By Matt Wrafter.
The 9 games following the 6-1, Manchester United kept seven clean sheets and only conceded two goals. After a series of one-nils, we bounced back into dazzling form with a 4-1 over Wolves, a dominant 2-0 win over QPR and two subsequent 5-0 victories over Fulham & Wigan. Following the Wigan game, I posed the question to my Facebook friends: “Injury crisis? What injury crisis?” Oh yeah, that injury crisis.
With De Gea back between the sticks (despite some confident, assured clean sheet performances from Lindegaard) and a make-shift defence and midfield in front him, followed by an attack that for some reason was without Wayne Rooney, United’s line-up looked somewhat confusing at first. We had a winger playing full-back, a striker playing out wide and, most surprisingly of all, a young full-back just returning from a lengthy injury playing in midfield. After seeing the team sheet I was still confident; we were playing Blackburn, after all. How wrong I was.
1. We Do Have an Injury Crisis
It’s something we’ve grown so used to that we seem to pass it off as a minor speed bump on our way to the title every season. It’s the same old story: one minute it looks like we have more than enough defensive cover, and then all of a sudden Michael Carrick is back there, we have no midfielders left to fill his boots and we start playing even more players in unfamiliar positions. Rooney gets his annual knock and misses a few games, and it all seems as if we should fall apart. But we rarely do. United are constantly being praised for their strength in depth, they’re never-say-die attitude, and their continued fight through all but the worst injury crisis. Right now, it might just be the worst injury crisis.
We have four centre backs out, two through illness. We still have no permanent right back because of injury problems. Our only fully fit midfielders are Carrick and Gibson, and maybe Giggs. Anderson was rushed back for this match and looks like he might need a bit more time to recover. Park is not a midfielder and never will be, in my eyes. We are forever losing players through small annoyances like “concussion”, “a few niggles” or “a cold”. And it seems like the absences have finally caught up with us. Losing at Old Trafford is bad enough, but losing to the side at the foot of the Premier League table is another story altogether. The sooner our first-team players come back the better.
2. Rafael is Not a Midfielder
This might have seemed pretty obvious before the game, but for some strange reason, Rafael was dropped right into the middle of the park on his return from injury. A player who earns praise for aggressive tackles and driving runs forward couldn’t produce either today, and his attempts to run the play failed miserably. In the first half, he may have only misplaced two passes, but they seemed simple balls to play and he entirely misjudged his teammate’s runs completely. He seemed too slow on the ball and lacked confidence, and left me longing for the composure that Carrick brings to the table in games like these. Rafael didn’t create a single goal-scoring opportunity for his teammates and had a take-on success rate of only 33%. He only made 4 successful tackles throughout the game and he didn’t make a single interception. As much as I like Rafael, I don’t think his future lies anywhere near the centre of midfield. When I first saw the line-up, I though Nani might take up a free role in the middle with Rafael & Valencia on the right, but instead both Valencia & Rafael had to take up unfamiliar positions, which cost us in the end.
3. Carrick is Not a Centre Back (and maybe Jones isn’t either)
The way in which Carrick attempted to tackle Yakubu for the second goal really woke me up to the fact that Carrick is not a centre-back. And neither should he be. He earns his living for sitting in the hole, spraying the ball about and cutting out attacks before they even start. I hope for the sake of Carrick, and United, that he never has to play there again. To a lesser extent, the same goes for Jones. He may see his own future in the heart of defence, but as of now he seems to be missing a few key defensive qualities. He was guilty for the same reason as Carrick for Yakubu’s second, by just stretching out a hopeful leg. His defensive positioning has also been up for debate recently. He’s made his name on the back of his impressive driving runs forward and his cool head, but if he continues to have games like today, I can’t see him being a permanent fixture in the back four.
4. Wayne Rooney is our Most Important Player
Whether Rooney was really suffering from “a few niggles” or not is beside the point. The fact of the matter is: Untied need him. He is without a doubt our best player (not including Vidic) and his presence was a real loss for us today. You can get away with playing a traditional 4-4-2 these days only if one of your strikers plays like Rooney does; today the void that he usually fills was left open. Berbatov tried to fill it, and so did Nani, but nobody can pull off that false 9 role quite like Rooney can. The sooner he returns to the first-team the better; we’re a much better team with him in the side. He has his detractors, no doubt, and it wasn’t too long ago that I was one of his biggest critics, but to my mind now he is now one of the best strikers in Europe. United need him doing what he does best if they want to be serious title contenders this year.
5. Fergie Sometimes gets Things Wrong
For forever and an age, anytime Man United have done something that seems a bit strange, United fans will warn you against doubt, with the words “Fergie Knows”. Certainly, Ferguson knows a lot. He more often than not gets things right. But today, it has to be said, he got it wrong. I know a string of unfortunate injuries & absences have limited his options, but playing Rafael & Park in midfield was surely as big of a mistake as any. I’m not sure if he underestimated Blackburn or thought that the two floppy-haired engines were up to the task at hand, or, of course, maybe it was one of Ferguson’s famous practical jokes. But this defeat is a harsh reminder that the 70 year old hero is human, and does sometimes get things wrong. Not by any stretch of the imagination am I joining the ridiculous minority who blurt out nonsense such as “Fergie out!”, but I would also like some United fans to be real for once. It seems as if when Fergie does make a rare mistake, such as putting Rafael in midfield, it’s somehow Rafael’s fault and not the manager’s. As much I love Ferguson, the greatest manager of modern times, I do understand that he’s human after all, and I won’t shy away from criticising him.