Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Posts Tagged ‘Chelsea’

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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Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Unbeaten start to the season, and the symptoms of liver disease

Posted by hakanrylander on September 26, 2011

Andy went to see the doctor. “I’m sure I’ve got liver disease.”

“You’d never know if you had liver disease”, said the doctor. “There’s no discomfort of any kind.”

“Exactly!”, said Andy. “Those are my precise symptoms.”

During the first few weeks of the season we have witnessed a wonderfully fluent attacking game, great new signings, the breakthrough of young stars and even The Second Coming of Duncan Edwards. Seven wins and two draws in all competitions. No discomfort of any kind (at least not after De Gea’s MotM performance against Stoke). Still, the long-term target is to overtake Barcelona, and therefore I worry about two things.

– We give the ball away too easily. This was most apparent against Chelsea, and we were a bit lucky that Chelsea failed to take advantage. A team like Barcelona would punish such mistakes ruthlessly.

– We find it difficult to cope with high pressing. Benfica managed to play this way for parts of the game against United earlier this month, and this immediately put us on the back foot. High pressing is the core element of Barcelona’s defensive system.

In the games we’ve played so far this season these weaknesses haven’t really mattered. But when we come up against Barcelona they will be fatal.

Posted in Manchester United | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

The Debt Also Rises, II

Posted by hakanrylander on January 8, 2010

The start of a new decade calls for the long-term view. And whether you like it or not, long-term sporting success in today’s football depends more than anything on – money. Thus my pessimism.

United now owe something like £700m to banks and hedge funds. This in itself need not be too much of a problem. Normal companies often have huge debts without this being particularly alarming. But there’s a crucial difference. Normal companies have debts because they’ve borrowed money to invest in machinery, factories, real estate or whatever. And these investments bring, or are at least supposed to bring, revenues that help pay off the debt. Football clubs also do this. When Arsenal invested in a new stadium their debt rose significantly, but so did their gate receipts on every match day.

United’s debt, on the other hand, is virtually not investment related at all. It was taken on only to finance the Glazer take-over. In effect, the club is paying lots of money every year for the privilege of having new owners. In the year to 30 June 2008 the interest payable was £69m. Most of this money could otherwise have been spent on investments in players, ground improvements etc. Similar sums go to waste every season.

And by a complete coincidence a United manager, for the first time in living memory, finds no value for money in the transfer market. I believe the sad truth is that the board no longer supports Ferguson in the transfer market the way they used to when we signed Robson, Keane, Ferdinand and Rooney. Not a big problem in the short-term. I don’t see any desperate need for big signings in January. But in the long-term there’s no way we can keep up with Real Madrid, Chelsea or City without being prepared to pay big money for top players.

The only solution that I can see is that someone is prepared to pay enough money for the club so that the Glazers can leave with a healthy return on their investment. The sooner, the better.

Posted in Financial, Manchester United | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

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.

 

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Riverdancing around the office

Posted by hakanrylander on September 3, 2009

Today I find I have absolutely nothing to add to this “analysis” from the peerless Fiver, the mother of all tea-time footy newsletters.

“When the Fiver read on Big Paper Website that Chelsea had been banned from signing any new players in the next two transfer windows, our first course of action was to find a more reputable source to confirm the story. Upon establishing from the Sky Sports News Yellow Ticker Of Fact that it was indeed true, we quickly sped through a kind of reverse Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Ecstasy: amusement, pointing at pictures of Peter Kenyon and laughing like Nelson Muntz, raucous jubilation, teary rejoicing and Riverdancing around the office swigging from a salmanazar of Champagne.”

Read the full story here.

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Hypocrite of the Week: Roman Abramovich

Posted by hakanrylander on August 28, 2009

I couldn’t have made this story up if I tried to. It’s too ridiculous. It seems that Uefa president Michel Platini wants to impose a rule that would force all Champions League entrants to balance their books by 2012. And that one of the main backers of this scheme is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

I’m not too keen on the idea in the first place, but I suppose you could make an argument for limiting the spending or borrowing by clubs. But for Abramovich to push for this kind of rule is hypocrisy in the extreme.

The over-spending that he now wants to curb is exactly the kind that he himself has been practising ever since he took over Chelsea in 2003.  Since then Chelsea have amassed losses of about £700m. The most recent accounts show a loss of £67.5m. The intention at Chelsea is to break even within the next couple of years and then to start making profit. While trying to stop any other club from following their example.

And how about this: Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon welcomes the idea and is quoted as saying “I don’t think anyone could disagree with the broad principle”. Well, it certainly isn’t a “broad principle” that has been close to the hearts of Abramovich and Kenyon. Until now.

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Premier League clubs face difficult transfer window

Posted by hakanrylander on June 29, 2009

The transfer window doesn’t officially open until Wednesday but of course a lot of activity is already underway. The early signs are that the top Premier League clubs are finding it difficult to lure stars from Italy, Spain and Germany. United (Ronaldo, Tevez), Arsenal (Adebayor) and Liverpool (Mascherano, Alonso) are all in danger of losing, or have already lost, star players and are apparently finding it difficult to replace them. While Chelsea are reported to have made a number of unsuccessful recruitment attempts (Pato, Villa). The only exception is City, whose bottomless pockets enable them not only to pay high transfer fees but also offer ridiculous pay-packets such as the reported £200,000 per week after tax to Samuel Eto’o.

The reason for these difficulties is not that the PL is less attractive from a sporting perspective. Remember three out of four semi-finalists in the CL were English. Instead the problem is that the PL is financially less competitive than a year ago.

This is partly because Real Madrid have gone bananas, but also and more fundamentally because of the fall of the pound. Even though the pound has strengthened against the euro in recent months, it is still 11 percent weaker than it was a year ago. This makes it more expensive for British clubs to buy players from euro-countries, and also to pay their wages. Furthermore, the tax rate on high earners (anyone earning more than £150,000 a year) was raised in the latest government budget, meaning that top players (or indeed any first team player) earn more after tax in Spain or Italy compared to England.

This might very well be the summer when the tide turns and more top players move away from rather than towards England. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Beauty or the Beast?

Posted by hakanrylander on May 6, 2009

Tonight Chelsea and Barcelona battle for the honour of taking on United in the CL Final in Rome. I belive that United’s chances of winning the trophy will be better if Chelsea reach the final, but I still hope for a Barcelona win for two main reasons:

-United vs Barcelona could be a classic game involving two attacking sides that are widely acknowledged as the best teams in the world.

-If, Eric forbid, we should loose the final I would find it easier to stomach that Barcelona rather than Chelsea beat us, because of their entertaining football.

It’s a difficult game to call. Chelsea were accused of negative tactics in the first leg, but I can’t see how they could have chosen any other strategy at Nou Camp. I don’t think Hiddink will play it much differently tonight. He’ll probably be quite happy to contain Barcelona and hope that a single goal will be enough, and Drogba may well provide it against Barcelona’s makeshift central defence with both Marquez and Puyol sidelined.

Posted in Previews | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »