Category Archives: Football.

Why Manchester United’s struggles will continue and why Arsenal are a major force

The woes of Moyes and Manchester United...All rights are reserved for this image by Daily Mirror ©

The woes of Moyes and Manchester United…All rights are reserved for this image by Daily Mirror ©

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.

Dejection...where is the old class of Manchester United? All rights are reserved for this image by Soccer Lens ©

Dejection…where is the old class of Manchester United? All rights are reserved for this image by Soccer Lens ©

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 new and improved Arsenal...confidence and class galore...All rights are reserved for this image by CNN ©

The new and improved Arsenal…confidence and class galore…All rights are reserved for this image by CNN ©

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.

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A quick thought on England’s World Cup draw:

Still optimistic? All rights are reserved for this image by Clive Mason/Getty Images ©

Still optimistic? All rights are reserved for this image by Clive Mason/Getty Images ©

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.

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RIP Nelson Mandela.

An iconic moment in sport and life...Mandela and Pienaar...All rights are reserved for this image by Britannica ©

An iconic moment in sport and life…Mandela and Pienaar…All rights are reserved for this image by Britannica ©

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.

England qualify…now can we dream?

England qualify...just...All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

England qualify…just…All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

By Manish Pandey.

Well, there we have it. England are going to Brazil. It was never in any doubt was it? It was a very good England performance yesterday against Poland, the best in recent times. The side looked balance, had an attacking verve and some guile in their build up play. It was a joy to watch.

Roy Hodgson made two changes from the win against Montenegro, with Michael Carrick coming in for Frank Lampard and Chris Smalling for Kyle Walker. Immediately, the side looked much more balance, with Carrick keeping as calm as possible in that frantic midfield, keeping errors to a bare minimum.

Andros Townsend, the next gem of English football was once again outstanding. Taking on his man, cutting in, drifting out, and rocketing a shot onto the crossbar. Danny Welbeck, though wasteful in chances, worked hard and linked up play cleverly with the attacking line. His hard work and intelligence is often underplayed. Daniel Sturridge’s movement and threat was always there, though like Welbeck he was very wasteful. Against the better teams, England would be made to pay for those missed chances.

The next big star?...All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

The next big star?…All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

Special praise must be reserved for two of England’s stars and goalscorers. Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard were particularly inspirational. The former put to rest the nerves building up in crowd with a fine header off a magnificent Leighton Baines cross. Gerrard was very disciplined and looked comfortable alongside Carrick, leading the team.

Brilliant header by Wayne Rooney put England ahead...All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

Brilliant header by Wayne Rooney put England ahead…All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

A particular moment of note was Gerrard screaming at Andros Townsend to stay wide and not receive the ball in the central areas. His finish was clever, just as the ball was looking to get away from him, he stretched out and toed the ball past the helpless Wojciech Szczesny.

The defence still needs work. Leighton Baines for all of his attacking brilliance left massive spaces in behind, which against better players would be exploited. Chris Smalling improved as the game wore on, but it was clear that he’s not a right back. Glen Johnson, for me, remains England’s best right back.

Hodgson’s reaction to every Polish attack was “f**k me”. The tension is the England was evident as was the relief. Steven Gerrard’s goal prompted Ray Lewington to run down in a Jose Mourinho fashion. The focus now, however, turns to Brazil.

What players to pick? What system to play? Will everybody be fit? Will the curse of the metatarsal strike once again? Will a bout of smokers cough strike down any players?

England look very comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gerrard and Carrick as the midfield pivot. The attacking four are the fantastic four; Rooney being given the licence to run the game, Welbeck, Townsend and Sturridge providing a potent threat on the counter attack. Youthful exuberance can take you many places.

Captain Fantastic...All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

Captain Fantastic…All rights are reserved for this image by TheFA ©

The Carrick effect is one of marmite. There are many who understand his footballing intelligence, positional awareness and his range of passing. There are also some who believe he does nothing. He is the player England have been needing for so long. A shield in front of the defence who has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game, not be afraid to receive the ball in tight areas because he has the skill to keep the ball.

The composition of England’s 23 man squad will be interesting. 3 Goalkeepers certainly. 7/8 defenders perhaps. 8 midfielders maybe. And the long debate of 4/5 strikers.

Here’s the squad I would pick:

The three goalkeepers would be Joe Hart, Ben Foster and Fraser Forster.

A 7 man defence comprising of; Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Chris Smalling. Unfortunately, there would be no room for Phil Jones; he has yet to nail a position down and is prone to sliding around on the floor. Jagielka in particular has been growing as a player.

An 9 man midfield consisting of; Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Andros Townsend and Theo Walcott.

Perhaps a wildcard pick, one out of Ross Barkley and Ravel Morrison, if the situation allows.

Both Barkley and Morrison have done enough so far, to warrant an interest in the squad. It would also be good experience for them to be around an international setup at a world cup. My personal choice would be Ravel Morrison, who seems to have that spark of making things happen from nothing.

Then a 4 man attacking line of; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe. Each player there offers something unique. Rooney, the best creator and all round player. Welbeck, the hard worker, clever link up individual with a fine goalscoring record for England. Sturridge offers the pace and finish on the counter attack. Defoe has the instinct to always get you a goal.

Whoever England pick, there will always be a concern about fitness. The Premierleague is played at such a pace, and without a winter break, England’s players are usually shattered by the end of the season. Michel Platini summed it up best, “English players are Lions in the autumn, Lambs in the summer.” Lambs for slaughter perhaps.

Hodgson will need to be clever in his preparation. He’ll need to give players sufficient time to rest and recover, but also have them back in training to ensure they are sharp. The famous case is of Euro ’92, when Denmark’s players were sunning themselves on the beach having not qualified. They then received a call that Yugoslavia had been kicked out due to political reasons and ended up playing in the competition. They won it.

The role of Gary Neville will be crucial once the groups are made. His analysis skills are second to none. It’ll be key to exploit any possible weaknesses in the opposition.

The group stages could prove very tricky for England. England are not seeded. So they may encounter a Spain or Germany in the group stages. It’ll be tricky, but England have to face the challenges.

Will England have a happy time in Brazil?...All rights are reserved for this image by the BBC ©

Will England have a happy time in Brazil?…All rights are reserved for this image by the BBC ©

But hey, England have qualified. So let the debates on the luxury levels of England’s training camp begin.

Why the signing of Mesut Ozil papers over the cracks for Arsenal

Mesut Ozil; Arsenal's new star man...All rights reserved for this image by The Daily Mirror  ©

Mesut Ozil; Arsenal’s new star man…All rights reserved for this image by Getty Images ©

By Manish Pandey.

Without doubt, Mesut Ozil is one of the best, if not the best attacking midfielder in the world. He would improve every team and it is bewildering that Real Madrid were so willing to sell him.

For Arsenal, they have needed a marquee signing for many years now. Arsene Wenger has been under huge pressure from fans to spend big and he has finally done so, signing Ozil for a fee of £42.5 million.

But if you looked at Arsenal at the start of the summer, would creative midfield be the area in which they would need the most boost? Especially with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey in midfield.

Many Arsenal fans and football observers, at the start of the summer outlined the need for Arsenal to sign a goalkeeper, centre back, an energetic ball winning defensive midfielder and a striker.

They have signed a goalkeeper, Emiliano Viviano from Palermo on a season long loan, but have not strengthened elsewhere. Yes, Arsenal fans may point out the return of Mathieu Flamini, but would he be the box-to-box ball winner that Arsenal need? Flamini is more suited to sensing danger, playing as a deep lying midfielder.

Arsenal's new goalkeeper...All rights reserved for this image by Arsenal FC ©

Arsenal’s new goalkeeper…All rights reserved for this image by Arsenal FC ©

Arsenal have not had a problem in creating chances, rather keeping goals out at key moments and actually scoring the chances that have been created. The loss of Robin van Persie to rivals Manchester United robbed Arsenal of that focal point in attack and ultimately ended up being decisive in the title race.

In terms of playing football, Arsenal are wonderful to watch. Sadly for them though, they do not have that winners instinct. Arsenal in recent years have become very easy to play against.

An element of predictability exists when facing Arsenal; they will not change the way they play. They’ve become unstuck and overwhelmed against teams who use a more physical approach, or flood the pitch with energy throughout.

Arsenal have an array of intelligent footballers. Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere will change roles to accomodate Ozil’s role behind the front man, with Cazorla presumably shifting out to the left and Wilshere playing as part of the midfield two (if fit).

What they really needed was someone who could step up and lead the team. Arsenal lack leaders.

The best Arsenal teams have been that of 1997-1998 and 2002-2003, with the likes of Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, David Seaman, Ray Parlour and Gilberto- leaders mixed with the flair of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka.

Both of these teams could handle the physicality, but also play with an attractive style which could decimate teams.

Arsenal's invincibles...team full of winners...All rights reserved for this image by Arsenal ©

Arsenal’s invincibles…team full of winners…All rights reserved for this image by Arsenal ©

A key feature of both of those teams, along with any team of champions, is the ability to win when playing badly. That is something which has a lot to do with mental strength, something lacking in this Arsenal team. Repeatedly when pressured, Arsenal tend to crumble.

Even with Ozil, teams will look at that Arsenal team and think they can get at them. Weaknesses remain at centre back and in central midfield. Ozil is known as the assist king throughout Europe, but some questions remain whether or not he can handle the physical nature of the Premierleague.

Notorious for being substituted in almost every match due to stamina, would he be able to last more than 65 minutes in a much quicker league?

There is huge pressure on Olivier Giroud to continue his early season form, mainly due to the fact they do not have another recognizable striker ready to be a 20 goals a season+ man.

Jack Wilshere, for all of his great talent and potential still has lingering fitness concerns, with particular concern over his ankle. In terms of the defence, only Laurent Koscielny seems a solid choice, with the likes of Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen causing much uncertainty when they play.

Playing in defence requires a huge amount of mental skill; that of concentration and the ability to read a situation and act calmly, accordingly. Ask Rio Ferdinand. All too often, Arsenal’s defenders seem hesitant and seem to have a mental block. Comparing Arsenal to their rivals, they have nobody who can kill danger before it becomes apparent.

Manchester United have Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Manchester City have Vincent Kompany. Chelsea have John Terry. Liverpool, until very recently had Jamie Carragher. Leaders and great defenders.

If Arsenal fans think they have a chance of winning the title this season, then they need to wake up before it’s too late. You’re still a long way away from winning the title.

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Why it’s unfair to blame David Moyes for Manchester United’s transfer window:

Ed Woodward or David Moyes? Who is to blame for Manchester United's transfer failings? All rights reserved for this image by isporttimes ©

Ed Woodward or David Moyes? Who is to blame for Manchester United’s transfer failings? All rights reserved for this image by isporttimes ©

Manchester United lost not only Sir Alex Ferguson, but also a smooth football administrator in David Gill. So the task for David Moyes in his first transfer window was always going to be a difficult one.

By all accounts, there is a new policy at Manchester United to sign stellar names on a consistent basis. This summer’s top 3 targets included Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas. United only wished to sign one of those players, they signed none. They were then humiliated in the Ander Herrera transfer saga, failing to do basic research to find out the complexities of the deal.

Rather than going for unrealistic big name signings, Manchester United should have gone for players who would improve them in the areas they were short. That is of course a mention of the midfield. Luiz Gustavo was available for £18.5 million but no approach was made. Manchester United apparently had a bid of £35million for Sami Khedira rejected.

This transfer window was one of Manchester United’s most important in recent times. It was vital to back Moyes and show he had the full support of the board. Unfortunately, the not so shrewd Ed Woodward did not allow that to happen, and gave Moyes an opportunity to be criticised by fans and the rest of the media.

A renowned negotiator, David Gill was the master of clinching deals, with considerable contacts in his UEFA-made diary. Ed Woodward in stark contrast gave off the wrong vibes from the off.

Declaring Manchester United had an “unlimited budget” for a marquee signing, he gave other clubs the chance to haggle and increase the price for any potential players incoming. He then flew back from Sydney to attend to “urgent transfer business”, the fans are still waiting for that one, Ed.

Perhaps Manchester United’s best signing this summer was keeping hold of Wayne Rooney. He may not be liked for his shenanigans off the pitch, but when it comes to Wayne Rooney ‘the footballer’, he can hurt you even on a bad day.

The 5 year contract extension signed by Nani is also a major plus for Manchester United. He can be frustrating at times, but that’s what you get with a flair player. They will try things that others won’t. When it comes off, he’s great, when it doesn’t, he should be sold. That’s the thinking of many fans.

By all accounts, Manchester United have been searching for a midfielder since 2007 and will be looking to sign a world class central defender within the next few seasons. They will also be widening the search for a striker, as Robin van Persie, aged 30, cannot continue to be the main man in strike forever.

David Moyes gave his targets. Manchester United and Ed Woodward failed to deliver them. It seems clear who’s to blame.