Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Moyes has no answers.

When I sat down to write this piece, I started to think to myself 'why bother'? And then it struck me that was the very point.

The fact that United being trounced in the local derby to ensure their worst ever Premiership points total, the fact that everyone expected City to win comfortably at their neighbours, that those facts didn't seem worth writing about meant just how far United have fallen.

I fully expect United to recover to some degree next season but the question more and more seems to be whether it will be with Davie Moyes at the helm.

United handed him a six year contract, patience and transition were the watch words, Ferguson had a very sticky start remember and look what happened next.

I myself am a trader by profession and in any market you are always taught to 'buy the dip' but when the dip comes so your confidence waivers and you have to remind yourself of your reasoning before that dip came.

United are not so much in a dip but in an almighty trough. The board and to a large degree the fans have preached patience and belief in their new manager, he is (or was) after all 'the chosen one'.

Moyes however is cutting an increasingly forlorn and isolated figure on the United bench, providing an essay in paralysis of both thought and action.

Some of his expressions are reminiscent of the footage of George Bush sat blankly staring into space in a school classroom having just being informed of the tragic 9/11 attacks.

Now whilst not wishing to link the two events in shape or form, what does appear similar is the portrait of a person in power with apparently no idea of what to do next.

A badly ageing Paul Scholes aside, this is the same group of players that won the title at a canter last year with the addition of Marauane Fellaini and now Juan Mata at a combined cost of 64M.

Add to that the availability of Wilfred Zaha purchased by Ferguson for 10M and the emergence of Januzaj who Moyes has trumpeted from the rooftops and handed a hefty contract to.

If you assume Januzaj to be worth somewhere in the region of 25M, that's around 100M of talent added to last year's squad already (in very simplified terms).

Now Moyes it could be said didn't ask for Zaha but he's generally considered a fine young wide player. Januzaj he must take some credit for developing but Mata and Fellaini have been dire.

Moyes it seems wishes to persist with playing with wingers yet out and out wingers like Nani and Valencia do not feature and Zaha has been loaned out.

Whilst at Chelsea, Mata was never the most spectacular of players but he was devilishly effective with assists and goals in vast numbers.

At United he looks like a journeyman pro with game after game passing him by.

Against West Ham at the weekend he did look much better playing in a central role, hardly rocket science we hear you shout. Moyes responded by moving him out wide again for the derby.

For United, other than wounded pride it does not really matter where they finish this season if it is not in the top four.

Missing out on the poisoned chalice of the Europa League may prove a boon in any case - just ask Liverpool and Newcastle before them.

United are far too big an institution to not be able to absorb one poor season, players will always want to play for a club of their stature.

What could become problematic is if the missing of Champions League football extends beyond one season and just as importantly that the winning mentality is lost from the club. The Glazers and their loans cannot tolerate an extended period out of Europe's premier competition.

Much of Ferguson's achievements were built around an aura of relentless invincibility that he carved out for the club. This season, several clubs have broken long periods of failure against the Reds with Old Trafford quickly becoming the Theatre of Nightmares.

I honestly don't know whether Moyes should be retained this Summer. Whilst everyone expected a dip, one would have expected that dip to take a 'U' shape with the shoots of recovery starting to form as the season wore on, instead we seem to have an 'L' shape to United's season.

Ferguson and the United board clearly believed that replacing one tough Glaswegian for another was the best way to ensure continuity and if given time they may well be proven right.

The similarities right now however look restricted to only superficial ones such as the paint stripping glares that they offer journalists when required.

Initially I was a big believer in what United had done in appointing Moyes and as a Chelsea fan had my own reservations about rehiring the short termist Mourinho who although someone I idolise, wasn't someone I was convinced should be coming back (no matter how much I wanted it to happen.....).

It is very easy in hindsight to say that United should have chosen Mourinho and it is hard to imagine that things would be anything like as bad as they are right now had they gone with the Portugeezer, but United clearly had a longer term end game.

So is this just the short term pain?

I find myself entirely torn now as to what I think United should do. The derby showed the first real signs of the fans beginning to turn against the manager and what United decide to do with the managers' position between now and next August will be far more important than what they do in the transfer market.

The natives are starting to get restless and there can be no room for error - No Nonsense.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wenger tarnishes his legacy.

Once upon a time, Wenger bashing was born out of a grudging admiration at his hugely effective methods and wonderful use of the French transfer market during the first decade of his Arsenal reign.

In time however it became more fashionable as Arsenal's standards dropped after the break up of 'Les Invincibles'.

Previously little known signings had often been masterstrokes but too many Pascual Cygans and Marouane Chamakhs rather than Patrick Vieiras and Robert Pires belied a man whose methods everyone else had caught up.

Nowadays, Wenger bashing almost feels like a cheap shot. A man who has clearly done extraordinary things in management has over the course of 1,000 games in charge of Arsenal become so intransigent that he cannot see things that amateur arm chair pundits such as myself can see so clearly.

Saturday's capitulation to Chelsea was not a one off. Arsenal have shipped goals to both Liverpool and Man City also this season with an aggregate score of 17-4 away from home to those three.

Score-lines such as the 8-2 at Old Trafford in previous seasons could be put down as a one off but there is a wider pattern that has emerged.

Thousands of column inches have been written about Arsenal's soft centre, the lack of strength, belief and fight. It is obvious to everyone except it seems Monsieur Wenger.

Wenger will no doubt point to Barcelona's success as an example of slick football and brains outplaying brawn. But for every Iniesta, Messi and Pedro, there was also a Busquets, Puyol and Mascherano. Barca are an incredibly streetwise team who can mix it with anyone.

Wenger showed up at Stamford Bridge yesterday to face Jose Mourinho, a coach he has never beaten. Arsenal have been shorn of many gifted players lately but his decision to start in central midfield with Oxlaide Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta is typical of Wenger's stubbornness.

Chelsea are a formidable attacking unit. Their attacking play filtered through the likes of Oscar and Hazard has been tough to resist at times.

I would guess that I would find it hard to find too many people who would have thought that playing Mathieu Flamini would not have been a good idea. Flamini after all was credited by many for much of Arsenal's early season success.

As mentioned before, it is not necessarily Wenger's fault that he is shorn of Ozil, Walcott, Wilshire and Ramsey, any team would miss four players of that calibre.

The reality is however that these four players represent and symbolise everything that is Arsenal's character. Pretty to watch, hugely talented when they're on form but physically frail and hugely unreliable and often even unavailable.

The earlier Barcelona reference indicates that Wenger always persists with attacking football and always will do. Whilst he remains so unchecked at the Emirates, that will always be his prerogative.

Looking at the line ups though, seeing a Chelsea team with Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luiz and Matic, it is obvious that there is a huge physical disparity on show.

Flamini may not have stemmed the tide single handed but he would certainly have helped avoid such a disastrous first ten minutes.

It wasn't always so. In the past Wenger had many physically imposing players. Sol Campbell, Jens Lehmann, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit were all strong players and presences.

The likes of Dennis Bergkamp was not afraid to mix it and the likes of Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord were both wonderful athletes to match their footballing skills.

Much in the way that many of Sir Alex Ferguson's replacements increasingly became sub standard, Wenger's transfer policy is much to blame. Wenger rarely deviates from a formula when looking for a player, there is no blend to speak of in the team.

Mesut Ozil was seen as a masterstroke and whilst he is a very fine player and seemed to inspire those around him at the beginning, any seasoned Real Madrid watcher would tell you that he struggled physically over an entire season. Another frail player was not what Arsenal needed.

Despite all the criticism, Arsenal have stayed in touch in the title race this season which is almost more galling if you are a Gunners fan.

Whilst I've written that Wenger is not to blame for the injuries per se, he is to blame for not signing players in January to help the title push by bolstering the squad.

One wonders how Arsenal might be looking had they stepped up and signed Nemanda Matic for instance in January.

No one is suggesting that Arsenal should abandon their attacking principles but a good football team is about balance. Defending is just as great a skill as attacking.

Brendan Rogers as an example has evolved both himself and his Liverpool team to turn them into a far more potent threat. Initially Rodgers last season too had an obsession with possession and over elaboration.

Liverpool's play whilst still attractive has at many times this season been far more direct and as a result they are having a far better season and look the genuine title contenders that Arsenal are not.

It is not quite reminiscent of Brian Clough's last years at Nottingham Forest but Mourinho's 'specialist in failure' comment looks highly accurate right now. Come February and March, Arsenal simply capitulate against the real contenders for the prizes.

Arsenal will probably go on to win the FA Cup this season but that will do little to paper over the yawning cracks in Wenger's team and philosophy.

Chelsea and City will no doubt strengthen this Summer and it is safe to assume that Liverpool will kick on from their breakthrough season. It is also tough to believe that Manchester United will be anywhere close to as poor again next season.

That will it seems leave Arsenal scrabbling around in a fight for fourth place yet again. Qualifying year after year for the Champions League is an achievement of course but it is becoming an increasingly mediocre yardstick with which to judge Monsieur Wenger - No Nonsense.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Premiership - The Title Race is on

Chelsea's defeat at Aston Villa - Mourinho has never won at Villa Park - on Saturday lit the blue touch paper for the teams in red on Sunday still harbouring title aspirations.

Prior to this weekend, talk was focused mainly on whether City could overhaul Chelsea but such was the performance of Liverpool in particular that it is not just the ex Liverpool player pundits that are now believing they can lift their first title in nearly quarter of a century.

Of the top four teams with everyone fit, Liverpool's squad probably looks a level below the others but it matters not a jot when you have a front line firing like theirs is.

Belief is huge within the team and as dire as United were yesterday, this was a Liverpool we have not seen for some time and huge credit must go to Brendan Rodgers.

United ironically themselves proved last season that a centre forward in the form of his life could drag his team to the title with a reasonably mediocre support cast.

Luis Suarez has seen several of his teammates - Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling are just two -
inspired to new heights this season whilst Steven Gerrard appears to have adapted superbly to his new deeper role.

Questions can still be asked of Liverpool's overall quality but points on the board say it all and there is no doubt that their players are also benefiting hugely from being so relatively fresh given their early exits from both cup competitions and no European football.

Whilst their squad may not be equipped therefore to cope on multiple fronts, it does appear to be supremely equipped to focus on the one that is the Premiership this season.

Liverpool will no doubt be feeling now that should they win their two home games against City and Chelsea then the title could well be theirs.

Chelsea were the only casualty of the top four this weekend with a painful loss at Villa Park. Jose Mourinho has done much to tighten Chelsea at the back but the lack of goals from a central striker may finally be beginning to bite.

Spurs handed all four goals to Chelsea last week but with Oscar looking jaded, no reliable 'No9' option and Frank Lampard no longer a weekly goal machine, much of the burden is falling on Eden Hazard.

Chelsea remain in a good position and Mourinho may still yet be the trump card but two sending offs against Villa will not aid the Blues' cause either. Three points at home to Arsenal are now a must.

City enjoyed a regulation win against Hull City and will expect three points at home to Fulham before trying to hammer further nails into Davie Moyes' waiting coffin at the weekend before travelling to the Emirates.

How City cope with these huge away days - they also have to go to Anfield - will dictate whether they can go on an win the title.

Arsenal it still feels are the longest shot of the four given their tendency to fold in the big games. They remain extremely good at beating Spurs, should win the FA Cup and should also see this season as some kind of progress, the title may be a step too far however.

Right now, Liverpool have their tails up, City will be aiming to regain the type of relentless form they showed earlier this season, Mourinho must have Chelsea regroup quickly and Wenger will look to build on the success at White Hart Lane.

All four sets of fans can harbour realistic title ambitions right now and whilst the Premiership may be down on overall quality right now, it is certainly not down on the excitement level - No Nonsense.