Skip to content

Considering conventional wisdom as Manchester United cruise to another victory

Feb 23, 2013, 1:04 PM EDT

Manchester United's Van Persie shoots and fails to score against Queen's Park Rangers during their English Premier League soccer match in London Reuters

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.

(MORE: This is a spectacular hit from Rafael.)

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.

source: ReutersI’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?

(MORE: Style points, schmyle points for Arsenal.)

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.

Latest Posts
  1. FIFA ethics committee bans 11 current, former officials from all football-related activities

    May 27, 2015, 5:58 PM EDT

    Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA

    11 current and former officials from around the world have been provisionally banned from all football-related activities.

  2. Men in Blazers podcast: Mourning the end of the season with The True Geordie

    May 27, 2015, 5:23 PM EDT

    meninblazers

    Rog and Davo relive the Premier League’s season finale, including squeaky bum time at the bottom of the table.

  3. Sevilla defeat Dnipro, 3-2, to win back-to-back Europa League titles, Champions League place

    May 27, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT

    Carlos Bacca, FC Sevilla Getty Images

    It was a thrilling Europa League final. Sevilla are back-to-back Europa League champions, and into next year’s Champions League.

  4. 2014-15 Premier League season review: Top ten forwards

    May 27, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT

    Aguero Getty Images

    Sergio Aguero was the Premier League’s top goalscorer this season, but was he the best attacker in the league? He has plenty of competition.

  5. Dick Advocaat will not return to Sunderland next season

    May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    After leading the Black Cats to Premier League safety, “The Little General” has announced he won’t return to the Stadium of Light next season.

  6. 2014-15 Premier League season review: Top ten midfielders

    May 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea FC Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea FC

    Goal scorers, goal creators, ball winners, possession destroyers — the list of top-10 midfielders has a little bit of everything.

  7. UEFA calls for postponement of FIFA presidential election, threatens to boycott congress

    May 27, 2015, 2:43 PM EDT

    Michel Platini Michel Platini

    “Today’s events are a disaster for FIFA and tarnish the image of football as a whole. “

  8. FIFA president Sepp Blatter releases first statement since overnight arrests

    May 27, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT

    ISRAEL-FBL-UEFA-EUR-SPORT ISRAEL-FBL-UEFA-EUR-SPORT

    The most controversial figure in world soccer has broken his silence.

  9. Ashley Westwood says Arsenal will have “sleepless nights” over Christian Benteke

    May 27, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT

    Aston Villa v Everton- Premier League Aston Villa v Everton- Premier League

    If Aston Villa wants any shot at beating Arsenal in the FA Cup final this Saturday, Christian Benteke must come up big.

  10. Three things we learned from the US Department of Justice news conference on the FIFA investigation

    May 27, 2015, 1:06 PM EDT

    Loretta Lynch Loretta Lynch

    “This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card.”

  11. QPR is cleaning house: Barton, Ferdinand, Zamora all out at Loftus Road

    May 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    With the Hoops heading down to the Championship, Queens Park Rangers will have a completely new look next season.

  12. 2014-15 Premier League season review: Top ten defenders

    May 27, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

    150527-John-Terry Getty Images

    They say defense wins championships, so expect to see quite a bit of Chelsea blue on this list.

  13. Report: Chelsea’s Christian Atsu to join Bournemouth on season-long loan

    May 27, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT

    FBL-WC-2014-GHA-PRESSER FBL-WC-2014-GHA-PRESSER

    Atsu spent this season on loan at Everton, and it looks like the Ghanaian will be headed south to the Premier League’s newest club.

  14. FIFA presidential elections will go on Friday despite arrests

    May 27, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT

    FBL-FIFA-BLATTER FBL-FIFA-BLATTER

    Sepp Blatter has served as president for 17 years and is expected to easily win reelection.

  15. 2014-15 Premier League season review: Top ten goalkeepers

    May 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 20:  (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) David de Gea of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Aon Training Complex on March 20, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Let’s take a walk through the six yard box with the Premier League’s 10 best ‘keepers for 2014-15.

  16. FIFA releases statement regarding arrests, says it is “fully cooperating” with investigations

    May 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    FIFA Getty Images

    A press conference is scheduled to be held at 10:30 a.m. ET from the U.S. Department of Justice.

  17. Manchester City friendly vs. Houston Dynamo in doubt following deadly floods

    May 27, 2015, 7:52 AM EDT

    US-WEATHER-FLOOD US-WEATHER-FLOOD

    Texas has been hit with massive flooding that has left at least 19 dead, as soccer takes a backseat.

  18. FBI, US Department of Justice issues damning statement on FIFA, details corruption investigation

    May 27, 2015, 6:55 AM EDT

    Loretta Lynch, Vanita Gupta, Ron Davis Loretta Lynch, Vanita Gupta, Ron Davis

    Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch speaks about the FBI’s investigation into widespread allegations of corruption at FIFA.

  19. Nine FIFA officials, including CONCACAF president, arrested in Switzerland during dawn raids

    May 27, 2015, 5:20 AM EDT

    CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb was arrested in Switzerland. Getty Images

    FIFA officials from CONCACAF region and South America dominate the FBI’s wanted list.

Featured video

Chelsea lift the 2014-15 PL trophy