Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thank you, Sir Alex!

After news broke on Tuesday evening and subsequently confirmed on Wednesday morning, the illustrious end-date to Sir Alex Ferguson’s career is May 19, 2013.

May 19, 2013.

You always knew this would come, but you’re never really ready for it. Ready for the finality of it.

Don’t get me wrong, as I’m excited to welcome David Moyes to United. He definitely deserves this opportunity and appears ready to build off the terrific foundation laid at his feet.

Regardless, it hasn’t entirely sunk in – fully, that is – that the only manager I’ve known is moving on.

For us die-hards, ones who teach our spouses check United’s result on the internet to know our mood before we return from watching the match, the magnitude of this change avoids our consciousness in one fell swoop. It seems destined to transpire in measured doses over several lasts and firsts: Ferguson’s last Old Trafford match, the last presser, and last match; all to be followed by Moyes’ first training session, first summer tour, and first match-and-silver, the Charity Shield.

Maybe we couldn’t take it any other way.

In our 24/7, rapidly changing world, United’s consistent success comforts, provides an utterly reliable diversion from life’s inevitable disappointments and tragedies. How many other relationships do you have that last more than 26 years?

We all know, yes, it’s just a game, especially in light of the larger news tapestry we witness daily from Cleveland to Columbine.

Yes, it’s just a game, especially in light of marriage, birth, or death.  

And yet, why do you still feel this way?

There’s something uniquely wonderful about expressing your passions in a cause bigger, something so totally out-of-your control, as if life depends upon it, and knowing all the while, it’s a made-up game. On a deeper level, our passions seem to choose us.

How else can you explain it?

The huge chills you still get from… watching you-know-who put the ball in the Germans net… witnessing Giggs’ lovely-amazing-and-mazy run through Arsenal… seeing van der Sar save Anelka’s penalty in a driving Russian rain.

You know precisely who you were with, where, when, and how your celebrations went. It’s etched into your memory forever.

These joys connect to something larger, deeper within us and you’ll always remember who forged these results into reality.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Sir Alex, for all the priceless memories. Our lives wouldn’t be the same without them.

Cheers gaffer! You’ve earned a rich and rewarding retirement.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Did anyone else feel superstitious as the commentators and pundits droned on and on about United’s incredible record against Spurs?

Eventually the odds do even out, as ghosts of the phantom-no-goal get paid in full today as Spurs break their Old Trafford duck circa 1989.

Supporters must be incensed at the Reds right now, with he deficiencies of this club so evident for so long, and papering over them clearly won’t work this campaign – no way, no how – as this trend dates back well before last year’s Champions League exit.

Here’s an issues list in no particular order…

First, it’s a squad heavily reliant upon aging players in key positions, including Ferdinand, Evra, Giggs and Scholes, which becomes vulnerable to pace and gets picked apart.

Second, it’s a squad without a coherent defense, one lacking the tenacity to win the ball back. Ferguson must realize that they cannot rely on two excellent passers – Carrick and Scholes – to lay so deep much of the time and create this giant gap in central midfield. United look fine moving forward, but fall back too far off the ball, giving opponents way too much space and allowing them to come at the Reds with the ball at their feet. Succinctly: United lack a spine.

Third, it’s an indifferent squad for large stretches of matches, whether that’s due to age, poor form, lack of pace, or some evil combination thereof, it takes a goal from Liverpool or Sir Alex’s hairdryer to get them going far too often. The team cries out for an inspirational leader, and thankfully, the most likely candidate, Wayne Rooney, looked sharp in his half of football today. Fingers crossed here.

Of the three dominant issues, what’s most troubling is the over-reliance on a tandem of Carrick and Scholes. What’s most troubling is the exceedingly obvious need for central midfield help.

When Carrick or Scholes push much further forward, this is an entirely different side – one with the verve and venom witnessed in the final 45 minutes today.

But, should United loose possession, they’re extremely susceptible on the counter-attack, as neither player tracks back quickly, defends nor tackles well enough to justify playing together, often flat, as a shield against higher-quality competition. One of the two starters here need to win balls, tackle, and harass anything central – a real “none shall pass” demeanor and demonstration. It’s far too easy to come at United now.

During the last year’s pre-season and early Premiership campaign, United’s midfield looked particularly pedestrian at times – that is until Ferguson employed a combination of Anderson and Cleverly central.

Remember what this squad looked like with these players fit, in-form, and synched together?

That’s exactly what’s required now. So where are they?

Well, you can’t force form and Ferguson’s forgot more about football than any dear reader of this post, assuredly. We need to trust the gaffer.

However, has Sir Alex shown too much confidence in players such as Anderson, Cleverly, and Nani? There’s a growing case being made to justify such questions.

United may be threadbare at the back now and we all know this too shall pass in the next month or so, as players return from injury. The quality across the back four seems fully deserving of every opportunity to continue to grow, under the tutelage of Ferdinand and Vidic.

I don’t feel that way about the central midfield at all.

First, Cleverly looked like he belonged on the Barcelona team sheet for a short stretch last season, yet his build and tendency to turn defenders may make him susceptible and vulnerable to injury in the BPL. It remains to be seen if the Reds can rely on him.

Second, with all due respect, none of us know what we’ll get from Fletcher, given his bowl disorder. We all hope and pray for his return to form. But we can’t bank on it. Which leads to the third and final point.

What’s up with Anderson?

His potential was so blisteringly hot upon arrival to Old Trafford. As a lad, he started in the central midfield at home against Liverpool in 2008 and bossed matters much of the match – a true pit-bull performance extraordinaire, never looking out of place, and a sign of things to come.


Since that first season, you simply wonder who’s taken over that player’s body, as the he’s had some injuries but largely seems to have regressed even when fit. Arguably, United need Ander-son-son-son to realized his potential more than any other player in the first-team not named Fletcher.

How long will we wait for him?

How long can we wait for him?

I hate it when Reds over-react to some temporary problem with the club and demand spending to fill any perceived deficiency. United have justifiably shown great faith in developing players.

But this term, the gaffer can’t hide the growing problems any longer, as key players age and the recipe for beating United is crystal clear as well as more accessible to more clubs now than at any time in recent history – again, we reference the Champions League last term.

United need a specific central midfield quality to challenge for the Premiership title and have any chance of advancing in the Champions League.

Will the Reds fill this void in the January transfer market?

Inactivity will be as defenseless as today’s brutal first-half performance. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Generations Star As United Waste Wigan

“Welcome to Manchester!” in more ways than one for the newcomers to Old Trafford, Alex Büttner and Nick Powell, as Sir Alex employs a line-up without Cleverley, Evra, Kagawa, van Persie, and Valencia, among the noticeable absences.

Büttner, Chicharito, Danny Welbeck, and Ryan Giggs start, with squad rotation in the mind ahead of two huge fixtures this week against Galatasaray in the Champions League and Liverpool at Anfield.

Ferguson’s purchase to cover-and-motivate Evra won over the fans by demonstrating tenaciousness, good pace, and an effective overlap.

He also opened his United account with penetrating – and somewhat fortunate, at one point – mazy run through the box and a short-range missile off Al-Habsi to make it 3-0.

Welcome to United indeed, Mr. Büttner, my co-Man of the Match.

Next, we consider the second-half substitute, Nick Powell, who security did not recognize upon his first day’s training at Carrington, ironically enough, needs no further introduction Old Trafford faithful with a nice touch to space followed by a laser from the top of the box past the helpless keeper to make it 4-0 in his first appearance.

Powell came on for Scholes and seemed to replicate the ginger-haired-assassin’s presence on the pitch, albeit for 18 minutes with United well ahead. Composure, a few penetrating passes forward, followed by a trademark strike capped off a bright start for the man from Crewe Alexandra.

Mr. Powell, you won’t be anonymous at Old Trafford, or Carrington, for that matter, ever again. Consider yourself part of the fold.

Beyond the debutants, this return-to-normal-service match didn’t start that way though, with Chicharito missing a soft penalty awarded to United in the 6th minute, as Al-Habsi pulled out of a challenge with Welbeck.

Maybe, just maybe there’s a bit of contact, but if you can’t tell even on super-slow-motion replay, then decision seems quite harsh.

You wondered if this would be one of those days, with the score tied at nil-nil at half. In a reverse-psychological-way, knowing that Wigan have never beaten United on this ground, as the commentators remind us, as thousands of Red Devils knock on wood across the globe. Squandered opportunities, especially penalties, can backfire on teams even early in matches.

However, United gave up a few semi-decent counter-attacking chances, but largely remained in control of the match moving into the second half.

Then, he scores goals in the 51st minute, my other co-Man of the Match.

Every single inch-perfect pass, turn, clumsy challenge, and goal is cherished by Red Devils, having already mourned Scholes retiring once.

Everything, absolutely everything he does on the pitch now is pure gravy, including THAT look of pure child-like joy, after scoring, is as infectious as ever. Pure and utter delight, as it should be. Brilliant.

Looking back now, from the larger perspective, the symbolism dripping off the result – Scholes’ 700th appearance for United, Giggs’ 600th Premier League match, and Sir Alex’s 500th home league match – seems entirely fitting for this campaign.

It makes total sense that Scholesy should break the game’s duck and that two debutants should open up their accounts all in the same match. Past glory meets future promise on the pitch, all from the games best alchemist, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Looking into a future, you sense that our beloved gaffer’s meticulously developed the club’s culture for long-term success.

He’s built a world-class organization, one where everyone’s involved, from the tea lady to manger, one where you expect late goals, one where youth is nurtured as well as given opportunity, and one where nobody’s bigger than the club. Nobody.

There is a United way, and for that, we are all immeasurably thankful.

And this match is as symbolic as it gets.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Our South Coast Savior: Robin van Persie

Would United’s historic difficulty with Southampton rear its ugly head or would the Saints look like they’ve been promoted one division too far?

Full credit goes to Nigel Adkins for successive promotions and setting up to attack the Red Devils. Why not? You’re at home. Go for it.

Sir Alex’s set-up involved the 4-2-3-1, with Lindegaard and Rio added to the backline as well as Carrick and Cleverly in front of the back four. Welbeck, Kagawa, and Valencia next, with van Persie allowed a roam across the front and drift as desired. This formation relies heavily on Evra to push forward for width, as Welbeck often pinched central to play off RVP’s movement.

The match started with United dominating and probing the Saints, who did not touch of the ball for the first few minutes. Maybe this is a walk in the park.

On the contrary, Southampton pushed forward and attacked, leaving their right flank exposed, if caught in possession.

But, it was United who gifted the Saints the ball on this flank, getting two midfielders caught pressing forward, as they could only watch helplessly as the ball was pinged wide for a diagonal cross that saw Lambert rise above Rafael to make it 1-0.

United wouldn’t be outdone, however, as it was soon 1-1 from an identical cross from Valencia to van Persie drifting on the far post, who chested it down superbly as the fullback fell and drilled home his trademark left-foot, far-post laser.

At half, pundits wondered aloud if the Saints could keep up with United, as chasing possession and defending becomes tiresome.

Yet, nobody predicted that Southampton would better the Red Devils for important stretches of the second half, creating nearly as many chances as Ferguson’s men.

When a player, who has never scored a home goal, does, you know you’re in serious trouble.

Again, United concede another goal from a cross, as Evra slips, with slapstick, comic affect, and Schneiderlin heads the ball across goal for a 2-1 lead.


Soon afterwards, Sir Alex makes needed changes, as Scholes comes for Cleverly as well as Nani replaces Kagawa, with Welbeck moving central and the number seventeen heading wide left. A much more balanced attack now for United to challenge a Southampton side tempted to sit back, defend, and hit on the counter.

Immediately, Scholes’ insertion pays dividends, as he sends an exquisite through ball to RVP, who forces a point blank shot from Davis.

United up the pressure, leaving themselves a little exposed at times, searching for the equalizer. The final ball seemed fleeting for the Reds, with the Saints difficult to breakdown with nine behind the ball, especially with poor crossing and possession cheaply given away.

Would this be another one of those days?

In the 69th minute, Nani gratefully intercepts Davis’ poor clearance, which he brings wide, pirouettes and plays a cross to RVP’s feet on the spot. Fonte rips down the number twenty from behind during his turn: a stone-cold penalty.

Finally, the breakthrough that United need.

Up steps the lethal van Persie, who decides, unfortunately, to cheekily chip the keeper, plays the ball too low, and Davis reaches back to swat it wide. A major chance wasted.

All signs point to it being exactly one of those furiously frustrating days.

United keep up the pressure, though, which leads to a corner, with only minutes left before stoppage time.

Nani over hits yet another corner, which gets played wide, then back into the box, where a wide open Rio sees his header clang off the inside of the post right to the gleeful van Persie. We’re tied just like that. Escape hatch released.

The stunned Saints can’t believe their luck, conceding another late goal to a Manchester club. Four minutes of injury time remain.

Again, the Red Devils surge forward against a wounded opponent. Another Fonte turnover, then his mishit clearance give United a corner with two minutes to play.

For all the shtick I give Nani for poor corners, the number seventeen got inch-perfect the defining cross of the match.

The Portuguese played the near-post corner perfectly to a darting RVP, who flicks a picture-perfect, glancing header up and over Davis and just under the bar. Stunning is an understatement, as it’s an absolutely brilliant turn for the Red Devils.

We’ve witnessed two goals-of-the-week candidates in successive matches for van Persie, who continues to justify his expensive price tag and Sir Alex’s acumen.

Where would United be without the Dutchman? Shudder the thought.

Now we move on, needing the Rio-Vidic partnership to gain form, the midfield to keep possession and pressure the ball better on the flanks, and up the tempo out wide to break down opponents.

So, would United’s historic difficulty with Southampton rear its ugly head or would the Saints look like a side promoted one division too far?

Little did we know the football Gods would agree with both sides of the supposition.

How fitting it is that the United players should thank their manager with a typical, come-from-behind victory, that a quintessential trait of his clubs: never giving up, believing, and scoring late on for what seems like the thousandth time to secure another improbable and vital victory.

We all adore Sir Alex Ferguson.

And that Robin van Persie chap isn’t so bad himself.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

United Fall Fulham 3-2

The starting eleven sees Rooney and Welbeck on the bench, with Nani dropped altogether, and Robin van Persie making his first start for United. Ferguson demonstrates his meritocracy in full measure.

All I’ve got to say is thank God.

The match didn’t start well, with Carrickbauer, as his teammates tease, giving up a free kick just outside the box to betray his new moniker. Set piece along the floor to Dunn from ten yards and it’s 1-0, with Ashley Young getting picked to leave the Irishman WIDE open.

Old Trafford went from season-opening good cheer to tensely quite in a flash. And then, up steps a certain Dutchman.

Evra’s innocuous cross short-hops van Persie, who hits a sublime volley from twelve yards and we’re level. Just. Like. That.

Afterwards, United upped the tempo and played like you’d expect, with possession and a 3-1 half time lead thanks to a tap-in from Kagawa and far-post header from, yes indeed, the thumb-sucking celebrant, Rafael.

The party mood left everyone feeling like that match’s in the bag, with a two-goal lead and lop-sided possession. Valencia looked like his brilliant self on the right, with Rafael overlapping wonderfully, a real pick your poison dilemma for Fulham.

Sir Alex’s men kept up the tempo and worked the ball wide for a few excellent chances in the first 18 minutes of the second half.

And just like that, up steps sloppy United.

From nothing, a routine long ball cross leads to a keystone cops moment, a needless own-goal from Vidic, as he collides with De Gea and a Fulham forward, the ball bounces off the Captain's heal, everyone falls and the ball crawls into the net. Game on.

Now we move from a potential thrashing to a competitive match, as I delete the blog title “United Flatten Fulham” from my memory.

Again, we’ve witnessed the sense of impending drama descend upon Old Trafford. Thankfully, United held on for the first victory of the season.

Given SAF’s age and likely near-term succession in about 2-3 years, I keep analyzing this club against the bar of winning the Premier League and being much, much more competitive in the Champions League.

That’s the lens through which I’ve been viewing the performances thus far.

With that said, the squad still looks as thought it could use another couple of weeks of pre-season fixtures, with the injuries, new players, and poor form in stretches thus far.

It’s still VERY early days, but here’s what causes concerns after two matches.

First, let’s start with the deeper lying, center of the park, where Anderson’s still a shadow of even his first year and Cleverly shows ring-rust from hardly playing much of last term. The other primary options, as we all know, include the evergreen two-some and Carrick.

Far too frequently United were outmuscled off the ball and lack a certain ball winning bite – I know, I know – since Keane left. You can just see glimpses of Cleverly coming good, with his ability to cover space, quick darts forward and penchant for turning players. He doesn’t worry us, as his best form will come back, but Anderson does concern the faithful.

As a youth, Anderson appeared as a bright part of United’s future. His bite, tenacity, pit-bull ball strength, and ability to cover the ball caused a certain glint in Ferguson’s eye. Everything appeared set with Anderson and Hargreaves.

Looks can be deceiving, as the Red Devils still miss tenacious cover in front of the back four. It’s anything-but-certain Anderson will realize his potential, as the rumors around his departure will continue unless form returns.

Second, Sir Alex must be baffled with his defense, as it seems some dubious demon controls a kill switch to the collective brains in the defensive third, selecting the most inopportune times to reek havoc on this ground.

The own-goal aside, we’ve witnessed Rafael getting caught in possession or beaten unnecessarily, a continued failure to cover short corners, poor clearances, or marks getting picked to allow an easy opportunities. Both Cottager goals involved poor concentration and communication.

THIS is precisely what cost United the title and must infuriate gaffer, as at times the Reds look as solid as a rock, then boom: brains off. How do you coach that? We'll see.

Last, the club’s strength lies in attack, with RVP and Kagawa added, it’s a real embarrassment of riches when Berba’s relegated to Carling Cup matches.

However, this apparent potency is not certain, on the contrary, there are two possible problems involving egos and playing time.

You could easily argue that the 1999 squad had a rare combination up front, as both Sheringham and Solskjaer kept brilliant form almost regardless of playing time, the rarest of traits from strikers.

Currently, Chicharito seems like the only true candidate for super-sub, but one look at his face on the bench these days indicates otherwise.

Hernandez needs some consistent starts to empower his super-sub role, as his form dipped in correlation to Welbeck’s increased playing time would indicate.  Add Kagawa along with RVP and Chicharito seems destined to a Berba role up front. All other forwards, plus Kagawa, need minutes primarily at only two positions.

Which leads to my final thoughts about egos and chemistry.

When Rooney came in, he immediately pointed to van Persie that it was HE who would lead the front line, assuredly with Sir Alex’s blessing, with some added body language emphasis. Hmmm...

Although we didn’t see much Wazza, he still seemed labored until he left the match in injury time on a stretcher with a nasty gash above his right knee. With his fitness/from already in question, this is the last thing United need at the moment.

Or, is it?

Maybe 3-4 weeks out could provide the ideal window to help van Persie and Kagawa gel with the squad, without the distraction of the number ten.

But, how do you think Rooney would deal with a United succeeding without him? How would he deal with RVP overshadowing him?

We will always remember Rooney’s flirtations with life beyond Old Trafford. Would he try to pull the ripcord again, if things don’t go his way?

We will also wonder if Wazza will keep in immaculate shape like Giggs or Scholes as he ages, given his holiday celebrations with Gibson last term. 

Getting RVP might just be the ideal tonic to motivate Wayne or it could simply beget more frustration leading to England-Rooney showing up more consistently in a United shirt. Only time will tell.

As always, we trust alchemist Alex’s superb man-management skills, especially this term with two 30-goal scorers vying to lead the line. 

But now, we also need Fergie’s master electrician skills to finally disable that infuriating kill switch, especially with Europe looming in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise, it won't be pretty yet again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Edgeless United Fall

Where do you start after this performance?

Surly for the neutral observer, the match was well worth the time invested. Fast. Hard-fought. Intense. And, that’s just in the Gwladys Street Stand stand.

[Queue rim shot]

Ah, but serious folks, this blog, like you dear reader, are a United fan, eager as ever to start the season with a new, fresh start to the looonng campaign.

New faces couple new expectations. It’s been waaaay too long. Game on.

So, why does this loss feel like last April or early May?

Maybe it’s because Red Devils lacked sharpness around goal. Maybe it’s because key central halves were injured and defense creaked. Maybe it’s because United carry a big target on their back at every away ground, as fans delight in Red’s misery.

At first blush, the match wouldn’t seem like a groundhog day remake, with United’s 4-3-3 formation provided some cover for the Carrick-Valencia partnership along the right defense, as it allowed Scholes and Cleverly to take turns pushing forward, play compact in front of the back four, and allow the wingers to fall back, as needed, should United loose possession.

The starting eleven correctly matched the weaknesses as well as strengths of the situation, plus the added delight of watching Kagawa, Cleverly, and Scholes play combinations together.

So, why do we get sooo much prancing around the top of the box and such predictable wing play?

Yes, you’ve simply got to love the technical skill of Rooney, Nani, Kagawa, Cleverly, and Scholes playing short, one-touch possession football. Yes, United did get players wide for crossing. Yes, there were some chances.

However, the fullback overlaps and overall team crossing were hugely ineffective, as United sorely missed the in-form Valencia tormenting opponents down the right wing, with both starters, Welbeck and Nani playing poorly.

Couple these factors with a slow, heavy-touch Rooney and it’s abundantly clear how the Toffees won the match. One match report noted that United fans, not Blues, booed the number ten for his wastefulness as the match wore on. Imagine that at Goodison Park.

Oh, but the worst player of the match goes to Nani.

Nani was Nani, a player that can be unstoppable, but the operative word there is “can”.  When Nani’s off, he’s way off, as viewed by his petulance toward the linesman in the 2nd minute and soon-to-follow yellow card. He seems to compound his errors until Fergie has no choice but to sub him. Seriously, how can you take that many bad corners for the love of all things United? (The MOTM, btw, was Kagawa. Bright. Creative. Sure in possession. Brilliant runs off the ball.)

Ah, but I digress. These are the earliest of days.

The tone of this post would be entirely different, had the Reds simply put two chances away. But they didn’t.

Now comes the short bus ride home for Fergie’s men knowing that they did indeed create some nice combination play and made few opportunities, but yet deep down inside, they were outplayed, as Everton simply wanted the match more.

In the US, the American “Monday Night Football” used to start with Hank Williams, Jr. shouting at the camera, “Are you ready for some football?!!” before breaking into rowdy song.


Yes, indeed.

Are you ready for this?

No, not really. But, then again, I’m never ready to watch two midfielders play across the backline.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Five Clear, Four Remain

The juicy prospect of claiming the league crown before kickoff against City, with full honor guard action mind you, evaporated in the loss to Wigan.

Should the Blues fail at Wolves and United beat Everton, the Red Devils could collect number twenty at the City of Manchester Stadium in two weeks time. But that’s highly unlikely, given Wolves’ horrible form. Seems a long-shot prayer at best.

Which leads to commentary about the 4-0 victory over Villa.

Never should such a score line leave any supporter upset. Most EPL sides can only dream of netting four, let alone accomplishing the task while not firing on all cylinders. But such is the gulf in class between top and bottom of this league.

For a second straight match, something seems a bit labored, a bit off at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, three points are all that matter now, but there’s a noticeable dip in form of some key players.

Rooney’s touch and passing have deserted this past week, despite his two goals this afternoon. His confidence seems to have suffered from his lack of control as well.

Players misread each other’s intentions. Everything stays on the periphery. The cutting edge appears more difficult to conjure up. It’s as though United don’t trust their passing or control to play more balls to forward’s feet or turn on their man.

We miss those intricate touches and turns from everyone not names Scholes as well as scintillating play from both flanks that were so devastating earlier this term.

Ah, but we’re five points clear with four to play – that’s all that matters now.

Everton comes to Old Trafford off their bitter loss in the FA Cup Semis to Liverpool. Will Moyes’ men suffer a hangover or prove a stern opponent?

One suspects the latter given the gaffer’s track record.

United look in need of a week to train, rest, and recuperate their best form. We’re almost there, lads. Keep you nerve. This season may become Sir Alex’s crowning achievement, given the injury onslaught and squad turnover.

Can’t think of a better script ending than for either Scholes or Giggs to put United through to number twenty with the decisive goal on the City of Manchester Stadium. Champ20ns indeed.