Manchester United – A dissection of 2010

Manchester United still remain unbeaten this season, despite being put through the wringer. Crippling debt, several draws, uninspiring performances and a certain striker allegedly wanting out of the club. Dave Stubbings looks in-depth at United’s problems on the field.

Another match and another draw for Manchester United. Two more goals conceded as questions are asked again about their defence, questions which failed to be answered.

It is worth pointing out that United have not lost yet this season. However they’ve conceded two goals or more in five games already this season, something that happened only six times in the whole of last year.

Wayne Rooney’s form (or lack of) continues to be a hotly debated topic with many wondering what happened to the player who, before Man United’s quarter-final against Bayern Munich appeared to be scoring for fun.

Rooney’s problems though appear to be much more than just a lack of form as he continues to be a shadow of the player he was last season. His ability to control a ball and run with it have deserted him and his shooting has been just awful at times this season. The cliché ‘can’t hit a barn door’ would be a suitable one to use, however after recent performances Rooney would be lucky if he even hit the barn.

Two goals in 21 games and only one this term for his club after 34 in the 09/10 season is a shocking return by any striker’s standards.However the poor performances of United’s number 10 are distracting from other areas which could harm their chances of picking up silverware this season.

Let’s start with the defence.

 

Patrice Evra: now becoming the French national side version for club.

 

Three years ago Patrice Evra was being raved about by the United fans. His tackling, constant running and persistent attacking threat made him an Old Trafford favourite with some claiming he was the best left-back in the world. However since France’s disastrous World Cup he’s lacked most of these qualities as mistakes come thick and fast.

You only have to watch the build up to the West Brom equaliser last weekend to see what I mean, as he failed to clear his lines not once but twice and just ambles back after giving away possession, a far cry from a few years ago. His other habit of 2010, attempted overhead clearances have also failed dismally. Ronaldinho’s goal at the San Siro and Pienaar’s strike last month are two examples of a terrible idea, poorly executed.

On the opposite flank though, things are much worse. John O’Shea’s season has been poor to say the least, both when playing right back and centre midfield.

Whereas Chelsea’s full backs, Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic get forward and provide crosses and even goals, without abandoning any of their defensive responsibilities (usually as the other stays back and helps the centre-backs), it’s a skill O’Shea simply doesn’t have as he timidly passes, match after match. O’Shea’s inability send over a decent cross restricts the winger ahead of him (whether it be Nani or Valencia) and whenever he does decide to venture into the opponents’ penalty area, he turns into a hindrance for his team-mates.

From one extreme to the other though, as Rafael is the opposite. While some of his crossing at times is superb, he appears to forget that he is a defender and constantly wanders off leaving a huge hole on United’s right flank, dragging one of the centre backs out wide.

Rafael is Old Trafford’s version of Glen Johnson. Yes he’s good at crossing and can occasionally score but doesn’t track back enough and rashly dives in for many a tackle; both players play like wing backs in a 4-4-2 formation and it simply doesn’t work. In other European leagues, Rafael would excel but unfortunately the Premier League isn’t a forgiving mistress and you get found out quickly when not in line with the rest of the back four.

What about the other two right backs? Well Wes Brown never appears to be fit enough while Gary Neville is past it and should no longer be considered for most matches.

The centre backs are exactly blameless either. Rio Ferdinand may be fit now but he’s been in and out with injuries so often he struggles to find consistency. However a half-fit Ferdinand is still better than a fully fit Johnny Evans, a man who brings a wonderful air of panic to the United defence the opposition come forward. Also, if anyone can explain the definition of the word ‘mark’ to the Northern Irishman, please write to Carrington Training Ground, Birch Road, Manchester.

This ramble about the defences lets the midfield off however. Owen Hargreaves must surely have a season ticket with Virgin Atlantic now, with his frequent flying to America to see his knee specialist.

 

 

Fletcher and Scholes: dynamic midfield for 70 minutes.

 

Ferguson’s first choice midfield partnership this season of Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes are solid but perhaps no longer good enough to help United push for the league or European success.

Whilst Fletcher remains as tenacious as ever, he lacks that presence which other top teams have. Chelsea’s Michael Essien is a shining example of the sort of midfielder United need; a tough tackler who can dominate a game. His partner Paul Scholes still has the vision to pick out a fantastic pass, but at 35 is getting on a bit and struggles to play 90 minutes, let alone play week in week out.

Don’t get me wrong, Scholes is a fantastic player and he’s still a joy to watch with his range of passing and shots but he can’t run like he used to, and it’s plain for all to see, especially in the last 15-20 minutes of a game.

However the lack of depth in midfield is apparent as Scholes’ younger team-mates struggle to make a case to be picked. The out of favour Anderson and Michael Carrick, both bought for large amounts of money, continue to frustrate with neither ever given a run of games long enough to force their way into Fergie’s plans.

As for Darron Gibson, one long range shot on target every other match does not constitute a top quality midfielder. He may have scored nine goals in a United shirt but strikes against Southampton, Derby and Scunthorpe make up a third of this tally with two of his league goals coming against Hull and West Ham.

This air of nostalgia around Old Trafford and a misguided belief that the likes of Scholes and fellow midfielder Ryan Giggs can dig United out of a hole whenever the going gets tough.While Giggs and Scholes can still link up wonderfully, as shown by the Welshman’s volley against Newcastle in August, it is worth mentioning that against quicker, more skilful opponents they will not have the time and freedom offered by the Magpies/James Perch.

The lack of outstanding replacements means that they are still being picked regularly, when at other clubs they’d be considered squad players by now. Can United afford the replacements?

The Glazers have always said they can afford any player Sir Alex chooses. However the common consensus appears to be that the Old Trafford coffers are running dry. How true that is remains to be seen. After all Ferguson did splash out £16m on Valencia in 2009 and £7.4m on Bebe this time round (quite why remains to be seen) hints that there is some money there.

Maybe questions should be asked of the manager’s judgement. Shocking as it may sound, he may not be quite the master he once was. Stagnant performances against Rangers and Sunderland as well as a subdued second half against West Brom were a far cry from the United of years gone by.

The decision to replace Fabio da Silva with another defender in the 0-0 draw against Rangers while overlooking Anderson and striker Federico Macheda was a curious one.

While the 1-0 win in Valencia was achieved through the classic counter-attack, it was against the run of play and a type of goal rarely scored by United at the moment; a far cry from the free-flowing football which was common as recently as 2008.

The gap left by Cristiano Ronaldo is evident. If you want an example of the classic counter attacking football United played when he was there, cast your mind back to the 2006/7 season when he and Rooney ripped Bolton to shreds.

A season later United had a strike force of Rooney, Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez  and Nani which was boosted in the summer of 2008 with Berbatov and Macheda (for two matches anyway). Add to the mix an in-form Carrick plus Scholes and Giggs, both two years younger and it was a much more free flowing United side.

However with the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez (officially £105m worth of talent) has made United a much more rigid side. Valencia and Nani are much more orthodox wingers, and as good as they are, do not have that ability to roam which Ronaldo did. There’s no point in asking them to be like Ronaldo but it appears United did not prepare for life after the £80m man and have become too predictable.

This air of nostalgia could hamper United moving forward in the next few years. It’s worth noting that nobody is infallible and as good as the likes of Ferguson, Scholes and Giggs have been for Old Trafford, nothing lasts forever.

Just ask Liverpool.

Follow Dave on Twitter @dstubbings14 and read his brilliant motorsport blog, Hitting the apex, if you are that way inclined.

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The Premier League Fashion Fix – Kits for 10/11 (Manchester City to Wolves)

Manchester City

Rather begrudgingly, I have to admit City have got their shirt spot on once again this year. They have changed their kit maker to Umbro, which seems to be a good move. Once again the phrase simplicity crops up Sky blue, white arm trim. Done. Very similar to England’s away kit with the fabric and look used.Also like the nice touch inside of the collar, of the classic City scarf. I think that was Mancini’s idea, he just loves striped scarves that fella.

Good work Umbro though, I’m liking your shirt philosophy. Man City are again sponsored by Etihad Airways will reveal their away kit on Friday (but it’s likely going to be red and black)

Verdict – 8/10

Manchester United

I’ve got mixed opinions on these two offerings by Manchester United. The home shirt is a big improvement on last year in my opinion, with Nike dismissing the black chevron for the traditional all red. Not that keen on the white sleeve stripes as it reminds me of the Umbro kit from 99/00. But other than that, it’s an above average effort boosted by the return of a collar. Eric would be proud

The away kit on the otherhand is hideous. I’ve always preferred a black away kit for United. White ones rarely work and the shoulder/sleeve design here is just weird, with the red stripes just tacked on there. Actually maybe United should be sponsored by Red Stripe. No that’s a bad idea.  Manchester United are now sponsored by Aon

Verdict – 6/10 (away kit drags it down)

Newcastle United

After last year’s shirt show-stealing performance for all the wrong reasons. Newcastle opt for a more conservative option this time round in their return to the top flight. The Championship winners of course have their black and white striped shirts, but it’s a pretty rubbish shirt. Puma have gone for some weird fabric that doesn’t look high quality, plus they’ve kept with the unorthodox collar (I like it but many don’t). The back is all white, which goes against the Geordie grain.

Also don’t really like the black shoulder design. There’s too much black there and it’s very reminiscent of the kit they wore to relegation. The away shirt is a peculiar shade of blue and to be honest I prefer the 3rd kit to it.

Newcastle are once again sponsored by Northern Rock.

Verdict – 4/10

Stoke City

Oh dear. Stoke’s new agreement with Adidas couldn’t have produced a more unsatisfying shirt. It looks like a patchwork quilt. Too many ideas are meshed together to create a monstrosity. Harsh?

The red and white stripes are accompanied by dashes in between. Why, I do not know. The neck/collar area looks strange and again Adidas have had to put a space for a Premier League badge. Speaking of badges, the Adidas one on the left is weirdly places. Yes, it is safe to say I hate this kit. The away kit arrives on the 2nd August, I’m hoping for something better.

Stoke continue their sponsorship with Britannia for this season.

Verdict – 2/10

Sunderland

Umbro make it a three peat of superb kits. As you can tell by the promo shot of Darren Bent with a ancient football, Umbro have gone for the classic look. The new sponsor, bingo website Tombola is put onto the shirt, without it looking out place. Interwoven if you will. The red and white stripes are complemented by a good red collar look.

The away kit as you can see is all white with a subtle hint of burgundy. I really like this kit as well. Fantastic effort.

Note- Tombola will not appear on junior shirts to comply with UK law

Verdict – 9/10

Tottenham Hotspur

Puma have gone a bit crazy with the Spurs shirt. Once again, don’t understand the decsion to move the Puma badge up to the shoulder on the home kit. The diagonal navy blue strip across the top of the shirt would be fine apart from the white stripes added along it. It just looks a bit off to me. The change strip is now sky blue. It’s been a while since it has and I think it’s a move for the better.

Overall not terrible but not great either. Spurs have a new sponsor in Autonomy

Verdict – 5/10

West Bromwich Albion

Well we finally have one Umbro kit I don’t like. The Baggies have bounced back to the Premier League for the umpteenth time and brought a polostyle home shirt with them. I don’t like polo shirt in general so I may be biased here, but the contrast between that and the sponsor Homeserve offsets the vintage look Umbro went for. Shame really.

The away kit however is a lot better. Subtle black stripes are simple and effective. Only downside for me as a traditionalist is West Brom not having green and yellow in their away kit.

Verdict – 6/10

West Ham United

It was unavoidable. This promotional picture had to be used. Mark Noble and Thomas Hitzlsperger eating a full English down a East Lahndan caff. Not fulfilling any Cockney stereotypes there then are we, West Ham PR department. The kit itself is unique in a way. The claret and blue hoops around the middle of the shirt seem to be in honour of Sampdoria possibly. Then again maybe not. Overall, not a bad away kit although slightly tarnished by Macron’s logo on the sleeve.

And of course away days are very much like this. Hash browns and bacon at a service station in your change strip.

West Ham have yet to reveal their home kit but they’ll still be sponsored by Sbobet

Verdict – 6/10 so far

Wigan Athletic

Wigan have finally unveiled their kit, in a friendly with Oldham last night. The cost-cutting decision to make their kit ‘in-house’ with company Mifit seems to have paid off. I really like this kit. The off-centre vertical stripe is different and I think it sets them apart. The sponsor slightly ruins a very good shirt as it looks out of place

The wait was worth it I guess. Wigan are sponsored by 188Bet again for 10/11.

Verdict – 7/10

Wolves

They are Premier League but not in the shirt stakes. Burrda have poorly imitated Umbro in the traditionalist approach but this could well be Mick McCarthy’s desire to hark back to the Molineux of old.  Muddy pitches and parasite football as Mick moaned all summer long.

Anyway, the shirt is not too bad until you realise that the retro idea is ruined by the Sportingbet sponsor. Alternatively buy the kids shirt since it won’t have. Although this might arouse suspicion.

The away kit is the reverse sans the silly collar.

Verdict – 5/10

There we have it. The Champions League places belong to Blackburn, Man City and Sunderland (Umbro). The fashion police have relegated Bolton, Stoke and Everton. Enough with this fashion facade. Back to normal running soon