Archives For Chris Smalling

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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.

Manchester United v Southampton - Premier League

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”.

Fellaini

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.

FB6EE0C38D5E423F9BE4BE22B60B536ETick-tock, tick-tock, one down two to go. If this is the pivotal week in LVG’s Old Trafford career it began with the coziest win over the League One strugglers. Shrewsbury were never in it. A very professional performance from United capped by the third goal from Lingard. Mata’s free kick was wonderful but I tend to agree with those who claimed the three players running back were offside. Nice trick though, and brilliant finish. The only problem is that yet again there were injuries. If there is a summer spending spree United should buy 6 full backs. Borthwick-Jackson is presumably out against Midtjylland on Thursday. Lingard didn’t look comfortable at the end, and the desperately unlucky Keane may be gone for weeks.

If there was a silver lining it was the team performance. Whoever is leaking stories about the senior players being unhappy with Van Gaal can’t be talking about Mata, Smalling, Blind, Martial or Schneiderlin. All played as if they meant it, and for me there was no indication of a team trying to get the manager the sack.

Now there needs to be a magic sponge. Thursday is a huge game, but Midtjylland don’t play in front of 75,000 very often and if it’s one of those magical Old Trafford nights and the crowd carry the team the Danes will get a battering. I’m not worried about Thursday, but Sunday and Arsenal is different. United need De Gea back, Rojo would be a bonus, Jones would help, but that’s about all to hope for.

Van Gaal says March is looking better:

“I think in March a lot of players are coming back and then we’ll have a full selection, and with our full selection we were first in the Premier League.”

Give the man his due, he doesn’t lay down.

Now for some speculation. If by any chance United win the next two matches what happens to all the hand wringing, vindictiveness, poison, slander, lies and general bonkersness about Van Gaal? He’s a football magician if he gets out of this week. An FA Cup tie, a Europa League salvage job, and a must win against the League favorites? All in 7 days? C’mon people, we know Woodward and the Glazers are ultimately responsible for this mess. It would be something special for Van Gaal to be celebrating 3 wins on the trot on Sunday night.

 

louis-van-gaalWhere do we start? Worst performance of the season?  The boos? Champions League receding? Injuries?  Or the alleged Mourinho begging for a job letter?

Let’s begin with the squad and the lack of depth and quality players. Even with all the injuries there should be better players available.

Eleven new players have arrived in Van Gaal’s era. Everyone keeps talking about the enormity of the estimated 250 million pound spend, but keep in mind how much Chelsea, Barcelona, Real, Bayern and City also spent in the past few years. What matters is is how the money is used, and that maybe Van Gaal’s undoing.

As my friend John says:

In the end LVG, like all managers is judged on two things. Results obviously, but also signs that a team is improving. I think it is the second which will ultimately condemn him, since the eleven signings made on his watch have not improved the team.
He’s been unlucky with Shaw. Of the rest,  Blind is good value and arguably the best buy, Martial is a talent; Schweinsteiger provides leadership; Schneiderlin is solid; Depay is dreadful; Rojo injury prone; Herrera flatters to deceive; the jury is out on Darmian; Romero is a bench warmer; and Falcao and Di Maria were complete failures.
How many of the current team would get into the current Arsenal, City, Tottenham or Leicester starting line ups? De Gea and Smalling definitely. Rooney and Schneiderlin probably.
Yesterday United were beaten by a goal from a 4 million pound centre forward, yet Martial and Depay collectively cost around 60 million pounds. In a collective team performance lacking every traditional club value United ended the match with four teenagers on the pitch, Januzaj preferred before Depay as a sub and boos cascading from the stands. Van Gaal isn’t helped by inheriting a youth policy which in the past 20 years has delivered only one star, Paul Pogba, who, of course, in an ultimate irony for one of the world’s richest clubs, left for Juventus after an argument over wages.
The supporter’s anguish is perfectly summed up today in an open letter to the Glazers from the ManchesterLalaLa blog.

You are obviously intelligent, highly successful businessmen, but having been a United fan for 60 years, just like my father before me and his father before him, I have never seen such a clueless pair effectively in charge of this sporting empire.

I completely understand that Woodward is a star in your eyes on the commercial front, and that’s obviously where he belongs. But thanks to Woodward and Van Gaal, the football side has descended into farce, and if this continues, the damage to the brand will be disastrous. The core values at United are winning and doing it with style – something United are a million miles away from at this point in time.

This week Columbia Sportswear was added to the money roll as yet another sponsor. But what good is a worldwide brand if the team at its heart doesn’t perform? You can only market the past for so long.
Meanwhile it’s reported that Jose Mourinho has written a 6 page letter to the board outlining his credentials, and explaining why he should be immediately appointed as manager. Jorge Mendes, Mourinho’s agent and friend of Ed Woodward, rejected the report as “ridiculous and absurd”. I hope so because unless you believe in winning at all costs Mourinho’s practical approach and theatrical temperament is not right for United.
After the match Van Gaal acknowledged the supporters’ right to boo. You have to admire him for that. If only the Glazers would do the same.
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Another match winning performance from De Gea; another good game from Smalling; and apparently another Paul Scholes too slow barb from Van Gaal’s favorite TV pundit. The Scholes’ remarks are reported in the Mirror. I don’t know the context but let’s face it: Scholes on TV + United  + Van Gaal = never let the facts spoil the opportunity for some controversy.

 

Schweini

It was a deserved win. Memphis Depay’s opening goal was terrific. Great pass, great volley and then United deserve credit for immediately hitting back after Watford’s penalty equaliser. It was as if they heard whatever Scholes was saying on TV, because they immediately upped the tempo to overwhelm Watford and force Deeney’s own goal.

DePay goal

Now the worry is injuries. Hererra’s tweaked hamstring and Jones twisted  ankle are unfortunate. Martial and Rooney are expected back for Wednesday’s Champions League game against PSV, but there are questions about Fellaini and Carrick and of course Shaw and Valencia are out for months.

For me this is where Van Gaal’s insistence on organization and stability pays off. Forget the criticisms about ponderous play. It’s the solid, well-coached foundation which has United in second place in the league, and which also provides the ability to cope with injuries. Players know what they have to do and how they have to play. Young at right back? A fluid front three of Memphis, Lingard and Mata? in other words Van Gaal’s process and dare we say it “philosophy” is obviously working.

After PSV it’s something probably no one expected to hear, write or say – a  table topping match up at Leicester City. It’s currently a very interesting Premiere League. With City and Arsenal’s wobble today, Liverpool and Tottenham’s resurgence, and Chelsea bound to find some form at some point, the league remains wide open. United have a reasonable month of fixtures ahead. A bit of luck with the injuries. A couple of players arriving in January. Who knows what might happen? Just saying.

 

Not a lot to complain about if you’ve accepted Van Gaal’s philosophy and the limitations of the squad. As expected Pulis parked the blue and white striped bus and hoped to sneak a goal on the break like last season’s victory. But here’s where it gets interesting. In amongst the yells for “attack, attack, attack”, in among the dire stats of shots on goal, United are effectively parking their own bus. It’s now nine hours since a goal was conceded and any coach will happily tell you good teams start with defence. If not quite a fortress Old Trafford is a much harder place to visit again. United’s defensive organization, Smalling’s enormous improvement, and the screening midfield players mean United are no pushovers at home or away. (Let’s leave the Arsenal result as a blip). Louis-van-Gaal-Manchester-United-Queens-Park-Rangers

Earlier this week after the Champions League win over CSKA Van Gaal again reflected on some of the recent criticism.

“I still think we have improved, but we have to wait and see when this process is complete, if we are champions, because that is our aim.

“It could have been last year or maybe, in my opinion, it can be also this year. But we have to score more goals, I agree with that, but only one more than the opponent. That’s what I am thinking.”

He can be a funny guy Louis, even when he’s talking about the process.

Overall I thought the team played well yesterday. They looked a bit sluggish in the first half, but any team does when confronted with opposition who set up to frustrate and deny. Gradually United’s patience paid off,

Earlier this season I wondered if the club hesitated on the deal for Pedro because Van Gall saw something in Jesse Lingard, and yesterday his goal was obviously the match highlight. The composure to take a touch before the pass/curl finish was very impressive.

Happy Jesse

Will he become a fixture is another question. In my book his touch, tenacity, courage and willingness to work put him streets ahead of Memphis/Depay. A run in the side would bring more confidence, but can he take the next step to becoming a player who can help win the game’s biggest prizes? That remains to be seen. #mufc #mufcfamily

Better Louis

A lot of good things happened at Goodison. Right from the kick off United were on the front foot. The Arsenal performance for now consigned to a blip. The team was better balanced, every player contributed and there was urgency and purpose throughout the pitch as Van Gaal highlighted afterwards:

“We lost in a horrible way at Arsenal and we had to hold a lot of team meetings before this game, It was more than the response I was looking for, we controlled the game and played one of our best matches. We could have scored more goals in the second half.”

Totally agree Louis.

Van Gaal may have found something with Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Herrera as a fluid, rotating midfield in a 4-3-3 formation.The goals from Schneiderlin, Herrera and Rooney, all came from more energetic, enterprising, dynamic play. Chance made, chance taken, thanks. In the wide left role Martial showed how you can both be a disciplined team player and also display dazzling individual talents. By the end of the game Coleman was roasted, toasted, fried and frazzled.

Martial also revealed he has an eye for a pass with a through ball putting Rooney in for a one on one with Howard for what should have been Rooney’s second goal.

The defence had to cope with the ever bruising Lukaku, and once again this season Smalling showed he’s become one of the league’s top defenders. For much of this season I’ve argued for Blind as Smalling’s first choice partner, but on this showing the bloody nosed Jones has stepped ahead. It’s the perpetual promise, Smalling and Jones as the next great central defensive duo. But the big question remains: Can they and the rest of the defenders stay fit? They have played 9 games together in three seasons as centre halves. Nine games, count them!

Meanwhile Blind may struggle to get back in the team. Rojo had a good game Saturday. United again looked solid at the back, and might remain so if that back four remains free of injury until at least January when reinforcements can be bought. De Gea is the best goalie in the league, full stop. He proved it yet again with his second half saves from Lukaku and Barkley.

As for the bench warming Memphis/Depay the stories are beginning to leak about his attitude and how Giggs has given him a bollocking. Couple that with his poor performances and it’s not too early to start wondering if he has a long term future at the club. Currently there is no comparison with Martial. None at all. Martial is a player.

So what now? Arsenal was a disaster. Next up it’s midweek in Moscow for the Champions League game against CSKA, and City next weekend. Has Van Gaal righted the ship? Maybe he can work that out at Wings tonight?

Meanwhile please spare a thought for Howard Kendall, Everton’s former player and manager who died on Friday. I spent a lot of time with him when he managed the brilliant Everton team of the mid 80’s. You couldn’t wish to meet a more generous and decent man. His record as Everton’s manager spea_67600255_howardkendall_gettyks for itself.

  • First Division champions: 1985, 1987
  • First Division runner-up: 1986
  • FA Cup winner: 1984
  • FA Cup runner-up: 1985, 1986                             
  • European Cup Winners Cup winner: 1985
  • League Cup runner-up: 1984
  • Full Members Cup runner-up: 1991

A win is a win in a Champions League where British clubs are finding the going difficult. Ask Arsenal and Chelsea. All in all a resilient performance against a wMata-Man-Utd-goals-356760ell organized and competent Wolfsburg team.  Mata with a penalty and wonderful assist for Smalling’s goal, Martial, Smalling, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin and Darmian were all excellent.

Yet for me the most positive sign in recent weeks is the team spirit. Van Gaal acknowledged this in his post match comments, while also being underwhelmed by the overall performance.  There is no doubt Van Gaal is the team’s toughest critic. He sets the standard high, and tells it like it is.

“We have given a lot in the first half to get back in the game and maybe it was also because of the accumulation of matches in the last weeks but I cannot understand how we can give the ball away so easily.

“We have to keep our feet on the ground and we have to improve a lot to be the top of Europe. We have beaten Wolfsburg and I am very happy about that. The players are also very happy but we have to improve and we have to know that. So I have said that to the players. That is why we are here, to improve ourselves so we win every game. Today we have won this game but it could have been done in a better way. We were suffering in the end. A lot of players are very tired because of the accumulation of matches. But I think the team spirit kept us in the match.”

The players did look leggy at the end and now there is that season defining month ahead. Starting with Arsenal on Sunday the team’s fitness, character, depth, talent and togetherness will all be tested. Maybe it’s time to accept Bastian Schweinsteiger’s invitation for some well deserved r and r at the Munich Beer Festival?

This is the one

Arsenal, CSK Moscow, Everton, City, Palace, no problem. it’s a regular social event for Bayern Munich’s players and staff. Beer and footballers, what could go wrong with that? Cheers Louis.

Beer for Van Gaal