By Jason Freeman.
After the fantastic comeback against Chelsea last week in the 3-3 draw there was a sense of delight and disappointment amongst fans with many having a feeling that we should have won the game but delighted that after being 3-0 down away to Chelsea, we managed to draw the game 3-3.
Saturday saw the visit of rivals Liverpool, in what was billed as a potentially fiery contest not only because of the big rivalry between both clubs but also because of events that have happened this season but events on the pitch were relatively calm with referee Phil Dowd keeping things under control dealing with heated exchanges before and after the game very well and also kept cards to a minimum with only booking for each team which I think helped bring calm, something very few have mentioned.
The game will mostly be remembered for incidents happening before, at half time and after the game unfortunately so instead of talking about those incidents I will now talk about 5 things we have learnt from today’s game.
1) Hitting form at right time yet again
It is known quite well that Manchester United tend to be stronger in the second half of seasons and it seems to be happening again with a very good performance today and also last week versus Chelsea despite conceding 3 goals, the performance was good and there were positives in our play and we built on that this week and the score line could have been a lot bigger and after the match Sir Alex was also disappointed that the result was only 2-1. Apart from the inability to score, the performance was impressive which stands in good stead going into the business end of the season.
2) Scholes better now than before retirement
A lot was made of Scholes’ return to playing football just a few months after retiring with many including myself calling it “desperate” after it was announced before the FA Cup 3rd round tie versus neighbours Manchester City and after giving the ball away with one of his first touches there were further questions about whether it was the correct decision but since then Scholes hasn’t put a foot wrong and he’s been better than he was before retirement and perhaps better than he has been for a few seasons. Coming out of retirement has even proved he can tackle. Perhaps all he needed was a rest.
Another thing Scholes’ brilliant return has highlighted is how stupid it was to not to replace him in the summer and how important it is to replace him when he does eventually retire. It also highlights how important it is to get the correct replacement which is perhaps why he was not replaced in the summer. How do you replace Paul Scholes though? Perhaps only Paul Scholes can replace Paul Scholes. Questions may be asked in May whether he can play for another year given his excellent performances. If he keeps it up, England’s manager for the Euros will surely try a lot harder than Capello did to get him to come out of retirement.
3) Rafael and Valencia: The Deadly Duo
Rafael da Silva and Antonio Valencia, possibly the best right back in the league and best right winger in the league right now and together they are becoming an unstoppable force, with both performing very good in both attack and defence.
For most of the season we have been without a proper right back, with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and even Antonio Valencia being used at RB all who have done a good job but Rafael’s return to the first team has highlighted how important it is to play a natural right back in the position. In his absence he seems to have improved too by becoming more mature and making better decisions. Rafael is probably the best right back in the league when fit but that is the problem, he and his twin brother both struggle with injuries. However, Rafael completed the full 90 minutes today and if he can stay injury free for the rest of the season it will be a big plus.
Antonio Valencia has endured a tough time over the past 18 months, having broken his ankle at the start of last season, he then suffered another ankle injury during last summer whilst on international duty with Ecuador at Copa America and had struggled until recently. In his last 13 games he has picked up 10 assists and 2 goals and has put in some sterling performances on the right wing which has led many to declare him as the best winger in the world at the moment. Many had doubted whether he would ever get back to the standard he once was at after the horrific injury he suffered in September 2010 but he has become even better and long may it continue.
4) The rise and rise and rise of Danny Welbeck
As with the last time I did 5 things (5 Things We Learned: Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2) when Welbeck was excellent against Arsenal, he was excellent yet again against Liverpool, he didn’t score or assist but as I said after the Arsenal match, Welbeck’s game is a lot more than just goals. His link up play, touch, control, movement and work rate is excellent and he is only going to get better. His knack of chasing lost causes could also prove to be important. His partnership with Rooney is one that is growing game by game and it is a partnership that is bringing the best out in both of them which could prove vital in the title race.
He is a player that game by game is gaining more and more plaudits, more and more people are declaring him their favourite player and he’s become mine too. There is nothing better than having a player coming through the youth ranks at Man United and becoming an integral part of the team, in my opinion it’s better than a big signing. There have been rumours about Welbeck’s future at times this season but his performances this season and passion for the club have made those rumours look unbelievable and I think Welbeck will be at the club for years to come.
5) Excellent centre back performances
Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand have both come in for criticism at times during the season. The criticism towards Ferdinand has perhaps been expected given the injuries he’s had and the fact that he’s nearing the end of his career but the criticism aimed at Evans has been unfair, this season he has been excellent and our most consistent centre back. With Vidic out for the season with an injury, Evans has stepped up impeccably and has played more games at centre back than any other player. Evans received huge praise for his performance on Saturday and it is praise that has been long overdue in my opinion. Ferdinand also put in a performance to prove his critics wrong and put in some brilliant tackles including one just before half time on Suarez.
Together they kept Liverpool at bay for most of the game and they will be disappointed to have not kept a clean sheet. Their partnership is probably the best we have with Vidic out and is important that both remain fit as we enter an important time of the season.