Nobody’s perfect, especially referees, but that doesn’t give people the right to blame their own failings on others. Frankly the longest standing, and most respected, manager in the league should no better than to say that the recent game against Newcastle was decided by a refereeing mistake. Sir Alex Ferguson described the decision to award Newcastle a penalty as ‘a travesty’ and to be fair not many people, including Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, would argue with Ferguson. But regardless of whether or not the penalty was a mistake Ferguson’s verbal assassination of the linesman should not cover up the fact that for a second game in a row Manchester United have failed to close out games they were winning against lesser opposition.
Admittedly both Benfica and Newcastle were tough opposition for United but it’s not often that you will see Man United squander the lead twice in less than a week. Despite their decent start to the season and the quality players added to the squad the United team seems far from perfect at the moment. You can blame it on individual moments such as De Gea’s individual mistake in the Champions League or the penalty at Old Trafford but ultimately it wouldn’t have happened to previous United teams; clichéd though it may be in football: you make your own luck. United were playing a ten man Newcastle side, at home, and had the lead and they still ended up drawing. It happens to the best of teams, as United prove, but as the season progresses and every team’s faults are highlighted Ferguson will want to make sure that this does not become a regular occurrence.
Man United’s defence, for so long the basis of their strength, is facing testing times at the moment. With both their centre-back partnership and the goalkeeper in something of a transition at the moment United are in need for continuity at the back is clear. I think Man United were far from the perfect team last year. They were anything but outstanding, but then again everyone else in the league was simply worse. Before their collapse Arsenal looked as though they might provide competition for United but their consistency saw them through. This season City is really testing Man United, and so far they’re failing to match their rivals.
I think though that the problem doesn’t even lie with the defence but with the central midfielders. How long has it been since anyone saw United with such weak options. Since he arrived at United Anderson has been dismissed by many, and rightly so, as not good enough. All of a sudden he’s injured and it is a travesty. I understand that he has improved but he has not improved that much. And as for Cleverley: yes he is good but he is still young and this is his first real season for United. How can someone who played for Wigan last year suddenly be an instrumental part of Ferguson’s team. If Man United fans think that they are real title contenders then they should be able to offer something other than two unproven youngsters as their best central midfield partnership.
In the past it has been almost impossible to ruffle the feathers of Manchester United. The reign of Paul Scholes in midfield defined the air of calm that surrounded United when they were in the lead. Even when he was too old to start every week he could be called upon as a sub to calm things down. Now United are relying on Fletcher, a man whose form is not what it has been, and Carrick who is far from convincing.
There’s also the problem of taking their chances. Despite having twenty-three shots at goal against Newcastle, thirteen of them on target, United could only muster a deflected goal from Hernandez who appeared to know little about it. Twenty-three shots – one deflected goal. Against Benfica Man United had 60 per cent possession but could still only muster a draw against a team that, at home, they really should be beating.
Nobody’s saying that Ferguson is managing a bad side. Whilst Ferguson remains at the club United will always be a force to be reckoned with. But he shouldn’t be using mistakes of the officials to cover up the cracks in his team. Last year United weren’t really tested, this season they will have to improve if they want to avoid being usurped by their noisy neighbours.
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