Archive | April 2011

Park Ji-Sung; discipline + intelligence + energy = perfect for Europe

Park Ji-Sung might represent something of an enigma as a footballer; but very few actually have a bad word to say about him. And Park, while he isn’t going to be short-listed for any individual awards any time soon, is as much a one-in-a-million player as his prize-winning counterparts. Ability is one thing in this game – having the correct temperament and discipline to apply that to the game of football in another. Park has done just that; and his presence on the field screams a determined player with discipline in abundance.

He might look your average player, but he isn’t – searing pace and mesmerising footwork desert him but he offers more to Manchester United. Off the ball, Park is just as good as any other without a hint of hyperbole, his movement and tendency to track back is as much admirable as it is useful. Something that has been evident in Europe in the Uefa Champions League.

Here’s an interesting statistic – Park Ji-Sung has featured in eight of Manchester United’s eleven games in Europe this season. Yet, in stark contrast, the efficient South Korean has made just 12 appearances from a possible 34 in the Premier League (of course, partly down to International commitments). It is conclusive from that, that Park is primarily used in Europe because he is perhaps more suited to the style of football and that there is more concentration on keeping possession and being compact. That’s not to say his league performances haven’t been good, because they generally have, the 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton back in November sticking in memory, where he snatched a brace at the stroke of either half.

However, Europe is where Park has thrived in particular, and against Schalke 04 on Tuesday night he embodied everything that Sir Alex is trying to achieve with an excellent performance which saw his defensive abilities noted as much as what he did in the opponents’ half. His movement is somewhat overlooked but it shouldn’t be – it’s a key asset and possibly the most important part of his game. And he offers more.

Sir Alex said recently of the player known as ‘three-lungs’: “He’s got the discipline, intelligence and football knowledge you need in the biggest games. Discipline is so much more important in the Champions League, and you need a slightly different type of discipline in Europe.”

His tag as a ‘big-name player’ has much to do with this ‘discipline’ of his that Sir Alex recognises so well – and the boss then, much to my delight, points out his movement and notes its effectiveness: “When you pick teams for big games you need a core of discipline and he’s one of the players who can give you that. And he’s a fantastic professional,” says Fergie. “He moves and plays and moves again. That’s the asset he’s got. He doesn’t watch what other players are doing with the ball, he gets himself into another position so he can be involved again. That’s his value to us; he can be really important.”

Whether it’s the clever runs he makes or the position he assumes when United are in possession of the ball, he displays a know-how for the game and United’s system, making him as tactically-astute as any other great player, which ties in with Sir Alex’s point about his ‘intelligence’ being a real factor in his game. It makes him the player he is. And if United do go and capture another Champions League title this campaign, then part of it has much to do with this quiet, but effective, South Korean midfielder.
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They don’t call him “three-lungs” for nothing

<Figure 1> Note his movement against Schalke, the arrows towards the top centre of the diagram showing how deep he picks up the ball and receives his passes. Towards the right hand side of the diagram, it shows Park picking the ball up in a very deep position, well inside his own half. This performance typifies what Park is – great movement, constantly tracking back, all complimented by his excellent work-rate. He isn’t called three-lungs for nothing, you know.


Talking tactics ahead of the Schalke game


It is fascinating that, despite mauling current Champions Inter Milan, Schalke 04 are being somewhat undervalued and dismissed as they prepare to take on Manchester United. Indeed, the Red Devils are the favourites heading into the first leg but it would very naïve to take their German opponents lightly.

Sir Alex Ferguson has already stressed the difficulties that may arise from facing Schalke, and has warned his team that there simply won’t be any room for complacency. But perhaps any confidence in a victory is justified. In the Bundesliga, United’s opponents are floundering in mid-table obscurity with nothing but Europe to play for. They have won 11 out of their 31 league games but perhaps less should be read into that than the following statistic – Schalke are undefeated in their last 9 games in Europe.

Manchester United

Without Dimitar Berbatov, United will be without a potent attacking threat – on the bench. United’s starting line up in Europe always represents something of an enigma – then again, Manchester United have never been familiar with the concept of predictability. What is expected, however, is that United will line up in their default 4-2-3-1 formation we so often see in Europe.

Against Chelsea in the last eight, Michael Carrick played an inspired 180 minutes alongside the equally-effective Ryan Giggs, although whether they’ll partner each other remains to be seen – certainly, the consensus is split as to who will play in central midfield; whether we might see Anderson, Paul Scholes or even Darron Gibson participate is unclear as of yet. What is clear, however, is that United are the definite ‘box of chocolates’ side.

Possession will be United’s main focus and that’s where Carrick comes into play – you would expect Schalke to attempt to try press their visitors high and hit them on the break. If Schalke do manage to have a spell of prolonged possession, then United will do the same, but as we know, the counter-attack is a key asset to the Red Devils’ game.

Wayne Rooney is likely to play deep again; so far, he’s been a revelation in an almost-trequartista position that has seen Javier Hernandez thrive – indeed, most of the Mexican’s 19 goals this campaign have come with Rooney on the pitch. Meanwhile, Valencia and Park may start with Nani missing out. Then again, that is hardly assured. Nani offers greater pace and can drift in and switch effectively with Rooney whenever required.


But Ralf Rangnick’s Schalke are also similar in a sense; as to who will play is difficult to guess. Zulquar, from the excellent Bundesliga Fanatic, spoke of how Rangnick’s recent appointment means that the Schalke do not have a set squad, “especially since the recent change of manager has brought a lot of players, previously left out in the cold, back into contention.”

“Schalke have a massive squad, with over 35 players,” says Zulquar. “And while they have maintained a semblance of continuity at the back they have changed around a lot in most other positions.” He expects Schalke to line up in a 4-4-1-1 (line up below) with the deadly campaigner Raul playing just off Edu. Raul is obviously the main threat; his record in the competition speaks for itself and 1999 European cup winner Andrew Cole recognises this: “It’s not even like he has pace,” says Cole. “But he has movement to kill for and always scores.”

It is not only the Spaniard, however, that might stifle and crush United’s dreams. “If you look beyond Raul and perhaps Manuel Neuer in this team and most of these names are relative unknowns to the casual observer,” says Zulquar, continuing with a hint of optimism and pessimism. “But, although, this Schalke side is not particularly talented, they have a number of really hard-working players.”

Greek midfielder Papadopoulus is a “more than decent defensive utility man,” while Benedikt Howedes is a “rugged center-back” and Japanese full-back Atsuto Uchida is cited as very useful at the back and going forward. Zulqaur then adds, colourfully: “Personally though, I have slight persuasion towards Jose Manuel Jurado, who is nifty and useful player, but some people will tell you that that is perhaps similar to your affinity towards Michael Carrick.” That ‘affinity’ towards Carrick is probably not suitable for this piece, seeing as the words ‘Dear Deirdre isn’t written anywhere amongst here (kidding).

Ralf Ragnick – ‘The Professor’

“It is fitting Ralf Rangnick would get his litmus test against Sir Alex Ferguson, because his whole life, he has modelled himself on: Arsene Wenger! True story,” says Zulquar. “Like his English counterpart, Rangnick is also called ‘The Professor,’ although his nickname might stem from the fact that he is in fact a trained school teacher. Rangnick and Ferguson are quite different although perhaps a similarity is that they both like their sides to play attacking football. I expect Rangnick to stay true to his philosophies, which are generally attacking.”

Zulquar adds that Ragnick can be dogmatic and rather arrogant, too: “He left Hoffenheim because he did not approve the board’s decision to sell Luis Gustavo. Rangnick does not like to be too answerable to higher authorities,” Zulquar declares. “In that way his role at most Bundesliga clubs had been similar to that of English managers. His first tenure at Schalke ended because he and Rudi Assauer did not get along and at Hoffenheim too, he jumped ship when the board started interfering.”

Sir Alex will certainly meet his match, it seems, with Ragnick and his feisty character. And Zulquar, ever the talker, delivers one last parting blow as a warning to United: “Oh, and long may the German knock-out curse remain a monkey on the back of Manchester United!”

Predicted Line Ups:

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Giggs; Valencia, Rooney, Park; Hernandez

Schalke 04 (4-4-1-1): Neuer; Uchida, Howedes, Metzelder, Sarpei; Papadopoulus, Jurado, Farfan, Schmitz; Raul; Edu

Zulquar is a contributor for

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Darron Gibson was not deserving of Twitter barrage

Darron Gibson is no fans’ favourite at Old Trafford. And, having joined the ‘twitterverse’ earlier today, the Irishman found himself subject to a number of ill-mannered ‘tweets’ that, we can only speculate, forced him to close his account within two hours. 

Darron Gibson

By Annie Eaves – freelance journalist

Darron Gibson eh? Gibbo. What a bloke. He had a dream and worked hard and accomplished it. He may not be the most talented footballer but he made it. At Manchester United.

He managed to be a part of a squad and did what was asked and became useful to the manager as the club approached a record breaking nineteen titles. A dream comes true. A reality made from aspiration. A boy done good.

Except no. Not if you’re part of a certain aspect of our great club’s fan base who deems the young man to be past the point of support. A player you would be embarrassed to cheer in your oh-so-knowledgeable peer group. It makes you more of a United supporter when you hate Gibson. It makes you more of a United supporter when you hate your national team. In reality it just makes you a bit of an idiot.

You see, Darron Gibson has the temerity to be a player for United, something you failed by a mile and half the world. He’s the worst player to pull on that shirt you claim to support, the worst you’ve ever seen. He wouldn’t make it in the Championship. He steals a living. He’s a fraud.

Obviously the majority of players who have played for our great club throughout history are a class apart from the rest. We always have the best players. Yeah you may think of names from decades gone by but obviously they count for little. Our team is of this age. Unfortunately much of our support is too.

There’s a different aspect to this. A religious and nationalistic aspect. An aspect that as a Mancunian I couldn’t give two hoots about. So he doesn’t play for Northern Ireland, and? So he chooses to play for the Republic, and? To be honest I couldn’t give a camel’s whisker whether he played for The Cook Islands.

You want to use him as some pariah to feed age’s old hate or new anger? I couldn’t care less. You want to support my local team then you’re very very welcome but bring your problems with that and let them affect your support then I feel you’d be better off in Glasgow. And Glasgow would be worse off for having you. Darron Gibson isn’t ever going to be Xavi, let’s hire the firing squad for a convenient time next week.

Or, alternatively, let’s get behind the boy as he fulfils his dream. If our manager feels he is right for the team then you have to accept that on that particular day. Explode with frustration if you like and criticise performances. If you feel you have a burning rage then perhaps look at other issues surrounding yourself rather than Darron Gibson, the young footballer.

The idiots, and frankly that’s what the anonymous keyboard warriors are, who attacked him today for daring to open a Twitter account, have probably defined the concept of being pathetic. Don’t rate the player? Fine. Want him sold? Fine. Attack the guy anonymously with cowardly threats? Fine?

Not fine anymore. Just understand it says more about you than it ever will about Gibson. Unfortunately as a club we have a section of support always trying to prove something to an often inexistent peer group. United better than England. Carrick worse than awful. Gibson deserving of hate.

It’s about time we stood up against these idiots. Our club is Manchester United and long may it remain that way. We don’t have to agree all the time, God forbid we ever do. However we do have to understand what the concept of support means.

Follow Annie on Twitter @AnnieEaves

‘A thing of footballing beauty’ from Manchester United

With a Champions’ League semi-final with Schalke 04 impending, we look back at a modern classic at the same stage of this competition; a game where Manchester United displayed their brand of blistering counter-attacking football for all of Europe to see – Arsenal being the victims that day, perishing to a 3-1 defeat. The third goal is what we’ll focus on, however, purely on the basis of the sheer beauty of the move. It was a moment of attacking football at its sumptuous best; nine seconds, three players, one goal. 

The tone was set, in truth, for a moment like this in the first eleven minutes. Manchester United, with a 1-0 aggregate lead coming into this second leg clash, had ripped and shredded their opponents in their own backyard in the opening quarter of an hour with a hint of savagery as if this were a chapter in Lord of the Flies. Park ji-Sung and Cristiano Ronaldo had applied the damage. The tie was already over by this stage; Arsenal simply had no answer to the early barrage. “We were caught by a team that has an art to kill and take advantage of every mistake you make,” a shattered and beleaguered Arsene Wenger said after the game.

United were really that good and it was made all the sweeter that it was against their rivals, a side in the middle of a trophy drought, in a game that promised so much. For The Gunners, it was a case of so close, yet so far. But United, sensing the occasion, made few errors and punished Arsenal, pushing them to the brink as BBC’s Phil McNulty observed: “Man Utd brushed Arsenal aside with a savagery, speed and ruthlessness that had plenty of observers labelling it as football’s equivalent of Manny Pacquiao’s demolition of Ricky Hatton.”

With much thanks to Mancunian Tactics for creating the image

<Figure 1> That counter-attack (gif animated image)

An hour had passed. Despite the comfort of a 3-0 aggregate lead, Arsenal were determined to salvage something at the Emirates. They forced a corner, but little would they know of the consequence of the set-piece. A meek cross was cleared away from Nemanja Vidic – and Ronaldo pounced on the loose ball, with an impudent, yet rather nonchalant, flick that a lurking Park received with much grace. The next nine seconds would go on to be remembered and revered even today as one of the greatest and audacious counter-attacking moves in the game. It is worth saying that Ronaldo picked up the ball well into his own half, 20 yards or so from his own goal.

The South Korean midfielder found Wayne Rooney and he took the ball, head down in assault of the Arsenal goal. Meanwhile, lurking on the right was Ronaldo, racing down the length of the field with much verve and urgency and had found himself in a good position – Rooney duly released him and the Portuguese winger finished expertly with great calm and composure past Manuel Almunia. Sir Alex Ferguson cut an excited figure and said post-match: “Arsenal were throwing everything forward and we caught them on the counter-attack and the speed of play was fantastic.” McNulty eloquently summed this moment up well: “United’s third goal must be beyond dispute as a thing of footballing beauty. It was a portrait of the game at its finest.”

Manchester United are so potent on the break, and this was a reassurance of just how deadly they can be – but pundits alike had soon outlined this tactic as an asset of Manchester United’s game that can prove decisive against Barcelona in the final; that wasn’t to be. But for United’s shortcomings in the 08/09 campaign in Europe, this game, this moment, should still be celebrated just for the sheer brilliance, sheer madness of it all. And it is, still. Schalke, beware.

Analysis and Observations: Galvanised Anderson and Hernandez prompt victory

Manchester United 1-0 Everton: Analysis & Observations

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League

“Nineteen and counting” was the headline of choice for ESPN for this particular triumph – how very apt as Javier Hernandez, with an incredible 19 goals to his name this season, scored the late winner that has surely propelled Manchester United to their 19th League title. However, it was not just the workings of a particular Mexican that inspired United to this most crucial victory…

Fergie’s subs make an impact. After an excruciatingly, entertaining first half in which both teams contested with some caution, a trio of substitutes meant a prolonged period of pressure in the second. Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs looked constantly dangerous on the left, while Michael Owen struck the post. Because of Owen’s presence, Rooney dropped deeper and United were then able to take control of the game – a goal was ensuing and arrived soon enough.

Anderson thrives in freer role. Manchester United’s Brazilian midfielder represents something of an enigma in his central position; indeed, only recently, footballing legend Carlos Alberto emphasized the need to play Anderson in a ‘free role’. It was certainly evident here that Anderson was able to play in the position that Alberto had desired – with the 23-year old thriving alongside the ever-so-deep Wayne Rooney and Darron Gibson, who was decent but rather cautious and did not penetrate like Anderson did despite playing a similar role.

“He has shown at times how good he can be but if Sir Alex gives him freedom to play, he is going to show that he can be one of the best players in the world.” – Carlos Alberto

Look at the beautiful lines!

<Figure 1> Anderson’s performance was almost flawless. He covered great distances on the pitch and had played several successful balls up forward to the wingers and to a ball-hungry Rooney as the passing diagram above shows. Guardian Chalkboards

Speedy Hernandez provides a nuisance. There’s more to Javier Hernandez than just a lousy nickname (which explains why I’ll refer to him as ‘Speedy Hernandez) and scoring goals. Having clocked up an incredible top speed of a number close to 20 mph in the previous World Cup for his national side, his pace can only naturally cause damage to an opposing defence and that’s what he did here at Old Trafford – such interrogation that is only perhaps familiar on an episode of Traffic Cops. And if that wasn’t enough, he did score a late header from a deflected Valencia cross. The winner. Ah, good times.

Collectively, there’s no complaints. If this really is going to be number 19, then there will be a sudden anticlimactic feel in the sense that this special moment had little moments of flash and panache. Not like ’99 anyway. However, if solid, assured and composed win you titles then there is simply no complaints and that is precisely what this Manchester United side are giving. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans proved to be such while Fabio displayed his usual verve down the flanks. It was good team performance and, sure enough, a title-winning performance. In a sense.

The Report Card. Van der Sar C; John O’Shea C, Rio Ferdinand C, Jonny Evans C, Fabio da Silva B; Antonio Valencia C, Anderson A, Darron Gibson C, Nani D; Wayne Rooney B+; Javier Hernandez A

Will Keane offers a tantalising glimpse of the future

HAT-TRICK HERO: Will Keane celebrates with Ravel Morrison Image: Manchester Evening News

Far too much has been spoken about Manchester United’s youngsters in the past seasons. And after Wednesday’s Youth Cup crushing of Chelsea, it’s not hard to see why. The flair of Larnell Cole, the intelligence of Paul Pogba and the ever-so-nifty Gyliano van Velzen flourished and inspired United to a resounding, thumping triumph.

Then, there was William Keane; once the 90 were up and the game long over, the sound of ‘Keano’ boomed around Old Trafford as if fans had sensed a new hero emerging through the shadows much like his namesake, Roy Keane, did. Indeed, Keane will hope for many more games at the Theatre of Dreams, a dream that surely will be realised in the near-future. For, the young Englishman has great potential.

But, potential can be misleading. The word itself has connotations of something positive, but, in football, it is sometimes used as an inaccurate measure of an individual’s ability. There are many players who, at a young age, are spoken in high regard but for most, potential is soon a distant, happy memory as they are simply unable to fulfil such promise.

Pressure for United’s freshest crop is at an all-time high; and, unfairly, they are, now and again, talked up and compared to the Class of ’92. But that only serves a distraction for this raw, talented side with a thirst for success and more. The impending two-legged final with Sheffield United will certainly be difficult, but United will rightly go in as favourites.

And it was Will Keane’s hat trick against Chelsea in United’s 4-0 win (the other goal, the first, from Ravel Morrison) that allowed the aspiring academy scholars a chance to gain success – it is not only the seniors going the distance. Keane’s treble was somewhat typical of a ‘no.10’ – two of his goals coming from close range and the other from a penalty spot. However, what you could immediately identify from the young prodigy is that his finishing is excellent, complimented by great movement and tactical awareness.

While the youngster is not the quickest, he does not shy away from taking on his opponents and has often showed great work ethic for the reserves. He can play deep, too, with (loosely speaking) shades of something Wayne Rooney-like about his game. And, like Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov, Keane thrives in linking up play and allowing his teammates to get involved.

Is there a reason to get excited about United’s latest hat-trick hero? Don’t take my word for it. McGuinness once said of the forward after a stunning debut season in 09/10; “he’s been really outstanding and has scored some stunning goals but his general team play and his demeanour, his attitude on and off the pitch, have been excellent.” Since then he’s progressed rapidly and the thinking is that Keane will not go the same direction of those who failed at the cliched last hurdle – his three goals against Chelsea giving us every indication that there is still yet more to come from him.

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