5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 1 Ajax 2
By Jason Freeman.
1) Complacency is still a major issue
Earlier in the season we were knocked out of the Champions League having been given a relatively easy group and were firm favourites to win the group after coming runners up in last year’s Champions League. However, 3rd was the best we could do in the group stages. In my opinion, this was mainly due to complacency from both the manager and the players, too many changes were made from the previous games by Sir Alex and the players who came in didn’t seem to be taking the opposition seriously enough or were not match sharp. Three months on it seems neither Sir Alex nor the players have learnt the lessons of being knocked out of the Champions League. The issue of complacency has come mainly at Old Trafford and it is not only in Europe it has been seen as we lost at home to Blackburn in the league in December although that may be less down to complacency and more down to the injury problems which we had at the time but complacency has crept through a lot at Old Trafford this season. Last season we were unbeaten at home in all competitions, this season we have already lost 4 and have also drawn a lot more games at home, unlike last season though, our away form has made up for our home form.
The performance showed that we have not learnt from our Champions League exit, if we are to be successful this season, the complacency shown in this game and at many times this season will need to be cut out.
2) Park cannot play in a 2 man midfield
For a few years now many fans and also opposition fans have stated how central midfield is the weak point of the team both in quality and depth. Park started the match in central midfield next to the inexperienced Tom Cleverley who has only just returned from injury. To be fair to Park while he played in the position, he worked very hard and won back possession a few times with some good interceptions but as the game wore on his weaknesses shone through in the role and showed why he should not be played in a 2 man central midfield. During his time at the club we have mainly seen Park play as wide midfielder or in an advanced role in a 3 man midfield, but at a few times this season we have seen him play in a 2 man midfield and on nearly every single occasion it has not worked out and that was the case yet again in this game and perhaps Sir Alex saw that as after 60 minutes when he moved the South Korean to the left. But as mentioned previously, Sir Alex doesn’t seem to be learning from these mistakes which is odd.
3) Nani’s form worrying with Valencia injured
Antonio Valencia’s injury in the first leg was a big worry as he has been in incredible form this season but the blow was softened a bit with the return of Nani, however in his 2 games against Ajax, he hasn’t looked anywhere near the player he is, which is a major worry going into two very tough away games against Norwich and Tottenham. When on form, Nani is dazzlingly brilliant and has shown this with 8 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season; he was also named the Players’ Player of the Season last season and was a key member in winning the club’s 19th league title. However, in both games against Ajax he has failed to show why he has become such a key player for us but he has shown glimpses with some skilful touches and some good efforts at goal in particular the shot that hit the bar in this game. Despite these two relatively poor performances I think his return from injury should be taken into account as we saw with Valencia that patience is required with players returning from injury. The 2 games will have done some good to Nani and hopefully now he’s got his fitness up he can up his performance level on the weekend as it will be very much required against a Norwich side that are doing very well this season.
4) Da Silva’s could be long term full backs
Rafael and Fabio da Silva have been at the club for four seasons now yet neither seems to have really nailed down a first team place; this has mainly been due to the fact that both have been injured quite a bit since they have arrived, they are also still relatively young so it’s not really a surprise that they aren’t regulars yet. However, some question whether both are good enough to play for the club. In my opinion, both have what it takes to be Manchester United’s future first choice full backs. Their attacking qualities have never been doubted but their defensive ability has but both especially Rafael are underrated defensively. They do have their faults though and as Rafael showed by picking up a yellow card, they both need to stop recklessly diving in to tackles, at the age of 21 both are still maturing as footballers though and as they get older and play more often they will learn to be intelligent while playing. Another criticism of the two has been of their fitness, both have been injured a lot since they arrived at the club, both completed 90 minutes which is rarely seen but it is great to see and I hope we get to see more of it.
I think a lot of people forget how young they both are as they have been at the club for such a long time but they are two very talented footballers and if they can stay fit they could very well be first choice full backs for years to come.
5) De Gea’s confidence rising
The young Spanish keeper has come in for a lot of criticism during a difficult first season at the club, most of which has been over the top, however in recent games he has hardly put a foot (or hand) wrong and has shown why Man United paid so much for him last summer. Having pulled off a magnificent save from a Siem de Jong shot in the first leg and keeping a clean sheet he once again put in a brilliant performance, pulling off a stunning reflex stop from a header, de Jong yet again failing to beat De Gea. However, De Gea failed to keep a clean sheet in this leg but neither goal can be blamed on him and this was shown as De Gea was later named man of the match which will have done his confidence the world of good. His shot stopping is not really what he’s been criticised for though and he will be dealt with a different task in the Premier League as it is more physical and there are more crosses to deal with, an aspect he has not coped with so well. He is still very young, is new to the English game, he has immense talent and the potential to be one of the best in the world and in time he will become that, in the mean time we must be patient, accept that he will make mistakes and get fully behind him.