Things: roaming Rooney, Conca’s successor and Sagna helps Walcott

Authors: Doron, Nik and Rob

Follow Doron, Nik and Rob on Twitter

Here’s installment number five of the “Things” column. Musings this week are brought to you as ever by Nik, Doron and Rob along with Anam from the excellent Arsenal Column who’s written about on Rooney. Boomshakalaka!

Former teenage prodigy needs to move again?! (by Doron)

Victor Moses shot to prominence as part of a group of talented youngsters at Crystal Palace – Clyne, Bostock and Scannell being the others. He was in the Palace first team from just before his 17th birthday and whilst he’d often impress in patches, he could never hold a regular starting spot – which of course was fine as he was just a teenager.

His move to Wigan in January 2010 was probably well-timed. He’d just been on a goalscoring run for Palace and would be involved in Wigan’s first team as much as he was at Palace. Whilst Martinez and Wigan attempt to play passing, attacking football, they’re not a particularly progressive team. Wigan are unlikely to ever advance much beyond the relegation zone and more often than not, are defending more than attacking.

In hindsight, Premier League football having just turned 19 sounds like a good idea but one has to wonder whether Victor’s ability has improved on the expected trajectory. Usually he’s used wide and sometimes through the middle as a striker – the lack of a settled position that truly suits him seems to be an issue. I think he’d be best used wide in a front three, a bit like Sturridge at Chelsea.

With Wigan battling against relegation, Moses issued a reminder of why he was so highly coveted as a teen – his composure and finish away at Norwich on Sunday was superb and got me thinking. He’s been involved in almost every league game for Wigan this year as well as being capped by Nigeria; yet, the hype around him seems to have dissipated.

I wonder if this summer is the time for him to move on again – to a better team. Wigan’s likely relegation won’t help his progression; surrounded by better players who are in possession more than Wigan may well benefit him. The question is, who’d make that gamble?! Villa, Swansea, Everton? Weird as it sounds, maybe even Arsenal? Either way, I’ve come to the conclusion he needs to move and get back onto the path he was on a few years ago.

The Dave, Rio and Jonny Show (by Rob)

United are finally back on top of the league, after spending approximately 23,791 weeks hot on City’s heels. The run-in has gotten off to a good start, and we’re starting to hear lots about ‘squeaky bums’ – proctologist fodder – and ‘every game being a cup final’ – glee for knockoff trophy manufacturers, Flava Flav, and hopefully this guy – all that means that the teams at the top will be under huge pressure, will probably play a few bad games, and will have to ‘win ugly’ a number of times in order to win the league*.

As any hackneyed American sports commentator can tell you, the key to winning championships is a good defence. This isn’t actually true, but having a good defence certainly helps. Since the long-term injury to Vidic, United have spent months hoping and searching and groping** for a solid goalkeeper and centre-back combination, to add some solidity to the backline. Finally, it seems like we’ve found it, as David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand and longtime fans’ favourite Jonny Evans have been superb in recent weeks.

Since the injury to Anders Lindegaard, Big Dave has looked like a man transformed. We all know about the brilliant saves he’s been pulling off practically every game. But look at how much more confident and commanding he looks when coming out for crosses, or barking instructions to the defence. He’s got lots more improvement still to do, but what a long way he’s come in 7 months. A scary thought: despite the beard, he’s only 21.

We all know what Rio’s capable of, and he’s adapted his game really well, using his positioning and reading of the game to make up for his new physical limitations. The revelation of the season, though, has been Jonny Evans. On either side of the City defeat – where he was unfairly scapegoated – Jonny has been fantastic, not just getting stuck in with great tackles, blocks and interceptions, but in supporting the attack by making smart forward runs and exhibiting his vastly improved ability on the ball. Even in the sound defeat against Athletic Bilbao, he had an excellent game while all around him was crumbling. In short, it’s been a pleasure to watch him play recently, and he’s arguably been the standout under-25 defender in Europe in 2011-12. The trio were rock-solid again at the weekend vs. West Brom.

We can only hope that this outstanding combination stays fit until the end of the season. Once it does, we’ve got every chance to win the league.

* – Some snarky observers would suggest that United have been ‘winning ugly’ all season. To which my response comes in two parts. 1: No they haven’t. 2: Look at this picture of Luis Suarez.

** Apologies if I’ve made the team sound like a pervy old man on a train.

Sagna rekindles Walcott flame – and Arsenal’s right (by Nik)

It was only the start of last month that Arsenal appeared to be staring into the abyss (3 straight league defeats and a 4-0 pasting in the San Siro), and worryingly, were completely devoid of ideas and/ or fluency on their right side. Sagna was missing through injury, and Walcott, though tirelessly working the flank, had seemingly forgotten how to ply his trade on the right wing. On the left, Arsenal’s approach was working with greater efficiency, with Gibbs’ support (and Santon before him) and Arshavin’s inconsistency allowing Oxlade-Chamberlain to flourish; despite results remaining poor. Sagna’s return from injury in the goalless draw versus Bolton has re-invigorated Walcott, and with it, Arsenal’s form. Since then, the North London side have won five straight games – the last four of which have been won having conceded the first goal in the game – scoring 18 goals in the process. Walcott’s contribution has been exceptional, with 3 assists versus Blackburn; 2 (essentially) versus Newcastle and scoring 2 goals versus London rivals, Tottenham. Sagna has played more than a supporting role, always an out-ball on the overlap or making a decoy run inside, he too has chipped in with a couple of assists, most notably versus Liverpool at Anfield with a super cross for van Persie. More, his defensive acumen and ability to intercept danger with speed has allowed for a more cohesive back four unit (Wenger tried and failed to fill the gap with four separate players), injecting a much needed confidence boost in defence and Walcott ahead of him. Arsenal have benefited in a number of ways of late, not least Rosicky’s return to something like the player he was at Dortmund; Song’s advanced role and the Koscielny-Vermaelen partnership. But Sagna’s return has arguably had the greater effect. Last night, Gary Neville picked out an interesting statistic at half-time, telling us how Sagna and Walcott had nearly three times as many touches as Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain; Santon was duly substituted at half-time for Perch, but Arsenal continued to attack that zone given the neat interchange on the right – and were subsequently rewarded late on when yet again the goal was assisted from this side.

Have Fluminense found Conca’s successor? (by Doron)

I’ve always enjoyed watching Brazilian football – so many technical and attacking players who want to try and entertain on the same pitch. Ever since word broke about the signing of the Da Silva twins from Fluminense I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for the club and followed their progress closely; introducing me to Dario Conca.

Conca quickly became one of my favourite players. Playing anywhere he fancied in the middle he was the playmaker and the heartbeat of the side for the best part of three years. His appreciation of space in terms of both finding it himself and finding it with his passing was second to none in the league. His left foot was capable of both the most deft touches and thunderous drives.

His transfer in July 2011 to Guangzhou Evergrande in China came as a surprise – at 28 he was unlikely to move to Europe but was getting somewhat restless at Fluzão. Mind you, when you consider that Guangzhou made him the third highest paid player in the world, you can’t blame him for moving. Already his turn of acceleration, trickery and movement have seen him average nearly a goal a game in China.

For Fluminense though they had a problem – replacing the guy who made their team tick. Maybe though, they’ve now found the solution – Wellington Nem. Impressively, Wellington is even shorter than Conca (who’s only 5ft 5) and despite playing slightly wider than Conca it appears that he’s become the go-to man for Flu already this season.

Wellington spent last season out on loan at Figueirense and was voted the best Brazilian newcomer. He’s quick, skillful, always demanding the ball and loves to run at players. Capped as a teenager for Brazil’s youth sides his progression seemed to stall as he couldn’t break into the Fluminense set-up but already this season he’s had a crucial role in the Campeonato Carioca, bringing his goalscoring form from Figueirense to Fluminense.

Early signs are that Wellington has become an important player for the club already – eight years Conca’s junior, he may well end up in Europe unlike his predecessor.

If Rooney wants to succeed at No.10 he must learn how to roam laterally (by Anam)

Against Athletic Bilbao, Rooney played some delightful passes and some very bad ones, at times his influence becoming a hindrance, retarding attacking moves due to poor execution of the final ball and at times, getting in his own team-mates way. That’s because his positioning is often Manchester United’s best and he knows it, the Gaffer knows it and that’s why he’s been playing as United’s number 10. In the 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, United might have found the answer with Rooney, even if it did require a certain adjustment to his role – as part of a 4-2-3-1 system, with two passers in the centre and Danny Welbeck on the right. Instantly, the side looked better than they did in midweek – and there wasn’t the same reliance on Rooney. He didn’t have to continually drop back to pick up possession because Scholes and Carrick could do that ably – indeed, he only passed it in his own half once in the first half. Rather, he operated mainly in the opponents’ half, spraying ball wide and trying to get onto the end of crosses.

Welbeck, who continually drifted inside of the flank, did so again, with Hernandez latching onto the ball in the vacated space as he cut in and shot; Rooney helping the ball into the net. It wasn’t Rooney’s movement, however, that made the goal, it was Hernandez’s and initially Welbeck’s. Because, as Michael Cox writes for ESPN, creators and number 10′s in today’s game, “simply have to be capable of roaming laterally.” And that’s because, he continues, the top clubs increasingly want the wide players “to come inside into the middle of the pitch, or they field them as “inverted” wingers on the side opposite their strongest foot, where they can cut in and shoot.” By doing that, space is created away from the centre and the defenders are dragged out of position. In the end, West Brom’s defenders didn’t know who to mark. If Hernandez didn’t take up the space Welbeck vacated, the home side would have been throwing away a space that was free on the pitch. However, that should have been Rooney’s job to do so. It’s interesting that he did that more often last season and he frequently swapped positions with Ronaldo and Tevez in 2007/08. If the Englishman wants to get back to his most influential best, he has to learn how to better roam laterally.

Premier League: the weekend in numbers (by Nik with a tip of the hat to Duncan Alexander)

It was a funny old weekend in the Premier League, with 8 home wins; 1 away win and one draw, and 17 goals scored in this latest round of games. It is rare that a game isn’t drawn (has only occurred 3 times this season) and we had to wait until the last game on Sunday for the draw at Norwich vs. Wigan (1-1). With the only away win being Kean’s rejuvenated Blackburn (at Wolves), the remaining teams used home advantage to great effect (5 of the wins came with a 1-0 scoreline, again highlighting the importance of scoring the opener). In fact, it could probably be argued, that due to current form and rhythm most teams were enjoying, the wins were largely predictable – Arsenal attempting to overhaul Spurs; Sunderland enjoying sterling home form under O’Neil; United hitting peak form in March as the title run-in hots up etc; with the only real outliers being City and Fulham failing to win – both teams of course notorious of late for failing to open up defences away from home. Spurs might have expected at least draw at Goodison park, but instead suffered a third consecutive defeat, against a resurgent Moyes side, for the first time since Ramos’ time at the Lane. With 10 games to go then, United are in the driving seat at the top of the league (meticulous planning from Fergie yet again!), and it still 3 from 5 as the relegation battle twists and turns by the week.

A few more numbers for you:

- It was the first time since December 17th/ 18th 2011 that any team failed to score more than two goals.

- Saturday saw the record for the most attempts (10) on goal hitting the woodwork in a single round of games

- Chelsea conceded 0 shots on target for 1st time this season

- Arsenal have now matched Spurs in counter attack attempts (28)

- Drogba has now scored 68 of his 100 League goals at Stamford Bridge

- Balotelli caused his 23rd argument (this time with Yaya Toure) since joining City in the summer

- Liverpool fans sung that Dalglish has won more in a year than Moyes has in 10 years but, Dalglish has spent in 12 months the same amount that Moyes has spent in the last 9 years – £114m

- Downing has now played 1944 minutes in the league for Liverpool without an assist or goal to his name

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4 Responses to “Things: roaming Rooney, Conca’s successor and Sagna helps Walcott”

  1. pat-rice says:

    Where’s the preview for Bilbao?

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  2. @pat-rice

    There isn’t a specific preview for Bilbao. The game is discussed on the podcast though and there is the guide to Bilbao from last week

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  3. Jay says:

    “after spending approximately 23,791 weeks hot on City’s heels.” ???? O.o

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  4. Rob says:

    @Jay …it felt like a long time since we were top of the league. Didn’t feel right. Now we’re in our rightful position.

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