Between the Lines

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Posts Tagged ‘Antonio Valencia’

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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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.

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Milan handed us the game on a plate

Posted by hakanrylander on March 11, 2010

A very good performance from United last night and several positive signs going inte the quarter-finals. On yesterday’s evidence Park (my MotM) is probably our best option as the attacking central midfielder. Fletcher again proved that he has that rare quality of playing better the bigger the game. Valencia dominated the right-wing completety (with a little help from Ronaldinho, see below). Nani had a shaky start but improved as the game went along, and provided the best moment of the match with his superb pass for Rooney’s second goal. As for Rooney himself, another proof that he’s England’s best player.

Even so I think the main reason why United were so dominant was that Milan more or less handed us the game on a plate by poor work-rate and lack of tactical awareness. The most glaring example was that the left-back Jankulovski, one of the weakest individual links, was given virtually no support at all from Ronaldinho. As a consequence, Valencia and Neville could do pretty much whatever they pleased down that corridor. Furthermore, the other attackers, Huntelaar and Borriello, spent a lot of time waiting for the ball rather than take part in the build-up. This was a huge difference to e.g. Rooney and Valencia.

In fairness, Milan probably suffered a lot from the absence of Pato and Nesta. Milan still created a couple of chances early on, and with crisper finishing from Ronaldinho and Huntelaar it could have been a much tighter game. But I’m sure United would still have prevailed given Milan’s weaknesses.

I’m already looking forward to the next round.

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Six conclusions from the weekend

Posted by hakanrylander on November 30, 2009

1. After a comfortable 4-1 victory I suppose only a bona fide whiner could complain about our system. But why the * did we line up in this cautious way? If I’m generous I might call it 4-3-3, but it was perilously close to 4-5-1. Against Portsmouth! It would have been fine if someone from central midfield had moved forward a lot in support of Rooney, but it didn’t happen and you wouldn’t expect so with Carrick, Scholes and Fletcher in those positions. Maybe Ferguson felt a need to contain Pompey’s electrifying passing game. But, frankly, I didn’t see the point.

2. The signing of Antonio Valencia was a master stroke.

3. Thomas Kuszczak was my MotM alongside Valencia. I have to admit I haven’t really seen Kuszczak as a serious contender for the long-term no 1 spot. I thought it was Foster or a new signing. This game changed my perception a little bit. Look at it this way: When Foster got his big opportunity at the beginning of the season he made a dog’s breakfast of it. When Kuszczak got one of his last(?) chances to impress he raised his game to a new level. That’s an important quality for a United keeper, or indeed player.

4. A lot of United fans, maybe even a majority, seem to think that the referee was wrong to award a penalty against Vidic. At first sight that was exactly my impression. But the replay shows without a doubt that Vidic pulled the shirt of the Portsmouth attacker. A clear penalty. (And the ref was right about the other two penalties as well.)

5. I thought Avram Grant looked a tad more cheerful than he used too. But then again, maybe not.

6. Finally, and ominously, Chelsea have the look of champions.

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Four conclusions from United vs Everton

Posted by hakanrylander on November 22, 2009

1. Normally I’m on the edge of my seat worrying that the game will take a turn for the worse even when United are dominant. Not so in this game. I felt that United were totally in control throughout. This probably stemmed mostly from central midfield. Darren Fletcher (now generally known as “football genius“) had a great game, but so did Michael Carrick. Carrick’s brilliance is sometimes understated as it’s often “just” about positional sense and hitting the simple passes right. You tend to notice Carrick’s importance most when he’s not on top of his game as the United engine then tends to stutter.

2. Antonio Valencia gets better and better.  He has the rare quality that every time he gets the the ball I feel he will make something happen. The only other United players that give me this feeling are Rooney and Evra. Valencia even smiled after scoring.

3. We will probably have to get used to a mixed bag of performances from Ryan Giggs this season. Sometimes he makes brilliant use of his vision and experience, while at other times he drifts out of games. Pehaps not surprisingly at his age. This was not one of his better days.

4. If we can sign Jack Rodwell for £20m he will be worth every penny. Nothing very remarkable in this game, but he looks total class.

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Our most promising game for a long time. Honest.

Posted by hakanrylander on November 9, 2009

There are reasons, of course, to feel depressed after a defeat that left us five point adrift in the league. But I’m actually more positive about our prospects this season after this game than I was at kick-off.

Best of all was the shape of the team. On paper it looked like 4-5-1 designed mainly to contain Chelsea’s strong diamond by crowding the midfield. In reality it was often more like my favourite formation 4-2-3-1 with Carrick and Fletcher sitting deep and Anderson given licence to move forward between Valencia and Giggs and behind Rooney. This allowed us to control the midfield while maintaing flexibility to attack in numbers, and Rooney rarely looked as isolated as I feared he would be.

We’ve practiced this system from time to time in the past. Most successfully for a spell of perhaps a couple of months (I can’t remember during which season) when Louis Saha wasn’t injured. Saha up front with Ronaldo, Rooney and Giggs formed a very impressive unit. I hope we’ll see more of it in the future.

A solid performance also from the back four including third and fourth choice central defenders Jonny Evans and Wes Brown. The fears that they would be ripped apart by Drogba and Anelka were certainly not realised. In my opinion this too stemmed to some extent from excellent work by our midfield in cutting off the supply lines. So a little less need to worry about the fitness and form of Ferdinand and Vidic.

I suppose I might soon get tired of myself praising Antonio Valencia at every opportunity. He was involved in many of our best moves and also found time to keep Ashley Cole very quiet.

I fully understand why Ferguson preferred Giggs for this game, but next time please let us see more than just a few minutes of Gabriel Obertan. Another good cameo from him.

All in all a very promising game. Pity about the three points.


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The Paganini of the restrained celebration

Posted by hakanrylander on October 22, 2009

Valencia_OwenMost people who score an 86th minute winner in a CL-game would celebrate quite wildly. But not Antonio Valencia. Instead he gave the impression of inscrutable melancholy with a hint of embarrassment. Very similar to his post-scoring behaviour against Bolton a few days earlier.

However, when he scored in the recent World Cup qualifier between Ecuador and Uruguay he couldn’t quite live up to his own high standards of restraint. He jumped over the advertising hoardings and ran into the crowd. Probably enough to earn him a booking in the PL.

So why these totally different reactions? Amateur psychology suggests that Valencia feels more at ease in the Ecuador national squad than with his new team-mates at Old Trafford. From a footballing point of view he’s very much an integral part of the team. To my mind he’s already an established member of our first XI. But maybe in a social sense he doesn’t yet feel part of the group.

The game against CSKA again confirmed how much more efficient Valencia is compared to Nani. I don’t particularly like the fact that Berbatov spent a large part of the game showing everyone how frustrated he was with Nani. But I can understand him. Another positive was the performance of Fabio who might just prove those experts right who suggested that he might be even better than his brother. A special mention also to John O’Shea who had a solid game in central midfield. Most of the time he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but it’s brilliant to have this kind of player in the squad.

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Match Report: United 2 Wolfsburg 1

Posted by hakanrylander on October 1, 2009

Six points from two games is a very satisfying start to the group stage of the CL, but most of all this game was an excellent example of what Dimitar Berbatov brings to the team. Before he came on after 19 minutes we didn’t create very much, but he immediatley started to trouble the Wolfsburg defence with his passes, flicks and back-heels. He set up clear scoring opportunities for Valencia and Carrick and played an important part in the build-up to Carrick’s winner. Hopefully he won over some of his remaining doubters. My MotM.

I was also pleased to see, for the first time this season, an impressive performance from Michael Carrick. Let’s hope he keeps it up because his passing is crucial to the smooth running of our engine room. Another of my favourites, Antonio Valencia, still looks promising but maybe needs more confidence to use his pace to full advantage.

On a more cautious note I was a bit concerned by the way Dzeko and Grafite troubled our back four. The Wolfburg strikers are perhaps not very well-known outside Germany, but probably form one of the strongest striking partnerships in Europe. Vidic was lucky not to be sent off.

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Turkish delight: Besiktas 0 United 1

Posted by hakanrylander on September 16, 2009

turkish_delight2Not an outstanding performance, but it’s of course very satisfying to bring three points back from Istanbul. United lined up in the 4-5-1 formation that is now traditional for away games in Europe. It’s hard to argue with this approach since it’s been very successful. United haven’t lost an away-tie in the CL since 2007 in Milan.

Even so I long for a little bit more adventure, at least against sides like Besiktas. I felt that this game could have been settled by half-time if Rooney had been given a bit more support by one or two central midfielders ghosting into the area when Valencia delivered his crosses. Paul Scholes was a master at this ten years ago. Maybe it’s easier for midfielders to break forward when they are supported by Fletcher or Hargreaves on sentry duty in front of the back four. With Hargreaves injured I would like Fletcher to play every game, but the schedule of course makes this impossible.

In the first half Rooney looked great in a difficult and isolated position. He tired a bit in the second but I was still surprised that he was substituted. Maybe when he grows up he will be able to walk off without a show of petulance. Valencia did great on his CL-debut. His style is more direct and effective compared to Nani’s.

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Pre-season tour full of Eastern promise

Posted by hakanrylander on July 28, 2009

I’ve watched three of the games on the Asia tour (Korea, China and the second in Malaysia). I found the opposition reasonably strong in Korea and Malysia, but poor in China, which was also reflected in the scorelines. After just a few pre-season friendlies it’s of course impossible to make any well-founded predictions for the new season.  But this will certainly not stop me from jumping to a number of conclusions.

Michael Owen looks a brilliant signing. Not only because of his four goals in four games, but even more for the movement he brings to the attack and the way he immediatly seemed to click with his team-mates. But for some strange reason he was rarely, if ever, on the pitch at the same time as Rooney.

I suppose most of you were drooling over Berbatov‘s masterclass against Hangzhou, where he had a hand in all six of the goals scored while he was on the pitch. Yeah, yeah, I know the opposition were second-rate, but this was still a glimpse of the true Berbatov combining efficiency with delightful entertainment. When he’s at the top of his game there’s no other player in the world I’d rather watch. Let’s hope he can show this in the PL.

Kiko Macheda wasn’t as impressive in the build-up moves as I remember him from last season, but he took his goals with calm confidence. Very promising.

I’ve read a number of positive reports about the performances of Tosic and Nani, but unfortunately I don’t agree with them. I didn’t find them particularly impressive in Malaysia or Korea, and they “shined” in China only because they were given acres of space. Both of them will struggle against top-class opposition.

And finally, the two players that I predict will have perhaps the most positive impact this season, Welbeck and Valencia, didn’t even travel to Asia. Plenty to look forward to.

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