During the run in of the 2013-14 season, Manchester United were in turmoil. David Moyes was on the verge of being sacked after just ten months of a disastrous regime, and many of United’s ageing and underperforming squad were facing a lot of strong, and largely warranted, criticism.
One year later, under Louis van Gaal, United have said goodbye to the inconsistencies of the Moyes regime and have started to look like a good team again. They sit third in the Premier League, four points ahead of Champions and local rivals Manchester City, and eight ahead of fifth placed Liverpool, leaving them in a strong position to qualify for the Champions League after an absence of just one season.
Whilst £150 million of transfer fees last summer would suggest that van Gaal had merely bought his way back to the top 4, that is far from the case. Expensive signings such as Angel di Maria, Luke Shaw and loanee Radamel Falcao have struggled to nail down starting positions, spending most of their time on the bench as the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have pushed them back towards the top.
These players were four of those who were commonly scapegoated for poor performances under Moyes, all of whom were easy targets thanks to reasonably large transfer fees that were struggling to be repaid with some average and inconsistent showings throughout the season. Ashley Young was the perfect example of this. Bought for £20 million in 2011, Young has suffered plenty of minor injuries during his time at Old Trafford that culminated in three seasons of limited action, with 64 Premier League appearances, which resulted in just 8 goals, 6 of which came in his first season at Old Trafford. This lack of regular action and goals, plus the departure of Alex Ferguson left Young with a crisis of confidence, out of favour at United, and looking increasingly likely to be shipped out with barely a whimper.
However, Louis van Gaal’s appointment has reinvigorated Young and made him look like a player of the quality that persuaded Manchester United to pay such a hefty fee for. Young got his chance under van Gaal during United’s injury crisis, filling in at left wing-back during Manchester United’s impressive run in the autumn. Young’s pace and trickery, plus excellent crossing ability was finally making United look like a dangerous team on the attack again.
After helping United to five straight wins and their best run of the early season, Young then picked up an injury in early January that kept him out of the starting line-up for six weeks. United’s form took a hit in this period as they fell to defeats to Southampton and Swansea, leaving their top four position in doubt.
However, Young’s return to the line-up, this time in a more attacking role as Louis van Gaal opted to play Young ahead of record signing Angel di Maria has proved a masterstroke, with United going on a six match winning run, defeating Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City in that time, with Young proving to be the star man in the derby.
Young’s importance to the Red Devil’s is supported heavily by the statistics, which show that in the 19 games young has started, Manchester United have gained 42 points, compared to just 23 in the 13 games where Young didn’t feature from the off. This means that van Gaal’s side have gained 2.2 points per game with Young and just under 1.8 without him. Young has clearly developed from outsider to indispensable for United.
So with Young in such good form, should he be back in the England line-up? The former Aston Villa-winger was a regular following the 2010 World Cup and started every game for the three lions in Poland and Ukraine, missing a penalty in the quarter-final defeat to Italy. Since then though, Young has featured just five times for Roy Hodgson, with his last appearance nearly two years ago as a sub against Ukraine in an injury-hit England team in Kiev.
He has a good pedigree for England; 30 caps have produced 7 goals, a very good record for a winger at England level. Furthermore, in 2011/12, Young scored in four straight international appearances, a fine feat that very few have achieved on the international stage. Young, that penalty miss against Italy aside, always played well for England and seemed to relish playing for his country. Should his good form continue, he is in line for an England recall.
Young faces strong competition, though, to get back into the squad. England have a number of good, young wingers such as Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming through, as well as one of Hodgson’s favourites Andros Townsend who are all fighting for that left-wing position. In addition, at 29, many believe that Young has already had his time at international level, and England should be looking to go to France in 2016 with a youthful team who can grow together for the future. It is unlikely that Young would feature for England any further than the 2018 world cup, counting against Young for an England recall.
However, whilst many wish for a youthful England side to develop in the future, Ashley Young is the here and now. His form has pushed an average looking Manchester United side into third place in the Premier League and shows no sign of stopping. He has performed well for England in the past and still has plenty to give in an England shirt, if only for a short period of time. Many may consider recalling Young a step back to the failed regime of Fabio Capello, but it would be more indicative of a change, where players, no matter what their age, are picked for England because they are playing better than anyone else in their position. Young has proved he is a fantastic player, and an asset to one of the best sides in the country. England would be foolish not to have him.
After shock international call is Antonee Robinson a future Everton star
The defender has been in good form for Bolton Wanderers this season.
Bolton Wanderers have recently seen one of their players called up to international duty for the first time. Antonee Robinson has been included in the senior USA squad for the upcoming fixture against Paraguay
The left-back was born in Milton Keynes but his father is from New York state so qualifies for the USMNT. Robinson has previously played for the USA under-18 side and received a call-up to the under-20s but this is his first senior call.
For Everton fans, it will be a sign of the excellent work he has been putting in with the Championship strugglers. Robinson is on a season long loan at the Macron Stadium from Everton.
The 20-year-old has been a revelation for the Trotters, performing brilliantly and featuring in 26 league games this campaign. Despite recently losing his place to the more experienced Andrew Taylor it has been an excellent campaign for Robinson.
Everton must be keeping track of his development, especially considering that left-back is a position that they need to improve.
This season has seen Cuco Martina play out of position to fill the role. Leighton Baines is still an excellent operator, as he is shown since his return from injury. The issue however is that Baines seems to be picking up injuries on far to regular a basis for Everton’s liking.
Robinson therefore could be the answer on the long-term. There has been talk of Everton diving into the transfer market to fill the role but in the 20-year-old the Toffees have a potential long-term replacement.
Everton have a long history of bringing through young talent and at the moment have a queue of youngsters knocking at the first-team door.
One of those players is Robinson. Considering the problem area that is left-back, it should not be ruled out that Robinson is a potential solution to Everton’s positional trouble.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Junior Stanislas winner cliches Premier League survival for Bournemouth
The Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom on Saturday.
Bournemouth fought back from 1-0 down to secure a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion, as they took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Cherries, but one player to standout was Junior Stanislas. The winger has been in good form during recent weeks and scored the winning goal on Saturday with a superb free-kick from range.
The 28-year-old is reaching the peak years of his career and he will want to be a regular starter in the top-flight. Bournemouth are a good fit for him, as there are no superstars and the team is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sprinklings of quality throughout and Stanislas is one of the players that can produce moments of brilliance on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, he has been one of the key attacking elements for Bournemouth. He has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League matches, but the one on Saturday was the most important of those as it was directly responsible for the win.
There were only minutes remaining and the chance came from a free-kick that was a long way out. Stanislas showed great confidence to take a shot and the resulting goal will go down as one of the best in his career to date.
The overall performance from Stanislas was a positive one, as he worked hard and contributed in both halves of the pitch from the left wing. The 28-year-old completed two dribbles and made one key pass during the contest, while his pass completion rate was 80%.
He was effective in possession and rarely gave the ball away, which aided the team’s attacking play. In addition to his goal, the winger offered a threat for the entire game and had four attempts on goal. This was the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Eddie Howe demands total commitment from his players and everyone is expected to contribute to the defensive effort. Stanislas certainly did that on Saturday as he completed both of his attempted tackles. It is important for the wingers to work back and help their full-backs in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Stanislas and Jordon Ibe did their bit for the team.
With their victory over West Brom, Bournemouth moved into the top ten of the Premier League and sit on 36 points. That should put an end to their relegation worries, as they are eight points clear of the bottom three with only seven matches left to play. Although the Cherries have been in the top-flight for three seasons now, it remains a huge achievement to stay in the division given the size of the club.
The success has been due to the team spirit and players stepping up to the highest level. Stanislas is a great example of that, as he has spent the majority of his career in the Football League. He helped Bournemouth get promoted and has continued to improve since the club arrived in the Premier League. Now he is one of the Cherries’ best players and moments like his goal on Saturday reflect that.
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