Monday, February 28, 2011

Hernandez at the helm as Devils travel to Stamford Bridge

Certain recurring narratives were reinforced when Manchester United beat Wigan 4-0 away on Saturday.

Whether or not their import will be heeded by their manager going forward remains to be seen.

United gaffer Alex Ferguson started Javier Hernandez up top with Wayne Rooney for the first time this season away at the JJB.

To be fair, Rooney dropped too deep too often so the formation often seemed a 4-5-1. His willingness to do so can be either that or desperation, the latter being more persuasive after he muay-thai elbowed James McCarthy for no reason in the first half.

Referee Mark Clattenburg wanted too much to be one of the guys and let Rooney off with only a manhug.
Hernandez meanwhile was busy doing the things that'll see him replace Rooney some day sooner than anyone would have expected.

At the very least the Mexican tailors his natural attributes to his game, using his speed to embody a dumbfire missile heading straight at the opposing goal whenever a midfielder with the ball looks up at him.

Being caught offside isn't nearly as lamentable for the Mexican as it is for another United striker, Dimitar Berbatov, who has zero pace but gets caught offsides more than virtually any other player in the Premier League.

Anyways, gotta keep this brief. United play against Chelsea in two days so this'll get buried under a bunch of other crap.

Therefore I'll skip how influential Scholes was, that Patrice Evra had his best game in awhile, or how underrated Vidic still is. Use your imagination I guess.

Hernandez opened the scoring for the Red Devils by again making the run both Berbatov and Rooney would be uninclined to. It's really simple and has been written within these margins before: run forward fast. The other two are much slower and tend to suspend runs into the box to pull off and get a cut-back.

Chicharito doesn't eff around, then he smiles about it. He finished Nani's cross to put United ahead. As the half winded down—after some outstanding saves by van der Sar that, in hindsight, obviously inspired Ben Foster—the Mexican pilfered again.

The second strike was one of the ilk United fans are quickly getting used to. The Poncharello lookalike nodded down his goalie's punt to Rooney who one-timed the reciprocal. The former Guadalajara striker sprinted through, took a touch, and finished ever-cooly. Then he smiled. Another thing Rooney doesn't do, although he does spit more.

United led 2-0. The game was over. The final score read 4-0. It didn't matter.

I would have sex with Javier Hernandez if only to brag to  women about it and then bed them consequently. I truly believe he will replace Rooney as United's talisman once the grumpy scouser is inevitably sold for an exorbitant sum to a club that still buys his hype.

Rooney himself hasn't had two good games on the trot, and I've been increasingly lenient with the definition of "good". Having scored and picked up two assists, despite playing poorly from open play elsewise, his streak once again stands at one.

If he spent a little more time in training working on fundamentals still missing from his limited repertoire, instead of being grumpy, pugnacious, greedy, and lecherous, then I'd not have to use any of those words to describe him, at least. At most he'd become something of the footballer he was capable of.

Employing him in Scholes' role instead of continuing to shoe-horn him as an out-and-out striker he is not is the only scenario I can envision really unshackling Rooney's remaining and decreasing potential.

Anyways: United have a rather big game ahead of them at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

It's too bad but Hernandez is unlikely to start in it, despite coming off early for Gibson at the DW Stadium. Ferguson is likely to start a lamentable 4-5-1 with a lamentable Rooney lamentably up top alone and lamenting.

It might not be the wrong decision since he'll be playing for the draw, anyway. You can always tell when Fergie is playing for a draw because he doesn't start Scholes.

But as United's long run-out to the season continues, Hernandez's name should appear on more and more teamsheets or, at least, near the end of match reports.

His preclusion from the Marseille first leg was an egregious oversight from a passive manager. Ferguson should have been more audacious in nicking an away goal; Hernandez' specialty.

Man Red will need all three of their strikers at different points throughout the season's final third.

So far only two of them have produced consistently. Berbatov leads the top flight in scoring. Chicharito has nine goals in 18 appearances in his first season.

Who'd I forget?

I'm on twitter, for what it's worth.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marseille-United: Player ratings and scathing analysis

Three-time European Cup winners Manchester United travelled to the Stade Veladrome Wednesday in first-leg action from the UEFA Champions League knockout stage, squaring up against the successful French outfit Marseille.

For no legitimate reason, Reds manager Alex Ferguson opted for Darron Gibson in midfield in lieu of Paul Scholes.

Essentially, he was playing for a nil-nil from the onset; a blatant tactical mistake in two-legged ties that favor away goals.

The first half started and ended in the same fashion: Neither side getting a sniff of a goal, with the majority of possession going sideways or backwards.

Nani was the only dangerous player on the pitch. John O'Shea aimlessly hoofed long-balls forward—inevitably turnovers. Rooney predictably had no joy on the left of midfield. Carrick and Gibson neither hustled nor passed well in United's core. Berbatov did what he could up front (spoiler: not much).

The second half began as the first one ended and finished just as it began: Shots were few and far-between, in addition to being often catapulted into near-Earth-orbit.

Marseille had their best chance thus far on sixty minutes, but a few shanked shots eliminated any real possibility of scoring.

The game was crying out for an impact substitute. Scholes, Hernandez or both were basically required on principle. Mercifully Ferguson introduced the Englishman 70 minutes late into the match, replacing the always-lamentable Gibson.

Why the gaffer chose to start with a weaker midfield than he was afforded will likely be prevaricated upon in post-match interviews—looking forward to that.

Immediately, Scholes began retrieving from the backline and building from the back. Then my stream skipped and it was a Marseille goal-kick.

United controlled the remaining 15 minutes of the match during a period that contained their best attacking moves of the match.

Too little, too late. The match ends 0-0, but at least all my under-bets hit.

With a five-man midfield, there was no reason whatsoever to be even more pusillanimous by not putting Scholes in it.

As close as this match was, you'd think Marseille only need to nick a single goal at Old Trafford to seize the biggest upset of the round.

A few things are certain for the return fixture: Marseille will sit back and try to contain United in hopes of getting a lucky away-goal.

United will stack five in the midfield again in hopes to suppress the away side tallying.

The French club would be happy to take the tie into penalties at Old Trafford.

In other words, don't expect a cracking return leg!

Player Ratings

Manchester United

van der Sar: 6: Little to do; did little.

O'Shea: 6: Should never make vertical passes over the top into nothingness; otherwise helped contain a tepid Marseille attack.

Smalling: 7.5: Learning from Vidic as evidenced by his flying headers. Good, strong match again—second in a row! Rooney should be jealous.

Vidic: 8: Completely untroubled.

Evra: 6.5: Big game for the Frenchman who is reviled in France because of his antics during the World Cup. The fact that any scorn is reserved for people other than Raymond Domenech is very bemusing. Regardless, Patty was up for the match.

Fletcher: 6.5: Required, but not especially effective.

Carrick: 6: Also required, if only because United don't have a better player in their squad for the role. Unambitious. Should be sold in the summer if there's any justice in the world.

Gibson: 5: Had one or two good ideas. Unfortunately, that's not enough in 70 minutes of the most meaningful football you'll play. Slow. Unimaginative. Second-rate.

Nani: 6: Lively in the first half. Always seems to wait too long to pass. Decision-making askew, but everyone knows that by now.

Rooney: 5: Did bugger-all. Ineffective on the left side, duh. Just pass the ball with your left foot once; just once. Should be weened into a central-attacking midfielder really, but now is not the time.

Berbatov: 5.5: Better in the first half. Lost focus in the second. Held onto the ball importantly, at times, but never really got his swagger. Won some defensive headers.

I apologize to Marseille fans. I was watching a foreign feed and couldn't get a grasp on who was who in blue. It's amatuerish to post only player ratings for one team. Feel free to flame me.

Post-match pundits said it was a good result for United. I think they're on crack. Ferguson admits disappointment in post-match interview. Intimates wishing they'd scored one. Maybe next time he'll start his only creative center-midfielder if he wants to get a goal. He also should have introduced Hernandez late.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vacant United survice creepy Crawley as Marseille awaits

Oddly, the losing fans probably had more fun at Old Trafford than Manchester United's multi-national supporters.

Crawley Town gave an audacious account for themselves, losing 1-0 but leaving the Theater of Dreams with their pride, a million quid, and a distinct moral advantage over the Premier League giants intact.

United's starting eleven consisted largely of names usually reserved for the substitutes bench.

Their best player was the goalkeeper. Anders Lindegaard punted and distributed very well in maintaining his first clean sheet under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Each da Silva twin marauded up and down the wing, both bungling and brilliantly executing tackles and passes in equal measure. Each suffered what seemed minor injuries and were eventually substituted. Both are improving, both are useful.

John O'Shea and Wes Brown comprised a nostalgic centerbackline and at least did more for their respective reputations than any midfielder or attacker.

Darron Gibson refreshingly showed some incisive through balls—the same type Michael Carrick used to play whenever he was worth a damn. Otherwise he was slow, passed over-simply, and disappeared in the second half. They each did.

As inferred, Carrick laid back and played one-time passes backwards while Anderson was virtually anonymous until leaving at halftime.

Gabriel Obertan and Bebe both displayed speed and dribbling panache at times, but unfortunately each also showcased a regrettable unfamiliarity with passing, in larger quantities and to greater impact.

Ultimately United were attacking Crawley Town like they attack most Premiership sides, at least when Scholes is off the pitch: from the outside-in, with wingers hoofing in hopeful crosses. Bloody hell, we're not Liverpool.

It was good enough, though, for a single goal, Gibson rising above an inherent not-belonging to cross nicely onto Brown's head after a half-hour or so.

A direct approach would have seemed more intuitive but credit to the minnows for deterring any attractive football through the middle, even if it was more from the detriment of the attending United players.

Javier Hernandez again implied that's he's more useful off the bench, and why not when his righteous speed is that more surprising to defenders already tired. His through runs strive on service which was scarcely provided by his teammates poor passing. Hernadez's inherent attributes still need to be complemented by improving skills which are sure to come based on his eager displays this term.

Wayne Rooney was given a 45-minute run-out at halftime. He quickly proceeded to prove that he was indeed not "back" in form—shocking, isn't it? About as shocking as the last ten times the echo chamber hoped him so.

He lacked confidence with several poor passing decisions and had an increasingly-present heavy touch. A few driven long-balls added requisite gloss to an otherwise mediocre 45 minutes. Also required was an inevitable tantrum and rash tackle after giving the ball away three times in thirty seconds against non-leaguers as the tie ebbed out.

According to all the adverts, the FA Cup has an inherent magic to it, and if it does, it's reserved to the smaller sides like Crawley Town for doing their small supporter base proud, enriching their club's finances
significantly.and proudly displaying their badge to television audiences around the world despite losing.

They weren't fortunate most of the players in red shirts played poorly because their own good play certainly contributed at least in part to United's midfield malaise.

It shouldn't really matter how well Crawley played, at least not to United; any millionaire eleven they trot out—at home—should crush a non-league side.

But the ends justify their means. The Reds will travel to Marseilles midweek in the inaugural knockout leg of their 2011 Champions League campaign rested and focused.

Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes, Nani, Ryan Giggs, and Patrice Evra should all start and start sprightly on French soil next Wednesday.

As such, Manchester United won't be bothered by any romance lost domestically.

An in-form Marseilles await their arrival in a much more lucrative and prestigious competition—one with even more manufactured romance and far more real consequence for the billion-dollar superclub.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Manchester derby: Player ratings and recap

On Saturday morning at Old Trafford, Manchester United held off their local rivals 2-1 thanks to a cracking overhead finish from an otherwise off-form Wayne Rooney.

City enjoyed possession and were successful going forward throughout, but the Red side had enough luck with Rooney's unlikely finish to nick all three points.

Manchester United

Van der Sar: 6.5. City were the better offensive side but of their 14 shots, only three were on target.

O'Shea: 6.5. Big John has a penchant for hoofing vertical balls over the top that inevitably become turnovers, but today he was defensively stout.

Smalling: 7.5. Too much was expected of him, but he delivered. Very mature next to Vidic.

Vidic: 8.5. Gobbled up balls everywhere. Imperious in the air, brute and intuitive with interceptions.

Evra: 6.5. Competed well against the stronger Richards, but didn't do much going forward. Inevitably skinned by Wright-Phillips a few times; bailed out by Vidic throughout.

Nani: 7. His maturation has been required this season since Antonio Valencia went out with a long-term leg-break. Today the MJ-lookalike had a great first touch going over-the-top for the goal and finished it smartly enough. Otherwise, he frustratingly careened many shots over the goal after (to his credit) creating enough space to attempt them. A proclivity for poor passing still mars his game, but his emergence into an elite winger this season can't be undervalued.

Fletcher: 7.5. Despite being a slight lad, the Scotsman takes a physical approach to the game and throws his weight around. Anyone playing next to Scholes has to do as much. Who would have thought five years ago that Fletcher could end up being more useful to United over his career than Roy Keane? The former has assumed the same role, to be sure, and may just prove as important. Ironically the tirade which led to Keane leaving the club included rants about Fletcher (and others) but to be fair to both, the Scotsman was a much worse player then.

Scholes: 7. Turned the ball over three times under no pressure, but otherwise his creativity was and is absolutely necessary for United going forward. The little Salford playmaker sprayed balls around willy-nilly today and ticked his side going forward with experience and moxie. No one else on the team can pass and create play like Scholes. His legs have one more season in them, but his heart may not.

Anderson: 6. His speed and athleticism are real virtues. Sadly, his actual footballing ability pales in comparison to those other two attributes so far in his young career.

Giggs: 7. Definitely had some bemusing passes gone wrong today. Also was sometimes cast aside like a child by far more physically robust players in blue.  The Welshman though is the best option on the left side until Valencia returns. Whether that's a credit to him or an indictment of United's depth is a fair debate. Giggs' experience helped as the game wore down Saturday.

Rooney: 7.5. Failed to do much from open play. Always eager to put the ball on his right foot whenever he shoots, and therefore doesn't get many clean strikes off. He was definitely up for the game, though, and showed good engine throughout. You see lesser players score similar highlight-reel goals every week, but Rooney's cracking overhead finish not only won the derby but also likely ended their most-storied rivals' hopes of the league altogether. Context is important. Rooney hasn't had two good games on the trot all season—we'll have to wait for the Red's next match to see if that trend continues.

Manchester City

Hart: 6. Could have conceivably saved Nani's first effort, alas. Rooney's goal was unstoppable. United had only three other shots on target and they were tame.

Zabaleta: 5.5. Destined to be sold and replaced.

Lescott: 7. Strong and athletic.

Kompany: 7.5. Stronger, more athletic. The nucleus of City's backline and a good footballer.

Richards: 7.5. Even stronger, even more athletic. Caused a lot of problems for United's left side.

Barry: 7. Very involved throughout as City generally outpassed their rivals in the center of the pitch. His disinclination to attempt anything outlandish can be a blessing or a curse.

Milner: 6.5. Slightly muted display, but direct, quick and strong enough to still show up in spurts.

Toure: 8. Uses his body very well to shield the ball. Uses both feet to dribble and pass. Puts emphasis and care on the shape of his passes. Plays simple one-timers with ease to create triangles around his opponents. Classy.

Silva: 7.5. Nicknamed "Quicksilva", supposedly, but I don't think he's that quick. He's got a great left foot, dribbles well, and was sure to be influential throughout the first sixty minutes. Later it looked like he tired out somewhat. He didn't know much about the goal; claimed it though, and technically deserved it.

Kolarov: 5: Largely ineffective.

Tevez: 5.5: Ran around a lot but was rarely dangerous.

I'd have to say City were the better side, but United were the better finishers. Follow me on twitter if you're really, really bored.