In his new regular column Wayne Farry looks at a striker in crisis and a manager who owes him 90 minutes of his life.
This weekend saw a return to Premier League action after last week’s not totally unwelcome respite of the FA Cup. Just before this weekend’s action however we saw the transfer window ratchet into overdrive before it had even gotten started. We’ve become so accustomed to the big deals being done in a panicked fashion towards the end of the month – or in many cases, no big deals being completed in January at all – that it came as somewhat of a surprise when news filtered through that Man City, poor talent and resourceless peasants, decided to piss in the face of Mr. Platini and FFP and blow their oily load all over Wilfried Bony’s lovely face.
Some have baulked at City going for him, what with their shiny new state of the art academy having just opened, alongside a commitment to invest and trust in youth, but this is football and these things can’t happen overnight and most pertinently, the holders are currently second in the table. While it would be wonderfully romantic for one of City’s youngsters to emerge from the mist and pop up with the vital goals to help them retain the title, the truth is that Bony is an incredibly talented and technically gifted athlete and City have a significantly better chance of winning the league with him in their side. Such is the cruelty of football however that as Pelligrini’s side add a fourth £20M+ striker to their ranks, it is in fact their defence where the true trouble lies. They’ve failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four matches (against the titans that are West Brom, Burnley, Sunderland and a suddenly atrocious Everton) and with Arsenal and Chelsea up next, they’ll need their defence to tighten up if they’re to emerge at the summit come two weeks time.
From the blue side of Manchester to the red side and yesterday we saw Louis van Gaal’s snail’s pace revolution come up against a Southampton who, despite an exceptionally strong start to the season, many had expected to have faded away at this stage. Fade they have not however and thanks to a lovely combination of growing self-belief, no little talent, a manager with whom winning comes second nature and competitors whose quality has universally dipped, they remain up there, and rightly so. United, who have been flattering to deceive for essentially the whole season, were found wanting against a Saints side who were disciplined, structured and as Sky Sport’s Gary Neville put it, “played the perfect away game”.
Not for the first time this season, the home manager perplexed fans with his selection choices. Perhaps keen for the Argentine to inject some of his trademark vim and verve into the side, he deployed Angel Di Maria up front next to Robin van Persie. Now, Di Maria is not a striker, so his ineffectiveness came as no surprise, but there’s a strong case to be made that the biggest selection error was that of the Dutchman up front, not Di Maria. Radamel Falcao has been slowly but surely improving this term – with a combination of returning from injury and adjusting to a new league making things difficult early on – but there have been glimpses of his immense talent. Van Persie, on the other hand, has been next to invisible for well over a year, bar the very, very occasional match-winning performance. United lacked any sort of potency or incisiveness yesterday, as has been the case for the majority of the season and it may well be time for Lord Louis to remove his Oranje-tinted glasses and drop his golden boy. On form alone, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the first team.
While United were poor yesterday, on Saturday Sunderland served up quite possibly one of the worst performances ever produced by a collection of professional human athletes. Admittedly, they came up against a Liverpool side slowly crawling out of their whole of a season thus far but frankly, the opponent was irrelevant. Playing the way they did yesterday, the players didn’t deserve this to be counted as an appearance. Indeed, come the end of the season, if justice is done, the league table will show the Black Cats having played 37 games, if that. I had the utter displeasure of watching this “game” and I plan to invoice Mr. Poyet for the 90 minutes. It did however make a little more sense of the manager’s comments the previous day. The Uruguayan had encouraged supporters to attend the game to encourage the players? No! To come see Mr. Hollywood play in the north east for probably the final time. Maybe Gus knew something we didn’t because based on the shit his side served cold to their supporters at the weekend, they’d be hard pushed to find a good reason to come back next week.
From one of the worst performances in living memory to one of the worst teams in living memory. Aston Villa, after their 1-0 defeat to Leicester, have now failed to score since their 1-1 draw with Manchester United on the 20th of December and have registered just eleven (11) goals in their twenty one (21) league games this season. They’ve looked especially poor in their last three games – against the quite shabby trio of Leicester, Crystal Palace and the aforementioned black hole of footballing joy Sunderland – and given their current form it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Villa may never score again, consigned to drift downwards through the leagues with merely a collection of consecutive duck eggs for company. Paul Lambert, considered a bright young manager before joining the Villains, has not been helped by a chairman who’s tightened the purse strings having had his dollar-tipped fingers burnt in the past. But for the sake of the club and more importantly the poor, poor fans, he must be relieved of his duties. Villa have been the worst team to not go down for the past two seasons and having failed to build upon two consecutive survivals, a change is most definitely needed.
Last and most definitely least, the football equivalent of the Oscars takes place this evening in the spiritual home of football; Rio de Ja…what? Not Rio? Lon..? No? Really? Where? Haha, yeah right. Oh…. Zurich – that hotbed of footballing passion that’s created such momentous occasions as Ronaldo’s tears to Messi’s tear-inducing suit choices. As has been the case in recent years, the award seems to be a foregone conclusion with Ronaldo being far and away the best player in the world this year. Manuel Neuer comes close, having won nearly everything in 2014 but being a goalkeeper, it’s just not going to happen. Obviously, no one truly cares about FIFA’s annual PR bonanza but this year’s awards have been made a touch interesting by Irish international Steph Roche’s nomination for the Puskas goal of the year. Anyone who has seen the goal will testify that it was a thing of beauty. It was a mesmerising two touches and finish and if justice is done she will become the first woman to take home the award. As an Irishman I hope she does, if nothing else it will make the night a little memorable.