Tag Archives: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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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Why video refereeing will work in football

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Mike Dean did not have the best of days on Monday night, to say the least. Source: The Mirror

Somewhat lost among the regular spiel during a match day weekend of referee rants and manager meltdowns was two instances where technology in football made a big difference. In two games, Hawkeye confirmed goals that otherwise were not caught by officials pitch side.

At the Etihad, Burnley clawed themselves back into the game after Ben Mee’s header was confirmed to have crossed the line after a scramble. The other instance was even more significant, with Gareth McAuley’s header against Hull City was not denied on the line and gave the Baggies their first lead in the game.

Both almost seemed like the norm, which is why there was no real talk about it. So, if that has significantly helped football, why can’t video evidence be used to aid referees in a similar manner?

There’s no getting away from it, Mike Dean had a bad day at the London Stadium on Monday evening officiating West Ham United versus Manchester United. Sofiane Feghouli’s red card is very harsh (it has since been rescinded), Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal was offside in both phases and with a couple of unpunished fouls, along with a deliberate handball that was given but no booking, it almost turned farcical.

Now avoiding the silly talk about Dean’s enjoyment of the limelight or how he seemed to never recover from the early red card, which all are slightly unfair shots at his character, let’s talk about how we can assist them. Without video evidence, none of these debates would have been brought up in the first place but with them there, there shouldn’t really be an excuse from the footballing hierarchy not to use them.

It would not take a dramatic amount of time to check them, the videos are available for TV companies in a heartbeat and after a few different angles, 95% of decisions are fairly clear cut. With an experience, official either at the game or a team based somewhere, it should be something that any major league or international competition could start quickly.

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This goal would not have stood if it wasn’t for Hawkeye in football. Source: The Sun

There have been a few trials at international friendlies, with incredibly interesting results. It was used in France’s 3-1 win against Italy and with the use of VARs (video assistant referees), they helped make sure a Djibril Sidibe challenge was not worth a red card within 10 seconds.

10 seconds. That’s all it took.

Some commentators say that the managers should have challenges as well, similar to the system used in the NFL. If they get the first challenge right, they get to keep it but overall over the course of the game, an NFL coach can only make a maximum of three challenges which is dependent on that first call.

Mixing that in with the referee being able to check things that quickly and it could turn things that can completely change a team’s season into the norm. With everything checked quickly and then given an extra time to look at them because of a challenge would completely clear any doubt over the referee’s decision, although some will still refuse to accept it.

The old guard will argue that the game’s gone to pot and with machines aiding it now, it’s not long until it’s completely out of pub talks forever, but they’ll soon get over it. The sport is continuing to modernise, even if it’s still vastly behind some sports in certain areas, and finally implementing these ideas would really help.

In fact, it will really help the officials the most. For how scrutinised they are, they can only give what they have seen on the field and especially when you only get one shot at it, then it’s almost a thankless task to have an absolutely spotless game.

This needs to happen as soon as FIFA and The FA can get it off the ground. It might seem a little hyperbolic but people’s jobs are at stake in this results-based business and the fact that it could change from the wrong decision should not be a factor in 2017.

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