Chris Smalling challenges Brown and O’Shea as United lost out in the League Cup to Sunderland.
In what is Manchester United’s penultimate home game of the season, the impact on the bottom half of the table is more at stake as Sunderland travel to Old Trafford. The visitors have done wonders so far to escape the pitfall of the bottom three, so far, but are level on points with third from bottom Norwich on goal difference. United helped Sunderland’s cause with a 4-0 win over Norwich last week, and interim manager Ryan Giggs will be hoping for more of the same this weekend.
Sunderland beat United on penalties in the League Cup back in January and Gus Poyet will be hoping for similar celebrations following the final whistle. The Black Cats last won at Old Trafford in the 1967/68 season. Three weeks later, George Best rounded José Henrique in the Benfica goal to gift Manchester United the European Cup and become the first ever English team to win the tournament. The European Cup may not be in United’s thinking next season, however – qualification, under a potential new manager, most certainly is. Ryan Giggs will no doubt see that this is the beginning of a new chapter in Manchester United’s history.
We have a great ‘View from the opposition’ from David, who blog over at http://www.rokerreport.com/. You can follow David on Twitter here @davidboyle1985. We discussed the lunacy of Paolo Di Canio, the inevitable sacking of David Moyes and the potential of Adam Johnson.
1) How has things changed at Sunderland since Di Canio left the club? Were you always going to struggle?
The club was left a complete and utter shambles in truth. Di Canio talked a good game and often highlighted perceived issues with this squad that fans had suspected for some time but his dictatorship of the team behind the scenes was never conducive to producing an effective side that would be prepared to play for him.
There was also, with hindsight, a remarkably ill-advised recruitment drive which concentrated on quantity over quality in a bid to achieve a much needed overhaul of the side. Of all the new faces that came through the revolving door last summer there has only really been Vito Mannone who has had a genuine impact on the side, more on him later.
With all these factors combined, the manner in which Di Canio departed and an unreasonably tough set of fixtures which Sunderland were tasked with for the opening half of the season, it was always going to be difficult but few predicted such a struggle.
The club as a whole really need to take stock this summer and assess how they made such a hash of, literally, everything last summer and learn from their mistakes.
2) What have you made of Gus Poyet and is he the right man long term for the job?
Poyet, by his very nature, is a likable character. The fans are treated with relative respect and not spoon-fed the usual cliché ridden press conference each week and the Uruguayan’s honesty has been well received.
What was remarkable was the manner in which he was able to instill his possession-obsessed philosophy onto this bang-average side very quickly following his appointment. Watching a side play out from the back has been a new experience and maybe a bit of a learning curve for the fans here but it was certainly a major contributing factor to regaining some confidence among the players and helping the club to a Cup Final.
That said there were some concerns following a move to five at the back following the Cup Final, a negative tactic which only frustrated the fans especially when it was employed in must-win home games against the likes of West Ham, when it back fired massively and the side still struggled to cope with Andy Carrol despite the numerical advantage.
Recently we have seen the adaptability of the manager, with the possession style of play shelved in favour of a more attack minded strategy once the situation we found ourselves in became more and more desperate.
Poyet should take great credit for his recent turnaround. Following the defeat to West Ham and indeed the majority of fixtures following the trip to Wembley, Sunderland looked to be sleepwalking their way to the Championship with little effort, desire or ability to address the slide.
However the two quite extraordinary results away at Manchester City and Chelsea gave the side a platform to build upon and thankfully they have grasped the opportunity when it mattered most.
3) With Sunderland out if the relegation zone and with three games left – you must be more confident that a month ago!?
Absolutely! As I mentioned, the Cup Final seemed to knock the stuffing out of the side and the performances were absolutely abysmal following the defeat at Wembley and player confidence seemed to have evaporated completely.
Players who had, up until that point, been influential such as the on-loan Ki Sung-Yeung and a reinvigorated Adam Johnson began to fade in their impact and as a result the side lacked any cutting edge or killer instinct.
For example, following the Capital One Cup Final Sunderland went on to lose games against Hull, Norwich and West Ham as well as a lacklustre draw against Crystal Palace – all games where you would hope to pick up at least a few points.
Thankfully Poyet somehow managed to bring life back into this side just in time and we have given ourselves a great opportunity to beat the drop. Quite how he has managed it however remains something of a mystery.
4) The Chelsea result impacted both ends of the table – just how good were Sunderland to get a result that day?
Sunderland were simply magnificent and to beat Jose Mourinho’s incredible Stamford Bridge record was a astonishing feat, albeit with a slightly controversial penalty to decide the game, which I personally believe to have been the right call in what was a very tough decision.
Make no mistake about it, we rode our luck at times and Chelsea dominated the game for large spells finishing up with over 60% of possession and racking up an incredible thirty-one shots, fifteen of which hit the target.
However, in Connor Wickham, Sunderland have recently unearthed an unlikely hero who’s goalscoring exploits have been a major contributing factor in our recent success and the young forward was simply fantastic that afternoon, as was Vito Mannone between the sticks who made up for his howler at The Etihad just days before with an inspired performance.
5) Who will be the three teams to get relegated?
I believe it will be as it is right now – Cardiff, Fulham and Norwich, although this weekend will obviously have a massive say in the future of every side involved.
We managed to beat Cardiff last time out and for me they already had the look of a side that had accepted their fate and were unable to offer any attacking threat despite having their fair share of possession.
It will be interesting to see how Fulham react to throwing away a two goal lead last week and a tricky trip to Stoke is not ideal.
Norwich have a horrendous set of fixtures to end the season and I can see Chelsea looking to take their Champions League exit out on someone and Neil Adams’ men could be in line for a bit of a spanking in both games to be fair.
As for Sunderland, the trip to Old Trafford aside, we welcome both West Brom and Swansea to the Stadium of Light and I fancy us to get the results to see us safe with home advantage being massive at this stage of the season in such key games.
6) What have you made of a United this season? Was it right to sack Moyes? Can Giggs be the long term manager at the club?
As a neutral, it has been fascinating to watch. I have a few Manchester United supporting friends, so have been watching with interest this season and without wanting to come across as all “I told you so” United’s struggles came as no surprise to me personally.
It was always going to be a big ask for Moyes, as it would have been any manager to be fair, to replace the iconic Sir Alex, however David Moyes never really struck me as the right man for the job.
His decision to replace the established backroom staff, against the advice of Fergie, was perplexing at the time and a perceived, ill-advised attempt to put his stamp on things which back-fired big style.
To be honest, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did. He looked out of his depth from the start and while Manchester United’s current squad certainly needs a lot of work it is definitely not as bad as results have made out. His inability to change games was also worrying, as were decisions to spend so much cash on players such as Fellaini and Mata before going on to seemingly have no idea how to fit them into his side.
Quite whether Moyes deserves to shoulder all the blame however is debatable. For me there can be no question that a large number of the Manchester United squad certainly didn’t perform to levels we have become accustomed to and their visible change in mentality against Norwich only served to further confirm such conspiracy theories that they simply weren’t playing for the previous boss, which is always disappointing as a paying supporter.
As for Giggs’ managerial credentials? Who knows? Although he got the expected reaction, performance and result against Norwich, it is far too early to say. The best scenario, in my mind, would be for Giggs and the rest of the ’92 gang to learn their trade under an experienced head and the muted appointment of Van Gaal could be ideal.
However, that in itself throws up some concern given Van Gaal’s commitments to Holland at the World Cup, which would seriously hamper his time available to carry out the required renovation of the squad.
Interesting times ahead.
7) Follow the 4-0 hammering of Norwich at Old Trafford, are you confident that you can get a result?
Realistically, probably not. Whilst Norwich were exceptionally awful that afternoon and the result was never in doubt, Giggs certainly seems to have lifted the mood at Old Trafford and the players have reacted well. With nothing left to play for this season, I can only envisage a similar performance, with the United players sent out with the shackles off and allowed to express themselves.
I can’t rule Sunderland out however following our recent performances at The Etihad and Stamford Bridge and the importance of a point for Poyet’s side should not be underestimated.
8) Who has been your best and worst player this season? Also – who has been the best player in the league this year?
Well Vito Mannone was awarded the Player of the Year award this week and in truth it is hard to argue.
I suppose the fact that the goalkeeper has been given the award speaks volumes of Sunderland’s season but that would also be incredible harsh on Vito and remiss of his impact on the side.
Mannone’s success story this season has been a fantastic tale. The keeper’s reputation was pretty much in tatters when he joined Sunderland and it wasn’t really a signing that got the fans excited especially as the club had just sold a fan favourite and top drawer keeper in Simon Mignolet. However, following an injury to Keiren Westwood, Mannone stepped into the breach and has blossomed ever since.
We are now finally seeing the potential that Arsene Wenger always believed in being realised and Vito has been a great asset to the side, especially in a certain penalty shootout earlier this year.
As for the worst player, I suppose the one who has disappointed the most would be Jozy Altidore. Sunderland fell into the trap of investing in a forward who had scored a stackload of goals in Holland and the American has really failed to make the grade this year.
It’s a shame as Altidore certainly has the physical attributes for a Premier League forward and seems to be a good lad but he has been found wanting far too often this year and simply doesn’t look a threat in front of goal whatsoever.
Hopefully he can grab a goal or two at the World Cup in the summer and we can find someone to take him off our hands but we will certainly make a loss on our investment.
9) Adam Johnson can be excellent on his day – is there an issue with his attitude, or does he simply not have what it takes to be an England regular?
There are far fewer players that frustrate as much as Adam Johnson. The winger has talent in abundance and is capable of winning a game on his own, as we saw at Fulham earlier this year when he bagged a hat trick, however Adam is also just as likely to go missing in a game as he is change one, especially if he is closely marked by the opposition.
He can also be quite easy to play against as an opposition fullback as nine times out of ten he is going to cut inside from the right wing onto his favoured left foot, a tactic which has worked on a number of occasions this year to be fair to the lad but can be a little predictable.
Quite whether the Johnson conundrum lies with a perceived attitude problem, which has certainly been rumoured, or if he is simply very much a confidence player, I don’t really know but the fact that he has blown so hot and cold this year in a side which in which he should easily be the standout player has certainly harmed his chances of a call up to the England setup.
Johnson bemoaned his omission from Roy Hodgson’s latest squad and perhaps with good reason. You have to wonder how it is possible a player who earned all his previous caps whilst barely figuring at Manchester City can move to a club, play week in and week out, find himself in superb form at the time the squad was announced and still not warrant a place.
However, following Andros Townsend’s recent injury now requiring surgery and ruling him out of a trip to Brazil you have to wonder whether Hodgson may well take another look at the Sunderland man, although I personally doubt it.
10) You must chuckle at what is happening at Newcastle? Who will be in the job longer – Pardew or Poyet!?
If it wasn’t for the mess Sunderland have found themselves in this year I’m sure I would have enjoyed the events up the road a little more. That said even given our shocking season we have managed to beat them in both legs of the derby this season, which is always something to bring a wry smile to a Mackem’s face.
Newcastle are a curious beast. I happen to work firmly behind enemy lines in Geordieland and as such am firmly entrenched in their woes and putting local rivalry aside for a moment I can appreciate their displeasure.
In Mike Ashley they have an owner who has little interest past the balance sheet and in Alan Pardew they have a dislikeable reprobate who is more likely to headbutt an opposition player than he is make a substitution or tactical switch that can influence a game.
Performances and results have been shocking since Christmas at St. James’ and the relationship between the club and their fanbase is at breaking point.
Getting back to your question it is looking increasingly unlikely that Pardew will be in charge come the start of next season. The locals are restless and are indeed planning a walkout after an hour of their last home game against Cardiff. Voting with their feet is the only way Newcastle fans can get through to Ashley. Luckily for the Mags they have already staged such a walkout this season, albeit a little earlier than the hour mark as Sunderland ran riot there this year and the ground emptied, so they should have plenty of practice.
Interestingly Newcastle could just be the job that may interest your own former boss David Moyes and the Scot’s perceived ability to work well under a strict budget would certainly be of interest to Mike Ashley.