Man United's winning run was halted by ten-man Aston Villa as Louis van Gaal's side struggled to crack the hosts' resistance. Van Gaal is still waiting for a big performance...
With Real Madrid playing at the Club World Cup, all eyes in La Liga turn to Atletico Madrid's trip to Athletic Bilbao this weekend. It could be brutal...
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Lots Of 'Justified' United Optimism
In response to Dave T mail claiming United's optimism is largely fool-hardy, I think you've incredibly oversimplified the issue.
There seems to be a consensus that United don't have the first eleven that on paper would "strike fear into anybody" this season. Well, one year ago do you even claim to believe that Liverpool's first eleven would have struck fear into anybody? Bar Suarez, Gerrard and Sturridge, on paper most of Liverpool's players looked rather average last year- their success was largely down to Brendan Rodgers' hard work, the genius of Suarez and the manager's ability to really galvanize and get the best out of the team leading them to perform far better than most would have thought they had any right to perform. Compare that to United- not only do they boast 3 proven top class players in attacking areas in Rooney, Mata and Van Persie, (if the prospect of facing up to those three at the top of the game doesn't make PL defenses wet themselves, I don't know what will) but most crucially they now have a manager that seems like he may well be able to re-instill the confidence and mentality that was so crucial to United's success under SAF towards the end of his career.
Consider SAF's last two title winning teams. They were almost universally heralded as being full of players that seemed like they had no right to be PL winners but turned out to perform far better than the sum of their parts in large part due to SAF. Under Moyes many of the same players didn't seem to recognize a football, let alone be able to do much of note with it- surely if a group of Champions can turn into what United were like last season, what stops them from starting to resemble Champions again? I think we greatly underestimate the power of strong management and a winning mentality, and the reason most United fans are optimistic about a top 4 finish is that Van Gaal seems like he's going to be able to bring this back to United, and has a squad whose pure talent may not be comparable to Chelsea's or City's, but is full of players with title winning experience who have greatly under-performed last year.
Granted, defensive signings are still needed, but it is well within reason to expect United to strongly challenge for and return to the top 4 this season
...Dave T, the reason United fans are optimistic is due to the fact we now have a good manager and last year was an anomaly and not the norm, since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 United have been in the top 4 up until last season when agent Moyes destroyed both team moral and the invincibility factor built up by his peer and job giver Sir Alex. Time and again people (mainly Pool fans) write United off with pearls of wisdom about the Defence, Midfield, losing player X yet season upon season United come up with the goods, this is then put down to luck, ref bias, Fergie time and divine bloody intervention. So forgive us United fans for being optimistic with regards to the coming season but after a good pre-season and Herrera looking like an excellent acquisition (watch him before you call him underwhelming) then I for one think we will not only make top four but will be challenging for the title with City and Chelsea.
Paul Murphy, Manchester
...Just read Dave T (Liverpool, LFC)'s mail and thought i'd give a response.
Dave obviously misses the point behind all the positive feeling that United fans have going into the new season. The presumption as he calls it is due to the fact that we still largely have the same squad that consistently challenged for the title until last year. To that we have made signings in 2 areas that definitely improve us. We had a manager last year who could not have done a worse job than he did. By that alone our season will be far better than last year. There is also a sense of desire among the players to prove last season would be remembered as only a blip.
As far as losing the 'vast experience' of Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand, it was pretty obvious that all 3 were very well past their prime. And who can tell whether giving more belief, responsibility and game time to the likes of Jones, Evans and Smalling might not allow them to reach the same level of effectiveness as defenders as those who have left us. For now, we have a world class manager who all United fans are putting their faith into. Will everything work out as well as we hope it to? It might, then again it might not. There is nothing we presume will happen at this point, but so far, far more things have happened that give us a sense of hope that this season United actually achieve what we set out to achieve. LVG says he wants to win the title, but i feel top-4 is the more realistic goal for United this season.
Also, Dave calls United fans as being as being overly optimistic yet fails to realize that is exactly what he himself is doing. Exactly what are Liverpool going to do this season when it starts to go rough for them towards the business end when they have to juggle multiple tournaments and cope with injuries at the same time.? Every team playing that many games will lose players to injury. It is unfortunate, but is also true. Liverpool are one game away from Rickie Lambert leading the line. Think about that. Also, last year, your 2 main strikers scored 52 goals between them in the league. And yet because your team conceded so many, points were dropped and your team lost steam at the exact stage when the pressure was on. The two most important games of your season, your team 'slipped up'.
And this year it'll be worse. Every one knows about Liverpool and their 'system' now. Everyone is more prepared for it now. Your weaknesses as they were the last season are still pretty much the same, whereas your greatest strength as gone to Barcelona, and most of your hopes lie on a 21 year old. Sure your manager is brilliant but as was pointed out having a world class manager is no guarantee to a top 4 finish.
The point is every team has its problems, and the ones who manage theirs better do well. Like it or not, Liverpool are going to have for more problems this year than United, and brilliant as he might be i'm reserving judgement on said brilliance until after Brendan Rodgers' first ever season when he has had to handle these many games and Cups at the same time. He might be of the opinion that LVG will find the Prem hard, but would do well to note that the deeper waters he is about to wade in are far more formidable than he himself has ever been in.
United Fan, India
...It's really the same reason why fans of any of Arsenal, Chelsea or City could feel optimistic. Simply put, none of them played consistently amazing last year, and its fair to say that no team played amazing the season before when United won it. People talk of the teams around United supposedly being stronger this year, but the same was said last year and they still didn't light up the world. City stuttered, Chelsea stuttered, Arsenal threw it away by not buying a striker in January, and Liverpool kept pace with that lot by playing out of their skin, they were a joy to watch, the team of the season, but they were in a perfect storm that doesn't come along often. The season before United won the league by doing a solid job, and they won it at a canter by the end.
So why is it unrealistic to expect any different this season? Chelsea only have one worthwhile but extremely unproven striker, Arsenal still haven't bought a striker, City have copied the same blueprint from the last time they won the league with some uninspiring buys. If anyone of those 3 put a run together at the opportune time then they are in with a shout, and the same goes for United regards returning to the top 4. I don't expect us to win the league, I don't really expect anything, I daren't even try expecting anything, but when I look around at the other teams I just don't see anything to fear, and more importantly they have not proved that they need to be feared.
I didn't hear anyone at Old Trafford last night expecting the title or anything near it. But we all know that nothing has really changed in the rest of the league, the other teams haven't suddenly elevated to a different level, last season it was the team that made the least mistakes at the most important stage of the season that won, just like the season before, when United just plugged away while other teams folded. One thing everyone who writes into the mailbox seems to agree on is that United are in a better place now then they were this time last year, and with the current group vying for the top spaces in the league those credentials put us legitimately in the mix.
Why So Mean To Dzeko?
Can't help but think you're being slightly harsh on Dzeko at the moment
In your 5 intriguing questions piece, Aguero and Jovetic are described as being on paper Man City's best strike pairing with Dzeko's lack of goals in pre-season cited in support. I think this is slightly unfair on Dzeko, who's contribution in the run-in to City's title victory last year was huge (at least as significant, if not more so, then Yaya Toure). Dzeko's pre season lack of form can also be put down to his participation in the world cup. He will have arrived back later to training then Jovetic and it's hardly surprising he's a few weeks behind him in terms of sharpness.
It just seems everyone always overlooks Dzeko because he is prone to looking like a bit of a cart horse on occasions. Ultimately, he guarantees you a stack of goals and you could make a very good case that without him, City would be without their two titles.
And Leave Giroud Alone Too
Something has happened. I have finally snapped and something simply must be done. When perusing the wonderful transfer blog this morning someone made a comment about Giroud being rubbish or something. I'm not quite sure, I snapped as I was reading it.
What is it with people and their assumption/opinion that Giroud is rubbish? Seriously, am I looking at a different player?? I want it to stop, and I want it to stop now, otherwise I'll, I'll, switch off the internet or something. Not quite sure, I'll work on it. I manage to get along to the Emirates around 8-10 times a season and the player I see chases the ball, tracks back and does some clever disguised and subtle flicks. Not bad feet for a big lad etc. When he is clicking with the rest of the team he is awesome.
Anyway, the fact is he originally joined (along with a criticism-proof Podolski) as a replacement for Van Persie. He was never going to really replace Van Persie as only Van Persie is that good. He then took the season to settle in but still scored a fair few goals (17 I think), as well as missing sitters etc. but hey, I'm happy to let him off for that as it was his first season. Last season he scored 22 goals for Arsenal and mostly his form dipping coincided with the team coping with our annual injury crisis. Whilst the numbers aren't on a Suarez level that ain't bad. He was only meant to tie us over until we get a Van Persie properly replaced and for a time last season, Walcott and Rambo were doing the business.
We now have Alexis. He can play off Giroud and help him gain confidence or play up front in his place if need be. For when Walcott was playing, Giroud was full of beans. Alexis will offer something similar, and indeed different, which will open up the game in a way that will suit him (and Ozil, but don't get me started on the mindf**kery of the criticism of Ozil).
So, ultimately with Giroud, Alexis and Walcott (please don't get injured again), and with the likes of Sanogo (don't laugh), Joel Campbell, The Ox and Podolski as back ups mean that up front I think we are sorted. If we keep our strikers full of confidence (something Gooners can help with by getting off their backs).
Responding To Winty's Liverpool Question
Liverpool have had a rash of injuries in the preseason. So that helped pick the starting XI a little easier for BR but that defensive line up is anyone's guess at this point.
Johnson played one of his best games in recent memory at LB against Dortmund. Also back when he regularly played LB he looked pretty good - 18 months ago. And with Enrique, whom I'm not really sold on, doesn't look ready and Moreno needs time to bed. Flanagan is injured, Manquillo is new and Kelly just got sold to Palace. So does BR play Johnson where he has been pretty bad or play Manquillo there? or does he play Moreno in the opening match, shifting GJ right?
At CB, Skrtel has been our best defender for some time. Then again he has a lot of issues (pulling jerseys on set pieces, own goals and moonlighting as a Bond villain) that need to be addressed. Though he is a solid defender and in opposition set pieces I doubt anyone is better at the near post header than him. Lovren and him make sense but Sahko deserves a spot too. Is there any doubt BR wants the pairing to be Sahko and Lovren? Both are legit passers, both big money signings and both his picks.
My guess is Allen will play opposite Henderson in the midfield press (until Lallana come back). Allen had a pretty good preseason and is an intelligent player. Can I think will replace Gerrard in most games as deep lying destroyer. Lucas, I fear, is past it.
Disagreeing With Mediawatch On Arsenal Captains
I have to take issue with Mediawatch in their commentary over the piece about Arsene's handling of the Arsenal captaincy. I actually agree with the sentiment of the original piece. Wenger hasn't been very good at appointing captains.
In my view the only captain he's appointed worthy of the armband was Vieira which also coincided with three years of silverware. Henry was a fantastic player but for me he didn't have the personality traits suited for this particular job.
Your captain doesn't have to be your best player. Indeed George Graham picked a lanky, inexperienced lad to be captain by the name of Tony Adams who went on to the most decorated skipper we've had of recent times.
It's worth remembering Adams led a team containing Ian Wright, former England captain David Platt, Dennis Bergkamp and Martin Keown - all of whom could have been considered for the captaincy.
Since Adams, we've gone through a string of captains who Arsene has sought to retain by offering them the armband. And even now I think he's getting it wrong.
Your captain should be a leader on the pitch, doesn't have to be the best player but someone other players look up to who can motivate his troops and can perform when the chips are down.
2006 should have been the year Henry grabbed the game by the throat and won us the Champions League but didn't, Cesc failed to show up in too many games when we were taking a pummelling, Gallas should never have been given the armband full stop and Vermaelen wasn't even playing for us for most of last season. These men should never have been Arsenal captain.
The eagle-eyed of supporters at Wembley on Sunday will have noticed the two banners unveiled at kick off. At that time Vermaelen was in the final throes of completing his move to Catalonia so at the time we had no captain. On the City banner Kompany was depicted holding the Premier League trophy while the equivalent Arsenal banner showed Metersacker with the FA cup.
Clearly the people at Wembley thought Per would get the gig as did a lot of gooners I know. Why he didn't I'll never know. You'd have to ask Arsene but it's yet more proof that when it comes to choosing a captain he's a bit clueless.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London
Tongue In Cheek, Perhaps
Best of luck to Luis Suarez and all Barcelona and Liverpool fans tomorrow with Suarez's CAS appeal.
Hope its the outcome ye are all hoping for.
Kevin Walsh, Luimneach