Once were warriors



Manchester United came close to a humiliating home defeat against weak opposition in last night’s Champions League match against CSKA Moscow. The three each goal fest looks flattering for the Russian team –  just four shots on target to United’s ten – but the lack of fighting spirit from Sir Alex Ferguson’s side must have been highly encouraging for Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti.

United it seems – a fully fit Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney apart – doesn’t like to fight.

CSKA Moscow sacked former Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid manager Juade Ramos after just forty-six days in his job and replaced him with the unknown and inexperienced thirty-eight year old Leonid Slutski four days after United’s away win in Moscow a fortnight ago. But the new manager can be more than pleased with his Champions League debut, whilst the United players, ashamed of what could have ended a four and half-year unbeaten run in this competition  at Old Trafford, must think again.

Injuries to the preferred central defensive pair, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, will of course be used as an excuse for last night’s weak performance. So will Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov’s absence, and the late induction of Wayne Rooney. Still, it wasn’t the youngsters given their chance, in lieu of absent stars,  that failed their exams last night; it was their decorated multi-millionaire veterans that didn’t put up a fight.

Wes Brown, a seasoned United professional for more than a decade, was out-run, out-paced and out-muscled along with his young colleague, Johnny Evans, by the CSKA Moscow strikers Alan Dzagoev and Tomas Necid. Edwin van der Sar will go into football history as one of the finest goalkeepers ever to grace the game but he failed to command and direct his disappointingly quiescent defenders. The veteran himself will surely be displeased with his handling of all the three conceded goals.

Paul Scholes’ passing is still the best in the game but when an opposition huff and puff at the Ginger Prince for as long and as consistently as CSKA Moscow midfield duo of Deividas Šemberas and the excellent Milos Krasic did, the old legs of the midfield maestro simply aren’t mobile enough. The distance between United’s defenders and midfield last night was evidence of this.

And Michael Owen up front took his typical poacher goal well but wasted two easy sitters inside the first half and was generally slow, with a poor Tevez-esque first touch.

Most of all, it was the poor work rate from United that stood out. This didn’t change until new father Wayne Rooney entered to lift United to a very late comeback, while potential United target Igor Akinfeev in CSKA Moscow’s net made a series of fantastic saves and but for the unfortunate own-goal from Georgi Schennikov would have steered his team to a win.

One poor performance doesn’t merit criticism for United’s lack of fight, of course, just as one swallow does not make a summer. But it is undeniably worrying that when United lose – or come close to it – it’s often against teams with that fighting spirit. Burnley away this season, Liverpool at Anfield and the home draw versus Sunderland – all proof that United suffers more from the loss of Roy Keane, than Cristiano Ronaldo!

It’s fitting then that United will face Chelsea’s hard-man Michael Essien this Sunday. The Ghanaian will have noted much of yesterday’s match.

Ingar also blogs blogs on United, sport and internationa travel at ingar.blogg.no.

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Comments

  1. Frank Scicluna says:

    This is the most important part of your argument Ingar “it was their decorated multi-millionaire veterans that didn’t put up a fight”

    I was concerned about this season before it even started, not because of the absence of Ronaldo and much less Tevez, not because of the lack of a big name signing and not because of the opposition.

    My concern was Four Titles In A Row! Our “decorated multi-millionaire veterans” are after all mere human beings who must no longer have that motivation for success that has helped them achieve so much in the past. Whether we as fans like it or not, it’s absolutely understandable.

    A wise old fox of a manager commented many years ago that “Every five years or so you must either change the manager OR the squad. There is no other way if you want to keep on achieving success”

    Sir Alex has been gradually refreshing his squad year on year with great success but I wonder if it has to come to an end eventually.

    Four titles in a row is a huge ask, it has NEVER happened in English football so are we expecting just that little bit too much from our manager and our “decorated multi-millionaire veterans”

    Could be worth thinking about.

  2. @Frank , I agree. Just because we have won three on the trot does not mean we are expected to win every title! Considering that Valencia, Evra and the CFs apart most of our players are being shuffled. I am guessing this squad mentality does catch up with the team once in a while.

  3. Look, we defended badly and gave away 3 of the softest goals ever seen. CSKA should not even have been allowed a shot for any of the goals. Other than those 3 mistakes, they mustered one shot in the entire match. United did dominate the match, in terms of possession, territory, shots, any criteria you care to mention. We scored 3, were denied a clear penalty and their keeper made several great saves, so it’s difficult to criticise us going forward. So I wouldn’t be too critical of anyone other than our defenders here.

    However, you make some good points that have been evident all season. Scholes, while still comfortably the best passer of the at United (and in the league) no longer has the legs to compete in a tough midfield battle. He can still be brilliant against weaker opposition where he has time and space, but even Darren Fletcher’s ability to do one and a half men’s running cannot disguise the fact that Scholes is losing his influence at the very top level.

    Certainly there is room for improvement in the forward areas – Nani is still woefully inconsistent, while Valencia and Obertan are still learning at this level, and while Rooney and Berbatov trouble teams in front of their back four, neither gets behind the opposition defence enough.

    Chelsea will hope that our defensive frailties continue, but the return of Vidic should help in that regard – unlike Torres, a battle with Drogba is exactly Vidic’s kind of game. As for the make up of the team on Sunday, I imagine a conservative approach with either Giggs (if fit) or Anderson supporting Fletcher and Carrick in midfield, and Rooney moved to the left and Berbatov on his own up front. The key to stopping Chelsea is to stop their full-backs, and on this one occasion, Rooney on the left is probably the right move away from home.

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