Category Archives: Reviews

Michael Oliver – Derby Ref (Advantage to Manchester….?)

Michael Oliver is once again the allocated referee during a season defining match for Man Utd. He’s had some big calls before that have affected games: Herrera’s bizarre red card against Chelsea, Everton’s last minute penalty and a red card for Chris Smalling, against (you guessed it) Man City!

Man Utd seem to have dropped a lot of points whilst Mr Oliver has been officiating, but then so have City; remember the famous 4-2 loss away to Leicester? Having said all that, who actually has the ‘advantage’ with Oliver in charge? I’ll be looking at overall results, goals for and against, penalties and cards.

Let’s start with the overall results with total goals for and against both teams in the last 10 matches when Oliver has taken charge (in all competitions):
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Man Utd and Man City have both lost three games and conceded 11 goals each from the last 10 matches Oliver was the referee. The matches lost for Man Utd were against Chelsea in the FA cup, Watford and Norwich in the league. For Man City, they recorded losses against Leicester, Crystal Palace and Manchester United.

Man City have won more matches and scored significantly more. However, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the two. Based solely on results you’d have to edge advantage towards Man City; but Man Utd have beaten fierce rivals Man City in the same period.

Next we’ll look at penalties for and against and disciplinary points for and against the two teams:
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Before we start, the disciplinary points are calculated from:
4pts for a yellow card.
10pts for a red card (two yellows).
12pts for a straight red.

From the same period of matches, Man Utd have suffered more disciplinary action and had less disciplinary action given against their opponents. Man City have benefited more from Michael Oliver’s card distribution; receiving less and their opponents being punished more than those against Man Utd.

In terms of penalties, Man Utd have been awarded half the number of penalties and conceded three times as many. Therefore, you’d have to say Man City are more likely to have decisions in their favour in terms of the big decisions like penalties and red cards, based on recent history.

Lastly the Manchester Derby results that Michael Oliver has officiated:
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Michael Oliver has refereed three Manchester Derbies during his career, and at the moment it’s 2-1 to Man City in terms of results. Man Utd also received a red card in the 2014/15 season in the derby but no penalties given to either team in any of the matches.

All things considered; results, head to heads, goals, penalties and bookings, you’d have to say that Man City has had more rub of the green with Michael Oliver in charge and should be the happier of the two teams with this appointment. However, with Man City having so much luck already this season, surely their luck is to run out soon. Could it be during this weekend’s match of the Goliath’s?

One thing’s for sure. Whenever Man Utd fan’s see Oliver’s name as the official in charge they shiver inside, especially a match as important as this weekend.

Is there an advantage/ disadvantage to having certain referee’s? Have your say below!

Fifteen Match Review – Man Utd Make More Ground

We’re approaching the half way point of the season; and from our position last season we had a lot of ground to make up on our top six rivals. We made great ground in the first five matches, then ended up 1 point worse off from the same fixtures last season during period; match week 6-10. So how did we get on during the last five matches in comparison to last season?

Result Comparison 2016/17 – 2017/18
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As you can see Man Utd have done exceptionally well in comparison to the same fixtures last season. Eight points better off and 14 goals better off in goal difference. Unfortunately we didn’t make it a perfect five games with the loss to Chelsea, but we still ended up 3 goals better off. Eight possible ‘bonus points’ from a potential 11 is a very good return.

From the first 15 matches, how many points and goal difference are teams better or worse off from the same fixtures they played last season. For ease relegated teams Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland have been replaced by Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield respectively.

Here’s how clubs have compared:
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Despite Man City being the top and totalling an increase of 14 points compared to fixtures last season; during the last five matches, Man Utd have actually closed the gap on City by three points and 10 goals. We’ve increased the gap on Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool by; 16 pts, 8pts, 8pts and 6pts respectively. Which means, if all remaining fixtures were to be exactly the same as last season, the top of the table would look pretty tight.

This is how the table will look from the changes in the first 15 games if the remaining results remained the same as 16/17:
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As we can see, Man Utd have jumped from a theoretical sixth place after game week 10 to third place after game week 15. We’re heading in the right direction, just need to keep this positive momentum going!

What points can Man Utd make up in the next five fixtures from last season?
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Some tricky fixtures, but there’s only one that really stands out: Man Utd vs Man City. If we beat them on the weekend, it’ll cut the gap at the top of the theoretical table from 12 points to 6 points. This is quite literally a six pointer for the top of the table. Fingers crossed we come out on the right side.

From the next five matches we could gain an extra seven points on last season! How many do you think we are likely to achieve?

Have your say below!

Progression Under Mourinho is Clear – Stats Don’t Lie

As the start of the season has developed and Man Utd having one of their best ever starts to a Premier League season; fans appear to be falling foul of the media’s spin and misleading headlines. However, the stats don’t lie and I’m here to shed some light on the progression made so far this season.

This time last season, Mourinho had the fan’s full support. We understood the situation and the gravitas of the task that Jose had to undertake to turn our team around. Three years of backwards pedalling, poor transfers and negative tactics ingrained in the players DNA, of course it was going to take time. As Jose said at the time, ‘It would be easier to have 22 new players and start from zero.’

He had to delete LvG’s ‘philosophy’ and then start putting his own tactical awareness into the players, and not default to the negative tactics we saw under Van Gaal. Fans completely understood and appreciated it, and supported the manager fully both on and off the pitch regardless. It resulted in Man Utd’s worse ever start in the Premier League Era, but it was about longevity and long term progression; we knew progress was being made and results would turn around in the next few seasons.

How does this season’s start compare to seasons since we last won the title?
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This season we have won double the matches compared to the same point last season. 11 more points on the table, higher position, better form, less loses and a lot less draws. We’ve gone from being fully behind the manager during the worst ever start, to (some fans) slating him during our best start to a season since we won the title; and we’re not even far off that!

Is it the ‘negative tactics’?

Let’s compare goals for and against over the same period:
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Our goal difference is eight times better than this time last season and one of the best we’ve ever had at this stage of the season during the Premier League Era. The last time this was surpassed was during the 2000/01 season when the GD after 14 matches was 26; 17 years ago!

We have conceded half the goals compared to last season, scoring 13 more goals. What more do fans expect? You only have to look at last season to see how far we’ve come. Quite literally the worst start to the season last year in terms of points, goals scored and goal difference, to the best we’ve seen since Ferguson.

Just to drive home the point, let’s look at the team’s discipline in recent years:
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Not only are Man Utd winning more, scoring more and conceding less this season; our disciplinary record has also drastically improved. The disciplinary points over the first 14 games has almost halved in the space of one season: Once again, going from the worst start to the best over the last 6 seasons. This proves our defence is not only conceding less, but they’re more clinical in their tackling and positioning.

I hope that the Man Utd fans out there who have been crying for Mourinho’s departure, start to realise that despite what the press are saying, Jose is doing a fantastic job. The title will be back at Old Trafford soon with him at the helm. For those looking over the road, remember; it’s a marathon not a sprint. Their momentum is unsustainable and it’ll catch up with them; if not this season, then next.

Jose has delivered better attack, better defence and better discipline. Start fully supporting your team, start backing our world class manager!

The Great Dane

Having a superb goalkeeper is integral if a team wishes to be successful and compete for all the major trophies. In particular, if said team plays with the attacking potency and abandon which United did over the 1990s, where he will often be left isolated as the entire team swarmed forward in a marauding and cavalier fashion in search of goals, points and ultimately, trophies he has to be of the greatest quality.  Peter Schmeichel is considered by many as the greatest Premier League goalkeeper of all time because of his match winning contributions through saves and also the peerless way in which he distributed the ball with feet or with one of his infamous, pinpoint, accurate long throws.  A save from an Ian Wright header which would have beaten lesser mortals was quite simply supreme, the striker going so far as to acknowledge it by clapping his own hands together in appreciation for the athleticism and ability showcased. The goalkeepers whom we had subsequently to Schmeichel which included the likes of Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi and Roy Carroll before Edwin Van Der Sar arrived showed, in particular, the irreplaceable quality and assurance which Schmeichel offered United.

For most people, the crowning moment in Schmeichel‘s United career was the penalty save against Dennis Bergkamp in the FA Cup Semi Final in 1999. Although Giggs’ incredible wonder strike stole the headlines and remains the enduring moment of the match, had Schmeichel not kept out the Dutchman’s penalty in injury time the unprecedented Treble would have never been.  I have watched the save multiple times and still get the goose bumps at such a poignant moment, where a historic achievement could have been thwarted. However, the Great Dane clawed us back from the precipice of defeat and also ensured that the widely regarded best strike in FA Cup History took place.  Schmeichel has since revealed that he was unaware that it was the final minute of the match and of the immense import of the save. United down to ten men at that juncture, famously rallied driven on from the precipice of defeat, former national team mate Brian Laudrup explains his influence and personality on those he played with:

“The best ever. Peter’s charisma and character could change the game. His spirit spread to the rest of the team. Strong in the air, great reflexes and brilliant in one-on-ones. A true winner.”

Schmeichel was a colossus; a leader of men who would bark instructions at his defenders to ensure they remained vigilant and reinforce he was the unquestioned commander of his own penalty area. Schmeichel had a combative personality which intimidated strikers he faced and bred the respect that his immense talent deserved.  Opponents often recount how Schmeichel’s presence gave United an aura of invincibility and impregnability, he was a giant of a man physically who knew how to fully impose himself upon those around him. As Roy Keane recounts, Schmeichel was one of the rare few who stood up to him which flared up into the infamous scrap between the pair. Simply put, Schmeichel possessed an innate bravery and drive that earned him the immense respect and esteem which his team mates held him in. His defenders allowed him to vent so vehemently when they made mistakes because of his prodigious talent which so often saved their skins and atoned for their errors.

When Schmeichel was bought, it was for £505,000 which Sir Alex Ferguson was to describe later as “the bargain of the century”. Although his first season with United was tinged with disappointment given that we finished runners up, this was mitigated by League Cup glory and that summer Schmeichel was to play an integral part in Denmark’s greatest international football achievement, winning Euro 92. This cemented Schmeichel’s reputation and standing as the world’s premier goalkeeper, as he made his usual string of important saves. Furthermore, in the following season, 92-93, United were to break their title hoodoo, finally vanquishing demons and ghosts with their guardian between the posts contributing significantly, accruing a total of 22 clean sheets.  Schmeichel was a keeper who was worth his weight in gold and indeed in points as Ryan Giggs attests:

“Goalkeepers win you games sometimes, and Peter Schmeichel won more games than any other goalkeeper I’ve ever seen.”

In the following season, Schmeichel again showed his fiery temperament and tenacity when he argued strongly with Sir Alex Ferguson. The words exchanged were so terrible indeed that Sir Alex fired the Dane but subsequently reinstated him when he eavesdropped on Schmeichel’s apology to his colleagues.  In training, these colleagues had all experienced Schmeichel’s wrath, of course, in particular over any aberrations which might cause him to face a shot, never mind having to pick the ball up out of the back of the net. Absolutely inexcusable in his book were players who attempted to chip him, he would retaliate to such affronts venomously and with interest, hurling the ball straight at the offending miscreant who dared to commit such a cardinal sin.

Schmeichel was an unorthodox keeper in many regards, part of his speciality was in making the ridiculous look stupendous, for instance the classic star jump save which he counted amongst his goalkeeping repertoire which although looked decidedly ungainly came to the rescue on more than one occasion, most notably for the incredible save to deny Inter Milan striker Zamorano in the Champions League Quarter Final in 99.  Schmeichel’s clean sheet was of paramount importance and other concerns were of secondary relevance in the serious business of winning matches and trophies for the Great Dane. For someone who was so tall, Schmeichel could also be devastatingly quick and agile which really helped in those one on one situations, a striker looking to set himself would already find Schmeichel upon him before he had time to blink many times. This asset was very beneficial for United, as was an unparalleled shot stopping ability where he saved shots which he had no right to, tearing up and rewriting goalkeeping manuals on theories of the possible and impossible. Schmeichel’s method of communication with his colleagues whilst on the pitch is infamous, straining his vocal cords, every sinew in his neck showing as he marshaled his troops from the back. As he recounts himself in a game situation usual social niceties and graces had to take a back seat, with the fast paced nature of the beautiful game necessitating urgent actions at critical times. Some players who played with Schmeichel recount that he seemed almost managerial in his shouting, especially sometimes when the volume on the pitch was so loud the manager could scarcely be heard. Schmeichel explains that he felt it helped to reassure his team mates that he was there and fully engaged and ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice.

In 1996, Schmeichel became involved in a controversial incident where he was accused of making racist remarks towards Ian Wright during a typically heated game between Arsenal and United. However, eventually after much speculation and consideration no evidence was found and the case was dropped.  Schmeichel was someone who was outspoken and wore his heart on his sleeve. There would be no shirking his duty or hiding from situations. In training, he would play with the outfield players in control and dribbling drills, it was very important not only to foster greater camaraderie with his fellow United players but also so that they could appreciate and rely upon his ball skills. Schmeichel himself has often said that intelligence, knowledge and understanding as a keeper is the greatest skill which one can have in that position, knowing what your role is and appreciating the role of the team and their objectives. As the seasons of Schmeichel’s United career wore on he inevitably gained greater experience of what his job entailed and knew what permutations or eventualities he would encounter.  As former team mate Teddy Sheringham describes, even in training Schmeichel’s ability seemed absolutely supernatural:

“Awesome. He’s one of those players you didn’t like facing, but loved having in your team. Peter just fills the goal. Thinking back to my first year at Man United, when I struggled, maybe I should have trained against the reserve keepers instead. It’s so hard to score against him, psychologically it might have boosted my confidence to get away from him for a while!”

Schmeichel’s focus was legendary, he had a singular frame of mind during a game, he likens this to a kind of arrogance where you tell yourself you have never made a mistake, this mindset means you have a subliminal expectation or anticipation that your game will be flawless, lending itself in turn to a supreme confidence in your own abilities. However for opponents this mentality bred a respect and appreciation of Schmeichel, as John Barnes, who whilst playing for Newcastle had had a superb header somehow clawed out by Schmeichel miraculously, effuses:

“Simply one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. [ . . . ] There are goalkeepers with presence who aren’t much good, but Schmeichel had both presence and raw ability. He was a great shot-stopper and a fine taker of crosses, he read the game superbly, he commanded his box. There hasn’t been a better player in the Premiership.”

In Schmeichel’s final season for United, he achieved ultimate glory as the club won the unprecedented Treble, securing him the greatest send off he could have hoped for. During key matches as ever, Schmeichel was omnipresent, making save after save and showing immaculate distribution as the United team cut down all foes that stood in their way. In particular his long throw was absolutely sublime, almost like a regular keeper’s kick such was its power and panache in launching some of the devastating counter attacks of that season. In the Champions League Final Schmeichel was to make save after save, including one where he had to use every inch of his towering frame to tip a Effenberg lob over his goal, keeping the score to within a goal, before the most amazing injury time the European Cup has ever seen. For the Sheringham equaliser, Schmeichel finally caused a chink in the legendary German organisation of Bayern Munich, when he raced up to join in with the corner. As the ball came across, he leapt for it but the ball evaded him and was half cleared to Giggs’ whose right footed shot was turned in by Sheringham grabbing the equaliser from the jaws of defeat. Of course moments later United won another corner and Schmeichel this time stayed in his own box. As Solskjaer gleefully prodded the ball into the roof of the net, the Great Dane, captain for the night, allowed himself a momentary exhilarating celebratory indulgence with joyous acrobatics which make up another piece of the glorious tapestry of that season and the night no United fan will ever forget.

It must be said that Peter Schmeichel is a United legend, he was simply an absolutely outstanding goalkeeper who provided the resolute foundation for the unparalleled success which the club enjoyed during the Nineties with so many Premier League and FA Cup glories, as well as the jewel in the crown of the Champions League in his final game for the club. He provided an inspiration to all young goalkeepers amateur and professional, including Oliver Kahn, for example and was someone who had a plethora of talents that beggared belief but which United fans and his colleagues adored and revered.  He was someone who had exceptional standards and who achieved those every day with a drive, desire and commitment which puts him in the ultimate bracket of goalkeepers who played the game, it is so singularly rare to find a keeper who has so many extraordinary talents and who showed a calmness and composure at the highest level reaching the pinnacle in his final outing for Manchester United. United were to struggle for many years to find a goalkeeper once the Great Dane had left, before Van Der Sar came along but in truth they would always find it hard to replace the greatest goalkeeper the Premier League has ever seen and arguably as Sir Alex Ferguson extols here the greatest there has ever been:

“I don’t believe a better goalkeeper played the game. He is a giant figure in the history of Manchester United.”

Ruthless Ruud

During my time watching Manchester United, there has been one goal machine that stands above all others, a man who had a finishing style unmatched by others who have worn a Red Devils’ shirt. When he first arrived in a United shirt, he wondered why fans were booing him whenever he scored before he was informed that there were merely acclaiming him through his first name. This was to be a sound that would punctuate United matches with an alarming regularity and alacrity. The man, of whom I speak, is indubitably, Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The Dutch striker was simply a phenomenal finisher, a man who was born to score goals, who knew how to garner an extra yard of space at the key time to arrive precisely when he needed to, in order to supply a deft finishing touch to a move.  When you listen to him talk you are aware that he is a clever man and that it is perhaps this quality married with his astonishing finishing ability which led rise to his iconic and legendary status at Manchester United. Van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals in only 219 games for United, which is quite simply extraordinary, demonstrating how easily and repeatedly he found the net and how difficult it was for opponents to prevent him scoring. This goals per game ratio of 0.68 is superior to any of the top ten all time United scorers currently, showing his efficiency and effectiveness as a goal scorer.  As Louis Saha articulates Van Nistelrooy was an unbelievable striker with a wide arsenal of skills:

 “He has the ultimate mentality of a striker. He’s always concentrating so he can be in the right position to anticipate a pass or be in the right place to receive it. That’s what makes him so effective. There is nobody in the world like him. David Trezeguet is a similar player but he doesn’t have the same quality, control and technique. Ruud keeps control of the ball with three players trying to get it off him. He is the complete forward.”

 

Van Nistelrooy was first rumoured to come to United in 2000 however injury difficulties made the move impossible at that juncture and he made the transfer a year later, for a then hefty sum of 19 million pounds. His scoring form at PSV Eindhoven, albeit in the Dutch league, had already gained him a fearsome reputation, having bagged 62 goals in 67 appearances for the side.  In his first season for United in 2001-2 he enjoyed incredible success, scoring in his debuts in the Charity Shield and the League and scoring 23 goals in 32 league games, form of such a high calibre which earned him the PFA Players’ Player of the Year accolade on the back of his sterling efforts in his maiden season. He was always looking to improve, as Van Nistelrooy admits it was important for him to visualize where he wanted to go and what he wanted to achieve and this would have helped to spur him onto greater heights in the following seasons. Often, he would look at his abilities and achievements in a self critical way as only the top players will do and he particularly admires those players who had this kind of authentic, down to earth mentality. Players who did not get too hung up on the materialistic riches which football had to offer but instead conducted themselves in a professional and considered manner, with the game their primary focus. To this end, the player Van Nistelrooy mentions to exemplify these traits is Paul Scholes, someone who didn’t conduct interviews and whose stylistic approach was a simple hoodie and jeans for training, yet a player whom Ruud describes as one of the best the world has ever seen.

The following season, he won the Golden Boot, one strike ahead of his erstwhile rival for the award Thierry Henry and won the Player of the Season, as he appeared to be going from strength to strength. In particular it was his passion, desire, drive and determination to score as many as possible which further outlined his appetite for goals, scoring three hat tricks in the League that year. When we contemplate our current predicament, that it is now four and a half years since someone in a United shirt scored a league hat trick, you truly begin to appreciate what a remarkable and skilled striker Van Nistelrooy truly was. His goal against Fulham where he ran from the halfway line from this season is a moment Van Nistelrooy himself admits was the most exceptional point of his career, as a footballer he says you had to know what you were good at and what your limitations are and focus on those strengths, that was why he concentrated on scoring inside the box, where he was at his most dangerous and ruthless. Van Nistelrooy opines that the best player he played with was Brazilian Ronaldo at Real Madrid, as those types of goals were more of his standard and that Ronaldo had a far more natural ability in those types of situations that he did. Another noteworthy aspect of Van Nistelrooy’s scoring efforts was his Continental strike rate, in other words how predatory he was in Europe. He had further improved upon his ten Champions league goals the season prior with another twelve which earned him UEFA’s seal of approval with the epithet of the best striker in Europe.

By scoring in the first couple of matches of the 2003-04 season Van Nistelrooy had scored in ten consecutive league matches, a record which was to stand for over a decade before Vardy overtook it. At the time, Van Nistelrooy couldn’t have been more gracious in ceding the record to the Leicester front man publicly saying that records were there to be broken. This shows what a classy, considerate and thoughtful gentleman Van Nistelrooy truly is, in how he portrays himself through his intelligent words and actions.  Of course, Van Nistelrooy was also at the centre of the Battle of Old Trafford, missing a last minute penalty which would have won United the game; he was then attacked by Martin Keown as tempers bubbled up and players were caught up in the cavalcade of emotions of the fierce rivalry between Red Devils and Gunners. Vieira, who had been sent off earlier for a second bookable offence on Van Nistelrooy accused him of cheating and many players received censure for their part in the proceedings. Van Nistelrooy recounted later that he was scarcely aware of what was happening around him so devastated and surprised at missing the penalty.  Roy Keane sums up the respect and standards to which Van Nistelrooy held himself to and the esteem in which he held him:

“I would never have expected Ruud Van Nistelrooy to miss a penalty. Because Ruud Van Nistelrooy was brilliant. Ruud was the best finisher, ever, but especially in one on one situations, just the keeper to beat. When Ruud was going through one on one, I never doubted him. Some players would be going, “******* hell – hard and low? Or dink it over?”, but when Ruud was through there might as well have been no goalkeeper.

The season ended in FA Cup glory with Van Nistelrooy bagging a brace, once more showcasing further proof of his big game mentality and temperament.

Although the 2004-5 was one hampered by injury problems for Van Nistelrooy which were to dog him through the remainder of his career, he still continued scoring regularly and there can have been fewer goals sweeter than the penalty he scored against Arsenal at Old Trafford which ended the Invincibles’ unbeaten run.  Redemption of the highest quality had been rendered and the misery of the previous year had been replaced with the sweet joy of victory over the bitterest of rivals. As he recounts later when he reviewed his celebration it was slightly embarrassingly vociferous but in taking the penalty Van Nistelrooy provided further firm substantiation that he had a superb mentality, resilience and fortitude in the most important moments. Van Nistelrooy was retrospectively suspended for three games due to a foul on Ashley Cole which the officials had missed but the feeling of accomplishment could not have been dampened by such trivialities. The season was a disappointing one in terms of trophies accumulated, with a rare year where none were gained due to United somehow contriving to lose an FA Cup Final against Arsenal which we absolutely dominated in every aspect until the penalty shootout.

In the final season, 2005-06, of Van Nistelrooy’s time at United despite considerable time on the bench, he finished second highest scorer in the league to Henry. He was being punished for a falling out with Cristiano Ronaldo where had told the Portuguese to “Go crying to your daddy”. This had been a thinly veiled jibe at the closeness of Ronaldo’s bond with assistant coach Carlos Queiroz, but Ronaldo having lost his father a mere 8 months earlier mistakenly assumed it was in reference to his and, understandably, burst into floods of tears.  That summer, Van Nistelrooy made the move to Real Madrid to the despair and disappointment of his team mates, notably Rio Ferdinand who had this to say regarding the Dutchman when picking his all time United eleven:

“[Van Nistelrooy] was the most devastating finisher I have ever played with. We could win a game by three or four goals but, if he hadn’t scored, he would sulk. But in order to become a world-beating striker like Ruud, you need to have that attitude. He lived and breathed goals. I tried to make him stay through speaking to his agent but it was too late. One of the big disappointments in my time at Manchester United was seeing the club let him go.

When asked directly about whether he regrets moving to Real Madrid at the time he did, given the incredible success United were to enjoy in the years directly following this, Van Nistelrooy is quite honest in saying that he wouldn’t have missed out on the opportunity that Real Madrid presented him with. This he says was a new, fresh challenge, an opportunity to test himself once again, since he had fallen into a comfort zone at United. His levels he believes were 1 or 2% lower than they had been, particularly in his final season and for a footballer even such small increments are vital at the highest level of the professional game. What is obvious when he talks of United is his understanding of how we are meant to play, with an attacking adventure and verve that was characteristic of time at United, when players were allowed to express themselves and there is a clear understanding of the United way of playing and how much he reveled in how this particular style allowed him so much service to supplement his incredible goal tally for the Red Devils.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy was a hero for many fans during his time at the club, not least my brother who purchased his shirt. He was so intelligent, so reliable, composed and unique, a special talent whom United were incredibly lucky to have.  He epitomized everything that you could want in a striker, someone who’s myriad of abilities and attributes were coupled with an understanding of a forward’s role in terms of runs and spaces which was simply outstanding. Not just that but Van Nistelrooy helped fire United to success during a relatively lean period, between Champions League successes, with Premier League, League Cup and FA Cups won, whilst Sir Alex was in the middle of a rebuilding process centred around the two prodigious young talents of Rooney and Ronaldo.  Sir Alex Ferguson himself thought Van Nistelrooy was in a class of his own and it seems fitting to allow our legendary manager the final words on the greatest goal machine United have ever had:

“Ruud van Nistelrooy has been the best – without doubt the best finisher we have ever had at this club. We have had some brilliant centre forwards at United…….But van Nistelrooy has been the best, absolutely the best finisher. If I had played alongside Ruud the problem would have been getting a chance ahead of him.”

 

Ten Match Review – Have We Made Any Ground on Last Season?

We’ve hit the 10 match milestone in the season, and as Rio says this is where you can start getting your baring on how the season is starting to unfold.

As we saw from the five match review earlier this season, United made some great progress against the rest of the top six (with the exception of Manchester City): Gaining nine points on Spurs and six points on Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool from the same set of fixtures last season.

How did match week 6-10 go compared to the same fixtures last season? (As in the 5 match review, the teams relegated have been replaced by the teams promoted in the order of league finishes).
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Man Utd dropped one point and one goal worse off from last season over the results of the last 5 matches in comparison with the same fixture last season. There was only a maximum of four points we could have gained by beating Southampton and Liverpool, which were both draws last season. However, the big setback was the shock defeat away against Huddersfield.

This is how all the teams in the Premiership have compared since last season. Who has improved over the first 10 matches, and who is really struggling?
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Watford are the only team that is better off by over 10 points in comparison to last season. West Brom, West Ham and Everton are all really struggling so far this season. Regarding the top six only one team is worse off in comparison and that’s Chelsea, being 8 points worse off and 9 goals worse off in terms of goal difference and that’s a result of a drop of goals scored.

Man Utd are still doing well and are still on course to at least challenge for the title. We’ve gained three points from a possible eight since the start of the season; therefore on the same ratio we would gain 17 points giving us 86 points in total by the end of the season – enough to win the league? It’ll certainly be enough to challenge.

Updated Top Six Table (If the rest of the results remain the same as 16/17)
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Man Utd have already cut the 24 point deficit to last season’s champions Chelsea to 13 points (Almost half in only 10 games!). We’re gaining on most of the teams above and we will continue to improve on last season’s ‘drosses’ against teams we should have been beating last season.

What points could be gained in the next five games?
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Four of the next five fixtures Man Utd dropped points last season which means if we do well we could gain a maximum of 11 points which is a significant amount in terms of the season. Big five games coming up and it won’t be easy; but looking at the fixtures, they’re all very winnable games (especially with Mourinho’s tactical ability to get one over on any manager in the league.)

Onwards an upwards. Let’s keep the wins coming, ticking off the points, improving on last season’s results and start to build the pressure on our title rivals! Can’t wait for the weekend!

Which Club is Suffering the Most with Injuries?

With Marcus Rashford joining the long list of injuries Man Utd currently have; it got me thinking about how we compare to the rest of the league, and which manager has the most right to ‘cry’ over injuries

Manchester United currently have Rashford, Fellaini, Bailly, Carrick, Pogba, Zlatan and Rojo on the injury table. All of these players are big misses and could all find themselves in the match day squad on a regular bases.

Let’s take a look at how the other Premier League teams are currently affected by injuries and how Man Utd is suffering in comparison. ‘Top Six’ teams are highlighted:

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Injury Table as of 18 Oct 17

Man Utd is currently the worst off in terms of injuries; so if anyone has the right to ‘cry’ over injuries, it’s Mourinho. The only silver lining is that we play Huddersfield on the weekend who are also going through a tough injury spell with 6 players on the side-lines.

According to multiple sources we should have Pogba back by the time we play Spurs in just over a week, with a chance of Fellaini and Bailly being back in contention too. Fingers crossed!

Hopefully we get players back soon as we are starting to look very thin on the bench with very few players that could make the difference. On to Huddersfield next, let’s go for another win and keep this great start going to the Season.

Bizarre goalkeeping mistake gifts United win over Benfica

An inexplicable error from Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar handed Jose Mourinho’s side victory in a game of few chances in Lisbon.

Jose Mourinho made his return to the Estadio de Luz, his first game at the stadium since he was in charge of Porto in 2004, with Manchester United looking to maintain their lead at the top of Group A. It turned out to be a comfortable night for United who dominated possession, however lacked creativity in an unconvincing display against an opposition who were without a win in 5 games in all competitions.

The United manager made 4 changes to his side who held Liverpool to Anfield on Saturday. Ex Benfica man Victor Lindelof and Marcus Rashford returned to the starting 11 as Mourinho matched Benfica coach Rui Vitória’s 4 3 3 formation, with another former Benfica player Nemanja Matic in the defensive midfield role.

United struggled in the opening exchanges, with Benfica pressing in numbers in a compact setup. Possession was given up countless times in the first thalf from United who lacked composure on the ball. The first real chance of the game went to the home side who created an opening on the left-hand side through impressive fullback Alex Grimaldo, who has previously been heavily linked to the Mourinho’s side. His cross was blazed over on the run by Argentine winger Eduardo Salvio, who looked the most potent attacking threat in the first half an hour.

It took United 36 minutes to muster their first shot on target, a Nemanja Matic shot that was routinely saved by Benfica’s goalkeeper after a powerful run from the Serbian midfielder. The biggest chance of the first half fell to Henrikh Mkhitayran shortly after, however his wasteful attempt with options either side of him epitomised a poor first half from United. Mkhitayran and Juan Mata were uncharachterisically careless in possession which meant striker Romelu Lukaku was starved of any meaningful service.

United came out in the second half with more attacking impetus, pushing Benfica’s resolute defence towards their own goal. However, a cutting edge was still lacking. Passes in the final third provided no penetration and a clear-cut chance was yet to be made. Benfica, on the other hand were very poor in possession as Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera quickly broke up the play in the midfield as the Portuguese side attempted to break.

Early in the second half, Mourinho’s men perhaps looked most promising when they had a corner. Belgium under 19 goalkeeper Svilar looked highly unconvincing on more than one occasion, flapping at the ball with no real assurance or confidence. United’s best chance to win the match looked to be by targeting the goalkeeper who was making history by becoming the youngest ever goalkeeper to play in the Champions League at 18 years old, breaking Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas’ record.

Svilar’s huge error came in the 65th minute of the match as United were starting to look more promising. A hopeful free kick sent in by Marcus Rashford was judged horrendously by the goalkeeper who’s suspect positioning meant he caught the ball before crossing his own line.

The game was a procession ever since the first goal went in with a United victory looking the only outcome. Mourinho’s defence was rarely troubled despite Benfica moving to two strikers with Brazilian striker Jonas coming on for the Portuguese side. The striker didn’t threaten David De Gea’s goal; the Spaniard had a quiet night in Lisbon. United’s win takes them to 9 points in Group A in what is turning out to be a comfortable group for Jose Mourinho’s men. Next, they play the return leg against Benfica at Old Trafford in a fortnight in what is likely to be another straight forward victory. However, they could be without teenager Marcus Rashford who limped off injured, a big concern to Mourinho who is already without the likes of Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and Marouane Fellaini.

 

 

Shots to Goal Ratio – Is United Defence the Best?

We all know that De Gea is one of the world’s best goal keepers, and that Mourinho is one of the best managers by building from the back. Just how good have our defence been in comparison to other Premier League teams so far this season?

With Man Utd having 19 shots against them in Saturday’s match against Liverpool without conceding a goal, it got me wondering what percentage of shots actually hit the back of the net against Man Utd; and how does it compare to the rest of the teams?

Firstly let’s look at what percentage of shots are on target against the defending teams. This will give us a good idea on the quality of a team’s defensive organisation; as the less accurate the shots are, the more likely it means the opposition strikers are frustrated and taking pot shots from further away.
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As the table suggests, West Brom have the most frustrating defence in the league. Shots against them are the least accurate with about 4 out of 5 shots being off target. The worst out of the top six and worst in the Premier League is Liverpool with nearly half of all shots being on target. Man Utd are sixth in the Premier League, having 29.3% of all shots being on target against them which is respectable, but it’s still fourth out of the top six teams.

More importantly though; how many shots and shots on target are converted into goal conceded? It makes sense that the more shots you allow the opposition, the more likely you are to concede goals, but it’s not necessarily true. The table below shows the opposition’s probability in scoring goals from each shot and the probability from each shot on target.
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Man Utd have the best record in the Premier League for shots being converted to goals conceded. For every 100 shots at De Gea’s goal, only 2.4 goals go in. That’s a fantastic record, almost like there’s a magnet repelling the ball from behind the goal. For every 100 shots on target, only 8.3 would have hit the back of the net so far this season against Man Utd. Not only is this the best in the Premier League; it’s the best in Europe’s top divisions. This could either be down to defence putting in brave blocks, or down to having the best keeper in the world; David De Gea.

In contrast Liverpool have the leakiest defence in the league, conceding 18.5 goals from every 100 shots. This is the third worst in all of Europe’s top flight divisions with only Real Sociedad and SD Eibar having a worst record at the back (19.4 & 24.3 goals conceded respectively). A massive 41.4% of shots on target hit the back of the net against the Scousers. The goalkeeper may as well not be in goal with those figures, as that figure includes shots that are on target being blocked by defenders.

What do these figures show? The first table shows the defence’s ability to frustrate opposition strikers to resort to long range, less accurate shots. Coupled with that it shows how organised the defence is in order to frustrate strikers. The second table shows that when players are able to get a shot away, how often the ball finds the back of the net. This means the defence have either put their body on the line of shots to block them, or the keeper has had the ability to pull off saves, therefore a real desire and hunger to keep a clean sheet. Man Utd have that desire and that’s largely down to the manager’s ability to get the best out of the defence.

Red Nev

Right back is a position which is often derided, right back in the changing room is a common joke and Jamie Carragher, a centre back by trade, once said that no one grows up wanting to be a right back; they’re just failed centre backs.  However, right back, like any other position, is integral to how the overall team functions and when you have someone as consistent and ferocious as Gary Neville there it makes you appreciate and understand the value and impact which a strong right back can have. For years, Neville and Beckham developed an almost telepathic understanding with one another down the right flank before he then formed a strong bond with Cristiano Ronaldo on that side. He became one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most trusted lieutenants, a member of the Class of 92’ who filled the position so well he would gain widespread acclaim and recognition to such a degree that when the BBC drew up its best Premier League eleven recently, he was named the right back of choice. Above all though Neville was a fans favourite, someone who was a United fan first and foremost and who essentially would put maximum commitment and effort into his work and became a legend of the club. Above all, he would come to be adored by his team mates, including Ryan Giggs who espoused:

“He was England’s No 1 for so many years and he was so consistent. His biggest quality was his positional play; he was always in the right position.”

When Gary grew up he was an excellent sportsman, indeed he played cricket to a high standard and was even photographed with Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden at one point by the newspapers. Football though was his real passion, like many youngsters during the eighties his support of Manchester United was much derided, particularly given the success that Liverpool were achieving during this decade. Neville would retain his hatred for Liverpool throughout his career, his passion and glee in defeating the enemy was evident on many occasions. Sir Alex was lucky to have someone so motivated to knock Liverpool off their perch as he was during his tenure.  Neville’s idol when he was growing up was Bryan Robson, an ideal hero to have since he was a player cut from the same cloth as Neville, someone who gave blood, sweat and tears, these virtues became synonymous with Neville over his playing career. As Neville grew up, United were making poor buys and spending a great deal of money, Neville was forced to tell himself that one day the glory days of Best, Law and Charlton would return.

Neville initially saw himself as a central midfielder, the position of his boyhood hero Robson when he joined the United Centre of Excellence. It was here that Neville would meet two of his illustrious compatriots in Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes; in particular Neville would form an incredible friendship with the latter that he would join in a Manchester cafe before matches to converse with. In those days with such fierce competition to be picked by United, Neville was unsure whether he possessed the requisite skill to be taken on. However, to the luck of all United fans, he was signed up just at the time that Sir Alex Ferguson was particularly keen to promote youth talent, as Sir Matt Busby had done previously.  David Beckham has also arrived, on the back of winning Bobby Charlton’s soccer schools competition. Instantly, he raised the level again, with the deliveries and passes that United fans would come to appreciate for their incredible unerring accuracy and venom.

The Class of 92 had begun to form, players who would go on to have incredible careers, picking up medals and trophies that most players cannot even dream of. Neville cites the incredible work ethic and endeavour that the group had as to why they were phenomenally successful, the fact that they played from such young ages into their mid thirties at the highest level is testament to how driven they were to maximise their careers in longevity and glory. Gary Neville, perhaps less naturally talented than some of his more illustrious peers gained the nickname “Busy” because of how regularly he trained and worked upon his game. He led an almost puritanical life in these early years cutting out women and drink entirely so that he could focus entirely upon succeeding on the football pitch. It was an example to others as they began to join in his little training regimes and a close knit group was formed. They were further moulded by tasting success in the Youth Cup; it created a winning mentality at a very young age, players who developed an innate craving for success and who demonized failure.  The perfect demonstration or example of this for the youths was the United side at the time, bristling with hardened, ferocious winners such as Robson, Schmeichel, Ince and Hughes.

Neville’s debut came in 1992, against Torpedo Moscow when he came on as a substitute, it was to be the first of many glorious caps and Gary relished it enormously at the tender age of seventeen years old. He was further delighted when he was praised in a newspaper by Bryan Robson, his idol, compliments like these gave him hope that he could really succeed in the exacting environment which the manager had created, where losing was unacceptable.  At eighteen, Gary made the move to a full back since his opportunities into the first team were blocked by the towering twin behemoths of Bruce and Pallister. Neville had the ideal player to learn from at full back in Denis Irwin, incredibly two footed, reliable and able to work offensively and defensively potently.  Additionally, the extraordinary Roy Keane has added his own unique mentality of excellence par none with his vehement disgust when Gary made an error. The titles had begun rolling in and the period of unbridled success had been initiated. However, when United lost the league on the final day to Blackburn, Neville admits that he felt inconsolable and desolate above all other moments in his playing career. The failure of that season was compounded in the FA Cup Final when Everton defeated United and it was to spur on Neville and his cohorts to further efforts to restore their place atop the English game.  The words of Alan Hansen “You’ll win nothing with kids” at the beginning of the following season were to become immortalised forever, especially given some of the high profile exits from the club like Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes.  In 1996, United chased down Keegan and won the league but Neville is quick to say that Cantona’s influence on that title win was the most defining factor, coming up with countless match winning contributions but the kids had succeeded. Neville had made the sacrifices he needed to, during the season engaging in a strict dietary regime which would further enhance his performance levels. Stuart Pearce commented on this dedication:

“He had a wonderful hunger and desire to succeed, which kept him where he was in the game… a Manchester United icon.”

Indubitably, United and Neville cast their eyes on the next gargantuan prize to achieve which was the European Cup. It had been so many years since 68 and Cantona in particular wanted to achieve the grandest prize in all of football in 96, as he confided in Neville and the others. When Cantona said something the others listened, the respect and admiration for his ability was immeasurable. When he retired after another season of domestic success but European failure at the age of thirty, United fans were shocked and so were Neville and his team mates. The talisman had gone and they needed to move on without him, even if his charisma was irreplaceable. Gary and brother Phil, showing their faith in the club’s path committed themselves to long terms deals of seven years apiece. The season of 96/97 dogged by injuries to key players like Keane, United ended up giving up the title to Arsenal who possessed in Marc Overmars, a winger who Gary admits was the toughest direct opponent he faced. He was lightning quick and able to beat Gary in any foot race, either coming to the ball or when it was pumped long over their heads.

In the 98/99 season, everything went right for Manchester United and Neville, in the season of the unprecedented Treble. At the end of it Gary couldn’t have been prouder that he had helped his beloved team to win the ultimate club prize, especially on the parade back in Manchester. He had helped to face some of Europe’s elite, including the legendary Luis Figo who had kept him incredibly honest with his incredible skill and ability. The camaraderie which had united the youth players ran through the whole team, as Neville and the others embodied a never say die spirit that enabled them to achieve the unachievable. Neville showed his tactical awareness and nous in the quarter final when he pocketed Roberto Baggio,”The Divine Ponytail”.  His other chief contribution in the final matches of that unforgettable season was the assist for Andy Cole’s winner against Tottenham in the final Premier League game, which was delightful. Despite Neville’s fatigue having played so many games, he was still able to throw Alan Shearer a dummy in the FA Cup Final showing that he was at the peak of his powers. In the Champions League final of course, like the others, Neville had a tired game but it was him that won the corner that led to Ryan Giggs’ equalizer in the dying seconds.

The following season, Neville paid for the Herculean efforts of the Treble by missing the initial months with a groin issue and struggled for form on his return, the game against Vasco da Gama in particular in the Club World Cup, was a personal horror show from someone who was normally so reliable and consistent. Gary was suffering from one of the troughs footballers find themselves in during their career, where their performances are not of their usual high calibre and they find it hard to retain faith in their abilities. Against Real Madrid, United were undone with Gary having a subpar game by his own exacting standards. In the following few years, United dominated the league and Sir Alex reversed his decision to retire early, whilst Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the most notable of the recruits. Van Nistelrooy demanded that Neville play him perfect balls and stayed consistently in the danger zone for deliveries, getting into a heated exchange with Neville once over an errant delivery.  When Carlos Queiroz arrived in the summer of 2002, he wanted to get some more pace on the right flank, since neither Beckham nor Neville were possessed of lightning rapidity.  When Beckham left at the end of the season, Neville was understandably devastated losing his best friend and team mate for so many years, they knew each other’s game perfectly with an incredible synergy between the pair. As Rio Ferdinand notes:

“Young players nowadays should look back at the way that he played the game, not just in terms of his defending but the way he overlapped and attacked.”

With the Arsenal Invincibles, Neville had to face Robert Pires who complained that Neville would get stuck into him unfairly, this buoyed Neville who knew that he had to make his presence felt in order to contain the tricky winger. Neville exploited the mental fragility of Arsenal players, including Jose Antonio Reyes, despite calls that he had been overly exuberant. Of course, Arsenal players of greater mental fibre tried to retaliate, most notably Patrick Vieira but Roy Keane inevitably took over and United ran out winners in that game, delivering the perfect answer to the arguments on the pitch where it matters most. However, it was a Mourinho inspired Chelsea who were tearing up trees and winning the Premier League. Sir Alex began to ring the changes, getting rid of Gary’s brother Phil who wanted more game time which Everton could offer him, and, of course, the irreplaceable Roy Keane, a player Gary Neville could not be more effusively praising of. This allowed Gary Neville to be given the captaincy of United which was an incredible honour for him. This didn’t stop Neville from wearing his heart on his sleeve with a few effusive gestures to Liverpool fans following a late win over them, which landed him in hot water. However, Neville had come to relish playing with a young Cristiano Ronaldo, who although scarcely passing to Neville despite his runs, possessed such incredible talent that Neville was astute enough to let such idiosyncrasies slide, especially for a talent Neville considers probably the greatest attacking force in world football. Although Ronaldo shirked his defensive duties which affected Neville the most playing on his flank, he didn’t mind because he had a talent that demanded indulgence. Neville, for his part, as Gascoigne articulates here would never be so lax in his duties:

I was fortunate to play with some great right-backs [ . . . ] you see players today as wing-backs, getting forward, getting round the back and whipping in crosses and people say this is the new game, but he was doing it 10 to 15 years ago. [ . . .  ] He was confident, he was a really quiet lad but he got stuck in and he was a team player. He was a guy that you would never see jogging back – he was up and down that line. He was an honest player.”

Neville’s injury hampered his involvement in the 2007/8 season where United were to win another Champions League, playing hardly any minutes but as Keane had prophesised in a text to Gary, Rooney and Ronaldo had won them the Champions League again.  Neville was gutted once again when Ronaldo left to join Madrid, telling him he’d miss United more than he knew. Neville, himself was turning into a squad member, still playing a fair portion of games, but no longer the automatic starter he had been for so many years.  In 2011, Gary knew it was time to call it a day, that his body couldn’t offer what his mind wanted to, his final game for United at the Hawthorns.

Neville’s medal haul was simply staggering; he was a vital cog in the machine United built up, winning trophy after trophy. He ended his career with 8 Premier Leagues, 3 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and 2 Champions Leagues and was voted into the PFA Premier League Team of the Year five times. What made him truly special was his insatiable hunger and desire to succeed playing for the club he has supported all his life. It was this fervour, coupled with a tenacity and determination of the highest quality that made him the best right back of the Premier League era.  As United fans we were truly blessed to have a full back who showed such leadership and who played so consistently well for such a long period of time. He was a stalwart in Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans, someone whom he could trust implicitly and who gave his all for the cause. Sir Alex Ferguson best sums it up here:

“Gary was the best English right-back of his generation. He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club’s supporters everywhere.”