Another weekend, another Manchester United lead thrown away, another draw for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, another Wayne Rooney being dropped story doing the rounds, another ‘we’re still unbeaten’ argument being put forward by a few and another reason why it’s time to stop making excuses. Yes United are unbeaten but they’re also in fourth place, have drawn more games than they’ve won and can be trusted to hold on to a lead about much as a Korean chef.
So what exactly did the latest disappointing result from United tell us other than Owen Hargreaves is still not match fit? Well despite doing the best to ‘look on the Brightside’ it’s now time to be a little more critical if United really want to win back ‘their’ trophy. Unlike previous draws which came away from home against established Premier League sides, the latest points dropped at Old Trafford to newly promoted West Brom have left more than a few fans calling for drastic measures. While ‘Fergie needs to go’ type hysteria is as ridiculous as it is embarrassing-certain things need to be addressed.
Wayne Rooney should have figured more than 20 minutes- as a striker. Let’s not ignore the obvious or pussyfoot around it. The decision to drop Rooney backfired as not only did United fail to win what should have been an easy game, but subsequently all the headlines were full of the usual drivel about the striker either being Madrid-bound or ready to meet Fergie in the car park for a bit of a straightener. There’s even been talk of the noisy neighbours being his next destination- although that talk probably emanated from everyone’s favourite nonsense merchant Gary Cook- or someone equally as deluded. The recent stories surrounding Rooney’s ‘I’m fit’ comments, which went against what the United manager had been saying were a little over-the-top for me as everyone knows the striker would say he’s fit to play if he was hopping around with his amputated left leg tucked under his arm.
However Fergie’s decision to not only start Rooney on the bench but to then bring him on with just over 20 minutes left and stick him out on the left wing, have only encouraged the Chelsea fans of Fleet street to pour more fuel on the ‘Rooney Fergie Rift’ fire. Regardless of the negative press connotations the fact is that for this game with United looking for a goal, Rooney should have been brought on a little earlier and played upfront. Personally I thought starting Cheech-a-ree-toe -just for a few commentators who seem to be oblivious- and Dimitar Berbatov was not a bad idea as I genuinely felt they’d do the job. However with a two goal lead thrown away, either striker could have been substituted for last season’s top scorer to fit into his natural role and finally, maybe silence a few critics.
Edwin Van Der Sar is human and not to blame. Fergie got it spot-on when he claimed the ‘keepers clanger which gifted the visitors the equaliser was not the real reason behind United’s failure. While it was a real cock-up of Massimo Taibi proportions, VDS is more than anyone entitled to the -extremely- rare mistake and it really shouldn’t have mattered. This wasn’t the final minutes against Chelsea, it was with a good 35 minutes left on the clock at home to a team that finished second in the Championship last season and have been beaten 6-0 by the champions already. Roberto Di Matteo’s men may have improved a lot since their hammering at Stamford Bridge but they should still not have been too much trouble for United to overcome with such a large portion of the game still left to play. Van Der Sar’s error merely highlighted the fact that United seem to have lost that ability to dig deep and carve out results when the game turns against them. If Bolton was frustrating, West Brom was infuriating.
Resting the central midfield is a step too far. Giving Paul Scholes a break was risky, doing the same to Darren Fletcher for the same match was a recipe for disaster. Without the creativity of Scholes United looked less effective in the middle of the park and bereft of Fletcher’s engine they also lacked their energy and drive. West Brom were able to expose United’s midfield deficiencies with great effect in the second half and although Scholes was brought on with twenty minutes to go, it was too little too late. Darron Gibson was absolutely anonymous for United when he replaced-the injured Ryan Giggs. Take away Gibson’s shooting and he does nothing, which is acceptable if he’s banging in 20yard screamers but not so much if he’s not even having a go. Carrick is fast becoming United’s favourite fall guy but despite not really getting a firm grip on the match, he was probably a little less cr*p than Anderson and Gibson.
Time could be running out for Anderson.- a lot faster than he is.
For West Brom’s first goal, Anderson’s lack of pace was woefully exposed and it isn’t just due to match fitness as he also looks a little out of shape. The Brazilian’s always been a bulky type of player but for me he seems a tad heavier than usual and it showed in his performance. If he’s not crashing his car, or supposedly falling out with Fergie, or making noises about wanting to leave, then Anderson can be a quality player but he needs to step it up. Time is rapidly running out for a player who was once deemed one of the brightest young stars in world football and the excuses are sounding more desperate. I’m aware he’s just returned from injury but he’s been at United for long enough now to have staked his claim as a truly United-class player, yet he still hasn’t done that. If Anderson doesn’t score or create goals, then running with the ball and putting the tackle in are really the least we can expect. However the shape he’s in at the moment Anderson doesn’t look fully capable of doing either of those things, and while talk of his longing to return to Portugal may have been slightly misinterpreted, the time may be arriving where Fergie’s more than happy to pay for his ticket.
It’s time for the return of Carlos Queiroz. It sounds daft to argue that a different assistant manager could have made a difference against West Brom but does Fergie need a less sycophantic right hand man to challenge his decisions? Mickey Phelan is doing an admirable job, one imagines, but there’s no denying that over the past ten years the best United teams have had Queiroz as the coach. The reason Saturday’s game highlighted the need for the former Portuguese national teams manager to return, is that he may have been able to convince Fergie to make the necessary changes sooner- or possibly even start with a stronger side. Ferguson has supposedly trusted Queiroz with input into team selection in the past and with United relying more and more on the ability of Nani, could his fellow countryman be the perfect coach to get the best out of him? Admittedly this final suggestion is based on a lot of conjecture but with no option to buy anyone for another three months- even then its doubtful depending on whether or not you believe David Gill, then Fergie’s only possible signing could be the one that saves United’s season.