Friday, January 07, 2011

United must improve, or else City could secure title...

United might well have a two point lead at the summit of the Barclays Premier League, but followers of the club must have doubts about the team's ability to stay at the top, given our away record.

Just a week ago Nemanja Vidic said "Our away record is not something we're proud of, yet here we are top and still unbeaten. But we want to improve and we must play better." The United captain is right, because the leaders still have to travel to Stamford Bridge, The Emirates, White Hart Lane, Anfield and neighbours City have to come to Old Trafford. The problem is so far this season United have struggled against the clubs outside of the top four and so the biggest tests are yet to come.

At the beginning of the season, it looked as though Chelsea would once again be the team to beat, but following the sacking of Ray Wilkins the West London club have fallen away in the title race. While it would be foolish to write off Chelsea, it now looks as though it will be United, City and Arsenal who will be the main challengers. If United were playing well away from home and winning, then there'd be good reason to be optimistic about travelling to Aresenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs.

The worry is United have been unconvincing, especially away from home where the leaders have drawn an incredible seven games - that's twice as many as City. United have only won twice on the road; at Stoke and at West Brom. In contrast City have won six games on their travels.

So what exactly has the problem been this season? There is no simple answer, there are in fact many reasons. United have been lacking width in some recent games and there's no doubt that Valencia has been missed on the right.

Ferguson, somewhat bizarrely, started the away game Birmingham with Giggs on the right; Ryan has been a great professional, but he's one of the most one-footed player's in the division - sometimes these switches can work when the player in question cuts inside on to his stronger foot - but in this instance the ploy failed miserably - but that was just one game. Despite being top of the division currently, there has been too many un-United-like peformances this season.

Matters have not been helped by the constant changes in midfield. Players like Fletcher has been in and out of the starting eleven over the last few weeks and you wonder if it that has been entirely down to injuries, or has it been the case that Ferguson has been unhappy with his inconsistent form? Anderson has blown hot and cold, but he like Fletcher he has been inconsistent.

We have also seen United starting 'bread and butter' away games with a European like 4-3-3 formation; clearly Ferguson does not trust any two midfield players to start with 4-4-2 against the likes of Birmingham, who admittedly are enjoying a good season, but you'd normally expect the Red Devils to approach such away games with a more attacking line-up.

Then there's the question of who should lead the line when Fergie starts with 4-3-3; last season, that man would have been Rooney because he's deemed most suitable to play the lone striker role, but of course the former Everton star has been mired in controversey and his form has been patchy since he returned to the team.

When Fergie starts with a 4-3-3 formation, the balance hasn't been quite right, because while Rooney can and will drift out on to the left wing, he's not a specialist winger. United need Rooney in the box like last season when he plundered all those goals.

For those looking for positivity, the defence has played very well since Rio Ferdinand recovered from his early season injury problems alongside the defensive rock that is Vidic. Wayne Rooney has been showing some recent signs that the hunger and desire is coming back to something like what we have come to expect. Valencia will hopefully come back at some point in February in time for the title run-in, that's assuming United are still in contention. And finally (but don't bet on this actually happening)Brazilian ace, Kaka has been linked with a loan move to United..

Ferguson is confident that United's form will improve over the course of the second half of the season, but the manager is basing that prediction on previous years - the worry is United have been playing nothing like their best in the first half of the season. Hopefully, Ferguson will be proven right, again...

Of the other title contenders Manchester City are a very real threat, they have the best away record in the division and their defence has been solid. As we saw against Arsenal this week, City's brand of football isn't pretty, more functional, but they have demonstrated that they can grind out results when the need arises, much like United have done down the years.

Hopefully, Arsenal will keep up the presssure on United and City, because for obvious reasons we Reds fans want the title race won by the current leaders or else one of the London clubs...

8 comments:

  1. This new 4-2-2 formation you speak of is an interesting one.

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  2. I'm not sure exactly what makes me so confident, but I would bet much of my material possessions (and a few family members) that City won't win the league. They will learn that there is no such thing as buying a championship team. The biggest challengers for Chelsea's title this year are without a doubt United and Arsenal.

    My belief is that Manchester United's away-game problems stem from a lack of drive once they are ahead. Asides from the Carling Cup disaster against West Ham, United clearly have more resolve and urgency when chasing from behind. There have been many cases of late equalisers (and winners) this season. Rooney with a late penalty against Rangers, Chicharito with his late winners against Valencia and Wolverhampton as well his Stoke winners, Park with his Wolverhampton winner, as well as other Away late equalisers like Vidic against Aston Villa.

    In the game against Stoke, there was a clearly visible difference in how they approached the game after conceding a goal and when they were ahead. The players are definately capable, but without that venom and killer instinct, any team can take them down.

    The fact that they are playing a bigger club doesn't factor too much into I think. I'm a believer of the philosphy that states playing a better opponent raises one's standards.

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  3. http://cosbysweaters.com/2011/01/04/ufc-manchester-city-edition/

    It's things like this that make me doubt City's unity and ability to truly be greater than the sum of it's very talented parts.

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  4. Jesse,

    The frustrating thing is, if we'd taken three points instead one from just half of the games that we've drawn the league title would be pretty much sewn up by now.

    I really wish I shared your confidence that City will not win the title, but I fear it is misplaced.

    United were very poor against Stoke City, the only highlights from that performance were the goals.

    As I've stated on numerous occasions, United are simply not creating anywhere near the volume of goal scoring opportunities that we normally create. I put this down to several factors, the poor passing from central midfield, an un balanaced attack and lack of service from the flanks.

    I can see City running United very close and right now I wouldn't like to call the outcome...I hope Arsenal are in the mix too.

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  5. Dont think City will pip us this year, tho I do think the signing of Dzeko is genius and really hope he takes his time settling in.

    Think we have just been the best of a bad bunch. Whilst we are inconsistent away from home we aren't losing either and as long as other teams bottle it then we can stroll to the title without really breaking a sweat.

    Also its great seeing Chelsea's fall from grace. Fergie always said they had an aging squad and it would catch up with them. Even more amusing when you think that VDS, Giggs and Scholes have a combined age of 256.

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  6. Dave,

    The next few fixtures will be very interesting. United simply have to improve IMO, because if we do not then anything could happen. We are in a false position in some ways, because our peformances have been very average. I think in any other Premier League year we'd be well off the pace. Chelsea have really gone to pot, Arsenal aren't consistent enough and of course LFC are imploding.

    I hope City continue to fight with themselves off the pitch and they find reason to part company with Mancini, but there's no doubt about their owners commitment where backing the manager is concerned, we cannot say that about the Glazers...

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  7. I never considered Citeh serious title challengers- having Balotelli, Adebayor and Tevez in the same team is a recipe for disaster. Somehow, they have stuck together this long and might as well run us close this season. I don't mind a United-Arsenal title race, but United-Citeh would just be a nightmare.

    The good part is that we are top of the table despite remaining stuck in second gear all season.

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