Saturday, April 03, 2010

Fergie pushes his luck once too often and pays the price, as Chelsea take command in title race...

United were on the wrong end of a 2-1 score-line at Old Trafford today as Chelsea went back to the top of the table thanks to goals by Joe Cole and a highly controversial second half effort by substitute, Didier Drogba. Kiko Macheda scored a late consolation goal when it was 2-0.

Drogba's goal shouldn't have stood, it was clearly a yard off-side, it wasn't even a close decision to call; the fact it wasn't ruled off-side says a lot about the standard of officiating in the England at the highest level.

Carping aside, for the second time in a week, United were simply awful in the opening period. Ferguson elected to start with Berbatov up front; Park-Ji Sung was given the task of supporting the Bulgarian from an advanced central midfield position. While the ploy worked against Liverpool recently, it failed spectacularly today; not least because of the dreadful service given to United's 'front runners'.

United's passing was sloppy throughout the first half; further to which anyone who saw Barcelona's master-class against Arsenal in midweek, will surely have been struck by the obvious chasm in class when you compare what United served up in the opening period. While Barcelona played quick short passes to feet, in sharp contrast today at Old Trafford we had too many United players playing medium to long speculative (Hollywood) balls; Scholes was a prime example, time and time again he was guilty of playing high balls to the chest of Valencia - when they come off and United retain possession it looks great, but today it wasn't coming off in the first-half, frustratingly, the ball repeatedly went out for a Chelsea throw-in.

When United were not losing possession on the right, we had the spectacle of Vidic and Giggs giving the ball away cheaply in our own half - this just after the champions had worked hard to regain possession.

Then we had the spectacle of seeing Park-Ji Sung running around like a proverbial headless chicken and getting nowhere fast chasing lost causes.

Chelsea were pretty much in control for much of the first-half, largely because of poor decision making, both on and off the pitch. The visitors took the lead through Joe Cole, ironically, it was Fletcher who was once again guilty of failing to make a decisive challenge; instead he allowed Malouda to run into the United penalty area and his cross was flicked beyond van der Sar.

Quite why Fergie believed Neville and Scholes could start their third game inside a week is something of a mystery; for much of the season the pair of them have been bit-part players. One could understand the logic behind bringing Giggs back into the starting eleven, even though it meant the veteran trio's age is well over 100. Giggs has been out injured recently, but unlike Gary Neville, he's had a good season.

Neville was guilty of costing United a goal in midweek against Bayern; today he was marginally better, but again expecting him to cope with Malouda was asking a lot and here again questions should be asked, because Ferguson could have opted for the younger legs of Rafael, but he opted for experience. Nonetheless, once again United were opened up down Neville's right flank for the opening goal.

On the whole Neville's defending was better than against Bayern, but at times his distribution and control let him down. Both Scholes and Neville improved in the second-half as United mounted a rival, but we couldn't make it pay and just like in the first-half, it was blindingly obvious that Berbatov needed some support.

Ferguson made the stupid mistake of thinking Giggs could do that job; but he was probably the worst of the three veterans’ on show today. Critically, the United manager failed to act decisively; Macheda should have been brought into the action much sooner. Macheda and Nani were belatedly sent into battle for Park and Scholes, and not long after the Italian's name was on the score-sheet, but Drogba had already sealed the points with that disputed goal.

It was a definite case of too little too late on Ferguson's part. But in perspective, United have done well to still be involved in the title race, having lost so many games - it has been that sort of season.

However, you cannot escape the fact that the current squad has stood still for the last few season's. United have stagnated. The individual brilliance of Ronaldo and Rooney has covered up a lot of the underlying problems, but following the last two techncially woeful performances on the spin, the cracks and weaknesses in the squad look glaringly obvious. In midweek United were out played by a weakened Bayern team. Today in the opening period, United looked jaded and devoid of ideas.

The odds on United retaining the title will have lengthened following the events at Old Trafford this afternoon and rightly so. To make things potentially much worse, the Germans have every reason to be confident of making it a thoroughly miserable week for United fans when they visit Old Trafford on Wednesday.

If United are knocked out of the Champions League the manager can focus his mind on next season. The first big decision might well be to resolve his own future; does Fergie still have what it takes to continue? Assuming Fergie believes he still has the fire raging within, then he needs to get busy in the transfer market because this United team needs major surgery.

11 comments:

  1. We obviously were poor in the first half. We continued to suffer from poor control and use of possession.

    However, some of your criticism of SAF seems wrong. What choice did SAF have in the midfield? Nani for Giggs; Carrick for Scholes; or Gibson for Park?

    Starting at the back and working to the front, if Gibson started, I would bet my bottom dollar if we lost, you would have slaughtered SAF for that decision. As to Carrick for Scholes, he probably made a calculated decision about who he wanted fresher against Munich, apparently it is Carrick. Again, I think the same decision was made with respects to Giggs and Nani. Presumably we will attack quickly and on the counter on Wednesday against Munich, who best carries the quick adjective out of Giggs and Nani: not the veteran.

    While many will complain about Berbatov and missing Rooney, an astute observer should recognize that our flaw lies in the midfield. We do not have two midfielders that we can play together against top opposition and expect them to perform. Thus, we struggle now, especially with so many top games in quick succession. We only really have three central midfielders: Scholes, Fletcher, Carrick. With Hargeaves and Anderson hurt, we are not really in a position to give our players a reprieve during this tough spell.

    While many will scream, we should have already bought replacements, that statements is largely premature because it is predicated on the belief that the purchase should have been made in the summer. That would have eliminated the ability to see one last year of Anderson's development and what comes of Hargreaves. Now we know, at least a top shelf midfield player and winger are necessary.

    With that all that being said, what player is really out there that can come in; play well against top opposition; is available in the summer; and does not cost a king's ransom? Furthermore, who was there last year? I think you would struggle to name some, and I know you have on at least one occasion when I put the question to you on this blog.

    In conclusion, my point is that your criticism is largely over the top despite your likely belief that you are being objective and honest.

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  2. 619,

    If you've been reading my posts correctly you'd note that I've been questioning the wisdom of playing/starting with Scholes and Neville in the last three games. ( I will further expand on that point shortly)...

    The midfield has been source of most problems in the last two defeats and I've been banging on about that consistently...hence my comparisons with Barcelona's midfield..

    Now to make it crystal clear for you. Here is the question you need to ask yourself;

    Knowing the manager had three veterans' in his squad and knowing he had two of the biggest games of the season coming up, then why oh why didn't he make changes for the Bolton game when he could have brought in Rafael, Park and or Giggs?

    The point is, Fergie should have been making the most of his squad in a bid to save the legs of Neville and Scholes (that is on the assumption that he believes they are the best options in their respective positions). Ferguson deserves to be questioned because he hasn't made the right decisions in the last week; he has failed to make best use of the players in his squad.

    On top of which he dithered against Chelsea yesterday when it was clear Berbatov needed a genuine striker alongside him; Giggs does not come into that category - I used the term "pushed his luck" in my headline because the manager has been lucky in the past and he's got away with putting square pegs in round holes; I'm referring to Park and Giggs being asked to be second strikers, but yesterday his luck ran out and the rather obvious solution was to put Macheda on sooner, and when he did he went on to score...

    Now then on the wider point of "there's been no obvious targets to sign".

    Though I don't actually like him. Mourinho hasn't any problems in this respect, because he signed two genuine world-class players for a reported combined fee of 20million Euros.

    I'm referring to Wesley Sneijder and Lucio. Sneijder would have been the perfect replacement for Scholes; and prior to him moving to Real Madrid I'd heard we were in for him from a very good source, but for whatever reason it didn't happen.

    IMO, Lucio is a better all round defender than Ferdinand, whose been blighted with injury problems and he isn't getting any younger.

    Just harping back to my point about the veterans', what I ask is Fergie going to do next? Start with Scholes and Neville for the fourth game in a row? Fergie has been getting it wrong it is clear as daylight to me. When you have relatively 'limited' resources then you have to make best use of what you've got.

    Finally, regarding Hargreaves and Anderson; I doubt Owen is going to make a full recovery and I think we've seen enough of Anderson to realise he isn't going to be the player who will replace Scholes. Carrick has managed to rise above the Brazilian in the pecking order and that in itself speaks volumes because he's no world-beater either.

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  3. Mr 619, get your head checked !
    SAF has lost his touch managing united ..where were the subs ????? At 1-0 down at home , he makes his sub at the 70th min..what the fuck can the 2 players do in 20min ???? Bring in Mourinho ... get the shits like carrick out and get a proper midfielder !

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  4. SAF has made tactical and team selection mistakes in our loss to both Chelsea and Bayern in mid-week.

    When he had Queiroz rather than Phelan; the team was performing better in terms of ball movements/passing and attacking options; now they are relying mostly on long balls and losing possession often.

    SAF dependency on the 3 OLD horses is causing a handicap to the TEAM; and Pique recently revealed that Neville, Scholes & Giggs was in control at Man UTd, which cannot be a good thing for the squad especially the young rising stars !!!

    SAF and Mike Phelan should seriously look at relinquishing their posts in the summer to give way to a younger and more tactically/technically astute manager to take over the TEAM. Of course SAF should retain an management position given his historical achievements BUT he should also realize when its time to call it a day; just like Giggs, Scholes & Neville and give the youngsters an opportunity to move into the 1st team.

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  5. I completely agree with both 619 and Ryddel - the team does not have the midfield necessary to compete at the highest level. Criticism aimed at the strike force (Berba + Owen) has been fairly misguided all season.

    You can only be as good a forward as the midfield behind you. In Munich the midfield were blown away by a side supposed to be inferior.

    In the Chelsea game, Berbatov did receive two or three decent (not really great) crosses and made as much as possible except for the last minute chance. That was all for 90 minutes. Everyone behind him was crap even during the second half.

    United's forward play has always involved a lot of interchanging positions among the strikers, the wingers and the midfielders which can be a real joy to watch when it works. To do that well, the team needs more than two quality strikers with good movement an link-up play. It must be really worrying that United's most talented midfielders are STILL Giggs and Scholes. Fletcher's great at covering ground box-to-box, pressing and tackling but will not and should not be thought of as a creative force.

    Overall, in the striking department Rooney has been great on average despite having the odd disastrous game. Berba has re-emerged as a threat this season and although he will never be a clinical finisher has more than what it takes to be in the starting line-up.

    The problems start in central midfield. They cannot win possession and cannot keep it. We have a long list of players that are better than the limited midfielders of Bolton, Liverpool and the old legs of Milan but have been exposed by good mobile and skillful sides (e.g. Arsenal, Bayern).

    Who of the current central midfield would be good enough to start for Chelsea? Fletcher perhaps? Even that would be a marginal call over Essien/ Obi Mikel.

    Add to that an unstable right full back position and you may see why we have been dominated on several occasions in big games this season.

    Hence a priority for the summer transfers should be a creative central midfielder (e.g. Silva or Modric who both can also play on the left) not a striker.

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  6. I completely agree with both 619 and Ryddel - the team does not have the midfield necessary to compete at the highest level. Criticism aimed at the strike force (Berba + Owen) has been fairly misguided all season.

    You can only be as good a forward as the midfield behind you. In Munich the midfield were blown away by a side supposed to be inferior.

    In the Chelsea game, Berbatov did receive two or three decent (not really great) crosses and made as much as possible except for the last minute chance. That was all for 90 minutes. Everyone behind him was crap even during the second half.

    United's forward play has always involved a lot of interchanging positions among the strikers, the wingers and the midfielders which can be a real joy to watch when it works. To do that well, the team needs more than two quality strikers with good movement an link-up play. It must be really worrying that United's most talented midfielders are STILL Giggs and Scholes. Fletcher's great at covering ground box-to-box, pressing and tackling but will not and should not be thought of as a creative force.

    Overall, in the striking department Rooney has been great on average despite having the odd disastrous game. Berba has re-emerged as a threat this season and although he will never be a clinical finisher has more than what it takes to be in the starting line-up.

    The problems start in central midfield. They cannot win possession and cannot keep it. We have a long list of players that are better than the limited midfielders of Bolton, Liverpool and the old legs of Milan but have been exposed by good mobile and skillful sides (e.g. Arsenal, Bayern).

    Who of the current central midfield would be good enough to start for Chelsea? Fletcher perhaps? Even that would be a marginal call over Essien/ Obi Mikel.

    Add to that an unstable right full back position and you may see why we have been dominated on several occasions in big games this season.

    Hence a priority for the summer transfers should be a creative central midfielder (e.g. Silva or Modric who both can also play on the left) not a striker.

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  7. I can't believe the negativity that's present comments. Replace SAF and Phelan?? Seriously? Wasn't the same combination responsible for winning us the premier league title last year and also made us reach a second Champions league final in a row? Short memories,huh.

    Yes we screwed up, but then it wasn't a case of choosing wrong personnel but the ones chosen not performing. Apart from that the injuries to Anderson and Hargeaves haven't helped our cause one bit. Would you really play 'i can't make a ten yard pass but shoot a 25 yard screamer' gibson against nay of the side? We would have get creamed.
    And let's not jump on the managers back for choosing to play his most experienced players in our season defining games.
    Gaz did pretty well against Bayern expect for that handball and scholes was the only player in our central midfield who strung two passes together. It was a total team failure. You know it even when Pat makes a mistake.
    Chelsea are a quality side and a whole week's rest gave them that handicap advantage over a fatigued side.

    Coming to individuals. Carrick is a confidence player, he will come good.Our first of the three titles had carrick and scholes pulling the strings. And I say the same about Anderson. The reason being the resurgence of Nani. Not every young player turns out to be a messi or a rooney. Give them time.

    It's not over yet. We can overturn the bayern deficit. Remember what happened the last time united were 2-1 behind in the first leg with rooney scoring the away goal? We destroyed Roma.

    Lastly, when do we do it the easy way?

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  8. Overthinker,

    While some of the comments are a bit over the top, Fergie cannot go on forever, we all know that..

    Whatever happens in the next few games and whatever he decides to do in ref to his own future he has been the most successful British manager ever.

    I think part of the problem, as far as many people are concerned is that we are comparing what happened in last year's Champions League Final and what happened against Bayern last week.

    In a nutshell, we haven't done anything to address the problems in midfield (we cannot rely on Hargreaves and Anderson doesnt look like he's going to man who takes over from Scholes).

    In contrast Barcelona have raised the bar in terms of their level of play; against Arsenal they were quite simply magnificent. Barca slaughtered the same Bayern last season. The net result is that United's shoddy performance in Germany (and the some of the decisions leading up to it, like playing Neville and Scholes against Bolton) have left Fergie looking a bit dumb, because he's been flogging his veterans' instead of using them selectively as he has done prior to the last three games...

    We can carp all we want about the defeat to Chelsea, but once again the problems in midfield were highlighted. In second-half we had Neville allowing the ball to slip underneath his foot and Scholes playing the ball out of play on more than one occasion - these were signs of tiredness.

    Managers' are judged on results (obvsiously) and importantly what they do in the transfer market. As I mentioned in one of my previous comments. Mourinho signed Sneijder from Madrid (who wanted shut of all of their dutch stars) we could have snapped up the Dutch midfielder as part of the Ronaldo deal or made sure we got first option... But no, Fergie did NOTHING. IF you saw Sneijder play against Chelsea you should know what a major missed opportunity that was.

    Fergie has been a great manager for United, but we are being found out in the Champions League. We need to improve our game from every perspective and especially passing. Against Chelsea at the weekend there was far too many hollywood balls that simply did not come off. We are playing too many (poor) medium to long range passes and the net result is we are losing possession too often and too cheaply.

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  9. Emo,

    Fletcher isn't a great player IMO. One of the single biggest problems concerning our existing midfield is their collective passing ability, or lack of it. Carrick is supposed to be the best, but he's been seemingly axed following his 'no show' last week in Germany... Fletcher's passing is considerably worse than Carrick's.. then we have our South Korean headless chicken...


    The priority this summer should be to replace Scholes...

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  10. @ James Ryddel:

    That's what I'm saying as well - United need a player like the younger Scholes. I agree that Sneider would have been a great choice. Also good options would be D. Silva (if affordable), v.d. Vaart or even Joe Cole if we don't feel like spending.

    + You're right, Fletcher is not a great midfielder and that he has been our outstanding performer this year tells a story about the rest of the midfield.

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  11. Emo,

    Ok then we are agreed. It is precisely because United's midfield is so technically poor, that a player like Fletcher has been elevated beyond his capabilities. It makes me laugh when fans' talk of Fletcher in glowing terms. His passing leaves a lot to be desired.

    More over, United need to have a good hard look at their whole passing game. As I posted last week, Fergie could learn a lot from studying Barca's system and especially the way the build the play which revolved around short passing; but to do that you need players who can run all day long.

    Fletcher can do the running, but technically, he's not good enough on the ball.

    ReplyDelete

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