Jun 092014
 

Every international tournament springs surprises. We’ve seen it all from the Czech pair of Patrick Berger and Karel Poborsky lighting up Euro 96 before earning moves to English giants Liverpool and Manchester United respectively, El Hadji Diouf’s exciting displays in the 2002 World Cup earning him a move to Liverpool and even Mesut Ozil’s creative masterclass in South Africa four years ago just prior to signing for Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

With this in mind we are likely to see players having similar breakout tournaments in Brazil this summer. Here are five players to watch throughout the World Cup who could take the tournament by storm:

1, Lorenzo Insigne – Winger – 22 – Italy

Italy have come a long way since the hugely disappointing World Cup campaign in 2010. After having failed to progress past the Group Stage, Italy turned to Cesare Prandelli, a coach renowned for his methodical approach to balancing squad morale with discipline, and the results have been fantastic.

Italy have integrated young talent into the team whilst keeping a core of experienced players in key positions and success on the pitch has followed. Italy are the only team to have figured out a repeatedly successful manner of playing against Vicente del Bosque’s Spain side whilst remaining a threat on the attack at the same time. This has been possible through the use of exciting individual players such as Mario Balotelli and Emanuele Giaccherini.

Giaccherini however has fallen slightly out of favour following a difficult year at Sunderland and considering Lorenzo Insigne’s outstanding displays for Napoli it has become impossible for Prandelli to hold him back. Insigne has impressed a domestic Italian audience for the last two seasons now. Usually situated on the left wing but with the ability to play either on the right or as a shadow striker, Insigne has really taken his game to the next level this season.

He is quick and exciting on the ball. Whilst impossible to predict just what he will do next you can be sure Insigne is one or two moves ahead of his opponent. His footwork is remarkably similar to that of Arjen Robben, as is his low centre of gravity which allows him to escape challenges and find space when cutting inside from the flanks. The conditions in Brazil will see players tire more quickly and this serves as a further advantage to Insigne.

With Ciro Immobile and Mario Balotelli likely to be battling to be Italy’s first choice striker for the tournament it is likely Insigne will slip under the radar. That is until the tournament starts. The winger who will be twenty three by the time Italy take on England on June 14th is only going to get better and on his first experience of the international stage, you can fully expect him to be a shining creative spark throughout the tournament.

2, Son Heung-min – Winger – 21 – South Korea

Son Heung-min is another exciting young winger heading to Brazil this summer. Having made his breakthrough in Europe with Hamburg it became clear last summer that he had outgrown the struggling club. A move to German giants Bayer Leverkusen has simply served as the catalyst for a huge improvement in consistent displays of quality.

It seemed that whilst it was clear the talent Son had at his disposal, playing with a better team was all that was needed to truly unlock his full potential. The South Korean winger who doubles up as a second striker has enjoyed a fantastic debut campaign with Leverkusen scoring twelve goals in all competitions whilst contributing seven assists.

One of Son’s best attributes is his ability to play with both feet. In the past you have seen wingers excel on one particular flank but have flattered to deceive when shown onto their weaker side. Heung-Min is not such a player. It is believed he is naturally right footed although if you have seen much of his season with Leverkusen you would be forgiven for not being one hundred percent sure. It is this versatility that allows him to be so effective when playing just off a long frontman, almost as a second striker.

Son can pick the ball up in pockets of space and truly dictate how Leverkusen attack. With Leverkusen boasting Sidney Sam as the first choice wide player this term it has been difficult for Son to play in his natural position. However the decision to move him into the secondary striker’s role has been a masterstroke.

For South Korea Son is now very much the main man. Having taken the mantle from the recently retired Park Ji Sung it is Son who carries the hopes of the nation on his shoulders this summer. It is likely Son will return to his preferred position on the wing for the national team this summer and will be a real danger when in possession of the ball because of the option to either play a reverse pass in behind, cut in and shoot or even carry on down the flank before putting a cross in, such is the variety in Son’s game.

The current crop of South Korean footballers is in fairness not at the high level of years gone by and the team may well struggle in Brazil but with Son Heung-min in the team there is real potential for attacking quality.

3, Carlos Bacca – Striker – 27 – Colombia

At twenty seven years old this is perhaps a surprise inclusion however Carlos Bacca’s performances at Sevilla this season had propelled him into the limelight and the battering ram of a centre forward could play a huge part in Colombia’s plans at the World Cup.

Having played in Colombia for most of his career, Bacca finally made the risky move to Europe at the half way point of the 2011-2012 campaign when the Colombian forward signed for Club Brugge of Belgium. What came next was thirty one goals in all competitions over the next season and half however it must be noticed twenty nine of them came in the 2012-2013 campaign once Bacca had found his feet on the continent.

This form earned him a move to Sevilla. Admittedly the club’s interested stemmed from the fact they didn’t have much money to play with, despite the sales of Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo. Neither the club nor Bacca has looked back since. Bacca has been a revelation with the powerful striker netting fourteen La Liga goals and five Europa League goals en route to winning the competition.

Standing at just under six foot Bacca is the archetypal hard working striker. Think Carlos Tevez but with the technical ability to match. One of the most surprising revelations as the season progressed was just how talented a footballer Carlos Bacca is. His hardworking on pitch persona combined with physical stature often meant the clever touches and off the ball runs went unnoticed. However this wasn’t the case in the second half of the season with the eyes of Europe admiring as Sevilla reached another European final.

Bacca was key, not only in his goalscoring but in his overall linkup play and the hole left by Alvaro Negredo lessened each week. Bacca was always an option for Ivan Rakitic to play the ball into with the Croatian safe in the knowledge his teammate would hold the ball up and allow for the wide players to catch up to the move hence why Sevilla were such an attractive attacking force this term.

Bacca, in terms of the national team, has struggled simply due to the fact there is a certain Radamel Falcao in front of him. However with Falcao still fighting to make the World Cup after an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury suffered in January there is a real chance Bacca will play a starring role for Los Cafeteros.

4, Ricardo Rodríguez – Full-Back – 21 – Switzerland

At a time when top quality full-backs are a rarity Switzerland’s Ricardo Rodríguez has the potential to truly catch the eye in Brazil this summer. Having joined Wolfsburg in January 2012 the former FC Zurich defender has been a revelation.

The Swiss international is a well rounded full-back. Not only is he fantastic at going forward and supplementing attacking moves but the defensive side of his game has not suffered as a result. Rodríguez’s tackling is noted as a particular strong point amongst Wolfsburg supporters.

Physically Ricardo Rodríguez is also a handful. Standing just under six foot he is incredibly difficult to dispossess when on the ball. The closest player I can liken him to physically is Liverpool’s Jose Enrique. This is what makes him such a rounded player. He excels defensively through this use of his physical stature and innate tackling ability whilst able to retain possession when going on one of his frequent marauding runs down the left flank.

Rodríguez does have the ability to switch flanks and play on the right if needs be but seldom does this happen both for club and country.

For a full-back Ricardo Rodríguez’s numbers for the 2013-2014 campaign are tremendous. In thirty four Bundesliga matches the Swiss full-back scored five goals and added nine assists with ‘WhoScored‘ giving him an average rating of 8.02 for the season.

At just twenty one his potential for further development is exciting. The World Cup is the grand stage a player can use to really catch the eye and whilst being a defender is not usually a position which grabs headlines, Ricardo Rodríguez is an exception to the rule.

Switzerland are fortunate that arguably their finest crop of young players for generations is being guided by the vastly experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld. The Swiss team heading to Brazil, whilst very young, is also equally as exciting and Ricardo Rodríguez is just one of the players who could really catch the eye in Group E.

5, William Carvalho – Defensive Midfielder – 22 – Portugal

Arguably the most interesting name on this list for Manchester United supporters is Portugal’s twenty two year old midfielder William Carvalho. Although speculation linking the Sporting Lisbon player to Old Trafford has cooled significantly since David Moyes’ departure there is still interest in the player’s performances from supporters, even if just to see in effect what they could have had.

Carvalho is one of the more physically domineering members of Paulo Bento’s squad headed to the World Cup, standing at 6.1 feet tall Carvalho has the energy to really emphasise his physical advantage over many opponents.

One of the key components of Carvalho’s game is breaking up opposition attacks. Being such a physically domineering player that is not too difficult for him to do however it is his ability to cover ground quickly which is so impressive. Of course he is not at say for example the speed of Arjen Robben but by holding midfielder standards it is a trait which sets him apart from other players.

Manchester United have been searching for a central midfielder who can break up play since the departure of Roy Keane. Owen Hargreaves did provide significant rest bite on that front but his struggles with injuries meant the club never had the stability on the defensive side of midfield. Even if the move is probably not likely to happen this summer you do feel as though Carvalho would add a lot to United’s ailing midfield.

Carvalho has been the standout performer of Sporting Lisbon’s excellent season which has seen the club return to the Champions League once more. It has been said that Carvalho needs to move to a more competitive league to truly show his ability however whilst that is not the case, the World Cup in Brazil is highest stage of them all.

Portugal have been placed in Group G along with Germany, Ghana and the United States. These are all teams which boast quick attacking players. The counter attack is a threat Portugal have been susceptible to in the past, and will come up against this summer. However with Carvalho in place as a holding midfielder the extra protection for the back four is there. Whilst it might not be the clearest position to impress in, the holding midfield role is vitally important in a game where speed is such an advantage. Carvalho might not take the limelight like Cristiano Ronaldo will this summer but Portugal’s chance of success does rest heavily on the twenty two year old.

Feb 182014
 

With the news that Manchester United and Wayne Rooney are set to agree terms on a bumper new five and a half year contract worth a staggering £300,000 per week and the club captaincy from next season, let’s take a look and see if this deal really makes sense.

Wayne Rooney is an enigma, or has been at least since he first revealed a darker side to his personality around four years ago. He burst onto the Premier League scene in 2002 as a sixteen year old boy, die-hard Everton fan, fresh out of school having grown up kicking football on the streets of Liverpool. The last of a dying breed of ‘street footballers’ as his manager David Moyes called him, he emerged onto the world stage at Euro 2004, he was heralded as England’s saviour who would surely go on to become one of the greatest players to ever play the game. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

On the back of his breakout performances in Portugal in the summer of 2004, Rooney, then aged just 18, signed for Manchester United for a fee worth as much as £27m, which remains the highest fee ever paid for a teenager. He made his debut in a Champions League tie with Fenerbace, famously scoring a wonderful hat-trick, and giving off the impression that United were set for a Rooney-inspired period of dominance. He continued to impress but never quite became the all-conquering icon, in league with Pele, Maradonna and Zidane that the English media touted him as and certainly hasn’t been THE driving force behind United’s success during his career at Old Trafford so far.

Rooney already has a wonderful resume, one most players would die for. Five Premier League titles, Champions League winner, PFA Player of the Year, the fifth highest Premier League goal scorer of all time (he will climb to at least second place before the end of his career), but he’s never really fulfilled his enormous potential. His development at United was somewhat stunted by the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo as a phenomenal talent around 2006/07 season. He spent the next three title-winning seasons quietly playing second fiddle to Ronaldo, often being forced to play out wide, particularly away from home in the Champions League, to accommodate the talents of his Ballon d’Or winning teammate. It helped the team enormously but no doubt Rooney was silently growing frustrated as his Portuguese counterpart picked up one individual accolade after another.

Ronaldo’s departure in 2009 thrust Rooney into the spotlight once more and he became THE man at United for the first time in three seasons. He revelled in this new role, playing as an out-and-out striker every week at last and responded with a personal best return of 34 goals, becoming PFA Player of the Year in the process. He picked up an injury against Bayern Munich in United’s Champions League quarter final, failed to score again after this game and never really looked fully fit for about ten months. United suffered as a result, crashing out of Europe to Bayern and conceding the league title to Chelsea.

Ferguson said in his book that Rooney was not naturally a very fit human being and this causes him to take longer to recover from injuries than some other more thoroughbred players, David Beckham being the prime example Ferguson gave. Rooney’s season ending injury at United carried on into the World Cup that summer where he looked incredibly tired and unfit as England failed spectacularly.

The summer and autumn of 2010 saw Rooney’s turn to the dark side and we began to see a different side to the English striker. A more sinister side to his personality emerged. Gone was the boyish shyness and the kid from the street who just wanted to play football. In his place was an egotistical, financially driven mercenary. Rooney did something completely out of his former character in late 2010, handing in a transfer request to Manchester United, questioning the desire of the club to sign the best players and compete at the top level in the future, essentially saying his team-mates weren’t good enough for him. This whole issue was resolved within days of it becoming public knowledge and Wayne was rewarded for his treason with a nice new £220,000 per week contract. His form on the pitch failed to reach anything near the heights of the previous season. Dimitar Berbatov won the golden boot, Javier Hernandez took much of the plaudits, United won the title but Rooney was once again relegated to the supporting cast.

The following year he bounced back to form, reclaiming his spot as United’s talisman. He equalled his best goal tally of 34 but United were denied the title in dramatic fashion on the final day. Rooney scored the goal to beat Sunderland that day and had they won the title he would have been entitled to a great deal of the plaudits. If 2007, 08 and 09 were ‘Ronaldo’s titles’, then 2012 would surely have been Rooney’s crowning glory. That summer saw the arrival of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney relegated once more to a supporting role, even dropped to the bench at times as United cruised to title number 20. This one belonged to the Dutchman who scooped the Golden Boot.

According to Ferguson, Rooney ‘asked away’ again towards the end of the season having played some of it in midfield and finding himself dropped for the crucial Champions League knockout tie with Real Madrid, this prompted his aforementioned dark side to come to the fore again during the summer.

‘The Rooney Camp’ provided one of the biggest transfer stories of the summer as they quietly attempted to engineer a move for their man away from Old Trafford with Chelsea the preferred destination. August came and went and he was forced to remain at United for another season at least. Now, with just one full season remaining on his contract and turning 29 later this year, Rooney knows this next deal will be the final big one of his career.

Six months on from his last attempt to leave, Rooney looks to have been persuaded to remain at United, thanks in no small part to this rumoured £300,000 a week contract he’s just signed/about to sign. Money has to have been the deciding factor here. United have slumped from runaway champions last season to Europa League hopefuls this year with virtually the same squad.

Do United need Rooney?  With Mata and Kagawa in the ranks now it seems as if they are overloaded in the ‘number ten’ spot behind van Persie. Would you pick Mata or Kagawa ahead of Rooney? The two alternatives are different types of players to Rooney and while they lack his dynamism, they make up for it in terms of creativity and vision. Moyes seems determined to try and jam at least two of them into the attacking midfield line, paying £37m for a player and playing him out of position wide on the right seems like a bit of a waste to me. Kagawa, although not as expensive as Mata has seen his talents criminally wasted since his arrival in Manchester, shifted out to the left to allow Rooney to play through the middle and this new deal for Rooney should see him sent packing back to Dortmund in the summer.

Also, is rewarding a player, who has twice asked to leave in the space of three years, with the biggest contract in British football history and the captain’s armband really going to do the team any good? There can be no denying that United’s squad needs a major overhaul over the coming years but is building the team around Rooney really the answer right now?

To me, it seems like he’s more trouble than he’s worth and I think United are making a mistake by handing him this enormous contract. Rooney is good but he’s not in the same league as Messi, Ronaldo, or even Luis Suarez at the moment. £300,000 is an awful lot of money to pay one player when he’s not the very best available. If the team continue to flounder on the pitch as they have this season, there’s every chance Rooney will throw another strop and demand to leave again in eighteen months. To me, given the amount of money involved, the stage the player’s at in his career, his ability relative to other similarly well-paid players and his already tarnished reputation, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

 

Read more from this author at Deep-Lying Playmakers.

Feb 052014
 

There comes a point when admirable loyalty to a cause becomes blind naivety. Those United fans still standing by David Moyes in the belief that he will be a success at Old Trafford anytime soon are now finding themselves firmly in the latter category. Every week more and more adopt the viewpoint I’ve had since early December, that David Moyes is no longer fit to be Manchester United manager.

In late 1989 a group of fans infamously called for Fergie’s head, growing impatient on the back of a couple of barren seasons, only to look rather foolish with the unprecedented heights he went on to bring the club too. This case is very different from that. United were simply nowhere when Ferguson took over mid-season in 1986. Football was very different back then before the dawn of the Premier League and Champions League era. Success wasn’t mandatory for a club to survive financially and managers would often be given time to build a future squad, forsaking the present in doing so. It took Ferguson four years for his project to bear fruit but United reaped such juicy rewards when it did. In 2013 David Moyes inherited a team that had just won the league title for the fifth time in seven seasons. He  certainly wasn’t starting from scratch, this squad is good enough to win this league but instead they find themselves struggling in a lowly 7th place, battling with his old club Everton and Newcastle for the Europa League spots.

United lost for the fifth time in 2014 on Saturday, a year that is not yet six weeks old. It was September before they had amassed as much defeats in 2013. This week it was Stoke’s turn to end a winless run against United that stretches back multiple decades. They join West Brom, Everton, Newcastle, Sunderland and Swansea, all of whom have ended similar sequences of misfortunate against the champions.

From a fan’s point of view, the game against Stoke is up there with the visit of Spurs on New Year’s Day as being one of the most painful to watch in recent memory. United approached both games with an identical mentality and garnished identical results. Play the ball out wide. Cross ball. Watch ball cleared by dominant centre half. Repeat. Lose 2-1.

It is ridiculous how one-dimensional and easy to play against this team is. United attempted a total of 32 crosses against Stoke on Saturday. Of these, 5 found United players in the box, 3 led to chances and none led to goals. Ironically, in both of the aforementioned defeats, United’s goals came from rare occasions when they did actually pass the ball through the middle.

Whatever about the player’s lack of commitment, effort and even talent in some cases, tactics and getting the best out of the players are the responsibility of the manager and his coaching staff. These are areas where David Moyes and the backroom team he has brought with him from Everton look totally inept.

His refusal to deviate from the ineffective tactic of getting the ball out to the wingers and putting crosses in has cost United dearly already this season and it’s unlikely that teams will stop being able to defend against it and the philosophy will suddenly bear fruit anytime soon. It’s easy to play against, and they’ve got no alternative. United have gone behind in half of their league games this season so there’s no excuse for a plan B not being in place.

Mentality is another big part of it. One of Moyes’s biggest crimes in this department so far this season was in his programme notes for the home tie with Newcastle in December when he claimed they were going to ‘make it tough for Newcastle today’. This is a ridiculously negative approach for a Manchester United to take going into a home game with a mid-table side, particularly as they were coming off the back of a home defeat to Everton midweek and in dire need of a strong showing. Predictably, United lost the game. Similarly before the return leg of the League Cup semi-final with Sunderland he said in his pre-match interview that they needed to make sure they win 1-0 to get it to extra time. Sure enough they managed it but a United manager talking about taking Sunderland to extra time is worrying.

I can’t remember going into a game with as little optimism as the away game with Chelsea in January and based on the performances it seems that many of the players shared this view. Under Ferguson they would not have dared return to the dressing room having given such a meagre performance. As it happens there’s a perfect example to demonstrate this. A United side managed by Sir Alex went 3-0 down to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in February 2012, the third Chelsea goal in both games being scored in virtually the same minute. Fergie’s United, containing players such as Welbeck, Young and Valencia who also appeared in the second game, fought back to snatch a 3-3 nearly went on to win the game. Moyes’s side this year just seemed to roll over an accept defeat as their destiny.

Ensuring results on the pitch are good is not the managers only job. He’s also the face of the club and the media representative of the team in press conferences and interviews. Here, Moyes has turned United into a laughing stock. Mourinho represents Chelsea wonderfully in his interviews. Everything he says has an intended purpose to benefit his squad and he will never show any chinks in his armour. David Moyes admitted after the Stoke game that he doesn’t know what they have to do to win a game.  Can you imagine Ferguson or Mourinho flaunting such weakness in public after a defeat?

As for the players, they must of course shoulder some of the blame but it’s the manager who will have to bear the brunt. The squad has lost no players who made more than ten starts last season (Paul Scholes is the only 2012/13 first teamer absent this year) and have added Marouane Fellaini, brought through Adnan Januzaj and now bought Juan Mata. This squad under Moyes has lost once in every three games in the league this season and now sits in 7th place, fifteen points off the summit and a worrying seven points off the bare minimum requirement of 4th place and a spot in next seasons Champions League.

While supporters are the lifeblood of any club, in the case of Manchester United it’s the various multinational sponsors who provide the muscle and the ability to grow stronger by means of finance.  The supporters commitment should never wane, regardless of the team’s fortunes on the pitch. The same loyalty does not apply to sponsors who will take their business elsewhere if you aren’t an attractive prospect anymore. United, despite being one of the most recognisable brands on the planet, cannot afford to spend time slumming it in the Europa League, not if they want to continue to prosper.

Out of his depth, overawed by the role, tactically inept, a negative thinker and, simply put, just not cut out for the highest level of football management. Manchester United would do well to dispense with the services of David Moyes before he can do any further damage to the club.

 

Dec 092013
 

Everton for the latter half of the David Moyes era were the perennial ‘Will they, won’t they?’ team in the Premier League with regards to qualification for the UEFA Champions League. Many times Everton were discounted by people courtesy of their regular poor starts to campaigns only for performances to pick up to a consistent level after the Christmas period or because of the perceived lack of star quality in their squad in comparison to the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and more recently Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

One of the most impressive characteristics the David Moyes Everton sides had was work ethic, Leighton Baines when he was prised away from Wigan Athletic was not the outstanding defensive and offensive full-back he is today, nor was Seamus Coleman when David Moyes took a chance on the young Irishman. They both worked ferociously hard to get to the level they are at today and much of that sat comfortably with the David Moyes ethos.

This work ethic often led to fans and media alike genuinely believing that Everton would go and get a point at Stamford Bridge through gritted determination, or even recently go and win at Eastlands and usually the team did not disappoint in that regard however when you would ask the same people if Everton had a realistic chance of Champions League qualification the answer would nine times out of ten begin with a scoff and a resounding no to boot.

One of the things Everton were guilty of under David Moyes was not going out and winning games, Moyes wasn’t cautious but he was reactionary, as pointed out by Michael Cox in his excellent piece on Moyes’ perceived lack of identity published yesterday, there was and still is no set David Moyes philosophy like say for example a Pochettino or a Laudrup. This in turn meant Everton often reacted to match situations rather than having a preset plan on how to dominate a match and make the result their own so to speak.

What we are seeing this season however is completely different. There is an identity within Roberto Martinez’s Everton team, the ball retention and ability to make clever decisions when on the ball as individual players is very reminiscent of the football you so often see in the Champions League. Many will say Martinez has merely carried over the principles by which he worked both at Swansea and then Wigan Athletic but for Everton it is something completely new.

You still have the incredible work ethic instilled by David Moyes within certain players and positions, for example Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and the central defensive partnership of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin however now with Everton you have a preset identity, you know they are going to retain possession when possible, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley will be able to split opposition teams with a pass and then you have the individual brilliance of players like Mirallas, Deulofeu and Pienaar who can feed off the physical presence of Lukaku up front.

We saw the perfect illustration of just why it might be time to consider Everton as possible top four contenders last night at Old Trafford. It is all too easy to forget but this is an Everton side that has lost the least amount of matches in the league this term, with their solitary defeat coming at Eastlands. They have conceded fewer goals than Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United yet they are not a defensive team, they look to control matches through possession.

Manchester United were out-passed, out-thought and ultimately out-worked by an Everton side that deserved nothing less than the three points they took back to Merseyside. Yes, United did have chances to go one, two or maybe even three goals to the good but that has been a recurring theme throughout the season. At no point could you have really said United were in complete control of the match, Everton on the other hand were.

The visitors kept the ball in midfield through the trio of Barkley, McCarthy and the unassumingly impressive Gareth Barry, they were allowed to keep possession in midfield due to United’s lack of urgency with regards to a pressing game and the Everton team looked more likely to make something of their possession than United did, Martinez’s side were never short of ideas. There were numerous options on every time they broke forward, whereas for United if the initial idea of passing the ball to Rooney, who it must be said had a poor game, failed then the attacking move invariably broke down.

Everton have kept everything that was so impressive about themselves during the Moyes era and have adapted it within a preset playing style, Everton are no long waiting for things to happen in matches anymore, they are outwardly looking to control proceedings from the outset and Everton’s approach is characterised no better than through the image of their lone forward Lukaku.

For an on-loan striker Lukaku’s work rate is and has been throughout the campaign, astounding, he chases every loose ball and puts opposition defenders under pressure through his physical presence, a prime example coming last night when the Belgian brushed off the imposing figure of Nemanja Vidic with relative ease albeit Martin Atkinson deemed it to be a foul. Whereas a forward normally polishes and refines the look of a team, Lukaku is the burly presence, who can score goals yet bring Everton’s technically gifted players into play and that is why the system works so well, the team are adaptable to most situations yet still the main principle of retaining possession remains.

With this preset idea in place at Everton on most occasions it won’t take the team long to get into the tempo of a match as happened so frequently in recent years and whilst there will still be shock results there probably won’t be as many draws, particularly at Goodison Park. This is why Everton have to be taken seriously as top four candidates this season, if you were to match them up with a Tottenham or a Liverpool for example in years gone by you would probably suggest Everton just didn’t have enough to overcome those teams in particular but now you look at it and think well they are going to have a lot of the ball, that’s half the battle, and with Lukaku and a couple of the creative players in tow then Everton are in with a chance.

Of course Martinez has delved into the transfer market and pulled off some excellent deals but there hasn’t been too much wholesale charge in terms of personnel from the squad last season yet you would be far more eager to suggest this is Everton’s best chance of sustaining a charge to the Champions League places merely because of the type of football that the club are playing.

There is still a long way to go in the season and there will be times when Everton’s squad size is called into question particularly as the fixtures pile up throughout the festive period but Everton head to the Emirates on Sunday with every chance of claiming a draw or even three points as they have in years gone however this season when Everton host Fulham the week after it is fully expected they will dominate possession and ensure they win that match whereas last year, would the same have been said? These are the key differences which make a side capable of a top four finish and this year Everton certainly fit into that category.

 

Nov 102013
 

Ahead of Manchester United’s victory over Arsenal, Mesut Ozil gave a very cocky interview in which he claimed that his side would definitely win.

As it turned out, Ozil struggled to make an impression on the game and Arsenal once again found themselves on the losing side at Old Trafford, with their former captain, Robin van Persie, scoring the only goal of the game.

“We don’t feel any pressure at all,” he said. “We are going to Old Trafford to have fun – and that is why we are going to win. We know the quality we have and we want to be successful playing our own way. The plan is not to settle for a draw. If we are going to achieve the target of our coach, then we go to win. Of course, it’s going to be difficult. United are a high-quality team. But I’m sure they also respect us because we can beat anyone, home or away.”

Oct 242013
 

Sir Alex Ferguson’s new autobiography was released this week which details the past 14 years of his Manchester United career. Some of the biggest talking points has been the criticism of former players Roy Keane and David Beckham.

Ferguson talks about what happened in the dressing room when he kicked a boot at Beckham’s head and reveals conversations that were had amongst the players after Keane singled out certain individuals following United’s 4-1 defeat against Middlesbrough in 2005.

Liverpool boss, Brendan Rodgers, has taken exception to Ferguson’s approach and accused Britain’s most successful manager of all time of lacking “old school values”.

“Anyone who’s been in football knows that whatever is said behind closed doors and in the changing room is something you wouldn’t want to hear again,” Rodgers said. “It’s something that’s vitally important. You want to know as a human being that you can speak openly and communication is honest, and hopefully wouldn’t get repeated. You would like to think you would still have some old school values and ethics that whatever is said you take it on the chin and keep it behind closed doors and move on.”

Whilst some might say Rodgers has a point, it’s strange that the comments have come from him, given he invited cameras in to the Liverpool dressing room to film what was said for the documentary on the club, Being Liverpool.

Oct 152013
 

Robert Lewandowski was supposedly a done deal for Bayern Munich but his most recent comments suggest there is the possibility he will be moving to the Premier League this summer.

The player claims he has never revealed he would be signing for Bayern Munich.

What has he actually said?

April 21st 2013: Sir Alex Ferguson on signing Lewandowski – “Yeah, but Bayern Munich are strong with that too. We just have to wait and see where we are in terms of if we win the league. Then it may be different.”

May 27th 2013: His agent, Cezary Kucharski – “Yes. Robert will join Bayern this summer. There is no point in pretending that he will not move to Bayern. Robert wants to leave and that is what will happen. It is a matter of time. It could be a done deal within a week or within two to three weeks. We are waiting for a signal from the club. We are working on this deal.”

June 5th 2013: “I expect everything to be cleared up now so that I will be allowed to move to my dream club this summer. That would be the best for everybody involved. Dortmund are a fantastic club whom I will always admire. It’s just now I want a new challenge for my future.”

June 11th 2013: “I do not think that this is the final decision of the board of directors and I expect the situation to change shortly. I am enjoying my holiday for now, but I hope things move forward pretty soon and the situation changes. I do not get upset about anything.”

July 31st 2013: “If someone says something, he should keep his word. I’m not saying it’s only about the transfer, but other things we have discussed with management and that has not materialised. It turns out that words spoken straight into my eyes were untrue. No matter how hard I will train and what I will do, the feeling that I’ve been cheated will still be there. Maybe that word is too much, so for now I will say I’m disappointed.”

August 24th 2013: “Yes, there was a situation like this with Jose Mourinho but I wouldn’t like to talk about it much. It was a private conversation so I don’t want to make big things out of it. I can confirm I spoke to him. We spoke a few times before. I have his number in my phone. It is a huge compliment for me that a manager with such a big name is texting me this way. It is always nice to talk to him but it is not the first time I had such a situation. One year earlier I also spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson and that was definitely a great feeling. The retirement of Sir Alex didn’t affect my decision not to come to England. He spoke to me one year ago. It was not at a good time. I knew I still had something big to achieve in Dortmund before I joined a bigger club.”

Septermber 25th 2013: When asked if he would confirm a move to Bayern in January, Lewandowski told Sport 1: “Yes, because I can officially sign the new contract in January. Right now, I can’t say anything. Normally, I can only reveal it officially in January. At this moment, it is still too early and we’ll have to wait a bit. But I think, I can leave in January.”

October 14th 2013: “I will be able to sign a contract in January, but I have never said that I will sign a contract with Bayern. It was a misunderstanding. It is true I had the opportunity to speak with Sir Alex Ferguson (last year), but we didn’t mention the transfer. One day I would like to play in the Premier League. It would be a great experience.”

Oct 112013
 

Tonight, Robin van Persie became Holland’s top scorer after finding the back of the net twice in the first half against Hungary.

With 40 goals, the Manchester United striker had scored as many times as Patrick Kluivert has for the Dutch national team.

In August 2012, Kluivert joined the Netherlands national team coaching staff and was on the touchline this evening to celebrate with Van Persie.

In the second half, Van Persie competed his hattrick, to make him the outright top scorer for Holland.

Oct 072013
 

Supporting a big, successful club is a pretty damn easy way to enjoy football. Seeing your team trounce all on-comers week after week, watching the best players in world football play for and against your team, being able to brag that your side is the best at X, or holds the record for Y; it could be worse. That’s why so many people elect to support successful sides at a young age, rather than, or at least alongside, their local team.

However, being overindulged with such glory does have its drawbacks. After spending so long watching your side fly so high, it’s understandable that some fans find it hard to cope with the altitude drop.

For example, certain characters from the Arsenal and Liverpool Twitterati, two sides who have seen their teams decline in recent seasons, are some of the most deplorable individual supporters on any social media format (there’s no need to name names here, really). Some of these people are just awful, regardless of their sporting affinities; however, in some of the more football-obsessive cases their behaviour may be a result of a personal struggle to cope with their side’s underachievement. After all, they probably spent most of their lives watching their side enjoy success, so now they’re screaming like a teething toddler.

It’s a painful process, and, with David Moyes now in control at Old Trafford, one that Manchester United fans may have to experience this season. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross didn’t factor in the pain of a football fan when hypothesising her five stages of grief, but maybe she should have (she shouldn’t have):

1. Anger“WE’VE LOST AGAIN! Whose fault is it? Who can we blame? The referee? The FA? Our American owners? The Weatherman? Dave Kitson?”

After a pre-season of confidence and/or promise, your side slips to their third defeat in four games. After losing a couple of tricky away games against powerful opposition, your side hits the nadir of their season by losing an ostensibly straightforward home game. Naturally, and understandably, you are overcome by rage. This shouldn’t be happening to your club. This is something Newcastle fans go through, not you.

Don’t fret, help is at hand. Supressing this anger does no one any good. Let it out. Take to Twitter and vent. Vent your heart out.

Another method of release would be to call a football phone-in: BBC’s 606 and TalkSport are both more than happy to offer you a way to release your fury in a safer, more constructive environment, with either Adrian Durham or Ian Wright as your counsellor and confidant.

You may find the prospect of phoning one of these programmes embarrassing, but don’t worry. Football phone-ins are like dating websites – the only way someone you know can expose you is by incriminating themselves. Dial that premium-rate number and rage away.

2. Denial“He needs time, let’s be patient. It took Sir Alex Ferguson 40 years before winning a trophy with Manchester United, and this is actually the best start any new United manager has made since the Premier League began”

After throwing your lot in with this new patriarch, you find it hard to believe that he is anything else but The Chosen One. He’ll come good, won’t he? It’s a long-term project. Anakin Skywalker was “The Chosen One” too, and look how long it took him to kill off the Sith and bring balance to the force.

The concept of not challenging for the title may, at first, seem confusing to you. Having a controversial opinion has been in vogue for a number of years now, and pundits have declared your squad unfit for silverware-challenging in the past. After years of proving doubters wrong, and screaming “eff tha h8rz” at the end of every season, the prospect of actual failure seems, at best, rather far-fetched.

Coming to terms with these changes can be difficult. Even if you yourself question an action by the manager, you may well take the “He works in mysterious ways” route, disregarding your inferior opinion in comparison to his footballing omniscience. (For further reading on this subject, please refer to Liverpool fans’ staunch faith in Kenny Dalglish during the 2011/12 season.)

3. Bargaining“Maybe we could put him on gardening leave and bring Sir Alex back until the end of the season, just to steady the ship. Or maybe we could get Bayern Munich to swap Pep Guardiola for him. They would be okay with that, right?”

Whilst coming to the realisation there is indeed a problem, you may find yourself trying to concoct a cunning plan for your side to help them escape their downward spiral. You might even convince yourself that there is something you can do.

The negotiation is usually with a higher power – so, in the case of Manchester United, the Glazer family. This summer’s campaign to “Bring Ronaldo Home” was a strong example of this, with certain fans seemingly of the belief that buying replica shirts with Ronaldo’s name on the back would ensure his return to the club.

Of course, bargaining is futile. As you can see from the BringRonaldoHome campaign video, the narrator clearly believes it is within his power to make a change, despite conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise. Indeed, if you now check the domain www.bringronaldohome.org, the page is now blank. As the transfer window slammed shut, fans finally understood that the direction of the club was completely out of their control. In dire scenarios, this often leads to…

4. Depression“We’re rubbish; we won’t win anything ever again. We won’t make the Champions League places, our best players will leave, and the club will fade into obscurity. What’s the point of even watching anymore? I hate football.”

This stage is where you understand the certainty of you club’s decline. Winning major European and league titles feels little more than a distant memory, while the future seems far, far bleaker in comparison. You may find yourself trying to ignore football altogether, focussing on other parts of your life which are, of course, equally miserable. You may even choose not to watch your side play – hey, you could do with the extra money, so working on Saturdays might be best.

5. Acceptance“The league might be beyond us, but let’s get behind the team, and hopefully we can push for a top 4 place.”

After a 2-0 home win against Hull, thanks to a couple of questionable penalty decisions, your side’s season isn’t looking quite as gloomy. Chelsea are too far in front for you to consider yourselves contenders, but you certainly won’t get relegated. Hoping for a Champions League spot is a tad optimistic, but certainly not a pipe-dream. Maybe at the end of the season your side can bring in some new players, and/or a new manager, and you’ll be back on track. This season won’t be easy, but it isn’t unrealistic to think that your team could again be quite good.

Oct 032013
 

It’s been a testing start to the season for David Moyes at first team level. In a new job with a new squad results haven’t been quite what was expected and there’s most definitely a sense of uneasiness with all things related right now. As part of the managerial change some new staff arrived but the majority remain and for Warren Joyce and Paul McGuinness it’s been business as usual.

The return of William Keane, appearances by Adnan Januzaj, and form of Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole means you’ll have probably read about the decent start to the season by the U21s. Five games, 17 goals scored and just the one slightly undeserved defeat against Liverpool. Already Joyce has used 27 players including some who are now out on loan as well as 16 year old centre back, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Chances are, you’ll have also probably kept track of the new U19 squad, not least because it’s managed by Nicky Butt and his assistant, a certain Paul Scholes. They’re competing exclusively in Europe in the UEFA Youth League and the squad combines players in the first year as an U21 and anyone from the U18s. It’s a tricky age group as United don’t have regular U19 fixtures so the squad as a whole seldom train or compete together. It’ll prove to be a great experience for the staff involved and a terrific opportunity for the players to learn.

Arguably, Paul McGuinness has the hardest job of all the coaches in charge of a team at the club. Managing the U18s comes with pressure and expectation because United have such a fabulous history of success and development at that age bracket. This year however not only does he have a very small squad that’s being eaten into by the U19s but there’s not been any foreign signings at first year level to grab the attention of the average fan. In the past we may have been keen for updates on Januzaj or Daehli or Pogba but this year the names involved aren’t quite as glamorous.

The squad contains just 22 players (20 from the UK & Ireland), of which four are goalkeepers and one of the remaining 18 outfield players is classified as a student rather than a scholar – which allows for a continued education and slightly less of a footballing education than the others. It’s a tiny squad, smaller than last years by 8 players.

It’s an important age group for numerous reasons: players sign professional contracts; the players physically are growing at their fastest; players start to settle into positions and roles; there’s the prestigious FA Youth Cup to compete for; and the games start to get shown on TV so there’s fan exposure. Expectations are always high but emphasis tends to be more on development and performances rather than results, fortunately United have a good record at both.

Predicting what to expect from this group of players was difficult. Most of the second year scholars were either injured or seldom involved in games last year so in terms of being able to pass on tips and show leadership qualities it would be tricky. This squad isn’t as obviously strong as others in the past have been and yet their start to the season has been fascinating with 6 wins in 8 league games following on from Milk Cup success. It’s even more impressive given that star player, James Wilson, has only played in 5 of those games and Andreas Pereira hasn’t featured in any (he’s been pushed up with the U19 and U21s). They may have only kept one clean sheet but scoring’s not been a problem with the back of the net found in every game so far.

If there’s an advantage to having a small squad (where the players have stayed fit) it’s that McGuinness has allowed his team selections to be consistent. Usually there’s a lot of squad rotation to ensure all the players get minutes but that’s not been as important so far this year with only Dorrington (one of four GKs), Rathbone (U17 student), McTominay (tiny in stature) and Pereira (promoted up a team) yet to start a game.

The confidence that regular selection brings is evident in the likes of Barber, McConnell, Willock, Goss and Fletcher who all hardly featured last season for one reason or another. Fletcher in particular has been a revelation with 7 goals and 2 assists in the eight games. Willock’s grown physically and found a role in the centre of the pitch whilst Barber’s been given the captaincy on a couple of occasions.

There are sprinklings of quality too. Borthwick-Jackson is an incredibly elegant centre back; Mitchell has been a livewire on the wing; Wilson has been incredible up front; and maybe most exciting but under the radar of them all is Josh Harrop who has 7 assists and 2 goals from midfield. Harrop can play full back, on a wing or in the middle and is technically brilliant but somehow has gone almost un-talked-about in wider footballing circles, maybe because he’s not been called up by England yet.

So what of the long term and the rest of the season to come? McGuinness will be keen to manage the players sensibly to avoid fatigue and burnout so it’s feasible some of the U16s like Reid, Kehinde and Rashford will feature at times. If they can stay fit as a group then there may be the makings of a surprisingly successful season to come but more than anything, this squad have shown themselves to be as entertaining to watch as any and Paul McGuinness is once again weaving his magic.

Oct 012013
 

Arsene Wenger has revealed just how close Cristiano Ronaldo was to signing for Arsenal before United stepped in at the last minute to sign him.

“He was very close to coming here,” said Wenger. “He has a number nine shirt with Ronaldo on the back from Arsenal Football Club. What happened was that Carlos Queiroz went to Manchester United and they snapped him away from us because he knew him from Sporting. That’s what life is about. You give your best but sometimes you might find that people are stronger than you. That can happen as well.”

Ronaldo went on to win three league titles, the European Cup, the FA Cup and two League Cups at United, whilst Arsenal have won nothing since 2005.

Sep 282013
 

Doing nothing is underrated. In a world where everyone is trying so hard to do things to impress people and achieve some sort of success, doing nothing can be a very good tactic – especially if you realise things might be going wrong.

For example, if you ever find yourself sinking in quicksand, an article from todayifoundout.com (who are definitely, definitely experts on the matter) suggests to “stand completely still” as “the lowest you are likely to sink is to around your waste.”
The article goes on to advise that: “thrashing around, however, has been shown to cause the sediment and water to separate somewhat. This will cause you to sink deeper and deeper the more you thrash, to the point where you’re almost completely submersed; then your thrashing, due to some suctioning effects, can pull you under.”

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, there has been a general feeling that Manchester United may be in a rather troubling position. Even for a side who won the league by 11 points last season, every turn seems to be laced with a nagging doubt in regards to their ability to defend the league title; the recruitment of David Moyes rather than a manager with more prestige, Wayne Rooney’s transfer request, the quite obviously futile pursuit of Cesc Fabregas – even the 4-1 win at Swansea had the echoes of a false dawn rather than the beginning of a new, successful era.

Moyes has also spent the last few months complaining about the fixture list – specifically regarding how his team have so many difficult games so early in the season. This, of course, overlooks the basic concept of a league format: everyone (who doesn’t get sacked after a bad start) plays everyone (who doesn’t get sacked after a bad start). Ah.
In fairness to David Moyes, many of United’s problems are not his fault. He inherited a team from a man who was so brilliant that – on the evidence of United’s ragtag collection of midfielders – he began taking a ‘look, no hands’ approach to management towards the end of his tenure.

Ashley Young is dreadful. Ryan Giggs is 40 in November. Antonio Valencia has spent the last 12 months looking incapable of beating a man or delivering a threatening cross (previously his main two strengths), while Anderson comes across as someone who has genuinely just given up at being a sportsman. As the only player who can actually complete the most basic of midfield tasks, Michael Carrick has essentially become one of United’s most important squad members by default.

Then there is Shinji Kagawa. After being seemingly mollycoddled in his debut season in English football, many expected to see more from the Japanese schemer in his follow-up year at the club. However, it appears that Moyes doesn’t like the cut of his jib quite as much as the critical onlookers do. And considering United’s results have, at best, been rather mixed, Kagawa’s omissions have been used as a stick to beat the Scot with.

Kagawa is quickly becoming considered a player Manchester United are worse without, despite any solid evidence they are actually any better with him. His action this season only provides us with a limited sample: his one start came against Bayer Leverkusen, where he was rather peripheral in United’s 4-2 victory.

However, being peripheral is absolutely fine for Kagawa. Hell, maybe even better than fine. While he didn’t perform particularly well against the German side, he didn’t do anything notably bad either. Rather than constantly failing to beat his opposing full-back or launching a profuse amount of poor crosses into, and subsequently out of, the penalty box as Young or Valencia would, he instead kept shtum.

Of course, it is the games that Kagawa hasn’t played in where his stock has really risen. By missing the entireties of the defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City, he was completely absolved of any sin. Indeed, the poor performances of those playing in similar positions to the Japanese, leads to a swirl of opinion that Kagawa should be playing and that United need him in order to avoid 4-1 defeat at Eastlands.

As United continue to sink without Kagawa, his stature appears higher and higher in comparison. But, despite the illusion, he hasn’t become any better than the player who was on the fringes of United’s title-winning side and only really put in a handful of notable performances, those around him just look worse.

So don’t feel sorry for Shinji Kagawa, he’s standing still. And the longer he does this for, the more chance he has of being found by someone with a nice long branch, and the willingness to pull him out. David Moyes and Ashley Young are the ones you should be worried for; they could end up sinking completely if they continue thrashing about.

Sep 252013
 

Michael Carrick wears the super-soft PUMA King and has filmed exclusive PUMA Football club training videos. Head to Facebook.com/PUMAfootball for more training ground questions with Carrick’s PUMA Football Club team mate Adam Lallana. Check back soon for Mikel Arteta and Steven Caulker’s answers #PUMAFC

Sep 242013
 

On Monday morning the vitriol had started. From the #MoyesOut campaign on Twitter to the fallout in the press for Manchester United’s demolition by their city rivals. Watching the game, it was tough to argue with either points and there was an air of ineptitude from the first minute that left a feeling of angst among the United faithful.

Social media was awash with the rumours that Manchester United’s best player is injured and out of the derby. From here the snowball was created and resulted in United’s downfall as it looked like this knocked the confidence of the players and it could be seen on the pitch. Other than Welbeck’s first minute foray into City’s box, at no point did Manchester United really look like a team capable of creating opportunities, let alone scoring and this is a problem that will be inherent for the season unless some changes are made.

David Moyes isn’t far into his tenure but he should know better than to blame the players when tactically he was shown up to the world’s viewing eyes. He claimed that he has never suffered at the hands of Manchester City in this way when he was the Everton manager and herein lies the problem; this isn’t Everton, this is Manchester United, the champions elect. Once the rumours had been confirmed that Robin Van Persie wasn’t in the match day squad, everyone had their opinion of what the team should be. These opinions circled around the fact that United would play a variation of the 4-2-3-1 system and no one would have come up with the starting eleven that actually came out. United are a team that relies on old fashioned wing play coupled with overlapping fullbacks that create goalscoring opportunities. However it was the blue half of Manchester that adopted and executed this system ruthlessly and it couldn’t have been more ever-present than in their first and fourth goals.

On the subject of wingers, the constant inclusion of Ashley Young is now worse than a bad joke. Since his arrival at United in 2011 he has never looked up to the task of being a Manchester United winger. Last season he provided three assists and other than ‘those’ two goals against Arsenal in his debut season, has he ever provided the kind of threat required at this level? More to the point, has he ever made another team worry once they’ve seen him included in the starting eleven? It is tough to explain Ashley Young when there are players who can change games in the squad. Namely Zaha and Januzaj not even making the bench with Nani keeping it warm doesn’t even create conjecture. Antonio Valencia was good against Leverkusen but not great, let’s not get ahead of ourselves as this is the same Valencia but with a different squad number. This was just as apparent yesterday as it has been all season bar that one aforementioned game. Given that his shortcomings as an attacking player have been exhausted by all, his inclusion must be merited on his defensive capabilities and with that gone (as was apparent in their first goal), what is his basis for inclusion in the next game?

The use of ‘hard working’ wingers and a more robustness to the team is how David Moyes is displaying his cautious mindset as a manager. Deploying two like-minded defensive midfielders, one of which is his darling from Everton, and the constant running of Danny Welbeck plus the two attackingly inept wingers is erring on the side of caution. It protects against a loss as opposed to going there to win and these same tactics have been displayed against Chelsea (h) and Liverpool (a) yet only one point has been gained. This is Manchester United, comparisons to Everton are nonsensical and Moyes needs to be shorn of this cautious mindset in order to flourish at this club. Playing 4-4-2 against the riches of Manchester City was a car crash waiting to happen and you have to remember that City paid £30m to put Fernandinho next to one of Europe’s best midfielders. (Fernandinho made more tackles/interceptions/key passes than the whole of Manchester United’s midfield). After the game Moyes claimed that United couldn’t get to grips with Manchester City’s midfield and due to that, they dominated the game. What confidence does that instil in the fans? More to the point, what does that tell the rest of the managers in the league? That tactically, Moyes got it very wrong. Playing the way they did was more to combat the way that Manchester City were set up yet Pellegrini set up in only one way; to get a victory. That’s the difference here and changes need to come quickly against Liverpool in the cup on Wednesday. This point is further compounded with Tom Cleverley’s introduction when United were 4-0 down. As much as it made hearts sink to see Tom taking his tracksuit off, it did bring stability to United. It may have been down to fatigue in the Manchester City team or the fact they were 4-0 up however it gave Manchester United more of the ball in the final third of the game. This change should have been made at half time when it was clear as day that United were being overrun for an entire half of the game. Yet it leads people to think that why was this not foreseen before the match? Welbeck played as a striker, as did Rooney and 4-4-2 does not work away from home to a title rival, it hasn’t for a number of years and it didn’t on Sunday. 4-2-3-1 is not a cautious formation, it is not entirely attacking either, what it does do is afford the opportunity to manager and players alike to adapt to a football match and it is a shame Shinji Kagawa could not get a game. That, however, is a discussion for another day.

After the game the bile inducing comments about United’s opening fixtures were again mentioned by Moyes. “Any manager would have found it difficult taking over the club with that run of fixtures.” and “It’s been a difficult start – the way the balls came out at the start of the season, I said I wasn’t convinced, and I’m still not convinced.” were mentioned by Moyes post-game and as embarrassing as the team looked on Sunday, the whole club are looking even more embarrassing citing a conspiracy that has not an ounce of evidence to back it up. To point to this as the reason Manchester United have made their worst start since finishing 3rd in 2006 rather than beat what’s in front of them is not an avenue that Moyes can be afforded. Firstly due to the fact he isn’t Sir Alex Ferguson who was all for conspiracies against United but namely that he is the manager of a completely different entity to Everton. Claiming that he’s not been demolished like that as their manager (which is laughable given their failure to win away to a top 5 club in a decade) has no place in a post-match interview. He has to choose when he’s wearing his Manchester United suit or his Everton tracksuit and decisions like that were the reason he’s hired so let’s hope that he chooses the former rather than the latter going forward.

Caution shouldn’t be overlooked however pragmatism is best served with an equal measure of optimism. Now David Moyes’s attempts to alleviate pressure on himself has backfired and he looks more out of his depth than he did before he started the job in July. Had he placated the fans by taking the majority of the blame by looking inwardly at his own tactics rather than pointing the finger at his players, this Monday could have looked a whole lot different.

Sep 202013
 

All eyes will be on new Man Utd boss, David Moyes, on Sunday afternoon as he takes charge of his first Manchester Derby following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.

This weekend, football fans are in for an absolute treat as the two heavyweightManchesterrivals, United and City, lock horns at the Etihad Stadium. The mouth-watering match brings together two of the favourites in the race to win the Premier League title and if recent meetings between the two are anything to go by, Sunday’s spectacle promises to be an enthralling encounter.

Hosts Manchester City head into the game as the 6/5 favourites to come out on top, while Manchester United can be backed at 12/5 to grab an away win in this fixture for the second successive season. Alternatively, the draw could be the way to go at 23/10.

BothManchesterclubs have only picked up one victory since their comprehensive opening day victories. After thumping Swansea 4-1, United’s only other win in their opening four games came in a 2-0 win over newly promoted Crystal Palace, while they were beaten by Liverpool and played out an uninspiring draw against Chelsea. City meanwhile were been stunned by Cardiff in a 3-2 defeat in the Welsh capital and held by Stoke last weekend, with a victory over new boys Hull the only other win since thumping Man City 5-0 on the opening weekend.

However, both the blue and red halves ofManchesternow have the opportunity to slam down their title credentials on Sunday afternoon. Both sides were involved in Champions League action during the week with United battering Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 at Old Trafford, while City secured a comfortable 3-0 victory at the home of Czech champions, Viktoria Plzen.

Ahead of this weekend’s action, they can both be found locked on seven points in 4th and 5th place in the Premier League table, with Manuel Pellegrini’s men above United due to their superior goal difference. City have won three of the last four league meetings between the sides, including their last two visits to Old Trafford. Last season they came away 2-1 victors, while they stormed to a stunning 6-1 victory back in 2011. However, they have only won one of their last five top-flight home games against their neighbours; United coming away 3-2 winners 12 months ago.

This fiery fixture is famed for the abundance of goals. Four of the last six meetings have featured a whopping five goals or more and neutrals will be hoping for a truck load more on Sunday. Furthermore, both teams have scored in five of the last six league and cup meetings, while there hasn’t been a draw in eight encounters in all competitions.

Sergio Aguero, who scored the third and final goal during the week, has bagged three goals in his last five games against United while Yaya Toure is also enjoying a decent run in front of goal this season with three goals in five games and both will be key personnel if City are to open up a three point gap come the final whistle on Sunday.

Wayne Rooney got off the mark last weekend with a fantastic free-kick, which sealed United’s 2-0 victory against Palace. The striker then bagged a brace on Tuesday inEuropeand has four goals in his last four games against City, including a double at the Etihad last season. Rooney has rapidly put his summer problems behind him and heads in to the derby brimming with confidence.

In the last two week, Robin Van Persie has scored five goals for club and country. The flying Dutchman also scored a memorable winner at the Etihad last season and together with Rooney, the duo are sure to cause the City defence plenty of problems.

This is a tough game to call with both Manuel Pellegrini an David Moyes experiencing a Manchester Derby for the first time but the fans and players will know exactly what is at stake. Based on recent history, another goal filled encounter looks the most likely outcome with the winner determined by which of the two ‘gets the rub of the green’ on the day but it would be no surprise to see them share the spoils and as such, a 2-2 draw is the prediction.

Sep 202013
 
Eric Cantona

For the first time since Michael Owen, Manchester United are starting a season without a player wearing the number 7 shirt. In the end it took a neat side-step from Antonio Valencia (which is funny, ‘cus he doesn’t do that anymore) to consign the shirt to Albert Morgan’s sewing box for the foreseeable future. There it lays in unexpected, sacrosanc hibernation, all set to rise forth from it’s tomb into Albert’s thimbled grasp, thence to be emblazoned with the name of a maverick superstar of mythical repute, when the transfer window next creaks ajar (which is funny, ‘cus that won’t happen) (none of these things in brackets are funny).

Fans of certain clubs, like certain numbers: Newcastle fans like 9s because of the finest player to wear the shirt, Andy Cole and some others – much less interesting – I’ve never heard of. Southampton fans like 3s because of Franny Benali. And Liverpool are just way too easy a target for these shirt lols.  The list goes on and on, I’m sure – if you can be bothered to look. At United though, all of our shirt numbers have been worn by the best players that have ever played, so all are special: all could be retired in honour of any number of players. However, provided we conveniently forget the number 22, it’s the number 7 with which we are most enamoured.

In the days when players were more than just a number, it was George Best who originally made the number 7 a star. No longer would it represent a point in a numerically ordered list of names selected to take to the field for their club on a given match day, and simply denote the position traditionally referred to as outside right, and then latterly right winger, which eventually became more commonly regarded as the right midfielder –  it now was George Best, a metaphor of sorts, or is it an anthropomorphism? (as long as there’s long words in here, the accuracy of the meaning is perfunctory – I’m a blogger, that’s what we do)

Via lots of other players that no-one mentions, and Steve Coppell and Bryan Robson, the number 7 completed its spiritual journey when it came to rest on Eric’s changing room peg. The timing of this celestial alignment – as sweatshop polyester entwined with dark, steely tendrils of gallic chest hair at just the same time as the Premier League first introduced the squad numbering system – meant Eric would become the first player to officially claim ownership of the number, and own it he did.

Once this line was drawn, the number 7 became a strong motif for a new generation of football fans and David Beckham was keen to deflect in this glory: he took the number 7 after having decided the ’10’ he swapped for his ’24’ wasn’t the right fit for his pretensions. What David Beckham understood though, as a fan of the club, was ‘what it was’ to wear the number 7, and that made it alright. Fergie also understood the thing about the ‘7’, and also understood that the CR7 branding would work less well in the future if Ronaldo would insist on wearing his preferred ’28’, and so shoved him into the shirt kicking and screaming (that’s funny ‘cus, etc…).

On the flipside, Fergie also oversaw Michael Owen’s sullying of the scared garm (perhaps pointing to an expectation that Fergie had in Owen that was never realised) and Valencia’s self-appropriated failure to live up to expectations – real or imagined.

There’s something, I think, that all the players who played in the number 7 shirt under Fergie have in common: Eric, a player with a disruptive reputation, joined off the back of a chance phone conversation; David Beckham was one of the collective youth that Fergie put his faith in; Ronaldo, a ‘light-weight show-pony’, was bought hurriedly after the United players wouldn’t shut up about him and other clubs had got wind; Michael Owen was a punt (I said punt) on an out-of-contract, out-of-form, ‘has-been'; Valencia was a relatively little known player from ‘lowly Wigan’, charged with replacing one of the best players in the word. In one way or another, they all represented something of a gamble (beyond the usual risk involved in the transfer of players). The successful outcomes though far outweighed the not so, and as Fergie himself recently noted (in the Harvard interview), his gambling instincts have played an integral part in his success at the club.

And so, when Moyes – coming a little out of leftfield – offered Nani a new long-term contract, I was excited. Not because of any lingering affection I have for Nani particularly (though I do have a bit), but because to me it represents a risk; taking a chance on a player whose bags were already in the taxi, backing a player who kicks all the right notes, just in the wrong order, a player – it would appear – Moyes has boldly chosen to believe in (at least for the immediate future). It’s a positive move, and at odds with some of the less inspiring (bordering on maddening) manoeuvres Moyes and the club have made during this, the gestation period of ‘the new era’. Moyes has certainly not been given the job off the back of his reputation to roll the dice, and it’s hardly cause to ‘strap ourselves in’, but I think it provides an indication, a shaft of light, that he’s not entirely risk averse – which I was beginning to wonder about.

For now then, the number 7 needs some bedrest, some time to erase the trauma of the last few years. Then, when Moyes has got a season under his belt and developed his card game sufficiently, he can continue the legacy of the number 7 in the proper manner … by handing it to Adnan (that’s Januzaj to you non-United lot. Get used to hearing that name. Yeah, that told yer).