Complacency not excuse enough to cover United’s apparent shortcomings
> Complacency can’t be an issue by itself
> We seem to expect too much from United
> Norwich deserve credit for fightback
There is a temptation to level what might seem a fair criticism at Manchester United and their generally underwhelming performances this season but, in truth, the isolated idea that the side is too complacent in winning positions or in situations where they are expected to coast is a touch unfair and, simply put, a bit lazy. Indeed, the problem, if there is one, seems much more deep-rooted than that. If, as they say, complacency is a running theme, then surely United would have recognised this sooner and changed their attitude and approach?
Initially, it made sense. There have been cases where teams in a seemingly good position have faltered when they’ve allowed apparent complacency to creep in but, for United, the accusation has been all-too-frequent that it has to be something else. Complacency can’t be the issue by itself at least, if it is an issue at all.
What Manchester United are right now is a very good team made up of individuals that are either, but not limited to, (i) outstanding, (ii) experienced, (iii) young or just (iv) competent squad players; most are probably two of the above. United have plenty of these and not one senior team player is excluded; but it still in the end contributes (only?) to a ‘very good’ team. Because United have had better sides under the management of Sir Alex – but we already know that. Yes, it’s one capable of winning matches and they remain strong enough to be regarded as one of Europe’s best, but it is important to recognise that any eleven they put out this season can be beaten and that they don’t have a divine right to claim three points because the superiority of their squad compared to others is notably much less than seasons past.
What could be put down to complacency might just be the fact that the other team are also quite good; for Manchester United to squander a winning position or have it threatened, it doesn’t necessarily take them to play badly, it just takes the other to play well. Same applies to when they are seen to have reduced the tempo of their game; it might just be that the opposition have responded well or have been invigorated for whatever reason because they, like United, have specific objectives in a football match and there is no such thing as unlimited time.
It’s all hypothetical. It boils down to how you view a situation. Norwich fans would feel inclined to praise their players for an impressive response to going a goal down after Paul Scholes had put United 1-0 up and commend their determination and fortitude. When Grant Holt equalised for the Canaries, United fans may moan and hiss as if to say “I told you so” and blame the team for their apparent drop in concentration or their contentedness with a narrow lead. In truth, Norwich’s admirable resistance was more their work than United’s and it’s no surprise that they’re currently sitting eighth in the Premier League table – people seemed to have forgotten that they’ve actually played well this season and so ended the game as the better team. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine a team like United – or any other for that matter – having that sort of attitude when only 1-0 up, thinking the game is over once they’re in the lead. It is also important to distinguish what is meant by ‘complacency’; keeping the ball and playing with slightly less caution when ahead isn’t being complacent. It’s defending a lead. It’s another way to register three points. It’s common sense.
In cases where a team have actually performed pretty poorly for 90 minutes, or most of the game, and it’s mostly through the fault of their own, complacency just doesn’t come into it. You cannot be content when you’ve looked absolutely bobbins. Against Ajax in the second leg of the last 32 of the Europa League, with a 1-0 and a 3-0 aggregate lead, United’s players were accused of being complacent. Not necessarily true. They were gutless and uninspiring; and surely, they can’t have allowed complacency to creep in when they didn’t look for a moment as if they were satisfied with what they had.
Ajax might be of a less quality to what we saw in the 90s, and floundering slightly in the Eredivisie, but, like United, they were a Champions League side who had finished third (and only because of dramatic goal difference swing which saw Lyon progress as they plundered seven goals). The Dutch side pulled a goal back and their chance of snatching it was unlikely, but not improbable or unthinkable. And still, United continued to waver to the point where they conceded a second. You can’t put that down to complacency, surely not? Here, Ajax should be praised for their fightback. And so here goes: well done Ajax. And well done, Norwich. You can congratulate the other team even if you suppose complacency is an issue, but it depends on what you’re congratulating them for. The result (if you decide to assume the flawed, popular thing) or the performance (if you believe they’ve played well largely through their own work)? In this case, the latter. Why? Definitely not because of the ‘c’ word. No, no. Because, let’s face it, ‘complacency’ is a load of rubbish.