Tag Archives: Jose Mourinho

Just about good enough: Manchester United’s 2016/17 season review

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Be wary of anyone who said they enjoyed watching Manchester United throughout the entirety of the 2016/17 season. They might be a little crazy.

While there was glimpses of quality and some strong performances dotted in there, this campaign has been a tough slog for the Red Devils. Jose Mourinho is slowly but surely stamping his mark, both on the squad and the tactics, but that hasn’t come as quickly as many expected under the Portuguese manager.

In terms of results, it has been a mixed bag of a season. The results in the EFL Cup and the Europa League were good, earning two trophies and an automatic Champions League spot cannot be understated in how valuable they are to the club not just this season but the upcoming one too.

Cup competitions in general were a success, with an FA Cup quarter final exit to Chelsea disappointing but by no means embarrassing. It showed that when it’s needed in a high pressure, one-off game, the team can pull off the result they need.

They proved that against the champions in the Premier League too, but that was an all-too-brief bright spot in a frustrating campaign. Too many draws, especially at home, combined with a plethora of missed chances against smaller teams and being outclassed by those above them meant they never really looked like title contenders.

In fact, they only really looked like top four contenders because of the misgivings of other sides fighting for those places. A great run over Christmas was matched by everyone else, meaning their long, strange unbeaten run saw them keep pace rather than hit their stride with any real aplomb.

From a tactic’s perspective, it seemed like Mourinho could never quite settle on a preferred setup with a consistent line-up. The squad looks set up to play 4-2-3-1 but with midfield issues it switched to a 4-3-3 before moving back in the final few months of the season.

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That meant no-one really settled into their roles yet neither particularly showed that it should have been the formation to follow.

The 4-3-3 meant one of the attacking midfielders missed out but it added more balance to the midfield. It offered Paul Pogba a little more freedom, it helped strengthen the middle of the park but it also hindered United at the attacking end, leaving the striker often too isolated with predominantly inside forwards at the club’s disposal.

The 4-2-3-1 got more forward-thinking players into the side but created an imbalance behind them. Finding someone who worked best with Pogba in that role proved troublesome, even if at the end of the season Ander Herrera showed why it really should have been him all along.

However, the win against Chelsea towards the end of the season did show off Mourinho’s tactical prowess when needed. An almost misshapen 4-4-2 with Jesse Lingard joining Marcus Rashford in a speedy front two caused the Blues back three all kinds of problems.

The man-marking from Herrera on Eden Hazard worked perfectly too and displayed what this team could produce under the right conditions. That flexibility will be great in big games next season but a more consistent system with a regular starting eleven needs to be established.

A few unheralded players can hold their head up high, with that list beginning with Antonio Valencia. A revelation at right-back and a reinvention no-one could have seen coming, the Ecuadorian has been nothing short of excellent and has thoroughly deserved his contract extension.

Herrera has also been his non-stop self, even if he has overstepped the mark on occasion. He holds himself extremely well, never puts in less than his maximum and has worked extremely hard to be a permanent fixture in the big games in the heart of the midfield.

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At the same time, there’s a few that should be a little ashamed of a pretty dire season. Phil Jones has been poor along with injury prone which sees him practically out of the door, Luke Shaw needs to bounce back stronger in the pre-season and Anthony Martial needs to rediscover his consistency if he is to continue his progression as a footballer.

The signings from the summer window were all good additions, even if not all of them hit the ground running. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was exactly what you’d expect from the big Swede, Eric Bailly has the potential to be a mainstay for years to come, Pogba can be so good when he’s fully involved which needs to happen more often next season and Henrikh Mkhitaryan just has to find more consistency after a slow start, an exciting middle and a dithering end.

The positive to take from this campaign is there has been a foundation built. That’s not to say there isn’t more to be added, they need a little more at centre-back, left-back, midfield and up top but with the right players in again, they could be pushing much higher in the table and in all cup competitions as well.

What needs to be done is an establishment of an attacking identity. There’s a solid base from Mourinho’s background but he needs to create a more dynamic, unpredictable offence that not only creates better opportunities but finishes them off as well.

In the end, United’s season felt like they were learning a musical instrument. Sometimes it would sound wonderful, on occasions it made your ears bleed but on the most part, you could just about understand what they were trying to play.

The challenge now for Mourinho is to turn them into rock stars. If he can get them singing off of his hymn sheet instead of just humming the tune, this team could grow in both quality and potency quickly.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the difference a superstar can make

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Zlatan, a god amongst men. Source: CNN

He said it would happen and so it would come to pass. The self-proclaimed God of Manchester can almost sound biblical at times but what really is surprising is that he’s rarely wrong.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic came to win and he has won one big battle already. There were doubters, those that still live in the small-minded English mentality of the classic rainy evening in Stoke analogy but the big Swede has been nothing short of a success yet again in yet another country.

Standing before us is a shining example of what a superstar can make happen. He can change the culture, he can bring that winning attitude and most of all, he can rise to the occasion, which is exactly what happened at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.

There’s no doubt about it, Southampton were the better team in the EFL Cup Final against Manchester United. Their full-backs were excellent, the way they moved up the field with speed and advanced on the wings to put in some terrific crosses had to be admired.

They did a little bit of everything. New signing Manolo Gabbiadini scored three lovely little goals, with one being wrongfully ruled out for an offside that never was and with that strike, the game could have been so different.

The Saints were undoubtedly superb and probably deserved more from the encounter. A credit to Claude Puel, his tactics were spot on and his players did not shirk on an occasion that can be too big for so many others.

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Gabbiadini was superb and could have been the difference on another evening. Source: TalkSport

However, United had a difference maker in their midst. After being significantly outplayed for the first section of the game, it was the Red Devils that struck first thanks to a long-range free-kick from Ibrahimovic, significantly against the run of play.

A bolt from the blue, in all honestly.

Jesse Lingard made it a little more comfortable but Southampton didn’t shrink and instead grew back into the game with two goals either side of half time. It was the South Coast side in the ascendancy, against a team that won the FA Cup in the same stadium just under a year ago.

As Puel’s men tired, it was Jose Mourinho’s talisman that stepped up to the plate. His clearing header from a corner moments earlier led to a counter attack, which slowed but eventually led to a wonderfully powerful header from Ibrahimovic that handed United an unlikely glory.

After the match, he was shattered and defiant. He said he would do it, he put everything on the line and achieved it, something that so many top footballers can fail to do but he has done it time after time after time.

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If not for Mourinho, United would not have been blessed with the gift of Zlatan. Source: newstalk.com

The truly world class players do. In a time of need, they put their team on their back and carry them to victory if needs be which is what can separate a good team from being a great team.

In the NBA, they always talk about getting an All-Star player. Someone who can tip the scales, someone who can improve those around them and a player that could push you further than you thought.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an All-Star player. Even at 35, he plays every single game for a top club that includes Europa League ties and there are no days off, he wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen.

If you want a player to show your kids what it takes, from the attitude to the commitment, show them Zlatan. He can be brash, some find him abrasive but his one-track mind of only winning and his work ethic to make that happen is the prime example of what makes a generation-defining footballer.

And if you’re a big football club, find the next one. They are so rare to find, can be so difficult to make but my word, they are worth their weight in gold.

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Luke Shaw will feel like a new signing to Manchester United

Luke Shaw

It’s great to see Luke Shaw take a football field again.Source: Sky Sports

It has been quite the wait but on Saturday afternoon, Manchester United left back Luke Shaw finally stepped back on to a football pitch.

Back in September, the England international suffered a double fracture of his right leg in the club’s Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven that ended his season prematurely. It has been a long road back to full fitness, a tough one when it’s for such a long period, but United fans will be delighted to see him again.

After an outstanding season at Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino two years ago, the youngster made the big-money move to Old Trafford that summer. Many baulked at the reported £30 million figure but those at the helm in Manchester knew they were investing in a potentially world class full back in the future.

Those critics were not silenced in his first season at the club, where he struggled both for consistency on the pitch and staying on it. Despite that, many still believed that he would come good in time and with a full summer off, he would return firing on all cylinders.

From the beginning of the 2015-16 season, you could see that the enthralling attacking full back had returned. He had a spring in his step and with encouragement from then-boss Louis van Gaal, who had criticised his weight in the past, Shaw began to really establish himself again.

That attacking instinct returned, where he would fly past his winger and venture towards the by-line. His speed also allowed him to catch up defensively and on both sides of the ball, he made himself an extra weapon to the club’s arsenal that they really needed as they occasionally stifled themselves creatively.

He was the change of pace, he made something happen and he was that extra bit of spice to their attacking play.

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This was a heartbreaking moment in what will hopefully only be a footnote in a long career. Source: Sky Sports

Just as he was starting to fly, his wings were clipped. A lot of onlookers would have said that Shaw was possibly United’s best player for the first few games of the season and were completely gutted when he was struck down on that one night in the Netherlands.

While he went to recover, United struggled to fill the void. Daley Blind was now a centre-back, Marcos Rojo was in the bad books and injuries to Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young meant that Matteo Darmain was their only real option but he needed to play at right-back.

When they did find a suitable replacement in another youngster, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, he too was struck down with injuries that interrupted his steady rise. It was a position of weakness throughout the season and Shaw’s return shores that gap up dramatically.

As for England, they have a surprising amount of interesting full-backs to choose from now. Both Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand have impressed for their clubs but with neither really making the place in the national team their own, there’s a real chance that Shaw could be the answer in that team as well.

There’s no doubt that it’s fantastic to see Shaw back on a football field, both for club and country. Not only is he a terrific young talent that can become a star, he has shown that he has a strong mentality to fight back and he will be ready come August to show everyone what they’ve been missing.

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What do Manchester City’s rivals do to react to Pep Guardiola’s arrival?

Now that Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City has been announced, what do his opponents have to do to match his clout? How do they deny the Spaniard from gaining glory in his first season? Here’s a look at their main competition (yes, for the time being, I’m excluding Leicester City) and what they need to improve.

Manchester United

Will it be Van Gaal? Or Giggs? Or even Mourinho?   Source: The Guardian

Will it be Van Gaal? Or Giggs? Or even Mourinho? Source: The Guardian

Old Trafford will have eyes on them all summer as they could go in a number of directions but the best advice is to go one way as soon as possible and back them to the hills.

If Louis van Gaal remains, which is the most unlikely outcome it seems, allow him to complete the process and build a very strong team for next year. If it’s Jose Mourinho, give him the funds to make the moves needed and allow him to have some control as to not restrict him completely and hinder any positives he could make.

Should Ryan Giggs be promoted, which should be their manner of thinking, give him the keys. Allow him to express his tactical ideals, allow his passion for the club to come out in every game and watch the squad quickly rally around him. From then, improve the youth set-up again to match City’s and while it’s a risk, if Giggs performs well, it could set up a great city rivalry for years to come.

Chelsea

Hiddink will likely not stay, his successor is a vital decision.  Source: Sky Sports

Hiddink will likely not stay, his successor is a vital decision. Source: Sky Sports

It is vital for Chelsea to find the right man to succeed Jose Mourinho, back him to make the right moves and get them back on track.

Whether that be Guus Hiddink, someone like Antonio Conte or a Diego Simeone, they need to make sure he has enough clout to get this team back to where it should be. Some will need to be moved on, there will be a need for another defender as well as potentially a centre midfielder and even an extra attacker.

Get him in place early so he can plan out, which is a worry if Conte is the choice as he has Euro 2016 to deal with. Bring through some of their interesting youth talent, get the squad playing football again and get back to challenging for Champions League football at a very minimum. They have the financial ability to compete with City, they just need to bring through their own players to get a little ahead.

Arsenal

Wenger will need to spend a little and make up a lot.  Source: UEFA

Wenger will need to spend a little and make up a lot. Source: UEFA

This one is maybe the toughest to judge but with a few key players, they should be able to challenge Guardiola’s City.

Wenger can’t sit down on this one and not buy an outfield player again. They desperately need a quality defensive midfielder with the ability to begin attacks, someone like William Carvalho would be ideal but there are a few more out there.

Buy a more reliable partner next to Laurent Koscielny as well as an extra young forward behind Olivier Giroud and they should contend again. He then simply needs to keep them running all season long, fix some injury issues and make sure they can stay the course. They have more in place than anyone, therefore they should be the one’s able to compete on the pitch the quickest.

Liverpool

Klopp needs to geggenpress the club into backing him and him alone.  Source: The Telegraph

Klopp needs to geggenpress the club into backing him and him alone. Source: The Telegraph

The Anfield club need to back Jurgen Klopp all the way in the summer to make the squad fully competitive next season.

It has been pretty clear since the German’s arrival that the squad does not have enough quality or depth to really challenge on a number of fronts. A cup victory will give them European football but should they miss out at all, it could give them another false image of a squad just about good enough to cope.

Back his ideas, allow him and only him to clear the squad while bringing in what he needs to make Liverpool at least challenge for the top four again. From there, if he has a nice solid base, he could certainly challenge for the Premier League and be a real threat to Guardiola’s Manchester City, we could be in for some exciting encounters between the two again. Don’t expect too much too soon, Klopp needs the time to turn the ship around.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs, hold on to this man. Tightly.  Source: ibtimes.com

Spurs, hold on to this man. Tightly. Source: ibtimes.com

The memo for Tottenham should be hold on to everything you have as the vultures will begin to circle in the summer.

There is no doubt that they have a quality manager, who looks likely to stay unless a Spanish giant has a vacancy, a good first-team squad that actually has a surprising amount of depth. They have some very good young, English players mixed with some solid foreign exports with Premier League experience, which is invaluable.

Unfortunately for them, that means that other clubs will be looking, especially with the home grown quota in mind. The likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier are not only quality players but big commodities that those struggling to meet them on their own will pay a tidy price for them. Keep them if they can, or at least get plenty for them, but regardless of that, keep searching and growing until they don’t struggle to hold onto that calibre of player, because they can compete.

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When is the perfect time to sack a manager?

Benitez never had his feet under the desk.  Source: Bleacher Report

Benitez never had his feet under the desk. Source: Bleacher Report

With the sacking of Rafa Benitez yesterday, it seems like there is no better time to look at when it is the right time to dismiss a manager of a football club.

For starters, it should be a difficult decision not done on a whim. Several disappointing results can sting but things can change dramatically in two months’ time and snap decisions have more often than not had pretty dire consequences.

At the same time, when problems arise that may not be fixable, you cannot fear pulling the trigger when change is needed. Even if it’s not seen on the outside or there is an opportunity to get someone better, clubs shouldn’t fear in making a short-term negative decision for a long-term gain.

In the case of Benitez at Real Madrid, it seemed like a marriage doomed to fail from the start. Taking over from a hugely popular coach in Carlo Ancelotti and seen as a poor choice by the fans, the former Liverpool boss was always walking on a tightrope from the minute he walked through the door.

He didn’t seem to have full control of the team, his style clashed with the players at his disposal and people called for his head at the first sign of trouble. Now, with no more options available, Zinedine Zidane takes control much sooner than expected and is thrown right into the deep end.

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice.  Source: The Telegraph

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice. Source: The Telegraph

Timing a firing can be so difficult, when the pressure to get results is high but the space to bring in new ideas that can work so limited. Without a break like the rest of Europe, where it seems like a logical time to change things, managers have to simplify things before gradually adding their own spin, which takes too much time.

Take a look at Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho, who had clearly lost the effort of his team and could not find a way to fix things but was then sacked just before the hectic Christmas period. Whether it was right or wrong, Guus Hiddink had little time to fix things and only now does it seem like they are clicking into gear under the Dutchman.

The one to watch will be the rest of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United, when many other managers would have been dismissed immediately after a fourth loss and a dismal display against Norwich City on Boxing Day.

They may have picked up a few points since then and could be back on the up, if he recovers and creates any kind of success this season or even possibly next season, it may show that sticking by someone might be the best option.

Short-sightedness tends to come with those at the bottom, as we have seen with constant Sunderland managers over the past few years but without a plan in place, teams sink. Newcastle almost fell after not having a plan after Alan Pardew and Norwich took too long to swing the axe on Chris Hughton a few years ago, giving the job to a man who brought them down and was sacked six months later.

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan.  Source: The Telegraph

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan. Source: The Telegraph

Another example of that poor forward-thinking was the hiring of Tim Sherwood, an unproven manager that ended up saving Aston Villa on the virtue that other teams were worse. He then had a pretty poor summer, the team was not tactically prepared and now Remi Garde is running around in January to fix all the problems he created.

Some sackings felt needless, such as when Mauricio Pochettino took over at Southampton or when Quique Sanchez Flores became the Watford manager, but both have shown why that decision was made. They both had plans, they have a tactical nous that brings the team an identity they can follow and in the long run, both have worked very well.

In the end, long-term ideals need to take much more of a prominent standpoint over possible short-sighted advantages. Bringing someone in to save the club does not mean that same man can take you forward, therefore the thinking has to be that he can deliver for many years rather than for just this season, as it usually leaves a club in a mess.

There may never be the “right” time to sack a manager. The off-season would be much easier, much like in other sports, but with the risk of relegation or not succeeding so high, owners feel compelled to do something as soon as they spot a problem.

What needs to happen is for them to get it right in the first place, a man who will add structure to the entire organisation and build rather than a fire-fighter because, in the long run, that short-term thinking always lands clubs in trouble.

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