The words ‘knee jerk’ get used alot when referring to football
If player x gets a slating, then there’s always someone round the corner to say that its knee jerk. And we’ve all been the one whose actually said it ourselves…”Thats a totally knee jerk reaction…its cos Carlos Tevez wants to go home cos he misses his Mum”….or something like.
After witnessing these first few games of the season, with what could very well be the best of Manchester United in the next few years….last night we saw what has been the worst of MUFC over the past few years. Now when I use the word ‘worst’…that is descriptively an unfair word to use..I simply use it to juxtaposition against the glorious football the kids have produced with 8-2 maulings and five goals away from home thrashings. As champions of England, and statistically the best team in Europe reaching the Champions League final 3 out of 4 years, the word ‘worst’ probably shouldnt be used.
But it’s all about context. And being brutally honest.
The Benfica game was always gonna be Fergie’s big chance to give his squad a run out. When you need ten points from an available eighteen, this Euro match gave United an almost pre season like opportunity to get some legs stretched, some passing practised, and to work on some fitness. That is what last night was supposed to be…and that is exactly what we got.
But if you dig below the surface a small bit..there was lots of things present in the side last night that are really beginning to feel highly undesirable. Last season saw United travel away from home about as badly as we have in modern times. And last night that ugly head seemed to rear itself out of it’s neck sockets once again. It was not attractive. But maybe it was essential for us and for Sir Alex to see it?
Pre season the talk amongst all United fans was of Sneijder and of our midfield..and for understandable reasons. The first few games has placated those thoughts, as football fans are like goldfish. Your team wins…and you swim around in the happiness of your bowl. But there is still a crack in that bowl as there was last year…and it is slowly dripping water onto United’s posh carpets in their billion dollar home.
Now lots will say after a distinctly average game in Portugal that any reaction to this performance is ‘knee jerk’
But let’s be honest. We’ve all said it in one form or another. There were things I saw last night that was not pretty at all! This isn’t a knee jerk reaction. It’s a bloody thesis written over a three-year period!
The midfield of Giggs, Fletcher and Carrick, with Valencia and Park wide, were truly pants. And it wasn’t really a general ‘poor performance’ as can happen in the early days of a football season. Theres was a question of their DNA…as a unit and as individuals. When you consider how well the Welbecks, Andersons and Cleverleys have started the season…hitting the ground running…players like Jones and Smalling who look like they play the game like it’s their last every single second…we saw a set of players who couldn’t really inspire each other..couldn’t string a decent pass together unless it was going backwards..hitting 60 yard Steven Gerrard glory balls forward to a lone striker..it was the United we saw travel away week after week last season.
Now this all sounds very tough I know!………… But with the real threat of the blue menace across the city, our standards must be higher than ever. Last seasons performance wont be good enough this year. We must top it. And that means what we witnessed last night, must be the last time we witness it. Now im not saying bin these players. No way. But I do think that if your over-rotate…you are asking for trouble. Had Benfica been a bit sharper in front of goal, and we not had Giggsy hit a sweet left footer..we would have lost..and deservedly so.
The Manchester United standard was way off.
But the issues were and are obvious. If I hear one more time that “Carrick’s job is to screen… that’s why he plays so deep” I might just scream. Especially as the manager commented last night ” Our midfield played too deep”. Yes Carrick is a defensive minded player these days, but he allows the position to swallow him up. He offers little when United go forward. “But that’s not his job!” ..the disciples scream! ……..The boy is not a destroyer, he’s a craftsman in my opinion….but what he has turned into is your typical Didier Deschamp water-carrier. And yes there’s times we may need a water-carrier! But against a Benfica side who I doubt are better than an Arsenal team we attacked into submission, the chance was to play a progressive game. And we got nowhere near that. Forget who is home and who is away.
I very much doubt Fergie said: “lads, sit back about 5 yards off Jonny Evans position, and try and hit Rooney with a bunch of Hail Marys”…nope… I doubt it.
The chemistry between Giggs, Fletcher and Carrick was not typical of years gone by, and is by far the underlying problem. When Carrick had a vintage Scholes next to him. When Fletcher didn’t know what a stomach bug was. And when Ryan Giggs was a flying winger. Times are changing. They all have great experience, and that is what they will be used for this season. Giggs will play a cameo role. Carrick will do his usual…gulp….screening. And Fletcher, who looked good for Scotland last week, will be the one used most graphically.
I think Alex Ferguson needed to see that last night. Sometimes just having to swerve the car can be as effective as actually crashing and burning when deciding you must give fate a helping hand. The manager is nobody’s mug. The development of the new breed is what takes priority now, and the players who once were the main stays of the MUFC midfield will now be the support function of that development. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The most important thing is to use it to your advantage after the event: Something Arsene Wenger knows little about.
But time is running out for a few. The bell is ringing loud. Because the future is now.