Five Things We Learned: Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3
1. Rooney is our true talisman
Criticised very early into the season for apparently looking overweight and unfit, some ‘fans’ even ludicrously suggested he be sold, and then he was ruled out for a month with a badly gashed leg – but in 45 minutes of football yesterday evening, the Liverpudlian showed why he is so adored by red Mancunians.
He was his majestic, tireless, elusive, barn-storming best and his display gives us tremendous optimism and may finally begin to put to bed the talk that he will ever leave Old Trafford.
Some fans, including myself, will never be able to fully forgive him for his October 2010 outburst in which he questioned the club’s ability to attract the biggest names, but when he plays like he did when he came off the bench yesterday, it goes a long way to earning my forgiveness.
The greatest thing about Rooney, what makes him already well on the way to becoming a true Manchester United great, is that you never really know what he will do in a game, a very special commodity inherent in special talents that have previously graced Old Trafford. Keane, Robson, Cantona. All of them true talismanic figures during their time at United. Of course we have talented players in van Persie, Kagawa, Scholes and Valencia but Rooney is special. Despite his indifferent start to the season, his name was being bellowed from the stands inside the Theatre of Dreams long before his introduction yesterday and that is an indication of his true stature at this club.
2. There is life at Old Trafford
I am really tired of the criticism I, and United fans get in general, for being passionless and hollow. It’s a well-known rumour/joke/anecdote among rival fans that Old Trafford is like a ghost town. No atmosphere, a shell of a stadium, full of 75,000+ corporate puppets. To some extent it’s true. The stadium can be an, at times, lifeless gathering of the masses. With the football that fans are used to witnessing at Old Trafford, we’re spoilt. We’re not used to having to scrap and fight for points, to laying everything on the line every single game. Points, in the majority of cases, come easy to us at our own place, and that’s allowed us to become accustomed to comfort.
Turn up, buy a beer and a hot dog, a programme, maybe a scarf, have a potter around in the mega store, take your seat, lean back, relax and hopefully see a few goals. None of this cheering the team on malarkey for me please, just stick that round, white thingy in that net with the two sticks will you please lads, spiffing.
Yesterday was refreshing. Yes, I’m upset we lost, but it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve seen in the last four years that I’ve been an Old Trafford regular. The chanting that started in the Stretford End a few minutes after we went 2-0 down and the electric atmosphere that took over much of the stadium in the second half was a joy to behold. Most of us in the Stretford End stood for the entire second half and sang songs, none racist or mocking the dead by the way, throughout too. It was almost like we were football fans, and I only wish every game I go to see from now on at home could be played amid this sort of backdrop.
3. United are going to have to learn to start games
Stirring comebacks are part of United folklore and I love our ability to fight and influence games right until the end, but sometimes I would really like us to begin games on the front foot. More often than not this season, we’ve started games badly and not really gone on to get into them until after the interval, if at all. Fulham scored first in our first game of the season at Old Trafford, giving us an obstacle to overcome. We didn’t get going whatsoever on the very opening day of the season at
Everton. Against Southampton, we equalised after the Saints took the lead and had to rely on one of our famous comebacks to get the points, against Wigan we squandered a few first half chances, including a penalty, before finally turning on the style after the break, while against Liverpool, much like on our earlier trip to Merseyside, we again were slow starting and only got into the game after going behind. I’m putting it down to our traditional slow start; let’s hope we get our act together sooner rather than later.
4. Playing against Spurs’ midfield highlights what we’re missing
I don’t want to detract from Paul Scholes’ continual defying of father time, he is still an absolute magical player, but in the first half yesterday, every United fans’ biggest fear, our lack of a ball-winning midfielder, came back to taunt us. Michael Carrick is a confidence player and, in the second half, playing alongside the mercurial Scholes, when we had plenty of the ball in an attacking sense, they were a devastating duo, keeping and distributing the ball excellently. Kagawa too, shifted out wide, was also excellent, having struggled in the first half. In the first half, however, none of these three players had an impact, they weren’t allowed to. Spurs had a game plan, they were going to contain us and press forward with pace and energy. Sandro and Moussa Dembele were hugely impressive in the opening 45 minutes. Stifling Scholes, Carrick and Kagawa, making life uncomfortable for them. That trio are most effective when given time, so it’s simple, don’t give them time and they can’t affect the game. It’s easier said than done, as you can see from the effect on proceedings this trio had in the second half. United were linked with Dembele but Sir Alex Ferguson decided he was happy with his squad, a recurring theme in the missing midfielder saga. Someone like Sandro or Dembele, Danielle De Rossi, Javi Martinez, Yaya Toure, someone of that ilk in our ranks and we will not get dominated in the middle of the park like we did in yesterday’s first 45 minutes. So far this season we’ve got away with our lack of someone like that against Wigan and Southampton, and will probably continue to do so against similar teams. Against Everton (Fellaini), Liverpool (Gerrard), Spurs (Dembele/Sandro) and the other top teams, however, this issue will continue to be highlighted and exposed.
5. We may not get another penalty anytime soon
After the uproar caused with ‘Penaltygate’ this season – the fact that we’ve had three given to us in the league and two of them have been deemed highly dubious – it seems the authorities are intent on listening to the pleas of the other clubs in the Premier League and cracking down on the spot kicks awarded to United. Chris Foy was determined not to give us a penalty in the Spurs game. I know, I can hear away fans’ ears ringing. ‘What, United weren’t given a home penalty, shocking’. Let’s leave the conspiracy theorists in their underground think tanks shall we. Unless Foy is a bungling fool of epic proportions (I’d just like to say I don’t think he is, I think he’s a great referee), the FA must have briefed referees not to give United any penalties for the next month, because he missed three pretty blatant ones yesterday. I didn’t get a view of the first half one, being in the Stretford End, but from Match of the Day and catching the recording on ESPN my mother very kindly remembered to do, how does the assistant referee not see Jan Vertonghen haul Nani to the floor. Foy seemed to be blocked by several players but someone really should have seen it. Okay, they missed one, no big deal. Incident No 2 seemed, at the time, a correct decision. Kagawa had brought a Scholes lofted pass delightfully out of the air and he was in. His legs got caught, amid attention from Kyle Walker, but I didn’t believe, from the stands, anything was amiss. Again, watching the replays, it’s a clear penalty. Walker berated Kagawa for simulation and Chris Waddle, on ESPN, even after the replay, still said Walker got the ball. Yes Chris, that he did, quite right… only he brought down the Japanese international before he did so. He clumsily went for the ball, Kagawa protected it, and Walker took his leg. Another definite penalty, but okay, because Walker remonstrated, the ref thinks he’s got that one right. No 3. van Persie has his eyes on a ball dropping down from the sky in the penalty box. Sandro, marking him, also kind of has his eyes on the ball, clumsily goes for a header, misses, the ball bounces up and hits his outstretched hand. I was going mental in the stands at that, it was obvious. Pundits say you can get them given, sometimes they won’t, it’s 50/50 as to whether you get one, but with two good shouts already turned down, there must be something amiss for United, the home team, to not have had at least one of them. Don’t expect another chance from 12 yards to come our way any time soon.
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