Manchester United 1 Sunderland 0: 5 Things We Learnt
By Nathan Thomas.
1. Midfield craving creative spark
This, I’m sure you’ll agree with me is the most evident thing that we learnt from the match on Saturday, although many would argue we have known this for a long time. Beating Sunderland via an own goal from one of our greatest servants is nothing to be proud of and throughout the ninety minutes Manchester United looked short of ideas and lacked invention. Wayne Rooney played centrally once and again and too his credit was one of the stand out attacking players for United, he constantly strived to spread and switch the play and put in a brilliant shift when he was needed to track back. Okay he’s no Paul Scholes but one thinks he could be, given time to adapt; but do we really want to spend time watching Rooney learn his trade as a midfielder whilst wasting his tried and tested talents up top, I think not, and I think Ferguson would agree. Ferguson is clearly using Rooney as a stop gap as he awaits the return to full fitness of Carrick, Giggs and Cleverley meanwhile hoping for another resurgence of form from the frustrating Anderson who has slumped into an all too predictable run of poor form. Darren Fletcher did well in mopping up the play against the Black Cats but Man United were crying out for a real creative spark from the midfield, the Boss probably looked for Rooney to provide it and in truth he looked the most likely but at times you could tell he was a striker playing in midfield. The fact is United now have a number of options, they await the return of Tom Cleverley who has provided the Reds with that energy and creativity. Some of the best attacking play the Reds have produced in recent weeks came in the opening exchanges at Goodison Park and I believe that it is no coincidence that Cleverley pulling the strings made the difference, another thing Cleverley seems to be able to achieve is bringing the best out of Anderson. The two were terrific in the first few games of the season and the inconsistent Brazilian seemed to have turned a corner only form him to return to obscurity and inconsistency when young Cleverley injured his foot against Bolton. For me this is last chance saloon for Anderson whom has shown glimpses of what he can do but glimpses don’t cut it at Old Trafford, many would say United need to dip into the transfer window regardless and maybe they do however I believe that Ferguson will wait to see what his current two creative midfielders can do before doing so. Cleverley may well help to see the Reds return to their good early season form however at such a young age we shouldn’t expect too much, the pressure is on Anderson, he has to step up to the plate after the internationals as surely Ferguson will then have to search elsewhere for the creative influence United so desperately need.
2. Centre midfield a problem but the wingers are also enduring a slump in form
United may have looked shorn of ideas from the centre of the park of late but their usual quality on the flanks has deserted them also. Nani had his second poor performance in as many games whilst Antonio Valencia still seems to be edging his way back to optimum fitness although that surely can’t be to blame for how often his crossing seems to have deserted him of late. Nani should have had the beating of Kieron Richardson on Saturday although at times looked scared and unsure of what to do when he was given the ball. Too often was the case where Nani received the ball in his own half an opted to pass it back rather than turn and run with the ball as we have so often seen him do. I would imagine this just happens to be a little rough patch rather than some ‘Anderson style’ relapse however it is just unfortunate that it coincides with Valencia’s dip and Young’s injury. Of course there is also Park however even after six years at the club I am unsure where he plays best, I would probably say that he operates better centrally adding energy into the engine room however at other times he does an excellent job on the flank. Against Sunderland, he did neither particularly well, operating alongside Rooney in what appeared to be something of a 4-1-4-1 formation he made a few foraging runs forward however without great effect. In his defence he was probably not helped by an unfamiliar an incoherent midfield with Danny Welbeck on the left and Rooney through the middle. I think after the international break Ferguson must return to the two natural wide men on the flanks, this, I believe would be a handy starting point as we look to solve our midfield problems.
3. A case for the defence
Isn’t it funny how the tables turn, in all the foray of our brilliant early season attacking displays there was the nagging gripe that our defence was conceding a worryingly large amount of chances to the opposition. The return of Captain Vidic and a seemingly settled back four of Jones, the Serb, Rio/Evans and Evra seems to have steadied the ship. As we know all too well a solid defence is half of a title tilt and it is reassuring to see a solid back line gracing the Theatre of Dreams once again, clearly Vidic is the leader and the power house and despite criticism from some quarters for me Rio still offers a lot. His calming presence will certainly help the youngsters and although he may not have the pace he once had you can’t lose experience, meanwhile Phil Jones has been one of few stand out performers of late pulling out some excellent shifts at right-back, this may well be his best position offering pace and power going forward whilst showcasing excellent and forth-right defensive skills at the back; despite this I’m sure the debate as to where he operates best will rage on. Despite a number of disjointed performances on the attacking foot it is refreshing to see a more ‘United-like’ defensive performance and surely this can be something that the Reds can build on.
4. Welbeck is the man.
Sir Alex clearly likes Danny Welbeck, so much so he is willing to try and squeeze him in to a fairly unfamiliar role down the flank in order to keep him included in the United first XI. I have been very impressed with Welbeck so far this season and for me he has trumped last year’s golden boy Javier Hernandez. It appears that Welbeck is what Ferguson has long sought after, an academy developed Mancunian number 9, a big strapping centre forward capable of scoring goals a plenty. With five goals so far this season the young striker has impressed me with his ability to lead the line and his unwillingness to be bullied by more experienced centre halves. He was very good against Manchester City and I would put good money on him having scored in that game had it not been for Jonny Evans’ dismissal. Even when he has been played out wide he has worked hard and done well in a difficult position, against Everton and against Sunderland he constantly tried to create openings for the Reds and his height was a huge bonus in the area when Nani played in the cross which ultimately led to Wes Brown’s winning own goal. Welbeck must be played up top though for me, he can ‘do a job’ on the flank however his talent lies in the area where he can sniff out opportunities, he has edged himself (just) above Hernandez in the pecking order and he should be an automatic starter alongside Rooney up front. United started the season with this system and I can see no reason why, with the relevant players back from injury they should not continue with it after the international break.
5. 25 Years
How could I not finish the article with a word for the legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson, the pre-match celebrations commemorating Ferguson’s 25 year tenure at the club were arguably the best part of the entire afternoon at Old Trafford. The changing of the North Stand to the ‘Sir Alex Ferguson Stand’ was a long overdue tribute to greatest manager ever to have graced world football, unfortunately for me I didn’t get to see the unveiling as I was sat in the said stand but it was terrific to see the brilliant reception that Ferguson received and quite right. The way this man has continued the flow of trophies over the years, seeing off countless challenger has been nothing short of remarkable, his desire for success is never quenched and despite what will probably be a memorable weekend for the Ferguson clan it is likely that Sir Alex’s thoughts will be more on how poor his team were against Sunderland and how he can put it right rather than cracking open the Champagne to celebrate an unbelievable achievement. It would have been more fitting for United to go an thump the Black Cats to celebrate Ferguson’s landmark in the grand manner however credit must got to a dogged Sunderland back line that gave United little throughout the ninety minutes. As it was a 1-0 win it finished and although the football may be far from scintillating the team are at least winning an indeed, have won the last four since ‘the result which I shall not mention’! As Ferguson will tell you the obvious signs of a championship winning team is one which can wing ugly as we did today but for a driven man like Ferguson this simply isn’t enough and when the celebrations die down on Monday morning Ferguson’s thoughts will be 100% on a United form revival.
Congratulations Sir Alex and hears to the next twenty-five!