August 25, 2014

Same ol’ Manchester United

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Looking at the scoreline of Sunderland 1-Manchester United 1, you would swear David Moyes was still in charge.

Harsh, but fair.

Louis Van Gaal’s side has gotten out to a horrid start to the season, despite playing two teams destined for midtable. With just one point from two games, the Red Devils sit in 13th place – and that’s just because they have scored two goals this season. Sad, really.

On Sunday in Sunderland, despite getting out to an early lead, only 13 minutes later United coughed it up on Jack Rodwell’s first as a Black Cat.

And it’s not like United were the better team that was held to a draw on the road. Even the official Manchester United Twitter feed (@ManUtd) felt Sunderland was more likely to win it. How does that happen?

The key for Van Gaal to make the most of this season will be what he does in the final few days of the transfer window. With Angel Di Maria coming in from Real Madrid, that’s a great start.

But that’s it – just a start.

Look at the defenders that United used in the second half of Sunday’s game: Phil Jones, Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane were the three centre backs. That’s a far cry from Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand – even last year’s version.

This squad needs strengthening in the back and in depth. Keane, Blackett and Reece James aren’t players ready to contribute to a supposed EPL contender yet – they could use loan spells at lesser clubs or even in the Championship.

With less than a week to go before the window slams shut, reinforcements must be brought in.

If not, we could be looking at another David Moyes situation, with the fans turning on LVG.

Even worse, jokes about a relegation fight or setting up shop in midtable could become a reality.

WHY DOESN’T ARSENAL LISTEN?

It’s a piece of advice that the Gunners receive from all corners of the interwebs on surely a weekly basis: Buy a good defensive midfielder for cover.

It’s a piece of business that manager Arsene Wenger refuses to do, but needs to in order to avoid situations like the one that unfolded on Saturday against Everton.

With both Arsenal fullbacks bombing down the wings with little regard to their defensive duties, it was exploited time and again on the counter, leading to a two-goal deficit. Luckily, the Gunners were able to storm back and salvage a point on the road, but that’s another story.

If Arsenal looked at London rivals Chelsea, it would see exactly how to use this style of play correctly.

With the Blues’ Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic repeatedly getting into forward positions, midfield Nemanja Matic was always there to track back and help out on the line. The result: Chelsea hasn’t allowed a goal in two games.

Granted, there’s more to it than just that, but it’s the basis of the style.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Tell me again why nobody tried to pry Irish fullback Seamus Coleman from Everton this summer? All he did in his season debut was score a nice header and look good all over the field … Should we start a #FreeGiroud movement? When he came at Goodison Park, he changed the game for Arsenal, giving the attack a point of focus … That’s two 2-2 draws for Everton. Not an ideal start with Europa League kicking off soon … David Nugent is just not good enough for the EPL. He’s what we call a Quad-A player in baseball: Too good for the minors, not good enough for the bigs … Despite this, Leicester has looked good so far. It held off Chelsea well in the first half and could’ve done better in the second if not for Nugent’s poor efforts … Three goals for West Ham? In one game?? When was the last time that happened? The early 1900s?… OK, maybe it’s just managerless Crystal Palace that is just that bad … Just to prove that Stoke City still hasn’t turned the corner in becoming a more affluent attacking team, it took almost 70 minutes of playing with a man advantage to crack Hull City’s defence and score an equalizer.

THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON, SO FAR

Mario Balotelli arrived this week in Liverpool. Great. Can he defend?

That has been the problem for the Reds the past few years and it’s just not going to be solved by adding another, as outstanding as the quirky Italian can be.

On Monday, Manchester City had little issue with Liverpool, picking up a 3-1 win in which the Reds only marker was an own goal by Pablo Zabaletta.

As for the defending champs, it’s results like this that show you why they will be a force to reckoned with yet again.

Stevan Jovetic scored twice, showing that the Citizens have another scoring threat for opponents to worry about.

Substitute Sergio Aguero scored in the same minute that he was brought on. The joke was that they should’ve taken him off immediately, as his work for the day was done. And how often does something like that happen? It usually takes a minute for a sub to even trot from the sideline to an attacking position.

I picked both of these teams to reach Champions League, but as City proved here, there could be a gulf between the true contenders and those simply slugging it out for fourth place.

FANTASY CORNER

If I told you a defender led all fantasy scoring in the EPL through two weeks, you would probably guess it was one of the higher-priced, bigger names out there. Leighton Baines? Nope. Vincent Kompany? Nope. Martin Skrtel? Ha! Branislav Ivanovic? Well, close.

It’s Tottenham’s Eric Dier.

The former Sporting centre back came to Spurs in the summer, but wasn’t expected to start right away with the team also bringing Ben Davies and already employing Jan Vertonghen, Younes Caboul and others.

But after two goals, two clean sheets and some bonus points to boot, Dier has 29 points, seven more than Ivanovic, who is second in scoring.

While that production will certainly slow, buy him now for a quick little profit.

THE LAST WORD

In case you haven’t seen it yet, there’s some pretty damning evidence out there that one of the world’s best players should probably get a lengthy ban.

If you haven’t seen, here you go.

It looks like old Cristiano Ronaldo gives Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin a couple of good shots including a decent 1-2 to knock him down.

If La Liga and FIFA don’t look at this and dole out at least a couple of game’s worth of punishment, you can tell just how much power the Real Madrid star holds within the sport.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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