5 Things We Learned: Reading 3-4 Manchester United

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By Chris Mortlock

1. This trend of making average teams look good needs to stop

That first half against Reading was one of the most entertaining halves of Premier League football like, ever. Both teams looked like scoring every time they ventured forward. For the neutral, it must have been a great game to watch. For us United fans though, it was torture. We’ve been leaking goals all season so there was no surprise when we conceded another three on Saturday. What was a surprise though, was the manner in which we conceded those goals. How can a defence with the talent of Evans and Rafael and the experience of Ferdinand and Evra look so shaky? Let’s be real here, we were up against Jason Roberts, Adam Le Fondre and Hal Robson-Kanu. Hardly Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, eh?

On Saturday, we conceded the first goal of the game for the 14th time in 22 matches this season. Coming from behind to win games is exciting – that goes without saying – but is very worrying nonetheless. Yes, okay, the Readings of this world will always raise their game when up against teams like United, and nine times out of ten we’ll still come out on top. But if we continue this trend against the bigger teams, both domestically and in Europe, we’ll eventually be punished.

One thing is certain: if we give City a head-start this weekend, we’ll more than likely lose.

2. We look a better team with Anderson in the side

Inconsistency has plagued Anderson’s career at United, thus far. The Brazilian has not really established himself at the club and there was even talk he could be on his way out of Old Trafford. This season however, he has been a real breath of fresh air whenever called upon and has put in some really good performances. He came off the bench and changed the game against QPR and was, again, one of our key attacking players against Reading (before going off injured). His first-time pass out to Young before receiving the ball back to score was outrageous. The finish caught everyone by surprise. The celebration didn’t, however.

As previously stated, his energy in the middle of the park has been refreshing. At the moment it seems like he’s the only one of our midfield capable of driving forward with the ball. And by doing so, adds another dimension to our attacking play. There’s no reason why he can’t defy expectation and cement his place in the starting XI – especially with Kagawa out injured. If he can maintain current form – and that’s a big ‘if’ – he’ll become a vital member of the team.

3. Lindegaard is a very good understudy

Anders Lindegaard is a solid goalkeeper – he wouldn’t look out of place in any Premiership team. And although the Danish stopper cannot be directly blamed for any of Reading’s goals on Saturday, I can’t help but think that a certain Spaniard would have done better for at least one, if not two, of the three goals conceded. Yes, granted, De Gea would have been just as shaky, if not shakier, at dealing with Reading’s crosses, but with a far superior reaction speed, he may just have prevented Le Fondre and/or Morrison from getting on the score-sheet.

The good news is that De Gea will most likely be re-called for next weekend’s trip to the Etihad. For me, it’s now clear who our no.1 ‘keeper is.

4. A settled back-five is required, surely?

Many point to an ever-changing defence as the reason behind our inability to keep clean sheets this season. And who can blame them? Ferguson’s tendency to rotate his goalkeepers off the back of mistakes can’t be helping defensive solidity. Nor can the constant amendments to the central-defensive pairing – albeit as a result of injuries. We have a tricky schedule in December, what with Sunday’s Manchester derby, an away trip to Swansea and two home fixtures against Newcastle and WBA, it’s paramount that we find some kind of defensive form.

Evans is really maturing into a top defender and with Jones and Smalling now back from their respective injuries and Vidic on the brink, Ferguson should finally be able to assemble some kind of settled defence in next to no time.

5. Replacing Rafael so early on was the right thing to do

Rafael’s face was a picture as he took his seat at the back of the dug-out, having just being substituted – half an hour into Saturday’s match. Being substituted so early on in a game can’t have done his confidence much good and his reaction was understandable. In truth, any one of United’s back-four or goalkeeper could have been replaced. Rafael had just been booked though, and with his track record, his clear lack of height and the upcoming trip across Manchester, it was wise for Sir Alex to replace him.

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