The Manchester United Survival Pack: 5 Ways To Avoid The Slump Becoming A Crisis

With Manchester United currently suffering one of only a few sticky periods in the recent history of the club, things are veering dangerously towards the word crisis coming into play.

Here, therefore, is a five-pronged attack for United, as a football club, to avoid their early season slump becoming something far more serious, more lasting, and more worthy of that naughty C-word.

David Moyes Manchester United

Continue The In-Stadium Support Of David Moyes:

Though plenty of doubters are starting to loosen their jaws, and threatening to unleash on Moyes, the in-stadium support of the new manager at Old Trafford has so far been pretty decent given the lack of form being shown. If Moyes, and United are to succeed as a happy couple then this must continue.

Old Trafford has a nasty knack of becoming ghostly when things aren’t quite going to plan, but so rarely have things not gone to plan at the Theatre of Dreams over the past 20 years that this has never really escalated into a serious problem.

There have already been instances of awkward silence creeping in over the past few weeks, and a touch of booing and derision after the West Brom defeat, and it is essential that the home faithful avoid these and instead vocally back up their new man in the face of adversity.

Avoid All Media Outlets As And Where Possible:

Take a peek at the sports section of any website, of any magazine, of any newspaper, or at any sports television coverage at the moment and it won’t take you long to come across Manchester United and crisis in the same sentence.

Seeing is believing, so if you want to avoid convincing yourself that United are set firmly on the path to cataclysmic failure, then you’re probably well advised to fix your gaze elsewhere.

The media are a powerful tool in any high profile demise, and boy oh boy will Moyes be becoming painfully aware of that right now.

Bring In Support For Moyes And Woodward:

Most coverage of United’s mini-slump post-Sir Alex Ferguson has focused on the departure of the Scottish legend, but perhaps a greater loss though, given the circumstances, was that of David Gill from the role of Chairman.

Gill formed a formidable relationship with Sir Alex in so many respects during their time together at the club, and though both men still play a role at Old Trafford, their reigned-in prominence has had a telling effect.

This was never more painfully evident than in the transfer market during the summer, where many were expecting United to bring in a host of big name recruits to support Moyes’ settling in period.

Names such as Fabregas, Ozil, and Baines were linked to the club during a frenetic period, but ultimately United only made one high profile signing in the form of Moyes’ old Everton battering-ram Marouane Fellaini.

You’d have to think that the likes of Fabregas, Ozil, and Baines wouldn’t have all escaped the clutches of United had Gill and Ferguson still played the lead role in negotiations rather than the new double act of Moyes and the so far thoroughly disappointing Ed Woodward.

To that effect, perhaps the next big move for the club needs to be towards bringing someone in to help such negotiations, or perhaps even giving good ol’ Sir Alex a say in transfer dealings going forward.

Increased Trust In Youth And Creativity:

There are some names in the current United squad that simply can’t be ignored. The likes of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Nemanja Vidic should be, and indeed are, the mainstays of any United team-sheet.

The support cast for the headline acts has however been shrouded in far greater doubt, and indecision so far under Moyes.

Injury, illness, and match fitness have a big say in the opening weeks of a league season, and shouldn’t be underestimated in any manager’s seeming indecision, but greater faith in the more youthful, exciting, and creative members of the United squad surely wouldn’t go amiss.

Moyes seems stuck in two minds as to whether he should stick or twist. Should he keep faith in United’s old heads, or should he take a more maverick approach? This is certainly up for debate, but in the short term he must get behind one of the two.

How much more positive and exciting does the following line-up sound than the slightly muddled sides that have featured so far this season for United?

(4-2-3-1) David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones, Rafael, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Robin Van Persie

It’s easy to go all Championship Manager, but this doesn’t sound like a side that would lose at home to West Brom, or 4-1 away to Manchester City does it?

Win In Donetsk This Week, And Continue The Sound European Work So Far:

It sounds simple doesn’t it? Win their next game and all will be right with the world…

It isn’t exactly true, and it won’t exactly be easy, but it is essential for Moyes, his allies, and his players that they at the very least avoid defeat away to Shakhtar.

If United can avoid defeat then they’ll be very well placed in their developing Champions League group, and Moyes will be armed with an essential form of defence in the early stages of his tenure at United.

If he has to face up to criticism regarding their underwhelming league position as it stands, then he will need a fallback, and there is perhaps no better out there than to be able to refer to some encouraging form, and results on the continent. Win in Ukraine, and Moyes’ life will be a hell of a lot easier.

Manchester XI

I will begin by stating on record for those that don’t know, that I am a Manchester United fan.

Sure, it is easy therefore for my judgement on this particular line-up to become a little clouded. I have though tried my utmost to keep my bias under control and have tried to deliver here what I honestly believe to have been the best Manchester XI up to now this season based on a combination of form and statistics.

Manchester United Manchester City

City’s fans may be on top in this picture, but…

In order to counter those who think this will be based purely on a huge bias towards United, I will remind you that I predicted that City would win the title this year and that I believe that one to eleven that they have just as good a side as United.

I would also hasten to add that I would have picked a similar imbalance of City and United players this time last year, but the imbalance would have been in favour of City and the team would have included the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Sergio Aguero along with the City representatives who have also made the cut this time around.

My selection is as follows:

(4-2-3-1)

David De Gea

Joe Hart my have out-statted De Gea in terms of clean-sheets, 14 to nine, but he has also been far more error-prone and cost his side more points than De Gea has. The fluffy-lipped Spaniard has come one leaps and bounds this year and has arguably been the best keeper in the league.

Pablo Zabaleta

Zabaleta is probably the only must-pick from City in this entire XI. His form has been so steady all year and he has continued from where he left off last season where he became the bedrock of City’s title push. He has been outstanding this term, and that can’t be said for a single other City player.

Rio Ferdinand

He may not be in favour with most English football fans after his recent antics, but he has had a great season, of that there is no doubt. I have always been a huge admirer of what Rio offers, but even I had thought that we had seen the best of him before this season, but he has had a bit of a renaissance and has been terrific.

Jonny Evans

I never thought I’d say this, but Mr.Evans has grown in to a cracking centre-half. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have always found it hard to put much faith in Evans until this season. He and Rio have gelled superbly and this has helped David De Gea no end.

Patrice Evra

One of the easiest selections of the lot. City haven’t contributed a great deal in the left back department this year, Patrice Evra of United on the other hand has been outstanding. As well as sharpening up his defensive game, which had waned a little last year, Evra has also chipped in with four league goals, and five league assists, a fantastic and well deserved return for the Frenchman.

Yaya Toure

He hasn’t been quite as good as last year when I would have rated him as my player of the year, but Yaya is a huge asset for City and has still contributed five goals and three assists despite his lengthy absence caused by the African Cup of Nations. It will be a great relief to City fans that his contractual wranglings appear to have been sorted out, as they desperately need him in the heart of their midfield.

Michael Carrick

He may not have scored a single goal this season, but that is almost the only criticism you could target at Michael Carrick this season. He has been consistently brilliant all year, and the four assists to his name don’t do him any justice. The number of important interventions he has made this season, and the number of goal-scoring moves that he has started or played a big part in must be through the roof. First name on this particular team-sheet.

David Silva

Silva, like Toure, hasn’t quite been at his best this year but he has still been a vital cog in City’s attacking machine and not many have played better in sky blue this term. Four goals and seven assists certainly doesn’t make for bad reading.

Wayne Rooney

Many have targeted a lot of criticism at Mr. Rooney this season, and have indeed suggested that this is to be his last at Old Trafford, but I can’t see why. He has only managed 21 appearances this season, but in these appearances he has scored twelve times (as many as any of City’s players), and has notched an impressive haul of 9 assists (more than any City player). He hasn’t been as good as last season, but his role has changed since RVP’s arrival and he has had some injury bother. Nevertheless his contribution has still been sizeable and I think we are slowly seeing his transition into one of the best attacking mids in world football rather than an out and out striker.

Danny Welbeck

Stats may well be the best indicator around for form and contributions made, but in this case ignore them. He hasn’t been banging in the goals, and he hasn’t been a prolific assist maker either but his work ethic has been immense. So rarely has Welbeck failed to contribute this season, so much so that Ferguson has picked him in most of the big games this year and Welbeck has never let him down. This may just be a personal preference pick, but I think he has had a very decent season in spite of what the stats might tell you.

Robin Van Persie versus Manchester City

Robin ruled triumphant at the Etihad

Robin Van Persie

If Michael Carrick wins the nod for the ‘first name on the team-sheet’ in this line-up, then RVP runs him a close second. He has scored 19 goals in the league and made 8 assists, a brilliant contribution and the sort that must irk Roberto Mancini beyond belief as he tried to sign the prolific Dutchman last summer before United beat them to their target. The brilliant thing about Van Persie’s season has been that most of his goal have been important. Many have been winners or goals that turned the tide in matches. He has been off the boil of late, but don’t hold that against him.

United 8 -3 City

Manchester’s El Classico: The Breakdown

With the dust settling on today’s epic Manchester derby I have broken this rollercoaster of a game down into bite size chunks and run the rule over the key moments.

The first ten minutes and Rooney’s deadlock breaker:

Having come strongly out of the blocks it must have been a huge blow to City to have conceded so early and to have done so completely against the run of play.

The first few minutes were territorially dominated by the hosts and they too had the lion’s share of the early possession, but Rooney’s moment of magic came as a sucker punch. Having dropped smartly into the hole he received the ball into feet and shifted it swiftly onto Luis Antonio Valencia whose measured first time cross was met with a towering header from Rooney. All jokes aside about Rooney’s hair transplant and a consequent boost in aerial ability, this was a magnificent finish. He quite literally put his neck on the line and bravely rose to divert the ball home from the penalty spot, beating his own team mate Nani to the ball. This fine opening goal set the tone for a romping first half from United.

The red card:

For me the referee got it right. Some might accuse me of seeing this through red-tinted glasses, but I honestly believe that this was the right decision according to the rule-book.

I wish that tackles like that of Kompany’s weren’t red card offences, but if you go in two-footed like he did then you run the risk of an early bath. The rules of the modern game are designed to bring greater control and Kompany was naiive to raise both sets of studs when really there was little need for such a committed challenge. A simple block tackle would have sufficed but Kompany’s slide gave the illusion of a lack of control when it simply wasn’t necessary, and now we’ll never know how City might have fared with 11 men over the whole 90 minutes.

Kolarov’s brilliant strike and the shift in momentum:

To even have the slightest chance of an unlikely fightback from 3-0 down at half time, City desperately needed a moment of inspiration. Fortunately for Mancini’s men, Aleksandar Kolarov duly provided this with a brilliantly accurate, dipping free kick.

As is so often the case, City’s fans were lifted by the wonder goal and got back on side. Their renewed support picked up the mood at the Etihad amidst the miserable lashing rain in Manchester, and for the next 20 to 30 minutes City were undeniably brilliant. Throughout this period they strained to get behind the ball when not in possession, and when they managed to steal the ball they looked forwards quickly and brought the outstanding Sergio Aguero back into the game. This period culminated in Aguero prodding in the rebound to his own saved shot and giving City what at half time seemed the unlikeliest glimmer of hope.

Paul Scholes’ return:

United’s little, ginger magician returned today and played a significant role in letting City get back in with a sniff. Soon after his return to action, his sloppy short pass was intercepted in a move that led to Aguero’s goal and consequently City’s renewed hope of getting back into the match.

However, from that moment on Scholes recovered and reminded us of his great strengths. His pass completion percentage in the match was 97%, which is indicative of the calm he brought to United’s attempts to keep hold of possession in the last 20 minutes of the game. He may have contributed to City’s revival attempts, but he also played a key role in diffusing their late onslaughts.

Whether you are a United fan or not, it is hard to deny that Scholes has been one of the greatest players of the Premier League era and that his return to action is a welcome one. He may not have the legs of old but his distribution and touch were still top notch towards the end of last season and I can see little reason why this would have deteriorated since then given his continued training with United ‘s reserves.

His chid like grin as he stepped over the white line suggested he was more than just a little happy to be back in the thick of it, and most football purists will be equally as pleased to have him back.

The victors, and their reward for their efforts…

So… after all the mayhem at the Etihad, United eventually came out as narrow victors. Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly bemused by his side’s defensive fragility in the second half, but when he wakes up tomorrow he will surely just be glad to have brought a triumphant end to a poor couple of games.

United’s reward for the win is a tasty encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Lets hope this equally brutal rivalry will manifest itself in a similar manner to today, because if this is the case we are in for another cracking cup tie.

 

 

FA Cup Third Round: My Manchester XI

With the dawn of another epic Manchester derby on the horizon I have taken a close look at those available for the 3rd round FA Cup tie and picked my first XI out of the combined match day squads. My team is as below…

The club's two managers would surely love to pick players from each other's squads if they could

(4-1-3-2)

GK: Joe Hart

An easy pick. Neither David De Gea or Anders Lindegaard have really taken command in their respective bids to become Sir Alex’s number one and have both been under question for error-strewn performances. On the other hand, Joe Hart has revelled in his role of huge responsibility at City and is fast becoming one of the stand out goalkeepers in world football.

RB: Micah Richards

When he burst on the the scene a few years back Micah Richards looked set for stardom for both club and country. Though things haven’t exactly gone to plan since then, he has had a very decent season so far and will surely break Fabio Capello’s resolve eventually and make it into his Euro 2012 squad. One of his biggest rivals for a place in England’s squad is United’s Chris Smalling who after a very promising start to the season has tailed off a little. Richards would get my vote for the right back slot in the national team and he gets my vote here too.

CB: Vincent Kompany (c)

Kompany has been outstanding for City throughout 2011 and looks set to carry such imperious form into the new year. He is to City what Nemanja Vidic is to United, and the injury-enforced absence of Vidic from United’s plans is arguably the difference between the two sides at present in the Premier League title race.

CB: Phil Jones

God knows where this hugely talented young man will end up playing for club and country, but he has had a brilliant first season at United no matter where they’ve been playing him. In spite of his great promise, he has endured a couple of very tough outings this past fortnight and his inexperience and naiivity was exposed at times by Newcastle. He might not be at his best at the moment, but Jones is a fantastic young player and will surely go on to be a major success story for United. In this line-up his pace and ball playing ability would compliment Kompany’s strength and discipline very nicely.

LB: Patrice Evra

Though I am one of many who thinks that Evra is perhaps something of a fading force, there is no questioning his remaining ability. He may not be in great form at present, but he is immensly experienced and still has the pace to fly up and down the left flank. For me he is still a far better left-back than Gael Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov of City.

CDM: Nigel De Jong

In the absence of the suspended Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure who has left for international duty Nigel De Jong will be a hugely important player for City in the coming weeks. In my eyes he is a stronger option than the absent Gareth Barry even when he is available, so to slot him into City’s holding role will hardly weaken their side. In this role United barely provide any competition to De Jong.

Nani excelled against City in the Community Shield

RAM: Nani

The word mercurial is certainly applicable to Nani. When he is at his best he is damn near unstoppable as City found out in the Community Shield in August, but when he is at his worst he is wasteful, greedy and a bad influence on his team mates. Putting to one side for a moment his more irritating tendencies, Nani has become one of the world’s best wide men over the past two seasons. His electric pace, fast-feet, improved delivery and ability to score match-winning wonder goals has seen him rise from a frustrating talent to being one of United’s most potent attacking forces. There isn’t a side in the Premier League that he wouldn’t get in to.

CAM:David Silva

The brilliant little Spaniard has been a little quiet of late but there is no doubting his quality. If there is no Premier League side that Nani wouldn’t get into, then there is no side in world football that Silva couldn’t. United will still be having nightmares about the ‘magicians’ role in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford.

Silva was key to the 6-1 demolition of United @ OT

LAM: Samir Nasri

Like Nani of United, Samir Nasri has phenomenal ability and can at times be a match winner in his own right. His form this season though has failed to live up to his impressive showings in an Arsenal shirt. The man who it seems had the choice of the two Manchester clubs in the summer has a point to prove to the City fans and his manager Roberto Mancini. What better time for him to produce the goods than against United in the cup?

STR: Sergio Aguero

With Mario Balotelli set to miss out with injury, and Edin Dzeko too, the burden of leading the line for City is likely to fall upon Aguero’s shoulders. The Argentine live wire has been instrumental in City’s success so far this season and has racked up a very decent goal count for his first half-campaign of Premier League football. He would comfortably make it into United’s line up at present.

STR: Wayne Rooney

There are few more dangerous forces in world football than a hurt Wayne Rooney. Off the back of disciplinary troubles with United and an abject performance against Newcastle, Rooney will no doubt be more determined than ever to play a part in the demise of United’s local rivals. A partnership of his creative self and the electric Sergio Aguero would be about as good as it gets in world football.

Honourable mentions:

Chris Smalling: A good start to the season seems to have left a lasting impression both upon Sir Alex Ferguson and national team manager Fabio Capello, but on recent form Micah Richards is worthy of getting the nod ahead of him at right back.

Luis Antonio Valencia: A slow start to the 2011-2012 campaign seemed to indicate a struggle for form and fitness, but Valencia has had a good month. His role in the back-to-back 5-0 wins in December and the win over QPR will have gone some way to once again endearing himself to the Old Trafford faithful. He pushes Samir Nasri very close for a place in my line-up.

James Milner: I can’t quite find a way to include him in my combined team, but he seems to have finally found his place at City. It seemed initially that he was struggling to find his best for his latest club, but the England international has impressed when called upon this season.

Javier Hernandez: Hernandez is enormously talented but for me he lacks technical ability. There are few better operators inside the 18 yard box in world football but when required to drop in or pull wide in order to create, Hernandez just isn’t quite up there with the likes of Aguero who also possesses the ability to score from range unlike ‘Chicarito’. Lets look forward to a 30 yard winner from Hernandez tomorrow then!

City’s aspirations must be in tune with the past successes of United

This weekend plays host to one of the most awaited Manchester derby matches ever to have graced the Premier League. With City well and truly on the rise in domestic football, hopes will be as high as ever this Sunday amongst their fans regarding their chances of turning over their more illustrious neighbours.

So far this season City have been the focus of much positive and negative attention. Whilst their on-field stylings have been praised for their increased panache and adventure in league football, their European exploits on and off the field have brought yet more unwanted attention to the football club.

When considering the ‘shocking’ moments on and off the field in recent Premier League history it must be said that Manchester City have been at the centre of events all too often. Think Joey Barton and his multiple headline grabbing off-field acts such as violently attacking team-mate Ousmane Dabo. Think Emannuel Adebayor’s day of shame against old club Arsenal where he celebrated a goal with a full length of the field sprint to taunt the Arsenal fans, as well as viciously stamping on Robin Van Persie’s face. Think Carlos Tevez’s childish refusal to come on from the bench against Bayern. Think Mario Balotelli in general. Think of Gary Cooke’s departure from the club amidst stories of entirely inappropriate emails sent mistakenly to the subject of his insensitivity. It has been a tough time for the club and the men in suits constantly being thrust in front of the press to talk about the ‘regretful’ circumstances have certainly been earning their presumably rather decent salaries.

The club should be on the crest of a wave. They are now the holders of a major trophy, they are playing Champions League football and sit atop the table, but for now as long as the perpetual episodes of nonsense continue the club can’t help but be affected.

It must be conceded that United too have had their fair share of controversy in recent times. Ryan Giggs’ all too public failed cover-up of his alleged affairs and Wayne Rooney’s seeming gluttony for headline acts of stupidity act as evidence of this. However, these moments of questionable behaviour have rarely undermined the club or manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the same way that some of City’s moments of ill-discipline have. Rooney verged on doing so with his criticism of the club’s transfer policy last year amidst fears that he wanted to leave the club, but that aside, at United there seems to be a greater sense of cohesion and respect than at City. This is the sort of respect and attitude that develops as a result of year’s of success and dominance which of course City are yet to have enjoyed.

With the way City are performing at present it seems very likely that they could add to their trophy cabinet again this season, and indeed for the next few seasons. With this will come the by-product of respect and authority which they currently lack. For this reason I think that regardless of this Sunday’s result, that Manchester United will win the league again this season. This isn’t to say City couldn’t again have some domestic success in the Cup competitions, as this is where I believe their best chances of success still reside. They are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and this Sunday’s game is, as a result, draped with intrigue and excitement.

In recent weeks City have pushed themselves into a position where they have a points advantage over their neighbours in the early stages of the title race. While United have looked more fragile in their last couple of Premier League and European outings, City have arguably had the edge over them with big results against the likes of Everton, Blackburn, Aston Villa and most recently Villareal. Tuesday night’s win over the Spaniards looked rather eerily like the sort of win which United have become famed for. To play well below your best but still come up with the goods in a big European tie, even if it does take the very last kick of the game to do so, is an art form in the world of football. All the best side’s are capable of doing this at least five or six times a season and it is what marks them clearly above and beyond the rest of their competitors.

In spite of their slightly more favourable recent results I am backing City to lose 2-1 this weekend. It will take time before City can go into such matches as favourites and it is a title they will have to work awfully hard to earn. They are on the up, of that there is no doubt, but in this match and this Premier League season I think United will just about come out on top of them. Give City a couple of years and a couple more trophy successes and they could be ready to topple United. In the meantime they must focus on maturing as a club and as individual’s rather than letting their fame and fortune get the better of them. United are far from perfect on and off the field, but City are even further away and for that reason the the City of Manchester could again be painted red this Sunday.