From scapegoats to heroes

Let’s kick off by saying that this season has been absolutely thrilling so far. Yes, we have had unbelievable lows against MK Dons and Leicester. But damn me if we haven’t played better football than we have done since 2009/2010. The play is at times dynamic, organized (but with a twist of freedom), quick and with flashes of technical brilliance. I am happy with all our new signings, as they have improved our squad depth but also the quality of our starting XI. I am also delighted with how our youngsters have dealt with the new system, manager, a new level of competition in the Premier League and with the injury situation at the club.

What delights me more than all this, however, is to see – yet again – the scapegoats from earlier becoming our new heroes. We have seen this time and time again, but people keep bashing, trash talking, and keep making insulting statements. And we see them rise back up again. In some cases, it seems like our fanbase does its best to destroy any confidence a player has, and I wish it would stop. It does not fall in lines with what I define as what a football supporter is. It is all in the words, isn’t it? Supporter. Now, there is a difference between being critical and being nasty. We are entitled to the first, while we should abstain from the latter.

This might be a history lesson for some of you newer fans of the club, but you will recognize how this mirrors what is going on in this exact season, as well as last year. A few years ago, two young lads broke through the ranks of MUFC. Coming from different parts of the United Kingdom, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher were both signed to our academy from Ireland and Scotland. Seing as both were rather young, and our team was already playing well, they got time on the pitch for the first team when we had massive injury problems. O’Shea had a stellar debut season at left back, and Darren Fletcher got his playing time vacating for various players in different positions. Mostly at right wing. He did not set the world on fire with his performances, and neither should he have been expected to. A holding midfielder which qualities emphasized work-rate and intensity does not make for the world’s most exciting winger. The important part was, as Ferguson put it, to give the youngsters match time at the highest level. This so that they could adjust to the tempo of the game. And he did just that for a long time. As time went on, O’Shea vacated at pretty much every single position possible for us. From the wing, the central midfield, centre back, goalkeeper, striker. You name it. He always put in a decent performance, despite being a natural centre back from an early age. Still, he was the focus of a lot of hate from our fanbase. Visit any Man United-related forum from back then, and you will find insulting comments regarding everything from his body, size, way of running, attitude, sexual orientation and so on. At Old Trafford, I remember him being booed a few times in his early years before earning the trust of the Stretford End. Darren Fletcher was struggling with injuries while trying to break through. He got a lot of minutes from Ferguson, who repeatedly spoke of him in great words. Now, people were still mad up until the season he found his world class form for us. He dominated top level teams on his own in midfield, as Hargreaves was injured and Darren filled in that spot. A work rate matching that of Ji-Sung Park, defensive positioning like a Roy Keane and the attitude of a Gary Neville on the pitch. He finally “made it”.

Fast-forward to last year, and think for a minute about the way fans were treating the likes of Smalling, Fellaini, Cleverley, Young, Valencia and Ferdinand. Or how fans, this season, already have managed to take the piss out of the same players, but adding Januzaj, Jonny Evans and Robin Van Persie to that same list. And all of them, in one way or another, consistently put these fans to shame. I do not need to remind you of how parts of Old Trafford sarcastically cheered every time Fellaini touched the ball in a pre-season friendly this summer. Nor should I not have to remind you that Evans played one bad game coming off a longer injury, and suddenly is deemed not good enough to play for us. Or that one silly red card from Smalling makes him a bad player. Have you all forgotten how many red cards Nemanja Vidic got for us? Or how bad his first season with us was? Or for how many dozens of games Jonny Evans has been our best defender in the past three or four years? Or how good Fellaini was at Everton when he was not injured for a whole season? Where this is getting at, is that the constant scapegoating of our players serve no good purpose. Nor does it make any sense at all. As football fans, it is easy to get caught up in the short-term, as the game is emotional in is nature, and the act of supporting a team comes from within. But try to zoom out for a bit and look at the long-term perspective. For some of our players, it is apparent that they need love from the stands. Van Persie is a great example, and he seems to do better with every “Oh, Robin Van Persie”-chant. He seems happy, and his game reflects that as well. For others, it can be a factor that helps break them as players, and send them packing out of Old Trafford. Tom Cleverley is gone, and we could have done much better for him. This is not to clear him of his own responsibility to perform, but you can see how the support, or lack thereof from the stands play a part in all this.

As we have seen so far this season, players like Fellaini and Smalling have been among our top five performers. Januzaj and Van Persie have both been rusty, but please give it some time. Look at how others like Young and Valencia are now performing in Van Gaal’s system. Surely two brilliant players like Adnan and Robin can catch up and match that when they get going and find a good form?

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A rollercoaster of a season

Frustration, hope, anger, joy. Being a Manchester United fan for the past 20 years has been easy. Since the 1992/1993 season, we’ve brought home 13 Premier League trophies. And that is not even counting our cup victories, the Champions League trophies, or our many semi-finals and finals in Europe. It would be fair to call ourselves spoiled. With the best manager of all time behind the helm, with players popping out of our own academy, with a few world class signings and playing every single game with the Manchester United ethos in mind, it has been a pure joy being a United fan. In my lifetime, Manchester United has been like a favorite movie that never ended. An everlasting Django: Unchained. It has been lovely.

 

Some Man United fans follow their local team as well. In my case, I watch games that do not collide with United games when my local team, Bodø/Glimt plays. I used to play at the junior department of the club and have ties with the inside. I’ve suffered. My local club has been relegated twice, gotten a second place in the top division in Norway, lost two cup finals, seen all our good players been picked up by the bigger clubs in Norway. It has been painful. But it has really come in handy this season. I know how to deal with pain that I can not do anything with, such pain that in fact Manchester United’s performances has forced on me.

 

We started the season on a high. An average pre-season ornamented in minor issues such as players resting after the international friendlies in the summer, players not returning from injuries and a new manager and management coming in had us left with average results in Asia. Wilfried Zaha, Fabio, Cleverley, Anderson, Januzaj and Lingard all looked great while the rest of the team was a huge disappointment. Moyes tied up both Rooney and Nani on long term contracts and won the Community Shield against Wigan. Everything felt like it was back to normal. The Premier League season was coming up and we looked strong, confident, decent. The opening game was a convincing 4-1 win in Wales against Swansea. Were we going to steamroll this season too? Van Persie, Welbeck and Valencia all played a fantastic game and we looked solid at the back. Following that, we faced a strikerless Chelsea in a 9-1-0 formation at home. We were the better team, but were not precise enough in front of goal. A boring 0-0 draw that had me gasping at half time. Mourinho lining us up as if we were Barcelona at home. Still, we had 4 points from our two first games. Things were looking good.

 

Then, Liverpool at Anfield, City away, West Brom at home. Three defeats in five games. And in the middle of that we crushed at the time second place in the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen. Watching United from game to game was like talking to a girl in the middle of puberty. One day, great. One day, fuck off. How to deal with this? I don’t know. Out of the next 15 games or so, we won a huge number of them. From mid October to New years, we were the in form team in the league. Back to normal? It left us feeling alright, though our play was often static and lacking precision in attack. We played like we did for huge parts of the 2012/2013 season – not beautiful, but gathering points. I was alright with it, but was afraid we might get punished against better opposition. Good opposition was coming up.

 

Now, from Janury to March, we lost 9 games. And that not only against good teams like Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, but also to teams we should be beating. Tottenham, Swansea, Sunderland, Stoke and Olympiacos. We looked in shambles. Fan forums in all directions were calling for Moyes’ head. Not only were we losing a lot, but the way we were losing. Uninspired, barely scoring, half of the team out injured. Never being able to field a similar XI two games in a row. Signing just one player in January. Discussions were directed towards the possibility of hiring Jürgen Klopp, Louis van Gaal – anyone! Fans all over the world voiced their concern for the club and wanted to see heads rolling. David Moyes! Phil Neville! Steve Round! Damnit, sack them all! Even Sir Alexander Ferguson got shit thrown in his direction. How could he leave an aging, poor team for the next guy to take over? Did he hire Moyes purely based on his origins? A few cool heads argued that we were transitioning from the greatest manager of all time for a lifetime, that a lot of players weren’t performing up to par and that he simply wanted to give the entire squad a chance to prove their worth and willingness to be part of this new Manchester United era. These optimistic fans, also known as the Pro-Moyes camp or called ”high horse-glorified fans” by the Moyes-out camp were taking a lot of heat in that period. And to be fair, they still do. A toothless performance at Liverpool at home and Olympiacos away does not seem to be games that most fans are able to look past. These games are being pointed out as the epitome of the new Moyes-era. The main point here is that, not only were the team performing poorly. The fans were being terrible to one another. Dividing into camps, using foul language in discussions, wanting blood. Very much uncharacteristic of our fan group in my lifetime, and very surprising to many of us. Everyone is in this together, we all want the club to succeed. We all want the team to play better football. Throwing axes at eachother is not going to solve anything.

 

Now, we managed to fight our way back into the Champions League by a wonderful performance at the Theatre of Dreams. 3-0 against the Greek. We were through. Bayern followed. We were good. We played with heart, soul, gut. We held them to a draw at home, but we could have won. Despite of a very disappointing result at home against our city rivals, Manchester City, we beat West-Ham, Crushed Aston Villa and a few days ago, walked all over Newcastle. Our attacking play seems to have sorted itself out a bit. Three attacking midfielders behind a mobile striker, two holding midfielders. It seems to be our recipe now. And it looks to be working out rather well.

 

Tomorrow, Bayern at the Allianz Arena awaits. We are massive underdogs, but Bayern are struggling a bit. For the first time in two seasons. They’ve lost to Augsburg. They drew against us. Drew against Hoffenheim. Drew against Arsenal.  All in the past 30 days. If there ever was a good time for us to knock them out, this is it. We have everything to gain, they have a lot to lose. If we take the fight to them. Show them that Phil Jones heart, the Wayne Rooney will, the Danny Welbeck physique. We can do it. We need to play a 10/10 game, and that is something that we know that we are able to. Playing our best, we can challenge anyone. I can not wait.

 

Regardless of how the Bayern game ends up, we have a good chance of finishing the season on a high. Everton, Norwich, Sunderland, Hull, Southampton. Can we manage a 5 game win streak? End the season on a high? Go into the summer with some momentum. I think we can. I hope we do. 13 points from those 5 games would be very impressive. If that involves a lot of Kagawa, Büttner, Welbeck and Chicharito, I would be even more happy. Looking back at the season, it has obviously been a massive let down. Not only have we been poor. We seem to have been parked behind a handful of teams in the league when it comes to playing style, goal scoring ability, defensive performances, winning points. Consistency, where have you gone? We have a massive job to do. As many as 10 players could be leaving the club in the summer if you include reserve team players. Our youngsters are dominating on loan. Our young core in the team in De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Adnan and Welbeck are all looking good. I am positive and encouraged for the next season. I just wish for the United fans to treat eachother better. This is the time to, as the name implies, unite. Not to break apart. Manchester United fans have to stand together, in the good times and in the hard times. And we’ll get through this slump and come out on top. I am sure of that.

 

 

Things we learned from the Olympiacos game

What a game!

What a game! Complete turnaround in that good old Man United fashion. I still have to pinch my arm to make sure it actually happened. The way we attacked with purpose, the gut, inspiration and willingness to work hard by the players, the lethality infront of goal and everything else that led to us going through to the quarter finals. There are a few lessons to be made from this game. And I do not mean that this game, isolated, is indicative and proof enough on its own to put two two lines under the answer – but we can deduct a few things from it, and this post will attempt to do that.

The creative midfielder situation

Ryan Joseph Giggs. What a player. Last year against Real Madrid. This year against Sociedad at home, Leverkusen away and now also Olympiacos at home. He has been absolutely amazing in those games. The difference for us having a Giggs on top of his game and not having that pure creative player in central midfield is huge. Using the three games mentioned above as the sample to deduct somewhat of a statement out of this, is that we’ve been playing way more diverse, adventurous and attacking football when he has been in the centre. He misses a fair bit of passes and is not amazing at the defensive work (and neither should he be expected to), but the way he opens up our attacking play with the passing from the midfield highlights something that fans has been talking about ever since Scholes retired the first time around. Man United with and without a creative midfielder are two different teams. The wing play works better, Rooney gets more time on the ball, our strikers are fed more chances and we generally look more positive while attacking. This justifies all the talk about the club needing a creative, attacking midfielder with a good passing range and great vision in the summer. It will give us a multidimensional attacking display on a consistent basis once again.

If that means a £25 million bid for Rakitic, Pjanic or some other star player in the summer, then so be it. I think our Champions League games, and not least the games we have played our worst football this season where the lack of a creative centre to connect our defense, midfield and attack, are proof enough. The money should be spent.

Players showing up as a team

The last time players really showed up must have been during the comeback vs Sunderland in the cup. January 23rd. Two months ago. This is unacceptable. I do not want to go into why they are not showing up, or who is at fault, but it is clear to me that when they do show up, we (naturally) look a completely different team. Seeing one-eyed Valencia play his heart out yesterday, Rafael run for 90+, Jones betting on his life in every single challenge and Rooney running for three players put a warm feeling in many of the fans’ hearts last night. In addition to that, our tactics were actually easier to identify. This sheds some light on the criticism aimed towards our lack of game plan and clear tactics this season. In the games we have been doing well, players have been working hard and the tactics have been clear for everyone to see. We need the players to come together with the management and should look to work together to end the season on a high. This is the best possible way to go into the summer and start building towards the 14/15 season.

I think that if there was any doubt about Valencias’ ability to remain at the club as a squad/rotation player next season, if Rooney still  loves the club and if Van Persie still has what it takes, all those should be gone now. One performance alone is enough to say such a thing. In my opinon, Valencia should remain as a midfield 3, right back and right winger option next season. He always gives his all, offers power, pace and determination and seems to love the club. Why rid ourselves of that? Rooney has started justifying a new long-term deal, and Van Persies’ celebrations last night made it look like Manchester is still the place he wants to be. No doubts from my point of view.

Players redeeming themselves individually

Many players have been delivering performances on a sub-par level for too long now. Yesterday, many of them redeemed themselves. Jones recovered from a rather sloppy and clumsy Liverpool-performance. He looked like a Man United vice captain and saved our asses many times. Ferdinand was near invisible, which honestly is a good sign. He didn’t make many mistakes and helped control the back-4 in a good fashion. His leadership and passing qualities helped us switch quickly from defense to attack. Welbeck, Van Persie, Carrick and Valencia all showed their experience in playing important games. Van Persie still has got it, Carrick was calm and controlling in the centre, despite being alone on defensive duty, Welbeck had a fantastic performance. And with De Gea back there, we looked a team once again. This needs to be built upon. Use the good performances to create patterns, confidence, team spirit and then new, good performances.

Moyes not finding room for other players

Let me start by saying that I thought the substitutions made perfect sense and were both spot on and came at about the right time. I complained about the lack of changes from the sidelines for about 5 minutes before they came, which is nothing compared to my complaints earlier this season. Young did well, Fletcher did fine, Fellaini was a beast towards the end. We needed all three of the players. On the other hand, this meant that players that also could have made sense remained on the bench. Hernandez to add counter-attacking threat on the opposition, Kagawa for a Giggs looking progressively more tired out there or Januzaj to draw attention on the sides for an injured Van Persie. Neither happened. I am not sure how much one can draw from this, but considering the rumors that Kagawa was going to “be involved in some way vs Olympiacos” some fans worry that this could have been the last drop to make the cup run over for Shinji and Javier. Both eager to participate. Both with great reputations as footballers and both with amazing abilities. They have been unable to make their stamp on a poor Man United side of 2013/2014. Even if Moyes said that Kagawa would see a lot more playtime for the rest of the season (Mancester Evening News, March 11th), and getting praise at every situation where the player has come up, he has not really gotten anything of that.

Going forward

The Champions League run is a bright light in an otherwise dark season for me and the others I’ve discussed this topic with. For each game we progress, I see it as a bonus. I have rather low expectations going into the quarter finals, as we have already reached as far in the tournament that I would expect if you asked me last summer. Do not get me wrong, we are capable of beating the best teams in the world on a good day. Even in shit form. I do worry about Büttner on the left back in the quarters, or Rafael if we move him over. I do worry about to which degree we can use Giggs in that central position to great effect without the long time between the games. But I hope we are able to drag more surprises out of our hats. An upset versus Real Madrid or another team would bring renewed hope among fans and players going into the summer window, and most importantly – the next season.

Finding a balance – approaching the summer transfer window

A lot has been written about David Moyes, tactics, transfer rumors, veteran players, club staff and similar lately. I want to take a step forward and look at the summer ahead of us. This post will include two categories of transfers we could be looking at, the topic of building a core and the promotion of youth team players into the first team.

Premises

In doing this, I have to set some premises. The post would be way too long and include way too many variables if I were to include all the aspects mentioned above in the intro. My premises are as follows; I expect players like Macheda, Anderson, Vidic (this one is confirmed), Ferdinand, Giggs, Lindegaard, Chicharito and one of Young, Valencia or Kagawa to play for other clubs or retire before next season. This is massive, but likely. This should have us at 8 players going out of the squad. Minimum.

Another premise is that I expect us to take a somewhat healthy approach to rebuilding. This means that we will balance new signings with youth players, our current core of young and talented players and a few of the veteran players at the club. This is a significant premise in the way that it seperates us from the clubs we can not, and should not compete with in terms of transfer policy (City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Monaco, PSG). We need to follow a more healthy approach as we can not spend £200 mill every other season.

Building a core

Building a new core in the team is going to be one of the greatest challenges of the manager in the summer and season to come. First of all, the World Cup comes at a very inconvenient point for us. Players will most likely get extended holidays and the pre-season tour is going to be dominated by players who got knocked out of the WC early and young prospects ready to play for a spot in the team. This is both very unfortunate for setting the tone for a new season, but great for young players who can improve and knock on the door to the first team or gain great loan deals in the seasons to come. Two examples could be Lingard (Birmingham) and Januzaj (important first team member this season). Others have the potential to do the same.

For me, this means that the manager has to get a majority of his business done early. Summer tournaments tend to bump the value of players, and we should look to avoid that. Also, signing players up before they become contested, evident in the Chicharito-case in 2010 is definately the way to go for us. It will calm fans, current players and new players going into a new season. It will also let us reduce the amount of situations where other clubs outbid us for the players we want, which tends to happen towards the end of transfer windows.

As for core building itself, Ferguson has been a master of this. If Moyes is the manager next season, he has decent credentials in doing the same over and over for the Merseyside club. We already look decent in that we have a young, amazing goalkeeper. We also have 3 relatively young, talented centrebacks, a young right back and some talented young attackers. We do not have midfielders to build the team around, and this is probably the main challenge in building for the future. We also need a young left-back to challenge Evra or to replace him. Both of paramount importance.
Promoting youth players

One obvious way to  renew the core of the team is to promote young players that are good enough to “more than carry their own weight”. Jones has done it this season, Januzaj the same. Looking at our current club roster, a few names points themselves out as candidates for next season. Jesse Lingard, Nick Powell, Michael Keane, Angelo Henriquez, Will Keane, Wilfried Zaha and Guillermo Varela are some of the players that have looked ready for more chances and responsibility at a higher level. Now, as we are rumored to invest a lot in new players this summer, it is unlikely that all of the players mentioned above will be given chances at the first team. Most likely, half of them will be loaned out to Premier League teams or top-half Championship teams. This is fine too. But some of them needs to be included with the first team next season. Could Michael Keane fill the role Rio Ferdinand has had this season? Looking at how well he has done on loan, for the reserves and when given a chance with the first team – yes. He most definately could be our backup centreback with a chance to get a lot of playtime whenever our starting defenders need rotating or picks up injuries. Jesse Lingard has shown himself as a possible star player in pre-season and on loan this season. Jesse is lethal infront of goal, quick, technically gifted, loves combination-play and works hard. He could very well play in cup games, be an impact player off the bench and fight for playtime with the first team. I also see Nick Powell as a rising star. A lot of praise has been sent in the direction of Evertons’ Ross Barkley this season. I rate Powell similarly. He looks fantastic going forward, knows how to tackle and has that goal scoring quality which is rare in young players. The way he has been a key player for Wigan this season proves that he knows how to adapt quickly, plays in several position and has the right talent and motivation to make it with us. He needs playtime next season, and should be tried out in several different positions. As for the other players in the list, it gets harder. It all depends on who and what we sign in the summer. There is no need to have both Henriquez and W. Keane on the bench if we also have Welbeck, Rooney and Van Persie. One or both of them will have to be loaned out if that is the case.

Looking even further than that, players like Mitchell, Rothwell, Goss, Pearson, A. Pereira, J. Pereira, Sam Johnstone, Redmond and a few others look fantastic on a youth level and could be looking to get cup games next season. Things are looking very good in terms of promoting from our own ranks, and the importance of how the manager will tackle this challenge will be very interesting to follow in the next couple of seasons.

Transfers for the future

A lot of young players have the potential to play for Man United. Many of them find themselves in clubs like Ajax, PSV, Sporting CP and in the Belgian league. One can never dismiss Brazil and Argentina when it comes to young players either. Dropping names here does not really provide any helpful speculation as we have no idea. As Nick Powell was picked up from Crewe Alexandra, I was extatic – but also surprised. Nobody could have foreseen such a transfer, and neither will we be able to do it in the summer to come. There is no doubt we will be looking at players that fit this category though, as many rate as the most important transfers to make. Januzaj is a great example of that.

Immediate impact

This is where myself and many others feel that the club has slacked off in recent years and needs to step it up in the summer. As written about above, we have a lot of talented players that we can phase into the first team or involve in games we are 3-0 up, playing against League 2 teams or similar. Mata and Fellaini are supposed to fit this category, and hopefully they will. Many will argue that Mata already has made an impact with decent stats since changing from blue to red. I would agree with that. Fellaini picked up an injury early after coming here, but has looked among our better players since returning from injury some weeks back. Going into the summer, with the premise that we will lose the players mentioned in the premise-paragraph, we need to replace quite a few players. We will need ourselves top players to raise the quality of the squad. I recently had a discussion with a fan who, with convincing arguments, showed me how both Southampton and Tottenham have better depth and quality in midfield than us. This is concerning and we should look to sign. A new centre back in seems to be on many fans’ lips as Vidic is ready for Inter and Ferdinand looks old. A new central, creative midfielder that provides a goal threat is also a popular opinion for what people want Man United to bring in.

Now, the regular rumors coming our way include: Ezekiel Garay, Ilkay Gundogan, Adam Lallana, William Carvalho, Toni Kroos, Luke Shaw, Elaquim Mangala, Paul Pogba and Mats Hummels. I will offer a few other players that I feel we should be looking at in the summer.

Nicolas N’Koulou

Is a 23 year old Cameroonian centre-back playing for Marseille. He is (only) 6’0, and a powerplug. Those are 80 kilos of muscles right there. He is great on the ground, is good at passing has a good attitude. He has been perhaps the best player for Marseille this season and could be looking for a move to the Premier League. He would fit very well in our defense and still has years to improve. As a transfer target, he is most likely cheaper than some of the big names (Subotic, Hummels, Benatia), and we could be looking at bringing him in as a contender for a CB spot next season.

Stefan de Vrij

We could also be looking at Feyenoord defender de Vrij, who is a 22 year old focused, tall centre-back who is great on the ground. Fantastic tackler, good leadership qualities, good passer. We have had great experiences with players from the Eresdivisie before, and this guy would fit right into a young, ambitious team. He might not be as good as Evans, Jones or Smalling yet, but has a couple of years on both Evans and Smalling, and would provide much needed depth in the squad.

Ivan Rakitic

A 26-year old phenomena in the Sevilla midfield. A fantastic player on the ball and one of the best players in the Spanish league this season. Whoscored.com has him on an average rating of 7.77 , which grants him a 3rd place on average ratings on whoscoreds’ La Liga-list, only behind Messi and Ronaldo. As a player, he has a fantastic set-piece ability, a great passing range, a good long shot, is able to control the flow of the game with movement and passing and a hard working attitude. Sevilla is a club without a lot of money in the bank, and will have to sell if we go in for him. He can play as a deeplying playmaker, a box-to-box midfielder with an emphasis on going forward or as a pure attacking midfielder. He shines when he gets to see a lot of the ball and is allowed to control the flow of the game, which many would argue is exactly what Man United are lacking in midfield.

Dani Parejo

Real Madrid-reject thriving in Valencia? We’ve seen it before and it is happening once again. Dani Parejo has had a very convincing season in Valencias midfield. He is fantastic on the ball, has a good passing range, good at tackling, hits lethal through-balls and knows how to dribble. He would be a slightly more dynamic long-term replacement for Carrick if we were to sign him. He turns 25 in April and should be the perfect age to come into the team and claim a spot.

Conclusion

Now, we could go on forever when it comes to transfer rumors, youth prospects within the club and who we should sell. Some people want Vidal, Pogba and Reus in while others are okay as long as we improve our squad. The main point of this article however, is to highlight that no matter who we purchase this summer, and who we promote – it is the combination of those and the success in that process that will determine how well our team is going to look in the years to come. How successfully can we implement players like for example Rakitic, Powell, Michael Keane and Dani Parejo with De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Rooney and Januzaj? This is impossible to foresee. Especially when one considers how much negativity is surrounding the club this season. Still, it should be the grounding for some optimism. We have a lot of good, young players. We have a lot of money to reinforce. We have the possibility to build a fantastic squad. The future will prove whether or not we do this in a successful manner. Like we have done time and time again before. There are no guarantees, but I find comfort in our traditions, potential and economic power. I also choose to remain positive in regards to the rebuilding process. We have a great starting point, and whoever leads the team going forward has a lot of resources to use in his building.

Manchester United vs Liverpool – A Rivalry

The challenge was to knock Liverpool off of their perch. When United won their 19th title in the 2010-11 season, the fans were ecstatic. That is what we always wanted to see, to see United’s name erase the name of Liverpool from the records. What spawned this rivalry? Where did it start from?

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Some say that the rivalry started at the early industrial age when Manchester and Liverpool were important cities. Manchester, more industrialized while Liverpool was the port; each surviving together with their advantages. When the canal to Manchester was built, the merchants of Liverpool felt hard done by. There is some belief that this is the earliest possibility of the rivalry between the cities. The crest of both Mancunian teams have these ships which characterize the ships that supplied goods to Manchester through the canal.

As they say, you settle differences either by war or by sport. Football was the choice. Liverpool and Manchester United in between them have 121 trophies. Definitely highly decorated with Liverpool having 59 of the trophies and the rest going to Manchester United. The era of Liverpool was from 1975-1990 when they won pretty much everything with 11 league championships and 4 European Cups. The United era followed 1990 during which period Manchester United won 13 league championships and 2 European Cups. Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United pretty much ruled that United were going to knock Liverpool as the team with the largest number of wins. When that happened in the 2010-2011 season, it was bliss.

The rivalry doesn’t stop there. It goes deeper and has rooted itself in the players as well. Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville hating Liverpool with the same level of hatred as Steven Gerard and Jamie Carragher hate Manchester United. This hatred grew a notch when Suarez was banned for a few matches in the 2011-2012 season when he racially abused Patrice Evra. This was followed by Suarez snubbing Evra’s handshake on February 11, 2011. This hatred also manifests in the transfer diaries with 0 transfers between United and Liverpool since 1964. Gabriel Heinze was the last player who vocally asked to transfer from United to Liverpool and who was completely shunned by the supporters until he moved to Real Madrid. That is how bad the fans feel about Liverpool. The matches are contentious as well. Fans of Manchester United can never get enough of the 1999 Champions League final while Liverpool can never get enough of the 2005 match against AC Milan.

When you say rivalry, there are a few matches which you would definitely need to watch to get the grasp of the feeling when you see United win against Liverpool is when you watch the match of April 2003 when United won 4-0 against Liverpool at Old Trafford. It’s a match that showed absolute class of United during that period with Nistelrooy scoring 2 from penalties while the other two goals were scored by Ryan Giggs and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. There are matches on the other side of the spectrum when Liverpool pulled a 4-1 victory over United at Old Trafford in 2009. It is a match every United fan watches and cries in glee when we win and cries in agony when Liverpool snatch it. Nevertheless, the rivalry is one that has history between the clubs, the cities and the players over the last 100 years. The rivalry has not abated and neither will it in the coming years; instead it has strengthened into a very strong talking point over the years even more after Ferguson vowed to knock them off of their perch.

January evaluation of our loaned out players

The Man United youth system

 

Is producing talent like crazy. With Januzaj, Welbeck and Cleverley as former reserve team players now playing regularly with the first team, a reserve team with talented players like Ekangamene, Barmby, Thorpe, Cole, Byrne and Pearson and the UEFA youth league squad looking great with talents like Rothwell, Wilson, Goss, Pereira and Janko, it is safe to say that we are looking very good in a long-term perspective. Knowing how many of the Premier League clubs that have ex-reds in their squads, how many Championship clubs that have the same and how well some of the players we lost (Pogba, Morrison, Fryers, Dæhlie) are doing in their new clubs, our ability to form and improve young players is impressive as ever.

 

This statistic looks even better

 

If you include some of the players we have loaned out this season. Finding January 17th on the calendar today, a total of 13players have been or are currently on loan at other clubs. The best part? Most of them are key players in their clubs, or at the very least playing consistently. Perfect!

Looking at how well players like Tom Cleverley, Johnny Evans and Danny Welbeck did at other clubs, and the fact that they were given chances when they returned from loan, seems to have set somewhat of a model of how our youth policy works. If someone is on the verge of making it, or looking like the reserve league is no longer providing a decent arena for challenge and development, we send them to other clubs so they can make new steps towards our first team. So far, it is looking very promising.

 

Counting names

 

I got to 13 players on loan so far this season. Those should include; Tom Lawrence, M. Keane, W. Keane, Federico Macheda, Ben Amos, Jesse Lingard, Nick Powell, Angelo Henriquez, Sam Johnstone, Bebe, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Reece James, Marnick Vermijl.

Writing about all of them at the same time would make the post way too long, and to be fair – not all of the loaned out players are too exciting to follow. I’ll write about three of them in this post. I might follow this up and make a part-series about them if there is enough of an interest in the concept.

With their performance so far on loan in mind, I’ll pick out Vermijl, Powell and Ben Amos.

 

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Ben Amos

The former 3rd choice goalkeeper at United, Ben Amos, is currently on loan at Carlisle United. Carlisle is playing in League 1, and is having a rather underwhelming season. Sitting at 17th, with 5 points down to 24th and a long, long way to the top, every game is a struggle for the club, and now also for Ben. As most Man United academy goalkeepers, he is solid, has good basics, good physical attributes and a good attitude, but does not look to have the top level of a Man United first choice goalkeeper.

Moving on to his performances on Carlisle, he has been very decent. Stepping in as the goalkeeper in a team that is doing poorly is extremely hard. Having to perform well himself as well as coordinating an unorganized defense… One would probably not call that working under ideal conditions. Despite of that, Ben has done very well. He has conceded 12 goals in 9 appearances, but for a club that had a way worse average than that before he came in, those stats are better than one would think at first glance. Following reddit user Baelix’s loan threads has showed that Amos has had more than a couple of very good performances, and he looks set to make the step up and play in the Championship next season. In the context of this blog post, he looks to become one of the many players that worked his way through the clubs’ system and earned himself a decent career elsewhere.

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Marnick Vermijl

A young Belgian, former Standard Liege player and a player that hasn’t been at the club for as long as some of the other players. Who is he? He seemed to go unnoticed for long periods when at United. Despite of that, he was one of the first names on the team sheet for the U21s. As a player, he fits the same category that many of our youth team sidebacks do. Former winger? Check. Quick and technically gifted? Check. Loves attacking? Check. In other words, he is somewhat of a Rafael light.

As for his loan, I was quite surprised to see him go to NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands. I was sure he would end up in a Championship club or something like that.

As for NEC, they are the worst team in the Dutch league. Last place, 15 points in 18 games, 3 victories. Vermijl on the other hand, he has been the best player. The first name on the team sheet, right back, Marnick Vermijl. The youtube highlights from Baelixs’ threads usually show him driblling, going for crosses, bursting forward. A good, old attacking right back. His qualities on the ball are very good and he is has the physical ability to play in England. By that, I am refering to his height (180 cm) and his speed on and off the ball. Being the star player in a terrible team is a hard job, but Marnick has probably earned himself a contract at one of the better Dutch clubs, for a low-end Premier League club or a top Championship side next season. If he can keep a similar level of performances throughout the rest of the season, I can see Solskjær being interested in bringing him in. He knows him well, would probably get him on a free, and he fits the Solskjær philosophy of attacking defenders.

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Nick Powell

A very much talked about signing last season, doing very well the few times he was given a chance with the first team and constantly getting praise from Sir Alex in the media, I am pretty sure he was considered as a player to stay with the team this season. A loan out to Wigan was too good to turn down, and the promise of playing every week was just perfect for him. As a goal scoring, versatile player, able to play in midfield, attacking midfield, off the striker or as the striker, Powell has proven himself as a key player for a Wigan that has had  has slowly worked their way up towards the play-off spots. Knowing Powells’ history with big play-off games, one would guess that he would like nothing more than sending Wigan right back up to the Premiership.

As a player, he has had a very consistent season at Wigan. Consistently good. Whoscored has him as the 5th best performing player at the club, slightly behind the goalkeeper, their CB pairing and star player Shaun Maloney. On the pitch, he delivers power, clever movement, short passing and more than anything, goals. Currently sitting at 10 goals in all tournaments in 22 starts and 4 sub-ons, is a very impressive statistic for the sexiest, young supertalent in the country. As a player, he looks a lot more mature than his 19 years of age would indicate. He looks calm, determined and focused whenever I watch him play, and I can not see him not becoming a top class player. I know I might have less credibility in this situation than most, as those who have followed the blog and/or my reddit comments since his arrival, know I am a huge Powell fan. But I genuinely believe this. He will become top, top class.

His ability to shoot, win headers, to tackle and to create chances puts him in a very impressive spot for such a young player. He will need to work on his passing accuracy if he wants to play in the Man United midfield, and hwo better than Paul Scholes to tutor him? I can see him playing an increasingly important part next season. Hopefully he stays fit for the pre-season this time, and gets to play his way into the team in the same way Adnan has done.

As an end note

I am delighted in the way our younger players have performed this season. For the first team, our young players have been the ones standing out. Jones, Adnan, and recently Welbeck have all been performing very well. The loaned out players have been extremely impressive too. Of those not mentioned, and as possible players to look into on a later occation, Lingard, Henriquez and Tunnicliffe would be some of those who have played the most of games, and in turn are those who makes the most sense to evaluate.

As a question to the good folks of /r/reddevils, I want to know whether this is as interesting to you as it is to me, and if that means that you would like more original content on this topic. If that is the case, which three players should be explored and why?

As a bonus question, I wonder which one of the players on loan has impressed you the most this season.

The coming together and a crazy market. Can we afford to be frugal?

West-Ham

The coming together

We have come together as a team in the last couple of weeks, no doubt. We look more like a unit, working towards the same goals, and it is helping. We play more dynamic football, show more ability to be precise in passing, and players that people had given up on are starting to prove their worth again. Young, Welbeck and Cleverley have been very promising in the past couple of games, and Smalling has impressed me a lot – playing RB or CB, he delivers. Evans is the teams’ leader together with Evra and Rooney, and our young players seem to improve from game to game. And most importantly, we have started to win games.

We have been quite unlucky with injuries so far. Van Persie has been out a bit, Fellaini has pretty much not had time to settle in between knocks and the red card, Rafael started the season with an injury, Kagawa has been unlucky with illness and long travels for games. And we looked extremely poor at the start of all this. Now we are looking better. Granted, the opposition is now Aston Villa, West-Ham, Stoke and Shakhtar Donetsk, we’ve still been looking better for every game.

Our squad has what probably is the most experience per player – in the whole league, and that is not because we are loaded with oldies. We have young players starting their 3rd season for the club. We know how to do this, and will when some of our old players retire too. The question is whether the lack of depth in some positions is going to cost us a good placement in the league / be the decider if we win a cup or not.

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A crazy, crazy market

With imaginary oilpipes stretching from Russia and the Middle-East  to some of the clubs in the country that weren’t big challengers for anything before, the Premier League is all shaken up. Some say it is good for the general quality of the league, and some argue it to be a “cheating way” to win. The clubs owners act like the rich parents of a kid that they never have time for, in a way. It is not a perfect anology, but the point is, they buy and buy and buy and buy and buy. No second thoughts, no evaluation (it seems). Just buy these 5 strikers this summer, and we’ll be good for the season. Similar to how rich kids in my area were treated by rich parents. They just pumped money into the kid to compensate for never being around.

Where am I going with this? The transfer market is completely fucked. Just a few years ago, signings at 15 mill were crazy high! Massive expectations. Now you rarely see big clubs spending less than 20-25 for a good player. This happens in two ways. First, the oil clubs tend to jump in whenever a team like United or Arsenal initiate talks with a player. “We’ll double your wages!”. Hello, Arjen Robben, Essien and many others. It also works in the favor of sellings clubs around. You can fake the interest of a big club to increase the price of your players. Another common tactic seems to be to point at other transfers and say “Look, if player X was worth 30 mill, our player is certainly worth at least the same!”. It’s created a crazy market, and we have in many ways refused to be part of it unless we needed to.

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Current situation

We are looking good at times. The young core at the club, including De Gea, Rafael, Evans and Smalling at CB, Jones, Januzaj, Welbeck and Cleverley. And to add to that, Powell, Lingard, Henriquez and Vermilj are rocking it out on loan. We almost have what we need to just rebuild a new top team when our veterans retire. And our academy seems to be producing gold at will at the moment.

This does not solve our short term problems. We often get exposed on the left side in defense. Be that with Evra too far up the pitch, or being out of position when we are defending. It happens a lot. The left back issue isn’t as pressing as one would think, but it is growing in importance with every month Patrice adds to his age tally.

Our main problems, which many argue that Ferguson managed to work around, have been depth in midfield. And it is a quite obvious problem too. Whenever we’ve gotten an injured midfielder, we’ve had to fill in with old wingers, young defenders or even a right back at CM. It is not ideal, and it is a miracle that we’ve managed to keep for example Carrick without injuries for so long. Now that he’s out, our team fell apart for the first few games. Maybe we needed that? I’d argue that both Jones and Cleverley have stepped up big-time. But is that enough? What if one of them get injured? Is Fletcher healthy enough to fill in for 2 months? I would not bet on it. It is risky.

Now, we took the first step towards building new and adding to depth. Fellaini. As mentioned above, he has been injured quite a bit, and despite of that – was our best player against Real Sociedad and Everton. He did his job. What he doesn’t do is to create. And he’s never been a creator. I don’t know why people bash him for not doing it. It’s not what he was bought for. We wanted more than one new midfielder in the summer, and we most likely will go for it in January or in the summer window. A creative player.

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Can we afford to be frugal?

Can we afford to play it cool and wait out for the good deals? Maybe. That depends. In January though, probably not. If the manager and the fans want a star player, we will have to pay up. I refer to the “crazy market” section. We could probably manage to place all right with Giggs playing as much as he has done, with Jones playing amazing at CDM, and if Fletcher really is back for good this time. With Cleverley stepping up, with Rooney dropping down. We can manage. But if we want to kill the risk that has been evident for years, we’ll have to buy. One or two good players. Anderson does not even count for me anymore. He does not take his chances, and when he does, he always gets injured. It is hard to put faith in a player like that to deliver when we need it the most.

Now this is a paraphrased quote from reddit user Calimariae, that I’ve had regular discussions with. “This is not the time for frugality. We either pay up or put ourselves in the position where we could fall off completely”. And whether it is right or wrong is hard to tell, but it makes an important point. This is kind of like reaching the end of a road, leaving you with two options. Make a left, or make a right. The left looks similar to what you’ve got, which in my mind is illustrates the continuous faith in our youngsters to play us into a top 4 position and a cup win. The right is reinforcing, giving more depth and more quality to the midfield in particular.

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As for specific names

Some of them have been mentioned on the blog before. Ivan Rakitic, Miralem Pjanic, Granit Xhaka, Sebastian Rode. Do we want class players like this? Rakitic and Pjanic are proven players. In this market, 20+ million pounds – maybe more if their clubs are doing well, which they are. Xhaka one could strike a good deal for. He is young, very good, but hasn’t been mentioned by other clubs as far as I know. Rode has 6 months left on his contract, and Bayern are interested. Can we afford to play hard ball? Do we even have the best hand of cards in this market? No, we don’t. If we want someone, we will have to pay up. But there is an easy way to justify this. What is more expensive? Not making top 4 or paying 5-10 million pounds extra for a player? If you can allow yourself to emphasize like that. If a new player is what makes us really tick, it would be worth it for me. And for the club. We’re past the point of frugality, at least for now, and especially if we want to take major action in January.