An Analysis of the Man Utd Squad.

Image

When Man Utd won the Premier League last year, it felt like this may be the beginning of the end of an era of dominance which not many others teams could even dream of replicating.  That statement may seem like a bit extreme, because after all Utd had just won the Premier League for the 13th time in dominant fashion, but there were cracks beginning to show already.

The biggest loss this summer for Utd is blatantly obvious; you do not lose a manager of Sir Alex Ferguson’s quality and have it not affect the quality of the squad or the performance of the team.  I like David Moyes as Fergie’s replacement and I think he will do a good job, however it isn’t easy to replace the best manager in the world (I’m bias, I love Fergie).

Man Utd haven’t really lost that much else so far this summer, excluding the retirement of Paul Scholes, who couldn’t stay fit last season and was at best a squad player when he was.  All in all, excluding his experience in training, Scholes retiring isn’t that much of a loss to Utd.

Now all the talk in the paper which cannot be ignored is about Wayne Rooney and his future at Manchester United (even I wrote something https://bm23sportsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/the-wayne-rooney-dilemma/).  Regardless of where he goes, Rooney going would be a big loss to the squad.  Although last season Rooney played second fiddle to RVP he was still a major part of the team and played an important (but smaller than usual) role.  To sell Rooney (I’m assuming they are) and not bring in a replacement would be unforgivable.

Now onto the actual squad, I will break it into positions (GK, RB, CM, etc).

 

Goalkeeper

David De Gea showed last season what a great goalkeeper he is, and was voted the best keeper in the league last year (and well deserved too).  He is an excellent shot stopper, has great athleticism and has the best distribution I have seen from a keeper.  There are still concerns about his aerial ability but he is getting better and definitely isn’t getting bullied the way he used to.  He played fantastically in the Under 21 Euro Championship and was a vital part of the excellent Spain team which won it.  He has a very bright future.

Anders Lindegaard is a fantastic back-up goalkeeper, the problem with him however is that he thinks that he has the abilities of a starting goalkeeper (which he hasn’t).  I’m not sure if he is even going to be at Utd at the start of the season (he wants away) but he would not be a major loss.

Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone are two young keepers who could take that step up and fill the back-up role if Lindegaard were to leave.

Utd are set at goalkeeper, the only question is whether or not Lindegaard will be there at the start of the season.

 

Right Back

Rafael was probably the best right back in the Premier League last season (sorry Zabaleta), and has really grown as a performer.  There are no real issues with Rafael as a starter other than he isn’t the best defender, but you can get away with that as a full back.

Guillermo Varela is (so far) Man Utd’s only signing of the season.  I’m not sure whether or not he is a good player (although I have heard good things), and there is talk that he may be loaned back out to South America.

Fabio can play either left or right back, but realistically (if he is still at the club by the start of the season) he will be at best a squad player.  The talk was that if QPR hadn’t been relegated then Fabio would no longer be a Man Utd player, and it wouldn’t surprise me if another club came in for him.

With Rafael and one of the other players kept as a back-up, Utd are set for the season and shouldn’t have any serious problems unless Rafael receives a serious injury.

 

Left Back

Patrice Evra is now 32 (old for a full back), and if I had written this before last season I would have talked about how Utd need to sign Leighton Baines (the best left back in the league) because Evra has lost it, however Evra had quite possibly his best season at Man Utd last year.  Regardless of Evra’s good play last year, Utd have flirted with the potential of buying Baines (once again).  It isn’t a surprise; if you have a chance of getting the best left back in the league then you have to go for it, plus who knows if Evra last season was a one off?  To get Baines Utd will have to pay around £15 million (quite expensive for a 28 year old left back); this will likely mean the end of Evra at Utd (Monaco are apparently interested), which would be sad because he is an important member of the dressing room (vice-captain).

Alex Buttner is nothing but a back-up and I don’t see that changing any time soon.  He is immense going forward (for a left back) but cannot defend to save his life, still a decent back-up to have though).

There is a great level of uncertainty at left back for Utd.  If Baines does come in then Evra will go, if Baines doesn’t join then Evra will start, which will create greater uncertainty about his level of performance.

 

Centre Back

Nemanja Vidic had a difficult injury plagued season last year and I’d expect more of the same this season as well.  Vidic is still a quality centre back (one of the best in the world) but he can only play at most once a week; otherwise his knee injury will flare up again.  He is the captain and is an important figure in the dressing room and will still start in the big games, definitely worth having him around.

Rio Ferdinand is very similar to Vidic; he has injury problems and cannot play more than once a week.  Ferdinand showed last season that he is still able to play at the very top level of football and is still worth his place in the first team as well as the squad.  It is incredible to think that even with their injury problems Rio and Vidic when fit are still the first choice centre back pairing for Utd.

Jonny Evans is quite possibly my least favourite Man Utd player.  For years I have been asking why this man is still at this club, last season I found out.  I’m still not a huge fan, but I can respect the performances he consistently put in last year when only he and Rio were fit.  If it weren’t for Evans, Utd would not have won the title with such ease last season.

Chris Smalling only managed 22 appearances for Utd last season in an injury plagued year.  At 23 he is still a young player and has a lot of potential to fulfil.  I’d expect him to take a step up this season coming and become an integral part of the first team.

Phil Jones also only managed 24 appearances for Utd last season in an injury plagued year.  It is incredible to think that he is only 21, because he plays like a man much older.  Much like Chris Smalling, I’d expect Jones to take a step up this season and solidify the centre back position, to create a tandem with Smalling.

Man Utd are stacked at centre back, but last season each of the 5 centre backs had a long spell out injured.  If that were to happen again this season then it could be a concern, however it is fairly unlikely.  Although at the start of the season I’d expect Vidic and Rio to be the starting duo, I’d hope and expect Jones and Smalling to begin to take control of the centre back tandem.  It is incredible to think that (in my opinion) Jonny Evans is Utd’s 5th best centre back, especially when he would start for most other teams in the league.   It will also be interesting to see if Michael Keane is able to make a larger impact this season, after he spent the second half of last season on loan at Leicester.

 

Right Midfield

Antonio Valencia used to be the epitome of consistency out on the right wing, however last season this was not the case.  It was unusual watching Valencia last season; he couldn’t cross the ball, he couldn’t beat players to the line and he lost his powerful shot, three things in prior seasons he was known for.  Valencia’s form picked up towards the end of the season, but not to the extent where you thought that he was playing well.  The hope naturally is that Valencia returns to his form of old, and it is reasonable to assume that he probably will.  However Valencia is very much a confidence player and his play this coming season will very much depend on how much confidence he has.

Wilfried Zaha was the last signing of the Alex Ferguson era and he looks like he will be a good one.  If you watched Zaha last season for Crystal Palace, then you will realise why Man Utd were willing to pay £10 million (with potential for another £5 million).  Wilfried Zaha’s performance was out of this world in the play-offs, if it weren’t for him then we would probably be seeing Watford in the Premier League this year instead of Crystal Palace.  Zaha was so dominant on a big stage that any fears that people could’ve had about him not being able to take the step up to Utd were quashed.  Zaha has also had a very strong pre-season performance and looks like he will be able to have an instant impact on the Man Utd first team.

Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard are two players that aren’t household names yet, but they look like they could be the future of Man Utd.  Much like Zaha, Lingard and Januzaj have had excellent pre-season tournaments.  Lingard is a local lad (Warrington) and Januzaj is another off the Belgian production line.  It will be interesting to see if either gets a serious chance to make an impact on the first team, after all David Moyes does have a great history of bringing through young talent (Rooney, Rodwell, Coleman, among others).

 

Left Midfield

Ashley Young had a poor season last year, it was hampered badly with a string of injuries (only played 21 games) and when he did manage to play, it was generally inconsistent.  When Young signed for Utd, it looked like he was ready to take the step up.  However he hasn’t really been able to make the transition from Aston Villa as well as was thought.  Maybe it isn’t fair to criticise Young (because he has struggled to maintain fitness), but this is a make or break season for him.  If he struggles this year, then it is likely that he won’t be at Utd by the start of next season.

The most surprising thing about Nani is that he is still actually at Man Utd.  There are a lot of rumours about where he could be going, but nothing has actually happened yet.  With only a year left on his contract and out of favour at Utd, Nani is working on lost time and it is only a matter of time until he leaves.  The real question about Nani is how much Utd will be able to sell him for, anywhere between £8 and 10 million would be fairly good.

Bebe (who I forgot about) is apparently still employed by Man Utd.  He will go down as one of the worst signings Fergie ever made, to the extent where I really don’t know where he plays, although I believe he is a winger (no idea what side), so there you go.

 

Centre Midfield

Michael Carrick had a great season last year and has solidified the central midfield position as his own.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that Carrick was the boo-boys favourite, and he has transformed himself into a fan favourite.  Carrick is an excellent passer of the ball (when given time, less so when being pressed) and will take one of the starting roles for Utd in centre midfield.  The question about Carrick isn’t so much about if he will play; it is more about who will play alongside him?  The problem at Utd currently, is that nobody knows.

When Anderson joined Man Utd, it looked like he may play at the heart of the midfield for the next 10+ years.  He had everything; he was fast, he could tackle, he was a great passer, he could marshal a midfield.  However despite all this Anderson has never been able to progress to that next level.  A large part of Anderson’s struggles have been his inability to stay fit, he has never had a strong run of games in a Utd shirt.  I think he deserves another chance under Moyes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was not at Utd by the end of the transfer window.

Tom Cleverley (almost out  of nowhere) looked like he was Utd’s saviour in the centre of the pitch at the start of 2011-12, but like many of Utd’s best central midfield talent he has struggled to stay fit since.  Cleverley isn’t currently good enough to start first-team for Utd, but is a very useful squad player to have.  The only negatives that I can come up with for Cleverley is his lack of goals and his lack of fitness, if he could fix both of these areas he could have a bright future.

Darren Fletcher would be the perfect man to partner Michael Carrick in the centre of midfield.  He is great at breaking up play, is an under rated passer and has bags of energy.  Sadly for Fletcher (and Utd) he has a chronic bowel illness and it has kept him out of consistently playing since 2010-11.  There isn’t much you can say about Fletcher, if he were to be able to make it back then he would slot perfectly back into the first team, but sadly I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to retire, which is a shame because he has lost at least 2 years of his prime and could lose more.

Ryan Giggs is now very much a central midfielder, after all he is 39 and winger’s go off the boil at about 33.  Giggs is a squad player now and once again showed at the back end of last season, that he is still very capable of making an impact, often keeping younger players out of the starting 11.  Giggs made 32 appearances last season (an incredible amount for someone of his age) and finished the season very strongly; however his form in the first half of the season was so poor that it seemed that he may retire at the end of the season (looked like he had lost more than a couple of steps).  The evergreen Giggs is now a player-coach, and his influence and experience in the dressing room is invaluable.

Shinji Kagawa started his first season at Manchester United with massive expectation on his shoulders.  Not only was he the first Japanese player to play for Utd (massive Japanese fan base), he was also a star are Borussia Dortmund in both their Bundesliga winning seasons.  To say he didn’t live up to expectations would be fair enough.  However to be fair to Kagawa, he was often forced to play out on the wing (not his position), and had a couple of niggling injuries as well.  Kagawa still managed to score 6 goals in 20 Premier League games, which is not a bad return.  Kagawa has been the star of Utd’s pre-season tour of South East Asia & Australia, and has been playing in his more natural position of just off the striker.  If Utd were to get this Kagawa, or the Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund then it will be as good as a new signing, and he could take the Premier League by storm.  There were glimpses of Kagawa’s potential last season, it would be fair to assume that he will be a better player this coming season, and for me is the man to watch.

Nick Powell is the hot young thing which Man Utd bought last season from Crewe Alexandra.  It will be interesting to see if he will play more this season than he did last year, only managing 6 games (and 1 goal).  I was disappointed with Powell lack of playing time, and didn’t understand why he wasn’t sent out on loan to get more experience.  He is a talented young player and is still only 19; it will be intriguing to see if he becomes a bigger part of the Man Utd plans this season.

There is no doubt in my mind, that Manchester United’s central midfield is their greatest weakness.  Carrick apart, nobody currently at Utd sets the heather on fire or makes the heart race.  If Fletcher were to come back, then he would slip into the role nicely, however it would be unwise of Utd to rely on Fletcher and should rather expect him not to come back, and if he were to, treat it like a bonus.  It will also be interesting to see if Anderson or Cleverley will step up, I have my doubts.  The man I expect to make the biggest improvement from last year is Shinji Kagawa.  I expect Kagawa to have a breakthrough year and set the league on fire, although I think this will only happen if he were to play off the front (a position currently held mainly by Wayne Rooney).  I would also say that the wings are an area of uncertainty.  If you were to ask me prior to pre-season I would have said that Utd would have to sign at least 1 winger to replace Nani (and maybe Young), after pre-season (and I don’t like to read too much into pre-season) I have high hopes for Zaha (which I expected), Lingard (which I didn’t expect) and Januzaj (who I had heard very good things about).

 

Striker

Robin Van Persie was the Premier League’s top scorer last year and in some pundits opinion (not in mine) he was the difference between Utd and City last season.  Van Persie is one of the greatest strikers in the world (maybe the best) and is Man Utd’s best and star player.  The only blot on RVP’s copy book is his questionable fitness history.  RVP has missed large parts of his career with injury upon injury; he has however over the past two years had better fitness.  I fully expect RVP to be the starting striker at the beginning of the season.

Wayne Rooney was once the blue eyed boy at Utd, however after putting in his second transfer request it seems unlikely that he will be at the club by the end of the transfer window.  As I linked earlier in the post, I have written previously about this and the points made are still valid.  Even if Rooney were to stay, he would be unlikely to give 100% and would also likely be a cancer in the dressing room.

Javier Hernandez is the unluckiest man in Manchester.  For the past three seasons it doesn’t seem to matter what he does, he doesn’t get given the chance to regularly appear in the first team.  It isn’t because he doesn’t take his chances (he does), it isn’t because he doesn’t score off the bench (he does) and it isn’t because he doesn’t give his all (he does).  I feel sorry for Hernandez, it doesn’t seem to matter how well he does, and he still can’t get into the first team.  Last season, it didn’t matter how poorly Rooney played last year, he was still played in front of Hernandez.  Hernandez would then score off the bench and occasionally get a chance in the first team.  Inevitably he wouldn’t score and after one game was back to the bench, and the inconsistent Rooney was back in.  In many ways it is a make or break season for Hernandez, and the best thing that could happen to him is if Rooney were to leave and Utd were not to replace him.  Hernandez will either have a breakout season or another season of obscurity from the bench; I hope it is the prior.

Danny Welbeck is the bright young Manchester born youth system talent.  There aren’t many players in football, who have the energy or give the effort that Welbeck does.  He gives everything for the cause and never stops running.  There is one problem with Welbeck’s play, and if you’re a striker it is pretty important as well; the boy doesn’t score enough goals.  Two seasons ago he scored 12 goals in 39 appearances (not too bad for your first year); last year he scored 2 goals (yes two) in 39 appearances, which is not acceptable for a striker.  Welbeck is great at playing in games where Utd are sitting deep and they need someone to stretch the pitch, Welbeck however is useless at games where the opposing team sit deep and Utd have to play tightly, sadly for Welbeck the majority of teams Utd play sit deep.  If Welbeck were to become more prolific in front of goal, then he could make a large impact on the team.

Angelo Henriquez is a bit of a wild card in the Man Utd squad, it is unclear whether he will actually have an impact on the team at all or if he will be loaned out (like last season).  If Rooney were to leave then perhaps Henriquez would be able to step up and take the 4th striking position in the squad (it is unlikely).  It is interesting to note that Henriquez only managed to play in 8 games for a Wigan team that got relegated; it is also interesting to note that Henriquez is one of only four players in the Utd squad to have won the FA Cup.

Federico Macheda is another player in the Utd squad who id dead weight.  One of the most surprising things about Macheda is that he had such an impact in the 2008-09 season, so much so that he looked like he was bound to become a star, he hasn’t.  It seems that Macheda is doomed to live under the shadow of his two goals against Aston Villa.

If Rooney were to stay at Utd, then Utd would have the best strike force in the league.  If Rooney were to go, then it would be interesting to see what Utd do.  There are two options; firstly to keep the strikers they have and move Hernandez into a more prominent role, or secondly to go out and sign a high profile player to fill the gap left by Rooney.

 

Conclusion

Man Utd have great (and the best in the league) quality and depth in nets, defence and (currently, although I imagine not for long) up front.  The major area of concern is in midfield, both in the centre and on the wings.  The centre of midfield is the main area of concern for Utd, beyond Carrick there really isn’t much else there, and what is there lacks consistency.  The wide positions are also a concern because of the amount of youth and the lack of experience which the players who are currently in the squad have.  There is also doubt over left back, it will be interesting to see if Utd stick with Evra or decide to sign Baines.  There is also the obvious concern over the future of Wayne Rooney, in a saga that seem like it will last the whole of the summer.

As far as rumoured transfers go, there has been serious talk over Fabregas, Baines, Fellaini and Bale.  I think Baines will likely sign (which means the end of Evra).  If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have said that Fabregas would be joining as well, but since Barca’s new manager started it now seems less likely.  I do think it will still happen (for £35 million) and would be the perfect signing to fill a major whole in the heart of midfield.  Fellaini to me seems like the fall back player in case Utd aren’t able to sign Fabregas.  Much like Fabregas, Fellaini would fill a much needed whole in the centre of the pitch.  I’d love to see Bale at Utd, it would be a dream.  However I don’t think it is very likely, and if he were to join a team this transfer window I imagine it will be Real Madrid.  There has also been some conversation about Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Man Utd, it is however unlikely (even if Real do sign Bale), and it is more likely that Ronaldo is just posturing to receive a wage increase.

It is important for Utd to sign new players to add to the squad (especially if Rooney leaves), a centre midfielder (could probably do with a holding midfielder and a technical midfielder) is a must and another striker (if Rooney leaves) would be nice.  Beyond that the Utd squad is very strong, and barring massive injury problems should be able to handle the long season without any major problems.

I expect Man Utd’s current squad to line-up like this:

De Gea

Rafael   Ferdinand   Vidic    Evra

Valencia   Carrick   Jones    Zaha

Kagawa

RVP

 

I hope that Moyes is looking to promote some of the youth players from the under 21 squad and give them their first chance at playing in the first team.  A club, who brings their first team players through the ranks consistently, is a club that generally will have success (Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Man Utd).

Overall I think Utd will have a good season, but this year is not going to be as easy as last year.  With a new manager and their main competitors (Chelsea and Man City) becoming better teams already, Utd will need to get off to a quick start to keep the media off their backs.  To win the league and compete in Europe though, Utd must sign at least one central midfielder and if Rooney leaves, another striker is a must as well.

 

Leave a comment on what you think of the current Utd squad, what you think of the Utd’s potential transfer targets or how well you think Utd will do this upcoming season.  All comments are welcome and fully appreciated.

Advertisements

The Disgrace of Papiss Cisse.

Image

When Papiss Cisse joined Newcastle United from SC Freiburg in 2012 and got off to a lightning start that helped propel Newcastle into 6th.  It seemed that Newcastle had found the great partnership up front (Ba & Cisse) that they have long been awaiting since the days of Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand.

A year later and Demba Ba has left for Chelsea and Papiss Cisse is striking based upon the club’s sponsorship.  If this wasn’t concerning enough for Newcastle fans, how about the potential that your next best striker is Shola Ameobi?  I know it sounds pretty terrible.

To the uneducated, this seems like an excuse to just get a transfer away from Newcastle.  However for those who have been educated on Muslim finance (a very interesting subject) it is a reasonable request.  Islam forbids simply lending money out for interest, which is exactly what Wonga does.  Pay day loan companies take advantage of people who are in a vulnerable financial position by offering them loans without any financial background checks to see if they can afford them.

So what’s the problem?  Well as a Muslim Papiss Cisse feels that he would be going against his faith and he is unwilling to do so, which in my opinion is fair enough.  I have sympathies for Cisse being put in this situation and respect his decision to refuse to wear the shirt with the sponsor on it.

I hear some people saying that last season Newcastle played with Virgin Money on their kit, another organisation which benefits from the use of interest, so surely Cisse took offence to this?  It is a fair point, but what Wonga do is take advantage of people’s requirement for money and that is all they do, whereas Virgin Money help people by giving them money allowing them to purchase things they couldn’t afford without their help (mortgages and such).

I felt sorry for Cisse, he was being victamised by Newcastle for not being willing to play with the kit’s sponsor.  He was left behind from the tour and forced to train on his own.  I’m sure that anyone who is sensible had sympathies with Cisse and the situation he found himself in.  That was until he was caught in a casino gambling.

For those of you who don’t know, Muslim’s are not allowed to be involved with gambling, it is seen as unethical.  So it begs the question of ‘how can the man who follows his religion to the extent that he is unwilling to wear a sponsorship, because it is against his beliefs, be found in a casino gambling which is also against his beliefs?’  The answer is quite simple, Papiss Cisse is a hypocrite.

Cisse has picked what parts of his beliefs to follow to suit himself, he has decided that he wants to leave Newcastle (for what ever reason) and has used the Wonga sponsorship as his reason for doing so.

Cisse’s agent came out and said that Papiss had only been watching and not actually placing bets.  Well if you look at the picture (it’s at the top of the post) you will seethat there is nobody sitting near Cisse, there are chips placed to bet in front of him and to the two positions next to him (probably his) and he has cupped in his hands what very much looks as chips.  Now who knows, maybe he is saving the seat for a friend, and maybe he is protecting the chips just in case someone steals them, but I think we all know what he is doing.

It is then unsurprising that today it was revealed that the Cisse and Newcastle shirt sponsorship conflict has been resolved, and Cisse has decided that he will wear the shirt after all.

Problem solved, now Cisse can go back to banging in the goals for Newcastle on a weekly basis and all will be forgotten.  Well I’m not so sure.

It is clear that Cisse used the issue of the sponsorship as a way of forcing a transfer without asking for a transfer request (probably would have lost his loyalty bonus).  Religion is always a sensitive issue and Cisse has tried to use this to his own advantage, which is sad.

You have also got to wonder whether Newcastle will actually want to play him anymore, after he has clearly tried to maneuver a transfer in such a classless manner.  It has put Newcastle in an awkward position, with very limited striking options, leaving Newcastle with the 2 Ameobi’s as their only options.

When this odd chapter in the world of football closes, it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be.  I don’t think Newcastle can realistically keep Cisse after the way he has treated the club, and would be better selling him off to anyone who offers a reasonable sum of money and move on.  For Cisse, it has left him in an awkward position in his professional life and his religious life.  Much like religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed, neither should religion and sport.  Papiss Cisse decided to mix the two and got burned because of it, and will now have to deal with the repercussions of his actions.

 

 

Leave me a comment on the subject.  I would especially like to hear from Newcastle fans on their opinions on how Cisse has behaved.  All comments are appreciated.

The State of the Scotland National Side.

Image

After the dreadful George Burley and Craig Levein eras Scotland had reached a low that had only been felt since the dark days of Berti Vogts (and God they were dark days), there was however a saviour and his name was Gordon Strachan.

Strachan walked into a mess; a squad ranked 78 in the world (awful), a squad that lacked quality players and a squad that relied on Kenny Miller for goals.  It was going to be a hard job, maybe even an impossible job to turn this once great nation around and take them back to the place where Scotland belongs.

Craig Levein was such a poor manager of Scotland that he managed to take Scotland out of contention faster than countries such as San Marino or Andorra, for a nation that has legitimate claims to the invention of the beautiful game it was just an unacceptable result.

Football is a religion in Scotland and religion is football, it is what makes the Old Firm (Celtic and Rangers [or what was Rangers]) rivalry so fierce.  The Old Firm is not about geography like many others (although both teams are from Glasgow), it isn’t about politics like El Classico but rather about religion (that’s a post for another day).

Strachan’s start was slow with defeats to Wales (or should I say Gareth Bale?) and Serbia officially knocking Scotland out of the 2014 World Cup and making the Tartan Army wait at least another two years for Scotland’s first appearance in a major competition since 1998 (24 teams in European Cup 2016 surely it is our time).

The future of Scotland looked bleak until one fateful night in Zagreb (Croatia for those not good at geography).  The unlikely result which saw the team ranked 4th in the world (I know incredible) defeated by the brave Scots 1-0 (I know more incredible).  Amazing ,just Amazing.  Is this the start of something special?  Is Strachan the man to bring Scotland back from the brink (up to 50 in world rankings)?  Will Scotland finally make a finals competition?

Time will tell if any of these things will come true or come to fruition but Scotland must work to improve their ranking so as to position themselves in a high enough seeding pot for Euro 2016 to finally end the drought that has haunted us so long.

Prior to the miracle in Zagreb, there was talk in the media and amongst fans about the concern of the upcoming friendly with England.  If Scotland were being outplayed and beaten by Wales (I mean Wales!) what would England do to them?  It was concerning and if there is one thing the Tartan Army do not want it is to lose to the auld enemy, those dirty bastards, the English (Scotland would rather lose to a team of grannie’s [as long as it wasn’t the English international grannie team]).

These fears were put to rest with the victory over Croatia, and after all if Scotland can beat the mighty Croatia (with their massive population of 4 ⅟4 million……why are they so much better than us?) then they can surely beat an average England team.

Well the hopes of the World were resting on the mighty shoulders of the wee man and the national team.  The excitement around the World built like a crescendo and a runaway train combined together in a massive mix of loud noise and fast trains (like Speed….no wait that was a bus.  Was there a sequel with a train?  Or was that a boat…..I don’t know, it doesn’t matter).  The hype was huge, however like many things involving Scotland it failed to deliver anything but disappointment.

Here is the squad evaluation based on 4 categories.  These are Goalkeepers, Defenders, Midfielders and Forwards (good categories I know).

 

Goalkeepers

If there is one area that Scotland actually has lots of depth and strength it is in nets.  I’m not saying we have anything amazing (I miss you Craig Gordon) but we have 3 solid keepers in Allan McGregor, David Marshall and Matt Gilks.

Personally I’d like to see Marshall start in nets but it will probably be McGregor (ugh), which is fine as well. The thing I don’t like about McGregor is that it is the common held belief that he is easily the best keeper Scotland but he plays for Hull and Marshall plays for Cardiff, I know who I think is a better team.

 

Defenders

If there is one area of major weakness in the Scotland squad it is in defence, it is a mess.  There are no quality established players in the squad whatsoever (with Gary Caldwell and Christophe Berra missing [oh wait I said quality players, my bad]).  I can’t personally comment on the fitness of certain players who did not get called up, so I won’t, but what I can do is criticise those players who got picked.

As far as centre backs go Strachan has called up Hanley (the rock in the middle and that is not a weight joke or a joke about his lack of movement…..), Gordon Greer (the uncapped 32 year old playing for Brighton), Charlie Mulgrew (is he a centre back? Probably but I doubt he will play there) and Russell Martin (who I know is a right back but after his display against Croatia at centre back I imagine he will play there again), oh wait and Andy Webster in the why the hell is this man still being called up for Scotland when he was never good enough in the first place?  Seriously Webster has received 28 caps (yes 28!), Stevie Nicol, Alan Hansen, Jimmy Johnstone, Charlie Nicholas, Andy Gray, Tommy Gemmel, Lee McCulloch (this one is a joke in case you are confused) incredibly all have less caps than Andy Webster.

At wing back Scotland have more depth with Alan Hutton (still playing? Who knew), Steven Whittaker (still playing? Who knew), Steven Hammell (some oldie from Motherwell) and of course Mulgrew and Martin.  The quality issue is less of a concern here, especially if you consider Martin and Mulgrew as wing backs rather than centre backs.

Andy Webster is the problem with Scotland’s current international state.  It isn’t his fault, but a man who is past his best (and well past it at that) is still being called up by Scotland (even though he doesn’t have a club) because quite simply they have nobody else.  The further problem is that in my opinion it is better giving these international experiences/caps to young players, who even if they aren’t ready for this level of football the experience could be invaluable.  It is surely better giving a potential star of the future his first chance rather than giving some old duffer another one.

I’d imagine the back four for the England game will line up Hutton, Hanley, Martin & Mulgrew.

 

Midfielders

The greatest area of strength in the Scotland squad, not only do Scotland have a wealth of solid central midfielders but they also have a lot of good nippy wingers who can keep opponents up at night.

Scotland are likely to line up with 4 in midfield with one playing off the front and rightly so because there a lot of good players and Strachan has recognised this by calling up 14 midfielders.

In central midfield there is Scott Brown (the stand in captain and pitbull terrier), James Morrison (possibly Scotland’s best player), Charlie Adam (set piece demon and slow as a week in the jail [not from my own experiences]), James McArthur (integral part of the relegated Wigan team, whom I thought may have gotten a transfer away but could become the star of that first team now), Barry Bannan (a player who continues to flatter to deceive), Graham Dorrans (central midfielder at West Brom, more of a squad player for both Scotland and West Brom though) and Liam Bridcutt (an Englishman [we have a few] who does the dirty work that no one else wants to do).

Out wide there is Steven Naismith (the blondey bandit), Robert Snodgrass (the conqueror of Croatia and star of Norwich), James Forrest (one of two of the bright young wingers in the squad), Gary Mackay-Steven (the other bright young winger in the squad), Chris Burke (the player that is very much out his depth with the rest of the midfield, but he’s ginger and Strachan likes that) and Craig Conway (a man who would not win a beauty contest but was an important cog in the Cardiff Championship winning side).

Scotland of course are missing their best player in Darren Fletcher which is a shame because with Fletcher comes a winning mentality and an experience of playing with and against the world’s best players and in the world’s best competitions.  I am also disappointed to not see Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Jack or Liam Kelly get a chance in the squad, but to be fair there is such strength and depth in midfield it is understandable.

In a perfect world I would love to see the line-up be Forrest, Brown, Morrison & Mackay-Steven because I think with the two young wingers we could really give England some trouble and the midfield would be solid with Brown and Morrison in there.

In reality I think the midfield will line-up like Naismith, Brown, Morrison & Snodgrass (a player who I really like and banged the drum for when he played for Leeds but left out because I think that Mackay-Steven and Forrest could become special).

The only player that I could really complain about starting out of the players who were called up is Burke, not because he is a bad player (he isn’t) but rather because there are better players than him in the squad.

Forwards

Previously the greatest area of weakness in the Scotland squad; however in recent years the quality of strikers has improved dramatically and there is the beginning of a healthy crop of youngsters coming through.

The forwards consist of George Boyd (who had a really good season with Hull and Peterborough last year), Shaun Maloney (who was he a standout for Wigan last year and instrumental in them winning the FA Cup), Jordan Rhodes (who had a solid year in a poor Blackburn side), Leigh Griffiths (the SPL player of the year) and oh my god I can’t believe this man still gets called up for Scotland Kenny Miller (a man who it is easier to list his bad traits than his good ones [never a good sign]).

Scotland has 4 solid forward players right there, each could probably start and you couldn’t complain and yet Strachan goes out his way to piss the Tartan Army off by picking Kenny ‘cannae hit a barn door’ Miller.

I have never been a fan of Miller, he is wasteful in front of goal, has no passing ability and takes a squad place from younger more deserving talent, oh and his face is orange.  What makes the fact that Miller got called up even worse is that he is done; he has been done for about 3 years.  It is further compounded by the fact that Miller has to travel from Vancouver (for those bad at geography the west coast of Canada), almost as far away from Scotland as you can possibly get.  The problem with that is, Vancouver is 8 time zones over and to travel that amount and then have to recover and play within 2 or 3 days is not possible.  Look at any game Miller has played since his move to Vancouver he hasn’t lasted more than 30 minutes because he does a lot of headless chicken running.  As soon as he moved to the MLS (a lower level than the SPL) he should have been dropped from the team never to be called up again, yet whenever a squad is announced there is that little orange faced ned once again.  I very much doubt he will start or even play for that matter but in getting called up Miller is taking away the experience of being in a squad from a younger player like Tony Watt or Johnny Russell who could potentially be the future of Scotland.

Anyway I am rambling back to the point.  I’m pretty sure that the line-up will be Maloney & Griffiths, with Maloney playing off the front.

 

Conclusion

There is nothing quite like international football to stir the passion in your heart and increase the love of your country, it is made even greater when you are playing your biggest rivals for the first time in 13 years.

Scotland doesn’t look like a bad side on paper and the world ranking of 50 resembles poor second rate management more than it does the actual squad.  In nets, midfield and up front Scotland are stacked with good players and have nice depth to go on top of that.  However with good there comes bad and the defensive frailties are very concerning for now and looking in to the future.

As far as the England game goes I imagine it will be close.  Scotland will play a stuffy game and look to hit England on the break, which will not suit England because they aren’t very good with the ball and are lacking quality midfield talent that can open up a defence.  Scotland couldn’t get England at a better time, they are seriously lacking in quality (for England’s standards still a better team than Scotland) and although I doubt that any Scottish player would get into the England squad (Morrison or Snodgrass maybe, but at a stretch) there is nothing that these players would like better than to stick it to the auld enemy.

I am looking forward to the game win or lose (as long as we don’t get gubbed) I’ll be happy with a good performance and even happier with a win.  Although it is a friendly don’t forget there is not such a thing as a friendly between Scotland and England, the English may have forgotten that but the Scots certainly have not.

 

 

Feel the Tartan Army roar by leaving a comment or if you are English feel free to leave a comment about how Scotland will be humiliated as if it was a cricket match against Australia that you seem to go on about a lot even though you haven’t actually won.  All comments are welcome.

The 2013 Open Championship Review.

Image

The 2013 Open Championship is over and the champion golfer of the year is America’s Phil Mickelson.  With a blistering final round of 66 Mickelson finished -3 for the tournament 3 shots from Henrik Stenson.

Throughout the week I kept commenting that I felt that the winner could well come from back in the pack because the course was playing harder as the day went on and the back 9 was also playing very tough.

 

Phil Mickelson

Before the beginning of the 4th round I commented that:

“Mickelson currently sits at +2 (T-9th) and if there is one man to go out tomorrow and shoot a low score with some aggressive play it is Phil Mickelson.  Mickelson is a man on form; he won the Scottish Open the week prior to this week and finished 2nd in the US Open earlier this year………..Before the tournament started I didn’t think Mickelson had much of a chance but it is definitely not beyond Mickelson shooting a 68 (-3) or better and putting himself very much in contention.   At 20/1 Mickelson is good value at this stage of the tournament.”

and:

“-1/-2 could be a winning score and that is what the players over par should be looking to finish on to have a chance of winning.”

and although Mickelson finished at -3, a -1 total would have been good enough to win him the championship.

I picked Mickelson before the 4th round as a good value bet for a player to win the tournament and commented that he would have to score at worst a 68 to be in contention by the end of the day.  Instead Mickelson played the round of the tournament and shot an incredible 66.

I didn’t fancy Mickelson at the start of tournament because I believed that he didn’t have the game to win the championship (even Mickelson was of that opinion) but he put himself in contention after the 3rd round and produced the goods on the final day.  It really was one of the greatest final day performances that you will ever see, in no way did Mickelson back into the tournament he went out and won it.  To only score one bogey and six birdies in the final round of a major championship is fantastic golf; to score 4 birdies in your last 6 holes is unbelievable.

 

Lee Westwood

I feel sorry for Westwood, he wanted it so badly and put himself in the perfect position going into the final round, yet he blew it.  If he goes round in level par he makes a play-off, instead he shot +4 and finished in T-3rd, it is easier said than done (evidently) but if you are a professional golfer and this is potentially the biggest moment of your life, to shoot a 75 in those circumstances is awful and Westwood quite simply bottled it.

 

Adam Scott

What can you say about Adam Scott?  He blew the Open last year and allowed Els to nip and take the crown and this year he managed to do the exact same thing.  Maybe this is harsh but Scott (much like Westwood) bottled it.  After 12 holes he was sitting at -2 and leading the championship by 1 shot from Westwood, Scott then followed that with 4 consecutive bogies, essentially taking himself out of contention.  There was no bad luck involved, it was just mental errors as the pressure got too much for him and his game collapsed, finishing T-3rd.

It was the common held belief that by winning the Masters Scott had vanquished his demons of not winning a major, but his performance with 6 holes to go of the Open shows that he still has problems finishing the job.

 

Hunter Mahan

I knew Hunter Mahan would not win it was not a surprise to me he played so poorly, all you have to do is look at times he has been under massive pressure (Ryder Cup 2010 and US Open 2013) and every time he has blown it, you can now add the Open 2013 to that list.

Mahan shot a generous 75 which included 6 bogeys and an eagle (which made his score seem better than his play).  He struggled all day and never really looked like he would seriously challenge and finished a very disappointing T-9th.

 

Tiger Woods

I can only describe Woods’ open in one word, disappointing.  I really thought he was going to win at the start of the tournament, after the first round, after the second round and after the third round but after his first 6 holes it was evident that it just wasn’t going to happen.

It is weird for Woods to put himself in contention and then put up absolutely no fight as far as winning the competition goes.  You kept waiting for Woods to do something special this week and yet it just never came, he was always so close to shooting a really good score but sloppy play or a bit of bad luck kept getting in his way.

This was a chance lost for Woods, he shot a 74 (his worst round of the week) and finished +2 (5 behind Mickelson) which on the final round of a major is just not good enough.  I don’t think that he bottled it, it felt more like he just played really poorly which possibly more is concerning.  It used to be the case that Tiger kept his best for the final round of a major that no longer is the case.  Sadly for Tiger the people who claim he is past it or no longer has the bottle will only gain louder voices, which can only be bad for his mind-set.

 

Henrik Stenson

I thought Stenson over the piece had a great tournament finishing outright 2nd on E.  Stenson went out and played a solid final round, nothing special but he did not take himself out of it (like many others did) and that is commendable.  When you consider so many of the other main competitors shot over par, Stenson was the only player (+1 or better) who scored under par (-1).

Unlike Mahan, Westwood, Scott and even Woods, Stenson did not bottle it, I thought at the beginning of the day he would have to shoot 69 to have a chance and although he only shot 70 that was good enough to finish in front of everyone but one man (who played like a man possessed).  Stenson can walk away from the Open with his head held high and also walk away a better player from the experience, I don’t think any of the other leaders (going into the final day could claim that).

 

Ian Poulter

I’m sure if you had told Ian Poulter at the end of the day he would be in a tie with Westwood and ahead of Woods he would have thought he would be in a play-off for the Open Championship, instead he finished a highly respectable T-3rd.

I had read reports that Pulter felt that he was still in it before the beginning of the round even though he was 8 shots off the lead.  I thought that it was typical Poulter arrogance (I’m not a fan) and he didn’t have a chance in hell.  He proved me wrong and played quite outstandingly throughout the day.  If it weren’t for Mickelson then everyone would be talking about Poulter’s early charge for the title and how he just fell short but in doing so showed glimpses of the golfer he has the potential to be when he gets hot.

 

My Tips

Pre-tournament I made 5 tips on who to be on for the Open Championship and recommended betting each way.  They were Tiger Woods (T-6th) who disappointed, Brandt Snedeker (T-11th) who ruined his chances with a 2nd round 79, Jason Dufner (T-26th) who never looked like doing anything until a 4th round 67 when it was too late, Martin Laird (T-44th) who blew his chances with a 3rd round 81 and Luke Donald who missed the cut.

After the 2nd round I made three further tips based on their new odds and again recommended betting each way.  They were Henrik Stenson (2nd) who finished just behind the excellent Mickelson, Francesco Molinari (T-9th) who never really took it to that next level and Martin Laird again.

After the 3rd round I made three more tips based on their final odds for the tournament (recommending each way again).  They were Phil Mickelson (1st) who won the tournament, Francesco Molinari again and also Brandt Snedeker again.

Overall I had 8 picks (plus 3 players twice) and of those 8 five finished in the top 11, which isn’t too bad.  It is made even better considering I tipped Mickelson before the final round at 20/1 (although I did see him at 28/1 elsewhere).  As I have already commented I thought someone from deeper into the draw would be able to post a score and win as the leaders fell back and I felt Mickelson’s game suited doing this the best, and so it turned out.  If you bet each way on either Woods or Stenson you also would have received a return.

 

Conclusion

I thought that the 2013 Open Championship was an excellent week of golf and once again showed not only that the best golf courses in the world are found in the great country of Scotland but also that this is the greatest golf competition in the world.  The British crowds really are the best in the world and it is nice to watch a golf tournament where every other shot is followed by ‘get in the hole’ (there were some idiots).

Phil Mickelson was a deserving champion and really played the perfect round of golf to win the championship.  I am glad that Mickelson didn’t back into it and rather went out and won it, which is good for the Championship, as is the winner being a well-known and well deserving star.

A special shout out to the Scottish Open which Mickelson won the week before.  It is played on a links course the week before and is in my opinion the perfect pre-tournament preparation for the Open.  It was perfect for Mickelson going into the Open, with 3 days of nice weather before a very windy final day at the Scottish Open, preparing him for the changing conditions that are so common day to day at links courses.  You also cannot replicate playing competitive golf in these conditions regardless of how many practices you play.  If you listen/read Mickelson’s comments about the final green he references how he 3 putted the final green (when he should have 2 putted) at the Scottish putting himself in a play-off and how he knew that he could not risk doing that again.  Although he holed the putt, the experience the week prior made him think twice about being too greedy and forcing a birdie putt.  That is the greatness of Mickelson’s win, he knew he wasn’t the best links player so forced himself to play links golf (Scottish Open) and in doing so it helped him prepare perfectly for the biggest win of his career.  Add onto Mickelson that Stenson (who finished 2nd) also played in the Scottish Open (finishing 3rd and throwing away a lead in the final round) it should surely be a glamorous tournament next year with other players following the Mickelson/Stenson path.

 

 

So that is my round up of the Open Championship, what did you think of this year’s Open?  Was Mickelson a worthy winner?  Was there any players you were disappointed in?  Let me know and leave a comment.  Thanks.

5 Tips for The Open Championship *4th Round Update*

ImageSo the final round of the Open Championship has arrived and England’s Lee Westwood is leading by 2 shots from Hunter Mahan and Tiger Woods.  My top 5 tips (https://bm23sportsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/5-tips-for-the-open-championship/) and my update (https://bm23sportsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/5-tips-for-the-open-championship-update/) have left me with 4 players in contention (Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari and Brandt Snedeker).

As is the way of golf the complexion of the tournament, and those who are in contention changes from round to round.  You can find some of the best value by betting on the 4th round of a tournament, because realistically there are fewer people who could potentially win the tournament.

The men that I am touting to bet on are based upon their chances of winning, their play this week and their odds (from Bet365).  So it is not going to be a list of favourites, rather a list of value bets.  At this stage of the tournament you are still able to receive 3 places if you bet each way and that is recommended.

I commented in my update that the way Muirfield is playing this week plays perfectly into the hands of someone out with the leading groups posting a score and backing into the championship.  With this in mind I believe that anyone who is at +3 or better is potentially in with a chance if they shoot a good score, don’t forget that +3 is currently T-11th and 6 shots off the lead (4 off of 2nd).  Muirfield is playing harder as the day goes along and that plays further into the shoot a score early and back into it theory.  Look at Hunter Mahan’s 3rd round, where he shot a 68 under no real pressure and has put him thoroughly into contention (T-2nd).  -1/-2 could be a winning score and that is what the players over par should be looking to finish on to have a chance of winning.

 

Phil Mickelson     20/1

Mickelson currently sits at +2 (T-9th) and if there is one man to go out tomorrow and shoot a low score with some aggressive play it is Phil Mickelson.  Mickelson is a man on form; he won the Scottish Open the week prior to this week and finished 2nd in the US Open earlier this year.

Mickelson does however have a tendency to be too aggressive when playing from behind, and could blow it by taking himself totally out of play.

Before the tournament started I didn’t think Mickelson had much of a chance but it is definitely not beyond Mickelson shooting a 68 (-3) or better and putting himself very much in contention.   At 20/1 Mickelson is good value at this stage of the tournament.

 

Francesco Molinari      66/1

I wrote about Molinari yesterday as someone worth betting on for the weekend, and although he shot a 72, he hasn’t taken himself out of contention.  Molinari currently sits at +2 and in T-9th (Molinari & Mickelson the group to watch as potential threats from behind tomorrow) and has the game that is required to play well at this course.

Molinari’s rounds have been a 69, 74 and 72 and he may not have the game to post the amount of birdies he requires to put in a potential threat to win.

I liked Molinari before the tournament and he has put himself in an outside contention to win.  If you consider that Mickelson is also at +2 yet his odds are 20/1, whereas Molinari’s are 66/1 which is tremendous value for position.

 

Brandt Snedeker       66/1

My personal pick pre-tournament had a stinker of a second round (79) but shot 69 in both the 1st and 3rd rounds.  Snedeker is sitting at +3 (T-11th) maybe a little too far back as I believe that at +3 he will need to score at worst a 67 (-4) to have a serious of chance of winning (he could easily place).  Snedeker has the game to shoot a low score though and is generally an excellent putter which is so important round Muirfield.

Snedeker is quite far back and the 79 he shot in the 2nd round is still fresh in the mind, it is unclear whether he will have a good round (like in the 1st or 3rd rounds) or a bad one (like in the 2nd).  There is no room for error, even an ok round is not good enough to get the job done for Snedeker, if he is to compete he must score well.

Sitting at 66/1 (really showing the Molinari value) Sned’s is a good choice for someone who could make an impact on the last day with an early charge.  He certainly has the game to do so and is far enough back to take the issue of him bottling it out of the picture, but he must have a good day.

 

 

There it is three players to take a look at if you are thinking of picking a winner for the Open and are looking for some value.  Of the three I think Mickelson has the best chance but Molinari is definitely the better value.

 

For the tournament as a whole I do believe that Tiger Woods is still the most likely to win.  He is sitting pretty at -1 only 2 shots off of Westwood, although he has never come from behind to win a major.  I’d really like to see Westwood win because he does deserve it but I get the feeling that he will bottle it, as for Hunter Mahan just look at any of his big moments in his career (Ryder Cup 2010, US Open 2013) he is a perennial bottler, he will not win the Open.  I am sure that someone from the pack will shoot a good score, there are a lot of good players in the pack and they are all capable of doing so.  Overall I like Woods to win and you can get 5/2 for him to do so, which to be honest are not bad odds for Woods at this stage of the tournament.

 

So let me know what you think and how you think the tournament is going?  All comments are appreciated and enjoy the last day of The Open.