By Nathan Thomas.
Berbatov’s enthusiasm through uncertainty
The situation surrounding Dimitar Berbatov’s future at Manchester United is shrouded in a vale of intrigue and uncertainty. With only five league starts to his name in the 2011/12 campaign it appeared set in stone that the maverick Bulgarian would seek pastures new during the summer months. These theories proved unfounded as Berbatov lined up in the first XI to take on Amazulu as United began their pre-season tour on a frantic Nelson Mandela Day in Durban, South Africa. I feel frustrated for Berbatov – this might seem a rather naïve statement for a man who earns more in one week than I have in my entire life – but the guy just wants to play football, and his talent demands that he should. A misunderstood character that does not necessarily please every football fan; Berbatov could easily have gone into sulk mode, but to his eternal credit, he has kept his head down and worked through it. He was superb against AmaZulu and seemed to thrive in a deeper position as United begin to tailor a formation that would lend itself to football on the continent. Floating in behind the front two of Macheda and Hernandez, United’s number nine – along with debutant Jesse Lingard – was given a de facto free run. His touch was as impeccable as always and I was particularly impressed with his effort and commitment in a meaningless friendly. His persistent bawling at team-mates when passes were placed only inches a stray was both refreshing and endearing given that Berbatov knows not where his football will be played next season. It seems quite staggering to me that teams are willing to shell out £33 million on a relatively unproven Belgian – or in United’s case – even more on an equally inexperienced Brazilian; yet teams are wary of splashing out a meagre £5 million on an experienced winner, who possesses a wealth of guile to boot – madness.
Ever since Jesse Lingard’s emergence into the United public consciousness, I have followed his progress keenly – given that he went to a school just down the road from me. His (albeit unofficial) debut for United was consistent with his recent rapid progression in the United’s youth ranks. The young midfielder still has some work to do on his physique, but he has filled out rapidly since he was a mere feather in the wind making his bow for the Under 18’s at United’s Carrington training complex. More importantly – his football has improved greatly. I was never overawed by his game in the early days, but his intrinsic role in United’s 2011 Youth Cup triumph added to his superb campaign for United reserves last time out, made me sit up and listen – so to speak. Against AmaZulu he operated in a free role, something I expect Shinji Kagawa to do when he begins his maiden season at Old Trafford in under a months’ time. I was impressed by his discipline, admittedly against rather underwhelming opposition (although AmaZulu gave United a thorough work out), in a role that despite looking like it means you get to run around a lot – requires a lot of self-control. He looked lively in an around the ‘D’ and linked up well with the front three; defensively he also looked sound as he was able to drop back on to the wing in order to support Robbie Brady who was another youngster who impressed. Still, not a lot can be read into games such as this; fitness is paramount and nigh on the only important factor that needs to be drawn from the game – however, it is always nice to see hungry youngsters making an impression on the manager as the season begins in earnest.
Fluid United aim for Europe
As has hitherto been referred to in this assessment, United operated in a rather fluid formation that ensured that out of the attacking quadruple of Berbatov, Lingard, Macheda and Hernandez; only Hernandez stayed static. Carrick and Scholes sat deep and controlled play from a low-lying position whilst Dimitar Berbatov’s persistent dropping off gave room for United’s wingbacks Robbie Brady and Fredric Vaseli to push forward. It is more than likely that the formation was nothing more than a rather generous helping of pre-season tinkering, however the consensus amongst fans appears to be that United will try to alter their formation- the fuel for this fire being the choice of signings so far this summer, namely Kagawa. The way the team played tonight certainly carried more than an air of Barcelona about it, particularly with the gliding fluidity of Berbatov and Lingards roles; last season’s dismal continental serving has clearly touched a nerve with Ferguson and I would expect to see a few other experimental procedures being deployed throughout the remainder of the tour.
Strong starter Macheda needs to avoid further disappointment
Federico Macheda’s winning goal continued the Italian’s rather impressive goal scoring tally in pre-season games. Macheda has gathered something of penchant for playing exceedingly well during pre-season, only to disappoint when the real business gets underway. His seven goals in the last three pre-season tours is an impressive record, one would think representative of a striker on top of his game – scoring week in, week out for his team. Macheda task is not an easy one it must be said; since announcing his arrival in raucous fashion against Aston Villa in 2009 he has had the unenviable task of deposing the likes of Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov as United’s first choice strikers. Still, Danny Welbeck managed it, but he has had the luxury of a successful and lengthy loan spell – something, which I believe, is paramount for Macheda’s progress. This season is vital for his progression; he needs to be playing football regularly, which will most likely come in the shape of a loan move away from Manchester. Playing away from Old Trafford will not diminish a chance of putting him foremost in the manager’s thoughts. It is unlikely that Ferguson will be over keen on spending big on a new striker should Berbatov leave the club; with United possessing two of the brightest young forwards in the game in the shape of Welbeck and Hernandez, Ferguson will not want to hinder their progression. In some respect, this opens up the door for Macheda who will most definitely feel more comfortable fighting the aforementioned duo for a place, rather than say Wayne Rooney. His exerts this season will be keenly be observed by a ’plenty.
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