Arturo Vidal: Did Toshiba Medical Systems save Manchester United £40 million?

Manchester United's advert in The Economist boasting about their new Toshiba Medical Systems imaging suite

Manchester United’s advert in The Economist boasting about their new Toshiba Medical Systems imaging suite

A handy bit of medical kit from Toshiba has perhaps saved Manchester United over £40 million, after reports of Juventus and Chile star Arturo Vidal suffering a re-occurrence of his long-standing knee injury.

Those stories have since been downplayed by Vidal, and the 27-year-old did play the full 90 minutes in Chile 0-0 friendly draw with Mexico on Saturday.

However, the all-action midfielder hasn’t been the same player since his injury and had a relatively poor World Cup, hampered by the supposedly “rushed” operation before the tournament in Brazil.

And that hastened surgery came after he struggled on the pitch for over a month with his knee injury before he physically couldn’t go on any further – which came during the second leg of Juventus’ Europa League semifinal against Benfica.

The anthroscopic surgery Vidal had on the lateral meniscus in his right knee usually requires 6-8 weeks for full recovery.

Vidal started and played 60 minutes in his team’s 3-1 win over Australia at the World Cup, just five weeks after his procedure.

Of course recovery times can be shorter for athletes at the highest level in their sport, but it must be pointed out the demands are also greater.

After playing for an hour against Australia, Vidal played for 88 minutes in a 2-0 win over Spain just five days later.

Six weeks following his knee procedure, Vidal was in the centre of what for any footballer would’ve been a draining match – Chile had to work extremely hard to get that famous 2-0 win, especially with Spain having 63 per cent possession, a better pass success rate and more shots both on and off target.

Vidal was rested with qualification secured for the 2-0 loss to the Netherlands, but played for 87 minutes in the round of 16 loss to Brazil.

While footballers can recover ahead of the 6-8 week period, most would usually start returning to full training a week ahead of that time, not already be starting in matches played at some of the highest intensities he’ll ever experience in his career.

So the signs are there that Vidal’s problems in his right knee might very well not be over.

And if reports are to be believed that the player did have a medical at Carrington – something that even if true can be easily denied by the club, especially considering the ways to get into United’s training ground unnoticed – it could well have been the new Toshiba Medical Systems facility the Red Devils have boasted about which could’ve prevented the move and saved United wasting a reported £40 million, or more.

The facility at Manchester United’s base – which the club showed off in an advert in The Economist – allows the club’s medical staff to predict future injury problems a player may have.

According to the United website, the ‘medical imaging suite’ can:

“improve player welfare and also facilitate research into early markers of potentially preventable injuries and ways of maintaining player career longetivity at elite level.”

The boastful press release continues:

The new facility will aid analysis of patterns and trends in rehabilitation, with innovative cardiac and musculoskeletal profiling helping to gain a wider understanding of both normal and abnormal responses to athletic training with possible applications to everyday health problems and injuries outside of professional sports.”

From this information and the apparent deliberation from the Manchester United board and Louis van Gaal, it would appear that Vidal went through this imaging suite at Carrington and potentially serious knee problems showed up.

Or research gleaned from the facility suggested that terms with Juventus were agreed and the midfielder arrived for a medical, it would be pointless as he would fail it and another injury in that right knee was more than likely to happen at some point this season.

Further on in the press release, issued on 11 March 2014, the soon-to-be-axed Manchester United manager David Moyes says:

Not only is it cutting edge medical technology, it will also help us detect the early signs of injury and help to refine the rehabilitation process – something that will pay dividends for years to come.”

For new man van Gaal, the Toshiba Medical Systems imaging suite could well have paid dividends, especially when dodging bullets in the transfer market.


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Marcos Rojo: Manchester United’s new signing will improve the whole team

On the back of Manchester United’s drab draw with Burnley, Marcos Rojo can’t make his debut soon enough.

For the £16 million signing from Sporting Lisbon is exactly the type of defender Louis van Gaal needs in his team.

In the game at Turf Moor, the Red Devils were crying out for a player like Rojo. That is, they were desperate for a centre-back who could bring the ball out from the back.

Merely dribbling forward with the ball from defence may not seem like much, but it’s an important thing for a defender to do – and is not the easiest thing in the world.

When a centre-back comes forward with the ball, that allows the midfielders to get into spaces where they can influence play.

Dropping deep to pick up the ball well inside their own half makes it harder for a midfielder to envisage their next pass and draws the rest of the team backwards, helping the opposition shut off the spaces in the final third.

It’s why Juan Mata was so ineffective against Burnley. He couldn’t get into the right places to make the killer pass for Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney because he had to come deeper for the ball, allowing Burnley to press higher and force the ball to ineffective areas on the wings.

Hence van Persie and Rooney also had poor games, as the service was mostly shut off and they had to try their luck for most of the game from crosses into the penalty area.

Angel di Maria was impressive and managed to give United’s play some flow with clever passes through the gaps in Burnley’s midfield line and great, accurate long balls to good areas on the wing, but there was only so much he could do from central midfield.

The unwillingness of the Manchester United defence to bring the ball forward often created situations like above, where Burnley pressed high and United's midfield had to drop deeper -meaning the likes of Juan Mata couldn't get into the game

The unwillingness of the Manchester United defence to bring the ball forward often created situations like above, where Burnley pressed high and United’s midfield had to drop deeper -meaning the likes of Juan Mata couldn’t get into the game

For a centre-back however, having the confidence to go forward with the ball isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially in high stake Premier League games where one heavy touch could lead to being dispossessed, the goalkeeper being exposed and a goal being conceded.

And with the amount of money there is riding on each game – not to mention the defender’s clean sheet bonus and the potential for him to miss out on his appearance bonus the next game – it’s clear to see why Jonny Evans, Phil Jones or Tyler Blackett weren’t all too keen to take the ball forward in the last game.

Plus, they’re not the best at dribbling.

Marcos Rojo however does have that confidence. The amount of long range shots he had for Sporting Lisbon last season is testament to that – he’s a player who likes to get forward from central defence, and take the ball with him.

And while he played at left-back for Argentina at the World Cup, his two successful dribbles attacking the right side pairing of Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichtsteiner against Switzerland show his dribbling ability when he is allowed to run with the ball.

Which is what Louis van Gaal wants, and what has been missing in his team – that centre-back with the confidence to take the ball forward.

It’s only a small thing, but it takes cajones to bring the ball forward and it also brings the rest of the team into play.

When a defender can do that however, it brings everyone else into play and forces gaps to open in the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines.

Di Maria was said to be the man who can help Juan Mata get his Manchester United career back on track. But it could well be Marcos Rojo who improves Mata’s game, and the rest of the team.


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Benjamin Stambouli: Tottenham Signing Better Value Than Morgan Schneiderlin

With international friendlies swiftly following the Premier League’s transfer deadline day, the dust has barely settled on what was a remarkable day of spending.

But among the myriad of high-profile transfers, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a brilliant coup with the £4.7 million capture of French midfielder Benjamin Stambouli from 2012’s Ligue 1 champions Montpellier.

Of course Stambouli – who has never been capped at any level for France – was not Tottenham’s first choice.

That was Morgan Schneiderlin, the midfield maestro who makes Southampton tick. Schneiderlin has arguably been the best holding midfielder in the Premier League for the past two seasons, and undoubtedly the best tackler in the league.

But with the Saints wanting £27 million for their team’s most important player (thanks to Adam Lallana’s move to Liverpool), getting Stambouli instead for under £5 million is a bargain.

Of course, Schneiderlin is slightly the better player – or at least that’s what the stats say.

Last season was Stambouli’s breakout season for Montpellier. The team struggled a lot last season, but had a strong score with their captain Hilton at the centre of defence, Stambouli has the stronger half of a double pivot with Morgan Sanson in the 4-2-3-1, and Newcastle United’s new signing Remy Cabella thriving in the no.10 role.

So it’s fairest to focus at the stats from last season, when Schneiderlin also had his best days under Mauricio Pochettino.

In the last campaign, according to WhoScored.com statistics Schneiderlin made 113 tackles in the Premier League at a rate of 3.4 per game. Stambouli made 111 tackles at a rate of 3.1 per match.

Schneiderlin also made 69 interceptions at a rate of 2.1 per game, significantly higher than Stambouli’s 57 interceptions at a rate of 1.6 per match.

And in building play out from the back – combined with tackling and intercepting the most important of a holding midfielder’s game – Schneiderlin appears to be streets ahead with a pass success rate of 89.3 per cent from an average of 58.5 passes per game.

To be a truly world-class midfielder he’d need a success rate of 90 per cent or more with an average of over 60 passes per game, but Schneiderlin is certainly very close when it comes to passing.

Stambouli’s statistics in this regard aren’t anywhere near as impressive. The 24-year-old managed a success rate of 82.8 per cent from an average of 40.6 passes per game.

However, Schneiderlin was part of a stellar Southampton side filled with great talent, working under one of the game’s most intelligent and innovative managers in Mauricio Pochettino.

Stambouli meanwhile was part of a poor Montpellier team which had ditched his stellar midfield partner Marco Estrada, replaced title-winning manager Rene Girard with the lacklustre Rolland Courbis, sold star players Younes Belhanda, Henri Bedimo, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and allowed key striker John Utaka to leave on a free.

In a team that struggled to a 15th place finish in Ligue 1 last season, Stambouli comfortably made the most tackles, interceptions and accurate passes. In fact, only three players made more tackles than him in France’s top-flight last season.

Without him, Montpellier could well have been relegated, he was that important.

Benjamin Stambouli has signed a five-year contract with Tottenham Hotspurs - it shows how highly Pochettino rates him. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Benjamin Stambouli has signed a five-year contract with Tottenham Hotspurs – it shows how highly Pochettino rates him. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

While Morgan Schneiderlin can boast some impressive statistics from last season, Stambouli’s were no doubt skewed by his poor-performing teammates.

In fact, to have those kind of stats in a team which were two points clear of the relegation zone last season shows the potential Stambouli has.

Potential which can be filled at White Hart Lane. As was clear in the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, Spurs are crying out for a high pressing, enthusiastic midfielder to fit Pochettino’s Barcelona-esque pressing game.

That’s even clear by looking at the stats from last season – Stambouli made almost double the tackles than any Tottenham player did in 2013-14.

The Frenchman will add that steel which has been missing with the shy and retiring partnership of Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue, both in the tackle and vocally.

Indeed the player himself said (h/t SkySports):

 

I like to talk in the locker room, it’s a pleasure for me. You have to manage when it goes wrong and I’m glad to have responsibilities.”

 

So while Stambouli may not be the Morgan Schneiderlin Tottenham fans wanted, he is a very similar player to the man who is the same age, same nationality and plays in the same position as him.

And on the pitch Stambouli brings all of the same qualities as the Southampton midfielder.

The only difference is, he’s more than £20 million cheaper. A better fit for Pochettino’s plans than any of Tottenham’s holding midfielders, and with a point to prove in the Premier League, Benjamin Stambouli could well be the bargain of the season for Tottenham.

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England 1-0 Norway: Live Tactics Blog

Less than 40,000 are expected at Wembley for the friendly between England and Norway, much less than in the picture here. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Less than 40,000 are expected at Wembley for the friendly between England and Norway, much less than in the picture here. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

FULL-TIME – England secure a 1-0 win over Norway at Wembley, their first win in six games. The Three Lions dominated throughout, and after the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup, at the very least England needed a win to get public confidence back. They’ve done that, but the lack of many goals is unlikely to inspire people to starting watching the national team again. As for Norway, they lost their composure after going behind and Per-Mathias Hogmo will have to work on that, but they kept their shape and discipline admirably in the first half and threatened on the counter. They could have with more experience in their side though.

93 mins – Leighton Baines has a chance after being set up by Danny Welbeck following a surging run into the penalty. Right until the end England seem to have a positive, attacking mentality. They were attacking at the World Cup, and clearly that’s how the England manager wants his team to play.

92 mins – Halfway into the four minutes of added time and still England are pressing high when Norway have the ball. Roy Hdogson seems to have engrained a high pressing game into his new look team.

86 mins – Sterling named man of the match and rightly so. On his fifth international start, Sterling has been at the heart of almost every England attack. His run and matching control enticed Elabdellaoui to give away a penalty, and at the tip of the diamond he’s opened up gaps in Norway’s defence which didn’t exist in the first half (though fatigue has also helped).

83 mins – England’s defence also deserves credit. In general they’ve picked up their men well, kept their shape and denied Norway any space to work a chance in the last 25 minutes.

80 mins – Raheem Sterling much more effective at the tip of the diamond in the no.10 role for England. His great pace and dribbling ability has allowed him to burst his way through Norway’s midfield multiple times, and that’s allowed the likes of Welbeck and Sturridge to attack an exposed defence.

78 mins – Norway have visibly lost their confidence after conceding. They’ve lost possession on the edge of their penalty area and could have been 2-0 behind had Jordan Henderson not ruined great link-up play between Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck with a poor finish.

75 mins – Good run in behind the defence by Danny Welbeck and good cross, even if it was too quick for his teammates. His pace is already having an impact in this game. He can have a good future for England if he can improve his finishing at Arsenal.

71 mins – England playing a diamond 4-4-2 formation now after Fabian Delph and James Milner come on for Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Jordan Henderson is playing deep, Raheem Sterling is at the tip of the diamond with Delph and Milner in the middle. Danny Welbeck has come on for Rooney and is playing the same role.

67 mins – 1-0 ENGLAND! Wayne Rooney finishes well from the penalty spot. Omar Elabdellaoui brings down Raheem Sterling for the penalty, after the winger’s expertly played in from a long pass by Jordan Henderson. Henderson’s passing range is going to be important for England in their qualifying campaign, especially to the likes of Sterling and Sturridge. Henderson read Sterling’s run and played in a perfectly weighted and accurate ball. Good movement by Sterling and good control to beat Elabdellaoui and win the spot kick.

63 mins – Rickie Lambert and James Milner warming up for England. They need to make a change soon to try and get some fresh legs running past Norway’s midfield and defence, but Milner isn’t likely to make a great impact. Lambert’s link-up ability and good finishing could make a difference though.

61 mins – England try to counter but Daniel Sturridge is held off well by Havard Nordtveit in the penalty area and the move comes to nothing. If the likes of Sturridge, Rooney, Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain can show more composure, counter-attacks will be the quickest and most effective way to get a goal in this game.

58 mins – Norway’s midfield line is a lot further forward from defence than in first half. It’s proving a more effective way of defending as England’s midfield struggling to find the gaps and so they have to force it wide, which isn’t working at the moment.

52 mins – Great chance for Norway as Joshua King dispossesses Gary Cahill and forces Joe Hart to make a save. He should’ve squared it to Mats Moeller Daehli who would have had a tap in, but that’s much better from Norway now who are pressing higher up the pitch and showing more belief in their play. Half-time team talk from the manager looks like it’s working.

49 mins – Two corners in a row for Norway. Second comes to nothing, but the first produced a good save from England goalkeeper Joe Hart after John Stones lost his man in the box. Rapid movement in the penalty area for set-pieces will be key in Norway carving out goalscoring chances.

48 mins – Norway manager Per-Mathias Hogmo clearly wasn’t happy with his side’s play in the first half. The Norwegians have shown much more attacking intent in the second half.

HALF-TIME – England need to play much quicker out from the back if they are to break Norway’s disciplined defence. The hosts have been rarely troubled in defence but need a re-think in how they go forward.

45 mins – First attacking free-kick for Norway. Ball in comes to nothing as lack of quality in attack shows. The away side need to capitalise on chances like that if they are to score at Wembley.

42 mins – Failed long ball by Wayne Rooney out on left wing to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on right side. The ball goes out for a goal-kick. Symptomatic of England’s play. Rooney has to drop very deep for the ball, and has to play speculative passes to try and help his team find some space in Norway’s final third.

39 mins – Rare move forward for Norway as Joshua King holds the ball up after a long ball forward before trying to feed in Mats Moeller Daehli. That’s the visitors’ best bet for a goal.

37 mins – Another attack breaks down for England as they’re again too slow in the build-up. It’s all well and good injecting pace halfway through an attacking move, but the Three Lions need to start pushing out quickly from the back.

34 mins – England could benefit from dropping off Norway and hitting them on the counter. They’re slow in the build-up and that means Norway have all the time they need to shut off the spaces in their final third and penalty area.

33 mins – England are having all of the play and possession, but they’re still not carving out the space to create proper goalscoring chances. The Three Lions need to work harder on breaking down stubborn defences, especially at Wembley.

30 mins – England show great range of passing combinations as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlains plays a long diagonal ball to Raheem Sterling. Great anticipation and run beyond by Leighton Baines, who has a decent shot. Looks like Baines and Sterling will build up a left-wing partnership during England’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

29 mins – John Stones not afraid to come forward and put crosses in. That’s giving England a lot of good options to get in behind Norway defence.

25 mins – Raheem Sterling looking long for Daniel Sturridge, who’s dink over Orjan Nyland almost pays off. That’s one right there from Liverpool’s training at Melwood.

24 mins – Norway midfield sitting very deep, almost on top of their defence. That’s allowing England a lot of space around the penalty area.

22 mins – A lot of space available for midfielders like Jordan Henderson around the penalty area. Norway struggling to stay disciplined and close down spaces.

20 mins – England looking to inject a lot more pace into their game than 10 minutes ago. It’s clear they do want to win after disappointing World Cup.

18 mins – Daniel Sturridge comes deep and tries long ball to Raheem Sterling in behind Norway centre-back Havard Nordtveit. Another attacking tactic used by Roy Hodgson, taken from Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.

14 mins – Great chance for Raheem Sterling who runs in behind Norway centre-back Vegard Forren. England will look to do that a lot tonight.

13 mins – England looking to get Oxlade-Chamberlain on the ball whenever possible. Not surprising considering how highly England manager Roy Hodgson rates him.

8 mins – Patient passing from England. Norway have no desire to press high up the field and are sitting deep. Away at Wembley in a friendly, it’s easier for Norway to let England play in and around their own half. Hence why the Three Lions are struggling to carve out early chances.

4 mins – Poor Leighton Baines free-kick but good start for England, pressing high up the pitch and passing well.

3 mins – England looking to get Raheem Sterling in centrally, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too.

2 mins – England passing it around all areas of the pitch, designed to give as many players a touch as possible and calm Wembley nerves.

Top tier of Wembley Stadium closed, the crowd as low as expected for England. And that’s fair enough, given that England had a disappointing World Cup and have not won in five games. The last game, the 0-0 draw with Costa Rica at the World Cup, was particularly uninspiring. 

And Norway have five players in their starting Xi – Orjan Nyland (GK), Havard Nordtveit (CB), Omar Elabdelloui (RB), Martin Linnes (LB) and Stefan Johansen (CM) – who played for the U21s when they beat England’s U21s 3-1 at Euro 2013 in Israel. The Norwegians are said to have a lot of promising youngsters coming through.

Five England players in their starting XI aged 22 or under: John Stones, Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling. Five players who will most likely be key in Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Line-ups are in. England’s starting XI was announced yesterday of course. Norway’s team has been announced and like the Three Lions, Norway seem to be looking to the future after a disappointing 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. 22-year-old full-backs Omar Elabdelloui and Martin Linnes are given their chance to impress Per-Mathias Hogmo. Up-front, Blackburn Rovers striker Joshua King gets his chance in the new-look squad, as does Cardiff City’s Mats Moeller Daehli and Celtic’s Stefan Johansen.

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England v Norway – Wembley Stadium – 8pm kick off, live on ITV1

Welcome to live coverage of England’s friendly with Norway at Wembley. Farah’s Football will analyse the match tactically as it happens, highlighting all the clever attacking moves and best performing players, as well as the weak links, defensive deficiencies and so on.

There’s only been one previous meeting between the two, a 1-0 friendly win for England in Norway in a warm-up game for Euro 2012. Ashley Young scored the winner that day, highlighting his spectacular loss of form over the past few years for Manchester United.

The statistical gurus at WhoScored.com believe this match “has the makings of everything about a badly-timed, underwhelming, low-paced and dull international friendly.”

That could well be right with a disappointing crowd of less than 40,000 expected, but if the Three Lions can get Raheem Sterling in behind the full-backs (just like his goals for Liverpool against Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur), and if Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge can build on their World Cup partnership, there could well be a good few goals in this game for the hosts.

Team line-ups:

England (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart, John Stones, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge.

Norway (4-5-1): Orjan Nyland, Omar Elabdellaoui, Havard Nordtveit, Vegard Forren, Martin Linnes, Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Stefan Johansen, Ruben Yttergard Jenssen, Mats Moeller Daehli, Joshua King, Tarik Elyounoussi.


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Radamel Falcao to Manchester United perfect on all levels

Radamel Falcao will be happy joining Manchester United for a reported £136,000-a-week after tax.

Radamel Falcao will be happy joining Manchester United for a reported £136,000-a-week after tax. Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/elhormiguerotv/8558799034

Radamel Falcao’s move from Monaco to Manchester United is the perfect transfer on all levels for the Red Devils.

The reported £6 million loan deal, which Guillem Balague insists will be a permanent £51.4 million transfer, has stunned their rivals.

It’s also shown how United, and in particular Ed Woodward, are finally thinking ahead, and why Louis van Gaal has more than a shade of Sir Alex Ferguson about him.

Falcao was the one elite striker who was available for transfer this summer.

With United already having four strikers in Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, and with young James Wilson also set to be promoted to the first-team, it seemed that the striker position was one area the Red Devils wouldn’t look to strengthen.

The club has already spent over £150 million this window, and while Chicharito has gone to Real Madrid, even if Welbeck also left, signing a new striker still appeared a long shot. And it’s that suprise factor which might well have ruined the plans of United’s rivals.

There seemed to be a lot of truth in Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal pursuing Falcao recently. While Liverpool plumped for Mario Balotelli in the end (though they would have almost certainly preferred Radamel Falcao), it appeared City especially were planning for his arrival.

It was thought that Falcao would arrive after wantaway striker Alvaro Negredo left for Valencia (h/t Daily Mail). However, United’s swoop for the Colombian now means City could well have to keep the disgruntled Negredo. While the Gunners now appear set to continue without a new striker if Arsene Wenger’s comments (h/t SkySports.com) are to be believed – particularly damaging for his team after missing out on Loic Remy.

So in one fell swoop, Manchester United have boosted the optimism flying around their squad and their fans, while creating an air of disappointment at both Manchester City and Arsenal.

On top of that, Falcao’s transfer shows how United – and Ed Woodward – have learned the lessons of their midfield crisis, and are now investing to avoid a similar situation up-front.

While Falcao is the same age as Rooney and just three years younger than van Persie, with the latter’s injury concerns the Falcao move provides that security for the Red Devils in attack.

In a season where Manchester United need to get back into the Champions League if their hard work building a money-spinning empire is not to be all for nothing, Louis van Gaal needs to have two world-class forwards in his line-up.

With van Persie needing to go under the knife and thus be ruled out for a number of months, United would be short of the required quality should Welbeck or Hernandez be deputising in that time.

So to replace van Persie in the short-term with a truly world-class forward in Falcao is the ideal situation for United which is now a reality.Plus van Persie’s injury record and the reported concerns over his fitness means a top striker is more of a necessity than most would think.  

And in the long-term, yes Falcao is only three years younger than van Persie, but that’s potentially three more years with a world-class striker in the team.

Signing Falcao almost certainly means Welbeck will follow Chicharito out of Old Trafford, and will provide a further boost for United in terms of the progress of James Wilson.

Wilson was better than both Welbeck and Chicharito put together in his cameo appearance at MK Dons, and the 18-year-old has already shown great promise with his two-goal debut against Hull City.

His promotion to fourth choice this season will enhance his development – and give United a better option than Welbeck or Hernandez – but the real boost to his progress will be at Carrington.

Training and learning off Radamel Falcao, in addition to Rooney and van Persie, could improve Wilson’s game immeasurably – again keeping United strong up-front for the long-term.

And finally for Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, his agreeing to the Falcao signing provides a good insight into how his team will play this season.

That is, we now know that United – in terms of how the team is set-up – will be one of the most unpredictable sides in the Premier League this season.

Radamel Falcao signing also begs the question of where Angel di Maria will play. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Radamel Falcao signing also begs the question of where Angel di Maria will play. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

While van Persie is out of action, van Gaal could well stick to the 3-5-2 formation. But when the Dutchman returns, the manager has a plethora of options.

He could go 4-3-3 with a fearsome Falcao-Rooney-RvP trio up front, or he could play Angel di Maria on one side with Rooney playing deeper.

Or van Gaal could stick to 3-5-2 with Falcao and van Persie, with Rooney just behind and di Maria as a wing-back. Or have Juan Mata in the no.10 with Rooney in central midfield.

The possibilities are endless.

Falcao’s signing begs the question of where the likes of di Maria, Rooney and Mata will play, and simply makes United a much harder team to second-guess for managers and oppositon scouts across the Premier League.

It also makes competition for places even tougher in the forward positions – that will make Rooney, van Persie, Mata, even di Maria and Falcao himself work harder in training and become more focused.

Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson always had many different options in midfield and attack.

They could be impossible to second-guess, and with so many quality players to choose from, teams would face the Red Devils without much of a clue as to how they would line up and how they would play.

It’s part of the reason why United were so dominant under Sir Alex – opponents just didn’t know who would play, but they knew whoever did play was going to be a quality option that could tear their team apart.

After sanctioning this deal, Louis van Gaal appears to be following a similar route to Sir Alex.

The signing of Radamel Falcao looks set to bring the fear factor back to Manchester United.


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2014-15 Premier League betting tips: Gameweek 3

Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Here are some Premier League betting tips for Gameweek 3.

While these tips are based on tactical, psychological and statistical analysis, the Premier League can be damn near impossible to predict at times.

As such, they could all be wrong.

Or they could all be right.

Or some of them could be right.

Aston Villa v Hull City – Draw @ 9/4 (or 0-0 @ 6/1)

Aston Villa are favourites for this game at Villa Park, but this one has draw written all over it.

Even Paul Lambert and Steve Bruce would probably be surprised if either walked away with a win.

Going for 0-0 would be a good shout for a number of reasons. Looking back at the stats, Hull have failed to score in eight of their last nine matches against Villa.

On top of that, the understanding between Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos is improving every match, and crucially both are in top form.

They both close down the space well, can read an opponent’s run and most importantly, they can read each other’s play as well.

Especially after losing Shane Long, who – despite his lack of good finishing ability (reflected in his goal tally) – is great at dragging defenders out of position to create space for teammates, Hull don’t have the imaginative kind of striker or midfielder who could trouble such a solid partnership as Vlaar and Senderos.

As for Aston Villa, they simply don’t have the firepower, especially with Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak still injured. Much more on that is outlined here.

Both will be fatigued and lower on confidence after their midweek losses in the League Cup and Europa League respectively (Hull’s being on aggregate of course).

And at home Villa have a big problem tactically which manager Paul Lambert still hasn’t sorted.

He’s worked hard on making sure his team keep their shape, have runners in midfield who can slot into defence to provide cover (Kieran Richardson is the one who doing it most this season), and are ready to pounce on the counter-attack.

However, teams drop off and let Villa play when they’re at home, knowing that Villa don’t have a good rhythm when they have time and space on the ball.

Lambert has yet to get his team playing better with long spells in possession.

Again, this one has draw – and quite probably 0-0 – written all over it.

Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar - or 'Big Gay Ron' - has been immense this season. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar – or ‘Big Gay Ron’ – has been immense this season. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Everton v Chelsea – Draw @ 12/5

Chelsea are the favourites here by a fair distance, but Everton have won the past four out of five between the two sides at Goodison Park.

That doesn’t make them favourites however. They may have two strikers who used to play for the Blues – Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o – who no doubt will be more fired up than ever, but this Chelsea team will be the best they’ve played in a long time.

Roberto Martinez’s men were brilliant in the first half against Arsenal when facing Alexis Sanchez up-front.

But in that first-half, Sanchez couldn’t adapt to being a centre forward, and often looked for the ball on the wing, leaving nobody in the middle. That meant no focal point.

Arsene Wenger then makes a masterstroke sub at half-time, bringing on Olivier Giroud for Sanchez.

Suddenly the Gunners have direction in attack, and a focus in how they go forward. As a result, the Everton defence is tested more and eventually cracks.

Against Chelsea, Everton’s defence will be tested much more than last weekend with a direct striker like Diego Costa, or even Didier Drogba.

The weak point for Martinez’s men is their difficulty dealing with direct strikers who are supported with great service in midfield.

Hence Chris Wood got on the scoresheet for Leicester against the Toffees on the opening day.

Chelsea have the striker in Costa, and the midfielder in Cesc Fabregas (and of course the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, etc).

But, it will play on Chelsea and Mourinho’s mind that they lost the last game at Goodison, and that they haven’t done well there over the years.

On top of that, Everton have quality through the pitch themselves, which will leave the Blues vulnerable at times (as evidenced against Leicester last weekend).

The likes of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman seem more comfortable in their play at Goodison – regardless of opposition – and that will help Everton stick to the manager’s tactics.

A draw with both teams scoring seems the most likely outcome here.

Tottenham v Liverpool – Home win @ 8/5

Mauricio Pochettino has worked wonders at White Hart Lane this season.

When Tottenham beat AEL Limassol 3-0 on Thursday night, the commentator on ITV4 was spot on. “Liverpool can’t come soon enough for Spurs”, he said.

The feel-good factor around the club is highly visible, even from the outside. It is only two games into the season, but the fact that Tottenham sit top of the Premier League is significant.

Pochettino has established a solid core to his team and has blended strong defensive football with attacking flair beautifully.

The likes of Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen have been reinvigorated by Pochettino’s arrival, while overall the team is finally starting to gel with the understanding between them much better than last season.

However, the picture is rather different at Liverpool. The defence still needs sorting (much more explained here) tactically, and confidence is fairly low after a lacklustre win over Southampton, and a crushing defeat at Manchester City.

And going forward, Brendan Rodgers still seems to be working out the best way for his team to attack without Luis Suarez, part of the reason why Daniel Sturridge hasn’t been in the same form as last season.

There seems to be a bit of transition at Liverpool after losing Suarez and adding a lot of numbers to the squad for the Champions League.

However, Spurs have hit the ground running and don’t look like stopping soon. A home win and a clean sheet for Tottenham appears most probable.

Sergio Aguero to score two or more @ 5/2 (or three or more @ 9/1)

Sergio Aguero has three goals in his three games in the Premier League at home to Stoke City.

He’s approaching full fitness and is providing early indications – with the ease at which he scores, the cleverness of his forward runs, the spaces he can create for himself, the list is endless – that he is in the form of his life.

Stevan Jovetic may also be in stellar form, but there’s no doubt Manchester City look first to Aguero for goals.

Tactically, Stoke’s defence and midfield simply aren’t good enough to stop a player like Aguero, especially at the Etihad.

Two goals is a safe bet for Aguero, but it could well be quids in with an Aguero hat-trick.

Manchester United and both teams to score @ 13/5

This one doesn’t need a great deal of analysis and is quite obvious, but with odds of 13/5 seems worth a punt.

Angel di Maria is in line to make his Manchester United debut, and besides the obvious improvement he will clearly give the team, his signing could well have the ‘Mesut Ozil effect’ seen at Arsenal.

Also, United have greater belief in themselves away from Old Trafford, and will seek a response from last week’s disappointing draw at Sunderland (the 4-0 MK Dons defeat compromised virtually none of those who will start this season, besides David de Gea).

Burnley did beat United 1-0 at Turf Moor at the start of the 2009/10 Premier League season, and while the teams are markedly different today, that will still give the Clarets confidence.

Combine that with a defence still struggling with their roles in the 3-5-2, and it does seem clear United will concede.

But overall, with the ‘di Maria’ effect, as bad as they’ve been it’s really hard not to see United win this one.

MK Dons 4-0 Manchester United: 5 players who failed Louis van Gaal audition

Manchester United’s embarrassing 4-0 defeat at the hands of lowly MK Dons in just the second round of the League Cup is conclusive proof of the complete lack of depth available to United manager Louis van Gaal.

Here we look at five players who van Gaal most definitely was not expecting to let him down against an average third-tier side.

Javier Hernandez

The most useful thing Javier Hernandez can do for Manchester United is accept a move to Juventus as part of the Arturo Vidal deal, if reports are to be believed.

The 26-year-old striker has scored big goals in the Premier League against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, and as a Mexico international scored against Argentina and France in the 2010 World Cup, before his move to Manchester United.

And yet against a League One team in MK Dons – who aren’t exactly the best in England’s third-tier – Chicharito was shockingly ineffective.

In his first season at United, the Mexican made his name as a goal-poacher with brilliant movement to get behind defences and score the tap-ins that look easy but take an intelligent footballer to get in the right places at the right time.

But on Tuesday night, none of those quick, imaginative runs were on display, just as they haven’t been since the moment Sir Alex Ferguson walked out the door.

His understanding with Danny Welbeck has also disintegrated, perhaps because they are part of different cliques at Carrington and in the Old Trafford dressing room.

And when his golden chance came knocking on 78 minutes – which in itself proves how useless Hernandez was throughout the match – he decided to try and poke the ball in with the outside of his right foot, despite having all of the requisite space to trap the ball and produce a calm finish past David Martin, the MK Dons goalkeeper.

It’s that poor decision-making, combined with his lack of effort and movement, which could well have cost Javier Hernandez his Manchester United career.

Danny Welbeck showed some fight in the game, and would no doubt have got on the scoresheet had there not been a load of inexperienced kids providing the service from midfield.

Hernandez however was the complete antithesis, and even the young James Wilson looked a million times better than the Mexican.

After letting down Louis van Gaal yet again, surely his chances are up. It’s got to be curtains for Chicharito.

Anderson

To have an article published in the Daily Mail describing the fall from grace of a Manchester United player after a match against a League One team just shows how shockingly poor Anderson was against MK Dons.

From a United perspective when in possession, the game was crying out for a leader in midfield, a man who would demand the ball and take it forward, skipping past players and bellowing at teammates to make runs and create options.

And off the ball, the Red Devils desperately lacked that midfielder who would bust a gut to get back and help the defence.

Never before has a Manchester United player looked so out of place wearing the shirt has Anderson did on Tuesday night at the MK Stadium.

Not only did he fail to inspire going forward, but defensively he played a big part in all four goals United conceded.

Anderson failed to stop the run of Will Grigg and proved how far he's fallen as a Manchester United player

Anderson failed to stop the run of Will Grigg and proved how far he’s fallen as a Manchester United player

For Will Grigg’s first, while Jonny Evans made the mistake, Anderson was the nearest man to Grigg and when Evans committed the error, the Brazilian should’ve reacted and ran back to pressure the MK Dons striker.

Instead he just jogged back to goal a little and saw the ball go into the back of the net – the sign of a man who simply didn’t give a shit.

Although it must be said for the second goal Anderson did initially react to the danger, and tracked back to cover the run of Grigg.

Trouble is, despite two looks over his shoulder to see where Grigg was, Anderson lost his man completely and gifted the striker an easy tap-in.

That’s the main symptom right there of a player who has virtually lost of all his ability as a top level footballer.

The sooner he leaves Manchester United the better.

Jonny Evans

For an established member of the Manchester United first-team, a man who has been an integral part of the defence for many seasons and has won nine trophies in over 180 appearances for the club, Jonny Evans was atrocious against MK Dons.

His thoughtless mistake – which was meant to be a pass to Anderson – costed his team greatly, with the error not just leading to a goal but also massively knocking the confidence of all the youngsters around him, who had been looking more dominant up until that point.

That attempted pass shows exactly how complacent United’s attitude was in the game. In the Premier League, no centre-back would attempt something that risky.

In the second half Evans was lucky not to concede a penalty, and for the second goal he should have stopped the cross coming into the penalty area in the first place. Again he was complacent.

Overall a night to forget for Evans, and one that has almost certainly seen him lose out to Marcos Rojo for a place in the back three.

Michael Keane

As a youngster, Louis van Gaal will probably expect Michael Keane to make mistakes.

But not like the one he made for MK Dons’ second goal. It was his lazy attempted pass to Andreas Pereira which was intercepted and allowed the Dons to score.

As van Gaal will no doubt point out to Keane in excruciating detail – with Ryan Giggs and Albert Stuivenberg probably piling on – misplacing that pass in such a sloppy fashion, in the position he was in, is one of the biggest cardinal sins of his philosophy and the 3-5-2 formation.

Out on the flank as the right-sided centre-back to allow the wingback to push forward, Keane was in one of the two places on the pitch (the other being in central defence) where he should definitely not give the ball away.

And yet he did, and found out to his detriment why giving the ball way in that position can be oh-so-deleterious.

Michael Keane's lazy attempted pass to Andreas Pereira is cut out and leads to second MK Dons goal

Michael Keane’s lazy attempted pass to Andreas Pereira is cut out and leads to second MK Dons goal

If he needs it explained again – conceding possession in that position gives the opposition the most ideal position on the pitch to launch a counter-attack, and on top of that makes it much easier for them to score as they’re facing an exposed defence which is missing a man.

Of course Anderson could’ve saved his blushes if he actually knew how to man-mark, but such is the Brazilian’s fall from grace that as a defensive midfielder he can’t even read the run of a goal-shy, out-of-favour League One forward.

If Keane was competing with Tyler Blackett for a first-team place, then after that mistake to end all mistakes as far as Louis van Gaal is concerned, he has most certainly lost out now.

A loan move to a Championship club (it’s highly doubtful any Premier League team would trust him in the heart of their defence) now surely beckons.

Wilfried Zaha

Despite the fact Manchester United clearly needed more energy, pace and directness – all things Zaha offers – against MK Dons, the fact that van Gaal felt the winger/striker wouldn’t be able to make a difference shows that his time is up.

Even before a ball was kicked, Wilfried Zaha failed his Louis van Gaal audition.

Liverpool FC: Defence stopping Reds being title contenders

Joe Allen shouts to Alberto Moreno as Stevan Jovetic steals the ball to score

Joe Allen shouts to Alberto Moreno as Stevan Jovetic steals the ball to score

As Alberto Moreno received a crash course in dealing with Premier League forwards, courtesy of Stevan Jovetic, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers suddenly had a lot more on his plate than how to handle Mario Balotelli.

The 3-1 defeat away to Manchester City split wide open the cracks which surfaced against Southampton at Anfield.

It must be said Liverpool were looking solid all-round for the first 40 minutes, but that’s because their main line of defence was possession and high pressing.

But if the Reds are to challenge for the title, they need to plug their cracks ASAP – the cracks being the defence.

Besides a momentary lack of concentration which allowed Rickie Lambert to test the goal-line technology, City’s backline was the perfect case study that will could well be used in FIFA, UEFA and Premier League technical reports.

Liverpool’s back four however would more like feature alongside the Manchester United defence in the new ‘Rough Guide to Schoolboy Defending’ textbook.

Take the goals. Liverpool looked strong when they had possession and when they had the energy to press high up the pitch to stop City having any space.

But as soon as their backline were tested, they faltered. Spectacularly.

1-0

The first goal has to be down to Moreno’s mistake; the Spaniard showed no awareness of where Jovetic was and no anticipation of either what Dejan Lovren was going to do or what threat was behind him.

Had Moreno been as alert as he should have been, at best the ball would’ve been smashed clear and out of danger, and at worst it’d go out for a corner.

But his error doesn’t mean he’s the only guilty party in this crime.

As the ball gets played into David Silva inside the penalty area, Lovren is way too close to his centre-back partner Martin Skrtel and way too far from Silva.

Dejan Lovren (circled) with an arrow pointing to where he should've been

Dejan Lovren (circled) with an arrow pointing to where he should’ve been

That means as the ball’s played in, Lovren’s only option by the time he reacts and gets across is to head the ball down for Moreno to clear (and we know the young Spaniard fluffed that one up).

Had Lovren been in the position where he should’ve been, he would have been able to either punt the ball out for a throw in or make a challenge on Silva that would most likely result in the ball rolling out to a covering midfielder or earning a free-kick from a Silva dive.

Of course when you play two signings next to each other in defence away to Manchester City, in August, against forwards like Stevan Jovetic, you’re always asking for trouble.

No doubt the understanding between Lovren and Moreno – as well as Lovren’s partnership with Skrtel – will get better with time on the training pitch, but Rodgers really has to speed it along if Liverpool are going to stay in title contention.

One other point to mention – as seen in the top picture, Joe Allen shouts to Moreno to clear the ball as Lovren knocks it down to him.

It could be the case that had Moreno understood English, he might have heeded Allen’s warning and not considered it as background noise.

2-0

As touched upon in the article on City’s Barca dream coming to life, despite the home side’s magnificent teamwork for the second goal, it would not have been made possible had Liverpool decided to defend better.

Just like Tyler Blackett was at the heart of all that was wrong for Manchester United in their disappointing opener against Swansea, Moreno was the epicentre for Liverpool’s “shocking” (as Alan Hansen would say) defending.

His decision to go out and close down Yaya Toure on the wing meant Philippe Coutinho had to fill in for him at left-back.

And so as the ball came through from Jovetic for the onrushing Samir Nasri, the City winger had all the time in the world with Coutinho nowhere to be seen.

That was because, as seen in the picture, the not-so-defensively-minded ‘Big Phil’ had jogged away from the action and back up the field.

While Coutinho is clearly at fault, Moreno also has to take his fair share of the slack.

He should’ve told Coutinho to go out and close down Toure, thus keeping the back four intact and the gaps closed.

Instead he went out and left a player whose mind was halfway up the pitch to plug the hole.

Again more teething problems for the new signing, who needs to add communication to his list of things to work on.

Alberto Moreno (pictured here playing for Sevilla) has a lot learn - and quickly. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.com

Alberto Moreno (pictured here playing for Sevilla) has a lot learn – and quickly. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.com

But it’s not just Coutinho and Moreno who should be in the firing line.

Lovren again gives a helping hand for City, as he steps out of position for no good reason (perhaps it was to close down Jovetic, but Lovren too far away to do anything), meaning he can’t get across in time to cover where the left-back should be and stop Nasri playing a ball in.

And as the ball comes in and Jovetic gratefully tucks it away, one more guilty party emerges – Jordan Henderson.

As Jovetic is alive to the play and makes his run into the penalty area, the closest player to him – and the one who should be marking him – Henderson, fails to react and leaves the Montenegrin with all space he needs to bag a brace and kickstart his season.

Communication, marking, positioning and defensive drills with the wingers and midfielders are the main things it would appear that Brendan Rodgers needs to work on in training this week.

3-0

The 23-second man Sergio Aguero proved why he’s the frontrunner for the Premier League Golden Boot this season. Two goals in two substitute appearances and he’s not even fully fit yet.

But again it was Liverpool’s defending which helped Manchester City score.

Dejan Lovren is arguably the most at fault thanks to his lack of pace compared to Aguero and the fact he had to waste valuable time, and therefore yards, looking over his shoulder to check where the Argentine was.

But he was not helped by Martin Skrtel or Glen Johnson, who were also out of position.

For all three – Lovren, Skrtel and Johnson – were all out of position as a backline.

They were solid and intact as a defensive line, but as a line they were too many yards to the right.

As the play was shifted across to the left by Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and then Jesus Navas, the Liverpool defence didn’t move over quickly and far enough.

And it shows how intelligent a striker Aguero is, knowing that because of the defence’s position he could score if he could get the run on Lovren, made even more remarkable by the fact he had only been on the pitch less than 30 seconds.

To be able to read the game so well immediately after coming shows what a top player Aguero is, and also the importance of studying the match when on the bench.

Fair play to Navas as well, being alive to the opportunity and playing a perfect ball into his teammate’s path.

But the structural problem in Liverpool’s defence also played its part. Had the defence been further to the left as it should have been, Navas’ ball would most likely have been intercepted by Lovren or Aguero would have Skrtel in front of him instead of Lovren behind him.

There are plenty of defensive issues for Brendan Rodgers to work on if he is ensure his side remain title contenders this season.

To fill the cracks, he needs to get cracking on his defence ASAP at Melwood, because if Tottenham’s brilliant 4-0 thrashing of QPR is anything to go by, they could be in for a rough ride at White Hart Lane this Sunday.

Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool: City’s Barcelona vision coming to life

 

  • Manchester City ruthless in win over Liverpool with less shots but more on target and more goals
  • Stevan Jovetic and Sergio Aguero goals example of why City are Premier League title favourites
  • City directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain seeing Barcelona dream come to life
  • Pep Guardiola glory days at Barca the model for Soriano and Begiristain to achieve at City

As Manchester City demolished Liverpool 3-1 at the Etihad on Monday night, many would think Stevan Jovetic, Sergio Aguero or even Manuel Pellegrini would be the main winners from the game.

Sure, Jovetic was phenomenal and Aguero scintillating, while Pellegrini had his team and his tactics absolutely spot on.

But the real winners on the night were City’s CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain.

For at last, confirmation that the duo’s vision – of recreating the Pep Guardiola glory days at FC Barcelona – can become a distinctive reality at Manchester City.

Against a Liverpool team tipped for title contention, City were remarkably ruthless – three mistakes, three goals.

Each time the Reds slipped up, City pounced. The movement, the passing, and crucially, the understanding between teammates, was all there.

Jovetic’s first goal came through Alberto Moreno’s mistake more than anything, but his second was pure teamwork – the kind of move usually done over and over by the same group of players in training.

Stevan Jovetic makes the run he knows his teammates will find for his second goal against Liverpool

Stevan Jovetic makes the run he knows his teammates will find for his second goal against Liverpool

From David Silva’s touch back to Yaya Toure, to his give-and-go with Samir Nasri, to Nasri’s give-and-go with Silva again, to Silva’s ball into Jovetic (who’s probably been left out in training games before but now decides he wants to play as well) and Jovetic’s flick on for Nasri who finally gets the ball he was waiting for, the patient play at last came together and the chance was soon to be created.

Nasri then guided it to the area where Jovetic usually makes his runs, and voila – the goal.

Of course he ball is helped on its way into the net by Liverpool’s defending, especially when left-back Moreno stepped out of the defensive line to close down Yaya Toure out on the wing, leaving the not-so-defensively-minded Philippe Coutinho to fill the hole in defence.

A ball into Nasri later – given space thanks to Dejan Lovren stepping out of position for no reason – and with Jordan Henderson ball-watching instead of picking up Jovetic, City get a well-worked goal helped by clueless, Manchester United-esque defending.

Then there’s the third goal by Aguero, forged by an understanding with Jesus Navas and a knowledge that the winger will read his run and play the ball just ahead of the covering centre-back.

That goal defines how well this Manchester City team has gelled together. Aguero was on the pitch just 22 seconds by the time he found the net.

For Aguero to score from open play like that immediately after coming on takes excellent understanding of how his teammates work.

Barcelona-Futball-Club

Guardiola glory days at Barcelona the model for Manchester City’s future. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.com

And now that intrinsic knowledge of how their teammates play could see Manchester City make their directors’ Barcelona dream a reality.

The stellar understanding between the Barca team of Pep Guardiola was the main factor that allowed his tiki-taka to become so dominant and win two Champions League titles.

Soriano and Begiristain came to City determined to recreate the Camp Nou glory days at the Etihad.

In hiring Pellegrini, they have a man who can realise their vision.

A 2013/14 season which yielded a Premier League and League Cup double was a great start, but it was just the beginning of the five-year cycle.

Last season, it was about polishing the squad, and then adapting it to playing more attractive football with a clockwork understanding.

Now is the season Manchester City are meant to dominate. The team has well and truly gelled, and the City juggernaut is finally scheduled to get rolling.

The beating of Liverpool and the teamwork that went into it gave Soriano and Begiristain the confirmation they clearly wanted – that their hard work and many hours put into this project are going to pay off.

Last season was no flash in the pan. Manchester City have proved again they are the top dogs in the Premier League, and that they’re going to keep it that way.

Aston Villa 0-0 Newcastle United: Both sides need quality up top

1280px-Gabriel_Agbonlahor_Aston_Villa-FH_318

  • Aston Villa had no shots on target against Newcastle United
  • Gabriel Agbonlahor, Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann between them scored two fewer goals than Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak last season – in more than double the matches

  • Newcastle have a lot of strikers, but need a new one

When Gabriel Agbonlahor, Darren Bent and Emmanuel Riviere saw Siem de Jong have the game’s best chance on 88 minutes, they surely knew their time would soon be up.

As Aston Villa and Newcastle United played out a lacklustre 0-0 draw – that both Paul Lambert and Alan Pardew will secretly be quite happy with – the lack of attacking quality was striking.

That Villa had no shots on target from nine attempted, as well as the fact that Agbonlahor only had two of those shots and Darren Bent none, proves the Villans’ need for better strikers.

Thankfully for Villa manager Paul Lambert, Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak will soon be able to come in off the sidelines.

Kozak only scored four Premier League goals last season from 14 games, but that’s no worse than Agbonlahor who managed the same figure last term from 30 games.

And Benteke’s ‘disappointing’ campaign in 2013-14 saw him hit 10 goals from 26 league matches, well below his standard from the season before.

However, that’s still more than Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann – who operated in a more central forward role at times last season – combined, with the duo managing just nine between them in the top-flight.

As for Darren Bent, he managed just three in 24 games on-loan Fulham last season.

His haul last season took the collective total from him, Agbonlahor and Weimann to 12 goals in 91 matches in the 2013-14 Premier League campaign.

In comparison, Benteke and Kozak managed 14 goals in 40 matches.

If Paul Lambert is to stop disgruntled season-ticket holders in the Holte End calling for him to be sacked, he’ll need his Belgian and Czech duo to come back ASAP.

As for Newcastle United, while they threatened more than Villa with four shots on target from 11 in total, only one of these came from a striker.

Emmanuel Riviere didn’t have a bad game, but his tame shot on target in the first half was no threat for Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan yet was the most effective thing he did all match.

And the fact that was Newcastle’s only shot on target from a forward player shows the lack of quality up top for the Toon.

Siem de Jong’s chance late on provided Alan Pardew’s men with the quality in the final third they were lacking throughout the game, but considering de Jong is more of an attacking midfielder than a striker, the exigency for a proven goalscorer is apparent.

Of course, Newcastle already have a big squad full of forwards, and Facundo Ferreyra could be the man they need after he netted twice for the U21s on Monday.

But the Argentine only showed flashes of brilliance for Shakhtar Donetsk last season with six goals and two assists in 22 games.

And beyond Riviere and Ferreyra, there’s few other strikers Alan Pardew can look to for a goal.

Ayoze Perez clearly needs to adapt to the rhythm of English football and the Premier League before he can start firing on all cylinders, while Papiss Cisse still has a lengthy spell to go on the sidelines, and in any case has suffered a Fernando Torres-esque loss of ability.

However, Newcastle’s situation up-front begs the question as to who’s actually out there on the market to solve their goal crisis.

Danny Welbeck? Javier Hernandez? Louis van Gaal is certainly going to dump one striker from his Manchester United squad before the window ends.

Or Jordan Rhodes? The Blackburn Rovers striker has been a prolific marksman in the Football League for years, and has scored 94 goals from 143 games in the past three seasons.

Either way, Newcastle are in desperate need for a new forward. They may only be two games into the new season, but zero goals from a home match and a winnable away fixture is a problem that needs rectifying – before the end of the transfer window.