Tag Archives: manchester city

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3

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Well December went well, didn’t it? It all started so well with that memorable win at the Emirates, but sneaking out of there with 3 points unfortunately meant that we’d used up an entire month’s worth of luck in the space of 2 hours. By the time Boxing Day arrived it felt like Van Gaal had returned like the Ghost of Christmas Past. The players appeared to sense this too and joined in by attempting a macabre re-enactment of the infamous Norwich home game that ruined Christmas 2015.

Factor in a 0-0 draw against Southampton a few days later and it momentarily felt like we’d regressed 2 years. We haven’t, thankfully… I genuinely believe that. It was just a hefty kick in the bollocks that needs to be kept in perspective. Since I wrote here a month ago we’ve played a dozen games and suffered a major dip in form. Injuries, fatigue, a post-derby hangover… blame whatever you want. Yet we’re 2nd in the league and comfortably reached the CL knock-out stages – so we’re not doing all that badly.

Let’s be realistic here: over half of United’s squad still comprises of haphazardly recruited, distinctly underwhelming footballers – good players, but not great players. Most will be replaced as soon as their contracts are up. Forget the net spend figures and Jose/Pep comparisons being bandied about as they’re irrelevant for the most part. Looking at the talent we have in place, I maintain that we’re overachieving with what we’ve actually got.

Unfortunately, the gargantuan ball ache that nobody anticipated this season was Manchester City’s ridiculous form. The fact they’ve amassed an unprecedented points total at this stage skews the picture to the point that any progress made by United has been obscured. 2 years ago we’d have been 3 points clear at the top of the table with 47 points after 22 games. Instead, we’re sat 15 points off the pace so understandably, the mood about the place is poised somewhere between subdued and clinically depressed.

So, what to do? According to your average, internet-based moron, being 15 points behind City and with everyone feeling a bit sorry for themselves, it’s time to sack the manager. Quite how anyone could reach that conclusion is baffling, but such a mindset does exist out there. Can you imagine the alternative to Mourinho at this juncture? I can. United hovering just above mid-table with Giggs and Phil Neville in charge whilst Paul Scholes sits in the ITV studio claiming we’re ‘doing pretty well’ all things considered. Meanwhile, the entire footballing world pisses themselves laughing at our expense. No thanks, I’ll stick with Jose if you don’t mind.

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That doesn’t mean to say I don’t think Mourinho has to change if he is to succeed in the long-term at Old Trafford. I think we were all guilty of underestimating the extent to which Guardiola would impact on City’s fortunes this season, but does Mourinho have to ability to drag this current United squad up to their current level? Either by instilling some radical shift in mindset and tactics, or by making some unforeseen changes in personnel.

To put this another way, Ferguson re-invented his United teams numerous times due to the shifting demands of what he deemed necessary to succeed. He famously gambled on youth in 1995, built a team of warriors to out-battle Arsenal, then set about constructing a side that proved even more consistent than Mourinho’s powerful 2005 Chelsea vintage. Basically, we might need a re-think if we’re going to get anywhere near City over the next couple of years – it’s not enough just to keep our fingers crossed hoping they won’t quite hit the same heights next season.

Take Lukaku as an example here – signed at huge expense to lead our attack for the next 5-6 years. Although his goals contribution has been respectable, I don’t think I’m being that unkind in suggesting he’s not the most fluid, all-round footballer to have graced the No.9 shirt at OT. Even as a flat-track bully, he doesn’t do that much bullying and he manages to miss as many sitters as both Rashford and Martial combined. I’ve no desire to kick Romelu whilst he’s down here at all, he’s clearly trying his hardest. I’m merely suggesting that Jose might benefit from re-visiting his plan of having him as our attacking figurehead for the next 5 years.

If you don’t agree with this harsh assessment of Lukaku’s form, then take some solace from the fact that regular whipping boy Jesse Lingard has improved immeasurably since being singled out for a slagging off here a couple of months back. Whilst Lukaku and the returning Zlatan have looked well off the pace, Lingard has carried the team over the last couple of months and proven himself United’s most potent attacking threat by miles. Fair play to him. I will happily admit to being wrong and I genuinely hope he maintains this new level of consistency he’s reached. I still think he’s a bit of a dickhead, and acknowledge the fact he’s quite entitled to hold the same opinion of me.

Despite the team’s solid progress overall, we’re left facing the grim prospect of watching City steamroller towards the title for the next few months. As unpalatable as this may be, we’re just going to have to suck it up as every minor setback befalling United is inevitably blown out of all proportion. We’ve still got much to play for despite the league summit being out of reach; still in the FA Cup and worse teams than ours have won the Champions League in the not too distant past. I appreciate I’m clutching at straws here, but how sweet would that be? Shades of ’68 as City win the title whilst United usurp them by claiming the big one. Lingard screamer to win it in the last minute, anyone?

Copyright Red News – January 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

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No Surprises

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After all the usual bluster, transfer deadline day passed by with very little occurring of United-related interest. Not much new there. For all the talk of monster deals and last-minute scrambles, hardly anything of note ever happens. We signed Rooney and Berbatov in previous years, sure – but nothing will ever top the genuine madness of 2013 when after being linked with Kroos, Fabregas and Herrera all summer, Woodward managed to sign only Marouane Fellaini. “Oh I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible…” etc.

All the lols this year were at Arsenal’s expense, of course – with Arsene Wenger seemingly hellbent on shredding his legacy with each passing week. His attitude now seems to be, “well if I’m going down, I’m taking all of you lot with me.” It’s no wonder all the ArsenalFanTV loons have become minor internet celebrities due to being in a state of permanent apoplexy; I daresay we’d be losing the plot if the same was happening at United.

I’ve always had plenty of time for Wenger, who seems to be a thoroughly decent man despite working in football all his adult life. The fact he’s facing all this hassle at the age of 67 is an unflattering end to what’s been a brilliant career. At this point he should be sat in the director’s box enjoying his retirement rather than struggling with a conundrum that’s had him stumped for over a decade. He clearly doesn’t know or he’s just too stubborn to admit that he’s taken the club as far as he can. I just feel sorry for the bloke now, he deserves far more than the ire of rent-a-gob no-marks who’ve lost sight of the fact they had the time of their lives following the teams he built previously.

I don’t want to come across sounding too pious, however. As stated earlier, if a similar scenario was occurring at United no doubt we’d all be seething. From the fans point of view, they’ve been banging on about Arsenal’s clear failings for the last 6-7 years and the club haven’t done a thing to acknowledge their grievances. Wenger did a great job of keeping them in contention (thereabouts) whilst the Emirates was paid for, but that move from Highbury was 11 years ago now. Meanwhile, the club are plodding along, content with a 4th place finish each year whilst blindingly obvious weaknesses in the team remain unaddressed. I’d be getting pretty irate too, in fairness.

No such dramas at OT where Jose’s invincibles are cruising towards the league title, apparently. Personally I think the pundits might be getting a tad carried away, but the consensus opinion seems to be that last season’s problems are all fixed and we’re going to walk it. Yeah right. Although I’d agree our start has been very encouraging, it’s worth recalling that we also won our first 3 league games last season before going on a run that saw us take just 6 of the next 21 points available. Looking at the games coming up I expect we’ll comfortably avoid a repeat of that, but I still don’t trust half of our players to maintain this improvement for a full season unless they’ve undergone secret brain transplants over the summer.

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Over at Wastelands, I see Guardiola has been in full-on, passive-aggressive oddball mode for the last couple of weeks. I always figured Mourinho was supposed to be the sulky, petulant one but their roles have reversed over the last year or so. Dunno what it is with Josep these days, he previously seemed to be a cool customer but now he looks like he’s about to embark on a Klopp-style spin out at any given minute. I reckon he’s incredibly miffed that the job isn’t proving anything like as easy as he anticipated. I suspect he assumed he’d merely turn up, commence his tiki-taka eulogising and the trophies would flow at the same rate they did at his previous clubs.

This is England though, innit? Or more pertinently, this is Manchester City – where having an unlimited transfer budget proves as much of a distraction as it is a bonus. Guardiola has broken up the established order (binned Zableta, ostracised Hart, clearly doesn’t rate Aguero), but the spine of the team no longer looks as strong as it did under Mancini or Pellegrini. Players like Sterling are signed for £50M then they’re ready to sacrifice him as soon as they get a sniff of Sanchez’s availability. I just don’t get them – for all their talk of ‘the project’ and their long-term commitment to becoming global football superpower, there’s still a strong whiff of short-sighted flippancy about much of the decision making.

For example, take the decision to banish Joe Hart. Now everyone knows Hart is a bit of a bellend, but there’s no denying he did alright for City. It’s not like Guardiola replaced him with a better pedigree keeper or anything, it was more a case of ‘don’t fancy you, see ya.’ I know United have been guilty of a number of similar volte-faces over the last few years, but our chronic inconsistency proves that changing half your team each summer doesn’t pay immediate dividends. If City go on to win the title or the Champions league then I’ll be proven wrong on this, clearly. I just feel that they’d be better served by a more methodical approach as opposed to hoovering up 5 new players every transfer window.

Anyway, enough of everyone else’s business – even Wayne Rooney getting caught in flagrante isn’t our problem anymore. The sun is shining, United are unbeaten and we’ve drawn Burton at home in the League Cup. Not even the international break or the threat of imminent nuclear war can spoil the buzz. What a time to be alive.

Copyright Red News – September 2017

www.rednews.co.uk

State of the Nation

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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.

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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