United punished for single selection error
Silvio Dante: This attitude of yours, it’s a lot of what’s made you an effective leader. But we’ve all got flaws. Even you. Seven deadly sins and yours is … pride.
Tony Soprano: All due respect, you got no f-ckin’ idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f-ckin’ thing.
– All Due Respect 5:12
If the haughty Sir Alex Ferguson had a Confession Bear, he would likely concede to it that he made a mistake in starting Ryan Giggs on Saturday evening — indeed, his immediate substitution at half-time almost confirms this. And if one decision truly does affect everything else, then it is worth exploring the impact of selecting the Welshman for a second game running. For starters, Giggs’ worth is diminishing — and there is little doubt that his establishing as a club great in the years gone by has almost guaranteed that he would start games in the future.
There are, however, two objections that could be made at this point as to explain why Giggs featured: 1) he has a lot of experience, and 2) United were short of options down the left. The first is true, but ultimately, experience is merely just experience if not coupled with something else (Giggs was largely ineffective, and one writer noted that he had only completed five passes). And, experience? United had plenty of it, anyway; among the starters were Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie, their combined age having as many digits as pi. The latter point is true in the sense that Giggs was the only conventional left-winger in the absence of Ashley Young, and with Nani on the right, but football has moved on from the two lines of four that it almost doesn’t matter. Against Newcastle in the League Cup, though against admittedly weakened opposition, individuals appeared liberated, as if the structures of the Premier League were somehow culpable for any shortcomings; there, Wayne Rooney popped up on the left, as did Tom Cleverley, as did Anderson, as did Danny Welbeck. All four were benched for Spurs.
The point isn’t so much to criticise Giggs and blame him for defeat, but an attempt to identify where it went wrong. Rio Ferdinand, after a Man of the Match performance at Anfield, could be said to be United’s worst player here after a dismal first half; but to stop there is to refuse to look deeper. You can blame Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, but instead you can dismiss it as a one-off. The real problem is not necessarily the knowledge that the two first half goals could have been prevented, but the reason why United could not respond. Why they could barely keep the ball. Why Spurs kept finding gaps in the midfield. Why the only notable thing that happened in the Spurs box during the first 45 was a penalty appeal. Why this all changed once a substitution was made.
The problem with being expressive about selection, however, is that it is mainly done with the luxury of hindsight; people complain about a ‘clear’ penalty not being given after they’ve seen a replay. They are correct because it’s too easy to be correct. It is why (excuse the switch to first-person) I am hesitant to do so; in fact, I admire those who let their feelings known even before there’s a chance they could be proved wrong. But Giggs against Spurs was not going to work — it was almost inevitable after a difficult 90 minutes against Liverpool a week earlier — and then we found out as much when United fell two goals behind before the interval.
Perhaps if Giggs had stayed on, with the game somehow not beyond United, and scored the equaliser, there would be an altogether different feeling. He would not be past it, rather rolling back the years but then that would mean we’re doing and thinking about football all wrong. It’s a bit like what we had with Wayne Rooney last season; why care that he’s not playing as well as he should be when he’s scoring goals? You don’t have to care. But accepting that playing Giggs was the wrong decision is not some sort of betrayal; and it is wrong to think being quiet or sitting on blind faith is the least you could do for a player that inspired so much before, and still does, albeit in a lesser role. He will still be important, you’d think; a timely cameo, perhaps, a late goal, another record broken. But it is best to stop expecting.
Giggs’ lack of pace meant his presence in a midfield already consisting of Carrick and Scholes would compare unfavourably against Tottenham’s ultra-energetic side (featuring the in-form Defoe, Bale, Dembele, Sandro among others) struggling where benched alternatives might not. The selection was wrong. This point was reinforced when Rooney came on and gave United wings; Nani was allowed to flex, finally (and score because of it), Kagawa would remember what a football felt like and all this, bringing Rooney on, a decision that went some way in affecting every facet of every other f-ckin’ thing, allowed Carrick and Scholes and Scholes and Scholes to play. Van Persie, too, would show signs that he would be a willing partner to Rooney.
United had dramatically improved in the second half, but lost because they never turned up for the first.
(Edit: This was reaction to the 3-2 defeat to Spurs at Old Trafford which isn’t so obvious at first glance. In fact, writing this little message right here is embarrassing. Oh well.)