With the FA Cup taking centre stage last weekend, the “Things” column was brushed to one side. Now league football is back on the agenda, the column returns for it’s second issue/publication/whatever you want to call it. As per last time, Rob will be sharing a couple of thoughts and we have another guest joining us, ManUtd24 – who’s focussed on Scott Parker. We’ll make no attempt to be neutral and we’ll attempt to link back to United where possible but otherwise enjoy our thoughts and ramblings for the second time.
Ryan Giggs and the 80/20 rule
I really don’t know how to feel about Giggsy this season, and the Chelsea game summed it up perfectly for me. After strolling confidently into the pub wearing my United #11 jersey, I saw him put in a midfield display of such wayward passing and defensive irresponsibility that it made me wonder if Joey Barton had put on a Giggs face-mask and snuck into the team. With Rooney mostly released from defensive responsibilities, Sir Ryan left too much mopping-up for Carrick to do, and our display for the first two-thirds of the game became totally disjointed, lacking the calm authority that we saw in the Arsenal game a few weeks ago. It certainly wasn’t the same Maestro Giggs who swept Chelsea aside 3 times and dominated the knockout stages of the Champions League last season.
As it turns out, he was just making me wait, because after Scholes came on and took over the game, our number 11 produced a great left-sided attacking performance – dribbling and bamboozling defenders, playing with confidence, and of course sending in that perfect cross for Chicharito’s equaliser. It turns out that he’s the ultimate exponent of the 80/20 rule – 80% of his impact comes from 20% of his play. Luckily for us, that 80% impact means he’s now got 8 assists in the league, behind only David Silva and our Tony V. Despite all the frustrations, Giggsy’s still got it.
There are many reasons to dislike Scott Parker. His effortless hair, for example, that fills us all with envy; the fact that he used to play for Chelsea; or the fact that TV commentators and pundits call him “Scotty” as if he’s their mate. He isn’t. But Parker is a good player. A really good one, in fact. It seems, however, that he’s being pulled down for reasons out of his control – Scott Parker’s biggest flaw is simply being Scott Parker – or being Scotty, England’s saviour, Lionheart emerging blood-stained but victorious in battle or any other hyperbolic/jingoistic mush.
Parker is more than someone who shows great “spirit and determination” – no, he can do things that actually mean something on the pitch. He can pass, tackle, intercept, create, score, tackle, pass, create and pass some more. In Tottenham Hotspur’s most recent game against Liverpool – a 0-0 draw that would normally be dismissed as ‘dour’ if not for an adorable cameo by an oblivious cat – he was named Man of the Match for all the right reasons. He made a few vital clearances, including a flurry of them at the end, and had Liverpool’s midfielders in his metaphorical pocket for most the game. He reads the game so well, does Parker. He’s the perfect foil for Luka Modric, too, and that can only be a good thing. Plus, he even managed to restrain himself from hitting Luis Suarez around the face – which is one of the great modern-day achievements, if you ask me.
Just a shame United didn’t go for him in the summer.
A foolish prediction (that’s going to come true)
Making predictions about the title run-in is always a fool’s game, but I fancy myself a bit of a fool today. As the season’s progressed, it’s become increasingly apparent that City’s (thus far) invincible home form is carrying their season. During these tough winter months, they’ve shown that they can be stopped by teams with enough organisation and energy to shut them down, and the luck to nick a goal from somewhere, such as the right boot of Darron Armando MaraGibson. Despite the fact that Yaya Toure is due to return soon from the African Cup of Nations, their remaining away fixtures look tricky, to say the least: Villa, Swansea, Stoke, Arsenal, Norwich, Wolves, Newcastle. Even if we grant that they beat Villa and Wolves, there’s every possibility that they drop more than 3 points in those other fixtures.
Contrast this with United’s run-in. We’ve got more players coming back every week, and have miraculously gone two full matches without any in-game injuries. After the next 3 very tough fixtures (Liverpool, Norwich, Spurs), we have a run of 8 consecutive games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table. United’s record against teams outside of the top 7 thus far: played 15, won 13, drawn 1, lost 1. The next 3 games are absolutely vital, and if our boys can get 6 or 7 points from a possible 9 there, I’d go so far as to say they’re clear favourites, going into the final stretch. Gary Neville was right when he said that City needs to pull away soon; otherwise United will win the league. What I’m trying to say is this: United will win the league.
But even if we don’t win the league, we better beat Liverpool on Saturday.
Bruce’s winger from Derry
At nearly 23, James McClean is no ‘youngster’ in the same way one would consider Welbeck to be a young player. Yet, coming to England having played nearly half his senior games in the Irish First Division (that’s their second division) and having such a positive impact so soon is impressive.
It’s not that Steve Bruce didn’t fancy McClean, after all it was he who signed him – rather, Bruce had his development down to a tee, stating from the outset that he’d need time in Sunderland’s reserves before probably being ready for the first team around Christmas. Bruce would never be there long enough to get the praise he should have done for bringing in and bringing through McClean but it was he and not Martin O’Neill who saw what was possible.
McClean’s rise to prominence under O’Neill has been impressive though. He’s a good mix of an old-school winger and the more modern direct type. When he goes outside he consistently delivers good whipped crosses; and when he comes inside his power takes him past players and he’s a goal threat. You almost have to wonder how much of the ‘MON’ effect at the club has been down to him and natural, quality width. If his form continues through to the end of the season, his days at Sunderland may be numbered.
The league’s best centre back?
It’s a question rather than a statement but Joleon Lescott should, in my opinion, be considered as one of the stand-out centre backs in the season so far.
Often over-looked because of the performances of Kompany, Lescott’s been a bit of an unsung hero for Man City. He turns 30 this summer so should be reaching the peak of his career and there are signs that this is indeed the case. In possession he’s become calmer and a good user of the ball, happy to run with it or play a well-spotted pass. When defending he’s certainly become less erratic and prone to error – there’s no coincidence that he’s become better off the ball as he’s learnt how best to use his physique.
Recent displays at international level as well as club level have been of a high quality and if it wasn’t for the fact that no one’s quite sure who his best partner for England would be, he’d probably have played himself close to first choice. Capello recognised his improvement and it’ll be interesting to see if his replacement does too. With the likes of Smalling and Jones breaking into the scene, it’ll probably be Lescott’s last chance to be first choice at a major tournament.
A thought or two
That was some goal by Cisse for Newcastle. He’d actually looked pretty poor having come off the bench and really slow but there was a glimpse at some of the quality he has as he found the top corner with his left footed strike.
Craig Bellamy may be the signing of the season. Amazing work-rate matched with regular quality in his passing and final ball, Bellamy’s been the man to make Liverpool tick so often. Not that it would have ever happened, but I think he’d have probably done a fairly decent job for United on a free – Glazernomics and all that.
Has football finally been hit by the recession after such a quiet January transfer window? Or, are there just not that many players available at sensible prices? Or are clubs finally realising it’s not worth spending over the odds on players? Or are most clubs happy with where they are in terms of squads? Is the latest trend to pay relatively big on Championship players? Food for thought.