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Archive for the ‘Match Reports’ Category

The mother of all pre-season friendlies

Posted by hakanrylander on August 10, 2012

A pre-season friendly is not very exciting. The best you can hope for is a glimpse of a new signing or a couple of youngsters knocking on the first-team door. But with United up against Barcelona I just had to be in the stands at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg, despite som financial and geographical inconvenience. It is, however, impossible to draw any well-founded conclusions from this kind of game. So, anyway:

1. Shinji Kagawa is our next star player and crowd favourite. He looks exactly the kind of player we, and Wayne Rooney, have been missing. Excellent control and passing. Only two minutes after coming on he was at the heart of probably our best move. Of all the warm-ups during the first half, his drew the loudest cheers from the crowd.

2. David De Gea has reached a new level of authority and confidence. On several occasions he told Rio Ferdinand where to position himself at goal-kicks. Kept a clean sheet as well. But please note that he was not subject to any aerial bombardment or crude physical challenges. It will be a different story in the PL.

3. The combo of Nani and Valencia make us vulnerable down our right. Barcelona made good use of that space.

4. The squad now give Ferguson several good options in all positions, except left-back and central midfield. This is a problem. It is also a golden opportunity for one player in particular. Step forward, Tom Cleverly.

 

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Answered prayers

Posted by hakanrylander on February 1, 2012

That’s central midfield sorted then.

OK, I realise that I’m in serious danger of getting overexcited, but Paul Pogba’s first 20 minutes of PL football were nothing short of sensational. In those 20 minutes he managed to convince me that he is (or at least soon will be) the box-to-box midfielder we are all longing for. Skillful, athletic, creative, confident.

His pass completion rate was 100%. This was partly because he played a lot of short safe passes to Scholes and Carrick, but he also tried some more adventurous, most notably a long perfectly weighted ball to Valencia. He almost scored as well. And played with a big smile on his face.

Bloody brilliant.

 

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A Star is Born

Posted by hakanrylander on October 26, 2011

I know this was only 20 minutes with the game already won against Aldershot Town who are fighting for survival in League Two. But in those twenty minutes the game changed from a satisfying but routine dismissal of Carling Cup fodder to an electrifying glimpse of the future. All because of the introduction of Ravel Morrison.

You have to wonder what the coaches told him before he came on. As he replaced Diouf I expected him to stick to the left side of midfield. Instead he roamed all over the pitch and was involved in virtually every attacking move, mainly from a central attacking midfield position. This was not a shy youngster finding his feet, but a star intent on running the show. My favourite moment was when he tried to convince Berbatov to step away from a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area.

Morrison strikes me as the kind of player who would benefit from playing alongside and against top class players, much like Rooney or Wilshere. Sir Alex, however, does not seem to plan a fast track for him to the first team. Possibly because his confidence/arrogance tends to get him into trouble off the field.

Unusually for a player who has featured so rarely in the first team, Morrison has a national cheer-leader in top journalist Henry Winter. Winter has praised Ravel on numerous ooccasions rating him as “better than Wilshere and Rodwell” and he’s at it again in The Telegraph this morning writing that Morrison “flowed across the ground all smooth, confident movement“. I suspect that Mr Winter has been right all along.

I would put him (Morrison) on the bench against Everton.

 

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Always look on the bright side of life

Posted by hakanrylander on October 24, 2011

I have to admit that it’s not easy to see the bright side this particular Monday morning. But after a desperate search I’ve been able to find some positives. One of which might even be important.

Bryan and Avram

1. The Glazers were present at Old Trafford. Hopefully they were as shocked as the rest of us. The result is an indication that in the long run it makes a difference if you pour lots of money into a club or take lots of money out. If this became clearer to our esteemed owners, something good might actually come out of yesterday’s defeat. It’s conceivable that they could speed up efforts to reduce debt by listing the club on the Singapore Stock Exchange, or think twice before taking another £100 million or so out of the club.

2. Mark Clattenburg had an excellent game. Referees often get less credit then they deserve, especially when your own team has been heavily beaten. Full marks to Mr Clattenburg. I couldn’t spot a single serious mistake.

3. Coleen looked colourful at Wayne’s 26th birthday bash at Wings Chinese restaurant last night. City stars Gareth Barry and Joe Hart were also attending. Wayne looked less than cheerful.

4. Chelsea lost to QPR, which reminds me of this gem.

 

 

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Conclusions from United 3 Spurs 0

Posted by hakanrylander on August 24, 2011

1. Phil Jones was supposed to be one for the future, but only two weeks into the new season he is already an Old Trafford hero. On his first PL start for United, at only 19 years of age, he already looked the de facto captain. Reminds me of a young John Terry, with the added bonus that Jones can play a bit. My MotM.

2. When Danny Welbeck scored the first goal he was transformed into a different player. For 60 minutes he hadn’t made much of an impression, but after the goal he was full of confidence, trying scissor-kicks and back-heels and wanting the ball all the time. Let’s hope he can carry that confidence with him for the rest of the season.

3. Ashley Young has taken to Manchester United like a duck to water.

4. Several more United players deserve individual praise, but more important was the movement and fluency of the passing game. This was better than I can remember from almost any game last season.

5. Amid all the praise for United, please remember that Spurs were below par. Especially in central midfield where they lacked both steel and creativity.

 

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They saw that the stone was rolled away

Posted by hakanrylander on February 13, 2011

To compare Wayne Rooney’s goal against City with the resurrection of Christ is of course totally ridiculous. Still, it’s an indication of the quality of the finish and the ecstasy of moment that you even consider using such an analogy (helped by his stylish celebration).

It remains to be seen whether this really marks the return of Rooney as a world-class performer. I certainly hope so, but apart from the goal the signs yesterday were, in fact, not too encouraging. He played an important part in the build-up to the first goal and worked his socks off as usual, but this still wasn’t the Rooney of 12-18 months ago when there was great anticipation every time he got the ball.

I think City deserved a point, maybe even three.  For much of the game it seemed that United’s most effective plan was to just give the ball to Nani and hope that he would produce a moment of magic. Full credit to Nani who again confirmed his remarkable transformation from erratic fringe-player to lynchpin. 

A special mention also to Chris Smalling who has been eased in gradually by Ferguson. This was by far his most difficult game so far and he handled the pressure to perfection.

But this game will not be remembered for the accomplishments of Nani or Smalling, but for the moment when Rooney, for a few seconds, gave us all the feeling of rising above mortal constraints.

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports, Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Who Deserve the Title? A Semiparametric Answer

Posted by hakanrylander on November 14, 2010

In the Belgian premier league in 2008/2009 Sporting Anderlecht and Standard Liege completed the season with the same number of points. Although Anderlecht had the superior goal difference, a play-off match was organized to decide the championship and Standard Liege won it. But did they really deserve the title?

Gery Geenens at the University of Melbourne, Australia has taken a closer look at this crucial question and tried to investigate which team was really the best through statistical modeling,  using a semiparametric (don’t ask!) model. Among other things he points out that the semiparametric nature of the model grants it a great flexibility and allows the identification of previously ignored patterns. Maybe it’s now time to put this flexibility to good use and apply similar methods to ascertain whether United deserve to be in the top three of the PL at this moment.

Leaving aside the finer points of statistic modeling, it looked pretty obvious for about 80 minutes against Villa yesterday that we don’t deserve to be even in the top half of the table. Looking at the team-sheets you expected Villa to struggle in central midfield, but it turned out quite the opposite. For much of the second half Villa played us off the park. But judging from the last 15 minutes, we deserve to be champions. Why didn’t we see any of that drive, energy and penetration during the first 75 minutes?

So where does this leave us from a semiparametric point of view? Any readers with special insight into statistic modeling are most welcome to contribute!

Note to Fergie: Put Marc Albrighton on your shopping list.

I’ve only been able to find an abstract of Dr Geenens’ report, and I’m therefore  unable to reveal who actually deserved the Belgian title in 2008/2009.

Posted in Academic, Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Smalling will have big impact

Posted by hakanrylander on September 23, 2010

This was a very enjoyable Carling Cup night. One reason was the fact that City, Chelsea and Liverpool were all knocked out! But more importantly, this was probably a breakthrough night for another up-and-coming United star. I am of course refering to Chris Smalling.

It gives me great pleasure to watch a centre-half who is comfortable on the ball, able to hit long accurate passes and score goals. The pass to Gibson that led to the first goal would have made Paul Scholes proud, and Smalling scored the second with the ease of a goal-poacher rather than a defender. This game will have further strengthened his confidence. I’m looking forward to his first PL start. It won’t be long.

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The End of the Berbatov Debate

Posted by hakanrylander on September 20, 2010

Welcome back, Premier League football. This was electrifying! The second half in particular had everything you could ask for in a football game; individual brilliance, good team effort, a lead wasted by poor defending and a Goal of the Season contender as well as a winner by MotM Dimitar Berbatov.

This will surely be the end of the debate that has been ongoing between United fans for the last couple of seasons. Is Dimitar Berbatov a genius or an expensive flop? No one who was present at Old Trafford yesterday can have lingering doubts. Berbatov is the closest we’ve come to another Cantona. I think Manutd24 summed it up perfectly in the headline “I am not a man. I am Berbatov.”

Finally, a reminder.

Premier League Top Scorers:

  • Dimitar Berbatov 6
  • Florent Malouda 6
  • Didier Drogba 5
  • Andy Carroll 4
  • Salomon Kalou 4
  • Theo Walcott 4
  • Darren Bent 3
  • Johan Elmander 3
  • Craig Gardner 3
  • Carlos Tevez 3

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports, Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Nine Days That Shook the World

Posted by hakanrylander on April 9, 2010

I can’t remember when we last lost three straight games (two of them at Old Trafford), let alone three games as important as Bayern, Chelsea and Bayern. Suddenly we’re out of the CL and will find it very difficult to catch Chelsea in the PL with only five games remaining. It took only nine days for our season to disintegrate.

(Edit: As Morten has pointed out in his comment we did in fact beat Bayern 3-2 at Old Trafford. But somehow it felt like a defeat…)

As Sir Alex will no doubt tell you it’s not too difficult to find “external” reasons for a defeat; maybe the referee favoured the opposition or German’s behaved in a “typical” unsporting way. But after these three games we need to take a long hard look at possible weaknesses in our own team. United did in fact play some very good football, maybe their best this season, in both first halves against Bayern. But in the end they were still knocked out. I believe that a major reason was a lack of confidence.

This was most obvious against Bayern at Old Trafford. United were cruising 3-0 ahead when in a short space of time Rooney started limping, Bayern scored a soft goal and Rafael was sent off. These were bad blows, but not bad enough for the team to withdraw completetly into desperately defending the lead. Until then Bayern had found it very difficult to handle the pressing in midfield and in particular Nani and Valencia running at their full-backs. But United now more or less gave up any attacking ambitions thus making life much easier for Bayern’s weakest link Badstuber and freeing Lahm to get forward in support of Robben.

Compare this to Bayern who in both games showed a remarkable resilience and mental strength. In Munich they were second best for most of the game but kept going and managed to turn the game around towards the end. In Manchester they were outplayed for 40 minutes, but even at 3-0 down their heads didn’t drop and to my mind they had begun to change the pattern of the game even before Rafael was sent off.

This is exactly the kind of strength that has characterized great United teams in the past (the semi-final in Turin 1999 springs to mind). Possibly the team’s self-belief is now too dependent on Rooney. I think the team is strong enough to match Bayern even without Rooney, but somehow the players themselves didn’t really seem to think so.

Finally, a note to Sir Alex. The German players didn’t get Rafael sent off, he did that himself. It was a correct decision by the referee.

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »