Sunday, February 06, 2011

Wheels fall off at Wolves: As United blow big chance to extend lead at the top...

What a strange game football can be at times because at 5pm on Saturday night, Arsene Wenger and his players must have been cursing the Gunners second-half performance having thrown away a four-nil lead only to end up with a point at Newcastle. Arsenal must have thought at juncture that they might well have blown their chances of winning the title, especially as United were set to take on bottom of the table Wolves - how wrong they were.

It was United who really blew it on Saturday, when missing out on the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League to a potentially unassailable seven point lead when losing 2-1 to relegation threatened Wolves.

Nani gave United the lead after just three minutes with a well taken goal after beating his fullback and the 'keeper at his near post, but that was the only real highlight of what was a substandard United performance - especially at the back.

United's defending was nothing short of abysmal. Wolves scored with two bread and butter headers. Vidic and Jonny Evans didn't marshall the defence and the marking was dire on the Wolves equaliser.

United went into the Wolves game without Rio Ferdinand - who we are told - somehow managed to sustain an injury in the pre-match warm-up. According to ESPN, Ferguson would not elaborate on the injury. In the wake of United's first league defeat of the season, the United manager says Rio will miss England's friendly in midweek and importantly what could well turn out to be a crucial Manchester derby...

Cynics might well wonder if Rio had unwisely put country before club thinking it would be walk-over on the day - let's face it - we were all thinking the same if we are being honest...

However, when United went two-one down, a very worried looking England captain went pitch-side; one couldn't help but wonder if the United defender was thinking "oh my god, what have I done?"..the thing is this, players have never been better prepared - they have a small army of medical staff tending to their every ailment. So this whole business of 'player gets injured in the pre-match warm-up' is very hard to buy into. When it happens, you cannot but help think there's more to it - there's another reason...

We all know Rio suffers with injury problems, so maybe the cynical view is stretching the imagination somewhat. But, if Ferdinand somehow ends up in that England squad in Denmark on Wednesday then the 'country before club' theory will have added weight. If that actually happens, it wouldn't be the first time that an 'injured' United player has ended up in the England squad this season. We were told that Carrick was injured earlier this season only for him to link up with Capello's squad just a few days later - however, that situation was slightly different, because the United midfielder was reportedly out of favour with Ferguson at the time.

If Ferdinand thought he'd get away with feining injury - then to put it mildly - he was stupid, because there's no way the United manager would allow anyone to get away with that, so hopefully Rio wasn't attempting to pull the wool of Fergie's red eyes.

It is to be hoped that on this occasion, Ferguson has 100% ruled Rio out of the England squad, but the player will then make a Lazarus like recovery ahead of the derby...

One thing is for sure, United need Rio and badly. When United have been without Rio or Vidic over the last two seasons, the defence has not coped well.

SO what else went wrong on Saturday night at Molineux? Ferguson, started the match with the right formation and a team that is close to his strongest, yet it didn't work beyond an all too brief bright opening spell.

Too many United players didn't perform. Rafael had his worst game to date for the club, he was guilty of giving away the corner which led to the Wolves equaliser. On the corner itself, which was a short one, Fletcher and Berbatov didn't pick up anyone inside the United penalty area - they were stood watching and as a result Wolves had two players unmarked. But a combination of Carrick and Evans didn't make a decisive challenge on George Elokobi who was allowed pretty much a free header.

Rooney didn't play well - nor did Berbatov- but they were starved of quality service. In particular, the crossing from United's right flank was very poor. Rafael and Nani were the guilty culprits.

Rooney was partly at fault for the second Wolves goal - he lost possession deep in the Wolves half, to his credit, he tracked back but United then gave away a free-kick which led to Doyle's disputed winning goal.

Fergie tried in vain to make things happen, but the introduction of Scholes and Hernandez at the expense of Berbatov and Carrick didn't really work either. Some observers believe that the Hernandez Berbatov pairing is the manager's best option, but it's doubtful that combination would have changed the outcome on what was a very bad day for United.

Man of the match: Darren Fletcher. This blog has slaughtered Fletcher at times this season but against Wolves he was very good and he didn't deserve to be on the losing side - not withstanding his slack marking on the equalising goal.

It remains to be seen what will happen following what was yet another very unsatisfactory away peformance. The unbeaten run has ended and United simply must improve on the road if they are to hold off the challenge of Arsenal, City and Chelsea. Only time will tell how costly the loss of three points at Wolves will prove to be. Despite having that lead at the top of the table and with so many difficult looking away games, United really could not afford to lose three points Wolves, but it happened. Fasten your seat-belts, it is going to be another very bumpy ride - as it usually is where United are concerned.

11 comments:

  1. I think a result like that has been coming. We have rode our lucky massively this season because we are not a great side by any stretch of the imagination. Carrick and Fletcher simply do not hurt teams from the middle of the park, and Fletchers use of the ball in woeful at times.

    We are a team in transition but where are the players who are going to make us a great side again? Still at other clubs it seems and SAF is leaving it far too late to get top quality players in that will replace Giggs and Scholes

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  2. Adam,

    I totally agree with you. United cannot realistically expect to replace up to 10 players next sunner and so yes Fergie should have been buying on a more regular basis.

    That result has been coming.

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  3. JR.

    A rather hysterical analysis. It is a fact in most sports that when playing teams from a lower grouping/standard that the games, generally,adopt the lower standard.

    Yes the two goals Wolves scored were defensive errors,created by mistakes of others. BUT Nani's goal was superlative. And we cannot deny that trying to score against an eleven men defence- as the second half proved to be-is extremely difficult.

    I rather like Smalling who replaced the lamentable Evans- who should be shown the door, and Rafael is a liability. He just cannot defend. O'Shea is a better option, at the moment at right back, although my preference would be Fletcher.

    It was rather touching, at the end of the game, to see Macarthy
    and Ferguson hug each other. I cannot recall Sir Alec hugging another manager after such a defeat anywhere. I may be wrong. But it was touching.

    Let us face it the day was a strange one. Arsenal should have lost. They scored a perfectly lawful goal which was ruled offside. Today Chelsea were beaten by a superb Liverpool performance.

    So we look forward to the derby game next Saturday. I just hope that Ferguson plays Little Pea alongside Berbatov with Michael Owen just behind them. Giggs in the centre of midfield with Nani and Obertan on the wings. The defence of Fletcher.Ferdinand (or Smalling). Vidic and Evra.(Evra comes to life playing with Obertan).

    But one swallow a summer does not make. Neither does one defeat an end to a season make.

    Chin up JR. We shall be champions. Then you will get the clear out you desire. Under, I suggest, a new manager. I still believe Fergie is going to go in the close season.

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  4. Wow, James, you who are the prophet of doom on our central midfield and narry a comment or two about how dreadful they were. Maybe it was the dreadfulness of the rest of the squad that shadowed it (and you are right about that by a country mile) but all three CMs that we played were ineffective.

    How many times in the second half did we see Scholes and Fletcher with possession of the ball as deep as Vidic and Evans, at the same time? With no player in the center of the pitch within 50 yards, they resorted to playing long balls to Rooney and Berbatov. Needless to say neither of those players succeeds with this type of service because of height and laziness, respectively. Employing this approach against a physcial defense will not win many games. All the more reason I am surprised you didn't ream Fergie for not buying a reasonably priced CM in January. You are off your game, James.

    I'm not too put out by this because of the other results, but it was only a matter of time before we would lose with our current midfielders. Let's hope they loosen up but I expect to see a weakened side against Crawley Town (Chicha and Owen, Obertan and maybe even our Bebe?!).

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  5. Strapworld,

    I think my analysis is fair and accurate, but I would do wouldn't I?:0)...

    I will add one more thing that is if we lose the derby we will blow our chances of winning the title. Call that hysterical if you like, but that's my honest opinion.

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  6. Strapworld,

    I forgot to add that yes, we do need a clear out. There's too many players who clearly will never be good enough for United. The problem is, there's so much work to be done and there's so little money to get the job done.

    As regards Fergie, I've been expecting him to quit for ages, but he just keeps on going, but if by some miracle we do win the title then that would be a good time to go...

    Jose will be back in England sooner rather than later, but will it be United or Liverpool? I suspect the latter as United have no money to spend.

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  7. Evgenni,

    IMO, Fletcher had a good game - his best game for ages actually; for once he wasn't that wasteful in possession - on this occasion it was Rafael and Nani who were most wasteful.

    Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition and having gone ahead Wolves sat back and asked questions of United who didn't have the guile, technique or know-how when it came to breaking them down. Lord knows what Barca would do to United in the CL. It would actually be someting of a blessing if we bow out in the next round - it would save the embarrassment.

    As regards Fergie and buying in January. IF I'm being honest, I don't know who he should buy right now for central midfield. There's one or two young English players like Henderson and Howson but I'm not sure if they've done enough to warrant the sort of money their respective clubs would demand.

    Fergie missed has opportunities to sign the likes of Sneijder and Ozil, but that is history now. The trick is to find the right players for United who are available and I really don't know who that is... and neither does Fergie...

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  8. Im also worried about what would happen should we get barcelona in europe.

    Considering our midfield were light years behind them when they beat us in the CL final, plus we lost Ronaldo and Tevez while they have gone from strength to strength into the best club side ive ever seen.

    Almost two years on from that night and if we were still playing that match we still wouldnt have scored.

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  9. I'm much more concerned by the loss of Rio than I am by the actual result. A four point lead is still a strong one, but the prospect of Carlos Tevez going one on one with Jonny Evans makes me cringe...

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  10. Adam,

    We've been going downhill faster than Franz Klammer on acid ever since Ronaldo and Tevez left.

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  11. Chairman,

    Yes, I can well understand your concerns.

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