Sunday, March 7, 2010

Devils vs. Wolves

Despite winning the three points, I thought United's performance was average at best.  The 4-5-1 formation, or some variation of it, has never been a favorite of mine unless you have a truly outstanding striker standing alone out front.  Leaving the heart of your attack on one person requires an individual who has heart, determination, skill, and perhaps most importantly, speed.  Bebatov, the individual out front this weekend, can only claim skill out of that group.  I don't dispute that Berba has a wealth of talent, but I, like many other fans these last couple of seasons, have been underwhelmed by the overall performance of the striker who remained while Tevez went across town to the blue side of Manchester.  The formation lacked form, players like Darron Gibson looked lost, and the number of real attacking chances were rather meager.  It was only by a gift from a slipping defender that Paul Scholes was able to snatch the winning goal.

With the second leg of the Champions League coming up this week, I'm concerned that Fergie may feel safe in his 2-1 lead at home and attempt to try a similar formation.  SAF, if you can hear my mental projections, DON'T DO IT.  You may not be able to play 4-4-2 while Rooney is out but whatever formation you pick, Berbatov needs a partner.  Think about it, he can pass, lob, cross, dribble, and at times do wonderful magic with the ball.  But, when you strand him out front, he has no one to pass, lob, and cross to!  Macheda is back, Diouf is showing some promise, Welbeck is green but available (I think) so put someone out there with him.  Even a 4-4-1-1 with Berbatov as a center forward would work better.

Lastly, Fergie would do well to remember that despite having two away goals, despite playing at home, and despite leading Milan 2-1, it only takes one bit of luck for that score to be tied and then you have to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net again, and this time without your star striker.  Given the fact that Milan scored against us in the first five minutes of the San Siro leg, I wouldn't put that event too far into the realms of impossibility.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Less Than the Sum of its Parts

I wanted to start of my first post talking about the nature of successful football teams.  After watching the complete destruction of Chelsea at the hands of Manchester City on Saturday, I spent some time thinking about the difference between a group of players and a cohesive team.  If you take transfer window spending as a gauge of how a team ought to be performing, then City should be competing for every major title the are eligible for.  Even teams like Tottenham, Liverpool, and Aston Villa should be so far behind in the rear view mirror, they are mere specks on the horizon.  Yet time and again, the Citizens are struggling for even consistent performance as shown by the embarrassing loss to Stoke followed by the unlikely win at Stamford Bridge.  How can this be?

Normally, I am a staunch defender of coaches, I think they get left holding the bag for a number of problems which are so much larger than one man.  But, in this particular case, the coach is the glue that binds a team together.  You might say it is the most important job a coach has: to make the team better than the sum of its parts.  Yet, City aren't even playing close to level with the sum of the talent accumulated at Eastlands.  So, one can hardly blame City for switching from Pearce to Erickson to Hughes to Mancini, but at what point is the manager no longer the problem?

As Real Madrid are going through similar (though higher stakes) growing pains, it is evident that a stable full of high value horses does not win every race.  Bad analogy, but you get the idea.  Lastly, on need not look further than the recent departure of Robinho to his boyhood club of Santos in native Brazil.  With respect to the country who is currently the odds-on favorite to win the World Cup in three months, most members of the Brazilian national team, world class all, don't play in Brazil!  They play in England, Spain, Italy, France, Germany because that's where the money is, not in Brazil.  It would be like Shaq leaving the NBA to play Austrian basketball.  To refocus the point, when a player who cost approximately $50 million to sign leaves to play in a demonstrably lower league, something has gone terribly awry.  City are on their fourth coach in nearly as many years, perhaps it's time to acknowledge that when your car consistently steers in the wrong direction, replacing the steering wheel over and over again won't address the issue.