Reds move on, but will it last?

When Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side was thrashed 6-1 by rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford in late October the talk, naturally, was of moving on. United needed to get beyond the freak result, establish some measure of stability, and, most of all, tighten up at the back. To some extent the Reds managed to do that domestically, winning xx and drawing one of xx games up to and including last weekend’s victory over Aston Villa. The football wasn’t pretty, but Ferguson’s side did a solid job of building a rennaisaince.

Then came FC Basel and United’s Champions League exit on Wednesday. Blame the result on bad luck; blame it on lack of quality. Whatever the cause, and whomever the culprit(s), United simply had to take steps towards recovery on Saturday when Wolverhampton Wanderers visited Old Trafford. Indeed, Mick McCarthey’s side was surely the perfect tonic for a bruised United, having failed to win at the Theatre of Dreams for more than 30 years and, more recently, having lost seven of the last 10 in all competitions.

True to the script Sir Alex wanted United thrashed a meek Wolves side, which caved in all too easily. Goals from Wayne Rooney and Nani will have boosted the Reds’ confidence – and goal difference – as the home side racked up an easy 4-1 victory on Saturday. True, McCarthy’s side possesses nobody of Xherdan Shaqiri’s excellence. Nor Marco Streller, Alexander Frei, Nicolás Gaitán, and Pablo Aimar, who have each caused United so much pain in Europe this season. But a win, in the circumstances, is a win nonetheless.

No wonder Ferguson wrote off Wednesday’s loss as bad luck – however disingenuous – and praised his side’s performance against the Midlanders.

“I was well pleased with the performance, our attacking play was terrific and we could have scored a lot more goals,” the United manager said.

“Goals are what we are about really, and today was a fillip in terms of pushing us on in the league. We are coming up to an important part of the season now and a win like this puts us in good fettle. On Wednesday we worked our socks off and didn’t get a break. Today we worked our socks off and we did get the breaks. There’s no question that what happened on Wednesday was a massive disappointment, but some of the young players will be able to learn from that experience. Some of them have not suffered a bad defeat before, and in the long term it could be good for them.”

Moving on from Wednesday has become a theme, with Ferguson rightly eyeing a favourable fixture list during December as United’s opportunity to close the gap on Manchester City in the Premier League. Indeed, more than one player confronted personal demons against Wolves, with out-of-form Rooney scoring twice, and Nani recovering from an inconsistent spell for bag a brace.

And in Phil Jones, the 19-year-old defender Ferguson has pushed into central midfield, the Scot has a determined performer who suffering in the St Jakob-Park cauldron last week, only to recover more than a semblance of pride against Wolves

“The manager said the most important thing was to move on, and that’s what we did,” 19-year-old defender Phil Jones said.

“We moved on quickly and showed what we are capable of. The fans were 100% behind us and that’s exactly what we needed. Everyone at the club was incredibly disappointed on Wednesday, but there’s no point dwelling on it. It’s gone, and now there are other things to play for. It’s a credit to the lads. It was a terrific performance after the disappointment of midweek but we have picked ourselves up quickly and gone again. It was a spirited performance and hopefully we can push on from here.

“Wayne was brilliant again. Just because he hasn’t been scoring doesn’t mean he hasn’t influenced the game because the things he does off the ball are terrific. People don’t take that into consideration, but he has been playing terrifically well for us. Nani was also terrific.”

While United successfully ‘moved on’ against McCarthey’s tepid outfit there are far greater challenges to come. After all, United has failed in the club’s two toughest challenges of the season to date – at home to City, and qualification from the Champions League.

The Reds will surely confirm the renaissance in fixtures against QPR, Fulham, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers during December. Yet, January begins with a visit to Newcastle United, followed by the FA Cup fixture against City at Eastlands. Then there is the visit to Arsenal, before back-to-back games against Chelsea and Liverpool in early February.

And whatever the structural imbalances in Ferguson’s squad it is highly unlikely that the Scot will dip into the transfer market this weekend. More unlikely still that the Glazer family will dig deep to sign the kind of high quality central midfielders that are so patently required.

“It is very difficult to buy players in January,” Ferguson said.

“You don’t just want to buy any player simply because it gives you another player. If you are going to buy, you want to buy someone who can make a difference. We have only had maybe four or five signings in my time here in January: Louis Saha, Andy Cole, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra. It is not a consistent route for us to buy in January, simply because of all the disadvantages. There are a lot of issues there and there is nothing in my mind at the moment.”

With Anderson too often injured and always inconsistent, and Tom Cleverley unlikely to be fit until well into the New Year, Ferguson is left to find his best combination in midfield. December should provide the boost to confidence United’s 69-year-old manager seeks. But the real challenge will come in the New Year, with the tougher fixtures to come. Will United’s familiar failings raise their head again?

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Comments

  1. Nsc says

    Great read. I completely agree with you. I think that if united are to go into 2012 with confidence, they have to rack up maximum points because the youngsters in the squad cannot be under immense pressure or theyll breakdown. Hopefully by Newcastle away, cleverly and carrick will be starting in cm with nani and Tony on the wings

  2. Kashere2011 says

    We shot of quality in cm,if a defender can be force to play in cm ,why can’t fergie accept the fact and by a proven cm player.I didn’t see us beating any of the big 4 with our current midfield plays.We have too many pass back players in the middle of the park,we have the quality in back passer instead of attack.

  3. says

    There has been a dearth of postings since our big win against lowly Wolves.

    At the risk of you all steaming in and sending in `what an idiot’ postings — let me make a suggestion: we have a left fullback who always attacks well but is currently defending like an idiot — and two wingers, one who is our only real worldbeater on his day and perhaps is too deadly in front of goal himself to be restricted to the flanks, and another who is starting to come really good –and is a bit better defensively than the worldbeater I referred to. The problem is that they both need to play down the right. We have an experienced centreback who tends to be a bit crocked and two young centrebacks currently being played out of position, one at right back and the other in CMF.

    My crazy solution: wingbacks and 3 centrebacks in a formation and with personnel like this:

    I may be out of my mind — but if we were to play this team, who knows a nasty surprise might await our sky-blue tormentors when we go to the Eithad
    Lindegard

    Smalling Ferdinand Jones

    Valencia Cleverley Carrick Ravel Morrison Evra

    Nani Rooney

    OK I’m waiting for the “you stupid f***” postings!

    • says

      Damian – you stupid f….

      In all seriousness three at the back has fallen by the wayside because it allows teams to create 2 v 1 encounters on the flanks with a simple cross field ball. But at least your formation actually uses players in positions, by and large, they’d be comfortable with. Not nearly enough tinkering for Fergie ;)

      • says

        That’s true: but then the question is — would there be an increase in midfield possession and increase in atacking fluidity that will offset getting outnumbered down the flanks. It could then be that the opposition get starved of possession and have nothing going through the centre so that they HAVE to go for the flanks — which means that danger can be turned into counter-atacking advantage if they start to overcommit defenders in supporting attacks down the flanks. We have so many flank players in this team that if they lose possession after commiting attackers then any counter-attack of ours is likely to be deadly. The essence of counter-atack is that, by definition, you have to get the opposition to attack something, overcommit and then caught with their pants down.

        Also I thought there might be more fluid permutations: carrick to screen the back 3, Morrison or Cleverley to shift in and out of being a third attacker.

        In my very limited book, if you are going to play 4-4-2 or a variant thereof and rely on great wing play — then you need at least one Joe Jordan waiting for crosses in the centre. And the formation would seem to discourage switching the direction of attack because the fullback normally providews back up support for the winger to give a 2 against 1 wherever possible. This means the opposite full back (the left back if the attack is coming down the right) has to move across to the right as well to fill in any gaps and effectively make a back 3 with the two centrebacks. This means that if the attacking side play the ball across and lose it before the back 4 has regained its shape, there is trouble down an exposed left flank.

        But then there’s probably stacks of other considerations I have missed. But there again, I would never play Rooney, Macheda or Diouf on the wing or Giggs and Park in tandem as central midfielders, as I believe has been tried and probably been found wanting.

  4. Just1n says

    Interesting formation. Problem is that you need a great coach with experience who can play that formation and not a turd like Phelan.

  5. DeadRevel says

    Nani played on the left against Wolves and was great to be fair. Kept his shots on target for once. And whenever we want him on the right, we can draft in Young on the left.

    Also, Carrick was brilliant. #justsaying

  6. Wil says

    Didn’t watch the game but glad to see City finally lost in the EPL. They are definitely a very good side but not necessarily unbeatable and gives me confidence United can catch up.

    Just thinking out of the blue. Now that United are out of the Champions League, I seriously think Ferguson should buy players this Jan. Why? Simply because who cares if the player is cup tied for Europa (even though I’m not sure if players are cup tied for this even if they have played in the CL), it’s definitely not a cup that United will prioritize. If United seriously wants to remain Champions, we need to buy! Schweisteiger (no idea how to spell his name) is my 1st priority but I’ll take Sneijder/ De Rossi any day!

    Last but not least, I know this had come up a zillion times already but why is Fergie not giving Morrison and Pogba chances in the Premiership is a mystery to me. I still have all the faith in Fergie but I sincerely hope we will be seeing a lot more Morrison, Pogba and Fryers during this Christmas schedule and hopefully they’ll prove us all wrong that United DOESN’T need to buy anyone in Jan!

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