Full Circle

The Emperor stood out before the parade that he had gathered so that he could reveal his newest set of clothes to his subjects. He had been advised that only those who were elevated enough would see his clothes. So you have to wonder if he thought his subjects were elevated, was he fit to lead them. Everybody bows before him and afraid of contradicting him, everyone agrees that his set of clothes are of very fine quality. However a tiny boy yells, “But the emperor has no clothes!”

In this scenario, the rest of the world is the little boy and Wayne Rooney is the emperor. Everyone sees it but him. Squawka’s reference to him as a headless chicken was the best thing conjured up in the last 24 hours.  Rooney’s inclusion against Arsenal was his 750th appearance for club and country and you could tell all those appearances have had a bearing on his legs. Lumbering forward nimbly and strutting about awkwardly.

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courtesy of The Sun

His supporters will point to his 252 PL goals setting him up as the all-time United top-scorer in tandem with 5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League, 1 FA cup and 3 League Cups. He has 21 appearances this season and has seven goals and 10 assists in all competitions. However my good friend recently alluded to the fact that statistics don’t tell the whole story and not to be selective but that does apply to Wayne.

However if you want to go the statistics way, against Arsenal yesterday he attempted 6 tackles and didn’t win a single one, he had 7 failed crosses, 4 shots off target, 1 chance created and 0 take-ons. This makes for a pained reading especially because the man in focus is Wayne.

The problem is this is not even an isolated incident. Time and time again, Wayne Rooney has been accorded time and space on the team and he has left his team and particularly his manager red-faced at his decision to field him. A significant point of the game was in the closing stages of the first half when Rob Holding squared a slow ball to Cech and Rooney raced on to intercept it. The game and Petr Cech were at his feet but Wayne being Wayne, he simply bumped the ball against the keeper. Mourinho turned away towards the bench and shook his fist, utterly disgusted. That was the perfect symbolism of every united fan’s feelings and frustrations. Perhaps the finish wasn’t as simple as it looked but this was Rooney! 5 years ago you could have bet your house on him burying that one. Scoring seemed like his inherent ability, it was never supposed to sink to these levels. The fact that our linchpin has been a 35 year old and Ronaldo being about six months older than Rooney recently scored European goal number 103 makes Rooney’s fading the more spectacular.

cech save

In 2013, Sir Alex alluded to the fact that Rooney had a problem with his fitness and lifestyle. Rooney has become a sort of ogre, round-shaped and short. Struggles to close down on teams that play from the back and is simply exhausting to watch. He has simply lost his tactical discipline. Against Arsenal, he kept dropping deeper and deeper whenever the midfielders had the ball instead of going the other way so there was no attacking outlet. Everyone could see the exasperated expression on Carrick’s face when he had the ball and Rooney causally strolled past him going into his own half. You’re the number ten, freaking open up and give a passing opportunity.

If there’s one thing that United has learnt during the past seasons is that holding onto sentiments can hurt you. He has always been warmly appreciated at Old Trafford with ovations and chants whenever he’s warming up or coming on. However, given the chance to pick the team, how many would actually place him in their starting line-ups? Heck he would barely make my 18 man squad!

The Sun in yesterday’s article called him the ‘ex-England captain’. Whether this was a tongue in cheek swipe or a genuine overlook remains to be seen but such is his position in the national team. His omission has brought barely a whimper from anyone. Southgate claimed Rooney is still his captain and the national doors are still open if he improves his performances this season. However basing on this, that door is steadily being shut and the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly fading.

He has got what he wanted in being United’s top scorer. It’s time to go Wayne. For both our sake. Stop embarrassing yourself and tainting that proud image that you have.

You either leave a hero or stay long enough to become a Steven Gerrard villain.

What Next? 

​Gareth Southgate has finally taken charge of games as the permanent manager this week and it was a good week for the three lions. An encouraging display against Germany in Dortmund followed by a good win against Lithuania at Wembley yester night. We can see some aspects of Southgate’s imprint on the team but one thing we are noticing is that there is progress. So what should Southgate sort out before the next round of international matches?


1. A definite style of play.

Southgate has tinkered with the team quite a lot since his appointment but his favoured formation has always been 4-2-3-1 where the front three sort of tuck in and give more space for the fullbacks to fly forward. However after the Slovenia game in October, we felt it proving to be a problem with England as the movement wasn’t that swift and the game was for most parts, dull.

Against Germany, he lined up with a 3-4-3 formation and it was excellent to say the least.  It has to be said that England did not deserve to lose. Michael Keane has to be singled out for his performance that night. For you to make your full international debut against the world champions and come out without any blame surely can’t go unnoticed. It will be interesting to watch him in the next few games.

On Sunday Southgate marshalled a 4-2-3-1 formation and there were a few jitters about the formation but to some extent it worked. It’s nice to note that the players are actually flexible to handle the tactical switch. Going forward it will be interesting to see what Southgate sticks to. He wasn’t very outgoing in his post-match press conference by claiming England is at an advantage in that they can shift their formation so it will keep teams guessing.

I would rather the 4-2-3-1 formation as it actually encourages a lot of build-up from the midfield where the bulk of England’s talent lies. It will prove to be a difficult formation to resort to if the opposition actually come out as it means the fullbacks have to go back and the wide players need to track their markers which is probably not their strongest asset.

2. Player Call-ups

There were definitely eyebrows raised when Theo Walcott wasn’t selected for this round of international matches despite being the second highest scoring Englishman. Southgate claimed that Theo had been given his chance the last time and he was unable to replicate his club form. He also added that he had more options in Barkley and Rashford and was looking to try something new. Wayne was also left out though why this was a shock to people I don’t know. Southgate got a lot of stick for selecting Livermore but look around and notice anyone who watched the game against Germany has changed their stance about Livermore. The boy was efficient with his passing and tackling. 

Not Mr Nice Guy after all eh? He is a man keen to stamp his personality on the team and the train carrying joyriders seems to be slowing down to a halt. However it will be important for some consistency so as to ensure that partnerships and chemistry are built. He’s got to have a definite spine in the team on which to build the rest of the team. The team will be built around Harry Kane because his outrageous goal return so far demands that. Alli has also started curving his own niche as the first choice number ten and it hard to see him being dropped for anyone else. 


However the rest of the squad needs to follow suit.

3. The Rooney situation.

The one thing that has refused to go away for Southgate. I feel it’s unfair that Southgate has to deal with Rooney at every press release yet Mourinho rarely has to deal with the same. Deep down we all know there’s no way Wayne is usurping any person selected to play number 10. Alli and Lallana have excellent movement and Rooney’s lack of pace is definitely something that’s in stark contrast to the rest of the number 10 contenders. A call-up should be as a result of form and not status. He’s captain and record goal scorer but how does that affect England for the 90 minutesif he lasts that long that he is on a pitch?

Southgate however still insists that Rooney has a future role in his team and still regards him as his permanent captain. Whether he is simply delaying the inevitable or is simply according him the necessary respect remains to be seen.

4. Jermain Defoe.

This was definitely a shock call-up. Southgate really took a gamble by placing his trust on the Sunderland forward. He referred to him as a natural and someone who knows his way around goal so there was nothing to teach. Thankfully his plan did not go awry and he was rewarded with a goal early on with Defoe admitting the manager had backed him to score that day. Hats off to Defoe for displaying the professionalism that he’s always possessed. However the hype about his continued presence should be contained.

His last involvement was in 2013 and one might argue his sudden exile from the national team was too sudden. However we need to come to terms with the fact that he is 34 years old. By the time the World Cup will be coming around, he will be a few months shy of his 36th birthday.

Going back to the issue of formation, both the 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 demand a lot of movement across the front three and front four respectively. It’s the only way players e.g. Lallana and Vardy will have a chance at goal. The full impact of the front three was felt in the Germany game where Vardy, Alli and Lallana kept switching all half long and Alli should have done better in trying to beat Ter Stegen and Lallana hit the post. Defoe thrived in the 4-2-3-1 situation but in the event the manager wants something else, he will stick out like a sore thumb.

Not to take away his positives. He is the 22nd player to reach 20 goals for England so surely that has to count for something. He is what you want to be in the box. His poaching instincts are a beauty and he must be applauded for his impeccable positioning but I simply believe England has more to offer than to rely on the 34 year old.


Southgate alluded to this by admitting that they should have moved the ball quickly and the runs in behind the defence were not enough, something that definitely changed once Rashford and Vardy came on. 

5. His Back Four

Much has always been made about England’s back four and for good measure it must be said. The pairings have just not been good enough and have been susceptible for individual mistakes or just looked alien. Cahill against Germany was susceptible for Podolski’s goal. Take nothing away from the finish but I think Cahill should have done better than just stand there and be used as a wall and Hart saw it too late. There was simply no way of keeping that out still.

I don’t want to rush it but Michael Keane was phenomenal over the course of the two games. It’s not a system he is used to but he took it like a duck to water. He was also excellent next to Stones yesterday and they hardly put a foot wrong all game long. Cahill is 31 while Keane and Stones are in their mid-20s. It might be seen as too early to decide on this but I think they would make a good base for the national team. Both are comfortable on the ball which will go a long way in implementing Southgate’s all-passing team. Walker is definitely first and second choice RB, probably even third! His movement up and down the right side is a joy to watch and it is simply an honour watching such an athlete doing his job. Keeping him fit is definitely of importance. The LB position is still of worry. Danny Rose is definitely first choice but his deputies need to pull up their socks. Bertrand did a good job this past week. Shaw needs to take the little chance he gets to justify his position if at all he is called upon next.

13 out of 15 points at the halfway stage is not a bad return. The job is far from done as England must learn to replicate its qualification form to the major events that they go otherwise they will simply be regarded as minnow participants. For now, England is far from good enough, but under Southgate, fans have a reason to smile.   

The Italian’s Job

It’s been a little over 96 hours since Claudio Ranieri lost his job and I am happy to report that the script is being followed to detail. The owners have already released their statement thanking the Italian for last season but recognizing the need for the shuffle at the helm. Twitter has already had a melt down having the owners for dinner for the unfair sack of Ranieri. The manager has had the customary post-sack visit to the training ground to say farewell to the players and staff before having a 20 second sound byte for the media where he thanks the fans and says his official farewell. and currently pundits and bloggers are out there trading words about whether the decision is right or wrong.so yep.. the camera’s still rolling.

doggy-bag

Perhaps the only wrong the chairman did was offer his unwavering support to the manager two weeks ago then go back on his word and let him loose. I for one wasn’t shocked by his dismissal. In fact, if you take away the fact that Leicester were in the knockout stages  of the CL, his sack would have come even sooner. I mean this is a club that flogged Nigel Pearson out after guiding them to one of the best great escapes yet without batting an eyelid. How were they expected to keep faith with a man who left them one point above relegation zone and are now in the drop zone thanks to results going against them this past weekend with 13 games remaining?

The one excuse Leicester’s sympathizers will automatically run to is his exploits last season. Given, he orchestrated probably the most romantic football love story ever but that was then and this is now.  Most sympathizers are neutrals it has to be said so its probably difficult for all of us to know how the fans feel right about now. We don’t know how it feels to have your team winning the league one season and stare at relegation straight in the face the next. We don’t know how it feels to have your team fail to score since the turn of the year. We don’t know how it feels to see your star players wander about like a couple of blind folks in the dark. So before we start judging, put yourself in their shoes.

fans-frustrated

This is the harsh reality of modern football. There is no loyalty in football nowadays and I honestly do not understand this unrest. Surely, how long were we expecting Ranieri to be given? Last season doesn’t account for two cents in the present time. as correctly stated in the guardian “A manager who is unable to prevent his side sliding out of a division is unlikely to be the best choice to lead them back in it”.

We can’t act like he did nothing wrong. For one the mistake started with his recruitment during the summer. A big part of this has been contributed to losing Steve Walsh to Everton. They let go of the man responsible for scouting Mahrez and Kante. The loss of Kante set the manager in a  panic mood and he sought to bolster up his squad due to CL involvement and he ultimately failed to boost the most important part, the defence. Over the last two seasons Leicester have been instrumental in showing us what a good defence really gets you and Pearson proved that by winning 7 of his last 9 games to set them up for the great escape. Last season Ranieri  also had his say as we were treated to what a good back-line gets you and the 1-0 wins during the second half of last season clearly shows us why they won the league. Much of this has to be because of the fact that Kante was screening the back-line and made all the tackles. He is the notable absentee this season but his absence can’t be the sole reason for their current predicament. The average age of their starting 11 back four is 31.25. In the PL? surely that is unacceptable (Gareth McAuley is the exception and not the norm). There has been a genuine lack of pace at the back and its not the same as last season as the fullbacks made driving runs and often started most of their moves.

Their defending has also been comical and in the expert analysis on TalkSport a few days ago, due to the lack of protection at the back, Morgan is actually getting drawn to challenges that Kante was mopping up last season hence being pulled out. Huth meanwhile knows he doesn’t have the legs and tends to fall deep. What happens is there is a pretty big gap left by the players’ alternate movements an its quite easier for forwards to ghost in there and apply the finishing touch  to a good ball in.

morgan-and-huth

His reputation was also his undoing. The tinkerman tinkered too much with his squad this season. In the PL winning season, you could name his starting 11 days before a match and there was obvious chemistry there. Due to CL involvement, he’s had to change his team and change his tactics on the way too. This hasn’t worked out so well for him and it’s hard to name his starting 11. Ndidi, Mendy and the likes haven’t been as stellar as they were required to be.

However one can’t help but feel that players had a great hand in this. Reports surfaced about the meeting in Seville after their CL match where senior players Kasper Schemichel, Marc Albrighton, Wes Morgan and Jamie Vardy met with the owners and expressed their unhappiness with the manager and claimed he was using wrong tactics. There was also talk of a falling out with his assistant manager. Let’s hope the sack wasn’t because of the players’ sentiments because if it did, that would be disgraceful and outrageous. COLD. It seems these four players have automatically overtook Fabian Delph as the ultimate EPL snakes. These players are basically championship caliber at best bar Schemichel. For them to go behind his back and do that after granting them the best achievements of their lives? Blimey!

This was another case where the players walked away Scot free yet they are solely to be blamed. They have been so indifferent this year. Mahrez has looked disinterested and it seems relegation won’t be the worst thing for him. He’ll certainly be gobbled up by a PL club at the end of the season regardless. Vardy has suddenly lost his work-rate and can’t seem to get off the pitch sooner. Schemichel’s decision to come out and actually speak to the media the other week certainly didn’t help. The fact that he is such a big dressing room figure and for him to go out and say those things, it showed a certain hint of losing the dressing room as it’s the manager who would be tasked to explain those sentiments. Those are the type of things you discuss behind close doors. Tell your mates not the whole world!

kas

Ranieri was certainly bold in openly challenging the players to got to the chairman if they were unhappy. It seems it did happen and it exploded in his face. As Mourinho put it, Ranieri paid for his success. He was being judged by what he achieved and there’s no shame in that. That’s how it is. The easiest thing to do is always to sack the manager because you can’t sack 11 players. Somebody has to be held responsible and unfortunately for Ranieri, the buck stopped with him. Ranieri was too loyal to his players and he openly admitted that. Perhaps he should have seen the warning signs quicker and not stuck by his star players notably Vardy and Mahrez.

vardy-mahrez

Nothing was changing so he had to go. This is a result industry and the Italian was not just producing them. Everyone is acting like this is the first good guy to lose his job. Mancini won the league and he was sacked, Pellegrini won successive trophies and he was let go, Ancelotti delivered silverware and was sacked, Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez won the two major European trophies  and were cast out, Ancelotti delivered La Decima and he was let go and Mourinho delivered the title 18 months ago and he was spit out without any remorse. So boo hoo FIFA Coach of the Year, get in line Claudio. Dilly Ding Dilly Dong.

 

Alan’s Dance

If there were three words I would use to describe Pardew’s career, it would definitely be chalk and cheese – my new favorite phrase- depicting indifference. His highs have been amazing and his lows have been spectacular.

pardew
Chalk…
pardew-sad
….and cheese

He joined Crystal Palace in January 2015 and guided the club to the fourth year in the league- a record. He finished the season in 10th place, their first top ten finish since 1982. He was unable to replicate the same form in the following season and the club finished in 15th place. He however managed a positive as he led them to their first FA cup final in 26 years.

The other side of the looking glass offers damning stats. Crystal Palace endured a tumultuous calendar year in 2016. They had the worst record in all four levels of English football. 91 teams had a better record than Palace. Damn. They only managed six wins in 36 games and garnered a measly 26 points in 2016, the second worst total over a calendar year in premier league history. He was finally relived after one win in 11 games. The club chairman Steve Parish went on record after the sack and revealed that Pardew would have saved his job if he would have won his last three games. The three games in question were Hull, Manchester United and Chelsea. He managed a draw against Hull after the most cynical dive ever by Robert Sondgrass who went ahead to celebrate the resultant penalty after scoring it- sickening. Not to use the referees’ decision as an excuse but it was a mental blow to Palace as they were not fragile and the decision simply capitulated them to an already existing slump.

snod-dive

He was expected to beat Man United, a team on the up after Jose had done his thing and Zlatan’s instincts. He was also expected to beat Chelsea, a team that was still on an unbeaten run since switching to a back three and Palace were only undone by a bullish Diego Costa and poor aerial defending. Ridiculous to say the least.

I’m a big Pardew admirer and I’ll be the first to admit the manager was not without his fault. Under Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock, Palace were regarded as long ball specialist and this was one of the things Pardew sought to change. He has always been meticulous (suits aside) and he sought to change Palace to a ball playing team. Ball on the ground, pass and move. That has always been his idea of football. It’s perhaps this type of football that had him making the wrong substitutions. In the build-up to his sack, it could be observed that Pardew did not seem to know when to back down in the fight. In games when a defensive sub would have been enough to ensure a point is earned, he resorted to bring off a defensive player and replace him with an attack minded fellow, a gamble that more often than not exploded in his face. A last minute Ashley Barnes knock down gave Burnley a 2-1 win and that extra ordinary 5-4 loss to Swansea in the dying minutes serve memory best. Instead of gaining two points, they gave away six.

Pardew cannot claim to have been hung out to dry by the chairman and owners. In a disheartening 2016, the club stuck by the manager and the consecutive wins towards the end of the season that led to a 15th place finish plus the FA cup final did enough to hide the scar and because it was not dealt with, it transformed in to a rot the next season. He was given an outrageous amount of money to spend and he broke the transfer record twice in consecutive summers. Shelling out 13 million for Yohan Cabaye before spilling… no gushing out an excess of 32 million for Christian Benteke. This transfer is right up there with Sissoko’s 30million move to Spurs. I dare call it a panic buy. His expansive style of play needs a technically gifted player to finish the move, not just another tall striker with his heading ability and a lazy run up to a penalty as the only outstanding features on his CV. However with the acquisition of Townsend and the presence of Wilfred Zaha, there weren’t any gifts for guessing the style of play Pardew was going to serve up despite his remarks in his usually serious press releases.

The first thing you notice was that Pardew and the whole coaching staff in particular got it horribly wrong as far as recruitment was concerned. This past summer saw a mass exodus that included Yannick Bolasie, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and Jedinak. It was the Jedinak transfer that did not go down well with the fans. Jedinak was an ever present in the Eagles’ team since his inception in 2011 and was hugely popular with the Selhurst faithful during the 2012-2013 season in which he was the captain for large chunks of the season. He captained them to the playoffs which they won and gained promotion and was voted Palace’s POTY. It was surprising that Pardew allowed the most influential dressing room figure to go for 4 million. Speculation went rife about Pardew’s dislike for the Australian and stripping him of the captaincy prior to the beginning of this season was meant to humiliate him. His sale did not bode well with the fans. To top it all off, the replacements for the departed players were Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend and James Tomkins for a combined fee of 50 million. Hardly like for like players.

jedinak
Get him a role on Vikings

It can therefore be seen why Palace has always been regarded as very imbalanced. Three different campaigns and it was still impossible to know if Pardew really got his methods across. Last season, they were playing well but the goals just weren’t materializing. This season the goals have certainly been present but their defending leaves a lot to be desired. The team has also been observed to switch off in the dying minutes of the game which has questioned their concentration on matters at hand.

Step forward Sam Allardyce, the best thing to have happened to England as proclaimed by just about anyone who was in possession of a social media account. Big Sam clearly arrived with a really impressive CV and I’m not talking about his ability to milk a lucrative deal for a keynote speaker (if you get it.. haha?). Simply put, Big Sam has never been relegated. He certainly came close last season with Sunderland. He replaced Advocaat who oversaw 8 games without a win. He did not start so well and endured a 5 game losing streak before he started getting his thoughts across. From February, he only lost two of the 13 games. He secured PL status with one game to spare, humbling Everton 3-0 in the process.  It was an almost unlikely escape as they spent 237 days in the relegation zone. He fielded the same starting 11 for 7 consecutive games which highlight his ability to field his strongest side. One of the reasons for the survival was the ability of funds in the winter window. He shored up the defence by signing Lamine Kone for 6 million from Lorient and Jan Kirchoff from Bayern to stem the midfield.

At Palace he had the luxury of a transfer window for him to turn his fortunes around (something Pardew wasn’t afforded) and he spent 34 million this past month notably bringing in Van Aanholt from Sunderland for 14 million to offer an attacking threat down the left flank as we all know he is as effective when defending as a pair of flip flops. MIlivojevic has been brought in from Olympiakos to protect the back four but the jury is still out as to whether he is able to settle into a very demanding league. Schlupp’s arrival was a positive to help out on the wings as Benteke is cutting the figure of a very lonely lad upfront without any service. Sakho’s loan from Liverpool was a shoe in for every Palace watcher this season. The premier league side with a championship side’s defence as uttered by Don Hutchison.

Despite all this, 6 loses in 8 games for Sam and the alarm bells are surely ringing. If they weren’t feeling the heat, then Swansea’s resurgence did enough to turn on the stove, aided by Paul Clement. His long coats make him seem like the type of person you would call if you ever got into trouble. The Fixer.

the-fixer

Palace seem to have had the defensive improvements but they still don’t know what exactly constitutes a clean sheet and the goals have dried up again. The conundrum yet to be solved is their despicable home form. They have just won 7 points from 12 home games. The hall mark of a relegation escaping side is an imperious home form. Your home stadium must be a fortress but it seems to be a neutral ground when any two teams are playing at Selhurst Park. It’s like the players are actually afraid of playing in front of their own fans. A perfect example was their home game against Sunderland when everything was fine until the portcullis were truly opened and they shipped in four goals before half time. The players are mentally fragile and can’t seem to click on once they are on the back foot. The club have resorted to hiring a sports psychologist. Furthermore, Big Sam is contemplating making the team train at Selhurst Park in a bid to make his players get used to Selhurst’s atmosphere. With no fans, I wonder what atmosphere they are getting used to. A large section have admonished them of late for their performances and they should expect more whistles and boos if their slump continues, that’s the atmosphere they should get used to.

delaney
you don’t deserve to wear the shirt!

Palace have conceded 14 goals in 8 games under Big Sam as compared to 32 goals in 17 games under Pardew. They are however scoring less under Big Sam, with 0.5 goals per game as compared to 1.65 under Pardew. Palace have two clean-sheets in the season– one under Pardew and one under Sam. With  one goal in 720 minutes of football, Palace have the second worst form since Sam Allardyce took over.

All in all it seems  Palace’s problems have not been solved by a managerial change.  Sure they have stopped conceding as many goals but the goals have also dried up for them. A lot of the problems are personnel-based. Benteke is still not putting in his defensive shift and the loss to Everton last month was a clear illustration of the player’s laziness by letting his man slip past him to deliver the ball. Under Pardew he still refused to pick up his man and cover his goal or even challenge for the aerial ball. A managerial change and even admonishment from pundits and former players seem to be landing on deaf Belgian ears. It remains to be seen whether Sam who has always been regarded as very steely will handle the problem. The blame was never supposed to land squarely on Pardew’s doorstep and since he wasn’t afforded a mid-season transfer window, we can only speculate on the season-turning changes he would have made. Mr Perfect Hair will be back soon. Mark this!

perfect-hair

Half-Full Half-empty

After 22 games, Manchester United’s league position reads; 22 games, 11 wins, 8 draws and 3 losses. 33 goals scored and 21 goals conceded, on 41 points and 4 points off a Champions league place.  The stark statistic is definitely the 8 draws that United has had. At first glance it doesn’t seem so bad for a mid-season read but when you consider the fact we have been in 6th position for over a month, then it makes for a weird feeling.

There’s no question that United under Mourinho are obviously so much better than in recent times but it seems the good performances have not fairly reflected in terms of results. United are now unbeaten in 13 premier league games which highlights our growth in terms of quality. However some reporters are referring to it as the most underwhelming unbeaten run since Brendan Rodgers’ 11 game unbeaten run some time back (Ouch!). United are ranked 3rd in terms of shots on target per game, just behind Liverpool and Spurs. However their conversion rate seems to leave a lot to be desired. Against stoke it was one such cameo where we had 25 shots on target as compared to Stoke’s 7. However all that was there to show was the drab 1-1 draw at the Bet365. The examples go on and on.. the 1-1 draw against Stoke, the draw against Arsenal and the Old Trafford blank against Burnley, bar Heaton’s performance.

heaton
When Heaton turned into an Octopus

So why are united not scoring goals?  The obvious pointer would be the (over) reliance on Zlatan. The nexus between Zlat’s lackluster form and United’s inability to score during those times is anything but chalk and cheese. It’s just too telling. Credit to the big swede for coming on and bossing the league from the word go. His performances so far show his caliber and the quality of cloth that he has been cut from as far as the best finishers in Europe are concerned. His current return of 14 goals is nothing short of extraordinary considering his age. His fitness is also outrageous as he is yet to miss a single PL game through injury and has completed all games that he has started. If you take into consideration the fact that he is 35, then that statue can’t come soon enough eh? The next 3 united scorers have a combined goal total of 11 which again shows the Swede’s poaching ability.

karate

However take away his goals and Zlatan sometimes he starts to look like somewhat of a liability. His movement is labored and outside the box his pass in the final third is wanting. His frustrations at not being able to score rubs off on the rest of the team and suddenly the whole squad is fidgety.

frustrated

It is at this point that Rooney was supposed to come in and aid in goals. However this has not happened and his paltry return of 5 goals so far is a disappointment. We knew he was on the decline but not this much man. But take nothing away from his landmark goal last weekend (others will go into the argument of whether it was a cross or he was actually going for the far post). I am guilty of judging players in the now but Rooney’s record demands you go back and look at his achievements in the past 15 years of playing top level football and his record is astonishing. His goals were instinctive and spectacular. Well done Wayne. With Mourinho refusing to protect the future of his captain beyond the summer and with him playing second fiddle, perhaps the MLS would be a decent way to go off.

roo
ROOted

In terms of goals scored, we are 10 goals behind the next team in the top six. This has to change. More players need to take their chances and not just float the ball to the wings to fullbacks who are not trustworthy in terms of crosses.

United are also averaging a 55% possession. This is  no surprise considering the manager. His area of specialty is on the counter and with speedsters such  as Martial and Rashford we can see why he prefers the system as the pace and trickery of the two can get them past most PL full backs with ease. With Ibra hanging up the other end of the pitch, it looks like a solid plan. his treatment of Martial in terms of not even naming him on the bench against Stoke set tongues wagging. Let’s be real though. Stoke wasn’t Martial’s game, in terms of physicality. Mourinho has been known for his tough love character and the last time he tried that it has worked brilliantly with Micki. He also applied the same with Benzema and when the Frenchman came back, he was firing on all cylinders.. de ja vu maybe? Trust the Man.

However we have only won 48% of our aerial duels. At the start of the season, the fact that  we had players like Ibra, Pogba, Jones, Smalling, Bailly, Fella *sic* was supposed to be the return of days past, the days when we bossed them due to our physicality but it seems this is just not happening. We just don’t seem aggressive enough when going for the aerial balls and in a league when winning the second ball is just as important as the first it seems more needs to be done in that department; both defensively and offensively. We have only scored 7 goals from set pieces and with players like Mata, Micki and Herrera whipping in those balls; surely more needs to be done.

Its very unlikely that we are going to get any new player in before the Tuesday deadline but with no new injury concerns, our current squad is more than capable of making us compete on all four competitions. A silverware and possibly a champions league place would be a satisfactory season for Jose. Best part about this is we can still say it’s  his rebuilding season.

it’s difficult to attach one word to our performances so far. The proponents will point towards the addition of quality in the team and the fact that we are actually (almost) playing the united way. The opponents will claim the good performances are not translating to results and the fact that this is a result business so good performances don’t matter. They will also mention fact that apart from Spurs we are yet to claim a major top 6 side scalp.

It also depends with what way you want to view the glass.

 

Side bar; (late) Happy Birthday Jose!

mou

 

 

The Poisoned Chalice 

The concept of  a hero has always been simple right? Do the job, get the glory, get the girl and ride off into the sunset. With the England job, it’s never been that straightforward. Many quarters have referred to it as the ultimate job for any Englishman.  The pressure that comes with the job is unreal. The expectations are often set too high and the media always seems to have an input in everything, especially who should play and who should not. It’s a vicious way of life. After Allardyce’s disgraceful exit months back, the need for a replacement, albeit short term, quickly took precedence.  The pool to choose from was not particularly brimming so the one person that was on everybody’s mind was finally said out loud; GARETH SOUTHGATE. The man who a few months had rejected the job stating he was not ready and his failures in the first team might tarnish the rest of his (bright) career. There was a mixed reaction to this. What would happen now? Would he reject the job again? The FA, being one of the most predictable associations I know went ahead and offered Southgate the job but there was a catch. The four upcoming games were essentially his interview. His performance against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain would be taken into consideration about whether to offer him the job.

Thank God he accepted the job. But you have to question what changed all of a sudden. It was just about a month. Where did he suddenly get the feel that he was now ready? His first act was to meet with Rooney and assure him that he would remain his captain despite not starting for Man United in three games. Southgate has never shied away from anything and his honest and confrontational nature has probably got him where he is right now. “I am not too nice to be England manager” was among the first thing he said as he settled down for his interim press conference. He also made it clear that Rooney would not have the freedom he had been granted by his predecessor. ‘’He knows what’s best for the team and he can therefore play WHEREVER HE WANTS.’’ These words are going to haunt Sam Allardyce forever. How could he say such a thing? One might deduce that Rooney was being given preferential treatment by his manager. ‘carte blanche’ remarks, as referred to by the guardian.

With that declaration, Southgate was putting his foot down. He appreciated Rooney’s efforts for the game against Malta but stated he had the courage to drop Rooney. He followed this up by dropping him for the game against Slovenia.  Why everyone was shocked I don’t know. Rooney has always been the focus of criticism in international colors. Perhaps they couldn’t believe that he was finally being set aside. It’s hard to trace the last time in his 13 year international career that Rooney was benched yet he was fit. What was coming out was that Southgate was not too nice after all. He had an idea of how his team should play and was determined to tread that path.

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Southgate has always been a big fan of a possession based style of play. He wants his players to think two moves ahead before even receiving the ball. One only needs to look at Alli’s movements – the typical Southgate type of player, who has started Southgate’s last two games in charge- to know what the man stands for. As such, he encourages his players to be prospective thinkers. Midfielders should always look up at which forward is free and the forwards should be looking to create the space to receive the pass. A very intricate style of play. Back to Rooney, his deployment to midfield by his various managers has been in part due to his ability to hit the cross balls. Gorgeous balls to say the least but often done under little or no pressure thereby making it an easy task, that’s using Mourinho’s sentiments.

Rooney has lost a considerable part of his attacking instincts. His pace is off, he’s lost his magical first touch and the game against Watford was nothing short of criminal. Due to adaptation, most of the balls he distributes are either back passes, diagonal balls or horizontal balls. Meanwhile the Southgate type of player is running forward anticipating a forward pass. Against Malta, dozens of runs actually went to waste and led to frustrations from Rooney’s teammates. It was only fair for him to be replaced and in his place Eric Dier, a very bright player and England’s next captain. Yes, I said it.

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The Slovenia game ended in a stalemate and Southgate didn’t mince his words stating that he had inherited ‘a mess’. Finally England had a manager who had no grey areas; just black and white. After a few hours, of course at the behest of the Football Association he was forced to clarify what the word mess meant but the dice has already been cast.

His next two games are quite difficult. A qualifier against Scotland on Friday. A game that is already frothing and on the verge of an emotional outburst due to the history of the two countries and a friendly against Spain four days later.  Bar recent performances, Spain is still way above England and are one of the best passing teams right now. The inclusion of players like Isco, Vasquez and Nolito into the team are also changing the dynamic nature of the Spanish team with the injection of pace. These two games are hardly the right environment for Southgate to flex his tactical muscles. A lot of quarters feel he will approach this one from a conservative point of view but then again Southgate is ‘ballsy’ than people think.

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He has stated that Rooney will captain the side tonight as he has the sharpness and confidence as compared to last time. This is definitely true as his performances in the last two games have been above average to say the least. At the University of Derby last week in a lecture provided by Gareth Southgate aptly covered by the Guardian, he stated that the best way to handle players is to be honest with them so as to get the best out of them. Looking at his track record, its easy to see why this scenario has worked for him. From his Middlesbrough days when he had to let former teammates go so that the team could move forward to his handling of the U21 s and his honest view as regards players, most notably his open criticism of Loftus Cheek when the U21s crashed out of the European championship.

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It remains to be seen what Southgate will conjure up. The FA chairman came out and stated these two performances won’t be used to judge Southgate’s ability. Perhaps he’s just trying to get the caretaker to take it easy or he is simply deflecting the intensity of the media on the 46 year old. He will have to come out and prepare his team from the obvious pressure once they step onto the field. England V Scotland has always been the go-to game and this looks to be a classic. England will have to approach the game with a cool head. I get the feeling a good number of young players will be fielded tonight so they have to embrace the intensity that comes with the game. a true test of character. An early goal for the visitors or a sudden rush of blood to the head and Southgate’s style of play may actually go out the window.

All in all Southgate is the man for the job. I’ve repeated this line for over a year now. Feel free to type in a better candidate in the comments section. See you on the other side Gareth Southgate.

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