Sunday, August 07, 2011

Quick footed Tom Cleverley at heart of United's dramatic shield comeback as champions edge out City...

Manchester United had to fight back from two-nil down at Wembley today but came back strongly to deservedly win three-two, in what was one of the more memorable curtain raises to the new season.

The fact that United went two behind in the first-half was down to a combination of poor defending and rank bad goalkeeping.

The champions had dominated the opening 35 minutes, but couldn't break down City's backline, but in the space of five dreadful minutes United conceded two goals. David Silva provided the opener with a wicked left-footed free-kick following a foul by Patrice Evra who'd found himself on the wrong side of James Milner and as result brought down the former Villa winger with a clumsy looking challenge. Silva delivered the perfect cross from the resulting free-kick from just outside the United box and Lescott beat Vidic to the ball and nodded beyond de Gea who was caught as in no-mans-land. It was a good goal from City's perspective, but a bad one to concede as far as the champions were concerned.

But then it got worse, much worse, for United as David de Gea was beaten from fully thirty yards out by Dzeko whose low swerving grass-cutter flew beyond the young Spanish keeper. De Gea should have done much better, and the player will no doubt acknowledge that fact.

United supporters will be concerned to learn that de Gea conceded 11 goals from outside the penalty box last season - more than any other goalkeeper in La Liga.

De Gea has had a baptism of fire today at Wembley, and it's hoped his confidence hasn't taken too much of a knock in what was a very high-profile game. The Spaniard, needs to regain his composure and quickly in these important first few weeks as a United player. One thing is for certain, opposing managers will look at the goals United conceded against City and they will no doubt be looking to cash-in on any perceived goalkeeping weaknesses. Confidence is a huge part of being a top goalkeeper and everyone connected with the club will be hoping de Gea can handle the pressure of playing for United.

Ahead of the Community Shield, Ferguson had made a pre-match promise to make wholesale changes at half-time, but given the circumstances he didn't make as many as anticipated. One of those Ferguson left on the bench was Anders Lindegaard, United's other new stopper. If Fergie had earmarked a goalkeeping change, he didn't make it, and no doubting the manager was fearful of de Gea's reaction and the resulting media frenzy. Ferguson made the right call in sticking by de Gea who did well in the remainder of the game, when pulling off one smart save at his near post.  De Gea looks to have excellent distribution, but his build is only slight and he doesn't have a physical presence and that could be telling on high crosses into the United penalty area.

Going into today's game, we had been led to believe that Michael Carrick would miss the Wembley showpiece, but when the two teams lined up, the England midfield play-maker was selected alongside Anderson and so United were pretty much at full strength, sans Hernandez who is out nursing a sore head following a bout of concussion. 

United were the better team in the opening 35 minutes, but it was City who provided that vital cutting edge in front of goal and so going into the interval two goals down you wondered how on earth the champions would respond, especially given the anticipated substitutions.

Well,  the army of United fans who'd been pretty quiet in the opening half, soon had plenty to shout about as Fergie's changes worked a treat. In what was a very bold move, Vidic and Ferdinand were replaced by Phil Jones and Jonny Evans. Carrick was replaced by Tom Cleverley.

Cleverley barely put a foot wrong and he was at the heart of everything that was good about United's second half performance. At one point in that second half, United's average age was under 23. Whether or not it was the age factor, or fatigue on the part of City, we will never know, but the United players looked stronger and sharper than their blue counterparts.

United were finally rewarded for their dominance on 52 minutes when Chris Smalling stole in between City's central defenders to flick home Ashley Young's well flighted cross from the left flank. Game on.

Six minutes later and United were on level terms thanks to a wonderfully worked goal by the champions. Rooney started the move from deep inside the City half, his pass was met by Cleverley who played it forward to Welbeck and he laid it back to Nani who then ran into the box and exchanged passes with Cleverley before slotting quite beautifully into the rigging. It was so good, it could well be the goal of the season.

From that point on, United largely had the better of it, as the pattern of the game didn't alter that much, but City always look dangerous on break. David Silva can make things happen in the blink of an eye and remained a constant threat throughout. In a bid to change City's fortunes, Roberto Mancini replaced the totally ineffective and sulking Mario Balotelli who made zero impact on the game.

With the game heading towards 90 minutes, it looked like going into extra-time and in all probability being decided with a dreaded shoot-out - which is always an unsatisfactory way to end any game. Thankfully, everyone was spared that outcome thanks to Nani who rounded Joe Hart deep into added time and scored his second goal of the game following an uncharacteristic mistake by Kompany.

In summary, United's youngsters stood up well to the physical challenge presented by City who will be a much tougher proposition in the weeks ahead. Referee Phil Dowd had an excellent game, despite brandishing his yellow card throughout, but in so doing he managed to keep a lid on what was a highly charged derby.

In Tom Cleverley, Ferguson might well have found part of the answer to his midfield problems. Cleverley, is neat and tidy, he uses the ball well and he's has great feet; he sees a pass early and he plays it quickly and accurately - and that made for a very welcome change.

Phil Jones looks as solid as a rock at the back and Chris Smalling looked more than useful in the rightback slot. Danny Welbeck did ok, but he is still very raw and the jury is still out on him; he loses possession too often, but his movement is pretty good and he played his part in today's comeback.

Ashley Young did quite well on the left flank and United found plenty of space behind Micah Richards, but there's room for improvement when it comes to crossing with his left foot. Young tends tends to cut back inside onto his right foot, which looks to be the stronger, but overall, he can be quite pleased with his performance.

Ferguson made all the right moves today, the only real concern was the performance of David de Gea and only time will tell if he is United material. Jones, Young and de Gea have won their first piece of silverware in what was their first truly competitive game for United and they along with the fans will be hoping it won't be their last.

Star man: Tom Cleverley, he gave an inspiring performance.

8 comments:

  1. I have never seen a great midfield perfomance in the united team since keane..cleverly outclased Toure,de jong,silva who are world class players..i think he deserves a place in the starting XI more than carrick,he wil boost the squad in europe since we have the epl covered..hail Tom my new fav united playerI have never seen a great midfield perfomance in the united team since keane..cleverly outclased Toure,de jong,silva who are world class players..i think he deserves a place in the starting XI more than carrick,he wil boost the squad in europe since we have the epl covered..hail Tom my new fav united player

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  2. Awesome again. Our attacking play is awesome now. Young and Nani on the wings are causing opposition all sorts of problems and I'm starting to think that Cleverley and Anderson is our best central midfield partnership. We're starting to look like the exciting United of old. Looking forward to this season more than I have done in 10 years.

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  3. `it looked like going into extra-time` - here you made a mistake... if the score is even in Community Shield after 90 mins there will be shoot-outs without extra-time.

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  4. he will be a good addition to the first team and we didn't have to spend a fortune for him

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  5. Hugh,

    I must admit I have seen Cleverley playing for Wigan and I also saw him playing for England in June, and to be honest I hadn't been that impressed with what I saw.

    I'm hoping what we saw againt City is the real Tom Cleverley. He was superb in every way. Tom has a sense of purpose which is sadly lacking in Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson. What I mean by that is this, when that trio receive the ball around the opposition box, they look to pass it (usually sideways in a bid to just retain possession which is fine in many ways) but against City Tom was driving forward into the box looking to make things happen and get on the end of it, there is a subtle, but, big difference which makes him stand out.

    I'd also add that I still firmly believe Fergie isn't making the most of the da Silvas they have the same drive.

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  6. Great game. Cleverley excellent, as was Smalling and Nani.

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  7. The important thing now is to Cleverly some chances in the 1st team. With time, he'll also gain the composure that was lacking in front of goal.

    Also, just because Cleverly has come good, this doesn't mean we shouldn't go and get Sneijder imo.

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