Twelve months ago we grabbed the attention of the Premiership when we thrashed Fulham 5-1 on the opening day of the season. I wrote about this game, and called it the “ideal start”, something which we needed to show people we were serious about winning our title back.
So as I left Old Trafford yesterday, the chants of “Championees” distinctly more quiet than on the way in, I couldn’t really work out what had gone wrong. After a summer of such promise and high hopes, how is it that we were leaving the ground after a 0-0 draw with Reading?
The first half was more than comfortable, with Rooney terrorising the Reading defence. They packed their box and managed, along with the help of the woodwork, to keep our attempts out. Rooney has had a great pre-season, and this overflowed in to the first game. So when just before half time he could barely walk and had taken his boots off, things weren’t looking good.
We’ve seen enough games like this to feel confident enough about the second half, and when we started the second as we did the first, all fires blazing, then it looked as though it wouldn’t be long before we broke the deadlock. Michael Carrick came the closest to scoring, along with numerous good efforts from Giggs, Scholes and Ronaldo, but there was no one on the field who could put it in the back of the net. When the game finished with our 20 shots on goal to their two, with our 75% possession, I couldn’t quite believe the game had finished 0-0. Reading played much of the second half with five men in defence, and when their striker was sent off, they played no one up front. Their tactics worked, and credit to them, but many more teams are going to attempt to frustrate us in the same way, and we need to find a way to overcome that.
Currently, we have no match fit strikers, and are just two days away from our next Premiership game, an away trip to Fratton Park, where we lost towards the end of last season. Ferguson has confirmed today that we are not going to buy a new striker, and that Tevez, who has not played a game since the first week of July, is going to get thrown in to the team. This is not how we envisaged the start of our title defence.
Whilst we’ve been subjected to the talk of the “injury crisis” at Stamford Bridge, as we were last season, it is important that we stay focussed on our goal here. Chelsea are without John Terry, so are forced to play the lowly Carvalho and Tel Ben Haim in the centre of their midfield. What we would give for cover for our strikeforce of the quality Chelsea have over their injured positions. That isn’t our problem though.
We can’t avoid our injuries, we’ve got them, and we’ve got to deal with them. However, there are weaknesses in the team that need to be addressed. We need to deal with the problems we do have control of, rather than complain about the issues which are out of our control. Firstly, after watching the Reading game (and I couldn’t bring myself to watch the highlights, so I’m just judging from one viewing from the stands) whilst it was clear we missed the finishing of a striker, what bothered me most was the indecisiveness of the players. Maybe knowing we didn’t have a striker on the field unsettled them, but too many players lacked the confidence we usually rely on. Carrick and Scholes, who formed a great partnership last season, looked like headless chickens at times, with Scholes too afraid to have a shot and Carrick looking lost. He didn’t know what to do with the ball, and too often just stood stationary outside of the area, waiting to get the ball taken from him. This needs to change.
After a few scares in the pre-season, I was pleased to see a solid defence in the form of Brown, Ferdinand and Vidic. Admittedly, they had very little to deal with, but on the odd occasion Reading got in to our half, they left me with nothing to complain about in the way they dealt with the situation. However, a second problem we can address is our team selection, and Silvestre was a disaster area. If the poor Reading attack can make him look like a mug, then there’s no way I’d trust him against any half decent players. We need to play Evra back in position, as despite doing a half decent job against Chelsea in the Community Shield, he contributed little yesterday. After spending money to strengthen our team, it makes no sense to play our current players out of position rather than giving our new players a shot.
Portsmouth will be difficult, but you can’t rule out Tevez having a storming debut. It should also be time to introduce Hargreaves to the midfield, to give us a bit of grit. Derby day has come around all too quickly this season, and after Sven’s new team have appeared to gel instantly, it’s not a game I am relishing. I am grateful for small mercies, and playing Tottenham “we’re going to finish top 4 this season” Hotspur at home rather than White Hart Lane fills me with more hope. That takes us to the end of the month, by which point, I’m hoping we’ll have Saha back, and the partnership between him and Tevez can start to develop.
I’m a hell of a lot less hopeful about this season than I was just two days ago, as we know how important a good start is. The odds have to be against us having a good start now, and that is hugely disappointing. But you’d be a mug to write United off, ever, and I certainly won’t be doing with just one game played. The loss of Rooney is a massive one, when added to the problems we already have with our strikers, but it is not the end of the World. So, chins up, grit your teeth, and let’s all get behind supporting the Champions of England. We’ll Never Die.