Tag Archives: liverpool

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

www.rednews.co.uk

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Yesterday’s Men

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During his time at Chelsea, every Mourinho smirk, quip and raised eyebrow had the English press pack in raptures. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a very different narrative being played out now he’s Manchester United’s manager. José is the out-of-touch dinosaur and instead it’s Pep, Poch and Jurgen Klopp getting journalists into an engorged state. That’s absolutely fine. The rush to hand out plaudits and prizes after 6 or 7 games is utterly laughable, as City’s recent coronation as ‘the invincibles’ proved quite succinctly.

When I was a kid, I can recall my old man telling me not to even bother looking at the league table until after 10 games or so. At that point, you get a fair indication of what’s what given each team will have played a couple of tough fixtures so you can properly assess form. It’s pretty obvious stuff, really… but football in 2016 doesn’t care for a sense of perspective or reality, it’s all about hyperbole. As Sparky notes elsewhere in this issue, everything either has to be “the best ever” or “the worst ever.”

The truth of course, is that United are somewhere in-between. I closed last month’s optimism-fuelled column with a note of caution regarding the impending Manchester derby – a wise move given how it duly managed to obliterate the early season feel-good factor within the space of 45 minutes. How very sobering. Even more depressingly, the resultant hangover has proven difficult to shift as we head into a very testing autumnal run of fixtures.

The 1st of these, away at Anfield, was negotiated successfully with the deployment of some vintage Mourinho nullifying tactics. As unpalatable as some might find it, the ‘go for a 0-0 and anything else’s a bonus’ mindset was entirely predictable and executed perfectly. 35% possession would have made Van Gaal wince and despite the lack of chances, in this instance the end result justified the means. With Chelsea and City around the corner, the last thing required was another defeat.

Clearly, a United team being sent out with such limited ambition is going to irritate a sizeable number of people. Mourinho’s willingness to exercise such a game plan was cited as a reason some were against him ever being given the job in the first place – his propensity for negativity being a ‘betrayal of our attacking traditions’ and all that.

Personally, I don’t see a problem. If he was setting us up to bore teams into submission every game like we tried to for much of the last 3 seasons, then I’d be complaining as loud as anyone. But he isn’t. It’s not Southampton at home, it’s Liverpool away… and the result is everything. There have been plenty of abject games at Anfield over the last 20 years, where typically we’ve turned in half-hearted performances and been soundly beaten. The last time we went there and properly dominated them was the 3-1 win back in December ’97 – it just doesn’t happen very often. So all things considered I’m quite content with a single point, thank you very much.

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If Mourinho has discovered that his time as the darling of the English press is over, it’s nothing compared to the mensis horribilis that Wayne Rooney has just endured. Despite the fact that the football watching public have long been frustrated by his fading abilities, it’s only in the last 4 weeks that the cabal of media/ex-pros and managers have finally admitted the game’s up too.

It probably took me longer than most to recognise change was needed as I’ve usually sported a pair of blinkers where Wazza’s failings are concerned. I’ve been content to overlook his leaden feet with increasingly redundant arguments about his effort and work rate – a will to win that was still good enough to craft us an FA Cup winning goal from nothing as recently as May, let’s not forget. The reality however, is that the bad has outweighed the good for months, if not years now.

The ongoing debate about his current/future position has always been skewed by the fact that many people can’t admit the most obvious detail – Wayne simply isn’t a top class midfielder. He just doesn’t possess the requisite touch and passing consistency. The notion that a striker can drop back and influence games from a deeper role as the years take their toll is a convenient one, but how many players have truly managed to achieve this? Charlton, Dalglish and Keegan perhaps… though none of these played in the current era with its unrelenting speed and intensity.

The desire is still there with Rooney, his effort and work rate haven’t diminished despite regular claims to the contrary. The problem is simply down to his declining physical state – he’s just not as quick as he was 10 years ago. The brain sees the pass/anticipates the incoming tackle, but the feet are no longer as quick to react. Sadly, it’s probably just a natural consequence of him doing this week in, week out for the last 14 years.

And for 12 of those years, Rooney has been wearing a United shirt – a key performer during the most successful era in the club’s history. 500 games, 250 goals… yet many will be delighted to see the back of him when he inevitably moves on at the end of the season. Not me. Nor am I joining in with those gleefully revelling in his current predicament and enjoying the opportunity to stick the boot in. Despite the fact his career at Old Trafford seems to be heading to a somewhat ignominious conclusion, he deserves far better than that.

Copyright Red News – October 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

Break From The Old Routine

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Another month gone, another predictable run of results. These may be uncertain times for United supporters, but our monthly cycle seems to have settled into a familiar pattern. There’s the deeply uninspiring pair of defeats, a dull home draw and then a semi-arousing, unlikely victory to take some solace from. LVG pontificates in his post-game interviews, Mata blogs about the importance of focusing on the next game and then the whole sorry sequence starts once more.

Getting knocked out of the Europa League wouldn’t have been too big a deal except for the fact it had to happen against Liverpool. A quick glance at the team sheet prior to the first leg was enough to suggest how things would pan out. Fellaini and Schneiderlin are not a midfield pairing in a million years, with the Belgian producing a performance that was absolutely pitiful even in comparison with his usual sub-par offerings. There’s not a single United fan I know who doesn’t simply grimace and shake their head at the mere mention of his name.

There’s not one redeeming feature about Fellaini’s game at all. Graceless, snidey, petulant, clumsy… for the most part he ambles round the pitch breaking up our play, instead of the opposition’s. How he managed to stay on the field for the full 90 minutes is beyond me, and Van Gaal’s enduring faith in the guy’s complete lack of ability speaks volumes for the sorry state of his team. Things aren’t ever going to get any better with him roaming round, clattering into people and then looking utterly bewildered when the referee blows for each blindingly obvious infringement. He’s simply an awful, awful footballer.

Anyway, that long-standing gripe aside, Liverpool turned up whereas United didn’t. Marcus Rashford found himself playing right back during the 1st half… which was never going to turn out very well. The goalie, once again, was exceptional and ensured we weren’t 3-0 down at HT; how many times has that happened this season now? Martial battled gamely up front but there was nobody else willing to commit… which they were unable to anyway given we were being so comprehensively outplayed in midfield. Meanwhile, you’ve got Herrera, Schweinsteiger and Carrick all sat on the bench. In short, it was a complete mess and we were lucky to get out of there with only a 2-0 deficit.

The 2nd leg at least tee’d up the potential of an all-time classic, and it briefly looked like it might be happening when we went 1-0 up. United battered Liverpool for 45 minutes and were unlucky to be only ahead by a single goal as HT approached… even the crowd woke up from its usual somnambulant stupor and there was something approaching a genuine atmosphere to savour. A hint of venom in the air, players flying forward, decent goon for the goal… this was how we used to live.

Unfortunately, Coutinho’s exceptional goal killed any giddiness stone dead and the tie was over with the last kick of the 1st half. What a great player that kid is, incidentally. City must be kicking themselves after being suckered into paying £50M for the overrated Sterling when they could probably have snaffled him for half the price. Anyway, instead of any further heroics, the players trudged off whilst the crowd went into silent contemplation mode. It was a very sobering HT break watching the scousers balloon about letting off flares whilst we stood cursing ourselves for being naive enough to believe it was actually possible for a few minutes. Still, it was a nice reminder of how things used to be.

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You know that it’s been a strange old year when a glance at the league table confirms that we’re 16 points behind Leicester City… whose closest challengers are serial bottlers, Spurs. They are more than likely going to win it with games to spare, which as an event in the football universe is about as likely as Fellaini edging out Messi and Ronaldo for the next Ballon d’Or. In these days of ‘big fours’ and plans for a revised, ‘closed shop’ Champions League, Leicester are a heartening reminder that football still has the ability to produce stories that contravene all common sense and perceived wisdom.

Ranieri’s team are being lauded as the nation’s sweethearts right now, and even a myopic old cynic like me finds it hard to wish them anything but the best. There was something on 5 live the other week inviting people to phone in and suggest sporting upsets that would rival them winning the title. Suggestions included Denmark or Greece winning the Euros, Wimbledon winning the FA Cup, some clown even proposed that Sheffield Eagles beating Wigan Warriors in the RL Challenge Cup bore comparison.

It doesn’t, of course – none of these events do. Cup successes of that ilk are simply based on a team stringing together 6-7 decent performances. Any underdog can win a one-off cup, whereas winning a title over the course of 9 months is a genuine test of nerve and endurance. Blackburn winning the league in ’95 doesn’t count, given they were buoyed by Jack Walker’s vast wealth. Leeds winning in ’92 is probably the closest in recent-ish memory, though they weren’t competing against the handful of billion pound behemoth clubs that inhabit the Premier League in 2016. 1992 was still a fairly level playing field in terms of competing teams’ cash and resources, nothing at all like the cabal that’s in place today.

So if Leicester do it, in team sports’ terms I reckon it’ll be just about the greatest upset ever – I can’t recall anything that eclipses it. I’ve never had any time for their frothing, little Inglunder support but if they end up winning it at OT next month, then I hope their team gets clapped off the pitch. They’ll have achieved something genuinely remarkable, putting like likes of Newcastle and Liverpool – teams who have squandered hundreds of millions over the years in pursuit of the title – to shame.

In 3 months time we’ll be sick of the sight and sound of them and they’ll be back to being a complete irrelevance, but in a season where watching United has felt like purgatory at times, Leicester have been a genuine breath of fresh air. Regardless of whether or not they implode on the final straight, the plaudits they’re currently receiving are richly deserved – they’ve been absolutely superb.

Copyright Red News – April 2016

www.rednews.co.uk