Considering conventional wisdom as Manchester United cruise to another victory

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In this week’s gap between Champions League and the weekend’s league action, the debate resurfaced: How bad are Manchester United?

The discussion’s been a constant in recent years, reaching an apex last season when the Red Devils failed to make it out of their Champions League group. That the Red Devils still nearly won the Premier League was little consolation when their May collapse gifted the title to their crosstown rivals.

It’s a strange discussion given Manchester United’s obvious quality and successes, but when you watch matches like today’s against Queens Park Rangers, you see the point. The Red Devils cruised to a 2-0 victory thanks to an early goal from Rafael and an insurance tally from Ryan Giggs, but given how poor QPR was throughout the match, you’d expect a team of United’s reputation to put them to the proverbial sword. Instead, it was just another day at the office for the mercurial titans.

The curious thing about this round of  discussion is United’s recent results. After a fall where their defense seemed as weak as a severed Achilles, United’s only three goals in their last six games. That stretch includes a surprise draw at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the Red Devils held Real Madrid to one goal.

This is a team that hasn’t lost since Dec. 15. Even if the dissection is apt in general, it’s still ill-timed now.

(MORE: This is a spectacular hit from Rafael.)

The complaints seems to have two foundations, neither independent of the other. First, United generally looks unimpressive, as they did today. Against a QPR team playing that badly, an elite team should put up a number. Second, United’s midfield is not as strong as other European powers. In an era of midfield primacy (at least, as far as tactical analysis is concerned), this is a capital offense.

From the linked piece:

The midfield, however, having been the basis for success of Fergie’s previous best teams, is constantly pinpointed as the weak link of the current crop, and it’s difficult to argue against that theory.

source: ReutersI’d like to offer an alternative: Maybe this now conventional wisdom is wrong. Maybe Manchester United’s consistently stellar results (including in Champions League, where there’s been but one, obvious blip) indicate Alex Ferguson knows something we don’t. Perhaps United’s legendary penchant for timely goals is indicative of a philosophy that prioritizes moments over spells.

Instead of the all-clock dominance we see from Barcelona and (most of the time) Bayern Munich, Ferguson may subscribe to a view that prefers spending most of the match waiting to exploit moments. Seventy minutes of conservations, 20 minutes of power, perhaps? Unlike a typical implementation of catenaccio, United seeks to exploit in spells they define rather than in moments defined by others’ failures.

Whether that hypothesis is correct or not, it at least does a better job of describing United’s success. The constant discussion of United’s ironic faults in the face of their perpetual results only highlights the dialog’s faults.

If you’re continuing to try and describe why something fails to meet expectations, shouldn’t you eventually question the root of those expectations? Why do people expect United to fail?

(MORE: Style points, schmyle points for Arsenal.)

The obvious irony here is the dialog itself. Bellicosely describing a team whose grandiosity should be undermined by an obvious flaw, the discussion’s developed an obvious flaw of its own. It’s not considering alternatives. It’s not allowing for another vision, one that would discard narrowly applied tenants and consider something that would more readily explain unexpected results. While exhaustively examining Manchester United, the tactical Zeitgeist has failed to examine itself.

All of United’s faults where on display today at Loftus Road, but maybe they’re not faults at all. No, United didn’t put up a huge win against QPR, but this is a team that’s now 15 points clear in England, just got a result in Madrid, and has been to three Champions League finals in five years.

We might want to reconsider our wisdom.

Mourinho: League Cup “important to” Man Utd, but asks if it’s necessary?

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Marcus Rashford‘s heroics helped Manchester United cruise past visiting Burton Albion, 4-1, in a League Cup third round match at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Mourinho said the League Cup is important to Manchester United because it’s an official tournament, and United wants to win everything it can as a club.

[ WATCH: Rashford’s sensational second ]

Yet he stopped short of endorsing the Cup’s long-term future, a tournament which his side won last season but is perhaps the major obstacle towards the Premier League joining other European leagues with winter breaks. From ManUtd.com:

“If the competition is an official competition then it is important for Manchester United and for me as a manager. If you ask me could the English football survive or even be better without this competition? Maybe, maybe we would be fresher for European competition for example. But we have this competition, we have to respect the sponsors, we have to respect the opponents and a lot of us are trying to do our best.”

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]

United drew a trip to Swansea for the fourth round, and is certainly among the favorites to win the whole thing with their solid depth (See their Starting XI below).

Would you miss the League Cup if it went away?

Serie A: Mertens scores unreal goal; Napoli, Milan, Juve win (video)

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It’s early but signs of an actual title race in Italy are truly delightful.

Juventus and Napoli remain perfect, with the latter above the former in the Serie A table this early season following Wednesday wins.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | League Cup ]

Roma and Atalanta posted blowout wins, while AC Milan won a day after their Milanese rivals Inter needed a 77th minute penalty to draw at Bologna.

Lazio 1-4 Napoli

There were five goals in this one, but the only one you need to witness comes on this unreal shot from an odd angle by the world’s top under-appreciated scorer: Dries Mertens.

Juventus 1-0 Fiorentina

Mario Mandzukic scored the lone goal as The Old Lady slipped further behind Napoli in goal difference.

AC Milan 2-0 SPAL

I Rossoneri scored on a penalty in each half, with new boys Ricardo Rodriguez and Franck Kessie converting the chances.

Benevento 0-4 Roma

Edin Dzeko buried a pair of goals and the hosts gifted i Lupi a pair of own goals.

Elsewhere
Bologna 1-1 Inter Milan — Tuesday
Cagliari 0-1 Sassuolo
Genoa 1-1 Chievo
Verona 0-0 Sampdoria
Udinese 2-3 Torino

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Napoli 5 5 0 0 19 3 16 2-0-0 3-0-0 15
 Juventus 5 5 0 0 14 3 11 3-0-0 2-0-0 15
 Inter Milan 5 4 1 0 11 2 9 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
 AC Milan 5 4 0 1 10 6 4 3-0-0 1-0-1 12
 Torino 5 3 2 0 10 5 5 1-1-0 2-1-0 11
 Lazio 5 3 1 1 10 8 2 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 Roma 4 3 0 1 9 3 6 1-0-1 2-0-0 9
 Sampdoria 4 2 2 0 6 4 2 1-0-0 1-2-0 8
 Atalanta 5 2 1 2 9 7 2 2-0-1 0-1-1 7
 Fiorentina 5 2 0 3 8 7 1 1-0-1 1-0-2 6
 Cagliari 5 2 0 3 4 6 -2 1-0-1 1-0-2 6
 Chievo 5 1 2 2 5 8 -3 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
 Bologna 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 0-2-1 1-0-1 5
 SPAL 5 1 1 3 3 8 -5 1-0-1 0-1-2 4
 Sassuolo 5 1 1 3 3 8 -5 0-1-1 1-0-2 4
 Udinese 5 1 0 4 7 10 -3 1-0-2 0-0-2 3
 Genoa 5 0 2 3 5 9 -4 0-1-2 0-1-1 2
 Verona 5 0 2 3 1 11 -10 0-1-2 0-1-1 2
 Crotone 5 0 1 4 1 11 -10 0-1-2 0-0-2 1
 Benevento 5 0 0 5 1 14 -13 0-0-3 0-0-2 0

History denied! Real Madrid loses, fails in bid to beat Pele-led record (video)

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Real Madrid did everything but score, and now find themselves denied a chance at unparalleled history and in a relatively deep early hole in La Liga’s table.

A stoppage time loss to visiting Real Betis ended the club’s 73-match run of matches with a goal, and it came on the day it could’ve passed Pele’s Santos for sole possession of the longest scoring streak in history.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Perhaps more important, Madrid now sits seven points back of first place Barcelona. Their eight points leave them sixth.

Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis

The hosts looked so good, and so fluid… and provided any number of finishes which would’ve been goals on another day. Unfortunately for them, the only goal came from Paraguay’s Antonio Sanabria in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time.

That’s because Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan was sensational, including a stunning stop on Gareth Bale‘s backheeled volley in the final quarter hour.

It could’ve gone worse for Madrid, as Mexico’s Andres Guardado had an assist called back for offside.

Before that, there was this from one of the best in history:

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid

Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco helped the visitors go second in La Liga, as ex-Atleti midfielder Raul Garcia provided Athletic’s only goal deep into stoppage time.

Elsewhere
Leganes 0-0 Girona
Deportivo de la Coruna 1-0 Alaves
Sevilla 1-0 Las Palmas

League Cup draw: Spurs host Hammers; Everton off to Chelsea

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Sixteen teams are five wins from a berth in the Europa League following the fourth round draw for the League Cup.

Eleven of the 16 belong to the Premier League, leaving Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City, Bristol City, and Middlesbrough to dream of dream runs to Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

There are only a trio of all-Premier League ties in the bunch, including a high-profile London clash between Spurs and West Ham.

Chelsea will host Everton, while Manchester United heads to Wales for a date with Swansea City.

All-in-all, we could have quarterfinals without a single Cinderella story.

Full draw
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Chelsea vs. Everton
Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Leicester City vs. Leeds United