By Alex Netherton and Andi Thomas
Bear with us, folks, because we’re going to delve into the murky world of tactics blogging. We’re going to talk positions. But then we’re going to move beyond the restrictions of the genre: we’re going to identify problems, and then we’re going to prescribe solutions. Your money’s worth, right here.
Manchester United beat Southampton 2-3, thanks to a Robin van Persie hat-trick and no thanks to an apology of a Robin van Persie penalty, the worst seen in the Premier League since … since David Silva’s against Southampton. It’s possible the Saints are up to something nefarious here: perhaps their defenders are standing on the edge of the D and quietly-but-insistently muttering the addresses of the takers’ childrens’ schools. Whatever; it’s odd, and the FA need to be investigating.
Until they do, though, we need to concern ourselves with what’s legally demonstrable, and that means we need to talk about the thundering absence at the heart of this United team. It’s nothing much to do with the goals conceded: sometimes a tall striker beats a short full-back in the air; other times a full-back falls over.
That United have never adequately replaced Roy Keane is true, but it’s got nothing to do with the position. The only truly necessary position on the pitch is the goalkeeper, a fact that even Arsene Wenger has finally gathered, and everyone else is a matter of preference and circumstance. What United miss is the lunatic intensity of the man, the fire and fury and hate that spilled out from the midfield and infected and elevated everybody around him.
Maybe there are players knocking around that can bring something similar, but it’s abundantly clear that Ferguson has little to no interest in buying them. This too makes sense: could you, having bought Roy Keane, bring yourself to buy a lesser version? “I see you’ve painted your walls dark grey, Mr. New Signing. That’s … nice.”
The only solution is the creation of a completely new position, one that comes with literally no footballing responsibilities at all, but is simply devoted to being, in a furious way. We’ll call it the libastard. That way, ten United players can get on with passing the ball around neatly and crossing the ball hopefully and occasionally kicking it into the net, and the eleventh man can simply stand in the background as a mute and terrifying reminder that you really, really, really should be hammering that penalty, shouldn’t you, Robin? Yes, Robin, you should.
There is no new Roy Keane. So get the old one back, give him a kit, and never mind that the hip’s gone. The anima still bubbles.
*** Off-cuts ***
We checked and checked, but it appears that Eden Hazard just couldn’t be bothered to play in the Premier League this weekend. Worse, he appears to have inspired a general strike amongst his team-mates. Roberto di Matteo needs to stamp out such dereliction.
Michael Owen was a man once famous for playing football and now famous for not playing football but really putting effort in to not playing football. Honestly, he turns up to clubs, signs contracts, goes to training and sits on the substitutes bench every other week. It’s not like he doesn’t get as close to playing football as physically possible without playing football. Anyway, he might sign for Liverpool. This is not a show of weakness by Brendan Rodgers. This is a sign of his club having absolutely no money. While Statler and Waldorf did a real number on Liverpool, it’s ever less clear whether FSG are simply Waldorf-lite. John Henry: Waldorf Salad.