Thursday, December 08, 2011

Abject United lurching towards crisis: No defence for De Gea, Rooney and Ferguson as sorry Reds crash out of Champions League...

Not for the first time this season, Manchester United pressed the self-destruct button in Europe when losing 2-1 against Basel in Switzerland last night, a result which sees the champions dropping into the Europa League. It is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Ferguson, his players and the club. On a purely commercial level, United will be left to count the cost of lost TV revenues; on a playing level, the ramifications and fall-out could be much worse.

A hugely disappointing result and performance ended with an unedifying pitch-side spat between Ferguson and his former captain Roy Keane, in which the United legend pulled no punches when blaming the young players and the manager. Ferguson's withering response, did not reflect well on the United manager. The Scot labelled his former captain as a "TV critic" and went on to pour scorn on Keane's managerial credentials when saying "I don't know why you are bringing this up from a television critic," he said. "Roy had an opportunity to prove himself as a manager and it's a hard job". Perhaps Ferguson will live to regret his comments which some will view as personal and totally out of order.

When Keane spoke out, he was only saying what millions of onlooking United fans already knew, he was speaking like a fan and on behalf of the fans: Ferguson has failed to adequately strengthen his midfield. Oh, how United could have done with Keane on the pitch last night. Keane was the ultimate warrior - a man who could be relied upon in the heat of the battle. How could Ferguson label his former captain as a mere "TV critic"? Ferguson's comments on Keane were nothing short of a disgrace. Shame on you Ferguson.

In mitigation, there will, as ever, be those who will defend Ferguson and his team, but football is a results business and United have been abject in the Champions League this season. Too many performances have been littered with mistakes which have led directly to goals.

Against Basel, it was David de Gea who cost United dearly on nine minutes. United had started very brightly - albeit without ever seriously threatening to score - but the Swiss champions scored with their first serious attack following a collision between Smalling and Vidic, one that left the England defender prostrate on the pitch. The referee should have perhaps stopped the game for what looked like a head injury, but that did not happen and de Gea went on to make what could only be described as a schoolboy error when failing to deal with a low cross into the United penalty area. The Spanish stopper inexplicably tried to boot the ball to safety, but he failed to do so which led to Streller scoring.

While there is no escaping the fact that de Gea was badly at fault, he was not on his own; Evra and Rio Ferdinand were guilty of ball-watching - they should have reacted and closed down the space between ball and man - but both were rooted to the spot.

No matter what the fans and media say about de Gea from here on in, it will be his own performances that dictate his future. While there's no disputing de Gea is capable for brilliance, he also suffers when making the occasional technically poor error. In the early stages of last night's clash, the Spaniard came off his line and flapped badly at a cross, he failed to clear his lines and that led to United coming under pressure. It remains to be seen if de Gea will go on to have a long-term future at United; his performances will dictate whether or not he will be viewed as a legend or else a costly gamble that went badly wrong. De Gea cannot afford many more high-profile errors, we can be 100% certain of that.

Basel extended their lead as the game headed to its sorry conclusion with a goal from Frei and here again, it was in part down to another mistake when Smalling failed to deal with a cross into the box. Jones scored a late consolation goal following a melee in the Basel penalty area - but the game was up and it too little too late. United were simply not good enough to beat an average Swiss team - which in itself speaks volumes about the champions.

After the final whistle and set against the noisy backdrop of the visiting fans chanting his name, Keane criticised United's young players and he was right to do so. Ashley Young started his United career well, but since the derby, like too many others, he hasn't really been doing the business.

Keane singled out Ryan Giggs for a degree of praise, when saying it was ridiculous that United were relying on a veteran who is pushing 40. Here again, Keane was bang on the money and on this note it is Ferguson who must ultimately carry the can. Ferguson has failed to strengthen United's engine room and there is no excuse for that, not when Man City have signed David Silva who was available - if only the manager and his scouts had the gumption to spot him. As far as we know, United never even tried to sign Silva...and that is damning.

For his part, Wayne Rooney is not beyond criticism; the United striker was in red-hot form earlier in the season, but since the derby, the England striker has been poor. Rooney had a stinker against Basel last night - not only did he miss an open goal, but he barely hit the target with any of his efforts on goal. As ridiculous as this may sound, at times, it was almost as if he was trying NOT to score...

So what does the future hold for United and Ferguson? For starters, with games being played on Thursday, the Europa League will cause havoc for Ferguson and his injury ravaged squad. Vidic became latest injury victim when he went off with suspected knee ligament damage. Ferguson is in trouble, of that there is no doubt. In the wake of the derby, there is a theory shared by some pundits and fans that the United manager may well have under-mined his players confidence with his changes in formation and his chopping and changing. Whether or not that is a factor is open to debate and only the players themselves can answer that question.

What is beyond doubt is the fact that United are struggling and come the end of the season, we might well be grateful if the team goes on to secure a Champions League spot for next season - that we confidently predict, will turn out to be main goal in what is fast becoming a season to forget. Finally, do not be surprised if last night's Champions League tie was Ferguson's last in the competition...he cannot continue forever.

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