Man United, Europe, Twitter, statistics and cannibalism

Author: Herzog’s Child

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Part 1 of this Q & A preceded Wednesday’s catastrophe. As a result, an obligation was emplaced to ponder on it briefly but not too much. The innards of our exit have been well knifed apart by now, but to ignore it would be a disservice. These are testing times for United. In amongst the enamouring sights of our young troops delivering, a despondency lingers that won’t go away. Why? The reasons vary. The immediate concerns are clear: a lack of quality, coupled with an injury list that wouldn’t look out of place in a war-zone, has already cast doubts over what May will deliver. There’s the debt, too, of course: something far more sinister, yet oddly more ignored by the majority. That was covered in Part 1 *here*. What follows below is a little more light-hearted, but something most, if not all, football supporters can in some way relate to. United’s confirmation that Vidic will miss the rest of the season came at a time when the answers for all of the questions below had been garnered. Suffice to say, there is little point in contemplating it even further – his absence, despite the qualities of those who’ll fit in, has come at the worst time. So, enjoy the views of those below – it is their work, and theirs alone, that has made this session what it is. For their insight, intelligence and time I sincerely thank them. More shall follow soon.

6. Since part 1 went out, wicked things have occurred – we are now out of Europe’s grandest competition and, just to beat us when we’re down, we’ve been flung into its lesser brother, the Europa League. Whilst the headaches of that reality can be pondered on another time, one thing that I was taken aback by in the wake of our exit was how many people seemed genuinely surprised. Up to the Basel match, we had already shambled through the previous 5 group games; the ever lingering lack of quality had played its crucial part, of course, but the harbinger of all woe appeared to be a continuous complacency throughout the campaign. Goals were leaked far too easily and leads were wasted. What, to you, was the defining factor? And, to contemplate the matter briefly, how would you like to see United approach the EL?

@SportyMuslimah: A lot has been written and a lot has been said regarding United’s current midfield issues, however I do not believe that this was the reasoning behind not qualifying from the group stages. Whilst I agree with many that in the latter stages of the CL our squad wouldn’t have been good enough, evidently it is good enough to come second, if not top, of the group. We can’t lament the lack of goals, as we scored enough goals to win games, but conceded far too often. The home games against Basel and Benfica are stand outs for me. I was content with drawing away in Portugal, and the six points we picked up against Otelul Galati. After leading 2-0 at home v Basel, to become so casual and lacklustre in possession wasn’t to do with a lack of a creative midfielder – it was down to naivety and becoming too boisterous in our play where we believed they couldn’t score two, let alone three, leaving us with Young to spare our blushes. The chance Berbatov had at the end of the game would’ve been a travesty in some ways if it went in as it would’ve papered over the cracks. The game at home v Benfica was similar – although this time our own celebrations were cut short after Benfica scored within 60 seconds. This, more down to individual errors and not making crucial challenges when possible to win the ball back was again nothing to do with a creative midfielder. If we had won both of these games, then we wouldn’t be discussing this. Being knocked out was our own doing, we had the opportunities away at Basel to rectify it, but didn’t. Twenty two goal scoring opportunities, speaks volumes on the poor finishing and excellent goal keeping than it does a midfielder. In addition, injuries did us no favours; however it seems the nickname once reserved for Ranieri – ‘Tinkerman’ – can possibly be applied here. The lack of a consistent team, often where SAF’s hand was forced into a decision, others where changes were made, left an unsettled side from week to week. United’s mantra of attacking was at odds with SAF playing it safe in Europe, which in recent seasons has served him well. However, in the group stages using a ‘cagey’ formation isn’t necessarily the best, because as we’ve seen in other groups too, the results elsewhere do play a part in your fate. City continue to impress in the Premiership, even in the CL v Bayern they completed their job impressively, Spurs and Arsenal have become a renaissance side winning regularly with panache and vigour. Whilst I’d like to believe we will be Champions at the end of the season, the injuries are taking their toll, and unless we purchase in January we could fall behind the pecking order. This sounds all too doom and gloomy, a lot depends on how Spurs, Arsenal and City handle the pressure; something SAF revels in, but we need to take the EL seriously. I see many believe this is a good place for fringe players and the reserves to play – I don’t see that. Winning a trophy this year is crucial; we need to keep the momentum. Much like in 2005, we went through a rebuilding phase and came back by initially winning the Carling Cup, which we can’t now do; we must focus attention towards the Europa.The league and FA Cup are still very plausible, we aren’t out of it at all, and every competition is worth winning. Whilst I wouldn’t lament the likes of Morrison, Fletcher and the despondent Berbatov getting games, starting the Europa League in the manner we did the Carling Cup, and not take the opposition seriously, as we didn’t in the CL qualifying stages, would see us out of the 32 quickly too. A perfect competition for Lindegaard to play regularly, as he deserves to. At many other clubs he’d be a first choice keeper. Providing fitness, I would then consider:

Lindegaard, Rafael, Smalling, Jones, Evra, Valencia, Cleverley, Fletcher, Young, Welbeck and Berbatov.

Subs: Amos, Rio, Fryers, Morrison, Nani, Petrucci and Rooney.

Playing a side with a dominant centre pairing, both of whom can also attack where required, leaving an able Fletcher to play the central defensive role, along with Young and Valencia on the wings, is the way to go. Playing a cagey game will invariably become difficult, as other sides in the Europa will play full strength sides, as for many of them; this is their main chance of success. Given our second leg of the round of 32 is at home, where we have scored enough goals, we can then give the youngsters the opportunity. Heaping further pressure on them to succeed, when we are rebuilding ourselves could well have a detrimental effect. I know it’s unlikely we will see many of the first team players, but they too need to know that they aren’t ‘above’ a competition, and regardless of competition, they need to give there all for United. Many fans will be disillusioned with the Europa and recent performances; this could be an opportunity to show glimpses of the future whilst keeping the core of our first team involved.

@mierta23: There has been a lot of tinkering with the squad this Champions League campaign, and although that surely hasn’t helped us, we’ve fielded experienced teams in every game that should have been capable of getting the results needed. No disrespect to Basle, Benfica and Otelul Galati, but this is a group we should have been able to qualify from and as Evra says, that we failed to do so is quite frankly nothing but embarrassing. I think the reason behind this failure is complacency. “We are Manchester United. No matter how dreadful our performance is, we’ll end up scoring anyway. That’s the way it is” seems to be what some of the players are thinking. Yes, through the years we’ve managed to score a great number of goals in the last minutes, but those goals don’t just come to you. You have to work hard for them, and that part seems to have been forgotten this season. There have been games when we’ve needed a goal, and the urgency just hasn’t been there, and there have been games when the pressure has been there but we haven’t managed to score. Against Basle, Rooney missed a couple of chances he would undoubtedly have scored a couple of month ago. If Wayne scored one of those chances, we wouldn’t have to play on Thursdays this season. The real problem though, was the chances we missed in the home games vs Basle and Benfica. To lose a 2-0 lead at home instead of killing the game off with a third goal is something you just can’t do if you’re planning on qualifying from the Champions League group stages, no matter who the other teams in your group are. What upsets me the most however is that us having to play in the Europa League for the rest of the season doesn’t really surprise me. The whole campaign has been a disaster in terms of attitude, and in hindsight we didn’t deserve to qualify. Even if it might have felt like it, the world didn’t end last Wednesday. We’ve still got the Europa League, although it might not be what we had hoped for and expected. Let’s face it, the only way we were going to win the Champions League was if Real Madrid, Bayern and Barcelona eliminated each other, but now we’ve got a good chance of winning the Europa League. Do I want us to win? Naturally. I want that Manchester United winning mentality in my team and you can’t just turn that on and off depending on in if you’re facing Metalist or AC Milan, you have to want to win every single game. That said, the league is much more important, which means we can’t field our strongest XI in the EL. To me it’s a perfect opportunity to give some of the youngsters a chance, particularly after the defeat to Crystal Palace and the FA cup draw vs City. It will be a bigger stage than they have previously played on and there will be pressure, but pressure will always be there if you play for Manchester United. Why not give the ones who are mature and brave enough a chance to get used to it?

@Karatejesus82: The result against Basel was terribly disappointing but the abrupt Champions League exit was rooted in the drawn games against Basel and Benfica at Old Trafford. Despite these draws, I’d personally expected us to get through as we have done in previous years despite relatively stumbling through the group. I’m loathe to criticise Ferguson for tinkering with the team in the group as our record of doing this in previous years has suggested we could do this and get away with it. Unfortunately, this was the season we didn’t get away with it. The most disappointing result has to be the home game against Basel when we threw away a two goal lead. Whether this would still have happened had Nemanja Vidic been fit, I’m not sure (and his now confirmed long-term injury is the dungy cherry on the shitty cake of, well, shit). This isn’t the only instance of a player, or players, missing games that played a relatively large part of the plummet into Europa land. Vidic was suspended, harshly, for that Benfica game at Old Trafford, and Michael Carrick, again suspended after a harsh yellow card against Benfica, missed the Basle game when, at the current time, he is by far our most in-form player. Along with the issues outlined above, there have been two problems of a contrasting nature and occurring at different times that have hindered our season so far. Firstly, during the first two months of the season, we were good on the attack but slack in defence. It was during this period that we, fatefully, drew 3-3 with Basel. Secondly, in more recent months, we were increasingly stable defensively, with the exception of the 2-2 against Benfica. Following the 1-6 against City, the only goal that United have conceded in five Premier League games was the non-penalty against Newcastle. However, during the same run of matches, United have scored only five goals. At times, such as in the away games, United have scored first half goals and then, rather effectively, shut up shop. Against Newcastle, we should have scored four or five and this highlighted the concern that, despite the level of control United were showing in these games, the results of all these games were still in doubt and punishable by one moment of genius or one small mistake. The lack of goals is strange and difficult for me to understand at the moment. One of the problems is that, with the exception of the Newcastle game, we have failed to create many clear cut chances, or forced the goalkeeper to make a save, despite our overall dominance. This can sometimes happen, most notably with the Arsenal team of the last five years, when teams maintain possession very well but slow play down too greatly or don’t get the ball into dangerous areas. Neither of these are the case for United at the moment. One pleasing aspect against Basle was that, throughout, I felt we played with an urgency that is usually lacking in the matches that we’ve struggled in previously during the last few years. We moved the ball well and, through Nani, utilised our most dangerous player on the night effectively, but in truth their goalkeeper had few shots to stop. My thoughts, at this raw stage, tend to be that we have a very good squad filled with very good players and this is not a situation where, in the vast majority of cases, players have let themselves down with their performances. All of the players who are regularly used have a place in our squad when you look at it on an individual basis. The problem, I think, is that not all of our players can have a place in our squad when looked at a collective basis. As I’ve stated, they are all very good players. However, what our squad seems to lack at the moment is a couple of exceptional players who can raise the sum of our parts to greater than it currently is. From our midfield and attacking players, only Rooney and Nani would be classified as exceptional for me and if one of those fails to spark, as can often be the case, it leaves us thin on invention. As a result, despite generally having performed consistently to a high standard whilst being at the club, I’d be sweating if I was any of the other, established, regular midfielders or attackers that we have (or if I was called Patrice Evra for that matter; the one player this season whose performances have been truly under-par and that would deserve to lose his place should he do so). The likes of Valencia, Park, Anderson, Berbatov, Fletcher, Carrick… basically, everybody should be playing for places in the squad for next season. By letting a couple of good, decent players leave, United could then try and bring in players who could offer the prospect of reaching a higher level of performance. Whether this will be done, and if it was done, how it could be done, would be a whole different question.

With regard to the Europa League – I hope we play the youngsters with players from the first team needing games, but only those who have a reasonable chance of being here next season. If that happens and we go on a good run then great, if we go out straight away then it’s no great loss. If I was asked whether we could win the Europa League or the F.A. Cup this season then it’s a no-brainer. It might be cold, dark and minging in Manchester but knocking City out of the cup will be burning a fire in Ferguson at the moment and it’s about time we won a Double again.

@DoronSalomon: Looking back on our European adventure so far this season there’s little doubt we got what we deserved but I think the surprise is that we actually did balls it up in the end. So often we’re used to seeing the side scrape through or force a result despite playing atrociously. Yet, for the first time in what feels like ages, we totally bottled it.

It’s not often I agree with Rio but he’s right when he said our home form was the key. A draw in Benfica was a perfectly ok start and we won in Romania. However it wasn’t just that we failed to beat Benfica and Basel at home – it was the manner of how we dropped points. Individuals will always make errors but the attitude of the collective was piss-poor. We were, as we have been for a fair amount of the season, way too cocky and arrogant. On the pitch we played with little urgency until having to come from behind against Basel and we played without the defensive solidity that one would usually associate with European-United. Off the pitch I’m not sure Fergie had the right tone either – ending a press conference early because a reporter dared to suggest we were struggling was pathetic, especially because that reporter was proven right. There’s the potential it’s a blessing in disguise, allowing us to focus on the league now and also it means that our problems now are in the open and have to be addressed. I rambled away a bit more on the blog when I wrote some semi-rational post-match thoughts.

Call me spoilt but I’m struggling to really care about the Europa League. Three things would excite me: new opposition; meeting Man City at some point; and if the kids were given a chance. I think we can’t afford to treat it like the Champions League, certainly not in these early knockout rounds. It’s more important that the first choice side is kept fresh for the league now. Let players who need minutes and some of the kids get some competitive game-time. Just imagine giving Ravel an hour in one of the games and letting him just ‘do his thing’ because it’s a no-pressure game. Ultimately, if we get further in the competition we might as well win it; if we don’t win anything else at least we keep the silverware coming and it’s something for Jones, Smalling, Cleverley, Welbeck and others to feel proud of. That feeling of winning something is so crucial to United player’s development and I guess this has the potential to become important for that reason later in the season.

@Twisted_Blood: Wicked things happen for mundane reasons, and one of the things that United fans have tended to forget over the recent fat years is that qualifying from the Champions League group stage is a difficult thing to do. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have — in terms of talent, United were clearly good enough to get out of that group — but to highlight that if the team isn’t functioning, for whatever reason, then the margins of error are very tight. And you can argue that United underperformed in every single game, which is never going to be enough. The defining factor was just that: dysfunctionality. The bits of the team don’t fit together like they used to, in defence, attack, or that blasted heath we have in the middle. In part that’s an inevitable consequence of this “transitional” season; in part it’s a harsh review of the squad; and either way the loss of form from a couple of senior players hasn’t helped. I don’t think there was any complacency from the players — there certainly was from plenty of fans and journalists — but I think that this team yet doesn’t function in either defence, attack, or moving from one to the other. The same is true in the league, as anybody that’s suffered through our recent run of “good” form will tell you, but as above, in Europe the margins for error are less. As for the Europa League, I want to see us win it, and I want to see us win it like United are supposed to: proper, old-school, two-legged multi-goal European adventure. And I’ll be calling it the UEFA Cup, whatever they say.

7. Right, enough of the doom…and onto the madness. Twitter, in its weird little way, appears to have momentarily revolutionised a portion of the football community. A plethora of blogs have sprouted up since its inception, and gaggles of reds have come together to compact discussions and arguments into 140 characters. The beauty of choosing who one follows ensures a user can block out the more unsavoury characters infiltrating it, but fruit-loops and mouthy oddities can still be flung into your timeline via retweets. How has the elevation of twitter affected your passion for the game? For me, the good outweighs the bad, but sometimes its tendency to overload on every aspect of the game, and its repetitious nature, can make me want to zone out of it completely. For example, the on-running and inane mentions of #GGMU #MUFCFAMILY and other such deplorable tags often have me reaching for the ‘delete account’ option. It can be hypocritical to bemoan something one is in complete control of, I concede, but how do you view it?

@DoronSalomon: I’ve had Twitter for a few years now. I originally set-up an account because my friends did, we used it in lectures to take the piss out of each other when we were bored. However with various news agencies setting up feeds and sporting journalists signing up, I quickly started to use it for real-time news. I started to then ramble on about all things United and football. To be honest, I’m grateful to Twitter because it was only through that medium that Andy (Mr Stretford-End) asked me if I fancied penning my thoughts from time to time and hence I started to blog. I like the fact that through Twitter more United fans seem to have taken an interest in what goes on beyond the first team – fans from around the world now know about Jack Rudge or Marnick Vermijl! I do enjoy discussing things on there and have found it a great place for networking and meeting like-minded people. Whether it’s the rest of the guys behind this blog or people like Tony (@mrmujac), Ian (@manutdreserves), Paul (@thisistheone99), Craig (@craignorwood) and Nick (@manunitedyouth), it’s nice to be able to have made some new good mates; who in most cases I’m lucky enough to spend time with in real life too! However Twitter has an evil dark side. It’s a great way to wibble away from a self-invented persona and goes to people’s heads. The idea that I can follow someone then decide I don’t want to see their tweets anymore so I unfollow them can apparently be seriously offensive to some; so offensive that they then have to natter away about it. It’s a ridiculous place sometimes, I’m just lucky I have a life away from that place! The hordes of people asking me to follow them because they’re also a “Man United die-hard, MUFC Family verified, GGMU” like-minded fan is just beyond stupid. It’s the nature of the game though in today’s society that this kind of things happens. Every club has its equivalents. I don’t mind them because I don’t follow anyone like that but it does make me cringe. Certainly a glance at the Manchester United Facebook page should tell you everything you need to know. On the whole I’m all for Twitter, and damn right I should be… I work in social media after-all!

@Karatejesus82: The good definitely outweighs the bad for me, partly because I tend to operate a three (or in reality, several) strikes and you’re out rule that means I unfollow people who annoy me too many times. Once the football journalists and players are taken out of the equation, I probably only follow about 170-180 people and I’d say half of these I generally skim read. This still leaves a fair number whose views I find interesting and help restore my faith that not every football fan is an idiot. One of the best aspects is the insight provided by fans from other clubs and my independent, unofficial survey, probably shows Arsenal as having the highest number of good people (albeit with about four or five). Quality over quantity is my motto. The worst aspect is, without doubt, the intolerably boring and self-infatuated few who think they have inside knowledge, when they don’t, or think their profile picture counts as verification that their views are actually interesting when, in reality, they are about as well thought out as those rattling around the morgue that is Robbie Savage’s head.

@SportyMuslimah: ‘Unfollow is a person’s best friend on Twitter.’ – this is something I will always stand by. There is nothing wrong with having differing views, however, people seem to lose basic etiquette and manners when communicating online, this grates me.

I am not sure whether Twitter has had any effect on my love for the game, I don’t believe it has diminished it; however I’ve certainly learnt a lot more than I knew before. The range of blogs is particularly intriguing. For many people like myself, there is no immediate person to discuss a game with, Twitter in this regard is great as you get to share views, consider possibilities and argue over a refereeing decision. None of that will change the outcome and make SAF buy a particular player, but it’ll make me feel better!

People show their support for their team in different ways, many feel those who don’t ‘follow back’ are seen as obnoxious and patronising, or perceive themselves to be ‘better’ than the individual. Far from it, we all have different needs and reasons to be using Twitter and should be given the choice to use it without abuse for the choices we make.

I’ve also spoken to some amazing people that I wouldn’t have had a chance to otherwise. Twitter for me is more about life than just the football. Discussing world matters are as much a necessity of my staple diet as football.

@Twisted_Blood: For my part, I like Twitter a lot, but it is an odd space. In terms of my passion for the game I don’t think it’s changed anything, but it’s certainly put me in touch with a lot of people who think about the game differently, or think about different parts of the game. I perhaps have it a little easier than some United fans and writers because I don’t write about United very often and I don’t do so from the point of view of a fan. As such, my Twitter presence is (outside of matches, anyway) relatively neutral and I’m probably not as deep into the #MUFCFAMILY as I might be. As an illustration, it took me a few seconds to actually work out what #GGMU stands for.

@mierta23: For glory-hunting, plastic, not-from-Manchester fans like me, Twitter is probably the best thing that has ever happened. It was nigh on impossible to find streams for the reserves before, and when the first team wasn’t on TV in Sweden I had to rely on Match Tracker on for coverage of the games, which was not a very pleasant situation to be in. Twitter makes it so much easier for me to be a fan and get in touch with other fans, but there are days when I consider deleting my account, because the sheer stupidity of some fans never fails to amaze me when it comes to certain players – Carrick, Gibson and Evans being the prime examples. Depending on whose timeline you’re looking at you get the impression that they’re either far superior to Yaya/Messi/Vidic or that they’d be better of playing non-league football because they’re obviously shite. Fans on Twitter doesn’t seem to like being reasonable, and there are times when this makes me consider going back to the days of Match Tracker and not being able to find streams, just to get away from it. “Shut up, you don’t know a thing, you’re a girl” is something I keep being told as well, although usually in more abusive language, and when people say stuff like that it makes me a bit disappointed. I don’t care at all about their opinions, but that some people still thinks that all knowledge about football is located in the penis makes me despair at humanity. Tell you what, that’s not the case.

8. On the subject of Twitter, Tom Cleverley has just become the most recent of United’s battalion to try and impress us all. He joins the mass-marketing Rio, the painfully dull Nani, the succinct Michael Owen, the ludicrously enamouring Lindegaard, the childish yet likeable Rooney, the next Hemingway in Ravel Morrison, as well as Valencia, Jones, and a wide number of United’s younger troops. Who, for you, appears to be the most genuine and fun? And how many of them are actually worth following? Rio #oooffed me out recently, and was unfollowed. Do footballer’s accounts offer a genuine insight into the lives of players, or are they – as the cliché goes – generally uninteresting and tedious?

@Twisted_Blood: I unfollowed Rio when he said he was “”, which I’m fairly sure is a war crime. Generally, though, there is probably some insight to be gained — I certainly think it’s made Rooney more likeable to non-United fans, and it’s made Lindegaard something of a cult hero. But I would be distraught if anybody assumed that my Twitter feed comprised or revealed my entire character, so I suppose I have to carry the same principle across. We get to see some; we don’t get to see most. As an aside, I suspect Michael Owen’s account is in fact an elaborate satirical investigation into just how boring a human being can be. Those caption competitions. The horror.

@KarateJesus82: I think I follow most United players on Twitter but I don’t particularly have high expectations and, as a result, don’t seem to share the disappointment that some have when it transpires X, Y or Z are actually pretty thick and/or boring. I follow them because I’m a United fan and it’s a good opportunity to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I actually think Ferdinand uses Twitter in the manner that a professional football should – he avoids controversy, in the main, and has utilised an outlet successfully that, due to the infancy of the medium, could create big problems for the club. As long as you ignore the drivel of OOOOF then there’s the occasional interesting thing that you’d otherwise not get to see. Of the United players on there who are worth following for general insight then the only one I can think of would be @Jay_In_Essex’s idol, Michael Owen. This is primarily for the fact that he will interact with football journalists and reading those interchanges, when it’s on the player’s terms and under no set rules, is more interesting than reading a pre-arranged interview in a newspaper. However, even Michael Owen converses with Piers Morgan, and while it appears they don’t like one another, the fact he can be arsed following, let alone talking to, such a horrible little shit makes me wonder if he’s as clued up as his tweets suggest. Basically, Twitter is a fertile ground made up of a high percentage of idiots and a small minority of interesting fans of varying clubs who have created a 21st century football playground to talk to one another in. The players’ presence is like having Panini Stickers that occasionally say something which, although usually dull, still makes you look before you turn back to the proper people. One last point about United players on Twitter: Ravel Morrison, or as he should be known, The Ticking Time Bomb – surely the club can delete his account and just tell him Twitter has closed down. Better safe than sorry.

@mierta23: We all already know that pretty much the only thing footballers do is play FIFA and hang out at Nandos, except for maybe Michael Owen who feeds his horses and Rio who takes his kids to school. In that sense there’s no insight at all. There is interaction however, and that’s what I think is so brilliant about Twitter, it makes the players a bit more human and brings them much closer to the fans, which I think is only positive. I’m fairly sure that all United fans agrees with me when I say that Anders Lindegaard is the most entertaining United player on Twitter. He has a brilliant sense of humour and it’s impossible not to love him based on his tweets. Another favourite of mine is Ravel Morrison, a brilliant follow, even though he’d probably be better off without a Twitter account. All the youth/reserve players would in my opinion be better off without Twitter to be honest. Hearing from fans that “I look forward to seeing you in the first team, future legend! #GGMU” when you’re seventeen or eighteen can easily get to your head, just as hearing how shit you are after a shaky first performance in the first team can affect you negatively. I often hear footballers and celebrities saying that they always look for the comments saying they’re useless and ignore the positive ones, and while criticism is all good, it quickly gets to a point where it only brings you down. Some players can handle it, others can’t, and the slating of some players is frightening.

@DoronSalomon: The most fun is probably Lindegaard – he just seems to be a happy guy who likes a laugh; comes across relatively normal on there. I have a soft spot for some of the younger lads too – I like Zeki Fryers and Sam Johnstone. I follow them all for some reason, including some of our schoolboys. Not really sure why I do but I guess it’s in the hope that they say something interesting. I know most of what Rio says is cringey, especially since he got his App (he has an app in case you didn’t know!) but I kind of admire his brand-building. He’s sorted himself out for when he retires now and I’m sure he’ll be successful in marketing his ‘5’ brand. Few footballers come across as interesting as they know that most of what they tweet will be analysed, written about and then analysed some more. It’s a shame, that. It’s what makes Joey Barton so interesting (although I don’t follow him) as he just tweets what’s on his mind.

@SportyMuslimah: I made a conscious decision to not follow any celebrities or footballers, it is something I have never done. They are often retweeted on my timeline anyway, but I watch football for the football. I support Manchester United, I want these players to perform well because they play for my team, not because of who they are.

I struggle to understand why they have so many followers, as apart from Anders, there is very little they say that’s of interest. They refuse to discuss anything ‘controversial’ or meaningful. I couldn’t care less what food they ate, clothes they wore or song they played as they picked their child from school. They seem to want to prove they are ‘normal’, which is fine, but not on Twitter. If they want to tweet about a visit Nandos, that’s fine as long as their performances are on the pitch.

I feel the most for Ravel, his every single tweet is analysed to death. I’ve seen ‘journalists’ attack and write articles about on his tweets based on their perception of what they mean. How pompous is that!? How unnecessary! Seriously, go watch paint dry or something.

9. A new-fangled hobby of many is to churn out illimitable statistics detailing the mathematics behind every player in every match without exception. Pass completion stats are regularly rolled out as seemingly productive retorts to those bemoaning a player’s inadequacies. However, as one can clearly deduce, numbers have a tendency to skew reality. A 92% completion rate is fine, but it’s only a valuable number if it is coupled with production – which it is often not. Michael Carrick, for me, encapsulates how pseudo-statisticians can often be fundamentally flawed in their actions. Carrick isn’t anywhere near as bad as his eternal detractors suggest; however, he is also, despite regularly turning in a good completion rate, not as good as those who come rushing in wielding stats suggest. Are we in danger of over-intellectualising a sport that is fundamentally simple? Stats can be fun, but the image of those who apply a religious faith in them having one hand on a mouse and the other tapping frantically at a well-worn calculator is very dull.

@Karatejesus82: I’m not a stats driven person by any stretch of the imagination but, when they are kept to a modicum, I can see how using them would back a point up or dispel certain untruths that are held due to stereotype. First and foremost, to me, is whether a game, or team, is exciting to watch and statistics may not bear out any detail for either of these things. However, it’s always reassuring for people to have stats bear out feelings they hold regarding certain players – for example, to continue the Jonny Evans Defence that my answers seem to have created, it was the case that (prior to Vidic’s return to the team), Evans was statistically the most accurate passer of all our defenders and was on the pitch for longer per minute per goal (if I remember correctly) at a time when a lot of fans were criticising him unfairly.

It would be more interesting to see the performance of players measured over a greater period of time, much in the manner of test match cricketers, so that the performance average can be seen when a greater set of differentials will have applied. If it’s on a season long basis then some players will have, it is safe to assume, played a greater number of games against weaker opposition than others and the stats, as a result, may well be skewed to create a false impression of a players worth.

@mierta23: Stats don’t tell the whole truth about football as some seem to believe, and there are few things more irritating than when someone doesn’t realise this. A player can have a 98% completion rate which is very good but in some cases everyone who has seen the game can tell that the player is still crap. Movement and finding the right pass is obviously much more important. However, I really can’t be bothered to care about those who think pass completion rate is the key to understanding the game, as there are so many more misguided souls out there.

@Twisted_Blood: Statistics aren’t the problem, people are the problem. To flip the question, the problem isn’t so much and over-intellectualising of the game as an under-contextualising of the numbers. Take pass completion. On its own, it tells you literally how many times a given player kicked the ball to a player on the same team. And on its own, that tells you very little about how effective a player has been; good footballers, after all, embrace the possibility of failure as the counterweight to achievement. Risk versus reward. Pass completion — on its own — doesn’t even begin to address that. Used well, statistics can provide illustration and insight into the workings of the game, but they’re frequently stripped of context and meaning: mispresented and misinterpreted until they become worse than pointless. And that’s just looking at football in a results-centred, performance-centred way, which is a horribly bleak way to live your life. I’ve not yet seen a number that can explain why Berbatov’s first touch makes me shiver, and I’ll take that over a low foul-throw percentage.

@SportyMuslimah: Statistics are as useful as you want them to be, using them to skewer a point is pointless; yet on the flipside they can at times be useful to prove a point. Carrick’s regular stats for many are a joy to behold; his stats put him on a par with a certain Spanish midfield duo.

Football is simple, before the Internet I hardly knew so many stats existed and found their purpose unnecessary. However, things like the Guardian Chalkboards and heatmaps seem to unearth the geek inside me. I love having a look at them and comparing players and teams to with each other. I wouldn’t solely base an argument on a stat though. After all, when watching a game we should let our eyes come to conclusions.

@DoronSalomon: Guilty for a start. I’ve always liked maths and for some time now have *dons nerd glasses* kept spreadsheets with figures about United players which I update after every game. I find numbers really easy to work with, much easier than words. I used to churn out the standard pass completion stats but you’re right that they only show a tiny percentage of a picture. When I share stats I try and find interesting, different ones now – such as who’s our most accurate striker and which defender makes a tackle the most frequently. I tend to make a point and if possible provide some statistical evidence; one should never lead with a stat. That said, when looking at the numbers you do sometimes notice things that spark a thought – for example I recently saw that Hernandez makes on average only 16 passes a game; it’s obvious but I’d never realised quite how uninvolved in our play he was.

Opta and Infostrada have some really interesting stuff – I do think some people think it’s cool or fashionable to go OTT on stats though – a couple of tweeters seem to forcibly spew bog-standard numbers in the hope of getting followers or retweets rather than because they think the stats are interesting or useful! Just be yourself I guess, I’ve always liked numbers and for a long period of time have shared that passion. Some people will always be anti it but I hope I show they can be used constructively too. Certainly I think it’s wrong to ignore what they can show.

10. There, you see, I’ve verged right back into sigh-mode. Okay, something brighter. Frantic bemoaning and critiques on United’s recent performances, particularly given City’s elevation, tells it own story, but what positives can be gleaned from what we have seen so far? Cleverley’s showings of a dynamism that we are so in need of? Welbeck’s rise, particularly given how it’s made that bit more special that he’s local? The emergence of Smalling and Jones as two of world football’s brightest defensive stars? de Gea’s maturity and composure on the back of an unsettling start? It’s easy to criticise, of course, given how most of us concede that whilst we bear many qualities, somehow – for whatever reason – we’re not where a club of United’s stature should be right now. Where else does hope lie? HELP!

@DoronSalomon: I think you’ve hit on all the right points there, not sure what I can add to with regards to individuals specifically. For me, the biggest positive is that we’re starting a new squad cycle and yet remain competitive. Previously we’ve fallen far behind when starting afresh but this time I think we’ll be there or thereabouts for most of the season. When we looked at Fergie’s 25 years, I wrote a piece for the blog looking at what the team could potentially be in a few years time – on paper it looked scarily good. I’m prepared to accept a bit of mediocrity if it means bedding in new players and restarting – Tony and Ian mentioned earlier regularly tell me how awful United were in the 70/80s and remind me that I should be grateful that I’ve only ever seen success! Finally, as a fan of the youth team it’s hard not to be excited and impressed by how well the FAYC winners of last season have adapted to reserve football. The transition has been seamless. Their individual and collective progression has been a joy to watch and it’s great to see some of them pushing into the fringes of the first team now.

@Twisted_Blood: If you wanted to take the best of everything, you’d end up with … well, De Gea, Jones, Smalling and Cleverley, as you’ve noted. The first three are going to be world-class. But there’s more! Hernandez continues to score, sometimes on purpose; Morrison and Pogba are starting to appear on the edges of the first team, and there’s more young talent behind them; at least two of our corners this season have beaten the first man; Rooney’s hair appears to have taken. And Darron Gibson is fit again. God, it’s all horrible.

@SportyMuslimah: De Gea, Jones and Smalling are standouts for me. Their performances have been superb; De Gea in particular has done well and seems to perform better every game after some unnecessary bashing in the English media. But then, given the press we have, that was expected. Smalling being able to slot in at right back and centre of defence and not look out of place at all has been sensational, to think of his rise from non-league football to where we see him now, must give hope to millions of football fans.

Jones is a breath of fresh air, although irksome that some of his mistakes are overlooked due to his lovable nature and otherwise outstanding performances. It will be interesting to see him develop, whether he commands a place in defence or central midfield. Clearly he has ability for either of these two.

Besides the first team, the continued improvement of the reserve team footballers, especially Larnell Cole, Morrison and Petrucci has also been positive to see, Fryers though remains a firm favourite of mine. I genuinely believe we require a back-up to Evra, I believe he can be the one. He seems to play with no care in the world and clear commitment every time. For all the worries we have, the foundations for the future are set in place.

@mierta23: The most positive thing so far has to be how young our squad is, and how much potential it has. We have replaced Van Der Sar with a young, top quality goalkeeper, we’ve got two of the best young centre backs there is in Jones and Smalling, we’ve got the Da Silva twins, Evans, Hernandez, Cleverley and Welbeck, – players who will only get better the more experience they get. Evans aside none of them is over 23. On top of that we’ve got a bunch of very talented kids in the reserves and out on loan, and even though there’s no guarantee any of them will make it things are looking promising. It’s probably fair to say that these players will be the spine of Manchester United for years to come. This season will probably be about giving the younger players experience and finding a solution to our midfield problems, but I felt the same way about last season and last season we ended up winning the league and playing in the Champions League final. It won’t be the end of the world if we don’t do that this season, but one should never count Manchester United out, and I think this is a team that will only get better. The future is ours.

@Karatejesus82: We have, undoubtedly, a great array of young players, particularly in defence but, as you say, we are lacking in something at this moment in time (although I would disagree with the comment that we’re not where a club of our stature should be right now, considering the successes over recent years). This could, in terms of having a player who can create something from nothing, largely be attributed to a lack of spark in the team since the departure of Ronaldo.

Our midfield over the last few years has become more functional than exciting but Ferguson and his staff would point to the continued success to show that there is not much wrong with the current setup. While I sympathise, and agree, with the view that this practicality has come at the cost of seeing some of the expansive play of previous Ferguson teams, there would in all probability be a higher proportion of dissenters had United been more ‘exciting’ during recent seasons at the cost of regularly missing out on top honours. One of the challenges for a manager at a top club is to keep these aspects balanced and, sometimes, I think United fans are quick to forget that, for all the niggling issues with the current squad, we have had some truly amazing experiences to savour in recent seasons. For example, there is no shame to be the second most consistent club in Europe during the last five years, behind Barcelona, and that would suggest we are performing to a level that a club of our size should be aiming to reach.

Unfortunately, despite his obvious ability, Berbatov has never had the impact that many would of hoped he would have had and it was a surprising decision that we retained him over the season (I would believe this was because he didn’t want to leave rather than the club not wishing him to leave). As a result, the only established players in the United squad who have the elusive ‘spark’ are probably an ageing Giggs, an inconsistent Nani and, to some degree, a similarly inconsistent Rooney. There’s a plethora of reliable footsoldiers (Carrick, Fletcher, Park, Valencia etc) who offer largely consistent albeit functional performances that, although proving successful, may not get the juices flowing. As a result, the signings of the previous summer, despite being good additions to the squad, failed to quench the desire for someone to take our midfield up a level (although, personally, I was delighted with the signing of Phil Jones and was as excited by his signing as I probably would have been about any other player – admittedly, his signing doesn’t address the underlying issues outlined above).

11. Can cannibals be arrested for being under the influence of alcohol (e.g. drunk-driving) if they have eaten someone who was drunk?

@DoronSalomon: Erm. Erm. Yes?!

@Karatejesus82: I think this would have to depend on two things. Firstly, how much alcohol had been drunk by the person that was to be eaten and, secondly, how much of that person the cannibal had digested, and therefore how much alcohol had entered their bloodstream, before driving. Without this information, I’m afraid it’s impossible to say.

@SportyMuslimah: Based on the premise that we are what we eat, then certainly. Besides, they should be arrested for cannibalism anyway!

@Twisted_Blood: Depends. How much nice Chianti?

@mierta23: I would argue that if someone eats another human being he or she should be arrested for more serious crimes than drunk-driving, but if someone is hungry enough to eat a whole person it would, hypothetically speaking, be possible. The person served as dinner would however have to be extremely drunk and consumed at an incredible speed so that the alcohol would still be in the blood. I hope you don’t ask this for personal reasons, by the way.

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8 Comments on Man United, Europe, Twitter, statistics and cannibalism

  1. This made me laugh from Doron: “I’m just lucky I have a life away from that place.” REALLY?? It seems to me like u on Twitter all day long. I can picture the scene at JAM whatever it is u do there. Chilling infront of your computer with Twitter open all the time. You’re honestly addicted mate. You’re always one of the 1st to tweet lineups, to reply to the likes of Zeki whenever he tweets, ravel, tunners etc, Nick, MrMujac, Ian, Nick Koppack, Adam Marshall and more. U tweet all the time about United. Give it a break for a bit. I must say I do enjoy your tweets and your knowledge of United is first class. You should have studied journalism. I reckon u’d have been quite a decent journo to be fair. On the subject of Twitter and footballers using it. To be honest if I was a United player I wouldn’t be bothered with stuff like Twitter and Facebook. Yes it has its positives like putting things right. With negative stuff which has been said in the press etc and yes its cool to interact with fans but its a major distraction + the abuse some of our lads get is honestly unbelievable! I’d be focused on my football only!

  2. @Max – Jam is a social media agency so Twitter is one of our ‘things’. Heh, believe me, I have a life away from Twitter but I enjoy it – first place to go for real-time news and opinions. No point studying journalism if you want to write about sport – it’s a saturated market.

  3. Fair play then mate. I also enjoy twitter and United was prob the main reason why I decided to join. Its a great place to keep up to date with all things United related and there r some top people on it too. A lot of negatives though but I’d say the positives outway the negatives. Too addictive though and its a constant distraction. Too hard to get rid of it though.

  4. @pat-rice have often gone plenty of time without it before! (ps you have the same IP address so either you and “Max” share the same internet portal or you’re the same person) 😉

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