Monday, 23 September 2013

Playing The Blame Game

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It's Monday morning and the vitriol has started. From the #MoyesOut campaign on Twitter to the fallout in the press for Manchester United's demolition by their city rivals. Watching the game, it was tough to argue with either points and there was an air of ineptitude from the first minute that left a feeling of angst among the United faithful. 

Social media was awash with the rumours that Manchester United's best player is injured and out of the derby. From here the snowball was created and resulted in United's downfall as it looked like this knocked the confidence of the players and it could be seen on the pitch. Other than Welbeck's first minute foray into City's box, at no point did Manchester United really look like a team capable of creating opportunities, let alone scoring and this is a problem that will be inherent for the season unless some changes are made.

David Moyes isn't far into his tenure but he should know better than to blame the players when tactically he was shown up to the world's viewing eyes. He claimed that he has never suffered at the hands of Manchester City in this way when he was the Everton manager and herein lies the problem; this isn't Everton, this is Manchester United, the champions elect. Once the rumours had been confirmed that Robin Van Persie wasn't in the match day squad, everyone had their opinion of what the team should be. These opinions circled around the fact that United would play a variation of the 4-2-3-1 system and no one would have come up with the starting eleven that actually came out. United are a team that relies on old fashioned wing play coupled with overlapping fullbacks that create goalscoring opportunities. However it was the blue half of Manchester that adopted and executed this system ruthlessly and it couldn't have been more ever-present than in their first and fourth goals.

On the subject of wingers, the constant inclusion of Ashley Young is now worse than a bad joke. Since his arrival at United in 2011 he has never looked up to the task of being a Manchester United winger. Last season he provided three assists and other than 'those' two goals against Arsenal in his debut season, has he ever provided the kind of threat required at this level? More to the point, has he ever made another team worry once they've seen him included in the starting eleven? It is tough to explain Ashley Young when there are players who can change games in the squad. Namely Zaha and Januzaj not even making the bench with Nani keeping it warm doesn't even create conjecture. Antonio Valencia was good against Leverkusen but not great, let's not get ahead of ourselves as this is the same Valencia but with a different squad number. This was just as apparent yesterday as it has been all season bar that one aforementioned game. Given that his shortcomings as an attacking player have been exhausted by all, his inclusion must be merited on his defensive capabilities and with that gone (as was apparent in their first goal), what is his basis for inclusion in the next game?

The use of 'hard working' wingers and a more robustness to the team is how David Moyes is displaying his cautious mindset as a manager. Deploying two like-minded defensive midfielders, one of which is his darling from Everton, and the constant running of Danny Welbeck plus the two attackingly inept wingers is erring on the side of caution. It protects against a loss as opposed to going there to win and these same tactics have been displayed against Chelsea (h) and Liverpool (a) yet only one point has been gained. This is Manchester United, comparisons to Everton are nonsensical and Moyes needs to be shorn of this cautious mindset in order to flourish at this club. Playing 4-4-2 against the riches of Manchester City was a car crash waiting to happen and you have to remember that City paid £30m to put Fernandinho next to one of Europe's best midfielders. (Fernandinho made more tackles/interceptions/key passes than the whole of Manchester United's midfield). After the game Moyes claimed that United couldn't get to grips with Manchester City's midfield and due to that, they dominated the game. What confidence does that instil in the fans? More to the point, what does that tell the rest of the managers in the league? That tactically, Moyes got it very wrong. Playing the way they did was more to combat the way that Manchester City were set up yet Pellegrini set up in only one way; to get a victory. That's the difference here and changes need to come quickly against Liverpool in the cup on Wednesday. This point is further compounded with Tom Cleverley's introduction when United were 4-0 down. As much as it made hearts sink to see Tom taking his tracksuit off, it did bring stability to United. It may have been down to fatigue in the Manchester City team or the fact they were 4-0 up however it gave Manchester United more of the ball in the final third of the game. This change should have been made at half time when it was clear as day that United were being overrun for an entire half of the game. Yet it leads people to think that why was this not foreseen before the match? Welbeck played as a striker, as did Rooney and 4-4-2 does not work away from home to a title rival, it hasn't for a number of years and it didn't on Sunday. 4-2-3-1 is not a cautious formation, it is not entirely attacking either, what it does do is afford the opportunity to manager and players alike to adapt to a football match and it is a shame Shinji Kagawa could not get a game. That, however, is a discussion for another day.

After the game the bile inducing comments about United's opening fixtures were again mentioned by Moyes. "Any manager would have found it difficult taking over the club with that run of fixtures." and "It's been a difficult start - the way the balls came out at the start of the season, I said I wasn't convinced, and I'm still not convinced." were mentioned by Moyes post-game and as embarrassing as the team looked on Sunday, the whole club are looking even more embarrassing citing a conspiracy that has not an ounce of evidence to back it up. To point to this as the reason Manchester United have made their worst start since finishing 3rd in 2006 rather than beat what's in front of them is not an avenue that Moyes can be afforded. Firstly due to the fact he isn't Sir Alex Ferguson who was all for conspiracies against United but namely that he is the manager of a completely different entity to Everton. Claiming that he's not been demolished like that as their manager (which is laughable given their failure to win away to a top 5 club in a decade) has no place in a post-match interview. He has to choose when he's wearing his Manchester United suit or his Everton tracksuit and decisions like that were the reason he's hired so let's hope that he chooses the former rather than the latter going forward.

Caution shouldn't be overlooked however pragmatism is best served with an equal measure of optimism. Now David Moyes's attempts to alleviate pressure on himself has backfired and he looks more out of his depth than he did before he started the job in July. Had he placated the fans by taking the majority of the blame by looking inwardly at his own tactics rather than pointing the finger at his players, this Monday could have looked a whole lot different.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Deadline Day Analysis: Manchester United's failings exposed.

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Finally it has passed; the male's version of Valentines day is now over and the fallout continues on social media. Logging on to twitter in the late hours last night, it was apparent that there was a distinct consensus with how Manchester United handled the summer transfer window. There have been calls for Ed Woodward to resign, Moyes to come out and apologise and Manchester United to admit their failings. None of which will ever come to fruition but that can't hide what has happened over the last two months.

Ed Woodward took over from David Gill as Chief Executive around the same time David Moyes took the reins from Sir Alex Ferguson. At first, this wouldn't have looked as bad a move as it has done with Woodward's expertise in sponsorship acquisitions. His ability to promote the Manchester United brand, currently, is unparalleled however this isn't what was needed in the transfer window. The signings that came in were from around the world but unfortunately couldn't play football: United needed players, not sponsors. They needed a person to promote the club to players and keep the well oiled machine ticking over - spending big on great talent every window to keep the team as a team of winners. However coming out from the window's closing last night, it's obvious that Manchester United's standing in Europe has diminished somewhat and the gleaming powerhouse has lost it's shine.

When Ed Woodward claimed that United had the budget to go in for any player that was needed, he was saying all the right things. It made everyone, and not just United fans, sit up and take notice. It was a statement to the world of football that David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson's departures would not hinder the club at a time when stability and tweaking of the squad was paramount. However now the months have past, his claims were hollow and akin to a politician lobbying for votes and making claim after counter-claim, Ed Woodward had no idea how to handle the behemoth that is Manchester United. Even with David Gill on speed dial, the fumbling around and wince inducing media mentions took away the charisma of Manchester United and left players either wanting to stay at their clubs or go elsewhere. It's easy to say that the transition to the CEO of a club like Manchester United would be a simple one so some caution needs to be heeded here, however there are ways to do things and it seems that mistakes were made, and then the hole that was dug just got deeper and deeper. It's also worth a mention that the spotlight on United is bigger than anywhere else in the country. Due to this alone, the media speculation is unrivalled and creates hyperbolic hysteria that can cloud judgement so a measure of pragmatism is needed here.

Thiago Alcantara was the first name to land on the wheel of transfer fortune for United. What looked like a simple task and what would have been a shrewd acquisition turned out to be nothing of the sort. His €19m release clause was known to the world and for what seemed like his only destination, United were in 'pole position' according to the laughable media outlets in this country. 'Ed Woodward 1 - Every other CEO 0' was the message here but out from left-field, Pep Guardiola stated his intentions and the rest is history. What seemed like there not having a gap to bridge post-David Gill; the chasm couldn't have been wider. The flirting with Thiago was over and the haymaker was delivered:

"The truth is that in no moment did United come to us and talk to us. It came from the press, it was always a lie," said Thiago once his move to Bayern was confirmed.

At the beginning of the window, David Moyes played perfectly into the hands of every United fan when he declared that the midfield is an area of concern and he will do his utmost to address it. Not even being in the stadium let alone the ring for Thiago is a huge opportunity missed. It's easy to say that there could have been other factors involved but an explanation as to what went on wouldn't go a miss. Ed Woodward 0 - Every other CEO 1. 

Then came the bid for Leighton Baines for £12m that was swiftly rebuffed. Take away the fact that Baines is one of the best left backs in the Premiership, £12m is not justified whatsoever. As is well known, when Steward Downing costs £20m, Baines has to cost more than that out of principle. It's a shame that the benchmark has been set in such a way but this derisory bid was the first page in a chapter of events that were about to unfold.

Up next was Cesc Fabregas. A great player and a perfect fit for a United midfield shorn of creativity sans Kagawa. It seemed an odd pursuit given that the player only recently returned to his home town and was now back with his family (players and relatives alike). Why would he leave such a club? The rhetoric aside, David Moyes publicly declared the interest and that a bid was made. After being rebuffed, Moyes came out to say that another bid has been made. This tactic left a lot of fans scratching their head as to why the club are declaring to the world what they're doing in the transfer window when there was utter silence whilst the Thiago furore was taking over. Alas, Fabregas and Martino stated their love for each other and the club and Manchester United moved on, now with two black eyes. 

Then came the bid that many had assumed would happen: the joint bid for Fellaini and Baines. The bid came in at £28m which, going by the original £12m offered for Baines, values Fellaini at £16m. To quote another Liverpool misdemeanour, Jordan Henderson cost £15m so, again, this bid was rejected out of hand. Fellaini was purchased by Moyes whilst at Everton and he came in for £15m so adding £1m to his value after 5 years makes not one ounce of numerical sense. With Moyes having an inherent knowledge of Fellaini/Baines and the workings of Everton FC, it's puzzling as to how it came to this.

Fast forward a week from the original bid of £28m, Manchester United improved it by £7m and came in for a final time to land the two Everton players. Again this was rejected quite swiftly with Roberto Martinez not happy at the manner in which this was taking place. £35m should have been the first offer and maybe the picture would have been painted differently but this was a bid taken to an already angry club. United were a week away from the window closing and no closer to a player coming in. If anything they were further away from where they started due to the nature of their transfer movements.

Around this time there were rumblings coming from Spain that there was concrete interest in Ander Herrera. Now here was a player of fantastic ability, not courted by the majority of big clubs and has a buy out clause of €36m. Herrera ticked all the boxes of a player United's midfield was crying out for, a player that commands the ball and picks the correct pass nearly every time. He was in the top ten for completed passes per game in the whole of Spain and considering that six of those play for Barcelona, it's easy to see why he'd have worked at Manchester United. Couple that with being the most fouled player in Spain, his tenacity to want the ball all the time spoke volumes. Athletic Bilbao are not a selling club, they never have been and they don't want to be. A club that only plays footballers from the Basque region of Spain, there was no way that they'd be held to ransom. Amorebieta, left for free. Their best striker in a number of years, Fernando Llorente, left for free. The stall had been set: Athletic Bilbao will only sell a player if their release clause is met and the player wants to leave, it's as simple a fact as that. 

Deadline day came and went with a flurry of deals and media speculation. Ander Herrera was on the verge of joining Manchester United and Guillem Balague's confirmation of this left the majority wondering 'who will be next'. Of course Guillem Ballague, for all his pundit ability and football knowledge, isn't always correct. Again this time he wasn't as his claim of United activating Herrera's release clause couldn't have been further from the truth. The actual truth was that Ed Woodward was trying to negotiate a lower price to no avail. It's not difficult to see that Bilbao would at no stage budge from their original stance so it's crazy to even go down such an avenue. Albeit whilst this was all going on, United were finalising terms for a £27.5m for Fellaini. £4.5m than his recently expired release clause yes, but had Fellaini been the first choice on the list, this would never have happened. United's midfield is instantly better with the presence of Fellaini on the team sheet. He may not be the superstar that was wanted by the masses, but he's exponentially better than Tom Cleverley in nearly every aspect of the game.

The mistakes that were made this summer were exacerbated by a number of factors. From the public display of affection towards Cesc Fabregas to the insulting bids for the Everton duo it has to be said that lessons must be learnt. Actions such as these have the opposite effect when attempting to lure a player to a side like Manchester United. The star could be fading, or this could be the only way in which one can learn: first a mistake has to be made. January isn't far away and it will leave Woodward/Moyes with four months of extra experience. Experience that is vital at this level and it's quite clear that this amount of stupidity can never happen again.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Three Players David Moyes Should Have Signed

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It's transfer deadline day and Manchester United, after another inept performance, are yet to make a signing that can add any dimension to the squad. Do not let the 4-1 opening day victory over Swansea fool you, Manchester United were not 3 goals better than Swansea. For it not for the ruthless finishing of Robin Van Persie and the teasing increased shooting ability of Danny Welbeck, Manchester United had as many shots as Swansea and less of the ball.

David Moyes claimed at the beginning of his tenure and the transfer window that the midfield was his primary concern when adding any new players to the squad. Fast forward two months and after the shambolic fruitless eye fluttering at Cesc Fabregas, no bid for Thiago Alcantara and missing Marouane Fellaini's release clause date, Manchester United have embarrassed themselves with only a few hours left to complete any deals. This in itself creates a problem as the club will surely be held to ransom by selling clubs and this works two-fold:

1. Manchester United are desperate. Contrary to popular belief, this day is not when bargains are sought by top clubs. This is a time when any club contacted by Manchester United will add many additional millions to the price of the player United are interested in. Why it has taken so long, only the board and David Moyes know and this is a quandary of their own making.

2. A club that sells it's players today will increase prices just for the fact they will face huge difficulties in replacing that player. Deadline day is great for teams outside of the top six but at the top end of the league, inflated prices are de facto.

With so much time having passed and Manchester United linked with nearly every player around, here are the three players that David Moyes should have signed.

Thiago Alcantara
It was well known to the entire football world that Thiago's hugely decreased release clause was set at €18m due to not meeting the quota of first team games last season for Barcelona. Now any person that has seen Thiago play would have known straight away that this player is brilliant. Samba flair mixed with Barcelona's La Masia upbringing has moulded a player with incredible technique and an astute eye for goal. Thiago's touch and skill is only matched by very few young players in Europe. Now bear in mind these young players would be signed for €30m+, it's crazy to think that Manchester United did not make a bid for him regardless of what the media have claimed. Thiago came out and said United did not show any interest and once Guardiola came out to say Thiago was the only player he wanted, Manchester United were left out in the cold. This is was exactly the type of player that United needed, a player that can unlock defences and play between the lines but without restricting what a Number 10 (ideally Kagawa) would add to the side. Effectively a player that can play between Carrick and Kagawa and this deficiency was as clear as day in the loss to Liverpool at the weekend.

Fabio Coentrao
Patrice Evra is 32. Leighton Baines is 29 in a couple of months. Fabio Coentrao is 25. Contextually, Baines is English and will cost upwards of £25m given what happens in this country with any English player with some semblance of talent. It's clear that United need a new left back to come in once Evra stops playing age-defying football and unfortunately, Baines is not the answer. This is not to discredit his talent but the price to pay for arguably Everton's best player is not the answer to the question at hand. Fabio Coentrao stated at the beginning of the transfer window that he wants to leave Real Madrid. Due to this, a lower price could have been a factor yet no one came in for him. It's been so long now that the player has decided to stay . This is a shame as he hasn't featured at all this season and quality left sided defenders are few and far between. He shares similar traits to Evra with his marauding style and technique on the ball and it's a shame this is another opportunity missed. With Buttner as Evra's understudy, it's a sad indictment for a club of Manchester United's calibre.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United have more money to spend on players than many think. A club that flirts with the top two places on the income list in football are very rich. Rich enough to pay what it would take to bring back the best player this decade has seen in a Manchester United shirt. United have missed Ronaldo immensely since his departure in 2009, they have won the league in his absence yes, but that's hardly the tall order it used to be with the quality of the league diminishing in recent years. Take a look at last season and a team shorn of a jealousy inducing midfield won the league with relative ease. It's on the European stage that United lack quality and ever since Athletic Bilbao embarrassed them twice in the Europa League, problems have persisted in United's European performances. They lack a quality wide forward and Ronaldo's understudy; Nani and replacement: Valencia are both frustratingly talented but not what Manchester United need. Ashley Young would deserve a mention if he actually knew how to play football at this level so for now, just see this as his mention. Gareth Bale has recently eclipsed Ronaldo as the world's most expensive signing and whether this is deserved or not, Ronaldo hasn't been happy in Madrid for two years. Bale is Ronaldo but 4 years his junior. Quick, strong, technical and with a shot many can't match, they are both vying for the same spot. This was the opportunity for Manchester United to bring home the player that still gets sung about at every home game. The prodigal son needs to return, preferably before he turns 30.