Welcome to September’s issue of The Scope, RedRants’ retrospective evaluation of a months events in the life of Manchester United.
Theatre of DreamWorks presents:
Michael Bay has been described as a “cinematic anarchist” by many respected film critics like Roger Ebert. Over the top, visual mayhem, captured in cinematic chaos and perpetual firepower that would make even John Woo wince. His projects win at theatres and bring silver and gold. Why? Because people love spectacular destruction. If you want arty, speechy, intellectual stuff, flee. Michael Bay is not for the faint hearted.
Vicente Del Bosque,one of modern football’s most respected technocrats, once described Sir Alex Ferguson as a “tactical anarchist”. Well that was in Y2K and anarchy was the buzzword then, but that statement, a half mockery, veiled by complimentary gestures is not too detached from reality. Yet, it’s a lawlessness that has brought silver and gold to United. Back then, the unrestrained, frenetic and petrol-head attacking football was exhilirating and nerve wrecking to watch.
The previous season, we had gone to the Nou Camp,scored three and swallowed three. Then Turin, Italy. Conceded two, scored three. Went back to the Nou Camp, (via a Ryan Giggs maze past Vieira,Dixon and other JVC labelled statues)and stole the European Cup. Anarchy. Mayhem. Victory.
This season United and Sir Alex have returned to blockbuster football. A John Woo-Michael Bay hybrid of football is on display and being action junkies here at The Scope, we have no complaints. If you want calm, deliberate, dare I say, tiki-taka football, flee. Manchester United is not for the faint hearted.
Bad Boys: Shoot to kill
The undercover SWAT team masquerading as Manchester United’s front four, has been responsible for inspiring terror into the other 17 hideouts the Reds are yet to raid. 21 goals in the first 5 league games, is a feat even the anarchist teams of the 90s could not achieve. In the first two Gangs of London Massacres at Old Trafford, an aggregate of 53 shots were fired, with Wayne Rooney unloading his magazine 7 times and Ashley Young launching 2 top corner seeking missiles, all in the direction of Arsenal’s Szczesny (pronounced poo-wah-gai). A fortnight later, several shots were exchanged during the Reebok Stadium Shootout. Rookie assassin, Chicharito,drew first blood from point blank range,with a silencer shot, preceded by mind boggling ninja techniques. The return of Hernandez is not being celebrated outside the Old Trafford precinct,you can be sure of that. Ashley Cole, though, is a domestic hero.
But more importantly neither is the resurgence
of the gung ho, trigger happy Wayne, inspiring all night parties in the sky blue fifth of Manchester. The forward/midfielder/part-time goal line defender, is back in his best position and role i.e. everywhere and renegade respectively. Starting the season with the powerful and skillful Welbeck,meant the frontline was highly sophisticated, with high horsepower. No relief was gained from Welbeck’s lay off because the Assassin has hit the ground running, with goals and Houdini movements. This gives Rooney further freedom to drop deep, go wide and storm the box. And he’s going for gold too:
“He wants to be the best player in the world.” – Patrice Evra
I’d give him the gong for his crossfield balls alone. Forget the freekicks.
Bad Boys II: Turbo
The Nani-Young twin-turbo means one thing is prominent in the attack. Speed. The high speed chases we are witnessing on the left and right freeways of United’s attack, has left an expensive trail of destruction. 4 goals, 8 direct assists,14 successful dribbles, with 15 key passes in the last three league games alone. And with 10 fouls won,from which 3 goals have been scored and a penalty awarded, it’s easy to see how their direct, tyre screeching antics are causing panic amongst defenders. Nani particularly has improved greatly in his attack of late, being directly and indirectly involved in 8 goals in the last 3 games.
The wingers have not just made the attack quick- but with the box minded Hernandez upfront- it is aerodynamic as well, and easily weaves past resistance at an average of 3 successful dribbles in the attacking third.
The double exhaust behind the wings should also be mentioned. Besides Evra’s trademark attacks, Smalling and Jones have been a revelation at right back. Pace, power, skill and a Ryan-Giggs run just for show. It was quite frankly, embarrassing.
“We did okay when we got the ball up to Nani and to Ashley Young. I thought that was our strength and they couldn’t cope with that.” – The Boss
From a 70s Beetle to a modern day Camaro, Anderson has evolved. It might be an optical illusion, the fact that he has even trimmed, but we are seeing a difference and a versatility. From a deep-lying, disciplined playmaker’s role(WBA),to CAM at Bolton. Averaging 60 passes,2 key passes per game,plus an assist, a goal, and a couple of dribbles in the middle, it’s easy to discern confidence. Last season’s total assists equalled 2,and an average of 0.8 key passes and 38 passes per game. He has been responsible for 12% of the team’s interceptions and 10% of the tackles. Complete midfielder. Anderson maximize.
Anderson’s transformation is not exclusive. The team’s tactics have evolved as well. The dynamic movement and most importantly, role and positional changes, have made United a different machine. At one point at the Reebok,both wingers were in the centre circle ahead of Rooney,with Hernandez forward left. Moments later, Chicharito combined with Anderson,with lightning quick passes into the box as the latter failed to connect with the former’s return across the face of goal. To make it worse, all this is being done at top speed. How do you defend against that? And Gary Cahill, John Terry and Carl Jenkinson chorused “Amen!”. 9 different scorers this season excluding the evergreen, Own Goal, is Exhibit A.
The Alcatraz nature of United’s defensive system means the team is a mobile fortress. 133 tackles and 74 interceptions in the last 4 league games is testament to the high intensity goal protection system. The siege attitude begins right at the front with the SWAT team pressing high. In central midfield, a zonal marking-pressing balance is being applied with the back four playing a high line. In fact the distance between the CBs and the forwards is probably just under 2 Peter Crouches lying down. This vice like defensive structure means David de Gea has faced mainly long range shots. How do you attack that? “Amen!” comes the soprano chorus from Ivan Klasnic,Walcott and Defoe.
On Sunday, United faced their seventh consecutive “real test”since the Barcelona friendly win. With Manchester City “threatening” the title for the 4th season running, and Chelsea starting very “slow”(according to their “quick off the mark” £50m “man”),undeniably, United have done exceptionally well. It’s two games a week time, with a not too spectacular return to continental football and the real test, is consistency. Can the Reds keep firing on the continent, whilst maintaining the domestic terror campaign? Can the style of football be maintained or even improved on as we spill over into the earth shattering 2012 year or are we going to see a return to “pragmatic” football?
The Replacement Killers
The high intensity, battles have not been without casualties. High flyers Welbeck and Cleverley were joined by the Assassin and the team nearly lost it’s stand in captain, after villainous Kevin Davies commemorated his 99th Premier League foul with a well timed, malicious tackle on Patrice Evra. But the squad is deep and
the players that have come in as replacements have done well. Park,Giggs and Chicharito have contributed 6 key passes,1 assist and 4 goals in the last 3 games before Chelsea. The Pendulum returned to maintain Cleverley’s pass rate average of 91% and with 10 tackles and 9 interceptions in his appearances, “balance”has returned. Michael Carrick, no matter which side of the fence you are, is critical to United’s game.
“I found him brilliant to play with… He reads the game so well. He’s a dream for any attacking midfielder. He’s like a Rolls-Royce” – Paul Scholes
Anderson and Giggs shouted “Amen!”.
Revenge of the Fallen
Goat in reference to United players is not an acronym for Greatest of All time. It’s short for Jonny Evans,Patrice Evra, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick aka The Whipping Boys; official club scapegoats. Evra has been near flawless in his defending and his attacking game has made United’s Magical Left Passage(with Young and Anderson) almost unplayable.
But the real performer has been Jonathan Evans. Phil Jones may be the most visible but Evans has been the best defender no doubt, based on defensive actions. His averages? 2.5 interceptions(Rio average last season 2.6), 2.1 tackles(equals Vidic) and a league high average of 80.14% aerial duels won(Vidic averages 67%). The first “thank you” from De Gea is directed at Evans after every match because he has heroically protected the Spaniard. In the last 4 games, the combined blocks in and around the box, made by Fabio,Jones,Evra,Rio and Smalling, are still 3 short of Evans’ contribution in the same period.
The Amazing Lazyman is watching. Waiting. Scheming. Quietly.
“He’ll get his game time as the season wears on. There’s no question about that.” – The Boss
With the Assassin the latest casualty, Berbatov has the perfect opportunity to Aspirinate The Boss even further. Should Hernandez,Welbeck and dare I say, Rooney,be worried?
Whilst the Premier League is regarded as the “easy one” by the fans, it is folly for the boss and the team to be similarly inclined. A lot of pre-awards hype has been generated(deservedly,mind) by articles such as these and it is important for United to remain focused on consistency and improvement. The Champions League trophy though, has proved itself a worthy adversary deserving the utmost respect. The European Cup is a hard target, bullseyed only by the clinically ruthless and the exceptionally efficient. Whilst the young guns have done well, the lack of subtlety and precision is a cause for controlled anxiety. Anderson’s pass rate has marginally gone down with every game and his adrenalin, Stevie G shot-like passes in the final third, expose his lack of composure. Nani off late has shown significant improvement in split second decision making, but precision in passing has eluded him. His pass rate (73%), whilst acceptable for a forward or winger in England, is not examplary in Europe(Messi 86%, Robben 80%, Ribery 80%). And this is the difference on the continent,the world class curtain that keeps players like him backstage. Hernandez’s poor ball control results in aborted missions in attack. Jones (and Evans) outwitted by Anelka’s (and Mata’s) passing and movement,does not just show inexperience, but a lack of continental “cleverness”. So whilst the energy is exciting to watch, will the lack of finesse across the pitch resurrect the once vibrant voice of the NSNG-No Sneijder No Glory ensemble?
The So Far Awards
“I don’t know why you ask these questions. You are just looking for stupid little things.” – The Boss being polite to journalist Kelly Cates(Dalglish’s daughter),for her DDG Vs Lindergaard enquiry
Evans – modern defender
94.2% pass average, 55.8% of team clearances in last 4 games(before Chelsea), maximum 1 foul per game(Vidic average 1.1).
[1st runner up]
De Gea – Average pass rate at 70%(Nani 73%). Most saves in the league at 28 incl 1 penalty.
Nani – the defender – 4.6 tackles per game, he’s the team’s top tackler (Jones average-3.75)
Best performance: nominees
– Ashley Young(WBA)
– Wayne Rooney (Arsenal),
– Phil Jones(BW)
– Nani(Chelsea) ]
Winner: Phil Jones(Bolton)
Best player: nominees
– Wayne Rooney
– Phil Jones
– Jonathan Evans
– Ashley Young
Winner: Jonathan Evans
(Analysis and data excludes Community Shield and League Cup matches)