Sir Alex and United revert to speed in order to catch up
In the famous 1994 film Speed (a.k.a ‘The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down‘), protagonists Jack and Annie shared a delightful conversation as Annie, in charge of driving the bus, had to maintain her speed levels above 50mph or else a bomb would explode — a fitting, uncoiled plot for 90s cinema. It went like this (source: IMDb):
Annie: So you’re a cop, right?
Jack: That’s right.
Annie: Well, I should probably tell you that I’m taking the bus because I had my driver’s license revoked.
Jack: What for?
This, as it would turn out, is only vaguely to do with Manchester United — but, as Annie, played by Sandra Bullock, would concur, speed(ing) has its benefits (let’s face it, the introduction is too good to be altered and so you must live it no matter how tenuous the reference turned out to be).
United have changed from last season; and, what was probably inspired by Keanu Reeves and Bullock’s cheesy flick, they have looked to see out eternal transition — surely the most tedious term in football — with greater emphasis on speed; or energy and pace.
When United had slightly avenged their Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in pre-season with a 2-1 win, Sir Alex Ferguson thought he had stumbled on the solution to the previous year’s shortcomings with players such as Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck displaying great energy to overcome Barcelona’s pretty patterns. From the end of the final until now, the manager has frequently spoken about the need to close the gap between United and the Catalans and, although this clearly hasn’t worked in European competitions in this campaign, it is something that he is clearly intending to stick with, considering he is ready to allow Dimitar Berbatov — often accused of slowing play down — to leave.
United’s 19th title last year, many had noted, was down to a more pragmatic approach. Despite the success, they are changing up again — or reverting back to the thing they know best. “We’ve introduced some young players to the club this season who have tremendous ability and a great energy and spirit about them,” said the manager in October. “So I think we’re making great strides towards that level Barcelona have reached these past two or three years.”
Berbatov’s impending exit would be a major blow for any side and especially for one where he has contributed seven in only ten this term, a goals-to-game ratio so good that you wouldn’t need to bother to calculate it. It’s just zero point very, very impressive. But the fact that he has played so few says so much that certain people (naming no names) will feel compelled to throw away the gorgeous lock of hair found in a Mancunian barber apparently belonging to the Bulgarian. His agent, Emil Danchev, said last month that Sir Alex wanted to “change the style of play of United, to put more speed in the game”. The Guardian article from which that quote is taken from, written by Daniel Taylor, also says the following:
In a game last year, one of Berbatov’s team-mates took issue with him for not running hard enough. Berbatov pointed out that was the way he played and he didn’t need to go faster. “You do at this club,” came the reply, expletives removed.
United seem to want to return to the fluid style of 2007/08; that, certainly, has been evident in some of their play this season, something that the blistering start in the League in August and September can surely be put down to. There was a gradual slowing down somewhere in the middle but, recently, United have looked a team invigorated, possibly by Manchester City’s dramatic decline and the lack of involvement elsewhere in other competitions. Indeed, for all this talk of an ‘average’ team, ‘Sir Alex’s worst’, United are heading for a mammoth points total and look in good stead to extend their already sizeable lead at the top of the table, all at the expense of their local rival, a side that was expected to blitz the League given their strength in depth and depth of pounds.
The signing of the admittedly-erratic Ashley Young, although not literally young, not any more, probably ties in with the Fergie quote earlier in the article; what a player like Young would give to any team is pace and energy, and rather than be an eventual Ryan Giggs replacement like some had thought, he is the ideal man for the current system (Park ji-Sung has ‘energy’ in the abundance, but, curiously, he’s been largely uninvolved — is his lack of pace, like Berbatov, the reason why?). With Antonio Valencia on the other side, they looked to have found some consistency and have become an altogether more efficient, and entertaining, outfit, yet they do remain wasteful and only, it has to be said, a very good side that should win the title. Still — and don’t let others tell you otherwise — United have improved from last year and will only get better; they won’t reach Barcelona any time soon — unless Lionel Messi and Xavi are offered in a part exchange for Ryan Tunnicliffe — but armed with brute speed and led by a wily Glaswegian sage, they are in a position where almost anything, but not yet everything, is attainable.