Moyes inculpable in United’s post-Ferguson era wobble

Robin Van Persie warmed up next to the Old Trafford home team section itching to come on, while David Moyes and Steve Round deliberated on who to take off in what seemed an interminable few minutes. On the pitch, Wayne Rooney whipped in a precision freekick- the sort where any touch in the box from a player on either side could deflect the ball into the net. United’s polarizing superstar then claimed the goal as his and allowed Moyes to haul Javier Hernandez off to introduce the current cherished one of the Stretford end, RVP. Any of Moyes’ detractors pining for a return of United’s dominant displays would point to that as indecision, yet there was a deeper issue unfolding.

In what already seemed an insurmountable task of replacing the Premier League’s longest serving manager, United’s top brass did very little to bring in the calibre of player that could help Moyes return United to their deserved place among Europe’s elite. Although the transition from David Gill to Ed Woodward was never going to be easy, the decision to afford that in this particular summer of change was baffling. Moyes invited some deserved criticism in trying to bring in some of his former Everton players, but his pursuit of Fabregas is evidence enough that he knows the kind of player capable of playing for Britain’s biggest club.

A lot has been made of the #FreeShinji campaign and the continued upbraiding of David Moyes for a lack of sophistication in his constant omissions of Shinji Kagawa and not playing him in his suited position in the hole behind the striker. Even if we disagree with some of those decisions, apart from a promising initial burst from Kagawa against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, he has looked distinctly short of match fitness. Evidently, giving the Japanese more game time would sort part of that problem, yet, can the United manager really afford a bedding in time for one of his players in this pivotal phase of his tenure?

Even taking into account United’s consecutive defeats in the Manchester derby and against West Brom, Moyes’ revival of Rooney has been remarkably underplayed. Not only did he keep the mercurial striker away from the clutches of Mourinho-who considered him to potentially be the most important cog in his second spell at Chelsea, but has evoked the spirit and verve of that display against Fenerbahce earmarking his arrival at Old Trafford. Had Ferguson been able to reinvigorate Rooney to realize his prodigious talent, I doubt whether any of his managerial nous would have been understated.

In recent years, United’s kryptonite has been superior midfields dominating possession resulting in some of their premature exits from Europe. Ferguson’s refusal to address such a blatant concern attracted far less scrutiny than some directed at Moyes in United’s present state of crisis. While his willingness to overpay for Fellaini might admittedly have been misguided, Moyes’ appraisal of United’s lack of quality to win European trophies shows the necessary alacrity-so prevalent among the successful continental managers, to address prevailing issues swiftly. Additionally, the generosity in allowing certain players like Nani, Anderson to coast through seasons was also not befitting of a manager possessing Ferguson’s aura. Moyes had this to say when asked about United’s chances of winning the Champions league, “If you look at Bayern Munich, they have five or six nearly world-class players. Look at Barcelona, who had it in the past and Real Madrid have maybe got it now. That’s the level you have to get at to win it. We’ve not got that yet but what we have got is experience and several players who are in that category or close to it.”

Another myth consistently propogated about Ferguson was his ability to attract every player he wanted to United. Well documented ones such as Ronaldinho and Lucas Moura aside, players like Adem Ljajic have moved to different clubs. The revisionism around Ferguson’s know-how in the transfer market, can also be extended to his powers of persuasion in securing younger players to longer term contracts. Gerard Pique and Paul Pogba would have plugged many a gap in United’s current squad.

Whether Moyes is out of his depth still being a moot point, the Glazers would do well to provide the necessary backing in the transfer market as well as grant him sufficient time in the uncertain muddle that is United’s short term future after their twenty six year spell of stability.


Tactical Analysis; Mirallas under Martinez

A tad short of 62 minutes, Kevin Mirallas doubled Everton’s goal tally against a resolute Real Betis albeit in a pre-season friendly. It was a glimpse of how the Blues’ philosophy would evolve under Roberto Martinez for the Goodison faithful.

Mirallas arrived as a £6 million signing at the start of the 2012 campaign. While that might be a paltry sum in the modern milieu of the transfer market, it was a considerable gamble for a club that is perpetually looking for bargains and perennially under financial duress. More than financially,it was also a tactical gamble given David Moyes’ preference for wingers who track back and are positionally disciplined.

During his two year stint at Olympiakos, Mirallas scored an impressive 34 goals in 67 games. He was employed as either of two wide forwards in a fluid 4-3-3 formation allowing for freedom to roam and exploited his ability to cut inside. Although he had a reasonably successful first season, he came into his own in the second scoring 20 goals and earning himself a lucrative move to Merseyside. Under David Moyes, he was deployed as a wide man in an offensively conservative 4-4-1-1 formation. Given the stern disciplinarian the current Manchester United manager is, Mirallas was required to hog the touchline as well as provide defensive cover due to the overlapping runs of the ever reliable Seamus Coleman. Not only did this rigidity limit his creativity to cut in, it also inhibited his capacity as a  provider with Everton’s lack of prolific forwards.

In light of David Moyes’ much publicized move to Old Trafford and United’a tradition of genuine wide men, it is only logical that Mirallas’ stats be pitted against Young, Nani and Valencia. His 1.6 chances created per game in the 2012-2013 season is only bettered by Young with 1.8 while Mirallas has six more goals with the United winger failed to get on the scoresheet throughout the campaign. In terms of dribbles per game Mirallas matches the best of the United wide men (Valencia) with 1.4. With such impressive numbers in an unconventional role, it is only right to speculate how he might do in an advanced position.

Although the proverbial tactic is for a wide man to run into space from a deeper position, creative players often thrive under pressure to perform while being the focal point. Roberto Martinez has begun his Everton tenure with a slight modification to the traditional 4-4-1-1 . Mirallas has begun the season brightly in his preferred advanced wide role. If Martinez as widely  predicted does revert to his 3 man backline, it would allow Mirallas more attacking freedom and more attacking support to draw some of the defenders away. All in all it makes for an intriguing season in store.

Liverpool; stagnant or progressive

In football, we’re all well acquainted with the “we don’t sell our best players” rhetoric. It is usually employed by football clubs who either wish to drive up the price of a player or quell fan unrest atleast for the time being. But, in the era of the modern players, the player generally gets what he wants.

Brendan Rodgers has slowly started to put his imprint on Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers has slowly started to put his imprint on Liverpool

With Liverpool, it seems like its January 2011 all over again where inspite of all the well-worded statements put out on behalf of the club, Fernando Torres ended up being a Chelsea player.While Chelsea were never really considered as rivals in that season as they were the reigning champions of England,Arsenal,the club courting Suarez are seen as a club with very similar ambitions. As is often the case, there will be little element of surprise if Suarez ends up in North London come the start of the season. If the quoted figures are to be believed, Liverpool will have atleast £40 million to spend on a replacement.It’s all well having the money to spend but which top level player is going to be available at what will be near the closing of the transfer window and is Liverpool an attractive destination without the lure of Champions league football? The second part of that question is what seems to be the main bone of contention for Liverpool in selling Suarez. On the other hand, if Liverpool do decide to sell and not spend in light of there being no value in the market there will be even more cause for worry. Looking at the transfer window until now the majority of the teams that have strengthened finished below Liverpool last season. Swansea, Norwich and Southampton have all had big money buys from across the continent in an increasing prevalent European scouting system used by teams in the Premier League. Breaking into the top four is seemingly all the more difficult with Manchester City spending more money, the return of Mourinho at Chelsea and especially if Arsenal get Suarez. The signings so far for Liverpool can described as underwhelming as they have brought in Toure who was surplus to requirements at City and two players who whose teams will be in the second tier of Spanish football.
Inspite of all that though, Liverpool seem to be one of the very few teams in the premier league who seem to be growing organically. Admittedly mired in guruspeak, the term explains teams which have a defined way of play as well as as a scouting system that operates to find players to fit certain roles in the system. It also radiates a progressive set of formations and tactics that emphasizes fluid movement of players. The signings as of now, though unknown, reflects the new scouting committee at Liverpool. While the jury still seems to be out on the first set of Brendan Rodgers’ signings in Borini and Allen, the committee’s brief foray into the transfer market so far looks promising in the form of Coutinho and Sturridge. And if the latest in football analytics have it right, losing Suarez might not be a bad thing after all. Suarez has the worst shot to goal ratios among the top strikers in the premier league and takes more shots from outside the box than any of the other premier goalscorers as explained here and While Liverpool might have benefited until now in having a player of Suarez’s qualities, come the era of Financial fair play and with the aid of stats such as shots to goal ratios, key passes, chances created, Liverpool would do well in finding players who contribute more than just looking good in the highlights package. While the proverbial cliché of the best teams not selling their best players might be true, there are increasing instances of teams selling their best player only to improve as a whole. Napoli and Fiorentina are two instances this summer where they have sold their best player probably at their peak price only to invest the money across the board in a variety of positions. One thing to be emphasized though is that the improvement as a squad only happens if you invest wisely and not throw silly money for the sake of buying.
A little nous in the transfer market and clever management might also exploit the flux at the top of the Premier League. Although the clubs above Liverpool look good on paper, an organic team with in form players might push them into those Champions league spots. All signs until now tell us that they might surprise quite a few this year.

The noise from the neighbours will surely be defeaning from now

Eastlands finally gets a taste of Champions league football. A billion pounds from Sheik Mansour seems to have finally broken the stalemate at City. The Real Madrids and the Barcelonas will keenly watch the spending from the richest and most hated club on the planet. Ricardo Kaka might not make the same decision if he is offered a similar multi million pound contract. But thats not why City get all the news now. The banner is finally down at Old Trafford and 35 years of hurt ended. While the Champions league adds to City’s lucre, its silverware that counts for the modern footballer. Even with only a diminished FA Cup in their bag, City can now start to dictate terms.

This season started with more questions than answers. Is Mancini the right man for the job? Do City need Mourinho? Are all the players at City “the second tier” of footballers playing just for money? Although all those questions cannot be answered right now, one man who has earned his way to managing City in the Champions league is Roberto Mancini. The litmus test for him begins where his Inter could never get past the knockout stages even when they had the world’s best footballers.

Mancini’s signings this season have largely been a mixed bag. While Milner, Silva and Yaya have been the shining lights question marks remain over Balotelli, Boateng, Dzeko. But one decision Mancini got right was the recall of Joe Hart. Hart is the quintessential shotstopper; tall, agile and commanding. He has justified his selection over the ever reliable Shay Given. The players aside, City also have an established backroom staff. Mancini has an aura of assurance built around him. David Platt is a welcome addition as first team coach. City, though very defensive through the course of the last two seasons will benefit from his attacking instincts at some point of time. Brian Kidd, Mancini’s No 2 has some unfinished business in Manchester after his stint with United in the 90s. And City also have a core of winners and combatants in Kompany, Viera, De Jong, Barry and Tevez that should help them especially through the latter stages of knockout competitions. Looking at their games against Manchester United in the FA cup and Stoke City in the Premier League, Mancini has also instilled some steel into the so called mercenaries. With a good batch of youth footballers coming through, the technical side of things look rosy for the blues.

In fairness to City’s owners, they have also done reasonably well not to hog the limelight this season. With the infamous sacking of Mark Hughes behind them, they have realized that stability is the only way City are going to join the European elite. Gary Cook after his initial PR howlers, really has done well to get City their desired players. Brian Marwood is the calming presence among the City board. His experience with Nike and SkySports should help him understand the footballing and marketing side of where City are heading as well as keep their spending in reins for the UEFA fair play rules.

With all the good work done this year, one thing City shouldn’t do is go on another massive spending spree. The core group of players look well drilled and seem to be gelling together. A Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic like addition will only rock the boat at City. They need one or two hungry potential superstars such as a Pastore or a Sanchez. They also need to be true to their roots and blend in the youth appropriately. But one thing city can do without is pricing the average fan out of their home games as Chelsea have done. With ticket prices rising massively at Arsenal and Liverpool this year, City could do well to maintain their ticket prices and bring some much needed fans by their side. All said and done, the only way for City is up .

Why FC Barcelona must be slaughtered……….

The UEFA Champions League final on May 28th at Wembley will be a repeat of  Rome 2009. Barcelona will start as overwhelming favourites against one of their traditional English whipping boys. They are five points ahead of Real Madrid with a game in hand in the non-existential race for the La Liga title. A double winning season will make it 10 titles in the 3 years in charge for Josep Guardiola, their homegrown manager. Starting in the 2011-2012 will be a $180 million 5 year shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar foundation. They negotiate individual TV contracts for each season along with Real Madrid totalling nearly $160 million a year each, around half the pot for the other 18 clubs in the Spanish Primera division. Admired universally in charitable circles for their $2 million a year donation to UNICEF and also by donning their logos on their shirts. With their collection of stars, the place to be morally, financially and on footballing merit for any world class footballer is Catalunya.( no offence to Espanyol). But there remains the question. Are they really worth their place among the footballing celestials?

‘Mes que un club’ ( English: more than a club) says the club motto, defining their tradition of bringing world class footballers to the first team from their acclaimed youth base at La Masia. The critics argue that this current team of homegrown players, who have starred for Spain and Barcelona winning them many titles,  is a golden generation of talent that will seldom be  produced again. They have a case. While Messi, Iniesta and Xavi drive the team to multiple European and World titles, the important goals have come from David Villa( a $40 million signing from Valencia in 2010) and Samuel Eto’o( a $20 million addition from Real Madrid in 2004, who currently plays for Inter Milan). In addition to these strikers, their defence is well shored up by Eric Abidal, Dani Alves and  was a couple of years back by Giovanni van brockhorst and Rafael Marquez all foreign signings. While it is admirable that La Masia has produced such a quantity of amazing footballers, they have been supplemented by equally good big money signings. It is difficult for anybody to scrutinize such an acclaimed system because even in footballing circles it is misconceived as easy to replicate, just ask Chelsea and Napoli.

Coming to performances, there have been many memorable ones in the last 3 years by this particular Barcelona side. Claims have been made for Messi to supplant Pele and Maradona as the World’s Greatest Footballer Ever. Although that claim has gained considerable momentum, the team itself has been supported by a large number of unquestionably woeful refereeing. Be it the knockout games against Chelsea in 2005 where Didier Drogba was sent off in bizarre circumstances or 2006 where Lionel Messi bettered Al Pacino to get Asier Del Horno sent off in the first leg to get Chelsea knocked out eventually. But the most blatant partisanship from the higher echelons of UEFA towards Barcelona came in two instances. The first being the 2009 Champions league semifinal against Chelsea where the better part of 4 penalty decisions went in favour of Barcelona only for them to win the tie on away goals and then the semifinal in 2010 against Inter Milan where they played against 10 men in the second leg for a considerable amount of time and still lost 3-2 on aggregate. Although the play-acting accusations of them this year in the Champions league can be levelled at Real Madrid also. Another evident pattern that emerges is that all these refereeing decisions and the big games have come in the Champions League. Barcelona have had a relatively easy ride motoring along to two La Liga titles in the last two years and on the verge of their three-peat. The bottom line is that their challenge has come from English sides and Inter Milan in the Champions League. Even under unbiased circumstances, it would be a humungous task for any top level European side to beat Barcelona. Hence, it is unfathomable that Barcelona have resorted to such unrequisited conning and bullying of referees.

In terms of revenue, Barcelona are well on course to overtake Real Madrid in the next five years and already have become the most marketable. With the ill-designed UEFA fair play rules kicking it at the start of the 2012-2013 season where all clubs must only use money generated by the club itself, Barcelona have shed their traditional tags of no shirt sponsorships to budge to the Qatar Foundation giving them an extra $40 million a year. The very nature of such a deal is questionable. But in light of FIFA giving Qatar the 2022 World Cup, Barcelona don’t seem as blasphemous. Qatar is a country where fans are barred from consuming alcohol, publicly display signs of affection forbidden and a land where homosexuals cannot reveal themselves. Hence, sponsorships or any sort of association with them, from a club that condones similar behaviour between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gerard Pique, is condemnable. Barcelona have also caused incredible fissures among the relationships of Spanish clubs. To have them taken to court where they squabble over a TV deal that would give 18 other spanish clubs (the two being Barcelona and Real Madrid) a paltry 34 percent of revenue does not reflect well on a club that markets itself as the best on the planet.

Finally, the most damning indictment of Barcelona is their transfer strategy. Be it Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas or even Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barcelona have constantly bullied Arsenal into just giving into their transfer demands by a well laid out strategy of public touting of the opposition’s players by their own. Also well known is their $400 million debt, while they still pay their best players a good part of $200,000 a week. In the case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they spent the better part of $65 million for his transfer from Inter Milan , while they condemn Real Madrid even now of paying exhorbitant transfer fees for players.

Before we get ready to celebrate this current Barcelona team as the greatest ever, we need to ask that $400 million (Barcelona’s yearly revenue)question……did you do it all by footballing merit? While we wait for that answer, that cacophonic air in the footballing world prevails…………