Preview: Swansea City vs United

Quick note before we kick this off; no review of the Brugge game, I’m afraid. Time constraints stopped me from putting that together. Hopefully that doesn’t become a regular hindrance, but, for this week at least, it’s not gonna be possible to do a Positives and Negatives for that game, I’m afraid. Anyway, let’s crack on.

Just over 12 months ago, Mr Louis van Gaal walked his Manchester United side out for the very first time in the Premier League. Coming off the back of a successful pre season tour that culminated in the defeat of Liverpool in some nonsense preseason tournament, AND a personally successful World Cup for the Dutch genius, confidence, and expectations, were naturally high for a United side looking to right the wrongs of a season to forget. Their opponents that day; Garry Monk’s Swansea City. A side that had, and continue to, redefine what is capable of a mid table side. United were beaten that day. Comfortably, if memory serves. Swansea managed to do the double over us last season, and that’s not something van Gaal will have forgotten.

United go into the game off the back of a 4-0 victory in the second leg of a Champions League qualifier vs Club Brugge. While you have to anticipate Swansea will put up a bit more resistance than that side, you have to take the positives from what was professional performance. Wayne Rooney is finally off the mark, and you’d fancy him to start to look a bit sharper in front of goal. Behind him, and after making his first start of the season, Ander Herrera will be hoping van Gaal will have taken notice of, what was, a really good second half for him. Herrera offers something different to Memphis, Mata and Januzaj, in that he actually makes positive runs forward. In the second half, Herrera made a delightful run in behind the Brugge defence, resulting in a pass for the ages from the Deutscher Fussballmeister himself, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and led to Ander slotting home to end the rout. Personally, the aforementioned Memphis, Mata and Janujaz trio slow our attack play down too much. All three prefer to have the ball given to their feet, which frustrates Rooney, and forces him to drop deep to find the ball. Playing Herrera behind Rooney will allow him to drop deep if needed, as we then have an option to drive behind the defence. Injury to Adnan might allow Herrera this opportunity.
The back five managed to keep another clean sheet, and is starting to look like something. While I’d still prefer to have de Gea behind the defence, Serge is proving to be the greatest goalkeeper to ever play the game, often making saves with his mind. You’d assume de Gea will return to the side once the transfer window is closed, and he’s realised he’d much rather play out his career in sunny Salford, rather than Madrid, which is often described as Europe’s cesspit. However, there is a case to be made for the caretaker-turned-Premier League goalkeeper. He’s yet to concede in the Premier League, though you’d expect the trio of Befetimbi Gomis, Andre Ayew and Jefferson Montero will provide a bit more of a challenge for the Argentine.
The only changes I can see being made from the side that demolished Brugge, in that case, would be the reintroduction of Handsome Morgan, Schweini from the very start, and Herrera in place of Adnan. As such, I expect the side to look like this:

Screenshot_2015-08-29-14-27-09-1
(
Bought the shirt pack, by the way. So expect the prettiest posts in the football blogosphere from now on.)

For Swansea, Garry Monk’s side currently sit in 5th place with 5 points; a well earned point against Chelsea, a comfortable 2-0 over Newcastle, and a surprise 1-1 draw against the worst side in the league, Sunderland. Given the last of those results, there’s reason to believe United could well do something against, what have become, one of the Premier League standards. A very good side, with a very good manager at the helm, Swansea have the pace and the power up top to cause us some real problems, however, and with Gomis managing to bag 3 goals from 3 games, finally a real yardstick to judge the Blind-Balling partnership.

I anticipate far more pressure from the Swans than any side previous, and, most likely, an end to the clean sheet run we’ve managed to get ourselves on in the Premier League. I fancy us to take a point, but perhaps a win would be pushing it a bit. Our unbeaten run will extend, though.

Prediction: Swansea City 1-1 United

Advertisements

Preview: United vs Newcastle United

The fixture goads have been kind to United so far this season. 3 games in 12 days for a side in Europe is oft desired, however to have 3 games against 3 very manageable sides is like hitting the jackpot. After navigating past Aston Villa in comfortable, if unspectacular, fashion, all eyes turned to the hosting of our Belgian friends Club Brugge, which you can read about here. Not only were Brugge defeated, they were dispatched in a very exciting manner. This all bodes well for a side that has been less than so so far this year. It also means our expectations are raised ever so slightly. Enter: Newcastle United; a side so sorry they could make a blind homeless gentleman feel bad for them.

Newcastle United ended last season with a grand total of 4 points out of a possible 30, losing to the already relegated Queens Park Rangers on the way. It took a victory over West Ham on the last day to keep them up, but it wasn’t enough for Groundsman-turned-Mike Ashley’s puppet John Carver to keep his job, rightfully dispatched for being terrible. His replacement (former England failure and Fergie’s right hand man during the treble season and slightly beyond Steve McClaren) hasn’t fared much better in his short time in charge, managing to lose to the reserve side of the MLS’ Portland Timbers in pre-season, and, though they did pick up a battling point against Southampton on the first day of the season, they barely put up a fight against Swansea City. For them, this is a game that could have waited a few more weeks.
Newcastle really aren’t much to be feared, when all is said and done. They’ve been without a potent centre forward since Demba Ba inexplicably moved to Chelsea‘s bench in 2012 (Papiss Cisse‘s record is deceiving, trust me), and their midfield is less than impressive, even with the actually quite good Georginio Wijnaldum the crown of it. Wijnaldum, of course, played alongside our very own Memphis at PSV. And, without their pretty alright full-back Daryl Janmaat at the back, the defence is pretty awful. In all, Newcastle don’t really pose much of a threat.

For United, goals are the order of the day. In this tie last season, Wayne Rooney managed to bag a brace, but fans will be hoping for even half of that, as the centre forward hopes to end his barren goal drought at 9 games. Really the only way he can do that is by shooting, and I’m pretty certain he’s yet to register a shot as of yet.
The only change I can see possibly see being made to the side the brushed Brugge aside would be Bastian Schweinsteiger coming in for Michael Carrick. Tuesday’s early replacement was the clearest indicator that van Gaal would prefer to be starting Schweini sooner rather than later, so perhaps this is the week the £6.3 million man (how the fuck did we con Bayern that much?!?) finally makes his start. Aside from that, I can’t imagine many other changes being made. Given Young nabbed the winner in the away tie last season, perhaps he might start in place of young Adnan Januzaj, however that would be at a push. David de Gea‘s self imposed/van Gaal imposed exile will continue, with Serge keeping his place in goal, and looking to extend his run of clean sheets to 3 games. There is not really any need to change the back four at this point. As such, I imagine the starting XI will look something like this.

united vs newcastle
(In regards to this line-up builder, it looks like you can buy a kit pack that lets you have this seasons kits on it. Might do it. Thoughts?)

I’m anticipating a carbon copy of mid-week, to be honest. Hopefully Memphis can re-enact his European heroics and open his domestic account (and start scoring some fantasy points). As ever, the points are more important then the scoreline, but some more goals on the board would be delightful.

Prediction: United 3-0 Newcastle United

Aston Villa 0-1 United

Another week, another unconvincing victory. Against a side that struggled against the drop last season, United gave up possession in very unnecessary areas, carved very few goalscoring opportunities, and just looked disjointed in all areas. Basically a repeat of last week. That being said, if we want to win the next 36 league games 1-0, I won’t complain. Let’s just get into it.

Positives

Matteo Darmian received a lot of praise last week for his performance against Spurs, however I’d barely noticed him. I kept an eye out this week, and, low and behold, it turns out he’s actually very good. He positioned himself well, offered himself in support of John’s attacking play, and rarely lost a tackle. A silly booking marred an otherwise excelled performance.

Boy wonder turned touted Sunderland loanee Adnan Januzaj made his first start in about 18 months, and managed to get himself on the score sheet. A delicious pass from the aforementioned John Mata threaded Adnan in, before a simple check back left Micah Richards on his arse. A placed, deflected, finish capped the move, that, ultimately, won the game for United.

The defence seemed solid enough for the challenge in front of them. While Balling and Blind were rarely challenged, they dispelled every attack they faced, and Luke Shaw looked ever confident in his role at left back. Two clean sheets out of two for Serge Romero, who is easily the luckiest man in football right now, should improve the man’s confidence, though I’d still say his situation is utterly ridiculous.

Bastian Schwiensteiger looked so composed in his 30 minutes on the pitch. Everything he does is conducted with such grace and elegance you might wonder what might happen when he’s fully fit.

Negatives

Wayne Rooney looks a slip of the man he was at the end of last season. Two very ineffectual performances for anyone else on that pitch would see them dropped. This isn’t something Rooney has to worry about, given the lack of competition in the strikers position, and the untouchable status van Gaal has bestowed upon him. Just about every attempt to receive a pass cannoned off him into the wilderness, I’m not sure he’s actually had a shot so far this season. van Gaal claims bonus one is guaranteed of a start in this side. One performance like that would give him chance to prove this.

In spite of his goal, Adnan lost the ball more often than not, and that resulted in his departure early in the second half. One goal doesn’t make a performance, though it appears to paper the cracks, given no one’s talking about it. Still a long way to go for the young man.

Memphis still has a long way to. Another match that saw him shrugged off the ball with ease, and fall to the floor far too easily. He rarely looked a threat, to be perfectly honest. Barring a one on one that inched wide (he has to finish those, by the way), every time he struck the ball, it either balloon’d over, or was so pathetically tame Brad “Mini Me” Guzan could pick the ball up without worry. It is still early days yet, but you want him to be showing up soon.

Another negative day at the office for Carrick and Handsome Morgan. Pick up the ball, and pass it forward for christ sake. This is a growing problem. We have wonderfully talented forward players, but they’re seeing the ball less and less. Add Herrera into the mix, and let him link the play.

Two wins out of two is a great start, and early performances matter not in the grand scheme of things. It might take a few weeks yet for things to click into place, but it’ll come. Show some a bit of patience, and you’ll be rewarded.

Anyway, we’ve Club Brugge tomorrow, so I’ll do a preview as best I can based on my limited knowledge of that side a bit later I imagine.

Preview: Aston Villa vs United

After a satisfying, if uninspiring, victory over Spurs, our attentions are turned swiftly to a Friday Night match! Friday nights are due to come into play from next season under the terms of the latest money spinning TV Broadcasting deal. At the time of drawing, no one knew whether United would have a Tuesday or Wednesday night Champions League play off, twin that with an upcoming, Saturday afternoon EDL march in Birmingham (I assume Tim Sherwood is due to speak or something (THIS IS A JOKE. PLEASE DON’T SUE, TIM)), Sky saw it as the perfect opportunity to trial their new toy before it’s due for release.

Saturday afternoon’s victory over Spurs saw United manage to get points on the board in an impressively unimpressive manner. Off memory, United managed to get maybe 5 shots away, with perhaps 2 of those on target. The gulf between Spurs and Villa is vast, so I’d expect at least twice as many attempts and attempts on target. With everyone a game sharper, and captain Wayne Rooney hopefully rust free after a trip to the mechanics, you’d hope to see a return of the expansive and expressive football that often threatened to overcome this side towards the end of last season.

Squad wise, van Gaal is a creature of habit. For all his rotation and tinkering last season, he did pick the same XI for about 3 months at the end of last season. It was abundantly clear to anyone watching that a spark was missing on Saturday. The midfield pairing of Carrick and Handsome Morgan required an extra body in the middle to carry the ball through to the forwards, and Memphis, unfortunately, was not that player, given how high he was playing. I would suggest the addition of Ander Herrera to the midfield to at least give the aforementioned pairing an option other than turning around and giving the ball to Daley Blind. It’s who you drop to accommodate that addition that’s difficult. Memphis did enough in the first half to warrant another look this evening,  Ashley Young absolutely schooled Kyle Walker, who, if nothing else, if a better player than Villa option Leandro Bacuna, and John Mata‘s interception directly led to the goal. If I were to hazard a guess, if Herrera were to drop in, I’d say it would be for Young.

It’s all hypothetical, either way. van Gaal won’t change this side. Even, despite David de Gea declaring himself available and ready for this one, he’s already ruled Dave out for the next 4 weeks, so expect Serge Romero to start again this evening. In all, my predicted line up is thus

image

As for this week’s opposition, Aston Villa kicked off the season with a smash and grab victory over Premier League new boys Bournemouth, with Christian Benteke replacement Rudy Gestede bagging the winner from a corner. What this means for United is that Villa are gonna try to lump it into the box at every opportunity, testing the collection of Serge, and the aerial ability of our centre halves. While this isn’t a problem for Balling, there are still questions to be answered over the standard of Romero’s abilities, and the quality of Blind in the air as a centre back. This will be a different type of test for those two, one I’m unsure of how it will end.

Villa are a different sort of beast under Sherwood than they were under Paul Lambert. Gone is the Villa that would set up to defend a draw, and in comes a more gung-ho style. For all Sherwood’s faults (of which there are many), you can’t fault his desire to win at all costs. Free signing Micah Richards captains the side after successfully convincing Fabian Delph to defect to Manchester City mere hours after making a YouTube video telling fans he would stay, and young Jack Grealish carries the burden of expectation bestowed on him at the tender age of 14 years old.

I don’t expect much of a game from Villa, truth be told. We haven’t lost at Villa Park since 1999, we beat Villa 3-0 in our last meeting, and Villa have lost their best 2 players since then. Doesn’t expect liquid football to be in effect for the next few weeks, but a form of total football to on show tonight.

Prediction: Villa 0-3 United

United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

For the second season running, Saturday lunchtime saw United open the Premier League season a home. Whereas last season, Old Trafford played host to an uninspiring, drab, loss, the 2015-16 curtain raiser was an uninspiring, drab, WIN. The early weeks of the season can be forgiven for being disjointed in performance, and this tie epitomised that, with both sides failing to create many clear chances. In a game that won’t be remembered by many for long, the result was more important than the performance.

I’m not going to do a review of the game, there are plenty of websites across the internet that offer an in depth analysis of a football match. I’ll focus only on the positive and negatives of our performance, given this is a blog dedicated to Manchester United (and I’m not very good at remembering key moments from games).

Positives

Louis van Gaal must have read my preview, and thought it might be hilarious to throw my credibility into a fire before this blog has even come close to taking off, because Sergio Romero started ahead of Sam Johnstone, in replacement of David de Gea, who was deemed unfit to play. Credit to Romero, then, to make your debut against a side often falling in the top 5 in the league, about a week after signing for the club, off the back of two seasons where you made about 12 appearances at club level, and not be dreadful. Serge made two fine saves as the game edged towards its close, probably snatching a win from the jaws of a draw by himself. Twin this with a desire to leave his line and collect the ball early, and very confidently, and you’ve got yourself a very good performance. Something we’ve become accustomed to from our goalkeeper in recent seasons.

Chris Balling proved once again he can be a vital member of this squad if United are to compete this season. The man mountain managed to turn around what could have easily been a dismal season last year, with a string of fabulous performances that completely changed my perception of what he can be. Balling began 2015/16 in a very similar manner. It wouldn’t surprise me if he begins to charge Harry Kane rent for the residence of his back pocket, considering kane hasn’t left it since April. Twin that with two vital stops (that looked effortless), and you’ve got a Man of the Match performance from a man I don’t expect to leave the back four.

Speaking of picking up where you left last season off, Ashley Young celebrated a new contract with a very impressive performance. The left wing tandem of Young and Luke Shaw made poor Kyle Walker look every bit as poor as he is. As the game wore on, Luke became more adventurous in his runs. If these two can stay fit for more than 2 weeks at a time, hopefully a bit more of a connection can be established, and we can see a bit more of what this pairing has to offer.

The first half performance of the much lauded Memphis Depay was encouraging and exciting. He carved a few half-chances for himself, and I’m certain he played the ball that, ultimately, led to the goal, but it was his desire to be a passing option at all times, and equally his ability to know when to move it on, that impressed me most. Going into the game, I’d heard stories of a player that demands the ball at all times, that loses the ball, and refuses to work back. On Saturday, I saw a player that, granted, did go down under the softest of contacts, but one that wanted to impress his new suitors. While it’s far too soon to judge him on where he can fit in (his second half performance paled in comparison to his first), there were early signs that Memphis has enough about him to make something of a success of this season.

Both Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger managed to impress, despite coming off the bench. While Herrera is a known quantity in Manchester after a more than solid first season (given the amount of shirts with his name emblazoned on the back that I saw around the ground, it’s fair to say he’s a little bit popular), Bastian came into the tie with nothing but a reputation (albeit an incredibly good reputation to his name). Replacing Michael Carrick, he played the role of a director rather than that of a lead star, organizing the midfield to suit every Spurs attack. While he looked rusty, and maybe a few pounds over weight, he showed why he is so revered in world football. As for Herrera, he injected some pace and directness into a midfield that was flagging from sitting very deep for the 70 or so minutes prior. Further proof, I feel, that this side performs best in a 4-3-3.

Negatives

While Romero dealt with snapshots and collections well, his distribution left alot to be desired. Over the last two seasons, out back four have played in the knowledge that de Gea is comfortable on the ball, and is able to pick a pass to just about anyone on the pitch. Romero looked less than comfortable playing this roll, often playing out the phrase you learn at youth level: “If in doubt, kick it out”. While I’m sure this can be improved, and I sincerely it does, it wasn’t particularly encouraging to witness first hand.

Chris Balling’s partner for the afternoon was one Daley Blind. Blind, usually so composed and calm on the ball, lost both of these attributes early on, often conceding the ball, and putting his team mates under unnecessary pressure. Against more season centre forwards in this division (Aguero and Costa and the like), those mistakes will be punished. It served as a constant reminder that a commanding centre back is still a must for this squad to be a real contender.

New signing Handsome Morgan Schneiderlin was very strong in the tackle (pretty certain he won every dual he was involved in), but then proceeded to make a 180 degree turn and pass it back to Balling. While it’s nice to have a player that’ll win the ball with every tackle, he needed to be more positive once he had the ball at his feet. This is a defence that will look shaky at the best of times, the last thing they need is to have the ball near them more than they need to.

Wayne Rooney was virtually nonexistent for 90 minutes. Aside from NOT taking the chance that Kyle Walker eventually pounced upon, Rooney was a bystander in a game that needed to be have all 11 men fighting for the same cause. Given we have 3 striking options, one of which is a 13 year old with a paper round, this doesn’t bode well. There is, however, an entire season left to play, and Rooney often takes a while to get back to his best, so we ought to see improvement against Villa and Newcastle.

The midfield looked really, really disjointed. Perhaps it was the last shedding of the summer rust, perhaps it was just growing pains in what could become a blossoming partnership, but Handsome Morgan and Carrick didn’t appear to be on the same page for a lot of the game. A third man in the centre of the park (4-3-3 nonsense again) would have given each an extra passing option, as well has an extra man for John Mata to give the ball to. Just play Herrera, for fuck sake.

All in all, the performance left a lot to be desired, but we’re 3 points better off than we were last season, and that’s all the matters. We move on to Aston Villa away, which I will preview on Thursday. Until then, keep your eyes peeled as I attempt to finish the state of the squad pieces I started.

State of the Squad – Goalkeepers

Before I begin looking forward to this weekends action, I thought it might be helpful to have a look at the players (currently) signed on at United. A simple assessment of the squad might be in order before I get onto the regular stuff. I’ll go through each area over 4 posts, starting with our ‘keepers.

Goalkeepers

Arguably our strongest position, no small part to a certain Spaniard, there is no cause for concern here. Unless, of course, the inevitable comes to fruition. Current number one, David de Gea, has shaken the errors that plagued the first 18 months of his United tenure, and has positioned himself has one of, if not the, most impressive goalkeeper in the Premier League, and has caught the eye of serial talent snatchers Real Madrid. With a year left on his contract, it’s all but certain he won’t be a United goalkeeper next season. Let’s be fair, mind, I’d rather play behind Ramos and Vernane than Evans and Jones. Given de Gea’s injury history, there’s little reason to believe he’ll miss much, if any, of the season, and if van Gaal can eek another stellar season out of the, potentially disinterested, shot stopper, this is a problem that can be solved at a later date.

Vying for the back up spot is forgotten Dane Anders Lindegaard, new boy Sergio Romero, and academy product Sam Johnstone, though it’s fair to expect young Johnstone will see a season on loan, given his age, and United’s relative lack of history developing goalkeepers from within. Romero arrives in Manchester on the back of a season playing number two in Sampdoria. Consider me unimpressed if this is de Gea’s replacement. Despite his lack of playing time last season (10 league appearances, as far as I can tell), he remains Argentina’s first choice, playing in both the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America finals, both of which Argentina lost. Romero does have previous with van Gaal, in that he was his first choice in AZ Alkmaar’s title winning campaign in the 2008-09 Erdivisie season, keeping 18 clean sheets and conceding only 22 goals along the way.
Mr Lindegaard requires no introduction if you’ve been watching this side over the last few years. Brought in to provide cover for Edwin van der Sar in 2010, and then competition for de Gea thereafter, Lindegaard has become something of a forgotten man in recent times. While he did manage to wrestle the starting spot from de Gea around half way through the 2011-12 season, albeit after an incredibly testing period for the young man, Lindegaard has barely seen a kick since. In all competitions. He didn’t even play against Cambridge. Though it does look like he’ll be let go sooner rather than later, given the nature of our other Spanish goalkeeper (more on that later), perhaps Lindegaard might find away to come in from the cold and have a seat in the porch (I am so sorry).

Which brings me onto the last stop on this train ride of metaphors: Victor Valdes. World Cup winner, European Championship winner, recipient of countless La Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League honours, Valdes arrived in Manchester after a horrible injury that ended, what was always going to be, his final season with Barcelona in the wrong way. A former employee of van Gaal, Vales was offered the chance to rehabilitate himself, and did enough in training to earn an 18 month contract with the club. Everything went south for Victor when he was omitted from the squad that travelled to the states in pre-season, after van Gaal accused him of refusing to play in the under 21s. Since then, he’s been all but forgotten about, had his locker cleared and moved, ironically, in with the Under 21s, and looks sure to move on.

Unless something goes horribly wrong, I can see de Gea ending the season as out number one, with Romero backing him up, and playing in the League and FA Cups. After that, though, I imagine de Gea will move back home and Romero will step in. Long term, I’d prefer a more established character between the sticks than Romero, which is partly why I included Valdes in this run down. Big Lou, if, by some miracle, you’re reading this, give Victor a call. Thrash out your differences. Let him back in the fold.