Monday, October 8, 2012

Three things: Rooney reinvented

Maybe Sir Alex has found his central midfielder

Experts suggested Sir Alex Ferguson fling his summer spending money at a central midfielder with tenacity and passing range. Instead, he thrust an enormous great wodge of cash at former rival Arsene Wenger and made away with Robin van Persie.

This left the centre of Old Trafford manned by the solid but ultimately-misunderstood Michael Carrick, the Premiership's largest pannus (Anderson), the as-yet unfulfilled promise of Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes' walking frame. What they wouldn't give for a Yohan Cabaye, a Cheick Tiote or Marek Hamsik. A glut up front and then … a gap.

Perhaps no more: the Red Devils went to Newcastle yesterday with a resurgent Wayne Rooney playing in the middle of the park. This allows Shinji Kagawa – perhaps United's most impressive player so far this season – to play in his preferred no. 10 role and Robin van Persie to do what he does best. Although this goes against Coaching 101, which states a coach should play his best player in his best position, there are now credible questions as to whether Rooney is in fact the best player at Old Trafford.

As Rooney enters his ostensible prime, it seems he should be playing in the position which will allow him to have the most success, and that's his favoured second-striker role. Rooney as central-midfielder doesn't feel right, almost a waste of the best English offensive talent of his generation to play him back from goal so far – but it could well be the best method to allow United to win and win often. It certainly helps that Rooney has more talent in his little finger than Anderson in his entire ample body.

Although still mightily effective, Paul Scholes is ancient. This makes Rooney the best centre midfielder at United's disposal. With a surfeit of options ahead, Wayne Rooney may spend the best part of season 2012-13 creating, rather than finishing chances.

Andre Villas-Boas changes goalkeepers, creates controversy

A week after engineering Spurs' first league win at Old Trafford for 23 years and in the midst of some outstanding goalkeeping from Brad Friedel, Andre Villas-Boas changed tack: he started French no. 1 Hugo Lloris between the sticks. Thus, he ended Friedel's remarkable stretch of 310 consecutive starts in what appeared to be somewhat of a capricious choice. Known as a model professional, Friedel took it well – when arrived at White Hart Lane before last season with Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini, he can't possibly have expected to play every game.

Spurs got the win against a workmanlike Aston Villa side and Lloris claimed the club's first clean sheet of the season.

The result across the pond was curious. Some US TV commentators, most notably Eric Wynalda, were disgusted with the dapper Villas-Boas, claiming Friedel was disrespected and would subsequently look to leave the club.

Villas-Boas can't win. When Lloris didn't play immediately, France coach Didier Deschamps accused the Spurs manager of disrespect. Now, when Friedel is asked to sit – perhaps only for one game – there are others with vested interests (Wynalda and Friedel have commentated together) who sing the opposing song.

The thing is that Friedel is 41 and can't last forever; Lloris was signed to be Spurs' long-term keeper. He has to play. Perhaps Villas-Boas did misjudge how and when to play Lloris, but to suggest that it automatically constitutes disrespect is an awfully long a bow to draw without intimate access to the Tottenham dressing sheds.

Splitting goalkeepers rarely works – just ask Sir Alex Ferguson how the Lindegaard/De Gea horses-for-courses policy is working. Villas-Boas has a pleasant dilemma in having two starting-quality keepers at his disposal. Can't we just be happy for him?

Second season syndrome

Norwich City impressed last year on their promotion to the Premiership. This year they appear to have lost some of the cohesion that made them so formidable in 2011-12. What's the difference?

Although there wasn't a great changeover of personnel, there most major was when Paul Lambert left Carrow Road for Villa Park. It was an acrimonious split and last week both parties alleged that the other was suing them. Before leaving, Lambert refused to pay Grant Holt what the big striker thought he was worth, resulting in the former tyre-fitter issuing a transfer request. The air of optimism that surrounded Norwich City last season has been replaced with one of distress.

The club keeps shopping goals – four to Chelsea on the weekend – and, at the same time, hasn't exuded the same tenacity and fluidity that exemplified Lambert's Canaries. New boss Chris Hughton is a good manager, but earns his money by empowering players in a similar “keep it simple” system to that employed by Harry Redknapp. It may not be enough.

Players play best when they're happy. Holt definitely isn't, as last week he lashed out at Roy Hodgson for failing to recognise his form with an England call-up. He's also the principal leader for the squad. Hughton has to right the ship – quickly – before this season starts to ape the ill-fated 2004-05 term.

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