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What Ails Manchester United?

This post has been long time coming. Ever since the Arsenal defeat angry words have been exchanged between fans over the direction the club seems to be taking on the pitch. And, while it’s too late to be doing a match report per se on the Arsenal game, it is a good time to reflect on the week(s) gone by.

So let this piece be a place where I look back at the days gone by.

So, firstly, the Arsenal game.

Contrary to what many commenters on here (and many other fans on various boards) thought, I actually thought we played very well. The movement was excellent, there was positive intent throughout the game from the lads. And when they went 2-0 down they just bossed the whole game — but for the finishing touches. Of course, one would say that’s what matters in the end. And it is true. But it is also the fine line between fans branding Fergie as a senile, over-the-hill pensioner and a genius. But that’s the way football works, and one can expect even the most knowledgeable and intelligent people lose their minds over trivial things as football. So I’ll leave the saccharine sweet optimists and the gloomy naysayers to themselves. [If you ask me, I wouldn’t have the time for either of them, but then, I myself do fall in one of these categories, in varying degrees, during my time following United — so it doesn’t really matter.]

Back to the game, it wasn’t perfect — to make a vast understatement. Where we really let the game slip by was in the personnel selected to play the game. But again, one can’t lay the blame squarely on the manager. In retrospect, it was easy to say that Rafael deserved to start ahead of the Neviller. But with Brown unfit, and Rafael having looked suspect defensively, at times, in the past — but most importantly, being way too young and inexperienced for such an occasion — it seemed a fair call on Ferguson to ‘protect’ his ward and play the more seasoned pro. It was a different issue altogether that Neville seemed so badly out of sorts and allowed the likes of Nasri run rings around him.

Of course, one could see this coming as Neville’s dip in form and performance has been so marked that it’s difficult to just pin it on his long injury layoff. Yes, it was the injury layoff, but age and his time away from the game has hastened the decline one would expect of a 33 year old. Perhaps, O’Shea would have been a better option. But then Fergie has always been one to give his old charges a fair run.

Now that it hasn’t exactly worked, I do hope Fergie — and most importantly, Neville — realise the problem created by his inclusion against teams that have a lot of pace in the wings. I love Neville, but his decline has been markedly obvious, and whilst it’s sad to see, I’d rather have memories of the marauding right back than the confused, lumbering veteran — it’s really painful to watch. And it doesn’t help if said confused, lumbering veteran is also captain of the side. He’s an honest trier, but all his efforts can’t make up for the decline in his powers.

It would take a miracle from the captain, from now on, to make me eat my words — although if it does happen, those would be the sweetest words I’d ever get to eat.

Moving on, and a brief word on the midfield. It’s easy to say this now, but if we had a fully fit Darren Fletcher alongside Carrick we’d have been singing a different tune, and Arsenal’s demise would be complete — so to speak. Of course, a lot of if’s there, but such has been his form so far that when he returns, we won’t feel the loss of Owen SaHa-rgreaves; excuse the comparison with Saha, Hargreaves fans, but I can’t see it any other way. I blame the medical team for not having done this in the summer, but that’s for another day. Anderson seems a shade of the player he was last season. Although, part of the reason for that could be because we didn’t have too high of an expectation from him last season, yet he held his own in the big games. He seems a bit off in lot of departments of his game. But I still see promise from the lad. He may not become the midfield schemer we seemed to have thought of him to be, but there is a chance that he could become a marauding midfielder in the Essien mould. Time is obviously on his side, and my instinct tells me he’ll turn out alright. Although, he wouldn’t be the attacking midfielder we paid money for.

The striking department divides opinion greatly this season. I found the selection of Park understandable — because, when you have Ronaldo and Berbatov not renowned for defensive duties, you’d need someone who can do that. But if the manager is not going to give Nani a fairly extended run in the team, then it will hurt the lad. Berbatov flitted in and out of the game as did Ronaldo, but they, along with Rooney, created enough chances to win the game. They didn’t put them away, though, and these things can happen.

To get a sense of perspective, playing away from home, we had significantly more possession than them, more shots on goal than them and a lot of chances that were, for the lack of a better word, ‘put-away-able’. But it was one of those days that didn’t go our way. And a loss against Arsenal is not something to be ashamed about. But let that not paper over the obvious cracks that have creeped into our game.

And my primary gripe was the alarming ease with which we seem to be conceding goals this season. That is my main point of worry. That, and the blow-hot, blow-cold nature of our game, all season, on which I’ve talked about numerous times. Rio and Vidic have to share a bit of the blame, but more so, EVDS. His kicking has been suspect but, more worryingly, he seems unsure in his decision making and that confidence (or lack of) seems to be rubbing on to his back four. And this is being reflected on our less than stellar goals-against tally in recent games.

So is our season over? Well, that’s a ridiculous question, but it sure is hard for us to hope that both, Liverpool and Chelsea, will simultaneously implode over Christmas and we’ll sail right through with the cup waiting for us, come May. Of course, Liverpool will implode. But of Chelsea, I’m not so sure. So do I need a title this year for my trophy blood lust to be satiated. I think not.

I’ve always been more of a grateful fan than a demanding one. I have also mentioned myself as a low-expectation fan. I need the simple joys of the lads going out to play some good football to keep me going — winning trophies aren’t everything for me. (Well, they are, but I can live two seasons without trophies.) I remain eternally grateful to the club for the sort of football it has played for as long as I can remember following its fortunes. So a bad series of games won’t instantly make me throw the kitchen sink at my television set. Therefore, whilst I’d be disappointed if we don’t win the league, like any fan would, I do comprehend the enormity of the task that awaits United. We may have smooth sailing in terms of opposition lying in wait, but we have a hectic December schedule, what with a stupid World Club Championship to fly to.

There are more than a few chinks that need to be ironed out, but we’ve been through worse. So let’s cut the Champions of England and Europe a little more slack, shall we? Or scratch that — to avoid running the risk of people jumping at me for telling them to cut the team slack — I’ll stick to cutting the team some slack for now.

End of one of my longest posts in a while. Over to you…