Watching United labour to victory was hardly the best hangover cure for New Year’s Day.
The result was exactly what United needed although the performance itself left a lot to be desired. This may all seem a tad negative, after all United won, are still top of the league with a game in hand and remain unbeaten. There’s also the added fact that seven points from a possible nine over a busy Christmas period is by no means disgraceful. It would be foolish however to gloss over the fact that were it not for a quite frankly woeful penalty by Peter Odemwingie, United would most likely still be searching for their second away win.
Having the early kick off in The Midlands on New Year’s Day was hardly ideal for most travelling fans and for much of the game seemed less than ideal for most of the United players. As 2008/09 showed us though, you don’t need lots of stunning performances to win the League, you just need wins and that may be the reason United look a good bet to regain ‘our trophy’ – we can grind out results even when playing badly.
The big news before kick-off was the fact that everyone’s favourite scouse-lover Gary Neville was handed a rare start. With Gabriel Obertan coming in for Ryan Giggs and Tomas Kuzczsak replacing Edwin Van Der Sar in goal, there were three changes from the side that had been robbed at St. Andrews.
So what exactly did we learn from United’s win at the Hawthorns other than referee Chris Foy seems to have a knack of pleasing none of the people none of the time and James Morrison is not only good at singing but he can also hit a volley?
1. Darren Fletcher is not a right winger. Fletcher started his Old Trafford career as a right sided midfielder with shall we say, mixed results. In fact Fletcher’s performances in that role were so inept that many United fans wondered why on earth he was in the team. Comment such as ‘Fergie’s love child’ and ‘it’s cos he’s Scottish’ were commonplace around Old Trafford when Fletcher started.
Since those early troubled times, Fletcher’s been moved to central midfield pretty much exclusively and become one of United’s most important players. The fact that his suspension from the Champion’s League final in 2009 was seen as one of the main reasons for United’s loss to Barcelona shows how far he has come.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to start him on the right side of midfield against West Brom backfired though. As Fletcher looked not only a little out of sorts, but the whole midfield seemed somewhat in disarray. Fletcher’s crossing left a lot to be desired and there was no denying United missed his energy in the middle of the park.
Although with Ji Sung Park, Antonio Valencia and Nani all absent Sir Alex may have felt his hand was forced, he may need to find another option next time round because Fletcher’s talents are wasted out wide.
2. Gary Neville needs to retire. I know they say ‘form is temporary class is permanent’ but it would be a huge surprise if Neville was to start performing at the levels he was pre-2008. Ever since he returned from his long-term injury –where he was constantly only ‘a few weeks from recovery’ Neville has looked well off the pace. Yet again –as was the case when he started against Stoke- Neville almost got himself sent-off due to his lack of speed rather than any maliciousness.
Should he have been sent off for his challenge on Chris Dorrans which many felt looked like a stonewall penalty? Probably. Neville remained on the pitch though yet every time the Baggies sent the ball over to their left wing, there was a quick feeling of anxiety among United fans.
Neville’s record speaks for itself and he will rightly go down in history as one of United’s best ever right-backs. The time for sentiment is over though and Sir Alex needs to realise that the Gary Neville we’ve seen so far this season is not the one who’s been serving United so well for the past 16 years.
Quite what has happened to Wes Brown is anyone’s guess but there’s no denying he would have been a much better choice for United at right back.
3. Rooney-haters need a new headline. With Rooney ending his ‘open play goal drought’ it seems that the Chelsea fan’s in Fleet street will need to find something new to attach to his name in their articles. It was getting to the point where I actually thought Wazza had changed his name to ‘who hasn’t score from open play since March.’
Rooney’s header after only a few minutes ended one of the more stranger statistics associated with the striker and can hopefully be the catalyst for something of a goal spree. Although Rooney has been playing well recently without scoring, strikers do need goals and the joy and relief on Rooney’s face when he opened the scoring said it all. If Rooney and Berbatov both get among the goals from now on, then United could prove unbeatable.
4. Chicharito should be given more games. The young Mexican’s winner was the second time he’s won the game for United away from home this season- not bad considering we’ve only won two away games. His energy and eye for goal were just what The Reds were crying out for and he needed just fifteen minutes to make an impact.
Although you could argue that Rooney and Berbatov are un-droppable, there’s no reason one of them couldn’t be rested –especially in such a hectic time- to give the Little Pea his chance to remind everyone why he’s had Old Trafford buzzing ever since his arrival.
5. The jury’s still out on Gabriel Obertan. Although many were critical of the Clarefontein academy product following a rather poor display against West Brom. I still feel he could have a lot to offer.
It’s obvious the Frenchman has skills or ‘silks’ as a certain defender likes to call them, but question marks still remain over his decision making.
Let’s not forget though that the same criticisms were being levelled against a certain Portuguese winger last season- in fact if we go back even further another Portuguese winger also suffered from the same comments.
While I’m not claiming Obertan will become a Nani –or a Ronaldo for that matter- he could still do a job for United and it’s a little unfair to judge him after only one hour at the Hawthorns. Obertan may get another season to prove himself, yet so far this season it’s been difficult to ascertain whether he’s quite up to the job and Saturday was no different.