Memorable Matches – FC Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

After the international break becoming baron when discussing relevent football, let’s talk about matches from the past. Games that will never be forgotten in the minds of the fans who watched. Let’s start with a game that I even remember watching at a younger age. The second encounter in two years between Sir Alex’s United, and Pep’s treble winning Barcelona. Both sides previously played each other in the 2009 champions league final, also remembered as Ronaldo’s final game for the club. The game was quite close, but incredible games from both Xavi and Messi put Barcelona over the line. This game was the rematch, which would hopefully see Fergie finally land the victory over Pep. But we all know that is not what happened. So let’s get into it.

United’s great first 10 minutes

Let’s start with by far United’s best moment. Ferguson’s plan was to use both Park and Valencia to deal with the full backs and midfielders. Park would drop deep to stop Alves from making any as advancing runs. Valencia and Park are both incredibly good at tracking back and helping their full backs. It was a classic Ferguson move. He always liked to play players, like Park, in these big games to help nullify the opponent. United played a classic 4-4-2, with Giggs and Carrick in midfield. Their other approach to deal with their midfield disadvantage was to bring one of the wingers inside depending on which side Barcelona were playing. For example, if the ball was on the side of Pedro and Abidal, Valencia would put pressure on them, while Park would come into midfield to limit the effect of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Both Rooney and Hernandez had very important roles. Rooney had to keep on Busquets. The defensive midfielder is so important in how Barcelona build up play. He is one is able to receive the ball and pick out a further advanced player, to help with possession. Rooney at times helped with this (we’ll get to why it didn’t work later) and Hernandez kept pressure on the back two of Pique and Mascherano. This worked so well for the first 10-15 minutes, but we will now get to why this didn’t exactly work.

A Xavi Masterclass

I constantly love to compliment midfielders. Whether it has been my constant defense of Paul Pogba, my praise for Luka Modric, my love for Vidal’s all round excellence, or the many memories I have of Paul Scholes. Xavi is better than all of the above. I fondly remember watching him, and his Barcelona teammates majestically move around the pitch and win 3 international trophies back to back. I do not think there will ever be a better player than Xavi in the middle of the park. His incredible ability at transitioning play, finding space and retaining possession will never be beaten. He was at his mesmerising best in this game. When Busquets was having a limited effect in the first half, Xavi would drop incredibly deep to receive the ball. He would usually then recycle the ball back to the centre halves, until there was space available to advance play. When Xavi dropped this deep, it left Rooney and Hernandez with a difficult decision, either stick with their role, and leave Xavi to retain possession, or try and deal with Xavi, but not full commit to the game plan. It left United chasing the game, because they failed to deal with the change that one player made. Xavi is the one who won the game for Barcelona. His dismantling of United’s plan is the reason why they cruised the game. He was recieving the ball all over the field, and he was just so good at helping Barcelona get the ball in dangerous areas. It was easily one of the best midfield performances you will ever see.

Messi at his best

If Xavi was the captain of the destruction of United’s approach, Messi was the first mate. Messi as a player as evolved dramatically since his long haired teenaged days at the Camp Nou. He began as a right winger, using his pace and dribbling ability to assist Eto’o and Ronaldinho in their dazzling displays in the final third. However Pep saw something else in him, being his ability at finding space. Messi under Pep was easily one of the hardest players to deal with when defending. If the centre backs chose to track him, it would leave space wide open in the back for one of Villa or Pedro to exploit. But if a midfielder chose to track him, it would leave the midfield disjointed. United had this similar problem. It seemed Carrick was the one with the responsibility to deal with Messi. Like the rest of the side, it was fine for the first 10 minutes. Messi didn’t have much of an involvement near the start of the game. But then the Argentine just dropped deeper and deeper, until Carrick couldn’t follow. That was the point where Messi was at his most deadliest. While many will call Messi an excellent dribbler and goal scorer. His best attribute will always be his ability to find space to receive the ball, which would bring the rest of the team into play. There is a reason why Pep told Messi to never receive the ball in the 18 yard box, because he knew exactly how good of a false nine Messi was. Throughout the game you would see Messi drop near enough in his own half, receive the ball, and just run at United. It worked so often and he was untouchable throughout the game. What helped massively was United’s inability to keep up with Barcelona. Their tireless running, aggression and high energy game was really taking its effect as the game went on, by the hour mark, United had zero legs to stand. Barcelona had that much control of the game, that United would never be able to get back into it. Messi and Barcelona were excellent in just waiting for this moment, and really made them suffer.

To conclude, this game was a huge turning point. It was the first time Sir Alex would look at a game and even admit that there was nothing he could do. While their first encounter in Rome was closer in pure ability of the players on the pitch, the rematch was not. United didn’t have the furocious front line of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney anymore. Fergie’s magic still brought the best of the aging and average talent throughout the squad, but there was a limit to this. Pep’s team and squad was of such a high standard that any line up Fergie put out on the day, would not have won the game. It was the first time I ever saw Sir Alex get completely outclassed on a tactical level.

It was a high point for his opponent however. This victory ensured that this team of players would go down as one of the best teams to ever play the game (and the best in my opinion). Every player in that team was at their peak, and worked so well together to produce a team that few were ever able to beat. It’s still the team that Pep is trying to equal in achievement and style. A game where the old was beaten by the new, in such a dominant display, and that is why this is a memorable match.

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My Top 3 Favourite Players currently playing

Let’s talk about players that I have such an adoration for that I could watch them kick a ball all day long. These players to me sum up why I love football and they show just how beautiful the game is. There will be no order to this. It’ll be just players that I love.

Paul Pogba

Let’s begin with a player that continues to be one of the best midfielders around. People still don’t see the quality in Pogba after how terrible we were without him. He is our creative force and it tells you how good he is when we rely on him so much. He plays with such an arrogance and character that it is just brilliant to watch. He’s just what we’ve been missing since Scholes retired. He has this incredible skill to just drag the ball forward bring the team with him. Ever since Fergie left, United have been on a slow, stagnant period. From the horrible, horrible, horrible Moyes era, to the boring slow Van Gaal era. Now in the Mourinho era, Pogba seems to be the signing that will kickstart our revival and bring us back to be the best team in the world. He carried us through the Europa league and will do the same in every game he plays this season. Pogba to me is the second coming of united. He shows what a United player should be and what all academy players should aim to be.

Luka Modric

From a player I love for more biased reasons, here’s a player that just never gets the credit he really deserves. To me, Modric is one of the best midfielders of all time, and right now, is the best in the world. He is perfection in a midfielder. He is able to do the defensive work, able to make the key pass, able to run right past players, and most importantly, gets into great positions. What makes him so good is his knowledge of getting into those pockets of space where other players don’t want to go, while being able to transition defence into offence. He is what all midfielders should be. After Pogba’s big money move, it seems many have forgot what a midfielder is supposed to do. They aren’t strikers, they create for strikers. They are the reason the ball is able to go from one half to the other. Modric is the best at doing at. If you ever catch a Madrid or Croatia game, just keep an eye on him. Watch how he moves and what he does with the ball. It will truly change your perspective on a midfielder.

Cristiano Ronaldo

When someone asks me why I love football and why I support Manchester United, I reply with 2 words. Cristiano Ronaldo. He is the reason why I love football. Watching him run down the wing with his one million stepovers just blew my child sized mind. He was utterly incredible for United. He was by far the main reason united won that trophy in Moscow. He put in some incredible performances in the league and in the champions league, including that incredible goal against Porto. If any player summed up how United played under Fergie, it would be Ronaldo. He was fast, direct, arrogant, strong, and most importantly, a winner. He is the reason why I am going through this hell of being a united fan, because I know one day we will be just as good as those teams with Ronaldo were.

The future is looking bright! – Problems at Manchester United that Jose Mourinho has fixed

Mourinho has not been at the club for even a year yet, but it is important to not some of the changes he has made to the way Manchester United plays and in some aspects is ran. I will be ranking these in order of importance and to finish I’ll even say the problems i believe Jose needs to fix after this season, because this season is only the start. There is still plenty of work to do.

Style of play

This actually wasn’t too important on my list, because I knew as soon as Van Gaal left this would definitely improve, and it definitely has. Pogba and Mhikitaryian are the signings that embody this change of style, to a more entertaining way of playing, with players taking risks and and ignoring the amount of possession and only trying to make the most of the amount we have. During Van Gaal’s reign as manager, we always saw 2 defensive midfielders, making us look so static and very passive. Even in the smaller games we saw the likes of Schweinsteiger and Carrick playing together, two players that aren’t exactly the most daring. But under Mourinho this has changed. Against the bigger teams we will be more passive, to ensure we don’t drop points and they do. But against the smaller teams, we play an exciting and free forming 4-3-3. We are having a go now, trying harder to break teams down and especially, entertain the fans. So far there haven’t been any sightings of fans falling asleep during games, so definitely a sign of improvement!

Trophies

United only won one trophy during the three years after Ferguson left. So Mourinho had a huge responsibility to remind the world why we are the biggest club in the world by gaining the trophies to show it, and Mourinho has started very brightly. He has already won as many trophies as Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes win during their times as manager. It has been seen in the past that Mourinho likes to use the League Cup as a moral boost for the players, to give them the desire and motivation to continue, and to give some players the winning feeling, and at this moment, it’s for the Europa League, a trophy that can easily be won, given the lower quality of teams and the squad depth United has. So let’s give Mourinho his third trophy, giving him a pretty solid start as Manchester United manager.

Goals

This to me was more important than style, because under Ferguson, we weren’t always this perfect 4-4-2, some games United won based on some effective counter attacks, but what those teams had was clinical strikers. Even though i cannot fault Zlatan’s countless goals, he hasn’t been perfect. When he doesn’t score, we usually do not win games. He has became our team when he plays, playing as the vocal point for the team and the main output of goals. There is nothing wrong with relying on him. He is paid to score goals. But my problem comes when he has an occasional off day, and no other players contribute. The arrival of Mhikitaryan and the form of Pogba has helped out, but more still needs to be done. Even though it is a massive improvement from last season, with more chances being created, we still need to put that ball in the back of the net if we ever want to win this league.

Signings

Easily my biggest criticism of the other two managers was their lack of Man United players brought into the club. When I say Manchester United players, i mean players at a high quality, producing high numbers for their club and worthy of a big move to a club at the top. This just wasn’t apparent under Van Gaal and Mourinho, buying players that weren’t up to the Manchester United standard, players like Schneiderlin, an aging Schweinsteiger, Depay and in some aspects, Rojo. These players weren’t up the usual standard we expect to see under Ferguson. But that has definitely improved. Zlatan has been an instant success, saving us throughout the season. He’s also given us a character, something we’ve lacked since the departure of players like Vidic, Ferdinand, Giggsy and Evra. Bailly was a player we desperately needed. We’ve been missing a consistent defender for a long time. Mhikitaryan has given us more creativity and a play who will run at defenders. And Pogba has given us some real quality and risk in that midfield, and more goals in general. Mourinho’s start at United has been excellent when it comes to signing players. There isn’t a single fault with the players he signed. Something i hope doesn’t change in the future.

Other factors Mourinho needs to improve

The most obvious one would be trying to integrate the academy players more. The only other the thing Mourinho needs to improve is the team’s shooting, because that has costed us so many games. 

Absolute Bargains! – Top 5 free transfers of all time

Free transfers are usually there to take younger players leaving an academy or a player coming to the end of their career. They are normally used for squad depth and never for a main starter, but there are some exceptions. Some free transfers can be seen as some phenomenal business from the club buying. But before I start, here are some honourable mentions:

Sami Khedira – Real Madrid to Juventus

Dani Alves – Barcelona to Juventus

James Milner – Manchester City to Liverpool

Henrik Larsson – Celtic to Barcelona

Sol Campbell – Spurs to Arsenal



5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – PSG to Manchester United

At the time Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on Top of the World. He carried PSG to another league title and became their record goal scorer. And to top that, he said he would only stay if he was given a statue. Classic Zlatan. Ibrahimovic was rumoured to be joining United as soon as the transfer window opened, and there was plenty of criticism. Involving his age, being able to adapt to the league, and only scoring all his goals against so called ‘farmers.’ And turns out all of this criticism was incorrect. At this moment of writing Zlatan has scored 26 goals for Man United. An unbelievable amount for a player who only scored against farmers. The reason he’s on this list over the players on the honourable mentions is because Mourinho brought in a leader, a player who would be able to give plenty on the pitch as well as off the pitch. He’s an experienced player who added a lot to a team that needed a massive boost, after 3 years of underperforming.

4. Paul Pogba – Manchester United to Juventus

The third free transfer involving Juventus is easily their best one. Paul Pogba was a player with high potential, with him being seen as the future for Man United’s midfield, but because of a lack of game time he was getting and the typical manipulation of Mino Riola, Pogba was persuaded to move somewhere else for game time. At Juventus he showed his talents, being heavily involved in the champions league final team. Playing in a very balanced midfield with Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, where he was able to show his talents, and eventually being named in the FIFA team of the year back in 2015. This is regarded as Fergie’s biggest mistake. Because 4 years later, Man United came back to buy him, only for a record fee. Giving Juventus a giant profit on the Frenchman.

3. Jay-Jay Okocha – PSG to Bolton Wanderers

Not many people outside of the England will understand this pick but you have to hear me out. Jay-Jay Okocha was at PSG for two years after being signed for £10 million, which at the time was a decent amount of money. But Sam Allardyce, releasing his contract was almost at it’s end, signed the Nigerian on a free, and boy what a signing he was. Bolton not only signed the best dribbler the Premier League has ever seen, they also signed someone who was an expert with the dead ball, something you need when you’re fighting a relegation battle. Okocha saved Bolton by contributing with 14 in 124 games. He helped massively in keeping Bolton in the Premier League. But that’s only the objective reason why he is on this list. Subjectively, he is one of my favourite players of all time. I never saw anyone in the Premier League play with opposing playing with insane trickery, until I saw Jay-Jay Okocha kick a ball. He is on the list for revolutionizing the Premier League, and reminding everyone why it’s called the beautiful game.

2. Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski does not need any introduction. The man who showed himself as one of the best strikers around, consistently scoring for Dortmund for 3 years. One when they won the league title and another when they reached the Champions League final. He left under very controversial circumstances, letting his contract running out and deciding to go to Bayern Munich. Where he continued his insane goal scoring form. Bayern signed the best striker in the world, during a time where they needed a striker who would play the Pep way and still score plenty of goals. He can be seen as the main reason why they won the league 2 years ago. Carrying Bayern during a time where they had so many injuries to key players. And his second season where he scored over 30 goals in the Bundesliga. Bayern signed a player who is worth a record amount for nothing. And that just makes the signing even better.

1. Andrea Pirlo

Even though this pick is very unoriginal, it can’t be stressed how brilliant this signing was. Pirlo was at AC Milan for years, becoming one of the best deep line playmakers in the world for years. But as Pirlo began aging, Milan thought he was no longer needed for them, so they didn’t offer him a new contract and let him leave the club, and what a mistake that turned out to be. Juventus decided to sign him to complete their already brilliant midfield. The best way i can describe this is Gigi Buffon describing him as the best signing of all time, although i wouldn’t go that far, i do agree with it being one brilliant signing. He was given a very free role under Antonio Conte, allowing him to be the extra quality, while Pogba, Vidal and Marchisio provide the energy he doesn’t have. Pirlo thrived in that system. Scoring 19 and assisting 35 in 119 games. He is the perfect example of age not being a problem, and he helped guide Juventus to years of success.

Is Wayne Rooney a Manchester United Legend (and defining what a club legend is)?

A football legend isn’t too hard to try and define. Players who performed the greatest at the top level and found a way to keep themselves remembered way after they retire, by winning League titles or winning the Ballon d’or. A club legend on the other hand is way more subjective because more has to be done for a player to be considered a club legend. After Wayne Rooney equalised Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal record at Manchester United, there were many fans who stated that he is a Man United Legend because he’s won everything and equalised arguably the greatest England and Manchester United player’s long standing record, but there is more to it then that. A club legend is a decision that is agreed on by every fan, something that is decided unanimously and every fan will agree on without hesitation. Bobby Charlton is the perfect example of that. If you ask anyone at Old Trafford if Sir Bobby is a club legend, everyone would say of bleddy course he is, and that’s because Sir Bobby bled Manchester United. He was a Munich surviver who years later led Manchester United to a lot of success under one of our best managers we ever employed in Sir Matt Busby. He won the European Cup, the league and the Ballon d’or. He then became a director of Manchester United and was influencial in the growth of the class of 92 and to this very day he still goes to every United game home and away. There is no doubt he is a club legend. Sir Bobby epitomised the definition of a club legend and what every united player should aim towards. 

Sir Bobby is the easiest Man United player to define as a Man United legend. So is there anyone else? Well yes there is. The others being anyone who has a statue outside of Old Trafford, that being Sir Bobby, George Best, Denis Law, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. All of them are legends by default because they are shown as the embodiment of the club, they won everything they could at club level and were loved by the fans. Goerge Best’s legend status could be argued, mainly based on the fact of how he treated some United managers after Bubsy left. But he’s got a statue so he must be. The only other players I’d consider to be club legends are some of the class of 92, being Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, because of their loyalty and longevity. I notice a lot of fans throw the legend status around a lot, with players like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Eric Cantona. But I don’t consider them club legends. Their are definitely icons to the club and played a huge part in our success in the 90s but they aren’t legends. Again this a topic that is very subjective so it’s hard to make this objective. The way of looking at this would be do these two deserve a statue? Have they done enough for the club to deserve one? And that is no. I love both of these players and I would consider Cantona to be a premier league great. But he was only at the club for 4-5 years. He wasn’t at the club long enough to be considered a legend. Even though he was influencial in defining Man United in the 90s and helped us win titles, he just wasn’t there long enough to have a bigger impact. We’ve had strikers with better strike rates than him with the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who scored so many goals. But Cantona had that presence and that God like talent that made him so memorable. It begs the question is it longevity that considers you a club legend? It plays a part but it isn’t the defining factor. Is it success? Also no. Bryan Robson is considered a legend by many of the older fans but he won as many league titles as Anderson. So success in a way means something but also nothing at the same time. The factor to me that plays the biggest part when it comes to defining a club legend is love. Players like Paddy Evra and Solskjaer showed their love to the club and how much they wanted to succeed and win. Even players now like Herrera show it. In fact Pogba went to meet a fan who travels across the world to watch Man United. Things like that make fans like you, showing a connection to the fans.

After all that it’s finally time to discuss Rooney. So is Rooney a Manchester United legend? On the surface many neutrals will consider Rooney a legend because of what he’s achieved. He’s won multiple Premier Leagues, a Champions League and an FA Cup, but as mentioned before success isn’t the main factor. He’s definitely played for United for most of his career and he has scored so many goals. But as mentioned before it’s about the connection to the fans, and that’s why he isn’t a legend. Wayne Rooney has never made an effort to connect with the fans. He’s treated it as a job since he arrived. The guy is a phenomenal footballer or was a phenomenal footballer. Wayne Rooney used to run through walls to get the ball and smash it in the back of the net. He was great for long time even till the end of Moyes time as manager and I’d consider him world class at one point in his career. But the fact that he has always treated like a job and not for love of the game and club is where I have a problem. Players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Anderson Herrera and Paul Pogba have shown more love for the club and the fans this season than I have ever seen Rooney show. I constantly see Herrera be quoted saying how we need to improve and how much he loves playing for the club. I want him to be our captain instead of Rooney because of the passion he shows and it seems he loves the club and fans so much. I never see that from Rooney. Rooney doesn’t show the passion and love we’ve wanted him to show because he isn’t a united fan. The players I mentioned previously were all Manchester united fans as well as players and put their lives on the line for the club and staying involved. Rooney is an Everton fan. He takes his kids to Everton games because that’s the team he supports and grew up supporting. This is nothing against him personally because no one should force a man to support a team. It’s just an unfortunate circumstance and fans just don’t feel the connection because he isn’t a fan like them. One reason many don’t consider him a legend is the fact he has handed transfer requests in. The first being when United sold Cristiano Ronaldo and bought Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Overran. Rooney handed a transfer request because he was questioning the ambitions and goals of the club and he wasn’t the only one who did. I did. Following up the sale of the best player on the planet at the time with players who weren’t near the same level as him was not the right decision so I can understand why he was clearly frustrated. The other time would be in Fergie’s last season and I can understand why in that situation as well. It was clear Rooney was on the decline and it seemed Fergie new it, so he was trying to force him out by making him uncomfortable and making it hard for him to play the game. If your boss is treating you poorly you are going to want to leave. No one wants to work under someone who is treating you below usual standards. I still believe he was going to leave until Moyes arrived and made him captain and increased his wages. You really can’t blame either of them for that. Moyes wanted the fans to like him and he thought making the best player the captain would work, and Fergie left so he didn’t have a problem anymore. So his transfer requests are completely understandable. But the problem is still the lack of connection he has attempted to make with the fans over his 10 years with the club. I thank Rooney for what he’s done and hope he overtakes Sir Bobby because he deserves to, but I don’t think he’ll ever get a statue or be considered a legend by the majority of fans. He will be remembered for what he’s won and the goals he scored instead of his relationship with the fans.