Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Di Maria poses tactical questions for Van Gaal

Angel Di Maria has become Manchester United's and Britain's most expensive player when signing for the Reds for just under 60M.

Di Maria is undoubtedly a fine player of huge pedigree and talent. Some may suggest that 60M does not offer value but in the context of Suarez and Bale it's arguable that he does. You could also argue he makes Fabregas at 30M look rather cheap.

Of course the value of a player cannot be taken in such splendid isolation such are the associated commercial benefits and of course the relative position of any given club.

Given United's absence from the Champions League and their poor start to the season, could they have afforded NOT to buy him?

Real Madrid may feel they have traded up with the acquisition earlier this Summer of James Rodriguez and the bargain acquisition of Toni Kroos but Di Maria's stats at Real show they are losing a player of sublime quality and influence.

For the second year in a row, Real are selling their number one assist provider. In that respect their loss is most certainly United's gain, but the big question is how does he fit into the current United team?

Van Gaal has decreed that United will play 3-4-3 for the foreseeable with the acquisition of Di Maria's international team mate Marcos Rojo presumably seen as aiding that purpose.

The 3-4-3 however has been tweaked into a 3-4-1-2 to accommodate a front three of Mata, Rooney and RVP who all crave to play centrally. Fitting Di Maria into that equation prompts several questions.

It is not entirely simple to bracket Di Maria as a player. He nominally looks best equipped as a wide attacking player with his rangy, mazy dribbling skills.

Steve McMananaman was a similar (at least aesthetically) type of player for Madrid who adapted to a more central role. Neither player however would thrive in the deeper lying central midfield role which a 3-4-3 dictates.

That leaves Van Gaal with two further options for Di Maria. The first would be as a wing back which would appear folly on two levels.

Di Maria does not look equipped for the defensive burden of that position and in turn that role would take away from the wonderful attacking intent that he possesses. He is an attacking provider and should be used as such.

The position most likely under scrutiny then must become that of Juan Mata if the three at the back system is to be persisted with (and it would prove quite a climbdown for Van Gaal to abandon it so quickly).

Di Maria offers a more energetic type of scheming to Mata with his far greater athleticism. An advanced central position may work for Di Maria and offer more energy in attack for United.

The other option is to play a 3-4-3 with Di Maria in a wide role. This presumably means that one of Rooney, Van Persie and Mata have to be played out of position with one other left disappointed on the bench.

Rooney has looked keen to fit in with Van Gaal's plans and he would undoubtedly provide honest endeavour in a wider role but it does not suit his talent best.

It also entirely marginalises Juan Mata who it must be remembered was bought for North of 40M only eight months ago.

Having just despatched a cheque for 60M, Van Gaal will of course be expected to play Di Maria from the outset and with only league football until the FA Cup arrives in January there will be little desire or need for rotation.

Di Maria would be an excellent addition to any squad such is his quality but Van Gaal's statement of playing three at the back means fitting him into the side effectively is tricky.

A 4-2-3-1 would accommodate both Mata and Di Maria but again would marginalise either RVP or Rooney. With Rooney being made captain and the need for RVP's goals, Juan Mata is increasingly looking like the odd man out.

RVP's fitness has been suspect for the majority of his career and with his advancing years Van Gaal may not see him as a long term bet. The prospect of Di Maria and Mata buzzing around behind an advanced Rooney possibly makes sense with a 3-4- formation behind them.

Van Gaal is of course renowned for his tactical nous and adaptability. How Di Maria fits in will be fascinating especially given the context of the players around him in the attacking positions and especially if everyone is fit - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Little Nostalgia on offer at White Hart Lane.

It was of little surprise that Spurs despatched QPR at White Hart Lane on Sunday but the relative progress of the two belligerents showed up a growing chasm.

So big was the difference in the two teams that it was tough to spot where the line was between Spurs being good and QPR being awful.

To start with the positives, Spurs look an infinitely better side than they were last season. It is early days and there will be far tougher tests than Sunday but they now look a team with a very distinct identity.

Last season it was hard to ascertain whether the numerous players they had signed to replace the Madrid bound Gareth Bale were actually any good. Trying to figure out their best eleven was nigh on impossible and proved to be too difficult for both AVB and Tim Sherwood.

Mauricio Pochettino has mainly kept his powder dry since his arrival at White Hart Lane. Spurs already had a squad burgeoning in numbers but with little cohesion. Vast new numbers of players was not the answer.

Spurs on Sunday looked a team with energy and purpose completely aware of their roles in the side. It was hard to judge the defence with any real certainty given the paucity of attacking from QPR but the pair of Bentaleb and Capoue bristled with intent in the holding midfield positions.

They offered the platform for both Spurs' attacking full backs and the attack minded triumvirate of Eriksen, Lamela and Chadli.

Presumably far more than just a hunch persuaded Spurs to part with over 25M for Erik Lamela last Summer. His first season was of course an unmitigated disaster but his performance against QPR offered many clues as to the undoubted talent that he clearly possesses.

At 22 years of age and with a countryman for a manager, he may well yet prove to be a very good Spurs player.

Of all Spurs' signings last year, Christian Eriksen looked the best and again on Sunday he looked a midfield schemer supreme and the 11M that Spurs spent on him looks an absolute steal.

Whether Lamela and Eriksen can impose themselves in such a manner away from home and against better sides remains to be seen but with a rejuvenated (and interested) Emmanuel Adebayor up front also they should have too much fire power for most Premiership teams.

Adebayor looks a far more potent goal threat than the toiling Roberto Soldado who has only two Premiership goals from open play to his name.

For Spurs, real progress in the league will be tough as the top four ceiling is made of very thick glass and over the duration of a season, Arsenal still hold a huge psychological advantage over their North London neighbours.

But Pochettino has so far made a hugely positive start to his tenure at White Hart Lane and one must hope that Daniel Levy gives the highly talented coach the time to truly leave his mark on the club.

Harry Redknapp enjoys wonderful press in the UK, he has cultivated a relationship and status with the red tops that only Terry Venables in recent times could rival.

4 Premiership wins from 27 in his time at QPR tells another story of his latest stewardship however.

QPR were entirely dreadful on Sunday bereft of shape, energy and pace. Neither their central midfield nor their creaking backline looked capable of coping with Premiership football.

What is also less than clear is who exactly is calling the shots at QPR. The other Spurs managerial alumni Glenn Hoddle cast a very long shadow over Redknapp from his seat in the directors' box on Sunday.

The three at the back system was widely mooted upon Hoddle's arrival at Loftus Road but a trio of Caulker and the badly ageing pair of Ferdinand and Dunne hardly look equipped to deal with the quality that the likes of Spurs possess.

Richard Dunne in particular looked horribly out of position on the left side of the back three, a natural right footed player, he was left badly exposed as Nacer Chadli stole in for the opener.

Presumably Redknapp resumed the reigns at half time as QPR reverted to a back four, of course by that time the hoops were already dead and buried.

Joey Barton remains a class act for all his antics but he was offered little support by either Mutch or Fer in a midfield simply unable to cope with Spurs' high press and energy.

Mutch, Caulker and Fer were three of QPR's Summer signings. It is worth noting that all three were relegated from the Premiership last season and on this evidence, all three may become serial offenders.

Loic Remy has been the subject of much transfer talk and he must indeed be wondering what exactly the point is in his role at QPR given the lack of service he receives.

What is so galling for QPR fans is that they have apparently learned nothing from their previous Premiership stay under the ownership of Tony Fernandes.

Mr Fernandes is presumably an intelligent man given the wealth he has accumulated but his acumen at running sports teams (take a look at Caterham F1's recent history) belies a man possibly out of his depth and possibly without the financial resources required to succeed in the glamorous worlds he so craves.

The transfer window has not yet shut but QPR look a long way from being anything else other than in deep relegation trouble again this season. The situation between Hoddle and Redknapp is also one that could cloud matters further.

For Spurs however, whilst there have been many false dawns, their squad suddenly looks far more balanced - more quality at centre back wouldn't go amiss however - and in Pochettino they look to have a class act in charge.

Southampton ran out of steam last season pursuing Pochettino's high energy pressing game, Spurs have far more depth to their squad and should last the course.

It could be a bright season at the Lane, less so Westward at Loftus Road - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

When football fans fall in love...........

Yes I know, Frank Lampard left Chelsea on good terms and after many years of incredible service.

Yes I know I had plenty of forewarning he was leaving to join another club and he said goodbye in the most wonderful of ways praising the fans to the highest.

But I didn't know he was going to Manchester City.

And again, yes I know it's only on a few months loan and then he'll be off to his real destination in New York for a fistful of dollars.

But there's a nagging doubt that has now appeared. If he's scored ten goals by Christmas, for a few dollars (ok pounds.....) more could Abu Dhabi extend his 'loan' to City and before I know it he's a fully fledged City player?

OK, the second part hasn't happened yet and probably won't but terrible thoughts pop into your head when a legend from your club joins a rival team, even if he is now 36 and has surely earned the right for one last big payday.

And of course he has earned that right, but only of course in circumstances of my choosing.

Manchester City are not even a historical rival of Chelsea. Before the money came along, they were both clubs with histories marked with brief glories, relegations and long periods of mediocrity. Chelsea always had a swagger but both were only really united in their hatred of well, United.

Both clubs have of course morphed dramatically with new ownership and new rivalries have been formed.

Chelsea's traditional rivals, Spurs and West Ham have been supplemented by new hostilities with Liverpool (think Champions League and Benitez and Mourinho) and an increasing one with United due to now common footballing targets.

So why should I care that Super Frank is joining City?

Well of course it's because I don't see much else other than the domestic league that my club plays in as really worth caring about. Sure the ultimate prize is the Champions League but if Lampard had joined Bayern or Real or AC Milan, I'd have wished him well.

'Look at our boy off to rubber stamp his career with one last swansong at one of the great clubs of Europe, says everything about him and us'. Job done.

Off to join Arsenal or Liverpool however? I'd have gone bonkers.

And the New York Red Bulls?

For the average Premiership fan who cares little for 'soccer' across the pond it's like something you read in the Hollywood gossip magazines (they belong to my wife, honest.....).

It is nothing more than a passing fancy, something to titillate and amuse over your morning coffee. We care little for the USA's obvious progress at the World Cup, we are far too parochial and self important for that.

If he'd gone to Melbourne I'd have cheered, here would be another shot in the arm for the A League, linking up with David Villa and bringing an already promising product closer to the boil. Three cheers for Lamps doing his bit for global football.

But joining City?

This is of course highly petty and all a bit silly. This is far from Luis Figo defecting from Barca to arch rivals Real at the peak of his career, a defection so heinous it still resonates loudly in Catalonia.

Lampard is mainly past it, City aren't even a proper rival in the truest sense, if we've 'got no history' then surely they're even worse!? But there is the rub.

Figo's defection was a simple one, you burned your no7 shirt, ripped the poster from your sons' bedroom wall and if you got really bent out of shape about it, turned up at the Nou Camp and threw a pig's head at the bloke. Simple stuff, he was dead to you.

But what do I do about Super Frank?

Many Chelsea fans have taken to Twitter and Facebook to vent their ire, calling him a traitor, wheeling out all the expected clich├ęs and names.

Supporters from all clubs would do the same even if in this case it's a huge overreaction. We are human after all and we are hurt by these infidelities.

Fabregas has been castigated by Arsenal fans despite Wenger not wanting him back, the detail and facts matter little in these cases.

Except I can't do that with Frank. To do so would be to besmirch a memory that is too important to me.

I will simply blot out his indiscretion like so many of his fans and Nike did with Tiger Woods, it simply didn't happen, move on. They are after all similar marital indiscretions, best swept under the carpet.

So Frank, do I wish you well at City?

I'm not sure really, I certainly don't wish you any injury and I hope you are a roaring success at New York.

But I honestly can't say I want it to work out well in Manchester and I desperately hope you find a convenient thigh strain before we play you at the Etihad in September.

People just don't realise how tough it is being a football fan sometimes especially once you've found true love............ No Nonsense.