United 1-1 Bayern – Moyes succeeds where many have failed

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Manchester United, having gone into the match tasked with avoiding further humiliation in this most abject of seasons, produced a hugely spirited display and will be disappointed to head to Munich next Wednesday with merely a 1-1 draw to show for their efforts.

That the Red Devils produced such a result against the odds attributes a lot to their counter-attacking game-plan. The approach drew criticism from many experts and fans alike, who claim that United’s rudimentary and direct style flew in the face of the maverick qualities instilled in the club by Sir Alex Ferguson. However, the recently retired Scot used the same rearguard action in big European games himself.

Despite boasting soon to be World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, the focus of United’s 2008 Champions League semi-final triumph over Barcelona was stopping Lionel Messi and maximising their limited opportunities to counter-punch. The knockout blow was duly delivered by Paul Scholes, Old Trafford erupted, before the trophy was secured in Moscow. That similar organisation and tactical discipline was sorely lacking was a major factor as Tuesday’s adversary Pep Guardiola later twice led the Catalans to the trophy with the Big Ears at the expense of United, within the space of three years.

Nevertheless, Ferguson appeared to have learned his lesson from those final defeats during last season’s encounter with Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. A carefully constructed counter-attacking ploy, which utilised the pace of Danny Welbeck to ease the pressure on aging centre-halves Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand (sound familiar?) looked set to create a famous European night at Old Trafford, until Nani was wrongly dismissed. Moyes tweaked this successful template and summoned the same intensity and selflessness from his players, inspiring them to a result that has proved beyond even the most accomplished sides in world football.

Last season, en route to an unprecedented treble, Bayern thrashed the Barcelona side Guardiola built 7-0 over two legs; the world’s best team in terms of retaining ball possession, led by Lionel Messi were outplayed comprehensively. Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp features on most fans’ shortlists of replacements for David Moyes, but his side’s high intensity pressing game was unsuccessful against FC Hollywood’s 2014 vintage – BVB succumbed to a 3-0 home defeat in the sides’ November meeting. Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City outfit have irrefutably had a better campaign than their neighbours, but even they were comprehensively beaten when Bayern came to town. An Arjen Robben-inspired 3-1 victory made a mockery of the Citizens’ reputation as the country’s great entertainers.

The limited options available to Moyes make this result even more impressive. It is likely that, with a full complement of players to choose from, the Scot would have selected the more mobile Phil Jones and Jonny Evans at centre-half, flanked by Rafael and Patrice Evra. A combination of injuries and Evra’s suspension meant that Jones had to re-locate to right-back, with the aging Vidic and Ferdinand joining the erratic  Alexander Buttner in the back-line.

Consequently, United were forced to concede a great deal of ground in the midfield area, where Bayern are so strong, as they sought not to leave their centre-backs exposed the pace of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Not only that, but Brazilian right-back Rafinha was allowed to maraud forward, linking with Robben to over-load Buttner, but this was with good reason.

In the first half Ryan Giggs, and in the second, Shinji Kagawa were dragged inside to match-up with their opponent’s midfield three, seemingly obligating either Danny Welbeck or Wayne Rooney to come out to the left-hand side and track back. However, Moyes took a risk and told both his front-men to stay central and occupy Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng, neither of whom looked comfortable throughout the evening. The 50-year-old has been criticised for his excessive caution since taking on his new role, and Tuesday night’s game was held up by some observers as further evidence of it, but to do so would be to do Moyes a huge disservice.

Not only is a defence-based strategy more risky than many people realise – one defensive slip-up and it’s very hard to recover, especially in a tie governed by the “Away Goals” rule – but the decision to give his side two central outlets outlined Moyes commitment to attacking where possible. He identified Rafinha as Bayern’s weakest link and was quite prepared to let him have the ball, especially when shorn of a crossing target for the game’s first hour.

In truth, he may have been too brave; a 1-0 advantage and the introduction of Mario Mandzukic as Bayern’s attacking spearhead probably rendered Welbeck’s aggressive positioning too risky, as evidenced by the roles of both Rafinha and the Croatian striker in Bastian Schweinstiger’s cruical equaliser.

Moyes combined pragmatism with endeavour – he knew his team would be defending for long periods (when Bayern are so good at keeping the ball, what else can you do?) but also hatched a plan – something sorely lacking too often this season – to hurt Bayern when in possession. Had Welbeck found a corner with a low and hard shot five minutes before half-time, the approach would have seen United travel to Germany with a slender lead.

Prior to Tuesday’s encounter, the concern for the majority of United followers was how their side could keep the score down. At its conclusion, they had legitimate grounds to feel their side should have won the match. David Moyes’ game-plan, so effectively executed by his players, is responsible for the shift in perspective, which gives rise to the faint hope that Manchester United can complete their Mission Improbable.

Bayern Munich will be without Martinez and linchpin Bastian Schweinstiger for Wednesday’s return clash, while David Moyes should have more defensive options to call upon. With a 1-0 win enough to secure a place in the Champions League semi-finals, some fans may dare to dream. Although, whatever happens in Munich, David Moyes has already experienced a resounding success, where many of Europe’s elite have tasted bitter failure, before him.

 

 

Replacing Wayne Rooney would indeed be expensive – but Manchester United have already done it

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The recent announcement that Wayne Rooney had signed a lucrative five-year contract with Manchester United, rumoured to be worth around £300,000 per week for the Liverpudlian, indicated the club’s determination, or maybe desperation, to prove that Old Trafford remains an attractive home for the most stellar names in football. The extension keeps Rooney at United until he is 33, which is undoubtedly a gamble, but it is one that Ed Woodward clearly felt the club simply had to take, as David Moyes sets about transforming the fortunes of his under-performing side. However, despite being one of United’s best performers in a hugely disappointing campaign, Rooney isn’t as indispensable as such a bountiful contract; which stipulates that Moyes must discuss transfer activity with the striker, and that he will become a club ambassador upon his retirement, suggests.

According to tabloid mathematics, the extension will cost United around £86million. Yet those who claim such extortionate figures mean the club should cut their losses have generally been met with one rebuttal; it would cost even more to replace Rooney. Gary Neville recently defended the club’s stance by stating, The question you’ve got to ask is how much does it cost to replace him? And the market is demanding, for a player that has scored the goals he has scored in his 10 years at United, you’d be talking £50-£60m”.

The England coach, and others who share his view are indeed correct, replacing Rooney would be very expensive. The thing is, Manchester United have already done it. Having splashed out £37million on Juan Mata, three years the Scouser’s junior, and two-time Chelsea Player of the Year and £24million on Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer in the past two seasons, the void that would have been left by Rooney’s departure have been filled.

It has long been, rather lazily, stated that ‘Manchester United are undoubtedly better with Wayne Rooney in the side than without him’ but the purchase of Mata, whom many supporters wish to see occupy a more central role, in any case, provides a serious challenge to this theory.

If it seems bizarre that David Moyes followed the club-record acquisition of a world-class playmaker, most comfortable in the Number 10 position, by making an older man, who wishes to occupy the same role, the highest-paid player in English football, a closer look at Mata and Rooney’s respective credentials only serves to make the Scotsman’s decision look more foolhardy.

Having been to the European Championships and Olympic Games, last season saw Juan Mata play 64 games for Chelsea and his haul of 20 goals indicates the Spaniard’s ability to avoid burn-out and maintain his performance level. The former Valencia man is of slender build, but has adapted to the rigours of the English game, while staying remarkably clear of injury. By contrast, Rooney’s bustling style leaves him susceptible to spending time on the treatment table, which has been a feature of nearly every one of his eleven seasons at Old Trafford.

In addition, last summer saw Sir Alex Ferguson express what was already clear to many observers; that Rooney’s ‘stocky frame [means] he must be worked very strongly to [maintain] his edge’. The England striker admitted as much himself in his latest book, stating “I’m stocky. I’m not like Ryan Giggs, all bone and muscle”. The constant struggle to reach maintain his fighting weight has had an adverse effect on Rooney’s ability to perform consistently throughout his career. It has played a major part in his inability to shine at multiple major international tournaments, and saw the striker benched for a considerable part of Ferguson’s final season.

Consequently, tying Rooney down until he is 33, by which time there is no telling how much of a handle he will have over his physical condition, while marginalising Mata, a more natural athlete, with an injury record David Moyes should feel a greater deal of confidence in relying on, doesn’t, on the face of it, appear a particularly shrewd move.

Even without the fitness concerns, there is a strong argument to suggest that Juan Mata is simply a better footballer than Wayne Rooney. That Jose Mourinho ousted the Spaniard due to concerns over his defensive diligence has seemingly caused many observers to forget just how good Mata’s performances since his arrival in England have been. 12 Premier League goals and 18 assists saw the World Cup winner nominated for PFA Player of the Year last season, while Rooney played a bit-part role as United strolled to the title. This season, while Mata warmed the Chelsea bench, and prior to his most recent injury, the 28-year-old was enjoying a fine run of form. This is likely Moyes’ justification for Rooney’s deployment in a more pivotal role than Mata, but the striker’s goal in last Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace was his first in seven apperances.

This relatively baron run is nothing out of the ordinary for the notoriously ‘streaky’ Scouser, but the startling dip in his performance levels when he isn’t in form are a worry for many United fans. All sorts of things can go wrong for players down on confidence and luck but, for a player so involved in his side’s build-up play, the way in which his sharpness and first touch can seemingly desert an off-form Rooney casts aspersions Moyes’ desire to rebuild his Manchester United empire around him. The striker’s atrocious display as England limped to an abject 0-0 draw with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup demonstrates the depths his performances can plumb, and Roy Hodgson waits in hope, rather than expectation, for a marked improvement, four years on.

In short, despite his resurgence this season, Rooney remains a loose cannon, equally liable to produce the woeful as the wondrous. Meanwhile, Mata is one of the most gifted players in the Premier League, with fantastic technique, tactical intelligence and an eye for goal, yet it is the former Everton man that David Moyes has entrusted with leading his Old Trafford revolution.

David Moyes’ stubborn insistence that Wayne Rooney would not leave Old Trafford, followed by the exceptionally generous contract afforded to the 28-year-old suggest that the Scot thought that securing his signature was an imperative part of his quest to rebuild Manchester United; a sentiment clearly echoed by Ed Woodward and the club’s directors. However, having sanctioned £37million to add Juan Mata to a squad already containing Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Woodward had unwittingly ensured the White Pele’s erratic concoction of perspiration and inspiration wouldn’t be sorely missed at Old Trafford. The deal showed that world-class players are still interested in joining the Red Devils, without the club being held to ransom over personal demands, all while providing Moyes with an upgrade on his creative fulcrum. It has been said that retaining the service of Wayne Rooney exemplifies the on-going strength of Manchester United, but in actual fact, letting him leave the club would have sent out a much more powerful message.

To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that.
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99