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Three losses on the trot. The knives are out. Rooney is the fall guy. Mourinho’s not far behind, and United are back to playing Van Gaal’s sideways football. Not a good week. Yet it’s only September as Mata pointed out on his blog, and only City who have real daylight between United and the rest of the chasing pack. Maybe that’s why it’s so painful? City are wonderful to watch. De Bruyne the mastermind of their quick, mobile, swarming play. Guardiola style at it’s best. Liverpool aren’t far behind. Meanwhile United’s giants lumber.

The ruthless side of Mourinho will surely be seen in the coming weeks.  The midfield has to have more dynamism and penetration. Pogba has to turn up. By the time the October crunch away fixtures against Chelsea and Liverpool arrive Mourinho has to find width, speed and a midfield combination that both protects and threatens. The key could be Mkhitaryan.

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Surely there is a mix of pace, craft and steel in Mkhitaryan, Mata, Pogba, Lingard, Fellaini, Schneiderlin, and Carrick. When everyone is fit there’s just too many good players available. But it’s Mkhitaryan who is potentially the most interesting. The Czech Republic’s captain Suchy’s foul on the Armenian during the first match of the international break has had a significant impact on United. Mkhitaryan brings exactly the qualities of pace and imagination United need, and we haven’t seen the best of him yet.

The same can be said for Pogba. Underwhelming is too generous a word. We’ve witnessed flashes of brute force, power, and an occasional mazy run. But he aint no Zidane yet.

And what about the rest of the team? The criticism of Rooney is merciless. Yes he’s having a terrible time. However people are quick to forget there would be no FA Cup win without the driving run setting up Mata’s equaliser. The same determination created the winner at Hull. Yes he’s getting caught on the ball far too often. Yes the passes are less than pin point. And yes it maybe time to put him on the bench. But he’s not the reason United are misfiring. There’s no balance in the team.

Mourinho has the players. Perhaps some aren’t fit, but now is when a manager earns his corn. Unfortunately, for me anyway, Mourinho’s darker characteristics are showing. Blaming Luke Shaw publicly for the second goal at Watford isn’t exactly brilliant man management. Especially when Shaw is said to have had a reoccurrence of a long standing groin injury. Mourinho’s reputation for handling young or sensitive players is awful. Not exactly a nurterer our Jose.

Yet this is exactly a period when players need someone to lift them, and to make the best decisions for the team. If anyone needs to step up it’s the manager. Let’s see what the line up is against Leicester on Saturday.

 

 

United come down to earth

September 12, 2016

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Let’s not waste any time. City fully deserved to win the derby. Mourinho picked the wrong team, and rightfully accepted he did. De Bruyne maybe the Premiere League’s best player. Fernandinho, Otamendi and Silva were outstanding.

So what did we and Mourinho learn? For a start the world’s most expensive player has to get fit. This was one game where Pogba’s size and power weren’t enough. When a team moves the ball around like City you have to get it back quickly, not give it away, and if you do you have to have the stamina to chase. Pogba is lacking on the latter. Seriously lacking.  Box to box midfielders are powerhouses who run all day.

Saturday was an intense test of fitness. Both teams were lagging late in the game. All credit to United and to Mourinho as City were taken out of their stride in the second half and made to work hard for their win, but when United needed Pogba he was gasping. In the first half he couldn’t keep up with City’s movement, in the second he was done.

Halftime of course was when Mkhitaryan and Lingard were hooked as City’s dominance and United’s impotence forced Mourinho to react and change.

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In Mkhitaryan’s case the worry is what the ignominious 45 minutes does for his confidence? I got an e mail after the game from a friend who played at the highest level. He wrote:

“I don’t know much about him but to throw him straight into a Manchester ‘Derby’ after having not started any of their 3 league games as opposed to starting Rashford who is a local lad & would be inspired by the crowd AND the occasion was not fair on the Armenian.”

Indeed. The news after the match is that Mkhitaryan went for a scan on the thigh injury picked up in the International break.

As for Rashford, Mourinho has already pencilled him in to start in the Europa League game rashfordaway at Feyenoord on Thursday, when there will be whole scale changes to the starting 11. Presumably Zlatan, who made his wonderful goal on Saturday look simple and then contrived to miss a much easier chance minutes later, gets a rest. Maybe Rooney, Valencia and Blind too? Shaw is said to have picked up an injury, so any of Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Martial, Mata, Fosu Mensah, and Darmian, may all play.

Curiously I’m not depressed by the derby result, nor are the guys at  “Stretty News” . There’s obviously lots of work to be done. New players will again arrive in January, and maybe some of the kids will emerge. But nine points out of 12 is a solid start. it always hurts to lose to City, but as good as they were on Saturday they have a major weakness. All the other Premiere League coaches will have looked at Bravo’s sweeper keeper “performance” and smiled.

As my friend also wrote:

“I’ve listened to Guardiola’s post game comments & it sounds to me that he is desperate to boost Bravo’s confidence…he actually praised him…talk about being in denial!

The facts are that Bravo has played 70…YES only 70 games for Barcelona BEHIND one of the best teams in Spain…where there are maybe 3 teams who can win the league. Man City will not win the Premier League with him in goal”

 

If not City then who? United are obviously in transition, but they will give everyone a game this season. This squad is much, much improved. Mourinho will have learned a lot from this defeat. It’s very, very early.

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For the first time since he became United manager Jose Mourinho isn’t having everything his own way. Yes City will be Aguero-less next Saturday, but Mourinho too has his issues. International breaks are always a manager’s nightmare and Mourinho faces anxious days before he knows whether Mkhitaryan, Fellaini and Shaw will be fit, plus the South American trio of Valencia, Rojo and Romero do not return to Manchester until Friday. It’s a shame a match of this importance arrives now.

It would have been interesting to see Mourinho’s best team. Mkhitaryan’s injury is potentially a huge blow, as Paul Merson says of last year’s Bundesliga Player of The Year “…he is different gravy.” His and Rashford’s game changing introductions at Hull promise so much for the future. We had a glimpse of a very different United in that final half hour at Tiger Stadium. Pace and danger threatened from all angles. Admittedly Hull’s threadbare squad were tired but that last half hour of constant pressure was a hint of what this United squad can deliver, and Mkhitaryan’s skills were a potent ingredient.

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City too have issues going into Saturday with question marks around the fitness of two of their big summer signings Gundogan and Sane, as well as Aguero elbowing himself out. Nonetheless De Bruyne, Sterling, Iheanacho and Silva are dangerous footballers and Guardiola’s swarming tiki-taka is taking root.

The press will go to to town this week on this first Mourinho -Guardiola show down. It’s irresistible. However the two “despise each other” yada yada may overshadow a gripping on field match-up. Mourinho’s Giants v Guardiola’s Swarm. United are the bookie’s favorites, and Mancunian Macho Bragging Rights are up for grabs. But more important are the three points and the opportunity of some early separation from a team that like it or not are the biggest threat to United’s championship ambitions. Even if injury and suspension dilute the firepower both squads are loaded and reinforced by their joint 300 million pound summer spending spree. United will have Old Trafford baying for the win and City aren’t built to play for a draw. It’s a match made for Mourinho, Zlatan and Pogba to deliver.

Meanwhile one sour and curious note out of Old Trafford this week. What numbskull authorized the removal of Matt Busby’s name plaques from his seats in the director’s box? You can understand why his grandchildren and descendants were moved to equally decent seats somewhere else, but removing the great man’s name from a seat? ***Update the club now say seats will be “updated” in the director’s box with Busby’s name matching the same style as seats with Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson’s names on them.

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They’re big. They’re hard. You’d better be on your guard. The new Manchester United are muscular, physical giants. Zlatan at 6ft 5″ Fellaini 6ft 4″ Smalling 6ft 4″ Pogba 6ft 3″ Bailly 6ft 2″. De Gea doesn’t count because most goalies are tall these days but he’s 6ft 4″also . United are Giganticos rather than Galacticos.

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A quick review of all the teams in the league shows none with as many starting big guys. West Brom has two at 6ft 5″ in Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley but after that the next tallest outfielders are Johnny Evans and Chris Brunt at 6ft 2″.  Arsenal have Mertesacker at 6ft 6” and Giroud at 6ft 4″. Stoke’s Arnautovic is 6ft 4″ and of course Crouch is 6ft 7, but these days he’s a reserve. City’s Vincent Kompany is 6ft 4″ then it’s John Stones at 6ft 2″. Chelsea’s Matic and Cahill are both 6ft 4″. Liverpool appear mere midgets. Their tallest player is Sturridge at 6ft 2″.

And now as the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor point out in his Southampton game match report plenty of teams are going to “feel the force”.

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Zlatan has already outjumped and overwhelmed two formidable centre halves in Leicester’s Wes Morgan and prospective United target Southampton’s Jose Fonte to score two of his goals. Players were literally bouncing off Pogba on Friday night.

 

Bailly is overpowering attackers with his pace and strength. In contrast Fellaini has looked almost restrained. The wild man replaced by a calm, measured presence, tidying up in front of the back four. Who knew?

Mourinho’s teams have always had steel at their heart. Last season you always had the feeling other teams could bully United.

Not any more.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 12.55.37 PMThings couldn’t be going much better, an efficient, controlled, clinical performance at Bournemouth headlined by Zlatan’s goal, Bailly’s Man of The Match award, Blind’s calm assurance and a very impressive display from Fellaini. Top of the league and all that!

After the game Mourinho quite rightly pointed out he’s told the squad everyone will get minutes once September comes around and all competitions start. But that begs a lot of questions. Where does Pogba play? What will be the manager’s ultimate starting line-up? What will be the final squad?

With Lingard out Mourinho probably surprised everyone by starting Mata ahead of Mkhitaryan. Yet when everyone is fit or back from suspension, when the transfer window is closed and all the deals are completed, what team lines up to face City  on September 10th? Does Smalling walk right back into the team next Friday against Southampton? You would think so, but you can’t leave Bailly out and Blind has played well and provides a calm anchor. It also looks as if Fellaini is a Mourinho guy, forget the back pass against Leicester, in the first two games Fellaini has been everything you want in front of the back four.

Thanks to a relatively easy start and the successful transfer window United are in an enviable position. Everyone will be disappointed if going into the home game against City, there aren’t the maximum 9 points in the bank.

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But which players does Mourinho trust to challenge Guardiola for Manchester’s bragging rights? Which players may have come and gone? There are some really tough decisions ahead. Do you sell Mata to raise money for Madrid’s Varane? Who makes way if Southampton’s Fonte is the option instead?

Mourinho likes to have a squad of 22 players including three goalkeepers, so if by September 1st that squad is:

Goalkeepers:

De Gea, Romero, Johnstone

Defenders:

Valencia, Fosu-Mensah, Bailly, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, A.N.Other

Midfield:

Pogba, Fellaini, Carrick, Mkhitaryan, Herrera, Schneiderlin, Lingard

Forwards:

Zlatan, Rooney, Rashford, Martial, – Depay (??????)

That’s 22:

Not included:

Schweinsteiger, Mata, Jones, Young, Rojo, Darmian, Perreira, Wilson, Borthwick-Jackson – Nine players!

Wow, and I mean wow.

As the question marks suggest I wouldn’t keep DePay, I’d sell him and buy a genuine jet heeled speedster. There are lots of twists and turns left before the City game.

We are witnessing the practical, ruthless, side of Jose Mourinho. Make no mistake Ferguson had it too, so did Busby, but would either of them have publicly embarrassed a player like Mourinho did on Sunday with Juan Mata?

Spare a thought for Mata and Bastian Schweinsteiger too, cos both are history at Manchester United and represent Mourinho’s management style. Mata too short.Too nice.  Mata 1

Schweinsteiger too injury prone. Too slow. Both gone.

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Apparently Adnan Januzaj is also receiving the: “Go to the reserve team dressing room….. or get changed in the toilet” treatment. Mourinho looks one way and that’s forward. There was never a doubt about how he would operate.This is a manager intent on winning. There is no time or place for sentiment. You can’t even make joke about No More Mr.Nice Guy. That was never on the table to begin with.

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Not a bad day at the office. Lingard’s injury apart, for the ever Machiavellian Mourinho things could not have gone much better.

Zlatan got his goal. Bailly showed plenty of signs of being a dominant force. Bailly 1

Mourinho won his first trophy as United manager, and also had the opportunity to speak openly about Paul Pogba and what he brings to the team.  Pretty obvious really.Paul-Pogba-miami

Who knows where the 100 million man was having his medical, but by the middle of this week his height, power, and technique should be Jumping Jack Flashing at Carrington.

If there’s one thing United aren’t going to lack this season it’s height and power.

It’s been a curious pre-season. The marketing trip to China was a long way for nothing. An interruption and marketing exercise which must have driven Mourinho nuts. The transfer business is done for now, but maybe there’s more to come. Apart from the expected exits of  Schweinsteiger, McNair, Pereira, Blackett, and possibly Mata, Jones or Young, don’t be surprised if United don’t throw a blockbuster at us. Maybe they sell Martial and bring another striker in? The young Frenchman had a poor Euros. There are rumours about his petulance and “off the field activities.” He may not fit the Mourinho team player mould, and he also slows down Rashford’s progress. I know it’s heresy to speak ill of a new found fan favourite, but Mourinho is ruthless and 75 million in the bank and the opportunity to buy his own striker maybe irresistible.

Pogba will bring dynamism to midfield, Rashford has pace, so have Shaw, Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Valencia and Smalling, but there is room for another jet heeled, electric striker to complement Zlatan. And it isn’t DePay.

In my last post I argued that Pogba wasn’t worth a 100 million transfer fee. I want to clarify. As a footballer he’s not worth it. As a marketing opportunity he is. Today’s values are obviously skewed by the enormous amounts of TV and advertising cash sloshing around the game and particularly the Premiere League. United’s profits are enormous. If Pogba helps deliver a championship this season he’s paid the fee.

So the Mourinho era with all it’s Special ingredients begins with a trophy. Jose

We’ve had Funny, Charming Jose passing Andy Tate’s Manc Quiz.  We’ve had Ruthless Jose banishing Schweinsteiger to the reserve team dressing room. And we’ve had PR Savvy Jose dedicating the Charity Shield win to Louis Van Gaal and the 7 players who didn’t make  the team or bench.

In the end what counts is results. The real business begins next Sunday in Bournemouth.