Last season was something of a strange one if were completely honest, even if it did end with United overtaking Liverpool in titles, it wasn’t all rosy.
There was the abysmal away record, the devastation of another Champions League final loss to Barcelona, there was also the drama of the Rooney contract debacle. Let’s not act like spoilt children though, we did win that elusive 19th title and we did have THAT derby goal, the Dimitar Berbatov show, the Luis Da Cunha show and the emergence of a certain small garden vegetable.
One aspect of last season which grated even more than our inability to kill off teams away from home, or the somewhat tedious for and against arguments over the inclusion of Michael Carrick, no the biggest let down for me was the lack of goals from set pieces. United’s corners were shockingly bad, while our free kicks weren’t much better.
Throughout United’s succesful Premier League era, we’ve always had at least one decent free kick taker, in the early years it was a real team effort, with Ryan Giggs, Denis Irwin, Eric Cantona and even Gary Pallister getting in on the act. Then was the Beckham era, followed after a couple of years by a certain Portuguese winger’s time at the plate. Since Ronaldo left United have struggled to find anyone capable of consistently troubling the opposition with free kicks.
Nani would seem like the perfect choice after all he’s similar to Ronaldo in many ways and certainly has the confidence to step up, the problem is his free kicks on the whole have often disappointed, in fact thats something of an understatement.
Wayne Rooney, announced his free kicking ability the night of his debut against Fenerbahce with the third of his hat-trick coming from a set-piece. Unfortunately it was something of a false dawn as Wazza, wasn’t quite ready to be the free kick taker on a permanent basis and unfortunately for him, he’d have to wait a long time until he got the chance to prove he was.
Last season Rooney’s goal against West Ham, proved he can still take a set piece, while his brace of free kicks against Arsenal merely underlined that a player of his quality given a chance from 25 yards, is more than capable of causing problems. Rooney’s not been greedy enough in the past, when it comes to grabbing the ball and placing it down for set pieces, he’s too willing to let Nani or whoever else have a go. Now it’s time for him to make them his own, perhaps with the exception of one man.
The great thing for United, is that as well as Rooney, we now also have Ashley Young, who has proven at Aston Villa he knows how to beat both the wall and the keeper. Considering the sumptous quick interchangable passing United have been engaged in this season, the sort of moves that make defenders clip attackers heels and engage in late tackles, there’s a good chance we may see quite a few free kicks awarded this season to United.
With Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young both seemingly up to the task, then this could be the season we see free kicks become just as important a part of United’s Arsenal- pardon the really shabby pun- as they were in the days of Beckham and Ron.