It’s a worry when you’re relieved to collect a point against Sunderland. Saying that, it was an injury time own goal which earned us a point against them at Old Trafford last season. See, when you compare things to last season, we do alright. We lost at Goodison Park and Craven Cottage last season yet we’ve picked up points at both of those grounds this season. So that’s six points up.
However, we won at both Sunderland and Bolton last season and we’ve dropped points at both of those grounds this season, so that’s four points down. When you consider we threw away points against Everton and Fulham, as well as the fact with the chances our opponents created, we could have lost at the Stadium of Light and the Reebok, we’re not fairing too well at all.
So, what’s the problem?
Our season hangs on ifs and buts. If Carrick can replicate the form of his first few season, if Owen Hargreaves can come back as a regular, if Anderson can fulfil the potential we expect of him, if Darren Fletcher can be the imposing figure he was in the two seasons just gone, then we’ll be alright. We’ll be better than alright in fact. If all those things happened, we’d have the best central midfield in the league. As it is, when comparing ourselves with title challengers, we don’t come out too favourable.
It would be hard for any red not to have noticed how easily lesser teams have totally by-passed our midfield this season. It was the midfield where we so often got a hold of the ball and could dominate the game from there. Last season, we did that at Stamford Bridge, at the Emirates, at White Hart Lane, but this year we’re struggling to do it at the Reebok and the Stadium of Light!
As we go in to our game against West Brom, a team I pencilled in for relegation this season, we should be feeling confident. However, we’d be mad to expect a walk over here. Have you looked at the league table recently? West Brom have amassed the same number of points as Arsenal in 4th this season but are 6th on goal difference. This lot are no West Ham, Wolves or Liverpool. They’ve drawn with Spurs, beaten Arsenal… and lost 6-0 to Chelsea. They are all over the place, so whilst we’re looking more for a 6-0 victory, we should be mindful of their win at the Emirates.
As for the team we’re going to put out, who knows. I’d love to see Chicharito get the nod today but wonder how likely that is after his trip to Mexico midweek. Wayne Rooney is desperately looking to his form so hopefully the confidence of Dimitar Berbatov will rub off on him today if they start together.
We should be looking to get Anderson and Michael Carrick back in the team and match fit. Neither of them were used on International duty so we really need to get some matches under their belt. Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes have been used almost exclusively in midfield this season, so I don’t think it would do either of them any harm to be left out of the team. We’ve got 5 games over the next 14 days so we need to have as many options as possible.
We’ve had two games of clean sheets at the back, which makes a nice change for our disorganised defence. Captain Vidic was hailing Rio’s return as akin to having a new signing. I hate the ‘so and so returning is like buying a new player’ comments, but it can’t do us any harm to have that stability back in our defence.
Whilst I love having John O’Shea in the squad, there to come on when a game is won and to give other players, whether in midfield or defence (or goal!) a rest, I can’t abide by Ferguson’s stubbornness in starting him every week. If he’s still not over his falling out with Wes, there’s no excuse to leave Rafael da Silva out of the team. O’Shea is a great lad, well liked by our fans, but his ability is not on the level with someone we expect to see as our starting right back.
So, as always, the three points is a priority, but there are certain things we should be looking for today. A sturdy defence, Rooney getting the ball rolling with a goal, and a competent midfield.
Come on reds.