By Jason Freeman.
Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, we have favoured a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system with functionality the main priority whereas between 2006 and 2009 a variety of formations were used and fluidity took priority. With the signings of Kagawa and van Persie a return to a more fluid style of play seems to be on the cards and the game against Everton, while a disappointing loss, hinted at something similar to the ‘Ronaldo era’ with our front 3 players being very flexible, interchanging with one another. While none of the front 3 played particularly well in the game, there were encouraging signs with some of the football that was played but a lot of work still needs to be done before it clicks and hopefully a full week’s training before the next game will go a long way towards the system being better in the game against Fulham.
The performances of our attack against Everton was most disappointing with Rooney not looking anywhere near full fitness, Welbeck playing in a position he’s not completely comfortable in and Nani being at his most frustrating from the first minute where he lost his temper which led to him picking up a yellow card after just 3 minutes and things didn’t get any better after that. Rooney and Nani in particular were disappointing; the 2 have often been the difference for us in games over the past few years and it used to be worrying that when the 2 have a bad game there was no one to turn to, with the addition of van Persie though that is likely to change although this was not the case against Everton with van Persie like Rooney not 100% fit having missed most of Arsenal’s pre-season and only playing 25 minutes in a friendly prior to the visit to Everton so it was no surprise that he contributed very little in his short time on the pitch. He’d also had very little time to train with his new team mates. I’d expect all 4 to be much better on Saturday although I’m not sure all 4 will play.
Behind the 3 attackers, new signing Shinji Kagawa had a fine game and was in my opinion our best player, certainly our best outfield player. He will only get better the more he plays too as he gains a better understanding of his team mates. Rooney’s movement upfront was quite poor and often left Kagawa with no pass to play. The player he did seem to link up rather well was Welbeck, who although was playing out of position on the left got in behind the defence a few times from a Kagawa pass. On one occasion Welbeck received a pass from Kagawa, ran into the box before being pushed over and seeing his shot go narrowly past the post.
In midfield, Cleverley and Scholes had OK games, dominating possession but they were outfought in midfield with Everton taking full advantage of their lack of physicality. Cleverley gave it a good go but it’s not one of his strengths and it’s certainly not one of Scholes’ strengths. The pair’s lack of height also saw us lose out in the air a number of times, something Everton targeted very well. Carrick is not a player who is physically imposing like Fellaini by any means but had he been available to play in midfield, I think it would have made a bit of difference given he’s a more defensive minded player but I’m not certain it would have been enough to change the result. Physicality in midfield is certainly an area of weakness but I don’t think other teams will exploit the weakness as much as Everton did.
Defensively our problems were quite obvious, a centre midfielder playing at centre back and a winger at right back. Square pegs in round holes as they say. I don’t think either Carrick or Valencia had particularly bad games considering they were playing in unfamiliar positions, however it wasn’t an ideal situation though with both required in their more favoured positions and it was a weakness as was proved with Everton gaining much joy down the right side of our defence where Carrick and Valencia were positioned. Everton’s goal came from a corner and left many wondering why Carrick was marking Everton’s biggest aerial threat, Fellaini from corners instead of Vidic, which would have made a lot more sense. With the way Fellaini was playing though I’m not sure anyone could have stopped him, it certainly would have made more sense though. Let’s not forget this was Vidic’s first competitive game since December 2011 either, it was a very tough game to come back into, even more so without a natural centre back next to him and he looked very tired in the 2nd half. David de Gea had a very good game between the sticks, pulling off some good saves, he’s looking more comfortable from crosses and is looking stronger, there is still some work to do but you can see the difference a year has made and he’ll only continue to improve.
After the loss to Everton there was a lot of overreaction, abuse towards certain players and toys were well and truly thrown out of the pram by many but what we must remember is that the league is not decided after the first game and there are 37 games still to play. In the 2007/08 season United were 17th after 3 games and we didn’t score more than once in each of our first 8 games. It’s a different situation but it shows that patience is required for a month while players return from injuries, get fitter and adapt to the new style of play. Monday’s visit to Goodison Park wasn’t the ideal start but there is no need to panic just yet.
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