Turning a Corner?

Turning a Corner?

(Manchester Evening News)
With the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United gave the reins of their Champions League decider against Villarreal and the Premier League match against Chelsea to the caretaker manager, former player and assistant to Solskjaer, Michael Carrick who has the team in a positive spin beating the Yellow Submarine in Spain and drew with defending Champions for the Champions League, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge.

Enthusiasm filled United fans around the world with the appointment of “The Godfather of Gegenpress” Ralf Ragnick. The 63-year-old who was in the dugout at Old Trafford in 2010 when he was the manager of German team Schalke in the Champions League semi-finals where they lost to the United team managed by the great Sir Alex Ferguson.

(John Owen Nwachukwu)
One thing that United fans constantly complained about under Solskjaer was the lack of a recognizable play style, and what Ragnick brings is one of the most modern-day styles of play in the game. Gegenpress is a high pressured defense system, organized, and high tempo for long periods of the match. This is a tactic used to halt the opponent from having time on the ball, making life as uncomfortable as possible. This style is seen at Chelsea and Liverpool, coached by Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp respectively, both from the Ragnick coaching tree.

With that being said, this style does not work for every player as it is a demanding training regime that takes the wind out of you. Certain players at United would not be able to handle the pressure that comes with the training. A few of those players are Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

(The Mirror)
Scott McTominay would struggle not with the fitness, but with the way Ralf likes his midfielders to pass the ball. The Scot has shown that passing at a quick tempo is not something he can effectively do. Ronaldo and Pogba have the same case; they don’t press, and in this system that is essential.

Ragnick could be in the stadium for the game against Arsenal, but not the official interim manager until on the weekend against Crystal Palace, waiting on his work visa to be approved. This is a chance for players to begin with a clean slate; no more favoritism, no pals, Ragnick will not tolerate laziness or people whose ego is bigger than their effort. Let us see what United looks like after he officially takes charge. Will we continue to see the “tricky mentality monsters” as former manager Solskjaer called them, or will we see “Ragnick’s Rampant Reds” dominate the opposition.

Unsustainable

Unsustainable

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HOW ‘BOUT DEM COWBOYS? Well now may not be the time to speak but they have somewhat fallen into a rut that, even during their winning streak earlier in the season, has been evident throughout most of their games. Dallas welcomed the Raiders to Jerry World on Thanksgiving evening and was expected to steamroll the team from Las Vegas. It even began promising after an early fumble led to a Dallas takeaway, which was later ruled an incomplete pass which in my opinion was one of the worst calls this season. Not to dwell on the past, but the Cowboys have been papering over cracks in their team with high-scoring offensive displays, Trevon Diggs intercepting the buses from Cleveland to Cincinnati, and the rookie of the year leading the defense in the absence of Demarcus Lawrence.

One big problem that was not punished earlier was the indiscipline of the defensive line. In the game against the New England Patriots in week 6, the Cowboys were penalized for over 100 yards before luckily being bailed out by an overtime touchdown by CeeDee Lamb. Watching the Thanksgiving game, the Raiders took advantage of the poor concentration and lack thereof by the ‘boys on defense, including getting the guy in the picture above, Anthony Brown, called 4 TIMES FOR PASS INTERFERENCE. Just atrocious by all involved. However, the defense is not the only leaking area on the roster.

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Dak Prescott who got PAID in the offseason is another reason. Now you’re gonna be saying “oh he’s in the running for MVP with the numbers he’s putting up,” well guess what? I DON’T CARE. Dak has been putting three or four good performances together to try and deter the criticism that comes with big-time contracts and he was rightfully exposed on Thursday evening. Whether it be rushing the pass, taking the wrong option, or flat out being clueless, the is Prescott’s nature since he’s been a Cowboy. Take the play in Overtime, 3rd and 4 inside their RedZone, Prescott could’ve easily passed to Elliot who, with his strength and power would’ve been able to get the first down seeing that he was a yard away from the marker. People say he is top level but in my eyes, Dak is not even a top 10 QB in the league.
Cowboys Wire
The final reason why the Cowboys may not even make it past the first round of the playoffs is their kicker, Greg Zuerlein. The guy with the strongest foot in the league can’t hit chip shots from 20 yards? Bloody hell! The Cowboys could right now be 9-2 instead of 7-4 because of Zuerlein. Prime examples are the missed extra points and field goal against the Raiders which amounted to five points. (Dallas lost by three). Opening night vs. The Buccaneers where he missed two field goals (6 points) and Dallas lost by two (31-29).

Even in the OT win against the Patriots, if Greg connected on all his field goals, overtime would not have commenced (would’ve won by three). These key moments are where the clutch gene comes into place, and so far it hasn’t reached the surface. These three reasons are why the Cowboys may be unsustainable for the remainder of the season and bogey teams when it comes to the playoffs, but then again, they could prove me wrong. Anyway, so what do you think? HOW ‘BOUT DEM COWBOYS?

TIME IS UP

TIME IS UP

Sky Sports (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer)
After the disappointing and humiliating 5-0 loss to arch-rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford, the pressure mounted even more on Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Everyone was convinced that was the curtain call for Solskjaer but the Norwegian remained in the job to oversee a commanding 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Surely they have brushed the poor result aside, right? Wrong.

Midweek, United journeyed to Bergamo to face Italian side Atalanta in the Champions League where they came from behind twice, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo, to draw the game 2-2. Even though Ronaldo has made it clear that this is what United have bought him for, and even if he is the greatest goalscorer of all time, they cannot continue to rely on him for every game. Individual brilliance is something that has bailed out this side a lot of times and it cannot continue.

While for his tenure I’ve been a strong supporter of Solskjaer, it has come to show that he may be finished here at United. During his interim period when he took over from Jose Mourinho in December 2018, he went until March undefeated including that classic night in Paris coming from 2-0 down, with more than 6 first team players out with injury/suspension. The main problem that most fans have with Solskjaer has been the lack of identity. Now I am not sure if everyone is watching what I’m seeing but I think Ole is the only Premier League manager who had a different striker every year.

During his first full season it was clear what the identity was; tiki-taka, through the lines with the central striker occupying spaces between the full-back and center-back. Players such as Martial who played through the middle very effectively, James and Rashford who are both very quick down the flanks, Lingard, and then later Bruno, the intricate dynamo in behind the striker, the ball-winning midfielder whether Fred or McTominay or Matic the build-up play was easily recognized. The next season when French midfielder Paul Pogba returned, then the inclusions of Alex Telles and most notably the king of Uruguay Edinson Cavani the style of play changed. Instead of the ball in behind, Cavani who’s not much of a runner was more of a false nine to have the build-up centralized instead of down the flanks. This season the style of play is really hard to recognize now that Ronaldo is in the team.

Sky Sports ( Cristiano Ronaldo)
When the season began at home to Leeds, we witnessed Mason Greenwood through the middle, and the style of play was recognized; Pogba of the left cutting in to create a presence alongside Bruno Fernandes, Greenwood making runs from out to in to create more space for his teammates, Fred and McTominay creating the energy in midfield winning duels and getting the ball forward, and incorporating Aaron Wan-Bissaka into the attack from the right-hand side. Since Ronaldo has come in, the team has been unrecognizable. Even being one of the greatest of all time, he is not a sole striker. Isolation is not Ronaldo’s game as he needs a strike partner or an attacking midfielder making runs so he can peel off the side to stretch his legs. Not saying he is a problem in the team, but you see the contrast with him than without. A prime example is the game against Everton where he was on the bench from the start. United were pinging the ball around playing really attractive football, not allowing Everton any chances and then Anthony Martial opened the scoring and brought United into the half up 1-0. When Ronaldo came on the team’s level somehow dropped with untidy passes, weak play, and atrocious finishing.

I still can’t blame the manager for the latest performances because the players just look dejected. Even if that is a coaching issue, Solskjaer didn’t hire himself, didn’t come in with a massive CV like the others but he has done much more than the rest. He stabilized the club with consecutive top 3 finishes for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Firing Solskjaer just puts United back where they were in 2014 when David Moyes was hired and fired after 9 months.

Sky Sports ( Erik Ten Hag)
If a new manager is to come in, now would be the perfect timing. The international window is where you can get to see the players who weren’t selected for the Internationals and also see how those international players perform. Reports have emerged that ex-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is who the board is pursuing but that would be a stupid decision just on a moral decision. There is no way a man who previously coached your biggest rivals should manage the team. The manager I think who should take the reins from Solskjaer is one who can incorporate the youth into the squad while making the egos of the experienced players remain calm. He is Erik Ten Hag.

The Ajax manager has his team doing wonders in the Eredivise and the Champions League. In fact during, the calendar year of 2021, he has seen his team score over 50 goals and concede only 4. Defensively sound, tactically proficient, and lethal in attack, these are the qualities that Manchester United needs in their dugout to bring them back to the promised land of what Sir Alex left them with. Will Joel Glazer pull the trigger though? He has seen what it has done to get a tactical coach with world-class players in the team, he owns the Buccaneers. This is a decision that may change the whole shape of the league if it is done.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?

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After a disappointing season from beginning to end, the Yankees organization, for some, surprisingly rewarded Aaron Boone with a new 3-year deal. The Bronx bombers started the season like starter pistols as they had a losing record through their first 20 games. Players like Stanton, Judge, and Torres were atrocious starting the season before gradually getting into it, however, all eyes were on Boone as it was thought to lose his job for poor performances.

Boone has a very talented team, with home run derby champions, defensive stars, and fantastic pitchers, but couldn’t overcome the Red Sox in the Wild Card round. Firstly, the Yankees should not be in that position. A club with the caliber of players that New York has should write themselves in at least the ALCS every year.

Aaron Boone has got by far his most talented batting lineup since being the manager of the Yankees, meaning hit first; field later. I’m talking Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Anthony Rizzo, who were all at one point in the top 5 for the MVP voting in past seasons. Rizzo a champion with the Cubs especially should have brought that winning mentality to his younger teammates but he failed to do so.

Associated Press
I am never going to blame the manager without actual cause from any sport, but I think Boone has brought the Yanks as far as he can. Giving him a new contract is great for the commercial side and youth development, but not for the title-challenging ambitions that the Yankees are accustomed to. When you have two Home Run Derby winners then you know that hits should not be a problem bar injury. When you pay Gerrit Cole $330 million he should be getting you through the first round of the playoffs, not putting the ball on the bat like he’s playing with his kid.

With the bullpen they possess, from starting pitchers, relievers, to closers, you should not be conceding between five and eight runs per game. The reluctance to drill the mentality into the players, get them fully fit for each game but the fatigue was evident in many games. This may be controversial but I would love to see Joe Girardi in the pinstripes dugout for next season instead of Boone.

For me, I think the Bronx Bombers are going to rebuild next season to get ready for 2023 to make a full charge. Cole would’ve been synced with the catchers, Rizzo and Torres would begin gel through the middle, players like Gardener would most likely be moved on or retire and join the coaching staff. In a couple of years, no one is beating the Yanks: NO ONE. Whether Boone or another man, they will be unbeatable.

COULD THEY GO FURTHER?

COULD THEY GO FURTHER?

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After a special but short-lived playoff run last season, the New York Knicks would be looking to go further with some key acquisitions made in the offseason. The team from Madison Square Garden finished last season with 41 wins, the most over the last five (5) seasons, before losing out to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Now with the beginning of the 2021/22 season, the Thibodeau-led Knicks must be looking to go even further.

The Knicks acquired all-star guard Kemba Walker to their young and improving roster in a trade with the Mavericks and the Celtics. Walker, the all-time scoring leader for the Charlotte Hornets joins after an injury-stricken season with the Celtics and is hungry and looking for redemption. Adding his creativity and class to this Knicks roster already with Most Improved Player Julius Randle, star guard Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, you have a real threat if they are all firing.

Another offseason acquisition that can bolster the team is French star, Evan Fournier. The 29-year-old averaged 19 points and 4 assists, obtaining a 39% rating from 3-point-range. This deadly behind the arc shooting could be critical in a playoff push with the new rules and the style of the NBA, deep shots rule.

Bleacher Report
The returning members of the roster from last season are vastly improving and with a coach as good as Thibodeau, they are a dark horse for the NBA Finals and let me tell you why. With teams such as Brooklyn having issues with Kyrie and playing awful, Boston unable to get into full gear and foolishly trying to replace Walker with Laker reject Dennis Schroder, Milwaukee is the only rampant team and if you can somehow stop the Greek freak, then you have an amazing chance to make the finals. Hell, they may even win the NBA.

The Los Angeles retirement home, I mean Lakers, are dealing with internal issues which could damage their chances, the Clippers who are underwhelming, Dallas who are finding their feet, and the Suns who even though were in the finals last year and looking sharp, could lose their big if they don’t agree on a deal with Deandre Ayton. If the Knocks manage to stay fit with Rose playing like he’s at the Bulls, 2020 Randle, 2019 Kemba, and the other youngsters click, Spike Lee’s ticket may finally be a championship one.