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United Punish the Goalposts

 Posted by on October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm  Blogs/Media, England, Europe, Manchester United
Oct 242013

Manchester United 1-0 Real Sociedad
Manchester United celebra 008 United Punish the GoalpostsNo doubt about it. The fans and pundits who complain about the lack of general ruthlessness in David Moyes’ new version of Manchester United do have a point. On a night when both Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa were both brilliant, their general inability (them and their teammates) to fire that final coup de gráce was shocking. The margin of error in a 1-0 home is stressful to all and sundry concerned, especially when United really were so dominant throughout most of the match. The scoreline was surely not the one a deeply cautious Moyes would have liked after throwing caution to the wind during so much of the match. Nevertheless, United gritted their teeth and performed with verve enough to get the necessary three points.

Having been mauled by the pundits over his admittedly odd substitutions against Southampton in the PL at the weekend, Moyes came off as more of a jolly populist for starting Javíer ‘Chicharito’ Hernandéz and Shinji Kagawa. With Robin van Persie still suffering soreness from toe and groin injuries, the dour Scot had Hernández partnered with Rooney up front while Kagawa took over on the left from Adnan Januzaj and Ryan Giggs partnered Michael Carrick in central midfield. As the Basque team is small and built for speed, it was surely a relief for the tackle-shy Carrick to deal with the tricky but more finesse-oriented Sociedad and not have to hide behind Marouane Fellaini.

United’s nerves were soothed early as they got a second minute gift thanks to some Sociedad comedy defending. Indeed, it was wonderful to watch as a slick Wayne Rooney turned Markel Bergara inside-out deep in the penalty area, setting himself up exquisitely before blasting a bazooka which rebounded off the upright straight into the uncoordinated path of a panic-stricken Iñigo Martínez, who reached out tentatively with his right foot only to tip the spinning ball into his own net. Ten minutes on, United almost made it two as their goalie, Claudio Bravo made his first save of the game, stopping a Rooney shot on the line after a fine cross from Rafael Da Silva had set him up.

Passing with confidence, attacking relentlessly and running out every ball over each blade of Old Trafford grass, United really were sincerely in it to win it on the night. They were not, however, into the same kind of bullet-velocity wing play many of us have grown used to. Moyes is much more cautious than Ferguson when it comes to transitional play on the flanks, probably due in part to Patrice Evra’s inability to adapt his old legs to new realities. Atypically, Rooney was too high up the pitch to cope properly with an early Valencia cross. His cleverly improvised extemporaneous attempt at a scissors-kick to reach Valencia’s ball almost paid off, but a miss is good as a mile no matter what the cliché. And something identical almost happened again with minutes as Valencia let fly early with yet another shock early pass and finding an offside Hernandez. The Mexican assassin headed home, but was clearly adjudged to be offside.

Real Sociedad were not invisible, though. Luckily, the gifted shot-stopping abilities of David De Gea grow and grow. His one-handed save to prevent a Haris Seferovic shot from scoring definitely saved United because the whole team was standing around arguing, after the referee allowed the match to continue despite a blatant Martínez a foul on Giggs. United got even more fortunate as De Gea clearly wasn’t quick enough to reach a terrific free kick from Sociedad’s best player Antoine Griezmann which exploded off the crossbar. Why our defense keeps downing tools in these moments seems to defy all common sense! United survived a further scare at the start of the second half when Seferovic left Evra in the dust. His wicked shot fooled Evans, whose ugly clearance almost flew into his own net. 70674281 javierhernandezandwaynerooney United Punish the Goalposts

A quick caveat here. I can’t remember any game ever ever where the goalposts were hit so often. by both sides. Kagawa and Rooney both hit the goal posts three times. Valencia, Hernandez and Rafael once each. Bizarrely, early in the second half, Alberto de la Bella almost caught De Gea out of position with a shot that grazed the bar at one end while a wide-open Valencia badly hit a wide-open sitter against the post at the other. Valencia sensibly tried to make sure with his next opportunity, unselfishly squaring for a wide-open Kagawa goal. Unfortunately, the chance went begging once more as the Japanese took a soft touch in front of Bravo’s goal instead of shooting for power.

By the time Rooney blasted over the bar from six yards out in the 72nd minute, followed by Phil Jones header blocked by Bravo and Antonio Valencia’s low, angled shot ricocheting back off the post, United just seemed cursed. Exhausted, Sociedad barely put up a defense toward the end of the game and both Rooney and substitute Ashley Young failed to profit from a clean two-on-one situation four minutes from time, and, then, after squandering that one, as Giggs’ lovely chip found Kagawa flying again; unfortunately, alone and isolated, with only the goalkeeper in his way, the Japanese lost proper control of the ball and clipped it softly to Bravo.

Beyond Rooney’s whizz-bang display and his praise for the new manager after the game, and the voices of United’s brand-new ‘singing section,’ it’s also crystal-clear that Mr. Moyes can no longer afford to ignore Shinji Kagawa’s innate brilliance. Forced to start on the left wing, Shinji made do, working well with Ryan Giggs as they alternated positioninng in both central midfield and on the flank. When Chicharito was pulled late in the game for Ashley Young, Moyes moved Rooney front-center and put Kagawa in his favorite position, in the hole behind the striker. For the last fifteen minutes or so the industrious Japanese was an unstoppable force of nature.

It will be interesting to see if Moyes gives Robin Van Persie another chance to rest this weekend against Stoke. If the Dutchman is fit,I wouldn’t be at all averse to the boss putting a slightly withdrawn RVP on the left wing and Rooney as center-forward with Kagawa in the hole.
70674284 martinezowngoal United Punish the Goalposts

Oct 012013

Manchester United 1-2 West Bromwich Albion
The only nice thing about getting hammered by Manchester City was that it was a can of wupass which came with its own built-in excuse(s). Something about all the dosh City have spent, or the naiveManchester United woe v West Brom 3011412 Dem Home Town Baggie Blues! ref, the pile-up of tough fixtures. or Patrice’s legs have gone, or… But, now, the truth, the uncomfortable truth, and not the abstract truth, that David Moyes has to deal with after getting our noses rubbed in Baggie poo in our very own Theater of Dreams, is that Manchester United really are in trouble.

The team Moyes trotted out made a shrugging sort of sense as Alexander Büttner, Anderson, and Javier Hernández, were put out there by Moyes to test the waters. Javíer Hernandez was also enjoying a rare start because of both Robin Van Persie’s problematic hamstring, and as a reward for performing so well against Liverpool on Wednesday. Tinkering against a less risky opponent like West Brom surely seemed logical to the new United brains trust.

Yet Shinji Kagawa, playing on the left flank, repeatedly showed a dithering tendency to zigzag back and forth in a search for possession, looked both bemused and lost. Along with refusing to play Wilfried Zaha, whom he insists is not ready, Moyes has already badly bruised the fragile egos of two other players who are being stalked by Borussia Dortmund (Kagawa’s old club), Juventus and Manchester City in Kagawa and Januzaj. “We want Shinji to feel he’s getting an opportunity to show what he can do. His best position may be Number 10, but even for Japan he plays off the left as well so it’s not something which is strange to him or not his position so he’s used to that. But there’s a lot of competition here and we want to push each other on to give performances and improve.” Say what? Thus, despite all of Moyes’ verbal diarrhea, Kagawa was removed at half-time for another unhappy camper, the 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj. Moyes, confirming this was a tactical substitution after the game, added. “I just decided that I wanted to try and make a change, try and inject a little bit of something and I thought Adnan showed what he could do,” he said.

Unfortunately, Steve Clarke’s Baggies’ were more than up for a bit of diligence against the champions. Dominant in the first half, they pressed hard, gummed up central midfield and the flanks with pure, unadulterated hustle, and had both Stephane Sessegnon and Scott Sinclair come close to scoring in the first half. As fate would have it, with Scott Sinclair too hurt to return in the second half, Clarke brought on a young academy player, Saido Berahino, who, in switching wings and speedily, seamlessly shifting in and out of the box, gave Phil Jones, Alexander Büttner, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans all fits. It proved to be a masterstroke on Clarke’s part.

Meanwhile, United, with Anderson wearing the face and body language of someone with his head elsewhere–probably the meat buffet at Fogo de Chao–and Michael Carrick simply unwilling to run, Albion’s perpetual motion midfield of Christian Kalumbu, Morgan Amalfitano and an absolutely superb Claudio Yacob, cleverly fired keen little passes hither and thither, all the while picking off each Carrick and Anderson pass attempt at will. Indeed, after Saido Berahino scored the winning goal, Carrick and Rio Ferdinand stood there scratching their barnets like a couple of aging heroin addicts waiting nervously for their fix. Having now fallen into twelfth place with only seven points, a sense of self-pity and helplessness was distinctly palpable.

W.B.A.’s goals were a masochistic pleasure to behold. First, in the 54th minute, Morgan Amalfitano took possession of a long clever pass from Gareth McAuley, bobbed and weaved around Rio Ferdinand, nutmegging the aging Peckham reprobate, before stutter-stepping towards David de Gea and then firing a sublime chip over the advancing keeper.

Yet, within two minutes United were level. Once again, Wayne Rooney, an angry focused bear these days, was there to fire home his fifth goal in six games. His free-kick bending exquisitely to the the left, flying round Albion’s fixed defense and totally freezing their goalie Boaz Myhill to tie things up. Another United on another day would have kicked into gear at this point, but this team went back to the same casual game plan, as if they already owned a huge lead. A few more duff Carrick attempts at supplying Rooney with long-distance pass attempts went for nought and he seemed to jack it in for the rest of the evening thereafter.

West Brom simply shrugged off United’s burp of a revival, though. Amalfitano nearly added a second with a perfectly placed howitzer of a free-kick that De Gea tipped over the bar superbly. Then, the Frenchman, on loan from Marseilles, picked up a clever short pass from Sessegnon in the 67th minute which he had the delicate eye to fire on into Saido Berahino’s path. The Anglo-Burundian, who showed a lovely, assured and delicate touch throughout the second half, took his chance ruthlessly, burying it under a diving David De Gea.

Manchester United have become only the second top-flight English champions, after Blackburn in 1995-96, to begin the following season with three (or more) defeats in their opening six matches since Leeds did so in the 1974-75 season. All is certainly not lost, to be sure. The forward line will start scoring goals in bunches eventually, but the mental and physical vulnerability of our back four, having twice been casually burgled and humiliated, can not be fixed by switching personnel. Blaming our full-backs for advancing and ‘marooning’ whoever plays center-back is ridiculous, too. Last season our defense was a perpetually leaky sieve, too, but counting on scoring more than we let in this season is only going to work with a handful of opponents this time around. To be sure, I’ve been saying that Rio and Evra are both past it and sliding backwards down a slippery slope.

As much as this is true, there can also be no doubt that it’s a tactical issue, too. No team ever proved this better than the geriatric, injury-prone defense fielded by Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan from 2002 to 2007. Somehow the noble old guard that formed a defensive back line featuring Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini. Kaka Kaladze, Alessandro Costacurta, and, for a shorter period, the ex-United star, Jaap Stam, all got it done. Indeed, despite being the source of much amusement to the pundits of the game, the team won two E.C.C. finals and lost another. Slow as molasses, they were all, nevertheless, collectively intelligent and almost religiously dedicated to their fitness and careers. Unfortunately, only Nemanja Vidic and Rafael Da Silva show this kind of dedication for United. Patrice Evra is still capable of inspired moments but refuses to realistically adjust his game now that his legs are gone. Although Rio talks the talk, he is far more dedicated to his career in the media(last week it was his football awards show!) than getting it done in the field. Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are fine athletes who have not improved and the jury is out on Phil Jones. Time for Moyes and Phil Neville to come up with something strategically practical for the defense now!
Manchester Uniteds Wayne 006 Dem Home Town Baggie Blues!

Bushido Football!

 Posted by on July 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm  Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United
Jul 262013

Cerezo Osaka 2-2 Manchester United
Wilfried Zaha 008 Bushido Football!The never ending soap opera that is Manchester United continued in Osaka. While the gossip factory back home in blighty belched out continuous yes/no rumor-mongering vis-a-vis Cesc Fabregas leaving F.C. Barcelona to become part of our brilliant crew, the Japanese celebrated the return of a native son as Shinji Kagawa was feted and celebrated to the uncomfortable point of idolatry. For anybody watching this match who doesn’t own a schoolgirl crush on Kagawa, the game took on all the bizarre glamor of a pay-per-view WWF grudge match. With 85,000 locals relentlessly making banshee-like shrieking noises, Our Shinji did it all: Scored a goal, missed a sitter, missed a penalty. I hope the crowd got what they wanted. The game was entertaining indeed, but it was hardly professional football.

At any rate, Our new young rising star, Wilfried Zaha, spared his more famous teammate Shinji Kagawa from much embarrassment when he scored an injury-time equalizer for Manchester United over J League heavyweights Cerezo Osaka just as it seemed like the Red Devils were about to suffer a third tour defeat against Prince Shinji’s old club. The grateful massed squeal of the crowd as Kagawa’s substitute tapped home n a low, beautiful cross from Anderson’s meant a final sense of yin equaling yang after Kenyu Sugimoto and Yusuke Maruhashi had scored either side of Kagawa’s equalizer.

United began with a lot of hustle and Cerezo’s South Korean goalie Kim Jin-hyeon was busy from the get-go after he made a flying save off a stinging left-footed Robin Van Persie shot inside the first minute. The Dutchman had been the victim all week of many panic ridden rumors about having an injured hamstring after being taken off early in the team’s loss to Yokohama. on Tuesday. Clearly, in spite of the Daily Mirror, he was okay! Indeed, Van Persie was in the mood for long-distance target practice as Kim was forced to make three diving saves off him in the first half. Quite a useful custodian, Kim made a string of fine saves, although he was extremely lucky that a spectacular diving Phil Jones header went over the bar.

It’s doubtful that they ever do this normally, but it was so humid and just plain hot that officials and coaches decided to take a drinks break midway through both halves. Meanwhile, as United began to wilt, Osaka improved. Anders Lindegaard was forced to make a series of quality saves before their forward Edno sent his header straight at the Dane from pointblank range. Any kind of nod in either direction would have put the hosts ahead, to be sure. But minutes later, clearly intent upon giving his blundering rival Jonny Evans a run for his money, Chris Smalling hesitated with the ball at his feet in the six yard box and a thieving magpie, Masahiro Sugimoto, was there to steal away the ball and fire home past Lindegaard to make it 1-0.

Late in the half, Van Persie picked up a loose ball after Danny Welbeck had failed with a beautifully powered rocket which hit the post. Normally, the lethal Rotterdam assassin would surely have surely scored himself. Instead, in some weird kind of reverse loyalty and Bushido to his teammate, RVP squared chivalrously toward Osaka’s venerated Home Boy Kagawa. Absurdly, ridiculously and almost unbelievably, Kagawa caught the ball on his instep and hit it with his laces high over the bar accompanied by Takashi Mike samurai-movie moans from the capacity crowd.

Still, United kept up their pressing game and that other legend, Ryan Giggs, narrowly failed with a chip shot over the bar before Welbeck came close as his shot beat Kim but curled wide by a bare inch or so. Kagawa then really blew everybody’s mind. After a sprinting Ashley Young was brought down in the box, Van Persie shrugged, bowed to his colleague and allowed Shinji to take the spot kick. Unfortunately, Kagawa hit it too softly and the goalkeeper guessed right, making a fine low save. This caused the embarrassed crowd to make even more bizarre keening noises. Luckily, ten minutes later, Kagawa was the recipient of a sweet lobbed Giggs pass into the box which Kagawa had all the time in the world to fire home.

Cerezo were not to be easily shrugged off, however, and after some sterling midfield work, Anderson lost the ball to Minamino. Minemino then executed a fine bit of dribbling, executing a deft run to the edge of the box before firing a bazooka which exploded into the top corner of the net.

With both sides clearly tired and wilted, the exhibition match began to take on the look of the final round of an old Rocky Movie as the two teams staggered all over the grass, the Japanese team desperately trying to hold the lead as United periodically worked toward a draw. Yet, after some marvelous dribbling artistry from Zaha, Cerezo almost scored a third as Lindegaard made a fine, flying. fingertip save to deny Maruhashi.

It was only in injury time that the Premier League champions managed to salvage their dignity as Zaha, the new young winger who has impressed the most on this three-week trip, ruthlessly took his chance from close range.

Yokohama Marinos 3-2 Manchester United
Read the usual blogs and you’ll see the usual fans are going at it, as per usual. The panic brigade is already considering collective seppuku while the usual Orthodox loyalism-obsessed jihadis want to behead anybody who hasn’t fallen into a state of instantaneous thrall to Davie Moyes and his new crew. All of it is stuff and nonsense, of course. As with any preseason match, much that’s useful can be learned by the coaching staff and pundits alike, but nothing significant; nevertheless, a vanity -beguiled Manchester United side suffered a second defeat out of three preseason matches when the J League’s Yokohama Marinos scored late for a well deserved win.

The good news is the same. Jesse Lingard scored another goal and, alongside the equally hungry Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha, United clearly own some impressive and potentially fruitful young attacking talent. Bad-news wise, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans were just as mismatched at center back as they were when paired together for Sir Alex Ferguson’s 5-5 farewell at the Hawthorns in May. Once Fergie’s blue-eyed Ulster boy–leading to the exit of a far superior talent in Gerard Pique–Evans, along with teammate Tom Cleverley, is the ultimate proof of the cliché that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Repeatedly positionally retarded, Evans is living proof that, no matter which videos you watch, or how much good coaching you receive, all the natural athleticism in the world can not render you intelligent. The opposite holds true for Cleverley. Although he is energetic and intelligent, he is shockingly slow and technically predictable. When scouts on the other side of the world can so readily prepare their less talented players to trivialize two of your starters, there’s a problem.

The United team which won the World Club Cup in its last appearance in the same stadium in 2008 clearly bears no resemblance to this one. Of course, the introduction to massive applause of Shinji Kagawa, was very moving for the locals and lucrative for the Glazers. Lots of Kagawa, Van Persie and Rooney replica shirts were sold. Yet Moyes started a youthful lineup. and was clearly happy early on as they fought back after suffering an early sucker-punch. Yokohama attacked straight away and David de Gea had to make an acrobatic save to deny Brazilian striker Marquinhos. But the ball was too desperately hacked-away by a leggy Patrice Evra, who is clearly just a shadow of his old self. Hanato then played the ball back into United’s penalty area for the 37-year-old Marquinos to streak past the flat-footed Evans, Jones and Evra, before slamming home. And all before a minute had ticked by.

But United tied it up after eighteen minutes as the 20-year-old Jesse Lingard played a pretty pass out wide to Wilfried Zaha,. Sprinting into Yokohama’s box, Lingard took a difficult return pass from the speedy Zaha. A desperate Masakazu Tashiro stretched to intercept the cross but Lingard was there to seize the loose ball and fire home

With United fairly bubbling with energy, Yokohama were not coping well. Repeatedly teased and trivialized by Lingard and Zaha, Tashiro went up to block a wickedly hit Adnan Januzaj free-kick. The ball glanced off Tashiro’s shoulder into the net and United took the lead in the 32nd minute.

Slowly but surely, however, the high humidity began to slow United down. With Michael Carrick injured, United have offered ample opportunities to Tom Cleverley and his partner Anderson to prove themselves. Their passing quality from central midfield proved to be awful, however. Yokohama seemed to pick off every pass. Steadily growing more and more fatigued. United still made more than a few good chances. only for the plodding Jonny Evans to squander them. How he missed a beautiful Zaha cutback which was dished right onto his foot, but which he blasted way wide despite an open goal.
Minutes later, United let it all slip as the crowd’s national hero Kagawa made his first appearance. In the midst of a wall of noise, Yokohama’s Brazilian defender Fabio leapt high and headed Nakamura’s precise curving corner home.

In the latter part of the match Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck each squandered chances repeatedly. Yet, instead of keeping up the pressure, United looked ready to settle for a draw
The Marinos tireless veteran midfielder Jim Hanato had other ideas. Hanato took the ball from the weak-tackling Cleverley and zigzagged his determined way toward United’s box. With United’s whole defense backing up, Hanato chipped a long ball straight to Yoshihito Fujita, who tapped the ball home past a a stranded David de Gea for the victory.

Aside from minor injuries to Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck, what Moyes called “wee worries,” United got away with no more than a loss. Yet with so much at stake back home in the world’s most lucrative league, and so many parallel changes in the Premiership at Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton, the new manager and his number two, Steve Round, have much to chew upon. With Vidic repeatedly injured, Evra’s legs gone and repeated lackluster ineptitude from Young, Cleverley and Anderson, they are running out of time to decide whether to cut them loose and sell them on the cheap or persevere with their presence. At worse,we should repeat last year’s Jekyll and Hyde model: Inspirational attack accompanied by a porous defense. If Moyes can find two or three pieces at the back and to bolster the midfield, United can still win it all again.

Jun 122013

The Japanese national soccer team is, if nothing else, consistent.

They’ve won the AFC Asian Cup more than any other Asian nation and the last time they didn’t qualify for the FIFA World Cup was 1994. They just locked up the first spot in 2014 for a team not named Brazil and there’s no reason to think they’re about to slow down. They are led by Italian head coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who has experimented with his preferred 3-4-3 formation ever since taking the job after the conclusion of Japan’s 2010 World Cup campaign.


Japan won the 2011 AFC Asian Cup (their fourth Asian title) to cement their place in the 2013 Confederations Cup. They beat the other two powerhouses of Asia, South Korea and Australia, in the semifinals and final respectively. With their place in the 2014 World Cup locked up, the Japanese are free to use this tournament as an opportunity to prepare against stiff competition. They’ll be joining Italy, Mexico, and hosts Brazil  and they will relish the chance to compete against high caliber opposition.


Japan is a very technical side that values possession and discipline. They have a lot of creative forces who can give opposing defenses fits. Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow) and Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) are the household names, but there are other equally valuable individuals throughout this squad. Shinji Okazaki, who plays for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, was the leading scorer during the 2011 Asian Cup run and fullback Atsuto Uchida is very underrated and extremely valuable given the 3-4-3 formation Zaccheroni prefers. Uchida plys his trade for UEFA Champions League participants Schalke 04; also of the Bundesliga where many more players on this squad make their living.

Their group will difficult to get out of, but Mexico is currently in crisis and Italy doesn’t usually take tournaments these “lesser” tournaments very seriously. They have the talent to challenge Brazil for the top spot in the group. The other group has Spain, Uruguay,  Nigeria, and Tahiti. The Japanese are capable of beating three of those teams. They’ll need some help, but watch out for a run similar to that of the United States in 2009.


The biggest knock on Japan has always been their lack of players with great physical stature and strength. They get out muscled by a lot of teams. The way you beat Japan is to physically rough them up and try to take them out of their rhythm. They lack a traditional No.9 striker who can go stride for stride with the big, strong center backs that Brazil and Italy deploy. And one of the reasons the 3-4-3 is such a good fit for them is because they have a dearth of physical center backs who can slow down big, strong center forwards.

They’ll struggle to keep goals out of the back of the net against the likes of Neymar, Mario Balotelli, and Chicharito. They’re probably the third best team in this group and they’ll need some help to make it to the final.


Although the Stuttgart forward has seen his playing time drop in Germany, he continues to do well for the national team. He led them in scoring in the 2011 Asian Cup and he scored the winner against Iraq that clinched their 2014 spot. It was his third goal in three appearances in 2013. He’s not very big, but he’s a clinical finisher and he gets his service from Honda and Kagawa. If Japan are going to advance, he’s going to be the one who scores the goals.


Goalkeepers (3): Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege-BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima-JPN), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo-JPN)

Defenders (8): Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata-JPN), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart-GER), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Internazionale-ITA), Atusto Uchida (Schalke 04-GER), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka-JPN), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F-Marinos-JPN), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96-GER), Maya Yoshida (Southampton FC-ENG)

Midfielders (9): Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow-RUS), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka-JPN), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuernberg-GER), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United-ENG), Hajime Hosogai (Bayer 04 Leverkusen-GER), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale-JPN), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg-GER), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt-GER), Hideto Takahashi (FC Tokyo-JPN)

Forwards (3): Shinji Okazaki (VfB Stuttgart-GER), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse Arnhem-NED), Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata-JPN)

The Beautiful Number 20!

 Posted by on April 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm  Aston Villa, Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United
Apr 242013

Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa
Manchester United celebra 006 The Beautiful Number 20!Ah! Where to begin? Twenty minutes after the end of the match Sir Alex Ferguson is bowing to the Stretford End while, across the field, Robin Van Persie is encircled by the Dutch press, both of them serenaded by Queen’s We Are the Champions. Is this the same crowd–most of them clad in the green and yellow striped scarves of M.U.S.T. protest–that has repeatedly voiced so much ambivalence about their manager’s unrelenting support for the club’s American owners, the Glazer family? On the night, resentments have been set to one side. They adore him and he adores them back. As with most families. The relationships may be fractious and sometimes truculent, but the club is beloved by all in their own way and winning the championship back is sweet to all and sundry.
Meanwhile, Robin Van Persie is being adored and assaulted with questions by a Nederlander press corps he talks to on a first name basis. An old aquaintance from Rotterdam, Henk Van Sleewanhoek, who has , I’m told, been his tormenter since leaving Arsenal for United instead of (the journo’s preference) Juventus gets the most attention.
“Did you ever think you’d come out of your dry spell of terrible misses?” the cheeky writer asks.
“I was worried,” says Robin. “I was not sleeping.”
“So this hat-trick you scored must feel fantastic.”
“I have never been so happy, This is my greatest day ever as a player and the first time in my career I have ever won a championship. No thanks to you, Henk!”
I only mention all this because I caught it all on the iPad of a Dutch friend. A long time mate and a fellow United fan, Jaapie has been following Van Persie’s career since way before he signed for Feyenoord in the Eredvisie. With a history of never ever having played a full season of football until last season’s contract year, Van Persie had been thought of as an inconsistently brilliant. An awesome talent who, like his compatriot, Arjen Robben, was unable or unwilling to play through pain. United paid a fee of £24m and wages of £220,000 per week for a player who was too often hurt and it seemed like no bargain at all, especially because he was taking up a place in the squad vacated by the departure to Fulham of Ferguson’s grand folly, the consistently inconsistent Dimitar Berbatov. Well, we were as wrong can be! Van Persie has been as brilliant as a newly discovered sun appearing in the firmament out of some black hole. Beyond the spectacular goals he has scored is his place as the best Manchester United table-setter I have ever seen. A brilliant taker of corners and free-kicks his clever linkup play has been instrumental in the improvement of Wayne Rooney, who is now a more complete player than ever before; Javíer Hernandéz, who is becoming better and better at screening the ball and setting up teammates; even the sometimes out-of-control ungainly presence of Danny Welbeck has been much improved by playing in his proximity.
Robin Van Persie celebrat 003 The Beautiful Number 20!

Of course, there were hints of this at the last World Cup. Especially when RVP, alongside Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van Der Vart dismantled Brazil’s self-anointed Samba machine. A great player for the great occasion, Van Persie arrived at Old Trafford on Monday afternoon about as ready as ready has ever been. Having won the championship nineteen times and having blown it big-time a year ago on, of all things, goal average, United played like a team of destiny. This has not always been the case over a surprisingly inconsistent season, but United wanted to clinch at home, especially considering next week away match away at United’s long time rivals Arsenal, who just happen, in case you live in a vacuum and don’t know, to be Robin Van Persie’s old club. Primed and prepareed, thy were a red steamroller determined to be reunited with their trophy. And with Robin van Persie playing at his maximum exquisite artistic best, it seemed apt and altogether natural that he would completely dominate the match. Indeed, it felt appropriate that the Dutchman should be so transcendent and dominant on the night.

Van Persie might not win the individual honors but he has certainly had the greatest impact of any player on the Premier League this season and his first-half hat-trick, taking him to 24 league goals, saw him leapfrogging Luis Suárez as the leading scorer in the division. And having just been suspended from playing for ten games after a biting offense against Chelsea’s Bronislav Ivanovic in Sunday’s 2-2 tie, Suarez will clearly not win this year’s Golden Boot award. Such accolades and awards are well deserved by Van Persie who is clearly the best striker playing in England. In the match, he was everything, the warhead of United’s multi-faceted attacking game, a constant menace. It seems absurd to think that making it feel like a trick of the imagination that only one week ago he was overreacting to chances, devastated by a short, debilitating patch where he couldn’t score.

Going in with a 13-point lead, Ferguson set the team up with Wayne Rooney as its play making fulcrum. Inspired as much as Van Persie, it seems, Rooney was both a bodyguard for the brilliant-but-brittle Michael Carrick and an inspired passer. If Paul Lambert’s pack of young midfield jackals pressed him, Rooney would execute short and square to the Geordie greyhound. If they tried to cut off Carrick, Rooney was ready and waiting to ping Ginger Prince-style long, probing chip shots from United’s half. And poor Villa, who have let in a grand nightmare total of 64 goals this season were simply powerless to resist.

Two minutes in and Manchester United needed to be nervous no more. A long seeing-eye pass from Rooney found Antonio Valencia on the right. Rafael Da Silva swept up behind the Ecuadorian in support, jinking this way and that toward Villa’s box before finding the Old Master, Ryan Giggs, at the far post. Giggs casually squared his cross into Van Persie’s path out of a clawing Brad Guzan’s reach and, only two steps off the goal line, the Dutchman fired a simple tapper home.
Villa were already gob smacked and semi-destroyed. Four minutes later. Surrounded after picking up a Carrick chip, RVP fired a thirty-yarder of a volley over Guzan’s bar by a bare inch. He was just warming up. however. As if on cue, eleven minutes later, Rooney and van Persie gave us a bit of oo-wah-wow up there with Cantona and the blessed Trinity. Wazza dished up a superb curving chip that Van Persie somehow timed his run onto with a perfect moment of synchronization for the ages. Looking up, he somehow calculated the spinning trajectory of the ball and his perfect left-footed volley, as pure a piece of combined power and execution as I’ll ever see, went flying past Villa’s frozen, open mouthed goalie into the net. Did anyone ever make it look so simple? What followed, his victory run from one end of the pitch to the other with a victorious arm raised, really was the stuff of which legends are made.

For most of the half, Manchester united was a thing of beauty. Giggs repeatedly mugging and nutmegging poor Matthew Lowton. Carrick and Rooney grinning as the crowd sang their songs between marvelous examples of the passer’s art, ran Villa ragged. The sight of Giggsy out sprinting a player sixteen years his junior was the stuff of dreams. And in the midst of a familiar Stretford End serenade about Le Maitre Cantona, the Red Devils struck again.

33 minutes in, Rooney and the casually fluid Shinji Kagawa double one-two’d it in midfield and Giggs was free and clear of his marker Ron Vlar on the left. Robin Van Persie picked up his cross, snaked past Brad Guzan, and utilizing his brilliantly cool, cruel acumen, ignoring the four defenders around him, feinted toward a sprinting Lowton, shifted his balance to his right and pushed the ball home.

To the chagrin of many of the celebrating fans, United eased off the accelerator from then on. The boys taking it light and easy, especially after the interval. Villa launched themselves back into things and, even though they own no worthwhile defensive quality beyond the Job-like sufferings of Ron Vlar, Paul Lambert’s kids gave it a good go. Indeed, Ferguson was angry enough at Patrice Evra for repeatedly fouling a wing-heeled Kieran Westwood and receiving a yellow card that he ventured early to the touchline and gestured both his disapproval at his fading left back and his suddenly lackadaisical teammates. Indeed, Evra, already booked, was way beyond lucky that the referee, Anthony Taylor, did not punish a pair of brutal tackles from behind on both N’Zogbia and Weimann. Van Persie even became a defensive hero late in the match when he headed away a superb shot from Andreas Weimann off the goal line.

From then on it was all party. And clearly, had United put their war faces on again, many more goals could have been scored. Still, both Rooney and Kagawa saw their shots rattle off the bar. Having clinched with the win at home against Villa following Manchester City’s loss to Tottenham Hotspur, the challenge now, with four matches left is to beat out Chelsea’s best ever Premier League tally of 96 points.lRobin van Persie 002 The Beautiful Number 20!

The First Cut is the Deepest

 Posted by on August 28, 2012 at 11:49 am  EPL, Manchester United
Aug 282012

62493543 van persie getty The First Cut is the DeepestManchester United 3 -2 Fulham
Despite taking what was definitely a nervy but well deserved first win at home at Old Trafford the post-match Fleet Street footie propaganda machine was running at full tilt thanks to injured striker Wayne Rooney. Rooney, who had began the match on the substitute’s bench, saw it end with him carried off the field in a stretcher watching a sky of puffy gray-black cumulostratus as it poured rain on his day while the soaked crowd roared. With all kinds of scurrilous rumors being circulated in The Sun concerning Rooney’s endless partying this Summer and a newfound aversion to training, gossipy lips are making it known that Sir Alex Ferguson’s patience may have finally run out and the club are considering selling the Scouse wonder boy for the right price, to the right club. All this would of course become more or less moot had Rooney done much on the field after he was substituted on in the 70th minute but pant and puff. The general joy of a hard-won victory, however, was obliterated as the England national team’s only legitimate star suffered a deep gash just above the knee in stoppage time after a nasty accidental collision with the studs of Fulham’s new striker Hugo Rodallega.

Will the good Lord Ferg be worried? Not really. Having spent two seasons tweaking and tinkering with the talents of Rooney, the dilettante diva-like drama that is Dimitar Berbatov, the inconsistency of Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda, the sheer unadulterated joy that has come from the arrival of Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa–each scoring fantastic goals in their official Old Trafford debuts–the Gaffer has toys! The Gaffer has options!

Indeed, especially in the first half, United created chance after squandered chance, to the point where Fulham were completely dominated. “I’m surprised it wasn’t 7-1 at half-time,” Fulham’s manager Martin Jol said after the game.

Yet United began the match like eleven red zombies. Perhaps their early sluggishness had something to do with the presence of United’s most famous fanatical fan, Olympic sprinting gold medallist Usain Bolt as he picked up a standing ovation and an honorary United shirt with his name on it. Thus, only three minutes in, nobody came even slightly close to marking Damien Duff as Bryan Ruiz clipped a low rolling free-kick across the goal mouth. and the ruddy cheeked, red-haired Irish veteran drilled the ball past an unsighted David De Gea to make it 1-0.

Just seven minute later, however, the inevitable happened early as a tidal wave of red shirts laid siege to the Londoners’ penalty box. And it was a thing of beauty. Robin Van Persie scored his first brilliant goal for his new club, clipping an exquisite left-footed half-volley past Fulham goalie Mark Schwarzer from an extremely obtuse angle after connecting to a Patrice Evra cross to equalize.

26 minutes later, having repeatedly held off attack upon attack from a speedy, determined, albeit impatient United, the Cottagers gave up a second. The next one was also a first, this time for Shinji Kagawa after Mark Schwartzer bobbled a hard hit shot from Tom Cleverley. The quick-footed Japanese was on the spot six feet out to tap home after a Van Persie corner. Caught trying to pour forward and render United’s speedy attack offside, Fulham’s defense was clearly a split second too late to fool the linesman, whose flag remained down.

Despite being 2-1 down, Martin Jol’s team showed faith in his tactics, as two minutes later, the same linesman raised his flag after Rafael Da Silva slammed home a Shinji Kagawa effort that rattled off Schwartzer’s left post. And despite a few excellent midfield steals and solo runs from a marvelous Moussa Sissoko, Manchester United kept up the pressure on their opponents like a relentless red tsunami. Then, four minutes before half time, the wolverine-like 5’5” Rafael was there again, leaping high at the far post past a clumsy Mladen Petric to power a ruthless header past Schwarzer from a sweetly hit Ashley Young cross.

Martin Jol must have said something galvanizing to his troops at half time, though. Having casually won by five goals last week against West Ham, they had left the field looking punch-drunk and bewildered, with only Petric, Duff and Dembele giving United’s goalkeeper David De Gea any trouble. Yet, suddenly, in the midst of making a series of brilliant saves, De Gea lost his concentration and put the game on a knife-edge.

20 minutes into the second half, with Dembele’s confidence growing in midfield as he repeatedly stripped bare the weak-tackling pairing of Tom Cleverly and Anderson, there was a terrible mix-up at the back. De Gea’s confidence is still clearly an ify fragile thing. And, though Nemanja Vidic was credited with the own goal that brought Fulham back into the game just after the hour, fault clearly lay with the goalkeeper for coming out for the ball and failing to claim it, punch it or deal in any way with it. Having left a tired Patrice Evra in the dust, Matthew Briggs put in a slow, sloppy cross that the young Spanish keeper should have easily scooped up in both hands. Instead, with the big, slow Mladan Petric between them, De Gea let himself be intimidated, body blocked as the ball hit Vidic on his heel and ricocheted into the United net to make it 3-2.

Tactically, from then on, United’s engine room stalled completely. And although Rooney and Danny Welbeck got a loud welcoming greeting from the home crowd, their arrival signaled the same dearth of creativity that took place a week previously at Goodison Park. Indeed, although Schwartzer made an absolutely fantastic save of a Rafael Da Silva bazooka, United were reeling. Giving the ball repeatedly to Moussa Dembele, Fulham’s Belgian midfield star had United staggering in the same way they had against Marouane Fellaini and, despite all the criticism, De Gea somehow managed to save twice from Dembele before his piece-de-resistance, punching clear a superb Bryan Ruiz header off the line in the dying seconds of the match.

Last but not least, in spite of the repeated disappointment that the ultra-erratic Cleverley and Anderson were in midfield and utter lack of aggression on the part of Michael Carrick as an emergency center back partner for Nemanja Vidic, there was worse news. Wayne Rooney went up in the air to retrieve a loose ball and collided with the Cottagers’ newly substituted striker Hugo Rodallega. Unfortunately, there was an accidental tangle and Rodallega’s studs caught Rooney in the thigh just above the knee. The resultant deep cut saw Rooney stretchered off and kept overnight in the hospital after surgery. Out for a possible two months, Rooney will surely have much time to contemplate his future and rest up for the tiring Christmas holiday section of the season.