Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Manchester United 2 - Liverpool 1

Today's blog features farlieonfootie's newest man with a point of view, Columnist Jeff.  In his inaugural piece, Jeff offers his esteemed opinion on last weekend's action versus Liverpool, including his thoughts on the now infamous "handshake-gate."  How Jeff manages to type so well while simultaneously clutching a craft beer tightly in one of his hands is a question that we'll eventually have to get to the bottom of....  

With no further ado, Columnist Jeff (@jghopslam on Twitter, for those of you keeping track):

The Good

First, the good: Manchester United wasn't flawless on the day, but they were certainly the better side over a full 90 minutes. The first ten minutes of the match were cagey from both sides, and United surprisingly had little of the ball on their home pitch.  Liverpool looked up for a fight, but that quickly changed after ten minutes passed. United wasn't necessarily at their usual best: their passing was off at times, but it was certainly brilliant in spurts.  What was most impressive on the day, however, was the Reds' movement, tackling, and strong desire to win every 50/50 battle.  The stats won't show a lot of fouls, but then again, they didn't need to: United's tackling was simply on point throughout the game. United just seemed more determined than Liverpool in every facet of the game, and you really can't ask for anything more than that.

I stated that United's passing was off, and it certainly was at times. The main culprit early on was Ryan Giggs, but what the Welshman lacked in accuracy, he more than made up for with his brilliant movement and dribbling.  The passing wasn't all bad, though.  It has to be said that the passing of Scholes and Carrick was often brilliant to watch. I tweeted during the game that Scholes and Carrick may not be Xavi and Iniesta, but their bossing of the midfield was still football porn,  nonetheless. 

The buildup to Scholes' header directly at Reina certainly deserved a goal. That WAS vintage United at its best. What was lovely to watch on that buildup was how well Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck work together (I'll come back to that later). The man that most impressed me during the match, though, (and has been impressing me and I'm sure all United supporters of late) was Antonio Valencia. The man is simply on fire, and it's hard to argue that there is a winger in Europe playing better than him at the moment. Week after week he is making every Left Back he comes up against look foolish. Saturday was no different; his abuse of Liverpool's Jose Enrique was borderline criminal. 

Time after time, Valencia got down the right wing and either blew past Enrique, out-muscled him (Enrique is no light weight, by the way), or simply dribbled around him. It was surely lovely to watch.  Every week Valencia is making me feel guilty that I said in the beginning of the year that he was "playing more like a Wigan player than a United player."  The man was obviously not 100% back from his injury at the time. I can't wait until we get both Nani and Ashley Young back from injury, as we will have a lethal combination of wingers at our disposal. I'd like to see a stat on how many games this season we've had all three of these guys healthy and available to play at the same time. It can't be many.

Back to Rooney and as importantly, Welbeck: these two just simply click. They both seem to be on the same wavelength at the moment.  Rooney, despite having four goals in two games is really not firing on all cylinders in my opinion, which is scary for the rest of the League to contemplate, because he is bound to break out at any moment.  Call me crazy, but I don't think he's at his absolute best right now.  When he's on top of his game he is unplayable.  At the moment, however, while he has shown some great soccer in bursts (think the second half on Saturday, or the second half a week earlier, against Chelsea), I also believe he is not always making the best decisions with the ball, particularly with his passing and movement in the final third of the pitch. With that said, he has also played of late like a man possessed, and that is more than making up for the lack of the things I just mentioned above. 

Rooney definitely seems to love working with Welbeck.  Their one-twos and holdup play for each other is brilliant, and they seem to be gelling more and more with each game.  Welbeck had another great game, even though he didn't show up on the scoresheet. He just seems to do all the little things right. He is becoming a complete forward before our very eyes, and it's truly a joy to watch. It's amazing that he's been able to keep last year's fan favorite, Chicharito, and last years top goal scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, on the bench.  But it surely isn't without merit.

There's one last person I want to mention from this game, and that's Rafael.  Since coming back from injury, the Brazilian fullback has been in top form. He and Valencia have been dominating the  right-side of the pitch for weeks now.  Valencia was on form before Rafael returned from injury, but it surely isn't just a coincidence that he's been even better since Rafael has come back. 

We all know that Rafael is great going forward. What I've been most impressed with of late, however, is his defending. His defensive game doesn't get much mention and often gets criticized due to his aggressive fouls that sometimes lead to trouble. Since his return, though, Rafael seems to have gotten the hot-headed fouls out of his system while still maintaining his aggressiveness. In the Liverpool game, I can't remember a single time when he let someone beat him, and his tackling was brilliant throughout. He just seems to have a knack for stealing the ball off attackers.  I don't have to stats to back it up, but from what I saw he had many interceptions and won many one-on-one battles throughout the game.  

None of this is new or comes as a surprise: the potential has always been there, but again his over-aggressiveness has hurt him in the past.  Case in point is the Champions League game against Bayern a couple years ago. Rafael was having a brilliant game.  He had Ribery, one of the best and trickiest wingers in the world, completely in his back pocket. Only to then make some bad decisions, which led him to being sent off.  I'm not seeing those bad decisions this season.  It was only a matter a time before he matured and got that out of his system.  Rafael's biggest challenge now will be to stay healthy, but that's a story for another day. Anyway, I've been saying this since his debut for the club: this kid will be the best Right Back in the world someday. Barring injuries that will happen; there is no doubt in my mind.

The Bad

I started off with the good, because to be honest, the bad and ugly from this game made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to focus on the game and the way some of the United players have been performing, because with everything that happened on Saturday, the actual game was hardly even mentioned or talked about by anyone.  We can all thank Luis Suarez and Kenny Dalglish for that. First, Suarez refuses to shake Evra's hand and then Dalglish somehow ignores this fact, and says that it was "bang out of order" to suggest Suarez did anything wrong.  

This very subject has been beaten to death in newspapers, podcasts, Twitter, forums, and basically every other form of media.  I don't need to go on and on about it now. I would have probably had more to say right after the game, and in fact I did on my Twitter account.  What I will say now is this: Liverpool Football Club got this all wrong. 

Liverpool could have defended their player and still put this all to bed. How? All they had to do was say they didn't believe Suarez was a racist, but that they disagreed with what he said to Evra on the pitch. Maybe Suarez is not a racist, but Liverpool and many other people are missing the point here: Suarez didn't get banned for being a racist. He got banned for his racist remarks.  It seems that Liverpool and a lot of their supporters can't seem to understand this.  Which leads me to the Ugly....

The Ugly

Before, during, and especially afterwards, Twitter and I'm sure all other forms of media were flooded with Liverpool supporters defending Suarez, Dalglish, and the club.  It even came to the point that there were conspiracy theories being thrown around, including supposed video evidence of Evra pulling a dummy by pulling his hand back, with actual people (deluded, yes, but actual people nonetheless) analyzing the handshake "snub" in the same way that Kennedy conspiracy theorists analyze the Zapruder film

All this was being done by delusional Liverpool supporters. It was pathetic and downright sickening to read at times. What was especially sickening was that some Liverpool supporters began racially abusing others who didn't support their views on the subject.  

I just don't understand these kinds of people; it's truly sad that there are people like this that still exist in this world. I can't begin to comprehend what would make people do these kinds of things, and I probably never will.  Despite what seemed like a significant minority of Liverpool supporters defending Suarez to the point of racially abusing others, I will say that I did also see many Liverpool supporters that were disgusted with Suarez, Dalglish, and the way the club handled this whole situation.  Unfortunately there were too many of the former, though; to be honest, even one is too many.

The Recap

To recap, I thought Manchester United played brilliantly throughout most of the game. United's only flaw was their lack of the killer touch in the final third. This seems to be an ongoing issue with the club. Luckily, this hasn't burned them as often this season as it did last. There is a lot to be excited about right now: Saturday's win was a big one, and it keeps the Reds within striking distance of City and with a lot of momentum.

Again, Dalglish and Liverpool got this Suarez/Evra thing all wrong. They could have defended (that he's not a racist) their player, while also accepting that he was wrong for his racial abuse. Instead they went on the full defense, and it almost lead to this whole thing becoming a messy, messy situation.

The club and Suarez have since come out and apologized for what went down, but it's all too little too late, in my opinion: they were pretty much left with no other options than to do so.  Also, what hasn't been really pointed out is that Patrice Evra still hasn't received an apology from either Suarez or Liverpool. Their apologies focused more on restoring pride to the club, rather than the person who was racially abused.

But at least we now have some kind of closure to all of  this. It's time to move on, and focus on the run-in. It's been a fun ride so far, and it's about to heat up even more. Title number 20 is not far away. I can taste it.

This is farlieonfootie for February 16.

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