Manchester United is Struggling, but are They Really Down and Out?

It is one thing to lose your first league home opener in the past 42 years.

Just in case you forgot some of the fun:

It’s another to draw your next game in an inglorious fashion.

It is completely different and borderline unacceptable for a team as “mighty” as Manchester United to get played off the park by a League One team. MK Dons taught Manchester United a lesson. In front of a sold out home crowd of 29,000+ the Dons found a 4-0 win against a Manchester United side that looked eerily mediocre and stoic. You can argue that United played a bunch of young players that were incapable of handling the pressure or the task at hand. You can argue that the new system is taking longer than expected to shine through. The best argument is that United just were not good enough. They looked lifeless, as if MK Dons was the team with massive reputation and payroll. Sometimes it is easy to be the underdog; there is no pressure or expectations and any success is a lucky benefit. This time, MK Dons, whose total payroll of 235,000 euros (Rooney is on 500,000/week) found a result and a dominant one at that!

So the question becomes, is this humiliating enough? Or is United destined for greater shortcomings before they return to greatness. You look at the transfers in this summer and it seems that the defensive posture needed in Van Gaal’s system has largely been forgotten. Herrera and Di Maria are the biggest signings of the summer but offer no solidarity to a defense that couldn’t stop my U12 team from getting chances. We must wonder what is going on in Manchester? Three in the back requires some incredible athleticism and excellent 1 v 1 defending. Does Manchester United have that back there? No. And the club continues to pursue attacking options and that would be fine if United scored four goals a game. Alas, the struggles are on both ends and the signs of improvement and progress are limited at best.


All is not lost though. The next three fixtures for United are quite favorable with the likes of Burnley, QPR and Leicester City on the docket. It is almost like the league knew United would need to be bailed out from its struggles so it could once again compete for something. If United get 7 points out of these three games, this could be an early turning point in the season to hopefully instill a bit of confidence in the group. It does not matter that two of these games are on the road. If you are Manchester United, you need results and you need them now. I am not a Manchester United fanboy but I do appreciate when the big clubs stick to a system and find a way to success, so I hope, and I know all Manchester United fans hope, that Van Gaal and company figure themselves out sooner rather than later. It would be some travesty to see one of the biggest clubs in the world find itself in the Championship division next year!



Arsenal and Liverpool: Tale of Contrasting Starts

Week 1 of the 2013/2014 Premier League season is a wrap.  Most of the usual suspects managed points without a hitch as 5 of the top 7 clubs from last season either won or tied (Manchester City has yet to play).  Interestingly enough, one of the more controversial and most talked about clubs of the summer, Arsenal, was the lone loser of the bunch.  Not only did they lose the match, they lost key players on an already painstakingly thin squad to injury.  What will go down as one of the more peculiar summer sagas in recent memory, Arsene Wenger refused to strengthen his squad prior to the beginning of the season and it cost him Рbig time.

A 3-1 home defeat to last years table bottom dweller’s Aston Villa is hardly how any club would like to begin a new campaign. ¬†Now Arsene may be forced to enter the transfer market based on injuries to Ramsey, Rosicky, Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain. ¬†The most serious being Oxlade-Chamberlain’s potential to miss the entire season should ligament damage be found. ¬†This is on top of the already injured Arteta, Vermalean and Monreal. ¬†To add insult to injury, Koscielny received two yellow cards which will see him miss a match. ¬†Arsene sure has his work cut out for him before the transfer window closes.

With the latest reports out of Liverpool being an apology from Suarez, all signs point to him staying put, at least for the rest of this season anyway. ¬†Even without Suarez, who is banned for the first 8 matches for pulling a Mike Tyson on Ivanovic’s arm, Liverpool looked well enough without him and pulled out a 1-0 victory over Stoke. ¬†A promising start without their much maligned star player.

With the result, the question needs to be asked: Should Liverpool actually sell Suarez this season? ¬†They looked fine without him and they could use the 45m-50m or so to strengthen an already decent squad. ¬†Is Suarez worth missing out on a potential 50m payday to put up with another 7 banned matches and all the potential problems that may arise throughout the new season only to go through the same saga next summer? ¬†After all, he’s one more chomp away from being banned for an entire season.

The problem is, and what Arsenal have quickly found out, is that there is a lack of striking options available in the market. ¬†It’s easy to look at the Suarez situation and say that Liverpool could take the money and unload a problematic, yet superstar caliber player and invest in the rest of the squad. ¬†The fact is, there’s not many investments to be had; at least the ones worthwhile. ¬†Lewandowski was just given a pay raise to remain at Dortmund after it was a foregone conclusion of his departure to Bayern. ¬†Higuain, Jovetic, Negredo, Schurrle, Falcao, and even David Villa have moved on to “greener” pastures. ¬†That represents almost the entire striking market over the summer. ¬†So who’s left? ¬†Benteke signed an extension to stay at Villa. ¬†Michu could be had for the right price, but it remains to be seen whether he was a one hit wonder last season. ¬†Rooney seems to be the highest profile forward “available” and even his availability is questionable according to Moyes.

Would you swap Suarez to Arsenal if it meant grabbing Rooney from United?  An interesting scenario and highly debatable no matter how unlikely it would seem.  But that is exactly the dilemma Liverpool face when it comes to dealing with Suarez.  It seems like a wiser decision to hope Suarez has a controversy-free season and regains his 2012 form and then sell him next summer when more striking options could be had.   In my opinion, I would keep him and try to push for a top 4 finish.  The effects would be twofold.  Arsenal look like a mid-table squad at best, which would remove a top team from above them while retaining one of the best finishers in the game to make that push for the Champions League.  Should Liverpool actually attain Champions League action next season, they could then either retain Suarez if they think that would make him happy or sell him and then have Champions League football to coax another high profile transfer or two.

On the flip side, Arsenal are quickly spiraling downward after just one match. ¬†Everyone and their mother knows they have a huge cash reserve. ¬†They are more than desparate to buy players now. ¬†Any club Arsenal approaches from here on out will be able to play hardball and force Arsenal’s hand to raise the price on its players. ¬†Arsene sure picked the wrong season to offload so many players while pulling the head-scratching move of standing pat when it came to bringing players in. ¬†Now Arsenal face a shortage of players for their all-important Champions League qualifying match this week. ¬†Should they lose on Wednesday, all hell will break lose at the Emirates. ¬†Which would lead to the seemingly inevitable realization that this may be Arsene’s last season with Arsenal as his potential contract renewal will most likely be questioned by all the Arsenal faithful.

It’s amazing how perceptions can change after just the first game of a new season. ¬†Liverpool go from an above average club with a problematic player to contending for a Champions League spot as well as retaining their star player. ¬†While Arsenal go from a club in great form with a promising young nucleus to a squad in turmoil after injuries and suspect defense. ¬†In summary, Liverpool’s outlook is very promising while Arsenal is, for lack of a better word, screwed.

Transfer Confirmations and Rumors Galore

Since my last transfer rumors post back in June, we’ve seen some players take the plunge and actually join new clubs and others have rumors swirling with different clubs:

  • Cavani is confirmed to be off to PSG instead of the rumored Chelsea
  • Fabio Contrao is now being linked with Tottenham
  • Gonzalo Higuain has been transferred to Arsenal then Napoli, yet nothing is confirmed to this point despite the latest reports saying a 37m bid from Napoli has been accepted
  • Fellaini¬†remains at Everton and it seems talk of his “release clause” being activated was complete BS
  • Manchester United have made a 3rd bid for Cesc Fabregas after we reported they were interested in the beginning of June

So, with those 5 rumors, only one has officially come to fruition.

Recently, I posted about Arsenal possibly splashing some big cash this transfer window. ¬†So far, none of those have happened for Arsene Wenger, much to the dismay of the Gunner’s fans.

  • Higuain (mentioned above)
  • Rooney now looks like Chelsea will be his most likely destination should he leave Old Trafford (IMO, I think he stays)
  • Felliani (mentioned above)
  • Lars Bender¬†looks like he will be staying at Leverkusen, at least for this year
  • Stevan Jovetic is a confirmed Chelsea signing and a good potential Tevez replacement, who is confirmed to be off to Juventus
  • Micah Richards is still at Man City and his transfer rumors have cooled down some
  • Fernando Torres looks to be staying with Chelsea at least for the time being
  • Julio Cesar is still available
  • David Villa¬†has been confirmed to stay in Spain and move to Atletico Madrid

The latest confirmed transfers and rumors involve some players not previously mentioned:

  • The 20 year old Brazilian Bernard¬†has been the talk of the Brazilian media recently with a reported 21m move to Arsenal set to be confirmed after the copa libertores final on Thursday. ¬†He has also been linked with Tottenham and Liverpool. ¬†(Not many outside of Brazil know much about him but he does have some impressive highlights)
  • Soldado¬†is being linked with a 25m move to Tottenham from his current club Valencia, although the latest reports suggest talks have broken down
  • Benfica winger¬†Eduardo Salvio is linked with a 30m move to Chelsea
  • The puzzling rumors regarding¬†Juan Mata continue as a potential Arsenal target (I would put this at about a -3% chance of actually happening)
  • Liverpool have reportedly made an 18m offer for Ajax midfielder¬†Christian Eriksen
  • Aston Villa forward¬†Chistian Benteke¬†received a wage boost to remain at Villa next season
  • Tiago Alcantara is off to Bayern Munich as they add yet another midfielder that is already world class
  • Fellow American¬†Jozy Altidore has officially signed with Sunderland
  • Isco¬†turned down the chance to join Manchester City and went with Real Madrid instead
  • The latest reports on Gareth Bale see a 6 year deal reached with a move to Real Madrid
  • Luis Suarez’s¬†suitors are still reported to be either Arsenal or Real Madrid should Liverpool decide to sell

Next week I will be posting Part 2 (of 3) of my Barclay’s Premier League Predictions. ¬†They will be based on the above confirmed transfers and rumors. ¬†As some squads have had some notable changes, expect the predictions to change from Part 1¬†posted 6 weeks ago.

Will Arsene Wenger Change His Meager Ways?

The summer transfer window is “officially” open. ¬†For Arsene Wenger, time is running out for his chance to win over his critics and actually put Arsenal’s cash reserves to use. ¬†The media knows Wenger has at least 70m in his war chest this summer. ¬†Knowing that, Arsenal are being linked with more than a dozen different players already. ¬†From Higuain to Rooney to Fellaini to David Villa to even Fernando Torres. ¬†Either Wenger really is changing his spending habits or the media is just spewing rumors because it can (probably a little of both). ¬†Below is a list of players Arsenal are reportedly after and my thoughts on each, in no particular order.

  • Gonzalo Higuain – To me, this seems like the most obvious and likely transfer for Arsenal. ¬†The player wants out of his current team because he has fallen out of favor. ¬†That team is looking to sell and Wenger knows it. ¬†Sounds like your prototypical Wenger transfer to me. ¬†However, he will have to break the Arsenal transfer record, 15m for Arshavin (ouch), to bring him in. ¬†Giroud is a good player, but not the type of player to carry a squad to points – Higuain could be that guy.
  • Wayne Rooney – Another player who has fallen out of favor with his current squad, however, also happens to be the face of the club at the moment. ¬†Wenger will have to overpay for one of England’s most prominent players. ¬†‘Wenger’ and ‘overpaying’ just doesn’t belong in the same sentence. ¬†Personally, I think Rooney stays at United. ¬†We have heard his name as a possible transfer target for years now and always ends right back where he started. ¬†Going by Wenger’s history, this just doesn’t sound like an ideal transfer. ¬†Overpaying for a controversial player at the upper end of his 20’s. ¬†Why not just pay Van Persie to keep him around? ¬†If I were Wenger and had a choice between Higuain and Rooney, I take Higuain.
  • Marouane Fellaini –¬†Since the departure of Alex Song and the lack of availability of Abou Diaby, Arsenal have been in need of a physically strong midfield presence. ¬†Fellaini definitely checks those boxes to a T. ¬†His release clause is 25m so Arsenal will yet again have to break the bank. ¬†Would he make the squad better? ¬†Absolutely. ¬†Is he worth 25m + wages? ¬†That’s debatable. ¬†However, losing Fellaini would be a huge blow to Everton. ¬†I think there is a slight possibility of this transfer happening as it fills a need for Arsenal, however, for the same reason Wenger won’t buy Rooney, he will not overpay for talent.
  • Lars Bender – One of the newest names linked with Arsenal has been reported by The Mirror. ¬†They say that Arsenal had around a 20m bid rejected by Leverkusen. ¬†It is reported that the club do not want to sell. ¬†You can’t fault a club for not wanting to sell one of its top players. ¬†However, it is worth noting for the next few transfer windows that Wenger will most likely keep the interest in the German and could potentially end up at the Emirates at some point, just probably not during this transfer window.
  • Stevan Jovetic –¬†The young Fiorentina forward has been one of the first names linked with a move to Arsenal since the end of 2012. ¬†I haven’t had the chance to watch much of Jovetic other than some YouTube clips, but from what I did watch, he honestly reminded me of a young Rooney – specifically his skills on the ball and long range shooting. ¬†Jovetic can also play about any attacking position from central striker to attacking midfielder to out on the wing – similar to Rooney. ¬†It’s hard to judge a player simply by watching highlight clips on YouTube, however, what I did see was very impressive and it’s no wonder Wenger is interested.
  • Micah Richards – I actually like this transfer idea. ¬†A player who has possibly lost his starting place at his current club and is, or will be, a position of need for Arsenal as Bacary Sagna enters 30 years of age. ¬†Richards is a young English player who has the physical presence a Premier League defender should have as well as good pace and aerial ability. ¬†Manchester City would be looking to sell and I think it’s the type of “bargain” Wenger typically looks for and at the reported fee of 12m, he wouldn’t exactly be breaking the bank.
  • Clement Grenier¬†– To be honest, I don’t know much about this player except for the fact he seems to be highly regarded by Arsenal and his current club Lyon. ¬†Arsenal have been linked with the 22 year old for a while now, but recently had their latest offer rejected by Lyon. ¬†From a tactical standpoint, this transfer makes sense. ¬†One of Grenier and Cazorla would occupy the attacking midfielder position while the other would be sent out on the wing. ¬†This would be an instant upgrade over Ramsey, who is a good player, but might better be suited to provide depth off the bench rather than a consistent starter. ¬†Unfortunately, it looks like Lyon covet their playmaker too much which would make Arsenal have to up the offer and will so many other transfer targets, that money may be able to be spent elsewhere.
  • Fernando Torres – I was very surprised to see Arsenal linked with Torres. ¬†It is not the prototypical Wenger player. ¬†He has struggled mightily (to say the least) since joining Chelsea. ¬†That’s not to say he can’t still produce some goals, but for his transfer fee/wage package, he’s not exactly a bargain. ¬†I highly doubt Wenger goes out and gets Torres, unless Chelsea were simply looking to offload him for 10m or so, then I could see Arsene take that chance and one that could pay huge dividends.
  • Julio Cesar – During the Confederations Cup final broadcast, the ESPN announcer claimed that a deal has been reached for Julio Cesar to join the Gunners and will be announced shortly. ¬†With Vito Mannone gone and Fabianski potentially seeking first team action at another club, this transfer actually makes a lot of sense. ¬†Cesar showed in the Confederations Cup that he is still a top class keeper in his mid 30’s. ¬†Szczesny is young and still has a lot to learn at the position. ¬†Who better to mentor him than one of the top keepers in the world?
  • David Villa –¬†Villa was more heavily linked over the winter transfer window than at the present time. ¬†Barcelona rejected Arsenal’s bid 6 months ago. ¬†That’s not to say Wenger won’t try again this summer. ¬†I think Villa makes perfect sense for Arsenal. ¬†He would be relatively cheap (considering his age), but is still a clinical finisher and great player going forward who still have a few good years left in the tank. ¬†He could be very dangerous linking up with fellow Spanish teammate Santi Cazorla.

The media strongly links all of these players with a move to the Emirates. ¬†The first 5 ¬†players listed would each cost AT LEAST 33% more than Arsenal’s all-time record transfer fee paid. ¬†So, keep that in mind as you read about Arsenal transfer rumors. ¬†I think a lot of Arsenal supporters lose that sense of reality and simply get caught up in the quality of names being thrown around and lose sight of what is actually realistic.

Realistically, I could see Higuain. Cesar, David Villa, and Richards as the most likely newcomers based on price and Wenger’s spending history. ¬†I do believe that Arsenal will end up with one of Higuain, Jovetic, or Rooney, but I highly doubt more than one.

Every transfer window, huge names are thrown around as possible Arsenal targets, yet its supporters are left disappointed and angry at Wenger. ¬†In that way, I feel sorry for Wenger. ¬†He can’t control what the media spews as potential transfer targets. ¬†With that said, he has no reason this summer not to buy at least three players worth 15m-20m. ¬†I think any Arsenal fan would be happy with any combination of 3 players from the above list, which is not asking for too much really.

Will Wenger ever change his transfer tactics?  He has 60 days to prove he can.

Huge Transfer Deals Already Making Waves

With the Champions League finished and the European leagues coming to a close, transfer news and rumors heat up. ¬†A few of the hottest commodities in the world are already confirmed to be on the move. ¬†This could mean that when the actual transfer window opens for the English Premier League in July, pickings may be slim on superstars for the top clubs looking to add top quality. ¬†Lets take a look at some of the “confirmed” transfers already in place.

1) Neymar from Santos to Barcelona – Confirmed

New Barcelona teammates Messi and Neymar

Arguably the best young talent to hit the transfer market was Brazilian International Neymar.  Reportedly, he had a choice between Real Madrid and Barcelona and chose to join forces with Messi rather than Ronaldo.  With Alexis Sanchez and Pedro losing form and the likely departure of David Villa, Barcelona were in need of a winger upgrade and what better way than to add a 21 year old prodigy to partner with the best player in the world.

Santos will receive a reported¬†‚ā¨30 million euros and Barcelona likely have to pay a substantial fee in addition to that to Neymar’s third party investors. ¬†(Explanation of third party investors here.) ¬†Neymar’s talent level is unquestioned, it is whether he can translate that to the rigors of “big boy” soccer in Europe after beating up on the lowly Brazilian League in his teenage years. ¬†Either way, you can’t blame Barcelona for taking a gamble on him. ¬†After all, take a look at some of his highlights:

2) Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid to Monaco – Pending Physical

Falcao celebrating after scoring for Atletico Madrid

Speculation has been surrounding Falcao since last transfer window as Atletico look to cash in on his incredible form in becoming one of the top central strikers in the world over the past few seasons. ¬†The 27 year old looks to be snubbing the Premier League and will look to join France squad Monaco in their attempts to rebuild. ¬†Monaco have already purchased the talented Porto duo Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez for a combined¬†‚ā¨70 million and will have to splash out another¬†‚ā¨60 million for Falcao. ¬†Quite the spending spree for the Ligue 2 champions. ¬†The deal is expected to be confirmed sometime following Atletico Madrid’s final match of the season.

3) Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich – Agent Confirms

As if Bayern hadn’t given enough blows to Dortmund by announcing the signing of Mario Gotze and then beating them in the Champions League final, Bayern are set to steal their top goal scorer as well. ¬†This deal is far from official yet and no transfer fee amount is being reported, but Robert’s agent recently stated to the media that Bayern have agreed on a transfer fee and that his client is set to join following his brilliant season. ¬†I’m willing to bet he had the attention of Bayern even before he put 4 goals past Real Madrid in the Champions League semi’s. ¬†If the signing of Lewandowski comes to fruition for Bayern, they have to be the favorite to defend their Champions League title next season.

With 2 of the worlds top strikers supposedly off the market, it looks like squads will be forced to overpay for the next tier talents.  Cavani, Rooney, David Villa, and Dzeko (among many others) would be included in this group as possible and likely departures.  It should be a very interesting summer as the transfer season heats up so stay tuned.

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Two Worlds Collide

Tomorrow is finally the day of the most anticipated match (so far) of 2013. ¬†One of the most fascinating features of the UEFA Champions League is being able to witness two teams from two very different leagues compete on one field. ¬†The EPL and La Liga feature very different styles of play and require different skill sets for success. ¬†Tomorrow we’ll get to see two powerhouses in Europe and their respective leagues meet. ¬†Managers worldwide learn a lot from these matches when it comes to what works, what doesn’t work, and what is the future of soccer? ¬†And I¬†really¬†hope this isn’t the future of soccer.

The “Spanish style” of soccer has been the most influential and successful style of soccer for a few years between a World Cup title, Euro Cup title and the strength of Real Madrid and Barcelona, although this record is certainly marred by both Spanish sides losing out in the semi-final round of last year’s Champions League competition. ¬†In any case we’ve witnessed a migration towards this Spanish style: more short passing, triangles all over the field, and a narrower approach to goal (as opposed to whipping tons of crosses in). ¬†Manchester United has adopted this style, highlighted by signings like Kagawa. ¬†For some spots of the field, I’d say Manchester United and Real Madrid are very similar (Keeper, outside backs, strikers). However even with this migration towards the Spanish style, Real Madrid and Manchester United still have variations which stem from their roots. ¬†Here are a few points where the Spanish and English sides differ:

Center backs – Manchester United still have the typical combination of strength and size in their central defenders. ¬†Although there’s still a bit of coolness on the ball, I wouldn’t compare it to the common control found¬†in Spanish center backs (case and point).

Defensive midfielders РXabi Alonso, Sami Khedira,  and Michael Carrick are similar, but Real Madrid has no player like Tom Cleverley. His role tomorrow will be very interesting.

Wingers – In what I’d characterize as an English motif, Manchester United, with the exception of that clown Nani, has more defensive wingers in Valencia and Welbeck where the Spanish side opts for offense over defense in guys like Ozil. ¬†This will be a major factor tomorrow. ¬†Will the more defensive style suit Manchester United or will that be their downfall?

Formation – United have become comfortable with a 4-2-3-1 style compared to a Real Madrid side more accustomed to a 4-3-3 formation. ¬†Who strikes first in this scenario is paramount. ¬†If Madrid strike first, United are forced out of their “shell”. ¬†Should United strike first, Real have to continue to push without falling further behind. ¬†Tomorrow is only the first leg, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any dramatic changes. ¬†But I’d be surprised if we see the same strategies in the second leg as we do in the first leg.

Group D Preview and Predictions

Group D is an interesting one to say the least. Ukraine, France, Sweden and England make up a somewhat strong group that is marred by injuries.

The Ukraine is behind on their Euro 2012 preparations. This does not exclude their own home squad. The Ukraine has not won a game since October of 2011. They lost to France and Sweden during their warm-up games for this tournament. That being said, a host country can never be counted out. (Just look at Greece) Still, the quality in the team is few and far between. If Andriy Shevchenko finds his form of old, maybe, just maybe Ukraine can sneak a draw in. I don’t expect to win a game during this tournament, even with the support of their home fans.

Sweden enters this tournament in good form, winning every game they have played in 2012. The competition might not have been overly competitive but wins against Croatia and Serbia cannot be discounted. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a boss. He is unstoppable when he wants to play. He attracts enough attention to give other forwards such as my personal favorite, Markus Rosenberg, a chance to make something happen. How reliable are the role players on the Sweden side in the clutch moments? I don’t think they are and Zlatan has been known to disappear in big games so I do not expect must noise from the Swedes. An all too injured England side could provide a way into the knockout rounds.

France is the odds on favorite in this group. They have had an excellent and undefeated 2012 highlighted by a win over Germany, in Germany. This was a tune up but still gives France confidence going into the tournament, something they really needed after the World Cup bust up that was as embarrassing as it was damaging for the country’s national side. France is the most well rounded team in this group and has the most depth. I expect them to get out easily and make a run to the finals. Benzema, Nasri, young gun Ben Arfa and an experienced back line are more than enough to make it happen.

England is in trouble. Injuries are unpredictable but that timing of England’s current woes could not have been worse. That combined with the John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Roy Hodgson riff is enough controversy to cause major problems for this team. Rooney is out for the first two games so it will be up to young Danny Welbeck to provide the scoring. This situation is the perfect set up for an England team with no pressure or reservations to make an unexpected run for the title. Is it likely? No. But, England still has some talent and given that the group stage should be a breeze, England could hold solid and find ways to advance further into the tournament.

I expect France to win the group outright and England to sneak out in second. England needs to get a little bit lucky but if they can find a way to organize an inexperienced back line and find goals without Wayne Rooney running the show, they will grab two wins and move on. I expect little to no resistance from the Ukraine. Sweden is a potential dark horse here but I don’t see them making it out.