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.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT
Bayern Munich continued its strong start to the Bundesliga campaign, and will be the only team to boast a 3-0 record unless BVB beats Hertha Berlin on Sunday.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Being the “better” side is a subjective thing, of course, especially when you fail to win.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Catch up on all the action from eight games on Saturday, as there were plenty of shocks in the PL.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Arsene Wenger isn’t panicking over another close call against Newcastle United. The way he sees it, they did well to win 1-0 on an own goal.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
With Howard back in a U.S. jersey next week, he put in a Man of the Match display to grab Everton a point at Spurs.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Here’s three things we learned from the Lane.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT
Spurs attacked for much of the match but were held off the scoresheet by American goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Aug 29, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT
The Liverpool manager was disappointed in the Reds play but also criticized the referee.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT
Jose Mourinho gave lots of credit to today’s worthy opponent, but did stay somewhat true to his nature.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT
Afellay and Adam sent off as Baggies down Potters on Pulis’ return.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT
Artur Boruc got a piece of Vardy’s penalty attempt, but not enough. 1-1.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
Hammers win at Anfield for first time since 1963.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT
Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens scored for Sunderland, with Scott Sinclair striking twice for Aston Villa in between.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:54 AM EDT
Mourinho loses second home game in 100 PL matches as Chelsea boss.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:51 AM EDT
City has now won 10-straight Premier League matches across seasons, and has yet to concede a goal this season.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Can Spurs get their first win of the season? Watch live online, here.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Wenger admitted his Premier League club would like an elite striker before the transfer deadline closes on Monday.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Some spectacular goals highlight Saturday’s 10 a.m. ET Premier League matches, and should have folks queuing up for the second halves of play.
Aug 29, 2015, 10:48 AM EDT
Wilson found himself in perfect position to finish off a great scoring opportunity as he gave Bournemouth a 1-0 lead over Leicester City with this gorgeous goal.
Aug 29, 2015, 10:33 AM EDT
The Premier League’s lesser lights are making up for the lack of offensive fireworks from Arsenal’s early win over 10-man Newcastle.
- Premier League roundup: Chelsea, Liverpool suffer stunning home defeats 0
- Tim Howard ready for USMNT return, as heroics rescue Everton 0
- Three things we learned from Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton 2
- Liverpool 0-3 West Ham United: Hammers stun Reds at Anfield in fiery encounter 2
- Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace: Blues stunned at home by Eagles 4
- Manchester City 2-0 Watford: Sterling scores, hosts make history in comfortable win 0