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Here is my list of people who would be in the run in to replace Sir Alex once he decides to retire. Whoever it might be, it is going to be a gargantuan task to emulate him at the throne of a football club which has been institutionalized to success. One thing that will certainly happen is that the board won’t be haphazard in decision making regarding the manager. The board boasts of some legendry names like Sir Bobby, Brian Robson, Paddy Crerand etc. Sir Alex will decide who is going to succeed him and I am taking it for granted that his presence will be ‘inspring’ but at the same time quite intimidating. This club counts continuity and tradition as two of its major strengths in modern football. The way Sir Alex and his coaching team have gone on to assemble a squad for probably the next two generations speaks volumes about their foresight and vision. The decisions that the club will take administratively and from a footballing perspective would need to get the nod from board members most of whom will be former footballers and coaches.

Here is the list: (in no particular order)

1. Carlos Quiroz:

Although the current coach of Portugal national team, I cannot look beyond him at the moment. A stunning tactical mind who has built generations after generations of amazing footballing talents during his time at Portugal and United. The man who was the secret behind Portugal’s golden generation of Figo, Rui Costa, Nuno Gomes etc is aslo credited with bringing in a more tactical approach to United’s play. As a fan, I have watched the way United’s play has evolved over the past 5-6 years; from being a typical English club playing anything but the possession game to a continental side playing with two defensive midfielders. The new found tactical awareness and more suave possession style was no doubt Quiroz’s contribution. Sir alex in his old days would have never gone on and bought somebody like Carrick. Sir Alex was called a ‘tactical anarchist’ by Vicente Del Bosque after United elimination from the CL at OT after a 4-3 win over Real Madrid. But United play more with a settled rhythm and poise rather than going for the jugular in Europe now and that change in atitude is down to new coaching methods and ideas brought in by Carlos. The sort of players that have been inducted into the squad and the new wave of coaching style and personnel that represent United’s current generation are brain children of the man himself. If he hadn’t got a call from Portuguese Football association, he would have stayed to become the next manager at OT. He had no other incentive to be an assistant at OT for such a long time after having managed Real Madrid for an year. He is very highly rated by Sir Alex, Sir Bobby and the players.

2. Eric Cantona:

This choice is purely a sentimental one although the ‘King’ himself has said he would even only contemplate about management only if he had a chance to replace Sir Alex at OT. Cantona’s awareness and flamboyance as a player has never been in doubt but I am not sure how he would fare as a manager. Sir Alex is a terrific man manager and a motivator; but he has never been called a ‘master tactician’ like a Capello or a Jock Stein. Sir Alex as Schmeichel says, is not as good a coach when compared to his man management capabilities. Cantona would be able inspire every one his players just by his sheer presence. Interesting but a less probable choice.

3. Michael Laudrup:

I really expected him to become Sir Alex’s number 2 when Quiroz left after his second stint. An amazingly gifted footballer who played under Cryuff’s ‘dream team’ Barcelona. No doubts about his abilities as a world class footballer; Romario, Cryuff, Raul, Zidane are some of his admirers. His coaching career has been a success and he is known for his innovative formations and playing with fast wingers. He took Getafe to the final of Copa Del Ray and did a fine job with limited resources at hand. I am not sure how he will like the media frenzy that would be around him if he is given the nod. Aged 44, a perfect choice for footballing reasons as he would bring in new ideas to the table. He would be my personal choice probably for the reason that I love players like him. But great footballers don’t necessarily make great managers. So watch out.

4. Laurent Blanc, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane:

All of these players who have played under Sir Alex might be considered. I am not sure how the board will decide on candidates with relatively very less coaching experience. But would be interesting anyway.

5. Jose Mourinho:

At the top his managerial career at 46, absolute box office but also a real good tactician. Somebody Rio Ferdinand believes, would have the ‘balls’ to manage at a place like OT where the hunger for success is unbound. The only concern with Jose is the way he plays the game. Right from the days of Sir Matt to Sir Alex, the club has had a tradition of playing the game with panache and grace. Sir Bobby thinks Mourinho might lose the battle to become Fergie’s successor in that he plays the game with too much conservatism and although he is inspiring and has an aura, his principles and United’s might not go hand in hand. But still, a very realistic choice.

Other possible candidates in the fray might be David Moyes, Alex Mcleish, and Mark Hughes.

Any other choices and merit of the above candidates is open to debate.

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Anybody who has been watching center-backs in the premiership this season with particular interest will vouch that Vidic has been nothing short of stunning. Now that was till the Liverpool game; Vidic endured a torrid evening against ‘Himself’ more than the celebrated attacking duo of Torres and Gerrard. It was as if the art of ‘self-destruction’ had been mastered by Vidic on an eventful Saturday afternoon where he would have had a feeling of deja vu of his first start in the United shirt.

Vidic and Ferdinand are a great center back pairing because of the way they complement each other. Ferdinand has more ability on the ball and he is the one to bring the ball out of the defense. Vidic is more of a tackler; the attacking source in the defense and with his reading of the game and great ability to position himself to attack the ball, he has been consistent and very hard to deceive. Vidic usually is the last man before the goal-keeper as Ferdinand positions himself a little ahead of Vidic so that he can take the ball into the midfield. But on Saturday, I thought they defended way too deep and this made it hard for them to take a breather. The midfield pairing of Carrick and Anderson were also deep and that didn’t help either. And without Berbatov, there was nobody to link up with the forwards. The midfield duo were so conspicuously outnumbered and outmaneuvered that they had to drop deep which in turn nullified the attacking threat that usually pose going forward if they had insurance at the back.

Liverpool never played with a high tempo. Leiva and Mascherano did well to keep the ball and all they could muster before Vidic allowing the ball to bounce from Skrtel’s kickout was nothing. The irony of the game was that United were ‘shite’ and Liverpool were comparatively ‘less shite’.

And this game also exposed United’s perennially under performing central midfield. There is no steel in there and they got away with it against Inter. The way they lined up on saturday also didn’t help. Finally, Torres was inspiring in that he played through pain and simply overran Vidic. He single-handedly changed the tempo of the game and hats off to him for his endeavor and desire. United didn’t play with the usual desire or commitment. Somehow one got the feeling they were going through their motions instead of going for it. They seemed jaded and have to wake up fast to ‘salvage’ their season.

How I still remeber those days when Ryan Giggs was linked with a move to Inter Milan. They pursued him for a considerable amount of time around the 2000-01 season and couldn’t get their hands on Stretford ends’ most priced asset. How Mourinho would have liked former Inter manager Hector Cuper to have tied up this football machine? The true repercussions of that failed foray should have been felt across the whole of Italy particularly in the blue half of Milan.

There was an air of inevitability around Old Trafford today when Mourinho marched on to the technical area before the game kicked off. Underneath the raucous surface, there were a few jangling nerves about what the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ had in store tactically for this round of 16 champions league tie. Vidic proved why he has been likened to Steve Bruce by United fans by scoring a terrific headed goal although I couldn’t figure out what Viera was doing during the setpiece.

United started with a weird formation; 4-4-2. Now that sounds a bit awful because that has become the most potent and loved formations of Sir Alex. But against a side managed by Mourinho who has always showed an inclination to play a 4-3-2-1, this seemed like a naive tactical option.

In the Milan derby, Inter absorbed most of the pressure and never had much possesion but still managed to score a couple of goals playing a 4-3-1-2. Adriano and Ibra up front and Stankovic behind them and the midfield trio providing great buffer for the backline. This tactical ploy was lethal. Although Milan did all the running, Inter scored two very simple goals; first by Adriano from a cross from Maicon and the second from a terrific strike by Stankovic from a flicked header by Ibra from a long ball played to him.

After conceding the opener, Inter grew into the game courtesy of the central midfield pairing of Carrick and Scholes. The central midfield pairing struggled to keep the ball and spray it around because they were chasing shadows most of the time although match stats say otherwise. Carrick requires someone with pace to help him out in the central area and Scholes, for a long time, had the mother of all shockers. He gave away the ball so many times and his usual cross field balls were not accurate. For all that United have been all season, keeping the ball and wearing down the opponents, this was as much bad because they were at the receiving end today from Inter. Berbatov was deployed between Rooney and the midfield couldn’t see much of the ball because he was closely marked by Cambiasso and Zanetti who really stayed close to each other positionally. United bring the ball out of defense by playing Berbatov in the hole.

Although Viera was anonymous in the first half, his positional presence proved a kind of a hindrance to United who couldn’t put 5 passes together. Giggs managed to get behind Maicon once during the first 20 minutes and that was it from United after they had broken through Inter’s defense with a setpiece. Some semblence of sanity was restored to United’s shape once Sir Alex moved Giggs into the hole and Berbatov up top and Rooney to the left hand side. Maicon’s runs became less ominous and Giggs’ intelligence helped out the United midfield duo to supply the ball to Ronaldo on the right flnak. One can say this was a damning verdict on Berbatov’s performance, but the truth is far from that. Giggs’ ability to run at defenders with the ball at his feet in the central midfield area proved to be the difference because Cambiasso and Zanetti couldn’t live with him. Giggs was particularly running circles around Cambiasso who was Inter’s most important player because of his vision, technical ability and desire.

Mourinho tried to improve things by introducing Muntari for Viera but this didn’t have the desired effect. Giggs was running the show for United and the midfield trio of Cambiasso, Zanetti and Muntari had to tuck in to make it more hard for United to keep possession. Inter’s tactical plans had been dashed after United scored their second and now Inter had to chase the game more. From 4-1-4-1 (till 50′), Mourinho switched to a 4-3-3 by replacing Stankovic with Adriano. Now United started finding more spaces opening up in the midfield area and Carrick became slightly more aseertive. By this time Ronaldo also had been given the free role along with Giggs which helped to counterintelligently (although the shape was considerably sacrificed).

But for Giggs’ ability to run at pace with the ball and his masterful artistry of running circles around Cambiasso, United would have crumbled and conceded at least two goals which might have seen Inter go through. Some might have noted that Giggs’ attemped backhell led upto the setpiece that saw Ibrahimovic hit the bar. This was his only blemish in the game which saw him shine unlike his colleague for so many years, Paul Scholes who didn’t have one of his best games. I would go on to defend Scholes because this is not the type of game that he would want to play. For a game where the midfielders had to dig in and fight for every ball rather than blitz the park with audacious croos field passes and sublime chips, this was not the game to play Scholes at his age.

And finally, Rooney’s committment and tactical awareness and intelligence was excellent. United  without a verstile player like him, would have suffered dearly today. A self less servant who is maturing as a wonderful player with every game he is playing although he was close to being insipid in the first half with his passing and movement.

The draw for the quarterfinals is on 20th March. How I would relish if the following had to happen:

Manchester United Bayern Munich

And I would want to know what you guys think of other possible match ups for the round of 8.

On paper, this fixture wouldn’t have aroused much interests in the neutrals. But it was a ‘game of two halves’ going by the game’s most dreaded cliche. It was partly down to Moyesy’s depleted resources with their most influential midfield talisman Arteta injured. It was also down to Borough’s approach particularly in the first half.

With Hibbert not playing, Jagielka played at right-back and it was very evident for the first 30 minutes that he was sort of apprehensive about letting in Downing on the left hand side. For Everton because of the tight midfield game that they play, their best outlets from central defence are Baines, Hibbert and now Fellaini. with Jagielka not playing in an advanced position as Baines was, they found it hard to bring the ball out of defense. Fellaini and Cahill didn’t play too close to eachother in the first half and Fellaini was marked by Wheater pretty effectively.

Neville and Rodwell saw a lot of the ball although Rodwell seemed sort of bewildered with his position. I think Moyesy set out his side with only Neville as the holding midfielder and Rodwell was asked to play a more advanved role along with Pienaar and Osman on either side. But he always was stuck very deep almost playing alongside Neville. Downing was running Jagielka mad and Moyesy clearly told Osman to track back and help Jagielka. Also due to the deep positional play of Neville and the inexperienced Rodwell, Osman had to tuck in from the right to cut down space in the midfield where Arca, Downing and Sanli (dropping back) had a very decent first 45 minutes. Thus, Everton’s shape was changed considerably due to Borough assertive play in the midfield. This was aided by the pace of Aliadiere and Downing on either flank.

And then came the rollicking from Moyesy. Rodwell was taken off and Saha was  introduced after half time.. Cahill was asked to drop into central midfield along side Pienaar and Osman. Tactically now it was 4-1-3-2 (although Fellaini played between Saha and the midfeild three) and Baines was getting forward more. With a bit of help from Borough’s more conservative approach and some high speed closing down, the Toffees now really started putting a lot of pressre on the Borough back four.

For any neutral watching on, this was a game which had in show breathtaking technical skill and natural footballing talent in abundance. Particularly, the strikers on both sides are so ridiculously talented that any one particular formation ceases to exist after every 15 minute spell if you might will. Barca with a top three of Henry, Eto’o and Messi usually are best suited for a 4-3-3 with Henry and Messi playing far far away and slightly below Eto’o at the center (Point of Reference). Although this seemed to work for Barca, it always has had its vulnerability due to the lack of bodies in the midfield when the ball is lost.

One thing the new Atletico manager Abel Resino got right was that they would play a very high back line. This helped the team being more compact when they had the ball and Barca weren’t able to win the ball back. Except Yaya Toure, Gudjonsen and Xavi aren’t ball winners. Toure was extremely stretched because he had to double up for the spaces left behind by Gudjohnsen. Toure played right in front of his back four protecting them and Xavi played in front of him as the creative influence. Although one could argue that Gudjohnsen played behind the front three, he really had a free role and I couldn’t see him sticking to any particular tactical plan. Barca would have won but for the profligacy of the front three.

And as soon as Atletico got the ball, they moved the ball with blistering pace through the midfield giving Barca all sorts of problems. Dani Alves although very effective going forward, was at fault a number of times for the extra-stress on Puyol-Marquez center back pairing. Usually it is Puyol who plays right Center Back and his pace usually covered for Alves’ absence at the back. But strangely, Guardiola I thought went for Marquez as a right side center back which took out the composure and the assureness in Marquez’s play because he had to shield the right side from Simao and counter Forlan who I thought had a smashing game. Maxi and Assuncao worked tirelessly and hit the forward ball to the front three taking no time to and it was the pace of Aguero and Simao which caused Barca all sorts of problems.

I am not sure Barca can win the Champions league playing what I would call a juggernaut 4-3-3 with your top wide men (Henry and Messi here) hardly shielding their full backs. Mourinho’s 4-3-3’s at Chelsea were stark in contrast due to its ability to become a 4-5-1 when they didn’t have the ball and Robben and Duff used to run back to cut down spaces in the midfield. And when they had to attach, they switched to a 4-3-3 which was pretty effective. Drogba one might say was a better player than Eto’s holding the ball up and allowing Lampard, Robben and Duff to do the damage along with himself chipping in quite frequently with goals. But I am not so sure about Barca. And for Atletico, they can’t comprehend being consistent but they can turn any team on their day over due to their gifted attacking talents.