Archive | January 2012

De Gea’s indifferent start not only down to his so-called ‘ineptness’

They think they’re experts. They think we think we’re the experts. “He’s rubbish!” they say. And us, the good ones – we think to ourselves – are summoned by our blind loyalty rational thinking to reply: “but he’s good … give him time.” And we repeat this until we get exhausted. “B-b-but he’s got adorable meerkat-like features! We all like meerkats!”

It’s been something like that for David de Gea. They’ve spotted a New Taibi. Taibi! Ha! Oh, what joy was Taibi! Let’s all make jokes about how Taibi could never catch a break – oops! But humour – or, arguably, lack of it – is not synonymous with reality. Let’s be clear, here; the criticism of David de Gea this season is justified. Of course, it is. He’s made mistakes. His flaws have been exposed. But the Spaniard has not been helped by negligence from the higher powers. The constant rotation of a £20million buy has beenbaffling; and nothing less.

He’s One For The Future, apparently, but that doesn’t quite explain why he’s chosen to play one game, and then not the next. If he’s going to be dropped in favour of Anders Lindegaard, then United have to make sure that the Dane is given a run of games – yet, it’s unclear that will even happen. The signs are distorted. Lindegaard might appear to be first choice now, but what’s to suggest he will he play the following week? Little. In fact, Lindegaard starting the FA Cup game against Liverpool would have been logical. Having some sort of rhythm is key to success – it has to be. Terry Venables has made two criminally out-of-tune World Cup anthems for England’s national team in recent times; yet he’s probably found more rhythm than either goalkeeper.

There’s the argument that those in management know what they’re doing. United are a well-run club and that’s never to be disputed in a general sense; but you feel this particular situation could have been handled better. This so-called “crisis” – and it isn’t that, not yet anyway – is thus partly self-inflicted. To go with that, de Gea has played 20 games with 13 different back fours; and we wonder why he hasn’t settled in yet? As it stands, his shaky start can be broken down into three: (1) partly his fault, (2) partly the club’s and (3) partly just wicked misfortune.

But this is all just theoretical. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter whether he has the same four players in front of him or not. Perhaps, the rotation policy has helped to spare his blushes – the less he plays, the better, you see. Perhaps, he’s just a bit rubbish. We all know that’s absurd, however. He’s very easy to jump at because he’s a virtual unknown to many; not all watch La Liga or care much for Atlético – and that’s fine. And he cost a lot. Nobody likes that, either. The media’s perverted fascination with Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres tells you this. And he plays for a big club. Any mistake – and there are quite a few – that talented goalkeepers such as Ali Al-Habsi or Michel Vorm make can easily be erased from memory with a wonderful point-blank range stop the minute after. De Gea does not have this luxury. Once he earns this reputation, there’s no turning back. Michael Owen, who is apparently the dirty work of a bunch of real-life Wind Up Merchants, summed it up well on his Twitter account: “The problem is, once you get labelled, mud sticks and now any tiny mistake is magnified.”

These factors have had an impact on the young ‘keeper. “He carried the body language of a player who is suffering a torrid time,” says Phil McNulty. “The sort of experience he has not had before.” And, there’s something quite sad about this. The collective laughs, jibes and sighs has quite clearly taken its toll. De Gea looks even more stricken, considerably more nervous now than he was at the beginning of the season, where, we seem to have forgotten, he played wonderfully well in chunks. His demotion – a temporary one for all we know – must have had an effect.

So, gradually, United fans are losing faith. The media men in their dark suits and sunglasses are taking glee from his mishaps: “We were right!” they bellowed, in unison, in the aftermath of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool. They may well be. But there’s something missing in their reports. In their words, in their tweets, in their interviews. The failure to acknowledge the other factors. Managerial negligence, the overwhelming pressure that comes with the job and simple, cruel misfortune. Call it blind loyalty, but he’ll come good. Can a 20-year-old lose all his talent just like that? No, course not. I call this rational thinking.


Retrospective #18: Edwin van der Sar becomes ‘King of the Nil’

They say that the Premier League is no country for old men, that its dash and intensity are too much for the over-30s.

The year is still in its infancy, but already 2012 has proved the nay-sayers wrong. With the broad shouldered Phil Jones losing impulsive cult followers with every passing game, English football is turning to tried and tested players.

In its perpetual quest to destabilize the English national team, club football has sent a resounding message. The returns of Paul Scholes to Manchester United and Thierry Henry to Arsenal are reminders that the Premier League lacks faith in the youth game, and that its cynical commercialism trumps all. Fancy a Paul Scholes No. 22 shirt?

However, 2011/12 will never seduce the Premier League’s most recent retiree. Edwin van der Sar’s career ended in May, without an asterisk. But United fans remember him, with throbbing temples every time David De Gea leaps for a corner, or Anders Lindegaard’s complacent feet encourage an opposing striker to press high-up the pitch. The ghost of van der Sar still haunts the United penalty area, undermining its youthful commanders.

It’s unsurprising that De Gea and Lindegaard are struggling to emulate the man who Rio Ferdinand still calls “the best I’ve ever played with”. Van der Sar set incomparable standards, refining his on-field presence through years of experience and incessant success. United’s defensive struggles this season are a tribute not only to their former goalkeeper’s shot stopping ability, but also to his encouraging yet aggressive attitude; van der Sar was able to unite ever-changing back fours, and to ride calmly through the worst of injury crises.

His poise was admirable. He saved Nicolas Anelka’s weak penalty to win Manchester United the Champions League. Van der Sar, glistening in the Moscow rain, his arms raised high in the air is an iconic image; as famous as Ole Solskjaer sliding across the Camp Nou turf.

Van der Sar’s calm confidence facilitated his record-breaking run of clean sheets in December and January of 2008/2009. From Samir Nasri’s lash at the Emirates to Peter Lovenkrands’ prod at St. James’ (a total of 20 hours of football) the Dutchman didn’t concede a single goal. Against West Brom, he broke Petr Cech’s record run of clean sheets in the Premier League; a game later he toppled Steve Death’s British record. He smashed Danny Vanderlinen’s European total at home to Fulham*.

“His calming influence goes right through the team,” Giggs said after the West Brom game. “He is getting better with age. Yes, he has great players in front of him but, when he is called upon, he never makes a mistake.” From the beginning of his streak Van Der Sar maintained that numbers were not what mattered, that Manchester United’s quest for an 18th title was more important than any statistical milestones. Yet, 3-0 up and with just minutes left against Fulham, a Bobby Zamora shot bounced inches wide of the United goal, and van der Sar grinned – a slightly mischievous half smile. That was about as close as he ever came to self-indulgence.

Henry Winter lucidly described Manchester United’s frightening confidence during van der Sar’s record tilt. “These are memorable days and nights for Sir Alex Ferguson’s players,” he wrote. “From San Siro to St James’, they gleam with conviction… An aura of invincibility surrounds them.”

When Peter Lovenkrands slotted home after just eight minutes at St. James’ Park to end van der Sar’s record run of clean sheets, the Geordies behind the goal began chanting “dodgy keeper, dodgy keeper.” The humor, however, failed to ruffle van der Sar. His focus and composure over the last eighty minutes helped United to a 2-1 win.

Van der Sar’s run ended at 1311 minutes, but the resolve it instilled never left Manchester United that season. Even in Rome, where United’s Dutch No. 1 was denied a third career European Cup, fans left convinced of United’s potential.

“When we go 1-0 up, other teams think ‘Oh no, here we go, it’s going to be hard,'” van der Sar said that year, after one of his many clean sheets. “That’s what we want, we want to create fear in the opposition.”

Van der Sar placed his record-breaking achievement in the context of its importance to his team. More than most players, he subscribed to Alex Ferguson’s belief, however cliched, that “no man is bigger than the club.”

It’s the Dutchman’s pervasive calm that Manchester United has missed most this season. The foundation of United’s 2009 back five is slowly crumbling: Nemanja Vidic is out with a long-term injury, John O’Shea plays for Sunderland, and Ferdinand and Evra are regressing. In a year, of the seven key contributors to the 2008/09 defense, perhaps only Rafael and Evans will remain.

It’s telling that van der Sar was the first to leave. He was more than just a fabulous goalkeeper; he was the foundation-stone on which United’s most parsimonious rear guard was built. His decision to retire began the defensive decline that United are experiencing now. After so many years of solidity, though, it would be churlish to complain.

*The length of Verlinden’s streak remain unclear. According to some reports, van der Sar actually fell 72 minutes short of the Belgian’s record.

This was written by David Yaffe-Bellany. He is the editor of In For The Hat Trick. You can follow him on Twitter.

Retrospective #17: Roy Keane’s departure – ‘I’m sorry, son. He’s gone’

Roy Keane’s departure – an anecdote

iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. Formerly known as ‘Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park’. The destination for myself and the future Mrs Pattison on a scorching hot Sunday in November. It was the final stop on our whirlwind three day safari before returning to our Charity project in Kwa Zulu-Natal. Drifting in and out of fitful sleep, I was enveloped by that maudling, detached, melancholic sense that an unforgettable experience was coming to an end; a fitting state of mind for the bombshell about to drop.

A jolt; and I was snapped out of my haze. Our guide for the trip Jannie was a long-limbed, iron jawed Afrikaaner; whose penchant for the worst excesses of early nineties rock had formed the backdrop to our high speed cruise along the monotous freeway. The abrupt interruption of James Hetfield mid-growl signalled that our trip to ‘Never Never Land’ would have to be put on hold as he had to ‘go take a pee mate.’ Naturally having a bladder the size of a pea, my beloved followed Jannie’s march to the facilities (either that or they were conducting an illicit romantic liaison in South Africa’s finest services). My thoughts as had become the norm on these roadside pit-stops turned to one thing: Liqui Fruit. Addictions can develop at a surprising pace; for me this invigorating fruit punch had become an obsession. Having made my purchase and happily slurping on my carton of ‘marula mania’ I turned to the newspaper section to kill time whilst I waited for Jannie and Laura to return. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word of the prose as it was entirely Afrikaans so my flicking through the pages amounted to looking at the pictures.

Then came two pictures of familiar faces that grabbed my attention. The only words I could discern from the headline was KEANE FERGUSON MANCHESTER. My heart started to race; what the bloody hell could it all mean? The headline appeared angry, but then again everything said or written in Afrikaans invariably does.

It’s okay, I’ll ask Jannie. At least I would if he wasn’t honking the horn of the truck, having lit a (hopefully not post-coital) cigarette. When a large South African with Metallica on full volume orders you to leave, it really isn’t the time to ask if he mind playing the role of translator.

Onward. For three hours. My mind was darting all over the place. Injury? New contract? Retirement? Soundtracked by Def Leppard and Roxette, I thought back over all my enduring images of Roy. In the tunnel with Vieira. Driving home the crucial goal against Bayern. Surging through to finish at Highbury. Dragging us back from the precipice in the Delle Alpi. I was now 22 and in that time the single happiest moment of my life had been sealing the trophy at Camp Nou. It felt like we had ‘completed football’ and Roy more than any other in my view was responsible for that. He was the foundation upon which our finest hour had been built. What the hell had happened?

The Wetlands was beautiful. On an open top boat we cruised up the river, observing families of hippos having the time of their lives whilst crocs sunbathed watching on. Yet whilst I was undoubtedly enjoying the experience the anxiety over the Roy story festered. I don’t believe in fate and all that nonsense but it does seem strange looking back that my expectations at that time were predominantly negative. It was a challenging time to follow the team; the climate of uncertainty of the new Glazer era sat uncomfortably with me and being on self-imposed hiatus from my daily feed of all things United I became naturally inclined to fear the worst. Fittingly the Teeside humiliation had been the last game I had managed to see. Glumly looking on from a Pretorian bar as my beloved Reds were taken apart, losing 4-1 to a rampant Middlesborough side made the prospect of two months without watching United seem a blessing rather than an unfortunate consequence of our ‘do-gooding’ exploits.

Arriving back very late it would ordinarily be unthinkable to call home but I knew in these circumstances Dad would understand. (It wouldn’t be the last time that United news would be shared from distant lands – two years later in Peru a call to share the news of our engagement was hijacked by details of the Tevez signing.) The phone rang for what seemed like an eternity. Hopes dashed, I became resigned to waiting a whole other day. Only to hear a crackle, a distinctive grumble, and a clearly furious voice come down the line. After quelling his initial concerns that something serious had happened my end, I explained about the newspaper story. My voice was a tremble with trepidation as I enquired as to what has happened with our captain, our leader, my hero.

A pause on the line. A deep sigh. And at that point, I knew my worst fears were about to be confirmed.

‘I’m sorry, son. He’s gone.’

This was written by Tom Pattison. Tom discusses music on his blog ‘Listen With Danger‘ and writes about United for The Faithful. You can follow him on Twitter. (The kind man has contributed to this series before – read here.)

Retrospective #16: The wonderful Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke duopoly

Sandwiched in between the utter naivety of the first seven or eight years of your life and the predictable yawn of teenage anxiety, there’s a golden age in childhood. It’s that age when climbing trees, skimming stones and dressing as a one-eyed buccaneer is not only immensely enjoyable, but also immensely important. It’s the magical stuff that Mark Twain writes about, much better than I ever could. Still, I’ll give it a bash.

It’s true that summers last forever during this golden age. Games played with friends, brothers, even enemies, go on long into those warm, hazy nights, really meaning something. Going for a kick about? Making the most crucial last ditch sliding tackle of your little life, more like.

It’s in this period that an interest in football becomes a devotion. For a while mine manifested itself in recording the vital statistics of every Manchester United game on a pad of A4 lined paper. Home side always listed first, teams underlined in red, goalscorers noted with the time of goal coming afterwards in square brackets, that kind of thing.

It felt like I did this for at least a couple of seasons, but when I dug it out recently I discovered I’d actually given up after about twelve games. It was rather tedious, after all, and once I’d missed out a couple of matches by accident the whole neat little project came tumbling down. Looking at my father’s ancient Subbuteo boxes, it appears he’d done a similar thing, only in a slightly more haphazard way. Apparently Nottingham Forest were once a good team, would you believe?

Anyway, one name appeared time and again under the ‘United’ column in my records: A Cole. Thanks to my blissful golden age, I watched football purely for the football. I knew nothing of Cole’s initial difficulty in settling at United, in a team dominated by a certain French striker, I didn’t even know that he’d been Sir Alex’s second choice really, and was even offered in part-exchange for Alan Shearer at one point. All I knew was that he was our best goal scorer, and that he scored all the time.

When Eric Cantona – our best player, if not our best striker – retired, I was gutted like the rest of you.  I came into school an innocent, happy child, only to be confronted by these nasty rumours that The King had quit football to become an actor.  Ridiculous. Had to be jealous Liverpool fans, right? I checked with my dad later that day: “they’re pulling my leg, right dad?”

Incredibly, they weren’t. Cantona was gone, and a year later a rather uninspiring player was signed to fill his void: Dwight Yorke.

Not being from one of the bigger clubs, I didn’t know much about Yorke, only that apparently he’d scored a few for Villa. He just didn’t look good, though. While Cole wasn’t exactly Mr Interesting, he at least exuded coolness. Yorke, though, had this chubby, leering face.  Had to be bad news, he did.

(Seen through the eyes of a child, Ronaldinho (when we had the chance to snatch him) probably looked like a bad option to replace Beckham a few years later. Luckily in the case of Yorke, Fergie pulled off a brilliant transfer this time and I was made to look like a ten-year-old.)

Cole and Yorke struck it off immediately. They must’ve each scored ten overhead kicks in that magical treble-winning season, if not twenty. And those stepover dummies, running onto the inevitable return pass and stroking it with ease into the net! Talk about a strike partnership. I’d never seen such telepathy.

The best thing about these two was that they came as a pair. Alone, a genius like Ryan Giggs or David Beckham could score a vital goal to win a game, but Cole and Yorke needed each other to play well. Far from being a hindrance though, it made them better; they were far greater than the sum of their parts. They worked for each other, they played for each other, they summed up the Old Trafford ethos of teamwork and co-operation.

We all remember that goal against Barcelona, and thankfully it’s one of those that really was that good, golden age or not.  It encapsulated the Cole/Yorke relationship in a move of such simplicity and beauty that you won’t see many better at the highest level. We may have scraped through the Champions League group stage as the tournament’s second best runners-up, behind Real Madrid (and highest scorers, 20, of which Cole got 3 and Yorke grabbed 5), but nobody could really complain that we hadn’t deserved it. It’d been a killer of a group anyway: any one of Barca, Bayern Munich or us could’ve gone on to win the thing that year. Little did I know that when we met Bayern in the final for the grudge match, they too were looking to complete a treble.  I can still see Samuel Kuffour now, bawling and thumping the floor in anguish. As happy as I was, I’m proud to say I truly felt for the guy, seeing how much it hurt him.

So, there I was, twelve years old; one year left before the golden era would end. We won the title again the following season, and Cole and Yorke continued to make a mockery of Premier League defences, yet in truth I’d already started to notice things that took the gloss off it all – like Mark Bosnich and Quinton Fortune, for example.

What was initially planned as a piece about Cole morphed into one about Yorke, too, but it’s impossible to discuss one without the other – and I won’t even go near the rumours of what they got up to in their private life. After all, pre-pubescent boys don’t want titillation; they just want football. The break-up of the Cole/Yorke magic coincided with the end of my golden era, perhaps even contributed to it. There would still be brilliant goals and fantastic forwards afterwards, but none of them felt the same. Ruud van Nistelrooy seemed to take pleasure in scoring only dull goals, and when Rooney and Ronaldo came along I had the wherewithal to notice that, while they are excellent footballers, they’re pretty despicable human beings.

Call it the golden age, call it nostalgia, but for me there will never be such a formidable strike partnership in English football. On their own, Cole and Yorke were good strikers. Together they were unplayable.

This was written by Jude Ellery. You can find more of him over at Strange bOUnce, the place where sport-inspired (mostly football – wahey!) fiction, satire and verse flourish. Follow him on Twitter, good people.

Everton a good move for unlucky Darron Gibson

In sport, reputation can be crystallised or destroyed in one match. Claudio Gentile was unfairly recognised as a hard-man outside Italy for his savage treatment of Diego Maradona (and then Zico in the next game) in the 1982 World Cup but here was a player who was fantastically more all-rounded than that one game made him. On the other hand, and more debatable, was the reputation Owen Hargreaves forged in World Cup 2006 after his lung-busting display against Portugal, rocketing his value sky-high to earn a £18milion move to Manchester United. Before that, he was a much maligned player in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s England squad. In cricket, Dimitri Mascarenhas is often viewed as a big-hitter after once scoring five sixes in an over but his record as a batsman previously showed him horribly out-of-his depth. However, for Darron Gibson and his Manchester United career, he has suffered the misfortune of having his star rise and shot back down, in one match.

That game was against Bayern Munich in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League in 2010. Manchester United were already trailing, having been defeated 2-1 in the first-leg away but raced into a 3-0 lead before half-time with Gibson opening the scoring. However, the game turned on its head just before half-time as Ivica Olic pulled one back for Bayern before Rafael inexplicably got himself sent-off for over-zealousness as the Germans then scored the goal they needed to send them through. The defeat left Sir Alex Ferguson bitter and in a way, the team involved paid the price for their carefree manner. It might be notable, although personal issues and injury problems had contributed, Wayne Rooney has rarely figured as a lone-striker since then despite the goals he scored; Fabio usurped Rafael in the right-back position for the calmness he exudes while Gibson hasn’t been given the same run in the side that he did in the lead-up to that game.

Perhaps, the Bayern game was irrelevant – United could have emerged victorious and all that Gibson may have gained from it was short-lived hero status – and, maybe, we’re just being kind. Perhaps, he was just a frighteningly average player; one who fades in and out of games and one whose impact can only be felt when he plays lucky dip with the goalkeeper and takes a shot. But let’s be honest, here (and put your Gibson effigy down/stop your party) – that would be harsh.

It became most obvious at the start of the 2010/11 season that Gibson was not what many call ‘United quality’ – a term all-too-often bandied around for every other player, but, when talking about Gibson, it seemed a fair description. However, that didn’t mean he was a bad player. What it meant was that he deserved to somewhere else; best-case scenario, a mid-table club where his efforts would be appreciated. Somewhere where the services of a good player, nothing more was required.

What Everton are getting is a player who can do more than just hit a ball really hard – contrary to popular opinion – but someone who can spot a pass, who can read the situation, who recognises the importance in ball retention and who was fairly robust in the challenge. But that just wasn’t enough, not when you consider his flaws to go with it. Of course not. Not at United.

But the Bayern Munich game is still important in this story (a rather drab one, to be fair). It was quite comfortably his best game in a red shirt and football, as we’ve seen and are still seeing, has had many players, seemingly average, flourish from not only faith shown by the man with power but with the self-confidence of a plucky deer who had just fought off two hungry gazelles (or something). These players have just the right attributes to get around. Gibson could have been that man. A healthy run of games after that fateful night would have been of a great benefit, for sure; because the reason his flaws were so exposed was simply that he just wasn’t able to develop and grow as a player. And in that sense, he was unlucky. Thankfully, Darron Gibson has another chance. At cash-strapped Everton. And best of luck to him, too.

Newcastle expose imbalances to defeat Manchester United

There’s a moment in every superhero story where the protagonist momentarily loses his power. In the 1986 relaunch of DC Comic’s Superman series, John Byrne revised the superhero’s abilities so that it would be easier to for writers to come up with suitable challenges. Last night, Newcastle United was such a challenge for Manchester United’s Phil Jones. Because, up to now, the Premier League season had been too easy for him. Whatever position and scenario he had been thrown into, Jones had reacted with aplomb. But finally, he met his match, as the powerful duo of Demba Ba and particularly, Shola Ameobi, proved an overwhelming nemesis and has shown that, after all the endless praise he has received, some dose of realism is needed to be had.

The other more pressing issue is of Phil Jones’ position. At the Sports Direct Arena, he played at centre-back – much believed to be his eventual and best role – but he suffered against the directness of Newcastle’s play and the physicality of the two forwards. This can be rather harshly analysed further as he was involved – and perhaps even, at fault – for all three of Newcastle goals, firstly being beaten in the air by Ameobi; then conceding the free-kick that Yohan Cabaye converted and lastly, having the misfortune of scoring an own goal. Phil Jones will be a fine player but he’s also had to carry a lot of responsibility in his début season for Manchester United and that’s a lot to ask of a young player. However, that’s also testament to Jones’s great ability as he has become almost essential to the side. Perhaps not yet at centre-back where he looks a bit lost between attacking the ball and not – something Rio Ferdinand has mastered – but more likely in central midfield where his drive is essential in a team which is still finding its identity. Again, Jones has had to step up following the injuries to Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher like his has had to filling in at right-back.

If Jones suffered, Manchester United also suffered and they looked a shadow of what they were, not only in the first few months of the season but lacking the traits of all Sir Alex Ferguson teams in the past. Once they went behind, and that task was made even harder once Cabaye has scored straight after half-time, they reacted so meekly. They had one real chance; Wayne Rooney’s shot cleared off the line – when have they last reacted so insipidly under Sir Alex? Then was the performance of United’s attackers, most prominently that of Rooney’s. The England striker was substituted off in the second-half, improbably, when United were chasing the game. Again, when has that happened under Sir Alex Ferguson? although sometimes, sacrilegious substitutions have to be made.

Rooney was substituted because influence was becoming an hindrance, retarding attacking moves due to poor execution of the final ball and at times, getting in his own team-mates way. That’s because his positioning is often Manchester United’s best and he knows it, the Gaffer knows it but history has similarly seen overly-influential players become sacrificed for the team’s cause. Rafael Benitez did it in April 2010 in a heated Merseyside derby by replacing Steven Gerrard for Lucas to calm the game down while Argentina imploded in World Cup 2006 after taking off Juan Roman Riquelme but because they were so reliant on him, they couldn’t mount a comeback. It was probably the wrong choice to take off Rooney but Sir Alex could see the striker’s desperation and thought that he may compose himself if he was shunted to the left. Alas, it was to no avail and he was eventually replaced by Javier Hernandez.

Manchester United’s wing-play was uncharacteristically poor, as it was in the defeat to Blackburn Rovers 2-3 previously. In fact, there were imbalances throughout the team team. Newcastle pressed and United’s passing from the back was panicky. The gap between central midfield and defence was too large although that can be put down to Newcastle’s two strikers playing very high in United’s half and the fact that quickly, they had to chase the game. At the end of the match, Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew, seemed more taken aback by, not the result, but how easy his team prevailed. Indeed, you might have forgiven him if he boastfully exclaimed in his post-match interview, such was the dominance of Cheik Tioté, that “the formula for beating Manchester United is not so complicate: leave the ball for them in the centre of their midfield and wait for someone to do something. It’s like waiting for Godot: nothing will happen.” In actual fact he said: “We won because we controlled the game. They had a lot of balance in their team but we didn’t let them play and we deserved to beat the champions,” said Pardew. “We took a big gamble with our high line but by pressing them we broke up their play so many times. We took a physical risk in that at the back we were sometimes two versus two, but we could cope with it. We got a great victory because we sat on them all night and were aggressive.”

The worrying thing for United fans, it’s happened before, in the 1-2 defeat to Basle and it doesn’t often happen like this. Not under Ferguson. The performance was atypically Manchester United and they know they will have to show some of that “spirit” they’ve shown in the past if they are to keep abreast of Manchester City in the title race.

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