Kenny Archer: Manchester United keep it interesting at top of Premier League

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mhkitaryan have been one of the forward units of four Jose Mourinho has employed with success at Manchester United this season
Picture by PA

A UNIVERSITY friend of mine used to sneer at the titles of certain courses in the mathematical and scientific spheres.

He came up with the label TLAs - standing for ‘three-letter acronyms’. As a history student, I never needed such contrivances. However, I’ll now turn to a FLA (four-letter acronym) to talk about - funnily enough - FLAPs.

You’re right to get excited by that description; it represents ‘Four lads, attacking players’. Despite the suggestions from some quarters that soccer is headed on an increasingly defensive downward slope, the top teams at least appear to be putting more attacking eggs in their baskets (if that’s not mixing too many metaphors).

Barcelona are renowned for their ‘MSN’ front three of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar, but even those three brilliant attackers do not function as well without the main, er, MISN man - Iniesta.

Similarly, although Real Madrid have their ‘BBC’ of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo up front, they need the play-making, passing ability of German midfielder Toni Kroos to make KBBC a much more enjoyable watch.

Chelsea are an exception among the high-flying English teams, with their 3-4-3 system including two wing-backs and two ‘holders’ in their midfield four, although - as discussed in a recent column - they’re still exciting going forward. And when Fabregas is involved, he’s certainly a play-maker for Costa, Hazard, and Willian (or Pedro). The other top English sides all often have opposition defences in a FLAP, however.

At Manchester United, Jose Mourinho has seen sense sooner rather than later in his selections, with the regular inclusion of Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera as his deeper midfield ‘two’ providing the quality platform so that their attackers can flourish.

They’ve had their supporters raising celebratory glasses recently with their PIMM four - Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Mhkitaryan, and Mata (or Martial). Sometimes, they’ve been PRIM but still playing proper football, with the pace and skill of young Rashford included. They’ve even been able to occasionally include that other ‘R’ - Rooney. Remember him?

Liverpool have taken the concept of branding all the way with their recent first choice FLAP, LFCM, namely Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho, and Mane. They’ll miss the latter this month, Sadio Mane away at the African Nations Cup, while the creative class of Coutinho has been absent through injury.

Yet, despite missing men, Jurgen Klopp has remained committed to mostly getting four very attacking players on the pitch, even if that means Lallana being deployed deeper, with Origi and Sturridge regularly involved.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has annoyed some of their fan-base by what they regard as not a very WOIS (say it with a yokelly accent) selection, comprising Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, and Sanchez. Occasionally he’s even appeared a bit of a WOOS, with Oxlade-Chamberlain brought in for Iwobi, although that actually makes the team more attacking.

What many vocal Gunners want are different GOIS (yokel accent again required) up front - including Giroud, a classic centre-forward, as a target man instead of starting with Walcott in the team and Sanchez as a ‘false nine’.

That change has worked fairly well recently, with Giroud getting goals, but Arsenal have still had to come from 3-0 down at Bournemouth and from behind to beat Preston North End, so that system isn’t perfect either.

Manchester City can make opposition guts tremble with their ‘BASS’, made up of de Bruyne [work with me here], Aguero, Silva, and Sterling 
(or Sane).

Spurs often leave opponents saying ‘Four **** SAKE’ when they have Son (or Sissoko) on the pitch along with their regular attacking triumvirate of Allie, Kane, and Eriksen.

The leading teams are no longer packing their midfields with workhorses, ‘wide midfielders’ who work back. There aren’t as many free-flowing wingers any more but at least the inclusion of four attackers makes for fairly attractive spectacles.

As these ‘Star Wars’ continue, let’s hope attacking attitudes continue: May the Fours be with your team.


Declan Brennan (left) and Mícheál Briody at Monday's launch of the Club Players' Association at Ballyboden St Enda's
Picture by Sportsfile  

THERE’S been plenty of comment about the Club Players’ Association.

As they recognise themselves, and as Aaron Kernan, their ‘grassroots co-ordinator’ made clear in his column yesterday, the time for talk is over.

Well, there will continue to be talks, with the GAA, with county boards, with players and officials, but there is a need for action. Effecting the major changes to the GAA’s fixtures calendar that are required to improve the lot of club players will clearly take time.

The question is how long should the CPA wait to get what they want, or at least get the calendar to move closer to a situation that they would be comfortable with?

At present, the mood is conciliatory, with CPA Secretary Declan Brennan and Kernan both having expressed a wish to work with the GAA, not fight against them.

Yet how long will those good vibes last if the Association digs its heels in, declining to make significant alterations to the inter-county schedule?

The time may come when the CPA has to take a stronger stance against the GAA. As the Gaelic Players’ Association did in the past, that might involve at least the threat of withdrawal of `labour’.

A national day of action is planned in the UK next month - February 20, to be precise - to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the British economy, culture, and society.

Gaels should be able to empathise with the concept of ‘One Day Without Us’, which includes the suggestion that migrants, and those who support them, might stop work for a time on that day to show how much they matter, how positive their involvement largely is.

I’m not calling on the CPA to threaten a strike - not this year, anyway. However, if there isn’t satisfactory movement, or commitment to change, by next spring, perhaps they could plan a twist for 2018, the year of the centenary of ‘Gaelic Sunday’.

On August 4 1918, an estimated 54,000 players participated in hurling and football matches throughout Ireland, having defied a demand from the British authorities in Dublin Castle that permits would be required for all such Gaelic games.

There mightn’t be much club action on that date next year anyway, but perhaps a day of NOT playing - or even a delay in playing - club games on a particular Sunday in 2018 would catch the eye, and the attention of the authorities.

While I’m in the mood for word-play, perhaps they could call it `Gaelic none-day’.

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