Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Moaning Bayern get a taste of their own medicine as Schweinsteiger sees red...

When it comes to being on the wrong end of bad decisions in the Champions League, Manchester United know all about that. A dreadful Turkish referee wrongly sent-off Nani last season when United met Real Madrid - that decision was so bad, one has to wonder if foul play was at work - because the decision to send-off Nani had nothing to do with football, but it led to United being dumped out of the competition.

The same thing happened two years ago, when Frank Ribery conned the referee with his 'dying man act' on the Old Trafford turf; on that occasion, it was hapless Rafael who saw red and once again a beleaguered United defence eventually caved in under the weight of numbers.

 So pardon me for not being too upset when Schweinsteiger got his marching orders after receiving his second yellow card in last night's Champions League quarter final. Rooney had jumped over the challenge of Schweinsteiger, but in so doing he did a 'Ribery like' stunt-man roll. It should not have been a booking and once again the referee played a potentially significant part in a Champions League tie.

 The first leg of what looked on paper at least anyway to be a proverbial bye for the German champions, ended in a 1-1 stalemate. IT could have been so different if Danny Welbeck had taken one glorious first-half chance after being set free by Rooney, but he didn't. Welbeck, had a perfectly good goal wrongly disallowed early in the game because the referee deemed his boot to be too high when he had initially brought the ball under control. The fact is, Welbeck's boot never touched Martinez - it wasn't a rash challenge; Welbeck had exhibited a fair amount of skill when beating a couple of Bayern defenders with his spinning turn, before lashing home a right-foot half-volley from the edge of the Bayern penalty area. But once again, United were on the wrong end of bad decision making by yet another poor referee. A moment of skill and what should have been a good goal was ruined by incompetent refereeing. United will in all probability go on to lose the tie next week in Germany. At least on this occasion Bayern have something to moan about.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Planes, stunts and ****s: Players indiscipline costing Moyes and United.

United are preparing to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter final, sadly, it is likely to be yet another humiliation. Bayern are a cut above Man City, who themselves recently strolled to an all too easy three nil victory at Old Trafford. Before that, it was the turn of United's other bitter rivals Liverpool who enjoyed another romp and goal fest. Can it get any worse? Probably yes, when the Bavarians are the visitors to Old Trafford on Tuesday night.

Saturday at least brought some much needed respite for under fire coach David Moyes, who had to endure the embarrassing spectacle of a controversial fly-past. Most of the talk before and after Saturday's 4-1 win over Villa, centred on the 'Moyes-out' banner, enough said, but the speculation over the United manager's future rumbles on an it will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

There has been no shortage of finger pointing with suggestions from the media and hints from Moyes, that Ferguson is partly to blame for the shambolic state United find themselves in. The ageing squad bequeathed to Moyes clearly had many weaknesses. But would Ferguson and his former backroom team have failed as badly as his replacement and Co? Michael Owen 'wrote' an interesting article over the weekend in which he made his views very clear: "sacking Rene Meulensteen, Mike Phelan and Eric Steele remains the single biggest mistake to date". Owen's views are of course shared  by many, it isn't a case of hindsight either as many journalists, pundits and fans alike all voiced the same concerns when the news first broke.

And yet throughout this troublesome season, the players have to a large degree been getting away with it, but the players are every bit to blame as Moyes. Winning is a collective thing, as is losing - everyone has to take responsibility for their actions. Some of United's defending has been woeful to put it bluntly.

Paul Scholes, criticised Rio Ferdinand and Danny Welbeck (among others) for Dzeko's second goal in the recent derby - and rightly so - it was as if Rio didn't give a flying *uck. Then look at Rafael, against Liverpool and Aston Villa on Saturday: the Brazilian got booked for a poor challenge and then just a few minutes later gave away a penalty from which Liverpool took the lead. Against Villa, Rafael once again found himself out of position - he predicatbly gave away a foul in a dangerous area and again the visitors scored. We should also mention Fellaini, United's tallest player - surely he should have positioned himself in the middle of United's defensive wall, instead, he nearer the end and that made it easier for Westwood to score. Felliani was also guilty of elbowing an opponent in the Villa game - just as he was against Liverpool for which he should have been sent off. Buttner, managed to get himself booked for slapping Albrighton for diving and once again - this was another case of indiscipline. It really isn't good enough and Moyes needs to hammer those who let the team down, this indiscipline and unprofessionalism is leading directly to goals for the opposition.

Rafael was substituted at half-time against Villa, and he is likely to miss the first leg of Tuesday's cup tie, frankly, no matter who replaces him, he is no loss at pressnt as he has become a liability. The end of the season can't come quickly enough for this red.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Time running out fast for Moyes and United...

In a season of too many lows and disappointments, Manchester United hit rock bottom on Sunday as they lost 3-0 at home to bitter rivals Liverpool. Steven Gerrard converted two penalties and Luis Suárez compounded a thoroughly miserable day for the home fans when he finished off the champions by hammering home the final nail in United's coffin and with it went any lingering hope of finishing in those lucrative Champions League places at the end of the season.

With the game all but won and to add yet more salt into United's gaping wounds, Nemaja Vidic was sent-off after he was adjudged to have tripped Sturridge in the penalty area. Gerrard failed to complete a hat-trick of penalties when hitting the foot of the post from the resulting spot kick.

TV replays suggested that there had been minimal contact,  truth be told, Vidic had been outwitted and beaten for pace; Gary Neville, who normally avoids criticising United players had no sympathy for his former team-mate when he said "when you go down inside the box, you leave yourself wide open".

Liverpool should have been awarded a fourth penalty when moments later Michael Carrick lunged at Sturridge; having already awarded three penalties and having failed to send off Joe Flanagan and Rafael when both should have received their second yellow cards for a succession of professional fouls and handball respectively, referee Clattenburg must have felt he couldn't give an unprecedented fourth penalty against United (who says the visitors never get them at Old Trafford?).

As perhaps to be expected, David Moyes later suggested that the decisions went against his team, but he would say that; what else was he to say after such an embarrassing home defeat against Liverpool, of all teams?
As a team, both individually and collectively, United were a total shambles from start to finish. In contrast, Liverpool looked confident from the start and were always on the front foot as they pressed whenever a United player had the ball. Perhaps worst all, there was too little effort and a distinct lack of passion from those entrusted to wear the famous red shirts. United were clueless pretty much throughout this one sided encounter, that sadly is the brutal truth of the matter.

From pretty much the first minute, too many United players were too slow to react as they dithered on the ball and predictably lost possession cheaply. Fellaini was perhaps the worst culprit and as the game progressed, his performance didn't really improve. To compound matters, Mata wasn't in the game and nor was Januzaj, both had been detailed to occupy United's flanks - but that tactic hasn't really worked and it didn't work against a well organised Liverpool team. Frustratingly, and on paper at least any way, a forward line of Van Persie, Rooney, Januzaj and Mata looks as though it should be good enough to at least give any visiting team a few headaches - but as borne out by a succession of unacceptable home performances.

Granted, Ferguson left Moyes with plenty of issues to resolve when he finally retired, but it's hard to believe it was just over 12 month's ago that the former United manager uttered the following words .."The options we've got now all round the park, if we can keep everyone fit, are as good as I've had in my time here". For the record, that was January 26th, 2013, United had just dumped Fulham out of the FA Cup.  In truth, only the gullible believed what Ferguson said back then about the squad. Many United fans are of the opinion that midfield has been an area of concern ever since Roy Keane left the club under a cloud. For whatever reason, Ferguson failed to address those midfield concerns; instead he 'made do' by squeezing every last drop out of veterans Scholes and Giggs.

Whatever we think of Moyes, surely few would argue that IF Ferguson was still in charge of the same players, the team would not find itself facing the prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season and would the same players have capitulated so badly against Liverpool and without so much as a whimper? One can of course point to the 6-1 thrashing by City at Old Trafford on SAFs watch, but in the context of his tenure and his trophy winning record, Ferguson has no case to answer - other than the suggestion that he insisted that Moyes retained the nucleus of his squad for 12 months following his retirement - if indeed that is true.

Having splashed out the best part of £65m on Fellaini and Mata, and having secured Rooney's future, the worry is Moyes does not appear to have a tactical plan for the future. The team are not creating enough quality goal scoring opportunities at Old Trafford. The defence and central midfield are in need of serious surgery. Fellaini looks completely out of his depth and Mata hasn't gelled with his new team-mates.

With so much work to do and based on the money invested so far and with no real direction, is it fair to ask would you trust Moyes to spend £200m on new players?

Also consider Moyes judgement on Fellaini - a player the manager knew very well from their time together at Everton. Fellaini should NOT have been a gamble, but it looks like it's a case of £27m flushed down the transfer toilet. I sincerely hope I'm wrong on that score and Fellaini comes good, but will he?

If Moyes is lucky, he might be given until next Christmas to justify Ferguson's faith in him, but given the recent spineless performances against Liverpool and Olympiakos and with City on the horizon, you have to wonder if Moyes will be replaced in the summer if not sooner.

If Moyes stays, many changes need to happen. Carrick is not the long-term answer in central midfield, and Fellaini looks out of his depth in the United engine room. Januzaj and Mata need to either improve the defensive side of the game, or else Moyes needs to find a system that suits both of them and one that includes Rooney and Van Persie. Wherever you look in this United team, you see problems and it's going to take a lot of money to put matters right.

Monday, January 06, 2014

United's Panto season looks set to run and run....

The whiff of fear associated with the Old Trafford visitors' dressing room which lingered for so long during Ferguson's tenure has long since evaporated, it has been replaced by the sound of laughter. For good reason, the home of Manchester United used to be known as a fortress - it isn't anymore, given under new manager David Moyes, the champions have lost four of the last six games on the hallowed turf and we are still in the first week of January.

Make no mistake, the Panto season is in full swing - the only thing missing from recent home performances by 'the champions' is the smell of greasepaint and fancy dress costumes.

The latest ignominious defeat against Swansea, resulted in United being dumped out of the third round of the FA Cup. Just like the previous home defeat against Spurs, it was another error strewn defensive display.

Sunday's late afternoon matinee didn't take long to get into full swing, just 12 minutes into the cup-tie, and despite of the collective groans of "he's behind you", Rio Ferdinand, in his starring role of Mother Goose decided to waddle off towards the half-way line; that unwise sojourn left a gaping hole down the middle and a simple punt down field led to Routledge lobbing the advancing De Gea; It was a well taken goal, but in truth it was all far too easy for the visitors.

In fairness, Ferdinand was returning from a spell on the sidelines due to injury, or alternatively, depending if we are to believe the scurulous rumours, was axed for leaking team news to the media. Whatever the reasons for his prolonged absence his performance left a lot to be desired and once again there was a distinct lack of leadership at the heart of the United defence.

Sawnsea's joy was short lived as just four minutes later, Hernandez expertly guided home a superb left wing cross by Buttner. In seasons gone by the equaliser would have been the signal for a siege on the visitors' goal, but like so often this season that did not happen. United huffed and puffed throughout the remainder of the first-half, but frankly looked for long periods like a team of disjointed out-of-sorts strangers.

Despite what David Moyes said in his post-match interview, United did not dominate the match or indeed the second-half which proved to be just as poor as the first. Januzaj lifted the crowd on 63 minutes when he replaced, Valencia who was largely anonymous, like too many of his teammates. In Januzaj, Moyes has a real diamond and he at least will give the fans some hope for the future in what is fast turning into a dismal season.

Ferdinand went off injured on 76 minutes, and was replaced by Fabio - his short-lived cameo appearance ended after just three minutes, as the Brazilian was given a justified red card by referee Mike Riley, for a dangerous over the top lunge at Jose Canas.

The sending off did have a bearing on the outcome, given it led to a reshuffle in the United defence. In the 89th minute, Routledge beat Darren Fletcher with a surging run into the United penalty area and his pin-point cross from the byline was expertly headed home by Wilfried Bony. While it was another good goal by Swansea, questions need to be asked about Smalling's positional sense; the former Fulham defender was caught badly out of position when marking Adebayor against Spurs in the previous home game and on Sunday he was once again found wanting.

Smalling has been caught out more or less every time he has been asked to play at right-back, and his heading ability and positional sense are a major cause for concern at centre-back. While castigating Smalling, for his part in Bony's winner, one should also mention Jonny Evans who was caught flat-footed and rooted to the spot, as he was on the opening Swansea goal.

Looking forward to the rest of the season,(if that is the correct expression) it is looking increasingly likely that United will miss out on Champions League football next season. On top of which this blog does not expect Moyes to make the necessary squad changes in the January transfer window. For now at least, we can expect United's Panto season to run and run.