Trying to remain optimistic

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Trying to remain optimistic –  focusing on the positives of Man United so far this season.

We all agree that the start to the season has been rather underwhelming. Problems that have been showing in the past couple of seasons have just grown worse, and we look very inconsistent. Some games, we actually play pretty well. Players are performing with determination and skill enough for us to win. Other games, we look like Norwich reserves out on the pitch. This has to sort itself out. However, I want to try to focus on some of the positives so far. We’re counting December 11th and not everything has been dark and terrible.

 

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Our young players

Let me start of by saying I am extremely excited about the future. The balls, maturity, technical ability and physical prowess that some of the younger players have shown so far in the season has been just amazing.

Phil Jones has been terrific. 4 games at centre back, 4 at right back, 6 in midfield and two sub-ons. He’s featured in pretty much every single game we’ve played this season and has been an outstanding performer. He looks more calm, more composed and more mature than last season. He runs non-stop for 90+ and is not afraid of anything. He’s a fan favorite because he plays with his heart, and he’s improved both his passing and tackling coming into this season. And now he’s figured out how to bang volleys in the back of the net too. I am confident that I am not alone in hoping for a 15+ years career from Jones, wearing the United and England captains armband. If he keeps playing like he has done, he’s a sure starter in our team. He’s 21. Great to see Moyes putting him to the test consistently and that he proves his worth when given chances.

Another player that has taken the step up to the Premier League is Adnan Januzaj. He’s featured in 10 games already, more than I thought he would get this whole season. He probably had his best game down the left hand side, scoring twice and creating dozens of chances with his flair and vision, and is – at the moment – outperforming our other wide players. He’s made Nani, Young, Valencia and Kagawa look like the squad rotation players. Amazing to see such a talent sign a 5 year deal and get consistent playtime with us. He will probably remain a bit inconsistent for a couple of seasons, but the hype is well justified. This kid can go all the way, and both his team mates and the manager seems to think the same.

Now for one of my favorites, I’ve been blown away by the consistency he’s shown us this season. Chris Smalling has in my opinion been one of our best players this season. His defending ability, surprisingly quick feet and calm on the ball has saved us many times, mostly when he had to fill in at RB but also in his two games at CB. For me, he has shown qualities that should make him our 3rd best CB at the moment, only behind Evans and Vidic for the spot. As long as he keeps improving on the offensive aspect of his game, I think he can become just excellent for us. And by offensive, I don’t necessarily mean the crossing. I don’t expect a CB to be a great crosser. But his passing accuracy needs a bit of an improvement, and he needs to grow bigger balls in aerial duels.

David De Gea is another one that just keeps impressing. I feel sorry for him having conceded as many goals as he have this season, because he’s been one of our best performers. These past two seasons, he’s been playing like he’s 28. He looks like he’s grown a temper, a willingness to “get in there” and a determination to win that pairs superbly with his natural ability and talent for the game. I can’t wait to see how well he’ll do once we get our defense settled and the other issues in our team fixed. Definately a player we could see playing at Old Trafford for 10 more years, or longer.

Now I can’t wait to see if Tom Cleverley, Rafael, Welbeck and Wilfried Zaha can catch up to the performances of these players this season. I am fairly certain that Rafael will once he gets his match fitness back on track. I think Cleverley can, and I hope Welbeck sorts it out. I also have high hopes for Zaha once he’s settled. I think he’ll come in at the mid-end part of the season and just abuse that teams are starting to get fatigued.

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Best group of players on loan since 2007?

For anyone that has read this blog before, or paid attention to my comments on reddit on this subject, my enthusiasm for the man in the picture should not come as a surprise. I’ve been a massive Powell fan since he scored the goal for Crewe Alexandra to gain promotion, and was ecstatic when we signed him. I’ll not go deeply into the different players’ performances on loan, there is already great reddit threads doing that exact thing – Bealix loan watch.

With players like Powell, who can play both as a striker, behind a striker and possibly as a future box-to-box solution for our midfield, Lingard who can play in any of the attacking positions, Vermilj who could be a RB backup player, Henriquez who’s been a star man for Zaragoza in the Segunda, and the Keane brothers recently loaned out and ready for success, I think this has to be classified as the best group of loaned out players that I can remember. At least for a long while. Hopefully, some of these players will come back, impress in the pre season next summer and stay to fight for a first team spot. Many of them seem like good options as quite a few of our older players are… Well, getting older.

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Cracking the Champions League code?

While some managers seem to notoriously struggle with the group stages in the ECL, Moyes has really impressed me with both the results we’ve been getting – but also the performances. I think it is fair to say that while our EPL run has been very disappointing so far, the ECL run has been nothing short of outstanding. The group stage table above kind of speaks for itself in that matter, but I think it is worth a mention that the positive experiences in the group stage can (hopefully) have a good, long-term effect on Moyes’ ability in getting us qualified for knock-out stages in the long run. Consistently. Unbeaten at home, grabbing points away and barely conceding. As well as averaging 2 goals in the group stages – can’t find anything negative about it. Hopefully we can carry this out in the league and in the other cups we are participating in.

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Signs of a footballing style

First of all, I recommend every single one of you that read this, to check out this interview. Phil Neville drops some major hints about how Moyes wants our team to look in terms of playing style and attitude, and I can’t be disappointed with the standard we’re aiming for. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, he basically points to the Arsenal game and says “that’s how we want to play – that style”. Which was fantastic for me to hear. That, with the interview of David Moyes at the start of the season, where he speaks about how he prepared for the manager role at United, those two are what I stick to when I think about our future playing style.

In short, the games this season where we have played the way they want us to play, have been Leverkusen away, Arsenal and Real Sociedad. In those games, we played a high pressure style with a formation that resembles the 4-2-3-1 of Dortmund and Bayern anno 2012/2013 in the Champions League. This requires a lot of movement, ability, quick and unselfish passing moving forward and a lot more running than we have seen for most of the season. But when we’ve made it work, we looked our best this season. I am excited to see whether Moyes will continue to work towards implementing this style as the season progresses or if our group of players can’t handle it. We struggled doing so last season under Ferguson, mostly because we lacked the link between midfield and attack, and didn’t have a bruiser in midfield. Now we have Fellaini, but Cleverley hasn’t proved that he can do the 2-man midfield role yet. I think our playstyle and formation will be crystal clear once we’ve been through two more transfer windows. At least I hope so.

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Some players look better

While I know some people might disagree, I think that especially Tony Valencia and Wayne Rooney have been looking way better this season. If that is due to the training regime of David Moyes, the fact that SAF is gone, being one year older or something else – I don’t know. But especially Wayne has been world class this season. At the start, he won games on his own, scoring freekicks, making great key passes and working his ass off. The Chelsea game was an illustration on Waynes’ determination and willingness to run for 90+ despite getting close to no service from the team. The Leverkusen game showcased his footballing intelligence. I also think Tony Valencia is going to come good once him and Rafael get back to playing together. He is quite one-dimensional, but Rafaels’ ability to burst forward tends to create space for Tony, which forces the defenders to follow. I don’t mind if it is Rafael or Valencia who makes the deciding cross in the end, but as long as we get to create better chances down the right, their partnership is a success in my eyes. I also love his crazy work-ethic and determination on the pitch. He gives it his all. I also think that Valencia, time and time again, proves his value when we play big opponents. His ability to track back and cover space in the midfield and defense is vital for our defensive strategy into games.

To sum it up

I think there are a lot of positives so far this season. Especially among the younger players, who have been better than our veterans. Now, this is kind of worrying in itself, but is a good building brick for the future. The more games, experience and confidence these players get, the better set we’ll be once Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, RvP and Giggs retire. The young players on loan have been so good that some people are actualyl arguing for us to recall them and play them with the team. That is both a compliment to our youth system at the club but also the ability to find “the right club” for us to send them out. This hasn’t always been the case.

As a question at the end, what’s been the best thing for you so far this season? The positive that keeps you smiling despite of the bad results in the league?

The possibilities of the January transfer window

The January Transfer Window and its possibilities

 

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While the summer window is stretching over a longer period as well as being the time where most of the big signings go through, both for Manchester United and other clubs, the January window can be just as exciting. You don’t have to think too far back to come up with names that proved good signings in January. Vidic and Evra being two, and in more recent time, Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool. I am also sure that Lewis Holtby will prove that he is well worth the £ 1.5 mill that Spurs paid up for him, and that Coutinho for £ 8.5 mill will continue to show promise, even if he chose a silly club.

The January window is a weird case, really. It is often described as the “panic window”, where clubs that didn’t do well enough in the summer window, or simply have underperformed during the season, go big and splash some cash. An example of this is crazy Queens Park Rangers, who signed 5 players last January, without really improving. Despite of that, football fans all over the world get their hopes up, including myself. We could land a great player, right?

While I am of the opinion that most good signings happen during the summer, I would still attribute the January window some credit. There are bargains to be made, and young players to get your hands on. As I have no deep knowledge about the current status of league 2 teams, like where we picked up Nick Powell, and have not really paid extra attention to the Championship either this fall, I will refrain from going into those. But I am sure we’ll see a signing or two in that regard. Mostly because we have a lot of youngsters performing on loan, and that we traditionally strengthen our reserve teams when this happens.

 

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Another aspect to keep in mind, is how we usually let a whole bunch of players go during this window. Both on loan but also by letting them on a free transfer or sell them for a fee. While not exciting in the same way as purchasing players, it is still an important part of the clubs’ policies and evaluation of current talent. With players like Darron Gibson, Joshua King, Mame Diouf and Ravel Morrison all leaving United in January for other clubs just counting the past three seasons. All players figuring, or being relatively close to the first team. I am not going to get into the individual reasons for their departures, but I think it is fair to say that all these signings have a certain signal effect. Diouf out? Welbeck is going to get plenty of playtime. Gibson out? Cleverley is surely prefered. Morrison out? We don’t tolerate shitty behavior over time. In short, one player out usually means that another one from within the club gets an advance – getting closer to the first team or a starting position.

 

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Looking at the deals that we have done in January in the past few years, you find quite a few good players. The obvious mention is of course for Wilfried Zaha, who is yet to really figure for us. I know that both Arsenal and Spurs were on their way to sign him as well, so the fact that we signed him up was kind of a victory in itself. Long term, I hope he’ll prove his worth. He certainly has the talent.

In 2010, we signed Chris Smalling. Even if we let him stay with Fulham until the end of the season, similarly to how we did the Zaha transfer, it has to count as a January transfer. One of the players that has been (rightfully) getting the most praise on the internets as of late, and is still young and improving.

Zoran Tosic was actually a player that we tried to sign the summer before, but was unable to finalize the details until November the same year. He joined the club in January 2009. A player that is currently shining the Russian league for CSKA Moscow, and that many felt didn’t really get a good chance at United. The timing for him was quite unfortunate to be hoenst. With Giggs, Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez playing really well for United, the road to a starting spot was a bit too challenging.

Another deal worth mentioning, must be the Henrik Larsson loan from Helsinborg to Manchester United. From January to March. What an impact! He really put fire into the team. He was granted one of the two extra Premier League medals for his efforts, as the club felt his impact was great.

 

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Now, we have a new manager and he’s been dealing with transfers for a very long time at Everton. Taking a quick look at what he’s done can be interesting as well. Now Moyes has usually been doing his transfers in the summer, spending the money they made by placing in a decent position as well as some of the profit from transfers. There are a few signings that stand out. And it makes no sense to compare it in a direct Man United relation, but the thought behind them are, in my opinion, interesting.

First off, Moyes always dealt with transfers in a very pragmatic fashion. “What do we need right now? – I’ll pick up the best deal”. Some of his best transfers were done during the summer, and can be found in the other blog posts written about Moyes. The ones made in January have usually been Moyes taking advantage of good opportunities.

The players that stood out to me at first glance through the Everton transfer page, as January signings, were; Josh Stones, a very talented defender. Was wanted by other clubs as well, so Moyes was quick to sign him up. Nika Jelavic after the Rangers tragedy. Was on fire for them for a long while. Not sure what has happened to him since. Darron Gibson wanted regular playing time, and Moyes always looked for good transfers from United. Louis Saha, Phil Neville, Tim Howard. Many players that raised the quality of Everton Fc.
He also made quite a few clutch loan deals. Now, this isn’t something that Man United are looking at, but it tells a story about his ability to pick out players that can strengthen the team with immediate impact. Some of those were Mikel Arteta, who later was signed and was a star for the club for a long time. Steven Pienaar, just 6 months after they sold him to Spurs. Came right back in and made Evertons’ left hand side scary again. And Landon Donovan, who was a treat to watch as he tore up several teams with his sexy play.

 

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When it comes to players that are likely to move in January, they usually tick off for one or more out of these criterias;

– Does not play for rival club
– Is not currently playing for a club that is through in the Champions or Europa League
– Is not playing for a club that has a lot of economic power
– Is unhappy with his current situation at his club
– Is young and ambitious, and wants to move to a bigger club
– Plays in a club that is underperforming heavily at the moment
– Doesn’t have too long left on the contract

So what does that leave us with so far? A quick summary is in its place;

Man United release, sell and loan out a lot of players in January. Some of them needs immediate replacement on the academy or reserve team, which makes us buy young players with talent to do this. We can look for bargains such as Evra and Vidic, or talented players like Tosic and Smalling, but we don’t do too much of this. When contested players are being hunted, we tend to jump in and try to sign them though. As shown with Wilfried Zaha. This might happen again. Perhaps Will Hughes this time?

Moyes has a pragmatic approach to the January window, and the signings will rely on him feeling that the player will fit immediately, or it will have to be a youth player if not. It is a different situation as he actually has money to spend now, but I very much doubt that he will act in a wasteful manner with the cash.
There is a limited pool of players to sign from in January, and due to the criterias mentioned above, the less a player fits those, the higher his price is likely to be. For example; if the player plays for a rich, rival club, with a long contract and is happy with his current situation, we most likely will not sign him. Actually, we can say that we wont, for sure.

Now, this post is somewhat of a trial post. The blog has been inactive for a while. Both because the response to the posts got worse, and due to this school semester being a bit more demanding than last years’. If this post gets a decent reception, I have plans to make this into a series where I discuss some of the players that I think we have a chance to, and should be looking into signing in January.

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Who they are and what they can do

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Nick Powell, back in game shape

It has been a very long summer. After the U21s in June, we’ve been stuck with transfer rumors, nostalgic youtube clips and eventually pre-season games. In the wake of the 4-1 victory away at Swansea, and the start of the U21 season, I thought I’d make a post about some of the promising midfielders and attacking players in our reserve team. Inspired by the comeback of the certain handsome guy in the picture, my favorite youth player at United, I want to narrow it down to those who played in todays’ win against West Bromwich Albions’ U21 team. That leaves us with Jesse Lingard, Larnell Cole, Nick Powell, Adnan Januzaj and Angelo Henriquez.

The purpose of the post is to introduce some of those who don’t follow our academy and reserve players to some of the most exciting ones we have got.

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Angelo Henriquez in his debut for Manchester United

Who is Henriquez, and how did we end up buying him?

Physically he is a medium height (5 ft 10) striker from Santiago, the capital  in Chile. His lightening quick feet, smart movement and ability to score a lot of goals at a young age, must have been some of the reasons for our scouts recommending him. As a 17 year old striker for Universidad in the Chilean league, he netted 11 goals in 17 games.

Being a dominating player for the time period he played for Chile U17 (3 goals in 4 appearances) and a star for Chile U20 with more goals than games played (21 goals in 17 apps), he was rumored to be on the radar of many big clubs.

Reading about his early years, you will find that he was actually just as big of a prospect in tennis as he now is in football. He didn’t start playing football until he was 12. I think we’ll call that natural talent and hard work. 5 years of football and picked up by Manchester United. Wow!

An interesting thing to point out about the Henriquez signing, is that he cost 4 mill €, and was part of a transfer where the clubs already a couple years earlier negotiated the rights to the player.  The link is in Spanish.

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Jesse Lingard, holding on to the ball as usual

A local kid and a “late” bloomer? 

Lingard has been one of those players that never really got that much hype coming through the ranks in our club. At least not as much as a lot of other players. Maybe he has been in the shadow of Larnell Cole, who has always been touted to become something great? I don’t know. But he has really impressed the past twelve months. He is about as local as they get, coming from Warringtown, a town about 30 kilometers outside of Manchester. The club has always been patient with the local lads, and it seems like it is paying off once again.

He was never called up to play for England at  U14-15-16-17-18 levels, but made his debut for England U21s after impressing everyone during Uniteds’ pre season in Asia and Sweden. He was not even called up to a weak England U21 during the championships in June. But man has he bounced back. One has to put him up there with Zaha, Januzaj and Fabio as contenders for best players during our summer tour, and they are all mentioned for different reasons. Lingard specifically for his ability to affect the outcome of games. Don’t get me wrong, he is good at passing, dribbling, running and all that stuff, but where he has been extraordinary has been at deciding the games. With killer passes that leads to goals or scoring them himself. 4 goals in 4 games this summer and plenty of great build up play.

Physcally he’s rather short at 5 ft 9, skinny and quick. Probably one of the fastest players off the ball in our entire squad. As mentioned above, the x-factor in affecting game has really started to show in Lingard, and he is, alongside Januzaj, the player with the most momentum in our reserves. Going from being “one of the bunch” to one of our best prospects in a season is a fantastic thing, and we just got to hope for a good loan-out or that he takes his chances when given for the first team this season.

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Larnell Cole, always ready to recieve and distribute 

A technical, versatile player? Are you sure he’s English?

Yes, he’s English. Even if he looks more like a Dutch player when you compare his abilities to many of the other English young players out there. He has been at United as soon as they are allowed to sign on as “schoolboys”, and got his trainee contract in 2011. He also made his debut against Leeds in the Carling Cup the same season. He has’nt made any first team appearances since then, but has definately not been forgotten. Those who has followed the youth teams at United, knows what this kid can do.

Larnell has always been a very technically gifted player, and has as long as I can remember, based his game around quick turns, fancy dribbles and tricky movement. This last season he has started to get better at involving others in his technical and flashy play, and has developed a very fine understanding with team mate Lingard. Watching the two of them go at it has you jumping off your chair at times, because the combination of technique, smart passing and quick movement is exciting as hell to watch. Unlike Henriquez and Lingard, has Cole never been given the chance to prove himself out on loan. But has he been as pressured to do so? Many would argue that he infact has proven a lot of potential already, and that training with the likes of Giggs and other great role models at United has been beneficial enough for Cole. It sure does look like it in the way his play has developed anyway. Being versatile, just like Lingard and Januzaj, Cole seems to have been given a more central role lately. Maybe they are trying to groom him into a classic 3-man midfield player? It is going to be exciting to see if he can take the final step or two this season to break into the first team. I am sure he would’ve been way more hyped if he didn’t have to sit out the pre-season due to participation in the U21s for England.

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Adnan Januzaj, getting used to winning trophies for United

Belgian starlet and probably the most hyped youth player in the Premier League at the moment. Why?

Unlike Cole and Lingard, Januzaj is a foreign player that was brought in just two years ago to our academy, at 16 years old. He came from Anderlechts’ youth team, which is known for having a lot of good youngsters, and has been showing signs of greatness for the reserves throughout the 2012/2013 season. Topping that off with a very promising pre-season, and an official debut about two weeks ago against Wigan in the Community Shield.

He is probably the player that most of our fans know about when it comes to the youngsters. A massive talent from Brussels in Belgium, with an impressive vision, technical ability, dribbling skills and better finishing skills every day. Top that off with his ability to hit great set-pieces and penalty-taking ability, and every football fan should be starting to think about great false-9 players around the world.

I saw a striking similarity between him and the young Káká (when he played at Sao Paulo and his early days at Milan) last season for the reserves, and I’ve been standing by that ever since. He is 5’11, which is rather tall for players in his position, has that same kind of movement on the ball, and loves being available for passes at all times. The more of the ball he sees in a game, the better the teams’ attack flow and the more chances they create. We saw this in pre-season, where he completely stole the show with his dynamic and smart playstyle, and fantastic passing.

He has impressed enough to deserve a 5-year old contract with the club, which seemed to calm a lot of fans after the Fryers and Pogba incidents last summer. We might have the next big thing out of the academy in this guy, and I trust Moyes to bring out the best in him.

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Nick Powell celebrating his goal in the debut game against Wigan in 2012

Why is a player from Crewe Alexandras’ youth system so highly rated?

A player that managed to get 55 games (and 14 goals) for Crewe Alexandra from age 16-18, a move to a better club was imminent. We beat clubs like Arsenal to it, and signed the former England U16,17,18,19 and now 21-player for a deal rumored to be worth up to 6 million pounds.

After a very promising pre-season for United in South Africa, he got his debut at home against Wigan, where he scored just 10 minutes after being subbed on to the pitch. Ferguson has said that Powell could fill the void of Scholes, and watching him tear up Chelsea in the league cup last season, I have no doubt about his potential. He is in no way as flashy as the other players on this list, but reminds a lot of an early Scholes or old Lampard type of player. He has the balls to go for long shots, combines brilliantly with other players and seems to always be where the action is when on the pitch. He is rather tall at 6ft, and showed his versatility last season for the reserves, playing both as a striker, behind the striker or in midfield. Many fans, myself included, was disappointed in the lack of opportunities that Nick was given last season. He was a key figure for our reserves at 18 and 19 years old, but was only given 2 appearances with the first team. He made his comeback today, scoring a goal early on, and looked fresh and quick on the ball. He really needs a great loan deal or to be integrated with the first team squad as soon as possible. He is good enough to do what Anderson did last season, which is to fill in when needed, and to play a decent amount of games when injuries strike or the fixture list is  hectic. And we should look to do that as soon as possible.

Ross Barkley at Everton has been getting a lot of hype lately, and is a product of Moyes philosophy at Everton. I rate Powell as a similar talent, and I expect Moyes to help him develop into a starter for our team in time. That said, I am the biggest Powell fan in the world, so I might be writing this with thick United-glasses on. But I wholeheartedly believe every single word I’ve written about Nick.

A closer look at the 4-3-3

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The classic 4-3-3

In the wake of yesterday’s 2-0 win at Wembley, I started thinking about the different formations we have seen Moyes try out during the summer, and the 4-3-3 stuck out as the most energetic one.

Discussing formations has always been a case of nitpicking, minor differences and huge disagreements in terms of effectivity. All that aside, I’ll give my personal view of what’s good or bad about the formation, with our squad in centre of the evaluation.

In the picture above, a screenshot from the game Football Manager, a classic 4-3-3, with two wide attackers, a target man striker, two mobile midfielders in advanced roles ahead of the anchor/distributor-type player behind them.

A formation I grew up playing, both as a CDM, CM and striker. I know the ins and outs of how the formation feels, and I’d argue that I got a good feel for the strengths, weaknesses and requirements it brings.

Going back to the introduction, and the sentence about nitpicking on formations, I am going to come out right now and say that the differences between a 4-3-3 and a 4-5-1 are slim. In fact, Teams that form a 4-3-3 shape in attack, very often look like 4-5-1 in defensive periods of their games. In the same way, the 4-5-1 can very much look like the modern 4-2-3-1 (4 -2+3-1) in attack. It is all a matter of player instructions, distinct tasks given by the manager for specific games and what kind of players you possess in your squad.

Moving on from that, we’ve seen different variations of this through the summer. Moyes has tried out a 2-man holding midfield while playing in Asia, with Cleverley or Anderson staying further back alongside Carrick. He tried out a more classic 3-man midfield yesterday, with Giggs and Clevs in advanced positions ahead of Carrick and the differences are looking significant for some players.

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Tom Cleverley for England

I will be the first one to admit that you can pin that down to several different variables, such as (lack of) match fitness, temperature and density in Asia, injuries, morale and so on. But for the sake of a discussion on formations, I’ll disregard that for now and take a look at Cleverley from yesterdays’ game.

After getting a lot of stick from late February 2013 and up until now, both in newspapers and on reddit, Cleverley impressed me a whole lot yesterday. He didn’t seem to catch many peoples’ attention by his play, but I was paying extra attention to him against Wigan. I was looking for who was going to dominate the space where Cleverley usually is in his prime, and where James McCarthy likes to own the area. In a more advanced role, Cleverley didn’t seem to burn all of his energy chasing opponents. He still brought the pressure in his game, but was 20 meters higher up in the pitch when we won the ball. This is huge for a midfielder. Being 10 meters behind the midfield line pretty much forces you to play it sideways or short to someone with more space to hit it forward. Being further up allows you to dictate where the passes go. If you want to turn it from the left to the right, you’ll both have time to do it and to rush forward as the pass leaves your foot.

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As shown in the picture above, where 1 is where Cleverley was for huge parts of last season, and for the start of this pre-season, and 2 is where he was yesterday, the difference is very easy to spot. But what does this mean in terms of strategy on the pitch?

First off, being where the 2 is, you are immediately in a position to create danger with runs, short passes or through-balls. It gives you an easier time to involve yourselves in the build-up or preferably counter-attacking play. Being this far up, winning the ball in pressure, is hell to deal with for defenders. One of them have to move out of positions to pressure or mark the man in possession. In turn, this creates space for the front trio to move behind into space. Needless to say, in a solid performance, this opens up the possibility for fast 1-2s, flicks and a passing oriented attacking play. This came very clear in our second goal from Van Persie.

I am not saying that this type of play doesn’t work in other formations, but rather that the 4-3-3 is built upon this type of play.

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My idea of the Man United 4-3-3 in action

The strengths of a formation like this, is that it is very easy to involve your full-backs offensively. Evident in Evras’ performance yesterday. The CDM player gets a lot of space and time with the ball due to the two advanced players’ ability to draw opponents into marking them further up the pitch. It gives you the possibility to use Welbeck in a free left role, which he did brilliantly in, and you could use Zaha wide like yesterday, or go with two roaming players up front.

The midfield is built on the idea that you have very dynamic advanced players, that can take turns on working hard defensively or staying put for a counter-attack or high pressure a bit further up.

A key point, that I feel like we didn’t do very well at in this, was involving the striker in the attacks. Van Persie was on the move and available a lot of the time, but the temptation of playing it wide, made for a very predictable attack. Taking advantage of Van Persies ability to hold on to the ball and pass it on or through is great, and needs to be utilized if we are to play this formation again.

The major weaknesses to this formation is that it requires very fit advanced midfielders. In this formation, with the players on the team sheet above, Cleverley and Anderson are supposed to do most of the running. Both are injury-prone, and one of them has a tendency to fall out of games. It is also developed around the idea that your front-3 consist of a player that is a very good finisher but also able to drop down, recieve the ball and distribute. For this, your wingers need to be in threatening shape, and able to beat their man or 1-2 past players to create danger behind enemy lines. Last season, none of our wingers delivered play to that standard.

Another potential issue is when you face teams playing a more clear 4-2-3-1 formation, which seems to be the prefered flavor of the top teams in the 2010-2013 period. With two midfielders at the back to pick up your advanced ones, this leaves your own anchor against 2 or 3 attacking players of the opposition. It requires a physical, strong and hard-working player to lead the charge. At the moment, depth in midfield is the key issue for our team. One injury and we seem like a whole different team. We would need midfield signings to be able to use this as a main formation.

 

 

The essence of Manchester United Football Club

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The essence of Manchester United Football Club

First I wanted to say that I know the blog kind of dried out during the summer. The motivation for posting just died out between the youtubeclips and transfer rumors, and spending a lot of time on creating something, without even creating discussion felt pointless. Now, some motivation has come along and I feel like scribbling down some thoughts. If you rather want to read about transfer targets or watch Zlatan dribble on youtube, this post is probably not for you!

Well enough of that, I am back with a vengeance! It’s August, we’re gathering steam and the season is about to get very real, very soon. I couldn’t be more excited. Rios’ testimonial today is the first real test and we’ll actually be able to win Moyes first trophy with the club on Sunday. We should be looking to snowball our form off from here, and I am shaking with excitement.

For the post, I wanted to share some less tactical thoughts, but focus more on something that has been between the lines of all discussion this summer. The United tradition, the United way. What are we, how did we become such a massive club, and how have we kept it rolling?

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Red

The true inspiration for this post, actually stems from finally getting my finger out of my arse and purchasing Gary Nevilles’ “Red”.  I picked it up yesterday, and I can’t put it down. Reading about United from the bottom-up, from someone who is everything the club is about, is one of the most interesting experiences a fan could get without being directly involved with the club. I recommend you to pick it up.

As the book portraits a young, eager big brother Gary, with an even more talented Phil, fighting for balls and dreaming of playing for their favorite club, it got me back to thinking about our roots under Sir Alex Ferguson and Matt Busby. Local lads. The unsung heroes. The Nevilles, the Butts (yes, I know), the John O’Sheas. The players that worked their ass off, day in and day out, just to figure in the squad. Just to be part of the greatness that is Manchester United. In these times of greedy youngsters demanding contracts and forcing their way out of a club, rather than working hard to deserve the increase. The players that stay an hour extra on the pitch, run one more lap, goes to bed early. These, combined with the extreme talents such as Giggsy, Scholes and Beckham, have been the core of the only United team that myself and many other fans have ever known. With the extreme confidence and talented leadership of a certain Sir Alexander Chapman, has been the foundation of this club as long as I can remember, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Talented outsiders versus the local red

In many ways, this summer has been frustrating. Many of us have been feeling like we have been ski-jumping without skis, falling, not knowing. Ferguson is out. Scholes finally retired. Rio Ferdinand is older, we have a new manager and coaches. Everything is new and scary. This is human nature. Even if we’re sitting here in Norway, Ireland, Holland, the States or in India, it feels scary. The connection to the club leads to worry, but there is comfort to be found. Moyes has already started his continuation of the United tradition. Phil Neville has gained a key position in the staff, his own coaches at Everton followed and Giggs has been promoted to a player/coach. We are witnessing the rocket launching of the new Manchester United era, with David Moyes as the captain and familiar faces around in other important positions. Our squad is already top 10 in the world, and combined with the team spirit that comes from bringing youth players through your own academy or teenagers bought in to breathe and learn the United way will fight harder than any primadonna you could possibly buy. We could very well be challenging for the Champions League in the years to come.  This summer has been filled with rumors of players to cover this and that spot. Will Moyes replace the local lads in Cleverley or Welbeck? For more polished players, it could have a very good short-term impact. We could be challenging already this season. But long term, is this the best solution? To buy a ton of players? I don’t think so. And Moyes seems to agree. He hasn’t done any panic purchases, and it is fantastic for us to see.

Do we need a Garay, or could we put our faith in Evans and Michael Keane? The latter seems to be the United way. It pays off long-term, and to quote the Boss, “young players will surprise you”. What I am getting at is that the core of our club in the past couple of decades have been to phase in our “own” players rather than spending a ton where it isn’t absolutely necessary. We paid out for Berbatov, for Rooney, for Ferdinand. Deals we had to do at the time. But we didn’t buy a RB when Neville retired. Ferguson simply handed the torch over to young Rafael. And by the looks of it, it has been the right choise once again. 

Fernandinho signing 2

Spending crazy cash in panic

We never do this. We tend to make some risky “what-if” purchases like Bébé or Obertan now and then, but never something like the guy in the picture. We would never buy a 28 year old for 30 million pounds if we already had a decent central midfield, with double coverage on the bench. If we had a Jack Rodwell just waiting to break through. And this is one of the things that seperates us. It is the United way vs the oil money/sheikh way. I prefer ours. Even if it means we lose a trophy now and then. When we win them, it feels so damn sweet. We win them our way, and it doesn’t feel like cheating. We keep our integrity, in a way. Reading the Neville biography lit a fire in my passion for the United youth again. We have so many talented kids in our system, and I can’t wait to see them bond together, win stuff (hey, we just won another trophy with the reserves!) and develop into starters or rotation players for the Man United XI.

It means that every now and then, you’ll have transition seasons. I am sure we’ll have one or two of those when Rio, Giggs and Vidic retire. But it is fine. Our younger players have learned the mentality. They already know how to win. They know what not to do. Now they are the ones to carry it on. And I love watching that. The new great team come into life. It was amazing to see Rooney, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Evra and Kieran Richardson play theirselves into the United team. To be able to sell Roy Keane because Fletcher was growing up, letting Giggs rest when needed because Richardson could do a job. We are about to become a new big team, and I can’t wait to see it unfold. Jones, Smalling, Rafael, Evans, Cleverley and Welbeck already have hundreds of games between them, and should be looking to cement positions into their own. Rafael and Evans has come the furthest so far, but the others will follow. Some might not make it, but we’ll still have a core of players that you would call red. You would call them Red Devils.

Manchester United U21 v Tottenham Hotspur U21 - Barclays U21s Elite Group Final

Carrying on tradition

Andreas Pereira, the lad in the picture, with a medal hanging around his neck, is certainly on his way of doing that. Carrying on. Just like when Gary Neville was a youngster, our kids go to Northern Ireland to play in the Milk Cup. And we won. Of course did we win! Our youth teams are amazing. The determination and skillfullnes among our youth players make them the best in the country. And this is the essence of Manchester United Football Club.  And by that, I don’t mean that we should not buy a midfielder or two this summer. I mean that long term, we’ll still be a team that is dominated by players that have been in the club, and intends to stay here, for a long time. A mixture of world class talent, local passion, experience and a burning desire to win. And the knowledge of how to.

In the pre-season tour, local Lingard, Ben Amos and Michael Keane, academy player Januzaj and new startlet Wilfred Zaha were all given a lot of play time. Most of them impressed so much that many fans want to give them a spot on the bench for this season. And I find myself agreeing. Why shouldn’t Januzaj be able to play in 20-30 games this season? We gave Ronaldo that when he was the same age. I hope we do. You won’t develop the best player in the world unless you throw him to the wolves early. Of course you need to give them time, but match them at a higher level than they are getting with the reserves. Let them play the final 30 minutes when we’re 3-0 up against Norwich or the entire Carling Cup-clash against Leeds. Nothing will speed their development in a better way.

The club has always been about winning. We want to win. But we want to do it our way. We are often refered to a “buying club” by other fans, which is something I’ll call bullshit. By the definition of a buying club, you could probably put every team in the world under that category. What I read into it, is teams that buy their way to trophies. Chelsea won the league without a single player that had gone the grades in the club. It cost them around 6 billion pounds to catch up with us, but it felt like cheating. It felt wrong. I wanted to fight fire with fire, but Ferguson knew better. He knew that developing our own players and strengthening from the outside, only where it was absolutely necessary, was the only way. Our wallet isn’t as thick. But we’ve won more trophies than them since the Russian oil money-guy bought them. Which is, in my opinion, just as impressive as what we did in the 90s. We’re competing in a market where we’re strong, but miles behind the clubs that are owned by gazillionaires from the middle-east. But we’re winning. And I am loving every single bit of it. The heart in our team is our best attribute. Combine that with talent, and you will have a whole different atmosphere than a bunch of lads from all around the world, being overpaid and not really giving a damn. Our now noisy neighbour cracked up as soon as there was some drama. We win despite of drama. We get stronger the more enemies we have, and this is the reason everyone from the outside admire and hate us. And I hope we continue that in that fashion.

2012/2013 Season Review – December and January

Looking at December and January

10 matches were played, combined, on the last month of 2012 and the first month of 2013. Of the 10 matches, we played 5 matches away and 5 at home in total for the 2 months.

Looking at the table, we were sitting pretty at the top. The matches for december were very interesting with the first Manchester Derby. We played Reading, Manchester City, Sunderland, Swansea, Newcastle, WBA, Wigan, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton in that order for the whole of two months.

Reading 3-4 Manchester United

A solid thriller with all the goals coming in the first half. Reading started the proceedings with the first goal in the 8th minute by Kanu. Anderson, the guy we love to hate, scored the equalizer in the 13th minute before Rooney put us ahead in the 16th minute. It was made 2-2 promptly by Le Fondre in the 19th minute before Morrison made it 3-2 with his goal in the 23rd minute. The goal scoring was put to rest by van Persie when he scored the winning goal in the 34th minute.

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United 

You don’t need the text to relive this. Have fun with the video!! I watched it couple of times with a smug smile of satisfaction.

Manchester United 3-1 Sunderland

The lack of clean sheets continued with 3 goals. Robin van Persie, Cleverley and Rooney were the scorers while the sole Sunderland goal was scored by Campbell.

Swansea City 1-1 Manchester United

A draw in a pretty long time. Again, we distinctly lacked the clean sheets with a rare goal from Evra in the 16th minute which was equalised by Michu in the 29th minute. The match ended in a boring draw.

Manchester United 4-3 Newcastle United

Another last-gasp victory for us with Hernandez bailing us to victory with a solid 90th minute goal. The match is series of equalizing goals with us not going into the lead until the 4th goal by which time we won. The goals were scored by Evans (a rare one), Evra, Robin van Persie and Hernandez.

Manchester United 2-0 West Brom

The first clean sheet in a long time for De Gea. The goals came thanks to an own goal from Mcauley in the 9th minute and a Robin van Persie strike in the 90th minute. The last match of 2012 saw us staying at the top spot for the end of 2012 looking ever so likely to be the champions after loaning the cup to the noisy neighbours for keeping it shiny.

January

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

A rival match which has lost steam after Liverpool degenerating into a mid-table club. Saw us getting the first two goals with Robin van Persie in the 19th minute and a great goal from Vidic in the 55th minute. Sturridge scored their only goal in the 57th minute.

Hint: Watch the video on mute.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester United

Another draw in 5 games saw Dempsey equalising an early goal by van Persie in the 25th minute at the end of normal time. Losing the clean sheet was a little disappointing but it sure as hell beat losing to them.

Manchester United 2-1 Southampton

The final match of January saw us playing Southampton. Rooney was on target with goals in the 8th and 26th minute to cancel and put us in front after Southampton went 0-1 up in the first 2 minutes with a blunder of a goal Rodriguez. It was an important match as it saw us playing without wingers with Kagawa and Rooney in the starting eleven.

2012/2013 Season Review – November

November

October was a great month. Two important wins against Newcastle and Chelsea and also a win against Stoke at home saw as sitting pretty at the 2nd place. November gave us the opportunity to go top of the table and hold our position with 5 matches.

The month saw us play 5 matches with 3 at home and 2 away. Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham were the home matches while the away matches were played against Aston Villa and Norwich City.

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal 

The first match of November was against Arsenal at Old Trafford. It was a meeting clouded by the return of a certain Dutch man to the Emirates Stadium. It was a great match with goals from Van Persie in the 3rd minute and from Evra in the 67th minute. It was all going well until the 90th minute when Cazorla scored his goal and pulled it back to 2-1.

Things to remember were the missed penalty from Rooney and the fact that Cazorla’s strike denied us our 3rd clean sheet of the season.

Aston Villa 2-3 Manchester United 

The first away match of the month was against Aston Villa. The starting eleven saw Carrick and Scholes in the midfield with Rooney and Persie up top. The home team went 2-0 at the end of the first hour with 2 goals from Weimann in the 45th and 50th minute. Hernandez was introduced after the half and scored two goals in the 58th and the 87th minute the first took us 2-1 and the second made it 3-2. The equaliser came from an own goal from Vlaar in the 63rd minute.

Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United

One of the worst matches of the season saw us sink from our 1st spot in the previous 2 games down to 2nd. The only goal of the game came from Pilkington in the 60th minute as we continued our search for the 3rd clean sheet of the season. The match also saw Rooney, Evans and De Gea miss it due to injury. Lindegaard deputised as the goalkeeper.

Manchester United 3-1 Queens Park Rangers

The match again propelled is to the first place. The first goal was scored by Queens Park Rangers in the 52nd minute by Mackie. What followed was typical United with United scoring three goals starting with Evans in the 64th minute followed by goals from Fletcher in the 68th minute and Hernandez in the 71st minute. A great comeback from United and seeing Fletcher come back after a long time to score a goal was excellent to see.

Manchester United 1-0 West Ham United

A boring match in essence with a 1st minute goal from Robin van Persie settling the score for the 90 minutes. The match settled into drabness for the next 89 minutes with no goals from both teams.

After November

December saw us playing 6 games in total with 3 home and 3 away games. The home matches were against Sunderland, Newcastle and West Brom while the away matches were against Reading, Manchester City and Swansea.