By Manish Pandey.
Well, without doubt, both visually and statistically, this has been Manchester United’s worst start ever, to a Premier League campaign.
22 points after 14 games, averaging 1.57 points per game; 12 points behind the leaders Arsenal, these are hard times for a Manchester United fan. They score 1.57 goals per game and concede 1.3 goals per game. Usually, it’s hard to use statistics as a ‘certus’ way of seeing something in football; in this case, it is telling of United’s shambolic start to the season.
The change was always going to be hard. It is rumoured that even Pep Guardiola found the task of following Sir Alex Ferguson hard, supposedly describing the job as “too big”. The departure of David Gill has also caused more choppy waters for Manchester United’s ship now led by David Moyes. Yet, is this an excuse for the way United have performed this season?
Performance wise in the league, United have only really been dominant against Swansea, Sunderland and the first half against Fulham. They had a very disciplined performance against Arsenal, but all in all, they have been poor. The ‘soft-centre’ of the team; the midfield and defence has been sliced through numerous times.
The senior players in particular have been poor. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Nani and to a lesser extent, Robin van Persie have not shown the same intensity levels. They seem to be coasting and cruising as if they have nothing to prove. Wrong. You have plenty to prove, you are playing for Manchester United.
It is seeming more and more likely, that the last 2 title wins for United, were more down to Sir Alex Ferguson than anybody else. His ability to motivate is unparalleled; he made players play to a high level for him. The Manchester United team left behind by Ferguson seems old, with a sense of stagnation. Seemingly, there is a lack of class throughout this team.
The last few years under Ferguson, standards have dropped. Second rate players such as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, have been bought to play in the first team. The way of playing football under Ferguson in the last few years bordered on more effective than attractive. Very rarely did we see the full blown, blitz speed of attack by United. Without doubt, it was, and is, a team in decline.
These problems are problems which David Moyes tried to solve in the summer, but ultimately failed. Though it is early days into the Moyes reign, there is a lack of identity of how to play. Similar to the last few years, United’s attacks are based on individual players conjuring something, rather than a team way of attacking. Manchester United are very functional and easy to play against currently.
By no means is David Moyes absolved of blame. His pandering to the demands of Wayne Rooney have had both positive and negative effects. Rooney’s form has been nothing short of incredible; yet the team seems worse off. With Rooney declaring he no longer wants to play as the third midfielder withdrawn as a second striker, United are effectively playing 4-4-2. Overrun in midfield and a lack of creativity makes it seem as though this team belongs in Jurassic Park.
Moyes has also failed to settle on a defensive partnership at centre back. Ferdinand and Vidic seem closer to ‘Father-Time’ than they do playing as centre back for Manchester United. Chris Smalling has played very well in that position, yet he cannot seem to nail a place down. There are also rumours that the strong and more intensive training sessions by Moyes have led to several of the players feeling bereft of energy for the games.
Moyes should be given time, without a doubt.
The sad fact is though, Manchester United’s struggles will continue because of a lack of class, intensity and identity within the team. That needs fixing.
Looking across in North London, however, you see an Arsenal team full of confidence, class and renewed vigour. Arsene Wenger looks 10 years younger and that is all down to the effect of Mesut Ozil.
He has been somewhat subdued recently in his performance levels, but has managed to conjure assists nonetheless. His presence has taken Arsenal to a new level, one where weaknesses seem few and far between. They have conceded no goals in the league since 19th October whilst Per Mertesacker has been on the pitch. They average 2.07 goals per game and concede 0.7 goals per game. Without doubt, they are defensively solid and fruitful going forward.
There is no better midfield in the league than Flamini-Arteta-Ozil-Cazorla– Ramsey-Wilshere/Rosicky. Olivier Giroud has come into his own, being that big physical presence up front. Aaron Ramsey has been the star of Arsenal’s season. 8 goals and 5 assists this season, combined with his defensive work-rate makes him a potent weapon for Arsenal.
The key thing which makes Arsenal a major force, title contenders; is the form they have. Momentum in football is key. Once you know how to win, you are able to eek results out of nothing. Arsenal have that winners mentality this season. They carry such confidence and swagger in matches, it is hard to see them getting beaten.
Before, Arsenal always played the best football with little end product. Now, Arsenal play the best football with excellent end product.
A quick thought on England’s World Cup draw:
Without doubt, England have got a stinker of a group. They are effectively drawn with 2 Number 1 seeds in Uruguay and Italy.
Even before the draw, England’s manager had already been vilified by the mayor of Manaus, who announced on Thursday, “We hope to get a better team and a coach who is more sensible and polite”, after Hodgson, who has never been to the Amazon had voiced some rather mild concerns about the 80% humidity (it’s actually 99%).
“I’m still very optimistic about the whole affair,” Hodgson said shortly after the draw had been made, having that same gloomy face of foreboding.
Greg Dyke’s ‘slit throat’ mime to Hodgson after the draw was announced perhaps showed how much hope England actually have. Not much hope. Be prepared to see an image of Wayne Rooney huffing and puffing, drenched in sweat in Manaus.
England at best, will reach the last 16; but make no bones about it, they will struggle to even climb out of the group stages.
RIP Nelson Mandela.
You knew it was around the corner, yet it still produced that numbing yet emotional feeling inside. He is the greatest man of the 20th Century and beyond.
Very few changed the thoughts of a nation and world like he did. Madiba epitomised greatness. The best way to honour Mandela’s memory would be to research him and understand what he was about and why he was so special.
We will never know how he survived the torture that oppressors caused him; but more importantly how he forgave them all is something we can all learn.
Mandela was also a rather amusing man, when asked what his greatest moment was, he replied, “meeting the Spice Girls.”
A little known thing about Mandela is that one of his role models was in fact a footballer. This is something football must never forget.
It was the World Cup Final in 2010, Mandela’s last ever public appearance.
He was at the planet’s most prestigious sporting event in a town best known for its long, desperate, bloody struggle against the vilest brand of inhumanity.
An entire nation gushed with affecting and was swollen with pride, among them Lucas Radebe, a native of Soweto, who survived a bullet that pierced his back and exited his left leg to go on and become a Premier League and international footballer.
It was during his time at Leeds United that Radebe turned up at a ceremony to mark Mandela being given the freedom of the city of Leeds.
Mandela turned to his company of dignitaries. “This,” he said, opening and flattening his palm towards Radebe, “is my hero.”
“I felt I could burst,” said Radebe. “Me? A hero to HIM?”
The two struck up what Radebe calls a “special relationship”.
Mandela helped Radebe cope with heart problems and the tragic passing of his wife Fez. He championed Radebe’s countless charitable efforts and even gave the national team pep talks ahead of significant matches. Radebe’s story clearly touched Mandela, who had always been familiar with the power and symbolism of sport.
Perhaps, in a sporting light, it is the story of South Afrcia’s triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup which is most beautiful. Mandela wearing the number of Francois Pienaar. The triumph united a population behind which was once an athletic symbol of white supremacy; the triumph solidified his ideals for the ‘Rainbow Nation’.
Football is a game for Mandela’s people. It has the power to change lives, increase happiness and unite people of all backgrounds. This MUST be remembered. South Africa 2010 triumphed despite the avarice from FIFA and the ego-maniac, Sepp Blatter.
Mandela is often described as the most influential figure of the 20th Century. If a footballer like Radebe can inspire such a great man, it shows football has a place and a significance in life.