Team Oli vs Team Matt Summer Kickabout Results

The summer has been drawing to an abrupt close, so Matt and I thought we should face off to see who’s all talk and who can actually deliver when it comes to football. The location was a hard basketball/4 a side football court near a local Sainsbury’s supermarket, and the teams were Oli and Joel vs Matt, Peter and Damir. The weather was cool with a light wind and the support was minimal, to say the least. The rules were standard football rules except that you can’t shoot from your own half. There was also some confusion over tackling, with Matt accusing Oli of implementing a ‘no tackling in the opposition’s half’ rule, which effectively rules out a comeback from the losing team, so the rule was eventually abolished and play resumed, a few minutes in.

15 minutes a half ended up to prove a little too long, and the scoreboard got out of hand within only the first couple of minutes. It was, to the surprise of many, that Oli and Joel took the lead initially by making the most of slack passing from the opposition, but then the extra man really told and they were able to come back and take a 3-1 lead. After this, they opted (somewhat ironically, given the manner in which the conceded the majority of the goals) for the ‘Barcelona passing style’, and they each took on an alias – Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.

This new technique seemed to work out for the team at first, and while they were still full of energy, they were able to maintain possession impressively and tire Oli and Joel, who kept switching from being in and out of goal. However, a Pepsi later, and the rejuvenated combination was able to claw itself back into the match, but consequentially leaving itself very open at the back. By this time, goals were flooding through, and the score got to an incredible 11-9 at half time in favour of Matt, Peter and Damir, who had been ahead f0r most of this time thanks to a flurry of goals from Damir.

A brief pause, and a switch of ends later, and normal play was resumed, with many more goals, getting more spectacular each time, being scored. But it appeared that Team Matt was tiring, and twice Oli and Joel were able to get on level terms, only to see themselves pegged back again and again. Oli was lucky to stay on the pitch thanks to lenient refereeing from opposition player Matt, after a handball that prevented a goal, but it was lucky for the match that he was only given a yellow, for 3 on 1 would have meant the end for Team Oli. Then, with his team ahead by two goals, Matt decided to take the resultant free kick himself, but somehow manage to balloon the shot well out of the grounds – resulting in an additional 3 minutes added on at the end. After returning, he somehow managed to pick up a spot of cramp but was able to overcome it to finish the game. With the score delicately poised at 20-18 to Matt’s team, Oli and Joel were able to combine brilliantly to force a 19th goal, and a shocking defensive mishap allowed Oli in again to equalise in the dying seconds and send the game to penalties. Final score: 20-20.

With only two players on the team, Oli and Joel had a lot of work to do. Oli and Damir were the designated keepers, and both were unable to keep out the first two efforts, including a truly remarkable effort from Peter. However, by the time Damir stepped up for his first kick, one could see he was not confident. His shot went straight at Oli, who gratefully kept it out of the goal. Every remaining kick was dispatched, with Oli hitting the winning kick. Matt requested an additional shootout, but Oli and Joel were having none of it, and they retired with a satisfactory victory with one fewer players. Oli and Joel win 5-4 on penalties.

Ratings:

Matt’s Team:
Matt – 6.5 – Played through the pain of a broken toe, and showed flashes of brilliance but also some patches of rustiness after not having played football for a few years. “That was possibly the worst pass… ever”
Damir – 7.5 – Matt’s Team’s best player by a mile, and current top goalscorer. He was involved in every move, and was instrumental and energetic throughout.
Peter – 6 – The team will not forgive him in a hurry for the early slip up that allowed Oli’s Team to take an early advantage, nor will they be terribly happy that he only turned up to the match a few seconds before kick off, but his inch-perfect penalty in the shootout and awareness to nick goals off the opposition showed why they shelled out all that money to sign him back in January.

Oli’s Team:
Oli – 6.5 – Became tired and predictable quite quickly, and was not always able to offer his team-mate the best options. However, he honed his finishing skills with some neat finishes, notably a few from very tight angles, and he performed admirably in the shootout. A mixed bag, to say the least.
Joel – 7 – Selfless as ever, Joel also put in a perfect shootout performance and scored some of the more important goals for his side and deserved to be on the winning side despite being seemingly unable to head the ball throughout the match.

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Scouting England U19 (England 1-2 Greece)

I spent my afternoon watching the young England boys play in a tough encounter against Greece in the European U19 semi final. We started brightly, but cooled somewhat and conceded a headed goal from Diamantakos from a corner that we really should have defended better. However, we were not ones to give up, we came back more lively than before and just before half time the Greek defence was split in two, only for the goalkeeper Kapino to make an excellent tackle. The referee adjudged it to be a foul though, and subsequently sent the poor guy off the pitch. We missed the penalty, and Greece went into half time in positive spirits.

A little way into the second half, we were able to nick an equaliser through another header, this time from Afobe up front. We pressed and pressed, dominating the match, but were unable to find the winner we wanted.

So to extra time we went, and England continued in a dominant manner, only to be undone by poor defending and a deft lob over keeper Sam Johnstone by Lykogiannis. The game was up; we tried to press, but no further clear cut chances were created. A wasted chance at beating a very good side who were not on their best of form, but we couldn’t take it.

A few players stood out from this match for me, most notably of which was Everton youngster John Lundstram (http://twitter.com/jlundstram), the playmaker. However, Manchester United centre back Michael Keane left sided midfielder Ross Barkley (another Toffee) (https://twitter.com/RBarkley20) shone in patches through the match. I thought England played well today, despite a shocking injustice with the sending off, they deserved to get through to the final. Alas, it was not to be, and I expect the Greeks will feel that justice has in fact been done. A 2-1 defeat but I expect they will have their heads held high after that performance. There’s always next time…

It’s a tough decision, these are the thoughts of Matt and myself on who’ve been our 3 best players this season.

Manchester United Football Debate

In this weeks debate we discuss our candidates for player of the season. Antonio Valencia swept the awards. Winning player of the season voted for by fans and players. Bizarrely he also won goal of the season for his cross that went in! We have given our top 3 players of the year in reverse order.

3) Antonio Valencia

Antonio often looked our best attacking player this season. Seeming to move past defenders like they were never there and smashing in a ball with pace and accuracy to cause big problems. He has often looked like our best attacking out let and he can be relied upon to produce chances for the strikers to pounce upon.

His large amount of assists, 15, does not tell the entire story of quite how effective he has been. He has created a huge number of chances that should have been put away which…

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Weekend Preview: Utd Limping Towards the Finish

Huge weekend in the title race. Should be all City’s, but who knows in this crazy season?

Manchester United Football Debate

Last Sunday Manchester United looked like a team that had lost hope. The goals weren’t celebrated, and the second half performance was lacklustre and without focus. It wasn’t the performance of a team looking to put as much pressure on city as possible. It was the performance of a team who were tired and wanted a long trophy less season to end. It doesn’t matter how much they tell the media they still believe they can win, the team looks a shadow of the one that so successfully tackled the series of tough fixtures at the start of the year.

The normal never say die attitude of Manchester United has not been present this year. This season they have not won a single match that they were losing at half time, the Chelsea performance aside they have rarely looked the team that will never give up.

To be fair to the players they have suffered a lot…

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Time for changes, it seems. A few end of season thoughts…

Man United have had a poor season by their standards. After clawing the league back from City’s clutches, it looks like they have thrown it all away in the space of a month, with only one game to go and City in the driving seat. United require a win at safe Sunderland, while relegation-threatened QPR travel to City to try to muster a point (or more). If they manage one point, it should be enough because United should beat Sunderland, who have nothing to play for.

But the worrying thing is I think Fergie is starting to get his tactics wrong. He picked an awful team for the Manchester Derby. With the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Carrick AND Park all in the midfield, with Valencia inexplicably relegated to the bench, it was clear we were struggling from the off, and deservedly we lost. We went out of all other cup competitions this year, relatively early on, and this is totally unlike us. To be fair, we had to play both City and Liverpool away in the FA Cup, and we beat City at the Ethiad, so we had a little pride from that, but still it isn’t impressive at all.

What to do about it? Everyone seems to think we need a new midfielder. Perhaps we do, but the primary concern is phasing out the players we no longer need, and faster than we are at the moment. We are relying too much on our older players, who either do not cut it any more, or will not in a year’s time. We must stop clinging onto whatever’s left in Scholes and Giggs, and let the younger players come through. We are not Chelsea, we actually put emphasis on our youth in our first team. This leads on to another point – we’ve let both Morrison and Pogba slip this year, and this is not what we need. We are supposed to be the team that everyone wants to play for, how aren’t we able to keep these two? This signifies a massive backstep in our club’s development, especially in a time when City and Chelsea have even more spending power at their disposal.

Gaitan has been heavily linked with us, but I don’t think he’d be worth the money. What I really think we need is a solution to our other weak spots. We have no decent left winger. Ashley Young is a good long range shooter and free kick taker, but he is useless in other areas of his game. Nani is not a LW, but can do a job there. Valencia is very right footed and can only play on the right. So the idea of Eden Hazard or James Rodrigez sounds pretty good to me, as it’s something we’ve really lacked this year – a LW who can beat a man AND put a ball in. Gareth Bale is the best in the world at this, I think, but obviously he’s off limits.

Another area we need strengthening is undoubtedly the full backs. Evra has had a torrid season, and we’ve now said Fabio’s off to Portugal, so we certainly need a new LB. Leighton Baines would be perfect for the club. RB is more tricky. I think perhaps we should leave it alone, because I don’t think Jones is going to get games if we have a permanent RB, and I think he’s going to be an amazing player for United and England, despite a poor second half of the season. But Chris Smalling is not going to play RB. He is no good there, he’s a CB. There are question marks about Rio’s ability to carry on (bizarrely, well before the question marks about Giggs and Scholes (5 and 4 years older respectively) have been made. All 3 positions require pace, so they should all be doubted, not just one of them. Another question is whether Vidic will be able to fit back into the team after so long out. He has always been a great player, but frustrates me for his occasional poor discipline. Our captain needs to keep his head, not get sent off in crucial matches (and against, of all people, Fernando Torres). This leads onto another point – why is Evra, particularly given his recent trouble with the media) dubbed our vice captain? He is the worst example of a human being, and it’s clear to anyone that there would be better captains in the shapes of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick or Wayne Rooney (despite his poor image,at times). In fact, the only reason I can see that Evra would be chosen is that he plays absolutely every single game for United, purely because we have no back up in his position. I certainly don’t think he’s anywhere near as good as he used to be. If he’s going to go forward, he needs to ensure he can put a decent ball in, otherwise we’re caught short at the back for nought.

It’s funny, but everyone appears to have forgotten how we ripped teams apart early in the season (pre-Man City match). We had Cleverley and Anderson in the midfield, and, believe it or not, they dominated games.  They also did this in pre-season matches, including against Barcalona (which we won 2-1) if anyone was watching those games. These two are players we must hold onto if we are to develop as a team. It is certainly frustrating that they both get injured more regularly than most, but we must persevere to get the most out of them.

I have to give a shout out to Danny Welbeck for his contributions this year. He’s had a tough last few games, in which nothing’s come off for him (except in the Everton game, in which he was easily MOM and scored a beautiful goal, assisting two more), but he’s been there all season long, always giving his all and always getting involved. He’s tall, pacy, and he’s brilliant at hold up play. He’s not a bad passer either.

Now to the important matter of David De Gea. He had a terrible start to the season, and there was a long period for which I’d rather we had any other PL GK instead of him. However, he has developed and grown into the season. I no longer get tense whenever a simple ball is played into the box, and he’s even pulled off the save of the season against a Juan Mata free kick (in the dying seconds of a 3-3 match, I might add). He’s been so much improved, but it remains to be seen how good he will be for us. People say he’s got so much potential, but potential needs to be realised. I’m pleased he’s got over his fear of crosses, but there’s more he needs to do to prove himself to me and many other United fans. I still maintain that Neuer would’ve been a better signing, but I’m open to David to prove me wrong.

Valencia has had a bizarre season, from a poor start to becoming our key player when he started playing again in around March time, he’s certainly gone through the motions. He’s an invaluable asset to the team though, and deserves all the credit he gets.

Finally, the player of the season, Wayne Rooney, deserves credit. He’s kept the team going, managed to keep himself completely injury free all season long, and was so close to avoiding a EPL yellow card for the entire season. Alas, it was not to be, but he’s been our top scorer by a huge distance and that’s because he’s the best we’ve (and England have) got. If England progress from the group stage this summer, he’ll be key, I think. He’s scored some beauties this year too.

All the best to Darren Fletcher, who must be feeling gutted about what’s happened to him. I regret that I don’t think we’ll realistically ever get the same Darren again. He’ll be lucky if he ever gets back into the team.