The day has come to paint the town red yet again. Although Manchester United are way ahead of bitter rivals Liverpool, the Reds of Merseyside will be looking to turn devils at Old Trafford this Sunday afternoon. Amongst the mind games and open banter circling this fixture, two of our resident authors, Sreyon and Nipun, started off on a rendezvous of their own. Mind you, there is no hint of camaraderie or fellowship here. It is Manchester United v Liverpool. It is is Sreyon v Nipun. We had to get our referee in here to start off this Q&A as well! Let’s begin with the first half wherein Nipun was firing the questions and Sreyon was sitting in the answer zone.
Q) Yet another United-Liverpool tie and the atmosphere is intense as ever. What does this upcoming game in particular mean to the Liverpool Football Club seeing that the Merseyside club is 21 points and 7 places adrift of the league leaders and their much despised rivals Man United?
A) Oh it will definitely be intense! Like our dear old Paul Scholes alluded to – The ‘North-West Derby’ beats the ‘Manchester Derby’ any day of the week and twice on Sundays! Given Liverpool’s recent travails, the tie may no longer be a 6-pointer in the title race but this remains the biggest game in the football calendar for players and fans alike. The bragging rights are with United after they won in controversial circumstances (yet again!) at Anfield and Liverpool will be looking for some serious payback! United have been rampant this season and have already opened up a 7 point gap between their nearest rivals. Liverpool will try and do their best to give the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea a helping hand in reeling The Red Devils in. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez will be up for the fight like always. With Top 4 rivals Tottenham and Everton dropping points this week, Liverpool will be taking this as an opportunity to continue their push for a Champions League spot as well as put a major dent in Manchester United’s hopes for an unprecedented 20th title.
Q) Brendan Rodgers, someone who used to travel to Manchester to represent United at schoolboy level, is now at the helm of affairs at Liverpool. What do you make of your manager thus far, is he the one that would bring you back amongst the elite or will he provide stability in the short term and then you guys would look at the big fish ala Mourinho and Guardiolas of this world eventually? Rodgers certainly talks up a big game with his philosophy for football, but for the outside world the jury seems to be out, still.
A) Brendan Rodgers is no quick fix. Liverpool’s ‘Bootroom’ is the stuff of legends and a stable management structure has contributed significantly to the club’s success in yesteryears. Rodgers’ managerial appointment was the third in two years and now is clearly the time for stability. FSG have gone for a complete overhaul in the management structure, transfer policy and playing philosophy at Liverpool and have identified Brendan Rodgers as the man for the job. The youth system was already revamped during Rafa Benitez’s time here and it is starting to pay rich dividends.
This Liverpool team is clearly young and Rodgers footballing vision will take some time to implement. However, there are positive signs and the team is certainly playing good football even though the League table might not reflect the same. This team is fragile now but will become stronger over the next couple of seasons. The fans have been patient and are very much behind the manager. Rodgers is here to stay.
Q) Daniel Sturridge has been brought in by Liverpool to add fire power to the squad lacking in a quality strike partner to the brilliant Luis Suarez. At £12 million, the Englishman represents a risk and is known to be selfish at times but to his credit knows where the back of the net is. Are you happy with the deal, or do you think that money could have been spent BETTER elsewhere? Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t Borini cost you lot £12m in transfer fee to Roma, I know the guy has been injured lately but his first few games didn’t really inspire much confidence to put it mildly. So that £24 Million in total for Borini and Sturridge, well Kenny Dalglish had a unparalleled shocker in the market but it looks like Rodgers’ having a bit of a mere as well. £24 million gets you RVP or even Luis Suarez if you like to hear that.
A) In the January transfer window, teams are generally looking for players who can hit the ground running and not many are available for sale. Daniel Sturridge is one such player. Criminally under-utilized at both Manchester City and Chelsea, Sturridge hasn’t really had the opportunity to kick start his career and do justice to his undeniable talent. At 23, the Englishman fits Liverpool’s transfer policy and his pace and power will certainly help us. Rodgers has hinted at playing Sturridge through the centre and the striker will certainly benefit from Suarez and Gerrard supplying him with goal scoring opportunities. £12 million may seem steep, but Sturridge is young and will get better. Considering the premium paid for young English talent these days (Connor Wickham signed for £13 million, Phil Jones for £17), I think it’s a good signing.
Borini has had a slow start but may still turn out to be a good player. The Italian didn’t score but his movement was sharp in the games that he played pre-injury. He was also played mostly out of position due to Suarez’s stunning form in the centre and lack of quality on the wings. With Sterling’s emergence and Downing starting to show some form, Borini may well have something to look forward to once he comes back from injury. Joe Allen again has been forced to play out of position due to Lucas’ absence. He has been showing signs of fatigue due to being overplayed and has been carrying a niggle recently. With the Brazilian now back, Allen is likely to be pushed further forward and his contributions in the final third are likely to improve. Rodgers hasn’t been able to pull a rabbit out of the hat yet but his performance in the transfer market hasn’t been bad. Especially when you compare it with the Comolli-Dalglish regime!
Q) Now some positives, Sterling, Suso, Wisdom and even Shelvey in patches have sparkled and provided the silver lining in a turbulent season thus far. Credit to Rafa Benitez for the work he had put in the Liverpool academy or Rodgers for his audacity in letting the players take the step up so seamlessly? Credit where it’s due, Sterling in particular has been a breath of fresh air and has definitely helped shoulder some off the Uruguayan’s burden. Kudos!
A) Oh you haven’t even seen the next crop yet! Liverpool’s Academy is one of the most positive things about the club these days and was recently voted among the Top 5 in Europe along with the likes of Barcelona and Ajax. Credit certainly goes to Benitez for having the foresight to establish such a wonderful youth set-up headed by ex-Barcelona coaches Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell. The lack of squad depth gave an excellent opportunity for the youngsters to prove their worth. The likes of Sterling, Shelvey and Suso have grabbed it with both hands and have established themselves as regulars in the side. Rodgers has been a youth coach himself and isn’t afraid to throw the kids in at the deep end. They haven’t disappointed thus far. The likes of Robinson, Ibe, Adorjan and Texeria are all chomping at the bit to break into the first team and Liverpool’s future looks bright!
Q) Now, for the game this weekend, pivotal battles on the pitch and game plans you foresee the two managers deploying? Will it be the usual suspects, Suarez or RVP who will walk away with the limelight or do will somebody else rise to the occasion and steal their thunder? Before I let you go, who do you reckon will win the title this year, City to retain their crown or United to reclaim their pedestal? Head over heart please, if that’s possible!
A) Dare I say Sturridge? Jokes apart, both RVP and Suarez are phenomenal players who are at the top of their game. They top the goal-scoring charts and the limelight will certainly be on them once again. However, Gerrard always seems to rise up to the occasion against United and has a habit of scoring against them. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the captain add to his tally against United once again on Sunday.
Agger and Skrtel will have a tough time keeping van Persie in check but they’ll also have to keep Chicharito at bay who always seems to pop up with important goals. Ashley Young could give the inexperienced Andre Wisdom a few problems at right-back and it will be interesting to see that battle. Suarez will be the primary headache for United’s leaky defence but watch out for Gerrard’s attacking runs into the box from the deep.
As far as the title goes, I think United pretty much have it in the bag. The Red Devils have managed to ride out a wave of inconsistency and poor defending with nothing other than wins. The team will only get better as the season progresses and with Vidic now back in the heart of defence, the chink in the armour will now be addressed. United are very much the favourites to win the title this season.
Sreyon has had to deal with a few tricky ones but it is now Nipun’s turn to sit at the receiving end of questions. Second half begins.
Q) First up, Sir Alex recently completed 26 trophy laden years in charge at the helm. Do you think he is the greatest United manager of all time? How long do you think he will continue? And who do you think is likely to replace him once he decides to call it a day?
A) Easy one to begin with, eh? For me and dare I say for millions of United fans all over the globe, Sir Alex is beyond any praise now, he has surpassed the legend title and now stands at a pedestal so high where no mortal has ever been to, he is the heartbeat of the club. Words will never be enough to reflect my gratitude towards the great Scot; Fergie is unparalleled in modern day football and doubt that he will ever be matched.
I realistically don’t know how long the man can carry on and I dread the thought of him calling it quits and walking into the sunset. He is the face of the club and life without Fergie would be unimaginable. Players would come and go and the club wouldn’t bat an eyelid as the backbone remained in place, but when the great man finally hangs up his boots, Old Trafford would be shaken from its core.
Replacement for Fergie? Well what do I know, I have as much authority as anyone in this matter. The usual suspects Maureen and Pep will be rumoured along with the hottest new prospect in Europe at the time. It was Laurent Blanc two seasons back, now it could be Klopp or even Laudrup. Ole Solsjkaer will be in the running as well and deep down in my heart I would want someone with a long term association with the club to take the reins. Bit of a long shot but I hope Gary Neville considers taking up coaching (know he is involved with the National team set up) as he has the tactical acumen as well as the passion to succeed.
Q) Nemanja Vidic is finding his way back to full fitness and looks in contention for a starting berth against Liverpool. In spite of buying so many promising young defenders in recent years, United’s defence has been in total disarray this season and has been leaking goals in literally every game. You’re always in with a chance against Manchester United these days. How much of United’s defensive problems are down to the Serbian’s absence this season and how important a role will he play it United’s title race?
A) It’s a bit weird seeing United so permeable at the back, but the reasons for it are three folds in my honest opinion:
Nemanja Vidic’s absence is a factor as he is a dominant force in the air and commands the box like none other. When the Serbian goes in to win a header, well he wins it. A fully fit Vidic will improve the defence at least aerially and also organize the back four better.
Also, the way United have operated this season also tends to have an effect. The team has played with a lot of freedom and as the goals for count has zoomed up, so has the goals against. For the neutrals (I doubt any exist) the Untied games are a rollercoaster ride and worth the money.
Ferguson playing musical chairs with the goalkeepers has also contributed to the instability and the indecisiveness, but hopefully De Gea has now got the nod and the Spaniard has been largely excellent.
Q) Robin Van Persie has been a revelation for The Red Devils this season as he has single-handedly carried them to the top of the table. However, Rooney’s performances have been below his high standards and he hasn’t scored regularly. United’s No. 10 also struggled for goals when Berbatov played as the target man in the 2010/11 season and when Ronaldo played as an auxillary forward. Contrast that with Rooney’s last season when he scored 27 goals in the league as the primary striker. Do you think Rooney’s best position is playing furthest forward? Can Sir Alex find a way to get the best out of both his strikers?
A) Rooney is a strange player to be honest, because on his game and on his day, he is good enough to play most positions on the pitch but when he is having a shocker he really struggles with his touch and the team struggles invariably.
RVP definitely has had all of us swaying and wooing but for me Rooney is still the lynchpin. Wayne Rooney is perhaps the most versatile modern day attacking player bar Messi of course, and can play most roles in the attacking third. Rooney’s season has been punctuated by injuries thus far, but whenever the RVP-Rooney duo has started games together they have worked like magic. Actually the actual problem for me is getting Kagawa-Rooney-RVP working together in the same eleven, plus there is a little Mexican named Hernandez who continues to score goals and makes himself indispensable. Happy problems all around.
Q) United has always had quality wingers who have chipped in with goals. However, this season, United’s first choice wingers Young and Valencia have yet to score a goal between them. What do you think has changed this season? Do you see Kagawa fitting into the team in the wings or behind the strikers? What exactly is the situation with Luis Nani? Has he played his last game for United?
A) Yes, United have had a poor season from its wide players as both Young and Valencia have been rather abysmal, although Young has picked up lately and Giggs too has been useful out wide. Well, the problems have been injuries and then poor form while Nani has his contract feud with the club.
Kagawa is an AM for what it’s worth, however at United I see him operating from the left and drifting in ala David Silva. Again, the Japanese’s season has been interrupted by injures and we are yet to see the best of the former Dortmund playmaker.
Nani’s situation comes down to the player deeming himself worth more than the club’s evaluation and the player agent milking the situation. But Nani will be back in the first team reckoning soon enough, and we need him fit and firing for the rest of the season to reclaim our title back. Although, I sense the Portuguese could be gone next season, a real shame as Nani’s ceiling as a player is among the best.
Q) With Financial Fair Play coming into effect, clubs are starting to pay a lot of heed to developing youth talent from within. Who are the brightest prospects from the youth ranks and who are likeliest to break through to the first team next? At a big club like Manchester United which is filled with superstars in every position, do you see any of them making it as a first team regular? Will we ever see another ‘Golden Generation’ like Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Nevilles and Butt again?
A) I am very skeptical about youth prodigies, they can go either way and you just have to let them be without pinning your hopes on their young shoulders. It’s just unfair at times, we saw what happened with the likes of Morrison and Pogba, and now we must tread carefully. I will reluctantly pick a few names who are excelling in their age groups and look to have something extra about them.
James Wilson is the youngest of the lot, a 17-year-old forward scoring goals by the truckload and has broken into the academy as a schoolboy. Already has an U-18 debut and looks top notch.
Mats Møller Dæhli is a 17-year-old midfielder, second year scholar and is hyped to be the most talented and outstanding youth prospect. Comes from Norway and has always exceeded expectations.
Adnan Januzaj is a Belgian teenage prodigy from Anderlecht and has been head and shoulders above his peers at U-18 level, one of the most likely to succeed perhaps.Other than these names Will Keane was on the threshold of breaking through but suffered a long term injury setback and hasn’t played since, although at United it is super hard to make the cut as a striker with the star names blocking your way, even Danny Welbeck is finding it hard.
Can I include Nick Powell in the list as well? He is not from the United Academy and was signed last season from Crewe but he is young and we at United are super excited by the boy’s talent. His composure on the ball, overall presence and eye for a goal defy his age. He has already scored in the league as well and could make the cut in a season or two, hopefully as a more rounded central midfield player that the club yearns for.
Sreyon and Nipun have walked down the tunnel with our referee, carrying their own complaints against each other. This will take a while to sort out. Meanwhile, here is trip down memory lane to a match between these two sides which proved to be a turning point in Manchester United’s rise as a superpower in England as well as in Europe. It is also the game that marked the beginning of a wonderful journey between Sir Alex Ferguson and the Red Devils.