disappointing defeats. Madrid sent us out of Europe by winning at OT, a fairly abject performance saw us lose to Chelsea in the cup replay and City were well worth their victory in the recent derby. Our form aside from these games was solid enough but it’s fair to say, very rarely set the pulse racing. Winning is great of course and makes even the most uninspiring football palatable, but Manchester United should be about more than just winning.

Nevertheless, perhaps it’s slightly churlish to be airing these gripes now and instead we should instead focus on some good, old fashioned ballooning in light of what the management and squad have achieved – and it is a huge achievement. It won’t be celebrated with quite the same gusto that we’ve greeted previous trophies with, but that’s just an unfortunate consequence of us having gorged on success over the last 20 years.

My 40th is fast approaching and it occurred to me the other day that most of my first 2 decades were spent longing to see United win the league. That finally happened just prior to my 20th, so since then I’ve seen it happen another 12 times. 12 titles in 20 years – after it had taken us over 100 seasons of playing league football to amass the previous 8. If you’d informed me in the summer of 1992 that was going to occur, I’d have most likely called you a lying bastard before politely enquiring where you’d got your drugs from.

Whilst we can look forward to a relaxing few weeks receiving begrudging guards of honour and watching the tombola XL, the Berts are quietly licking their wounds and steadfastly maintaining an FA Cup will represent progress. After the awful noise which followed their title win last May, they’re pleasingly silent at present – no doubt gathering their breath for another sustained period of self-aggrandising bullshit should they overcome Wigan at Wembley. I received a solitary text from an alright one after the Villa game offering congratulations, this having been inundated with gloating messages at the close of last season. I didn’t bother sending any nonsense out myself, just having the knowledge that they’re hurting is enough.

Talking of pain, the serene ending to the season at OT is in marked contrast to the misery currently being experienced by supporters of Liverpool FC. If the manner of our title win feels ever so slightly anticlimactic, then do console yourself with the fact it’s gone down like a cup of cold sick on Merseyside. I’ve managed to go the whole season without mentioning Brendan Rodgers, mainly due to the fact I’m not sure where to begin – the man is truly a gift that keeps on giving. One expects he’ll be given another season before the scousers tire of his bluster, which is a relief because in the meantime he’s doing a fantastic job of promising an awful lot whilst in reality, delivering very little.

Rodgers, let’s not forget, wasn’t even first choice when he came in last summer. Roberto Martinez sussed the job was going to be a nightmare given the financial constraints in place following Dalglish’s extended shopping spree so sensibly gave them the swerve. It was clear FSG needed a good communicator after the PR disaster overseen by ‘Kenny’ and they got one. A master exponent of kind of flattering, syrupy rhetoric the scousers lap up, Rodgers is very good at talking so they took to him immediately. They called him ‘Brendan’ whereas everyone else pissed themselves laughing and called him ‘a dickhead’.

In fairness to Rodgers, he’s on a hiding to nothing ultimately – despite his brief surely not extending much beyond ‘manage expectations’. Although welcomed as ‘one of us’ after speaking in hushed tones about ‘class’, ‘dignity’ and ‘the Liverpool way’, it’ll be a surprise if he’s still there at the end of next season. It must be soul destroying for them at present: United champions, yet another slow realisation their owners aren’t going to pour millions in, manager a national laughing stock and their best player finally proving beyond all reasonable doubt he’s the biggest cunt in football. 23 years since they won the league now, roll on 2016…

Before I sign off, one last thing that’s been bugging me. Not content with insisting everyone should stand up for the Busby Babes every 10 minutes, I hear certain denizens of Stretford End Tier 2 spent part of the recent derby waving their JD Sports Adidas above their heads whilst bellowing ‘shoes off for the Busby Babes’. Here’s an idea for anyone involved – why not take it a step further and do something truly original? How about removing your shoes and beating yourselves unconscious with them instead?

Enjoy the summer and see you next season.

Copyright Red News – May 2013

www.rednews.co.uk