Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Manchester derby omens don't look good for United....

IF Mark Hughes and Manchester City were watching United's 0-0 draw with Villarreal last night they will no doubt be full of confidence going into Sunday's derby at Eastlands, because frankly going off recent performances there's little to fear about this current United team. In fact, the biggest danger as far as City are concerned is being over confident going into this game, United and Reds' fans know all about that particular problem following defeats on the road at Liverpool and Arsenal recently.

City have had their fair share of problems this season too, which to a degree have centred around injuries at the back and some calamitous performances by Richard Dunne, who come the season end will able to run a one man own goal of the season contest.

The Blues had a great win against Arsenal last weekend further to which league positions can mean little ahead of derby games, but I don't want to dwell too much on the current City team, because United have their own problems.

Can I ask what in the mother of Mary is Fergie doing playing John O'Shea at right-back when he has Rafael da Silva at his disposal? No one will convince me that the Irishman should be getting a game at right-back in preference to the Brazilian. Yet, in the absence of Brown and Gary Neville, O'Shea has started the last two games. Let me be clear on this issue, I personally do not want to see Neville or O'Shea facing Robinho this Sunday - it is a nightmare prospect as both are too slow on the turn, Neville has lost at least a yard of pace and O'Shea never had any to start with, plus he has the maneuverability of a double wardrobe.

So what else is wrong about the current United team then? By way of attempting to answer that question let's look at the performance against Villarreal - who by the way look like a shadow of the team they've been over the last few seasons.

Fergie started last night's game with a 4:3:3 formation, with Nani on the left and Ronaldo on the right and Rooney down the middle. The general idea was that Ronaldo was given licence to roam and support Rooney.

The champions of Europe showed early promise during the opening 15 minutes or so with Patrice Evra taking the eye when raiding down the left flank, with the Frenchman linking up well with Nani and Ronaldo when playing neat one-twos.

Sadly, apart from a great effort from Ronaldo just before half-time, it pretty much went downhill after that all too brief opening spell by United. In fact, the performance on the night mirrored exactly what happened at Villa Park last weekend - a reasonable first-half was followed by a dire second-half performance - it was another occasion that United barely tested the opposition 'keeper and once again failed to score.

I have no doubt that some die-hard (blinkered) fans will hold the view that United were not really trying to win the game last night, and that 'we did what we had to do'. If only I believed that to be true.

The fact is United were trying to win last night, but it isn't happening right now. The team isn't being helped by the manager, who unlike the likes of Jose Mourinho has that ability to change tactics in-game often resulting in positive outcomes.

With Fergie, he makes the changes but all too often it is just more of the same. Many a rival will tell you that without Ronaldo United are nothing, well as things stand even with him the same is true and perhaps therein lies the problem. United and Fergie have become over-reliant on one man - it is hard to escape that conclusion.

AS Clive Tyldesley said in his commentary last night, United and Ronaldo are some way off at present and he's right. The Villarreal fans were waving their white hankies at the Portuguese winger late on following a debatable red-card for Joan Capdevila for a knee-high tackle on the United star.

I have to report that the white hankies were out long before the Villarreal fans in my abode and they were being directed at our other Portuguese winger Nani and then later at Fergie for bringing on Park.

It took Fergie until the 85th minute to bring on the one man who might have changed the game for the visitors, I refer to Carlos Tevez, he is at least a footballer and one who is a genuine United player unlike Park and Nani, one flatters to deceive the other simply isn't good enough.

On the wider point of tactics, Rooney can play as a loan striker, but he's not nearly as effective compared to when he's given licence to roam when paired with another striker.

The net result of the ineffective performances and the 4:3:3 formation left the midfield with too few passing options up front - added to which all too often United's distribution was poor too, particularly from Carrick, Fletcher and O'Shea.

The 4:3:3 also left United short in midfield, largely because of poor use of the ball with it being gifted back to the Spaniards'. United face City this coming weekend, the manager cannot afford to allow City's midfield to hit the Reds on the counter attack as they do go forward in numbers. Despite Robinho filling the headlines, Stephen Ireland has been the real star of the show for City this season following several match winning performances when driving on from midfield.

There is no easy way of putting this, but I have zero confidence in United's chances of winning on Sunday, not unless Dunne does us a favour or else we nick it by the odd goal. I for one will settle for another draw right now.

I make no apologies for the negativity contained within this post because it is my honest assessment of the current United.

To end on a slightly positive note. When he wasn't slipping on his backside, Jonny Evans looked really at home in the centre of defence alongside Rio Ferdinand and there were few genuine moments of panic at the back against Villarreal. United are not conceding goals at present, but we are not scoring them either and the latter will not win us the derby or any trophies.

City have to travel to Germany on Thursday night to face Schalke in the UEFA Cup. Mark Hughes, knowing how important Sunday's derby result will be, could rest some stars for fear of injury and or tiredness - and that is United's best hope in that we should be the fresher of the two teams.

The great United match-ticket giveaway...

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