If I can start off by clarifying one thing from my previous column. In no way did I mean to suggest that we should never sign young, unproven players – I’ve seen Anderson play this season, and I’ve seen how Ronaldo developed. If our opposing bidders are top-flight European clubs, there is no second bite of the cherry so you have to take the first. But when our competition is a lesser club…that’s when we can stand back and play the long game. Aaaaaanyway, onwards to today’s article.
You might say that this is a great season to be a United fan, and that we have a strong chance of winning either the League, the Champions League or both. You might also reflect that we have a young squad, with plenty of strength in depth and room for improvement, and that the squad is better than last year’s equivalent. You might then add, as the icing on the cake, that we have two once-in-a-generation talents playing for us. And I would agree with everything you said.
But. But I’m a pessimist, and so there’s always a but. But, there is a very conceivable scenario which could turn our season from very promising to very worrying. You’ve all dreamt it, in your nightmares, but I’ll start with some stats.
Each stat below is in twostages: end of last season,to date this season.
Total goals: 123, 68
Total goalscorers: 20,10
- Individual goalscorers:
Ronaldo – 23,27
Rooney – 23, 10
Saha – 13, 4
Tevez – 0, 14
Solskjaer – 11, 0
Scholes – 7,1
Giggs – 6, 3
Park – 5, 0
O’Shea – 5, 0
Vidic – 4, 1
Fletcher – 3, 0
Larsson – 3, 0
Nani – 0, 2
Richardson – 2, 0
Evra – 2, 0
Ferdinand – 1, 3
Pique – 0, 2
Others – Eagles, Silvestre, Eagles, Lee, Smith – all 1, none
Did you read that table, or did you gloss over it? Read it properly, because it’s really important, and concentrate on the lines from Scholes to Fletcher. Here are the conclusions:
1. 75% of all our goals have been scored by Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez.
2. Our midfield has only contributed 6 goals this season. That includes none for Hargreaves, Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher or O’Shea (ie 5 out of the 6 possible central midfielders). And no, I don’t count Ronaldo as a midfielder. As the ultimate contrast, look back to the Treble campaign – our first-choice midfield four alone contributed 34 goals.
3. We have under half the number of players contributing to the scoresheet, partly because we have increased our squad depth everywhere apart from up front.
This should lead you to have sleepless nights about two possibilities:
The “It’ll Be A Struggle But We Might Make It” Doomsday Scenario – Ronaldo gets a long term injury. We need Rooney and Tevez to score more, and we need the midfield to step up when those two are having off days.
The “We’re Totally Screwed” Doomsday Scenario – Ronaldo and either Rooney or Tevez gets a long term injury. It’ll take a total turnaround from the midfield to get us the number of goals we need to win anything other than the FA Cup.
Remember those dark days at the start of the season where it took everything we had to win easy games 1-0? Guess which two players were absent from those games, and try to remember who we brought on as a substitute striker. Thankfully it was only a short-term nightmare, but we’re one cruciate ligament and one broken ankle away from being there again.
And some of you mocked me when I said in my last column that we should have signed Jermaine Defoe (or another striker). Let’s drink a toast, then, in your half-full pint glasses to the fitness of our forwards.
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