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.

Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MLS Things: Shuttleworth, Quintero somehow get Loons a point vs. SKC

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Entering the day, no one was arguing that hosts Minnesota United were a better side than Sporting KC.

The Loons were 11 points and 19 goals worth of differential behind Western Conference-leading KC.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

They still are, despite a 1-1 Sunday match which carried a fitting disparity on the pitch but nothing to separate the two on the scoreboard.

Khiry gets his just desserts

Oregon State product Khiry Shelton has been wonderful for Sporting KC this season, but the striker just hasn’t found the back of the goal.

That finally changed Sunday, when his downbound header got the better of Bobby Shuttleworth — more on him later — and allowed him a richly-deserved first SKC goal which could well break down the dam.

The eighth minute saw Shelton score his goal on one of just six Loons shot attempts.

Shuttleworth back in business

It’s not always sexy to go to the veteran backstop, but it looks like Adrian Heath should’ve called Bobby Shuttleworth’s name a long time ago.

Entering the day, Shuttleworth had the second-best WhoScored.com rating of any goalkeeper to appear in more than five matches (Evan Bush).

While certainly part of that has to do with the defensive actions foisted upon him, Shuttleworth was the main reason SKC’s 24-6 advantage in attempts failed to turn into anything other than a point.

Darwin

Darwin Quintero has had more good matches than bad ones since joining the Loons, and added his third goal in seven matches with this rebound finish on Sunday.

Quintero had two goals and four assists in 17 Liga MX matches, but has been perfectly revitalized by the Minnesota air.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Bayern Munich fans pay tribute to Jupp Heynckes, again

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich fans turned up in their thousands to bid farewell to Jupp Heynckes for a second time on Sunday.

The veteran coach is going back into retirement after leading Bayern to another league title. The side was five points adrift when he returned in October, but rebounded to wrap up the title with five rounds to spare.

[ MORE: Pellegrini to WHU inches closer ]

It might have been more for Heynckes, but Eintracht Frankfurt stunned the side to win the German Cup final on Saturday and Real Madrid emerged triumphant from the sides’ Champions League semifinal.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paid tribute to the 73-year-old Heynckes for bringing “old values” such as “humanity and empathy” back to the side.

“The little downside for us is that we would have liked to give our Jupp, our coach, the nearly perfect finish, but it didn’t quite work out,” Rummenigge said of the shock defeat to Frankfurt.

Heynckes led Bayern to the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup titles in his previous stint in 2013, before he retired for the first time.

Bayern’s players were clearly still disappointed over Saturday’s cup defeat as they celebrated the league win on the Munich town hall balcony.

“It feels really bad, how the season ended,” said Thomas Mueller, who added that the team would try to “put a brave face on it.”