Archive | February 2011

Guest Post: Rooney dormant but not extinct

Wayne Rooney

After the terrific away win over Wigan at the weekend I heard many a Red suggest that possible disciplinary action against frontman Wayne Rooney could be a good thing for United with the striker seemingly blowing hot and cold. I for one am a firm believer in the old adage that form is temporary, class is forever and Wayne will erupt again, hopefully on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge.

The argument put forward by many Reds was that a prospective ban for Rooney would benefit United and would enable new found cult hero Chicharito to possibly gain a starting line-up in the biggest game of the season so far. Now this could still happen and don’t get me wrong I am a huge Hernandez fan, he has been a revelation this year but with the news today that the FA will take no action against Wayne after his altercation with Wigan’s James McCarthy it seems very unlikely that Chicho will retain his starting berth, despite his great form.

Rooney should be a definite starter in my eyes, there is no doubt he is edging towards his best, just at a slower pace than we would like. His goal against City showed what he is still capable of, but more encouragingly in the second half against Wigan, Rooney dropped deep and dictated play, demanding the ball like the Wayne we know and love, this merely added to my theory that Wayne could easily replace Paul Scholes in the United midfield but that’s for another day.

The matter in hand now is how United navigate two massive weeks starting with tough away trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield, followed by a home tie against Marseille and then a possible FA Cup quarter final clash against Arsenal. In these types of games you need your big players, no matter how they are playing. I feel that Rooney’s contribution to the United cause since November has been underplayed, yes he has not reached the goal scoring heights of last year but only Nani is ahead of him in terms of assists this season.

Another thing you get with Rooney is that when he is having a bad game his work ethic makes up for it. The Manchester derby was a case in point. Far from being at his best his touch just wasn’t there and was shackled superbly by Vincent Kompany but he kept at it and was ultimately rewarded with the moment of brilliance that will always be remembered.

Some United fans still haven’t forgiven Wayne for goings on earlier in the season, I am not one of them but whatever your stand point on Wayne, forget everything off the field and concentrate on what happens on it because whatever happens Wayne will give everything for United and he will need to as testing times lie ahead.

By Nathan Thomas

Analysis and Observations: Wigan floored by United’s counter

Wigan Athletic 0-4 Manchester Utd: Edwin van der Star

Perhaps the scoreline was a little flattering at the end. But, and this is a very encouraging but – Manchester United, a team constantly criticised for their failure to kill off games this season, made use of increasing possession and tired legs of the opposition to score three goals in the last 15 minutes.

United remain deadly on the break. We haven’t exactly seen United at their vintage best this season, the stalemate at Marseille on Tuesday acting as evidence of thier inconsistencies on their travels, but the effectiveness and execution of the counter attack is a trait which remains one of United’s most deadly tactic.

via Guardian Chalkboards (not as grainy there!)

Ignore the pathetic excuse of print screen of a chalkboard (!), both Figure 1 and Figure 2 show just how good the visitors were on the break. The first goal, scored by Javier Hernandez (the first of two for him), was something rather routine and special at the same time. Nani, collecting a Scholes pass in his own half, ran untroubled before playing a quick one-two with Rooney on the left. One look was enough. Rooney saw Nani approaching the box and found him, and the Portuguese winger slipped in Hernandez who finished clinically. Done quickly and effectively – that was 1-0.

Figure 2 might surprise a few – that long arrow isn’t indicating a pass from Paul Scholes or Michael Carrick. It was Gibson, good old Darron Gibson, who delivered an excellent pass from his own half; Berbatov picked it up and took it on, into the box, before releasing Rooney to score United’s third.

Gibson has seen a reversal of fortunes. He hasn’t been spectacular, but having appeared in a Unied shirt in the last three games, he has looked far more assured and that pass at least signalled to those who criticise him for being someone who lacks creativity. His performance against Marseille on Tuesday also went somewhere to dismissing the notion.

Gibson’s passing coming on as a substiture was respectable. He made 14 and completed 11 (78%). Carrick and Scholes were excellent in the middle, with a pass succession rate of 86% and 89% respectively. Some praise must go to Rooney, too, and this game made it increasingly obvious that he is suited to the 4-4-2 (Fletcher, the third CM, was on the right); that the case no matter if his partner is Mexican or Bulgarian.

Clinical Chicharito: Goals/min ratio in the Premier League. Hernandez: 1 goal/90mins, Drogba: 1 goal/119min, Berbatov: 1 goal/125min, Tevez: 1 goal/142min, Malouda 1 goal/146min

Courtesy of @foreveruntd

Van der Sar in fine form. Time is running out for the Dutchman – how United will miss him when he finally hangs up his gloves at the end of this campaign. Here, at the DW, he was consistenly assured between the posts, making some vital saves in the first half. He was helped, too, by the presence of United’s latest central pairing at the back, Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling.

The report card. Playing the role of the teacher, I’ll attempt to grade United’s players on their performance. Obviously some of the ‘grades’ will be argued against – but it would be appreciated if you gave feedback on the not-so-tried-and-tested system:

van der Sar A, Patrice Evra B, Chris Smalling B+, Nemanja Vidic B+, John O’Shea B, Michael Carrick B, Paul Scholes B, Nani C, Darren Fletcher C, Wayne Rooney B+, Hernandez A

Analysis and Observations: Smalling, Gibson impress in cagey affair

Marseille 0-0 Manchester Utd: Defence prevails in first leg

Darron Gibson

Stage fright is very rare these days, it seems. Millions go on those generic television talent shows and make a fool out of themselves, and somehow leave thinking their dignity is intact; albeit being escorted by a burly man dressed in black. Some stage fright might have been evident in yesterday’s game at the Velodrome. It was an uninspiring affair, with neither team able to express themselves in a game perhaps most entertaining, bizarrely, in the first 10 minutes.

Here, defence prevailed over attack. Both sides were simply more functional than expected. On paper, United and Marseille possessed great attacking presence; the home side lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Brandao up front alone (this later changed when Mathieu Valbuena was brought on) with Lucho, Remy and Ayew behind. United had Dimitar Berbatov in the centre in United’s default formation in Europe, the 4-3-3, with Nani and Rooney either side. But such talents weren’t on show here – neither team offered that much going forward, and the midfield battle hardly made for a spectacle as both teams had stifled and cancelled each other out. Defenders found relative comfort in a game where chances came at a rate of almost never.

Smalling growing in stature. It’s not easy to talk down the player who has consistently played well; even if his appearances in a red shirt have been infrequent this campaign. In the absence of Rio Ferdinand, the centre-half had encountered little problems, if any at all. At times, he made daring forward runs in vain displaying the youngster’s confidence, thriving alongside Nemanja Vidic.

Deschamps has a point. “Maybe this team has a bit less fantasy than we have seen in the past,” he said before the game and perhaps he was right. Nani had old-boy Gabriel Heinze in his pocket all day, prompting the French newspaper L’Equipe to say: “…Heinze for his reunion with his dear Sir, had difficulty, especially in the first period, facing the whirling Nani.” However, nothing materialised - as said previously, both teams had defended with such stubbornness. Rooney was forlorn on the left, while Berbatov, for his great movement, drifted (literally) in an out of the game.

Gibson was the best of United’s triumvirate. Darron Gibson was perhaps more adventurous than both Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher. Playing higher, he made penetrative passes – but to no avail as United couldn’t find a way through. The introduction of Paul Scholes later saw United improve in possession; 24/25 successful in 18 minutes but by then, the game was already heading for a stalemate.

<Figure 1> Gibson’s passing – 0-72 minutes: Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactic in selecting Darron Gibson is indicated by his passing graphic. The Irish midfielder has drive and while he started attacks also, tries to get at the end of things as well as shown by the passes in the final third as opposed to the ones between Marseilles midfield and defence. His timing of his runs can be compared to Frank Lampard somewhat although his relative ineffectiveness could be explained by the two holding midfielders in front (Cisse and Kabore). Total Football App

Football-starved Bébé doesn’t deserve the criticism


Over the years, there have been several who have tried their luck at Old Trafford but some have instead long faded away from memory; for those unlucky ones, it hasn’t quite been a theatre for which they can achieve their dreams in. Having the talent is one thing, but having the temperament to go further is another.

It is testing times for both Gabriel Obertan and Thiago Bébé. On the back of a rather unforgettable evening against Crawley Town in the FA Cup 5th round, where Manchester United limped to a 1-0 victory, they are the subject of strong criticism from some sections of the fans and media. Such scapegoating that is hardly justified for two talented players starved of regular football.

They require patience; and much more. They require understanding and some sympathising. Bébé, in particular, is hardly in a position that should warrant such scrutiny. Indeed, he has made only three starts so far (and a further four from the bench, including a game against Bursaspor in which he scored) in his short United career so it is remarkable his future is already being put into question.

Signed from Vitória S.C as a relative unknown, here is a player that arrived at Old Trafford without any sort of match practice, and having played at an even lower level in the Portuguese 3rd division just last year, he surely requires time to settle into (fairly) new surroundings. Bébé’s £7million fee raised a few eyebrows, understandably, but that was hardly his fault and the media attack that followed was hardly justified, most of it happening even before he kicked a football in the red of United. Such a valuation does at least indicate the player’s talents – the same that had Carlos Queiroz (and, apparently, Jose Mourinho) sit up and take interest.

In an article for the Telegraph, respected journalist Mark Ogden pointed out that while the forward does have some ‘raw talent’, his crossing ability is ‘woeful’. Interesting; when asked about that on Twitter, he replied:

“That was his seventh appearance. Shouldn’t Man Utd players be able to cross by their seventh appearance?”

Perhaps, they should be able to. He has great technique – he has shown that at times, so Ogden’s point that he cannot cross is up for debate. For those who have criticised the Portuguese winger, another tweet directed to me sums up the thoughts of the general consensus on the player’s worth.

“Do you see him becoming a player that can turn a game v Chelsea or Arsenal or Real Madrid?”

It’s far too early to say. Although, and this is no comparison of talent, you would have said the same about Cristiano Ronaldo or Nani at this stage of their United career. He needs time; in a few years, who knows? Would he still be a United player? Who knows? And that’s the point of the article – who knows what he could do in the future and who knows how good he is and can be having played so little. It’s far too premature to make definite conclusions at this moment of time. Extra empthasis on the word ‘time’…

Talking Tactics ahead of the Crawley clash

Javier Hernández scores Manchester United's winner

The journalists have been waiting for this. “The Big One,” I hear one say gleefully. “Red Devils v Red Devils!” exclaims another. But the truth is, they’re most likely to be disappointed. A giant-killing is improbable at Old Trafford, unless of course, you mean that literally and United thump in goals from all corners.

It’s all a bit ignorant to suggest Manchester United will sail through to the next round, indeed, they floundered against Exeter City in 2005 with a relatively strong line-up drawing 0-0 at home. But a shock of such magnitude is still against the odds – United should prevail but might find it difficult at times to break down a team stubborn and pumped up for the occasion.

Despite doing a ‘Talking Tactics‘ piece last week on the Manchester Derby, this one is slightly more difficult to talk about for two reasons: one, Crawley Town’s preferred shape and tactical ideology are an enigma to the Average Joe and two, because as to who United will start with is equally as mysterious. That is the just the nature of these type of games though.

Sergio Torres is a familiar name although he is one of those types who you can’t really put a face to the name. I do know, however, that he doesn’t cost £50million nor does he have something of a feminine presence (Google ‘Torres ladyboy’) when on the pitch. Crawley tend to play a 4-4-2, as some extensive research suggests, but you would think they might opt for something on the defensive side for the game.

Crawley are minnows, but, make no mistake, United won’t treat them lightly. It is expected that Sir Alex will make wholesale changes, allowing fringe players to have another shot on the domestic cup stage. That does mean Darron Gibson, folks. Michael Owen is set to miss out, so we might even see United play a 4-2-3-1 with Bebe and Obertan on the flanks, with Javier Hernandez leading the line. Owen is out with a groin injury, perhaps suffering the same fate as this man.

Who Fergie will stick in the centre is anybody’s guess. Well, actually, it’s not. Gibson starting is pretty much assured and Carrick looks set to partner him with might be a Anderson playing slightly higher. Crawley will fancy their chances and if they were to do the impossible and score, it would come from set-pieces. United must take the no-nonsense, solid option and stick with Chris Smalling, who would no doubt be brimming of confidence after his excellent performance against City last Saturday. Jonny Evans should parter him, while Fabio will assume duties at left back.

Can Crawley do one over United? Their chances look slim – but they should hold a strict, tight line at the back and aim to frustrate United. Perhaps, they’ll field a five-man midfield, too, trying to stifle United’s midfield and decrease the presence held by the likes of Anderson, Carrick et al. In fact, Man United’s 4-2-3-1 might just suit Crawley Town – if they able to restrict United’s midfield like City were able to do then Hernandez might struggle, much like Rooney who was isolated in the Derby. It’s unlikely that the visitors can pull of a shock, but that’s the type of things you say when you’re a Manchester United blogger trying to stay as unbiased as possible. My head says United should walk this.

United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; O’Shea, Evans, Smalling, Fabio; Carrick, Gibson; Bebe, Anderson, Obertan; Hernandez

Analysis and Observations: Smalling rises to the occasion

Manchester Utd 2-1 Manchester City: Observations and Analysis

“I think it’s the best goal I’ve ever scored, I saw it coming over and I thought, why not? I was just delighted to see it go in the net and get the three points. Nine times out of 10 they go into the stand… it’s the first overhead kick I’ve scored since turning professional.” Wayne Rooney

In an interview in Friday’s edition of Sport magazine, Ryan Giggs spoke of how a moment of “individual brilliance” would probably decide the outcome of the Manchester Derby. You could only imagine that Giggs had with him that day a crystal ball. Wayne Rooney, sensing the occasion, the importance of such a fixture, had sent the Old Trafford faithful into delirium with an astonishing acrobatic finish. Words don’t quite do it justice, though.

Incredible more so because Rooney, a player in something of a confidence crisis, had endured much hard luck at the hands of City’s defenders. Up front alone, he was as isolated as an American in the Twenties. Still, there is no surprise that ten of his last eleven goals for the club have been scored at Old Trafford.

Smalling takes centre stage. On a day, when rightly so, Wayne Rooney would grab all the headlines for his one moment of brilliance, it was Chris Smalling who played, perhaps, his best game in a United shirt. In the absence of Rio Ferdinand, Smalling seized his opportunity and looked relatively unfazed with the prospect of playing in a Derby. Smalling has exceeded expectations in his first season; the reason for that is he found some luck at others expense. Ferdinand has missed games to injuries and Evans has seen a decline in form. But he’s made much use of his team mates misfortunes and thrived in such an occasion.

His parter, Nemanja Vidic, had somewhat of a mixed-game – at times, the Serb was sloppy; his distribution from the back was not at all spectacular but overall he was solid. Both were helpless to City’s equaliser - a lucky deflection off Silva’s back threatened to take away from Smalling’s performance.

Nani shows no mercy to Zabaleta. Pablo Zabaleta, out of position, could have hardly envisaged this. Nani showed little mercy, if any, for the Argentine and prospered down the right flank without any trouble. A goal, and an assist; just another day at the office. His goal was the result of a rapid one-touch move that ended with a lovely finish by the winger – accompanied by an expert first touch. Nani has now scored or assisted 20 goals for Manchester United in his last 20 Premier League appearances – such impact he’s had in a season where United fans witness some sort of consistency that they’d never quite have believed a year ago.

United had Kompany (pardon the awful pun). While City’s title hopes look all but over, they could at least take something out a game where they didn’t play all that bad from Vincent Kompany’s performance at the back. He, and Micah Richards, were excellent. United’s midfield, bar Nani, had struggled for large parts and so Rooney, was isolated and left frustrated at the lack of service. Kompany, emerging an outside candidate for best defender of the season, was consistently good and like Smalling, didn’t put a foot wrong.

The report card. Playing the role of the teacher, I’ll attempt to grade United’s players on their performance. Obviously some of the ‘grades’ will be argued against – but it would be appreciated if you gave feedback on the not-so-tried-and-tested system:

van der Sar C, Evra C, Chris Smalling A, Nemanja Vidic C, John O’Shea C, Anderson D, Ryan Giggs B-, Nani A, Paul Scholes B+, Darren Fletcher C, Wayne Rooney D.


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