The Second Leg

 

Not sure what I can write about this match that hasn’t already been written from a tactical point of view. Lineup predictions, formational preferences, and the impact of the two legendary managers have all been published, copied, pasted, reworded, recycled, occasionally refreshed and all together lost all meaning as the match looms nearer and nearer. I was trying to explain the significance of the occasion to my manager at work; trying and struggling mind you. She’s a lovely woman but she hasn’t the faintest idea of why I was so devastated to have been scheduled to work today. How do you explain love? How does one define excitement? How to articulate the sheer monumentality? To say this match will be more explosive that Team Yusuke v Team Toguro in the Dark Tournament is something of an understatement. More convoluted than House Stark v House Lannister? You bet it is.. but that is not quite explicative enough to do the match justice. Is it akin to two gladiators going at it in a bout to the death? Yeaa but nahh. Its Manchester United at home to Real Madrid circa 2013. I don’t think any sort of metaphor, simile, comparison, or explanation would suffice to accurately delineate the wash of emotions we’re all feeling today. It the Champions League. That says enough. Today I’m just going to sit back, watch, and enjoy this one. And stay sober because I still have work tonight -____-

Shout out to Ryan Giggs though! 1,000 matches and counting! Just hope he’s not starting…

 

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My Gus Johnson Reaction

While I was writing that Champions League piece news started filtering in through my timeline that Fox Soccer have picked up a new commentator. At first glance the name Gus Johnson didn’t register at all (neither did it on the second, third, or fourth glances btw) but it wasn’t until I saw him being compared to the illustrious Ray Hudson (who I hold in rather high regard) that I started to take note. A clip of Johnson calling a match between the San Jose Earthquakes and DC United caught my eye. And ears. I wasn’t impressed. I check the Fox Soccer timeline and see that they are REALLY excited about the arrival of Mr. Johnson and seem to want us to be excited as well. Puzzled, and sensing discontent from some of the folks I follow, I poked around a bit more and found THIS Sports Illustrated piece detailing how Gus Johnson began his career as a soccer pundit. Then came the fury.

To super-summarize that article, Fox Sports won the U.S. broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and wanted to be bold and unique and to most importantly, “brand it with something unique to Fox.” So the President of Fox Sports calls up Gus Johnson. Gus Johnson is a 45 year old professional broadcaster with a vast amount of commentary experience in a variety of sports. None of those sports, however, happens to be soccer as it were. That’s ok though because Fox are giving this guy a crash course in soccer that includes extended trips to Europe and personal mentoring sessions with some of the game’s most knowledgeable and respected figures, as well as a soft and steady introduction to the game of soccer.

The fury has since subsided but even now I still can’t decide where to begin to comment on this. No one likes a Negative Nigel though so instead of focusing on what I consider to be a shockingly disrespectful and excruciatingly inconsiderate move by the Fox Sports President Eric Shanks to hire someone with no prior knowledge/ties/passion/understanding/experience/links/relations to the beautiful game and give that person the soccer fans ultimate dream education, I will  instead draw on the positives. Personally I’d prefer for an up and coming young soccer player/fan/writer/coach etc with aspirations of becoming the voice of American soccer to be handed the keys to the castle so to speak and have the opportunity literally handed to them on a silver platter but I can understand (even if I do not approve of) the move by Shanks to go with the top-down approach instead of the bottom-up. By taking someone who is already well known and generally well liked and respected, Fox generates more news than if they’d announced they’d just signed Dike Anyiwo to a log term commentary deal. Even the controversy of hiring a man from the despicable “sport” of baseball plays into Fox’s hands. Its still early doors in this experiment and I bear no ill-will towards Gud Johnson as an individual; I actually respect the depth and scope of the preparation he’s going through to prepare himself. I’ll withhold my final judgment of this whole affair until after this upcoming round of Champions League fixtures that he is scheduled to work.  Part of me even wants him to succeed if it leads more Americans to watching and understanding soccer.

I just wonder though… If Fox Sports invested just 1/10 of what they’re putting into this Gus experiment into providing an opportunity for someone who actually knows the game to pursue the same goal, they’d recoup a lot of the animosity amongst us purists that this move has generated. How cool would it be if Fox Soccer continued with their recent “original programming” wave and put together a project similar to that Celtic player trial show but for aspiring writers, analysts, and commentators??

Bumpers and Thumpers

For the greater part of the last 47 days and some hours I’ve been waiting with baited breath for next week’s UEFA Champions League clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid. At the time of the draw it was farrr too early for me to start thinking slash talking about potential lineups, key battles, or even tactical formations. Its still too early but now with just over 7 days to go I’m feeling restless, anxious, impatient, and most of all EAGER.

Despite rampant allegations of United playing well below the peak of their powers, the men from Manchester find themselves 9 points clear at the top of the table over those noisy ones from across the way and with a squad that is nigh on full strength. Ashley Young has been the only long term injury of late and Phil Jones has just been ruled out with shingles of all things but otherwise the United squad is looking strong. Last time out Manchester United had to rely on a late strike from a resurgent Rooney who looks to be neck deep in a rather rich vein of form at just the right time of the season. Nani and Kagawa are both back from long injuries and give us options going forward that we sorely lacked during the first half of the season when Robin van Persie put his new team on his back and carried them to the top of the table with a string of class performances. Although he hasn’t scored in the last 3 matches van Persie’s ability is there to be seen and I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s taken his foot off the pedal a bit in a bid to save his strength for the match against Madrid.

Personally I’m quite confident of our ability to go to the Bernabeau and knick a goal or three. Madrid’s league form has been nothing short of atrocious but we all know they gave up on retaining the La Liga crown some time ago.  They’ve been waiting for this round of the Champions League as well and will be champing at the bit to get that 10th European title under their belt. Aside from the usual media fueled and inflated rumors of death doom and destruction going on in the Madrid dressing room, Real do have a few real problems. Golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling with ankle and groin injuries but looks set to play for Portugal in this terribly timed round of international matches and St Iker is out with that well documented broken hand. Questions remain at LB where Marcelo has yet to regain form following a lengthy spell out with a broken metatarsal and Fabio Coentrao has been less than convincing when on the pitch. Sami Khedira has been one of Madrid’s better performers this season but was substituted at half time in Madrid’s last match against Grenada along with Karim Benzema who is yet another Madrid star who twinkles in time to some beat that none of the rest of his teammates can seem to find with any regularity. Xabi Alonso is a vital cog in the Madrid midfield but he’s been struggling with neck and back pains since taking a rather nasty fall a few weeks back. Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric have also flitted in and out of the team for the bulk of the season and Kaka is still lingering around after his move to Milan collapsed. Needless to say, Jose Mourinho has his work cut out for him in terms of picking his XI to host Manchester United.

Choosing the United starting XI is has proved to be an exercise in futility in recent years. Sir Alex always throws a surprise in the mix but for me personally I’d start De Gea in goal. Rafael at RB. Vidic (if fit) and Evans together at CB. Evra LB. Carrick and Anderson in midfield with Nani and Kagawa/Rooney wide with RvP at the tip and Rooney/Kagawa supporting him.

De Gea

Rafael Vidic Evans Evra

Carrick Anderson

Nani Rooney Kagawa

RvP

     Like I mentioned earlier its too soon to really be thinking about Madrid with a tricky home match against Everton this weekend to come first but I couldn’t help it. The dinner table isn’t quite set and the main course hasn’t started cooking yet, but Mom is back from the store and the groceries are most definitely out of the car.

5 Reasons to Play Robin van Persie Wide Left

1- Too Good to Leave Completely Out
2- Midfielders Needing Minutes
3- Balance
4- Striker Rotation
5- Rampant RooneyImage

The main reason I have for shunting Robin out wide is that we’ve got some midfielders in a rich vein of form that need to see some minutes on the pitch. The injury to Kagawa on Tuesday seems to have postponed the discussion on where/how our Japanese midfielder best fits into a Manchester United starting XI, but there are still a plethora of combinations and permutations that the gaffer could piece together when the Reds take on Chelsea at the Bridge this weekend. The presence of van Persie and Rooney both in the team means that they MUST be on the pitch together from the start. In addition to the two strikers, only de Gea’s position in goal, and the back line of Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, and Evra pick themselves. After that the remaining four positions are quite debatable.

The reasoning behind the title of this piece is that this author humbly believes that a 3 man midfield of Cleverley, Anderson, and Fletcher/Carrick is just what is needed to stymie a Chelsea side that is leading the Premier League table by a comfortable 4 points at this early stage of the season. Anderson is a player that divides opinion amongst United supporters, but I belong to the group who believes the Brazilian is due some time on the pitch to showcase his talents. Anderson’s ability to run with the ball is something unique to him and maybe only Shinji Kagawa in Manchester United’s midfield. Carrick, Scholes, and Cleverley are all excellent passers but have no real physical presence to speak of. Scholes’ advancing age makes me wary of starting him in a match against a midfield likely to consist of Mikel and Ramires holding behind Hazard, Mata, and Oscar. Against that sort of opposition, our best bet is to meet them with a 3 man midfield, Rooney leading the line, with Valencia wide right and van Persie wide left.

So there you have it. My ideal squad for Sunday:

De Gea

Rafael           Evans         Ferdinand         Evra

Fletcher/Carrick

Anderson                    Cleverley

Valencia                           Rooney                    van Persie

Todays Thoughts

Having been out of the house and offline most of the weekend I missed a chance to watch Man United play live and all the subsequent conversation surrounding the match. Having now watched the full match, and BBC’s Match of the Day program I feel the urge to make note of just a few things.

 

  • Danny “Welbinho” Welbeck isn’t terrible in a wide left position
  • The link up play between Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and Welbinho is whats keeping Chicharito (rightly in my opinion) on the bench.
  • David de Gea is improving all the time. Looked composed and again demonstrated his absurd reflexes.
  • Anderson is looking sharp and fit and will most likely start in the Champions League tomorrow against Braga. (with Cleverley and Kagawa I predict)
  • This Manchester United team is still developing and is in a tactical revolution this season to build from their personnel overhaul over the last two years. Second place without ever reeeally putting together a good string of performances bodes well for when these players really gel.

Things I’m looking forward to in the near future:

  1. A fluid 4-3-3 with Anderson, Kagawa, Cleverley, Welbinho, van Persie, and Rooney all starting together.
  2. More link play between van Persie Rooney and Welbinho
  3. The return of Vidic, Smalling and Jones

All in all I’m quite pleased with how we’re playing going forward. The majority of the match against Stoke and in previous games as well we’ve bosses proceedings with the exception of the odd defensive lapse  What I’d like to see is the complete eradication of errors at the back. More clean sheets. More dominant displays. And more fear in the hearts of our enemies.