Please welcome, one of RR’s readers (and commenters), Conor.
Here we are again, crunch time, squeaky bum time, the big finale, the mutt’s nuts, whatever you want to call it. A day before probably the most important match of our season, followed by a match of equal importance, and it made me look back.
Rewind back one year to the day, and we had just drew against a team outside the top 6, and who we had recently struggled against, Middlesborough. The score was 1-1. Sound familiar? I haven’t even got started. This wobble couldn’t have come at a worse time, with a showdown against Chelsea fast approaching. Then, next up was a European giant, but sure who could beat us? We were top of the league and playing great football throughout. Certainly the old rusty legs of AC Milan couldn’t beat us, they couldn’t even beat half of the teams in their own ‘inferior’ league(if we are to believe the English media).
Or so we thought.
Two Champions League games later and we were unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League, many of the goals coming from individual brilliance by Kaka. Compare that with now. We have just drawn 1-1 against a team we should be able
to beat, we’re playing Chelsea in less than a week, and we’re up against Messi, Eto’o, Iniesta and co. Does lightning strike in the same place twice? Yes. Will it this time? I very much doubt it. There are 3 major differences between now and then:
- We are not suffering from a mountain of injuries. Bar Fletcher, we have a full squad to choose from
- We now have a team capable of shutting down even the best teams possession-wise with Anderson and Hargreaves, as shown against Arsenal when these two played together
The second leg is at home, a big advantage in my opinion. It allows Sir Alex to gauge how cautious we should be. And none of this crap, “we are Manchester United, we don’t know how to sit back”, in Europe away we are negative, just like nearly every other successful Champions League team.
But this is not the main angle of this article; I then got into thinking about how good our team is now compared to last year. Sure our squad is better, Anderson, Nani, Hargreaves and Tevez have been great additions to the squad, but have we actually performed better as a team?
My answer is no. Last season we had our whole back 5 in the team of the season, with Scholes Giggs and Ronaldo ahead of them. We also had Giggs, Scholes and Ronaldo up in the PFA player of the year shortlist. This year we have Ronaldo in the shortlist. Now there’s no doubt he will be crowned PFA player of the year, and probably young player of the year. But that pretty much says it all, to an extent, Ronaldo has carried us. Rooney has been injured when this was meant to be his season, Giggs became a shadow of his 07/08 self, same goes for Scholes, Gary Neville hasn’t started a Premier League game and Van Der Saar has been shaky at times. We still don’t have a settled formation or settled central midfield, which can have its advantages and its drawbacks.
Now I’m not going to be all negative here so lets look at the improvements; Ronaldo has become the best player in the world hands down, Vidic and Ferdinand have become even more imperious, Evra has turned into one of the best left backs in the world and all of our signings have shown they will be able to provide something different to this team for years to come. But our team hasn’t played to its potential like it did last year, when we had to dig deep the whole team pulled themselves together and did everything they could, now we rely on Ronaldo to hold the team together with his superhuman strength when it is in danger of falling apart.
But we all know that Ronaldo can sometimes be marked out of games, however he has now improved in that aspect as he can still come up with the goals or assists even when he isn’t having the best of games; for instance, Roma at the Stadio Olimpico
and Arsenal at the Emirates this season. And so if we can’t score without Ronaldo being on song then we could be in trouble against Barca.
But after all this pessimism, just to keep the faith, I’m going for a 2-1 win at the Nou Camp and a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.
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