1. An all important three points, but maybe one to forget
Should we do the inevitable and go on to lift our 20th title, few will remember Saturday’s game against Reading. The reverse fixture in December was one of the most entertaining games of the season; Saturday’s was anything but. City’s pathetic performance on Merseyside meant we had a chance to re-open a 15 point gap at the top. Sir Alex made eight changes to the team that started against Chelsea the week before, meaning Carrick and Evra got a much needed rest. Opting for an Anderson-Giggs central midfield partnership raised a few eyebrows, but with Reading somewhat deflated following the sacking of Brian McDermott, Sir Alex obviously thought the side he picked was more than capable of seeing it through. I’ve noticed quite a few journalists describe Saturday’s game as a “routine” victory when in truth it was anything but. Winning 1-0 at home against a side destined for the drop is hardly routine. Saying that, we didn’t need to get out of first gear and defended efficiently. Similarly, ‘efficient’ is the word I’d use to describe Saturday’s victory. Far from our best then, but with games against City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Stoke just around the corner, I’ll take an unconvincing display against Reading to extend our lead over City, all day!
2. We shouldn’t pay too much attention to Van Persie’s ‘goal drought’
With 1 goal in his last 8 games, it’s fair to say that Robin van Persie is effecting games far less than he was during the first half of the season. The Dutchman’s last goal was over a month ago – in a 2-0 victory over Everton. Some are simply putting it down to a dip in form, whereas I think it’s more to do with tiredness and fatigue. Should van Persie go on to complete this campaign injury-free, it’ll be successive seasons in which he’s done so. Maybe that’s why he’s looking so tired? His body isn’t used to playing so many games over a two year period. With the international break now upon us, it would be ideal for the former Arsenal man to sit back, relax and recuperate. Unfortunately that won’t be happening as he left Old Trafford on Saturday and linked-up with his Dutch team-mates ahead of the Netherlands’ World Cup qualifiers against Estonia and Romania.
We shouldn’t be focusing too much on the Dutchman’s recent performances, though, if you ask me. After all, he is one of the main reasons why we’re currently sitting pretty at the top, binoculars in hand, searching for a title challenger.
3. Ferdinand continues to defy his critics
In truth, Ferdinand didn’t have much to do on Saturday – by way of defending anyway. Surprisingly, he gave us an attacking threat and was credited with an assist for the only goal of the game. Bringing the ball out of defence, the 34-year-old made a 40 yard cross-field pass to Ashley Young out on the left hand side. Had the winger managed to get his angles right, he’d have put us one up. Five minutes later and the veteran was at it again. An excellent interception was followed by another marauding run out of defence. A fantastic little chip over Leigertwood’s outstretched leg then opened up space in front of Reading’s back four. Despite having a number of blue and white shirts around him, he managed to flick the ball onto Rooney, whose deflected shot then looped over the helpless Taylor.
Rio seems to have finally put the injuries which once looked likely to cut short his career behind him. He and the club are managing his body perfectly, evidenced by the amount of appearances he’s made over the past 18 months. It’s easy to deem a player in his mid-thirties ‘past it’ after one or two below par performances. Looking at the bigger picture, though, and performances over the past two seasons, there’s been no better English defender in the country. Fact. Some people, albeit a lot of fans from rival clubs, claim he’s way past his best and should be nowhere near the England squad. That is so far wide of the mark if you ask me. You only have to look at his recent performances against Real Madrid and Spurs to establish that.
4. A lack of width affected our attacking threat
Welbeck has become a dependable member of the squad this season and is now one of the first names on the team sheet in the majority of ‘big’ games. I think it’s fair to say that when Welbeck’s chosen to play out wide it’s usually because Sir Alex is weary of the opposition and wants a reliable work horse with enough energy to get up and down the pitch; somebody he can also depend on to carry-out specific defensive duties. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, however. Reading never posed any real threat going forward. This meant the 22-year-old could focus on his own attacking game instead of trying to stop someone else’s. With the England international being a natural striker, he’ll nearly always be drawn into the box. Quite a few times on Saturday he drifted in-field, vacating the right flank. And with no Rafael to overlap from full-back, our right side was non-existent at times.
5. Non-existent Old Trafford atmosphere
The most disappointing part of Saturday’s game, for me, was the atmosphere. With City slipping up at Everton earlier on in the day Old Trafford should’ve been rocking. Instead, it was flat. Not once did the whole of Old Trafford rejoice in song to get behind the team. Having a 12-15 point lead over the second placed team in March is huge, yet seemingly underrated by many. Comparing the atmosphere in games against lowly opposition with the atmosphere from the second leg against Real Madrid is a common thing now amongst fans. Comparing a European knockout game against one of the world’s best sides to a game against a team fighting relegation, though, is a tad unfair.
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