Our least convincing performance of the season could be found on Saturday, just beating our display against Spurs, yet both of these games saw us pick up our only three points of the season. We hear lots of talk about “That’s why they’re champions”, and it always used to be said when the trophy was at Stamford Bridge, and they ground out a 1-0 win. When Chelsea beat Portsmouth a couple of weeks back, to put us five points behind, John Terry said, “speaking to some of the Manchester United players, they should have beaten Portsmouth away, but they only picked up a point. And Portsmouth maybe deserved something from us at the weekend but they left with nothing. That’s the thing that really pleases me. We’ve got that ability to grind things out.” Yes, the ability to grind out a result is important if you want to win the league, but I certainly don’t want us to become renowned for the 1-0 win. When Chelsea last won the league, they racked up six 1-0s in the league, and twelve the season before that!
I’m not particularly worried of us becoming a team like that, and agree with Ferguson’s pre-match programme notes which talked of the vital 1-0s we got away to Blackburn and Liverpool last season. You do need to grind out a result when you’re going through a rough patch, and that certainly is the case for us at the moment. We’ve created plenty of chances, more than most if not all teams so far this season, but we haven’t had a finisher on the field.
Our luck changed somewhat on Saturday though. Reverting back to more likeable 442, with Carrick losing his place in the centre of midfield, and Giggs losing his spot on the wing to Eagles, we again created the chances, and again couldn’t put them away. Up until Louis came on to field, and he put the ball in the back of the net from a quality Nani corner (something Giggs, Ronaldo and Carrick all seem to fail in offering).
The important thing to do in the absence of Rooney, Ronaldo and Saha, was to the keep afloat. We didn’t have the players on the field we needed to find the net frequently, but we just needed to make sure we didn’t fall too far behind. Thanks to Chelsea’s result on Sunday away to Villa, following talk from Captain Terry on how it would be hard for us to catch up, we are still in it, and the ridiculously dismissive talk about us a couple of weeks ago looks pretty ludicrous now. A weekend can change everything, and two weekends can make the World of difference. When we next play, with Saha available for all 90 minutes (fingers crossed) and Ronaldo back from suspension, we need to start fixing the problems which have cost us points so far.
There’s a long season ahead, and we haven’t even really got started yet. When you look at the team which beat Sunderland, we were playing with half a team of newbies (Tevez, Anderson, Eagles, Nani, Hargreaves), who are still finding their feet, but more importantly, learning to play with each other. It is unrealistic to expect new players to come in to the team and fit in straight away. Whilst I have been massively impressed with how quickly Nani and Hargreaves have slotted it, it is more than expected that not all players can do that. Now that Tevez has a striker to play in front of him, I expect to see a lot more from him, and as the weeks and matches go by, our new players should get more used to how we do things.
This current team has the potential to be the best we’ve had in years, with a seemingly perfect mixture of ability, experience, youth, skill and hunger. If we can just be patient with these players, give them time to settle in, then we could be on the verge of seeing the best football we’ve had from the team since 99.
I expect much better than what we have seen already, and am confident that will come with time. We can’t push our luck for much longer though, and we do need to be scoring more goals. It was vitally important for Saha to score on his return, to boost his confidence, and I look forward to Tevez banging in his first.
“Can Manchester Unite score? They always score.” 1-0’s have been good enough to do the job so far…now we need more.