By Piers Barber
1. Fletcher is a great example for the rest of the squad to follow
Poor old Darren Fletcher. During the months he has sat out with injury in recent years, the Scottish midfielder must have dreamed of one day lining up alongside Old Trafford’s finest talent once again. Instead, he will have experienced quite a shock to the system: instead of the great Paul Scholes, his midfield partner last night was instead the uninspiring Tom Cleverley, whilst instead of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, he spent the game attempting to create chances for a Javier Hernandez who seems to have almost entirely forgotten how to finish. Yet Fletcher was one of Manchester United’s best players on the night, and his feisty attitude and passion to fight his way back into the team serves as a fine example for many of those who seem to be going through the motions this season.
2. Is it really at all surprising that this team is struggling this year?
All those fans criticising David Moyes for turning a championship winning side into a mid-table one surely need a bit of reality check. Yes, Sir Alex Ferguson won the league last year, but that was before Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool all strengthened their squads significantly over the summer. United added only Marouane Fellaini – who arrived without a proper pre-season and is currently injured – to their squad, and also lost the crucial talents of Scholes in midfield. Meanwhile, Robin van Persie – so often cited as the only reason United won the league last year – has struggled with form and injury in his second season at the club. It’s no wonder, then, that this side is struggling. United fans seem to have short memories: it was Robin, after all, who saved United from a similar 2-1 defeat in the 3rd round last season with a sublime last minute strike against West Ham.
3. Could going out of the FA Cup be a blessing in disguise?
It’s been a relentless first half of the season for David Moyes, who, after having just one chaotic summer to sort out his new charges, has barely had a moment to draw breath due to League Cup and Champions League commitments from the moment the season began. It may be, then, that an occasional week off during FA Cup weekends, when the manager will be afforded time to train and drill his players, could well prove incredibly beneficial to his attempts to rescue United’s season. This is, of course, hardly Moyes’ team, and even if he does not make any further signings in the January transfer window, impatient fans must give him time to impose his own identity on the team before dismissing his chances altogether. David Gee wrote an excellent piece on January expectations HERE.
4. Time to call time on several ill-fated experiments
Right-back has been a troublesome position for United this season. Ferguson and Moyes’ persistent attempts to reinvent Antonio Valencia as a full-back have been a resounding failure, whilst Rafael has struggled with injury and fitness all year. This match was further proof, too, that although Chris Smalling may yet grow into a fine centre-back, his talents are wasted on the right side of defence. He lacks the touch, creativity or – most importantly – the confidence needed to succeed in a role which must offer an attacking threat. This may also well be the moment to call time on the careers of Javier Hernandez, who, despite scoring, seems to have lost the finishing skills which initially made him such an effective striker, and Alexander Buttner, who in defence seems like a slightly worse Patrice Evra, which is certainly no good thing. Once United finally find some new midfielders, time is surely almost up for Tom Cleverley, too.
5. Goodbye Fabio…and goodbye Ferdinand?
So we now have an answer as to why Fabio has seen so little game time this year. In just his third appearance under Moyes, the less experienced da Silva twin was finally given a run out against Swansea, only to be sent off for an extremely rash challenge just three minutes after coming on as a substitute. Ultimately, Fabio played United into trouble at the exact moment that Moyes needed a performance from him. It’s highly unlikely that Fabio will be given the same opportunity to learn to control his erratic tendencies that was afforded to his brother Rafael, and he may well be out of the door as soon as United can find a buyer. The same may be true of Rio Ferdinand, who has struggled with injury and form this year and seems unsettled under the new regime. This really is a transitional season at Old Trafford.
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