Saturday, August 15, 2015

What's wrong with Wayne

We want this Wayne
Wazza played 90 minutes, had a ridiculously low impact on the game and as you can see from the above heatmap and the heatmaps of his teammates- some who played 30 minutes less, the Manchester United captain had a forgettable match. Dropping way too deep, presumably in search of the ball, Wayne only managed to get in the way of those tasked by LvG with providing him service. 

Stuart James in the Guardian  opined,"The game will certainly not live long in the memory for Wayne Rooney. The United captain has scored more goals against Villa than any other club but he looked strangely out of sorts here. Leading the line, Rooney’s touch let him down at times and he was way off the pace. The fact that he failed to touch the ball in the penalty area until the 93rd minute said it all."
Adnan was notionally playing "behind Rooney in a 10,
but managed to cover more ground in front of him as well
His colleague at the Guardian, Jamie Jackson also made note of Rooney's terrible performance,  "He may also look over his shoulder at the manager after another muted display. The Dutchman has said his captain has “special privileges” and will always play. Yet the Van Gaal logic means nothing is certain for any United footballer."

Only a single touch in our attacking penalty box, and that was in the 93rd minute.
Not really the touch map you would hope for from the striker

The DailyMail's,  Joe Bernstein had this to say on Wayne's non-performance, If Wayne Rooney is United's only viable option at centre-forward this season, it will take a miracle for Louis van Gaal's side to win a trophy. Rooney wasn't awful but at 29 doesn't have the mobility to play 50 games as a lone striker, or the power of Didier Drogba.

neatly summarized what's been happening with Wayne that we've all subconsciously felt and at time vocalized, hoping that it wouldn't truly materialize. "A general lack of pace, a distinct lack of sharpness and yet more evidence of a profoundly unreliable first touch. Watching Rooney play over the last few seasons has been a profoundly dispiriting business. All the things that made him astoundingly exciting drained away long ago, of course, but all the things that made him exceptionally competent have been slowly going the same way. At his best, he's still pretty good; at his worst, he's a ponderous vortex that receives attention and service in inverse proportion to productivity and excitement. The ball goes in, and nothing much comes out. And the best days are getting rarer."

A snapshot of social media was similarly scathing of Wayne's performance over the first two games.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Central Midfield Options: Scarcity or Abundance

LvG's Engine Room Dilema 

Carrick, Herrera, Fletcher, Fellaini, Anderson,  Blind, Rooney, Jones

The options available to the new manager for the upcoming game against QPR, with Carrick injured and unavailable, Ander Herrera returning from a small ankle/foot injury and with Daley Blind yet to make his debut, the options remaining to the manager  are neither convincing nor appealing.
LvG's central midfield selection is of vital importance in what should be an easy win, although the side did not look strong and didn't get the desired results in the first trio of games, the next set of fixtures should provide LvG's men the opportunity to pick up points before a tough run of fixtures against last season's top performing sides. 

With the addition of Herrera and Blind to the squad, it would be relatively safe to imagine that Louis will use them often this season, but whether he sees Blind as a left sided midfielder or a wing back/ defender remains to be see. With Carrick out until the start of October,  and Herrera and Fellaini out until the middle of September, how Louis uses Fletcher, Anderson and the other midfield options is to me the most interesting thing about the next few games, more so than who he selects up front out of Falcao, Rooney and Van Persie, whether he plays 3 or 4 at the back in front of De Gea or who he picks out of Di Maria, Mata, Januzaj, Young and Valencia and how he fits them into the side.  
Hopefully he can recapture some of the form of
his debut and 2nd season at the club.

Central midfield is the heart of the side and the root of the sides attacking and defensive problems. Inability to keep the ball is hurting us defensively  and the inability to find attacking players, either strikers or attacking midfielders/wingers with penetrative passes early enough to catch opposition midfielders or defenders by surprise and on the back foot. The one paced nature of the passing in the the middle third of the pitch hinders our ability to accelerate towards goal, which is imperative if we are to press/swarm/flood forward to create chances to score. 

Another situation hurting our chances is the selection of too many attacking players who seem to be getting in each others way, resulting in the shirking of shooting responsibilities, the search for the perfect goal from under 12 yards, effectively trying to walk the ball into the net. Playing Mata, Rooney, RvP, Valencia, Januzaj, Young and Herrera in the early fixtures seemed to overload the side, with too many options and became counter productive, reducing the space in the opposition penalty box, making it easier for defenders to defend the space and to close down shots. 

With the departure of Tom Cleverley to Villa on a season long loan, the departure of Davide Petrucci to CFR Cluj, the lack of incoming players to add much needed depth in the position, and the number of central midfielders currently injured means that the options available to LvG for the upcoming match are quite low.

The much derided Anderson might actually be needed to put in a longer than cameo appearance given the lack of squad depth.  I'd go so far as to say I'd like to see what a combination of Anderson, Di Maria and Jones can do in a midfield 3 with  a back for (Blind, Rojo, Evans and Valencia) behind them.  Playing Phil Jones as a defensive midfielder might not be where England fans want to see him deployed but he's actually a good CDM and Anderson and Di Maria should be able to have a strong influence on the game safe in the knowledge that Jones is keeping the centre of midfield relatively secure behind them.  With no international football for him at the moment, I think deploying Anderson might be the best option, especially when compared to the less imaginative Fletcher and the positionally in-disciplined Rooney.
Had a poor game v MK Dons, but will need to have a good game v QPR if he's given the chance.

Whether LvG decides to go for a 3-5-2, 4-3-3 (my preferred formation) or some other option, his choice of central midfielders is critical to the potential success of the side. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

August Football

Two games into the Premier League season, most United fans have recovered a semblance of normalcy and hope after scrapping a win against Fulham to register the seasons' first points. The loss away at Everton, where we have never really played well, regardless of the results achieved, highlighted all of the failings of the previous season and the gaps in the squad. Two things I've picked up on:

Micheal Carrick, our midfield pass-master general; sacrificed himself to play alongside Vidic in central defense, and was, quite predictably, overawed by the strength, leaping ability and movement of Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jellavic. No doubt Sir Alex had weighed up the pros and cons of doing so, but the fact that the midfield struggled to control the midfield, and struggled to create good chances ( chances that the strikers will score from 75% of the time) must not have been something Sir Alex foresaw, given the selection of Cleverley, Scholes, Kagawa and Rooney. Personally, I'd have trusted young Reservist Scott Wootton(who played frequently on the summer tour) to play between Vidic and Valencia allowing Carrick to slot into midfield and provide protection for the youngster, while making the most of his considerable midfield talents. He was beaten twice to headers that a more aware central defender would have challenged more conscientiously, being caught under the ball against Fulham and being muscled out against Fellaini.

David de Gea, our young, supremely talented, slightly naive goalkeeper, was twice beaten by headers that he could do little about, but most United followers believe a more imposing goalkeeper would be more authoritative of his six yard box and more responsible for crosses into the danger zone.

Rafael: Played very well against Fulham, helped Valencia going forward, and was positionally much better, making interceptions and tackles that were vital to the United defense. He will improve when played alongside a more adept central defender who controls his attacking instinct.

Shinji Kagawa, started really well, his speed of thought and passing technique really helped United going forward and his stamina helped the midfield as he sometimes dropped back into midfield to win the ball back. His goal against Fulham was an instinctive, reactionary poach and while none of his long range attempts really threatened, he's showing signs of becoming a real goal scoring midfieler in the mould of Lampard & Scholes. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Beating Barcelona:: Key Battles

Key Battles
Rio Ferdinand & Nemanja Vidic vs Leo Messi and negative space. 
No doubt Ferdinand and Vidic are one of, if not the best central defensive partnerships in world football, and can repel aerial bombardment and fluid, incisive, attacking pressure. Leo Messi, David Villa and Pedro are something entirely different. Their combined interplay in and around the penalty box causes havoc in regards to marking. Neither man to man, nor zonal marking work against their front three in open play, as Messi, operating as a central floating, "false nine" attacker, creates space just in front of the opposition penalty box
for Pedro, Villa, Iniesta and Xavi to run into. He also drops of the defensive line to turn and run/dribble at the defenders, which catches defenders on their heels as his agility, speed and close control draws fouls with remarkable frequency.
Without the ball, they close down like a pack of hounds, and if they don't get the ball back within a few seconds, they fall back into defensive shape, without loosing easing the pressure off those on the ball.
They don't just pressurize the opposition defense when out of possession, but they pressurize in such a manner as to force defenders into giving the ball to the  player least comfortable on the ball, who they then force into an error.

2 or 3 Midfielders vs Xavi, Iniesta & Busquests(Mascherano) 
Carrick is most likely to start, but who he'll be partnered by is a mystery, most journalists predict that Ryan Giggs will start, as he started against Chelsea and Schalke in earlier rounds. Whether or not Sir Alex opts to play a third central midfielder, there is no doubt Park and Valencia on the wings will tuck in when they have not got possession, and that Wayne Rooney will drop back to mark Busquets and attempt to distrupt the flow of balls from defense to Xavi and Iniesta.

Wayne Rooney or/&Javier Hernandez vs Carles Puyol & Gerrard Pique 
Pace, finishing accuracy and pressure. There is no doubt that United will create a few chances during the game, and these chances may come early, or may come in the final seconds of the match. Either way, Rooney, Hernandez or whoever gets the chance must take it. In 2009, if Park's shot had gone in past the protruding foot of Gerrard Pique, the nature of the game would have changed completely. United cannot afford to miss golden opportunities, whenever they come. Hernandez is a great harrier, and will apply pressure on Puyol, Pique and Valdes, forcing them into playing long balls under pressure from defense will help United, and United's defence must also be wary not to concede possession in a similar manner, something Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick sometimes do.  Shooting from distance can work against Victor Valdes, who can be caught cold from 18/20 yards with well placed shots into the corners.  Fast counter-attacks must be effective, and if worse comes to worse, Micheal Owen might have a role to play.

Park Ji Sung & Patrice Evra vs Pedro Rodriguez & Daniel Alves  
Rafael/O'Shea/Fabio & Antonio Valencia/Luis Nani  vs David Villa & Abidal/Maxwell/Adriano 

Although Daniel Alves is much more attacking than his counterpart on the left wing, defending both flanks will be very important if United are to end the night victorious. David Villa and Pedro aren't natural wingers, and drift in from the flanks to participate in the "carousel" that produces chances for whoever runs on from the midfield. They do sometimes, however, wait on the wings for a "inside/out" ball from Xavi or Iniesta to run onto, from which they deliver an assist for an on-rushing midfielder or shoot themselves. The way they play also allows the right and left wing back the space and time to overlap and provide width which drags defenders out of position, and provide the "angled passes" which catches the defense out of position.
That said, playing such a high defensive line, and allowing Alves and the left back to get forward allows our own wingers and wing backs to get forward to provide offensive width and support counter attacks.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Hell with Joga Bonito !! United Vs Barcelona CL Finals - Preview

United meet Barcelona in the finals of UEFA Champions league for the second time in 3 years. Its fitting that two of the best clubs face each other in what is arguably the world's best club competition, with United making to the finals for 3rd time in 4 years and Barcelona looking to replicate their 2009 success. Both sides have had a perfect run-in to the game by picking up their domestic league well in advance which made it possible to rest their key players for the massive game. Another notable similarity is that both overcame their domestic arch-rivals in the knock-out stages of the competition.

Although Barcelona are clear favourites to win this epic match, and hence the title, yours truly believes that United have what it takes to beat this seemingly unbeatable Catalan outfit. The belief is based on both legs of Semi-final between the two in 2008, more recently their loss in the first leg quarter-finals against Arsenal, their 1-1 draw in the home leg of semi-finals against Real Madrid and the role Pepe played in the first leg until he was red-carded.

Barcelona, for all their reputation of technical superiority and playing the beautiful game, lacks a Plan B. Their game is centered around fluid short passing and possession. And any disruption to this plan will leave them wanting on the field.

Starting XI, and formation:

Just like their tactics, Barca doesn't have too many options. Reacting to the nine changes that Sir Alex made to the second leg of the semi-finals against Schalke, Pep admitted he cannot even imagine doing that. So Barca's starting XI and their formation is as easy to guess as the colour of the jersey that the "home" team will wear for the match.

Although United's starting XI is not the kind of suspense associated with blockbuster thrillers, there is enough scope to speculate, owing to reasons both on and off the field. Van Der Saar, Evra,Vidic and Ferdinand are sure to start. The contest for the other spot in the defence is ironically between the twins. Rafael has started almost double the number of games than Fabio. However what could ultimately swing the chances in Fabio's favour is his temperament. Up front, there are noises about Rooney playing alone in a 4-5-1 leaving Chicharito on the bench. United cannot afford to start with a 5 man midfield and Rooney as lone striker because this could easily turn up to a 4-6-0 for United. When you pose no threat up front, the opposition can pack the midfield even more and you're in trouble. Especially when the opposition is called Barcelona. Mid-field is where we can speculate the most. Personally, it was heart-breaking not to see Fletcher feature in Gary Neville's testimonial. With little over 48 hours to go, his chance of participating in the finals is all but over. Giggs' case is altogether a different scenario. Although he is far too experienced to put the events behind him, initial indications from the man-in-charge doesn't seem to be encouraging for those who want Giggs to start. Nevertheless, his wife’s words of support for the winger offers a glimmer of hope. My prediction for the mid-field is Valencia-Carrick-Anderson-Park.Hopefully , the gaffer will surprise me!

The Plot:

Easy to guess. Barcelona will dominate possession, everyone stays close to the all and attack like a pack of wolves. Barca’s average ball possession in this year’s CL is 62%. That statistic is superfluous since Arsenal had 39% in first leg but still won 2-1. United should never look to grab the ball whenever they have it like a kid that grabs the doll from his friend. We should focus on certain areas of the pitch, for instance Busquets with the ball bang in the middle of the pitch or there abouts. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the game on Saturday will be how well United hold onto the ball once they have won it back.Nothing frustrates players more than, having spent two minutes pressing the ball to win it back, it is then given away at the first opportunity. Messi's goal in the 2009 final came from Patrice Evra's clearance which went straight to Xavi.

We must be able to concentrate on maintaining possession straight away even though we may have been chasing the ball intensely. We can beat Barca’s press for the ball if a longer pass out of the danger zone is employed quickly and we will have to avoid the number of misplaced passes.All said and done, we are at our best when we are attacking and that should be the motive every time we have the ball.

Sir Alex had mentioned that he respects Jose Mourinho and that he would turn to him for tips. He doesn’t have to literally ask him. All he needs to do is see what Pepe did. Pepe was the “Windscreen Wiper” who just “killed the ball”. That disrupted the ballet that is Barca’s passing game. Agreed that this will take away the beauty from the beautiful game. Hell with Joga Bonito! The most consensus candidate among the media, and fellow fans alike, for United’s trump card is Chicharito. No doubt. He will be the attacking and taking our cause to them. But for me, the most crucial player will be that “windscreen Wiper” who runs across the mid-field to disrupt their fluid and fluent passing game. Fletcher would have been ideal for that job. But in his assumed absence, Anderson, Park or even Rooney may fit the bill.

My prediction? 6-0 United !!! Hahahahahaha.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


With Kenny Dalglish showcasing two promising 18 year old full backs, in a game of such repute, even if Liverpoolare now only playing for pride and prize money related to a higher league place, United fans must wonder how low, or high a level United must reach for academy graduates to get a competitive first team game. Both 18 year old fullbacks,  John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, did an above average job nullifying the threat posed on the wings from Walcott & Nasri and later on Bendtner & Arshavin. Considering that it was Robinson's first appearance and Flanagan's second, they did a remarkable job of keeping Arsenal from playing their usual game which requires a fast passing game making use of the full width of the pitch. Does this show the lack of strength at Liverpool, or Kenny Dalglish simply realizing that for now, for their currently limited ambitions, they are good enough?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rooney: being wasted or wasting away?

With Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Luis Nani scoring 19, 7 & 7 Barclays Premier League goals  respectively, many of the United faithful are beginning to worry about the diminishing goal return of last season's top scorer, Wayne Rooney. With both Nemanja Vidic and Tom Cleverley ahead of him in the League scoring charts, what started as a trivial anomaly has become a full blown goal drought.  Although his contributions to the team have not be negligible, his lack of goals has been a problem, both for his personal confidence and for the teams fluidity. But the problem is not solely of his creation.

Having suffered ankle ligament damage in last season's Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich, Rooney has had a torrid time since, rushing back too soon to try and win a historic fourth consecutive league title.  His summer was blighted by newspaper headlines, sore feet and Fabio Capello's mind numbing tactics, and returned to Carrington a washed out, shadow of his former self. His poor form, and fading shooting ability culminated in this:

Since the start of 2011, Sir Alex has begun to play Wayne out of position in an attempt to make best use of his other talents, allowing Wayne the time and space to rediscover the sharpness and confidence to find the goal scoring touch. Its also allowed Sir Alex to use a more reliable player on the left flank, with Giggs now a bit-part player, Nani flourishing on the right hand side in Valencia's absence, Wayne is a safer option than Obertan or Bebe, both offensively and defensively. This tactic, however logical from the teams point of view, whereby it serves the greater good, is short termist and is not helpful in the long run. Berbatov, Nani and Hernandez may come close to scoring 60 league goals between them this season, but to progress in the Champions League, we will without doubt need all 4 of our strikers (Owen) fit, fresh and firing on all cylinders.  

Some pessimistic fans believe that Rooney, who started playing professionally at 16, may even be burned out at 24, and that the world has seen the best of him last season. I however, have always believed that Wayne belonged in the heat of battle, attacking from a deeper central midfield position, in the position vacated by Scholes circa 2005.  

Wayne's range of passing, ball retention abilities, vision and shooting would make him an ideal candidate to fill Scholes' role long term and that salvation may lie in taking up the number 8 shirt again!