Why Falcao Just Might Not Work Out

Transfer deadline day seemed like a dream for Manchester United fans. Radamel Falcao’s loan move to the club was easily the transfer coup of the summer and had supporters jubilant. After the signings of Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind within a week, Falcao’s move looked to be the icing on the cake given the horror of last years summer transfer window. As the Colombian was warming up to make his first appearance against QPR, the Stretford End faithful could be heard bellowing out his chant. He eventually got his chance and a lively cameo had whet the appetite for United’s supporters.
Three months on and his name is still being sung just as much as it was then. The fans are urging him to do well, that much is obvious. However, his solitary goal against Everton is all he has to show for his time at United so far. He has been plagued by injuries since his arrival and has struggled to get a good run of games under his belt. It is often said that strikers need consistency in their game and then, if they are good enough, they will get goals. The worry for United is, will Falcao get that run of games? Will he go on to achieve the things he has on the continent for Porto, Athletico Madrid and Monaco? Early signs seem to suggest that he, unfortunately, will not.
In the past 13 months, Radamel Falcao has completed 90 minutes of football just once. He argues that he has shaken off his cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out of the World Cup but the various other knocks he has been picking up have left him and the United faithful frustrated. Reports claim that the Colombian is essentially on trial at the club until April, by which he must prove his ability and, perhaps more importantly, his fitness. Against Stoke, with Wayne Rooney out injured, Louis Van Gaal chose to accompany Robin Van Persie with 19 year old James Wilson. It just goes to show how far off his best Falcao really is.
There is no doubt that the Theatre of Dreams is yet to see the best of one of the finest strikers in world football when on form. Falcao has a proven goalscoring record all over Europe and his 21 goals for Colombia attest to his talent in front of goal. The question remains, will he ever scale those heights in the red of Manchester United? For United’s sake, lets hope he does.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

“One step forward, two steps back” is how Sir Alex Ferguson described Louis Van Gaal’s start to his Manchester United career. 13 points from 8 games is even worse than David Moyes’ start last year (he was one point better off), so why the optimism? By this stage last year, many United fans had already written off Moyes despite his difficult start to the season which included fixtures against Liverpool, City and Chelsea. Having spent almost 119 million pounds in the summer, surely Louis Van Gaal has had it easier than Moyes did. So, again, why the optimism?

Since the days of Matt Busby, Manchester United have always wanted to play with pace, width and aim to entertain. Under Moyes, United seemed to have no urgency, no passion, no drive. The urge to entertain was gone. The fast paced counterattacking that United fans had become used to had simply disappeared and a defense that had been good enough to win the league the year before suddenly started to crumble. It’s testament to the Moyes era that three of a back four that had won the league were on their way out by the end of the season. It was obvious a major clearout was needed. Too much deadweight and players who were never seen as ‘United quality.’ Louis Van Gaal seemed the perfect person to put all of this right.

An average Dutch team, on paper, made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup under Van Gaal and were only a penalty shootout away from the final. The football they played gave United fans enough to whet their appetite. It was quick, direct and, most importantly, attractive. It was United. So Ed Woodward had got all the pieces of the puzzle. Angel Di Maria, the man of the match from the Champions League final. Radamel Falcao, easily the best 18 yard striker in the world. Ander Herrera and Daley Blind to shore up a midfield problem that hadn’t been addressed since Ferguson signed Hargreaves (or Anderson…). Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw added to a defense that had lost key players, but both had already proven themselves previously. So all that was left was for it to all come together and United to be back to their Championship winning best, right? Wrong.

13 points from 8 games suggests all is not well at United. Losses to Swansea and Leicester as well as draws with the likes of Sunderland and Burnley have United languishing in 8th, yet a draw against Chelsea at home is being touted as a turning point. Robin Van Persie’s 94th minute equalizer sparked wild celebrations in the Stretford End and rightly so.

For the first time this season, United seemed like the team of a few seasons ago. Granted, the defense still seemed slightly shaky but Marouanne Fellaini and Daley Blind nullified the threat of Matic and Fabregas. Going forward, United seemed fluid and created enough chances to win the game. Robin Van Persie still isn’t firing on all cylinders but the 2013 Golden Boot Winner may not even be needed come the weekend against City. The return of Wayne Rooney from suspension and Radamel Falcao from injury has the United fans buzzing. For the first time since Ferguson’s reign, there were more positives than negatives to take out of a big game.

There is no doubt that Louis Van Gaal is a world class manager. He has won titles in Holland, Spain and Germany. He has proven himself where David Moyes hadn’t. The United supporters seem to feel that their time is coming. They are not going to win the league, but the top four is not far off. This team and this manager can surely bring United back to the old days, they can bring back the winning mentality as well as playing the football that United fans love. What’s important is that they push on from here. With games against City and Arsenal coming up, this is the perfect opportunity to make a statement.

The draw with Chelsea is definitely a step forward but a loss to City on Sunday will surely be two steps back and United stuck in this ever ending struggle for consistency.

The Death of Tiki Taka?

The Death of Tiki-Taka

Spain’s dismantling at the hands of the Netherlands on Friday gave us the sense that something was in the offing. A welcome end to the domination that Spain and their brand of football have had on the world. If Friday gave us the hope and expectation, then Chile’s performance against the reigning World Champions confirmed it; tiki-taka is on its way out.

                  Every team at the world cup has their respective style that they have been renowned for, for generations. Holland and their Total Football, Brazil for their flair and attacking quality, Italy and their stellar organization and England for their utter hopelessness. Over the past six years, it has been Spain’s tiki-taka that has ruled the world stage. Their core of Real Madrid and Barcelona players introduced a method of moving the ball at such pace that the opposition barely had a kick. Possession percentages in the 70s and 80s were the norm and they would score goals for fun. They have been blessed by a generation of footballers who look to play the game on the front foot and are always looking to get forward. The likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and even Fernando Torres together created a team that many thought unbeatable.

                  They seemed to have revolutionized football tactics. Defenders were not there to defend; they would play with no strikers and six midfielders of which four would rotate to play as a false nine. It was all about passing and movement and penetrating the opposition with that final killer pass. Barcelona have been known to play the same brand of football since the mid-2000s winning the champions league three times in 6 years. The club’s first trophyless season in six years coincides with Spain’s demise on the international stage and that can only suggest that the style of football is what has led to their respective downfalls.

                  Tiki-Taka seems, on paper, very simple. Passing and moving from the midfielders, who are allowed to interchange positions, making sure the passes are short and quick and keeping the ball moving. Very rarely would you find a Barcelona or Spain midfielder dwelling on the ball for more than a few seconds before moving it on. The defenders join the attack, not with their aerial presence but with the ball on the ground. Gerard Pique  was seen as one of the best defenders in the world but, in reality, he didn’t defend. He was simply a link between goalkeeper and midfield, much in the same way a number 10 is the link between midfield and attack. One very important part of tiki-taka is patience. Pass after pass after pass can get repetitive and boring but the team has to make space to find that killer ball. Spain were brilliant in the way they made sure they only played the through ball when necessary (and having the quality of Iniesta and Xavi didn’t hurt). The only problem was, over time, other teams developed this patience…

                  Barcelona failed to score against Athletico Madrid in their two-legged Champions League semi-final. Spain scored no goals from open play in their opening two World Cup matches. Teams have understood that if you force the issue against the tiki-taka playing teams, you’re asking for trouble. They let them have the ball. There is no need to press on the midfielders or the defenders because they will just pass the ball straight through you. Holland showed this in the way they deployed Jonathan De Guzman and Nigel De Jong. Neither pressed the midfielders, they were simply there to intercept and break the play up. Once you make Spain force the issue, that’s when they start to make mistakes and when your team get on the ball. After that, you’re up against a defence who are extraordinarily mediocre. Arjen Robben twice made them look shambolic, as did Robin Van Persie. For three of Holland’s five goals, at least one of the two Spanish centre backs was not anywhere near where they should have been.

                  So what now for Spain? They have no shortage of youth coming through the ranks, the likes of Isco, Illaramendi, Jese and Morata to name a few so they won’t be hitting the panic button just yet. Xabi Alonso’s retirement from international football could be the start of a major overhaul. The introduction of the younger generation of tiki-taka playing youngsters could reduce the predictability of the Spanish attack and a new and improved back four could also sure them up at the back. Only time will tell how Spain’s golden generation will recover from the biggest shock of this world cup so far.

 

 

Champions League? You’re having a laugh.

Let’s be honest. Who really enjoyed watching the first legs of the Champions League semi-finals? Sure, Chelsea and Real Madrid fans will be happy with the results but surely even though found the matches boring, dull and quite drab. The media claim that these games are “tactically fascinating” but, honestly, what’s so fascinating about a 0-0 draw? We watch football to see great goals, brilliant attacking play and moments of brilliance that get us out of our seats. There was only a handful of these moments over 180 minutes of first leg football between, supposedly, the four best teams in Europe currently.

            Fast forward one week and you felt like you were watching four different teams. Bayern Munich tried pressing the issue against Real Madrid to get that goal they couldn’t progress without, whereas Madrid knew one goal would give them one foot in the final. No one could have predicted what happened next. The counter attacking football displayed by Madrid on the night was unparalleled to anything probably anyone has witnessed. Gareth Bale started and injected pace into a side who looked flat just six days earlier at their own stadium. Bale, Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo gave us a display of counter attacking football that is unlikely to be matched in seasons to come.

            Athletico Madrid proved just how far they have come under Diego Simeone with an organized display that put Jose Mourinho’s “19th Century” Chelsea to shame. Once they got their away goal, they played with freedom and confidence, began passing the ball around and looking pleasing on the eye. Chelsea didn’t have a lead to defend and had to go for the kill, giving us an open, entertaining game.

            But where was all of this in the first legs? The solitary goal over two first leg matches, compared to eight in the second legs simply proves the point that first legs are, in all honesty, quite pointless. Both teams come into the first leg hoping to still be in the tie by the time the second leg rolls around and they can either get an away goal, or get back home and play behind their home crowd.  

            It’s the new craze. Stay tight and try nick a goal. Gone are the days when the likes of Arsenal went to Inter Milan and won 5-1, when Manchester United went to Juventus and won 3-0. There is so much more at stake for teams with TV money increasing almost exponentially as they progress to the next round. But is that ruining the quality of football in what’s meant to be the world’s elite club competition? Of course it is.

            If you think about finals since the turn of the century, it is extremely rare to have a boring final. Of course, Juventus vs. AC Milan in 2003 springs to mind but what do you expect from two Italian teams in an era where the Italians were renowned for their defensive prowess? We’ve had Barcelona themselves score 7 goals in three finals, last minute drama in both Munich and at Wembley where Bayern Munich were involved both times. It’s been enthralling. Imagine Liverpool went 3-0 down to AC Milan in the first leg of a semi-final. Would they try come back to 3-3? No chance. They would sit back for damage control and try see if they could turn it around in the second leg. What we got instead was probably the best final in living memory.

            So what’s the point in the first leg? WE’ve established that teams aren’t really looking to play football they way we want them to and probably not even the way they want to. Look at Manchester United in their first leg against Bayern Munich in this year’s quarter-finals. You will go a long way before finding a more un-Manchester United like performance. The solution? Get rid of 90 minutes of pointless, boring football.

           Teams who finish top of their group get a home tie in the next knockout round against a team that has finished second in their group. One game, winner progresses. It’s how the final is and the last time we’ve had a boring, goalless final was 2003. In the knockout rounds, bring goal difference into account. Even if you win your tie, if the team you are drawn against in the next round has a higher goal difference from their one leg, they get the home draw at the following stage. TV revenues are equal anyway and the only monetary loss would be from matchday revenues for the team playing away from home. These can be made slightly more even but will still provide a monetary incentive, which the clubs already have. This continues through the quarter finals and the semi final until the final is at a neutral venue, just as it is now (and so UEFA and Platini make the money that they care about). 

IPL Bandwagon Moves To The U.A.E

The 7th edition of the Indian Premier League has just kicked off and is full of extravagance, entertainment, celebrities and there’s also some cricket on as well. Some of the biggest faces in the cricketing world will be residing in the U.A.E for the next two weeks in a bit to kickstart their campaigns for their respective franchises.

The U.A.E is the third country to host the highly controversial tournament as the Indian General Elections occur through the country. Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be aiming to live up to the standards set in the cities across India over the past few years and give the IPL the start it desperately needs after last years corruption fiasco.

What have we learned so far?

From the first eight games, we have witnessed something that we haven’t in the past 6 editions of the tournament, Kings XI Punjab are truly a force to be reckoned with. Adopting an Indian ethos of scoring one run more than the opposition has worked out for them so far with the likes of Glenn Maxwell and David Miller helping chase down giant totals. It begs the question of why the Mumbai Indians allowed Maxwell to leave.

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Mumbai Indians themselves are in all sorts of trouble. Having been outclassed in the curtain-raiser by the Kolkata Knight Riders and then brushed aside by Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, skipper Rohit Sharma has a lot to ponder before their next game against Chennai Super Kings in Dubai.

It’s still early days in the tournament but first impressions often do count. As Kings XI are the only team to really stake a claim to Mumbai Indian’s crown, it’s all up for grabs over the next five weeks.

 

 

 

Chosen One 2.0

As all the different news outlets started to report the story, it became pretty clear what was about to happen. After almost a full season of being a club in complete disarray, Manchester United have finally come to the conclusion to sack David Moyes. It’s been a season to forget for the champions and it seems like the 2-0 loss at Everton on Sunday was the final straw. But where do they go from here? They were in a similar position almost exactly a year ago but moved swiftly and efficiently to appoint Moyes as manager after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. This time around, things are drastically different as one gets the feeling the change won’t be quite so seamless. Who do United want? More importantly, who can they get?

Their best option and in my opinion the best fit, would be current Dutch Boss, Louis van Gaal

Over the past month or so, stories have emerged of United looking to appoint the Dutchman. The 63 year old is someone who has proven himself on the highest stage, winning the Champions League with Ajax and reaching the final with a rejuvenated Bayern Munich. His contract with the Dutch national team runs out after the World Cup meaning he is a free agent. His brand of ‘total football’ is something United fans want to see, meaning the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata can both be utilized in roles suited to them. A Dutch manager could mean a refreshed and highly motivated Robin van Persie as well. United’s star main in the 2012-2013 season has hugely underperformed this year and has failed to make the same impact. There is every chance that a fellow Dutchman as manager could help RVP scale the same heights that he did in the previous seasons.

Van Gaal’s footballing ‘philosophy,’ as he likes to call it, is quite simple; press high, keep possession and counter attack quickly. It’s the type of football that sounds attractive and has more often than not been successful. With an apparent 200 million pounds to spend, Van Gaal can definitely bring in the players who he thinks will best suit his ethos and the football he wants to play.

 

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