Manchester United’s display on Sunday must be commended following what they will have undoubtedly witnessed just hours before their own kick off. The performance by Liverpool and the assist by Steven Gerrard not only should have been an embarrassment to their own fans but it will have clearly thrown a huge chunk of disappointment into the United camp. This however, was not evident when United took the field at the Stadium of Light.
United went about their job in the professional manner they are accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson. United may not end this season retaining the Premier League title but they have forced it to the last day with a squad many feel is vastly inferior to Chelsea’s. Much of this is owed to the experience of the elder statesmen of the squad such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with both players proving influential in the calm manner United went about this encounter. There was no desperation as United remembered where they were playing and did not race out of the blocks to attack Steve Bruce’s side, instead plugging away with well built attack after attack – it was no surprise when United took the lead through the calm and composed Nani.
The finish from the Portuguese was indicative of the growing confidence he now feels and the increased maturity that is being seen in his decision making. He will clearly have a huge influence on the match against Stoke City and if he can continue his excellent form during this summer’s World Cup must be seen as a huge player for United next season – United really need Nani to make this a reality. Another player putting in the kind of performance to be heralded against Sunderland was Darren Fletcher. Continually singled out for his combative performances throughout the season the Scot is deserved of his place in the PFA Team of the Season. Sunderland certainly put up a fight many felt that would not materialise due to their manager’s former allegiances but when Lee Cattermole was introduced United needed someone to match the strength and power of Sunderland’s midfield. Fletcher reveled in this challenge for United, driving his side on in the second half.
One image which is difficult to banish from the mind from Sunday’s match is the dejected figure of Dimitar Berbatov following his substitution. Berbatov has been a figure of much criticism throughout this season and in truth his performance against Sunderland was not poor, as he put in the required effort that many feel is sometimes lacking and he was an always available option. However, all this will be forgotten following the chances that were spurned by the Bulgarian. Berbatov is clearly suffering with a crisis of confidence which has been apparent throughout much of his United career – the Bulgarian candidly spoke about this prior to this season – which sees no signs of ending. The pressure of playing for Manchester United affects different players in different ways with some simply not able to replicate their best form from previous clubs – this seems to be the way with Berbatov with the look on his face one to suggest he may himself feel he is on borrowed time at Old Trafford.
The form of the other attacking players has been the main reason why United have not taken the opportunity that has often presented itself this season with Chelsea losing more games than ever in recent memory. Wayne Rooney has carried the burden throughout the campaign but when looking past Rooney we can see no one chipping in with the required amount of goals. If you compare this to Chelsea with Didier Drogba equaling Rooney’s total in the league but also Frank Lampard hitting the 20 goal mark and the form of Florent Malouda in the attacking third United are distinctly lacking. If United are to carry more of a sustained threat next season this is a problem that has to be rectified with the possible fee for Berbatov one way of securing the required funds for a different attacking option.
However, this season is not yet over and United will be required to put in the kind of professional performance which was seen last weekend when they host Stoke on the final day of the season. Whether this will be enough is a huge doubt as despite Wigan Athletic coming out on top against Chelsea at the DW Stadium earlier in the season, following a poor result against Hull City yesterday the Latics are far too inconsistent to instill any confidence in overcoming a Chelsea side full of quality. If United are to finish this season as runners-up it will be down to the performances of a select few players – whether just these players can be relied on next season is a question which Sir Alex must answer this summer.
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