Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Manchester United are making a mistake selling Di Maria

An angel by name and on the field, Angel Di Maria seems to be within a few days of swapping England for France. Although having only arrived last year for a Premier League record fee of sixty million pounds, Manchester United are happy to take a pay cut and sell the Argentine to  Paris Saint Germain, but this is a mistake.

When Di Maria arrived at Manchester United, he was coming off a stellar season in Spain where he spread his wings and flew Real Madrid to La Decima. Within his first five starts for his new club, the Argentine had scored three goals.  Although not dominating every game, Di Maria ended 2014 with Manchester United as one of the Premier League's best and as a member of the World's Eleven. Whatever highs Di Maria had in the first half of the season though, he had equivalent lows in the second half. 2015 has been highlighted with low confidence, a red card in the FA Cup against Arsenal for diving and then tugging at the Referees shirt, and losing his manager's faith.

In his last season as a Galactico, what seems to be forgotten is that Di Maria struggled at the start of the season. He was behind Gareth Bale in the first team and was public enemy number one in the Spanish media for performing antics such as grabbing his crotch when getting substituted. Di Maria had one foot out the door, similar to his present scenario, but he chose to stay and forced his way into the first team. The rest is history as he had season of his life. What this shows is Di Maria has adversity and can rebound when it appears there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Few would have chosen to stay in the same circumstances with the arrival of the most expensive player in the world, but he did. He also proved the naysayers in the media wrong with all the pressure on him. This isn't easy and shows that next season Di Maria has the mental strength to rebound and return to his tantalising best.

What made Di Maria so good for Madrid was playing in a consistent environment. Ancelotti had one system; a 4-3-3. Last season though, it would be almost impossible to consistently name the lineup Louis Van Gaal would put out. With all the signings Van Gaal has made this transfer window though, it appears that he has come up with a basic formation and starting eleven. Last season the Argentine played up front, in the midfield, on the wings and in defence as a wing back. This inconsistency contributed to his poor form in the second half of the season. Playing Di Maria consistently either on the wings or in midfield should produce results. In all the environments he has thrived in, such as Real Madrid and the Argentina National Team, he has played in a consistent formation and position. So should Van Gaal have consistent tactics, Di Maria with his quality will definitely improve on last season.

Although United have made some good signings this transfer window, none are of the calibre of Di Maria. Bastian Schweinsteiger is currently in the twilight of his career and doesn't have the box-to-box fitness of the Argentine. Memphis Depay was prolific in the Netherlands, but is currently unproven in the Premier League and is mostly potential. Schneiderlin is a good holding midfielder but isn't as effective going forward. Depay and Schneiderlin are also new when it comes to the Champions League. Given United are challenging in four competitions, keeping players of Di Maria's quality should be inevitable. Although he may start the season on the bench, having a player of Di Maria's quality to turn to if you need to bring him on or for squad rotation is a sign of great squad depth.

Another factor that selling Di Maria to Paris Saint Germain is a mistake is the price. United are on course to make a loss in selling Di Maria to PSG and cheaper than his true value is. They shouldn't be pressured by the French champions into selling cheap though given their strong finances and financial fair play position. If they do decide to sell Di Maria, which appears likely, they should aim higher as the current deal PSG are offering for one of the best players in the world is low compared to what he is worth.

Ultimately selling Di Maria would be a mistake for Manchester United. The player showed in his first half season in England he can be a class above the rest when on form, and if United want to be at their best again, he is the type of player who can carry them forward.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Sydney FC re-sign Player of the Year Milos Dimitrijevic

It was arguably the club's biggest week. Sydney FC had just put in brave performances against Premier Legaue giants Tottenham Hotspur and champions Chelsea. The supporters emotions though were mixed. Whatever highs they had from the thrilling games disappeared as it appeared player of the year Milos Dimitrijevic was unlikely to ever grace the Allianz Stadium again after the club moved on from stalled contract negotiations.

Now though, Milos Dimitrijevic has stunningly completed a u-turn and signed with the A-League runners up on a two year deal.
'I'm really happy to be re-signing for Sydney FC,' the midfielder said, 'I thought long and hard during the off season about where I wanted to play my football and I am happy I have made the right decision'

Dimitrijevic, who made 4 assists and created 53 chances last season, also spoke of the impact working with Graham Arnold had for him staying.
'Working with Arnie again and competing in Asia were huge drawcards for staying.'

Dimitrijevic will look to have another stellar campaign after he sweeped the club's end of season presentation. He left the gala with Player of the Year, Players Player of the Year and Club Members Player of the Year.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Keeping Pedro should be Barcelona's number one priority

A player that seems to have been consistently lighting it up in the shadows of other superstars his whole career, Pedro is reportedly on the brink of a move away from Barcelona to Manchester United. This is a move that makes sense on Pedro's side considering his quality and lack of game time, but for Barcelona it is a transfer that can be questioned for multiple reasons.

Pedro has played for Barcelona his whole career. He developed through their famed youth academy, and entered the first team for the first time in the 2007/08 season. Since then he has achieved great success with the Catalans having won multiple titles. He opened the scoring on the Champions League final in 2010 against Manchester United, and has become a regular in Vincent Del Bosque's Spain squad. Despite all this, he is mostly known for his role as a squad player for Barcelona.

Although not as talented as Lionel Messi, Neymar, or Luis Suarez, Pedro's role for Barcelona is just as important. Whenever called upon from the bench Pedro is reliable and adds something else to the game. Against Juventus in the Champions League Final, he was brought on late in the game but still managed to make an impact as he set up Neymar to kill the game in the last kick of the ball. This highlights the quality that Pedro offers off the bench. Few teams can turn to their bench consistently and have someone of that calibre always ready to deliver.

What makes Pedro so good when he plays is his intelligence, pace and selflessness.  Pedro's football intelligence is as good as any others. Pedro's footballing intelligence is due to the prestigious academy he came from. He is very technical in the way he makes intelligent runs in behind and always makes himself available to his teammates. His pace is what allows him to make those runs as he is usually a step ahead of the defence. Those qualities make him good, but it is his selflessness that make him stand out. Pedro always has his head up looking to play others in rather than taking on the shot himself. Although he isn't at the Belgian's level, Pedro is like Eden Hazard in this way that he takes more joy in setting up a teammate after cutting in than taking the shot like Ronaldo. His selflessness also shows in his industry as he always tracks back and covers Danni Alves who likes to push up higher than the average fullback.

The transfer ban that Barcelona has on them at the moment is also a reason to not sell Pedro. If Pedro is allowed to leave, a simple question is raised, who will replace him? No one can be brought in to replace Pedro if he leaves until January. That leaves bringing up less experienced youth academy players or leaving his role to the hot prospect Munir. This is less than ideal as Munir is only eighteen and is not yet at the quality of Pedro, and Barcelona isn't in need of funds so letting Pedro go would be weakening themselves.

Ultimately selling Pedro would be bad business for Barcelona. Few players today seem to be content with coming off the bench and mainly being a squad player, but Pedro seems to be one of them. This, his quality and Barcelona's transfer ban mean that keeping Pedro should be Barcelona's number one priority this transfer window.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Manchester City's youth highlight of preseason

In recent years, Manchester City and youth players haven't been mentioned in the same sentence positively. City though have been trying to change that as they have put a lot of money into their academies and facilities, and this preseason has shown their efforts are paying off.

In their preseason tour of Australia, Manuel Pellegrini has given the chance to many young prospects. Before the tour, City fans may have known Marcos Lopes and Zuccilini, but may not have known the names of players like Brandon Barker, Manu Garcia, and Kelechi Iheanacho. They all put in great performances in the friendlies against Adelaide United, Melbourne City, and Roma, and should be names to remember for City supporters.

While staying up the Gold Coast in Australia, City played against Adelaide United and Melbourne City. Against Adelaide Brandon Barker shined the brightest as he controlled the game with his silky dribbling and touches. He showed great football intelligence and opened the scoring for the Citizens when he cut off the left wing. Bruno Zuculini scored the second for City with a nice volley from a Clichy cross. Iheanacho also showed his talent as he ran the Adelaide defence ragged all night. The game against their sister club, Melbourne City, proved tougher but the youth this time played alongside established Manchester City starters Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri. Brandon Barker again was always a threat on the left, constantly turning his man inside and out and carved out several chances for his teammates, notably one for Nasri in which the Frenchman was too casual. Iheanacho again never gave the defence a chance to breathe, and Zuccilini set up Nasri for the winning goal in Brisbane.

The game against Roma though is the match in which the City youth stole the spotlight from established first team players such as David Silva, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure. Marcos Lopes, Zuccilini and Iheanacho especially stood out. Marcos Lopes had the ball glued to his feet whenever in possession and left Roma players in his dust. He also showed the flair that made him City's youngest first team goal scorer. Zuculini showed great intelligence and composure when on the ball. Iheanacho though was the stand out performer of the night as he led the front line over star strikers Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic. He hunted down every loose ball and stalked the defenders. This was examplified when he netted City's second goal after chasing down a wayward Ashley Cole pass and having the composure to slot it past De Sanctis.

The preseason tour of Australia showed City's youth development is as good as any other in the world. Players such as Brandon Barker, Marcos Lopes, Zuculini and Ihenacho show that City don't just have to spend Sheikh Mansour's money to have good players.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Why Sterling will be a great signing for City

After Raheem Sterling's first match in sky blue, Sterling's football talent finally took the mic away from his agent after months of talking in City's preseason win over Roma. Although just a friendly, Sterling showed why City paid as much as they did for him and why he will be a catalyst for their title challenge this season.

In a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground, all eyes were on Sterling. On his first touch of the ball apart from the kick off, boos rang around the stadium and it seemed to surprise Sterling as much the commentators as he tripped over the ball. He got straight back up though and carried on with business and won a corner. A few minutes later Iheanacho gave City the chance to counter attack and split the Roma defence with a sublime ball to Sterling. Sterling had the option to square it across goal to a partner but took his chance and scored his first City goal. Pjanic would go on moments later to score a stunner. Iheanacho would go onto equalise for City after a majestic but unintentional assist from Ashley Cole. Two minutes before time Ljajic again equalised for Roma with a nice free kick. City would then go on to win in a penalty shoot out due to Joe Hart's heroics.

What Sterling showed in this game is his pace and direct running will give City another dimension. 
Last season against Bayern, where City luckily beat the Bavarians, and against Barcelona in the champions league round of sixteen, City started with David Silva and Samir Nasri on the flanks. They opted to counter attack both teams, but this tactic was doomed from the start with these two on the wings. Both are world class players on the wings in the premier league, but only when City dominate possession. In this circumstance they can disregard the responsibilities of an ordinary winger of stretching the opposition and tracking back, instead being able to roam into the middle and not have to worry to much about running with their back to the opposition keeper. Against Bayern and Barcelona though, they had different roles and had to stretch the game and run with the ball. Both lack the pace and movement of a true winger, so when City broke away, they were not able to stab both teams on the counter like a Chelsea or a Real Madrid. Against Roma, Sterling was a constant thorn in the opposition defence as he ran at defenders but still played with the City philosophy of quick passing. Sterling's counter attack goal in the game highlights how in big matches against the bigger teams in the Champions league, he will be an asset and worth the money. He will give City the direct style they were pretending to have against Bayern and Barcelona and give City pace in the side.

Jesus Navas was crucified last season for his performances. While he wasn’t as bad as he was made out to have been, he is one dimensional in the way he only runs to the byline and crosses it. Rarely he cuts inside and roams into other areas of the pitch to make a difference. In the second half, when Sterling was off and Navas was on, City were much less of a threat. In the first forty five, Sterling was constantly swapping flanks, coming inside and out, while in the second half Navas only ran in one direction and took all shots on his right. Sterling is an upgrade in this sense as when deployed on the flanks he can run to the byline, cut inside or roam into central positions so the City attack will be more dynamic.

If this match was a highlight of what Sterling will do next season, City fans can rejoice. While his individual play was terrific, his link up with his teammates was just as good. Sterling's cohesion with the team, especially David Silva was mouth watering the whole first half. The two constantly proved difficult to read and it's players like Silva who bring out the best in others. With Silva, Sterling will definitely settle in better and seamlessly fit into the first team, and hopefully help City towards the Premier League trophy.