Half time team talk…
As we find ourselves sitting in 6th position and 10 points off the top spot, I can’t help yet again feeling an underlining sense of under achievement. We’re failing to compete with the number of goals scored, and undoubtedly we’re drawing far too often to consider ourselves as title contenders at this stage. Let us be frank, we’re not meeting expectations, far from it. I call for the sacking of Mourinho! Why wouldn’t I? What’s changed this year in comparison with last under Van Gaal, or the period before under David Moyes?
Well, quite a lot I would say. Shall we start with the fact that we find ourselves on our best run of form since 2009. Our level of consistency has finally reached the heights that I’ve been desperately waiting for. Before I list all the reasons why I strongly believe our run of form isn’t just a one off, I’ll spend a brief moment dissecting our surrounding threats. Arsenal have experienced a fantastic run of form prior to their recent dip, however as effective as their attacking prowess has been at times, they show clear signs of running predictably thin throughout their squad. Liverpool and Man City both leak too many goals and clearly have defensive obstacles to overcome.
I truly doubt Liverpool will maintain their position, but of course with the amount of goals they create, they will likely still be up there come the finish line. Tottenham have a wonderful balance in their first eleven, and I personally rate them above their competitors due to their defensive maturity.
Everyone raved on about Alli after his match winning performance against Chelsea but I have to admit I analysed is differently. Erikksen stole the show for me. His vision to create the goals outshone the young talented man at the end of them and I would value his input far greater than Alli’s to their team. As for Chelsea, despite Costa’s goals and Hazard’s rejuvenated form, I would still consider their new signing Kante as their stand out player. They win when they should draw and draw when they should lose. This is how you win titles.
Are you ready for a bold statement readers (if you exist) – Manchester United will finish the season in 2nd place. Yep, you read that correctly. I saw a change in the tide after we beat Tottenham during the festive period. We managed to close the gap to the top four to six points. Since then we find ourselves three points behind 3rd. One position north and suddenly you realise you’re five points off a leaky 2nd placed Liverpool. It is for this reason I’m absolutely licking my lips at the prospect of meeting them at Old Trafford on Sunday. This is the stage that we have set for ourselves to show our rivals that we believe in what Mourinho is building at Manchester United. This game is more than just a derby, it needs to be a statement for our club, especially if my prediction to finish 2nd can ever materialise. It’s half time, and the second legs are amongst us. Probably the most exciting time of the season for most fans, unless you support West Ham.
Building on why I believe Mourinho deserves his position in our dug out far exceeds our fine run of form alone, but is truly much more to do with our style of play and the sense of greatness I can see creeping back into our players minds and their performances. Seemingly we have settled using a 4-3-3 formation, which favours our attacking options and importantly is a set up that allows Pogba to show case his class. The back four we’ve stumbled upon is far from the finished article. I would question whether the brave insanity Jones possesses (which let’s face it is one more challenge away from yet another time on the side line) and Rojo’s erratic stupidity is a partnership that can ever win you titles. I’ll quickly move on.
Statistically alone, you have to take a moment to appreciate Pogba’s contribution to the team. He is having the most touches and passes throughout our squad dictating our moves as we shift through the gears, and even providing the odd goal. This season undoubtedly is a case of trial and error for him, as we’ve watched the boy ineffectively used as a DM and an AM at times. Either he is too deep, too isolated or he has his back to the goal and can’t dictate the flow. When he is offered the opportunity to view the game and create the pass himself, the results are staggering. The answer of where to use his talent remains quite simple; the most influential position is all of them. If you deploy Pogba as a box-to-box midfielder, with the freedom to assist the team in all aspects a midfielder can offer, you will see results. We find in Herrera now a strong starter, and deservedly the case.
A little Cazorla-esk player in the heart of our midfield who’s engine offers a ball winning trait accompanied by his composed and creative technical ability to find a pass. His intelligence allows Pogba to express, which is key to the balance in our team. These traits were those that Schneiderlin evidently couldn’t compete with as he now finds himself on his way to Everton, conveniently before their match against Manchester City may I add – common mate, do us a favour would ya.
Despite Pogba’s outrageous ability, and Herrera’s unquestionable work ethic, believe it or not without the input of another certain squad member I wouldn’t actually have much faith in the pair. If I were to look up the word ‘balance’ in the footballing dictionary, I would see one word. Michael Carrick. Aged 35, we have a complete player that has such trust in his own ability. If Mourinho is guilty of anything this season it is that he took too long to identify Carrick’s influence. We have ourselves a rare skill set in him, and one that can dictate the speed of a game, intercept, link up the play, and find the killer pass, all in one move. If he possessed goals in his arsenal, I wouldn’t be surprised if he would have been considered one of the best around. I am astonished as to how a player of his calibre has managed to go almost his entire career as an unsung hero – an absolute dream to watch. It seems a shame to not mention Zlatan Ibrahimovic when praising our current form, seeing as he has just won the player of the month award and is our top goal scorer with 18 (one behind the leagues best, Costa with 19).
With the stability of our team standing firm, it is allowing the freedom and goals to come from all areas. A 4-3-3 formation allows our midfielders to do their jobs, but ultimately the top three in our line up (whoever they end up being) must be effectively scoring the goals. Mata has 7 goals, Martial 6, Rashford 6, Rooney 4, Lingard and Mkhiki are both on 3 – not to mention Pogba finding the net 6 times as well. Needless to say the goals are coming from all angles of the pitch. The talent throughout our squad is there, and the balance has finally been found. A cemented spine is yet to be identified which I believe is the next stage in our new evolution.
The surrounding teams will certainly drop points, and as we kick off with the second half of the season, we’re boastfully singing loudly with nine consecutive wins in all competitions, fifteen matches unbeaten. Let us not get too carried away; I am under no illusions that we will also drop points. But our confidence is high, and we’re aiming even higher. Big, Big match Sunday, and we’re ready.