Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Fading of the #10

          World Football/Soccer has seen several prolific players rise in the #10 position over the last 5 years or even longer. When I say #10 here, I am specifically referring to the player that plays in the hole behind the striker (often in a 4-2-3-1 but not necessarily) and is the supposed creative center of the team. With this rise, saw the retreat of 2 strikers systems (such as the 4-4-2). Managers decided to put more of priority on packing the midfield. Wingers often became inverted and often cut in instead of following the traditional model of staying wide and making crosses in to the center forward.
           Players like Ozil and Mata became high commodities, moving to Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively. These players were usually allowed to stay high up the field, not required to track back and unlikely to help win back the ball. Of course there are often exceptions. However for the sake of this argument I am referring to players who operate like this. While these players are often supremely talented, they often lack pace and strength. In summation what they can truly offer the team is limited to how they are deployed in the side. Sometimes these players are played wide but usually to lesser success. Shinji Kagawa is another that could be added to this list.
          Currently it seems like the sport is seeing another tactical shift in which more versatile players are taking up the creative helm and making it harder for these strict #10s to be starting stalwarts. Players such as YaYa Toure, Toni Kroos, Gundogan and Michael Bradley have become the more in demand style of player because they can fill a creative role but also have strength, power and pace which allow them to be more effective all over the field. Other players such as Gotze, Iniesta, David Silva, Carzola, Rakatic and Modric can either play deeper or are equally effective playing wide. This is not the case with players such as Ozil, Kagawa and Mata. Managers have begun looking for versatile players.
         Take Jose Mourinho's management of Chelsea. Mata only lasted half a season once Mourinho had taken the Chelsea reigns. Mourinho prefers multifaceted players. This is why he much preferred Willian over Mata. As talented as Mata may be he isn't able to play anywhere else on the field. He even seems unlikely to be successful only just a bit deeper as the attacking mid in a 4-3-3 midfield triangle. Mourinho's sale of Mata to United now seems like a stroke of genius. He foresaw the problems Mata would encounter at United and knew that he would not make United more of threat to Chelsea.
        Mata is the more clear case. However, Ozil is similar. Real Madrid sold Ozil to Arsenal last year much to the elation of Arsenal fans everywhere. Ozil made a strong start to last season but his progress and performances wained as the season went on. He has similarly looked not near as effective this season.
        It seems to me that these strict #10s need a team to be designed around their style of play or built around them. While Madrid most definitely didn't build the team around Ozil, the system was perfectly suited to him there.  Now that he is at Arsenal the team isn't the same system and may not be suited as well for him. Last season at United, Mata seemed to struggle when played out wide and because of the lack of quality around him. Now He has been playing in his preferred role, he looks little better.
       The truth is that these are very talented players. Still, would you rather pay millions for a player who is great but limited to a single role or a more versatile player who can perform more than one function for the side. Most would have to give preference to the latter. A player that is intelligent and can create but is also strong on the ball and able to drop a bit deeper or play out wide is much more valuable than a player who is only useful in one role where the whole team must give deference to that player.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Work in progress?

Its safe to say that United have not had the best of starts to their season. At the same time, it is very early and new man Van Gaal has plenty of time to turn things around.

Several things concern me about United at the moment though. The first and maybe the most important is the atmosphere surrounding the club currently. Manchester United don't seem to be living up to the Ethos that they are so famous for. This applies to both on and off the field activities of the club. During pre-season United showed all the promise that they lacked during Moyes' tenure at the club. They looked to be playing attacking football and showed the problem solving creativity in the attacking 3rd that they so sorely lacked last season. The side even looked to embrace the new 3-4-1-2 formation that Van Gaal had decided to implement. After going undefeated in preseason, United supporters were excited and optimistic about the upcoming season. Then came the first match against Swansea. It seemed that United were reverting back to their ways of last season. The side showed little belief and confidence and were unable to breakdown defense in the final 3rd. This continued into the game against Sunderland and the cup tie against MK Dons. Its not so much the results that are worrisome but the lack of energy that has historically been at the core of United sides. It is imperative that Van Gaal finds away to bring the belief and never said die attitude back to this United Side.

The next thing that has given me cause for concern is Van Gaal's use of the the 3-4-1-2 formation. While Van Gaal used this system to great effect with the Dutch national team during the world cup, its use in the premier league could be folly. We have seen something of the sort before under Mancini during his last season at City. He did not find success. There are obvious explanations for Van Gaal's use of this system. The first being United's unbalanced squad. It also allows Mata, Rooney and RVP into a starting 11 with all 3 in their favored positions. Defensively this system requires a lot of discipline from the center backs and wing backs. This is partly where United have run into trouble. At the moment United cannot boast of having a truly experienced and world class center back. This is even with the addition of Marcos Rojo. United also have a problems in midfield. While Darren Fletcher impressed during pre-season, he has not looked fit enough to be a first choice in the 2 matches played so far. Herrera is a good edition but more is needed. Cleverly, Felaini and Anderson are clearly not good enough. It could be said that these problems would cause United trouble in any formation. Still i hope that Van Gaal might be willing to switch to his long loved 4-3-3 at some point. Mata is a great player and truly a really fantastic guy but he is so limited in what he can offer the team. He doesnt seem able to perform well out wide or even as the AM in a 3 man midfield. So far this season he hasn't even looked top class in his preferred #10 role. Van Gaal does seem to show that he is willing to adapt and change when things don't work which is starkly different to most of Moyes' policies last season. There is hope that he will sort things out.

Finally we come to ever fan's favorite topic. Transfers. I am not so much like all the people I speak to and hear from on twitter in that I react and am conclusory regarding rumors and and news of transfers. For instance, it is ver unclear what is happening behind the scenes at United. I try not to jump to conclusions regarding the glazers and Ed Woodward. Still there is great cause for concern with the latter. United have made signings this summer but all at great cost. Take the Angel DiMaria purchase. He is a very good player and he adds quality and pace to the team. But, is he worth almost 60 million. I don't think so. Also United still seem to be caught in this pattern of spending great sums of money on players that do not address the team's most crucial needs. RVP, Mata and Di Maria have all been purchased when it was very apparent United need to add serious quality in their midfield. This is not to say that these 3 aren't great players who can bring something to the team. But do you add a turbo system to a car before fixing an engine that isn't working properly. I think not. While I appreciate the excitement of a big signing, this particular player is not a solution to United problems. As in the analogy presented above, A new flashy addition won't solve a problem at the core of the machine. It is time United invested in what will address their true needs. I hope Woodward and crew can sort it out soon.

There are reasons to be optimistic. United's new manager boasts a level of tactical creativity that even Sir Alex could not claim. If Van Gaal is able to work his magic at Old Trafford, it is likely that we could see a tactical revolution over the coming months. Lets hope, the new boss can inspires the side to greatness sooner rather than later. Regardless, United are still in a state of transition and to judge them too harshly would be short sighted. Van Gaal has shown himself to be a patient man who looks to build teams for the future. This should be comforting to United supporters. But United should be considered a work in progress for the time being.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Suggested Lineups & Formations for United v Arsenal

This first lineup is probably not realistic because it doesn't seem like Rooney is willing to play wide. (or Moyes isnt willing to play him there) However, If Moyes were to utilize a free flowing  system where the front three rotated to the likes of the Dutch total football style, it theoretically would work perfectly and hopefully keep everyone happy. Some of the best football United have played was back in February when Ferguson basically had rotating/free flowing front 4. I for one could see United becoming very successful using this tactic because it gets our best players on the field and allows for adaptability. We would have a much stronger 3 man midfield. Jones could help shield the back 4 while carrick acts as the central hub and Kagawa or Cleverly would be able to linke up with the front 3. However it is important to stress that with this formation that Valencia must be on the bench. This is because there must be a plan B. If we get overrun in the wide areas and fail to create chances, Tony V will need to come on and try to provide cover and crosses from out wide. But unfortunately. we are unlikely to see it.

This 2nd option is probably closer to what we will see on Moyes' team sheet on Sunday. Jones might come as a surprise to some. However, Jones was left out during the midweek fixture against Real Sociedad. This could likely mean that Moyes may want to utilize Jones' energy and tenacity to battle Arsenal's Formidable midfield similarly to how Fergie utilized Jones against Real Madrid last season. Other than that there are really no surprises. Januzaj is Moyes' new favorite man so it is likely he will get the nod of Kagawa but this is not certain. Rafael will be at right back unless he is ruled unfit. This may be the more probable lineup that Moyes fields on Sunday but it has some major weaknesses. A midfield pair will struggle against big opposition like Arsenal as United have so far this season. Even if Moyes does not use a 3 man midfield against Arsenal as I suggested in the first option, it would be really exciting to see him experiment with the idea sometime soon.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Where does United go from here?

 It was always going to be a difficult start for the first United side to begin a season with out Sir Alex. It is clear that it has been a hard kick off for Moyes and co. But it is a long season and while there is work to be done this season can be still be successful one for the Reds. This is a rebuilding year and that means Moyes and his staff should not only be looking to win the league this year but they should be looking to build a team that will win in the seasons to come. The first things that need to be addressed (since they weren't during the summer) is the midfield and defense. It has been clear for sometime now that United need a to bring in a top quality midfielder. There is some debate about whether this player should be a a creative type or more defensive minded or maybe even both. However, this needs to be done as soon as possible. The defense must also be sorted out. With Rio and Vidic on the wain, it is time to give Smalling, Jones and Evans significantly more playing time. For these players to have a chance of developing into United quality starters they must get more experience. If this proves to be unsuccessful then United will have to look elsewhere for Rio and Vida's replacements. It is clear that this process needs to begin now!
   Finally, and possibly the most important thing that needs to happen is that Moyes must get the "United Atmosphere" back at Old Trafford. Moyes, his staff and Ed Woodward have failed to create a sense of confidence at the club so far during their tenure. Moyes' dealings with the media have been disastrous in my opinion. Manchester United is a massive club and someone should be helping David Moyes prepare for press conferences in the same way that the POTUS staff helps him prepare for the press. Whether he believes it or not, Moyes should not be making statements implying we cant win the league or whatever other competition he is discussing. The club should always be presenting a positive and confident face to the world. The same goes for his discussion of transfers. Moyes discussion of "improvement and transfer dealings" etc have been a complete failure. The only outcome has been to show he hasnt been able to get his man and possibly deteriorate his current players confidence. Just get me in the room with the man before a press conference! Ill do it for free.
   Moyes and his staff will figure it out it will just take time but hopefully they will do this sooner than later.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


      Controversy has followed Sepp Blatter around constantly of late. There were rumors of a scandal during his last re-election. In fact,  The Council of Europe assembly committee has called for FIFA to investigate Blatter's 2011 re-election for whether he used his position to create an unfair advantage against an opponent. Sepp Blatter was again involved in controversy when Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid was accepted. Many people in the world soccer were upset at this decision because of Qatar being chosen over countries such as the U.K. and U.S. Again, there were allegations of underhandedness and implications that Qatar had paid to have their World Cup Bid become successful.
      Sepp Blatter is now calling for the Qatari World Cup to be held during the winter instead of the summer due to avoid the region's extreme heat. The Problem is that Europe's biggest leagues are active during this time of year. The English Premier League, in particular, does not include a winter break during their season as the Spanish league does. Supposedly, when the Qatari bid was accepted, it was stipulated that Qatar would ensure the extreme hear would cause problems for the tournament. As the World Cup is always held in the summer, it was assumed the solution would not be to move the tournament.
     This bid was going to be a problem from the moment it was made. First of all, there was the bid from Britain. The World Cup has not been held in the UK since 1966. So as soon as they were not chosen there was always going to be trouble. However, if Qatar did "purchase" their bid then the English FA do have legitimate complaints against FIFA's handling of this ordeal. US Soccer also has reason to be frustrated. While it was not so long ago that the World Cup came stateside, US Soccer is at a crucial point in its development. The sport is at its most popular point in the nation's history and a successful World Cup bid could propel the sport to the next level domestically. Australia and Japan were also considered but alas the bid was given to Qatar. Qatar is a tiny nation with a population of less than 250,000. Foreign workers actually outnumber native Qataris. It is one of the Arab oil nations and tops the list of the world's richest countries constructed by Forbes Magazine. Soccer or Football is the popular sport. Mr. Blatter argues that the ability to hold the World Cup should not be restricted to European Nations. This is not exactly relevant as the World Cup has been held in Asia, South America, Central America and North America. Still that is not the problem with holing the biggest sporting event in the world in Qatar. While Qatar certainly has the funds to support the tournament, its climate and size raise serious problems to bringing the tournament to its soil. FIFA's solution of moving the tournament will only cause more problems.
       It was just announced today that that UEFA (The governing body of Soccer in Europe) officially voted to move the 2022 World Cup to the winter. This is the only solution if FIFA plan to go ahead with a World Cup in Qatar. However, these issues provide much cause for FIFA's leadership and decision making to be examined. All I can say is that it is probably good that Sir Alex Ferguson has retired because it would not have surprised me to see him attempt to keep his players out of the tournament.

Committee Calls for Blatter investigations - http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/committee-calls-for-investigation-into-sepp-blatters-unopposed-fifa-reelection-7543693.html

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

United Line up vs. City

United have a big game against rivals Manchester City this weekend! Derby matches are always fantastic to watch and the atmosphere at the Ethiad should be electric! After United's success against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday it is likely that David Moyes will go with a similar line up against the citizens at the weekend.

DeGea is a guarantee. While his loss of focus against Leverkusen may have helped the latter to earn a consolation goal, rest assure the the young spaniard will be ready to make up for it on Sunday. 

The defense is pretty straightforward. The only real question is who will be in at right back. Rafael and Jones are supposedly back in training this week. However, Moyes may still choose to go with Fabio as he rested him last night against the Germans. His performance against Palace was noteworthy and he could get the nod.

There is a slight chance Moyes could play Smalling or Evans in the place of Rio because the United veteran has already played 2 matches this week. But it seems more likely that Moyes will want to keep the Ferdinand - Vidic partnership against the blues and rest Rio the week after.

The obvious choices for the two center midfield spots are Carrick and Felaini and the reasons are obvious. Both looked strong on Tuesday night

Valencia showed glimpses of his old form against Leverkusen on Tuesday which will have United fans hoping he will have run of good form. The other choice might be Nani, although the Portugeese winger has not gotten must playing time under the Scottsman. 

Rooney will stay as the #10 and hopeful continue his wonderful form from the last two matches. I have decided to go with Shinji on the left. This is not for certain. But, fingers crossed, Moyes goes with the Japanese playmaker instead of Ashley Young, Kagawa provides a much needed creative spark whether on the left or through the middle. Finally, RVP will of course be in the striker role up top. 

The Reds have a great shot of going out and grabbing 3 points. But the Ethiad is not an easy place to play at and it will be a tough match. Lets hope the continue on their current form!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Most soccer fans across the globe are aware of the impact that big money owners such as Roman Abramovich and the Oil tycoons from the Middle East have made on the game. While deep pocket owners such as these have definitely distanced their clubs from the rest of the pack, Ligue 1 faces a different problem.

New money has been injected into clubs Paris Saint Germain and AS Monaco. AS Monaco was recently purchased by Dmitry Rybolovlev a Russian Oligarch. Now in it's first season back in the French first division, AS Monaco join fellow big money club PSG there and have spent over 115 million Euros this summer attempting to secure a Ligue 1 title this season. Monaco does retain one advantage that PSG does not have. AS Monaco may play in the French first division but the team is from the small independent city state of Monaco. Monaco has long been considered a tax haven. While Monaco has a population of just over 35,000 it has 0% unemployment and no income tax. Sound great? The world's best players might agree with you. It has become a refuge for some of the worlds wealthiest.

France on the other hand boasts taxes on the wealthy that can exceed 100%. AS Monaco has seen plenty of success in the past. They even progressed to the Champions League final a few years back. Still the tax issue has never been seen as overly serious. That is, until now. Now that Monaco boasts not only no taxes on it's players wages but also seemingly limitless spending ability, the rest of Ligue 1 is speaking up. Who can blame them? With the money, tax advantages and beautiful beaches, who wouldn't want to play there?

The story does not end there. With the coming of Rybolovlev's deep pockets the rest of Ligue 1 decided they had had enough. The New York Times quotes Frédéric Thiriez as saying "It is therefore all the more important that the club adheres to French rules, especially in relation to tax, so that every club in the league is on a level playing field.”. AS Monaco haven't seemed to like this idea and have been strongly averse to any other compromises mentioned. So, it looks as though this issue will continue to be a problem for awhile. But Monaco face other problems such as small stadium and fan base. With so many big name players such as Falcao, Carvahllo, Abidal, Moutinho and Rodriguez, It will be interesting to see what AS Monaco and their big spending owner do to cope with these mounting problems.

Of course AS Monaco's return to Ligue 1 doesn't only bring problems. There are upsides to the former Champions League finalist returning to Frances top division. Monaco's newly purchased superstars and money to spend will attract attention to the French league. Along with PSG, Monaco could help French soccer to succeed in the Champions League (PSG made it to the quarter finals last season.) and gain important exposure.

Regardless of the team's success it is an interesting conundrum. One that you probably wont be able to find anywhere else in world sport. Overall, I think the perks of tax free wages do provide AS Monaco with an unfair advantage over the other Ligue 1 teams. Although, with all of its advantages, Monaco's tiny stadium and fan base cause cause major obstacles on the road to success. Either way a solution will be hard to find. We will all just have to wait and see.