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Change of Face, Change of Pace. The shift in Strategy of Manchester United’s attack

Change of face, change of pace; the shift in strategy of Manchester United’s attack

When Manchester United sold Dimitar Berbatov last summer it was no surprise given the arrival of Robin Van Persie and the lack of playing time afforded to the former Spurs man over the previous season. It has become a bit apparent recently though that the move signalled more than just a change in terms of bringing in one gifted front man for another. One of the reasons the Bulgarian cited had been given to him by Sir Alex Ferguson was a shift in the Old Trafford side’s attacking ethos. Berbatov had been told that he did not fit in with a move toward a faster and more direct attacking style.

In the derby on Monday night, United’s new methods were particularly apparent and interestingly a slight weakness in the plan was also on display. Many of the Reds’ wide players in particular regularly seem to overrun the ball when sprinting and on several occasions when the home side were surging at the City backline a heavy touch saw the move break down. Rafael was the main offender on Monday, but an out of sorts Antonio Valencia has been doing this for months. Danny Welbeck displays a good first touch at times but at top speed often resembles a cart horse attempting to dribble a beach ball. Ashley Young is not immune, nor is Nani or reserve left back Alexander Buttner.

Dimitar Berbatov

This may seem harsh given how potent United have looked in attack this season with the addition of Van Persie to an already well-stocked squad of strikers and wingers, but it is something that needs to been fine-tuned before Sir Alex Ferguson’s new design is the finished article. Perhaps Wilfried Zaha’s dribbling ability will improve the situation next term.

United sides of old held an ability to patiently probe for an opening. Slow build-up followed by a devastatingly quick interchange would often see defences unlocked after 30 or more passes had gradually pulled them out of position. Perhaps the demise of Paul Scholes has something to do with the death of this style in Ferguson’s plans. Neither Scholes nor Berbatov would have ever made the local sprint relay team, but their styles complimented an ability to attack while controlling possession for long periods.

The Premier League is faster and quicker than ever and even the top European ties are not the games of chess they were 10 years ago. Intensity, if it isn’t king, was certainly eyeing the throne amid the ferocious pace of Monday’s derby. Ferguson is a master of transition and building new sides, but it would be a shame if his current charges could not revert to a more patient approach if need be. In Michael Carrick they have a player who can take on the Scholes mantle in terms of dictating tempo at least. Wayne Rooney and Van Persie seem currently focused on attempting to spin their man or lay the ball off once before making a run in behind.

Perhaps on Monday this was due to specific instructions from the boss but both front men have the quality to get involved in build-up while waiting for the right time to strike. Regardless of how direct United’s game plan is, expect them to continue to challenge, as their ability to adapt has always been one of their greatest strengths.

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Wayne Rooney’s departure from Manchester United: all media speculation

After Manchester United’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid in midweek, much of the focus for the media in the last 24 hours has been on Wayne Rooney’s exclusion. Despite the England international scoring a sensational fourth in the 4-0 win over Norwich at the weekend, he was not included in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in the most important game of the season, leading to questions over his future.

Danny Welbeck, who on the night was one of United’s top performers, was selected as Robin van Persie’s strike partner, and Ryan Giggs was also picked as a wide midfielder instead of Rooney. The media have been stating that Rooney could well leave Old Trafford in the summer after the selection snub, but this seems unlikely.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney may well have been left out of Ferguson’s starting XI for the game against Madrid, but this is not the first time this season or in the forward’s tenure in Manchester that he has been left on the bench. The Scottish manager had a game-plan on the night to face Madrid and selected the players that he felt were best suited to combat the strengths of the Spanish champions.

Shinji Kagawa scored a hat-trick against Norwich at the weekend and also started in the 1-1 draw against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet he too was also not selected for the home leg. The Japan international put in a combative performance in Spain, keeping the ball well in a positive result for United, however not being selected for the Old Trafford game does not mean he has no future at the club.

Rooney likewise will still be a key part of Ferguson’s plans. On the night the experience of Giggs and the explosive pace of Welbeck was selected, and up until Nani’s red card Ferguson’s tactics were spot on. If United had progressed would the same media frenzy around Rooney’s future still be flooding the press? Probably not.

Questions over Rooney’s future will probably continue over upcoming weeks and months, however don’t be surprised to see the attacker in the red of United come the start of next season.

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

The Loan Debate: Is it good for the parent club?

With Fifa Financial Fair Play coming into effect and extortionate transfer fees blighting some clubs’ efforts to reinforce, the tried-and-tested loan system is an option can make or break a team’s season. One only has to look at the track record of young players evolving into top-class athletes whilst on loan deals, or a club being boosted by a temporary signing. It’s seemingly good for the player and parent club, as first-team football leads to development, and the smaller team gets the benefit of having a player they most likely couldn’t buy outright.

However, the loan system is not perfect, seems only to work when there is a match between the player and both his clubs and has a number of negative countering factors.

Pros

There is no doubt that loaning a player can make his career, as he returns to the parent club revitalised and improved after a run of regular football. The list of players to have undergone this process is startling, with three recent cases catching the eye:

  • Jack Wilshere – A promising youngster when he left the Emirates Stadium to join Bolton in 2009-10, he returned to the north London club ready to play an important role for club and country. Would he be the player he is now without the six-month spell of regular Premier League football at the Reebok Stadium?
  • Kyle Walker – Bought by Tottenham back in 2009, the young full back was not immediately considered by Harry Redknapp, and spent short spells at QPR and Aston Villa before becoming an ever-present at White Hart Lane this season.
  • Daniel Sturridge – Signed by Chelsea from Manchester City, youthful Sturridge could not get a game under Carlo Ancelotti and was loaned, again to Bolton. Eight goals in twelve games showed that the attacker was ready for regular Premier League inclusion, and he is now a key player at Stamford Bridge.

The list continues; Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans at Manchester United, Jermian Defoe at West Ham, Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal, Joe Hart at Manchester City – plenty of young players have cut their teeth elsewhere and gone on to become international players.

In fact, looking at the England squad for the international fixture against Sweden in November 2011, 16 of the 25-man squad have been subject to loan deals. This spans back years and decades, with David Beckham’s successful stint at Preston North End in 1995 proving this is no recent phenomenon. The case of Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham shows that bringing in an experienced head on loan also works. Robbie Keane has looked sharper than ever since joining Aston Villa and inspired Celtic fans by scoring 12 goals in 16 games back in 2010.

The player’s wages are generally taken on fully or partly by the loaning club, so everyone’s happy. Right?

Cons

Despite the advantages of the loan system, sometimes for one reason or another it just doesn’t work. There are also a number of negative factors that must be considered when sending/taking a player on a temporary basis.

Arsene Wenger has strong opinions on the loan system, and despite taking advantage of it in the cases of Ramsey and Wilshere, he has seen the other side of the coin with a number of other players. Brazilian youngster Pedro Botelho was bought by The Gunners in 2007, but since has been loaned out to five different Spanish teams with little or no benefit to Arsenal. Samuel Galindo is a Bolivian defender signed by Arsenal, but was not granted a work permit. He is in his second loan spell in Spain, and struggles to get any regular football, the same is the case with Wellington Silva, who is now at Alcoyano.

It’s not all roses for the club getting the player on loan either.

  • Overdependence – An overdependence on temporary players is seemingly occurring in the lower leagues, as a team can bring in up to five loan players at any one time, almost half a team. Add to that the fact that the parent club can generally recall the player at any point, and it makes for a shaky alliance.
  • Is he ‘our player’? – The fans at times struggle to feel any real loyalty or bond with players who will be leaving in six months, and depart the club after showing any semblance of form or ability. The loanee’s motivations will always be questioned also, as he naturally will be more interested in putting himself in the shop window and progressing with the parent club than aiding his temporary team’s plight.
  • Youth systems – A loan deal may well benefit the parent club’s youth system, but what of the lesser of the two clubs? Wilshere’s loan to Bolton or Walker’s to Aston Villa, although successful for the duo, is stopping another home-grown young prospect from progressing at the Reebok Stadium or Villa Park.
  • Knock on effect – With the sheer number of players on loan, it is only natural that a team’s season can be decided by the actions of a temporary player. This also applies not only to the team the player goes from or to, but others in the division.

Arsene Wenger’s main gripe with the loan system is typified by the example of Adebayor, who helped Spurs challenge for the Champions League spots, but wasn’t available to potentially derail Manchester City’s title charge.

Published – Soccerlens

Manchester City take the Premier League initiative, but did Sir Alex Ferguson get United’s tactics wrong?

In a tight and nervy encounter on Monday night, Manchester City took the initiative in the Premier League title race with a 1-0 win over rivals and current champions Manchester United. The noisy neighbours are now equal on points with the Red Devils, but are top due to their superior goal difference and have destiny in their own hands. United have slipped up in recent weeks, and failed to really test Joe Hart in the derby clash; did Sir Alex Ferguson get his tactics wrong?

Against a City side containing the attacking talent of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Samir Nasri, United opted to pack the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation. Although admittedly this limited the hosts to sparing opportunities on goal, it also shackled United’s attacking ambitions and meant that the champions have given City the advantage without really testing their title rivals in the clash.

Wayne Rooney started by himself in attack and largely cut a forlorn figure, as limited support saw the visitors’ main attacking weapon isolated, frustrated and ineffective. Nani played on the right flank and was the closest player to the England international, but the pair failed to effectively counter-attack, and the Portuguese winger failed to majorly contribute or create chances for the lone striker. One feels that Sir Alex had adopted the blueprint of previous seasons in away Champions League fixtures, where Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were left to try and hit teams on the break; unfortunately Nani does not have the ability or clinical touch in the final third of his countryman, and United’s attack proved toothless at the Etihad Stadium.

In midfield, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park fought to limit City’s creative players, and in fairness the hosts’ usual free-flowing play was not evident as a result. However, in possession the quartet failed to keep the ball for any lengthy periods of the game, and the South Korean in particular was guilty of giving the ball away on a too frequent basis.

Most of City’s joy in attack came down their right flank, as Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta found space against Patrice Evra, with the midfield quartet failing to get out to help their colleague. The selection of either Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia instead of Park would have levelled out the midfield, providing more cover out wide and still allowing United to play three in the centre of the park. Valencia has been one of United’s standout performers this term, whilst one of Young’s strengths is to come off his wing and pop up in central positions, in support of Rooney; although both came off the bench, neither was given sufficient opportunity to influence the game.

Ferguson’s frustrations were evident as he clashed with counterpart Roberto Mancini on the touchline, but the Scot’s annoyance was probably down to the ineffective nature of his team rather than the antics of the Italian. United fans will be hurting after City completed the season double over them, but to be beaten without providing an attacking threat or putting their opponents under any concerted pressure will make the blow doubly hard to take. With Young, Valencia, Danny Welbeck, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez all on the United bench, such a defensive team selection suggests that Sir Alex played for a draw, or, unlike any United team of recent years, was wary of going toe-to-toe with an attacking opponent.

City have by no means won the title yet, as a trip to Tyneside to face Champions League qualification candidates Newcastle will test Mancini’s men. However, United’s relinquishing of a seven-point lead at the top of the table at the business end of the season will have the powers that be at Old Trafford scratching their heads, and suggests that the Red Devils’ usual collective superiority over the division is no longer apparent.

Published – Soccerlens

England and Euro 2012: Who will be in the squad, and how will they fair in Group D?

England interim manager Stuart Pearce has this week revealed that the nation’s squad for Euro 2012 will be named before the end of the Premier League campaign, whether a new permanent boss is in place or not. With the last game of the season on Sunday 13th May, it is reasonable to expect the successful and unsuccessful players to be unveiled a couple of days before this. With this date only two weeks away, who will be stepping out for the Three Lions in Ukraine and Poland?

Goalkeepers – Joe Hart is a shoe-in, and the Manchester City stopper is an outside shout to be the next national captain. Consistent, agile and assured, Hart is a real attribute to the home nation.

GK to go: Hart, Carson, Stockdale

GK to miss out: Ruddy

Defenders – John Terry’s inclusion or exclusion could well depend on the new boss, with the consideration of Rio Ferdinand also entering into the equation; the Chelsea centre half is to stand court for racially abusing the Manchester United man’s brother Anton. Other central defenders to be included should be Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Joleon Lescott.

At left back Ashley Cole will travel, whilst Leighton Baines is currently injured but will recover in time. On the right, PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker will expect to be included, as will seasoned international Glen Johnson. Micah Richards has been an outcast under Fabio Capello, but under-21 boss Pearce would surely select his former player, potentially to the detriment of the Liverpool man.

DF to go: Walker, Richards, Cahill, Terry, Lescott, Jones, Cole, Baines

DF to miss out: Ferdinand, King, Johnson, Dawson, Smalling

Midfielders – England will most likely play four across midfield, and this will be the most tightly-contested element of the squad. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard are almost certainties, Steven Gerrard hangs in the balance depending on fitness, Paul Scholes is an outside shout, whilst Tom Cleverley, Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere will miss out through injury.

On the flanks, Ashley Young will travel if he stays fit, as will Stewart Downing despite an inconsistent campaign. Aaron Lennon needs to get back to his best, Jordan Henderson looks unlikely whilst Arsenal team-mates Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be in direct competition for a place.

MF to go: Young, Downing, Barry, Parker, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Walcott

MF to miss out: Wilshere, Rodwell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lennon, Henderson, Joe Cole, Cleverley, Carrick, Milner, A.Johnson

Strikers – Although Wayne Rooney will be suspended for the first two group games of the tournament, it will take a brave manager to leave out the Manchester United forward. Darren Bent faces a risk against time due to his knee injury, whilst Andy Carroll will need a strong end of season to convince the selectors. Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge should be included, whilst Jermain Defoe is a 50-50.

ST to go: Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge, Defoe

ST to miss out: Bent, Carroll, Crouch

Group Games

England vs France, June 11: Old enemies renew their rivalry in the Group D opener, and these two will be favourites to progress. Without Rooney England may lack direction in attack, and will need to be regimented to stave off the advances of Ribery, Benzema and Remy.

Prediction: 0-0

England vs Sweden, June 15: The Three Lions have suffered disappointment against the Scandinavian nation in international competitions in the past, and Sweden are a slightly unpredictable entity. Led by AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes will be no pushover.

Prediction: 1-1

England vs Ukraine, June 19: With a tight group likely to go down to the wire, England will face co-hosts Ukraine in the last round of fixtures in what will be a test of their character and resolve. Rooney’s return will be a boost, but England must be at their best to quell a pumped-up opponent and crowd.

Prediction: 2-1 win

Published – Soccerlens

Euro 2012: The Strikers To Watch

Euro 2012 is only a matter of months away, and excitement is growing in fans and players alike. The tournament in Poland and Ukraine is set to be one of the most open of recent times, with holders Spain sure to be challenged by the likes of Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and England. Any successful team needs a leading goalscorer, and some of the most prolific marksmen on the planet will be on show this summer.

The Euro 2012 Golden Boot will be contested by a large number of attackers, with the eventual winner likely to be in a successful side that makes the latter stages of the tournament; here are some of the main contenders:

Mario Gomez is the current favourite for the accolade, as the Germany international striker is sure to lead the line for Joachim Low’s side. The Germans were unrelenting in qualifying, winning all ten of their Group A games, with Gomez netting six times in the process. The Bayern Munich attacker is the Bundesliga’s current top goalscorer with 18 strikes, and in a much-fancied Germany team Gomez is expected to hit the net on regular occasion. His international team-mate Miroslav Klose is also in the running at fifth favourite, with Arsenal target Lukas Podolski back in 11th.

Robin van Persie runs Gomez close as second favourite, and the Netherlands frontman will take some stopping; the Arsenal hitman is the Premier League’s top goalscorer with 25 goals, and he has been in incredible form of late. Van Persie scored six goals in qualifying, and is ready to replicate his stellar club performances on the international stage. Although Van Persie is a sure starter in Bert van Marwijk’s side, Klass-Jan Huntelaar may also play and could be a good bet for the Golden Boot. The Schalke striker has re-found his killer instinct in the Bundesliga, and topped the Euro 2012 qualifying goal charts with 12 strikes; he is seventh favourite to lift the individual crown.

Spain are the team to beat this summer, with a fantastic World Cup winning side at the peak of their abilities. However, with a dearth of talent at his disposal, it will be interesting to see who Vicente Del Bosque selects in attack. David Villa would surely have played if fit, but the Barcelona attacker is recovering from a broken leg and faces a race against time to be available for the competition; despite this he is still third favourite to lift the Golden Boot. Roberto Soldado may well start instead after excellent form for Valencia and in international friendlies; he is sixth favourite. Fernando Torres faces a battle to be selected after a terrible year, however the Chelsea forward is still eighth on the list.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s club form has been exemplary over the last five seasons, however the only criticism of the Real Madrid attacker is that he does not show this for Portugal. Despite this, the former Ballon d’Or winner is fourth favourite to tleadthe goalscoring charts. Mario Balotelli is the most fancied of Italy’s strikers in ninth place, despite being left out of the squad for the recent friendly defeat to the United States, whilst Karim Benzema heads France’s hopefuls as tenth favourite.

England’s shining light Wayne Rooney is down in 19th, largely due to the fact that he will miss two games in the group stages due to suspension, with currently injured colleague Darren Bent way down in 36th. The next Three Lions boss may have to rely on youth at the tournament, with Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck at 38th and 39th on the list to excel if given a chance.

Published – Soccerlens

Man Utd v Barca: Who has the better youth players?

Manchester United and Barcelona have dominated European football over the last ten years, and will again meet in the Champions League final on May 28th at Wembley. Much of both clubs success must be accredited to excellent youth systems, with a number of the key players in each side working their way through the respective academy’s; but who are the next superstars in the making that will keep the English and Spanish champions at the pinnacle of European football for years to come?

Barcelona enter into the final as favourites, and have played an impressive brand of attacking and possession football in Pep Guardiola’s reign over the last three seasons that has been rarely contained and much applauded. The side is full of international superstars, with the likes of Victor Valdes, club captian Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and the mercurial Lionel Messi some of the world’s best players. The common theme of these players is that they all learnt their trade at La Masia and are products of the club’s stellar youth system.

Over the last couple of years a number of other youth team products have made their way through to the first team. Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez are now mainstays in the Catalan side, but who are the next young Messi’s in the making?

Bojan Krkic became the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match when he made his debut for the first team at just 17 back in September 2007, boasting a record of 800+ goals in seven youth team seasons. The diminutive attacker has been hampered by injuries this season however, and is being linked in the Spanish press this week with a move to Valencia. Jeffren is a flying winger who has made fleeting appearances from the bench for the first team over the last two seasons, whilst Andreu Fontas has been included in the first team squad on occasion this season, but the central defender has struggled to break into the side. The most promising of the current batch of players however is Thiago Alcantara, a clever attacking midfielder who has made 14 appearances for Guardiola’s side this season, but will look to become a more regular feature next season.

United’s stranglehold over English football in the last 15 years was been largely due to the rise of youth players into world beaters, with Scholes, Beckham, Giggs etc putting all-comers to the sword. The current side have less internally developed players in its core, but Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson have come through the ranks and are first team squad members.

Who the next big name youth product will be is yet to be seen, as the club have resorted to buying players straight into their first team, and the previously largely English or British first team is now more multicultural. Danny Welbeck, who has impressed on loan at Sunderland this season and made an appearance for England is a product of Carrington, as is Italian 19 year old Federico Macheda. However the brightest prospect for United is 21 year old midfielder Tom Cleverley, who on loan at Wigan has showed creativity, a range of passing and an excellent work rate this season; the player may very well make the Old Trafford first team next campaign.

Published – http://www.fmscout.com/q-3001-Man-Utd-v-Barca-Who-has-the-better-youth-players.html?n=last

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