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Premier League Preview: Manchester United

Courtesy of Flickr/Hasegawa Takashi

Courtesy of Flickr/Hasegawa Takashi

Individual failure at the World Cup was the greatest thing to happen to Manchester United this summer.

Amongst the constant banter regarding Arturo Vidal’s future, United was back to business at the Guinness International Champions Cup. The Red Devils were undefeated in four matches at the pre-season tournament, including victories over European champions Real Madrid and rivals Liverpool.

Silverware was a distant fantasy throughout David Moyes’ tenure, as the Scotsman only has a Community Shield triumph against Championship side Wigan last season, with United finishing in seventh place; a club low in the Premier League era. The World Cup didn’t provide a change of fortune for the United players, as only the likes of Javier Hernandez, Marouane Fellaini, and Adnan Januzaj –– with Hernandez and Januzaj playing a bit-part role in Brazil –– progressed past the group-stage.

Juan Mata and David de Gea were forced to watch Holland and Chile blitz Spain, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck couldn’t lift a youthful English side past Italy or Uruguay, Antonio Valencia’s Ecuador lacked quality on both ends, and neither Shinji Kagawa nor Nani could serve as a catalyst for their respected nations when it mattered. Then there was Robin van Persie, who vastly declined subsequent to Holland’s opening match, but captained a side that came within spot-kicks of returning to the World Cup final.

Holland left Brazil unbeaten, claiming victories against Spain, Chile and Brazil, and their success was down to Louis van Gaal’s tactical tinkering. Van Gaal, the antithesis of Moyes, didn’t receive time to reflect on a successful World Cup campaign, though, as he was handed the responsibility to make amends for United’s disappointing season.

And in little under a month we’re beginning to see United take shape.

The drive to impress van Gaal and win football games has been displayed in the discipline and work ethic both on and off the ball. In what was undoubtedly a forgettable spell at Old Trafford, the hunger that United lacked under Moyes was evident.

The contrast between Moyes and van Gaal is vast. From the experience at the highest level, to their football philosophy, and the level of confidence and arrogance that both men possess, van Gaal appears to be a significant upgrade. He’s won league titles in three different countries, and failing to feature in the World Cup final has left a fire under his belly to become a champion once again.

In fairness, preseason results are irrelevant; it’s an opportunity to see what combinations work, improve fitness, and assess the squad at your disposal. Still, the hunger, and increased signs of improvement –– although United couldn’t get any worse –– have given fans a sense of optimism as we approach opening weekend.

Majority of van Gaal’s success, however, was achieved in the previous millennium, where he was handed time and patience to instill his philosophy. Van Gaal may not receive that luxury at Old Trafford, so his intent on winning the fans over and claiming silverware –– regardless of its significance –– was integral.

The departures of veteran’s Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra marks the dawn of a new era at Old Trafford, and van Gaal’s preference to work with younger players should lead to a smoother transition. The days of the traditional 4-4-2, and United’s persistence to solely play down the wings under Moyes is of the past, as stylistically, van Gaal is administering a different approach that offers variety in attack.

By no means is van Gaal a tactical genius. Frankly, the Dutchman is similar to Jose Mourinho, as he ensures his players stick to their tasks with devastating efficiency. Van Gaal, though, may be methodical like his Portuguese rival, but he’ll provide United with flexibility. He’ll alter from a three-man to a four-man defence, as he prefers to have a spare man in defence to retain possession, but also withhold a numerical advantage out of possession.

While Moyes’ decisions were often peculiar and heavily questioned, van Gaal displayed his ability to alter games on the fly. A change to a 4-3-3 against Mexico led to Arjen Robben’s dominance, and the decision to call upon Tim Krul in a penalty shootout is one of the standout storylines at the World Cup.

Equally, apart from the personnel, there’s very little separating Holland’s approach at the World Cup to United’s displays in pre-season. The swift transitional attacks, high-pressing and defensive line, along with the man marking in midfield has been evident.

The young English duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will get their chance to mature and prove their worth alongside one of United’s most consistent performers over the past few seasons in Jonny Evans.

Their athleticism will enable United to play a high-line –– an option that proved suicidal with Ferdinand and Vidic in the XI –– and although the risk of the opposition exploiting space behind the trio is likely, United’s chances of winning the ball in advanced positions will increase. Smalling’s performances in preseason, however, has forced van Gaal into the transfer market as he searches for a versatile centre-back, but stellar displays in Brazil from Dirk Kuyt and Ron Vlaar should serve as a sign of optimism for Red Devils fans.

The arrival of Ander Herrera provides United with the dynamism and penetration from central areas that they’ve severely lacked in recent years. Van Gaal also appears capable of resurrecting careers at the Theatre of Dreams. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have solidified their roles as adequate replacements for Luke Shaw and Rafael at the wingback position, with the former scoring goals and creating quality chances on both flanks.

Equally, Darren Fletcher’s transition into a deep-lying passer led to a few man-of-the match performances that could see him feature sporadically this season if he can cope with the pace of a competitive match.

The highpoint from United’s tour across the United States was the production from the front three. Danny Welbeck’s tactical discipline remains one of the England international’s key traits, but Rooney and Mata –– players that have been chastised over their defensive work in big games –– were equally impressive in and out of possession.

Rooney’s tendency to impress when his position is under threat is unsurprising, but whether the 28-year-old and van Gaal can maintain a fruitful relationship, along with his maintaining his fitness levels throughout the season is up in the air.

Mata, on the other hand, is now playing in his preferred no.10 role in van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2. Not only does the Spaniard receive the space to offer creativity, but van Gaal’s direct style has seen Mata’s verticality reap rewards as he’s playing at the level that saw the 26-year-old transition into a world-class player at Chelsea.

If Mata, van Persie and Rooney can fire on all cylinders, and still have Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and the pace of Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha available, it’s evident that United’s strength lies in their attack.

Still, claiming the Premier League in the first season will be a stern challenge for van Gaal, considering the competition that awaits the Dutchman. Majority of the teams that finished ahead of the Red Devils have improved over the summer, while United have a month to sort out there issues in midfield and defence.

Ultimately, United lack the depth of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in midfield and defence. For instance, if Herrera were to get injured, Tom Cleverley or Marouane Fellaini –– conservative sideways passers –– would slot into midfield. Despite Fletcher’s impressive preseason, it’s key to note that he’s an unreliable option due to his health and fitness conditions.

Likewise, if Jones, Smalling or Evans were unavailable, van Gaal would be forced to turn to his academy players. This isn’t necessarily a bad option, but not an issue a Premier League title winner would be forced into.

This was never a job destined to be fixed in one season, and not only is a place in the top four an attainable goal, but it should also be deemed a success if they finish in a Champions League spot. United has a relatively manageable schedule until October, along with no European competition burden, so the possibility of replicating Liverpool’s success of last season isn’t too farfetched.

However, it would take something special to overtake the complete squads that Chelsea and Manchester City possess.

Considering the timing, van Gaal and United appear to be the perfect match, as the Red Devils aim to return amongst the Premier League’s elite sides.

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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Three Things: Manchester United 2-2 Fulham

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Courtesy of Flickr/vnupdate.net

David Moyes employs predictable tactics

Of the many factors that made David Moyes an odd choice to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, the contrast in their style of play was near the top of the list. Moyes is a reactive manager that isn’t renowned for producing exciting football, and insists on predominantly generating attack from wide areas.

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On Sunday, crosses were a distinct factor in United’s attack. Moyes’ men dominated possession for large portions of the match, as they aimed to isolate Fulham’s fullbacks. United completed 82 crosses, nearly 400 more passes than their opponents, but the most shocking statistic was the startling difference in attacking third passes.

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Here, Fulham maintained a narrow shape, with 10 men behind the ball, so it was logical for United to utilize their wide options. The issue with Moyes’ approach was that it lacked variety – Fulham were prepared to cope with United’s willingness to deliver crosses into the box.

In fairness, both goals stemmed from initial crosses into the box from Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra, but many were disgruntled with Moyes’ approach. Simply, United encountered three problems  – they were outnumbered in Fulham’s box, their passing tempo in buildup play was slow, and the quality of the crosses was inconsistent.

Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie squandered legitimate goal-scoring opportunities from point-blank range through crosses from Ashley Young and Rafael, while Maarten Stekelenburg made key saves to frustrate the home side. Moyes’ men, however, stuck to their task, and continued to attack wide areas; it created the platform for United to score twice, but it wasn’t enough.

Carrick outshines world-class teammates

Juan Mata’s arrival to Manchester United was a sign of ambition. The goal was to provide an overall lift in the side to push for a top-four position, but it was also an opportunity to add world-class talent in their attack. The main talking point prior to Mata’s arrival was the threat Mata, Rooney and van Persie could pose.

While United dominated nearly every aspect of the match at Old Trafford, their three best players failed to impress. Despite Mata and van Persie’s involvement in the first goal, neither player enjoyed a great game, while Rooney drifted in and out of the match. This is not to say that the trio played poorly, but they didn’t ignite a spark to guide United to three points.

Carrick, however, was United’s key man – the Englishman enjoyed arguably his best game of the season, constantly changing the home side’s route of attack. Similar to Carrick’s fortuitous goal, the United midfielder’s passing was significant.

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Today, Carrick provided dynamism in attack, and when he wasn’t playing scintillating balls to Ashley Young, he was driving towards the Fulham penalty area. His shot from the edge of the box in the first half was inches wide of the post, but his goal in the second half nearly capped off a great afternoon for the England international.

Although United’s attacking trio didn’t play up to their standards, Carrick’s performance is a boost for Moyes. With United now sitting nine points behind Liverpool for the final Champions League spot, they’ll need all their top players performing at high-levels if they intend on doing – what looks to be – the impossible.

Fulham survive

The most impressive feat at Old Trafford was Fulham’s ability to secure a result. Although one should credit their perseverance to cope with United’s attack – even if it was far from United’s best performance – their overall approach was negative. Rene Meulensteen’s side preferred to play on the counter-attack, and maintained a compact shape, as they were in dire need of a result.

“We set out, as anybody can see, we needed to stay in there after the results we have had in the last couple of weeks. But we made it very difficult for them,” Meulensteen said. “We focused a lot on making sure we kept our shape, we defended well, but at times we didn’t really play the football that we really want to play. Having said that, we know where we are and this is a valid point for us.”

Johnny Heitinga and Dan Burn confidently dealt with United’s crosses from the flanks, while Lewis Holtby and Muamer Tankovic pressed Darren Fletcher and Carrick when possible. Fulham comfortably coped with United’s attacking threat in the first half, and while Meulensteen’s men didn’t enjoy much possession, they were efficient on the break.

Fletcher was responsible for not tracking Steve Sidwell in the build up to the Fulham midfielder’s goal from a magnificent Holtby ball. In the 37th minute, Fulham were presented a great opportunity to double their lead, and Tankovic broke on the counter from his own half. Tankovic was placed in a 2v2 situation, but waited for the overlapping Kieran Richardson, thus playing him in, but the Fulham winger skied his shot over the bar.

The Cottagers didn’t offer any attacking threat in the second half, as they spent majority of the half defending at the edge of their box. Meulensteen’s side were seconds away from defeat, before a poor Nemanja Vidic clearance led to Richardson forcing De Gea to make a key save, and substitute Darren Bent nodded a De Gea rebound into the net.

Fulham currently sit at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League – three points away from safety – but this could be a vital point that separates survival and relegation at the end of the season.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United

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Courtesy of soccer.ru

Chelsea produced an efficient performance against Manchester United that all but ends their hopes of retaining the Premier League title.

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Jose Mourinho made two changes to his starting lineup recalling Branislav Ivanovic to the starting XI, and opting to go with Samuel Eto’o over Fernando Torres.

David Moyes was without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, and he was forced to make three changes to the side that defeated Swansea, last weekend. Phil Jones and Ashley Young returned from injury, while Jonny Evans formed a centre-back partnership with Nemanja Vidic.

Manchester United’s overall game wasn’t poor, but defensive errors and minimal production in the final third led to their downfall.

United press

A key component in United’s impressive start to the match was their work ethic without the ball. Moyes instructed his men to press higher up the pitch and deny Chelsea’s midfielder’s space to receive the ball.

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United pressing Chelsea higher up the pitch

Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj closed down Chelsea’s centrebacks, and the duo took turns dropping off and pressing David Luiz to prevent the Brazilian from playing forward passes. United’s wingers quickly pressed Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, while Jones and Michael Carrick pushed forward to close down Chelsea’s double-pivot.

This forced Chelsea’s attacking three to drop deeper to receive the ball, but they cheaply conceded possession and Samuel Eto’o was unable to hold up the ball and bring the midfield into the match. United’s pressing prevented Chelsea’s midfield from dictating the tempo of the match by forcing them to concede possession, which ultimately led to United’s superiority.

Chelsea break

For the most part of the first half, Chelsea struggled to sustain possession and develop quality build-up play. However, their best attacking chances were created when they broke on the counter-attack.

Ramires easily bypassed United’s midfield, but David De Gea saved the Brazilian’s tame effort. A United defender blocked Willian’s shot a minute later, when he surged towards the 18-yard box after Oscar and Eden Hazard cleverly combined. Willian continued to demonstrate his impact on both ends of the pitch when he ignited a counter-attack from his box and played in Hazard, who easily turned Vidic, which created Oscar’s overhead kick that sailed over the bar.

Mourinho’s side’s best moments were created on the counter-attack, as they rarely penetrated or sustained enough possession to unlock United’s backline.

Midfield battle

Shockingly, while many have crucified United’s inept midfield this season, here, they were effective in comparison to the opposition. Ramires and David Luiz struggled to maintain their shape, and at times left Chelsea’s back-line vulnerable as Januzaj and Welbeck found space between the lines to penetrate. Mourinho was an animated figure on the touchline, constantly ordering the Brazilian to stay deep and protect the back four, but he was constantly caught out of position.

On the other hand, despite Jones and Carrick getting pulled out of position on the break, they were reliable passers, and Carrick, in particular, fulfilled Moyes’ wishes on the defensive end completing a match-high eight interceptions.  The main issue was that Moyes may have wanted Carrick to be more involved in the attack, and provide penetrating passes. United’s midfield dominated the match throughout certain periods, and stifled Chelsea’s duo, which could explain why Mourinho was shocked that United were down two-goals at half-time.

United overload left flank

United’s main attacking threat came through Januzaj – against Swansea, the Belgian started the match as the no.10, but only provided an impact when he moved out wide. At Stamford Bridge, he provided United with a spark when he created 3v2 situations on the left flank.

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Adnan Januzaj penetrates half-space

The Belgian attacked half-space and the left channel on a few occasions and created United’s best chances throughout the match. Jones’ move to the right led to a Patrice Evra cross that Januzaj collected, but he was reluctant to shoot. The issue Januzaj encountered was his final ball – his movement into these spaces was clever, but Luiz – who dropped between John Terry and Gary Cahill to become a third centreback – cleared his deliveries, while the Belgian’s ball into the six-yard box wasn’t met, and Azpilicueta did a great job to divert Welbeck’s shot into Cech.

United’s best chances were created down the left flank, and although Januzaj wasn’t always behind the attack, it was evident that it was an area Moyes’ men intended on exploiting.

Second half

Eto’o’s goal at the start of the second half gave Mourinho the incentive to close out the match, and Chelsea effectively completed their task. John Obi Mikel replaced Oscar, and Chelsea became a 4-3-3, and subsequently Nemanja Matic replaced Willian.

Moyes turned to Javier Hernandez, and the Mexican led the attack ahead of Welbeck. Although United began to create chances through the United poacher, they were unable to replicate their successful overloads from the first half. Hernandez improved his impressive scoring record against Chelsea, but United didn’t create enough chances to mount a comeback.

Chelsea finished the match with four defensive midfielders, and Hazard to support Torres, while United failed to supply Welbeck and Hernandez with quality service – had Hernandez started the match, we may have witnessed a completely different score line.

Conclusion

United started the match well, but defensive errors in the final third led to their downfall. Moyes’ men created the better chances in the first half, by dominating the left side, but the required final ball was non-existent.

Chelsea were solid at the back, and coped with United attacks down the left, and Mourinho’s decision to field Eto’o over Torres paid off – here, the Cameroonian’s poaching abilities was an efficient attacking source that condemned United’s experienced back line.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Adnan Januzaj’s superstar status increases in United’s victory over Swansea

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Manchester United’s reliance on wide personnel has vastly increased since David Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford. The utilization of width was a key element in United’s recent success, but it’s currently a feeble component in the United attack that lacks adequate wingers.

Moyes’ philosophy encourages the two midfielders in the double-pivot to sit in deep positions, and facilitate the ball to their wide players. This season, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck – a playmaker and a striker – have been fielded on the left flank, as they drift centrally to create space for Patrice Evra to push forward. On the opposite flank, Antonio Valencia has been a regular selection – he stretches the pitch by positioning himself near the touchline, delivering balls into the box, and creating overloads with the right fullback.

Despite possessing an abundance of wide attacking options, inconsistent performances have hindered United’s approach. But, Moyes’ decision to include 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in the first-team has reaped rewards. With Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie unavailable, United has desperately required a spark in the attacking third.

Similar to their midweek defeat to Sunderland, Januzaj was United’s best player – the 18-year-old began the game behind Danny Welbeck, and was the catalyst in the home side’s best chances in the first half. His 10th minute free kick rattled the cross-bar, and he played a great ball towards Valencia, which led to an opportunity for Welbeck in the latter stages of the half.

Swansea dominated possession for large portions of the first half with Wayne Routledge and Alejandro Pozuelo drifting between the lines, and completing quick, intricate passes – but the away side lacked conviction in United’s half, and failed to test David De Gea. United’s recurring issues in the attacking third was evident, but Moyes’ decision to push Januzaj to the left flank shifted the match.

Equally, the move was logical – Januzaj’s presence pegged Rangel Angel into his own half and he was encouraged to attack the Swansea right back. The Belgian posed a lethal threat down the flanks and was involved in both goals – Ashley Williams was unable to clear Januzaj’s cross and the ball flew towards Kagawa, who nodded it towards Valencia, and the Ecuadorian opened the scoring. Subsequently, Januzaj pressed Routledge, and intercepted Tremmel’s long throw, which ultimately led to Welbeck’s fortuitous goal.

At the tender age of 18, Januzaj’s exceeded his personal expectations this season. He took the onus upon himself to provide the guile and creativity United supporters demand on a weekly-basis. Januzaj has excelled in Moyes’ system, and although United are enduring a dark period, the Belgian is shining bright under Old Trafford’s floodlights.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Is David Moyes responsible for Manchester United’s poor form?

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Courtesy of: Andrea Sartorati

Sir Alex Ferguson was mesmerized as he stared at the freshly cut Wembley pitch. Ferguson stood motionless at the halfway-line, minutes after Barcelona had defeated Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final for the second consecutive time, and the Scotsman had no alternative but to accept that the better side had won.

“It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them [Barcelona],” Ferguson stated. “You shouldn’t be afraid of a challenge. We want to improve. Of course, next season, we must improve even more. But we have a challenge with Barcelona. We all do. It’s no consolation being the second-best team.”

Barcelona had set the bar with their emphatic victory at Wembley, and they became the template for European success. In fairness, United overachieved in Europe that season – the 2007- 2009 side was much stronger, and here, they were thoroughly outclassed by the best side in Europe. This should’ve been a lesson for Ferguson, it was time to revamp the squad – at the time Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Park-Ji Sung were their best midfield options.

However, while Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Ilkay Gundogan made moves around the continent for a combined fee of £15m, Ferguson spent £18m on Ashley Young.  That season United crashed out of the Champions League group stage, and was subsequently blitzed in midfield by Athletic Bilbao. Despite taking advantage of Manchester City’s poor away form in the league, United conceded a seven-point lead in the final weeks, and their Premier League title on the last day of the season – courtesy of Sergio Aguero’s stoppage time winner – ending their campaign trophyless.

Conceding a title at the final kick of the season left a sour taste in Ferguson’s mouth, but he persisted on remaining optimistic, even at United’s darkest hour. “Normally 89 points would be enough to win the league – but it wasn’t our turn,” Ferguson said minutes after City had claimed the title. “”It’s a cruel way to lose out but I have experienced many ups and downs in 26 years…. for us it’s still a challenge; we’re good at challenges and we’ll kick on from here.”

The drive to win the Premier League title was at an all-time high – but is desire inhibited his awareness to the side’s necessities. The decision to purchase Robin van Persie was a wise short-term fix, whereas Shinji Kagawa’s arrival to Old Trafford is still peculiar – especially when Ferguson was reluctant on signing Mesut Ozil for a cheaper fee a few years prior. Kagawa thrived in a system at Dortmund based on Gegenpressing and quick transitions – explaining why the Japanese playmaker flourished against Bayer Leverkusen, but has failed to consistently perform throughout his spell at Old Trafford.

City’s failure to bolster their title-winning squad, along with Van Persie’s fine form and ability to stay fit, saw United wrestled the title away from their ‘noisy neighbours’ – and with the newly-crowned champions far from being legitimate European contenders, Ferguson decided to call it quits.

The dawn of a new era approached, and Ferguson handpicked David Moyes to be his successor. Ferguson’s decision shocked the world – Moyes’ lack of European experience and trophies raised a few eyebrows. The pressure was high, success was expected at any cost, and Moyes was faced with a difficult job ahead of him. This was supposed to be an easy transition for the former Everton manager – considering the Scotsman inherited a side that won the league by 11 points.

But, subsequently, six months to his hiring, many supporters believe Moyes isn’t the ‘chosen one’. United currently sit in seventh place, five points off fourth and 11 behind league leaders Arsenal – and in the process have lost five matches at home this season.

Is the Old Trafford fear factor gone? Is Moyes responsible for their mishaps at home? Certainly not – opponents were taking the game to United over the past 12-18 months, the difference being they always found a way to score. Now, the atmosphere at Old Trafford is nervy, goals aren’t being produced, penetration in the final third is minimal, and their grit and relentless waves of constant pressure has vanished.

Despite all the negative criticism Moyes has received during his tenure, he can’t solely receive all the blame for United’s shortcomings. The performances, and the results have been putrid, but United’s sharp decline was forthcoming. Ferguson left Moyes with a limited squad – as their league success from the prior year flattered the talent available – and Moyes has been unable to maximize his squad’s performance levels like the former United manager; in fairness it’s a difficult task to replicate.

The obsession with signing world-class players to fix issues within a squad may sound easy, but in hindsight, it rarely occurs, specifically at United. Over the past decade, United hasn’t been renowned for acquiring highly rated foreign talent, or world-class players around the continent. After failing to capture the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera, the club was forced into the £27.5m desperation deadline day purchase of Marouane Fellaini.

Acquiring world-class talent doesn’t lead to instant success, nor is it required to build a successful squad. Likewise the ability to evolve a squad yearly, and rid surplus personnel is also pivotal – a feat Ferguson ignored. United’s previous core squad was built around young talent that developed into world-class players in Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, Premier League acquisitions such as Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Carlos Tevez, while foreign talent in Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were purchased for a combined £12m in the 2005 January transfer window.

Only two of those players have left United – Ronaldo and Tevez in 2009 – and the rest still play a significant role in the squad. Ferguson’s rebuilding process was wise, and successful in comparison to his final years at United, and he left Moyes with the scraps. Apart from the strikers at his disposal, United has only succeeded in providing adequate cover at centre-back. While Ferdinand and Vidic enjoy their final days as first-team regulars, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones provide a new generation of competent centre-backs.

Width has always been a key component in United’s play over the years, but Moyes’ arrival has seen it become their main attacking outlet. The issue here is his wingers are average, whereas pushing two fullbacks into advanced positions hampers natural balance and leaves United vulnerable on the counter. 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj has been the clubs best wide player this season – which is an indictment on the wingers at their disposal – while Wilfried Zaha has yet to feature regularly. The issue with this concept is the strikers aren’t receiving adequate service from the flanks – whereas last season, most of the play was going directly through van Persie.

Apart from Evra – who has been exposed defensively this season – the fullbacks haven’t impressed either. Moyes has been forced to field players out of position at right back, and Rafael still can’t be trusted on the big stage. Also Evra’s departure at the end of the season has forced Moyes to find an ideal replacement. United doesn’t possess a defensively astute fullback, and from an attacking perspective they’ve rarely influenced matches.

The main concern United supporters possess regarding their side’s deficiencies is their feeble midfield – in hindsight, Ferguson didn’t purchase a midfielder in his final six seasons. United’s midfield could use a dynamic box-to-box midfielder – that can provide a goal scoring threat from deep – or a destructive holder that can break up play. Also, they no longer possess a player in the mold of Paul Scholes – that can dictate the tempo from deep positions – and without the former or the latter, United has consistently encountered problems against opposition that possess quality midfielders.

While Moyes can be held accountable for a few of United’s issues, it’s clear that Ferguson didn’t pay his fellow Scotsman any favours. Money was available for Ferguson to spend; excessive bids for Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard, along with their willingness to spend £100m on Gareth Bale exemplify the funds available. Ultimately, Moyes needs time to introduce players that fit into his system, and he doesn’t need to follow the farcical misconception and spend big on world-class players.

He can emulate rivals Chelsea, and invest in young talent – individually Oscar and Mata were cheaper than Fellaini – and develop them into world-beaters, or locate foreign talent at affordable costs. Old Trafford hasn’t necessarily been an ideal destination for established foreign talent, but United hasn’t utilized the transfer window to it’s fullest; frankly Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Atletico Madrid and to an extent Arsenal – financially restricted clubs – have displayed that success can be attained through proper scouting.

While United flirt with the possibility of being the worst reigning champion of the Premier League era, Moyes still deserves a full transfer window to steady the ship. The entire squad needs to be revamped, and patience will be required if United supporters intend on seeing their squad rejoin Europe’s elite.

With majority of the top-sides in England vastly improving, United’s overdue transitional period won’t be as straightforward as 2004-2006. Ferguson, arguably the most influential figure in United’s history has left his mark on the club, but the latter stages of his career have potentially jeopardized United’s long-term success.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Emmanuel Adebayor justifies his return to prominence at Old Trafford

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Courtesy of: Roger Gorączniak

One of the few alterations in Tim Sherwood’s resurgent Spurs side is the inclusion of two strikers. Andre Villas-Boas’ reluctance to play a 4-4-2 left supporters and the ownership disgruntled, and it was one of the key factors that led to his dismissal.

Villas-Boas’ persistence to play marquee signing Roberto Soldado as the lone striker didn’t replace the attacking void Gareth Bale’s departure left in attack – and it’s difficult to solely blame the Spaniard for Spurs’ attacking deficiencies. Soldado isn’t a traditional number nine – he thrives when teammates are within close proximity to link play, and adequate service is provided. Villas-Boas’ side struggled to score goals and create chances during the latter stages of Villas-Boas’ tenure, while Soldado was merely a peripheral figure that spent many matches isolated against the opposition’s centrebacks.

Another difference to the North London side since Sherwood’s appointment is Emmanuel Adebayor’s presence in the starting XI. Villas-Boas banished Adebayor from the first-team, and the Spurs striker only featured for 45 minutes this season prior to Sherwood’s appointment.

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Tottenham’s trip to Old Trafford was pivotal, and their impressive away record instilled optimism, as Sherwood’s men aimed to defeat Manchester United for the second consecutive season. Sherwood made one change to the attacking six that comfortably defeated Stoke City over the weekend, introducing Etienne Capoue for the injured Paulinho. Christian Eriksen was expected to drift infield from the left flank to provide creativity, whereas Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker were responsible for width on the right.

While Eriksen’s impact on the match was monumental, Adebayor’s performance exhibited Spurs’ attacking approach. Spurs struggled to sustain possession in the opening half hour – they constantly misplaced passes in key areas, and their decision-making was poor. Yet, despite United’s dominance in possession and down the right flank, it was Sherwood’s men who created the better chances.

Adebayor was a reliable passing outlet for the North London side, as he often dropped deep into midfield to receive the ball, and bring the midfield – that often sat deep – into the match to link play; a feat that Soldado struggled to complete as the lone striker. The Togolese striker initiated quick counters from his own half, and his rampaging run into United’s third, which led to Lennon’s tame effort in the 12th minute, highlighted his impact. Towards the end of the first half, Adebayor wonderfully brought down a loose ball, and played an incisive pass to Lennon that led to a squandered Soldado opportunity.

The Spurs striker’s involvement in both goals summed up his influence on the match. Eriksen’s ability to locate and attack space enabled the Dane to get into United’s third to deliver a cross at the far post, and Adebayor rose above Chris Smalling to direct the ball past David De Gea – it was the Togolese striker’s fourth goal since his return from exile.  Likewise, it was Adebayor who brought his midfield into the attack in the buildup to Eriksen’s goal, as he played the initial pass to Soldado, which led to Lennon’s penetrating run towards United’s box.

And while Adebayor’s involvement in both goals was pivotal, his determination and work ethic was identical. His battle with Wayne Rooney to win possession near the Spurs corner flag, along with his powerful run to the byline, before cleverly back-heeling the ball to his teammate displayed his ambition.

Unfortunately for the Togolese striker his exceptional afternoon was short-lived as he was stretchered off the pitch midway through the second-half. Spurs dug deep for the final moments of the match, and Hugo Lloris made a few key saves to preserve the lead. Sherwood’s belief in Adebayor has gifted Spurs with a rejuvenated striker, who’s developed into a key cog in their push for Champions League football. Here, he was the goal scorer, creator, and at times the heartbeat of the Spurs attack.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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United regain superiority at Old Trafford

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Courtesy of: Football.ua

Many milestones have been broken at Old Trafford this season. Most recently, Everton and Newcastle ended overdue winless droughts at the Theatre of Dreams, and West Ham was looking to replicate their achievements. Manchester United were in jeopardy of losing three consecutive home matches for the first time since 1979, as West Ham came into the match confident off their midweek Capital One Cup victory at White Hart Lane.

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United took control of the match in the opening minutes, due to West Ham’s cautious approach. The issue David Moyes’ side encountered was the lack of creativity in the final third.

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Luckily, Antonio Valencia and Rafael continued to impress down the right flank, completing the most passes between two players. United’s main goal in the first was to overload the right flank – a tactic used during Moyes’ tenure at Everton – Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones drifted forward towards the right, aiming to find openings behind George McCartney, but they rarely harmed the West Ham back line.

United dominated possession in the opening half, but rarely tested Hammers goalkeeper Adrian. However, Danny Welbeck’s inventive back heel to Rooney was the magic Moyes’ side lacked in the final third, and it was fitting that it led to the Englishman’s left-footed strike past the West Ham keeper – his first home goal in 14 months. Subsequently, it was Welbeck’s ability to hold up the ball, and James Collins’ putrid defending that led to Adnan Januzaj’s first goal at Old Trafford, doubling United’s lead and securing three points. The Welbeck/Rooney partnership has reaped rewards in the past, and here, Welbeck was pivotal – thus leaving Moyes worried, when the English striker was forced to leave the match early in the second half.

United’s midfield was untested as Jones comfortably protected the back four, and confidently drove at the heart of the West Ham back line.

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Cleverley passed his way through midfield, whilst Rooney began to find pockets of space between the lines, and picked up deeper positions in midfield to demonstrate his excellent passing range and help the midfield duo sustain possession. Also, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans were magnificent – displaying defensive solidity and assuring that United may have found their new first team centre-back partnership.

Although Carlton Cole found a way through United’s impeccable backline, Moyes’ right side replicated their first half performance and constantly tormented McCartney. The West Ham left back was exposed for United’s third goal when Rafael played a lovely ball to Valencia in the right channel. The Ecuadorian’s cut back pass to Rooney was decent, and the Englishman laid it off to substitute Ashley Young, who struck the ball into the top corner, scoring for the first time in 19 months in front of the United faithful.

West Ham was lethargic for large portions of the match. Sam Allardyce’s men lack a significant focal point to link play and bring the midfield forward – Modiba Maiga was woeful – whereas they relied on creativity from wide areas, and their wingers were unable to get into advanced positions. West Ham’s poor away form played a factor, but Allardyce’s side desperately need a competent target man.

Robin Van Persie – the man who singlehandedly won them the title last year – is unavailable, but Moyes is getting the best out of the players that recently fell out favour with the supporters. United enjoy a manageable festive period, and results of this stature will push Moyes’ side back into the title hunt.

Don’t count out the Red Devils, yet.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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