Tag Archives: manchester united

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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You’ve Gotta Hand It To Them

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After the downbeat tone of last month’s piece, 3 consecutive league victories have steadied the ship and (just about) prevented City from disappearing out of sight before Christmas. Note that statement comes with a major caveat given they are today’s opposition and I’m writing this without knowing the result of last Saturday’s Arsenal trip. Reading this then, you’re either buzzing at the fact we’re still in contention, or resigned to the fact this season’s league ambitions stretch no further than a comfortable top 4 finish.

In any other season, we’d probably be thrilled at United’s overall form but there’s no getting away from the fact that City have upped the bar to an almost unassailable level at present. 20 consecutive wins (or something) is an incredible feat no matter what era it occurs in or whatever the level of football. They are utterly relentless at the moment. The only solace I can take from this is that before today, I genuinely haven’t seen a single minute of them in action this season. It’s just easier on the blood pressure to avoid the television and radio and let things take their natural course.

Every now and then you get a reminder why this is definitely the most sensible option. It’d slipped my mind they were playing Southampton until a message popped up in the Red News WhatsApp group chat that simply said “fuck, fuck, fuck”. Ah right… that’ll be their late winner then – only six minutes into injury time as it turned out. I honestly don’t know why people put themselves through it. I got suckered into listening to the last 5 minutes of their game at Bournemouth back in August which had a similarly demoralising conclusion. The radio went off and I drove to OT in silence, cursing my stupidity.

As regards today’s fixture, it’s got ‘season-defining’ written all over it. If this United side is going to take the difficult step up from being merely good to great, then now is the perfect time to suggest that with a positive result in a game of this magnitude. Allowing City to dominate possession would appear to be a recipe for disaster, so l’m just praying we try and seize the initiative rather than cautiously sitting back and letting them have the ball. The form they are in though, we may well get rolled over whatever tactics are employed.

Continuing the theme of begrudging praise, the recent form of Ashley Young deserves a mention. Despite him being something of a model professional who’s a thoroughly nice guy off the pitch by all accounts, it’s fair to say that I’ve never warmed to Ashley Young the footballer. However, credit where credit’s due, he’s been excellent this season. It just goes to show that the old cliché about ‘needing a run in the side’ is true and perhaps we’re sometimes too quick to write off players who’re struggling for form on the fringes of the team. Oh, hello Nani. *cough*

That said, I still maintain that despite both Young and Valencia regularly putting in decent shifts, both full-back positions need addressing at some point. Offensively and defensively, they do an alright job but I remain unconvinced we can’t do better in that department. It’s fair to assume both Darmian and Shaw are on their way out sooner rather than later, and Jones/Smalling/Rojo/Blind never look entirely comfortable there despite being able to fill in when called upon. Oh for a young Denis Irwin, Gary Neville or Patrice Evra…

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The Watford game also saw Jesse Lingard turning in one of his infrequent star turns, making up somewhat for his execrable performance at Huddersfield which had me ready to strangle him last month. Ever the social-media savant, he immediately took to Twitter and proclaimed that he felt “like Hercules”. Hercules? Do me a favour. Jesse lad, you aren’t no Young Thug no matter how much time you spend stood in front of the mirror listening to absolutely shit hip-hop and practising gangster poses. You haven’t got a ‘Mink Flow’, you’re from Warrington. Grow up.

Down at the other end of the table, I note that soul-sucking, fun vacuum David ‘6 year contract’ Moyes is back in football on his latest destroy and exit mission. One can only assume the shysters in charge at West Ham have lost the plot completely. What possible grounds are there for thinking the bloke will do anything other than guide them to certain relegation? Obviously the Duane Duvatts were absolutely livid with the appointment, whereas Moyes his usual sanguine self. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then I’ll see the East End of London for seven months, then I’ll go elsewhere.” Textbook Moyes, that.

Another one not yet done with snaffling all he can from football’s trough is Sam Allardyce. Amazingly, the Everton job is now his 12th managerial appointment. This takes him comfortably past Harry Redknapp who’s had 9, but still some way behind Neil Warnock who’s now at his 15th different club. It makes you wonder how these blokes keep getting offered work in spite of repeated failures, whereas other managers disappear off-radar completely. Is it just coincidence that the above-mentioned are some of the most media-friendly in football? Keeping friendly hacks onside to generate undue praise and gloss over any evidence of incompetence (or indeed financial impropriety), seems to be the way to go. It’s no wonder Moyes is so blasé about getting another job beyond his next disastrous reign.

Anyway, that’s me done here for another year. Merry Christmas all, and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing for City to hit some sort of metaphorical iceberg before I appear here again in early January. Have a good one…

Copyright Red News – December 2017

www.rednews.co.uk

Nowhere Fast

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I honestly try not to get too wound up about football these days, but I was approaching apoplectic after Huddersfield away. The performance, the post-match monsoon and the hordes of deliriously happy locals made for a thoroughly toxic combination that’s still irritating me now, nearly a month on.

Firstly, Huddersfield itself. Wow, what a place. Now it’s easy to be dismissive of the provincial backwaters we get to visit on our travels, but this lot earned top marks in the ‘how to behave when Man United come to town’ stakes. We’re talking Swindon levels of giddiness, here. The fact they’d barely managed a shot on target in their previous 7 games and then set about United like they’d received a bye to the World Cup final was predictable enough, but seriously… a brass band? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything so completely and utterly Yorkshire.

Once upon a time we’d go to these places and swat them aside like the swaggering, metropolitan sophisticates we like to think we are, but those days are long behind us. That first half… where to start? Herrera loves to talk the talk about ‘getting’ United and what it means to play for the club but it shouldn’t draw attention away from his regular sub-par performances. Lingard too gets a lot of stick, but also has many defenders due to the ‘boyhood red’ thing. I’m sorry, but running round aimlessly whilst doing lots of pointing just doesn’t cut it. It happens too many times. It’s one thing taking Swansea apart in the League Cup, but when it really matters he’s routinely nowhere to be seen.

Now from the merely bad, to the downright atrocious. People have justifiably pointed out that we shouldn’t write-off Victor Lindelof too early due to the likes of Pallister and Vidic having inauspicious starts to their ultimately fruitful United careers. However, the fact he looks acutely unaware of whether to head the ball or whether to pass it doesn’t bode well for a 23 year old central defender. ‘Rabbit in the headlights’ doesn’t even begin to describe his afternoon. Delving even further into the past, Pat McGibbon and William Prunier both endured similarly nightmarish debuts and neither was ever heard of again.

In truth, the entire afternoon was the culmination of what had been coming for about 6 weeks. Injuries mounting up, the first choice XL dismantled and we steadily reverted to the stumbling, directionless football witnessed for much of the last 4 years. We can carry the likes of Mata and Mkhitaryan with a full strength team, but they lack the cojones to get you through situations like being 2-0 down facing essentially crap, albeit temporarily inspired opponents like Huddersfield.

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After this setback, the team roused themselves to earn a hard-fought, narrow victory over Spurs before suffering the now annual defeat at Stamford Bridge. This game was notable due to Mourinho deviating from his usual Cat A away game script by sending the team out to attack. Sadly, that was the only surprise of the afternoon as otherwise it was standard United at Chelsea fodder. A few bright moments, home team settle down, we concede after a defensive lapse and then rally too late to do anything about it.

We never seem to get any luck there, but in truth we didn’t deserve much this time out. Aimlessly punting long balls towards Fellaini for the last 10 minutes is a tactic that has failed us repeatedly, so I’ve got no idea why we still persevere with it. I can just about stomach the ultra-negative, defensive football Mourinho employs at times as at least it can bring results. Launching it forward to the big feller in the box NEVER works though. It’s desperate stuff, and we’ll never become a truly great side whilst it remains our only viable Plan B.

Despite recent results accentuating the sense of doom around the place, it clearly isn’t the root cause. As numerous commenters have noted, Jose is oozing bad vibes at the minute and doesn’t look happy with life at all. On face value, United are still doing okay. 7 wins and 2 draws from the first 11 games isn’t terrible by any stretch. We’re 2nd in the league and virtually home and dry in the CL group stages, but you wouldn’t guess that based on Mourinho’s expression or any words out of his mouth over the last few weeks.

So is it the lack of progress on his new contract, Woodward’s failure to land Perisic in the summer or merely a passive-aggressive response to the plaudits heading City’s way at present? Who knows. In all likelihood it’s a combination of each of these factors. Mourinho’s many detractors would no doubt claim this is just par for the course, given his previous managerial gigs have imploded following similar periods of pent-up acrimony.

I suppose worst case scenario is that this is all part of some underhand masterplan to try and force an exit and fall into the open arms of PSG. Taking a completely impassive stance, you can see why such a switch might appeal. It would be a shithouse move for sure, but avoiding the spectre of Guardiola domestically whilst taking him on with an unlimited budget in Europe must seem quite an enticing prospect.

On the other hand, this could all prove to be nothing more than speculative clickbait. I don’t want Jose to be content with being 8 points behind in November. I expect him to be angry about it and for his foul mood to persist as long as we’re trailing behind City. I also expect him to exert maximum pressure on Woodward to land designated transfer targets and to vent his dissatisfaction whenever they don’t happen. The constant background noise, his sour disposition… well that’s just how he gets results. This is just Mourinho being Mourinho, isn’t it?

Copyright Red News – November 2017

www.rednews.co.uk