Back on it.
Well, it’s been a thoroughly amusing couple of days. Arsenal’s capitulations are barely a surprise anymore and that game was followed by an 89 minutes-long demonstration of how Yaya Toure lacks responsibility, resilience and concentration as well as humility and self-awareness. Plus poor Pellegrini clearly hasn’t got a clue as to why his players don’t seem to care. Donkeys led by donkeys.
It’s easy to laugh at the Champions League plight of both clubs (and boy do City make it easy) but the reality is we ourselves are at the small, yet still pretty real, risk of failing to qualify this year. I’ve been surprised at the relative lack of media commentary on the danger of us not making fourth, almost as if Louis van Gaal’s ambitious suggestion we could win the title a few weeks back has distracted us from the fact we’re not even in a Europa League spot yet. We are now 10th, a full 13 points behind Chelsea and four points below fourth place.
There are number of issues that need addressing – Di Maria’s ineffectiveness wide on the left, why everyone keeps getting injured all the time, whether Robin van Persie is still up to it – but the most pressing is the defensive line. Without wanting to kick Chris Smalling when he’s down, his showing against City was really just the summit of our mountain of ineptitude at the back (for example, what on earth was Marcos Rojo thinking with that Kamikaze tackle that dislocated his shoulder). The only bright spot has been the refreshingly confident cameos of young scamp and Most Irish Name Ever Award winner Paddy McNair.
The Guardian and others reported on Wednesday that Van Gaal has elected not to pursue any signings in the January window, with Jamie Jackson claiming that the manager would prefer to target players in the summer, when their clubs are desperate to keep them for the latter stages of the competition.
If this is the case you can see where van Gaal is coming from but it flags up something else. The standard complaint about January signings – that they’re overpriced – is not a factor, what with all the cash – for van Gaal it seems more about making sure he picks up the players he wants. But it also suggests one of two things: either he is so confident we’ll make fourth he doesn’t think January signings are necessary anyway, or he knows his job is safe even if the board’s minimum requirement of Champions League qualification is not met.
It has to be one of those two – or both – because it’s pretty obvious we could do with new blood in the middle of the back four. If there were any doubt that Smalling ain’t gonna cut it, well, that was blown to pieces against City. Phil Jones is decent, but perennially crocked. Young McNair is 19 and can’t do it alone (congratulations to him, by the way, on being called up to the Northern Ireland squad for the first time – let’s enjoy that header against West Ham again) and Rojo is still a work in progress, blatantly hard as nails and a little bit crazy.
It’s also good to see Michael Carrick back, pretty much the last remaining player not have had a real shot at impressing the manager. Van Gaal sounded genuinely gutted when he reported Carrick’s injury back in July and Carrick was good-natured this week about dropping back into defence when he needs to, perhaps another reason why the manager doesn’t feel the need to fling the cash about in January. He has been a good stand-in at centre half in the past for the most part but and will do a job for a time, but there’s no way van Gaal will have him pegged as a long-term solution. Carrick himself would probably prefer to see some January signings so he can give Daley Blind a run for his place rather than sit behind him.
I can envisage the pursuit of Matt Hummels being the subject of this summer’s most self-harm inducing transfer saga. There is an obsession with Hummels over here since the World Cup, but he’s been struggling with injuries and form for Dortmund this year and might not be the answer. What the ideal solution would be I don’t know, but we could perhaps start by shifting Smalling well away from the centre of defence and giving the pairing of McNair and Carrick a shot.
David Moyes follows Steve McLaren’s route to redemption
In other news, Real Sociedad confirmed today that they’re holding talks with David Moyes. Like Steve McLaren hotfooting it to FC Twente after the ‘Wally with a Brolly’ episode, it’s plainly the right move for Moyes to rebuild his career outside of England.
He probably wouldn’t want to manage in the Premier League anyway due to the distraction of being constantly abused in every ground he visited. Any sane chairman wouldn’t appoint him for the same reason.
I’d like to think most United fans wish him well. You wonder what he must think about United being worse off now in terms of points than they were this time last year; the truth is probably that he, as well as the rest of us, know it was because he didn’t have the pedigree or force of personality that van Gaal wields.
That’s it for now. It’s Palace at home on Saturday. Considering they were beaten at home by the generally atrocious Sunderland last week… no excuses.