Monday, August 10, 2009

Rooney and Berbatov shine as new look United impress...

The Community Shield has all too often been little more than just another pre-season workout, but yesterday's curtain raiser provided much more than that. From a Manchester United perspective, it was the beginning of life without Ronaldo and Tevez following their high-profile departures, it was the first real test of Ferguson's re-jigged forward-line that consisted of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, so how did it go?

Well, United went on to lose the game on penalties following a two-two draw after 90 minutes -no big deal there - apart from the fact that Giggs and Evra took two of the most awful spot-kicks you are ever likely to see, but let's forget about the lottery of penalties and instead we should focus on what the fans can look forward to in the season ahead.

Personally, I didn't expect Ferguson to start with a 442 formation, but that is precisely what the manager did and all credit to him because it was a decision that could easily have backfired against a powerful looking Chelsea side who are keen to avenge recent defeats against the champions.

Nani and Park were on opposite flanks and in central midfield Fletcher and Carrick were in harness. Nani scored a very good goal and showed signs of improvement when working back for the team on defensive duties, but no doubting Ferguson will be taking him to task following a lapse of concentration which in part led to Carvalho equalising, in so doing wiping out the Portuguese winger's first-half effort.

It was so refreshing to see Rooney set free from being tied to the left flank where he has been stationed at the start of so many recent big games; his link-up play with Berbatov was very good. The Bulgarian had a fine game, so good in fact that he would have been my man of the match. I cannot recall seeing Berbatov play so well alongside any other United player during his relatively short time with the club, so there's much to look forward to there hopefully... at times against Chelsea, Berbatov's control and speed of thought was little short breathtaking. With the danger of going over the top, at times it seemed as though we were watching a different player because there seemed to be a greater sense of urgency where the former Spurs striker was concerned.

It wasn't just Berbatov and Rooney who played well in what was an absorbing opening period, barring Ben Foster in goal, the whole United team seemed to be sharper than the team in Blue. The champions first time passing and movement gave them an edge and the surging runs of Evra and Nani down United's left flank gave the West London club problems aplenty.

Both teams failed to capitalise on further first-half opportunities, but after the half time break it was Carlo Ancelotti's new team who took control of the game.

Chelsea are a very powerful side and they will always create chances against opposing teams who allow you to play and with Ferguson adopting a more offensive 442 formation, it was always going to be that way, however, the United manager had every right to be unhappy when Chelsea eventually took the lead through Frank Lampard (71), because moments earlier Ballack appeared to elbow Patrice Evra.

Michael Owen could so easily have put the champions on level terms after just failing to connect with a header after he'd replaced Berbatov late on. Fabio da Silva looked good at right back and Valencia looked useful when replacing Nani who came off with a shoulder injury.

In added time Wayne Rooney ensured the match went to penalties when he equalised after being put through by substitute Ryan Giggs.

On a day that ended in defeat there was many plus points about this United performance, the formation stood up to the power of Chelsea; the courage of Ferguson was rewarded with a fine fist-half display. It's very early days though and it will be very interesting to see how the new strike partnership of Rooney and Berbatov develops, the early signs look good with the Bulgarian looking as though he has taken onboard the manager's comments about the need for everyone to take up the challenge of replacing Ronaldo and his goals.

Result aside, there were some concerns, John O'Shea looked vulnerable at rightback and United's central midfield was stretched badly more than once in the second-half as the Reds pushed for openings in search of an equaliser. United were simply short on numbers at times and that's a dangerous game when you're facing players of the calibre of Drogba and Lampard.

Ben Foster looked nervous and edgy in goal and his kicking and decision-making left a lot to be desired on several occasions and Ferguson will no doubt be having some serious words with the stopper in the wake of what was a very average performance.

19 comments:

  1. I think Berbatov faded in the second half. And I didn't understand why Ferguson would allow the Bulgarian to drift wide while push Park up front. As it turned out Park had a poor 2nd half and Berbatov was marginalised.

    It was a shame we didn't get to see Valencia and Nani on opposing flanks. But the first half gave us much to cheer. We should do well against the middling to bottom sides. Against the top ones, it depends on how well we keep the ball and how our widemen develop over the course of the season.

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  2. About time you wrote something positive. I am glad Fergie stuck to his word and went along with the 442. It worked really well in the first half and was impressed with the energy in midfield. Flecther is turning into a brilliant player. Berba was good but im sure we will see him get better and better. Nani had his best game for a long time and thank god his injury is not as serious as 1st thought. It was a good competitive workout and im sure we will kick start the season with a win.

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  3. Tony,

    I agree with all of that and you're right about my recent output - I have been too negative about our prospects. In my defence, I must admit I don't pay a lot of attention to pre-season games, largely because many of them are meaningless friendlies added to which it's difficult to make any valued judgements due to the quality of the opposition.

    So for me yesterday's game with Chelsea really was the first big test and yes I was greatly encouraged by the manager and the team.

    I'd also add that Fergie is arguably one of the fairest manager's around - he could quite easily have started with Valencia, but he didn't he gave the more established players like Park and Nani their chance.

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  4. Red Ranter.

    Fair comments about Berbatov and Park. Berbatov is something of a free spirit and when he drops deep or wide it can give opposing central defenders a dilemma - do they folllow him or pass him on? United's quick incisive passing opened up Chelsea several times and Berbatov was at the heart of much that was good about the Reds attacking.

    As so often happens when we play Chelsea if we do not get that vital second goal when we are on top they will keep on coming back at us.

    Regarding the season ahead, I completely agree about the need to retain possession, on that note I don't know if United can play any better than they did in the first-half (apart from score more goals when we are on top). What I would say is I'm certain that performance sent out a clear message that United will be a strong force again this season.

    Ironically, I think Nani and Valencia can learn from each other's game. Nani can learn from Valencia's work-rate and the Ecuadorian can learn from the Portuguese star's finishing...

    Everyone is going on asking who will score the goals, but let's not lose sight of the main objective: Winning games - I'm sure this team can do that even against the accepted top clubs.

    All in all it looks like being a very interesting season.

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  5. forgot to add, one of the main reasons why i have been confidant is our spine, which has been successful for the last three years, is still there. Ronaldo was a luxury player and the majority of the time was playing for himself and not for the team. Adding a team player in Valencia could mean we will have a team that will be better defensively and a team when attacking will pass to someone who is in a better position, which Ronaldo rarely done. Along with Lampard he took the most shots in the league. So hopefully we can play a better passing game this year.

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  6. Irrespective of what label we give Ronaldo, his contribution has been nothing short of sensational going forward for the club during his time at United. Even last season when he knew he'd more than likely be leaving he still finished as top-scorer.

    With that said Valencia will almost certainly do a better job defensively for the team and if he can help provide the opportunities for others to score then who knows...

    I'm a lot happier about our collective prospects than I was prior to Sunday.

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  7. Nani and Berbatov both surprised me. I was dissapointed to see them both start as I was hoping to get a good look at Valencia and Owen but both players impressed me and played better than they had for some time.

    Im still not sure about Park tho. I think of him as great backup but it almost seems like he will be chucked in the left or right wing as and when needed while testing out winger combinations. I always felt like no matter the Ronaldo/Tevez situations that we needed a left winger and Park doesnt feel me with confidence in that position.

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  8. Berbatov and Park withered away to nothing in the second half. When things don't bounce his way the Bulgarian ultimately loses interest. Park never quits running, but he's never going to become a penalty area threat. Both needed to be replaced much earlier. Carrick was fine going forward but woeful against Chelsea's midfield probes. I think we need to think in terms of bringing Carrick on later sometimes after starting with a much more physical midfield of Fletcher and Anderson in central midfield with Nani and Valencia (or Tosic) shifting speeds and switching positions.

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  9. Dave,

    I agree with you about Park, I've always stated he lacks genuine star quality, but I guess you need to have a few grafters in the side - but the trick is to have quality too - that's just one of the issues Fergie is juggling with at present. Regarding Berbatov, if you've read Wayne Rooney's comments about the Bulgarian today he's basically saying what I'd posted about him yesterday on here, that is he looks more determined.

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  10. Ivor, I agree about Park with ref to his lack of goal threa, but I'll be totally honest here I've only seen brief highlights of the second 45. I saw the whole of the first-half and the shoot-out but due to time constraints I've not yet been able to look at the whole second-half, so I will take your word for it and you're not on your own as others have posted the same views.

    Prior to the game I didn't expect Fergie to start with 442, largely because I thought he feared being over-powered in midfield and with the addition of say Anderson then maybe United would have been better able to deal with the threat of Chelsea's power. With that said the thing is, in theory at least anyway, there's no reason why 442 cannot be as strong defensively as 433 - if you think about it, when Fergie was going with 433 he was selecting three specialist midfield runners with the addition of two wide-men in a bid to stop opposing fullbacks from raiding, but then you factor in Ronaldo and Berbatov's questionable defensive work and on occasion you are back to having four players who can be relied upon to defend when required. IF Valencia and Nani, Park or Tosic can do a job defensively, as they should be doing, then 442 might work.

    I do agree with you though that Carrick isn't good enough (I think that is what you're driving at) I've never really rated him if I'm honest, he's just so so regarding what it takes to become a top midfield player; his distribution can be good but woeful on occasion. His tackling isn't great at all and his running is acceptable, his finishing likewise. Fletcher is better at some aspects of the game, certainly tackling and running, but his passing can let him down. If you're going to adopt 442 on a regular basis you are going to need to monsters in the centre of midfield for the biggest of games and sadly United do not have that calibre of midfield player - but players like Keane and Robson come along once in a generation... sadly.

    So Fergie has another headache to deal with there and this is one of the reasons why I was recently suggesting United could try 352 because that is the only formation that would give the manager five in midfield and two up top - I still believe it could be done, but there has to be a willingness to try something different from manager and players alike - sadly Fegie is no great coach - great manager yes, but there's a very big difference. Fergie could have tried something different in the summer friendlies but he didn't.

    I still think United really did need to sign a 20 goals a season target-man / striker because if they had done that would have given Fergie another option of playing 451 on occasion, at present really we only have Macheda who might be able to play that role.

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  11. Finally a great blog... I loved the discussion about the game and the players.

    1. We played better in the community shield, than in 85% of our games last season. The fluidity of last season were absent, except vs the poorest teams. We were "saved" by the defence/goalie and the attackers.

    2. O'Shea and Park are great squadplayers, but not starters (I know O'Shea has scored some vital goals... lpool...)

    3. If the Silvas are fit, then they should occupy the right-back...

    4. Carrick is a good passer of the ball, but he needs a player like Essien, De Rossi or Gattuso to accompany him. Fletcher has improved greatly, but he isn't a world-beater like Keano and my favorite Robson were. If I were to spend money, this is where I would spend them... I'd spend £80M to get the right player here. I'm hoping that Anderson can be this player and the signs are promising. I don't think Gibson will do. I'm not familiar enough with the reserves, but I'm negative concerning this vital position.

    5. I was so happy to see Nani perform again and I was thrilled that we didn't sell him, because his potential is enormous. He actually worked defensively now and that was good. I'm not worried about our wings.

    6. I'm very happy we didn't buy a 20-goal plus attacker, since it would force Rooney on the wings or a gigantic loss of money by selling Berbatov. I believe in them and Owen. The biggest bonus to this is that it gives Macheda and Wellbeck the chance. So thanx for not buying Benzema or Aguero.

    7. If Hargreaves comes back, then our midfield will do, but I think and hope we buy a replacement for him (my point number 4). I just don't think he'll come back for the long run... I seriously hope I'm wrong...

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  12. Trends and Macros.

    Thanks for the kind words, if you stick around you'll no doubt go on to question my output as many do on this blog :0). Still it's a game of opinions...


    1. I agree with you, it was a very good team peformance and at times it reminded me of the old United (prior to the arrival of Ronalod) that never really relied on one player. Not sure about Van der Sarr to be honest with you, he's good but not as good as he used to be IMO. The defence has been the bedrock though...

    2&3. I totally agree, but we do need a smattering of squad players - unsung heroes if you like... the problem arises when you have too many players of this type in the first team.

    4&7. I agree here too, not sure about Gibson to be honest with you, there's another kid called Tom Cleverley, but like you I don't know enough about him. I think United might well have to go out and splash the cash as Hargreaves career looks to be coming to premature / sad ending.

    5. The jury is very much out on Nani, he's flattered to deceive on too may previous occasions, he must take whatever chances come his way and he must perform.. otherwise it's sianara...

    6. Fair comments. I agree with you about the youngsters getting a chance to shine, but only at the season's end will be able to fully judge this summer's transfer activity. However, Fergie might well decide to sign a new striker in January if things aren't going to plan, but after Sunday I'm hopeful we will do ok...

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  13. Good discussion... it's early days, so we'll see, but ultimately we need to finish our chances. Last season United had more missed chances than many other clubs in the Premiership had chances at all.

    So Rooney, Nani, Valencia, Park and Owen, we need them all on a hot streak of putting the ball into the back of the net. Then when the boys up up 4-0, well, if a few weaknesses are exposed, it won't really matter.

    Berbatov? Amazing player, but we need him to score goals if he is going to play up front. Maybe this is the year he is going to catch fire - I'd look forward to that!

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  14. Well it looks like we agree on a couple of things I see:)

    VDS might not have the lion-reflexes anymore, but the players trust him 100%... I'm hoping Foster gets his head out of his ass, so that he can be our new goalie. Fortunately he'll get a run of games now and if he fails to produce then we need to buy a goalie.
    Squad-players are what wins the trophies and I must admit that Fergie is a master at giving everyone their moment in the sun. I just hope that he would be more "cautious" with it in the big-games... O'Shea is definetely part of the backbone that has won a lot, so don't get me wrong here.

    I'm a little lost on who we should try to sign. We could use Essien, but he is unavailable I guess. De Rossi is my pick and we should price him out. But as James pointed out, we're missing creativity in central midfield and my pick here would be Sneijder or Van der vaart. the madristas can be bought on the cheap.

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  15. Trends and Macros,

    Regarding who we should buy, that's a very good question and I suspect even Fergie doesn't have an answer to that in relation to our midfield requirements.

    The thing is Fergie has stated United will play "differently" this season, but the trouble is it's easy to say but not so easy to continue winning consistently sans Ronaldo and Tevez (to a lesser degree).

    Fergie knows United can no longer rely on one big star to keep on scoring, so what are his options?

    If we look at our current strikers only Macheda looks capable of playing as the lone forward - so that limits his options in terms of formations; he cannot realitically go with 451 because the ball will keep on coming back as the main striker is likely to keep on losing poessession and our attacks will keep on breaking down. I'm not ruling out that Macheda could do the job - but Fergie has to give him the chance - so that is an option. The other option was to sign that 20 goal a season striker, a target man no less. Drogba would have been ideal IMO.

    Fergie did not sign that striker so he's having to change formations when reverting to 442 which is the sensible option given the players at his disposal. However, as happened on Sunday and in the Champions League final two years ago, United dominated Chelsea in the first-half, but it was the other way around in the second period.

    EP nailed this one with his comments that if we take more of our chances we won't have to worry about our midfield limitions which is all well and good if it happens. But what if it doesn't happen? That's the problem.

    I'm not sure about any of the players you've metioned to be honest. Finding world-class central midfield players is never easy, the Veron episode springs to mind - he should have been perfect for United but he flopped big time.

    I would liked to have seen Fergie trying 352 over the summer, because we have the players for that formation.

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  16. EP,

    I totally agree with your comments about the need to take our chances. Rooney goes through spells when he can't hit an elephant's arse with an banjo. Berbatov is something of an enigma - he can be quite brilliant one minute then totally anonymous the next, but the interesting thing about Sunday was his apparent change of attitude when working his socks off for the team - I picked up on this in my post and then Rooney alluded to it later in the week.

    Berbatov's link-up play with Rooney was the best I've seen since he arrived at United.

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  17. Trends and macros

    Great point on Van Der Vaart and Sneijder. They would both be available on the cheap and im almost certain top European clubs are waiting until the end of the transfer window so that they can dictate the price as Madrid will be in a desperate position to sell. Personally i prefer Sneijder and i would get him in on loan with an option to buy. For me he was the best player in Euro 08 outside the Spanish team. He is a joy to watch, two footed, creative, energy, free kick specialist and of course great technical ability like the majority of players.

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  18. Tony,

    A bit of name-dropping here, I was having some chit-chat with Patrick Barclay around 2 years ago and he told me that at the time United were after Sneijder...but as you know these things don't always come off for whatever reason.

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  19. The Community and the New United.
    Ok, United begin a strong moment. There is not the perfect player. 50 goals each season... There is not Cristiano. But here, in Spain everyone of us think Manchester is a great favourite in Champions League. I remember Michael Owen on Real Madrid: 1opportunity, one goal. I love Rooney, and Bervatov. I think United is a perfect option in Premier. I believe that, City or Tottenham will not win anything. Football isn´t only money. Why kaká won´t the City and prefer Madrid? History, supporters... They can´t buy this. Manchester is other thing. Is a great team and a great club. And Ferguson buy very well. The Manchesrer City, with Robinho will not win anything. Is a player very good, but not the best. And is very bad professional. Ok the premier is for the United. The Champions i think will win the Real Madrid. The final this season is on Bernabeu. The new team is incredible and play good already.

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