Tag Archives: premier 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

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All Change

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And just like that, he was gone. The fact Mourinho lasted as long as he did this season is quite remarkable considering he seemed to make his mind up he was leaving back in August. He knew it was coming, the players knew it and we all knew it too. The last few months were an absolute disaster. The poor results racked up and Woodward eventually had no option but to pull the trigger. No complaints at all there – it was an entirely correct decision. 

I’ll always like Jose for many of the reasons people despise him. He radiates an overpowering sense of boredom and intrinsic distaste of modern football and footballers that I find completely relatable. He appeared to detest many of our players for exactly the same reasons I do. The problem is, it’s okay for me to feel like that as I’m an anonymous, middle-aged fanzine writer who will happily admit to feeling completely underwhelmed by football in 2019. However, it becomes a bit of an issue when your club manager is gripped by the same sense of ennui and withering distaste for everything and everybody connected with the game. 

I hope Mourinho takes a break now, a very long break. I know he messed up hugely at United and was the chief architect in his own downfall, yet I’d still side with him over the players he found himself at war with. The main problem (in my opinion anyway) was that he was completely unable to wipe the slate clean when he should have arrived here refreshed and ready for a new start. Jose can’t let the past go. He had all his baggage out on display and like a recent divorcee rushing into a rebound relationship, previous experiences tainted his decision making. He’s a bitter man who’s at war with himself as well as the world in general. I wish him well, the miserable bastard. 

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Enter Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, all-round United hero and possibly the nicest man in football. Within a matter of milliseconds, everyone was partying like it was 1999 as there was actual, watchable football being played. It appears it really was that simple and contrary to popular opinion, Woodward is very possibly a football genius. Seriously though, despite a simple run of games prior to grinding out victory against Spurs last Sunday, Ole has clearly had a positive effect on the team’s mindset and 6 wins out of 6 speaks for itself. There’s a long, long way to go before we can confidently say things have turned around but it’s been a really encouraging start.

Unfortunately I have to lower the tone at this point by passing comment on Mr Pogba’s recent conduct. Not content with making a complete tit of himself by smugly revelling in Mourinho’s departure all over his social media accounts, he then decides to rouse himself and start playing like an absolute world-beater at the precise moment Jose left the building. So is he taking the piss? Answer: Yes, he clearly is. It might just be me that’s taken major umbrage here, but Pogba dancing round the pitch after scoring against Bournemouth looked every bit as inappropriate as a Tory MP grinning for the cameras after opening a food bank. 

Paul lad, you really just need to get your head down and play now. Not just when you fancy it, how about every week regardless of who’s in charge of picking the team and deciding tactics? Right now, you still owe us big time for doing precisely nothing to help the cause over the last few months. Do us all a favour, eh? Drop the incessant posturing and just try and play to the best of your abilities every single game. We really would appreciate it. 

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Needless to say, it’s going to take a lot more than a handful of goals and a couple of defence-splitting passes for Pogba to redeem himself in my eyes. What happens the next time he has a crossed word with Solskjaer or any future manager who neglects to massage his ego momentarily? Will the toys be thrown back out of the pram or was that 4 month sabbatical he took exclusively reserved for Mourinho? I’m just not buying it, lads. The guy’s a clown and Fergie had him sussed out years ago.

I don’t really need to point out that this horrific season has been compounded by the fact that Liverpool are currently odds-on favourites to win the league. The fact we find ourselves silently willing City to overhaul them makes an already grave situation feel even more desperate. It was little more than an inconvenience when Chelsea and Arsenal were winning titles and punctuating our two decade run of success. Actively hoping City win the league to stop Liverpool feels almost depraved in comparison. What have we become?

I couldn’t quite get my head round the fact a few reds I know were able to settle down and watch City v Liverpool recently. Some wrong ‘uns on twitter actually seemed quite enamoured with the prospect. Don’t get me wrong, I’d already reconciled myself with the fact I wanted City to beat them but there’s no way I could contemplate watching. I’m not being all top red about it but sitting through that would have felt uncomfortably voyeuristic. I’d rather keep my head down and brace myself for the consequences should the unthinkable happen. 

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Continuing on the same theme, a few deluded souls appeared to take some solace from the fact Wolves subsequently knocked the scousers out of the cup. Personally, I’m struggling to see how that was a good thing at all. Klopp isn’t is daft as he acts and he knows they’ve got a smallish squad. Fending off City is going to be tough so any free weekend will prove a blessing as the season progresses. Make no bones about it, Liverpool losing that game was completely by design. Of course he’ll look silly if City eventually overhaul them and they finish potless again, but if they end up winning the title it’ll be rightly be seen as a genius move. God forbid it actually happens. 

Copyright Red News – January 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

www.rednews.co.uk