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Howard Webb: Superstar

 Posted by on January 3, 2014 at 1:58 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Manchester United, Tottenham
Jan 032014

“Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?”
William Makepeace Thackeray: ‘Vanity Fair’

Manchester United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
72033053 72033052 Howard Webb: SuperstarSad to see the saddlebags under David Moyes’ eyes after a pretty pathetic loss at home to Spurs. His emotional rant against the match referee Howard Webb seemed rather pointless, until I remembered all the good decisions Howard the Vain made for us were all BF (Before Fergie!). Webb may be a narcissistic creature intent on being the star and is all too often caught napping in the midst of the action where he has to duck, jump or never apologize for interference, but I don’t see him as a vindictive individual like Andre Marriner and Phil Dowd. In this case, what Moyes refuses to acknowledge is the fact that Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Adnan Jauzaj are marked men from the perspective of the F.A. for repeatedly diving and cheating up there with Luís Suarez. This is not fair, but a fact of life he must grow up and face if he wants to be a successful manager of a top club.

United were not all bad. They subjected Spurs to some blowtorch intensity toward the end of a periodically intense match, but, once again, these are not the glory boys of old who could produce goals seemingly out of sheer will, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Teddy Sheringham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. This well deserved fourth Premier League defeat at home leaves United now seventh, 11 points off the lead. David Moyes probably feels like a well-hung porn wannabe who carried the key to a voluptuous, promiscuous actress’ apartment a few months too long before making up his mind and found she’d run off to a nunnery.

Indeed, United still have a lot going for them up front. Even an injured, physically inhibited Wayne Rooney leading the line next to the the steadily improving Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj still had moments of brilliance. The eventual return of Robin Van Persie will be helpful and mean winning some more games against mediocre teams. Unfortunately, Our midfield is now on the cusp of null and void with Michael Carrick repeatedly forced to play out of position and a useless Tom Cleverley so terrified of making a mistake that he has rendered himself nigh invisible. The midfield’s pathetic predicament has forced Wayne Rooney further and further back in game after game to work as an extra defender, or simply to collect the ball to feed his wingers.

Yet, blaming Cleverley for not being good enough is an exercise in futility. Blaming Ferdinand and Evra for being past it is useless, too. United’s tactics are incredibly obvious, even for a rookie opposing manager like Tottenham’s Tim Sherwood. Winning at Old Trafford used to mean being beaten by inspired quality displays from the likes of A.C. Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Now our defense is such a soft touch that we can be easily beaten by the mediocre likes of Everton, Newcastle and West Brom in our own house!

United begun the game brightly, utilizing high-pressing tactics so that the huffing,puffing pretender who now wears Parice Evra’s face couldn’t be repeatedly nutmegged by the speedy but cross-challenged Aaron Lennon. Januzaj and Valencia showed many lightning flashes of brilliance on both flanks while Chris Smalling did well charging up behind the Ecuadorian up the right flank. Yet they were rarely in rhythm and Welbeck and Rooney were both forced forced to go mobile hunt and hunt for their own balls out of the striker position. Then thirty minutes in, United altered their high-energy tactics, abandoning the high line.

This proved to be almost instantaneously disastrous as it was exactly what a counterattacking Spurs were after. Aaaron Lennon began to repeatedly speed past a static Patrice Evra before cutting inside. First Soldado botched a sitter, blasting wide after Lennon finally made an accurate cross. Wilting, United suddenly couldn’t hold on to the ball. And it was a counterattack in the 34th minute that finally broke the ice. It all began after a fluid passing move which saw Cleverley twice wince and back off tackles with Moussa Dembelé before the Belgian found Cristian ErIkson, whose cross from the left found Adebayor who nodded past De Gea to make it 0-1. In a state of shock, United were still reeling in the 38th minute when Lennon was denied by a superbly athletic David De Gea save after a neat give-and-go between Roberto Soldado and Emanuel Adabayor.

After that there were only very brief brief moments when United were their fluent old selves. Rooney’s relentless running may have been altruistic, but he simply couldn’t be both an attacking midfielder and striker without something giving out. Beginning to limp in the second half, Rooney clearly shouldn’t have been pronounced fit to play. When Moyes switched Valencia to right-back for Smalling, before also bringing on Hernandez and Kagawa for Carrick, it looked like it might work. But Valencia is not a natural defender and it showed when Moyes tried to shake up his team at 2-0 down, by taking off Smalling and Michael Carrick and bringing on two more attack-minded players in Javier Hernández and Shinji Kagawa.

It was a bold move from Moyes but Valencia was caught in dreamland in the 66th minute. He was way too slow to react as Lennon sped around Nemanja Vidic and tried to shoot as he ran horizontally across the box. The unmarked Eriksen was able to slide in, bend and fire his header into the net off the ground into the net past a static De Gea.

Welbeck’s goal, scored while Spurs were still distracted and still celebrating scoring their second goal, came from an exquisite, dinked finish over Lloris from a perfectly weighted Januzaj pass to make it 1-2.

Having watched the match three times, I definitely think Howard Webb should have been given the Man of the Match award. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I did do my best to give a fair shake to Webb over the tumbles taken by Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj. The latter getting him a yellow card for penalty area simulation. Young’s tumble, as he swerved around Lloris and was about to shoot home before the goalie pushed him down, seemed to be brazen and ridiculous on the part of both Webb and his crew. It was a foul, but Webb simply didn’t give it. The self-satisfied grin on Webb’s face as he turned down the appeal did seem like a provocation to United’s players, however.

I’ve always respected Webb over the years. He’s been a high-quality, more or less reasonable ref who hasn’t played favorites. Nowadays, however, having refereed a World Cup Final, it all seems to be about his own sense of self-aggrandizement. All too often, he seems to get all mixed up in the midst of plays. Theoretically, a super-fit physically imposing arbitrator seems like a great idea; unfortunately, Webb gets involved so much, it’s as if he’s actually playing . Referees, like players, are allowed their vanities and foibles, but by not adjudicating incidents involving Ashley Young on an individual basis, Webb makes himself look just as partial and opinionated as any of the pundits on Fleet Street.

Spurs won the game fair and square. No doubt about that. Manchester United have nobody to blame but themselves for this one. Nevertheless, if Mr. Webb is going to go after serial cheats like Ashley Young, he ought to be consistent and do the same with Eden Hazard, Mehmet Ozil, Oscar, Santí Cazoría, Lúis Suarez and scores of others in the PL, too.
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Ivor Irwin

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