It is fair to say that at this moment in time Manchester United are between a rock and a hard place, but these so-called claims of their demise are very much exaggerated. I like any other football supporter defend my team, but I do not defend indefensible incidents like Sir Alex or Arsene Wenger who don’t like to admit they are wrong; which is why right now I can say Manchester United are not in decline, but they are however lacking the fluency that has won them the Premier League three seasons on the trot.
We are already at the half-way point of the season and United have already lost to Burnley, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Fulham in the league. A stat that has been thrown around a lot lately is that no side who has lost five of their opening 18 games has gone on to win the title and for a side looking to create history and win the title four seasons in a row it does not look promising.
Last Sunday’s defeat to Leeds United in the Third Round of the FA Cup really showed up all the fatal flaws in the Manchester United team. For one, Leeds had more bite; they played their socks off, came to Old Trafford looking to cause an upset and did. It was the first time Manchester United had been eliminated from the FA Cup in the Third Round in the Ferguson era.
Now, Sir Alex Ferguson is a flawed man, we all know this, but his record at Old Trafford speaks for itself, yet sometimes he comes out and defends the indefensible, for example in his post match press conference against Leeds. While he did admit his side lacked the desire to win the match he started banging on about how enough time was not added on AGAIN calling it “an insult to the game”. I personally think had 15 minutes been added on United would still never have scored.
The problem currently with the Red Devils is that they are not a cohesive unit. On Saturday against Birmingham Ferguson changed the team for the 100th consecutive time, having not named the same team since 2008 when United beat Barcelona 1-0 at home in the Champions League and days later against West Ham in the Premier League. You compare this to their opponents as Alex McLeish named a unchanged side for the ninth league game in a row, a new record.
A cohesive team is built on a rock solid defence, and that is something United have been struggling to do this season. Last season their back four consisted of Edwin Van Der Sar John O’Shea, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra, all of which have been succumbing to too many injuries this season, Evra being the only consistent starter this term. Another of my interesting statistics that I read is United with Vidic have played 79 games over the past three seasons losing just nine times, while without him they’ve lost five times in 17 games.
Three defeats at the Theatre of Dreams this season also raises further questions, because it is the highest number of defeats at this stage of the season since the 2001-02 season where they lost four games. They’ve also fell behind in all their home ties in the champions league this term to Wolfsburg, CSKA Moscow and Besiktas, that is certainly not the mark of a side who won the competition only two years ago and who appeared in last season’s finale.
While Ferguson and some of the United players have come out and said they don’t miss Ronaldo this is far from true, the Portuguese international was replaced in the summer by Wigan’s Antonio Valencia who don’t get me wrong is a good player in his own right, but he will never match the quality Ronaldo had. United also lack leadership especially in midfield, Liverpool have got Steven Gerrard, Chelsea with Frank Lampard and Arsenal and Cesc Fabregas. But who have United got? Darren Fletcher? Michael Carrick? Credible players, but they lack the touch of class that Gerrard, Lampard and Fabregas have.
Then there is also the issue of strikers, there is no doubt in my mind or anyone else that supports Manchester United, or does not support them that Wayne Rooney is world class even at 24, but I think the best has yet to come from him. He is by far the best player at Manchester United, and will be for many a day to come.
However it’s whoever partners him up front is what worries me. Dimitar Berbatov was bought for £30 odd million, but as a club we’ve yet to see a return from him, another is Michael Owen who has not started a game since that hat-trick against Wolfsburg. Of course Berbatov was always going to get the nod ahead of Owen because of the money spent, but I don’t think Owen has been given a fair chance; will he make the World Cup squad for June? The answer to that is no. Apart from the cameo against Wolfsburg he hasn’t shown anything.
I honestly do not believe United are in decline, but they are certainly going through a rough patch at the moment; as always though, they will weather the storm and get back on track. Fergie hasn’t been managing the club all these years for nothing, there have been many rough patches in his time and they’ve pulled through and once again that is what will happen again.