Sunday, March 22, 2009

United all at sea in gathering storm....

Last weekend United were on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, it was a result that sent shockwaves round the football world. After that game Fergie tried his best to convince the fans and media that his team didn't deserve to lose because United were the better side - it is akin to a boxer saying he didn't deserve to lose after been out-pointed before being sent crashing to the canvas in the eleventh round. When you've been badly beaten, better to admit your failings, because many will either politely ignore you or they won't take you seriously.

After that Liverpool defeat, the United manager promised there would be a reaction - because there always is - having benefited from a week's rest, everyone was hoping that the champions would hit back in the best possible way by getting back to winning ways against Fulham on Saturday. It didn't happen as once again United were sent crashing to the canvas when losing two-nil. The result while not being season defining has re-opened the title race that only a week ago looked like a formality.

The Liverpool defeat was hard to stomach given that United contrived to throw the points away with an error ridden performance. Many in the media are claiming that United have been rattled by the Liverpool reverse; it is hard to argue with that point of view because if one was going purely off results, on current form United are relegation material having conceded six and scored just one goal in two games.

The defence that has looked so solid all season now looks as dodgy as any in the division. Last weekend Vidic and Evra were forced into making catastrophic errors. Against Fulham, it was the turn of trusted midfield general Paul Scholes to have a complete aberration when handling the ball on the United goal-line, it was an instinctive arm movement by Scholes which left referee Phil Dowd no option but to brandish the red-card.

While United fans will be hugely disappointed with the result they will have a degree of sympathy for Scholes and the rest of the team, because when they went down to ten men they gave it their best shot and were unlucky not to come away with a share of the spoils. The fact that United left Craven Cottage empty handed was hard to take, but seasoned United fans well tell you the Red Devils rarely do it the easy way and have a habit of leaving the fans biting their nails until the last day of the season.

The champions ended the game with just nine men after Rooney received his second yellow-card, this after coming on at half-time when replacing an out of sorts looking Berbatov; it was a switch that transformed the visitors with the former Everton striker at the heart of everything that was good about United's attacking play. Park was unlucky no to score and Ronaldo, who once again way below his best, should have done better with a second half-header.

It was entirely predictable that Fergie would later question Rooney's second yellow card and resulting sending-off, which was for throwing the ball away, because United were on the attack and the play had to taken back. Frustration had got the better of Rooney - no doubting Phil Dowd will argue it was an act of petulance. However, many will agree that Dowd's interpretation of the rule on this occasion was wrong, added to which lack of consistency on such incidents was highlighted on the same afternoon when Ashley Cole threw the ball away after gifting a corner to Spurs at White Hart Lane, the difference being the Chelsea fullback went unpunished.

In truth, Dowd gave United little at Craven Cottage, Ronaldo was the victim of several challenges that went unpunished. Once again, United fans were left asking is it one rule for Ronaldo and another for the rest? The quality of our referees leaves an awful lot to be desired, a fact that was underscored by Dowd's rank bad performance.

Ferguson's own performance will not escape the scrutiny of the fans and many will be wondering exactly why United's most potent weapons were left festering on the bench against beatable opposition in the shape of Fulham.

United were not playing Inter Milan, yet Fergie left out Tevez and Rooney. Why? Perhaps this was the response that Fergie had alluded to earlier in the week, which was to axe those deemed to have under-performed against Liverpool the weekend before. It was surely no coincidence that Darren Fletcher came into the starting eleven along with Giggs and Scholes.

Fergie recently confirmed what many had suspected for some time that is he doesn't know what his strongest team is, which is worrying as far as I'm concerned. After two mind-numbing defeats on the bounce, no one is about to question Fergie's record, but there can be no doubt that United's collective confidence has been shaken to the core.

In such troubled times, other well known opposition managers' might well opt for a belt and braces approach by sending out what is deemed to be their strongest eleven; While at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho had an accepted first eleven - every one of those players knew that they would start in the most difficult fixtures. In stark contrast, at United Fergie chops and changes at will - no one, save for the back four and Ronaldo can be sure of their starting place.

Of particular concern to United fans should be the fact that there's no leaders in midfield, Michael Carrick has been nothing short of woeful in his previous two games. Scholes has been poor too, only Ryan Giggs has performed with any degree of consistency throughout the season and he was once again United top performer against Fulham, along with Rooney.

Fergie cannot be accused of allowing the players to rest on their laurels; by axing stars he is trying to keep them on their collective toes. It is to be hoped this chopping and changing starts to work as successfully as it did prior to the Liverpool game.

One thing is for certain, it is going to be another bumpy ride, but if you're going to have a sticky-patch, better in March rather than April or May - because at least there's time to get it out of the system before the business end of the season comes around.

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