Manchester United & Spurs: From Men to Ah Boys
Both teams started the season with so much hope.
For Spurs, it was yet another promise of a new era - new manager, signed by a Chairman who promised an attacking philosophy, and somewhat seemingly astute signings in areas which the team seem to need - right back, defence, a creative winger the press played up as the new “Messi” and a goalkeeper touted as the long term solution to an aging Hugo Lloris. And for three matches, sitting at the top of the table with no goals conceded, it seemed as though those hopes might come true.
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For Manchester United, it was supposed to be the season where they made the leap from top four to title challengers, given how they finished second last season, plus brought in big name and big money signings in Rafael Varane, Jadon Sancho, and arguably the greatest player of all time - Cristiano Ronaldo.
And for a brief spell, United did challenge at the top, and as Spurs faded away, it looked like United were the ones who would live up to their promise.
Meanwhile, the big three (yes, the EPL is clearly a big three league now) made not many new signings of note, with each of them only adding one new first-team player. Liverpool, in particular, had such a quiet summer that their transfer window was developed into the premise for the third instalment of The Quiet Place.
Manchester City failed in luring the heir apparent of Sergio Aguero over from North London, and Chelsea added a striker which has had mixed seasons during his time in the Premier League in the past.
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A quarter into the season, those hopes have disappeared, and no amount of “it’s still early in the season” is going to disguise the fact that both teams have fully made their transitions from men to boys.
For Spurs, the men from Mauricio Pochettino’s era have all but gone. Poch turned a soft team into a team of fighters, and even in his final full season where they were going through a terrible patch, they fought tooth and nail to reach the Champions League Final.
For United, the transition took even longer, due to a couple of false dawns which saw them finish second in the Premier League, and winning a few cups. But since Sir Alex Fergusion retired, United have never seriously challenged for the big titles - the league and the Champions League.
For both teams, you cannot make the case that they lack quality. Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, Cristian Romero, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Varane, Sancho, Paul Pogba - these are all players who would easily walk into the Big Three in England or the Big Two in Spain. These are world class players and fans of both clubs have every right to believe that they should be part of the elite in England, rather than playing catch-up with teams like Brighton and West Ham.
And yet, no amount of talent in any team can make up for a lack of fight.
In their loss to West Ham last night (SGT), Spurs didn’t really do anything wrong. The team mostly controlled proceedings of the match, created the better chances, though those were far and few in between, and made West Ham sit deep and resort to counter-attacking and set pieces for the most part.
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And despite having a poor night, the Hammers never stopped pressing, never stopped closing down the passing lanes, never stopped winning the 50-50 challenges. And they were duly rewarded from one of those set pieces.
No matter how talented a team is, you can’t just show up every match and hope that your quality wins the day, even if Spurs did exactly that in beating Newcastle a week prior.
For the Red Devils, it was even worse. Their backline panicked right from kick-off as though they were school boys who never played together prior to this match. Sure, they were up against probably the most potent attacking force in Europe, but the disorganisation and nervousness was unbelievable. While their attacking movement was marginally better, a defence that leaked 11 goals in three games will never win any titles of note.
United’s defensive performances have been of the lowest quality this season, and they can’t keep hoping to rely on their considerable attacking prowess to turn things around, like they did many times last season.
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Both United and Spurs look like an assembly of good players, rather than a team.
On their performances this season, you would probably put some money on both of them not even finishing fourth, as teams like West Ham, Brighton and Leicester are playing every match like a Cup Final.
When you drill it down, you cannot escape the fact that the Big Three have world class managers, while both United and Spurs have mediocre ones.
It’s a pity, especially for Spurs. Sacking Jose Mourinho gave Spurs the opportunity to find someone that is really world class, to help us forget about the undeserved sacking of Pochettino. Mourinho was never going to work for Spurs, even if he did deliver some memorable moments for the team.
Spurs needed a good man motivator, an astute tactician and someone who knows how to get the best out of smaller budgets (as compared to the bigger clubs). I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but Christophe Galtier was there to be signed, after leading an unfancied Lille to the Ligue One title.
But Spurs never had him on their radar, and Galtier went to another midtable French side, Nice, who are now one game-in-hand away from being second in the league.
Fans arguing about getting rid of certain players and buying certain players miss the forest from the trees. They only need to look at United and see that no amount of talent that money can buy can long paper over the cracks of a manager that isn’t of the quality of the players.
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Similarly, United need a top manager that can whip this talented bunch into shape, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t the man to do it, at least not right now.
In time, both Nuno Espirito Santo and Solskjaer may gain the experience to manage a club with world class talent and achieve their potential, but they are at right now at best Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, whose world class talent masked over their managerial inexperience with superb individual performances.
Those talents are the reason why for both United and Spurs, they are still within striking distance of fourth, but so are at least 10 other teams.
There’s still enough time for the boys to go back to being men, but given the quality of the coaching team at both clubs, I’d say fans of the clubs should prepare for a really tough season ahead instead, and manage their expectations.