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Give Bailly & Lindelöf a Chance

Added by Philip Meese on 27 Aug 2018 14:05

Despite their erratic performances against Brighton, Mourinho should retain Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf.

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

 

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The defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion wasn’t pretty viewing for Manchester United fans. The entire team underperformed on a massive scale, and gave fans of their rivals cause for a good laugh. As a result, many fan called for centre-backs Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf to be dropped for the upcoming game against Tottenham Hotspur.

While this is not an unexpected reaction to such a limp showing, the reality is that none of United’s players who featured on the south coast should be surprised if they find themselves on the bench or in the stands against Spurs. While Bailly and Lindelöf are no exception to this, if José Mourinho is looking at the bigger picture, he might want to think twice before dropping either of the only two centre backs he has signed for United.

Brighton

There’s no way to sugar coat it; last weekend’s game at the Amex was nothing short of a horror show. The Red Devils were 3-1 down by half-time, and never even looked like turning it around after the break. The goals Brighton scored were sloppy from a defensive point of view, no doubt about it. For the opener by Glenn Murray, Lindelöf should have been tighter with his marking, but give credit to the striker. Had Murray hit it with his left foot, which Lindelöf probably expected him to, it’s unlikely the ball would have ended up in the net. He would probably have gone for power on his weaker foot, and you would have backed David de Gea to keep it out or Murray to scuff the shot wide. It was actually a brilliant bit of thinking, which culminated in a great goal. An unexpected flick such as that is hard to stop; hence why it fooled both Lindelöf and de Gea.

The second goal was an absolute mess, but one that you can’t put entirely down to the centre backs. In addition to Bailly and Lindelöf, there were six other United players in the box, five of them within a couple of yards of Shane Duffy when he slammed the ball past de Gea. It would be unfair to put the blame on the two centre-backs when three quarters of the team were also in the box, and did nothing to stop it either.

The penalty that Bailly gave away was unnecessary, as Pascal Groß was going away from goal when the Ivorian slid in on him. It was a rash tackle, and the reality is that this is probably where United lost the game. They never looked like clawing back a two goal deficit. All in all, this is a day that nobody associated with the club will want to remember anytime soon.

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Other options

Mourinho’s pursuit of a new centre-back throughout the summer was no surprise, any more than it was a secret. It has long been felt that the reason the Portuguese manager overburdens his outfield players with defensive duties is that he doesn’t have much trust in his defence. This doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t trust Bailly or Lindelöf – he scouted them both and decided they are good enough for United. It’s more likely he looks at the other options available to him and realises they have no long term future.

Phil Jones was once tipped by Sir Alex Ferguson as having the potential to be United’s best ever player. Five years down the line, however, it’s a different picture entirely. Over the last four seasons, Jones has never managed to make thirty appearances in a single campaign. He is never out of the treatment room, so how are you supposed to develop as a player when you are never fit enough to string ten games together? Maybe if he wasn’t so injury prone, he might have had a chance at making Ferguson’s prediction come true. The reality is that he cannot be relied upon to stay fit.

Chris Smalling was not even considered for Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the 2018 World Cup. He has now been at Old Trafford for eight years, but he has looked largely out of his depth since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić departed. Smalling isn’t a natural leader, and one of the things that really lets him down is his concentration. Given that he will be 29 before the end of this year, it is hard to imagine him making huge improvements to his game at this stage of his career. You also have to ask the question; if he isn’t good enough to get into the England squad, surely he isn’t good enough for United?

The other option is Marcos Rojo, who has missed the start of the season after picking up a knock. During Mourinho’s first season, the Argentine defender looked solid at centre-back before a knee injury prematurely ended his season. One major issue for him, however, is that his penchant for a two footed tackle makes him a red card waiting to happen. It was rumoured that he was poised for a move to Everton during the summer, which never came off in the end. This tells you he is not crucial to Mourinho’s plans. It was mooted that the reason he would be likely to be sold, however, is because United had to offload one centre-back before bringing in another, and there was no interest in Smalling or Jones.

Change of Formation

Against Tottenham at home last season, which also came after United’s first defeat of the season, Mourinho switched to a back three, enabling him to push his wing-backs forward. United won the game 1-0 and looked a lot more solid and balanced. The fact that neither Lindelöf or Bailly look ready to lead the team just yet means that a back three, with someone a bit more experienced alongside them might be the best way to go.

In addition to the three other centre-backs, there is also the option to play the returning Nemanja Matić. The Serbian is one of the the most commanding figures in the team, and a natural leader. He is also one of the best tacklers in the team, and great in the air; the natural hallmarks of a quality centre-back. Having never been the paciest of players, and now aged 30, it is very possible that he will eventually switch to defence. This would allow the midfield trio of Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira and Fred to continue. With a more solid base behind them, they might show more of the promise they displayed in the opening game against Leicester City.

Mourinho’s Judgement

Whatever faults Mourinho has as a manager, throughout his career he has usually been pretty astute when it comes to identifying central defenders. Ricardo Carvalho followed him from Porto to Chelsea and formed one of the Premier League’s most sold defences alongside John Terry. He also joined him at Real Madrid, eventually being ousted by Raphaël Varane – another Mourinho recruit. Varane is now one of the most coveted defenders in the world. These are just two examples.

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Despite his injury troubles last season, and a shocker of a game last weekend, many United fans see Eric Bailly as their best centre-back. A hard tackler, a total athlete and a great header of the ball are attributes that haven’t disappeared on the back of one bad game. On the other hand, Victor Lindelöf has yet to show the qualities that prompted Mourinho to sign him while wearing the red of United. Part of the reason for this may be that he has never had a consistent run in the team. He looked great for Sweden in the World Cup, where he is completely familiar with his role in the team. One thing is for certain, if he isn’t given a run of games at Old Trafford, how is he supposed to adapt to playing for United? Out of all of the centre-backs at Mourinho’s disposal, Lindelöf looks like the best ball playing defender, something which United have lacked for a while.

Conclusion

No doubt Bailly and Lindelöf had a bad day at the office last weekend – that has happened to practically every defensive pairing that has ever played for United. The reality is that it was only the second time they have started together, with the Leicester game being the first. It would be unreasonable to expect them to have a Ferdinand and Vidić style understanding at the back just yet. But who knows what will happen if they are given a run of games together? One thing is for certain, dropping either of them isn’t the answer. Give them a run of games to get used to each other and they might surprise a few people.

Over the last four or five years, United have tried a range of combinations at centre-half, most of them involving Smalling, Jones and Rojo, and got nowhere near the title. It’s not as though any of those three have done anything to suggest that they should be one of the first names on the team sheet. The fact that Mourinho was after a new centre-back all summer most likely indicates that it is these three that should be fearing for their United futures.

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At this moment, United don’t look as though they will put up a challenge for the Premier League title. This is exactly why Mourinho should stick with of Bailly and Lindelöf. The other options at his disposal have been tried and tested – they have had their shot and shown that they are not up to the challenge. But one bad performance at Brighton should not spell the end for the two centre-backs. Instead, it should be used as a learning curve.

It is impossible to say whether Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf are the future of United’s backline. But if United had dumped Jaap Stam, Gary Pallister and Nemanja Vidić on the back of their early performances, they wouldn’t be the Old Trafford legends that they are now.

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Player Focus

Luke Shaw Treatment: Harsh or Fair?

Added by Philip Meese on 01 Apr 2018 15:34

Manchester United full-back Luke Shaw was once again left on the bench during their 2-0 win over Swansea City. Our latest article looks at whether he is being unfairly treated, or if he has brought it upon himself.

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By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

Luke Shaw is a player that Manchester United fans have been hoping to see the best of for almost four years. Identified by David Moyes as the eventual long-term successor to Patrice Evra, the transfer was already in place well before his sacking. The deal was then approved by his replacement, Louis van Gaal, in the summer of 2014. Shaw turned down Chelsea, the club he supported growing up, to join the Red Devils.

In recent times, Shaw has become a peripheral figure at Old Trafford, and it is starting to look like his days at United are numbered. He will be 23 this summer, and by now should be making the left-back spot his own. The reality is that he has watched a converted winger, Ashley Young, nail down the position ahead of him.

2014-15

Following a disastrous season under Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, the ageing team needed ripping up. United fans were excited about the acquisition of Southampton’s young full-back, as it seemed that the then 20 year old would be the answer to that position for at least ten years.

Within days of United arriving in the USA for their pre-season tour, van Gaal complained that Shaw was not at the required level of fitness that he expects of his players. As a result, he devised a special fitness programme for him to get up to speed. Lo and behold, Shaw then picked up a hamstring injury which saw him miss the start of the season. It would not be until the end of September that he made his competitive debut.

His first season was hit and miss, as a combination of niggling injuries and vying with Daley Blind for the left-back spot, halted his progress. Nobody was too concerned, however, after seeing his superb performance at Stamford Bridge towards the end of the campaign. It seemed at matter of time before these kind of performances became the norm.

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2015-16

During the first month of van Gaal’s second season, Luke Shaw was probably United’s best player. Over the summer he had gotten himself into shape, admitting he had learnt his lesson from the previous year, and it seemed to be paying off. Unfortunately for the young left-back, disaster struck during United’s first Champions League group match, away to PSV Eindhoven. A sliding tackle by Héctor Moreno resulted in Shaw suffering a double leg fracture.

Given how long play was held up for while medics tended to him, it was no surprise when Shaw was ruled out for the rest of the season. It seemed that he was having no luck whatsoever. Just as he had started to get into his stride, his injury jinx had struck again. By the time Shaw would be ready to play again, he would have a new manager.

2016-17

When José Mourinho finally got the job he had been waiting for, Luke Shaw was initially his first choice left-back. He started him in the Community Shield against Leicester City, and in United’s first five Premier League games of the season. Following a naïve performance against Watford, Mourinho publicly criticised Shaw for his positioning, and later replaced him with Memphis Depay.

Throughout the rest of the season, Shaw was used sparingly. Mourinho, it seemed, did not trust him, particularly after he declared himself unfit to play against Swansea City. Some cynically minded people believed it was petty revenge for the fact that Shaw had turned down a move to his Chelsea side to join United. Towards the end of the season, Shaw did start, ironically against Swansea, only to pick up another injury, ankle ligaments this time, which ended his season.

This Season

It has been much of the same this term, as Ashley Young is seemingly Mourinho’s go-to guy at left back. Shaw got his chance, however, in January when he played five games in a row for the first time since his leg break. Mourinho himself insisted that he doesn’t see any better left back than Shaw, but then dropped him against Burnley.

Against Brighton & Hove Albion, he was given the humiliation of being substituted at half time, with his manager claiming that the opposition were getting too much freedom down Shaw’s side. Shaw apparently blew up in the dressing room, accusing his manager of constantly picking on him. The fact that he was an unused substitute in yesterday’s game was not much of a surprise.

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Harsh or Fair?

On the surface, it does seem that Lady Luck doesn’t have a lot of time for Luke Shaw. The injury he suffered against PSV must have taken some coming back from, both physically and mentally. The left-backs talent is not in question at all, but so far we have only seen glimpses of what he can do. The big question, however, seems to be his fitness, and his attitude.

Four of the managers that Shaw has played under during his career so far have expressed concerns over his attitude and discipline. In addition to the criticism levelled at him by Mourinho and van Gaal, Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino revealed earlier this season that Shaw didn’t work hard enough during their time together at Southampton. His former England boss Roy Hodgson also hinted that Shaw could have been fitter having included him in his squad for the 2014 World Cup.

It is said that Shaw is one of those players that needs an arm putting around him. Maybe that approach has failed, and what he needs is a kick up the backside. Mourinho, van Gaal, Hodgson and Pochettino are all managers who have coached at the top level, and all of them are singing a similar tune about the United left back. Surely they can’t all be wrong?

Future

Mourinho’s comments in January, that Shaw is one of the best left backs in the world, do not indicate that he doesn’t rate the defender. The Portuguese manager would not put his name to such an opinion just to boost a player’s ego. That’s just not his style in the slightest. One suspects that he would be more likely to try and avoid the question, rather than big up a player he doesn’t fancy.

The rumour mill that surrounds Old Trafford seems to suggest that Luke Shaw isn’t following instructions. There have often been concerns over his weight, and general lack of professionalism, among rumours that the defender regularly frequents fast food restaurants. This is a big shame because he has all the ability you could want for someone in his position. What is questionable, however, is whether he has the desire and the guts to make the best of that potential. The stage is all set for him at Old Trafford, he can be whatever he wants to be. The question seems to be how much he really wants it.

It’s very likely that this summer will give a clear indication, one way or the other. If Mourinho doesn’t sell him that would indicate that he does believe in him after all. The remarks he made in January suggest that he wants him to fulfil his immense potential.

If United were to sell, there would probably be no shortage of takers. A reunion with Pochettino at Tottenham has been linked recently, and a swap deal with Danny Rose has been suggested. These are only rumours, however, and it may be that a club lower down the table is his next destination if he were to depart Old Trafford.

A fresh start might do him the world of good, especially if the only clubs that come in for him are mid-table ones. That might be the one thing that makes him realise just what direction his career is heading at the moment.

Final Thought

Most fans want to see Luke Shaw in the side, in spite of how well Ashley Young has performed in the role. Before the finger is pointed at Mourinho, however, we don’t see Shaw in training every day. If he doesn’t think he deserves to be in the team, then there must be a reason for this.

Given how his managers have criticised Luke Shaw in the past, it’s not that hard to see why the Portuguese believes he isn’t currently up to it. Whether he will be in the future still remains to be seen.

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Player Focus

The Critcism of Lukaku

Added by Philip Meese on 07 Mar 2018 21:31

Despite a statistically impressive debut season at Old Trafford, Romelu Lukaku has come in for a lot of criticism since becoming Manchester United’s number 9. Is it justified?

 

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By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

 

Striker’s Graveyard. This is what Old Trafford became known back in the 1980’s. Since then, a number of previously prolific strikers have been swallowed up in the Theatre of Dreams. Names such as Garry Birtles, Terry Gibson and Diego Forlán were all imported at significant cost to cost to Manchester United, but found that the pressure of playing for England’s biggest club was too much to bear. At one point, it looked like Andy Cole was going to be added to that list after a barren first couple of years before he found his scoring boots. Maybe he would have been had United signed Alan Shearer.

 

In recent seasons this tag has disappeared, and didn’t even resurface during Radamel Falcao’s struggles. Over the past 20 years, practically every striker United have brought in has done a great job when fit, even Forlán, who always played well despite not hitting the net with any regularity. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimović are just some of the high profile names that have come into the club and thrived during that time. Romelu Lukaku is on course for 30 goals in his first season at the club, and yet there are some who still question him.

 

Limitations

 

Everyone knew before we completed Lukaku’s transfer that he isn’t Messi, Neymar or Suárez, and that there were one or two limitations to his game. The most common which seems to be banded around, and not without reason to be fair, is a poor first touch. Some say it is so bad that his second touch is a tackle. There is no doubt that this could be improved, and the Lukaku himself will be aware of this. At 24 years old, however, he is still relatively young and this may improve over time. It’s also possible that, like Paul Scholes with his tackling, it never gets better.

 

There is also a rumour that José Mourinho is concerned that he has put so much muscle on over the last few months that his pace has been affected. This did not seem to be the case, however, when making that lung-bursting run from his own half late in the game against Chelsea, where he almost fashioned a brilliant individual goal for himself.

 

Another accusation that gets lobbied at the Belgian is that he is nothing more than a flat-track bully, who scores against teams in the lower half of the table, but not against the top six. This is not actually true. There was one season, in 2014-15, where he didn’t score a single goal against any side in the top six, but other than that his record is not too bad. Since going out on loan to West Bromwich Albion five years ago, Tottenham is the only club he has really struggled to score against, netting just once against them. He has, however, has netted five goals against Manchester City, five against Liverpool, three against Arsenal and two against Chelsea. He also scored twice against Leicester City the year they won the title, and who can forget his hat trick against United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in 2013. His strike rate could be better against the big boys, but to say he never troubles them is completely inaccurate.

 

The haters were probably fuming when he netted a well taken equaliser against Chelsea. It is true that his record against the top six or seven sides in the country isn’t great, especially this season, but a closer look at these games might offer an insight as to why. In the away games against Liverpool and Tottenham, as well as City at Old Trafford, Lukaku had one chance in each of these matches. On all of those occasions, his shot was on target, and forced the respective goalkeeper into a save. While he might have worked the keeper a bit harder at Anfield, there was little more he could have done against Spurs or City. At Wembley, the Belgian had one chance, which he not only did well to get on target from that angle, but even better to force Hugo Lloris into a fantastic save. Against City, the only chance he had saw Lukaku, off balance and stretching to reach the ball, get his shot on target, only to see Ederson make a save at point blank range. Strange as it may seem, goalkeepers will do their job sometimes. It’s probably why they get paid so much money.

 

Against Arsenal away, or Spurs at home, he didn’t get any clear-cut chances. Because of the more conservative style of football Mourinho tends to opt for against the top six sides, chances for Lukaku are at a premium in these games. This means the Belgian is feeding off scraps, yet is meant to make it look like a feast.

 

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If He Played for Anyone Else

 

The difference between Lukaku and the next big money signing is that he plays for United. The world is watching, armed with social media accounts, ready to slate him at the first opportunity. All the United haters, and it seems some of the club’s so-called fans, want him to fail so they can sit and revel in their own smugness while saying “I was right”.

 

Cast your mind back to that chance in the Derby. Yes, he was two yards out, but it’s not like he missed an open net. What seems really strange is nobody has given much credit to Ederson in the City net for what was actually a brilliant save. If that had been Agüero at the other end, everybody would have been waxing lyrical about how brilliant David de Gea is, and rightly so. Would anybody have been questioning Agüero’s abilities? No, and as a result, Ederson has received little to no recognition for stopping an almost certain equaliser.

 

With social media the way it is, the haters with their army of followers can make any player in the world seem like a donkey. If de Gea makes a mistake at any time in the future that leads to United conceding a goal, the fact that he is one of the best in the world, if not the best, will soon be forgotten. News feeds all over the world will be alive with GIF’s showing replays of the incident, and insinuating that this type of mistake happens every week.

 

For Lukaku to score 23 goals, with two months of his debut season still to go, is hardly the record of a flop. Four of those goals have come in the Champions League, from seven appearances. He is doing just fine. Sure, there is room for improvement, but he is 24 years old. You also have to factor in that he came from Everton where, despite the fact that they are a fantastic club, the level of expectation is nowhere near as high as at Old Trafford. He is only three goals away from eclipsing his best ever total in a single season, which suggests he has more than risen to the challenge, especially taking into account the goal drought he suffered towards the end of 2017.

 

He’s a striker, and United bought him to put the ball in the net, which he has done quite regularly. He has missed a couple of chances that he should have done better with, no doubt about that. Against Sevilla, he skied one volley over the bar after hurrying a shot where he had more time than he realised. This could eventually cost United in the second leg.  There was another chance, away to Watford where he found himself in acres of space. Looking back, it seems he had too much time to make the shot, which didn’t end up in the net like it should have done. It’s not as though these are regular occurrences, though. If they were, he wouldn’t have scored 23 goals so far this season.

 

Improvements in his Game

 

Lukaku looks like he is becoming a more rounded player since moving to United. In addition to his lovely finish against Chelsea, he also set up the winner for Jesse Lingard. A few weeks ago, his hold-up play, and subsequent ball to Anthony Martial, set up the winning goal for Mourinho’s side at Burnley. This suggests that he is trying to evolve into more of a team player, rather than the type of striker van Nistelrooy was in his last two years at United, where he just expected chances to be created for him to finish.

 

The run he made from his own half in injury time against Chelsea is probably something he should try more often. The Belgian has plenty of pace and power, as he showed in that move, and demonstrated that he is capable of being much more than just a penalty box predator. It also shows that his work rate has improved dramatically over the last year. You’d be hard pressed to recall him doing things like that at Everton. Does any United fan really wish the club had bought Álvaro Morata instead?

 

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Final Thought

 

Romelu Lukaku isn’t Neymar, Agüero or even Harry Kane, and nor is he trying to be. There is no denying that players such as those are ahead of him. He is, however, a proven Premier League striker who, for the fourth season running, has gone past the 20 goal mark. This hasn’t changed upon moving to England’s biggest club, where many brilliant strikers have tried before him, only to buckle under the pressure.

 

The Stretford End may have been stopped from singing about 24 inches, but you would bank on Lukaku getting his 24th goal sooner rather than later. With plenty of the season still to play, to reach that many in his maiden Old Trafford campaign does not a waste of money represent.

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Player Focus

The One Positive from the Arsenal Defeat

Added by Philip Meese on 08 May 2017 21:15

Axel Tuanzebe – the One Bright Spot from a dark day at The Emirates

 

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

 

 

Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates left a bit of a flat feeling, even before the game kicked off. It was a strange situation, as the world and his wife knew that Mourinho is prioritising the Europa League, and wasn’t going to go all out to win the game. This may have been a major mistake, especially given the fact that, once again, one of our rivals for the top four slipped up. Liverpool’s home draw with Southampton handed the impetus back to United, who yet again failed to capitalise.

 

There was, however, a major plus point for the Red Devils in the form of Axel Tuanzebe. The Congo-born, Rochdale-bred youngster has been flirting with the first team for quite a while now. He won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player Of The Year award in 2015, also became the first player in over twenty years to captain the under 18’s as a first year scholar. Gary Neville was the last player to do so.

 

Tunazebe made his debut in the F.A. Cup as a substitute against Wigan earlier this season. With that game already wrapped up by the time he was brought on, it wasn’t exactly a fair test for the youngster.  Sunday’s game, however, showed a true test of his mettle. Alexis Sanchez is one of the best forwards in the Premier League, and probably the only world class player Arsenal possess. To make your full debut against such a player, and keep him quiet for the majority of the game is impressive. As tests go, they don’t come much tougher, and Tuanzebe passed it with flying colours.

 

Self-Belief

 

What was instantly clear is that this is a lad who is not short of confidence, or belief in his own ability. It is also very apparent that he is quite an athlete, fast, strong and with stamina to burn. With these attributes to his character, it is no surprise that was completely unfazed at facing a player of Sanchez’s pedigree. There was a moment in the second half where the Chilean forward charged at Tuanzebe, and immediately bounced off the muscular defender onto the floor. It’s not as though Sanchez is lacking muscle himself, he’s fairly well built.  

 

It is easy to see why Mourinho singled him out for praise almost immediately after taking the reins at Old Trafford. What is not clear, however, is that considering the injuries United have had at the back, why Tuanzebe has not featured earlier. Sure, Antonio Valencia has been one of our players of the season, and deserves every bit of the recognition he is getting for the job he has done this term. But Sunday wasn’t the first time we have rested him, so it is quite surprising he didn’t chuck him in earlier. He won’t face many tougher opponents than the Arsenal forward.

 

Another positive is that United finished the game at the Emirates with four homegrown players on the pitch, with fellow debutant Scott McTominay, as well as Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard also on the pitch. But some will still point to the Mourinho Myth that he doesn’t play younger players. The evidence this season doesn’t support that theory.

 

The most impressive aspect of Tuanzebe’s debut is that he performed so well in spite of being played out of position. He made his bones in United’s youth teams as a centre-back, and that is clearly how he defines himself. That said, he has all of the necessary attributes to perform well at full-back, a point well emphasised at the Emirates on Sunday.

 

Going Forward

 

As great as it was to see yet another youngster step up from the ranks and shine, we mustn’t get carried away. It was a great performance, and if he follows it up with a few more like it, then he’ll be in the mix for most match day squads. But we have had false dawns before.

 

Who can forget how great the likes of Luke Chadwick, Terry Cooke and Federico Macheda looked when they first got into the team. None of them went on to set the world alight. Macheda is still only 25, and currently plying his trade in Serie B for mid-table Novara.

 

As promising a player as Tuanzebe looks, and he does appear to have all the tools he needs to become a top player, the important thing will be how he handles what comes after. But United have proved many times with their young players that if you look after yourself the way a professional should, then they will look after you.

 

He just needs to remain focused, and remember the reason he got into the team in the first place. If he does that, the rest will take care of itself. 

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Player Focus

A United Captain Without the Armband

Added by Philip Meese on 03 May 2017 22:29

By Frank Mead, Editor

In tonight’s Manchester Evening News, there was an article where Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera played down his chances of being the future Manchester United captain. He would be a popular choice for most fans, who love his passion, desire and enthusiasm for the club. He is one of the few players, foreign or otherwise, that seem to get what it means to play for our club.

Fulfilling Potential

Earlier this season, our Editor-in-Chief Philip Meese did an article for Last Word on Sports about Herrera’s potential as captain. It was well received by most United fans that read it, and most were in total agreement. We were both there on his debut, also Louis van Gaal’s first match as manager, and were instantly impressed. We couldn’t believe it when he brought off after an hour, as he had been our best player. We went on to lose 2-1.

Over his first two years at United, Ander Herrera was used sparingly by van Gaal. It seemed he wasn’t a fan of the player whose transfer he had the final say on, and ultimately green lit. As Herrera showed in the recent win over Chelsea, he has a real eye for a forward pass, and likes to take risks. This was in total contrast to van Gaal’s safety-first style of football, where 75% possession was far more important than three points.

It took a month or so for Herrera to become an important player under José Mourinho, but when he was given his chance he didn’t let his new manager down. His entrance in the derby in September is one of the main reasons the second half was a pretty even contest. Without him, the first half had been a walkover for City’s midfield, and we were lucky not to be four down at the break.

A Natural Leader

It doesn’t look as though club captain Wayne Rooney has much of a future at Old Trafford. He hasn’t exactly been integral to Mourinho’s plans this season, even when he’s been fit. In his absence, the armband has been passed to Vice-captain Michael Carrick, Chris Smalling and even Marouane Fellaini. Herrera hasn’t been given the opportunity once, which makes you wonder if he ever will be. Surely our manager can spot a leader when he sees one. If he had Herrera in mind for the captaincy, given how often the armband has been up for grabs this season, you would think he would have given him a try.

It might be that Mourinho doesn’t want to burden the midfielder, and would prefer him to concentrate on his natural game. Even without the armband, he is rapidly becoming a figure that the other players look up to. Even before that masterful performance against the rent-boys, in which Hazard might as well have not been on the pitch, his authority in the team was established well before that. In the 0-0 draw at Anfield back in October, he was screaming at the other members of the team, ordering them around. Those that are paying attention will have noticed he does this most weeks.

Another reason could be that he doesn’t want to put a spotlight on him. We already have Real Madrid sniffing around David De Gea once again this year. Making Herrera United captain would highlight just how highly he is thought of at Old Trafford, and might make some of La Liga’s finest take notice as well. So far, there haven’t been any rumours linking him with a move back home. That would suggest either that they don’t rate him, or he has slipped under their radar. If it is the latter, why draw attention to him for the sake of an armband?

With or Without the Armband

Ander Herrera is fast becoming one of United’s most popular players, especially now that he is a first pick most weeks. In spite of the fact that he isn’t the biggest of players, he isn’t afraid of any opponent. This was emphasized when he brilliantly niggled Steven Gerrard into stamping on him two years ago, earning an early bath for his troubles. He nips at players, gets them to retaliate, however big they are (and in fairness Gerrard is a bit bigger than Herrera). He seems to be completely fearless, not intimidated by anyone.

Sure he has a tendency for a silly booking, but some rate Roy Keane as our greatest ever captain. Well he had a habit of getting sent off, but any team would be happy to have him skippering them. Like Keane, Herrera can run all day long, never gets tired. Basically he is willing to die for the cause, which is exactly the sort of attitude you want from a captain.

There could be plenty of reasons that Mourinho hasn’t given the Spanish international a shot at being captain, some of which are listed above. It could be that he has earmarked one of his potential summer signings as a future skipper. Whatever his thinking is, in Ander Herrera he has a man who is already a Manchester United captain; with or without the armband. 

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