Lucky devils, but for how long?

Manchester United fans can be forgiven if they are unconvinced by the Red Devils, despite two impressive wins – at least on paper – over Wigan and Arsenal. They say it’s great to win when not at your best, especially when beating a Gunners side that is playing some of the best football on the planet right now. But is it asking too much for good football and three points to go hand-in-hand?

Maybe United fans have become spoilt; too used to injury-time winners and breathtaking goals that we are underwhelmed when beating Arsenal with a penalty and a ridiculous own goal.

But part of the problem is with United’s playing staff. The team still lacks a midfielder that can dictate play. Ryan Giggs is not that player and neither is Michael Carrick, who for all his Hollywood passes is still unable to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Why Sir Alex Ferguson failed to show interest in Wesley Sneijder is baffling. The Dutchman, who left the Real Madrid circus for Inter Milan for a measly €15 million, was an absolute bargain in today’s transfer market. Anyone watching the Milan derby last weekend would surely have been impressed by the difference Sneijder made to Jose Mourinho’s side, despite the Dutchman having arrived in the city just 24 hours earlier.

On a brighter note, the Arsenal match sealed Darren Fletcher’s status as United’s leading midfielder. The Scot has come a long way since the time when his inclusion in the team was largely due to being Sir Alex’ love-child (as yet unproven). Against Arsenal, Fletcher ran his socks off, covered every blade of grass, and made decisive interceptions that kept the Gunners midfield trio of Diaby, Denilson and Alex Song busy, and stifled their creativity. Fletcher is no longer the headless chicken of his youth.

Granted, Cesc Fabregas was missing from the Arsenal team but recalling last season’s Champions League semi-final encounter, Fletcher was just as influential and successful against the Spaniard. The Scot’s passing has also improved leaps and bounds to the point where Carrick’s effectiveness within the team has been reduced.

But Ferguson’s decision to start with Giggs floating behind Wayne Rooney against Arsenal was frustrating. Why spend £30 million on Dimitar Berbatov – whose ability to hold up of the ball is second to none – only to leave him on the bench for the big games? United should have been more positive – a problem of tactical negativy that was the main reason the team had such a poor record against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool last season.

Rooney is more than capable of playing ‘in the hole’ – the role that he fulfils for England – dropping deep and threading balls through to the striker. Instead, Giggs – a legend no doubt – but no longer in possession of his once blistering speed, lost the ball far too often in the final third. Far too much was also expected of Antonio Valencia, who looked out his depth on such a big occasion.

Over the course of the season, this type of performance will gain United many points against lower ranked sides. But will it be good enough for a 19th top flight title and a third successive Champions League final appearance? It seems unlikely.

United must keep on par with the other top sides in Europe but after this summer’s comings and goings, fans might be right to think that United is further adrift of Barcelona than on that fateful night in Rome.

The Champions League will be the real litmus test of strength and character for Sir Alex’ fledglings this season. The group stage draw handed Fergie’s side some tricky encounters, from the icy conditions in Moscow, to the hellish atmosphere generated by Turkish fanatics, to the impregnable home record of the German champions. It should bring out the best of United’s top players and the worst from those who just can’t cut it at the highest level.

United has ridden its luck at times in the past, supplemented by great performances on the pitch. The team may depend more on the former this season, than the latter. Have faith in Wayne Rooney and company, but this is the first season in a long time where fans will follow without full confidence that the team in red is the better side.

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Comments

  1. Red Simmo says

    Of the numerous occasions down the years we have doubted the great man, I do just wonder whether his Glaswegian bullishness and inability to acknowledge that sometimes the masses opinion may be correct, even if contrary to his own, will ultimately cost us the chance of entering the record books this year.

    The brilliant side of 94 couldnt make it 3 in a row, the best ever squad of 1999+ couldnt make it 4 in a row so what on earth gives us confidence that our current crop can make history?

    For me, SAF’s stubborn determination not to enter the transfer market (admittedly inflated, BUT largely brought about United selling Ronaldo and setting the bench mark)despite just about everybody who has ever seen a football suggesting otherwise, and just about every United fan who recognises all the sailiant points of this article -begging for some playmaker or striker that quickens ones step as you approach the ground on a match day – Just reminds me of his same stubborn approach when in 2001/02 (his final glory year) went against the advice of the world and firmly believed Barthez and Blanc would eventually work!!! – Result= 6 home defeats out of 9 and finishing behind the scousers!

    I worry that our line up versus Arsenal lacked the fear factor when the opposition faced up to them, lacked a big star player in the middle and pretty much played in line with both these points – add to that the relatively subdued nature of the crowd it took my mind back to August 95 when after selling Hughes, Ince & Kanchelskis the same subdued crowd sat miserably wondering if their manager had lost the plot trusting in youth…..eh well, you just never know…..if he does pull it off this year, considering all the above and all the millions writing us off, I would suggest it will be his best ever….But then again, I reckon his stubborness not to listen will eventually cost once more – who could ever forget dear old Larry White and Stumpy the Clown up at Middlebrough!

  2. Red Simmo says

    ED

    So true – Just ask how many of us doubted his insistence on keeping and then regularly selecting “the scottish player”?

    I suppose the concern is that time is fast catching him up and will he be able to leave in a style chosen by Terry Wogan (a mutual love bewteen him and his fans) or of Nick Leeson (look at the f****** mess you’ve left us all with)?

  3. Shacal says

    Once again, he will all prove you wrong… We have a squad so much filled with potential it is almost unbeliveable. There is a reason why HE has been the manager all these years.
    Why no Sneijder you say? Anderson is going to shine eventually. We don’t need Sneijder like “stars”. I doubted Ferguson’s decision numbers of times. With Rooney, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Vidic… No more.
    Valencia is quick, strong, able to learn and young. He will come good. If not, someone else will…
    Don’t doubt SIR Alex, as you will possibly be seen as a fool at the end of the season.

  4. says

    I dont get why Berbatov doesnt start big games? 30 mill- to start in small games? last season only started the 4 games against the big 4- Liverpool, Chelsea twice, Arsenal.. scored against Chelsea in one and another one where his deflected shot was put in. and got a assist against Liverpool.. records not that bad…

    He didnt start against Arsenal in any of the CL games… didnt start when we lost 4-1 against Liverpool or the 0-0 against Assnal- ended up being champions

    and this record is better than losing 2 in a row (liverpool and FUlham-last season) its a hard start, but a united-style finish when we finish above every team and win the league!

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