Things: United’s wingers, Adebayor’s stats, AVB and Alex is on Song

Authors: Doron, Nik and Rob

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You know what it is by now… the fourth “Things” column. Musings this week are brought to you as ever by Nik, Doron and Rob. Our rambles are often United focussed but we do enjoy non-United football too. Enjoy.

The Contradictions of Ade (by Rob)

A Spurs-supporting friend of mine was livid at Emmanuel Adebayor’s display on Sunday, and followed it up by saying he’s been giving the ball away constantly for a number of games. From what I’ve seen of Adebayor this season, and from his goal and assist return, I was a bit taken aback. Then I had a quick peek at WhoScored’s stats section, and was stunned to discover how disruptive he’s been to Tottenham’s play this season.

Adebayor’s numbers (all stats from WhoScored):
1.9 – offsides per game, most in Premier League, 4th most in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
3.3 – dispossessions per game, 2nd most in the Premier League, 6th in Europe.
3.7 – turnovers per game, most in Europe.

In comparison, United’s worst offender in possession, Danny Welbeck has 0.4 offsides, 2.5 dispossessions and 2.3 turnovers per game, not bad for a player enjoying his first full season at his boyhood club.

Given that the Togolese giant scored 11 goals and made 11 assists – admittedly most of the assists were simple layoffs – you can hardly say he’s been a failure during his loan at Spurs. But for a player whose physical gifts should make him an ideal hold-up player, his ‘giveaway’ numbers are absolutely extraordinary.

Ashley Young: A question of form? Or fitness? (by Rob)

A lot of people have been getting on Ashley Young’s back recently, or at least they did until Sunday evening’s game. Considering the explosive start he’s had to his United career, and his subsequent injuries and “drop-offs” in form, it’s a natural reaction.

However, if we look a bit more closely, we’ll notice that he’s only started 12 Premier League games all season, completing 90 minutes only 6 times. His form has only dipped after coming back from the two injuries he’s had this campaign. The first injury layoff came around November, when he came back to frustrate against Newcastle at home, and after a much longer layoff between December and February he ran out of steam from a decent 52 minute display at Chelsea. It’s only reasonable that a player takes time finding his feet again after a knock. Even so, find me a winger who isn’t inconsistent! Our own Tony Valencia, one of the most consistent wide men I’ve ever seen, had bad patches of form after coming back from his injuries, both last season and this.

Even in the games when Young hasn’t lit up the park, he’s helped make the team click in a number of ways: by helping to maintain possession, playing simple passes with the midfield; adding fluidity to the team by interchanging nicely with Nani, and by linking extremely well with Patrice Evra, whose bombing runs forward are an underrated feature of our attacking play.

Taking all that into account, we’ll see that Young’s contributions when in the team – 4 goals, 7 assists – have been very good, especially considering the nature of the contributions: he set up a late winner at West Brom (for ace striker Own Goal), scored two against Arsenal, scored a late Champions League equaliser against Basel, scored the go-ahead goal in Amsterdam, set up Giggsy’s winner against Norwich, scored two crucial goals against Spurs. When the going has been tough this season, Ashley Young has delivered. More than anything, Ashley’s shown that he has the nerve and confidence to play for Manchester United, something I wasn’t sure about after seeing his paint-dryingly dull interviews after signing last summer. Please do not click that link.

My main complaint with Young is that he’s wearing Paul Scholes’ jersey.

United’s wingers delivering again (by Doron)

If you don’t like stats then look away now (these are for all comps).

Valencia: 12 assists; 4 goals; goal or assist every 145 minutes
Nani: 12 assists; 8 goals; goal or assist every 138 minutes
Giggs: 11 assists; 4 goals; goal or assist every 108 minutes
Young:9 assists; 6 goals; goal or assist every 106 minutes

Quite incredible stats to see across all the players really. You expect one or two wingers to excel but to see four (despite one often playing centrally) all either scoring or assisting at least better than once every two games is impressive.

United’s wingers have contributed 50% of all the club’s assists and nearly 25% of the club’s goals this season. Despite their varying styles, levels of frustration and perception, they’re playing a huge part in United’s season at the attacking end of the pitch. As infuriating as Nani and Young can be, they’re match-winners who are crucial to United.

England’s forgotten talent (by Doron)

Even before Ravel Morrison signed for West Ham I had a passing interest in them. Living with a West Ham supporting Mancunian means that I tend to follow their progress and watch them when they’re on (which has been a lot recently).

This season has seen James Tomkins rack up 100 first team appearances for West Ham, some feat for a 22 year old. His shift to a central midfielder has been smooth – his ability on the ball has never been in doubt so sitting in front of the West Ham defence suits him. He’s not always played there, he’s still sometimes used as a centre back but his new role has been his primary one.

Maybe he should excel and stand out, after-all, he’s played for England at U21 level and played in the Premier League; but playing in England’s second tier takes some of the spotlight and pressure off a player in some ways – performances aren’t as publicly scrutinised.

Should West Ham get promoted, as is likely, expect to see a very reliable Tomkins – consistent, classy and confident. If he can improve a bit more with the challenge of facing even better players then full England honours may well be his before his career is up.

Watch out for Javi Martinez (by Rob)

Wonderful things have been said about Javi Martinez already, not least by David who’s written this comprehensive preview of tomorrow night’s Europa League opponents.

Athletic Bilbao’s versatile titan Javi Martinez is one to look out for, not just in this tie, but as a prospect capable of excelling at the very highest level of the game. Indeed, he played a small role in the World Cup-winning Spanish national team after a fine 2009-10 season at Bilbao, and captained the Spanish Under-21 side that dazzled their way to victory at last summer’s European Championships.

I watched his performances very closely at the Euro U-21s, and was astonished at the maturity and control exhibited by the then 22-year-old, which set the stage for more celebrated performers like Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara, and Adrian Lopez to show their skills higher up the pitch.

At club level, as Marcelo Bielsa has transformed Bilbao this season, so too has Martinez’s game been altered, and he’s been used mainly as a central defender – both in 4- and 3-man backlines, depending on the team’s opponents. While he’s capable of skills like this and goals like these, it’s his tackling, aerial ability, calm passing and outstanding reading of the game which have come to the fore, as the side has integrated “Loco” Bielsa’s famously grueling pressing game and reaped rich rewards after a difficult start to 2011-12. In sum, the young Spaniard has become almost a complete footballer in the space of a few years.

With an intimidating physical presence (at 6’3”) and high levels of stamina – he’s failed to play the full 90 minutes only 4 times in 36 games this season, twice due to red cards – he would be a perfect fit for the Premier League, and considering the ongoing midfield conundrum at Manchester United (the young dynamo Paul Scholes notwithstanding), he would be my #1, top, numero uno, crème de la menthe pick for a Manchester United summer signing. On a personal note, we share a last name, so it’d be flippin’ awesome to get a United replica jersey, with my own name on the back.

Alex is on Song (by Nik)

It was roughly this time last year that Arsenal’s Alex Song adapted his game and took up a more advanced position on the field of play, and Arsenal are starting to reap the benefits of his progression. Very much a defensive midfielder at the outset of his career, a ‘Makelele type’ of player who harried and harassed before keeping possession of the ball in tight areas, Song is now taking a more ambitious approach whilst at the same time not losing his bite and defensive acumen; in short astutely carrying out the box to box role. In the absence of Wilshere, and perhaps Diaby more pertinently, the midfielder has often been the outball for the deep-lying Arteta (as the talented youngster Ramsey, has tended to work horizontally working in wide areas of the pitch). Song’s thrust into forward positions from deep is reminiscent of Toure’s for City and though his final ball lacks the finesse of the Ivorian, his assists tally for the season rose to eight (11 in all competitions) at Liverpool last weekend as he found van Persie with precision – once again after a rampaging run forward from deep. He was equally influential in the previous weekend’s win versus Spurs, again linking up with the now more advanced van Persie; versus Milan, his gall and panache were the catalyst for the initial comeback. One can’t help but feel that a fit again Jack Wilshere would complement the current Alex Song to perfection and offer Wenger’s side a greater defensive protection – but Song’s rise to prominence has occurred despite the team’s difficulties, and along with the irresistible Dutchman, has helped propel Arsenal up the league table at a vital stage of the season. Jack’s return now looks less crucial.

AVB; working in Roman times (by Nik)

There is an argument to say that Roman Abramovich isn’t the impatient Oligarch that the media paint him out to be, but whichever way you look at it, there still remains big questions over his decision making when it comes to instilling a successful and sustainable managerial strategy at Chelsea. Tony Cascarino was adamant this week that the Russian had got it right in sacking AVB, stating that ‘he had been found out at home and abroad’; now with all respect to Tony and those of similar opinion, I say nonsense. AVB was left with an impossible transition job, with the one big criticism from the Ancelotti reign being that he failed to progress the squad both in tactical and personnel terms. If he wasn’t appointed for the long-term, to shape and adapt the squad as he saw fit, and to shed the old guard, then what was he brought in for? AVB’s impact was never going to be immediate, especially given the ascendancy of Manchester City and the ever-present threat of the Busby Babes. He had the nous to disentangle the egotism from the player output on the pitch, to play the game according to his principles and his ideas ~ and it was working, but ever so slowly. Roman doesn’t ‘do’ slowly, and instead wanted a Mourinho replica; only this time with a dysfunctional Torres instead of Drogba, and an ageing Malouda instead of a rampant Robben. Disharmony behind the scenes, and an early vote of no confidence since Chelsea’s first defeat of the season, left AVB in a no-win situation and it was no surprise that the cracks appeared in the last 10 games or so. But the owner must take the blame for recruiting the rookie in the first place, and likewise sacking Ancelotti just a year after the domestic double – and a clear indication that the Italian was embarking (at least) on the tough transition ahead. For now, the Chelsea dream of world domination lies in the distant pass and Abramovich’s imprudence has cost him dear. Can Mourinho save the day? Or will the clash of egos and the owner’s insistence on meddling (the very reason for the split) dissuade Jose from taking this seemingly very poisoned chalice?

What next for AVB? (by Rob)

Since the inevitable sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, there’s been a load of talk about Chelsea’s future. The even more unpopular Roberto di Matteo/Voldemort has taken over until the end of the season. There’s been speculation about Guardiola taking over next season, i.e. Guardiolulz as it shall now be known. Big Phil Scolari climbed out of the diamond-rimmed jacuzzi that Stephen Hawking hand-built for him* to make some obvious comments about the club’s power structure. Brendan Rodgers laid the smack down on Chelsea. And folks seemed to rediscover that Roman Abramovich is somewhat of a short-term thinker (please click that link). But actually, I’m more interested to see what happens with AVB over the next season or two.

Despite the stinging pain of this season’s failure, Crouching Andre, Bearded Boas (his nickname in high school**) has shown a lot of promise, enough to demonstrate that Porto’s remarkable 2010-11 season was no fluke. Not only does he have talent, he also showed refreshing levels of candour – both about his and the team’s performances – and a strong commitment to an energetic, attractive style of play, with occasional room for compromises, most notably in Chelsea’s 3-0 Champions League win over Valencia. He showed a bit of fear and poor judgment by not shedding the noisiest of the old guard (Terry, Cole, Drogba etc) quickly enough, and by alienating the best of that group (Lampard); of course he handled the politics of the situation naïvely, as one would expect from a 34-year old upstart.

Given all the stress, emotion and reputational damage he’s taken this season, he really deserves a break. if I were AVB, I would spend the rest of the season trimming my beard, practicing my pitchside crouch at FA Women’s Premier League games. Most importantly I would continue to sleep in Japanese pods – the word futon is Japanese, so they know a thing or two about comfortable slumber – but this time I would sleep in a Japanese pod on a spaceship that was fuelled by the ghost of Jimmy Saville.

Next season, I would send in an application to be an intern at Old Trafford***.

* – Probably not true.

** – Again, not true. This is why I’m not a sports journalist – because I point out when I make false claims.

*** According to AVB’s Wikipedia page, his grandma is from Cheadle, in Greater Manchester. This is me starting a rumour for no good reason.

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