Man United, Fluke or Tactical Masterclass?
Ole masterclass was showcased yet again last night as Man United clawed back into the game with a 3-2 comeback win over Italian side Atalanta in last night's Champions League fixture at Old Trafford.
If Wednesday night's CL performance as well as previous month's games is anything to go by then we can conclude that Manchester United are far off to be termed as Premier League contenders let alone any chance of running away with the prestigious Champions League.
Personally as a Bayern Munich and Man United die-hard I'm caught in a dilemma of mixed feelings. On one side Bayern is reaping teams apart, setting records and playing probably the most beautiful and attractive football in the planet. I mean it's Bayern what less do you expect?
Meanwhile on the other spectrum of the rainbow you have United, displaying dismal performances game after game, season after season. We've never been the same since our knighted Gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson left the helm. Sure we enjoyed silverware under Josè Mourinho dubbed as 'The Special One' and Van Gaal but let's be real none of the excitement came close to Fergie era as we were English and European powerhouses under his tutelage.
In the 2 most recent outings of the Champions League, we've fallen behind twice and come back to secure victory as well as Mr Champions League CR7 saving our bums and scoring the winner in both matches to give us maximum points. Others might call it luck, others might term it as CR7 masterclass. Perhaps the most clutch player to ever grace the game? I'm already picturing backlash I'll receive from this statement as Chelsea fanboys will be crying otherwise deeming you-know-who as Mr Clutch himself. Here's a hint, he's currently a Goodwill Ambassador for Sports and Health at World Health Organization(WHO).
Back to the topic. Man United bostered their team roster at the beginning of the season with the acquisition of Jadon Sancho from Bundesliga boys Borussia Dortmund, Raphael Varane from Spanish Giants Real Madrid and Mr Champions League Cristiano Ronaldo alias CR7 from Old Lady of Turin(Juventus).
CR7 and Sancho's signings respectively made us United fans endure quite a roller coaster. The eagerness we had to get the deals done is kinda similar to when your girlfriend/lover tells you the 4 big words ' We need to talk.' You know you've messed up big time once those words are uttered from her mouth. The eagerness and anxiety to know why she said this kicks in like the Batman whenever he sees a criminal causing mayhem in Gotham City.
So how exactly has it been for them? CR7 being well CR7 was expected to hit the ground running and he did just that with a brace in his home debut against Newcastle. The King of Madeira has played 8 games and amassed 6 goals with 3 of the goals coming in the PL in his first two League games. Those are outrageous numbers for a 'washed up' 36 year-old.
Raphael Varane was slotted directly into the United defence alongside Harry Maguire and for a moment the two looked like a match made in heaven. Like Jim Halpert and Pam from the American sitcom The Office. On paper it was destined to gel. United fans saw this as a mirroring of legendary defensive duo of Serbian Nemanja Vidic and Englishman and now BT Sport Pundit Rio Ferdinand. One was aggressive, strong in the tackle and aerially dominant while the other had exceptional ball playing ability and tactical awareness as well as pace. I'm not saying Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire should be likened or are an exact copy of the solid wall(Vidic and Rio) but they have potential to be somewhat similar. Recently both CBs were out injured and in the PL tie against Leicester Harry who only had appeared once in training since recovering from injury was rushed onto the pitch and we all know what happened. Foxes mouled the Red Devils 4-2 at King Power Stadium.
So what's gone wrong for the 20 time EPL Champions? Well firstly is the team's chemistry most specifically defence. Luke Shaw has been caught off a couple of times and well Harry has just returned from injury so he lacks match fitness. Bailly is always out injured so we can't depend on him but Lindèlof this season any time he's been called upon he's done the job and far much more. Take a look at his assist vs Leicester. He picked the ball at the heart of the defence and unleashed a defence-slitting ping that by passed Leicester in half and left Marcus Rashford with only the keeper to beat. Astounding isn't it?
Secondly is the team's pressing. Normally for a press to be effective, it has to be done uniformly and by the whole team. Take a look at Liverpool's Gegen Pressing(implemented by Jurgen Klopp), Pep Guardiola's as well as Bayern Munich. The mentioned teams are insane pressers and they recover the ball within seconds of activating the press. It doesn't always pay off but when it does it's a thing of beauty. In United you'll find Bruno pressing by himself( he presses insanely and most times does it alone) and this in turn wears out the Portuguese Magnifico and once he tires out he begins his usual lashing and throwing tantrums and thus you've taken him out of the game. Kinda explains why he didn't play a big role for his National Team in the recent concluded Euros. His role and transformation at United is a topic I hope to cover soon.
Last season Man United were better off as they worked collectively as a unit. As a "Team." However this season it's the total opposite as they looked disjointed, disoriented, disconnected you name it.
One of reasons for this is the triggerman. Last season Edinson Cavani was the man up-front and he led the press so effectively. He started the press, Bruno joined in as well and the rest of the team followed suite. This season however, he's had quite the difficult time racking up mins and I don't have to point out that it coincides with the arrival of CR7. No offence to Edinson but when you have a player like CR7 in your arsenal, it's rather difficult or very absurd to leave him on the bench. In terms of build up, Pressing, link up, movement and play involvement Cavani edges out CR7 and I'm not even hating. Cavanis' average press last season was 13 per game compared to CR7s 3.8. In fact CR7 presses less than any other forward in the 6 top flight divisions. But the thing is his insane goal output makes up for his press and defensive short comings.
Cavani on his day or rather in his prime had the best movement in today's game BUT in terms of efficiency and ruthlessness in front of goal the Portuguese takes it by a mile. Edinson has never been the most clinical C.F. but his world class movement allowed him to manoeuvre around the pitch in pockets of space that he initially created after forcing the Centre Back to come out due to his blind runs and punish the opponents. Cavani movement is what's enabled him to bang goals galore over the years. Personally I think his prime got wasted in Ligue 1 but that's a topic for another day.
CR7 on the other hand revolutionized his game at 'Los Blancos' and his goal scoring and predatory box instincts are one of the deadliest in the game. Only two people are more clinical, Polish and Bayern Munich Poacher Robert Lewandowski and PSGs Argentine Lionel Messi. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying CR7 doesn't press cause trust he does but he does it selectively compared to Edinson who does it on a consistent basis.
Over the weekend United face on form Liverpool who's confidence is sky high after last weekend's rioting of Watford at the Vicarage Road as well as recent win over Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. United needs to get it right most specifically in the team selection.
If Ole chooses to start both CR7 and Pogba in all honesty United is screwed. Liverpool will have loads of energy and they will overrun Red Devils midfield and defence. Man United might just have to approach it differently. How you may ask?
For starters they shouldn't press too high and strive to maintain a very compact midfield, try as much as possible not to leave space in between the lines as Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah will be licking their lips as this is their territory, hit them with speed on the counter just like United's done severally against current English Champions Man City and on previous meetings with Liverpool. Lastly United should just hope that every one of their players is on hot pepper form and that Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Manè/ Diogo Jota have a bad day in office which seems highly unlikely.
The recent comebacks are nice and all but if we want to win games and challenge for titles we need to start keeping a bunch of clean sheets.
Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles ~ Sir Alex Ferguson
This piece is based on personal opinion. I may have left out info in order to strive to make it as short as possible
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