Sunday, September 28, 2008

Title form eludes United as Fergie pack shuffle fails to provide answers....

All the talk after United's two-nil win over Bolton centred on Rob Styles decision to award the Reds a dubious second-half penalty for a tackle on Ronaldo. It was a poor decision, but according to the melodramatic views of Sky pundit and ex-Arsenal star, Brian Marwood, it was "one of the worst decisions I've ever seen" as he put it (several times - is he blinkered?).

Referees' make mistakes every week and on this occasion it went in favour of United. The Champions have been denied several justified penalty claims in recent games, this fact is largely forgotten when a crucial decision goes in favour of United. It was seemingly ever thus.

While United were beating Bolton, Chelsea's Bosingwa scored his first goal for the league leaders, but in doing so he clearly handled the ball before his cool finish - in contrast to the Styles decision, there has been no national debate on what was an equally poor decision.

It's typical of the media to react as they have to the Styles decision - if we didn't know better you'd think that this was the first time that a referee has got it wrong, such has been the media focus on that second half-penalty award.

Bolton themselves will know that they could have - and perhaps should have been, albeit against the run of play - two-nil up after missing two gilt-edged chances either side of half-time.

United sealed the victory when Rooney came off the bench to replace a largely ineffective Carlos Tevez on 77 minutes. The former Everton striker linked-up superbly with Ronaldo as he went on to bamboozle Nolan and the Bolton defence, in a move which culminated in a truly world-class finish from the player dubbed by the fans as the "white Pele".

Despite the first league win at Old Trafford this season United were still unconvincing, as they have been all season thus far. In the lead up to the Bolton game Fergie had told the media that all big-name players accept and are well used to player rotation. This view is of course Fergie speak and after running it through our decoding machine, what the United boss really meant was "they don't like it, but they know they have to accept it".

Given United's slow start to the new campaign and contrary to Fergie's reasoning, there is a feeling that Fergie wanted to shuffle the pack in a bid to kick-start United's season.

With the AaB Aalborg fixture looming in the Champions League on Tuesday, it gave Fergie the perfect opportunity to axe Rooney, Scholes and Hargreaves. Fergie wanted to see how the strike pairing of Tevez and Berbatov would fair. Not only that, but Tevez did not deserve to be axed the previous weekend against Chelsea - Fergie, the fans and Tevez know this too.

While the forward line hasn't been functioning effectively to date, the midfield has been running out of gas after the opening 25 minutes of the previous two away games at Chelsea and Liverpool, from which the Reds dropped five points.

These are worrying times for Fergie, because no matter who the manager has selected to date, the Reds are not playing anything like Champions.

Cohesion between midfield and attack has been all too often lacking, particularly where craft is concerned. Against Chelsea last weekend after an excellent opening spell, United resorted to booting the ball long from the back, which is a tactic deployed by the desperate and those lacking technical ability.

Despite only playing a few games, Berbatov has not forged any kind of relationship with either Rooney or Tevez, which should be a concern for Fergie.

So far, we have only seen fleeting glimpses of what the Bulgarian is capable of, he was very unlucky not to score with an early first-half header against Bolton. As for Berbatov's general play against the Trotters, he showed enough to warrant a degree of optimism for what may lie ahead.

However, despite his size, Berbatov is not an imposing centre-forward, he is no Didier Drogba. In Berabov, United are quickly realising that they have not purchased an-out-an-out target-man; it is to hoped that Fergie was not under that illusion.

There has been flattering comparisons between Berbatov and Cantona, this unjustified assertion must stop right now. Like Berbatov, Cantona was no target-man, but he was a massive presence on the pitch, both in the minds of the opposition and in physique, what's more, Cantona was a grafter. From what we have seen so far of the Bulgarian, he doesn't have any of those Cantona qualities.

I can barely recall Cantona being tackled while playing for United, it happened but not often, more often than not; opposing players stood-off Eric, whereas at Anfield recently, on numerous occasions Berbatov was left heaped on the Anfield turf following the challenge of Liverpool defenders. Perhaps I'm being unkind, given that match was the Bulgarian's debut and of course next we faced Chelsea where it was a case of much the same.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how well Berbatov fits into the United jigsaw, right now the team isn't functioning well. Midfield is every bit as problematic as the forward line. Against Bolton, Fergie went with the young legs of Fletcher and Anderson, both did ok, but no more than that, both players can provide a supporting role to a genuine mifield general, but at present there is a distinct lack of generals in the United engine room.

On Tuesday United travel to Denmark, no one including Fergie knows what his best team is. United are not playing well, for these reasons we cannot rule out that AaB Aalborg will deliver a potentially damaging blow to the Champions of Europe. If we lose this match United will be embarrassed to put it mildly. Hopefully the Reds will win convincingly, but somehow I just do not see that happening on current form.

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