Sunday, December 30, 2007

End of year horror show as Reds pay price for complacency...

Manchester United ended the year with a horror show of a performance at Upton Park on Saturday when they deservedly went down losing 2-1 after being a goal in front, courtesy of a first-half headed Ronaldo goal, which was scored against the run of play on the counter-attack.

Going into the game, Fergie had left out Wayne Rooney and Anderson in preference to Saha and Fletcher and there was no Edwin van der Sar for the third game in a row. Had the missing trio been in the side from the start it may well have been a different story, but they weren't and West Ham were good value for this victory as they wanted it more than the United players.

United missed the chance to make it 2-0 when Ronaldo's second-half penalty went horribly wrong when blazing wide, not long after Aton Ferdinand equalised from a corner with a good header before Upson scored the winner on 82 minutes with another headed goal from yet another set piece. After the game Ferguson said that United had not performed and hinted that he was less than happy about the manner of the two West Ham goals which came from set-pieces.

However, in a bid to win the game it appeared as though Fergie tried to shut-up-shop and defend their slender one-nil lead when he replaced Tevez with Anderson on 64 minutes. Fans were left to speculate on the logic behind this decision, no doubting it was designed to rest control of midfield from the Hammers but to also close down the game, but with over 25 five minutes remaining on the clock it was far too early to start running the clock down. As things turned out it was a tactical howler by the United manager as it led to the Hammers having even more of the ball as the Reds only had the totally ineffective Saha up front.

The Hammers often seem to reserve their very best performances for the visit of Manchester United, Hammers fans and Reds supporters will be hoping that they continue in the same vein against the other top teams when they visit Upton Park this season.

As a result of this setback and Arsenal thrashing Everton at Goodison Park, it's the Gunners and not United who start the new year in poll position, if the first half of the season is anything to go by it looks like it's going to be a fantastic race to the finish.

If there is an upside to this setback, it comes in the hope that Ferguson finally realises that he cannot afford to tinker too much with his starting line-up. Anderson must start every game when fit, because he is head and shoulders above Carrick and Fletcher as is Hargreaves. Against West Ham the Reds never really controlled midfield and of course whoever dominates the engine room often wins the game.

Against the Hammers there was no Wayne Rooney who was left out of the squad completely which left United with no striker on the bench. Once again there is talk of a Rooney 'injury' but the suspicion is that Fergie had sanctioned his own 'mini-winter break' for Wayne. It's likely that Rooney will be back for the Reds against Birmingham which if true will only add fuel to that theory.

The battle for top-spot is so tight that some Reds would like to see Fergie starting with his strongest eleven every week and follow the Mourinho trend rather taking the tinkerman trail. No matter what team Fergie selects though, to a man they will have to match the opposition players for effort which did not happen against the Hammers on Saturday.

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