1. Robin reliant running on empty
A few weeks ago, I praised him for his comments claiming he did not want to be rested ahead of the Norwich game, having received a knock in the 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers, but Robin van Persie is looking fatigued.
I commend him for not hiding when it would be easy for him to have a quiet word to Sir Alex Ferguson to give him little rests in home games against teams in the lower half of the table, but perhaps that’s exactly what the manager should be doing.
You always want Van Persie on the field, he’s a match winner, but apart from the fact that he’s tiring himself out, it’s also stunting the development of Javier Hernandez, who let’s be honest, isn’t having a half bad season himself in front of goal. He has 16 goals in all competitions and is our second leading goalscorer, only seven behind the flying Dutchman.
He didn’t affect the game at all when he came on yesterday and he cut an isolated figure as the lone frontman against Madrid on Tuesday.
The fact that he’s had such a barnstorming start to his United career is hardly helping his image at the moment in the media, who are harping on about the slump he’s in.
For anyone else, it would barely register as a blip, but for a man as good at goalscoring as Van Persie it’s a big deal. Hopefully the international break comes at a welcome time.
The general issue of fatigue is one I feel really affected us yesterday. I know it’s Chelsea and we had to play a strong side but I was surprised not more players who would have been exhausted from their efforts on Tuesday night were fielded.
Energy sapping areas like full back and central midfield especially.
Yet not only did Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra all survive from the Real Madrid game to start yesterday, they played the entire 90 minutes too.
Carrick was one of our best performers and has a fantastic engine but Cleverley really faded badly after half time and gave away the ball constantly, while Evra was also struggling to get about the pitch.
Our squad is that good this season that I don’t necessarily feel the team would have been weakened by a few more changes yesterday. I felt Chris Smalling and Anderson in particular might have played, they both need games after all, and Ferguson will need to count on his strength in depth in the coming months, but he will need to rely on players who are match fit too.
3. For once I won’t curse an international break
I usually despise it when the Premier League is disrupted by international breaks but the latest one after this weekend’s home game against Reading might come at exactly the right time. To be fair it’s usually the meaningless international friendlies I have a problem with that serve no decent purpose other than to fill the pockets of the UK countries’ football associations, so at least the upcoming double head World Cup qualifiers are competitive games. But with fatigue evident and United clearly needing time to get over the heartbreak of going out of the Champions League to Madrid, a week away from domestic fixtures will surely serve to recharge the players’ batteries and refocus them for a title charge as well as aiming to put on an improved performance in the FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, whenever that may be.
4. It’s Carrick you know
As the most popular chant of the moment among United fans goes, ‘it’s Carrick, you know, can’t believe it’s not Scholes’, certainly this season the comparisons to Sat Nav are not misplaced. It’s been a season where, bar the obvious blinding form of Van Persie, the underdogs and much-maligned players of the past have shone. Jonny Evans and Rafael have really matured into established United players, while David de Gea’s star is on the rise and Patrice Evra has repaired his image after a fall in from over the past 18 months prior to the start of the season. But Carrick has been the leading man this season, emerging from the shadow Paul Scholes, and it will only be Van Persie who beats him to this season’s Sir Matt Busby player of the season award.
He was one of few players to shine in the Chelsea game, along with Rio Ferdinand, Evans and De Gea. He broke up Chelsea attacks, put in some hard and crucial tackles, retained possession and got us going forward, while his reverse, chipped pass to Hernandez for the opening goal was simply sublime. The best moment of the game for United fans.
5. Not so lucky number seven
I really feel for Antonio Valencia. Player of the season last year, he’s had a terrible 2012/13 campaign so far. I thought a saw a flicker of last season’s superstar when he came off the bench against Real Madrid in the week, going past full backs like he used to do at will last season, but when he was introduced yesterday it was a hugely disappointing showing. Don’t get me wrong, not many players came out of the game against Chelsea with too much credit, but having been so excellent last year, he’s really taken several steps back, and I’m sure most United fans, like me, are unable to put their finger on his dramatic loss of form. The only thing I can venture is that he’s suffered a serious crisis of confidence – either borne out of deciding to don the famous United No 7 jersey in the summer or perhaps it’s a curse of claiming the Sir Matt Busby trophy for such a stunning season last year. That sounds silly but being such a quiet, humble and hard-working player, perhaps the Ecuadorian has simply being left dumbstruck by how good a player he actually blossomed into last season. Perhaps he’s realised just how hallowed the shirt worn by the likes of Cantona, Best, Beckham, Robson and Ronaldo is at Old Trafford and he doesn’t feel worthy of it. Believe me, when he took the jersey in the summer, I wasn’t surprised. He was THAT good last year and I was looking forward to him kicking on this season, but it just hasn’t happened. He seems to distrust his blinding pace and always hesitates to skin full backs he would saunter past last year. Valencia is not a Rooney or a Rio in terms of personality. He’s not a loud or abrasive player. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t seem like a player capable of dealing with scrutiny or groans when something goes wrong from the Old Trafford crowd. I hope he can regain some of last year’s magic before the end of the season or refocus during the summer, otherwise I fear for his future at Old Trafford.
Man of the Match Poll & Player Ratings: Manchester United vs. Chelsea HERE.
Latest Manchester United 2012-13 statistics HERE.
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