Wednesday, 23 November 2011

City should remain positive

After last nights defeat in Naples Manchester City appear likely to be playing Europa League football in early 2012. It is not what Sheikh Mansour and company expected and wanted but could prove to be crucial for their development as a force in World football.

The club’s expectations have been realistic considering the huge sums of money invested in the club. They have accepted steady progress and playing in Europe’s lesser tournament will stand them in good stead for another assault on the continents most sought after competition next season. The club are making a mockery of the Premier League at this current moment but have not managed to replicate this in Europe, this time.

In time it could prove to be a blessing in disguise as it will give them the platform to learn how to approach big European ties next time around. Last season’s FA Cup triumph appears to have given the squad and the manager more belief in the project and a possible Premier League title will only further this. To go straight into the Champions League only to be drawn against Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal was unlucky but will have taught them much.

It seems unlikely to me that any of the other British sides would have emerged from this group and for a neutral it has actually made the tedium of the group stages watchable. Whilst glancing at the group leaders last week it was immensely predictable and also rather dull. This group has been fascinating and could yet still change in a fortnight with the final round of games.

The manner in which City are dominating the English Premier League this season is quite staggering and alarming for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. However, they have struggled away from home in Europe; the caveat however being that I don’t think many sides will travel to the Allianz Arena or the Stadio San Paulo and come away with anything. We have seen in previous seasons when expectations were sky high that the club have dealt remarkably well with short-term setbacks and I cannot see any difference with this scenario.

If Manchester City win the Premier League this season and have a successful run in the Europa Cup they will be able to attract almost anyone to the club. The defence is still the weak part for me and will prove to be so once the stakes are raised next year. However, every season the club have strengthened suitably during the summer months to be in a position to tackle the next hurdle the following year.

Although everyone associated with Manchester City may be feeling a little despondent this morning there is still so much reason for joy. The club have progressed at an incredible rate and they will be back stronger, hungrier and more determined next season, which is worrying for everyone.

Monday, 14 November 2011

England win highlights importance of Messi and Ronaldo

England’s surprise victory over European and World Champions Spain certainly came as a shock, even to the most loyal fan. It had been billed as a question of how many Spain could score against the hapless and much maligned English side. Although England managed to hang on for a well deserved victory the game could easily have been won by the visitors if they have not been so profligate in front of goal.

The opening few minutes set the scene for the remainder of the game. The home side were effectively stuck in their own half with only a long thump enough to give them much needed respite. The superior Spaniards were playing tika-taka almost at will; but, were not really threatening the keeper Joe Hart. The way England played was very reminiscent of how Switzerland played against Spain at Euro 2008; they stuck men behind the ball and smothered the central midfield.

For all the sublime control and technique on display it resulted in very little end product. Although the ball was moving around crisply there was little incisive play from the Spaniards. Occasionally an opening would appear but either the pass would be misdirected or an English defender would eventually fill the gap. What Spain needed was the dynamism and acceleration of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Having watched Barcelona on numerous occasions in recent years it became evident that it was going to be one of those nights for Spain. David Villa is not quite on top form, Fernando Torres is still trying to get back to where he was and even David Silva did not look like the player who has destroyed the Premier League thus far this season. The ball was not being passed at enough pace, there was not enough off the ball running and the incisive passing we see so often was not finding the player often enough.

What separates Messi and Ronaldo in modern football is their initial acceleration away from the first defender. Once Messi has received a pass he is looking to beat the nearest opponent and run into space where he is at his most dangerous. The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger spoke of Messi after his side had been hammered in the Camp Nou two years ago and said he had never seen a player who could change direction at such speed and remain in complete control of the ball. It is this unique ability that makes these two players stand out from everyone else in the world and is exactly what Spain were lacking.

The slump in form and morale of Fernando Torres could actually hurt Spain more than Chelsea in some senses. David Villa is still the best finisher around in my humble opinion but since his move to Barcelona he has become more of a player than the ruthless striker of old. The side missed someone who could run on and break the line, rather than looking for another pass. What Torres did give them, once he came on, was that option and it was no coincidence that suddenly they improved - although with time running down it was likely they would step it up too.

It is often slightly ridiculous to criticise sides that have been as successful as Spain have in recent years but they must retain their ruthless streak if they are to remain on top. The same criticism can be levelled at Barcelona and it is why Real Madrid now find themselves in pole position in Spain. They will increasingly come up against sides that have set up to defend deep for 90 minutes and the key is getting beyond that. There is no doubting the fact that Spain will be one of the serious contenders for the European Championships next summer but they have to forget they don’t have a Messi or Ronaldo in the side.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

United need a central midfielder

Although I am loath to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson, especially after celebrating 25 years at Manchester United, I am going to do so. The current United side seriously lack a decent central midfielder and they need to find one if they are to win major titles in the next couple of years.

It seems strange criticising United after the world and his wife waxed lyrical over the side at the start of the season; ‘Fergie does it again’ read most of the headlines. However, it could be a false dawn if they don’t improve in this area. Yesterday, United ended up having to deploy their most potent striker, Wayne Rooney, in midfield because the other squad members are not hitting the heights required.

Currently Sir Alex has the following first team players to select in central midfield: Anderson, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverly, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs. Those options are not good enough when compared to Barcelona who possess: Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Seydou Keita and Thiago. The comparative midfields of last seasons Champions League finalists could not be more of a contrast; one is blessed with some of the best players in the world and the other is distinctly average.

The time has come to make Anderson a squad player and leave him out of big games. Two years ago he looked like he would be dominating the United midfield for the foreseeable future but he is simply too inconsistent. In an ideal midfield you need a player who is going to be consistently rated at seven out of ten. Whilst the Brazilian is capable of producing eight/nine of ten performances he then follows it up with a three in the following game which is simply not good enough.

I am not even going to comment on Michael Carrick as everyone has seen him play recently and must surely have no future at the club! There is no doubt that Tom Cleverly will be a good central midfielder but he is two to three years away from being able to go toe to toe with a Bastian Schweinsteiger or Xavi Hernandez. Darren Fletcher is the closest United have to a consistent central midfielder but does he really have the ability to take United forward? I don’t think so.

One player I feel United should be seriously considering is Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao, although he would not come cheap. The Basque midfielder captained the Spanish Under 21s to glory this summer in Denmark, and looked quite simply outstanding. Although he is still only 23 years old he has been a first team regular for five years at Bilbao. He is blessed with an incredible technique, like many of his countryman, and has very good positional sense. It would be beneficial to United to have a good ball playing defensive midfielder to begin their attacks and to sure up their defence.

There have been some quite staggering stats about the number of shots United have conceded so far this season and a fair amount of this must be down to their lack of a holding player to screen the back four. There is no doubt that United will be competing for the major honours this season but with their rivals improving by the year they need to strengthen their midfield. However, who am I to criticise Sir Alex and his methods, he hasn’t done too badly.