MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Valencia 41, Hernandez 76, Berbatov 90
The final game of their pre-season preparation, the Community Shield has provided us with a decent preview of the team setting out for a record 19th league title.
It also provided a perfect comparison from a year ago, with no summer signings starting the game and Sir Alex Ferguson again choosing a 4-4-2 formation, most likely to accommodate Michael Owen’s return.
The team commanded the first 45, notably down the right-hand side where Antonio Valencia looks an exciting prospect for the season ahead. Every time he had the ball, United threw men into the box, and more promisingly than that, Valencia was looking up and providing an array of crosses, picking out men on more than one occasion, including an on-form Paul Scholes who should have capitalised on a golden chance presented him by the Ecuadorian.
The side looked comfortable in the formation, more so than on most occasions it was used in 2009/10, as much down to the organisation of United as the lack of preparation from Chelsea. United’s back-line was compact, with Fabio da Silva providing an example to Patrice Evra of what might be expected when there is a lack of midfield defensive cover in a 4-4-2, rarely leaving his own half.
The United wingers were also key, as every time Chelsea went forward in possession, United’s back four narrowed and Ji-Sung Park and Valencia tracked back, effectively creating a back six that crowded their opponents out and restricted them for most of the game to long-range efforts.
However, at the same time, whether or not Scholes and Michael Carrick can play in the formation together remains to be seen. Whilst Scholes benefited immensely from the space afforded him by a sluggish Chelsea midfield, there were moments where their opponents ran through the centre of the pitch unopposed by Scholes and Carrick, neither player the type to throw tackles in, successfully. Scholes was lucky not to be carded in the opening stages, the major downside to a two-man central midfield considering the 35-year-old’s tendency to slide in late.
There will not be as much time on the ball for Scholes either once the league kicks off and with Carrick still looking like a game could pass him by without a solid contribution going forward or back, to make the most of Scholes and his ranged passing as well as relieve him of high-risk defensive covering, support in Darren Fletcher or a third central midfielder looks likely.
A word on the substitutes. Javier Hernandez’ fortuitous strike for the club was deserved for the early running and promising link-up play with Dimitar Berbatov, but between the two of them and Nani who also came on at half-time, the ball came back to the United defence too often. Ironically after Chelsea’s goal threatened a comeback, they combined to provide a third goal off the back of some intricate possession-built play in Chelsea’s half.
Plenty of positives going ahead and United fans will be pleased to see not only their title rivals less-than-fresh, but their own squad full of options.
1 van der Sar
22 O’Shea – 23 J. Evans – 15 Vidic – 20 Fabio
25 Valencia – 16 Carrick – 18 Scholes – 13 Park
7 Owen – 10 Rooney
45 – 17 Nani on for 13 Park
14 Hernandez on for 7 Owen
9 Berbatov on for 10 Rooney
71 – 12 Smalling on for 20 Fabio
79 – 11 Giggs on for 16 Carrick
24 Fletcher on for 18 Scholes