Although like previous trips on the road there were positives, not even the best MUTV-style spin can hide the fact that no wins in four away games is simply not good enough for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Forgive me but I for one am a little tired of trying to ‘look on the brightside’ as Chelsea edge further and further away at the top of the table-and let’s not even mention the noisy neighbours.
When a Liverpool defeat is the highlight of your footballing weekend, you know that certain issues need to be adressed and its time for United to deal with them before its too late. Yes Sunderland are a good side- just like Fulham, Everton and Bolton- but you cannot win league titles by failing to win your away fixtures and watching City leapfrog over United in the table merely underlines the fact that something’s not right.
Of course, as I’m thinking of getting tattooed on my forehead ‘its not all doom and gloom’ but like Mickey Phelan’s penchant for wearing shorts no matter what the climate, United’s failure to beat what is essentially a mid-table team is getting rather troubling.
So what did we learn from the trip to the second-best Stadium of Light in football other than the fact that it’s becoming compulsory to put ‘draw’ on the accumulator coupon next to a United away game? Oh, and the Reds still haven’t had a three o’clock kick-off.
Rafael is the present not the future. Rafael Da Silva picked up where he left off in Valencia with another quality display at right back. Okay he made the occasional mistake but how else is he going to learn if he’s not given the chance to make them? When it comes to mistakes the young Brazilian has a long way to go before he matches the amount John O’Shea can usually muster, so it looks like it may be time to give him a proper run in the side. Defensivley Rafael can be a tad worrying but that will surely improve and the lack of an outstanding candidate at right back- even though I think Wes Brown is world-class, but for some reason Fergie doesn’t agree- it is now time to give the youngster his chance.
Saturday’s performance was another reason why its now time to give Rafael the run he deserves, he may be young and occasionally a little reckless but he’s a quality player and a real threat going forward, as someone once sang ‘the time to hesitate is through.’
Too many strikers can get messy. I’m all for having five options up front but if United are going to make the most of them then Fergie needs to work out the right ones to use for the right games. Michael Owen was totally anonymous in the first half and while he can lament the lack of service- rightfully so- it was obvious United would have benefitted from the energy of Chicharito or the class of Dimitar Berbatov. I realise that Berbatov had played a mid-week game as a lone striker and Fergie may have felt he was not up to ninety minutes but surely if he can play one half he can manage two. United looked a far better team when Berbatov was on the pitch- ditto Chicharito- and had either of them been given more minutes then we may have seen a different result.
Darren Fletcher needs to improve. Sunderland seemed to work out fairly quickly that keeping Paul Scholes quiet was a surefir way to stifle the brunt of United’s creativity. With Scholes was being closed down within seconds of recieving the ball it meant that it was up to others to try and conjure up something in midfield. Anderson gets stuck in but is still yet to get back to full fitness. The game was crying out for Fletcher to do more than just tackle people and give the ball to Scholes. At the start of the season I claimed that if United were to regain the title then Fletcher had to raise his game against the so-called ‘lesser teams.’ Put him against Chelsea or Arsenal and Fletcher’s like a man possessed, however he needs to do it more consistently. There is an argument that he’s merely a defensive midfielder not responsible for creating attacks. However we’ve seen Fletcher influence games in the past, moving the ball forward and it was crying out for something similar at the Stadium of Light. Like the game against Bolton the Scottish skipper seemed unwilling or unable to generate any sort of attacking moves and United suffered because of it.
Rio Ferdinand is vital. If United are to win the title, then they’re going to need Ferdinand for at least the majority of games. Rioferdy5 as he calls himself on twitter was back to his commanding best and United looked a lot better because of it. While Jonny Evans has done an admirable job filling in for Ferdinand he’s not quite in the same class and despite the fact that Nemanja Vidic was wearing the captain’s armband it was Rio who seemed to be marshalling the defence. United’s second successive clean sheet with Ferdinand back in the starting line-up is no coincidence.
Patrice Evra should not be ‘rested.’ Some may disagree- as they always do with a lot of what I write- but for me Evra is the world’s best left-back and is absolutely fundamental to the United team. Although he’s not looked as sharp since the World Cup -debacle- he’s still an immense threat going forward and the prospect of him and Rafael getting down the wings on the overlap would have been a scary one for Steve Bruce’s men. In the second half we even saw Vidic getting down the left flank- my mate called it ‘disorganised’ I called it ‘total football.’ I’m aware that Evra played midweek but I feel dropping him was a gamble that backfired as although O’Shea did put in the -extremely- occasional cross he’s never going to be as much of a threat as Evra.