Prior to this week’s Champions League clash in Wolfsburg the concern for United was clearly who would slot into a make-shift defence to cover the disastrous injury problems, so following the encounter it is somewhat refreshing that it is at the other end where the headlines were made.
Seeing Michael Owen score his first hat-trick since 2005 and his first in a United shirt provided the ideal tonic for his boss during this difficult time. Sir Alex Ferguson has since had the following to say: “It was a fantastic performance. Michael’s finishing and positional play were superb. He has proved his worth and I was delighted with his performance.” Owen has now scored seven goals for his new club which is all the more impressive when you look at how many appearances the former Liverpool man has made. Owen has only started eight games for United this season and has appeared 12 times as a substitute which is starting to prove what a shrewd signing he is.
Ferguson hit the proverbial nail on the head when mentioning Owen’s positional play which was superb against the German’s. For his first two goals he was in the right place both times to score from close range using his experience in and around the penalty box to get away from his marker and to know instinctively where the ball will drop. Owen has the perfect blend of a natural goal-scoring ability coupled with the experience of playing at the highest level for many years. His third goal will have pleased his boss and also silenced many of his critics who believe that his many injury problems have ravaged his once formidable pace and that he no longer posses the ability to get away from defenders.
It is certainly true that he doesn’t have the pace of old but once clear he never looked like being caught. His great positional play was in evidence again here as once clear he was able to come onto his favourite foot but also bring his body across the defender meaning that if a challenge was made it would bring him down. This is something that Owen has needed to learn as he has got older and less able to rely purely on raw pace. Players such as Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and even Wayne Rooney will be benefiting no end from training day in day out with Owen.
The summer move for Owen is starting to pay off for United as many thought it would and again looks to be another clear indication of Sir Alex’s ability in the transfer market to bring in an older statesman when his team requires one. Whether he will be doing this in January to ease the defensive injury problems has been a topic of discussion over the last few days with Sol Campbell stating his desire for a move to Old Trafford. Campbell has stated there has been no contact from United and in truth is just reacting to speculation and of course putting his name in the picture at United as he hunts for a new club.
There is no doubting Campbell’s past credentials but whether he still has enough left to make an impact at United is certainly up for debate. If United’s injury problems are still as persistent in January then they will certainly need to strengthen which will be clear to all clubs meaning that the price of any possible target will increase with United’s need. In these circumstances a free transfer would certainly be a good option. One thing is for sure, Sir Alex will only move for any player free or not if he feels it will benefit Manchester United.
United face Villa this weekend at Old Trafford and should welcome back Nemanja Vidic from flu. Vidic is expected to partner Michael Carrick at centre-half with Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra defending the flanks giving a slightly more solid foundation on which to build. Having closed the gap on Chelsea last weekend United need to continue their good run of form against Villa and so will be welcoming some more familiar faces back into the line-up.
Rooney will certainly be back in but whether Owen will be starting alongside him is unlikely. United have been fantastic of late when playing with one striker supported by two wide men which is a formation which is likely to be continued against Villa and even if United do elect to start with two strikers Dimitar Berbatov may get the nod as he continues his comeback from injury. Owen is likely to be left frustrated at having to start on the bench following his mid-week exploits but this may just prove to be the ideal tonic if United again need a late goal to dispose of the Villains.