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Chelsea

It’s The Hope That Kills You

There’s been a familiar pattern at Manchester United, as of late.

United win a couple of matches, and everything is hunky-dory. Ralf Rangnick is a great manager who’s making his mark and could even get the job on a permanent basis.

They lose or draw a couple, and the buzzards start flying overhead. Suddenly, Rangnick is in over his head, and players are questioning his tactics and training sessions (because heaven forbid they start later in the day or work on basic things like team shape and organization). ESPN even reported that the players have started derisively referring to American-born assistant Chris Armas as “Ted Lasso,” after the titular character in the popular Apple+ series starring Jason Sudeikis as a clueless Yankee manager who somehow manages to land a job coaching an English football team.

You know what? United would be lucky to have Ted Lasso right now.

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Welcome Ralf

After Manchester United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjær, there were all sorts of rumors flying around linking the club to the best managers available (or not available— at least not until the end of the season).

Brendan Rodgers was supposedly house-hunting in Cheshire. Zinedine Zidane was, reportedly, the choice of the Glazers. Or maybe it was Mauricio Pochettino, who United supposedly made a play for but were turned down. Or Luis Enrique of the Spanish National Team, who laughed off reports linking him to the job. Or fellow Barca alum Ernesto Valverde, who reportedly met with United brass. Or United legend Steve Bruce.

Ok, it was never going to be Steve Bruce.

But one name stood out: Ralf Rangnick. (Or as my wife calls him, “Ralf Ragnarok.”)

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Asleep at the Wheel

Never let it be said that Ole Gunnar Solskjær wasn’t the ultimate company man.

When Manchester United finally decided to sack him as manager after a series of humiliating losses and poor performances but didn’t want to use that terminology, Solskjær went along with the charade and said that he was “stepping aside.” He even gave an exit interview with ManUtd.com that was full of platitudes and niceties. He even managed, with a straight face, to deliver lines like “It was time for me to step aside” and “I’m going to leave by the front door” even though everyone knows he’s being shoved aside (and deservedly so, but that doesn’t mean he should have to swallow his pride or continuing taking one for the team on the way out). I can only imagine what Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho would have said to that. Probably a two word phrase that starts with the letter “f” and ends with the word “off.”

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The Manager Formerly Known as the Special One.

Manchester United sacked Mourinho on Tuesday morning before training began. Club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been named caretaker manager for the rest of the season, whereupon the club will appoint a permanent manager – maybe Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham, ex-Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, or Mourinho’s BFF Antonio Conte. Or maybe someone else. Who knows?

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The Strongman Cometh.

The common refrain about Jose Mourinho teams is that the good ones always have a strong spine.

At Porto, he had a spine that comprised, mainly, of Vítor Baía, Ricardo Carvalho, Costinha, Deco, and Hélder Postiga. During his first go-around at Chelsea, he added Carvalho and Didier Drogba to the already-strong Petr Cech-John Terry-Claude Makélélé-Frank Lampard based spine he got from Claudio Raineri. At Inter, he inherited a fantastic defensive spine and added playmaker Wesley Sneijder and hitman Samuel Eto’o to provide the goals. His best Real Madrid team was held up by a spine that consisted of eventual nemeses Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, as well as Pepe, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Özil and Karim Benzema. The spine for his second Chelsea go-around (Thibaut Courtois, Terry, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa) was so strong that it helped power the team to another title win following Mourinho’s dismissal.

Now, with Matic’s defection to Old Trafford, Mourinho finally has the kind of spine that can rival those of his best teams.

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Exit Adnan

West Brom 5-5 Manchester United on the last day of the 2012-13 season was notable for several reasons. It was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge. It marked the only time that Romelu Lukaku ever scored against United, as the Chelsea loanee (and recent potential world record signee) bagged a hat trick as a substitute.

Perhaps the most important figure, however, was a baby-faced 18 year-old who looked out of place sitting at the grownup table. The West Brom match marked the first time that a young, promising Academy product named Adnan Januzaj was listed on the team sheet for a Premier League match. He didn’t get into the game, as West Brom’s comeback meant that there would be no opportunities for any debutantes. Nevertheless, his very presence on the bench was powerfully symbolic. Arriving at United via Anderlecht, the talented Belgian /Albanian /Kosovar represented the best of Ferguson’s youth policy and was one of the biggest reasons why David Moyes got the job over more established names like Jose Mourinho. After Januzaj was the lone bright spot during the traumatic 2013-2014 season, it seemed like he was well on his way to becoming a world class winger in the vein of Ryan Giggs, the legend whose number he inherited the following season.

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He Cost Us F—king Zero. He Gave Us Lots of Goals (and the League Cup).

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced that he had signed with Manchester United, I figured he’d be good for a few great goals, a bunch of arrogant quotes and, a whole lot of moments where he came up short, thereby confirming the long-held belief that he couldn’t play in England.

I was right about the first two things. As for the third thing, I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

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Morgan Schneiderlin Never Had a Chance.

Morgan Schneiderlin’s Manchester United tenure came to an early end when he went to the place where many United stars go when their careers don’t turn out the way they had hoped. On Thursday, the French midfield maestro joined Everton in a £20 million deal (potentially rising to £24 million). But did he ever really have a chance at Old Trafford?

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“A Season in the Red”: How David Moyes Beat Himself Before Chelsea, Everton, Man City, Liverpool (and a Ton of Other Teams) Did.

“He is a modest man who has a lot to be modest about,” Winston Churchill reportedly said about political rival Clement Attlee. Of course, Attlee got the last laugh, defeating Churchill in the 1945 parliamentary elections, but the (possibly apocryphal) put-down lives on in political lore.

Churchill’s quip was on my mind as I read A Season in the Red, by the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson. The book, which was released this month in the United States, chronicles all of the various missteps and mishaps from David Moyes’s disastrous 10-month stint at Old Trafford. The book, which covers both Moyes’s ill-fated tenure, as well as the first year of Louis van Gaal’s reign, is written primarily from the perspective of the press corp covering the team during that tumultuous two-year period following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

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The Forgotten Man

He’s the first Manchester United player to score 20 goals in his debut season since Ruud van Nistelrooy. He was a vital part of two title-winning teams and scored many important goals along the way. He especially had a knack for scoring against Chelsea. Since joining United in 2010, he’s scored in four of eight league matches against the Blues and has netted against them in the League Cup, F.A. Cup, Champions League and Community Shield. Some players are born to score goals, and this guy could do it with his feet, his head, the back of his head, and even with his face while falling down. Last season, while on loan, he made six fewer starts than Radamel Falcao yet still managed to score more than twice as many goals as the Colombian “hitman.”

And yet, prior to the start of Manchester United’s pre-season tour, it looked like Louis van Gaal had completely forgotten about Javier Hernandez. Indeed, as recently as April, van Gaal was dismissive of the forward who has scored 59 goals for United in 154 appearances (1 goal every 2.6 appearances- not bad when you consider 68 of those 154 appearances were as a substitute). “Chicharito’s future?” he asked rhetorically. “I have already sent him away once. When you score a goal, as he has just done for Real Madrid, are you suddenly different? I don’t think so.”

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