Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Will it be quintuple or bust for United?

United supporters will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the coming weekend and a return to Premier League action after what has seemed like an eternity due to the international break - which to me, seems to have really dragged on. It could well be the case that the defeats against Liverpool and then Fulham have made the break seem even longer - whatever the reason every day has felt like "Groundhog day" with barely any news to report on, save for Fabio Capello's tiresome "crazy man" jibe at Rooney.

Then we had our old friend, the ever optimistic Arsene Wenger posing the question; will United recover from the Liverpool defeat? In seasons gone by when Arsenal have been fighting it out at the top of the table with United the press would have had their usual field-day on the back of what could have potentially been another "war of words" between Wenger and Fergie, but the Arsenal manager's dig at the champions wasn't ceased upon by our all too often sensationalist news hungry media.

However, on this occasion I actually believe that Wenger has asked a fair question; will United bounce back and go on to win the big prizes or will the season fizzle out like a flat pint of lager?

The quintuple is still on, but the difference compared to just a couple of weeks ago is barely anyone is talking about it now, which could be viewed as a blessed relief. Nonetheless, some United fans are deeply concerned about the current malaise, so much so that I was talking to a Red who'd travelled down to Fulham and his reaction to a second league defeat on the bounce was United will be lucky to win any of the three remaining trophies on offer; his verdict was actually far more pessimistic than that but because I don't share those views I'm not going to post his analysis of what may lie ahead.

My own view, and with the very real danger of falling into the trap of using too many clich├ęs and stating the bleeding obvious, is that it could go one of two ways - it will either go pear-shaped or it could be the season to end all seasons. If I'm being totally honest, at this juncture I'm leaning towards the former rather than the latter, there's many reasons why I have lost some of the confidence I had just a couple weeks ago.

Wenger is right to say that United might not recover from the Liverpool defeat, because they might not rediscover that record-breaking blistering form that saw them climb to the summit of the Premier League table.

For his part, Fergie, bless him, tried his best to convince anyone who'd listen that United were the better side - let us be honest, it was a ridiculous thing to say because if that 4-1 defeat was reversed and if Rafa had come out with the same claptrap we United fans would be demanding the men in white coats come to take him away, to the funny farm...ha, ha, he, he.

On this occasion, Fergie's views cannot be taken seriously regarding the Liverpool defeat, to make it even worse in the very next game when the manager had promised a response it duly arrived with the axing of Rooney and Tevez as United went on to lose two-nil against Fulham who we'd convincingly trounced in the FA Cup just a few weeks before.

In a strange way, the Fulham defeat was much worse than the loss to Liverpool, because United needed to bounce back, but they lost again, ok there was some mitigating circumstances like the Scholes sending off, which gave United a mountain to climb, and then Rooney eventually saw red, after receiving his second and unjust yellow card from hapless Phil Dowd.

Apart from those gut wrenching defeats, the worry is that player confidence is on the wane. Fergie hasn't really helped the situation by chopping and changing so much because even before those two defeats some United players will no doubt have been bewildered about Fergie's selection policy; I refer to the likes of Fletcher and Anderson, who are finding it hard to get a game.

Then we come to Vidic and Evra who until recent events have been sublime, but their collective confidence must have been badly shaken. That said, providing the midfield and forward line do their jobs I have no fears about the back four regarding what lies ahead. However, the midfield is the real worry - that and Ronaldo's apparent lack of interest. I cannot help but feel Ronaldo's time at United is coming to an end. I no longer see the desire required to play in Red from the World Player of the Year, to me he is simply going through the motions.

Fergie is over reliant on Ronaldo, but when you rely on one player too much, what do you do when he's not playing well? That is one of the dilemmas facing the United manager. Fergie has so far done a magnificent job this season, even if he's chopped and changed, his record shows that his policy has worked, that is until now. Because the United manager is going to have to use all of his powers and every trick in the book to ensure the champions have any real chance or retaining the trophies they won last May and the possibility of winning the FA Cup again.

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