Just one of those days. Unfortunately, it feels like whenever United have the opportunity to make the most of our rivals slipping up, we blow it. Of course, this can’t be the case, as we’ve come from behind to win title after title but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating on days like yesterday though. Chelsea were held to a 3-3 draw at home against the side we thrashed the week before. With them nose-diving, drawing two and losing two of their last four, today was a real opportunity to land the almost fatal blow. To go in to this busy Christmas period with just goal difference separating us, with them knowing they had the ACoN to come, we would be in pole position. As it is, we’ve taken a dent in confidence whilst they will be feeling well and truly let off the hook.
So, what went so wrong yesterday? There were a few areas which need looking at ahead of our next match. The first is crossing, whether it be from open play or the corner. Of the nine corners we had today, I believe only one of them made it past the first Villa man, which lead to Nemanja Vidic having his header cleared off the goal line. Get that? With the eight corners that went to straight to the head of the man at the post, no goal scoring opportunity was created. With the one corner than went deep in to the box, we could have scored. Surely that isn’t too difficult for our players to work out, surely our players practice corners in training, so why the fuck don’t we have a single player who can take a decent one? We didn’t prat around with the usual short corner today but the “direct” approach proved no better. We’re the champions and can’t take a sodding corner? What the fuck is that about?
Still, even when our wingers or full backs did get on the ball outside their area, the crossing was generally poor, particularly when the desperation started setting in during the second half. Antonio Valencia is a player I like, who was seemingly becoming more of a United player with every game, but today he was off the boil. I’m not singling him out, I’ll get to the others, but he needs to be able to whip a good cross in, particularly when up against a keeper as talented as Brad YSB Friedel.
The second thing we need to look at is our formation. I can only assume and hope that the manager left Michael Owen on the bench to rest his legs a bit after his hat-trick midweek against Wolfsburg to keep away injuries and that Dimitar Berbatov didn’t start because he’s still not properly match fit after his month out. Otherwise, it’s a fucking shambles to start with one striker at home. We got away with it against Arsenal thanks to a penalty and an own goal. Aston Villa are top four potential and to start Wayne Rooney by himself isn’t acceptable when we have other options.
The biggest problem with starting Rooney by himself is that if he is off the boil, we are fucked. I just had a quick check on Sky Sports website and they’ve rated him as an 8. Those who read RoM regularly will know I love the lad to bits, but today he was fucking woeful. That was probably his worst game of the season. Whilst of course eager to make up for his mistakes, sprinting back in to our half to win back the ball when he’d lost, it didn’t cover up for the fact that time and again his passing was dreadful and his judgement was even worse. Attempting to chest the ball down to players he simply should have just passed to, trying to chip the keeper when he should just put his foot through the ball, failing with the clever ball when there was a good and easier option elsewhere. God, he was infuriating. Then there was the dive (which I’ve yet to see) and you just wonder what’s going on in his little head. Sort yourself out Wayne, for fucks sake. Maybe on Tuesday we start with Berbatov and Owen, just as a reminder to him, because I honestly believe if anyone else played that badly they wouldn’t get another go in the next match.
Just like Anderson. Christ almighty, what is wrong with this boy? I thought he played a blinder against Wolfsburg. He picked out some really nice balls and drove the team forward, with Paul Scholes working hard behind him. I honestly would give Darron Gibson a go from the start ahead of Anderson midweek, because at least he carries a goal threat, something Anderson would struggle with even if playing against a visually impaired team with no bell in the ball. He’s so hit and miss. Fortunately, he’s only 21-years-old so has plenty of time to come good on a consistent basis. But we’ve got other young players desperate for a go too and he has to be aware of that.
Looking around the team, it’s hard to find many players to sing the praises of though. I thought Patrice Evra was his usual brilliant self. Sod Giggsy (sorry Sir Ryan!), Evra has been our best player this season. Week in week out he comes up with the goods. Tomasz Kuszczak, aside from the odd punch instead of catch, and possible hesitance for the goal (this match report comes without the benefit of replay, I’m afraid), did pretty well. Following Darren Fletcher’s careless mistake at 1-0 down, we should have conceded another, and would have if not for Kuszczak. That chance had goal written all over it and when Kus went to ground I thought it was all over, but somehow he got there, and credit to him for it. Michael Carrick was another who I thought did OK, although he wasn’t inspiring.
Paul Scholes watched the match from a box in the Stretford End with his two kids and must regret the five yellow cards he’s picked up in just ten league appearances this season. This game was crying out for a player who could play the pass which would rip Villa’s defence apart.
I imagine the press will sing the praises of the Villa defence or talk about the team doing what they had to do to earn the points. I honestly think it’s shocking that a potential top four team would come to Old Trafford and stick eleven men in their half for 45 minutes. It’s easy to defend well when your whole team is defending, and with twenty minutes to play are using the odd break as opportunity to run the ball towards the corner flag. Credit to them for coming to Old Trafford and getting the points, but with the players they have, it’s disappointing really. As the team sheet was read out, I can honestly say I think that’s the best bunch of players to visit Old Trafford this season. Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner are exciting and talented attacking players, Richard Dunne and Brad Friedel are two of the best defensive players in the league this season. But the football Villa played, particularly in the second half, was dismal. With just 32% possession, they have seen less of the ball than any team to visit Old Trafford this season. Fellow top four challengers City and Arsenal have played us at home, so there’s no real shame in coming below them, but Birmingham, Sunderland, Bolton and Blackburn all had more possession on their travels to Manchester. Of course, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get the points, but it certainly makes me doubt their top four credentials. By all accounts, they played a similar tactic when they were at home against Spurs, which should come as a worry to them. What’s the use in having all these great attacking talents if they’re going to spend most of the game in their own half?
Regardless, of all the weekends to lose at home, it worked out pretty well that it came when Chelsea dropped points too. The difference would have returned to five points again but now we’re just one point further behind than we were before the weekend. It’s frustrating not to have taken advantage of them dropping points, but it’s not the end of the world.
Hopefully our injury status might be improved by next weekend, meaning Darren Fletcher, probably our most important player, can be used in the centre of the park, rather than shoved out of the way at right back. Owen Hargreaves is supposedly joining full training this week too although we shouldn’t be holding our breath there. Jonny Evans and John O’Shea won’t be back until 2010, although Rio Ferdinand is supposed to be returning sooner rather than later, which would mean Wes could relieve Fletch of the right back spot.
We should view Tuesday not just as a chance to pick up three points, but an opportunity to score lots of goals. There’s 7 goals difference between us and Chelsea, so we need to spend the next few matches sticking the ball in the back of the net, so that when they do slip up again, and we take advantage, we’ll go top.
Come on reds.