Feb 23, 2013, 1:04 PM EDT
In this week’s gap between Champions League and the weekend’s league action, the debate resurfaced: How bad are Manchester United?
The discussion’s been a constant in recent years, reaching an apex last season when the Red Devils failed to make it out of their Champions League group. That the Red Devils still nearly won the Premier League was little consolation when their May collapse gifted the title to their crosstown rivals.
It’s a strange discussion given Manchester United’s obvious quality and successes, but when you watch matches like today’s against Queens Park Rangers, you see the point. The Red Devils cruised to a 2-0 victory thanks to an early goal from Rafael and an insurance tally from Ryan Giggs, but given how poor QPR was throughout the match, you’d expect a team of United’s reputation to put them to the proverbial sword. Instead, it was just another day at the office for the mercurial titans.
The curious thing about this round of discussion is United’s recent results. After a fall where their defense seemed as weak as a severed Achilles, United’s only three goals in their last six games. That stretch includes a surprise draw at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the Red Devils held Real Madrid to one goal.
This is a team that hasn’t lost since Dec. 15. Even if the dissection is apt in general, it’s still ill-timed now.
The complaints seems to have two foundations, neither independent of the other. First, United generally looks unimpressive, as they did today. Against a QPR team playing that badly, an elite team should put up a number. Second, United’s midfield is not as strong as other European powers. In an era of midfield primacy (at least, as far as tactical analysis is concerned), this is a capital offense.
From the linked piece:
The midfield, however, having been the basis for success of Fergie’s previous best teams, is constantly pinpointed as the weak link of the current crop, and it’s difficult to argue against that theory.
I’d like to offer an alternative: Maybe this now conventional wisdom is wrong. Maybe Manchester United’s consistently stellar results (including in Champions League, where there’s been but one, obvious blip) indicate Alex Ferguson knows something we don’t. Perhaps United’s legendary penchant for timely goals is indicative of a philosophy that prioritizes moments over spells.
Instead of the all-clock dominance we see from Barcelona and (most of the time) Bayern Munich, Ferguson may subscribe to a view that prefers spending most of the match waiting to exploit moments. Seventy minutes of conservations, 20 minutes of power, perhaps? Unlike a typical implementation of catenaccio, United seeks to exploit in spells they define rather than in moments defined by others’ failures.
Whether that hypothesis is correct or not, it at least does a better job of describing United’s success. The constant discussion of United’s ironic faults in the face of their perpetual results only highlights the dialog’s faults.
If you’re continuing to try and describe why something fails to meet expectations, shouldn’t you eventually question the root of those expectations? Why do people expect United to fail?
The obvious irony here is the dialog itself. Bellicosely describing a team whose grandiosity should be undermined by an obvious flaw, the discussion’s developed an obvious flaw of its own. It’s not considering alternatives. It’s not allowing for another vision, one that would discard narrowly applied tenants and consider something that would more readily explain unexpected results. While exhaustively examining Manchester United, the tactical Zeitgeist has failed to examine itself.
All of United’s faults where on display today at Loftus Road, but maybe they’re not faults at all. No, United didn’t put up a huge win against QPR, but this is a team that’s now 15 points clear in England, just got a result in Madrid, and has been to three Champions League finals in five years.
We might want to reconsider our wisdom.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
Real Salt Lake demolished the Colorado Rapids, 5-1, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
Five consecutive goals have Real Salt Lake ahead of the Colorado Rapids tonight, 5-1.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:52 PM EDT
Preview of West Ham v. Liverpool match on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET this Saturday.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Watch Real Salt Lake encounter the Colorado Rapids live on NBCSN or NBC Sports Live Extra at 10:00 p.m. ET tonight.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Preview of Aston Villa vs. Arsenal match on NBCSN at 10:00 a.m. ET this Saturday.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho hold different rationales about midfielder Frank Lampard’s Stamford Bridge exit this year.
Sep 19, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT
UEFA president Michel Platini doesn’t wish to give into FIFA’s pressure to return a watch gifted to him at the World Cup.
Sep 19, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Seattle Sounders FC have signed Nigerian defender Onyekachi Apam.
Sep 19, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
Financial figures for Arsenal released by club today.
Sep 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Coritiba striker Joel brought out a one-of-a-kind goal celebration vs. Sao Paolo.
Sep 19, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has sung the praises of former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who the forward believed was instrumental in getting himself exposure in Europe.
Sep 19, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT
Gareth Bale could one day return to Tottenham, but his waxing poetic on White Hart Lane is likely nothing more than political fare.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT
Of course it’s possible that Louis van Gaal could bring Ronaldo to Manchester United, but he doesn’t believe his current team is interested.
Sep 19, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
How many times in his life has Ronaldinho performed this task with flair (or at least adequately)?
Sep 19, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Tim Howard’s stint as No. 1 USMNT backstop may be on hiatus, but the battle of who’s the top American goalkeeper in the Premier League is on
Sep 19, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
An even rivalry heads to Loftus Road to start its season series on Saturday, kicking off the Premier League weekend.
Sep 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Where and how to watch every PL game during Week 5, right here.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
A Washington Post report asks why Hope Solo is being celebrated for her on-field efforts while awaiting the results of her not guilty plea to domestic abuse charges.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
It’s not about the Impact, the CONCACAF Champions League or the club’s record. For Di Vaio, it’s about home.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
Perhaps the investigation took a bit too long, but it seems many athletes did not understand the depths of their joke usage.
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