Valencia 0-1 Manchester Utd: Observations
FC Barcelona it was not. Yet, that did not matter as this ugly ‘showpiece’ ended in typical United-like fashion – snatching a last-gasp winner in a performance where the adjective “unconvincing” does not quite tell the whole story.
The armchair folks from the so-called pretty boys of the south, Arsenal, were surely not impressed. They adore beautiful football, (maybe not as much as the genuine pretty-boys, Barcelona, but that’s for another day…) and that’s what they got here, except they didn’t. On paper, it looked a tasty encounter, yet, if not for some overdue drama at the death, this would surely be viewed as a drab, drab encounter.
Things were so scrappy, and ugly, that the neutrals would have been quick to reach for their remote and tune into some tacky celebrity show on ITV2 instead. Pundits often describe Valencia’s home, the Mestalla, as lively and atmospheric but at times, it had the feel of a funeral. Eerie and not great viewing. And it wasn’t helped by the fact Adrian Chiles was presenting. This isn’t suggesting that United don’t play easy on the eye football, because they usually do, however, yesterday was an exception.
Yet, football isn’t all pretty. On nights like these, beauty doesn’t matter but in some ways, the ugly is sometimes regarded as ‘beautiful’. At the end of the day, Manchester United should be happy to have taken all three points and earned a clean sheet against a difficult Spanish outfit in their backyard. There maybe a hyperbole too many in this article, but United weren’t that bad – but despite was those might say, Valencia weren’t so great either.
The visitors gameplan was simple – remain compact and tight, containing the opponents so as to stop leaking goals like they have done so often in recent games and keep possession. The role of Anderson was a surprise as he was given the duty of the destroyer. “Mark number 6″ was Sir Alex Ferguson often heard and seen gesticulating as the Brazilian midfielder was ordered kept tabs on Valencia’s deep-lying schemer, David Albelda. The return of Rio Ferdinand meant an assuring presence at the back but he inadvertently added to the comatose encounter. Sir Alex said Ferdinand’s passing would be key but rather, by keeping possessing longer than they normally do, they lost the urgency they normally display.
Admittedly, the Red Devils had some luck along the way but they were successful; yes? In the final third, United lacked the cutting edge and the 4-3-3 system was something out of Dimitar Berbatov’s comfort zone. He lacked support as Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Ji-Sung Park were too preoccupied with other duties while Nani went about with his usual flamboyancy but without much help, and that made him look stupid at times. Indeed, United had only won the game when Fergie brought on two subs to change the system; and the match.
On came Kiko Macheda and Javier Hernandez, and once United were able to get the ball into the right areas, things suddenly started to materialise. First, Hernandez had hit the post and the game began opening up, even if 85 minutes were on the clock. The goal came shortly after, Macheda spotting Chicharito making a dart into the box and when the Mexican had collected the ball, he intelligently cut away and finished with much conviction. It would only have taken something special to win this dire game, and that’s exactly what United got via Hernandez. While it wasn’t quite Barcelona-esque, at least United got three points; something pretty Barca didn’t achieve on Wednesday having been held by Rubin Kazan…
Every so often comes a player who possesses something special; the kind whose raw, impressive talents catch the eye immediately. For Magnus Eikrem is truly, and to quote a well-worn cliché, a ‘Star in the Making’. Sure, he needs developing, nurturing and some good old-fashioned Fergie-polishing but what is clear is that this young boy, mentored by another Norweigan, one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is that he is as close as ever to graduating into the first team.
For, if early season reserve games are anything to go by, the lad certainty has talent. Having inspired the second string to a 4-0 win over Bolton last week, in which some observers called a Man of the Match performance despite Nicky Ajose’s quickfire hattrick, he once again pulled the strings against a strong Blackburn outfit last night and it was his late goal that rescued a point in a 2-2 stalemate. United’s next reserve game isn’t until November and it’s fairly obvious that Eikrem needs some games in order to develop, because frankly, a footballer with such promise should not have a month off at this time of season.
Once you watch the Norwegian play, you can fully understand why I think United don’t need a new central midfielder; plus they have Tom Cleverley waiting in the wings, too. Indeed, he is a perfect long-term replacement for Paul Scholes, although many would be quick to compare him to Cesc Fabregas (or even Luka Modric) as both like to cover vast distances on the pitch. Comparisons are often unfair, but they do have their similarities.
Tom Cleverley was sent on loan to Wigan Athletic prior to the season and although the decision had some baffled (including me), the club and the player are likely to reap the rewards from the spell. A Championship loan move will suit Eikrem just fine; the promise of regular football plus a more demanding, physical league compared to that of the Premier Reserve League. Failing that, there is the old polishing way I talked of earlier, which requires patience but the rewards could soon be evident. United’s Carling Cup tie at home to Wolverhampton could be the perfect stage for Magnus Eikrem. I ask myself: how long before the inevitable?
Bolton 2-2 Manchester Utd: Observations
Manchester United’s away record for the new season is rather disappointing: three games, three points and seven conceded. Yes, they’ve scored as many but, obviously, things have not been so rosy on their travels as they would’ve liked. United fans feel they should have won all of those games and that definitely is the case for the visits to Craven Cottage and the Goodison where United threw away their lead very, very late on. Frustration is seeping through understandably, but surely things can’t be that bad. “We’ve dropped points again,” I hear the knee-jerker cry, “again.”
Indeed, Manchester United faltered against Bolton yesterday afternoon but that was a fair scoreline. Bolton fought hard and deserved the point for all their troubles. The Reebok is no easy place to come, and United recognised that as soon as Zat Knight put the home side in the lead minutes into the game. That goal, and Bolton’s second, were due to defensive errors. “We’ve dropped points again,” I hear the knee-jerker cry, “again.”
I’ve noticed a trend – when United concede such cheap goals there are two players usually made scapegoat. John O’Shea and Jonny Evans, or if what some say is anything to go by, the Two Jonnies™, have apparently been the reason for our misfortunes this season. Now I’ll admit neither have been perfect this campaign, but some of the criticisms are way off the mark. And actually, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic both played their roles in conceding the first and second. My point is that we all know that Evra and Vidic aren’t bad players, quite the opposite, but defenders are always going to make mistakes and some will earn more flak than others just because they are not as established. “We’ve dropped points again,” I hear the knee-jerker cry, “again.”
Some positives to take out of the game…(don’t read too much into these)
- According to OPTA: “Between them, Berbatov and Nani have either scored or assisted 12 of Manchester United’s 16 Premier League goals this season.”
- Michael Owen scored his third goal in two games.
- Nani’s bursting run and finish was excellent.
- We did at least close the gap on Chelsea.
- We are 2nd after six games, after all.
- We are still only one of two teams undefeated in the league. Indeed, United are unbeaten in all competitions in 15 games.
- We’re not Liverpool, a team floundering in 15th place.
But as we’re so early into the season, we mustn’t dismiss Manchester United just yet. Historically, as we all know, United are slow starters and still remain unbeaten. They’ve had no easy games away from home – teams struggle at the stadia United have already visited – and just for those asking, we have another 32 games to play. Things aren’t that bad. Really. Just look at Liverpool if you want to define ‘bad’. And for the record, no, Mesut Ozil is not for sale.
Tomasz Kuszczak is a misunderstood little fellow. That may be because his name is rather difficult to spell and is worth plenty of points on Scrabble, but after an admittedly dodgy performance against Scunthorpe last night, his United career looks ever so unlikely to stretch another season.
Some United fans have lost faith in the Polish stopper, not surprisingly seeing as, just recently, he told of his desire to find a fresh start elsewhere. Fair enough, a goalkeeper of his age (29, if you’re wondering) and his quality must feel they should be playing most games.
Unfortunately, and although he boasts good shot-stopping abilities, he can only really offer the services as a no.2 at a club like Manchester United. That may sound like a criticism, but it’s not, as he would still easily fit into half of the Premier League sides today. He’s a fantastic backup, too! I honestly hope he doesn’t leave; but I can have no complaints shall he decide otherwise.
His weaknesses lie in decision making; Kuszczak tends to struggle in the air. Often he is lambasted for his bravery, or the lack of it, something that ties in with the ‘struggling in air’ part. Concentration and composure are also problems, thus leading to mistakes, thus leading to (sometimes justified) criticism.
Yet, the man they call PIG, is no mug between the sticks. What he lacks in discipline that is usually on show at The Emirates, he makes up for with some very quick reflexes and most importantly, his ability to shot stop. He does that so well and is definitely not the player made out to be. There is a reason why Sir Alex held him in higher regard than Ben Foster during his equally unfortunate spell at the club.
Kuszczak, for all the weaknesses he possesses, must be perceived differently; because he’s a better player than some think, a reason as to why his comments about him finding a new club is something I feel needs no justification or retraction.
Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool: Observations
In the midst of a Mancunian drizzle, Dimitar Berbatov shone so bright that he had put others in the shade; and in the process, silencing the last of his doubters with a monumental, inspirational performance – one that could never to be forgotten simply because of the manner and audacity in which he scored the second of his three goals. Class is permanent, and the Bulgarian was always ‘class’.
For all the horrors that the Old Trafford crowd witnessed today, where United had briefly collapsed and thrown away a 2-0 lead, it was all made up for when Berbatov had nabbed his third, and United’s third, for what was ultimately the winner in this classic encounter between two of the greatest teams in the country. Liverpool were poor, and if it wasn’t for a couple of careless and needless challenges, this would have otherwise been described as a walk in the park. United’s defence was again under scrutiny for both goals, once again throwing away a two goal lead in the space of eight days.
But if it had ended level, it certainly wouldn’t have done justice to Manchester United nor Berbatov. Lazy? Languid? Definitely not, for Berbatov was covering distances only matched by that of the Popemobile, dropping deep and getting far more involved. Mentions must also go to Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea, both of whom providing excellent assists for the Bulgarian’s second and third.
Wayne Rooney cut a frustrated figure on a few occasions; this was no means a typical Rooney performance and he looked jaded, but Berbatov’s presence meant that United need not worry. His second goal was exquisite, and with United 2-0 up and cruising, they had to keep a level head but that just didn’t happen. A penalty followed, which Gerrard dispatched and he did so again with a free kick minutes later. Had United thrown away a game again? No, not with Berbatov in this form. He headed past Reina to make it 3-2 and of course, win the game. He’s now scored six goals in five league games, impressive if you ask me.
Fittingly, there was an instance where Berbatov lifted his collar, and although I don’t like comparisons, there was something Cantona-esque about his game. His acrobatic finish on the hour mark would have definitely been given the thumbs up if Eric was watching. Somewhere, Berbatov is dressed in a long coat in front of a fireplace smoking a cigar whilst continuously repeating the words “I am not a man, I am Berbatov…”
And if the victory wasn’t sweet enough, Ryan Babel’s tweet (click here) rounded off a spectacular day. Discuss the game by leaving a comment.
Wide-men have the chance to show they have the wind beneath their wings
So often the creative force down the flanks, Antonio Valencia will be sorely missed during what looks to be a lengthy absence on the sidelines, nursing his horrid ankle injury suffered against Rangers on Tuesday night. His will be a huge void to fill; but it is key, in order for United’s quest for silverware this season to go right, that someone steps up to the plate and fills that void left by the Ecuadorian.
Valencia was United’s catalyst last season, creating chances and, then of course, goals. He also created a formidable partnership with Wayne Rooney, and quite a few of the forward’s 32 goals in the 09/10 campaign came from those trademark skiddy crosses from the right wing. Indeed ‘Tony’, as he is often called nowadays, was undoubtedly United’s better and consistent performers last season although, tragically, it looks unlikely that the second chapter will involve as much success on the pitch, such is the seriousness of this injury, that he certainly will spend the duration on the treatment time.
It is important, for the likes of Park, Gabriel Obertan and even Bebe, that they sense the opportunity of having to play more regularly in Valencia’s absence and grab it with both hands. It also means that Nani has to be at the top of his game this campaign, with the feeling that he now has an extra workload put onto him but, in order to be an established member of the squad, he has to overcome such pressure. Plenty depends on him.
In Park, United have a rather frustratingly brilliant winger. Inconsistency has crept into his game of late, but as so happens when a team lose a key player, he must produce far more regularly. There’s no doubting his talent and Sir Alex will surely rotate between him and Ryan Giggs on the left-hand side. Giggs won’t play every game – another reason why these wingers need to submit their intent on the field in order to become a first team player rather than fringe.As for Obertan and Bebe, well time will only tell. Obertan has looked promising for a while now; he was fantastic for the reserves and in the few senior games he played last year and could be ready to make the step up. Having played at Bordeaux with Laurent Blanc, we must not underrate the player. He was fantastic for the French side although his transfer did come as a surprise to a few. His pace and technical abilities means he should be able to ‘handle’ the English game, as well as being suited to the European style of play.
As for Bebe, the jury is very much out for whatever reason. He’s played very little, so early (and frankly, blind) judgements are harsh – again, we must wait a little while and learn more about him. We never know – it could be a huge season for the Portuguese youngster, and chances may come on a regular basis. Sir Alex has been hit with a monumental blow, and now he must attempt to cope with what he has. Can these wide-men grab their opportunity and show that they do, as a matter of fact, have the winds beneath their wings?