Friday, June 05, 2009

Season review Part I: United should be proud ...

The season is done and dusted, while it was one of great success its conclusion left many fans with what is undoubtedly a bitter aftertaste.

In a long, drawn out season, spanning 66 competitive games (57 last season), Manchester United should be proud to have only lost eight games in all competitions.

Loses to Arsenal and Fulham away, as well as a double reverse against Liverpool in the league, plus Cup losses to Derby County, Everton, Zenit and a final defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League saw United win a stunning four pieces of silverware from a possible seven.

Many of the 'pundits' hyped-up United in the build up to the Champions League Final, and the very same experts took it upon themselves to find fault with the club, its players staff, skills, strategy, tactics and mindset in the wake of the outcome.

However, if at the start of the season, four trophies had been offered to us, I'm sure the manager, the players and the fans would have taken the deal, especially as it included a record equalling 18th top-flight League title.

There's no denying that United didn't play their best-ever football this season, we played well enough to get the required points, but we never went on a really hot streak of demolishing teams three or four nil.

United played 12 games in which they didn't score (six games last season), 22 games in which they only scored once (23 last season), 14 games where they scored twice, scored three goals in eight games, and in 10 games United scored four or five goals (five games each).

In the games that they did score four or five goals, they only kept a clean sheet on four occasions. That means that more often than not, whenever United scored lots of goals, we needed to score them to win the game because the defence couldn't keep the opposition out.

This shows some really good team spirit, a will to win, the "never give up attitude" that Manchester United are so famous for.

However, it also shows the problems we didn't really address over the season. Last season's double was won on the back of Cristiano Ronaldo's phenomenal success and more than capable support provided by a whole squad of players across the length and breadth of the pitch. The impact of Dimitar Berbatov has been another huge debating point, with many fans suggesting the Bulgarian has if anything made United less of a potent attacking force, because he has often played at the expense of the all-action Carlos Tevez.

This season, Cristiano has understandably failed to reach the same heights, and United have played a squad game, with a more defensive approach, keeping it tight at the back and scoring one or two goals to seal the points.

On many occasions United have been more cautious, less willing to take risks, and played a slower brand of football than in previous seasons. In the final third, we seemed to be less composed and did not convert many of the chances that we created. At times United’s famed free-flow approach to attacking resulted in some awesome approach play and on occasion, some great goals and some spectacular misses. At other times, the side has looked a bit confused, and too reliant on Cristiano to provide the creative spark.

Before Ronaldo was the phenomenal player that he is, United epitomised their name and reputation as an attacking team. Goals came from all over the park, assists came from all over the park - there were infinite routes to goal. That's the kind of football all United fans love to see.

No doubt we like seeing Ronaldo showing off his skills, beating players with pace and scoring goals from all manner of distances and angles, but I’m sure many United fans would rather see their team play a more all round game where everyone is pulling the team in the right direction.

Some experts say that Fergie has made slight changes to the way United play so as to further the club’s chances of winning the Champions League again, it very nearly worked for the second season in a row and contrary to the reaction in England to the result in Rome, this current squad is as good as any in Europe. The big challenge for the manager is to improve on the achievements of the last three seasons.

By Vishnu Chari

Season Review Part II will focus on the major turning points in what has been described by some as the best Premier League season for many a long year.

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