‘Adam, I need a favour’ were the words which greeted me upon my arrival into class last Wednesday.
My friend Josh, an avid Huddersfield Town fan, had arranged for him and six other Terriers supporters to appear on Soccer AM as the fans of the week.
Unfortunately there had been a late withdrawal and there was a seat vacant in the Luther Blissett stand which apparently only I could fill.
I reluctantly obliged despite the fact I’m a Manchester United fan and my only prior knowledge of Huddersfield is that it is in Yorkshire somewhere.
I’d grown up watching Soccer AM, and the show still to this day is a part of my Saturday morning routine.
I had always wondered how I would make my debut on the programme. Would it be as a footballer dubbed the next Lionel Messi? Perhaps a rock star promoting my band’s latest tour? Or an actor playing down my Oscar nomination.
However, I never would have predicted it would involve a two hour facade of pretending to support Huddersfield Town.
I frantically began to search Wikipedia to fill the gaps in my Terriers knowledge just to be assured I wouldn’t be rumbled on the day.
Did you know that the last and only time Huddersfield won the FA Cup was 1922? Well I do, and now it’s so ingrained and implanted in my memory that I will never be able to forget.
In fact the whole thing was a bit like the Stanford prison experiment in which I slowly began to believe the pretence.
As it turned out none of my newly acquired knowledge was required and I was able to sit in the Luther Blissett stand looking gormless for the show without anyone in the studio ousting me.
The whole experience was brilliant from start to finish.
For those who can’t stand Fenners’ cheesy puns and don’t watch the show, the fans of the week mainly feature in three parts of the programme.
The first comes at the start when Frankie Fryer, ‘massive cockney’, introduces each of the fans with a fact about them in his distinctive, idiosyncratic east London tone.
The joke for me was that I’m from Lancashire and not Yorkshire which was followed by a dramatic ‘dun-dun-duuuuun’ sound effect.
Technically I’m from Cheshire but we’ll just add it to the plethora of lies I had already told to blab my way onto the show.
Next came the ‘This is England 90’ game in which Josh had to name as many 90s footballers shown to him in 60 seconds.
It was a very difficult quiz for someone born in 1994 and he was only able to name six- although this was largely down to the help of Fenners and guest Stephen Graham.
After deciding to gamble for the chance to double our winnings, Josh, assisted by Stephen Graham, correctly guessed the player on the card was West Ham legend Ian Bishop which led to jubilant celebrations and a pile on.
Having instigated it by rugby tackling Josh to the ground I’m just glad the others followed suit otherwise it would have looked very strange.
As far as pile ons go it was up there with the best. When I got back on my feet I discovered blood on my shirt and I’ve had to book a trip to the chiropractors next week.
Finally, there was the game in the car park at the end of the show where we had 60 seconds to score five penalties past a giant, swinging, wooden Manuel Neuer.
I had taken three in rehearsals and missed them all. To make matters worse I slipped and fell onto my backside during two of them.
The whole thing is a bit of a blur but thankfully I not only managed to stay on my feet but slotted the ball past the helpless German number one.
We scored five penalties in 27 seconds which puts us third on the leaderboard for this season – the only time Huddersfield will be third in any league standings for a while.
And with that the show was over as I switched on my phone to discover I had three missed calls from Louis van Gaal.
Before heading back up north there was just time to see my newly adopted team get thrashed 4-2 by Brentford at Griffin Park.
It was a tough defeat to take but we’ll bounce back and one day hopefully be crowned English champions for a fourth time and the first since 1926.
Come on the Terriers! Up the Town!
In modern football, it’s difficult to put a price-tag on a player.
In the current football climate where David Luiz is worth £50m and Gareth Bale cost Real Madrid £5m more than it did to land Cristiano Ronaldo, arriving at a sensible valuation for a player is not easy.
At the start of this season, Radamel Falcao was one of the hottest prospects in world football with the reputation of being one of the deadliest strikers in the game.
His stats since moving to European football from River Plate in 2009 are nothing short of sensational and only add bewilderment to why his move to Manchester United this season has not worked out.
Falcao scored 41 goals in 51 appearances during his two seasons at Porto before a £35m move to Atletico Madrid in 2011. He excelled in the Spanish capital, netting 52 times in just 68 matches before his big money move to AS Monaco saw the French club paying a reported £52m for the Colombian’s services.
The striker scored 11 goals in 20 appearances in Ligue 1, but his time in France will be bitterly remembered for the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered in January 2014 which subsequently saw him miss the World Cup last summer.
With financial fair play rules dictating that Monaco needed to offload their star players in order to balance the books, a deadline day move from Manchester United saw the Red Devils take Falcao on loan until the end of this season.
It was a move which suited all parties. Monaco were financially sound and no longer had to pay Falcao’s reported £250,000 a week wages.
As for United, it was a case of ‘try before you buy’ to see if the striker could still terrorise defences and be a prolific finisher following his long-term injury. United have the first option to purchase the player outright at the end of this season for somewhere in the region of £43m. Had Falcao been an abundant goalscorer in the Premier League, the fee would be justified.
However, the Colombia international’s time at Old Trafford has been frustrating and his lack of goals, threat up-front and minutes on the pitch all indicate that Louis van Gaal will not make Falcao a part of his plans for next season if £43m is the price to pay.
‘El Tigre’ has scored just four goals from his 25 appearances for United this season and hasn’t found the back of the net since January.
In Robin van Persie’s absence in recent months, Falcao has had more opportunities to show his worth but has failed to take his chance. Wayne Rooney has also been preferred up-front in recent months with Falcao only starting games when Michael Carrick has been absent, with Rooney shifting into a deeper midfield role.
In fact, 12 of Falcao’s 25 appearances have come from the bench and the lack of game time saw him play for the club’s Under 21’s side in March with his former agent reportedly saying the Colombian had described the experience as “weird”.
However, while the stats may point to a dwindling price-tag this summer, there is an argument that Van Gaal has not utilised his marquee striker enough.
As mentioned above, the forward has scarcely played the full 90 minutes this season. Falcao has been on the pitch 168 minutes fewer this season than last; a campaign which he missed the second half of due to suffering his ACL injury.
The service to the striker has been poor under Van Gaal’s philosophy also, with Falcao having only recorded 36 shots on goal this season. Compare that to the 108 shots he had on goal for Atletico Madrid three seasons ago and you get an understanding of why he has not been as prolific this campaign.
In fact, Falcao scored three goals on the most recent international break in wins for Colombia over Bahrain and Kuwait, proving that he has not lost his appetite for goal.
While Manchester United remain favourites with bookmakers to retain the striker, his performances and statistics cannot justify £43m being spent.
However, few clubs in world football could afford his services for that price-tag and should Monaco need to sell Falcao to comply with financial fair play rules, the striker could remain at Old Trafford next season at a discounted price.
Would United take the Colombian for £25m? Could they ask to extend his loan furthermore? And if Falcao’s asking price did drop which other clubs would be interested?
With European football returning to Old Trafford next season, Louis van Gaal will be looking to ensure his squad is strong enough to compete on both a domestic and European front.
There is a chance Falcao will retain the number 9 shirt at the club next season, but it won’t be at the expense of £43m.
It’s that time of year when transfer rumours and speculation begin to mount up with Manchester United already being heavily linked with Borussia Dortmund pair Mats Hummels and İlkay Gündoğan as well as PSV forward Memphis Depay.
However, out of all the potential signings executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward can lure to Old Trafford this summer, the most important player to be pictured sitting next to Louis van Gaal signing a contract is David de Gea.
United’s number-one has been the stand-out player for the Red Devils this season and will most likely swoop the majority of the accolades at the club’s end of season awards dinner next month.
However, rumours about the Spanish keeper being linked with a summer move to Real Madrid persist and is a worrying prospect with de Gea yet to agree to a new deal to extend his current contract at United beyond next season.
More concerning for United fans perhaps, the attraction of signing for the La Liga giants goes beyond the football club. The move would present de Gea with the opportunity to return to the city he left for United in 2011, when he joined from Atletico Madrid for £17.8m.
Playing in La Liga would also give de Gea the opportunity to consolidate his position as Spain’s number-one.
Should Iker Casillas leave the Bernabéu this summer, it would be difficult to see past de Gea replacing him and United would be unable to reject the move with the risk of losing the Spanish keeper on a free next summer.
Speaking at his press-conference before United’s 3-0 defeat to Everton at the weekend, Louis van Gaal told reporters the club had offered de Gea a new contract but admitted it was out of his hands whether he would sign.
“I am not the boss. I want him to stay. The player is the boss – he can say yes or no. You will have to ask David de Gea, not me. He has to sign. We have offered him a lot of money.”
Given his performances this season, it is not surprising United have offered de Gea a lucrative new deal believed to be in the region of £150,000 a week.
It seems likely now that United will finish in the top-four and that is largely down to the contribution of their goalkeeper.
The 2-1 victory over Everton at home and United’s win at the Emirates in November are prime examples of games in which de Gea produced a series of world-class saves to secure the three points for his side.
In the 3-0 home win over Liverpool in December, de Gea was awarded man-of-the-match after another outstanding display to help United defeat their rivals. How often do you see United win 3-0 at Old Trafford and the keeper being their best player?
De Gea’s outstanding season saw him nominated for both player of the year and young player of the year at the PFA awards last month, and was named in the PFA’s team of the year.
The keeper has certainly developed into one of the best shot-stoppers in the world since joining United in 2011 and it is hard to believe now that he endured a difficult start to life at Old Trafford with a series of goalkeeping mistakes.
Should de Gea leave, United have three times Champions League winner Victor Valdes waiting in the wings or could opt to sign Petr Cech, who is expected to leave Chelsea this summer for the promise of first team football.
Keeping de Gea is the number one priority however, and should he sign a new contract in the next couple of months it would be the best bit of business United do this summer.
One of the most anticipated fixtures of the Premier League season takes place on Sunday when Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield. The local rivalry between the sides is usually enough to whet the appetite but with just nine games to go and the race for a top-four finish hotting up, the outcome of Sunday’s game will give a big indication as to which teams will grab those elusive Champions League places.
Manchester United currently lie in fourth and have been in the top-four for the majority of the season. Despite criticisms of their style of play, constant changes to their formation and bad luck with injuries, Louis van Gaal has found a way of grinding out results without getting the best out of his team. It seems miraculous to some that a win on Sunday could push United up to second place should Manchester City and Arsenal drop points.
Understandably, United fans were apprehensive before last weekend’s game against Tottenham. The Red Devils had had a lot of luck in recent weeks and continued to be criticised for a lack of attacking football on show, despite their wealth of talented forwards. All of those thoughts quickly went out of the window following United’s most impressive performance of the season which resulted in a 3-0 win.
More satisfyingly, the victory came against a top-four rival and has given the players much needed confidence ahead of the trip to Anfield.
United fans can rightfully sing their player’s praises following the win but should be wary of defining the match as a ‘turning point’. They face their toughest away fixture of the season this weekend and face an in-form Liverpool side who are unbeaten in the league since the 3-0 defeat to United at Old Trafford in December.
The Reds have turned their fortunes around following their poor early season form and have found a winning momentum. Brendan Rodgers’ side look unstoppable at the moment and are showing the form which almost secured them their first Premier League title last season. The feat has been made more impressive given the loss of Luis Suarez and the absence of Steven Gerrard from the starting line-up in recent weeks.
Rodgers has now found his best system and is managing to get the best out of his players. Another important aspect Liverpool found during their 1-0 win over Swansea on Monday night was luck. Jordan Henderson’s fortunate goal secured the three points for the Reds which looked unlikely at half-time having been outplayed in the first period.
A Liverpool win on Sunday would see them climb above United into fourth and is an incentive for the players to put in their best performance of the season.
As for United, a win would put them five points clear of their rivals and dispel any doubts pundits have of them slipping up during a difficult end of season run-in.
Predicting the outcome of the contest between English football’s two most decorated clubs is never an easy task. A win for either side provides a valuable three points in the top-four ‘rat race’, but which side will be victorious on Sunday is impossible to predict.
After a difficult start to the season, which has seen United record just three wins from their opening ten games, it appears the Louis van Gaal revolution is not quite going to plan. There are positive signs on the pitch, but here are 10 statistics which make for damning reading…
#1 Worst league start since 1986/87
United’s points tally from their opening ten games is their worst since 1986/87, when a series of bad results saw Ron Atkinson sacked and replaced by Sir Alex Ferguson.
#2 Better start under Moyes
The Red Devils were four points better off at this stage last season under David Moyes and had secured two more victories than this campaign from the opening ten fixtures. United are 11 points behind where they were after ten games in 2012/13- Sir Alex Ferguson’s final title-winning season.
#3 Number of injuries
One excuse van Gaal can point to is the number of injuries and changes he’s had to make to his side so far this season. Marcos Rojo’s shoulder injury became the 35th casualty United have suffered since the Dutchman took over, and Michael Carrick became the 31st player United have used this season when he came on against Manchester City on Sunday.
#4 Summer spending spree
The transfer window just gone saw United spent £150 on a wealth of attacking talent, including breaking the British transfer record to bring in Angel di Maria for £60m. The side which lined up in the derby on Sunday was the most expensive in Premier League history at £241m. And yet the team looks increasingly vulnerable at the back and failing to show its potential going forward.
#5 Attacking stats similar to last season
It’s claimed David Moyes slowed United’s play down and Louis van Gaal was the right manager with an attacking philosophy to return the team to playing the Manchester United way. With the attacking talents he’s brought in you’d expect the stats to confirm this. Yet they don’t. The stats are strikingly similar but edged in Moyes’ favour. Last season United had scored 17 goals compared to 16. They recorded marginally higher possession, created more chances and had a more successful conversion rate under Moyes. Van Gaal’s United do have a 1.1% better pass accuracy rate however.
#6 Central defence issues
United’s four first choice central defenders are all out of this weekend’s game against Crystal Palace. Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Marcos Rojo are all injured while Chris Smalling is suspended. The inexperienced Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair could line up at the back, although Michael Carrick may be asked to play out of position once again.
#7 Strikers underperforming
Sergio Aguero with ten goals. Diego Costa with nine. Saido Berahino with seven. In contrast, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Angel di Maria have scored nine goals between them this campaign. For a team with an embarrassment of riches up front, they are not scoring enough, although more does need to be done to provide them with opportunities from the midfield.
#8 Red cards
United have had three players sent off so far this season and five in 2014. Conforming to the team’s shape and game plan is made much more difficult when going down to ten men.
#9 ‘Easy’ start to the season
No Premier League game is a walkover, but some of the teams United have dropped points against raises some questions. The 0-0 draw at Burnley, the opening day defeat to Swansea City and most notably throwing away a 3-1 lead to lose 5-3 against Leicester.
#10 Away record
United have not won an away match under van Gaal and you have to go back to April the 5th to find their last away victory in a 4-0 win over Newcastle at St James’ Park. It’s a statistic that needs to change and fast.
BUT there a signs to be positive…
Louis van Gaal is notorious for having poor starts with the clubs he has previously managed. When the Dutchman took over at Bayern Munich in 2009 the team were seventh after 13 games with just five victories. They went on to win the league that season as well as reaching the Champions League final.
It’s also important to note that unlike last season, United’s rivals for the Champions League spots are also enduring difficult starts. Everton are level on points and both Liverpool and Tottenham sit just one point ahead. Arsenal in fourth are only four points in front.
It was at the end of November last season that United went on a run of four winless games which they never recovered from. There are plenty of signs that this season United are much improved, but they need to turn performances into points sooner rather than later.
Manchester United’s resounding 4-0 win over QPR 2 weeks ago was ironically the worst thing that could have happened. As the team of ‘Gaalacticos’ majestically fitted together, United’s new stars put together a world class performance giving off the idea and belief that normal service was resumed and United were back. How wrong we all were.
Even 3-1 up away at Leicester after 60 minutes everything appeared to be going to plan. But for all the strengths and embarrassment of riches Louis van Gaal has in attack, the 4 goals Leicester scored past David de Gea in just 20 minutes on Sunday highlighted the desperate situation United find themselves in defensively.
It’s too late for new signings now. It’s too late to recall Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand. United need to make sure it’s not too late to put together a good season.
The more bad results, defensive errors and frailties at the back there are, the longer people will scream the word ‘crisis’. United need to get their season back on track and quickly. But what can van Gaal do at the back? Jonny Evans has now joined Phil Jones on the sidelines, but even when both were fit there were problems. Tyler Blackett is suspended after his sending off against Leicester, and United have loaned out their next centre back option, youngster Michael Keane, to Burnley.
Marcos Rojo is expected to move into the central defence on Saturday when West Ham face United at Old Trafford, and is a move which makes sense after the Argentine World Cup finalist played the majority of his games for Sporting Lisbon in the centre back position. Rojo has started at left back in the games against QPR and Leicester City, but with Luke Shaw and Daley Blind available to play in the position, it makes sense for him to move to centre back.
Will Rojo pick up an immediate understanding at the back with Chris Smalling though? The England defender is still yet to win around the whole Old Trafford faithful, and their partnership doesn’t immediately strike you with confidence. Time will tell, but does Rojo even have the strong physique, vision and leadership qualities needed for a centre back in the Premier League?
Throwing another reserve team player into the team is an option van Gaal isn’t afraid to do, but there’s more risk of it backfiring and isn’t the best position or league to ease an unproved defender into. Tyler Blackett did his job well in the first 4 games and 60 minutes this season, but ultimately had a day to forget at the King Power Stadium on Sunday. Marnick Vermijl is United’s best option, but was exposed in United’s 4-0 shock defeat away at MK Dons. United need an experienced leader at the back and this move would be the opposite.
If experience is what is needed, then the most obvious choices to partner Chris Smalling this weekend are either Darren Fletcher or the returning Michael Carrick. Despite being midfielders, both would bring a calmness to the back 4 and help to steady the ship. They’ve played there before under Sir Alex Ferguson and until Phil Jones returns to the team or even until United can sign a defender in January, either Carrick or Fletcher may be required to help their side out at the back.
Of course van Gaal could revert back to a back 3, but whoever he chooses to line up with on Saturday, West Ham will go into the game full of confidence knowing exactly what United’s weakness is. The Hammers beat Liverpool 3-1 last weekend by taking the game to them, eliminating the influence of Steven Gerrard in the middle of the field and exposed Liverpool’s defence. Sam Allardyce will set out his team exactly the same.
The result on Saturday will depend on how van Gaal reacts to his defensive crisis and how his players respond. For United, the best option may be to simply outscore the opposition.
Myself and a few friends have been in discussion recently about starting up a 5-a-side team. As being the natural choice of captain (leadership qualities, team player, the ability to take out a super injunction to prevent my teammates finding out the truth, etc), it got me thinking about what the best formation would be in a 5-a-side game. Sure, there’s only 4 outfield players to position, but an unorganised outfit could be the downfall of your team. Below are 5 formations you should consider for your team.
The perfect balancing act which all 5-a-side teams require; an equal strength in both defence and attack. The defender is committed to defending and likewise the striker’s only aim is to put the ball in the back of the net. The role of the two midfielders is key, and is essential that they form a reliable partnership in the middle to help the team out at the back as well as going forward. The midfielders need to be fit, fast and agile in order to react quickly to changes in play.
The diamond is the most conventional formation and is difficult to see past it when starting up your team.
The Desmond, aptly named as it involves a ‘2-2’ formation loses the out and out striker and replaces it with an additional defender. The tactic is essentially 2 defenders and 2 midfielders in defence, and a pyramid style 2-1-1 when the team has possession. 2 at the back provides more defensive cover, but is more difficult to create chances.
For teams who like to park the bus, the ‘Wall’ sees a back 3 defending against the most resilient attacks. If you’re bottom of the league and facing the league leaders you may well choose the set up this way and hope to score goals on the counter. Your forward player may get frustrated, but not as frustrated as the opposition.
The Y is named due to the shape but also because why would you set up your team this way? 2 strikers is fine in attack, but in defence your team will get a hiding. If you’re chasing a last minute goal then go for it, but starting in this system could be a big mistake if the 2 strikers don’t track back. Although, you could always just outscore them!
The Free Role
Similar to the conventional diamond, but one of the 2 midfielders is given a free role. One of the midfielders is assigned with the task of holding in the middle of the pitch whilst the other is free to roam across either wing to create chances. Slightly more unorganised, but your team has a solid spine to its formation with an additional sense of unpredictability for the opposition to defend against.