The Everton vs Arsenal game has just kicked off and I can’t think of a better inspiration they have to win after hearing United lost 2-1 against West Ham. The final whistle blew at Upton Park minutes before the game in Merseyside started, Anton Ferdinand scoring the equalising goal against his brother’s team.
In the past three meetings now, West Ham have claimed three victories, each time facing a Manchester United team that just doesn’t seem up for it. Today they were utterly spineless, despite taking the lead through a well worked move, which ended predictably with Ronaldo. The man is currently going through the goalscoring form of his life, scoring his seventeenth goal in his past eighteen games today.
With sixty five minutes played, Ronaldo should have made that tally eighteen in as many games, after former red Spector needlessly handballed in the area. Before this point, we hadn’t shown much of anything. Noble carelessly fired over the bar when the goalmouth was left empty before we scored our first, and Kuszczack made a great finger tip save. Cole should have at least tested the keeper when he had a headered chance on goal and even though we had a few chances on the break, we didn’t look up to it.
Ronaldo stepped up in his usual confident manner, with Louis Saha, who has always previously taken our penalties when on the field, standing back. When Ronaldo drilled it wide of Green’s post, you had to start thinking whether today was going to be another one of ‘those’ days. The days where it doesn’t matter what we do or whether the players decide to try or not, the result isn’t going to go the way we want.
Eleven minutes after Ronaldo missed, West Ham drew level. Ferguson had already taken Tevez off, to a standing ovation, bringing on Anderson. It seemed rather odd at the time, leaving Saha, who is still struggling to find his form, as our lone striker. It of course makes more sense than leaving Tevez as a lone striker, but why did we only need one striker on the field? If Ferguson wanted that extra muscle in midfield, why didn’t he start Anderson? Why didn’t he take off the ineffectual Darren Fletcher?
Two minutes after they equalised, Ferguson (via the telephone) took Hargreaves, not Giggs, off for Nani. The extra muscle in midfield coupled with the now lacking attacking prowess hadn’t worked, as we’d conceded. So now Ferguson was trying to right his wrongs by bringing on an attacking player for a more defensive one. Three minutes after this substitution, West Ham were set to take all the points, this time Upson getting his name on the scoresheet.
Both West Ham goals came from crosses in to the box. Anton Ferdinand was Darren Fletcher’s man, but Rio’s bruv easily powered his way to the ball, he wanted it more. Their second goal came again from a Noble ball, amending what had appeared to be a costly miss early on, playing the ball in to the box for Upson to head past our keeper.
Now, when looking at the lineups in our previous two games, I can see Ferguson’s reasoning. Our strongest XI were put on the field against Everton at home, with Ferdinand’s injury leading to Simpson being drafted in at right back, Brown moving across to the centre alongside Vidic. Carrick and Anderson were trusted with the central midfield roles, with Hargreaves and Scholes out injured.
Three days later, we played Sunderland, and with a tough game against West Ham to follow three days later, it made sense that Ferguson used our squad players against the weaker team of the two to come. From the players we had available, we more or less started our strongest team, with Anderson and Evra being the only notable players being given the day off.
Before today, Ferguson talked of taking a 20-man squad to Upton Park, so when I saw Fletcher listed alongside Hargreaves, I couldn’t quite understand why. Anderson had been rested against Sunderland, and has shown his worth against Liverpool and Arsenal. Why on earth was Fergie not starting him again in a game we had to assume was going to be tough?
Before I go on further, I want to make it clear this isn’t about singling out one person who should foot the blame of our loss today. We win as a team and we lose as a team, and that’s not going to change now, but I have to question certain decisions and certain performances.
Fletcher wasn’t horrendous today, put it this way, I’ve seen him play far worse, he was just rather ineffectual. Anton Ferdinand easily got away from him for their opening goal and throughout the ninety minutes, Fletcher failed to impose himself on the game. I have championed the decision of Ferguson time and against to give time to players like O’Shea and Fletcher, as I think they were important squad players. They both featured in over forty games for us last season, which was an extremely long way, seeing it through to the semis of Europe and the final of the FA Cup, as well as winning the league. Having players like O’Shea and Fletcher in your team to rely on in times of injury or to rest players once the game is won is extremely important. However, when you have two better players, who between them cost close to £40 million, why is Fletcher getting a start? What message does that send out to our team and to our opposition? We’re going to rest £40 million worth of talent today in favour of Darren Fletcher. Is that giving respect to a team who deserves it, after beating us at home and away last season? Is that showing the importance of the match to our players, who will see that Fergie is happy enough to start our FIFTH choice central midfielder?
At 1-0 up, United oddly looked happy enough to keep it that way. It is rare to see United play in such a negative way, and although breaking on occasion, they just didn’t look up for it, just like they didn’t last December. Our performances leaked of complacency, with our match winners not showing up. Combine that with lacklustre defending and you deserve everything you get, which in our case today, was absolutely nothing. Even when we were fortunate enough to see Solano make way at the start of the second half due to injury, who had been the best player on the park in the first half, we didn’t look keen enough to cease our chance.
It’s easy for players like Ronaldo to get cocky, scoring in every game he plays, being told he is the best around at just twenty two, and he was certainly a victim of cockiness today. Is there really any excuse to not get a penalty on target? The bloody kids at half time at Old Trafford confidently rocket the ball in to the roof of the net, so why on earth is Ronaldo missing the target? Rooney was only saying last week how often Ronaldo practices, Ferguson was saying the same thing of his freekicks, so how can we sing he makes England look shite when he takes a penalty in just the same manner as their clowns do? At the least, you’ve got to be forcing a save from the keeper, who incidentally has already saved three penalties this season.
As I press on the post article button, I can certainly confirm today is not our day, with Eduardo controlling the ball with his arm before slotting in Arsenal’s second against Everton.
We got it wrong today. Massively wrong. From the team selection to our attitude, from the substitutions to our tactics, from our penalty taking to the way we played, we were just a million miles off the mark. Onwards and upwards it has to be though, with Birmingham travelling to us on New Year’s Day.
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