Tuesday, March 13, 2012

United turn tables on City as Pogba set to give champs massive boost...

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There are just ten league games to go, the champions have somehow clawed their way back to the top of the Premier League, and with reports claiming Paul Pogba is set to give Ferguson a massive boost by committing himself to the club by signing a new contract, we cast a critical eye over United's recent performances and ask will the manager and his players make this a season to remember.

It was only a few weeks ago that the prospect of Manchester United knocking Manchester City's off top spot in the Barclays Premier League seemed, even in the eyes of many a die-hard red, improbable at best.

There's no disputing City have been *the team* of the season so far: they have scored the most goals, conceded the least and until the events of last weekend they were top of the table. But City's away form has been letting them down of late and on Sunday they deservedly lost to Swansea, at the Liberty Stadium. With the champions winning at home to West Brom, it meant that for the first time since October, Manchester United were back at the summit of the Premier League. Yet, just 48 hours earlier everyone connected with Manchester United was coming to terms with another deflating home defeat in the Europa League, following Athletic Bilbao's stunning 2-3 win.

Bilbao pretty much out-played United for 90 minutes on Thursday, and Ferguson's less than convincing post-match assertion that United would put matters right this week in the second-leg will not be shared by many supporters; there is an argument for NOT progressing any further in the deservedly maligned competition - the problem is not the quality of the participating teams, no, not a bit of it, it's the bloody ridiculous match schedule and early kick-off's. UEFA need to revisit the scheduling of Europa League fixtures; if they don't, the competition will continue to be a very poor second best to the Champions League.

United's participation and questionable performances in the Europa League will hopefully prove to be a wake-up call for Ferguson, his players, and most importantly, the Glazers', because while the current squad has done okay on the domestic front, the same squad has been lousy in Europe this season. Ferguson desperately needs to add a world-class central midfield playmaker - it is as clear as Fergie's big red nose. The manager's wish-list should also include a striker and another left-back.

As if it should be needed, the recent defeats at home to Ajax and Bilbao will hopefully have given Ferguson even more impetus to sign that world-class playmaker.

Bringing Scholes out of retirement was only a good idea because of the totally ridiculous situation the club finds itself in. Good damn it, Manchester United should NOT be relying on veteran stars like Giggs and Scholes. Scholes has without question fully justified his return and Giggs continues to amaze, but Ferguson is kidding no one: he has been and continues to, paper over the cracks.

The home defeats against Ajax and Bilbao (as good as the Basques undoubtedly were) will hopefully have given Ferguson and his backroom team, good reason to reflect on the current state of the squad. In order to do that, they must look at how the team has performed in Europe this season. United threw it away at home against Basel in the Champions League, and only managed a draw thanks to a dramatic late equaliser by Ashley Young. It was the same story against Benfica at Old Trafford, United were simply not good enough to beat opponents who in years gone by would have been considered as fodder.

Given how poorly England's top clubs have performed in Europe and especially United, many pundits (and this blog included) have concluded that the Premier League isn't currently worthy of its widely accepted status as one of Europe's top leagues: the fact that United, City and Arsenal are already out of the Champions League is testament to that.

We must never fall into the trap of confusing excitement with technical quality / genuine class. From a United perspective, despite the glaring weaknesses in the squad, no doubting to the collective annoyance of our noisy neighbours, Fergie's team somehow continues to grind out improbable results.

In a season littered with mistakes and too many setbacks, two recent results standout: United's away wins at Carrow Road and White Hart Lane. Who among us wouldn't have liked a Fiver for every City fan that found themselves cursing United and Giggsy after the Welshman slotted that winner 75 seconds into added time against Norwich? And then came that very tough looking away assignment at White Hart Lane.

The weekend prior to United's visit to North London, Arsenal had panned Spurs 5-2 at the Emirates. If that wasn't bad enough, Spurs had somehow managed to throw away a two-goal lead and then they lost Gareth Bale due to injury.

So going into the Spurs game and following the win at Carrow Road, United had every reason to be confident, but what followed once again left us breathless. Spurs pretty much played United off the park in the first-half, but remarkably, after 69 minutes the champions were 3-0 up. Defoe pulled a late goal back for Spurs but United ran out 1-3 winners.

Those two Premier League away wins could well turn out to be season defining, not least because many pundits and fans alike fully expected United to drop points. It didn't happen and what's more the wins at Carrow Road and White Hart Lane came in between the two home defeats in the Europa League - which again raises questions about the quality of the League as well as United's title credentials...

But with just 10 league games to go, no one can confidently predict the outcome. We can be sure the battle for the title will continue to provide us with excitement and many talking points.

While it is fair to ask questions about the squad, we cannot deny United have suffered more than most with injuries this season, but on that score, things are starting to look up. Tom Cleverley is fit again - for how long remains to be seen - but if he can win back his starting place, we could see him linking up with Rooney and Young to stunning effect.

Then there's Paul Pogba, who was reportedly set to spurn United in preference for Juventus. Putting it bluntly: Manchester United cannot afford to lose a player like Pogba who has bags of potential. If Pogba joined Juventus, it would have sent out an awful message about the current state of United and yes, it would have reflected badly on the player, but also on Ferguson too. Hopefully, Pogba will soon sign that new contract and he will go on cement a place in the heart of United's engine room over the next 12 months.

If United are going to continue to keep pace with City and go on to retain the title, every player in the squad will have to play close to their best when called upon.

Wayne Rooney is currently in a hot run of scoring form (five from the last three games), but in the eyes of many, he isn't playing even close to his best.

The spotlight has been firmly on David de Gea, and rightly so following some of his performances this season. The young Spanish goalkeeper was under the spotlight because he'd made some awful errors, but following a lengthy spell on the bench, to his eternal credit he has comeback all the stronger and he has started re-pay that huge transfer fee and as well as the manager's faith in him.

United have managed to turn the tables on City (for now), but there will be many more twists and turns before the end of what is turning into a fascinating season. Will the title be decided when United travel to Eastlands for the derby at the end of April, as Roberto Mancini claims? Don't be surprised if it goes to the last game of the season, is our verdict. Fasten your seat-belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

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26 comments:

  1. Surely you are kidding--at what point will you accept that Ferguson has as much use for the Europa League as he does for BBC Reporters.The fact that Ferguson didin't start with Nani, Rio, Carrick,Scholes against Bilbao and played with Giggs and Park as his only 2 MF should be a hint to you that he doesn't give a flying F about this little trophy. It's the EPL son--the EPL!!!!

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  2. Whether or not Fergie cares about the EL is open to debate, but what is beyond doubt, is the fact that United have been poor in Europe this season. The standard of the PL has gone down too.

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  3. Wayne Rooney is nowhere near his best? Perception and reality are two totally different things when it comes to the myth surrounding Rooney's football prowess. What you see is what you get - the lack of technique, the perpetually awful passing, the scatter-gun approach to scoring that sees him miss constantly, the chronic inability to beat anyone one-on-one, and his total reliance on having others set goals up for him on a plate. When was the last time you saw Rooney set up a goal for himself with a show of skill or deft footwork? Even the silly shot against City last year was an outright fluke that was so poorly executed that it came off his shin guard rather than his boot - Rooney himself admitted that he shanked it and that he had no idea where it was going. Unfortunately, both his manager, the media, and many in the fan base constantly buy into the crap that he's a class footballer because of his terrier-like attitude and his work-rate. Even his vaunted defense is frequently suspect, as he frequently gives the ball back to the opposition in dangerous circumstances. Running up and down the pitch endlessly does not denote class - just a work ethic, but unfortunately Fergie finds such stats worthwhile which is why he constantly parades the likes of Rooney, Fletcher (when fit) Park, etc rather than giving the few players of sheer talent their head. We've seen the cost of such circumspection in the European games, especially when United have been made to look like rank amateurs by the likes of Barcelona.

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    1. totally disagree rooney is a world class player and sure this hasnt been his best season but one that we have needed him in your right he isnt the player who can 1-1 defenders all day but thats not what makes him world class its his touch on the ball and his play making skills that is vital for man utd pls dont post comments like this if you dont know wtf you are on about man u wouldnt be where they are now without him

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  4. United played West Brom on Sunday.
    Gareth Barry? Bale it should say!

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  5. @ Anon 04 04 pm I cannot argue with any of that , you are saying what a lot of us think ! With regard to the EPL we love Roy of the Rovers stuff its in our blood . Yet its the very thing thats stops us stepping up with the Spanish sides . By the way i tip my hat to Swansalona .

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  6. Yes, Stig, clearly some glaring errors in that post! The perils of working with no sub-editor.

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  7. Anon,

    You clearly don't rate Rooney, well I cannot agree. Yes, he suffers from time to time when giving the ball away and sometimes he only looks 90% fit, and yes he misses chances, but then when he's firing on all cylinders he has had many near faultless games for United.

    Rooney is no Messi, but he's the best we've got by far at present. I'm thinking you are a Berbatov fan? If Berbatov had Rooney's commitment then we'd have the complete player.

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  8. IF anyone doesn't agree that United have been poor in Europe this season (and by default the PL is poorer too) then look at last night's result Bayern 7-0 Basel!

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  9. Yes and where are Bayern in the German league?? 5 points behind Dortmund who were soundly beaten home and away in the group stages by Arsenal. Just because they have one faltering season, everyone instantly says that EPL is going down. Since 2005 how many times have EPL teams got to the CL final compared to Dutch, Portuguese, German, Italian??? You can not base things on one season, but what you can say is that Bayern have not performed consistently in their league since 2009.

    Plus if you look at the money spent by Bayern compared to the rest of the league, they have a Man City of Chelsea feel buying expensive players but rarely training any through their actual system which the did not buy from another club. I know their are exceptions to the rule but Manchester United bring far more through and perform consistently far better than Bayern.

    3 finals in 4 years and 1 win, in the same time Bayern made 1 final and lost it. So why are people suddenly saying EPL is worse than the German when before when the German clubs were under performing no said that the quality of its league was faltering. Stop being biased and let United's transition faze happen.

    Finally the injury problems United have had this season have obviously been a major effect, as one of the top 3 or 4 defenders in the world, Vidic, has almost missed a wholes season.

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  10. Toby,

    Nothing to do with being biased. The EPL has lost its shine. I am slightly surprised that anyone would even contest that point. It isn't just United: Chelsea, Arsenal and yes, Liverpool are all below the levels they were a few seasons ago. Only City and Spurs have improved this season.

    With all that said, I agree you also have to ask questions about Germany and Italy too. Inter were fantastic while Jose Mourinho was in charge. But Milan and Inter are not exactly pulling up trees. As you say, Bayern haven't been the force they traditionally have been of late.

    As for United's transitional period. If and when Pogba signs that new deal, it will hopefully lead to a stronger midfield (arguably, our biggest area of concern and has been for a while - goalkeeping aside).

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    1. This is a United blog correct. Please do not give MCFC credit for improving ! Team Mansour is very good yes.That said the only thing it has to do with City is it plays in their strip .No business model ,rotating door policy.Buy who you want . Pay them what they want .If the same had happened at Everton we would of been runners up last season .

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    2. I understand that this season English clubs have performed below par in Europe, but are you really saying that the EPL has lost its attraction?? What about games between the top 5 clubs? They have been averaging 4 to 5 goals a game, football should be about enjoying the game as it is played no matter how devastating the huge losses are.

      I am not saying this is the greatest year of the EPL but it is by no means the worst, remember when United failed to qualify from the group stages a few years ago? Well we bounced back after that and put the EPL into the top 2 leagues in the world. I believe after this summer we will come out stronger than ever.

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    3. No, I am not saying the EPL has lost its attraction. But, as I posted, we shouldn't "confuse excitement with technical quality / genuine class".

      With that stated, in 1999 we had a very good team and we won the lot. We had York and Cole up (with Teddy and Ole in reserve) front and Keane and Scholes in midfield. We had Stam at the back and the best keeper in the world. We also had Beckham. That season will never be surpassed. There was so many high points and so much excitement and of course we could have blown the treble on numerous occasions, but it was quite simply magnificent.

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  11. Anon,

    That is very true, but they have improved, as much as I dislike what City are doing, we have to live with it.

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    1. I agree and had the Financial fair Play League been scheduled for 3 or 4 years rather than next year, I believe they would have left all the teams behind in a way that Chelsea never managed to do. But mainly if you have seen the blue prints for their new youth development centre, which is about the same size as my University, then Anon you would understand that it is not just their team that is developing but also their attitude towards football.

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    2. I know exactly what you are saying TQ but where is it all coming from and are they behind it ? Give any club that injection of cash ,you have to see some result . My point i can admire the Football but respect you earn .Its still City spending somebody elses money ! i have to and will live it , but no respect from me .

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    3. For the life of me, I will never understand why the Arabs bought City, when they could have probably bought United (or Liverpool). One thing City's owners are not short of is cash. But there is NO business case for buying City and there will never be a viable business case, they will be effectively flushing money down the toilet for ever and a day. On the flipside, United is a profitable club for anyone who can afford to buy it without borrowing on the scale of the Glazers' did in 2005.

      NO matter how much money is thrown at them, like Chelsea, City will always be a house of cards.

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  12. well well, you seem to want the united of 2008 back again. I have to admit, i was in love with that team, and the standard of the PL in that era was far higher. But you have to understand that after the Berbatov transfer, for various reasons, we aren't gonna see 25+ Million signings of players over 25. And I agree with Sir Alex on that. Also, lambasting him for bringing back Scholes! No player in the world would have done the job he's doing. I'm not saying that right now he's better than Xavi, Modric etc.. but players need acclimatization time, especially in January, and Scholes didn't. That was a masterstroke, and the way we controlled the game last Sunday is testament to that. Scholes is god!

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    1. My favourite United team under Fergie was prior to 2008. Regarding the point about lambasting him for bringing back Scholes. It wasn't a masterstroke, he didn't want Scholes to retire in the first place. But, the fact is United shouldn't have had to rely on Scholes and Giggs. I blame Fergie for not signing Sneijder for just 15 million Euros when he was aged 25. We might also have tried to sign Silva, but he wasn't even on our radar. So, I don't blame Fergie for bringing back Scholes, but serious questions need to be asked about his failure to identify the right targets and make decisive moves, instead we allowed Jose to snap up the bargain of the decade and unopposed too. I could also mention wasting £7.5m on a player he'd never seen kick a ball...

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  13. I know this is going to sound strange....
    We need to thank our noisy neighbours for the challenge in Premier League. Had they not invested heavily in their team, who would have pushed us for the title this year ? Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal & Chelsea have all been very inconsistent, and we would have won the league easily with no demands for new worldclass talents. Lucky for us, City is pushing us all the way, making it clear for everybody that we have no midfield, no right back, and that our goalie is only starting to show signs of why we payed so much for him.
    Hopefully City will continue to push us, so that we once again could be challengers for Champions League, cause right now beating Barcelona seems very far away.

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    1. I find it hard to give City any credit, and if there's any justice they will fail the FFP test, but if they do fail, the fact that the penalty will just result in a fine is a sick joke.

      City have been lucky in that United, Chelsea and to a lesser extent Arsenal are weaker now than at any other time in the last six or seven years.

      Barcelona are an exception as they are in a league of their own, but Jose is doing a pretty good job at Real Madrid.

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  14. Man United fan hope to see them winning League

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  15. betting comes first on my mind hearing that. Will if they can get a better team I guess they gonna win instantly.

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  16. Amazing Read!
    Yes Manchester United have been hit with the injury curse this season. There is no way any manager would have piled pressure on Man City with an injury struck and youth building team.
    Its a shame Arsenal,Spurs, Liverpool couldn't pressure City as much as United did and are still doing, and that is when you realise the effect and role of Sir Alex in the team.
    To me, the title rice could be a one horse race if City's result against Chelsea and Arsenal go against them.
    Once again well written man!

    *Btw- you could also check out my blog @ http://mjfooty.blogspot.com.
    Thanks :)

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