The Mailbox features a defence of Man Utd’s under-performers. Also: plenty on Erik Ten Hag’s appointment; and Liverpool’s new tactical innovation.
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Of course these United players care
Just like every other United fan, I’ve been watching this season with an air of resignation. No belief in us improving or making progress.
However I think a lot of those fans who slam the players as not caring are a little wrong. The players do care. But when you don’t believe in what your team can do, and the methods employed, it massively affects you.
Have you ever worked for a boss who you thought was doing all the wrong things, with a company whose management you didn’t believe in? And it was being proven out by the results?
How does that affect your morale? Your belief? And ultimately your effort? Massively.
It might look like lack of effort, but it’s partly caused by lack of belief.
Personally I think Rangnick had flopped. The team was much better under Ole last season. See the effort in the same set of players last season to keep coming back after half time? Why was that? Because they believed they could do it.
Now that belief is gone. They haven’t bought into Rangnick and frankly I don’t think he improved them apart from tightening things up at the back. Our attacking output has been mega poor. Maybe he needed more time and different players, but the fact he was on a 6 month contract also affected things. The players knew he was gone in 6 months.
Let’s see what Ten Hag can do with the players. I don’t buy that they don’t care.
Of course United has huge issues top to bottom that need fixing, and whilst the Glazers are in charge we may never be at the top again simply because they have shown they care more about money. So who knows whether Ten Hag can actually succeed.
However one way in which this appointment is a departure is we have brought in an up and coming manager who has won things, and has proven to punch above his weight. Maybe this is the Rangnick influence that we actually really needed more than on the pitch – changing how we approach everything behind the scenes.
I’m sure I will be proven wrong, but I still can’t wait till next season to see how it goes. If it doesn’t start well, I’m going to be patient.
Nishul Saperia (maybe the players who were leaving anyway cared a bit less…)
The size of Ten Hag’s task
In goals: De Gea’s form has improved this year for sure but for 3 years, since the 2018 World Cup, he had been a total liability. His distribution is appalling (there is no way he would play for Pep or Klopp) and this will have to be an issue for a possession based manager like ten Haag. In every game you watch De Dea is responsible for at least one shocker of a kick out which puts Utd under immense pressure. Can Henderson do the job that’s needed? Maybe not. Work to be done here
At the back: oh lordie! Full back positions are frighteningly bad. On the right one (Dalot) is shocking at the back and ok going forward while AWB is the reverse. Shaw is only consistent in being injured and Telles hasn’t been good enough in covering. So much work to do.
Centre back: vast sums of money paid for Lindelof, Bailly , Maguire and Varane and not one of them is both reliable and up to CL qualification standard. Phil Jones remains in back up. What will ten Haag do with this?
Midfield: Matic, Pogba, Mata and Lingard will all leave. McTominay and Fred are not good enough to compete with the very best, Bruno may recover, VDB hopefully can improve under his old coach but holy cow will this ever be the bare bones of a functioning midfield when Eric takes over? They could need 4x players in this area alone.
Out wide: Mason Greenwood may never play for the club again, Tony Martial???, Rashford on the evidence of the last 2 years???, hopefully Elanga and Sancho benefit from the new boss having an actual style and philosophy, is there anyone else? Compare this lot to the options available at City, Pool, Chelsea, even Arsenal!
Upfront: CR7 will surely leave and if he doesn’t is that even a good thing? Look at what’s happened in the dressing room/ at the club since he rejoined?! Cavani is going and that’s a good thing too – he is never available. There is nobody else. Charlie the young buck they bought from city a few years ago or some other youth player. These are the only options!!! And City or Pool will apparently land Haaland too. Wowzers
Just where is this squad in comparison with the best, or even other top clubs in the division? It’s scary to consider as a Man Utd fan.
The only good news is that 1) this clear out and rebuild is so desperately needed and 2) some of the players named above who are in the doldrums have previously looked world class at times (Shaw and Maguire at Euros, Rashford and Martial at their very best, bruno, sancho and so on).
So there is some hope but first things first and ETH needs to cull the dressing room of all the distractions that haven’t wanted to be at the club for a number of years and create a whole new smell in that locker room.
Then maybe the feel and taste on the pitch will be different.
And lastly on the Glazers, sure they saddled the club with enormous debt and have had the wrong people manage the football side of it, but of course they want to compete at the top and have consistently invested in the playing squad to get us there. The failing is having a terrible structure in place to achieve it. I appreciate the enormity of this failing btw. The challenge for them is to get this right and continue to invest and just maybe we are seeing the sands shift here too.
The zen master says ‘We’ll see’
I, like most man utd fans find it hard to trust the process. This was supposed to be what we went through under Solskjaer, we were promised; we would sign young talents and we would not sign superstars anymore, the coach will be supported in the market and man utd will return. We bought it, we believed and of course, they betrayed.
Looking back, Ole did a worse job than I thought, doesn’t matter how good Maguire looked at Leicester, I don’t think it makes much sense to spend that much on a CB in the first phase of a rebuild just because there is a they believed (wrongly) that there was a precedent for it, and that is coming from someone who still rates Maguire. Wan bissaka and Telles are his biggest mess ups, you have to get better fullbacks. Did spending 50 million on Wan bissaka ever really make sense even if he was somehow as good defensively as they made him out to be? Sancho is good, but from Ole’s comments at the time, they bought him for the right wing, knowledge from his last two seasons at dortmund should inform you that he is more comfortable on the left, also, they paid 70 million for him and I have no qualms with it, but was there any hint of scouting in any of the purchases under Ole? Not even ‘good’ scouting, just scouting.
James- Giggs recommended him.
Wan bissaka- Had most tackles in the premier league the season before he was recruited.
Fernandes- Portuguese sensation with insane goal contribution numbers.
Telles- Plenty goals and assists for a fullback and was captain too, so hey, another leader.
Sancho- Fans were practically begging for him and was the bundesliga’s best winger.
Ronaldo- No explanation needed.
Ighalo- Journeyman who did great for a half season at Watford.
Maguire- Fans were prepared to kill to find out why he was not in the team of the season, very much popular with the media at the time.
Varane- Explanation not necessary
Heaton- Not necessary
Donny- Ballon d’or nominee who they apparently thought was the same type of player as Bruno because they play the same position.
Jones, Bailly and De gea also signed new contracts under him, throughly awful recruitment. The annoying thing is whenever he got a cohesive 11 on the pitch, United were more than capable of beating anyone under him and going on long runs. That said, the academy scouts at the club are not that bad, or so I think.
But all this probably has more to do with the departed scouts and Woodward. As I seem to be an eternal optimist, I will always look towards the future believing it will be different, Woodward is gone, someone at that club seems to be thinking sensibly for the first time in a long time, appointing Rangnick was a very good decision, I said it then, and my stance does not change. Yes, I admit someone like Valverde with his lack of a particular style and more defensive setup may have done a better job firefighting and may have gotten top 4, but that will just be another in the long list of short term routes the club has taken, by appointing Rangnick, you have someone who creates a link between the interim and the final, someone who will be able to advice on Club structure, style, recruitment, transfer policy, and even on who the next manager should be.
They followed up the strangely sensible decision to appoint Ralf with another, to appoint Ten Hag. It felt at one time as though they will take the very predictable route of PL experience, Pochettino or even Rodgers but they took what at the present time seems like a wise decision. Maybe Murtough is actually good at the job, his decision to appoint Rangnick lends to a belief that he is someone willing to learn actually how best to carry out his duties, if Mitchell comes, you can write him as someone who is willing to delegate duties and not try to take credit for everything because he will know very well that Rangnick and Mitchell are more household names and any success will therefore be associated with them and not him. Fletcher may just not be the useless technical director that believes he is The coach everyone seem to think he is. I choose to believe. Again. But this time cautiously, the coach is already a far better and more proven one than Ole, Woodward is gone and his replacement looks like another sensible person that wants to stick to what he can do, I don’t really care about the owners or the board because I am sure they will know as well that there is only so far they can go without on pitch success. The stadium is about to be repaired or rebuilt. The training ground will go before that. The new coach, it seems, has been allowed to choose his own staff which is a first since Ferguson. Rangnick just talks too much sense. Ten Hag has the highest win percentage of any manager in Eredivisie history, won Ajax their first league title since 2014, took them to their first semi final since 1996, beating in very supreme fashion, the Galacticos themselves. His two matches against Klopp were of particular interest to me, they lost both, but dominated much of both as well and with better quality up front, would have certainly won at least won of those matches. His record of improving every team he has coached and of returning Ajax to their perch as the best in the Netherlands appeals to me. The scouts who were in charge for the worst days of recruitment are gone. There is an actual movement towards the use of data and statistics at the club which was significant in the appointment of Ten Hag. Now, for the most important part, this summer window, will they go for obvious agent buys like Nunez, Rice, Phillips, Torres, or Milinkovic Savic? Or will they go down the right path, the liverpool path? We will have to wait and see. All things point towards an awakening of common sense at the club but is it just a mirage? For now, the important thing is that there is hope, and for people who have fallen as low as we have, hope is more than enough.
Lets start out by acknowledging how much of a disgrace Man Utd are, at all levels, from the Glazers all the way down to Harry Maguire. One man who seems to be sheltered from this criticism is Rangnick. The boss, the bloke in charge.
We all know uniteds short comings. So as a manager its up to Ralph to either fix them, or put out a team that makes these short comings irrelevant or atleast far less relevant. So for example :
United players arent fit/capable enough for an intense high press : Ok, set out a team to play on the counter (like Ole often did). Drill the teams on defensive solidity and quick counter attacks. We have the ingredients for this. Make it happen Ralph. Don’t enact a system that wont work OR one that wont be used by the incoming manager.
United players lack desire : Ok, drop anyone not showing an interest. Pogba? Binned. Lingard? Binned. You dont wanna be here? Binned. Bring in the youth who, make no mistake, show just as much skill and desire as the mercenaries. Its not like you are dropping prime Messi here to set an example. You are dropping average (though expensive) players who have shown little skill, little desire and little end product for a number of years. A clearly underperforming player does not deserve to play. OR, you can play them in the biggest game of the year and watch them hobble off after 10 minutes, ready to make another wacky Tik Tok video.
Ronaldo doesn’t fit the system : Ok, play him against the teams hes suitable to play against… drop him for the ones that require more pace/fitness/youth. Ronaldo has been obsolete in a number of games. Hes been world class in others. Figure it out. Which games suit his age/skills and which dont. Dont worry if HE wants to play or not. Do your job. Manage the situation.
Harry Maguire : Drop him. Very very simple. Drop him. Hes terrible. Hes costing us points. Do your job as a manager and drop him. Grow a set of balls and do it. Bring in Bailly, Bring in Phil Jones, Bring in the tea lady, who cares… drop him.
On reflection, it looks like the appointment of Rangnick was a complete waste of time. United shouldve just held on with Ole til the summer. However the clowns in charge decided to bring in a part time, maybe full time, maybe not manager, who would try a new system and then give up on the new system and then maybe realise that he shouldnt try anything as someone new was going to be in charge in a few months. None of it makes sense.
There a huge amount of talent in that team. A better manager will get that talent working (with a few transfers thrown in of course). De Gea, Shaw, Varane, Fernandes, Pogba, Ronalda, Sancho, Cavani… thats the spine of a champions league winning team. All it needs is the right man to sort the useless bastards out.
Seeds of doom
Before writing in, I waited for the dust to settle and reflect on what passed on Tuesday. Similarly to Tim in a previous mailbox, I have been a United fan since the 70’s, seen a lot of downs and false dawns before the eventual rise under Fergie.
This season has been like all of those years rolled into one, with the exception of the rise. There have been moments when I thought I could see progress and a discernable style of play , for those thoughts to be quickly washed away. The players are all capable but seem very week mentally. The is no toughness or determination in the side to dig in when things go wrong, they capitulate and leadership is lacking ( in a footballing sense, there is plenty of determination to make a few quid when the opportunity arises)
To my eyes this is something that has come from the top down, has become a feature of the club and filtered through to the team. It became most evident at the end of last season when the club decided to throw in the towel and played a more or less reserve side against Leicester. At that point , there was still an opportunity to catch City, it may have been a false hope but you never give up, make the other team earn their prize. There seamed to be more importance put on stopping Liverpool’s top 4 challenge than our own league challenge and look how that’s worked out, a net 13-2 scoreline in games since and humiliation in abundance.
This is not the united way, fight until the end and have some pride in your team. This was always the United way, even in the dark days on the early 80’s united rarely lost to Liverpool in the league and never by more than a goal, one time 3-1 down at Anfield with to 10 men, Robson and Strachan dragged them back to 3-3.
The seeds of doom were sown by the mental attitude of the club last year vs Leicester, it will take a slash and burn approach to get things back on track
The hope/despair wheel turns on again. I do genuinely feel that this time, it could be different. Ten Hag is both a sensible and exciting appointment. He obviously understands the challenges involved, hence asking for control over transfers. The club obviously know that “sign whatever player the Twitter virgins ask for” scouting policy isn’t working as Bout and Lawlor are off. Clearly the deadwood (of which there is plenty) is being quietly (or publicly) shipped out. Pogba will leave (unambiguously a good thing, not least to be shot of his agent). The kits are as good as they’ve been since 2009 (look you cling to things like this when you lose to Liverpool twice by an aggregate of 9-0). And the youth team genuinely looks to be at its’ strongest for a generation.
The wage bill will be slashed – all six out of contract players will leave, maybe Bailly, Jones, Martial, Ronaldo, Telles and Dalot could follow (there is no market for AWB). Garner, Hannibal and Williams, maybe Garnacho, Mengi and Laird could all get a look-in next season. We may even swap out De Gea (which in some ways would be a shame but we do need someone who can actually play football). Personally I’d prioritise rejuvenating Shaw, Maguire and Rashford and build around what’s left.
Either way, whilst we could conceivably DO worse, I think we’re at rock bottom for morale. The only way is up.
Next season’s headlines
Everyone has their take on United and Ten Hag, I’m just gonna predict next year’s headlines:
ERIK-tile disfunction! – Ten Hag’s men are joint 19th in the league in headers won – Nov 19th
Erik Ten MAN Hag! – United finish second game in a row with 10 men as Hannibal sent off in 73rd min at the Ethiad after coming on as a sub in the 70th – Dec 4th
Hannibal LECTURED – Ten Hag said he had a discussion with Mejbri after his recent elbow drop on Kyle Walker after coming on as a sub recently against their cross city rivals – Dec 6th
Eric Ten HAGGLE – Eric has reportedly been searching for a low cost defender to bring depth to his defence after Maguire’s season ending injury last month, despite not conceding a goal in the 4 games since Maguire’s unfortunate collision with the goalpost – Jan 15th
In the title winning season it was obvious early on that long diagonal balls from and between Robbo and Trent had been drilled all pre season. One goal in particular I’ll remember forever – 66 to 26 to Salah, bounce over the defender, headed in. Breathtaking. Call it route 1, call it anything I don’t care.
This season it’s the reverse pass. In the beginning when it was just Bobby I thought oh well, some Brazilian flair there. Now it’s everywhere…Hendo, Fab, Thiago, Trent, Mo. The apogee may well be Mane’s no look, first time, around the corner ball straight to Salah from the other night. I defy any neutral to not watch that goal on repeat and not just smile.
But what it really reinforces is what’s been said about Klopp/Pep versus a different school of manager (eg Mourinho) about the extent to which forward play should be drilled. The former believe these moves can and be should be drilled nonstop, the latter that anything mechanical breaks down under pressure and therefore better to rely on a piece of brilliance from a brilliant player.
On the evidence of the number and quality of goals scored this season from reverse passes, I’m firmly with the former.
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