Monday, September 23, 2013

DISTILLING MYTHS

With the dust settling on the Demolition Derby, a match more significant than perhaps any derby match played in Manchester since the last one, it might be salient to put a number of myths to bed before they grow into legend and whilst the wrecking ball still sways on its lead.

Browbeaten United manager David Moyes, in a stuttering, downbeat press conference dotted with "sort ofs" and "mibees", managed to lever this into his summary of what he had witnessed. "Ive got to say Wayne Rooney was...was....could have arguably been the best player on the pitch today....". This is of course to neglect to consider the claims of Sergio Aguero, of a rampant Yaya Touré, of Samir Nasri and, most certainly, of captain colossus Vincent Kompany. It is even to do some kind of injustice to Aleksander Kolarov and Jesus Navas. Rooney would have struggled to get into the team of the match, never mind man of the match decisions. What Moyes is basing this mistaken impression on, is the fact that Rooney was the only United player to attempt to compete. Look at the quote again. Look at the actual order the words came out. Moyes didn't believe it either.That's the problem with saying ridiculous things in public. You have to sound convinced yourself first.

United's game plan was to take an early grip, according to Moyes. How do a group of players with that tactic hammered into them, succeed only in giving territory to the opposition so completely that the only meaningful phases of possession United had were spent going sideways in midfield or trying to rid the pressure further back. Carrick, lost in the deluge, and Fellaini, going sideways, then backwards then sideways again, were nowhere to be seen when the giant holes needed plugging. Rooney - United's best derby performer as usual -was still struggling to gain proper control of the delightful head garment that he was wearing. It made him look a little like a human dodgems car. Every time he was manfully tackled, the thing flipped off like an elastic band on an elephant. Maybe this is why United lost.

Moyes consults Volume 1 of his Big Book of Tactics
United's stats show a plethora of attacking opportunities and shots on goal. That these all came after City had taken a 4-0 lead means that the statistics are attempting to sell us a lie. After 20 minutes, City's possession was up to an embarrassing 67%. Ten minutes later, United had carved it back to 57%, that extra ten for United spent wholly engrossed in trying to avoid the centre circle and this usually by backing away from it. City's grip on the game after an hour was so complete, every viewer of the spectacle could have been forgiven for expecting an avalanche of embarrassing proportions to occur. Inexplicably, City refused to go for the jugular. The job done, possession and position were ceded. This is where professionals save their legs for another day whilst fans strain their larynxes hoping for an eleven-nil massacre that will allow them to die peacefully in their sleep.

United surged forward, more out of instinct than sense. Any footballer will tell you, once you have taken the foot off the accelerator and given the initiative to your opponents, it is almost impossible to crank yourself back into the flow and rage of what went earlier.

"All managers have bad days and results and I'm no different". No kidding, David! This out of the tight-lipped mouth of Moyes, a man doing an impression of a rabbit in the headlights of a jack-knifing milk lorry. This performance from United asks deep and troubling questions of United and their manager's ability to do the job expected of Old Trafford bosses. The summer spending was a failure. United's fanfare signing was a sideways-moving mess yesterday. Fellaini and Carrick were overrun completely, were left hanging in no-man's land by Valencia, "Possibly if-Only Man of the Match" Rooney and Welbeck and had no answers to the power and bite and corruscating drive of Fernandinho and Yaya Touré, the control and speed of thought of Navas and Nasri. If more proof is needed that midfield was where the decisive power battle was won, look at Richard Jolly's analysis for ESPN here, but don't touch Nasri's heat map until it has cooled down a little.

Did anybody notice that the little magician David Silva wasn't playing? The man who makes City tick. The best midfielder in the squad. No, nobody even mentioned him, so good was the work put in by Nasri in particular. Van Persie's absence was mentioned by all and sundry, however. But this was not about Van Persie. United's front two have been strong enough in the past to bring home the bacon. They are both England internationals of some repute, although that is a debatable gong to hang around your neck these days.

Interestingly, David Moyes, in a previous life as manager of an Everton squad of hard-working and honest runners, managed year in year out to put a humongous spanner in the works every single time he lined his side up against City. This was Moyes, the man to motivate ordinary folk to extraordinary efforts. Now he is in charge of some of English football's top talent, does he have the wherewithal to make it function to the best of its ability? United have now played City and Chelsea and also their most important rivals (and I'm beginning to believe this again) Liverpool and have gleaned one big fat juicy point. Not nearly good enough.Another clash with Liverpool arrives just when Moyes would really prefer it didn't this Tuesday and it will be a brown trouser evening for the Scotsman. Lose this and his team faces West Brom at the weekend, a side that has seen off four managers, all sacked after defeats against the Baggies in the last two years.....

Much has been said about Ferguson's hole being a hard one to fill. Where was I? Ah yes, in some respects Moyes has already tellingly shown this to be the case. On Sunday at the Etihad, he shuffled almost apologetically up to the 4th official and was seen to be mouthing gently "no way, that's just shocking..." and shaking his head gently from side to side. Compare this with the volcanic Ferguson rampaging up to the referee effing and blinding with sparks emitting from his ears. "You'll nae ref a match again," he would be bellowing into the hapless man's earpiece, "You're way too fucking fat and you'll nae come any where fucking near us again, I'll see to that....". Ryan Giggs may have given it a try at half time in the tunnel, with his "man up" speech to Howard Webb, but even Giggs, brought up on Ferguson's magic ways for three hundred long years, does not hold a candle to the old egg poacher himself. These days things just aren't the same. Even Oldham's most famous man boy Jinja Nuttus was left out of the Praetorian Guard this time.

The fruitiest and best titbits of the lot were left to us on Monday morning, where The Mail dusted down its usual "how can we find an angle to hammer City" puff piece. Here was another man preparing himself to say something ridiculous in public. Step forward, Neil Ashton to pull out the gem that City had finally killed off English football (yes, that ancient chestnut, so well baked by now it is harder than the hate stare Ryan Giggs reserved for the 4th official at half time), by starting the Manchester Derby with only one Englishman in the side. Having ruined football single-handed by buying way too many good players. Having burned down football and ransacked fair play, City have now ruined the national team too, just eight short years after Arsenal turned out an all-foreign starting eleven and a massive sixteen years since Chelsea managed the very same feat. But let not that get in the way of today's mots justes in The Mail, the paper which represents the thoughts of millions.

The hole in United's defence looks vaguely familiar
After this fixture had been completed last year, 50,000 pairs of eyes turned to look at Samir Nasri's crumpled form and ask him what his motivations in life were. A season later, the little Frenchman was in the thick of the action from the very off, delivering a delicious wait-and-dink back heel to the overlapping Kolarov, who had not been tracked by the abysmal Valencia. Kolarov's cross was met deliciously by Aguero and City had a deserved lead. Just how Aguero completed the volley when the ball was delivered three feet behind him, we may never know. Valencia meanwhile got a complete earful from Vidic for dereliction of duty. Nasri's efforts all afternoon put him up on the high pedestal alongside Kompany, Aguero, the giant Yaya and Negredo as the game's outstanding performers. And not, that is, Wayne Rooney.

Yaya Touré. Four goals from midfield already, charging around like an elephant on heat. the Beast of Bondoukou is back in title-.winning form. How is this achieved? Simple really. Plant an athletic, incisive, deceptively alert little whippet behind him and let him off his lead. Fernandinho, not the cheapest of summer purchases, is another astutely placed cog in this increasingly well-oiled machine.

Finally, as Rio Ferdinand did a passable impression of a river running dry and Vidic came up short in his battle to contain the fulminating power of Negredo and Aguero, spare a thought for captain Vincent Kompany, looking more and more like one of the great sweepers of football history with every passing day. He cost the club that ruined football 24 million pounds less than the dust-spattered and visibly creaking Ferdinand. Ruinous stuff.
   

11 comments:

  1. Great article as usual, Simon. Hopefully, after yesterday, the doubters may now start to see the value of Fernie - sorry, but it's a lot easier to say and write than Fernandinho.
    Starting to come together quite nicely, I think.

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    1. Thanks, Graham. Kind of you. Fernandinho will be a real asset this season and this was confirmation of his settling in. Big game, bubbling atmosphere did not phase him in the slightest. As we can see, Yaya also benefits greatly, as do we all.

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  2. What was David Moyes thinking, taking over at United? There are two rules that go into every job change: a) don't leave a position where you are secure and well-compensated, and where the expectations are fairly low, so any bit of success makes you look like a genius, unless the new gig is a Sure Thing; and b) never, ever, ever replace an icon. Ask Paul Rodgers what it's like to step into Freddie Mercury's spandex jumpsuit. Contemplate what went through Lou Diamond's Phillip's head when he agreed to take Yul Brenner's role in the "The King and I."

    I like Moyes. I liked him at Everton, even as he repeatedly poked City in the eyes. But this move was a mistake. He's Frank O'Farrell, replacing Matt Busby. (Next stop: The Iranian National Team!) And it doesn't help that Ryan Giggs is in the clubhouse, watching "All About Eve" on his iPad.

    Kompany was brilliant. Aguero was brilliant. YaYa was brilliant. Nasri was brilliant. Fernandinho I am not sold on, although this was the first time all season I didn't find myself getting wistful about Gareth Barry and his dependable, if leaden black boots.

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    1. With more performances like that, Fernandinho will soon have us thinking this is a good idea after all. He has a quickness of movement that Barry could never manage. Whether he has that dependable, plodding certainty that the block tackle will be made, the little slow turn out of trouble will be completed and the gentle stabbed pass to Yaya will be carried out efficiently is another matter. We will, as ever, soon see.

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  3. 'This is where professionals save their legs for another day whilst fans strain their larynxes hoping for an eleven-nil massacre that will allow them to die peacefully in their sleep'

    Brilliant...wish I'd ever written anything quite as good as that.

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    1. There's nothing quite like that feeling when you realise they've stopped trying to throttle them and they're going to let them exit with their dignity in tact is there? Your brain is screaming, five more and they'll never ever live it down.

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  4. Is Fernandinho the new Nigel? Is that why Yaya was relatively disappointing last season and seems back in title-winning form this? I'm not saying it's a like-for-like replacement (obviously) but whatever Fernie is doing, it seems to be working for Yaya

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    1. Nigel+ if he carries on like this, as he has speed and technique in abundance to add to the more prosaic but well appreciated NdJ qualities.

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  5. Is Fernandinho the new Nigel? Is that why Yaya was relatively disappointing last season and seems back in title-winning form this? I'm not saying it's a like-for-like replacement (obviously) but whatever Fernie is doing, it seems to be working for Yaya

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  6. Simon your writing is an absolute joy to read. An intellect with credibility in the maelstrom of football.

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  7. Dave, your words are like the music zipping off a violin played on the beach at sunset

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