Between the Lines

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

Posts Tagged ‘Nani’

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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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 »

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 »

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.

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

Those lines that I before have writ do lie

Posted by hakanrylander on January 31, 2010

This game confirmed two things.

1: For a neutral who loves football the meetings between United and Arsenal are the most enjoyable in the Premier League.

2: Between the Lines has been wrong all along about Nani. Regular visitors will be aware that I’ve dismissed him as our most frustrating player and expected him to be sold. If he had been sold this morning I wouldn’t have missed him. Today he forced me to change my opinion. He scored a brilliant individual goal (with a little help from Almunia), but in a way I was even more impressed with his assist for the second goal when he ran with the ball from inside his own half towards the Arsenal defence. At this moment I would have expected the old Nani to miss-hit the pass or make a desperate attempt to beat the keeper from long-distance. Instead he slowed down, calmly waited for Rooney to arrive in the penalty area and then hit a perfect pass. His performance in the first half was the best I’ve ever seen from him. But isn’t this just another of Nani’s false dawns? I don’t think so. I think that today Nani truly arrived as a Manchester United player.

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

Match Report: Sir Alex Ferguson 1 Between the Lines 0

Posted by hakanrylander on December 9, 2009

Ahead of the game against Wolfsburg I tried to figure out the best way to line up considering the severe injury crisis among defenders. But I have to admit that 3-5-2 never even entered my mind. And I wasn’t of course anywhere near suggesting that we use a  very lop-sided 3-5-2, with one of the wing-backs, Park Ji-sung, running his socks off and joining both attack and defence to great effect, while the other, Nani,  had little impact going forward (apart from that cross to Owen) and in customary fashion didn’t track back. I’m still not sure why it worked, but it certainly did. Maybe there’s a reason why Fergie is manager of Manchester United and I’m not.

A lot of the credit must go to Park who, particularly in the first half, found an awful lot of space going forward, and still found the time to defend. Despite the contribution from Park and the Owen master-class my MotM was Paul Scholes who again showed the rare talent to make it seem as if he always had plenty of time on the ball. Several good touches from Welbeck as well.

In the first half I couldn’t see what all the hype surrounding Dzeko was about. In the second I could. But I’m afraid all the signs are that he’ll join Milan.

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

Between the Lines Recommends

Posted by hakanrylander on November 12, 2009

Who Ate  All the Pies picks it’s Premier League Flops Team of the Season, including five(!) United players.

The Evening News lists our six major transfer targets (and overrates our chances of signing them).

Red Rants puts Nani’s latest brilliant career move into a bit of perspective.

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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.

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

Match Report: United 2 Sunderland 2

Posted by hakanrylander on October 4, 2009

Football is a strange game sometimes. Normally a fluent passing game makes it possible for United to dominate most PL games, but on this occassion it had gone missing. Some of the “credit” for this must go to Sunderland who were very well organized in defence and dangerous going forward.

Even Paul Scholes mis-hit several passes(!), and I think Ferguson was right to substitute him at half-time. This morning I had a look at the Guardian’s chalkboards, and Scholes in fact had a pass completion rate of 88%, the second highest among United’s midfielders and attackers. Maybe my initial reaction is a sign that I’m more or less taking it for granted that Scholes will complete just about all of his passes.

Ben Foster should have done better with the cross for Sunderland’s second goal and once again confirmed that he’s a long way from being England’s first choice keeper in South Africa, let alone the long term successor to Edwin van der Sar.

My frustration with Nani (pass completion rate: 48%) continues to grow. I don’t think he seriously troubled the Sunderland defence a single time. Maybe it’s time to send him out on loan. If possible to Coventry.

Finally I was disappointed when Sir Alex chose to attack the referee for not adding enough time and being “unfit”. I would much prefer if Ferguson gracefully accepted some responsibility himself. It certainly wasn’t Alan Wiley’s fault that we lost two points, if anything I thought he was a bit harsh when showing Kieran Richardson a red card.

Not even a spectacular finish from Dimitar Berbatov could make up for all these disappointments. But it came close.

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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.

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