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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.

 

 

Man in the middle

It doesn’t get any worse. Most of us have just uncurled from the foetal position. Look at the faces and the headlines.

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Beaten by the team Fergie knocked off their perch. Beaten by high pressure, energetic Dortmund style Klopp football. Without De Gea it could have been a rout. Even though the Spaniard almost kept the score respectable, a very different United need to turn up next Thursday.

This isn’t a team that withstands the modern pressing game. Not enough players are confident on the ball. Not enough strikers have ice in their veins. Rashford’s fluffed chance after just 15 seconds was the only time United seriously threatened. It’s not fair to criticize him, an 18 year old 8 yards out from goal and in front of the Kop must be forgiven, but a mature top-class striker buries the cross from Depay, who along with a few others took the rest of the 89 minutes and 45 seconds off. After that Liverpool never stopped. Sure the penalty was iffy – Depay again – and there’s the terrible mistake by Carrick for the second, but if Liverpool did not win the game it would have been a travesty.

It’s quite possible by next Thursday night United will be out of two cups and with the slimmest chance of achieving what now looks like a miracle top 4 place in the league.

So what do you do? Take the Scholes, Ferdinand, rabid fan and media route? The “this is terrible..no one tackles..it’s the worst United team…not in my day…I’d have been embarrassed..anything but effing Liverpool…let’s get effing Mourinho…let’s get effing anybody…approach?.”

Or do we wait until next Thursday and hope that magic strikes in the next two home games?

The practical and sensible out there will quite rightly say no chance, and firmly point to the corporate machine running United as a global brand and business rather than a football club as the reason United are in the mess they are. But to be honest Liverpool too are American owned, and probably deeply envious of United’s global reach and money making capabilities.

In the end it’s not all about money. Real, Barcelona and Bayern have always paid big money for and to players. What’s needed at United is the kind of strength and long term view that saw Ferguson given almost four seasons to build a football battleship. Whether Van Gaal is the man to manage United isn’t the real question. Someone has to stand back from all the emotion and make some solid, sensible decisions. And sell Depay too :).

 

 

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Remember the Four Tops hit? “It’s the same old song”?, well here we are again. The Stretford End boo birds and “attack, attack, attack” surfaced in the 70th minute, as for the third game in a row United’s patient – others say pedestrian, pedantic or boring football, and lack of finishing delivered a draw.

A few headlines:

Insipid and ineffectual the Manchester Evening News.

Fans jeer dull stalemate The Guardian

Fans vent fury Irish Independent

I must have watched a different game. C’mon it wasn’t that bad.  Fellaini hit the post and had one kicked off the line. Martial, Mata, Schweinsteiger and Lingard all missed chances. West Ham could have had 4 as the post saved United twice, De Gea outwitted Moses and Zarate missed a sitter. 

The brief second half cameo from Memphis/DePay was the most positive, least fussy and direct performance I’ve seen from him this season.

United are in 4th but only three points off the top and with the same amount of points as City, who were well beaten at Stoke. By all accounts the 3-1 Arsenal home win over Sunderland flattered to deceive, Tottenham drew at WBA, and of course Chelsea’s defeat at home to Bournemouth  proves once again why this year’s league is to say the least unpredictable.

It’s a logjam up there and if United can open the check book in January they will not be far away. I’m sticking to my guns on that. The question is who can they get?

Cavani? Can he take the Premiere League’s physical side?

Vardy? Maybe.

Kane? No chance.

My guess is if someone comes it will be from Europe. But price shouldn’t even be a consideration. This January unlike others may be the time to buy because the league is wide open.

Meanwhile whither Van Gaal?

There’s no doubt there is tension behind the scenes at Old Trafford. The rumors and leaks of the players being unhappy with his methods, discipline, and organization are too frequent to ignore.

On Friday he said if he loses the dressing room he’s gone. That’s not an empty threat. He’s given himself his own walking papers at Bayern, Barcelona, Ajax, and AZ Alkmaar. In Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal’s world it’s always been “My Way or I pack my bags and drive off down the highway”.

Remember Alex Ferguson’s first two seasons at Old Trafford? You should. Van Gaal’s record is too good to throw away easily**** Update since this post was first written much has been written about how the Old Trafford hierarchy is  happy with Van Gaal and his methods, and are ready to sit down with him to discuss extending his contract. Good.

Now for Tuesday and Wolfsburg. Now that is a BIG game.

 

 

 

No offence to the Jamie Vardy Show, and congrats to Vardy, but his opener and Premiere League’s consecutive scoring streak record setter was a poor goal from United’s point of view. Young gave him a free pass over the final 5 yards and Vardy’s specialty is scoring from that angle. United never looked like losing today, but again possession didn’t translate to goals. United had 69% of the play yet it took a set piece and some true grit from Schweinsteiger to force an equaliser.

leicester-man-utd-schweinsteiger_1Add today to his efforts at Watford last week and Schweinsteiger is taking some games by the throat.The Manchester Evening News quite rightly labels the German  “a captain without the armband” and he looked like a man on a mission all day.  Less could be said for the forwards. Martial is having a blip; Mata is going through a poor stretch; and Rooney just looks tired.

The days of Squeaky Bum Time for now perhaps should be labelled Rusty Bum Time. Things are just taking a bit more time to get going.  The focus remains on defensive organization and solid fundamentals and it will probably remain so all season. After today’s game Gary Neville echoed what a lot of us have been saying, United are very close to a championship team but…..

“……they need that match-winner, that Neymar, that Luis Suarez, the one that is going to light up a game and score one or two goals to take it away, then all of a sudden they would look like a Barcelona, because they’re dominating possession, making teams look foolish.

“Even in the last 15 minutes, they didn’t fully commit to winning the game. Historically, you would like to see punch after punch, you would want to see bodies being thrown forward, but you might get caught on the counter attack and lose 2-1 that way.

We all know the no risk approach is driving some critics and fans bonkers. Probably no-one understands that more than Van Gaal. Who wants to be the manager of The World’s Most Criticized Team?

louis-van-gaal-manchester-united-fc-v-pfc-cska-moskva-uefa-champions-league-03112015_17exe4tpuyji313tgpjzl8ku13Not the greatest of displays agreed. So where do we start? Roy Keane’s attack on Wayne Rooney? Paul Merson’s view that United are a Subbuteo team? The Daily Mail’s Snoozeometer Ratings? The mystery player who says he can be 50% better if only Van Gaal would release him from his shackles? (my bet is it’s DePay). Rene Meulensteen echoing the “free the players” mantra. The Manchester Evening News criticizing the fans? Or Rio Ferdinand talking about the missing “animal” players?

Wow. It’s a good job United are second in the league and still have a chance of winning their Champions League qualifying group.

Enough already. Can everyone please shut up?

Rooney can’t carry the team on his own.

The team is set up the way it is because that’s currently the way they can succeed. Anyone remember Boring Arsenal or Don Revie’s first great Leeds team? Or countless Italian, German and yes Spanish teams with a defend first approach?

This is my mantra: Players determine tactics.

Now I’ll get critical. Meulensteen said earlier this week that Jesse Lingard is Andres Iniesta in waiting. You mean the Lingard that’s missed three sitters in the past two games? If Rooney gets those chances they are buried. If Lingard scores the two last night all the stories of woe would have have been spiked. Instead the headlines would have been about United’s latest youth academy product delivering his full potential or some such other guff and United winning the group with a game to play.

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The glass is just about half full on Lingard, but he’s nervous and he gives the ball away too many times as well as missing sitters. I’d never start a game without Mata but that’s me. What do I know?

There is no God given right that United are going to blow teams away. Over the years too many Tuesday and Wednesday night Champions League and European Cup fixtures prove that.

Finally the Guardian projected which team will be top of the league on January 1st 2016. Guess which team it is? Correct their home is Old Trafford.

This is a time for patience grasshoppers. An away win at Leicester solves the current angst

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the manager has clarified today that Fellaini will play more as a striker this season. In my book that’s a very, very good thing. I’ve already waxed lyrical on the qualities I believe he brings to the team, but to be honest it just makes sense. He’s a proven player in the final third. TJS70684504here aren’t many center halves who can handle him ask Kompany and Mangala. And as for the criticism on Twitter about how he turns United into a one dimensional pub team hoofing it forward in the hope of knock downs, that is utter bollocks. You get players wide or players who can directly attack in the final third and he will battle, pick up the bits, provide an assist or score. All of this “where is the swashbuckling team of old?” lament is utter tripe. Get real people. Once Ronaldo left United became a much more pedestrian and one paced team.

The last title was won on Van Persie’s goal scoring brilliance and some very, very dour performances. If you can’t sign Bale, Muller, or Reus, what are you supposed to do?

Let’s see what happens in Brugges tomorrow night. Then also let’s see what happens once the team is definitely in the next round of the Champions League. There are 5 and half days in the transfer window after Wednesday night.

Watched the match on an intermittent web connection then 9 hours later woke up to the news that Pedro has gone to Chelsea.. So 3-1, Memphis scores two terrific goals, Fellaini gets that all important third, but the fans are split on the Pedro non signing. You have to think Van Gaal has something up his sleeve. If it’s not Muller is it Bale? Woodward was in Barcelona on Monday. He obviously didn’t go for a long lunch. Something happened between late Monday afternoon and late Tuesday night.

All of this slightly overshadows a very good performance on Tuesday. Admittedly Brugge were without 6 regular starters, had a man sent off, and are not an elite European side, but they were always on the back foot and when they did threaten United were quicker, stronger and more determined.

If the back four continues like this and stay clear of injury – I’m repeating myself here – it’s a solid platform particularly when you add in the defensive cover Schneiderlin provides.

Despite the angst and envy about Pedro United are making a lot of progress.

Last night was a huge step forward for Memphis, but to me me he’s still a work in progress. It’s when he does it away against Chelsea that he’s a superstar.