Showing posts with label James Maddison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Maddison. Show all posts

Quest for 'new normal' in football

'Project Restart' is in full swing to bring a conclusion to the 2019-20 premier league season for which the remaining 92 games need to be completed. That is dependent on a lot of factors the major one being by early June the curve of infected people with the corona virus would have been flattened in the UK to free the NHS staff to conduct tests twice a week on all football players, limited staff and media for six weeks totaling some 30,000 tests. Olympic village style of facility where all players of different teams stay but individually in separate rooms and travel only to and from the ground to play is being mooted. Location is still being worked out with the bottom six teams mainly located in the south except Villa which might sway the decision as a crowded city like London is likely to be avoided.

Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish made a well balanced case for 'Project Restart' that "sporting integrity" alone demanded the season must be completed and supported UK governments cause to raise morale through football "It has the power to lighten lives; why not see if we can use that power again?" He ended by quoting Spanish La Liga head Javier Tebas "If important economic sectors cannot restart, in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football." Few clubs like Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham, Brighton have allowed players to return to training although individually this has started the process of restarting and others including United might follow soon.

Will be interesting to see how following scenarios would be negotiated given that football is a contact sport unlike tennis:
  • What if one of the players test positive during this restart? Will a second XI or reserves team play instead or next match be forfeited or points shared.
  • Will players that have come in contact with the infected player on the pitch be quarantined for 14 days?
  • Will spitting due to constant running or exhaustion invite a yellow or red card offense?
  • Goal celebrations might be muted to limit contact, but can't control the crowded goalmouth while taking a corner.
  • Teams battling relegation will miss their fans vocal home support that acts like the 12th man in crucial matches.
  • Without match-day revenues the top six clubs will be most impacted as they will not be able to fill their large stadiums and perhaps this limited setup might even the monetary imbalance temporarily.
  • Liverpool are so far ahead that they might field their B team and still win the league easily.
  • Few players from each team might decide not play putting the competition in jeopardy.
  • Will be difficult to rule out fans congregating outside the empty stadiums especially for crucial fixtures like Everton-Liverpool derby and other relegation six pointers.
All eyes on German Bundesliga which might return this month. Germany has the best corona virus testing mechanism in the world that resulted in lowest mortality rate that's a testament to the leadership of chancellor Angela Merkel. Luckily DFB is also lead by Christian Seifert since 2005 who has overseen impressive growth in revenues for Bundesliga welcomed the government decision to restart "It is associated with a great responsibility for the clubs and their employees to implement the medical and organizational requirements in a disciplined manner. Games without stadium spectators are not an ideal solution for anyone. In a crisis threatening the very existence of some clubs, however, it is the only way to ensure the continued existence of the leagues in their current form." Authorities have reported 10 positive cases across top two divisions. Borussia Monchengladbach has developed a new means to earn revenue by asking fans to donate cut-outs to fill the stadium. Bundesliga games will be played as usual with home and away format without the need for a neutral venue but without fans.

Ed Woodward was pragmatic about the future as well as cognizant about the present situation when he said that big money transfers are ignoring the realities that face the sport. This raised questions about Jadon Sancho being lured with iconic number 7 jersey to Manchester United. Sancho was the first player across the big five leagues to have double digit goals and assists this season. New reality might dry up potential suitors for Paul Pogba who has yet to discuss his future which may include a new deal to extend his stay at Old Trafford or use the proceeds from his sale to complete the squad re-build. David de Gea is a year away from completing 10 years and said "I hope I can be here for many more years." which will auger well with fans.

United hierarchy would be busy pre-planning the work usually done at the end of season like deciding on new jersey, refurbishing Old Trafford facilities and relaying the pitch, possible postponement of summer tour which was to Asia this time, tweaking pre-season training and fitness regime, prospective new shirt sponsors as deal with Chevrolet comes to an end in 2021, finalizing new player recruits. Trafford Council gave approval to barrier seating idea mooted by Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and Fans Forum for initial 1,500 seats while the atmosphere section at Stretford End is being extended to south-west corner.

Extended time off during this lock down would have turned United's attention to the next stars like Ferran Torres for Jadon Sancho, Matheus Pereira for Jack Grealish, Sandro Tonali for James Maddison, Kalvin Phillips for Wilfred Ndidi, Kai Havertz for Danny van de Beek, Odsonne Edourad for Moussa Dembele, Dayot Upamecano for Kalidou Koulibaly while experience criterion might force Luis Alberto for Saul Niguez and Mauro Icardi for Timo Werner. United remain in contention to sign Jude Bellingham from Birmingham and trying their best to retain Angel Gomes who holds record for being the youngest debutant breaking Duncan Edwards record that stood for 64 years in May, 2017.

To show solidarity with the NHS the clubs name in front of Old Trafford was only lit with letters in capitals "maNcHeSter united" demonstrating original thinking supporting the noble cause. Among the many initiatives during this pandemic that earned genuine praise from fans the best one is from former players calling out old and devoted season ticket holders to enquire about their health.

Threat of litigation from bottom clubs who might be relegated is forcing the Premier League to play the remaining matches to determine the final league table. For such an unprecedented event like this pandemic the ideal response would have been to freeze the table as is with no relegation but promotion from Championship, and in the next three years get back to normal 20 teams from 23. This would mean playing 44 games in a league season not 38 putting more pressure on already crowded calendar and necessitate the removal of League Cup introduced by Alan Hardaker the secretary of Football League in 1960 - a competition which lost its relevance long time ago. The inaugural Premier League season in 1992 had 22 teams which was brought down to 20 in 1995. Euro's postponing to next year will make national team games important in the run up to the competition and the governing body UEFA might not like distraction of an overcrowded schedule before the event.

Second wave of the last Pandemic the Spanish flu in 1918 caused the maximum fatalities compared to the first and third wave. Science back then wasn't as advanced as it is now to enable different simultaneous approach's being tried all around the world for a vaccine. Co-ordination on a global scale remains a challenge thus expect a few start, stop and restart's. This remains the most challenging situation facing the world since the second world war, though football in front of human lives fades in comparison its role to restore public morale during and after the last great war amid strict rations in UK and Europe can never be ruled out.

Options for MUFC in a difficult January window

Harry Maguire pulled out of League Cup semi-final first leg at Old Trafford with a hip injury that can rule him out for at least a month. The England international has played in 11 straight games in 5 weeks since the seniors were made to skip the away tie at Astana and bizarrely Solskjaer even played him against the minnows Colchester United. Its a huge blow to MUFC as both Cup tie's coming up before the end of the month. Maguire joins McTominay and Pogba on the injury list and all three form the spine of the thread bare team that's why MUFC season can crumble in January if reinforcement's are not added in this transfer window. Note the team are also short of two midfielders since the departure of Fellaini and Herrera. Best option would be to recall Chris Smalling from Roma where he's had a great season but off late errors have again crept in.

After the disastrous 1-3 drubbing to Man City sources from the club immediately claimed to be considering a move for Donny Van de Beek from Ajax who might cost #50 million. His teammate Hakim Ziyech is a tenacious winger who excelled in a 4-4 draw against Chelsea and can fill the right wing slot. While Rio Ferdinand suggested another midfielder Fabian Ruiz from Napoli who unjustly fired coach Carlo Ancelotti for player revolt. Donny Van de Beek would be a marquee signing that will also help to attract creative or attacking midfielders in the summer who might be assured of protection that will enable to express themselves better. Real Madrid tried to sign him in the summer and might get back again thus if MUFC cannot get him they can consider either of Kerem Demirbay of Leverkusen, Daniel Parejo from Valencia, Teji Savanier from Montpellier, Alejandro Gomez of Atalanta who have all excelled for at least one whole season playing consistently and are from clubs outside the traditional top three of their respective leagues. These four are no match to the Dutchman in terms of Champions' League experience thus are not marquee but have elevated their game to earn a move to a new club or moved into the top midfielders category in their respective leagues.

MUFC can look at other elite clubs in Europe like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter, Paris St Germain who frequently loan players to each other. Mauro Icardi between Inter and PSG, Philippe Coutinho between Barca and Bayern, Perisic between Inter and Bayern. Even Arsenal got Dani Ceballos from Real! MUFC have let out Alexis Sanchez who they could not handle to Inter and Chris Smalling to Roma but failed to negotiate any incoming players despite being one of the founding members of the disbanded G-14 that has now become European Club Association. Historically MUFC have shunned this type of deal since the Ferguson years and there could be an opportunity for the present management to reassess this route until then any transfers seem unlikely. Example: Arturo Vidal, Samuel Umtiti from Barca, Emre Can, Adrien Rabiot, Daniele Rugani from Juventus, Edinson Cavani from PSG.

Championship has always been a great reserve to scout for future prospects. Brian Glanville used to frequently tell of how Chelsea's first League winning team in 1955 was made up of players from lower division. Kalvin Phillips of Leeds, Matt Grimes of Swansea, Matheus Pereira of West Brom, Jarrod Bowen of Hull, Matthew Cash of Nottingham, John Swift of Reading, Jed Wallace of Milwall. Last season's standout player was Jack Grealish who MUFC might sign in the summer for a hefty fee from Aston Villa while MUFC did sign Daniel James, Neal Maupay is now excelling at Brighton and Reece James at Chelsea.

MUFC can take this window to sign up players in the summer and do the homework in advance like Chelsea signed Christian Pulisic in last January only to be available in the summer. James Maddison is the prime candidate to do such a deal now for #70 million else once he signs a new deal with Leicester then he would cost more than #100 million in the summer. Such a deal would be smart and reduce the cost of acquisition later.

Or look to sign free transfers like Thomas Meunier to add the experience and backup to Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Ashley Young seeking his last contract and in talks with Inter where he can perhaps even extend his playing years in the slow Italian league. Meunier can add the experience at the full back positions that now will have Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Dalot and Williams all below 25 years of age.

Options are available if search is focused in the right direction. Ed Woodward can overturn his image with the fans and slowly gain acceptance. This season he has been proactive unlike in the past. Being 5th in the table and still in contention for all three Cup competitions, unless the club acts to protect its performance by adding quality players they might collapse like at the end of last season. #GlazersOut movement on social media from fans will definitely re-start towards the end of January if no one is signed.

Defining week for Solskjaer that seem familiar with McGuinness and Moyes era

Wilf McGuinness and David Moyes had taken their teams at Manchester United to the semi-finals of the League Cup which they lost in 1970 December and 2014 January and went out of the FA Cup 3rd round respectively with the former's reign ending in December itself while the later lasted till April. That predicament could soon befall Ole Gunnar Solskjaer if the tie against Wolves in the 3rd round of FA Cup and against Man City in the league cup semi-finals over two legs do not go right, nor if he fails to stitch together a run of victories in the league to secure the 4th spot.

The patchy results in the league despite the victories over Spurs and Man City he has clearly failed to bring consistency that normally would have meant a run of 5 or 6 straight victories increasing the confidence of his young charges. Unbeaten at Old Trafford since the loss to Crystal Palace in late August and six game unbeaten run that included three draws are the only two positives that have protected Solskjaer in the results oriented business of football management. Loss to Arsenal was a consequence of two bad choices by the Norwegian: Lingard instead of in-form Andreas and James instead of Greenwood. No Angel Gomes in the squad either who traveled but did not make it to the bench due to issues over his contract. To resurrect the confidence of David De Gea MUFC appointed a new goal keeping coach Craig Mawson from Burnley.  Fans would have loved to see a hard fought draw given the hectic schedule and eke out a result to maintain another run of games unbeaten.

All focus was once again and unfairly on Paul Pogba who did not play in the match after Solskjaer had hinted that he might be involved earlier in the week. Two events clearly points to non-cohesion between the football and commercial management at the club. Firstly after MUFC pulled out of Haaland deal Pogba's agent gave a damning indictment saying "It’s a club out of touch with reality and without a sporting project. I wouldn’t take anyone there, they would even ruin Maradona, Pele and Maldini." Huge loss of commission from that Haaland deal seem obvious but why should MUFC allow such a diatribe from an agent of a player employed by the club. Second is more worrisome actually spoken by Solskjaer "How long is Pogba out for? Three or four weeks maybe, I don't know. He's been advised to have an operation by his people and he'll probably do that." It reminds of Mourinho wanting the Frenchman out but could not due to Management disagreement over the loss of revenue vis-a-vis social media. Despite Solskjaer maintaining utmost restraint so far this season to put a brave face on a tough situation given the weak squad this admission does demand an transparent revelation of the exact injury suffered by Pogba. No talks about contract extension with Pogba who is already in his final 17 months of his existing one does bare out the hard truth.

Without Pogba and more importantly McTominay for a whole month could jeopardize what could possibly be achieved this season. James Garner and Dylan Levitt may get more game time but its probably a year too early for them to be playing in the Premier League every week. MUFC must reignite the interest in Kalvin Phillips or Sandro Tonali based on Solskjaer's template of young and hungry, after sounding out their first tier targets in Grealish and Maddison. The iconic number 7 jersey remains vacant and is still a big draw for an aspiring midfielder seeking world wide acclaim. Ferguson wasn't a fan of January signings either but did bring Vidic and Evra when required. Saul Niguez, Donny van de Beek, Arturo Vidal, Fabian Ruiz, Marco Verratti are pricey options that should be considered. Although experience is the key driver to bring a midfielder given that McTominay might be the first choice Denis Zakaria or Boubakary Soumare may be looked in purely from availability point of view only if none of the other names work out.

The sheer passion shown by Solskjaer coupled with courage to chart through the tough times for the club does deserve more praise than scorn. He is also perhaps caught in the clash of classical manager versus the modern hands on coach from varied background that has inundated the game. The loss to Arsenal away followed by the loss to Wolves in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March was the start of unraveling of deeper issues that led to a collapse towards the end of last season. The same opposition and a year later will the performance and result be any different now? Worse given the same two fixtures are early in January this season if the deficiency in midfield isn't managed by the way of player acquisition the fallout can be disastrous for the 17 remaining league games.

Positive changes but still cannot dictate matches is Solskjaer's first year report card

Solskjaer has eclipsed that night in Paris by scintillating victories over Tottenham and Man City within 3 days, jettisoned the naysayers, rejuvenated the squad with youth from academy as per traditions, spent the budget wisely on three first team starters, 11 changes to the team for an exhausting trip, rejig of the youth setup with head of first team development, amid all the struggles maintained the decorum in his communication, and still there is plenty to be done.

De Gea was tied down with a new contract but errors have crept into his game, Wan-Bissaka hasn't let anyone beat him one-on-one securing the right flank, Maguire leads the side by playing the most minutes, Lindelof now Sweden's best player for 2nd successive year, Williams has been the standout youth taking his chance amid injury crisis, McTominay and Fred consistently being picked have gained confidence, James the 22 year old has carried the team on his young shoulders on many occasions, Andreas runs around energetically and puts a few decent crosses, Rashford has grown in stature to represent the club having already matched his best goals tally before December itself, Martial links the play well yet fizzles out against sturdy opponents, Greenwood great option from the bench has 2nd best goals tally behind Rashford, Tuanzebe ready for first team after two great years on loan. Its a far cry from having Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young, Fellaini, Sanchez stutter last year and is a welcome positive change by Solskjaer.

Paul Pogba has been absent for most of the year and could easily have opened up teams to improve the league position. Club has moved ahead during his absence to demonstrate how he can still play a crucial part yet being able to cope without its only world class player. Solskjaer has benefited immensely as Pogba turned his magic post sacking of Mourinho but his form could not last as he was asked to do too much. Once again the Gaffer has spoken of Pogba as "best all-round midfielder in the world" pinning his hopes and not well thought out plan for the Frenchman. As his agent Mino Raiola rightly pointed out Pogba needs help around him with better players.

Club needs to pounce on three top midfielders like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic if Pogba leaves, James Maddison to wear the iconic No 7 jersey, Denis Zakaria to add physicality and fill the gaping hole that allows opponents into disbelief as to how a club renowned for Pat Crerand, Nobby Stiles, Sammy McIlroy, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Micheal Carrick can be so brittle nowadays? Simply put midfield is the most critical element in controlling the game. Agents and opponents are happy for MUFC as they look set to sign Erling Haaland who is a great prospect but clearly points to an incorrect priority in their acquisition.

Manchester United struggle against teams outside the top 6 who sit back and expect the Reds to break them down but cannot and end up dropping points. First loss at home to Crystal Palace in 30 years, converted the visits to London Stadium into a graveyard due to abject non-performance, can't stomach a fight against the rain, wind and determination at Bournemouth, gifted victory to Newcastle who debuted two brothers in arms, continue to lose to the bottom most club in Watford just like Cardiff last season and this season is not yet over so expect few more unpleasant records to blemish the spectacular history of this great club. Critics point to Solskjaer's inability to eek out results to convert defeats into draws and draws into victories by varying his tactics. Result might seem unimportant if the board has given a blank slate.

Can the double winning captain finally win at Old Trafford as a manager? Steve Bruce has never won at Old Trafford in the opposition dugout while Manchester United have the best record of winning the boxing day fixtures. It was in 1930-31 that Newcastle United did the double over MUFC who suffered relegation finishing last in the league! That would be disastrous indeed if the double loss to Magpies were to happen again 89 years later.

Pogba's return to play in League Cup put off while United chase a trophy

Paul Pogba last played for MUFC in the League Cup 3rd round match against Rochdale AFC in a side captained by Axel Tuanzebe. That match was won on penalties and Pogba being the designated penalty taker did not take one! James, Greenwood, Fred, Andreas and Mata converted all five spot kicks. After a prolonged absence Pogba was expected to return for today's fixture against Colchester instead he got ill after attending his brothers wedding.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was right to say that MUFC missed Pogba's creativity in the 1-1 draw with Everton last week after the euphoric victories over Man City and Tottenham Hotspur. The tone of the following three quotes from the Gaffer suggests MUFC want to hold on their most talented and bankable star who might be eyeing an route away from Old Trafford.

  • "Of all things he’s now struck down with illness and he’s been off for two or three days. That’s not beneficial and that’s probably set him back quite a bit."
  • As I’ve said so many times, Paul is a top player that we want to see playing his best football at Man United."
  • We just need to get him match fit."
End of the year return as earmarked by Solskjaer might now be in jeopardy. Might not be if but when Pogba leaves MUFC. Pogba has been subtle with his message to not hamper his lucrative contract unlike that irrevocable interview by Roy Keane against his team mates that sealed his fate. Will Solskjaer follow his Gaffer and sort out the midfield by raising funds via Pogba sale or wait till it reaches a point of no return by seeking a nod from the marketing team in charge of social media to make a decision? Consider a scenario where MUFC's impressive record against top 6 this season is coupled with Lukaku, Pogba in the squad against non-top 6 sides and easily the club might have been in top 4.

Manchester United will be facing Colchester United only for the third time in history. First was in the FA Cup 5th round in 1979 and second in League Cup in 1983 with MUFC winning both. MUFC reached the finals of the 1979 FA Cup losing to Arsenal after a stellar comeback late in the game that remains one of the best finals in last 40 years.

MUFC will field a changed XI with many youngsters who played against AZ Alkmaar likely to get the nod. Will Angel Gomes be one of them after his update on instagram removing all reference to MUFC? Angel Gomes beat the great Duncan Edwards record for being the youngest to debut for MUFC and his recent antics has angered fans who prefer him over Lingard, Mata and Andreas but clearly application seem to be lacking from the 19 year old. Chong meanwhile seem to have regained his form and place after impressive performances for U23's including the recent win over Reading.

Diego Dalot might return and seems like a natural winger on the right who can be developed as a backup for Daniel James who is more junior than him. Performance of Garner might decide the fate of Matic wanting to seek MUFC exit for the slow Italian league. Greenwood has now overtaken Martial's tally of goals and should start. Greenwood should be ahead of Erling Haaland should the proposed transfer becomes a reality and would put pressure on Martial to be more consistent. MUFC should be encouraged by the fact that James Maddison has not yet extended his contract with Leicester City and ideal to don the iconic No 7 jersey that is now vacant.

Probable squad: Romero (GK), Young(C), Tuanzebe, Maguire (C), Williams, Garner, Matic, Andreas, Mata, Chong, Greenwood.

This game comes just a day before the first year anniversary of Solskjaer's reign as MUFC manager. Critics have been selectively choosing his record interim vs permanent to draw blood overlooking the massive structural changes undertaken including bringing back Phelan from Ferguson backroom, removing the dead wood, signing three first team starters all of whom have been a success so far, promoting the youth from the academy in a big way,.. in short the "cultural reboot" to the traditions of this famous club.

Lacking the decisive second goal

Barring the opening day win over Chelsea, MUFC have failed to score more than 1 goal in 4 of the 5 matches played in the English Premier League. One of the familiar problems still haunting the club more than 6 years after Sir Alex Ferguson left. Scott McTominay has earned the right to be the mainstay ahead of Matic, while his partners in the engine room have constantly changed. Paul Pogba when fit is the first pick. The 3rd slot has been up for grabs and Fred against Leicester when he came on as a substitute might have done enough to keep it in the short term. Fred missed majority of the pre-season to be considered for the first team selection. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retaining the Brazilian speaks about the faith in which he is held by the coaching staff. Unless McTominay-Pogba-Fred tick Ole will have to re-consider his preferred 4-3-3 formation with the players he has at his disposal.

Andreas Pereira hit a good free kick and got into good positions but his final touch lacked composure. Consistent run of games might help Pereira to sort it out. Juan Mata by his own standards was disappointing and the removal of Nemanja Matic lifted the handle on the brakes to attack. Fans have been screaming for Angel Gomes to be involved in the first team following his great form with the reserves. The Europa Cup mid-week game against Astana and League Cup against Rochdale later this month provides Ole with the opportunity. Ole will have to manage the young Daniel James and not wear him out. Right of the front three is a concern as Martial, Rashford and James having a preference for the left.

Injury to Pogba and Martial the defense stood out to sustain the early one goal lead into a victory. De Gea made a fantastic save and MUFC have the 2nd clean sheet at home already this season which equals the tally for whole of last season. Those two clean sheets last season were in a draw while the ones this time around are in victories! That's another turnaround.

James Maddison linked with a possible move in footsteps of Harry Maguire had a decent game. His shot saved by David De Gea after he got the better of Victor Lindelof. How he handles the limelight of being linked with MUFC and drafted into the England team setup will be crucial. Bruno Fernandes might come into reckoning finally as continues to impress with excellent stats in the new season if he holds the ball better and improves his pass percentage. Playing well for Portugal against top sides might decide his fate, esp that win against Netherlands to lift the inaugural Nations League in June. Portugal face leaders Ukraine in the next round of qualifiers for Euro 2020. If MUFC do sign a player in January it might be either and not both. With Wolves struggling this season there might be an possibility to tempt Ruben Neves, while Aston Villa might only agree to sell John McGinn if he stays on for rest of this season at Villa Park. Very early for January transfer speculation.

After Leicester City its the turn of another challenger for top 6 in West Ham who under Manuel Pellegrini have transformed the team with shrewd transfers. Almost a year ago at the London Stadium witnessed the unraveling of Jose Mourinho reign with a horrific 1-3 loss. That team was in complete disarray while for Ole this game against Leicester brought the best 'team performance'. MUFC are yet to win on the road this season and West Ham will offer a stiff challenge with Issa Diop for whom a bid was made will try to justify his undoubted talent, Manuel Lanzini is revitalized after injury and Sebastien Haller has had a great start after his move from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Incidentally its the U23 teams of Manchester United and West Ham who are vying for the top spot in the Professional Development League standings.

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