Monday, 11 March 2013

What next for the 'engine' room?

On Sunday afternoon, we witnessed the weakest Manchester United performance from central midfield in a very long time. After 45 minutes, the first choice pair of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley look jaded, tired and useless in possession, something that has never been said about Carrick this season, with him being one of United's most consistent performers in the centre of the park. However, on Sunday, the dark side of Carrick appeared and other than his majestic pass to Javier Hernandez in the 5th minute, he did not take ahold of the game as he has done so effortlessly throughout the season, which begs the question, has he been overplayed? Carrick looked tired and drained and gave away possession so effortlessly, which has been uncharacteristic of him this season. The same goes for Tom Cleverley. Being Sir Alex's preferred choice to partner Carrick in the middle, the Cleverley and Carrick combination has been the most common throughout this season. With this season being Cleverley's first one without any sort of major injury problems in the heart of the United midfield, he seems to have lost his edge and guile that had made him, as well as Carrick, United's fulcrum in the defence to attack transition. In can be said that Sundays performance could be the start of a potentially nervous end of season finale, only if the midfield play as poorly as they did.

Carrick assist for Hernandez on Sunday

Although the whole team played relatively atrocious after going two goals up, both Carrick and Cleverley had distinctively awful games, compared to the rest of the squad, with the exception of Antonio Valencia. But why now? Just as United enter the critical period in their season, which has been spear headed with the desire to wrestle back the Premier League crown from their "Noisy neighbours" Manchester City, their most impressive and consistent partnership seems to be breaking down at exactly the wrong time. All in all, in can be said that the result of such an dreadful display can be pinned down on fatigue. This season, United have played 41 games, of which Michael Carrick has played in 35 of them and Cleverley has appeared in 29. It is clear from these stats that these two have pinned down their spaces in the first eleven, which has meant that Anderson and Paul Scholes have been relegated to the bench. With Carrick and Cleverley seemingly impossible to displace from the first team, questions have to be asked of Anderson's and Scholes's roles in the first team, the same with Darren Fletcher. Fletcher's illness problems have been well documented of the last two years and it seems as if they have caught up with him and he wont return as the box-to-box midfield dynamo he was. Where as for Anderson, it has looked like he has been unable to shake off his weight, fitness and inconsistency problems enough to guarantee even a rotation place alongside Cleverley. For Scholes, he came out of retirement last January to help United through a midfield injury crisis, and the problem seemed to have been fixed in the short run, but has now reappeared. It is now time to ask the question of whether or not having Anderson, Fletcher or Scholes in the squad is a viable option, or are we to look at replacements in the summer.

The last time United spent money on a central midfield player was none other than Anderson and Owen Hargreaves, back in 2007, meaning it has been 6 years since Sir Alex has relinquished any sort of money, on what has been considering United's weakest position. With Scholes and Fletcher possibly retiring at the end of the season and Anderson possibly being allowed to leave for a £10m or so fee, it would free up three spaces in the midfield. With Carrick growing older and Cleverley showing signs of fatigue each season, all three holes in the squad will need to be utilised. With Fletcher looking like being the least likely to leave, it could be possible that only two signings will be needed.

The obvious choice, and rightfully, is Kevin Strootman of PSV. He has developed in a year and half into PSV's most important player, other than Dries Mertens, leading them to second in the Eredivise with a mammoth 81 goals scored in 26 games and conceding 29, the third best in the league. In Strootman, United have an accomplished Dutch national team player, who still has a lot of time to develop. His marauding runs from defence to attack, with an eye for a pass, as well as a shot, make him the complete box to box midfielder, as his 6 goals and 7 assists in the Eredivise show, much like Fletcher in his earlier days. With Strootman costing no more than (appox) £17m, it would be a low risk transfer with the money available and the deal would seem even more likely in the fact that United's transfer policy of late has been to sign players with a potential resale value, with the exception of Robin van Persie. Also, with PSV snapping up Sweden's impressive U21 central midfield captain, Oskar Hiljemark, a perceived replacement for Strootman, in January (PSV confirm Hiljemark capture), it seems all but likely that Strootman will depart Eindhoven in the summer for pastures new, and he may yet be heading towards Manchester.

Kevin Strootman - PSV's midfield dynamo

With the addition of Strootman into the squad, it still leaves space for one more midfielder, which I believe can be Ilkay Gundogan of Borussia Dortmund, but with BVB having a strict no selling policy of their star players until they enter the final year of their contracts, leads me to say that this will be the most unlikeliest of deals, for the time being. A more than adequate replacement, to say the least would be Christian Eriksen of Ajax, who announced eariler in the season that he would not sign a new contract at Ajax (Eriksen says no to new Ajax contract). With his contract running out at the end of next season, Ajax will probably look to cash in on their star player rather than losing him on a free next summer. With this lingering over the Ajax hierarchy, Eriksen, much like Strootman, would not command a high fee, and being only 21 could become a regular in United's first team for the next ten years. I believe that 2012/13 has been Eriksen's year of maturity as he is no longer the attack minded 'number 10', but he has developed into a midfielder in the mould of Anderson and Cleverley that can balance attacking and defensive capabilities correctly and of a higher quality too. The 7 goals and 11 assists he has amassed in the Eredivise are a testament to his abilities. However, whether or not he can adapt his game into the 'number 8' role will have to be seen, but with him being brought up through the infamous Ajax academy with the 'Total Football' philosophy being drilled into him from a young age, teaching him to be capable of covering all positions on a football pitch, he will surely be able to overcome the challenge of becoming an out and out midfielder.

Eriksen strike vs Man City in the Champions League group stage

Monday, 4 February 2013

David de Gea - The Premier Leagues biggest scapegoat

Being a 22 year old footballer at one of the worlds most famous, prestigious and scrutinised clubs will never be the easiest part of a young players career. For David de Gea, I wouldn't be surprised if he had been glum and disorientated with life in England after two weeks.

He arrived in England as the worlds second most expensive goalkeeper (£18m, after Gianluigi Buffon), with the weight of expectation of succeeding his predecessor, Dutch legend Edwin van der Sar. Immediately after signing, the English press wondered whether or not this expensive, young, inexperienced and stick thin Spanish goalkeeper would make the grade. At 21 years old, van der Sar was not even a starter for Ajax Amsterdam and Peter Schmeichel was the goalkeeper for Danish second divison side Hvidovre. With the amount of expectation put on a player who was just starting his career (in goalkeeper terms), it would have seemed he would be doomed to fail.

The physical and aerial aspect of English game has been well documented and this was the part of his game that de Gea would have to work on the most. His first competitive start was against city rivals, Manchester City. Although Man Utd won 3-2, the emphasis wasn't on the result, but on the new goalkeeper, who had failed to command his area for one goal and let a 30 yard strike go under his body and from this moment, the emphasis has never shifted from him. The first of two defining moments in de Gea's campaign last season came in the New Years Eve EPL clash versus Blackburn where United lost 3-2 at home, with De Gea at fault, rightly, for letting Grant Hanley out muscle him for the ball from a corner which equated to Blackburn's third and final goal for the afternoon, allowing them to leave the home of the Champions with three points. De Gea was subsequently dropped for the foreseeable future after his error and replaced with Anders Lindegaard. However, with Lindegaard injuring his ankle on the 31st January, SAF was 'reluctantly forced' to field De Gea in goal for the reminder of the season. With every performance that De Gea took part in, the more his confidence grew (who knew?!). It all culminated in a must win game versus Blackburn, yet again, on the 3rd of April. United dominated from start to finish, yet were suseptable to the counter attack of a fast counter attack minded team. As was the case, Blackburn threatened little with the ball but created numerous chances on the break, with Junior Holliet testing De Gea from range, only to be foiled. Some would say that this was De Gea's best game in a United kit, and rightly so. He had kept them in the game with some fine stops.

As the 2012/13 season came to an opening, speculation was rife whether or not SAF would replace his 'vulnerable' goalkeeper. The rumours proved fruitless and United kicked off the season against Everton, and were it not for De Gea, United would have lost by more than just the 1-0 scoreline. As the season progressed, De Gea and Lindegaard rotated the role of the number one jersey until the time came for the first Manchester derby of the season at the Etihad, and with Lindegaard's wife going into labour, De Gea was trusted with the #1 kit, and he hasn't looked backed. However, the first talking point against de Gea came in Uniteds 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford where de Gea seemed to parry the ball straight into the path of Daniel Sturridge who subsequently scored. Following the game, De Gea was somehow criticised for parrying the ball to Sturridge, when 90% of the keepers wouldn't have saved the original shot from Steven Gerrard. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg of pure idiotic analysis that would find its way towards De Gea.

In the league game against Spurs, De Gea was seen to have made a monumental error in punching the ball right into the path of a waiting Aaron Lennon to square it to Clint Dempsey to snatch a late and dramatic equaliser. In the post match coverage, papers, websites and pundits alike were all critical of De Gea for not getting more onto the punch, but there was no mention of him being sandwiched in between a Serbian rock in Nemanja Vidic and Steven Caulker. There was no mention of Patrice Evra, just standing, ball watching as De Gea's punch dropped down to Lennon. And there was no mention of Michael Carrick letting Clint Dempsey having an open shot at goal. The whole of the media were on de Gea's back, even though he had kept United in the game with some incredible saves, none more so than against Dempsey himself.

The one thing which has irked me most about the scapegoat tag De Gea has earned is that his rivals at other clubs have got away with murder compared to him. None more so than a certain England #1, Joe Hart. Earlier on in the season, when United had beaten Chelsea, Juan Mata had scored a great free kick, but it was overshadowed in analysis that De Gea had taken a step in the opposite direction of where the ball would end up. Yet in the Manchester derby, as van Persie scored a last minute winner, Joe Hart too took a step in the wrong direction, yet there wasn't even a grain of criticism towards him, why? De Gea has gained United more points than lost, can the same be said for Joe Hart? Especially after the game against Sunderland where he was beaten by the cross-cum-shot by former teammate Adam Johnson, that he allowed to squirmish under his body onto the post and in, which meant Sunderland took all three points, yet Johnson was praised for his instinctive shot at goal, with Hart not at any fault, he was just caught out with a 'moment of magic'. Again, this Saturday just passed, Petr Cech parried a Yoann Gouffran shot straight into the path of an incoming Moussa Sissoko, yet he didn't get criticised, instead, Sissoko gained all the plaudits for keeping up with his compatriot and tucking the rebound in. Most recently, in Uniteds game against Fulham, De Gea made an excellent save from Bryan Ruiz at 0-0, getting a small finger on his shot that deflected it against the post, yet the Daily Mail didn't acknowledge it, choosing to say he didn't even get near it. Typical.

As said before, with the amount of favouritism in the media towards other goalkeepers other than De Gea, he has been made to be a scapegoat whenever a result goes against United, no matter how good the other team was, or how bad the individual errors were that lead up to him conceding the goal. The choices of the press to write about the individual genius of the opposition against rival goalkeepers, then choosing to write about faltering (falsely) performances of De Gea is more than obvious that they wish to rip into De Gea, and in some cases rightly so, but this season, De Gea has been immense and is a shadow of the shy, skinny and weak Spaniard that came to England in 2012.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Evaluating United's Start of the Season

Man Utd have started off their season in their normal, un-impressive and lacklustre style. Last year Utd ended the month of August with an 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal as well as a dominating 5-0 away win versus Bolton (who were then relegated), this was the start of an off, on season for Utd. You can say the beginning of last year was a 'blip', as a normal start of a brand new season would see Utd losing early on as well as struggling for results.

And this is the exact case this year. Their opening fixture was a tricky away game against Everton at Goodison Park, which is always a tough place to visit, no matter what time of the season. To put it bluntly, Utd were absolutely dreadful. They couldn't keep the ball, and when they did they couldn't do anything with it. If it wasn't for David de Gea and the frame  of the goal, Everton could have gone on and won 5-0. Other than de Gea, the only other real stand out player was the new boy Shinji Kagawa. He kept the ball expertly and showed his guile and craft to create the best opportunities for his team mates. His unselfishness was put on show as he created the best opportunity for Utd in the game, only for Tom Cleverley's shot to be saved off the line. All in all, the performance was a shame. Utd were a shame. The team was out of place, out of fitness. However, nothing can be taken away from Everton, who with Marouane Fellaini, played the ball across the park with some amazing play which couldn't be stopped by Utd.

Fellaini heads in the only goal of the game

The next game was our first home game of the season against Fulham. Utd were much better during the duration of this game than against Everton. With goals from new boys Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa as well as a rare goal from Rafael, Utd won 3-2. But they did have to come from behind after a early Damien Duff goal. They also had to endure a difficult last few minutes after a lapse in communication from BOTH David de Gea and Nemanja Vidic, not just David de Gea as everyone says. David de Gea also made some excellent saves during the game, most notably against Mladen Petric from a one-on-one as well as a late save from Moussa Dembele (which proved to be his last game for Fulham). To say this game was an easy ride would be well off from the truth. Utd were made to work for every goal. They also looked nervous every time the ball entered the final third. The positives to be taken out of the game though were that RvP and Kagawa have seemed to settle into the squad very well and that Utd have their goal scoring touch back, which is always nice to see, from one of the best football playing sides in the country. The game might be remembered for the nasty injury sustained by Wayne Rooney, which left him with a gash on his thigh which will rule him out for up to a month (according to SAF).

Rooney showing his distress after suffering a gash to his leg

Their third game of the season was an away game against Premier League new boys Southampton. This game was a milestone for Sir Alex as he took charge of his 1000th league game. The performance was a mixture between the good, the bad and the ugly. The weather also played a big part in the game, contributing to a goal to Utd as well as Southampton via players slipping at the vital moment. The stand out moment of the game was undoubtedly Robin van Persie's first hat-trick for the club. He became zero-to-hero within the matter of a few minutes as he sealed Utd's comeback deep into injury time, which was a fitting tribute for the way SAF teams have played for during his tenure at the club. The downside of the game was the poor defending from both FB during the game. They allowed both Southampton goals to happen due to their own personal mistakes. Apart from RvP, Paul Scholes made the real differenece in the game when he came on as a sub in the second half. The whole team acknowledged his influecene, even the MOTM RvP who said in his post game interview that as soon as Scholes came on "everything ticked".

van Persie celebrating his injury time winner vs Southampton

Overall, Utd's start of the season has been very sloppy but with moments of great individual brilliance. Seeing as the season has only just begun, it is premature to expect what Utd will do in this fore coming season.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Robin van Persie. A Necessity or a Luxury?

Robin van Persie was the leading goalscorer for Arsenal last year as well as for the Premier League. He led their front line for the first time as a fully fit and confident striker, something which had eluded him in his previous years as an Arsenal player. One would've thought with him only having a year remaining on his contract and also being on the cusp of becoming a true Arsenal legend, he would've resigned and led the team out this summer without a worry in any Arsenal fans mind regarding whether another key player would be moving on or not.

But on the on 4th July, RvP dropped a bombshell. He wrote on his website that he would not be extending his contract. With Arsenal fans asking themselves "Why?", this statement had paved the way for the 'RvP saga' to become the main transfer story during the transfer window.

RvP says what no Arsenal fan wants to hear.
At first the most obvious name came up, Manchester City. Arsenal had previously sold Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri as well as others to them and it seemed RvP would be the latest to join the cult of ex-players to move north. It looked as if Man City would be the only team who could afford the fee Arsenal wanted as well as the meteoric wages RvP would demand if he moved to City.

Later on, Italian giants Juventus came knocking on Arsenal's door. During the season Juventus had lacked a quality striker who could give them a steady supply of goals and it seemed the Juventus board had chosen RvP as the man to give them the cutting edge. Backed by the family who owns Ferrari, they would do whatever it would take to bring van Persie to Turin.

As the saga continued with Man City and Juventus apparently going head to head for RvP's signature it seemed as if RvP would be on his way. Until a new face came in.

Arsene Wenger's arch nemesis since his arrival in England, Manchester United had come into the picture all of a sudden. The question was, why would Utd want him? They aren't exactly short on strikers. They don't need a clinical finisher. It was a truly baffling situation, which was made more complicated by Sir Alex Ferguson's public admittance that he did in fact make a bid (believed to be around £15m-20m) for the Arsenal front man.

With this admission, it begged the question, WHY would Man Utd need RvP? Sure he would add a lethal injection of finishing to the squad. Sure he would add some experience to the front line. Sure he would give Utd a game changer. But where would he fit in the Man Utd system?

If he were to play in the classic 442 he would surely be the focal point of the attack with Wayne Rooney just playing behind him in a CF sort of position, like he has done in the latest campaign. Where would this leave Javier Hernandez & Danny Welbeck in the pecking order?

What would RvP's arrival mean for these two?
Welbeck himself had a breakout season last time round and would've been hoping to partner Rooney again in the upcoming season. With only a year remaining on his contract, what sort of message would we send to a young, and very able striker who we are trying to convince to stay at the club for a further four or five more years? RvP and Welbeck have the same style of play. They both like to pick up the ball, pass and move into a central position then use their dribbling ability to glide past their opposition and score. Albeit RvP being the better finisher out of the two, it would seem useless to pay a lot of money for a player who we already have a mini-replica of, but is less complete.

Hypothetically speaking, if RvP were to join, where would he fit in? It wouldn't make sense buying a £20m striker then sticking him on bench. It would most likely mean that RvP, Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez and new signing Shinji Kagawa rotating places on the bench to accommodate a useless signing.

With the money seemingly available, it would seem ridiculous to spend a large sum of it on the one position that doesn't need strengthening. I would like to see the money spent on either a LB, preferably Leighton Baines, or a CDM, I wouldn't mind either Fellaini or Javi Martinez. With seemingly only one fit defensive minded player in Michael Carrick, an injury to him would see us rattled to playing players out of position and thus not getting the best qualities out of those certain players. Personally, Javi Martinez fits the ball perfectly. Although he may not be the finished article quite yet, but he has shown multiple glimpses of what he can do. He can pass, he can tackle and he can sit back and cover in central defence so naturally, he reminds me of Xabi Alonso but a more complete version of him defensively. He could be the missing ingredient in Utd's title hunt. Although he will be expensive, I believe this is one player that Utd can't afford to miss out on. But if money was no object, I would love to see Bastian Schweinsteiger at Utd. Being the most rounded and versatile player in the modern game, he could improve any team.

Javi Martinez - New Xabi Alonso?

Champions League Preview

With the Champions League play off rounds just being drawn up, it seems as if Europe's most elite club competition is fast approaching us. However this year it looks as if some teams haven't read the script properly.

New teams have come out of the blue, most notably French champions Montpellier. They shocked the whole football world by managing to beat overwhelming favourites and the team bank rolled by a new wave of Arabian investors, Paris St. Germain as well as the normal favourites Lyon.

Montpellier shocked the whole of Europe with their title win

A big club who has missed out on this notorious competition for a good few years is Juventus. They took Serie A by storm and finished the campaign undefeated, dethroning previous champions AC Milan in the way. With the ever impressive Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in the midfield they dominated the league and finished runners up in the Coppa Italia.

Juventus celebrate after winning their 28th Scudetto

Another impressive side last year were Borussia Mochengladbach. Even though they haven't qualified as of now, I fully expect them to defeat Ukrainian opposition Dynamo Kiev over their two legs and join the competition for the first time since its change of name. Even though they only finished fourth in the Bundesliga, they provided great football with Marco Reus (who now plays for Borussia Dortmund) as well as a decent defence which toughness, thoroughness and sturdiness was epitomised by young German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen & CB Dante. Although they might not provide much resistance in the way of the usual contenders they will be a breath of fresh air into a competition which is becoming a bit too predictable.

Macro Reus had a spectacular season with Mochengladbach


The early favourites, as always are FC Barcelona. With their dynamic tika-taka style and possession orientated style, they are probably the hardest team to play against in Europe. However with a new coach at the helm, Tito Villanova, it will be interesting to see how they adapt to life without Pep Guardiola. With the little Argentine magician, Leo Messi, in their ranks they will always be in with a shot in any game. They desperately need a 'Plan B' as their pass, pass, pass style didn't cut through
deep defences, as shown against Chelsea last year.

Key Player - Lionel Messi
Last season - Semi finals.
Prediction - Semi final at the least

Despair as Messi & Co. are knocked out by Chelsea

Newly crowned Liga BBVA champions Real Madrid are on the hunt for that all elusive trophy which has evaded them for the best part of 10 years, as well as Jose Mourinho wanting to complete the clean sweep of all trophies he can get with Madrid. Spear headed with the worlds most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid will be looking to make the final and make a serious impact in the competition this year. If they do go on and win the final in Wembley, could we see Jose Mourinho move on to pastures new after winning all that he can with Madrid?

Key Player - Cristiano Ronaldo
Last season - Semi finals
Prediction - Semi final at the least

Anguish as Ronaldo misses his penalty against Munich in the SF

Man Utd became a laughing stock last year after failing to qualify with what looked the easiest group on paper. However they didn't and thus dropped into the second tier of European competition. This year they'll look to make up for lost time and having fully learned their lesson, I believe they'll go far.

Key Player - Wayne Rooney
Last year - Group stage
Prediction - Semi final at the least

Basel fans go crazy after knocking out runners up Man Utd

Current runners up of this competition Bayern Munich can call themselves unlucky not be called champions after dominating Chelsea in the final. It seemed that after they entered ET, They're main weakness seamed to be exposed. Their depth. Taking that into mind they have signed exciting Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, defender Dante, as well as Croatia's top goalscorer in Euro 2012 Mario Mandzukic. They will seek revenge for their failed triumph in their own stadium last May.

Key Player - Bastian Schweinsteiger
Last year - Runners up
Prediction - Quarter finals with a shot at the semi final

Schweinsteiger on duty with Germany at Euro 2012

Arsenal always seem to get the toughest draw possible. They've played Barcelona twice as well as AC Milan in the last three competitions. They have made some strong additions to the club and will be looking to go one or even two times better than they did last time, depending on whether they get the luck of the draw...

Key player - Robin van Persie
Last year - Last 16
Prediction - Quarter finals with a shot at the semi final

Arsenal captain Robin van Persie

Chelsea are somehow the champions of Europe. They had shaky start in the qualifying rounds against Napoli but made it through and then defended for their lives as well as having 'Lady Luck' on their side for both ties against Barcelona and in the final where they played Bayern Munich. With the departure of their talismanic forward Didier Drogaba, the ST position is for Fernando Torres' taking. Bringing in creative players over the summer such as Eden Hazard and Oscar, I can see them scoring a lot of goals only if Torres replicates his form as of when he played for Liverpool at the beginning of his career in England.

Key Player - Juan Mata
Last year - Champions
Prediction - Quarter finals with a shot at the semi final

Juan Mata celebrating his goal vs Italy in the Final of Euro 2012

Manchester City made their debut in this competition last year and suffered the same fate as their rivals across the town did and were eliminated in the group stage. It was hard to pin-point exactly what went wrong. Was it the lack of European experience? The managerial tactics? We don't know. But I expect them to do much better than last year.

Key Player - David Silva
Last year - Group stage
Prediction - Quarters at the least

City's main creator

After successfully defending their Bundesliga crown last year, Borussia Dortmund are fast becoming one of the most watched and feared teams in Europe thanks to their high attacking work rate and slick goal scoring style epitomised by last years star players Shinji Kagawa, who earned a move to Man Utd, and Robert Lewandowski. They suffered the same fate as Man City last season and got knocked out in the group stage whilst finishing bottom of their group. Their lack of top competition experience was probably their main reason as to why they were knocked out so early, but I expect them to provide better competition than last year, and make it past the group stage.

Key player - Mats Hummels
Last year - Group stage
Prediction - Last 16/Quarter finals

Dortmund captain Mats Hummels

After their unlikely Champions League triumph in 2004, the one down side which came about was that no one would ever take FC Porto lightly again. Since that magical evening, they have failed to make the semi finals since then and I believe it will stay that way this year.

Key player - Hulk
Last year - Group stage
Prediction - Last 16

Porto's main attacking threat, Hulk

Having lost their two best players during the course of this summer, AC Milan will have a tough task ahead of them if they wish to win this competition. Without one of the best defenders in the world, Thiago Silva, and the most egotistical player in the modern game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they'll lack the final cutting edge of quality they had last year.

Key player - Kevin Prince Boateng
Last year - Quarter final
Prediction - Last 16

If injury free, KP Boateng is one of Europe's best attacking midfielders.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and Eziquiel Lavezzi. Just a few of the names Paris St. Germain have brought in this summer. They should have the quality to dominate and win Ligue Un and do very well in the Champions League. The only stumbling block I can see is that if they don't gel quickly and start the season really slowly and thus tarnishing their chance of doing well in the CL.

Key player - Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Last year - N/A
Prediction - Quarter final

PSG new boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic


Key info

Matchday 1 - 18/19 September
Matchday 2 - 2/3 October
Matchday 3 - 23/24 October
Matchday 4 - 6/7 November
Matchday 5 - 20/21 November
Matchday 6 - 4/5 December

Last 16 (I) - 12/13 & 19/20 Feburary
Last 16 (II) - 5/6 & 12/13 March

Quarter final (I) - 2/3 April
Quarter final (II) - 9/10 April

Semi final (I) - 23/24 April
Semi final (II) - 30/1 April & May

Final - 25th May

Venue for final - Wembley Stadium

Venue for the final

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Manchester United 2012/13 Season Preview


On May 13th 2012 Sergio Aguero scored a dramatic winner to give Manchester City their first Premier League crown in their history. Man Utd fans were inconsolable after seeing them being within two minutes of recording a 20th first division title only for it to be snatched away at the last minute. 

This season is one of revenge.

With the new season looming closer and closer, Sir Alex Ferguson and his squad are preparing for a new campaign in which they hope to end the short reign of their 'noisy neighbours'.


July 18 - AmaZulu FC - 1-0 (Macheda)
July 21 - Ajax Cape Town - 1-1 (Bebe)
July 25 - Shanghai Shenhua - 1-0 (Kagawa)
August 5 - Valerenga - 0-0
August 8 - FC Barcelona - 0-0
August 11 - Hannover 96 - ?

Pre-season hardly ever gives us an idea into how a team will preform in the new season. In the first five games Utd have played there has been hardly any goals. But it isn't all bad as pre-season is used for building up the fitness of players and looking for encouraging performances instead of results. Certain players have picked up their game in order to try and cement their place in the squad, most notably Anders Lindegaard and Bebe. Along with Shinji Kagawa these three have been the most impressive on the tour. Lindegaard has looked to become the new #1 at the club after having a great pre-season and making some impressive saves which has given SAF some food for thought as to who should start the season as the first choice goalkeeper. Bebe quickly became SAF worst ever signing in 2010 after he paid £7m for a player he had never seen live and who hadn't been at a club for more than a week before signing for Utd. His first season was limited to Carling Cup performances and a cameo appearance against Wolves in the Premier League which sealed his status as the most useless and absurd signing in recent times. Following a disastrous season long loan spell at Turkish side Bekitas, Bebe came to the tour looking for a chance to impress, and he did. He scored an injury time equaliser against Ajax Cape Town in which he showed his determination, strength and half decent dribbling ability as well as an improved first touch for his goal. In the third game against Didier Drogba's Shanghai Shenhua, he set up Kagawa for his goal. He made a couple of decent runs again and may have shown SAF what all the hype was about. Personally, I don't think he'll be at Utd for much longer and a career of mediocrity is destined for him in Europe or beyond. Shinji Kagawa was brought in from Borussia Dortmund and has shown the Utd fans what he is like. He's got a great first touch, likes to be involved in the final third as well as giving little one-twos with his team mates as they look to increase the tempo of a game and get the all important goal. For his strike against Shanghai, he showed a great first touch and impressive technique to control and volley into the net following brilliant play before from Bebe. Kagawa will surely be a key figure in the new campaign and may prove himself to be a big name in Europe.

Bebe celebrating after his goal in pre-season

Who's in?

Shinji Kagawa - The £17m pound man was bought in after a great season with Dortmund in which he scored 13 goals in the Bundesliga and become the inaugural 'Bundesliga Player of the Year'. He will give the Utd team a new dimension with his slick movement, passing and creativity along with other impressive attributes. Having already played, and scored, in the Champions League last season with Dortmund, as well as having over 30 caps for Japan, Kagawa definitely has the top class experience which can help him settle at the club.

Nick Powell - A raw 18 year old CM who cost £4m from Crewe Alexandra, his role in the squad is not yet known but he has played in the majority of the pre-season games and looks to be a bright talent for the future. He has all the attributes of rigid English CM, he can pass, he can tackle and he can retain possession with his great passing as well as having a good eye for goal.

SAF with his two summer signings thus far.

Who's out?

Park Ji-Sung - A great player on his day and with the best work ethic and stamina you'll ever see, Park was sold to QPR for a fee believed to be £5m. With his contract soon running out as well as losing his place in the 1st team, the time was right for Park to move on and prolong his career by playing more games instead of sitting on the bench.

Fabio da Silva - Joining QPR on a season long loan seems an ideal chance for Fabio to develop his game where he can expect to start games and further adjust himself to the EPL. Fabio wouldn't have as much playing time in the coming season as he would have expected seeing he has such powerful competetion in Evra. This deal is a win win for both clubs. Fabio will gain experience and QPR will have a great new LB.

Transfer Rumours.

Arsenal captain Robin van Persie has been the name on everyones lips as the big star signing Utd will purchase this summer. Although signing an arch rivals best player is always a big deal, SAF has taken the unusual step of confirming his interest in the player public. "Obviously Arsenal have given out the fact that we've made a bid for him."

Another name on the lips of fans, until recently, was Sao Paulo's 19 year old attacking playmaker/winger Lucas Moura. Several clubs had shown interest in him such as Chelsea and Inter Milan and bids of around £25m had been rejected has the Brazilan club had valued him at around £35m. Again, SAF made the unusual step of confirming his interest in the player,  "It's not correct. We haven't reached an agreement for the player. We have shown an interest, but until such time we get a deal agreed, we can't say he's our player." But alas, big spending French side Paris St. Germain made a €45m bid for the player and he is on his way to Paris in January.

The LB role at the club has become one of real interest as Patrice Evra has showed signs of declining as a player last season, most notably in defence. Leighton Baines has been a consistent performer for Everton since his transfer from Wigan as well as for England when he has been needed. He would become a welcome addition to the squad and may even challenge Evra for a place in the starting line up.

First 5 fixtures

1) Everton (A) -  Always a tricky fixture, however with the new signing looking fresh and ready to play we should start the season off with a good, tidy win. 

2) Fulham (H) - Our first home game of the season and we'll look to give a good performance against a much weaker Fulham side who have lost Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Murphy and maybe even Clint Dempsey by then. We have a good record against them and I wouldn't be surprised with a 3+ goal winning margin.

3) Southampton (A) - One of the newly promoted sides, Southampton will be our third game of the season and will prove to be stubborn in defence. I predict a slow moving game or an all out blitz from Utd, we will take all three points back to Manchester.

4) Wigan (H) - We have never lost or conceded to Wigan at home in the Premier League since their induction to the top flight. With key man Victor Moses being closer to a move to Chelsea, I should see no reason why they should stop us. I expect out first BIG win of the season.

5) Liverpool (A) - The first big test of the season and both sets of fans will be hoping to avoid the controversy that endured at Anfield the last time these two met in the EPL. With a new manager Liverpool will need time to adjust to Brendan Rodgers' philosophy and style of play but we can expect an encounter like every other game between these two teams, from the end to end action to the scrappy penalty box scrambles to goals, goals, goals. This ground may be the first time we drop points in our title hunt.

My team for the new season

De Gea
Rafael   Ferdinand   Vidic   Evra
Scholes   Carrick
Valencia     Kagawa        Nani

What position will we finish?

Obviously winning the title is the main ambitions and I think with maybe one or two more class signings and the return of Vidic, that task can be made easier and we can win our 20th title, however Chelsea, with their new £64m worth of talent as well as Man City and even Arsenal who have made three excellent additions to the squad with Lukas Podolski, Santi Carzola and Olivier Giroud. I fully believe at the end of the season we will be the Premier League champions once again!

The kits

The new home kit has drawn comparisons to a tablecloth

The new away kit

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

New season, a new era?

9 days. Just 9 more days until every football fan is finally satisfied with what they crave, the start of the Barclays Premier League. From the end of the last season up until now we've had the Euros and the Olympic football, both of which have been entertaining but the familiar story of England/GB getting knocked out on penalties. However the one thing which is always guaranteed during the summer in England, except the rain, is the transfer market and the abundance of the sublime to quite ridiculous stories it can conjure up, from Andy Carroll to AC Milan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to PSG, theres a little under a month for all teams to improve their squads so they can reach their goals for this coming season.

Ibra at his PSG unveiling.
I'm here to talk mainly about Man Utd. I've been a fan since I was a little boy and I constantly try and keep up with whats happening inside the club as well as on the pitch.

A new era?

As we saw last summer, Ferguson had spent the best part of £55m on David De Gea (20), Phil Jones (19) and Ashley Young. It was clear to see what SAF was planning to do. Rebuild his squad for the future. After seeing the likes of Paul Scholes (for now), Edwin van der Sar, Wes Brown and John O'Shea either being sold or retiring, SAF decided it was now time to rebuild his squad yet again. Last season was always going to be a season of transition with youngsters getting more and more playing time such as Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverly, Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Chris Smalling along with the new boys David de Gea and Phil Jones.

The season had started well enough up and until the amount of injuries in the midfield department became so dire that Paul Scholes had to come out of retirement to allow United to bring in some more creativity in the central midfield department which has become arguably our weaken position during the last few seasons. With losing out on the title to close rivals Manchester City by only 8 goals, it was a clear message that with maybe a few additions in the CM department, next season would be one with more creative options.

As ever, the summer started slow with a few rumours here and there as to who would be 'the star midfielder' for the new season and the names which kept popping up were Lille's Eden Hazard and Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa. United made a move for Eden Hazard first, who then decided to keep the world guessing which club he would sign for. One minute it was Spurs, the next Arsenal and so forth. Finally he rattled it down the three English clubs. Man Utd/City and Chelsea. In the end he chose Chelsea who splashed out £32m for him.

Hazard chose Chelsea over the two Manchester clubs.
With missing out on a real gem in my opinion United then pursued Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa from the Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. This story was quick to develop after the Eden Hazard saga and Kagawa was soon a Man Utd player with the fee believed to be £12m+£4/5m in add ons depending on his and the clubs success. SAF also bought young CM Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra for about £4m as well.

The new kid on the block.
He is to be the our new creator-in-cheif. But one question remained, where would Kagawa, a CAM by nature fit in a classic 442 formation? In my opinion, I believe the 442 should be abounded by United, even if it is SAF favoured formation. We've seen the top european teams such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid move to a 4231 formation with two deeper defensive midfielders and three constantly rotating attackers. After the quite frankly joke Champions League and Europa League runs in which we were being  out numbered in midfield against average teams like FC Basel and Athelic Bilbao, the 442 was in danger of being useless. We could easily move to a 4231 formation and still get the best or even better of our players in the coming years.

Team for next season

 GK - Without doubt it should be David de Gea, although he did have quite a shaky start to the season which led to him being replaced by Anders Lindegaard, I firmly believe and always have that de Gea will soon be the best GK in the league and maybe in the world in a few years. His shot stopping is superb as is his distribution. All he needs to work on his is physique and he should soon be 'Stoke City proof'.

LB - Patrice Evra has started to show sign of deterioration notably against Man City during the infamous 6-1 defeat. Although he's still as much as a threat going forward, defensively he's become a liability in the big games. However, seeing as we don't have an alternative to him, he will always be the 1st name on the team sheet come rain or shine.

CB - Nemanja Vidic was sternly missed last season and we will never what could've been if he was fully fit. In my eyes he's the best CB in the world closely followed by Thiago Silva and Pepe. He's tough, strong in the tackle, a beast in the air and has excellent leadership skills along with consistency.

CB - Last season SAF admitted Rio Ferdinand had lost some pace yet Rio stepped up his game to prove the boss wrong. During the back end of last season he formed a great partnership with Jonny Evans and hopefully he can continue his form into this season.

RB - A fan favourite, Rafael da Silva has always been a lively player and now that he's gained the experience he's accumulated over previous campaigns he is now to be a solid addition to the team sheet. Having a great partnership with Antonio Valencia has seen Rafael become a great attacking threat and become more sturdy at the back.

CDM - Michael Carrick proved all his doubters wrong, including myself, last season with his amazing partnership with Paul Scholes. He keeps the ball well, he can tackle (as seen from his pre season defensive roles) and is comfortable with using his head. A well rounded player and a consistent performer.

CDM - I would put Paul Scholes or Tom Cleverly in here however neither are accomplished in a defensive  position.

LAM - This is where Nani will flourish. He won't have to do as much defensive work (not that he does) with the two holding players adding back up to the defence. Nani can cross, shoot and most importantly provide that killer spark needed to get a goal as he showed against Chelsea last season when he scored his wonder goal.

CAM - Showing the world how good he was last season with Dortmund, I'm sure Shinji Kagawa will relish this role behind the striker. He's nimble enough to work in-between the oppositions defence and midfield. He can carry the ball forward supply that killer ball or even finish of the move with his two great feet. A very solid addition to the squad.

RAM - Last season Antonio Valencia showed everyone how good he really was and in my opinion becoming the best winger in the league closely followed by Gareth Bale (who lacked consistency). Valencia ranked in second in the assist charts behind David Silva even though he only played around 23 matches last season averaging an assist every 1.5 games. He was our best crosser by a mile and showed his pace and raw power are an important attribute to his game by his goals against Wolves and Wigan away from home.

ST - Wayne Rooney had his best season in a United shirt notching 27 goals in the league alone. Tap-ins, free-kicks, headers, long rangers. You name it, Rooney can do it. He may not be as clinical has RVP but he is the more complete player of the two and he has shown us exactly why SAF spent £30m on a 18 year old after his Euro 2004 campaign.

De Gea

Rafael   Ferdinand   Vidic   Evra

?        Carrick

Valencia   Kagawa   Nani


Who should go?

I was never over the moon when we had signed Ashley Young for £18m from Aston Villa last season and even though he had great games against Arsenal and Spurs, he was often lost in games and became far too predictable during the back end of the campaign. Park Ji Sung was a great servant for the club but he became less technically able last season and was rightfully sold to QPR. At £30m and the clubs most expensive transfer Dimitar Berbatov had showed us the season before why SAF had paid that kind of money for him. However after the revelation of Chicharito and the new kid on the block Danny Welbeck Berba found himself as the 4th choice striker and always on the bench. Despite being the wrong side of 30 we can still get a good sum of money for him to bring in some new players as well as getting his high wages off the wage bill and improving the contracts of our key players.

Who should come?

We still need cover for Evra since Fabio da Silva has been loaned to QPR and Leighton Baines would be an ideal cover or even starter for the team. A quality CDM would be needed to help Carrick and I believe that either Baines' team mate Marouane Fellaini or Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez would be great additions. Both can head the ball, distribute it, tackle, give cover to the defence as well as making surging runs in the opponents half as well as with both being fairly young they would both fit SAF transfer market agenda. With Berbatov going that leaves a space on the bench for another striker, I would've loved to see Will Keanes name there but he sustained a serious injury and will be out for the majority of the season, so as a back up I'd really like Gary Hooper at the club. He's young and he's proved in the SPL how much of a good goal scorer he is.