Last week in this space, I wrote that I was of the opinion that firing David Moyes would represent a knee-jerk reaction on the part of Manchester United given the situation he was placed in at the beginning of the season. In the intervening week, Moyes was indeed fired and I can't say that I'm surprised. I have a few observations about how this signals Manchester United becoming just another big club as opposed to being the unique entity that it has been under Sir Alex Ferguson for most of my adult life.
To me, the way that the club ended the relationship with David Moyes represents Manchester United the corporate entity listening to what was being said about it in the media for the first time I can remember. People screamed at Sir Alex and United then they sold Beckham...they didn't care, they just went on winning. People screamed at Sir Alex and United when they sold Ronaldo. They didn't care...they just went on winning. The fans screamed that the Glazers were only out for profit and wouldn't invest in the team. They didn't care...they just kept on winning. They let the squad age, they didn't buy the midfielder everyone knew they needed for the 2012-13 edition. They kept their own counsel regardless of what the press and the public said and they kept on winning. With a manager as established as Sir Alex and a string of executives with the stature of David Gill you can do that. You can act like you know more about football than the public and the media because your record shows that you do and your position is pretty much unassailable until you decide to retire.
With the departure of both Sir Alex and David Gill, Manchester United seems to have lost the credibility to tell the rest of us to shut up and that they know what they're doing better than we do. They let the pressure build and build and then, when the inevitable perception would be that the public and the media got Moyes fired, they capitulated and fired him. Whether they were right or wrong to fire him is almost irrelevant. They have now set a precedent that the media and the United supporters will feel that United are just another club where they can sway events with their vitriol. If Moyes wasn't the right man for the job then firing him was the right move for sure. My problem with it is that it represents another in a growing list of weaknesses that the club is facing:
- They are no longer THE financial powerhouse in the Premier League as they were before Chelsea and Manchester City were taken over by their new owners.
- They aren't going to be in the Champions League next season and the list of teams with as much or more money to spend and better squads who can offer Champions League play (Chelsea, Liverpool, City, and likely Arsenal) will make rebuilding that much toughter.
- Their Chief Executive is still new to the job and now has two huge strikes (the Moyes hiring/firing and the last two transfer windows) against him.
- Their one-productive youth system hasn't produced much in recent years (Danny Welbeck could be a productive player or a great asset to sell but Tom Cleverley appears to be the next best player and his star is fading very quickly).
- They don't seem to have a voice anywhere in the organization that can calm the masses by telling them to pipe down because he knows better than they do.
I heard a great analogy on this topic this week on SiriusXM FC (the satellite radio channel dedicated to soccer here in the US). I don't recall who the interviewer was (which is a shame because it was his analogy) but he asked noted writer Simon Kuper if United were likely to act like the Catholic Church did in the wake of Pope John Paul II's similarly long-running papacy. Since John Paul II was elected Pope at age 58, which gave him the chance to be the third longest serving Pope, the Catholic Church has only elected much older men (78 and 76) to be Pope which made it very unlikely that either would be in office for a long period. With the news that Louis van Gaal is the heavy favorite to take over for Moyes, the theory was that United were following the same path. They weren't looking for the next 20+ year managerial solution (which Moyes could have been had he worked out), they were looking for someone to do the job for the next few years. If that is true then I think it is unfortunate. One of the things that distinguished United from other great European teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Milan, Juventis, and Bayern is that they had that one man who really made a difference at the center of everything. Whether you liked United or hated them you had to respect that Sir Alex was a force of nature and a part of who you were facing every time out. Managers like Ancelotti, Guardiola, and van Gaal, while they have had success at big clubs feel like they're part of an interchangable club of big managers. van Gaal leaves Bayern and they keep chugging along with Pep. Mourinho leaves Real and they keep chugging along with Ancelotti. [Fill in the blank] leaves Chelsea and they win another trophy somewhere.
They once said of the great Alabama football coach Bear Bryant that he could "take his and beat yours or he could take yours and beat his" meaning he was just that good of a coach. It felt like Sir Alex could have won just as many titles with the talent available at Arsenal over the years as he did at United and he might just have coaxed one or two out of a club like Liverpool, Everton or pre-Roman/Mourinho Chelsea. Maybe that unique situation only comes along every few generations and United are smart to avoid trying to force the notion of finding someone else who can do that. That doesn't prevent me from feeling like the Premier League has lost something that it is unlikely to get back...unless Liverpool can remain a power and Brendan Rodgers is there for the next 25 years.
That's a lot of managerial talk for a two week span, let's get back to what we do here and run through the team news...
Southampton v Everton - The early Saturday kickoff doesn't have much in the way of late fitness checks that will force you to hold up on final changes until starting line-ups are released. What it does have is a lot of certain absences including Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka (STILL), and Kevin Mirallas for Everton and Morgan Schneiderlein, Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramirez for Southampton. The fantasy opportunities here are Alcaraz (5.6) and Naismith (9.79) who seem very likely to get starts at very reasonable prices. I can't say I'm nearly as excited about any of the Southampton alternatives.
Fulham v Hull City - Anyone going against Fulham will at least be of passing interest to fantasy managers and it appears that Hull City's attackers are returning to health with Shane Long and Sone Aluko are both available again. Long seems like he could be a solid pick as Fulham are forced to press forward in an attempt to win to avoid relegation. Long could be the beneficiary of Tom Huddlestone's passing through the middle as he hits on the counter. At 10.49, Long isn't a bad bet at all.
Man Utd v Norwich - Not surprisingly, there isn't much news of use on the United side other than that van Persie and Rafael are still both out for the Red Devils. It remains to be seen what interim manager Ryan Giggs decides to do with a squad that has a lot of options but few who have really distinguished themselves. Even with Norwich the opponent I wouldn't invest in United anywhere other than the very obvious places (Rooney, DDG, Phil Jones) for fear of not knowing how Giggs views the squad.
Stoke v Tottenham - Not a great deal of fantasy relevant news here with Assaidi (Stoke) and Dawson (Spurs) returning to fitness (I can't say I'm particularly optimistic about either from a fantasy standpoint). Feels like a 1-1 draw with relatively few fantasy points unless you pick a goal scorer out of the hat. Probably the weekend Adebayor scores for Spurs after we've all ditched him over bitter disappointment last weekend.
Swansea v Aston Villa - Swansea will be missing Michu (ankle again) and Chico (suspended) with Jordi Amat a semi-interesting option in defense priced at 7.55 facing a solid match-up. On the Villa side, there isn't much to say other than the continuing absence of Christian Benteke which continues to suck (unless you're the opposing defense).
West Brom v West Ham - West Brom face a bit of a defensive crisis over and above the fact that they just aren't very good with Liam Ridgwell out and Gareth McAuley a major question mark. West Ham are poised to take advantage of the Baggies' injury issues with a squad that is almost fully fit. Matt Taylor will miss out on compassionate leave but the players that might take advantage of West Brom's defensive issues - Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, etc - are available and ready to go for once.
Crystal Palace v Man City - Crystal Palace are almost entirely fit for their big Sunday test while Manchester City will be without David Silva and Jesus Navas. Yaya Toure will return to the heart of the City midfield and it is highly likely that James Milner will get a start in place of Navas. Milner, priced at 6.8, becomes an interesting bargain option if you need a reasonably priced midfielder.
Liverpool v Chelsea - The big question on the Liverpool side is whether Daniel Sturridge will recover from his hamstring issues in time to feature in Liverpool's biggest match since their last Champions League final. It seems likely that he'll play but that isn't enough assurance for me to recommend starting him no matter how many players Chelsea are missing or thinking of rotating. Jordan Henderson is definitely out serving his suspension. For the Blues, who the hell knows what's going to happen. Petr Cech is definitely out making Mark Schwarzer very interesting for just about any week OTHER than one in which a far-less-than-full-strength Chelsea face off with Liverpool's historicallly strong attack. Oh, that Chelsea are also missing John Terry, Ramires, Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o for sure makes Schwarzer's 2.62 price tag even less attractive. Sounds like a Barn Door opportunity to me. The four players that should start for sure because they are healthy and not eligible for the return match against Atletico Madrid are Frank Lampard, Nemanja Matic, Mohamed Salah, and John Obi Mikel. I'll trust that you can decide which of those players are and aren't interesting no matter how certain they are to start.
Sunderland v Cardiff City - A huge match at the bottom with Norwich free-falling and the likelihood that only one of Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham will be able to save themselves. While the match may be huge, the news leading up to it isn't very meaningful. If there is a player you want to invest in on either side, it looks highly likely that he will be available unless you're a huge Carlos Cuellar fan.
Arsenal v Newcastle - The injury list must be getting a little boring at Arsenal if there's an Abou Diaby mention - no, he's not actually going to play but he's getting close enough that it apparently merits a mention alongside the usual absences of Jack Wilshere, Keiran Gibbs, and Theo Walcott. Thomas Vermaelen is healthy again but seems highly unlikely to start given the health of Mertesacker and Koscielny. For Newcastle, the news is promising with Loic Remy and Mathieu Debuchy possibly ready to start after making substitute appearances last weekend in their respective returns from significant injury absences. Moussa Sissoko is also back at training but it seems more likely that he'd be a substitute after missing the better part of a month with a hamstring issue. Newcastle had better hope Remy and Sissoko can play some meaningful part because Papiss Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Luuk de Jong are all likely to be out. Not a lot of options if Remy and Sissoko join that trio on the bench.