United’s New Red Devil: Hit or Miss?

So here we are, Finally. The most discussed story in football over the last 6 months has been put to bed. José Mourinho’s next challenge awaits him, and it’s a big one. Restoring the once well oiled machine that is Manchester United to its former glories.

It’s been no secret that Manchester United have been keeping tabs on José since his departure from Stamford Bridge. Sometimes almost coming  across like a Year 7 school disco, with both parties flirting with the idea without any actually formal offer. But that’s in the past, we now know that José Mourinho has been unveiled as Manchester United’s new manager on a 3 year contract.


This news is sure to bring smiles to United fans all across the globe, and of course why wouldn’t it? It comes with the almost reassurance that Manchester United will be restored to winning ways sooner rather than later. Better believe that, José is a born winner.

It also adds to the list of heavyweight managers now in the Premier League next season, players had better  watch out they won’t be the star attraction anymore! Of course it reignites one of Sports’ best match ups in José Vs Pep, who will rule Manchester? I imagine The Special One has already planned his tactics and revenge for when he takes his United team to Stamford Bridge too.

Of course compared to Van Gaal, Mourinho looks like a gift sent from the God’s, and like previously mentioned he comes with an aura of someone who will deliver trophies. But at what cost?

Manchester United over the years have always prided themselves on playing the ‘Manchester United way’. The list of illustrious players who have graced the treasured turf of Old Trafford is endless; The Busby Babes, The Holy Trinity (Best, Law & Charlton), Class of 92′ and in more recent times Ronaldo and Rooney.


IMO ‘The Manchester United way’ is attack, attack and then attack some more. A relentless force hammering the opponents goal with everything they have until the final whistle. During Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure he used to pride himself on his teams fighting till the end of games.

One of the contributing factors in Van Gaal’s dismissal was his ‘style of play’, it’s here you are reminded that Mourinho has previous with Van Gaal working as his assistant.


In the past this hasn’t been Mourinho’s style with an all out attack formula, but will he deliver success to Old Trafford even if it takes another route to the summit to the one fans expected? Will fans settle for an compromised style of play in return for more success on the pitch?

Before writing this article I did some research on Mourinho reading some articles, posts and blogs previously written on the man’s tactics, formations and philosophy. Some ideas I agreed with, some I didn’t. Everyone to their own opinions.

But there was one topic which was discussed suggesting that Mourinho would prefer going into games as the ‘under dog’ – ultimately taking the pressure off the team. (His poor record against bottom of the table teams would prove this to be a valid point – can’t have two underdogs in the same match)
How would United fans feel about going into a game knowing that your manager thinks your the underdog? Does it send the right image of an English power house?

I grew up in a time when Manchester United were all dominating in The English Premier League and Europe. Title after Title, Double after Double. I wouldn’t be suprised if they had the Open Bus on retainer from one year to the next. This is the United I remember, the all conquering side who would go head to head with Europe’s elite. Not a side who might get a result as an under dog.


It did of course work for Mourinho, guiding his Inter side past the irresistible Barca and Ancelotti’s attack minded Chelsea en route to winning the Champions League.

It’ll be interesting to see what sort of profile Manchester United have under Mourinho.

Mourinho – The Tactical Genius

Here’s one for you to quiz your mates with in the pub over a cold one.

How many different leagues has Mourinho set a record point tally in? 1? Maybe 2? (Okay, you probably got Porto) But the answer is actually 3! (Portugal, England and Spain)

Which makes the next part so bizarre, if you asked someone on the street what do you think to Mourinho’s playing style? A large proportion would reply with ‘Boring or not exciting’.

How Chelsea went about claiming the title in the 2014/15 season wasn’t boring or uncreative. Winning games 1-0 or 2-1 may have come across dull, it was actually incredibly clever tactics from The Special One.

Okay, bold statement. Let me explain why IMO the tactics implemented were canny and clever. For the next paragraph or so I’m going to need you to remember one buzz word (god dammit, I love a good buzz word!) The Buzz word is -MED (Minimum Effective Dose). This means the minimum someone or a team has to do, and still get the desired outcome.

Football seasons are a long arduous slog, the quote ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’ springs to mind. Mourinho recognised that if his side played to their full potential from the start of games, they would often have a lead by half time. Often during the 2014/15 season, Chelsea by 50-60 minutes into a game would switch into a training ground routine. Thus saving their legs in preparation for the next game, whilst the opposition would run themselves into the ground chasing down Chelsea’s keep ball. Mourinho always thinking ahead to the next opponent. Classic MED signs.


United fans in the past have been spoiled with excitement until the final whistle blows, how will they like a more conservative and tactical Manchester United side?

In terms of Mourinho’s preferred formation at United, it’s hard to look past 4-2-3-1. Everyone knows he loves a 4-2-3-1 he’s used it both times at Chelsea, with Madrid and at times with Inter too. IMO it’s a great tactic and it got used repeatedly on FM whilst growing up (granted with a lot less success than Mourinho has had with it!)


It isn’t just a basic 4-2-3-1 with Mourinho though, going forward in attack it develops into almost a 4-3-3 perfect for those fast counter attacking moments whilst still allowing a solid foundation at the back.

Remember those days of Duff and Robben terrorising defenders on the break..?

Times are changing at Manchester United.

Welcome Back José.
Thanks for reading,

Tom

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Time for Change: The Arsenal Verdict

Here we are once again, a season which promised so much and has delivered so little for Arsenal fans is upon us. I find myself with a sense of deja vu. It seems every season they are limping over the line to gain 4th place in the league after looking so promising at the turn of the year.wenger_arsenal_ap

The emergence of their bitterest rivals down the road as a genuine title challenger, should provide enough ammunition that something needs to change at the Emirates!

The Four Candidates:

Diego Simeone – The Passionate One

simeone-600x337It takes someone special to turn La Liga’s 2 horse race into a 3 horse race, but that’s exactly what Simeone is, Special. He’s passionate, he bonds with all his players. Turning Athletico into one of Europe’s most dangerous clubs on the counter attack. Arsenal fans could expect to see George Graham type discipline back at the club with Simeone in charge. With Simeone in charge you don’t know what to expect it’s almost the equivalent of Mario Balotelli. It could provide to be a masterstroke, or he could explode into a puddle of hot lava on the sidelines. If available i’d get him in a heart beat.

Ronald Koeman – The Sensible Option

A very safe pair of hands. Quietly going about his business on the South Coast, picking upronald_koeman exactly where Pochettino left off. Learnt from the best from the late great Johan Cruyff, and likes to see good football played on the deck. He’d also take on Wenger’s youth philosophy, and still promote youth players. IMO beginning to get restless at Southampton, judging by some interviews hinting he couldn’t take Southampton any further with their resources.

Joachim Löw – The Wildcard

World Cup winning manager – Doesn’t look bad on the CV does it?

Been in charge of the German National Team for 10 years now. Depending on how Joachim-LöwGermany get on at this summers Euro’s he could be wanting a way out. Yet to really prove himself at club level with only short stays at all his previous clubs before he took to international management. Also likes to give Youth a chance and could help turn Arsenal into a slick well run machine like the German side which thrashed Brazil at 2014 World Cup. He’s also one of the most stylish managers around.

Laurent Blanc – The Frenchman

Arsenal have been lead by Arsène Wenger for almost 20 years now. So it would be foolish psg-paris-saint-germain-laurent-blanc_3388739to not include a suitable candidate lined up to take over like SAF did with David Moyes. The previous French National manager and current PSG man could do a very good job at Arsenal. Could provide a bit of a shock coming to a league with actual competitiveness unlike Ligue 1 where PSG could miss the first 10 games and still win the league. Blanc could find himself without a job soon too with an early Champions League exit to Man City and Mourinho lurking in the shadows.

 

Thanks for reading,

Tom

 

 

 

 

 

Money can’t buy you into Europe’s Elite

World football seems to be lost in the shadows, leagues are becoming predictable. Spectators crave the headlines of an underdog coming out on top even more so than in the past.

Ligue 1 is all but over, with PSG massing an almost laughable 23 point lead at the top of the table. Barcelona will almost certainly be crowned La Liga  champions for the 24th time in their illustrious history. Bayern Munich as per usual lead the German Bundesliga ahead of Dortmund by 5 points due to Pep’s Bayern easing into autopilot mode.

With this in mind, The Premier League is without question the most exciting league in World Football. Where else would you find entertainment like this current season has produced. Leicester City survived relegation by a whisker last season, the very next season they find themselves 9 games away from the unthinkable; Premier League Champions.

Of course with great entertainment comes great rewards, and with all clubs who have made it to the dizzy heights of the Premier League in the past 8 seasons. Have received sky high payments regardless of position in the league. (Rock bottom of the league, Villa predicted to receive almost £100m for their dismal season this year).

Fig 1.) Income Premier League Clubs received in 2014/15 season.

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But has the money created by television revenue become a ‘double edged sword’ for Premier League clubs participating in Europe’s Elite competition? Statistics would suggest so.

With the abundance of wealth all BPL clubs generate, especially the notable high performing clubs who regularly qualify for the CL. It would appear that clubs have forgotten their roots they once started from.

The BPL has always been known as an multi international league, with an array of talent from all over the globe. But this international talent in the past has always been alongside a core of British players who helped to establish the backbone and essence of a club.

In recent years, we’ve had players such as John Terry, Ashley Cole & Frank Lampard provide the spine of a mostly foreign team at Chelsea. Or Steven Gerrard & Jamie Carragher maintaining the passion it takes to play for Liverpool.

It would appear in today’s world with the financial firepower clubs possess, homegrown talent unfortunately won’t get a chance to shine unless individuals are dubbed as a ‘wonderkid’.

Would players like the Neville brothers have been given a chance to shine in today’s English _51075622_neville5top tier? Or would United have sent them out on loan or even sold them? As they were’t ‘skilful enough’ or ‘couldn’t accelerate quick enough’. Two stalwarts of the BPL who went on to have great success during their careers at both club and international level. With Gary considered to being one of the greatest right backs the BPL has seen.

 

Alarm bells should be ringing – in this season’s UEFA Champions League, only 13 English players were registered to compete, that number is staggeringly low. Lower than Israel & Belarus in fact. Spain have 59 representatives whilst Germany have 38. ‘We are miles behind the likes of Spain & Germany’ – words of Greg Dyke.

How on earth do we expect to be competitive as a nation at World Cups or Euro’s, if only our very best players are getting big game experience and playing against Europe’s elite. To put that more into context – Manchester United had 9 Englishmen in the  match squad to face Bayern in the 1999 Final.

This season’s statistics in the Champions League read as follows;

Clubs No of Internationals Home Grown Players
Manchester City  9 3
Barcelona 10 7
Bayern Munich 10 9
Athletico Madrid  9 7
Chelsea 10 3
Arsenal 11 5

Fig 2.) Above shows the amount of different internationals that have played for a club this season and also the number of players of that club’s nationality who have represented them.

As the graph suggests, english clubs are severely lacking in english players.

Harry Enfield & Paul Whitehouse had it spot on with this sketch back in 2008 which sums up what a changing room in a top Premier League team must really be like in todays game at times!

 

2007/08 season saw English football conquer Europe’s Elite. Two english teams in the final, (Chelsea Vs Manchester United) Liverpool made it to the Semi final and Arsenal progressed to the Quarter Finals

Fig 3.)

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British Players in Starting or Squad for 2007/08:

  • Chelsea – 4 starting players
  • Manchester United – 8 in squad
  • Liverpool – 5 in squad
  • Arsenal – 1 in squad

8 players in Man United’s squad a stark difference to the squads in present english teams.

I can reel off statistics about possession, only 1 english club has made it into the top 5 possession rankings on one occasion in the last 5 years. Or that in the group stages of this season’s competition, Chelsea and Man United constructed 31.5 & 29 inaccurate long balls per 90 minutes respectively. In comparison to PSG’s 16.5 & Bayern’s 15.5.

But to an extent these stats become meaningless, but what should be taken away from them is that Premier League players aren’t getting enough time playing with one another. Before they become either sold or another player replaces them. Professionals have to practice together to then be able to produce magic on the pitch. E.g. Barcelona Tika Taka.

English players need to seize the opportunity and become first team regulars and help dictate how the team plays it’s football. With an array of international talent on show, it can become confusing for players to fully understand what the club’s philosophy is.

Players of past era’s such as Scholes or Ferdinand would demand for supporting players to raise the game and play ‘The Manchester United way’. Will we ever see Manchester United beat a club of Roma’s calibre 7-1 again?

In conclusion, English football needs to find it’s identify once again. If we are ever going to become a threat at world football level again. We have great talent being produced by academies across the country but these players need to be given the chance to shine. Not just in friendlies or when a team is up 4-0, they need the experience of playing in a pressurised environment constantly.

Not for one second, am I against foreign players playing in the Premier League. They have without doubt made the league more exciting and a pleasure to watch, but a better balance needs to be struck between the two.

 

Thanks for reading,

Tom

 

 

 

Man United: Stalling more than Del Boy’s Reliant Robin

An in depth analysis of Manchester United and LVG’S failings with TotalFootball

Manchester United Vs Bolton 2007, ‘Ronaldo to Rooney, Rooney back to Ronaldo, Ronaldo delthrough to Rooney – GOAL’ 10 touches in 12 seconds from United defending a throw in to running the full length of the pitch and Rooney capping a sizzling move with a glorious finish. It seems a distant memory from the Manchester United of old to the United of present.

It’s almost a decade since that goal went in at Old Trafford against Bolton and things couldn’t any more different.

United in 07 had everything heading in the right direction, Sir Alex Ferguson arguably the greatest manager the game will ever see at the helm and the squad was littered with world class talent with players such as Rooney & Ronaldo firing on all cylinders.

Fast forward to this current season with the club juddering towards the end of the season like Del’s 3 wheeler. The pressure on LVG to resign has quietened down since Christmas, but the United faithful are far from content.

I intend to highlight the key aspects as to why The Dutchman’s time at Man United might be remembered in a negative light instead of a positive one. 185679

LVG’s Total Football Philosophy  

Van Gaal arrived in Manchester with a plan ‘a philosophy’ in fact, he was supposed to revolutionise Manchester United. After the previous failings of David Moyes the man branded with the ‘hardest job in football’ after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson.

His philosophy seemed reasonable enough, everyone had to buy into it and most importantly everyone needed to respect each other if they were to progress as a team. #TotalFootball

The underlying point of LVG’s philosophy was that he was trying to create a squad of multi – functioning players. Players who could use both feet, and were a presence in not only attacking but also defending situations. This would explain apart from the woeful luck with injuries why so many midfielders or attackers have found themselves playing at Centre Back or as a glorified right or left back (Cue Ashley Young & Antonio Valencia).

United fans were in dreamland, surely the best candidate for the vacant managers position off the back of a storming World Cup camping too with Holland had been appointed.

Fig. 1 (Previous clubs and overall Win Ratio

Ajax 68.77%
Barcelona 55.56%
Netherlands 53.33%
Barcelona 53.33%
AZ Alkmaar 57.95%
Bayern Munich 61.46%
Netherlands 60.71%
Manchester United 51.1%* (Dated 6/3/16)

  As the diagram above suggests, Van Gaal’s coach centred approach to football management has severed him well in his time, no one can question that at all.

In Van Gaal’s first season in charge at Old Trafford it would suggest things were beginning to be returned to normal order, United finishing 4th in the league, and fans could dream once again of more electrically charged nights in the Champions League to come. Although they didn’t last long.

Van Gaal’s ‘Total Football’ philosophy is industrious, hard working and relies on all team members cooperating with one another. It bypasses any creative sparks to flourish. Possession stats might look impressive on paper (54% – one of the highest in the league), but they aren’t going to get you challenging for the title if you don’t use it correctly.

E.g. United trailing to WBA 6th March 2016, the last 10 minutes of the 90, possession stats read as 70% in United’s favour but the whole game MUFC could only muster 7 shots with 1 on target.

Martial, Mata, Depay and Herrera on the pitch and only 1 shot on target in 90 minutes? Madness.

Manchester-United-vs-Club-Brugge

If the possession stats could be matched with attacking flair, I have no doubt that United would be challenging Leicester City and Spurs for the title rather than scrapping for an Europa Spot.

So far this season;

  • Leicester City – 52 goals (Average 1.79 goals)
  • Man United – 37 goals (Average 1.19 goals)

In a table for goals scored at home this season; Manchester United rank 11th in mid table with only 19 goals so this campaign at an average of 1.27. Whilst their bitter rivals across the blue side of manchester have massed a whopping 39 goals at home at an average of 2.60! A big stat! One fans have voiced their concern at too, lack of goals in front of the Old Trafford faithful.

Returning to a point I discussed early, ‘players must be able to use both feet, and be a presence in both attacking and defending situations’. I completely agree all professional footballers should be looking to better themselves by trying to become ambidextrous with their feet.

But the issue I have is with nullifying an attackers ability to attack so they can improve in defending and staying within a rigid formation.

From what I can understand, LVG’s theory is for 10 outfield players being interchangeable with one another up to a certain extent. The perfect football team surely if this could happen? Even if you took the best team on this planet as an example; Barcelona.

Sure the front 3 (Messi, Neymar & Suarez) have been phenomenal this season, and they do interchange with ease during games, but they are all experienced WORLD CLASS strikers. But in the same game would you expect to see Sergio Busquets playing at CB like Carrick has done this season? Or would you see Inestia playing at RWB like Young & Valencia have done previously?

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In my opinion, the only positions which can be interchangeable are Wingers and Forwards,  and only if the winger has excellent shooting credential. I should take this moment to remind you that these opinions of mine are only aimed for elite level football such as the level Manchester United compete at.

Week In and week out, United face tough challenges in an array of competitions. Players need to be on top form to help United win games of football. If a player is playing out of position, or lacking sharpness in his particular area of expertise (e.g. Ashley Young – crossing) how can they possibly be expected to contribute 100% to the cause.

United’s shaky spine

During his 27th year tenure at the club, Ferguson had to continually rebuild fading squads. Players grew ever closer to retirement with the demand of being, physically fit and technically sound getting more intense. Due to the Premier League evolving into almost a ‘Super League’, with the calibre of international talent on show from week to week.

Even throughout this time, you can look back on history and clearly pick out Fergie’s leaders;

  • Ince, Bruce, Robson, Cantona, Keane & Neville to name a few

In today’s current United squad, I struggle to pick out any genuine leaders who would rise to the occasion and get United over the line with a win.

Roy Keane might have spoken out of turn on occasions, but you knew as a fan that if Keane was playing, he’d get that extra 10% out the 10 other players which normally resulted in a win.

Under Keane & SAF other players almost developed an ‘paternalistic approach’ at United, the players would have complete faith and give total commitment in what the leaders believe. In this case giving all they could for the full 90 minutes.

Alongside United lacking in leaders, they are also missing a core spine through the team. article-0-001AB46000000258-432_468x311

  • Van der Sar, Vidic, Scholes, Ronaldo – 2007/08 Winners
  • Schmeichel, Stam, Keane & Yorke – 1998/99 Winners
  • Schmeichel, Bruce, Keane & Cole – 1995/96 Winners

Above shows some examples of core spines which have played a major factor in United winning the league on these occasions. United need to restore this and begin to build a team around a clear spine. Starting with Dea Gea and Martial up the top, they are the future.

 

Areas of Weakness

United throughout the years have always been feared for their ability to turn defence into an unstoppable counterattack, moving the ball at speed with multiple players up in support. In today’s world the players with pace to burn isn’t the problem, (Martial, Depay, Young & Valencia) it’s having a driving influence in the centre of the park.

Roy Keane,  Paul Scholes,  Bryan Robson and Nicky Butt all unique brilliant centre midfielders in their time at Manchester United. All were deemed as box to box midfielders, and to a ‘T’ that is what they did, defend and Attack!

Morgan Schneiderlin was recruited as a replacement to United’s midfield problems and he is a quality player (I’m a Saints fan, I know how good Morgs is!) but perhaps not what they needed at the time. Is he dynamic enough? Does he pass sideways instead of forwards too much? All questions which should be asked.

Take another Southampton player probably on his way out of St. Mary’s in the summer; Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan International is a machine of a player, not only is he the one putting in crucial tackles in midfield. But he then starts the attacks with powerful driving runs into the opponents half. This type of player brings the leadership qualities United are looking for.

If United had looked at someone like Victor in the summer instead of Schneiderlin, I can’t help think that they would be creating a lot more chances than they are at the moment.

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Passion

I am not for one minute suggesting that the United players aren’t bothered by the results or the performances. But I came across an interesting stat which indicated that so far this season, from losing positions United have only gained 6 points. Whereas in the 2006/07 season they gained 19 points!

MUFC of old were well known for the ability to snatch either a draw or more likely a win in the dying moments of a game commonly known as ‘Fergie Time’. Players were’t allowed to be resigned to a defeat until the final whistle had been blown. It seems at the moment, with  the lack of movement from LVG off the bench when they do concede, it draws the players into a relaxed mentality. You can imagine if Klopp was manger of United, they wouldn’t be so relaxed in the last moments of a game when in a drawing or losing position.

In conclusion it would appear that Van Gaal has provided the Old Trafford crowd with some positives. Such as his stand on giving youth a chance in the first team (Rashford, Lingard & Fosu-Mensah). But the majority of fans are praying the summer brings the appointment of ‘The Special One’ alongside the Stretford End’s beloved son; Ryan Giggs.

Thanks for reading!

Tom