Club Focus – Manchester United – Cracks again exposed as United lose ground in title race

Following the draw away at Blackburn the feeling surrounding Manchester United is that an unprecedented fourth title in a row and an historic 19th league title in total is beyond them. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by Sir Alex Ferguson as he feels that his side have left themselves with too much to do with only four games to go and considering Chelsea’s current form. This admission by Sir Alex seems to many like an admission that this team is simply not good enough.

Throughout this season United have been trying to paper over the cracks that have arisen both on and off the field. Following the summer clear out of two of their most potent attacking forces United’s attacking options have been threadbare throughout the entire season and following some real problematic defensive injury problems the usually watertight defence has been leaking goals – most notably against the top sides both at home and in Europe. It has only been the performances of Wayne Rooney which had left United with any hope of succeeding in the league and in the Champions League. United have already scored more goals than they did in the whole of last season yet their goal difference is significantly worse than Chelsea’s and they have lost a total of seven Premier League games. This highlights the inconsistency in every aspect of the side bar Rooney. With this current squad it may have been a huge ask to win another league title and currently it seems that this task was one too many.

The performance at Ewood Park was poor and lacked any real spark. A draw away against Blackburn is not a bad result by any stretch of the imagination with only Manchester City and Tottenham winning against Sam Allardyce’s side on home turf but within the context of this match nothing other than a win was required and United failed to deliver. Ferguson’s charges seemed to lack cohesion throughout this encounter and despite having much of the ball failed to create enough chances to really pose a threat. In his first Premier League start of the season Federico Macheda was subdued and struggled to get himself in the game often holding on to the ball for too long before looking to release it. This is clearly due to being afforded much more time on the ball in reserve team fixtures and injury problems suffered this season. Macheda is certainly a promising talent but he needs to be blooded from the bench throughout the season not thrown in expected to save his team in the race for the title.

Macheda’s strike partner Dimitar Berbatov cut a frustrating figure. His pass to release Antonio Valencia through on goal for United’s best chance of the game was sublime but then when presented with an opportunity of his own in the last ten minutes the Bulgarian was only able to fire straight at Paul Robinson when it really counted. It could have been so different for United if Valencia was able to convert what in his manager’s eyes was the best chance of the game but following his miss United should have created more chances than they did to give themselves any chance of winning the encounter.

United travel to Eastlands to face a recently rampant Manchester City in the Manchester derby this weekend. With this encounter brings a stark reminder of what United have been missing throughout much of this season. Carlos Tevez scored his 28th goal of the season against Birmingham at the weekend but it is not just Tevez’s goals which United have missed (the Argentine was nowhere near that total last season) but his energy and workrate. No one in United’s side had the kind of spark and energy that Tevez posses going forward to put Blackburn under the kind of pressure which is expected. Tevez may not have scored a huge amount of goals for United last season but during his two seasons at Old Trafford the Argentine scored a vast majority of late important goals. United never looked like doing this against Blackburn.

It is expected that Rooney will be fit to face United’s city rivals and it is imperative that he does take his place in the starting line-up. Having witnessed United without Rooney in their last two Premier League encounters it would seem unlikely that without him in the side United can come away from Eastlands with a win and with slim title hopes intact. Regardless of whether United are to leave Eastlands triumphant this should not detract from a season which in all truth has not been of the required standard of Manchester United and should not continue to paper over the cracks in this squad where post season improvement is clearly required.

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