Thursday, September 20, 2012

Old Trafford alarm bells ringing as Galatasaray expose United's soft under it time for Ferguson to ditch 4-4-2?

Manchester United won their opening group H Champions League game against Galatasaray thanks to an excellent Michael Carrick goal on 7 minutes. The only goal of the game, was a thing of real beauty, but what followed left a lot to be desired. Carrick's name hasn't featured enough in the goal tally column in recent seasons, but his effort last night was one to remember - the former Spurs player started the move and ended it with a sweet finish after exchanging passes with Van Persie and Kagawa, before rounding the 'keeper.

In seasons gone by United might have gone on to win convincingly, but that didn't happen on a night when Ferguson's team looked anything but convincing.

Ferguson's blood pressure problems (bound to have them at his age) won't have been helped by Nani, who added his name to this season's growing list of shamed United penalty takers. In truth, if Nani and substitute Hernandez had scored, as they should have done,  the scoreline wouldn't have truly reflected the balance of play, because Galatasaray could easily have come away with at least a point. It was a night when there was numerous and very good penalty appeals in both boxes.

Former Man City striker, and now Sky co-commentator, Niall Quinn (annoying as he surely is) eventually pin-pointed the problem, after tip-toeing around the issue for the best part of 70 minutes when pointing out that the visitors had "two strikers up front and that *must* leave spaces elsewhere", and that United's "defence was holding up ok", the Irishman finally told us what many of us already knew all too well: "Galatasaray  bossed midfield".

Quinn was also right to point out that the sight of Van Persie getting booked following a desperate cross-field run and lunge, sort of summed it all up. That booking was sadly all too reminiscent of what we've seen from Wayne Rooney in the past, when it's going wrong for United. There's no finer sight in football than Van Persie at his beautiful best, but in the short space of a few games (his first Champions Lame game for United), and after demonstrating his many skills,  this hugely talented star had been reduced to hacker status. You had to feel for Van Persie, to state he was starved of service is a gross understatement.

Ferguson had started with Valencia and Nani on the flanks - both had games to forget. It was one of Valencia's most unproductive games in the famous red-shirt - it was a night when barely a cross found its intedded target - but maybe we should give credit to the visitors' for that.

On the opposite flank, Nani was even worse. Quite how they both remained on the pitch for the full game beggared belief. Granted, Ferguson had just cause to be concerned about his midfield and every United fan with a heart wishes him well following his battles with a chronic bowel condition, but bringing on Darren Fletcher in such circumstances was questionable at best. Ferguson elected to leave Cleverley and Anderson on the bench, a decision which somewhat contradicts his promise that he wouldn't take any chances in the Champions League - this was a definite case of picking a team ahead of the trip to Anfield at the weekend, though it's doubtful that Anderson will start against Liverpool; are we to concur that Fergie thinks more of a less than 100% match-fit Fletcher?

What we saw against Galatasary was worrying, from a number of perspectives: RVP barely featured and as the game progressed, United really struggled to get Kagawa on the ball in those important areas around the opposition box, but there was a whole lot more to be concerned about...In the end, United hung on and just about got away with it, but United's collective performance level was a long way from  satisfactory .

United conceded too many goals in last season's Champions League campaign and went on to pay a high price; given the paucity of group H, it is to be hoped they will at least qualify for this year's knockout phase, but on the evidence of what we saw against the Turks, this team isn't going to come close to lifting the big cup.

Having made a few excellent signings this summer, some fans are asking, so what is the problem? Despite valid concerns about his central defenders, midfield is Ferguson's biggest area of concern. Scholes' has proven that he can still do it in the Premier League, but one has to question the manager's often preferred formation of 4-4-2, because even with two up top, Galastasaray dominated  midfield for long periods of the second-half. Ferguon's response was lamentable in truth, but he got away it. It's doubtful United will continue to get away it when the really big games come around - especially if Cleverley should end up on the treatment table again for any length of time.

United were quite poor collectively when it came to defending last season in the Champions League - a competition which is the true barometer and the pinnacle of European club football. In the eyes of many United fans, Ferguson should have signed another midfield player this summer and he should have done, but as we saw last night, like last season in the Champions League, his team are still wide open to the counter attack.

It is quite obvious, that United need more bodies in midfield and ideally, two strikers up top; to achieve that, one option would be a switch to playing with wing-backs and three at the back - but such radical changes need to be worked on, ideally in pre-season but sadly, that hasn't can get away with 4-4-2 if you have a colossus like Roy Keane in midfield, but Fergie doesn't have such a player.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

RVP arrival confirms there's no substitute for class...

Robin Van Persie was a hat-trick hero on Sunday at St Mary's where United just about did enough to secure their first league away win of the season against newly promoted Southampton. And for the second game in a row, United had to score three to be sure of victory. Just like the previous weekend against Fulham, it finished up 3-2 and like many previous encounters with Southampton, it was a tense affair.

Despite scoring a quite magnificent hat-trick, Van Persie didn't have what could be described as a perfect game: he missed at least one very good opportunity to score from open play and he suffered the ignominy of fluffing his lines with a floated penalty effort which failed miserably: when they come off you look like a king, but when they go wrong you look like a **** and as Ferguson later said: "He won't do that again".

So Van Persie might have scored five on another day, but we aren't going to dwell too much on what might have been - instead let us concentrate on a few positives.

United fans will surely agree it is the first time in a long time that Ferguson has gone out and bought a player who can be genuinely considered to be at the top of his game - world class if you like (Kagawa looks good too).

His three goals against Southampton were all a bit different and special in their own right. The first was a lesson in finishing technique: He controlled the ball with his first touch and powered it home with his second. The next effort was a real poachers' goal and the third, a clever flicked header - one that was made to look easy, it was anything but.

While we can surely look forward to many more goals from RVP, his arrival is a stark reminder to us all and one suspects Ferguson too, that there really is no substitute for class. A great pity then, that Ferguson didn't go out and sign that midfield general that his team so badly lacks.

United fans were left dumbfounded when Berbatov was sold to Fulham and pretty much at the same time Dembele who'd been linked with a move to Old Trafford, was sold to Spurs. It looks as though Spurs and Daniel Levy have signed another top-class midfield player; like Modric, Dembele would have been a good United signing - but where was Ferguson when it mattered? That was the question on the lips of many a United fan just a week or so ago.

Manchester United's midfield simply isn't good enough - that fact was exposed in a wretched Champions League campaign last season. According to Ferguson, it won't happen this season - we won't make the same mistakes again. Time will tell if the United manager is right, but this blog has serious doubts about that assertion.