Sir Alex Ferguson and Edwin van der Sar joined the ranks of reds and many neutrals in condemning City’s over cautious approach to the game, yet in the past United have embraced and often revelled when handed the ball and the initiative. Lest we also forget that the weekend saw them reel in Chelsea’s lead to two points, and going off the presumption the Londoners would see off neighbours Fulham, were the Reds not also entitled to do more than they did to secure the points to?
Over the years United have been presented with countless challenges to break down the mass of defensive reinforcements aimed at stopping the machine. Indeed, it has become the status quo in many leagues and competitions for the ‘lesser’ sides to retreat and invite the perceived ‘better’ side to have a go. Picking through the bones of whether City perceived themselves as the lesser team or whether they were right to be so defensive is another matter. The issue is that the situation presented to United was nothing new, of worry would be the way their attack proved so ineffective.
It only adds to the notion that this Red production does not possess the attacking spark and penetration of previous models. So often this term – and on numerous occasions during last – have Ferguson’s men laboured and struggled to break down defences, and subsequently savage on the carcass as was so prevalent during the rampaging days of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez, or Van Nistelrooy, Giggs and Beckham, or Yorke, Cole, Sheringham and Solskjaer. The list goes on.
The tactic of battening down the hatchet was one which had been rendered virtually redundant of late after its effectiveness was countered and conquered in previous seasons. When United pushed hard and cranked up the tempo, inevitably a goal came from somewhere. The pressure was increased sufficiently so the dam bust its banks and flooded. There was always a goal.
The futility of the method had limited effect last year when Chelsea rammed home 68 goals at Stamford Bridge and this season the adventurous antics of Blackpool and West Brom meant the ‘catenaccio’ approach was referenced along with the pass-back. However, it still seems an effective tool to counter United. But given its failings, why are United circa 2009 now slinging mud at the castle walls?
Of course, struggling to break down an expensively assembled Manchester City with a host of expensive defence and midfield talent is one thing, but doing the same at home to Bursaspor and Glasgow Rangers is another. Against Sunderland away, the visitors barely created a chance of note, and after surrendering a two goal lead to West Brom at Old Trafford, United couldn’t muster an equaliser in roughly half an hour’s play. Even when there have been goals, they’ve not been things of beauty. Take the win over Spurs for example. Nemanja Vidic headed home a set-piece after a first half when virtually nothing was created. The second goal came courtesy of Heurelho Gomes. It is hardly the free flowing, fluent football that Ferguson has trademarked since his arrival at Old Trafford.
A fit and firing Wayne Rooney should have an impact, especially if he can finally forge a partnership with Dimitar Berbatov. Again, the Berbatov quandary is a strange one. He was far away the most impressive offensive show at Eastland’s last night, swanning around with a grace and elegance that was an anomaly amongst the sweat and gristle. His touch was mercurial, his footwork as delicate as anything to be seen in the league yet the sum total was, and still is too often – nothing. No goals since September over a period when goals have been needed.
Overall it’s just another indictment of what’s been an on-off season so far for Manchester United. If it’s not one thing it’s another. All the cogs turn the wheel and as yet all the cogs have yet to turn at once. As usual, Sir Alex will try to reassure that it will all come good after Christmas.