Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ferguson blows it; Javier Hernandez restores it

Manchester United's seaside jaunt to face an attacking-styled Blackpool promised to be an open affair, but United manager Alex Ferguson wasn't in on the plot. Instead he erred with a pusillanimous 4-5-1 to open the game, a questionable setup with questionable selections.

Rooney was on the left, where he often is over the years when the season's final third, and United's forays into Europe, become the priority. Sadly he has looked physically disinterested and, perhaps therefore, completely ineffective in that role so far this season (and usually in those past.)

Now, we all love to see him track back and make tackles. It's easy to hang your hat on that shit if your simpleton desire is to be an utter Rooney mark. But he's never going to make it to the byline or get outside and past the opposing right back when he's in that position. He can't dribble across his body and he's not particularly fast.

Also, Darren Gibson was preferred in the middle with two players who actually belonged, Fletcher and Scholes, despite Gibson having a poor season without any two games of clear repute on the trot.

It made no goddamn sense. Ferguson was afraid of Blackpool's attacks. And attack is all they did in the first half against United's unbalanced and unorganized hodgepodge of a formation.

First Half Sad Face

As I sort of implied, Blackpool were far superior in the first half. Charlie Adam lived up to his hype in the frame, creating countless chances with piercing, curling, left-footed through balls. United were on the back foot and offered little going forward.

The Seasiders scored twice from Adam corner kicks. The first tally arrived on 15 minutes with former United reserve Craig Cathcart assuredly heading home.

United weren't ready to pull up their pants yet. Ferguson's nebulous formation continually failed to achieve anything going forward. They had no width, Rooney was abhorrent and Gibson sucked again.

On 43 minutes, another Adam corner was flicked to and headed in by DJ Campbell. Blackpool heroically led 2-0 at the break.

United Restored

At halftime Ferguson appeared to remember he's one of the greatest managers in English football and has a pair of huge, swinging bollocks. After cathartically yelling at his players, he finally took off Gibson for Giggs, reverting to a natural 4-4-2.

Here Berbatov and Rooney were up top, Fletcher and Scholes patrolled the middle, while Nani and Giggs carried the team on their natural wings. Harmony; brilliance. But despite their improved football, there was still something missing.

At the 70th minute, I thought, "We must get Hernandez into this game." But who would he replace? Berbatov? That leaves a pairing of Rooney and Hernandez, with no one to win headers or retain possession.
"But Rooney scored 11 headers last season!" Yeah, and it was an aberration then, even though it didn't seem obvious until now. The Mexican would win more headers than Rooney in any case. Surely Ferguson didn't have the balls to take off Rooney.

But he did. And he did so audaciously.

Seventy-two minutes. Hernandez is shown entering the game, smiling and looking like Poncharello from CHIPS.

The tipped-off cameraman closed in on Rooney looking blankly at the fourth official's board, the self-realization that he'd been absolute shit thus far betrayed by his beady eyes; the knowledge that he's vastly overpaid by his recently adjusted contract clear on his puggy mug.

He watched his card get pulled. He jogged off stoically.

Hernandez Leads from the Top

United's reaction, though was full of emotion.

Immediately Hernandez started making the direct forward runs that have won several games already this season. United were plowing forward with waves of domineering attacks.

Their first goal was physically inevitable. They passed triangles down the right before an outstanding Darren Fletcher made the forward run and crossed at the byline for Berbatov to nimbly tap home.

United didn't stop. Hernandez was using his pace to draw defenders deep, and Ponch was rewarded just two minutes later. Giggs shipped him through and the Mexican continued to display his mature finishing by doing just so after just one measured touch.

It was hard to envisage United coming back to win without Ruud van Nistelrooy. But Paul Scholes, looking fit and sharp on his first match in months, drove sickly over the top for Berbatov. The Bulgar faked going right, instead finishing with his left foot to drive it past Kingston's near post.

United come from behind to secure a five-point lead atop the Premier League summit in one of the most riveting games in the league this season. Most importantly, in doing so, they played some of their best football of it during the final 20 minutes of the match.

Chicharito for President, Berba for Chairman

How many times has a joyful Chicharito turned United frowns upside down this season?

Javier Hernandez changes games. He does it simply. He's extremely athletic, has a monstrous leap, uncanny heading ability, makes runs in behind, uses both feet, has natural instincts and for good measure, tries hella hard without being all super emo about it.

His ebullience is expressed in his style; his class is expressed in his execution.

If Sir Alex Ferguson continues to have the balls to play him instead of Rooney, when the Scouser's form is off (oft), it'll benefit everyone—Hernandez, Rooney, Berbatov and club United alike.

In fact, it's not unreasonable to wonder if Rooney has re-signed just to be sold in the summer—not a dissimilar arrangement from the Ronaldo romance between United and Madrid.

It was only after Rooney mercifully departed against Blackpool that United started playing top-class football. Most strikingly, however, is the manner of United's last two goals. Hernandez's straight run over the top, with pace, and Berbatov faking right, going left decisively, and finishing with his left peg represent two things  Rooney doesn't do.

More evidence of that nature will be damning for Rooney who could be worth far more to United in dollars than in action.

His reputation abroad still exceeds his form this season and throughout his United career—last year, now, being an obvious statistical outlier—and frankly United should sell him before the rest of Europe realizes it.

It would make financial sense, to offload a complacent and perpetually over-hyped Wazza while his value is still bloated, a move to unshackle Hernandez as United's talisman for the coming generation.

If that was the plan all along, we'd be the last to know, anyway.

But we may now be some of the first to realize that Hernandez, and not Rooney, is the future at forward.

Javier Hernandez is more valuable than Wayne Rooney (Bleacher Report)
Wayne Rooney signing seems a little fishy (Epltalk)
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spurs-United: Player ratings and recap

Man United traveled into White Hart Lane against Tottenham with more at stake than at least Spurs were accustomed. For neutrals, unfortunately, the added pressure resulted in a less carefree affair.

The game started openly, though, with some of the glorious back-and-forth attacks everyone expected.

However, the tempo and atmosphere changed as neither side could manage a crucial opener. Only Rooney was on target for his team in the first half while Spurs were ultimately muted by, essentially, just Vidic whenever they feigned threatening United's box.

The second half saw more technical and attractive midfield play from especially Modric and Giggs as they each ran the offense for their sides, but a final ball was always lacking. United began time-wasting around the 60th minute. Rafael then done got off for a second questionably bookable offense after 74 minutes had quickly passed.

Predictably Spurs began relishing possession but were mostly stymied by United's then five-man midfield. Vidic again was a swirling black hole for all of Spurs' attacks into the penalty box. The London club went for the jugular with a gross attacking spread to see out the game but United were mature.

And so the match ended anticlimactically at nils apiece. A lot of interesting football was ultimately unexciting since neither side could manage an opener.

Player Ratings

Tottenham Hotspur

Gomez: 7: Had to save nicely from Rooney on two occasions. Didn't gaffe greatly but punted askew at times.

Assou-Ekotto: 7: At worst, got beaten for a few corners. Didn't do anything special going forward nor anything especially bad on the back foot.

Dawson: 7: Got the better of Berbatov. Contained Rooney and kept him at range and on the wrong foot. . Defended corners needfully.

Gallas: 6: Quiet game, which isn't always bad for a defender. Contributed to Berbatov's poor game directly and matched up well against United's slow forwards.

Hutton: 7: Looked well up for this big match. Joy going forward opposite Giggs and did enough shackling the Welshman and Evra to feel confident after his display.

Bale: 5.5: Able to get behind Rafael on a couple occasions but having his reputation precede him today means his rating isn't as high as a lesser-known-player's would have been.

Palacios: 7.5: Combative like a De Jong or his opposite Fletcher. A couple wayward distance shots but credit for trying. Crucial to the midfield battle.

Modric: 8.5: Creative sparkplug. Classy over the ball. Turns were impeccable. Brilliant vision and technique. Outstanding pilot as his side cruised to complacence.

Lennon: 7: Has shown in matchups past he's able to get past Evra and even skin Vidic. Did less of the former today and none of the latter. Still got in crosses but ultimately you'd say he was muffed out by the two aforementioned defenders on the whole.

van der Vaart: 5.5: Looked slow and not at the races. Fitness issues perhaps for Spurs' new talisman.

Crouch: 5: Probably had as little success as he'll have all season winning headers and knocking down balls for all the brilliant attackers around him. Why? Vida. Crouch had a sitter early in the first half but inexplicably put it wide.

Manchester United

van der Sar: 6: Had less to do than his opposite number. His punts don't contribute much but the tenured Dutchman showed good feet at times and made a few above-standard saves.

Rafael: 5.5: Matched up well with Bale but when the young Brazilian was carded early he was always going off. Such is his plight. Luckily his silliness was not tragically detrimental to the result as it was against Bayern last March (it still stings). Rafael was United's best attacker on occasions.

Ferdinand: 6: Happy to be playing next to Vidic and tweeting bollocks.

Vidic: 9.5: Utterly imperious. Totally awesome. Sick-doggin' nadass. The best defender in the world. Bunkered down in his penalty box with real spit in his eye. Went horizontal on several occasions bending reality to his whim. Owned everyone. And I don't care if he tugs shirts, it's artful and good defense. If Vidic had scored he'd have a ten.

Evra: 6: Went forward craftily at times but still overly-reliant on his left foot. Lennon tears about lesser defenders, but the little Englishman still had some joy today against this Frenchman.

Nani: 6.5: Better technique and decision-making but didn't stamp any authority on the match.

Carrick: 5.5: Essentially his mandate was to stay back and don't mess anything up egregiously. He did that. He even contested for some 50/50 headers. But Carrick has never been United quality. He must have an outstanding game to even be on par with both his teammates and potential replacements, yet the bloke is ever-happy to remain anonymous on the field, hoping no one realizes he does not belong.

Fletcher: 7.5: Did a lot on each side of the ball. United's most active midfielder during the first half and much of the game. Covered more ground than any other player.

Giggs: 7: Pulled the strings in the second half after getting warmed up in the first. Sole creative source going forward for United through much of the game.

Berbatov: 5: Offsides lazily several times, a feature of his game. Everyone knows Berbatov has class, but everyone also knows he'd be better if he just tried harder. Hell he probably knows it. But having the potential to be awesome only goes so far when most time is spent unfulfilled. Too slow.

Rooney: 5: His limitations were again evident today. Not many people saying he's the best striker in the world anymore. Had a few open looks at goal but sent all his shots low. Shooting is the easy part, but getting the right angle and space is always troubling for him because everyone including Steven Hawking's football boots and Count Wankenstein know Rooney is going onto his bloody right foot. I don't care where his shots go, because they even out over time. Just wish he was an improving footballer. He looked completely disinterested once he was moved to right midfield, though I still fancy him as a central attacking midfielder in the future; if only Alex agreed.

Subs: Hernandez (fast and awesome), Anderson (chip on shoulder).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Baggies-United: Player ratings and recap

Manchester United made the small jaunt south to the Hawthornes to k ick off the new year in the English top flight. The undefeated visitors topped the league table. West Brom were near its bottom.

Having not scored from open play since March, Rooney's first touch today brought the opening goal.

Obertan did work down the left before laying back to Evra in support. The French back crossed and Rooney placed a standing header down and into the bottom corner: 1-0 United after two minutes.

Albion didn't give anyone much time to celebrate. Less than 10 minutes later, after a forward hoof, Vidic could only clear down to Morrison. He volleyed first-time and the ball lazered into Kusczcak's far, top corner. All one's thanks to the Kodak finish.

Gary Neville should have been sent off shortly thereafter for an egregiously poor, chasing tackle inside United's box, but the referee was thankfully gun-shy to rule anything.

West Brom dominated possession for much of the half's remain. They were better than the league leaders on both sides of the ball, cutting out opposing attacks in midfield and passing triangles moving forward The Baggies penetrated United's right side again in added time, but Dorrans shanked his driven, close-range shot near-side when through on goal.

The second half began 1-1. Andy Gray said United weren't quite "at it." Whether or not Man United were indeed not "at it" was never proved or disproved. However, the second frame began as the first one ended: West Brom passing and playing better than the former European champions.

Alex Ferguson looked like he was playing for the draw after withdrawing his only winger for a fourth central midfielder, bringing on Gibson for Obertan. A smiling Hernandez replaced the frowning Berbatov.

Immediately after, in the 61st minute, Ferdinand was duped by Thomas and conceded a penalty. Odinwinge stepped up for the resulting spot-kick and dribbled it wide left. 1-1 still.

Shortly thereafter, Rooney had a lane through to goal, but he was hesitant to dribble to his left side and botched it. A minute later he made up for it by driving decisively past Cech to win a short free kick on 67 minutes. His own delivery from it was excellent but yielded nothing.

This game had "late Hernandez winner" written all over it. I sat in expectation. On 71 minutes, Ferguson mercifully withdrew the Neviller for a da Silva twin. The match was still combative and fairly even. After 75 minutes through, though, there's my boy: Hernandez stood in front of the goalkeeper and nodded in Rooney's corner very simply. United led 2-1.

Again Rooney drove strong through the middle of the pitch to unleash a counterattack. Fletcher crossed back for him but his header ballooned over.

West Brom had a right go at  the Mancunians to close out the final 15 minutes. Hernandez showed good engine and desire to assist in wholesale back-tracking. With two minutes remaining Rooney appeared to suffer another relatively serious left ankle sprain. Some magic spray later and he was back on as the fourth official raised five added minutes.

United continued to man their hatches, albeit tenuously,  to eventually secure the hard-fought and important,  but perhaps ill-deserved, 2-1 victory away at West Brom on the first day of the new year.

Player Ratings

West Bromwich Albion

Carson: 5: Did not make any outrageous saves nor blunders of the same variety. Should have marshaled his defenders better on Hernandez' equalizer. Carson himself could have come out to contest the header and should have saved it standing between his sticks.

Scharner: 6: Looked good enough in a makeshift role to base confident Baggie  football at the back.
Ibanez: 5: I tend to space out when West Brom have the ball. But I don't think this player did much.
Cech: 6: Did well enough for me not to notice him.

Reid: 6: Involved from the outside on both sides of the ball. Got stuck in n' that.

Dorrans: 6.5: Had a great chance in the first half but he blew it relentlessly. Otherwise more muted.

Mulumbu: 6.5: Athletic and explosive in the middle. But seriously.

Brunt: 7.5: Very useful. Strong but with touch. And a bang-up left foot. Ran over Carrick once like he didn't exist (spoiler: he doesn't).

Thomas: 7.5: Had success against Neville. Earned the penalty against Rio. Well done.

Morrison: 7.5: Scored a sweet volley early on the one-time to equalize. That equalizer set the stage for West Brom to play most of the better football throughout, in which he was consistently involved.

Odemwingie: 6: Combative against better center-backs but his penalty miss was excruciatingly poor. It's still a positive shift from him, but only just. It was a big miss that denied his team a just result.

Manchester United

Kusczcak: 6: Didn't have much to do but made a great save late-on. Goal was virtually unstoppable. Van der Sar wouldn't have saved it either.

Neville: 3.5: Why don't I just write "Still far from match fitness" out of respect for the tenured right-back.

Ferdinand: 5: Conceded a penalty and looked a little loose at times.

Vidic: 6.5: Played an unwitting part in Brom's first goal when his clearance was just poor enough for profit. Otherwise you could hardly say he had a bad game.

Evra: 6: Supplied Rooney's opener but didn't do much else remarkable besides manning his wide station diligently  throughout the match.

Obertan: 6.5: His speed was an asset for the side. Gets the hockey assist on the first goal for keeping it simple. He was inventive if not still a little naive. Passing can be casual and wayward. As he beefs up and grows up he could and should stick around for years.

Fletcher: 7 Got stuck-in in midfield despite being employed unusually on the right side of it.

Carrick: 6: Did one or two things I liked and was overall economic enough despite being pedestrian.

Anderson: 5.5: Passing was poor. Seventh start in a row in all comps; perhaps it showed.

Berbatov: 5.5: Involved on offense but not at his best. Like most dribblers, he tends to wait too long before passing to options that were more ideal earlier. Lazily caught offsides on several occasions. His class exudes even on an off-day which today was for the Bulgarian.

Rooney: 7 At times his strength was questionable, at other times it appeared improved. He endured a mediocre first half from open play after scoring. His goal though, was well-taken and necessary. In the second half he played with more abandon and refreshingly drove at defenders with decision. Slower than people realize.

Subs: Fabio (better than Neville), Gibson (better than his last outing), Hernandez (sprightly and necessary).

Hail Javier Hernandez again. He is truly a sparkplug and plays with ebullience. Expect him to replace Rooney as United's talisman when the Englishman is inevitably sold.

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