Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Scant reward for Moral Cup victors as Scholes makes unlikely United return....

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Manchester United went into Sunday's third round FA Cup tie with neighbours City on the back of two league defeats on the spin. It was therefore not surprising that there wasn't a great deal of shared optimism among United fans ahead of the derby. The prospect of a third defeat in the space of a week seemed like a distinct possibility. To state that the champions hadn't played well against Blackburn and Newcastle in the previous two games would be to understate just how poorly United had performed that week.

Ferguson's squad has of course been decimated by injuries this season - a situation which has led to much talk of possible new signings, but then when Sunday's team news filtered through, to the absolute amazement of many, Paul Scholes' name appeared among the United subs.

Rumours of a possible Scholes comeback had been mooted on Saturday, but it at best it seemed unlikely. What did this all mean for Manchester United and would Ferguson be bold enough to throw the veteran into the heat of a derby battle following months of no first-team action? The fact Scholes had returned to help United just added to the sense of anticipation and yes, to a degree, bewilderment, too.

As things turned out, despite being on the receiving end in the opening exchanges it was United who took the lead thanks to a quite brilliant Wayne Rooney header on 10 minutes.

From the moment Rooney opened the scoring it just got better and better from a red perspective - at least it did in that action packed first-half. The joy of taking the lead was quickly followed by another major turning point, that was the red card issued to Vincent Kompany for a two-footed lunge at Nani. United's Portuguese winger saw the challenge coming and smartly skipped out of harms way; Kompany had jumped in, won the ball and without fouling Nani. Wayne Rooney ran to referee Chris Foy and made his feelings known. The referee immediately brandished his red card. Foy's decision to send-off Kompany has subsequently been the subject of much debate.

No one really wants to see players being sent-off, especially in a local derby, because it can spoil the contest. In October United lost Jonny Evans in the Old Trafford derby just after half-time and went on to lose 6-1, but on that occasion there wasn't much argument about the decision to issue a red card, the case was more clear-cut.

In this latest incident, it appeared as though Foy sent Kompany off for what was potentially a very dangerous challenge - when you dive in with both feet off the ground you leave yourself open to the possibility that the referee might issue a card. There's no doubting Kompany's scissor challenge is one that is dangerous and several players have suffered with long-term injuries as a direct result of similar lunges.

City have announced that they are to appeal on behalf of Kompany, but it will be difficult for the FA to rule in favour of the defender because to do so will send out the wrong message, one that will by default give the green light to two footed lunges.

The incident certainly affected the game and United raced into a three-nil by half-time with goals by Danny Welbeck and one from the penalty spot converted by Rooney, albeit at the second attempt following a fine save by Pantilimon.

Danny Welbeck missed a golden opportunity to put the tie to bed just before half-time, but the young striker failed to connect with Atonio Valencia's excellent cross from the right flank.

After the break City really came out fighting and hit back early thanks to an excellent free-kick from Kolarov, following a foul on Richards by Evra - for which the United defender was booked. When Anders Lindegaard reviews a replay of that Kolarov goal, he may concede that he should have been in a more central starting position instead of being too far to the right. United could have put a man on the post - but that didn't happen either and as a result Kolarov's stunning free-kick ended up in the rigging.

The 5,000+ visiting United fans cheered on Paul Scholes who had been warming up on the touch-line, and then on 59 minutes, the red legend made his return to action when replacing Nani who'd picked up a cheap yellow card in the first-half for petulance.

Scholes looked in confident mood, he was always willing to receive the ball - always available for the pass. United were then denied what looked like a certain penalty when Kolarov brought down Valencia, but on this ocassion, Foy favoured City.

Then just six minutes into his comeback, Scholes gifted the ball back to City deep in United territory - and the ball ended up in the United net. Lindegaard initially saved Aguero's shot on the turn, but the United goalkeeper only succeeded it pushing back to the city striker and he made no mistake from close range with his second attempt.

At that point, it felt as though anything could happen. Were United really going to throw away what looked like certain victory at half-time? United had raced into a deserved three-nil lead, but it looked as though City - who were down to ten men - might claw their way back into this dramatic cup tie.

United hung on, but truth be told, City were the better side in the second-half. In his post-match interview, Roberto Mancini praised his players' for their hard work, belief and excellent organisation. Micah Richards said City had come away with a moral victory. In contrast, Ferguson was less than pleased with his team's second-half performance, but it was United who went into Sunday's draw.

In summary, United missed an opportunity to really rub City's collective noses in it following that 6-1 defeat in October. But the result and especially the first-half performance exceeded the expectations of many United fans. Sure, it wasn't by any stretch the perfect United performance and it was one that left us with many talking points.

Scholes made his comeback and Ferguson just about got away with his calculated gamble to throw him in at the deep end. Rio Ferdinand looked very uncomfortable at the back at times; his choice of pass wasn't always the right one and he was quick to wrongly blame the likes of Phil Jones when it went wrong and it did on several occasions, but again United just about got away with it.

While it is easy to focus on the negatives, there was plenty of positives too. Rooney was United's star man, he'd made a point of kissing the United badge when he opened the scoring - and following his spat with Ferguson and the headlines that followed, his joy at scoring was all too obvious.

Danny Welbeck had played well and scored a very good goal - a pity he didn't finish off the tie before the break, but it was good experience to score against City.

Smalling did ok at the back and Jones while not having a good derby will have benefited from 90 minutes football after his recent injury setbacks. Atonio Valencia looked much more at home in his natural position and provided the crosses for the goals and a carried threat whenever he received the ball.

United have been drawn against Liverpool in the next round and the tie will be played at Anfield later this month - scant reward for a hard fought Moral Cup victory.

4 comments:

  1. To me Scholes is the greatest English midfielder for 25+ years. The England team should have been built round his talents. I love Scholes but bringing him out of retirement is not a great move & smacks of desperation. I can see that Fergie wanted to play him due to his passing & wanting to keep the ball but he was nowhere near the level of fitness to play in this game. What message does this send out to the likes of Anderson & Pogba? I've not seen anything of Pogba to know if he has a future but it seems not.

    Another point, I wish Fergie wouldn't play Carrick in central defence when we have a shortage of fit defenders. He is currently our best midfielder (doesn't say much about our midfield strength) so why weaken the midfield to add to a weakended defence?

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  2. Great write up and totally agree with the analysis. The red card could be interrupted as soft, but people cannot have it both ways. You either want to eradicate two footed tackles from the game or you don't. You can't say they are Ok if the ball is won (Or against a United player I could add) what happens if it isn't and he breaks a leg?
    For me I would be interested if the tackle was the other way around, Nani on a City player would Talksport and the press be so adamant? I am not sure....

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  3. Stephen,

    Well, we were both right on the sending off. I posted the article an hour before we heard the FA's verdict on City's appeal. I honestly couldn't see how the FA could rule in favour of Kompany.

    There's an awful lot of hot air wasted on such issues on the radio from ex-players and pundits and half the time it is rubbish.

    As regards your question 'if it was a United player', here again we'd get the same debate and the same silly opinions - but I know what you mean... we have to remember people like Adrian Durham say things to get a reaction...I'm 100% sure he's just one big WUM.

    It will be interesting to see how the absence of Kompany affects City and the same applies to LFC and Suarez.

    All in all, it is turning into a very interesting season. I just wish Fergie would add some real quality to our engine room!

    PS thanks!

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  4. Vaud,

    I agree with you, Scholes has been the outstanding English creative midfield player of his generation. Such a shame that successive England managers never really got the best out of his talents. There's another debate we could have about Fergie and the arrival of Veron and how that affected Scholes, but that is another debate I guess.

    I totally agree with you though, while we can understand Fergie's thinking, it was a huge gamble - it could easily have backfired. I think / hope Fergie now fully realises how close we came to blowing it against City.

    But perhaps of a bigger concern is the fact that Pogba will not now be given any further chances to prove his worth, now there's another senior player in his path. Or does this mean Pogba will soon be leaving United? We've all heard the rumours about Pogba's future. Really bad news if we cannot convince young players who are already at the club to stay. Potentially very damaging for MUFC.

    BTW, I think Anderson was eventually brought on against City to do Scholes' running...he looked a bit pissed off to me I have to say, as did Nani when he was replaced by Scholes.

    For what it's worth, I'm not a massive fan of Carrick, but yes, he is our best bet at present. I think Jones did okish in that midfield role; that combination was showing promise when they were paired together, they looked to be developing a good understanding.

    But yes, I too don't think much of our midfield.

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