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United squeak past Brum

“I think everyone could see that it was a penalty. It was so clear. The other one you can excuse by saying that it was ball to hand, that could be. But the other one was so clear that it was unbelievable. We had a meeting the other day where we were told that we could not talk about the referee as a person and his decisions but I think everyone could see today. The fourth official is a young referee and maybe he needs to calm down a little bit. I don’t know why Sammy was sent off. The fourth official was too young. I don’t know how old he is, but I think he is too young.”

That’s the opening day, and Rafa Benitez for you. I couldn’t resist.

Moving on…

United began their post-Ronaldo era with a whimper. A win before we get the wrong ideas, nonetheless. But it was a much more laboured effort than the stats will reveal. If you’re interested, we had about 17 shots on goal with 11 saved by the Brum ‘keeper. However, despite wave after wave of attacks. It looked like little was going to happen. There were individual performances to feel encouraged about and that is hard to ignore. But the collective should bother Ferguson a bit.

  • I won’t understand why Scholes was picked over Carrick. Fergie may have ‘wanted to try a different combo’ but I thought that was the whole point of a pre-season. He wasn’t in the squad altogether, which is puzzling. Scholes wasn’t bad, but Carrick is certainly a better option than the ageing Ninja.
  • Fletcher was poor. He has this tendency of turning up when the stakes are extremely high, but slipping into a comfort zone against inferior opposition. Last season I got the feeling he’d ridden himself of that annoying habit but on yesterday’s evidence it was threatening to creep back.
  • Patrice Evra and Ben Foster had pretty good games, in complete contrast of their mediocre Community shield outings. Foster was decisive when he came out to get the ball, and Evra was effective going forward. However, my contention is we need a solid full back on the other flank if we are to have Evra on the left. Fabio has good ability moving forward but he’s far too raw to have any positional sense to stay back. Against better sides we’d have been caught on the break far too easily. At the moment, Richie de Laet, who gave a good account of himself against Chelsea, would have been a better option than Fabio.
  • Our wingers, Nani in particular, were impressive even though Valencia seemed to flit in and out of the game. I still like his directness, his willingness to go into tackles, win the 50-50s and run at defenders. Nani’s trickery on the other flank complements Valencia well, and this has to be our first choice wing pairing for this season — injuries notwithstanding. Nani faded a bit because he was feeling his shoulder but I have all reason to feel encouraged by our wingers even though they don’t have the x-factor that Ronaldo provided.
  • And finally, on to our strikers. Berbatov showed more willingness going forward, and he was denied a clear-cut penalty. However, he needs to show a bit more dynamism if he is to link up well with Rooney. They did well in the first half, but we need to see more from the Bulgarian if we are to replicate our past successes.
  • The lasting image in this game for me will be Michael Owen’s miss. Nine out of ten, he would bury it. He didn’t, and I hope it doesn’t rankle in his head. However, his movement, and ability to beat the offside trap should keep him in good stead, provided our central midfield — which is currently chock full of passengers — provides him enough service.

We’ve not gained notoriety for being chronic slow starters for nothing. And I never judge the side till I’ve seen a good few games to identify trends. So I will, true to type, hold off on my judgements for a good few weeks. Next up is Burnley. Their giant killing Cup run last year should make us wary of the challenges they could pose. But till then, here’s words from the manager during his post match: