Turbulent Times at Old Trafford
In the aftermath of Manchester United’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, Kevin Levingston offers his thoughts on the Reds struggle for form, fitness and consistency as the season begins to gather momentum.
In the words of Francois Rabelais; “Time ripens all things; with time all things are revealed; time is the father of truth”. The penchant for impatience and overreaction throughout every echelon of modern day football means that these days, time comes at a premium.
As it stands, six games into the premier league season and four points off the leaders; United sit third. With four wins from six games, it is by no means the Red’s worst start to a season in recent memory. It is a results business after all, and despite not playing particularly well in any game the Red’s fans, players and staff could seemingly reassure themselves that it is the mark of great teams to play poorly and still win.
Last night at Old Trafford against supposed crisis club Tottenham Hotspur such idealized notions came crashing down around us as the underlying problems in the team manifested with vigour. Some positives remained. For thirty minutes in the second half United played their best football of the season, orchestrated by the majestic Paul Scholes. The fact that it took the worst United first half performance in living memory to provoke such a reaction is perhaps a testament to the gravity of the situation Sir Alex’s troops now find themselves in.
A house will not stand on shaky foundations and it would be naive to suggest that the lack of a decided number one goalkeeper has not contributed to a defensive record that has seen the Reds concede nine goals in six games. While Sir Alex’s commitment to giving both of his stoppers their chance to impress is laudable, he has clearly stated in the past that David de Gea is his long term choice for number one. That being the case, it makes sense to play him. The Spaniard found his best form last year when playing consistently and we can hardly expect him to continue his adaptation to English football from the bench. Lindegaard is a very capable stand in whose maturity and authority makes him less likely to commit a howler or cost us a goal. However to suggest his shot stopping or distribution even approaches the quality of De Gea is laughable. Having paid eighteen million for De Gea and trumpeting him as our long term number one it is time to put him in the team and allow him to live (or die) by his performances. The bedding in period has ended and so should the molly coddling.
A factor completely out of our control yet just as debilitating is the never ending list of injuries that has been ravaging the Red’s defence for three seasons now. The sight of Ferdinand and Evans limping off at full time this evening means our midweek defensive partnership may consist of Michael Carrick and Scott Wooton. The apparent construction of a multi million pound medical facility at Carrington cannot come quickly enough. The sheer number of first team players out through injury these last few years can’t have been bad luck, and hopefully a change in facilities, a change in process, will bring about an eventual change in fortune. When fit, we have five first choice centre backs that would walk into almost any other team in the league. When fit. However we can’t blame our performances entirely on our injury list. It points to a mental fragility that has rarely been seen in any Ferguson team before. It’s something the Scot will want to remedy quickly.
Criticism of United’s reliance on Scholes and Giggs has been prominent these last few years, with the Welshman in particular showing signs that despite his lauded fitness regime, there comes a time when you simply have no games left, and nothing more to give. Calls for him to do a Gary Neville and retire mid-season may be a bit premature, but starting our top appearance maker in the bigger games seems foolish at best. On current form, to leave his fellow fledgling Scholes out of the team would be criminal. Our use of a still brilliant player should never be criticised but the days are gone where our ginger ninja can play three games a week. The lack of a suitable deputy is what augurs worst.
The Reds are undoubtedly a team in transition. New additions Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa will take time to settle in completely, while it will be interesting to see if the likes of Cleverley and Anderson will do what they have been threatening to do for some season’s now and actually make a midfield berth their own. It appears Sir Alex has ambitions toward a more fluid and intricate attacking approach than the cavalier yet basic 4-4-2 formation that has been his calling card for many years now. It will take time. It will be interesting to see how this shift will affect the prospects of Nani, who on current form should not be allowed in the stadium, let alone in the team. The clock is ticking for the Portuguese winger. On form he can be our best player, but so few and far between have such days been that it seems a foregone conclusion that he will not show up when it really matters. Three months until January.
It is a tribute to the lofty standards set by Manchester United over the years that taking our injuries into account, despite the riches of attacking and defensive talents at our disposal, despite losing the title last year on goal difference alone and despite being a mere four points off the leaders at game six of the season; you would be led to believe Old Trafford was falling down around Alex Ferguson and his troops. It is, of course, early doors this season and it would be remiss of us to assume the Gaffer will allow this worrying trend to continue. Were it not for the performance of the post and the surprisingly misfiring Robin Van Persie, this may well have been an evening when we celebrated yet another stunning comeback and all would indeed seem well. Yet the worries remain.
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson; “One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is Doomsday”.
A change of form, attitude and fortune is vital. The clock is ticking.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance blogger and United fanatic. Follow him on twitter @KevinLevingston.