In the words of Morrissey ‘stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before,’ United draw away from home, dropping valuable points and leaving Chelsea rubbing their hands in glee-that’s happiness not the annoying American singing show.
United’s away form has gone from causing concern, to being a real worry, to now almost being accepted as inevitable. Saturday’s early kick-off, after all a three o’clock start for the Reds is even rarer than an away victory, was yet another disappointing example of mediocrity.
A sixth away draw from seven is quite frankly abysmal and while the glass half full types will point to a 25 match unbeaten run, and the longest start to a premier league campaign without defeat for United in eleven years- there is no denying that 12 dropped points at this stage isn’t good enough.
The game against Aston Villa, may have been a case of a point won for United as they were two goals down with less than ten minutes to play, but the Reds’ comeback was only necessary after what was 80 odd minutes of the worst performance by a United team in recent memory.
So what did we learn from the Villa game other than the difference between jumping into the crowd and being pushed, oh and Darren Fletcher is no so well known he no longer needs a name and number on his shirt?
Here’s five things I fathomed from United’s trip to the Midlands.
1. It’s time for the midfield to step out of Scholes’ shadow. I wrote before the Villa game that I felt that Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher needed to show that they could offer some creativity in the absence of Paul Scholes. To say I couldn’t have been more disappointed would be an understatement. I know neither player is renowned for their attacking prowess but the fact remains both are capable of doing more than tackling -Fletcher- or passing it sideways -Carrick- yet that was all either offered for most of the game.
I’m a big fan of both players but when Scholes is unavailable one of them needs to take a bit responsibility, Saturday just wasn’t good enough and if things don’t improve then Fergie has to get his cheque book out or recall Tom Cleverley.
2. Nani is a livewire that United need. Against City Nani was poor and for much of the game against Villa he wasn’t much better but still managed to come up with a superb cross for Nemanja Vidic’s equaliser. It may not have made up for 85 minutes of rubbishness but he’s one of the few match winners United have at their disposal. He may at times be one of the most frustrating players ever to wear a United shirt but as he’s proven time and again this season, the ridiculous is often followed by the sublime. With Antonio Valencia out of the next few months, United will just have to suffer the torment of the Nani show.
3. Time to throw caution to the wind in these away games. Had United lost three and won three of the six drawn games then they’d obviously have been three points better off. Although by the end of the Villa game United were the far more attacking side, it was obvious after an hour in that it just wasn’t working.
Against City Sir Alex Ferguson decided to bring off Berbatov for Chicharito, against Villa he brought off both for the pair of Gabriel Obertan and Kiko Macheda. It’s time to start going for these games earlier. Leaving at least two strikers and two out and out wingers would have been a start. Chicharito hadn’t been getting much joy but may have benefited from having Obertan trying to whip some crosses in for him and Macheda alongside him. Fergie could have left Berbatov on and taken off Park who was obviously struggling. Whatever the scenario, seeing Chris Smalling playing upfront was as bemusing as it was embarrassing and should simply not be happening in a United side.
4. Berbatov is not to blame for all United’s woes but his form is worrying. I’m a big believer that Berbatov was a good signing for United, that he does exactly what it says on the tin and that he should not have been sold in the Summer. As long as I live and breathe I defend any man who scores a hat-trick against the dippers. Even without those three goals I’ve long admired Berbatov and think that any suggestion United should not have signed him and instead tried to keep Carlos Tevez, is flawed on many levels.
That said, the Bulgarian’s form cannot be ignored, no goals in eight games for a United striker is a worry and even though I know he brings more to the team than just goals- and was bought for such- it cannot be ignored. Berbatov seems to suffer from fluctuating confidence and against Villa he seemed, as did many of the United team, well off the pace. The problem for Berbatov, is that while nearly all the United team underperformed his poor showing is often highlighted by some fans and certain sections of the media who cannot wait to chastise him.
Berbatov’s performance against Spurs was one of his worst in a United shirt but I felt he was much better against City, however against Villa, the fact that he missed what was really a golden opportunity in the first half, will only add fuel to his detractors fire. He may benefit from having Rooney alongside him but he needs to realise his positives and try and get his mojo back before the fans he has won over, desert him again.
5. The missing player excuses have got to stop. Rooney, Valencia, Giggs, Scholes, Hargreaves or whoever may be missing but so what?! Villa were playing with a bunch of names I’d never pretend to have heard of, Hogg-wonder if he‘s related to Graeme, Bannan, Albrighton- okay I knew the last one. The point it is, Villa were well under strength and that shouldn’t matter anyway. Any players in the United squad should be good enough to do a job against the likes of Villa and on Saturday too many players just weren’t good enough. Had Villa’s second goal been indicative of the afternoon- United pressing and getting caught on the counter- I could have understood it, but it wasn’t.
United were poor throughout the team, admittedly certain players looked below fitness, Patrice Evra seemed to be struggling and Ji Sung Park look absolutely knackered, but if that’s the case then others should be stepping up. United have won the League over the years because they always gone at teams no matter who’s playing, there’s always been that United belief and pride, and I hate to say it but on Saturday for 80 minutes or more only one team really wanted it.