I wanted to stop myself writing negatively today as it seems I have a vendetta against the FA, VAR, UEFA, FIFA & IFAB as I often think I can run all those organisations ‘better’ from my kitchen and on my laptop than the whole of the numptys put in charge throughout… That of course is not true but when you get decisions like Jordan Ayew’s tediously given ‘offside’ last night… It really does beg me to ask the question.. “What the f*ck are we doing to our beautiful game?”
I hear those already shouting at their screens now ‘but it was offside’ and under the letter of the law perhaps… But when did we start playing with microscopes and square edges to make decisions? Isn’t all this ‘against’ the ‘spirit of the game’? I was brought up on if you’re level, you’re on… Attacking side advantage… The rule actually states “you are offside when a ball is played forward by a team mate and you are closer than the second to last defender to the opponents goal-line”…. Was Ayew any closer than Wan-Bisakka to his own goal-line? Was it even concrete when the ball left Zaha’s boot? Is it even ‘clear and obvious’? Surely when we start drawing lines on screens and zooming in to look at toe pointing positions that’s when we have to stop and say ‘hold on’… This has to be let go as it’s too tight to call?
Anyway VAR rant over… And don’t get me started on the penalty incident, but for a couple of ropey Reffing occasions aside at Selhurst Park last night…. Manchester United to me, look finally back to their Alex Ferguson best. Seven years on since their last title, this United team under Ole actually gets me excited and I’ve not said that since the days of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez.
The signs were there when Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer got the job in December 2018. His side winning their first eight games playing a brand of open counter-attacking football but it looked too obvious… This was soon nullified when teams defended deeper against them and it wasn’t long before the daggers were out for Ole.
After an unbeaten run in his first twelve league games as Manager, Ole ended up winning just two of his last nine matches of the 2018/19 season and with United finishing in sixth their wasn’t too much optimism around ahead of the new campaign.
Harry Maguire came in for a huge fee after promising full back Aaron Wan-Bisakka joined from Crystal Palace. These after Daniel James had become Solskjaer’s first United signing after arriving from Swansea.
I remember watching United in a pre-season friendly against Milan in Cardiff, a young fresh team they looked to show promise but also lacked punching power which I thought would separate them below the big boys.
United’s start to the season would back my opinion up, In October they were 14th, that improved by the start of December to 9th… Back to back wins over Spurs and Manchester City would suggest the team ‘did have something’ in their locker as they improved to fifth but it always seemed two steps forward one step back, after being beaten by Burnley and drawing 0-0 at home to Wolves on February 1st something changed. It had to, and boy it did.
That change was a relatively unknown Portuguese midfielder who signed from Sporting Lisbon in Bruno Fernandes. Long touted as a potential United signing his record in Portugal suggested a goalscoring midfielder was about to join and after debuting against Wolves he provided a bit of promise in a position that was otherwise failing to deliver… Since then, he’s been sensational.
Since Bruno, United have gone 12 league games without defeat and have an FA Cup semi-final and Europa League round of sixteen match still to play. However it has not just been about the results, but the performances, and the persona that Fernandes has brought to the club… Not since Cantona have I seen an arrogance and swagger to suggest “I’ll sort this” in the way Bruno does.
You may have forgave Fernandes for feeling a little out of his depth when signing for United, yes he joins from Sporting a huge club in Portugal, but in United he joined a huge club on the world stage, one with ego’s, superstars, opinion in the stands from legends like Bobby Charlton and Alex Ferguson… For example when Cristiano Ronaldo signed he understandably took a while to get going… Not Bruno.
I loved the way from day dot he simply picked up the ball at every set play and said “I’ll sort this”… I loved the way within two matches he was already the clubs designated penalty taker… “I’ll sort this”… And I love the way he glides with guile on the pitch, picking up balls in tight areas and threading things through to make things happen…. “I’ll sort this”… And if he can’t find a pass around the edge of the box, why not have a pop himself… “I’ll sort this”
Bruno has not only grabbed United by the scruff of their necks to ‘sort things’ but in doing so his inspiration has lifted the spirits of Paul Pogba who looks now like the player he was at Juventus, has lifted the spirits of Nemanja Matic who now looks like the player he was at Chelsea.
In Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, United seriously have a young front three that is as exciting as anything in the league right now. If they stick together why can’t this be compared one day to Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez?
Whilst Rashford’s game has come on leaps and bounds over the last six months Anthony Martial looks a completely different player to what he did a year or so ago… Both unstoppable at their best, pace, skill, and now complete with end product… Something which can be said for young Mason Greenwood too.
When I watched Greenwood play for the first time against Milan in pre-season I was expecting ‘something special’ having been tipped off by plenty of United supporting football index experts, but when I watched his performance I just didn’t see it. Perhaps because he didn’t get a goalscoring opportunity that day… But having watched since, I honestly haven’t seen a better finisher of a football since Alan Shearer.
Greenwood needs half a chance, half a second, and with little back lift he can get phenomenal power that rips the net out with accuracy to match, a proper striker of the ball, add that to the ability to graft down the right and he adds a gelling to Rashford and Martial that complements them perfectly. I see nothing other than shit frightened defences next season.
United’s performances in recent weeks have been phenomenal. The old United way of dominating teams seems to be back. From what was a team heavily reliant on counter-attack, through one man in Bruno Fernandes they now dictate possession and keep it in the attacking third with probing passes aiming to unlock nervous defences… Like for the two goals last night, against a side in Crystal Palace that are usually used to defending on their goal-lines. They now seem to find a way through.
And it’s not just in attack and midfield where United have impressed me, in defence too they have proved to be one of the divisions strongest, conceding less than a goal a game is bettered only by champions Liverpool. I have always been a liker (not quite a lover) of Lindelof, who I think plays the perfect ‘second centre half’ to anyone dominant, but Harry Maguire is a player I feel should get more credit… A huge fee, overrated and over inflated it was suggested? Not a penny wasted in my eyes, Maguire looks to have been playing for the club for years, has settled like a seasoned pro would.. That is why they paid so much for him.
Added stability to the centre back partnership is Aaron Wan-Bisakka a throwback at right back who is just one of those players, unorthodox, ungainly, but you can bet your bottom dollar when a winger turns up to play against him on a given day he’ll know he’s going to be in a tough game. Then at left back, a tussle for starting position, young Brandon Williams has been brilliant, he wants to kick everything, get forward, get back, a touch of the Gary Neville’s… I really hope he goes on to become a United legend… But Luke Shaw currently keeping Williams out and with an eye perhaps on an England return? Shaw now looks confident, fit, he gets forward well and defends as solid as all those mentioned… United really are in a good place right now.
Squad depth is solid if not spectacular and I wonder if United are to strengthen where do they indeed invest? Jadon Sancho is the obvious answer which would provide huge intent on seriously making a challenge for the league next season, Thiago Alcantra from Bayern Munich has also been rumoured and if so it would no doubt keep possession even more in midfield.
With the likes of Fred & McTominay also worthy of notable mentions, David de Gea, United’s 400 cap goalkeeper now firmly over his World Cup 2018 misery… United are finally in a position for the first time post the Ferguson era where fans can feel their real intent of ‘playing the right way, with the right players and more importantly… With the right man in charge’.
From where they were on the 14th in October 2019 to where they are now and the 17th June 2020, in having a serious chance of qualifying for the Champions League a point behind third with two games to play, should Manchester United get there, one or two top players from overseas might indeed suggest “I’ll have a bit of that too”… And who could blame them as Old Trafford looks to be once again a fortress of flair and attacking football that epitomises the English game.
Proof not just that Ole was the right man for the job, but also that I could write something positive for a change.