Another match gone, more points dropped, and the talk of “crisis” is upon us. Despite dominating Sunday’s derby, yet again we failed to put the ball in the back of the net. We hit the woodwork, again, we watched the ball roll painfully close on the wrong side of the post, again, and Micah Richards had probably the best game of his career so far. And give a shit, right, because we’ve picked up two points from a possible nine after bigging up our chances all summer?
It’s painful, and it’s upsetting, and it’s frustrating, and I write this feeling as though there is very little I can say or do which is going to cheer me up at the moment. So bear with me.
Since Arsenal’s unbeaten season, there has been a lot of attention given to having a good start. United have historically won their titles in the second half the season, when they put their foot down and really start to steam roll. We’re told you can no longer afford to do that. Now that we have given Chelsea the advantage, it appears as though our fate this season is in their hands as much as it is in our own. Forget how many points we drop, we need Chelsea to drop more. Last season they did, the season before last they didn’t.
Last season, between August and December, Chelsea dropped 16 points, and between the January and when the title was won, they dropped 11 points. In contrast, United dropped 10 points in the first half the season, and 10 in the second half up until the day the title was won. Our strong start to the season put us in a better position at the turn of the year, but we also managed to have a stronger end to the season as well. We were stronger than Chelsea in both halves of the season. That is why we were crowned champions.
It was a different story with Chelsea the season before however. They were crowned champions because in the first half of the season they dropped just 5 points. However, in the second half of the season, up until the day the title was won, United and Chelsea picked up exactly the same amount of points. Despite having a team ripped apart by injuries, lead by O’Shea and Giggs in the centre of our midfield, and despite already being so far behind, we showed we had the mental strength to fight back. We showed we could go head to head with a fully fit Chelsea side, even when our chances of winning in the end were slim. We all know this is not the first time we have done this, and it will not be the last. That season, our fighting spirit wasn’t enough to enable us to claim the title, we were simply too far behind. With thirty five games left to go, we have it all to play for. It is ludicrous to think we are too far behind already.
Over the course of the 05/06 season, we dropped too many points, and the points we lost that season mirrors exactly that of Chelsea’s 06/07 season, with both teams finishing the year on 83 points, both teams coming second. Slow starts cost both teams in those years, however I’m curious to see how our lads would have done without a primadonna wantaway striker, and with a fully fit first XI in the second half of the season. (It is important to note at this point that Cech returned to the Chelsea team in January of last season, and that Terry missed just 6 league games between January and the end of the season). I would love to know how close we could have got to our title that year. Can you have a slow start but fight hard enough later on the claw it back?
With three games gone, doubts are starting to arise amongst United fans. This isn’t the start we’d envisaged, and it’s making us panic. Fans on the forums are trying to work out what the problem is, and I’m sure if you popped over to 606 you’d find “United fans” calling for Ferguson’s head. I think Ferguson does have a problem though, and don’t really know how he can solve it. Everywhere on the field, we are working as we should. We’re playing great football, football of a much higher standard than the football we saw give us three points against the likes of Watford and Spurs at the start of last season. So what can Ferguson say to the team? “Right lads, keep doing everything you’re doing, but next match, just, well, score a goal.”
Our out and out strikers, Saha and Solskjaer, who you can often rely on just sticking the ball in to the back of the net, are both out injured, and are set to make returns over the next couple of weeks. Rooney, who we not only rely on for scoring goals, but for creating them as well, is out injured, and we won’t be seeing him back until October (and therefore almost definitely going to miss the Chelsea game). Ronaldo has a further two games out for his “headbutt” at Pompey (although, I’m all ears to anyone who wants to explain the difference between that incident and Terry’s “headbutt” on Torres at the weekend), and again, is a player we rely on to score and provide our goals. It is not really any surprise then that we’re not bagging goals aplenty at the moment, is it? Should we have other players on our team who are capable of stepping up to the plate? Of course. Am I too worried that we’re not getting the best from them yet? No.
If we’d had an own goal in our favour on the opening day of the season to gift us three points like Liverpool, then we’d be happy. If we’d had a penalty awarded for nothing on our second away game of the season like Chelsea, then we’d be happy. If we’d had one of our long range shots deflected in to the goal for three points like City, then we’d be happy. If Giggs’ shot against Reading hadn’t hit the woodwork, and equally, Vidic’s header against City, then we would be happy. But it’s not happening for us at the moment. It feels as though things can’t get much worse, but they most definitely could. You only have to think back to a few years back to remember that. At least we are playing good football, at least the only missing piece is finding the back of the net. That is a problem which is far more easily solved than being a few world class players short of a great first XI, or having a team of unmotivated players. We’ve got the ability, we’ve got the desire, now we just need that extra bit of luck on our side to get us going. We need to see the ball ripple the net by whichever means necessary. We need to get it started.
When our players start returning and when the goals start coming, we’ll certainly have catch up to play, as we’ve already dropped seven points, in contrast to just the two that Chelsea have dropped. But let’s remember we lost and drew five games last season, and still won the league by six points. The season before, Chelsea lost five and drew four, but still won the league by eight points. We still have a lot of room to work in. Less room than we would have had if we’d had a good start, but the walls aren’t closing in on us just yet. At the very least, let’s see how Chelsea get on without the likes of Drogba, Essien, Kalou, and Mikel in January during the ACN, a period where we really start to pick ourselves up. People are quick to underestimate how quickly things can change.
Alan Hansen has said our game against Spurs is a must win, and the last team you want to be playing in this situation is a team who desperately need a win themselves. These are difficult times, and I’m not going to bury my head in the sand about our current situation. This season could blow up in our faces, and it could be one of the most disappointing we have had for a long time. But equally, these could be the stories we talk about at the end of a hugely successful season. “Christ, remember the dreadful start we had? Thank fuck things turned around for us so quickly.”
I look at our first XI, and I don’t think any team beats it. Hargreaves looked sensational against City, one of the best debuts I’ve seen for a while. He just looked like the missing piece. Whilst I’m pleased with the signings of Tevez, Nani (and Anderson, I guess, although I base that on his talked up potential, rather than what I’ve seen of him), Hargreaves just looks like what we’ve needed for a while, and he was one of the few positives that came from Sunday.
So the lads are testing us right now, without a doubt, but whoever wins the league this season will certainly lose more than one game and will draw more than two games. No title will ever be won or lost after three games. We never do things the easy way, and I hope this season will result in further proof of that.
We’ll Never Die.