A Break For United, But Little Real Respite

United fans have been able to enjoy a painless ten days, but the Premier League is back. Plus, why Felix Magath may just be the short-term answer for Fulham...

Last Updated: 21/02/14 at 08:16 Post Comment

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Manchester United
It has been a time of great relief for United fans. Given their early FA Cup exit and lack of Champions League assignment until next week, supporters have been able to sit back and watch as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have all lost since United last took to the field. As one Manchester United blogger suggested on Twitter during the FA Cup break: 'This weekend has been great. Saturday and Sunday morning began without the usual sickness of reflecting on sh*t result/waiting for sh*t result.'

It's only a temporary respite for United, however. Painful memories of the Fulham debacle of a fortnight ago are still etched indelibly into the mind of supporters, as is the dreariness of the trip to the Emirates three days later. The break has not actually resolved any issues or answered any concerns - it is still just three victories in ten matches during 2014 (one of those ending in penalty shoot-out misery), and United are still 11 points from the top four.

Juan Mata hasn't given up hope of Champions League qualification, but he's amongst the final few. "This is Manchester United. When this club wins two, three or four matches in a row, it has a winner's mentality," said the January recruit. United have won just four league games in a row on one occasion this season, and that was sandwiched by three home defeats to Everton, Newcastle and Spurs.

What is certain is that United cannot afford any more slip-ups. Even a record of ten victories and two draws (four points dropped) in their final 12 fixtures would only see them equal the total that Arsenal achieved to pip Spurs by a point on the final day last season. In the corresponding fixtures against those 12 teams earlier in the season, United dropped 17 points.

After a break in Dubai, United's squad resume their Premier League campaign against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Eighteen months ago, Palace were bottom of the Championship, but they've now taken more points from their last eight games than United. With 16 points in their last seven games (again, six more than United have collected) this does not represent the 'gimme' away victory that it would have done in previous seasons. David Moyes must hope that the warm weather training has breathed new life into his squad - should United lose again then things begin to feel untenable.

Incidentally, United now enter a period where all of their next eight games are live on TV. Whether it's revolution, resurgence or just rotten, it will be televised.


Wayne Rooney
The pros and cons, whinges, whines and wonders of Wayne Rooney's set-to-be announced £300,000 a week deal can be discussed at great length, but of more immediate concern is the forward's current form. One goal in ten matches and neither a goal nor assist in his last five in the Premier League is not sufficient to justify such enormous expenditure, and United have won just one of those fixtures.

The lack of goals is showing. As Andi Thomas noted in his profile of Rooney, the forward has a tendency when all is not well to become petulant and sulky on the field. He is an individual that is too easily riled in times of difficulty. No Premier League player has been booked more times than Rooney this season, and six yellows in his last 12 league games demonstrates his frustration at United's current travails. It's great that he cares (although it's the least you'd expect for such a sh*t-tonne of cash), but his passion needs to be channelled effectively. That's probably the job of his manager.

Whatever Rooney's grievances, it's still four months before he takes on the role of Manchester Untied transfer advisor. It might be nice to start scoring some goals in the meantime.


Alan Pardew
Newcastle have lost their last four home Premier League games 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 and 4-0, in sequence. One suspects that a 5-0 reverse against Aston Villa may be enough for Chunky to lose his job. There are plenty of Newcastle fans who would consider that a pretty attractive deal.


Felix Magath
It would be impossible to find managers further apart on the managerial spectrum than Martin Jol and Felix Magath, both epitomes of their lazy national stereotype. Whilst Jol was horizontally laid back whilst in charge at Craven Cottage, even when nearing the sack ("I have no fear. In the past they used to say 'have no fear, Martin is here'"), Fulham's ageing and seemingly unmotivated squad is in for a rude awakening with disciplinarian Magath in charge. The first German in charge of a Premier League club, Bild ran with the headline 'The English are already trembling.'

This is a coach nicknamed 'Saddam' and 'The Torturor' for the way in which he rules at a club. Whilst at Schalke, midfielder Jefferson Farfan said that he would rather work down Peruvian mines than play again for Magath, and Wolfsburg's Brazilian striker Grafite collapsed in 2008 in the Alps after the coach ordered his players to walk to the top of a mountain in the heat of a July afternoon. Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness describes how Magath "goes well beyond the limits of physical challenges with players. He pushes players to a ridiculous stage. Well over the edge."

"For him it is natural to squeeze the body of a professional player like a lemon to the final drop," Hoeness continues. Did Dimitar Derbatov and Adel Taarabt get some inside information?

In many ways, this might be exactly what Fulham need. For too long they have appeared to be a side coasting towards relegation to the Championship, a period of discipline and focus over a shortened period of 12 matches may possibly be enough to initiate the improvement needed. Despite a run of 14 defeats in 18 league games, Fulham are still (ridiculously) just eight points from the top half.

This is a manager that excels in the short-term project, exactly what Fulham require. The underlying concern with both Jol and Rene Meulensteen was that they felt like temporary options - with Magath, that may well have been the biggest attraction.


Kostas Mitroglou
Becoming your club's record transfer with the responsibility of keeping said club in the Premier League is a heavy burden upon anyone's shoulders, but when the manager that bought you then gets sacked before you have even made your debut, that weight will only sit heavier.

Next Tuesday, Kostas Mitroglou could have been facing Manchester United in the knockout phase of the Champions League for Olympiakos. Instead, he will surely start against West Brom in an effort to help the Premier League's bottom side avoid the drop. It's a choice that looks stranger by the day, but if Mitroglou's goals can keep Fulham up, the Greek striker will go to the World Cup as a hero.


Arsenal
As Matthew Stanger said in his Champions League Winners and Losers, defeat to Bayern (and almost certain elimination) is not catastrophic. Their opponents have been the best team in Europe for close to two years, and are likely to follow in the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Nottingham Forest in retaining the European Cup.

Arsenal's league form, however, is concerning. Five points from four matches against Southampton, Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Manchester United is not pitiful, but the manner of the Anfield defeat and grim 0-0 against United within a four-day period has seen Arsenal drift out to fourth favourites for the title, longer odds than Liverpool despite sitting three points ahead . That says much about the presumed confidence levels within both camps.

It would not be a surprise if Arsene Wenger chose to freshen things up against Sunderland on Saturday. This is evidently a 'should win' fixture, and the manager may choose to alleviate the frustrations of Wednesday evening by providing inexperience with the chance to impress.

So why not recall Olivier Giroud, and play him ahead of an attacking midfield trio of Serge Gnabry, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? Chamberlain performed admirably during the early stage against Bayern, whilst Gnabry has showed flashed of brilliance during his initial outings.

A chance to blow away the cobwebs of a midweek defeat whilst offering supporters reasons for positivity in the club's potential new stars - there isn't much not to like. Whatever Wenger's approach, every league game now becomes must-win in a bid to stop the bubble from bursting.


Mesut Ozil
This might be unprecedented in this column (I'm quite the trailblazer), but this is a Big Weekend for Ozil in that he needs not to play.


Chelsea
Whilst there is little cause for panic at Stamford Bridge, a limp FA Cup defeat to Manchester City and draw away at West Brom is not a pattern that Jose Mourinho will be particularly keen on extending.

Chelsea's league displays this season have actually been a little odd. After taking 14 points from their six biggest games so far (United x 2, City x 2, Arsenal and Liverpool), one would be forgiven for assuming that Mourinho's side would be clear at the top (City have taken just nine points from the equivalent five matches).

Instead, and rather alien to the Portuguese's typical performance during his first spell at Chelsea, points have been squandered against the Premier League's lesser lights. Dropping 12 points in five games against Newcastle, West Brom, West Ham and Stoke indicates a sloppiness that must be eliminated if a Premier League title is to be won.

Jose can use all of the distraction tactics in the book, but if his side fail to beat Everton at home on Saturday lunchtime, Chelsea will have firmly handed the impetus back to Manchester City.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

Birmingham isn't great, but it dumps on the likes of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham from a great height.
- Fuzzy_Dunlop

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