With Christmas just around the corner, Manchester United must hit a rich vein of form over the next few weeks. Five points adrift, Sir Alex Ferguson has urged his team to leapfrog Chelsea and seize pole position in the Premier League title race. But a third of the way into the campaign, which players have shone for United and which have failed?
Darren Fletcher is an obvious candidate, with a string of exceptional performances this season. For years the Scot, labelled as inadequate by many critics and supporters alike, struggled to make the grade. But Fletcher has proven the doubters wrong with his inspiring and at times jaw dropping performances. One of the most improved players in world football.
While Fletcher is not prolific in front of goal, the 24-year-old midfielder has chipped in with crucial strikes against Manchester City and Everton. The Dalkeith-born player’s recent goal against the Merseysiders was reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo at his very best, such was the technique involved. And despite the player’s disappointment on the international front, Fletcher has been one of the key performers for United this season. Perhaps most of all, Fletcher has made the supporters believe in him again.
The old stalwart Ryan Giggs has once again surpassed all expectations of what a 37-year-old player can do. The Welshman recovered from an un-characteristically poor performance against Arsenal at Old Trafford to become the catalyst for United’s turnaround against Spurs. At Stoke, Giggs was superb in United’s win.
It has been a productive season for Giggs as well. The Cardiff-born winger is United’s chief contributor with nine assists. Although Giggs’ best role is less certain than in the past, there will always be a place in the team for the maestro.
Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid required a goalscoring replacement. Although Wayne Rooney has not quite hit the net at the Portuguese’s rate, the Scouser has certainly risen to the challenge. With just 13 league games played, Rooney is on course to beat his previous season’s best of 16 Premier League goals.
Rooney is, of course, heavily involved in United’s creative play too. This duality is what makes the former-Evertonian ‘the complete all-round player’, according to Harry Redknapp. With better players around him, United might be able to get even more out of England’s most consistent performer.
An early shout for Edwin van der Sar is by no means out of the question. The Dutchman’s influence is clear, especially while Ben Foster is yet to prove whether he will live up to his early promise. United’s number one has been superb in recent fixtures – the player’s experience, not to be underestimated, means that his role in the team remains essential.
Despite the positives there have been a number of disappointments within Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. Fergie will certainly demand bigger and better things from Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Anderson and of course Nani as the season edges towards its second half. If Nani is still at Old Trafford in February, it’ll only be if the ex-Sporting winger finally steps up to the plate. The £17 million player owes it not only to himself but every single United fan too.
And while last season United based the team’s success on defensive stability, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand un-breakable, this has not been the case so far this campaign. Few if any of Ferguson’s defenders have done themselves justice.