Monday Moan: Too early to judge United

Mark Holmes dismisses criticism of the Angel Di Maria fee, offers a defence of Olivier Giroud and suggests Randy Lerner should explain himself.

Last Updated: 25/08/14 at 12:38 Post Comment

Angel Di Maria: Not the answer to all of Manchester United's problems

Angel Di Maria: Not the answer to all of Manchester United's problems

Villa chief needs to explain philosophy

As a football writer, it can be difficult to offer proper analysis of teams in the early stages of the season.

You can pass comment on themes that have continued from the previous campaign, for example Manchester United's lack of incision in midfield, but it would be foolish to make too many sweeping statements about a team's vast improvement or declination after only two games of the new term.

Aston Villa are a case in point. They looked much stronger defensively and much more organised against Stoke and Newcastle than they did for much of last season, but the weaknesses of Phillipe Senderos, Alan Hutton and Aly Cissokho that were pointed out by the masses critical of the club's summer transfer business are unlikely to have disappeared. Villa fans will be cautious of becoming too optimistic just yet.

However, after Hutton was cast aside in favour of Matt Lowton and Leandro Bacuna over the past two seasons - largely ones to forget for the Villans - questions surely need to be asked of Randy Lerner and the club's bean counters regarding his return to the team.

Hutton has not made a single appearance for Villa since the 2011-12 season - and his performances as part of a dreadful Alex McLeish side explain why this particular journalist won't add to the praise of the Scot just yet - with Paul Lambert confirming the right-back, along with the likes of Darren Bent and Shay Given, would not be considered for selection because of his high wages.

Lambert was charged with the task of reducing both the size of the wage bill and the average age of the squad, and, although results over the past two seasons have been mediocre, he succeeded in doing so.

Yet Hutton, who was almost sold to West Brom over the summer, is suddenly the club's first-choice right-back again, with Lowton yet to appear and Bacuna making only one appearance as a substitute.

It is not a great example of an apparently money-conscious club that two right-backs purchased in 24 months are deemed not as good as the one they already had yet ostracised.

It is a squad game, of course, and Bacuna in particular is sure to see plenty of action this season owing to his versatility, not to mention the aforementioned weaknesses in Hutton's game that may yet show themselves again.

However, Villa fans surely deserve answers from Lerner and co. regarding the philosophy of the club. Have the last two seasons of all been for nothing? Has a focus on the future been replaced by a short-termism, highlighted by the return of Hutton and purchases of Senderos and Joe Cole? Or has there simply been an acceptable from the top that a mixture of experience and young potential works best at Premier League level?

Villa fans will hope that the latter is true, and, if so, the club may yet break free of the mediocrity that has bugged them over the past three seasons. The signing of Carlos Sanchez certainly provides hope that one flawed blueprint has not been replaced by another.

Whatever the latest philosophy of Lerner, though, the mistakes made over the past three years are again being highlighted. And Villa fans deserve to know whether they have been learned from or whether a promising start to the 2014-15 season is just the latest in a series of false dawns.

Judge United after window

With Manchester United poised to complete the big-money signing of Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria, it has been suggested the club have panicked after a promising pre-season campaign was followed by a desperately-disappointing performance in the opening-day defeat to Swansea.

There is no obvious place for Di Maria in the 3-5-2 formation Louis van Gaal has favoured so far, while plenty have suggested the fee is too high for a player that has allegedly been available for a far smaller sums in transfer windows past.

Criticism of the fee is rather silly given the Glazers' relative lack of investment, the huge pot of money available currently and the team's obvious lack of players of Di Maria's quality, but there is certainly sense in reserving judgement on United's transfer business until the close of the window.

If Di Maria is not followed through the Old Trafford doors by at least two others - a central defender and a central midfielder - it would be hard not to judge the business as a failure given the obvious weaknesses in those areas.

However, with Daley Blind reportedly close to a move and either Nigel De Jong or, in a dream world, Arturo Vidal also tipped to join, Di Maria could yet be the cherry on the cake as opposed to a poor attempt at the cake itself.

Di Maria will not solve United's problems - far from it, in fact - but he is the sort of world-class signing the club have been crying out for. Providing the eggs and flour are sourced in the next seven days, criticism of the Argentinian's fee will soon be forgotten.

Giroud key to Arsenal chances

After Olivier Giroud's game-changing introduction as a substitute at Everton on Saturday, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger once again reiterated his faith in a player that has become something of a scapegoat when things are not going to plan.

Responding to widespread suggestions that a more prolific goalscorer is needed if the Gunners are to challenge for the Premier League title this season, Wenger said he "wouldn't rule out" Giroud hitting the 25-goal mark often associated with top-class strikers.

Many will put his comments down to more stubbornness from a manager that sometimes takes longer than most to accept - or at least act on the fact - that an upgrade is needed on a certain player.

In the case of Giroud, however, it is fully understandable that Wenger does not see a major problem.

He may not be as clinical as the very best strikers in the world, but his 16-goal haul last season was no disgrace - and that was achieved without Alexis Sanchez, often in the absence of Theo Walcott, and prior to, what Wenger will hope, is seeing the best of Mesut Ozil.

Better service and more goals from those players behind Giroud are of just as much importance to Arsenal - and there is good reason to believe they will do better on both fronts this season once Ozil, Walcott and Sanchez are up to speed.

And although it will likely go unnoticed, Giroud's movement and hold-up play are crucial in allowing the team's creative talents to flourish. As was highlighted by Sanchez's 45-minute run up front at Goodison, there is still plenty to be said for a striker that offers a physical presence and does the simple things well.

With Yaya Sanogo at the club - not to mention the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and even Nicklas Bendtner that have gone before - those traditional centre-forward qualities are clearly not lost on Wenger.

It also seems to be overlooked that Arsenal have bolstered their strike options with the introduction to the squad of Joel Campbell, who impressed for Costa Rica at the World Cup and should provide genuine competition to keep Giroud on his toes this season.

It is too early to state whether Arsenal have what it takes to sustain a title challenge at long last but, despite the criticism that will continue come his way every time he misses a chance, Giroud is key to their chances.

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