‘Football…bloody hell!’ Indeed, Sir Alex. After what just a couple of weeks ago promised to be the mother of all celebrations, the aftermath of the 162nd Manchester derby now sees us surveying a very different kind of carnage than what was hoped for. Eight points clear on Easter Sunday, then by the start of May we’re spreadeagled on the track watching our nearest and bitterest stride towards the finish line. This wasn’t part of the script at all.
The four derby games we’ve played have defined this season. Back in August we had the 2nd half Charity Shield comeback, providing grounds for optimism as the team gave a demonstration of what they were capable of on their day, and masking numerous deficiencies in the process. The 6-1 then exposed those deficiencies in the most brutal manner possible, leading to a re-think in both tactics and expectations. The FA Cup game arrived off the back of two defeats either side of New Year, saw the return of Scholes and kickstarted a tremendous run that took us to the brink of the title…which set us up nicely for the 4th clash of the season – a big party at their place, right?
Last night certainly stung but had something of an air of inevitability about it – once the team sheet was in. Having stated pre-match that we were going there for the win (“there’s no question about that”), Park’s selection and the resultant performance clearly indicated that wasn’t the case at all. We went for a draw and ended up with nothing – entirely predictable and an all too familiar scenario.
To be fair to Fergie though, I could see where he was coming from. We don’t have the midfield personnel to play the favoured 4-4-2 against top sides, so a containment job had to be considered. Many would argue that’s it’s almost unforgivable for United to register zero shots on target in a ‘winner takes all’ fixture and in hindsight it probably was the wrong decision to sacrifice the in-form Welbeck…but then we only need look at the last 10 minutes against Everton to see how hopelessly exposed we are against a team capable of incisive and intricate passing.
That’s where we really lost this league of course. 4-2 up and cruising with 7 minutes to go and then everything fell to pieces within minutes. Fingers were pointed at defensive lapses during the post-mortem, with 2 or 3 players culpable perhaps – but from where I was sat there just looked to be a huge void in the midfield area that invited Everton onto us. This is nothing new, and we’ve been overrun in this manner numerous times this season. If we’re going to continue playing with 2 wingers we desperately need a top class central midfield – a fact that has been blindingly obvious for 2-3 years now.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have been magnificent servants for this club, and will rightly go down in history as two of the greatest ever to appear in shirt. But let’s have this right (and it feels almost sacrilegious pointing this out…but it’s true) – despite rightly earning many plaudits for his encore stint, Scholes is blowing out of his arse after 70 minutes and his time is surely done now. Giggs meanwhile, for the most part of this season, has been bloody awful.
Yet as Monday demonstrated, options remain so limited we are forced to call on this pair time and time again because alternatives don’t exist. Cleverley does still exist it appears, though he spent more of the season introducing Brand Clevz™ to the world than he did furthering his United career. Anderson persists in stinking up the place with his infrequent appearances, the days of him shitting on Fabregas now a dim and distant memory to the extent he now emits only a bad smell – one hopes the management reach the same conclusion and ship him off to some Spanish or Portuguese backwater where his career can continue its decline on someone else’s payroll.
Champion gurner Phil Jones was signed as a centre half and excelled to the point he was prematurely hailed as Duncan reincarnate. Sadly, the coaching staff got a little carried away by his early progress and the kid was subsequently tasked with playing in 15 different positions – often during the same game. He now ends the season that began so promisingly as the new John O’Shea, a jack of all trades and master of none. Great work, United.
Latest rumours suggest the announcement of Darren Fletcher’s retirement could be imminent, so what of the two that were expected to make the breakthrough this season? Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba, a pair a youth team graduates hailed by regular observers as the best prospects in years. Morrison now finds himself holed up in the East End under the tutelage of Sam Allardyce, and all indications are that Pogba is poised to leave for Juventus.
I wasn’t alone in never quite fully subscribing to the Morrison hype, suspecting his off-field baggage might ultimately hinder his undoubted talent – hopefully the move will prove to be his making both as a player and a man. Pogba’s move, if he indeed does, will be a disappointment though. 12 months ago, having seen a fair bit of him both for both the reserves and the youth team, I thought he looked nailed on to become a 1st team regular at United – the kid looked like he had everything.
The player I’ve not mentioned is the much-maligned Michael Carrick, who began the season on the crest of an ongoing career slump since bearing the brunt of Fergie’s ire in the fallout of Rome 2009. An extended run of games has seen him recover both form and confidence and he now seems something like the player he was 3 years ago – never the most spectacular and always destined to split opinion, but offers fluidity and consistency in our biggest problem area. A solid 8/10 season, all in all.
Indications are that we’ll see a fair amount of activity during the summer, with a few being shipped out and a few incoming – though don’t hold your breath on any major wedge being spent, obviously. It’ll be farewell Berbs (sob) and Owen (see ya!), Fabio out on loan we already know, hopefully Park and Anderson will be dumped but probably not. As for who to come in, I’ve no idea – though I suspect we’ll spend plenty of time looking at players and thinking about making bids before deciding they don’t represent good value…or fit our ‘ongoing brand exploitation strategy in the light of imminent floatation’ or some such Glazer infused gibberish.
Already this season is being compared to May 1992 or 2005 as one of our modern day low points, though as reality sinks as to what’s occurred – I can’t say the way I’m feeling is comparable to the emotions experienced during either of those two months. Losing the league to Leeds having come so close will never be topped in a football despair sense for me. We had no idea of the success that was just around the corner and it felt like we’d never a single league title, never mind the dozen that were bagged over the next couple of decades.
The financial restrictions that have been in place since the 2005 takeover are the true source of the predicament we find ourselves in today. With 75,000 crowds every other week, millions from TV revenue and merchandising – we should by rights be in a position to take our pick from the greatest football players in the world, not looking on feigning indifference whilst they move to our neighbours as we scour the market for the next Obertan, Diouf or Bebe.
All things considered, I can’t feel too down right now. As stated earlier, events over the last couple of weeks have played out with an air of inevitability about them. We’ve papered over the cracks for a long time and now, finally, reality has caught up and bitten us on the arse. It was always going to happen sooner or later. It stings, but we’ll get over it.
One last thing before I sign off – if you’ve ever used the twitter hashtag #champ20ns, or mugged for the cameras waving a shitty, cardboard sign stating ‘WHY ALWAYS US?’ or given an interview to the press questioning City’s teamspirit when there were still 6 games of the season remaining (HELLO RENE MEULENSTEEN!)…can you give yourself several slaps across the face, please? And now several more?
Enjoy the summer. Or don’t (as the case may be).
Copyright Red News – May 2012