Saturday, March 31, 2012

United on target to retain title, but doubts persist ....

Manchester United went back to the top of the Barclays Premier League on Monday night thanks to a late first-half goal by Wayne Rooney. This very important league fixture ended in controversy, when Fulham were denied what looked like a certain penalty in the dying moments, after referee Michael Oliver gave Michael Carrick the benefit of doubt following his clumsy challenge on Danny Murphy inside the box.

Understandably, and all too predictably, there has been plenty of media focus on "yet another penalty that wasn't given to a visiting team at Old Trafford".
Tommy Docherty added his twopenneth on Radio 5-live this week when claiming, "visiting teams do not get many penalties and it has pretty much always been like that". The former Manchester United manager isn't slow at coming forward with controversial views and so the Doc's comments will have surprised few, but at the same time no doubt agitated neutrals and City fans alike. In the hullabaloo that followed, the fact that United were denied what looked like a definite penalty in the first-half for handball has been quickly forgotten. It was ever thus. You win some, you lose some. As Ferguson rightly said "these things tend to even themselves out over a season". Quite.

While the win over Fulham meant that United leapfrogged Man City to open up a slender three point lead at the top of the table, there wasn't really much else to shout about following what was another dire Old Trafford performance by the champions.

Despite dominating possession for long spells, United were simply dreadful and couldn't open up a well organised Fulham defence. Those United fans hoping for a goal avalanche - one that could have wiped out City's goal difference advantage - will have been left disappointed at the fayre served by a United team, that not for the first time at home this season, lacked guile, know-how and any real sense of urgency in the final third.

Increasingly, one finds one-self questioning the quality of the Premier League, because over the last two seasons, United, Chelsea, Arsenal and yes, even Liverpool too, have all seen their performance levels drop and alarmingly so, especially where genuine quality is concerned. In contrast when we look at Barcelona, it's almost as if they are playing a different game - such is their superiority on pretty much every level. Athletic Bilboa gave United a torrid time in the Europa League, in so doing, giving many observers cause to review the generally accepted - but not entirely fair - assertion that there are only two quality teams in La Liga.

United have been rank bad awful in Europe this season, we cannot deny that fact, but so were Arsenal; Manchester City were in a much tougher looking Champions League group and so their elimination was not so difficult to accept for their followers; but like the champions, much less acceptable was the manner in which City were also knocked out of the Europa League - a competition that badly needs to be revamped if it is ever going to be taken *seriously* by Europe's leading clubs.

While we can ask questions, with real justification, about the quality of the Premier League, it's fair to state that Man City and Spurs have improved immensely this season and they've really shaken up the 'top four'.  Spurs are currently in a real slump, but City are still fighting tooth and nail to wrest the title from United.

Hopefully, United will go on to retain the title, but there's no real signs that this latest Ferguson team will go on to seriously compete with Europe's elite clubs. If Ferguson is going to make United great again, he must address the glaring issues in midfield. Yes, it was the right decision to bring back Scholes, the United manager has far used his midfield general sparingly and sensibly; in total Scholes has so far played in 14 games, but six of those were from the bench.

There is hope in the form of Paul Pogba. The young French midfield star looks like a prodigious talent. Ferguson must use all of his powers of persuasion to convince Pogba to sign that new contract. Less convincing, is the hope that is Tom Cleverley who increasingly looks like a player whose career could be blighted by injuries, but time will tell. Even if Pogba signs that new deal, Ferguson MUST go out and sign another top quality midfield general.

The United manager also needs to sign another striker, because Welbeck, while being a good link man in certain situations, lacks that vital killer instinct inside the box. Hernandez is the complete opposite of Welbeck - deadly in the box, not so good in open play. United need to sign 'the next Didier Drogba', as much as we hate those comparisons - but that is the type of all round striker Ferguson must strive to find.

Finally, if United do go on the secure their 20th league title, contrary to the views of one well known journalist, the achievement most definitely will NOT surpass that historic, 1999 treble victory.


  1. They need a new goalie!!!

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  3. I think Utd have a decent chance of getting the title, you definitely have the ability to beat Sunderland, and if QPR turn up City have a hard game on their hands.

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