Are we really a counter-attacking team?

Discussion in 'Manchester United Forum' started by Pogue Mahone, Jan 2, 2018.

  1. Jan 2, 2018
    #1

    Pogue Mahone Poster of the year 2008

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    The stats from last night's game got me thinking. We had 60% possession overall. In the second half it must have been closer to 70%+. At one point, one of those "last 10 min's possession" stats popped up and we were on 84%. And this is away at Goodison, a ground where we might be expected to try and play counter-attacking football. But instead, we dominated the ball and pinned Everton back deep into their own half. Which goes against the prevailing idea about how Mourinho gets his teams to approach these sort of games.

    If we go back through all the league games we won this season, these are our possession stats:

    Everton (A) 60%
    WBA (A) 57%
    Bournemoth (H) 56%
    Arsenal (A) 25% :eek:
    Watford (A) 41%
    Brighton (H) 58%
    Newcastle (H)
    61%
    Spurs (H) 45%
    Crystal Palace (H) 59%
    Southampton (A) 39%
    Everton (H) 49%
    Leicester (H) 69%
    Swansea (A)
    59%
    West Ham (H)
    55%

    We've lost three games, with the following stats:
    Huddersfield (A) 78%
    Chelsea (A) 46%
    City (H) 35%

    We've drawn five times:
    Stoke (A) 63%
    Liverpool (A) 38%
    Leicester (A) 50%
    Burnley (H) 71%
    Southampton (H) 55%

    Some conclusions. In 13 out of 21 games we've played we've had the lion's share of possession. Our average possession in these games has been 61%.

    In 9 out of 14 victories, we won by dominating possession. And what's interesting to me is when you think about the pattern of the 5 games we won while seeing less of the ball than the opposition; Arsenal, Spurs, Southampton, Watford, Everton. In general, these weren't Leicester 2016/17 classic counter-attacking performances. These were all games where for long periods we just didn't play well at all. Same pattern in almost all of the games we lost or drew while seeing less than 50% of the ball. These were all bad days at the office, not a rope a dope master plan that didn't quite come off. Against Arsenal, Liverpool, City and Chelsea we arguably did set up to allow the opposition have more of the ball but I would argue that this is very much not our normal approach.

    I think we definitely set up to play counter-attacking football against teams with CL aspirations, especially away from home. But it's definitely not our go to tactic for most games we play. Generally, when we play well we boss the possession stats and if we're not seeing more of the ball than the opposition, it's much more likely to be down to us playing badly than a deliberate tactical plan.

    Discuss...
  2. Jan 2, 2018
    #2

    kps88 Full Member

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    Does playing counter attacking football mean you have to lose the possession battle? His Madrid and early Chelsea teams were great at the counter attack, but they also dominated possession more often than not. Same with our previous teams. Most top teams have the ability to do both - dominate the ball and also catch you out on a counter.
  3. Jan 2, 2018
    #3

    Pogue Mahone Poster of the year 2008

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    Leicester definitely averaged less than 50% possession when they won the league. I’d need to check but I’m fairly sure Inter under Mourinho were the same. I would argue that having more of the ball than the opposition and playing counter-attacking tactics are mutually exclusive.

    I agree that this hasn’t always been the pattern for Mourinho teams in the past but that’s kind of my point. His tactics with United aren’t just about counter-attacking football, which is something I read on here fairly often.
  4. Jan 2, 2018
    #4

    POF Full Member

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    The main issue with United as a counter attacking team is that they’re not very good at it. They have great pace in attack and players like Pogba who are perfect for counter attacking but their decision making in those breakaways (when they get 3v2 or 2v1) is absolutely terrible. It would be harder to pick the wrong pass on such a consistent basis if they tried.

    In a close game where Jose doesn’t think United will score on the counter attack he tends to go ultra defensive and the team struggles to get out, like the Southampton game and the one last season where he went 6 at the back (Middlesbrough?). I think those are the games where the lopsided possession stats happen.
  5. Jan 2, 2018
    #5

    Pogue Mahone Poster of the year 2008

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    I think that definitely skews stats. If we're defending a lead, or happy with a point to begin with, we do tend to play very defensively. Not so much counter-attacking, as full-on parking the bus. Thankfully, this only happens rarely. In the vast majority of game we set out to try and win the midfield battle and pin the opposition back, rather than sitting deep and trying to hit them on the break.
  6. Jan 2, 2018
    #6

    noodlehair "It's like..."

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    I think we're trying to be. We're really not composed enough to pull it off a lot of the time though. It only seems to work well when the whole team is confident.

    Playing counter attack effectively, means you have to be able to pick passes out quickly from the back and everyone has to be quick and decisive on the ball. You also need to be organised defensively.

    We get the ball at the back, hoof it aimlessly if pressured, or feck around for ages if not pressured. Half our team are about as decisive on the ball as my girlfriend looking at a restaurant menu, and our defence can't even organise covering for an injured centreback when there is already a spare centreback on the pitch.

    Lingard sticks out at the moment because he's the one who'll get the ball and run into the space without hesitating or spinning around in a circle a few times first.
  7. Jan 2, 2018
    #7

    Crashoutcassius Full Member

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    Everton are muck but we are typically a counter attacking team. If a team parks on the edge of their box at OT then we will have the possession, but we will look awful because... see above
  8. Jan 2, 2018
    #8

    Boycott Full Member

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    Counter attacking isn't always just about conceding the possession battle and waiting to break when the opponent gives it away. It's about how fast you transition from back to front. Instead of having twenty passes waiting for a precise moment to pick the lock, you can have frequent movement off the ball which drags opposition players apart and in turn creates spaces to exploit. That's what his Real Madrid team did so brilliantly. The quality of their players meant ball possession will always be high but how they used it was not based around everyone having x amount of touches and passes.

    A team with dominating possession stats can still be excellent in counter-attacking because there will be times where the opposition have a spell with the ball and you can wait for a mistake to break and the fact that counter-attacking is about moments while possession stats cover the whole 90 minutes. Utd can win the next game 3-0 with three break away goals but that's just three moments in 90 minutes. The reality is that most of the game was spent passing the ball side to side and in control and other chances will be created as a result of patient build-up play.
  9. Jan 2, 2018
    #9

    POF Full Member

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    I found it really strange when he said it (after the Southampton away game). He just said that the team weren’t playing well so they decided not to go for another goal and protect the lead. Thinking back on it though, he was just saying that he trusted the defensive stability of his team more than the counter attacking quality - and he should.

    I do agree with you that this team is better dictating the tempo than playing to counter attack. Crosses are where the team has looked most dangerous this season, which is why Fellaini has been a big loss.
  10. Jan 2, 2018
    #10

    el3mel Full Member

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    Yes, we're mostly a counter attacking team that try to use surprise the opponents with counter attacks either from deep position or by forcing mistakes in their half by pressing their back line. Other games the opposition sits back and defends so we dominate possession most of the game, but in general I think we're team that tries to catch the opponent on the break by surprise. Only problem we have faced so far in this setup is the lack of consistency in building the counter attacks. In some games they look sublime but in others they are shite. Our decision making in the final third lacks consistency on the moment.
  11. Jan 2, 2018
    #11

    Adam-Utd Part of first caf team to complete Destiny raid

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    No, we aren't.

    Jose likes to have quick transitions, but that isn't our main focus.
  12. Jan 2, 2018
    #12

    unitedforeveral Banned

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    I'll tell you what, we do counter attack but our team is completely capable of playing possession football although i do think our passes are slow and quite readable.
  13. Jan 2, 2018
    #13

    Emdad Ahmed Full Member

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    Counter attacking doesn't equal giving away the ball. Counter attacking also doesn't equal to NOT being a possession based team.

    You can be both; an excellent counterattacking team and a possession football playing team. Barça 2015 is the best possession based team I have seen that destructed opponents on the counter.

    City are, obviously, more of a possession team than us. But, I'd be hard-pressed to say that we construct better counterattacks than them

    Edit: The answer to your question is, YES. Albeit, a wank one.
  14. Jan 2, 2018
    #14

    Rozay Not good at posting fixture lists

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    We will always have more of the ball than most teams. I guess the question is whether we score majority of our goals via counter attack or not.
  15. Jan 2, 2018
    #15

    noodlehair "It's like..."

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    Yeah this is what I don't get. With Mourinho and Pep it's almost created this style vs style idea where you have to be one or the other.

    United's best sides under Ferguson were always great counter attacking sides, but they would also impose themselves onto the opposition...then fall back to counter once they were a couple of goals up. Or when the opposition (Arsenal) meant counter attacking was a more effective way to play.

    Barcelona under Pep were fantastic on the counter...they rarely needed to use it but if they had dropped back and the space was in front of them, they could be deadly. Even Jose's best sides, such as his first spell at Chelsea. They would set up to counter, but if they needed a goal they could suffocate teams.

    If you can only do one or the other it leaves you extremely vulnerable when the opposition suss you out.
  16. Jan 2, 2018
    #16

    Emdad Ahmed Full Member

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    I blame José & Pep's fierce rivalry for creating this artificial hollow counterattacking vs. possession football dichotomy.

    I was looking at it too granularly when naming City, Barça etc. There's no need to look further than SAF's best sides. It's as you say. Those sides, when goals were needed, attacked and got them. Then after a comfortable lead fell back for counters.

    To call what the best of SAF's sides did "counterattacking" is misleading. I prefer calling it relentless attack; maintaining pressure on the opponents' box instead of sitting deep or crabbing passes sideways & backwards
  17. Jan 2, 2018
    #17

    VeevaVee despite the protests, wears Ugg boots

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    Fergie had it so perfect for a while. We'd dominate and have a blistering counter when attacked. You need a team that can make decisions quickly and pass accurately for that though, which we don't really have right now. Often way too slow to do it effectively.
  18. Jan 2, 2018
    #18

    MyOnlySolskjaer Creator of Player Performance threads

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    Our transitional play needs work, we have some fast players but the decision making isn't there. I like Lingard's acceleration and what he adds centrally but it feels we are heavily dependant on that left side, the right side is more or less non-existent when Valencia isn't there, even when he's fit there's no end product on that right side but he's an outlet at least. We play like a wounded counter-attacking team and resort to poor crossing when we are given way too much time. There's a severe lack of creativity and penetration from the right side of the pitch.
  19. Jan 2, 2018
    #19

    Sky1981 Fending off the urge

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    The thing is to counterattack with pace (rashford / martial / mkhitaryan) we need spaces to run, something that won't exist if we dominate possession and pinning the opposition on their own half.

    We do not have a flair midfield who can break teams, that's not our strength. If we want to utilise rashford/martial playing counter attacking is the way to go. And being Manchester united we have to drop deep to lure other teams to attack, more so against top team. Jose isn't stupid. He's not scared of the big team, that's just how we plan to play, just that sometimes it doesn't work out (city).
  20. Jan 2, 2018
    #20

    Red Indian Chief Torn Rubber Thus says Kemo

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    We are a transition team in the making, not a counter attacking one. We tend to catch teams in transition of play or tactics. That is why we can have the lions share of possession and be very patient with it. Rather than full throttle in attack. Its also vs tougher sides that it becomes more apparent.
  21. Jan 2, 2018
    #21

    Pogue Mahone Poster of the year 2008

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    I don’t blame the rivalry, I blame the fans consumed by it.
  22. Jan 2, 2018
    #22

    Andersons Dietician Full Member

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    I find it weird to call this a counter attacking side as there have been very few moments when we’ve actually gone after people swift and decisively from a break. Often the ball seems to land at Mata then all momentum is lost. I think it was Southampton tho the ball fell to him and he managed to get it out to someone and it fell apart. We are just pretty rubbish at counter attacking, we always seem to make the wrong choice or make a mistake or people don’t commit to it.

    Personally I don’t like to call SAF’s United a counter attacking team, I prefer to think of it as a team that could and would counter if the opportunity arose. They were lethal at it, I remember the one where Ronaldo finishes it off against Arsenal, I think there was a Nani one and a Rooney one vs Arsenal as well, then Rooney and Ronaldo vs Bolton. Just devestating when the opportunity presented itself.
  23. Jan 2, 2018
    #23

    Snow Somewhere down the lane, a licky boom boom down

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    I'm not sure how we define our attack at all. It all feels abit random how we go about.
  24. Jan 2, 2018
    #24

    wolvored Full Member

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    It doesn' matter how we play and we seem to play possesson and counter attack against the so called weaker teams, it's the lack of quality to get shots on target mainly that' the problem
  25. Jan 2, 2018
    #25

    AllezLesDiables Full Member

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    Yes, United’s scoring is heavily reliant on creating transition.

    If you notice each game against the top 6 involves lesser possession.

    If you look at the manner in which most of the goals are scored they typical come from turnovers by the opposition in bad areas leading to transition breaks.

    The problem is that an architect is missing in this squad to coordinate the attacks.

    Pogba is capable but it’s not where he excels. He’s much more dangerous when the responsibility of coordinating an attack is given to someone else and Pogba is given license to create havoc.

    It’s why Pogba is so much stronger in a midfield three.
  26. Jan 2, 2018
    #26

    desmondisback Banned

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    Very good point. Overall I think that football is moving in the same direction as many other sports. These days you need to be good at everything. In tennis it used to be that you could be a big server and good at volleys or baseliner. In snooker , a break builder but not so good at safety shots. Rugby big forwards or great running centres , expansive rugby or kicking Rugby.

    The trend is now to be good at everything. A tennis player that can't volley gets caught out no matter what his baselining is like. A snooker player needs a much more "complete" game , not just break building or potting. Rugby teams need to be able to kick , pass down the lines and rough it in the forwards.

    So it is in football. Good teams can rough it out in a physical battle , play a bit of tika taka , park the bus if needed , defend set plays well , counter quickly , play possession , go long , go short , slow the game down , speed it up etc etc.Obviously teams still have areas where they excel but they have to be good at everything to compete at the highest level.

    This is my biggest criticism of Jose. He seems narrow and restricted these days. He seems to not want us to be good at certain things because he thinks other areas will suffer. However , look at how Pep have developed De Bruyne. He's now a complete midfielder. He always had the silky skills but he's got bite and aggression too. For a relatively small guy he's no knock over. He also runs like mad closing people down. I'm sure this is Pep's doing because he believes in this idea of complete football with an emphasis on attacking and skill. De Bruyne , like many City players can do it all and they are encouraged to do it all. I'm pretty sure that Pep could get them doing a better park the bus than Mourinho because his team would break forward with passing and flair.

    Jose is slowly being outdated and I think he knows this somewhere. We have to be good at all of it. Jose hasn't got this in his locker and it all looks disjointed and wooden with flashes of what could be few and far between.
  27. Jan 2, 2018
    #27

    Organic Potatoes Full Member

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    No, because, even if we're setting up to be, we're not all that proficient at it.
  28. Jan 2, 2018
    #28

    adexkola Arsenal supporter Verified Moaner City Lover

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    What this guy said.

    I've said it before but I think that this City side counter better than any other side in England right now.
  29. Jan 3, 2018
    #29

    sherrinford Full Member

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    Conventional wisdom says that there are four phases of play in football; defending, transition to defence, attacking and transition to attack. Naturally, all teams have instances of being in all phases over the course of every game - so all teams both ‘attack’ and ‘transition to attack’. Counter-attacking, obviously, refers to a side’s ability in the ‘transition to attack’ phase. I would hypothesize that the same patterns of play are present in both of these phases.

    By definition, to counter-attack is to attack an opponent caught without adequate shape or numbers behind the ball, to exploit space before the defending team can sufficiently recover.

    Which is also what happens when a team plays ‘possession football‘ against a set defence (the ‘attack’ phase - a team essentially set in possession to look to break down a side set up in their defensive shape).

    Watching any great proactive side - Man City right now or Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid or Spain of the recent past for example - there’s a great misconception among many regarding how they play and why. They aren’t interested in keeping the ball for the sake of it, circulation was/ is always about looking to get forward, to progress the play and penetrate opposing defensive lines. When you look at the goals these kind of elite teams score or the chances they make, they create overloads and pull defenders out of position constantly - and they have the intelligence and technical quality to take advantage of those opportunities.

    Again, it involves the same patterns of play as a counter-attack - a side looks for areas where an opponent is out of shape or where they can create a numerical superiority and engineer chances through those avenues. And they must exploit those opportunities before the defenders react effectively and neutralise the advantage.

    However, in this phase of play a team has to be more patient and intelligent to succeed, with a set defence harder to break down than in the more vulnerable state you would find the same side immediately after losing possession. It is easier to defend 11v11 or 9v9 than ,say, 4v4 or 3v3, and likewise a numerical disadvantage is exacerbated by smaller numbers.

    When we see sides resorting to hopeful long balls and crosses and shots from deep, or pedestrian build-up play where the ball moves sideways and backwards to nothing, it’s a sign of a team struggling greatly in the ‘attacking’ phase for whatever reason; poor technical quality or lack of intelligence and understanding, or confidence, in players, or poor coaching. Of course, it could be great intelligence, understanding and execution on the part of the opposition players and manager in the defensive phase.

    I would argue that counter-attacking and possession play ultimately boil down to capitalising on the same things. I would also argue that to counter-attack is easier than to proactively break down an opponent.

    By extension, I would say that any side which excels in the ‘attacking’ phase of play, effectively using possession against a set defence, is therefore also effective in the ‘transition to attack’ phase, but a team proficient upon a turnover of possession isn’t necessarily so against a set side.

    I would, therefore, argue that discussion of a team’s predilection for either counter-attacking or possession football is largely talking about a team’s overall effectiveness in utilising attacking patterns of play. Top teams especially need to show a certain aptitude, the onus is on them most weeks to win the game against what is, on paper, inferior opposition.

    The more United struggle to get the opening goal in games, the harder it becomes to show their ability on the counter with any regularity. A point can be an attractive result against us, and the more laboured we are in possession the more our opponents will consolidate our difficulty.

    Not that I’m saying we’re good on the counter. We need to improve, being really rather ineffective and a bad watch overall in an attacking sense. I do agree with the notion that generally speaking, in games where we have not had the majority of possession it has been the result of a poor performance and not a conscious choice.
  30. Jan 3, 2018
    #30

    Scholsey2004 Full Member

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    I just think mourinho is sensibly cautious against the top sides and opens up more against teams we should typically beat.
  31. Jan 3, 2018
    #31

    Scholsey2004 Full Member

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    That's it really. We've got some good players but they're just not as good as the players we had when we were successful. Rashford and martial aren't as good as giggs, mata isn't as good as Beckham or Ronaldo, lingard and mkhitaryan aren't as good as peak rooney. They're all good players but if they're not as good then its not realistic to expect the same level of effectiveness.
  32. Jan 3, 2018
    #32

    Pogue Mahone Poster of the year 2008

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    You again. Change the record ffs...
  33. Jan 3, 2018
    #33

    Red Indian Chief Torn Rubber Thus says Kemo

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    Sorry but this is revisionism based on fanboish bullshit. KDB has ALWAYS been a player excellent at the defensive side of the game as well as the attacking side. Its the very reason as a teenager he was identified by Chelsea as Lampard's long term replacement. Its truly laughable that people are trying to pretend that Pep is the one who has made KDB good. Especially the reason KDB is good at the defensive side of the game
  34. Jan 3, 2018
    #34

    André Dominguez Full Member

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    We are a wannabe counter-attack team. We just suck at quick counters, but at least we try :D
  35. Jan 3, 2018
    #35

    Dir Wangem Banned

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    You can't play counter-attacking football when the other team plays with a deep defense-line. It's the football you play against equal or slightly better opponents that truly defines your "brand" of football. Which is why it's more useful to look at our possession stats against the other teams in the top 6:

    Arsenal (A) 25%
    Spurs (H) 45%
    Chelsea (A) 46%
    City (H) 35%
    Liverpool (A) 38%

    That gives an average of 37.8%. While we haven't been that effective on the counter, we're still very much a counter-attacking team. Scoring from counter-attacks is as much of an art as slowly penetrating(hurr-durr) the opponent with quick short-passing down the center. You need a team that ticks well for it to work. Right now, we're not quite there. There's still some fine-tuning that needs to be done.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  36. Jan 3, 2018
    #36

    wolvored Full Member

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    Exactly. Whether a better midfielder say swap Herrera for another Pogba type player, this would probably make the attack more efficient, but we should be buying WC or as near as dammit players as some of the players we have are nowhere near the standard we need.
  37. Jan 3, 2018
    #37

    Edgar Allan Pillow Was AFC, likes them hypoallergenic - no feathers

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    Lack of possession doesn't necessarily mean we are playing counter attacking football. It just means we are bad at recycling possession. I would put it more to Mou's defensive mentality and bad implementation of park the bus strategy. We really need a proper distributor from the deep to counter attack quickly. We lack a Scholes or Carrick who can control the tempo of the play, have a eye for long passes with ability to split open opposition. Mou wants us to play a counter attacking system for big games and is failing miserably at it.
  38. Jan 3, 2018
    #38

    desmondisback Banned

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    Don't you have anything to say in response to any of my points? If something is true IMO then I will keep repeating it. I make no apologies for wanting United to be a more complete football team.

    If you don't agree with me then debate what I am saying but to simply state that you find my presence an irritation to you and that I keep banging on about trying to play good football (presumably my "broken record"? ) isn't really that helpful and gives me little chance of responding to you properly.
  39. Jan 3, 2018
    #39

    Pogue Mahone Poster of the year 2008

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    I saw two lengthy posts from you blowing smoke up Guardiola’s arse, in quick succession, in threads that have nothing to do with him. If you make more posts on topic and fewer posts pining for a manager who won’t ever manage United you’ll get a better response.
  40. Jan 3, 2018
    #40

    desmondisback Banned

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    ...but De Bruyne has definitely developed the last two seasons under Pep do you not think? I agree that he probably did have that side to him as well but he's been heavily encouraged by Pep and he's brought something out of him. Let's face it you are right in saying De Bruyne did have it there but he was no Kante was he. Now he does everything really really well. I doubt it's a coincidence.

    I also wonder what happened with him and Mourinho at Chelsea. From what I have read De Bruyne did not feel that Jose valued him enough, yes? It seems likely that Jose missed something in De Bruyne.