Southampton 1-2 Manchester United: Observations
Manchester United were hardly at their scintillating best at St Mary’s in this rather contained affair, but then again they hardly have to be to end victorious. There’s a running theme through United’s season where they don’t need to play particularly good to win a game, they just don’t need to play bad either. Southampton were valiant, and had controlled the game for a good hour or so, but United finally got a grasp on the game when United shuffled around and made changes; not just in personnel but in shape, too.
United’s diamond had no shine. Sir Alex held his hands up for United’s ineffective showing telling MUTV after the game: “Sometimes we make it difficult for ourselves but, in fairness, I maybe meddled with the system somewhat this afternoon.” And, in truth, United really did make it difficult for themselves. Their system hardly allowed any room for creativity – Gibson and Anderson took turns to drift left and Michael Owen dropped uncharacteristically deep. Heck, at times, Gabriel Obertan played in that second striker role. While some (wrongly) dubbed him the ‘New Thierry Henry’ before he joined the club in 2009, he is much accustomed to the wide role and that showed in the second half where, in a standard 4-4-2, he made the assist for the Owen goal on the right hand side.
Fergie continued and admitted his trial with the diamond formation hardly paid dividends: “We tried a diamond in the middle of the pitch and, of course, Manchester United are used to playing with width all the time and I think that was a problem for us. It wasn’t working at all. We had some possession of the ball but we never really threatened.”
Selection was fine, to an extent. United’s selection hardly surprised anyone. It didn’t – it had all the usual suspects of the rotation system; Darron Gibson (who played badly but cut him some slack), Chris Smalling etc and even a debut for Anders Lindegaard. But Southampton have the qualities of a top Championship side (should have been promoted last season, if not for a handicap of being docked 10 points) rather than that of a team in the third tier of English football and so they certainly sensed a chance to actually win the game. United have incredible strength in depth, but as shown from the defeat against West Ham that wholesale changes aren’t necessarily the answer.
Southampton, led by Ricky Lambert, Chamberlain and goalscorer Chaplow, proved to be a stern test. But when Fergie made changes, inevitably United improved. On came Ryan Giggs and Nani, off went the lacklustre Gibson and Anderson. United settled and started to dominate, and soon they took charge; Owen headed home in the 65th minute and Hernandez, collecting a Giggs pass, sealed it ten minutes later. Sir Alex did make up for his meddling, thankfully, with those changes.
Jonny Evans and Wes Brown impress. “Eh? You serious.” I am. In fact, this has hardly been a season to savour for the Irishman or, indeed, Brown. One of them has been crippled by injuries and the other a prolonged run of bad form. But Evans was solid and assured for 90 minutes (like he was in the 3rd round against Liverpool) and Brown, coming on as a second half sub, got used to surroundings. It may be the start of something better for those two…
Blackpool 2-3 Manchester United: Observations and Analysis
If there’s a better game to sum up Manchester United’s season, tell me now. A game of literally two differing halves, the first perhaps giving an indication of United’s troubles on the road, starting unconvincingly – and the second, well, United’s tendency to cranck it up a notch whenever required, coming back from what seemed a perilous position and play like worthy champions.
Under the floodlights, a classic unfolded. The first 45 complimented the bright, glowing Bloomfield Road perfectly. Blackpool, urged on by their terrific and atmospheric support, were in firm control; and United were so toothless and never really had a defined shape. The hosts, led by the ever-impressive Charlie Adam led 2-0 at half time; but were sent crashing back down to earth, thanks chiefly to Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and some inspired changes from Fergie.
Blackpool and Adam impressive. In the first half, it was Blackpool with all the possession and all the chances. They pressed United high up the pitch; and beat them in nearly every battle. Both goals were from corner’s – and both were poorly dealt with. But it was nothing that the hosts didn’t deserve – Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell were particularly excellent. Losers on the day, but only by result, but you feel they played well enough to get something out of the game.
Rooney on the left? A no-no. United lacked creativity in the first half and that was partly down to Rooney’s position; out wide on the left. Before the game, 11 of Berbatov’s 17 goals this season were scored with Rooney on the pitch (as a second striker). The arrival of Giggs after the interval did good for United – he took up the left hand side and United reverted back to their natural 4-4-2.
Giggs for Gibson. Game changer. Readers of the blog will know my feelings for Darron Gibson – a player who doesn’t half deserve all the stick going to him. But he was forlorn and very ineffective in his central position. on came Giggs, and the game changed instantly. United had width, and showed verve and goals came of it. The first was a good move, with Darren Fletcher supplying the killer pass. The Scot was poor in the first half; but his impact in the second was priceless and ended up a contender for Man of the Match.
But it was the next goal which took everyone by surprise. Giggs, 37, hit a lovely ball in the path of sub Javier Hernandez, who coolly stroke home. It was a pass that takes some defining (you can try). And the fightback was completed in the 88th minute, Berbatov, who else, making sure United end victorious and sealing a classic comeback in the process.
“Goalkeepers are not born, they are made. Every quality a keeper needs – mental or physical – can be acquired through training. He must be a perfectionist; always ready to develop and better themselves.”
These are the wise words of the great Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff – a man who had achieved virtually everything; at the tender age of 40 he captained his side to World Cup glory in 1982. He also went a staggering 1,143 minutes without conceding a goal for Italy and, perhaps most remarkably, from ’71 to ’83, played a consecutive 332 Serie A games (for Napoli and Juventus). He was the very first of the modern-day keeper.
There is much to admire about a legend like Zoff; and, perhaps, the player most similar to the Azurri legend is Manchester United’s Edwin Van der Sar. Like Zoff, Van der Sar has too defied age and is renown for his nerves of steel and safe hands; as well as being commanding and courageous in the air. The Dutchman also went through a long spell where he had not conceded a goal – 1,311 minutes to be precise in the 08/09 season.
Goalkeepers are like Duracell, they last longer. Much longer. Twelve years before Zoff held aloft the Jules Rimet trophy, he won the European Championship in 1968. That’s an extraordinary gap of 14 years. The undisputed icon of Calcio is not the only great stopper to have been blessed with incredible longevity. Take, for example, the likes of the great Spaniard Ricardo Zamora, Sepp Maier, Peter Schmeichel and Van der Sar himself. He earned his first Champions League trophy for Ajax in 1995, and his second in 2008 with United – a gap spanning the 13 years. The quote at the very introduction sums Van der Sar in a nutshell; he has continually fine-tuned and developed his game. He was excellent for Ajax many moons ago, but that glory period might not be regarded as his heyday? Did he really have one? Still, at the age of 40, he is playing at the very highest level. Success is still very much assured, too.
The secrets to both Zoff and Van der Sar’s success could be put down to many things; Zoff empathises the importance of training and development, and how it builds you up as a player, and that it is the key to success. Their environment is another. Surrounded by players of the highest quality and led by good coaches can help – but surroundings can only add to the talent you have, if you have any.
The perfect surroundings are there for United’s next generation of goalkeepers. Once Van der Sar hangs up his gloves, it might fall on Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos, Tomasz Kuszczak (although his future is uncertain) and whoever might join the club, to take up the mantle. It is all about development – neither of the three current keepers are exactly what you’d define as “world class” (some might go further and dismiss them completely) yet neither are bad players, and have much room for improvement. And goalkeepers are ‘made’, not ‘born’.
Lindegaard, at 26, has his critics, Schmeichel for one, but modern-day keepers have improved fitness and much time in invested in training and development, meaning players like Lindegaard and Kuszczak can and will get better. Will they reach the heights of their would-be predecessor? That remains to be seen. The world of goalkeepers is unforgiving. one mistake and you’re instantly the villain. Even a string of saves might not save you, then. Making mistkaes is not necessarily a bad thing, and that at the end of the day the keeper can decide a game just like any other goalscoring striker.
Goalkeepers are an integral part of team, perhaps the most important, as Dino Zoff explained in an interview with Champions magazine:
“Being a goalkeeper is the only job performed in front of thousands of people who are ready to make you scapegoat for a defeat,” says Zoff. “[But] the keeper is the real soloist in the orchestra a football team represents. His personal strength and talent are always for the benefit of the team.”
In Lindegaard’s case, he has been judged far too soon. Some have written him off altogether, rather prematurely, before he’s even had a chance. Kuszczak’s time might be up at Old Trafford; although he’s not been half as bad as he’s made out to be. Ben Amos, still 20, does have a Manchester United future it appears – but any new signing might come to spoil that. The purpose of the piece isn’t to suggest that he might be as good as Zoff, Schmeichel or Van der Sar; but they are excellent examples of players who have thrived in football for most parts of the career thanks to the continuous effort they pulled in to develop themselves as players. So, who knows what the future holds for this generation of United keepers?
Welcome to the eleventh issue of The Red Report, the round table discussion of all things Manchester United by your favourite United blogs: The Busby Way, Stretford-End, Bangalore To Old Trafford, ManUtd24, United Youth, and Red Force Rising.
Unlike English football, we’ve had a winter break…but we’re back and discussing Rafael, Eikrem and Darren Bent this week.
Few would argue that Rafael is very much now first choice in the United side, his progress this season has been praised by team-mates and staff at the club. We share our own thoughts on his development and the sending off/FA charge last weekend:
Chudi | The Busby Way: The FA Charge against Rafa was ridiculous and I’m glad sense was seen and he wasn’t punished further.
A lot is being made of the challenge that saw him get his first yellow and it was bad but to be fair he did get some of the ball. The second yellow was ridiculous and in such an important game, I can see why he lost his rag after being sent off.
Rafa has come along leaps this season and the defensive side of his game is matching the offensive, he’ll be an important player for years to come.
Doron | Stretford-End: This season he’s been the best right back in the league. He’s the best young right back in the world at the moment. Anderson said in a recent interview that within two years, Rafael will be recognised as the best right back in world football. That’s all hopefully to come but for now he’s successfully passed the Neville/Brown/O’Shea challenge and made the right back spot his own. This season defensive sense, strength and a slight hint of arrogance have brought about maturing performances – strange to use the word mature when he’s only 20.
I don’t mind incidents like his sending off at Spurs. Every player has their moments. I’d rather Rafael played with passion and heart than try and remove something natural from his game. He was correctly charged by The FA but he’ll learn from it, that’s for sure. He seems to have cut out the general rash diving into tackles and I thought he didn’t get the praise he deserved for nullifying Bale – the flavour of the season, world extraordinaire – twice this season (and Nasri too). Bigger tests await but for me he’s one of the first names on the team-sheet every game now.
Kyle | Stretford-End: Was his sending off absurd? Yes. That was one of the more ridiculous yellow cards I’ve seen this season, especially on a second yellow. It seemed Rafael did everything he could to avoid contact, and was unfortunate that he couldn’t prevent his momentum from bringing down the Tottenham player. A warning would’ve been more than sufficient, especially with the young Brazilian trying to avoid making contact. I would’ve been frustrated in his shoes as well. It was a very light sending off, but that doesn’t give you the right to argue with the official. Rafael his still young, and with experience he will learn to keep his temper in check; although hopefully not too much as I feel that energy contributes to his play. Also, this may be a bit off topic, but it doesn’t help when an experienced player like Wayne Rooney is alongside him yelling to the point of getting a yellow for dissent. Rooney is no longer a teenager; at the age of 25 and in this seventh season at Old Trafford, Rooney should be at a point now where he can start setting an example for younger players like Rafael.
Siddarth | Bangalore to Old Trafford: Rafael’s sending off was an absurd decision to say the least and his reaction didn’t surprise me, and I think any player would have been frustrated if they were at the receiving end of such a silly booking! But his argument with the referee wasn’t the right thing to do, and the FA charge was justified I think, and the punishment handed out to Rafael seems fair enough.
Rafael is only 20 and so far this season has been among our best players. A minor setback for him and like before I’m sure he’ll come out a better player from all this. Rafael has certainly cemented his place in the team as the no. 1 right back and hopefully will remain so for the rest of his career.
TG | ManUtd24: Rafael’s been excellent this season – just ask Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Gary Neville. He’s shown ever so much down that right flank and his work at the back has significantly improved. A problem remains however; his naivety – often it helps his game, but sometimes it doesn’t. This view might be very unpopular but I think Rafael deserves to be charged. Was it a red card? That’s debatable; his second challenge against Spurs which led to his sending off looked quite harsh – but his first challenge (which he was subsequently booked for) was something of the ugly sort and, on another day, he would be off. But his reaction was totally unnecessary; the Respect campaign was put into place to stop that kind of thing. He needs to learn that, and he will, and ‘respect’ the officials. That applies whether or not he feels aggrieved.
Alan | RedForceRising: Rafael has improved significantly in the past 6 months after initially being frozen out of the squad during the first 6 weeks of the season. Maybe it was Ferguson’s way of punishing the player for his sending off against Bayern, maybe it was to give the player time to get himself together. Whatever the intention, it’s worked and Rafael is now unquestionably the first-choice right back, which I am very thankful for. John O’Shea may be committed to the cause, but his mediocre displays just highlighted how much Rafael has to offer.
Sir Alex was deemed to have spoken to early when he mentioned that Rafael is not making rash decisions this season, only to get sent off against Spurs, but the gaffer has a point. Rafael’s decision-making is much, much better this season and he is a lot more composed in the penalty area. His displays against Gareth Bale have been a very good and a good measure of how his defensive game has improved, while his attacking forays against Spurs were indicative of the attacking potential this lad possesses. What he needs to do is stop making the unnecessary challenges like the one which resulted in his first yellow against Spurs. A fullback is likely to pick up bookings, but not in the middle of the pitch, when there are team mates behind you who can help out.
We possibly have one of the best young players in the world at our club, there are various opinions on how he should be nurtured but his progression this season is enough for us all to agree that little needs to change.
Manchester United 5-0 Birmingham: Observations and Analysis
It was something of the vintage sort; this was Manchester United at their very best. And guess what? It was Dimitar Berbatov, of course, who led the Red Devils to another victory at Old Trafford (34 points from a possible 36 at home) with yet another hat trick. So much has been made of United’s performances this season - their failure to kill off games or nail down any sort of rhythm. There have been games where this was not the case (think Blackburn), and this match was an evidence of that.
Berbatov and Rooney punish Birmingham. Always, always partner the Bulgarian with Wayne Rooney. This is when he is most effective. In the three games this season where Berbatov has found the net three times or more, he had started alongside Rooney. Coincidence? Don’t think so. While so much has been made of Berbatov’s free-scoring season (justified; that’s 17 goals off 19 games), the Englishman deserves some praise, too. He now has nine League assists this season, three times as many as the previous campaign. He’s still struggling to find the net; the reason may be his deeper role. He has three – and counting – although he certainly should have found the net today, only to see his shot go wide from a couple of yards out. Berbatov 9/10, Rooney 8/10.
Game over at the very start: Birmingham, bless them, for they didn’t see this coming. Two minutes in, Berbatov found the net. Then he scored another. Then Giggs scored. Half time. Game over. Without Scott Dann, the visitors looked thin on the ground and so it proved; they were well and truly humbled by United’ s quick, progressive, counter attacking display. Their back four was utterly non-existent when Giggs stroked home the third and even more so when the Welshman set up Berbatov for his hat trick.
Nani dangerous – at times: It was one of those days for Nani. Without doubt, he’s had his best season in a red shirt although this game brought out a mixed bag. His problem might be his tendency to shoot on sight (often the criticism for Gibson) and his final ball at times. Indeed, six of his effort son his goal were off target – some very wayward. Yet, he was a pain for the full-backs on the flanks, constantly linked up play and, again, his work rate was excellent. He got his reward with the fifth and final goal.
Man Utd 60% – Birmingham 40%
Attempts on target
Man Utd 9 – Birmingham 1
Attempts off target
Man Utd 14 – Birmingham 5
Man Utd 10 – Birmingham 3
United’s much-scrutinised thrive: John O’Shea, who has rapidly lost faith amongst United fans, was comfortable (although Birmingham were poor and lacked any cutting edge) and assured at right back. He pushed forward whenever needed, and added stability to a back four without the services of Rio Ferdinand. Anderson, who, bizarrely, still has his critics was excellent again through the middle. I suppose the only concern might be the knocks suffered by Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick, but both Fabio (or Rafael, depending on who you ask!) and Gibson, their replacements, deputised without any problem. That aside, this was vintage United. They already have the look of champions…