Connect with us

Manchester United News

Lessons learned from Inter and Liverpool.

[Note to Liverpool fans stumbling onto this site through Newsnow: You lot are among the best fans ever and you will win the treble this season. Now go away and leave us in peace.]

Saturday was a terrible day. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this bad after a game. Even Chelsea away in the 05/06 season wasn’t quite as bad because, 1. we were playing away from home against a rather good team and, 2. we were a shite team in comparison then anyway, and 3. they weren’t Liverpool.

But rather than going about blasting every player that made it to the pitch it’s a far more constructive exercise to think about areas we could improve upon.

First, a positive, reassuring fact that ought to brighten depressed minds: we are top of the league with a four point cushion that could quite easily become seven if Saturday’s kick on the backside really meant something to the lads.

With that thought let’s move on to things that need to be worked on.

The defence has appeared strangely, for want of a better word, incoherent. For reasons, I can’t possibly explain, certain players have been ball watching far too much. Take, for example, Patrice Evra. I haven’t seen this drastic a slump in form as much as I’ve seen from him recently. [One can only hope that this is a temporary slump, and that he’s not playing injured.] He nearly let Stankovic capitalise on his oversight, and made an ill-timed tackle on Saturday, not to mention the number of times he allowed players to surge forward on the left. It could be argued that we had ‘Pool on the rack for most part but we can talk about that later.

Still with the defence, Nemanja Vidic had a game he’d probably want to forget soon [and hopefully his suspension would help him with that] but I am slightly concerned about Rio Ferdinand. He wasn’t bad against Liverpool, but he hasn’t been close to his peerless self of last season yet. Once again, I want to hope this is mainly because he is yet to recover from a recurrent back injury. But it is surely a while since I’ve seen the Rio Ferdinand who, in his peak, would’ve had enough cherries in his pocket to keep El Nino busy.

About our midfield, I’ve heard tons of revisionist bullshit about how Fergie cocked up his selection of personnel in midfield. Well, we could have said something similar about our team selection against Chelsea. We thumped them spectacularly, and Fergie was hailed a tactical genius — something the man himself, along with his peers, says is not his greatest asset. The point I am trying to make here is this: we have come this far — despite losing home and away to Liverpool, we are four points ahead with a game in hand — brushing aside injury troubles, gruelling far-Eastern jaunts, winning Mickey Mouse cups along the way, and to say that all this was accomplished with a poor midfield; that, to me, is utter tosh. So I wouldn’t fault Ferguson’s selection either. We did have Liverpool under the cosh for a good 70 minutes, if my unspectacular powers of time estimation is anything to go by, with good possession. So I can’t fault the midfield. I do have questions of my own, such as why a big-match-player (in the words of SAF himself) like Darren Fletcher didn’t make it to the starting XI, but I would be cheating with my powers of hindsight. I’ll let that slip.

But this brings me to the third part of this belated outpouring that I’m subjecting you to, and it is in our attack. Again, I won’t question the man for picking the forwards that he did. What I would ask is — and I think, at this point in the season, it is safe to ask — is our system working? By a cursory glance at the league table, and a shrug of the shoulder, most would be compelled with a ‘yes, the league table doesn’t lie.‘ Sure, it doesn’t. And so far, yes, it hasn’t lied. And a couple of losses later, it won’t lie then either. But then what am I getting at?

When we bought Berbatov, we decided to sacrifice a player who was able to run at defences but unable to head, for a player who was composed and could head, whilst providing flick ons for our other gifted attackers to capitalise. What happened this season was, we took time for our system to get adjusted to the new arrival and, whilst goals have been forthcoming, they haven’t been quite as prolific, nor has the system been mouth-wateringly fluid. Berbatov’s arrival has improved our ball retention, and we have become a more considered team the way we conduct our build up play, but it also requires an excellent, water-tight defence to make up for the lesser number of goals we’re likely to get from this system. If our defenders cock up spectacularly, then our task would be far more difficult to get back than it was last season.

Berbatov’s arrival also meant we needed other players to come into play — and I am primarily talking of a central midfielder who could come into the box unmarked and score a few. We have midfielders who can pass at the moment, and Fletcher looks most likely to score goals from midfield. This is no fault of Berbatov, of course. Nor is he an unqualified success. He has done well, but we do expect more from the Bulgarian.

The reason I had to bring all this up now that we lost a game at home, is to give it some context. Speaking about this after a 4-1 romp at West Brom, for instance, wouldn’t resonate quite as well as now.

But all this negativity aside, I felt it was good that we got beaten by someone, although I didn’t want it to happen against Liverpool. It’s really hard to take a home defeat thumping against a rival that really wasn’t superior to us on the day. Three defensive gifts that they capitalised on would be the only credits attributable to them. And the red card did it for us finally.

I really think this backlash will wake up players who may have lapsed into smugland. Rio Ferdinand acknowledges it was a ‘rude awakening’ and Sir Bobby Charlton reckons this defeat could only help us. He still mentions the quintuple though, which I really don’t have much time for — unless of course we win that.

[Note to Liverpool fans who’ve actually read till the end of this piece: Get a life. Or better, get a tattoo]
Till then, I’ll look forward to our side winning, what they call in football, the next game.