This is our best squad ever and the ‘quintuple’ is still a possibility, but the team haven’t been performing as we’d like.
Never hitting top gear
Manchester United have been treading water for pretty much the entire season. Every time we have a good game, I’m waiting for us to move up a gear and stay at the level, but it just hasn’t seemed to happen. Every good performance was followed by an average one.
We thrashed West Brom 4-0, then drew 1-1 with Everton the following week. We thrashed Stoke 5-0 then drew with Villa in our next match. We dominated derby day, even after we went down to ten men with over twenty minutes to play, but then scraped a 1-0 at home against Sunderland thanks to a Vidic injury time winner. We tore Chelsea to shreds in a 3-0 win, then could only put one against Wigan the following week.
On a weekly basis, players make mistakes. Sometimes they are made to pay for them, sometimes they get away with them.
In two matches, United made four errors which cost us six points.
Error 1: Instead of just kicking the ball in to the stands or booting it up the pitch, for whatever reason, Nemanja Vidic chose to let the ball bounce. Now, he’s probably done that on numerous occasions this season and it hasn’t been a problem. To do that when Fernando Torres is stood next to you is bordering on retarded.
Error 2: Patrice Evra fouling Steven Gerrard in the penalty area
Error 3: Vidic diving on Gerrard and getting sent off. It almost felt like game over over at that point. It was the results of that sending off that were the killers though: a) Liverpool scored from the free-kick to put the game beyond doubt, b) Vidic misses the next two Premiership games through suspension.
Error 4: Paul Scholes blocking Fulham’s attempt on goal with his hands in the box. United were a goal down and a man down with less than 20 minutes played. No coming back.
Had these errors been spread out over the course of the season or had we got away with one or two of them, then we would be in a very different situation at the moment. However, the timing of it all was dreadful and made things appear as though they were a lot worse than they actually were. Back to back defeats when we had the potential to go ten points clears with a game in hand looked so bad, when essentially, it was individual errors which cost us scraping or draw or fluking a win.
It’s been a frustrating season which has become even more frustrating of late. Despite having the second best assists in the Premiership, we haven’t worked a way to integrate Dimitar Berbatov successfully. I think he’s a quality player and I’m made up he’s on our team, but we’re not seeing the best from him yet. 13 goals and 9 assists is a good season but of course we want him to have a great season. His touch is fantastic and he has vision to match but something hasn’t clicked the way we want it to yet.
Nani and Anderson just haven’t been anywhere near as effective as they were last season. We’ve seen glimpses of Anderson’s potential again this season, with the pace he injects from the centre of midfield something we don’t see from Carrick or Scholes, but he hasn’t been as good. His passing has been off, he loses possession too easily and he just doesn’t seem to control the midfield like he did last year. Remember how he bossed Gerrard and Fabregas off the pitch? Where’s that player gone?
As for Nani, he has been poor. What I love about him is his fighting nature, with him happy enough to chase the ball all over the pitch. Sadly, when he does win the ball, he doesn’t do a lot with it. He’s scored some of the best goals I’ve ever seen at Old Trafford and showed he was more than up to the big occasion last season. In his defence, he hasn’t been given a long stint in the team to find form and for a while just seemed to drop out of the squad all-together.
We paid top dollar for these two though and they’ve already shown in their first season they have the potential and capabilities to cut it in this league. Last season Nani didn’t have Ji-Sung Park to compete with and Anderson didn’t have his injuries. Whilst most reds are confident about Anderson’s future at the club, some already seem to have given up on Nani. I am of the opinion that he has a shit load of potential and will be able to cut it when he’s given a steady run in the team. He looked better in his first season than Ronaldo did but the difference is Ronaldo played every week from the moment he signed.
Injuries happen to every team and there are certainly teams who have had them worse than us but injured players certainly have had an effect on our season. The most noteable are as follows.
Owen Hargreaves and Wes Brown have missed the entire season, both of whom were first team players last season, who both started in the Champions League final, showing their ranking within the team.
We were without Ronaldo for the first month of the season then he spent the second month getting his fitness back after missing months of football because of surgery.
Paul Scholes missing for all of October and November.
Rio Ferdinand picked up an injury after playing Spurs on December 12th, missing our next eleven matches in all competitions.
Wayne Rooney did his hamstring in January and didn’t start for us for a further eight matches in all competitions after that.
Then we’ve had the injuries to the squad players. Rafael da Silva showed us what he was capable of but then an injury which hit at the turn of the year has seen him ruled out ever since. His more highly rated brother, Fabio, missed the first half of the season due to a shoulder injury, then when he did get a game, picked up a strain in his calf.
Onwards and upwards
All season I’ve been waiting for things to click and fit in to place. The potential with this squad is fantastic and we’ve just been waiting for those great performances, or this or that player to come back. You keep thinking it will be the next weekend and then reality hits: we’re half way through April! It’s almost a whole year since the joy of beating Wigan and that fantastic night in Moscow!
But then you have to think, we’ve already got two trophies in the bag, we’re top of the league, and we’re in the semi-finals of two other competitions. It’s bloody incredible and the fact that we’ve managed to get here without playing blinding football every week is testament of our squad.
So, to quote Dimitar Berbatov, “WE are Manchester United”, and whatever we win this season, I’m certain things will click for us soon enough!