The familiar names of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez will no doubt be playing on the minds of many apprehensive Manchester United fans this week. The high profile summer departures at Old Trafford have weakened the side considerably despite the additions of Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen, not to mention Sir Alex Ferguson’s vote of confidence to his squad. However after the defeat last night to a resolute and battling Burnley side, Ferguson will surely be contemplating adding more quality and the missing ‘magic’ to his squad which was severely lacking in the 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor.
With United losing their star man to Real Madrid, a distinct change in style and approach has been adopted for the this season. A much more conventional 4-4-2 formation will be used this season with natural wingers being utilised and a strong central midfield partnership being formed. Last night in the noise cauldron of Turf Moor, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji Sung were used in the wide areas, but a remarkable lack of width was noticeable as the pair drifted inside all too often and played into Burnley’s hands as they took the lead and made the game narrower and tighter. In the Golden era of the 1990s such as the treble season, United possessed the players to be able to forge this formation in the way they wanted to play. David Beckham with fantastic crossing ability, a younger Giggs utilizing pace and trickery, strong tackling and commitment from Roy Keane and finally late bursts from Paul Scholes to guarantee goals from midfield.
United dominated possession 63% to Burnley’s 37% and the lack of potency is clear to see in that stat alone. Possession in midfield with Anderson and Michael Carrick is fantastic when you have the magic of Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez to be able to create something out of nothing or punish teams so devastatingly when they tire. All too often last season, teams who frustrated United with hard work, commitment and sheer heart and soul were undone by the qualities of their side or individual brilliance. However the lack of a touch of brilliance was clear to see as United struggled to convert possession into goals.
The new signing, 24-year-old Antonio Valencia from Wigan, in the summer gives a view of how Sir Alex wants United to play. His main assets include a fantastic crossing ability and running at players with pace, but with just seven goals to his name during his time in the Premier League, the 84 goals in 157 appearances from Cristiano Ronaldo are a stark reminder of what is missing. This goal-scoring mantle is on the shoulders of the ever-present Wayne Rooney, but with playing the majority of the past two seasons on the left-hand side of attack, will he be able to handle the pressure of scoring 20+ goals for the season? Despite this weighty questions, the future is not all doom and gloom for Manchester United. With remarkable strength in depth they have the ability to cause any team problems. Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen all have the potential to be match winners at United and prove the doubters wrong this season. With nine shots on target at Burnley the problem is not creating chances, it is finishing them. The questions do remain on everyone’s mind however. Will the new United style work this season? Or will Sir Alex Ferguson dip into the transfer market for that much needed spark, class, pace and energy?
Another mid-week talking point to emerge from the Premier League games is Tottenham’s resurgence shown in the last two games. Spurs have been crying out for experience and guidance for their young and exuberant squad and with Harry Redknapp at the helm this is exactly what they have. After scoring seven goals in two games the attacking prowess of the Spurs side is clear to see with Jermain Defoe possessing a new found confidence in front of goal which is refreshing not only for the Premier League but for the England side. With five goals this season, including internationals, Defoe is once again showing quick movement and finishing to strike fear into opponents, as evidenced during last night’s wonderfully crafted hat-trick. The steel and tackling of Wilson Palacios is proving a huge boost to the Spurs side as he offers stability along with attacking excellence, the perfect recipe for success. The season could be a hugely interesting one at White Hart Lane as Spurs look to pressure the top four.