Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fergie to give Morrison and Pogba their chances knowing he risks losing both this summer?

Manchester United are in action on Wednesday night at Old Trafford in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup, where they will face Crystal Palace.

It's always quite difficult to gauge how seriously Ferguson takes the once maligned Carling Cup - a competition that has risen slightly above the level of joke status in recent seasons. In the last round, United travelled to Aldershot - it was the first game after the mother-of-all hidings by Man City. There was no way Fergie was going to allow his team to be humiliated twice in a week and certainly not by a third division outfit and United went on to win 3-0.

While the champions haven't lost since the derby, United's football of late hasn't been what we the fans have come to expect, but then we have been spoilt down the years by Ferguson and his players. But the fact is, since the demolition derby, United have been very underwhelming. The team has shown all too brief glimpses of their old swash-buckling attacking play, but United have drawn the last two home games. It finished 2-2 apiece with Benfica in the Champions League last week and then on Saturday, it was 1-1 with Newcastle. Both performances left a lot to be desired.

True enough, Newcastle were gifted a point by the linesman who wrongly awarded the Geordies a very dodgy penalty. There was nothing wrong with Rio Ferdinand's tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa - in point of fact it was a great tackle. Fergie was right to describe the assistant referee's decision as a "travesty"; there's no disputing how bad that decision was and only time will tell how costly that howler of a mistake will turn out to be. While wen can, with some justification, carp on about poor decision making, there's no escaping the fact that United simply weren't good enough around the Newcastle box on Saturday. The final ball into the visitors' penalty area was all too often poor. For once, Javier Hernandez wasn't on song, as someone put it "is Chicharito wearing Berbatov's boots"?

United aren't playing well  in the wake of the derby - we are still playing like trauma victims. And so what can Fergie do about this? With the transfer window set to open in January, the fans are hoping the manager will do what he should have done following the first embarrassing defeat against Barcelona in that Champions League final - that is he should have signed at least one world-class midfield player.

Sadly, Fergie hasn't done much to address the glaring issues in United's engine room. If anything, United have gone backwards this season where midfield is concerned. Giggs is a year older. Scholes has retired. Cleverley's stop-start season has had an impact on the manager's planning, but United should not be relying on one so young.

Some fans are saying NOW is the time to give Pogba and Morrison their chances. Some are saying, if it doesn't happen now given how poor our midfield is, then just maybe it will NEVER happen as far as these two young stars in the making are concerned. While some pundits and fans might well nod in agreement with that last statement, we have to take a broader view of the overall picture. We have to try to think like the Lord himself.... Fergie is a very fair manager, of that there is no doubt. If he picks Pogba at the expense of say Fletcher and or Carrick, quite how will that affect these senior players? As far as Morrison is concerned, like Pogba, it is feared he could be tempted away from Old Trafford, speculation suggestions that could happen as early as this summer....Perhaps Morrison believes he is better than he actually is? That scenario could also be playing a part in Fergie's mind. Morrison recently tweeted that he couldn't wait for the summer to arrive..some people interpreted this as a warning that the player was planning to turn his back on the champions.

Whatever happens there's no way Ferguson will put up with any antics from players like Morrison who has so far only made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Fergie has a great record when it comes to managing young players. Morrison and Pogba will have to bide their time, like every other United player.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another win, another totally uninspiring United performance...

Manchester United were in action at the Liberty Stadium yesterday and for the third league game on the spin it finished up one-nil to the champions. Javier Hernandez grabbed another poachers goal just ten minutes into the game with help from Ryan Giggs and a howler of a mistake by Angel Rangel, who gifted United's midfield veteran possession on the edge of the Swansea penalty area. Giggs intercepted Angel's attempted pass and threaded the ball to Hernandez and the Mexican's finish did not disappoint the travelling Red Army. Sadly for the visiting fans and the millions watching the game live on TV, that was one of the few highlights from a United perspective. Phil Jones was very unlucky not to score late on but his low driven shot rebounded off the post. Nani should have scored as United applied pressure with the game heading to its conclusion, but apart from those opportunities, it was another performance which had all too few moments to remember.

In his post-match interview, Ferguson praised the manner of his players concentration in relation to defending and he was right about that, but Swansea could quite easily have taken a point from this game. Scot Sinclair was guilty of missing what some are describing as the "miss of the season" on twenty minutes. Quite how Sinclair did not score from close range beggared belief. But the Swansea winger did miss and the rest is history.

While there are undoubtedly some positives in relation to United's recent improvement where the issue of defending is concerned, the same cannot be said about the team's attacking play in the final third.

United really struggled to open up Everton, Sunderland and it wasn't much better at Swansea. At least Ferguson started with Rooney up front against Swansea, which didn't happen in the previous two league games. Playing Rooney in midfield, amounts to an admission of failure on the part of the manager - you don't play your best player out of position unless you really have to. Clearly, the derby thrashing by City has impacted on Ferguson's thinking about tactics, the players at his disposal and the formation. As a result, the manager's thinking has become muddled since the derby defeat - at least that is how many fans see it.

The fact is there's very little Ferguson can do about Manchester City, but one gets the feeling that perhaps the United manager is considering reverting to a more defensive formation, one that would mean dispensing with at least one winger. Evidence of that theory has been all too obvious since the derby defeat; United haven't started a league game with two wingers - factor-in Rooney playing in central midfield in two of those games adds further weight to the theory that the manager has without any doubt been adopting a more cautious approach.

If Fergie really wanted to copy City's tactics as well as their formation he would have to sign at least one specialist defensive midfield player - because right now, he doesn't have one. Nor, does Ferguson have a player like David Silva, or come to that an Aguero or a Tevez.

While it is true that United have been far too open at the back this season - until the derby - front an attacking perspective, the team was by and large playing reasonably well and scoring goals. In the wake of the derby hammering, United have been playing like trauma victims. The manager needs to set his team up to attack teams again - in short we need to see United playing 'the United way'. Fergie cannot do much about City and so he must concentrate on Manchester United.

As for the battles that lie ahead, we can only hope that the league leaders slip up soon in what looks like a difficult run of games. However, even at this very early stage of the season, Manchester City look like racing certainties to secure the league title. The thought of City winning the title is something of a doomsday scenario, but even among time-served United fans the debate has started to move on from "..will they win it?" to "...it is now a question of by how many points..".

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Message to Fergie: Forget about City and concentrate on Manchester United...

Manchester United may well have won every game since that embarrassing 6-1 derby thrashing - but the quality of the football has been very poor by the champions standards. One cannot help but feel that Ferguson is reassessing United's tactics and formation in the wake of that comprehensive defeat. United have played two league games since the derby, there was no wingers in the team that started against Everton at Goodison Park, Nani and Valencia were left on the bench. Nani started against Sunderland, but the overall performance in both games was poor. Perhaps the biggest single change since the derby has been Rooney dropping back into midfield.

A lot of observers believe that Rooney's future could well be in midfield, that theory has been the subject of debate for a while, but the fact that Ferguson has asked Rooney to play in midfield on three occasions since the derby suggests the manager is not happy. According to Fergie, the reason Rooney has been deployed in midfield is down to injuries. Not So. At Everton, United had Nani, and Valencia on the bench. Rooney and Cleverley started in midfield at Goodison Park, but sadly that partnership had to be broken up after just 17 minutes thanks to yet another injury to Cleverley, who we are told will be out until Christmas - a blow of such significance that it could potentially effectively hand the Premier League title to Manchester City.

Against Sunderland, Rooney was once again deployed in midfield when Carrick and Fabio were both on the bench. Make no mistake, Fergie most definitely IS going through a very dark period, we firmly believe the United manager is reevaluating everything about his team, the players at his disposal and his formation.

While many fans will see the potential virtues of harnessing Rooney and Cleverley together in central midfield, one has to ask if Fergie's thinking has become clouded. We have to keep recent events in perspective. Yes, United were given the mother of all thrashings by City, but the champions are more than capable of beating the rest of the league and come to that most of Europe's leading clubs if they stick to what United have done down the years and that is to attack teams using the full width of the pitch with wingers.

Fergie has to stop worrying about City and the manner of that defeat and get back to what United do best and that is to attack. There is nothing the manager can do in the short term about City - the time to add quality to midfield has been and gone. Nonetheless, it is worth asking why didn't United spot the potential of David Silva - perhaps Fergie was too wrapped up in chasing Wesley Sneijder? What now looks to be beyond question is the fact that the manager failed to adequately strengthen his midfield options over the last few transfer windows - that charge has been underlined with the recent deployment of Rooney in the engine room.

On the subject of Manchester City's spending power - obviously no other club can compete, but it's worth pointing out that City have spent over £460m on new players in the last four years. However, according to MUST, United have spent over £523m on servicing the Glazers debts over the last six years...clearly, United could compete with City if it wasn't for the owners who saddled the club with so much debt - what's more, that money has been generated by United - it hasn't been given to the club by an oil rich nation.

United have travelled to Wales to take on Swansea later today, nothing less than three points will do with Manchester City looking in serious danger of running away with the Premier League.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Post 6-1: Fergie facing biggest challenge of his 25 years at United.....

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Every football pundit in the land might well be talking about Fergie's glorious 25 years in charge of the champions, but for many of the followers of United and especially City, the events of the most recent Manchester derby are still reverberating around the city and its suburbs.

United fans wanted to move on as quickly as possible and they also quite rightly expected the right response from the team and the manager; well that response hasn't exactly instilled a great deal of confidence going forward. United might well have won three out of three, but much of the football against Everton and Galati left an awful lot to be desired and that is putting it mildly. There was no way United were going to come unstuck against plucky Aldershot in the Carling Cup, not with the team that Fergie started with.

In the immediate aftermath of the derby, this blog suggested that Fergie might eventually abandon the club's attacking traditions and revert to a 4-3-3 formation. We still think that might happen - that could well turn out to be one of the consequences of such a heavy defeat and of course it was against the worst of all opponents.

While United fans find it difficult to give City any credit for their success on the pitch - largely because their club is nothing more than a 'rich man's play-thing' - we have to acknowledge that Mancini has bought some fine players, none better than David Silva who many expect to win a clutch of awards this season. United fans might even ask why was it that Fergie didn't make a move for the brilliant Spaniard? Only Fergie can answer that question.

United quite obviously are lacking genuine star quality in central midfield, save for the fast emerging Tom Cleverley, but alas he's been injured for much of the season and so it came as no great surprise to see Wayne Rooney being asked to drop back into the engine room in the last two games.

Rooney was one of the few who could hold his head up to some degree after the derby, because at least he tried, but it wasn't an error free performance by the England striker, far from it.

Last weekend United travelled to Goodison Park and Rooney was asked to play in midfield alongside Cleverley, Fletcher and Park. United won thanks to a first-half goal by Hernandez, but the performance was disjointed and the champions attacking play wasn't what we have come to expect.

The team that started at Goodison Park and the performance that followed raised a couple of important questions; firstly, did Ferie ask Rooney to play in midfield because of the events of the weekend before? Was this the first real signs of a major tactical change with no genuine winger in the starting eleven?

Then in midweek in the Champions League, Rooney was once again asked to play in central midfield against Galati and he had a very good game. United won again, this time by the margin of two-nil, but the second goal took a horrible deflection and being honest the Romanian champions didn't deserve that slice of bad luck. In his post-match interview, Ferguson was asked if Rooney's immediate future could lie in central midfield. The United manager insisted that Rooney was only playing in midfield because he was short of numbers. Well, we are not going to call Fergie a liar, but he has been known to spin the odd yarn to the media over so called injuries to his players. Ryan Giggs is supposedly injured, but he hasn't kicked a ball in anger for the first-team proper since he jumped out of the way of that Gerrard free-kick at Anfield. And Carrick, we are told, is injured again...

Whatever the truth behind these 'injuries', the decision to play Rooney in midfield has only served to highlight what millions of United fans have been saying for at least three years that is we need to add more genuine quality in midfield.

While we don't want to keep on harping on about the derby, United have been far too open this season at Old Trafford and Mancini knew that his players would get their chances providing City didn't concede in the first-half and then those chances would surely follow and so they did.

Mancini is no stranger to criticism, he was labeled as 'too defensive' not so long ago, but it sure looks like he's found the right blend now. City are rock solid in defence and they have genuine class up front and with Silva pulling the strings, they could go a long way on all fronts this season.

Even if Fergie wanted to he couldn't ape the City system and why is that you might well ask? The answer is simple: He doesn't have the players. Of course Fergie could try to copy the City system, but it wouldn't work nearly as well, because he doesn't have a genuine defensive midfield player (City have at least two, if not three) also quite obviously and perhaps most importantly, Fergie doesn't have a David Silva.

Despite what Fergie says about Rooney's role - don't be surprised if his future is in central midfield. We think that everything is in a state of flux following the derby; Rio Ferdinand is seemingly on borrowed time - which comes as no great surprise, Berbatov is little more than a spectator these days, as is Michael Owen and a host of other players including Gibson and Diouf.

Fergie is facing up to the biggest challenge of his brilliant United career, yes knocking Liverpool of that fu**ingdiehard red will find very hard to stomach and only one man can stop it from happening. Fergie, Fergie, sort it out.

United take on Sunderland at Old Trafford tomorrow. Nothing less than three points is expected.