Coach or Player?

If we thank God for victories, why don’t we blame Him for losses?

Manchester United lost to Arsenal. I tried not to write this almost immediately after that game. 2-0, ouch! That must have hurt, no? 2 goals in less than 4 minutes. It was an interesting performance. Most analysts blame Mourinho for putting out a ‘weak’ squad. For rotating, more or less. Really? All through this year, Mourinho has pointed out the benefits of winning the Europa League, and the ‘einsteins’ are now surprised?

But i digress. De Gea, Smalling, Jones, Darmian, Herrera, Carrick, Mata, Martial, Mikhitaryan, Rooney. There’s your ‘weak’ line-up! All those players have been part of the starting 11 at some point of the season. They are not weak in its truest sense. But. Some haven’t played in a while; some just returned from injury; and some are not yet match-fit.

Blame. Ugh. Such an ugly word.  Yet it is necessary; maybe not to blame, but to find the root cause of that defeat. Or better yet, to find out why some games are not played well. So as Kanye sang, let’s play the balme game. How could we not score? Why was Xhaka given all that space? Was De Gea a little bit out of position for that goal? Could Smalling have reacted better to Chamberlain’s cross? Was that cross really that good?

All the games Manchester United have drawn while totally dominating. All the chances wasted in front of goal. Who bears responsibility? Bad luck? Players? Manager?

Apportioning blame is risky, because most scapegoats are branded that unjustly. Pogba was considered a flop, until he has had to miss a few games. Now we miss him, we see what he does so well. Players are a flop till their next good game. And they are world-class till their next bad game.

Leicester City have come up ever since Ranieri was fired. Was it Ranieri? His game plan? Did he not charm the players anymore? Did he not say ‘dilly ding dong’ anymore? Or was it the players who didn’t execute his plans? And why? Intentional or were they not just up to the task?

Chelsea collapsed last season. Mourinho or the players? Can we really say both? Why did the results improve with Guus Hiddink? Why are the same players performing so well this season?

No outright answers to all these questions. You can spin it either way. Mourinho says it’s up to the players to motivate themselves. What role does the manager play? Do we add God in the mix, like we do in most bad things that happen to us? Who is to blame for bad games and who is to be credited for good games? If we thank God for victories, why don’t we blame Him for losses?

 

 

FERGIE BACK?

There was to be no other.

There probably will be no other.

4 years ago, the greatest manager to ever grace a football pitch retired. Sir Alex Ferguson. He walked away, and the club he left has not been the same since. Everyone knew it would be tough, but what to do? How do you move on from someone who meant everything? You don’t. You really can’t, unless you get another super-hero who will mean more. That super-hero probably doesn’t exist. This life!

Walk around the block, and you’ll see wanna-be’s. Everybody trying to be the next AF. Nobody even comes close. You need to be there for 25+ years, dominate your league, bend it to your own will, win 35+ trophies. Refresh your squad every 4 to 5 years. Above all, transmit your personality to those under your care (greatness comes when you reproduce greatness).

Tough act to follow. Anybody trying? Pochettino comes to mind. He has the desire to do something similar.

Anybody else?

Enter the bald man. Better known as Zidane aka Zizou.

What? Zidane? I know what you’re thinking. The guy just started management at the highest level. This is his first full season. Isn’t it a little, actually a lot early to make such a comparison? Yes. Time is a good tester. But one of Fergie’s great qualities was in seeing potential early on? So, technically am i the next Fergie for pointing Zidane out?

Zidane has some qualities worth noticing.

Legitimacy (big word). He has developed a meritocracy in that players know they get opportunities based on merit. Consider this: Who has the most appearances in this squad in La Liga? Ronaldo? no. Bale? no. Modric? no. Vazquez, know him. Lucas Vazquez. Next. Isco. They are not necessarily starting games, but they are getting minutes, opportunities to prove themselves. This makes them listen to him when he tells them what to do, they respect him. It also enables him to rotate without losing much quality. It enables him to introduce hungry substitutes who have changed games.

Never say die attitude. 22 goals in the last 10 minutes. They don’t give up this season. A good number of the goals have turned losses into draws or draws into wins. They have added points. Classic Fergie trait.

Man management. Cristiano Ronaldo has played considerably less minutes this season, but has been productive at crucial moments. This is due Zidane convincing him to rest more, save his energy for important periods. He has coaxed the best out of James Rodriguez from the bench, Isco from the bench, Morata, the list goes on.

Youth. Vazquez, Asensio, Morata, Varane. Yes, Morata and Varane were good players even before Zidane was manager. But he still has played them; add Asensio and Vazquez and you get a manager who believes in giving young players a chance. Another classic Fergie trait.

And last but not least, winning. He is showing that everything translates to trophies. Champions League last season, La Liga this season. Zidane is a winner.

Combine the qualities and you get the feeling that the great Fergie is back, unlike Tupac, who they just sang about. If only we can still say the same 25+ years and 35+ trophies later. Then we’ll really know that Fergie is back.

 

Go for broke – the Game that changed my mind

GOAT – who is the greatest of all time? if there is one. TIME. A lot changes over time, that comparisons of players of different times is difficult. One thing though doesn’t change with time: drive, hunger, fight. Regardless of which era, players can be rated by their hunger to win. How much do they want it? Do they give up?

Enter Messi, arguably one of the G.O.A.T. Talent wise, he really is up there with the most talented. It’s hard to find more talented players than him. Let’s try: Ronaldinho? [whisper] Denilson?…um…um…pointless. But isn’t there more to football than talent? Therein is the question that made me doubt a little bit about his ‘greatness’. Didn’t he just have it easy? To start with so great a midfield, so great a team. And by the time Xavi was gone, and Iniesta was a little bit fading, he had already been branded the greatest by some. So is he really great, or does his reputation preced him? Making opposing teams fearful before even facing him.

This was not to mean that Messi is not a good player, or even a great player. Just that he probably isn’t the greatest of all time. Atleast that’s what i thought before. Before what? Before the clasico; 23/04/2017.

The game that changed my mind wasn’t even the greatest clasico (the 5-0 Barca win anyone?). The 6-2 win was probably better. But rarely do i see fire in a player the same way i saw in that game. Messi was elbowed, he started bleeding. He had a black eye. He didn’t really retaliate in the same way he was offended. But he fought football wise, he took charge and did what he does best: play football.

Then Real Madrid equalised, and began pushing for a win – should they have closed down the game?. With a few seconds left, Messi changed my mind in those few seconds. Sergi Roberto made the run, cutting into spaces that had opened up from Madrid’s push. Messi made a run into space, and a cutback pass found him. The rest is history.

He ran to the corner, removed his shirt, raised it to the crowd. No 10 – MESSI! Should he have raised it to the Madrid bench?

 

To the End – Who is the next king of Europe?

Football is such a reductive sport. It’s all about scoring one more goal than the opposing team, as Jose Mourinho once pointed out. Easy as pie, right? Wrong! It’s easy to say…but on the pitch, it’s most times a different story altogether. So many things can and do go wrong on the pitch, that it’s not that simple to outscore your opponent. Form, recovery, efficiency, injuries, and of course luck; so many things can affect the results of a game.

With that in mind, how can we ever predict who wins a game, let alone, a tournament like the Champions League quarter-final. There are a couple of big guns(Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich), not so big guns(Juventus, Atletico), and some small guns(Dortmund, Leicester, Monaco). Can we even predict the winner? Of course not, but…

Enter Juventus. They should win this trophy comfortably this season. Why? First, let’s consider why not. 2 things: Man for man, they don’t have the best individuals; Bayern Munich tops this metric. Experience, nope either; Barcelona and Real Madrid edge them out.

So why should they win? First, the collective. Juventus have the best balanced squad whose individuals complement each other. The back 4 needs no introduction (Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini). Add Rugani, Dani Alves, Alex Sandro, Stephan Lichsteiner you get a great combination of pace, intelligence, experience. In midfield: Marchisio, Khedira will be key. They have experience at the highest level (think world cup), intelligence and aggresiveness. In attack: Higuain(finishing), Dybala(movement, elusiveness), Cuadrardo(pressing, directness), Pjanic(creativity) and Mandzukic(pressing).

Second, tactics. In Allegri, they have arguably the cream of coaching talent. A coach who has brought the team to a higher level of tactical versatility and intelligence. They can and have played in 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 formations. They can adapt really well to various opposition shapes. Tied to the coach and tactics is the team’s shape. They are comfortable in both attacking and defensive shapes. They go all out attack in the beginning of a game and usually score in the first 30 minutes of the game. But also, they can sit back and defend rather comfortably. This is crucial in control the game, especially if they get an early goal. All players contribute defensively, ensuring they remain compact.

Third, experience. Yes, other teams edge them out on this, but considering the fact that Juventus have played Barcelona, knocked out Real Madrid and should have knocked out Bayern Munich. They are not new to the elite playing ground. They have gone toe to toe with the best teams, they will not be fazed.

Will they win it? Only God knows that. But this is their season. All other teams have significant problems and little time to fix them. Allegri once quoted “to do or not, there is no try“; the title is theirs for the taking.

 

 

THE CASE: Manchester United VS other EPL teams

100 days in 6th. Wow!. So much for breaking records…Have things really changed? Or are we just in the Special One’s illusion?

You’ve seen the stats, i know. We are more or less in the same position we finished last season; we’ve ‘stagnated’ at position 6 for over 3 months. But does that really mean we are still the same? Watch the games, forget the stats for a minute. What do you see? I’ll tell you what you DON’T see: you don’t see sterile domination; you don’t see flat, dull football, you don’t see the ball mostly in Manchester United’s half. So what DO you see? You see an improvement in forward passes, more quick passing combinations(though not as quick as it should be); you see more shots on target; you also see domination in the opposition half.

But then again you see some pretty profligate finishing. Which brings us to the main question: Why are we 5th in the table? And where we do we stand with regards to the other teams? Is it just the finishing, or does it go deeper than that. Consider the fact that, Zlatan has wasted some clear-cut chances, and yet he is still among the top scorers in the EPL. So the problem isn’t just missing chances…BUT…it’s part of it; include Mikhitaryan, Rashford, Martial missing clear-cut chances, now we have an issue. We cannot depend on one player in the scoring department, everybody needs to pitch in. And since we have an abundance of attacking players, we really shouldn’t be in position 5.

What about the rest of the EPL? Can’t we say the same about them? Well, yes and no. Of course no team is 100% efficient, but there is a difference in the number of chances Manchester United has wasted and the chances other teams have wasted.

Stoke, Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull City: teams Manchester United should have very easily won but drew. Profligate finishing. 4 games, 4/12 points – that’s 8 points lost. 8 points! 5th place, 52 points, 23 goals conceded. That’s where Manchester United are. Add 8 points, they get to 60 points. From the current EPL league standings that’s 2nd place with a game in hand. I had said earlier that we really shouldn’t be at number 5. We should be, at the very least in 2nd place. Add Everton, West Ham, and Arsenal to the list – we should have won these too – and we are talking about a title challenge. Which coincidentally is what Mourinho said at the beginning of the season, after landing Zlatan, Mikhi and Pogba.

So where do we stand vs the rest of the EPL? what do you think?