Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 3
Due to Winter Storm Euclid, I was able to watch Manchester United v Newcastle United in a highly entertaining match even though neither team played that well. The confrontation produced seven goals and a dramatic ending.
From the not learning from previous mistakes department, Sir Alex started Giggs and Scholes. I need to check the stats but that pairing usually results in dropped points, and for most of the match that looked to be the case again. Carrick played well but struggled to control the game in the middle and Newcastle punished on of his giveaways as Ba’s shot went through Evans’ legs and de Gea teed it up for Perch to slam home. United then responded but didn’t really threaten Krul’s net.
However a poorly defended free kick by Newcastle resulted in a United equalizer. Newcastle maintained their composure and scored a controversial goal as a Simpson’s shot came in which Evans turned into his own goal trying do ward off Ba. The goal was given, then not given, then given. Just before the interval Marveaux rattled the crossbar with a free kick which would have put Sir Alex’s men in deep trouble.
The second half was worse in technical terms with sloppy passing and movement preventing the Reds from putting the Magpies under pressure. Evra’s equalizer was a little fortunate and Krul who had great performances last season against United should have done better. Cisse punished United’s lax marking off a throw in as Obertan cruised down the left hand channel and squared for the striker who banged it home for the visitor’s third lead.
RvP squared the match again and Chicharito sealed the points after several missed opportunities. United were fluid going forward but wasted far too many chances against Newcastle and Swansea. The pessimistic part of me believes that the luck and the late goals will dry up, and if the Reds don’t tighten up defensively, another trophyless season awaits, as they will be exposed against better opposition both at home and abroad.
Manchester United 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
Sir Alex made several changes to the team, brining in Kagawa behind Welbeck, with Cleverley supporting Carrick. Young’s hard cross was turned into the net by a WBA defender and from there United took control of the match without finding the second goal. The Reds had several good chances on the half hour mark but desperate defending preventing another goal. WBA enjoyed a brief spell just before halftime thanks to a series of set pieces.
There was a little more balance to start the second stanza but WBA still had a lot of men behind the ball. The introduction of Lukaku changed the match in my opinion as his strength and energy upset the United rearguard. My guess is that Clarke saved him for the second half to go against a tiring defense. After all the possession, RvP finally put the game to bed with a lovely finish to seal the points.
Couple of player notes:
- Welbeck was serviceable, with a decent workrate and interplay but he is still not top class.
- Cleverly was iffy, providing energy but several turnovers and a lack of ideas around the 18.
- Smalling keep things steady at the back, staying to his task but not providing the offensive oomph of Rafael.
Daniele of Red Rants watched a changed United team overcome a heavy pitch and determined opponent to secure three points and go into 2013 top of the table. Kagawa’s return gives Sir Alex more options, especially with Rooney’s injury and Daniele feels that Valencia may need a rest. But who would replace him? Not the best game and much less drama than the Newcastle match, but the result is what matters.
Matthew Evans shared his thoughts on WBA’s performance for ESPN FC. Despite several injuries, the Baggies regrouped in the second half and Matthew saw a better effort from debutant Thorne and some good play from Lukaku.
United are seven points clear but the deficit is far from convincing. The Red Devils have plenty going forward, especially with everyone fit but the attack can be stymied and will be shut down against organized and fit sides. With the defense leaking goals, I can see narrow defeats in the spring that could cost them the title. City continue to lurk and may lose the title only because their manager is substandard, but without a European distraction, there is every chance that the Citizens will close the gap. Chelsea are an outside bet as Rafa has secured the defense. If they can find the goals, they could mount a serious charge.
Articles and Podcasts
Anto had Italian commentator Owen Neilson on the Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss the Serie A at the Winter Break. I have not been following the league at all this season, so I took the opportunity to catch up. Owen and Anto acknowledged that Juventus are champions. The Old Lady has a significant lead at the break, and the chasing pack are not strong or consistent enough to catch the Bianconeri. As for Anto’s beloved Milan, they broke down the problems at with the Rossoneri, including the Brazilian clear out and the possible burnout of Stephan El Shaarawy. Fiorentina and Roma are doing great things this season, while Palermo is struggling at the bottom.
Another league that has gotten away from me is the Bundesliga. Raphael Honingstein provided a year in review of the German league for SI.com, focusing on the rise of Borussia Dortmund, who won a league and cup double and progressed from the Group of Death in the Champions League. He also praised Marco Reus as player of the year and SC Freiburg for a fantastic year of results. Raphael concluded with a look at the German National Team and their “traumatic” defeat at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012.
Michael Cox (aka Zonal Marking) jotted down his 10 moments from 2012 for ESPN FC. What a year. Chelsea winning the Champions League (reading Michael’s comments I was reminded of Robben’s missed penalty in extra time—aargh!!); Spain’s wonderful performance in the Euro 2012 Final against Italy; CR7’s crushing goal at the Nou Camp that secured the league for Real Madrid; and Zambia winning the Africa Cup of Nations. I admit that I didn’t watch a single minute of the tournament, but I knew about the story. The death of Zambian National Team actually made it in to SI way back in the 90’s, and I can still remember reading the article and trying to imagine the pain of losing an entire generation of players. 20 years later the promise was fulfilled and what a moment for the players and the country.
On the latest episode of The Big Question podcast, Aaron discussed the future of college soccer with Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer. Both agreed that there is no one answer for how the college game fits into the puzzle of American Soccer. I think Travis summed it up best, saying that “There are different paths for different players”.
I follow college soccer even less than MLS and went to my first college game in years last fall to support MichiganState and the Red Cedar Rowdies. Didn’t see much in terms of next level talent, but there were two UConn players that I could see having a chance. The elite players in America need to be Europe. That has been my stance for several years. To be the best, you need to play with the best. Having said all that, the college game is another road to the professional game for the next tier or two of player. The MLS has to draw from somewhere, but financial considerations and conference realignment may have something to say about the collegiate game in the near future.