Tagged Man Utd

Attacking Masterclass

From the start of the season I made it clear that City and United would be the teams to respect.

Both have got their tactics on point and look like they can score from any position. Even when fans, pundits, and the press question their style of play, the two managers will stick to what they think is best for their teams.

Man City in particular have so much talent going forward, even when one of the league’s most deadly strikers Aguero is sidelined due to injury. Imagine if the goal machine Harry Kane was out of the Spurs side – they would struggle to get the goals. But City have Jesus and others to deliver the goods in Aguero’s absence.

Man Utd is a different team that is focused purely on results. It doesn’t matter how they beat you, but they just want to make sure they get what they need out of the game. Like their game against Liverpool at the weekend – where you can argue that Klopp’s men were the better team, but they could not finish the game off, so you have to say the result was better for Mourinho.

I do worry about Chelsea to be honest. They have a great striker in Morata but look lost now that he is injured. And I’m not sure they have enough belief in Batsu because he hasn’t been starting, usually coming on from the bench. A striker needs confidence and belief from his team to fire them to the wins they need.

But who else can do it if they don’t want to play a striker? They tried it with Hazard, but found that they need quick wingers because Eden likes to drop deep to pick the ball up, and if no one goes deep they won’t be able to stretch teams. It also means that if they lose the ball in the midfield the pressure will be on immediately.

My main concern is that I hope they don’t become predictable like they were towards the end of Mourinho’s second spell. Opponents knew how to stop them and once that happens the team starts playing against itself.

I do agree there has to be more quality added to the squad, and if the club doesn’t want to invest in more talent than please add some young blood to the team and take some risks because at the very least, they will be unpredictable to anyone facing them.


Looking Into The Champions League

It’s always fun times when the Champions League returns because as a fan you get to see the best competing against the best.

I remember dreaming of one day playing in the Champions League after going to watch Ajax by myself. My friends would tell me it is too cold to watch, so I would go to my teammates and ask them – but would hear the same thing. “It’s too cold, you’re crazy!”

So I would go on my own. If I told you the number of times that I sat on my own in the stadium watching Ajax, with my knees and ankles being frozen, you would tell me this guy is an iceman. But I learned so much and sometimes I got goosebumps and sat there with a big smile on my face as the team walked out with flowers to throw to the fans while the famous Champions league music played.

Not long after it was my turn to play against the best, with the likes of Zidane showing me football that was out of this world. Damn that guy was good. I can go and talk to you for days about how great it was but it think we will need a couple more pages for that because watching and playing will be never the same sensation.

Now that I’m a fan and watch the action from a birds eye view it still gives me that amazing feeling when I hear the Champions League song. That piece of music gives you the feeling a boxer gets when he hears “let’s get ready to rumble!”

Back to the guys who are active and entertaining us today, I think Madrid are looking great again. Ronaldo is always demanding the best of himself, which is what makes him so unique, and the team is so well-oiled and look like the hunger is still in the team and I love seeing that. They all want it again and will do whatever it takes to make it three in a row.

All the English teams have started strong and I expect a lot from them this season because they have invested a lot of time, money and effort to make their squads big enough to compete in two competitions. This is going to be a long season so all the players want to end it with a big trophy before going away for the summer to fight for the even bigger one, the World Cup.

Chelsea’s main focus is winning the Champions League because that’s always the next objective after you win the domestic league. You want more and there’s only one trophy out there to make your season even better. But they have Man Utd and City going after it with the same determination, that we could see in all of their first games. This season could be the time that the English teams start ruling again.

Spurs also looked impressive in their win over Dortmund. This German side have become one of the dark horses to watch out for in Europe, finishing as runners-up in 2013 and making the quarterfinals last season. But Spurs showed why they are becoming one of the top sides in England with a 3-1 win.

Liverpool could also cause some surprises with their counter attacks and speed. They’re England’s most successful club in Europe and their comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final shows how you can never rule them out.

PSG look great but can they play the way they did in that great first half against Barcelona throughout the whole tournament? I’ll be watching them closely over the next couple of games to see if they are solid enough to win it. The surly have the players to do so.

Barcelona are impossible to leave out of the conversation as they are always in contention of winning it. Messi and co can pass their way through any defence in the world as they showed against Juventus in their opening game. It’s Buffon’s last chance to lift the trophy and if they can repeat their performances from last season and get a bit of luck along the way it could be the best sendoff possible for Gianluigi.

Bayern are the other big team that are in with a real chance of winning the competition. They have made the final three times since 2010, winning it in 2013.

Whatever happens this season it can’t be missed. Watching and playing football is still one of the happiest things in my life!


Return of the Natural Born Animal

Ibrahimovic announced his return to Manchester United in typical Zlatan style, with an image of himself depicted as Jesus arm wrestling a red devil. But as he says, he never really left:

“Lukaku called me and said: ‘Bro, can I get the No. 9 shirt? I said ‘I’m not on that level that I will make it difficult for you, I just want you to feel happy and feel welcome, so I give you the No. 9 but I will take the No. 10.’ That’s the way we do it. So I never left, I just upgraded my number.”

His season was cut short in April after ligament damage but the ‘natural born animal’ has been working hard to regain his fitness and looks like he could be returning to the pitch in January. Last term he netted 28 goals for United in the face of all the doubters who said he was too old to perform at that level in the Premier League. He proved the naysayers wrong and could be a vital addition to United’s already strengthened side this season.

Zlatan won’t have the same impact as he did last season and will more likely be viewed as an extra man. Lukaku was the big summer signing for United and has already scored 3 goals and taken an early lead in the race for the golden boot along with Mané, and Mourinho has insisted that Ibrahimovic will have to prove himself in Man Utd’s ‘made team’.

Rashford and Martial are also likely to be amongst the goals this season which makes United one of the most dangerous sides in the Premier League going forward. Each player offers different qualities and style of play, and that depth could be vital when fixtures stack up later in the season.

As well as bringing extra class to Old Trafford, Zlatan also brings character. He’s one of the most entertaining players both on and off the field and, at least for neutrals and Man Utd fans, it’s great to have him back.

United are the team to beat this season because they look great going forward and well-balanced defensively. They have strengthened in the key areas after Mourinho assessed what he was missing last season. Now that he has this great attacking force, life at Manchester is different.

That said, people still need to adjust to his playing style because it is different to the attacking play United were known for under Fergie. Mourinho is the master of sitting back and defending when his side has just enough to win.

Chelsea and City are the teams that can stop them – all three sides have a lot of similarities tactically and are all deadly in attack.

It has been a great start to the new Premier league campaign and there is nothing better than watching teams that play to win.


Back with a Bang

It was the most anticipated weekend of the summer for football fans everywhere, and the excitement was answered with plenty of goals and entertainment.

Arsenal and Leicester kicked things off with a seven goal thriller. Lacazette headed the Gunners ahead 94 seconds into his Premier League debut, only for Okazaki to equalise just two minutes later. We were off to a flyer and that intensity continued over the 90 minutes with Leicester taking a 3-2 before Ramsey and Giroud swung the balance in Arsenal’s favor in the last 10 minutes.

Arsenal are always one of the teams that play the brand of football that, on its day, can be out of this world. Going forward they are always deadly but they are still missing something. If Wenger can find the balance and keep more clean sheets but continue to score plenty of goals, this season could see them push for the title again.

Watford and Liverpool were next up and the goals continued. Miguel Britos scored a controversial 93rd-minute equaliser for Watford to give them a share of the spoils at Vicarage road. As good as Liverpool were in attack, their defense was showing the same problems of last season.

If you want to be a title contender you have to win games like this. I know it’s tough playing away at Watford but you are still Liverpool – a club that should be aiming to win the league. You can’t be that easy to cut open. To be in with any chance of contending the title, they need to be more solid, especially away from home.

Chelsea were involved in the shock result of the weekend, falling three goals behind Burnley at Stamford Bridge. The team looks too light. I already said it weeks ago – I don’t see Chelsea winning this one because the big focus is the Champions League. Your squad needs to have the depth to handle both compeitions, and at the moment it is too thin. If you want give the youngsters a chance it will take time and patience is needed, but I’m not sure the blues want to wait for glory and if that’s the case they need to strengthen if they want a great season again.

Huddersfield also looked like a surprise package, defeating Palace 3-0 in their own back yard. Most people have predicted Huddersfield to finish rock bottom this season and on paper they are the smallest club in the league, but if they can stay positive and take each game as it comes they could cause some surprises. As we all know football isn’t played on paper, and they can look at the likes of Bournemouth and Swansea for inspiration.

Man Utd looked the best they have for some time during their 4-0 win over West Ham. It was Lukaku who grabbed the headlines with his brace, but Matic was key in midfield and looked like the piece that had been missing from Jose’s puzzle. He’s not Roy Keane, but his presence in the midfield was reminiscent of the former skipper and could turn out to be an important player for United this season.

I never understood Chelsea for letting Matic go to their rivals. I’m sure Chelsea thought they are paying over the price, but still, you know how much Mourinho needed him after last season. Pogba was doing both jobs and with Matic in the team now he has the security behind him so he can start producing more of the stuff that should make him one of the best midfielders in the world.

Away from the Premier League, Neymar made his PSG debut with a goal. There was so much expectation on the Brazilian and he delivered the goods saying that he feels more alive than ever. Barcelona played the El Classico without him, and Real Madrid got the better of them with goals from Asensio and, of course, Ronaldo. Ronaldo was sent off and will miss 5 games for pushing the referee. He can play in the Champions League but will not return to domestic action until 20 September against Real Betis, giving Messi a 5 game head start in the season’s battle for top scorer.

Barca looked like they were out of balance without Neymar and I’m sure they knew they were about to miss magic when he left to PSG. But in the Clasico they got the confirmation. Madrid was too strong and the quality that came off the bench was no different to what was starting.

It maybe will take some time to fix the Neymar shaped whole, but I’m sure Barca are working hard behind the sense to find an answer.


A Huge Night For Ajax

This game means a lot for Ajax.

Holland’s most famous club have been waiting for some glory on the European scale. After losing the league this season by a close call to the big arrivals Feyenoord (who hadn’t won it for 18 years) it feels like my old homegrown team needs this more than winning the league again, because the recognition on the international scale is what the team needs.

Ajax will always be known for developing their own talent and taking risks by allowing them to excel in the first team. Over the years they have become renowned for fielding young talented players.

There are quite a few teams that do that now but no one does it like Ajax do. Most teams have the financial backbone but Ajax has to be creative to stay alive in this great game where money is key.

My development as an Ajax youngster started when I was nine so I know how hard, yet fun it is to see so many young talents that will be involved on the big stage like the Europa league final. This is what the club talk about all the time because from a young age you learn to deal with big expectations. That way you won’t crack under pressure – which can happen to pro’s when they progress fast like the youngsters at Ajax.

Ajax do have to be smart in the Europa League final because Jose Mourinho already started his plan as soon as the final was confirmed, when he called his team the underdog and rested key players. If you look at the squads on paper and the money Man Utd spend on putting their star team together – Ajax must be laughing when they heard that.

That’s also normal when you’re a winner like Mourinho and will do whatever it takes, even if the team performance might not look that great to the spectator. If he needs to win the game and sit deep allowing Ajax to have the ball, then hurting them when they make a mistake, that’s exactly what he will do. Ajax on the other hand have to be smart. If Peter Bosz plays naively and falls for the trap by leaving space behind the defensive line, Man Utd will take advantage with counterattacks.

This final should have brought happiness and excitement to Manchester, and we will watch the beautiful game, but we will always remember the sad story that unraveled two days ago where families went to enjoy music like the should, but tragically had to run for their lives.


Mr Zlatan

Today it’s time to write about a player who has already achieved so much but shows no signs of stopping.

When you think Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done it all he manages to come up with something great yet again, and then again.

It all began with his move from Malmo to Ajax, where he won the Erividisie twice before Juventus snapped him up. At Juve he won Serie A twice in two seasons and then moved to Inter where he won the league a further three times in a row.

From there he won La Liga with Barcelona, another Serie A title with AC Milan and then four consecutive Ligue 1 title’s with PSG before his move to Man Utd. If you look at the league finishes his teams have had, you’ll see that in the last 15 seasons he won the league title with each club he played for, every year, except twice. On both those occasions his team finished 2nd (once with Ajax and once with AC Milan).

Those stats alone are phenomenal. And then you look at his individual scoring stats. He’s one of two players, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, to have scored in every minute of a football match during their careers. He’s also the only player to have scored in the Milan derby, El Clasico, the Manchester derby, Le Classique in France, and De Klassieker in Holland.

When he moved to Man Utd many people asked why considering his age. Isn’t his time done and shouldn’t he be playing in a different league where you go just to play out your last years? But Zlatan doesn’t listen to the rumours, he does it the Zlatan way. He’s never taken an easy route but makes it look easy.

He started off well in Manchester and kept scoring but then it stopped and the team started to struggle for a few games. It didn’t take long for him to get himself and his great connection with Pogba going again though, and Mourinho’s side are now back on track.

You can see how his influence isn’t just limited to scoring goals but also assisting teammates.

Look at Mkhitaryan’s goal that could easy be the goal of the season, or Zlatan’s header that looked so easy to set up Martial for his goal at the weekend.

I’ve always liked they guy from the first time I met him in Amsterdam. If you ask PSG players I know some will tell you he was too much because if you’re around Zlatan you have to man up or he’ll walk all over you. But be honest, isn’t he the player that can win league titles for you? Any player out there knows that all we play for is winning trophies.

Winning the league with United is maybe a call that’s not so easy to make but one thing for sure is that he will do whatever it takes to get into the Champions League.


Top of the Tree This Christmas

We’re almost at the half way point in the Premier League season and Chelsea will sit at the top of the tree this Christmas. A 10th straight win for Antonio Conte puts the blues 6 points clear at the top. Fabregas’ goal also meant Sunderland stay pinned at the bottom of the league.

It’s exciting at both ends of the league and everyone will have different opinions about how the table will look come May.

Man City made a flying start to their campaign under Pep, winning their opening 6 games. It wasn’t just the results but the way they picked apart their opponents that had many making early calls for City winning the title.

On their day City can be unplayable, and if Guardiola get’s them playing at the top of their game quickly they will cause the other title contenders a lot of trouble. As it stands though, they have won just 6 of their last 15 games in all competitions going into Sunday’s tie with Arsenal.

Arsenal have also been great to watch. Their mid-week game with Everton was the first they have lost since the opening day of the season, and Alexis Sanchez has looked particularly brilliant. His pace and finishing is causing defenders all kinds of problems and he’s adjusted to his new role excellently. The game on Sunday could be one of the games of the season with the way both teams like to play.

Liverpool have also been great so far this season, but they will need to sort out their defensive problems if they are to be serious title contenders. They’ve scored the most goals in the league but they’ve also conceded more than any of the top 7. Their 3-0 victory against Middlesbrough last night shows they can be solid at the back, but Klopp will need to make sure they stay consistent.

Man Utd have struggled a little bit and Mourinho is always under the microscope so everybody knows it. But Jose is a winner and you can never count out Utd going on a crazy run of form until the end of the season. Spurs are also in the mix and can always cause a surprise like they did last season. Pochettino has played 3 at the back a few times to great success and it looks like it suits the players. They could be a dark horse in the new year.

At the other end of the table things are quite tight for the bottom eight. Sunderland sit rock bottom but are only 6 points off 13th place Burnley. The pack includes the Champions Leicester who were always going to have a tough season after winning the league last year. The extra games that come with being in Europe was going to be tough as they don’t have as much strength in depth as the usual big four.

Hull, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Palace join Sunderland as the favourites to go down, all winning only 3 or 4 games so far. It will probably be a fight to the end and it will be interesting to see who spends in January.

Whatever happens it will be thrilling for the fans and I hope Chelsea can repeat history: Each of the four times they have been top of the Premier League at Christmas they have gone on to win the title.


Has Mourinho Lost His Touch?

Mourinho is going through a harder time than he would have ever expected.

During his Chelsea days we had a couple of great chats at the Bridge, and knowing the real winner that he is, I can guarantee you it’s not going the way he expected.

I think his style of play hasn’t been effective because United have been conceding silly goals, and they hurt more when the team doesn’t score freely. So far this season they’ve dropped 7 points from conceding goals in the final 10 minutes of the game – more than any other team in the Premier League.

If you look at his recent results you’d find that he’s earned just 36 points from his last 30 Premier League games, which if you average out over a season would give you a finish somewhere around 13th in a typical campaign.

He has a great team on paper and if you ask any player if it would be great playing with the likes of Zlatan, Rooney and Pogba, they would always say yes. The club is great – obviously one of the biggest in the world – and they have a great manager with a brilliant record. But there has to be a better understanding.

Sometimes I wonder if people realise the struggles Sir Alex Ferguson had at the beginning of his career with Man Utd – that he transformed the team to winning ways. The team he built was great to watch and play against, dominated the Premier league for years, but it wasn’t plain sailing from the get-go.

Fergie also always had a plan B, and sometimes I think that is missing with Mourinho. I remember going to Manchester and thinking we’re in the game. They would give you the ball for 5 minutes to make you feel superior and then Roy Keane would tell the lads “let’s go” and the game could change in a flash. You would be pressed everywhere and the speed of the game would be so fast that you, as the opponent, would struggle to keep up.

Mourinho hasn’t lost his touch but when you watched how they drew their last game in injury time after giving away a clumsy penalty, you could see the frustration in Jose that he can normally control better.

He’s a man that’s all about concentration until the last minute, and if you don’t have that it could be tough for you as a player. It will be interesting to see how he will treat Marouane Fellaini. I hope things change for the better because the league is always more entertaining when more teams are competing for the title, and of course your favourite team wins it.


Moses Becoming a Mainstay

I have probably seen the best Chelsea game of the season and some are saying it might be the best game since the beginning of last season for us blues.

It does help a team when a new man is put in charge. Every player starts from square one to get his place in the squad, fighting for a spot in the starting line-up. Even before they get to a club, new managers know what the problems are with each player’s mentality and come up with a plan to attack that. How they find that out I still don’t know, but the do, and Conte is clearly no exception.

Look at hazard – he’s fit and playing the role he wanted, starting from the left but with way more freedom because Chelsea are playing with two holding midfielders. That allows the attackers to take more risk because if you lose the ball Matic and Kante are there to take care of it.

But Victor Moses might be the big headline of them all. I played with Victor when he was at Wigan. Martinez was very impressed by his talent and we once talked about how we couldn’t believe no big club could see it.

I do have to say he sometimes had to learn to be more focused, not just in the games but in training. He was only 20 years old back then, and I think that’s something every young star has to deal with when they break through. You have to learn to separate the jokes from work because when you hit the pitch, whether in a game or training, it means business.

It didn’t take long before Chelsea saw Victor’s qualities and snapped him up. Then there was a long loan out process at a number of clubs until Conte came and changed the system. He put victor in a role where he had way more responsibility than he was used to. In the United game I saw Victor in his own box more then I’ve seen him ever in a game. Back-tracking and winning balls and headers like he was a defender.

Wing back isn’t an easy position to play, of course it asks for a lot of fitness, but also intelligence because you need to be on time, helping out the defence, but when the team goes forward you need to be there to give them the outside option and even take people on to deliver a cross into the box.

It’s a fun position to play because you always get the ball and are super active. But you always need to keep your focus and remember you can’t slip up, or you’ll pay for it. Moses has managed to adjust and handle his new role well and I hope he can keep this great form going.


The Pep Blueprint

On paper it was clear that Pep Guardiola had a great chance of starting the season well. I think the likes of Chelsea and Man Utd needed more work to find the way to dominate the league again, while City had a lot of good players already in the squad, so just needed a little adjustment.

All three teams bought a lot of great players but I’m not convinced they really focussed enough on the specific quality they needed. I still think Chelsea’s defence hasn’t been taken care of and the attacking force will have problems if one of the key figures gets injured. United, on the other hand, lack the pace we are used to seeing in Mourinho’s sides going forward. Where are the wingers that you usually see dribble past players down the flanks, with plenty of goals and assists?

Man City did a great job in tweaking things and invested in some young stars for the future. For example, they already had Raheem Sterling and De Bruyne, but they added Leroy Sane and the new Brazilian wonder kid that every top team was after, Gabriel Jesus.

Pep goes to work very strategically, understanding what type of players are already at the clubs he takes over, checking that the team already has the players that will understand his philosophy. (If the team is far off then I don’t think he would even consider taking charge of that club).

He then has the amazing record of winning the biggest trophies and making players love his style of play, and then building from there. When Pep wants you, and like any player you want to win trophies, you’d be mad not to consider signing for him. And if you’re in his team you’ll enjoy playing for him, but like every big coach, if you’re not part of his plans you’ll know about it.

There is an unwritten rule that exists everywhere, in any job in the world, and is especially true in football. If you manager doesn’t talk to you or even look at you then you know you aren’t as important to him as the others that he does interact with. And most likely trouble will occur very shortly.

Pep is the same as all the other big managers: they will give you signals that you can recognise as a player. He’s a confident man, sticks to his tactic no matter what happens, and will make sure you do what he says. If not, you’re out.

The one thing the top clubs all have in common is money, so now it will come down to who spends it the most effectively to be the best team in England.