By Jason Freeman.
1) Winning, the only thing that matters
Winning is always the most important thing in football and at this stage of the season nothing else matters. Of course we’d all like to see brilliant performances and big wins but as long as we’re winning it really doesn’t matter. Manchester United didn’t play badly by any means against QPR but after the sending off it’s understandable that some may have expected a bigger score line but it doesn’t always work that way and as Sir Alex said after the game “Before the sending-off our speed was terrific, we had some good play, but the sending-off unsettled us and put us out of our comfort zone.”. The win was a patient and dominant performance but what was lacking was the end product, the woodwork stopped us on two occasions and there was a goal ruled out for offside. The penalty and red card were poor decisions and made the game even harder for QPR to get anything from it, however I don’t think it would have made a difference had it not been given. Overall, a very professional performance, but more importantly a win meaning we go 8 points clear at the top of the league with just 6 games to go.
2) Scholes the dictator
Since his return to the game after a mini-retirement Scholes has perhaps been better than he was for the 3 years before retirement. At the time it seemed a pretty desperate move to bring Scholes back and some may still say it was desperate, but either way you cannot deny he’s been absolutely brilliant since returning and with Carrick at his best they have formed a formidable partnership that has dominated matches resulting in us winning 8 league matches in a row and only dropping 2 points since Scholesy’s return, a game which Scholes came off the bench at 3-1 down and played a big part in the comeback. Where we’d be in the league had Scholes not returned is unknown, but I’m not sure United would be 8 points ahead. When Scholes and Carrick have started a league game together we have always won. Scholes has made a big difference in our quest for title number 20, which has highlighted how wrong we were to not replace him last summer and how important it is to replace him this summer even though Scholes may carry on.
Against QPR, Scholes dictated the game along with Carrick, rarely misplacing a pass; he even topped his performance off with a classic Scholes goal. Class is permanent.
3) Excellent centre back partnership
When Nemanja Vidic was ruled out for the season in December many thought it was already the end of the season for us given Ferdinand’s struggling start to the season and his problems with injuries, and Jonny Evans’ poor form last season left many worrying but there was no need as both have been excellent and have improved as a partnership as the season has gone on which has provided the foundations for our title hunt. Earlier in the season we were perhaps rotating the back 5 too much, which did not help the team and perhaps did not help our goalkeeper to settle. Since the turn of the year we have seen a more settled back 5 with the ever present Evra alongside Evans and Ferdinand for the majority of league games, with Rafael becoming the regular right back more recently. The settled back 5 has coincided with 5 clean sheets in a row. In the first half of the season we played 22 different back 5 combinations in 28 games up to the 1st of January which perhaps highlights the importance of a settled back 5.
Jonny Evans in particular has been magnificent this season and in my opinion is in with a chance of being our player of the season putting in magnificent defensive performances ever since getting sent off in the derby at Old Trafford. He also offers a lot going forward, comfortable with the ball at his feet and bringing the ball out of defence, his passing has also improved quite a bit also, at times it’s like having an extra midfielder. He’s winning the fans and opposition fans over, earning praise from a number of pundits and journalists and if he’s not our player of the year he’s most certainly our most improved player.
4) Valencia getting better and better
When we replaced Cristiano Ronaldo with Luis Antonio Valencia, there were quite a few surprised faces but ever since making his debut he’s done nothing but prove the doubters wrong. His time at the club has not been without its problems, at the beginning of his 2nd season he picked up a serious injury which looked as though it would keep him out for the rest of the season but he returned later in the season as though he’d never been away, and drove us on to win the league and started the Champions League Final. This season started very much the same for the Ecuadorian, struggled with injuries and was played out of position when he was fit. Since getting a run at games at his favoured right wing position he has been in top form, providing assists and scoring goals and although he didn’t score or assist against QPR he was a threat all game using his strength, pace and power to good effect and delivering some very good crosses into the box. He seems more settled at United now, his English has improved and it seems he’s coming out of his shell. Antonio has really driven us on in the title race and is another contender for our player of the season despite him only starting to play very well in December.
5) Fergie is the master
When it comes to this stage of this season Sir Alex seems to really come alive, he came out of the tunnel before the start of the game with a spring in his step, clapping the fans with a big smile on his face. The way he manages a squad over the course of a season is brilliant, other teams are beginning to look a little tired but Sir Alex has rotated very well over the course of the season and our players look a lot fresher than that of opposition players. It’s not only this season either, it’s rather well known that United tend to finish a season stronger than we start and that is mostly down to Sir Alex keeping the players fresh for the 2nd half of the season. His rotation policy has perhaps not helped our hunt for glory in other competitions though, but in other seasons it’s not been a problem. The title is not won yet but it seems that yet again Sir Alex has played a blinder this season with us coming back from 5 points behind at one point of the season to being 8 points ahead with 6 games to go. He may call this stage of the season “Squeaky Bum Time” but really this is the time of year he loves the most.