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.
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.