Sunday, March 04, 2007

United Don't Have All the Answers, But Still Pass the Test

Title credentials checklist

Name: Manchester United

Question 1: Do you win when playing badly? Tick.

Question 2: Has fortune favoured you of late? Tick.

Question 3: Do you have a good balance of experience and youth? Tick.

Question 4: Do have a reliable goalkeeper and a solid defence? Tick.

Question 5: Do you carry a scoring threat from a number of sources? Tick

Question 6: Do have a dominating presence in central midfield? Erm.

Question 7: Have you produced one defining performance which unequivocably demonstrates your superiority over your closest rivals? Hmmmm......

Previously around these parts we have tended to regard this season's incarnation of Manchester United with a bit of scepticism, seeing the way they brutally bully the lesser teams in the Premiership while tending towards diffidence when meeting their peers.

Aside from the defeat of Liverpool at Old Trafford earlier in the season, they have failed to fully dominate Arsenal and Chelsea when they have met them and on Saturday Liverpool had the better of them everywhere but the scoreline.

Of course, points won against the other big boys are no more valuable than those garnered from Vicarage Road or Bramall Lane. Fair enough, United have clinically mined their points from the bountiful seam of mediocrity elsewhere in the Premiership, and their nine point over Chelsea is reflective of a job, so far, exceptionally well done.

But why the troubling inability to say, with finality, that they are the best team in the league?

United's hypothesis goes like this: although their midfield lacks the destructive strength of the those other clubs, particularly Chelsea and Liverpool, it is generally up to the task of mastery, or at least parity, over those of the less well-endowed clubs. Then, equipped with a devastating array of attacking talent and an athletic, well balanced defensive unit, they can maximise their offensive potential while fending off at the back most that the also-rans can throw at them.

United have looked unconvincing this season when faced with teams that dominate their flimsier midfield totally, leaving them little real opportunity to generate a head of steam in attack. These are the games in which Cristiano Ronaldo looks like a headless chicken, rather than the bird of prey he normally resembles and Wayne Rooney exudes frustration, rather than the devastating audacity he normally exhibits.

Liverpool have long been able to grip the central areas vice-like, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Momo Sissoko embodying an uncompromising mix of guile, strength and intelligence. But unlike United, Rafa Benitez has been, as yet, unable to concoct the right attacking alchemy, showing only in flashes - like with Gerrard's goal against Sheffield United nine days ago - the sort of fluid choreography with which United have dispatched so many teams this season.

Perhaps the meeting with Chelsea on 15 April will provide the opportunity for that one, irrefutable demonstration of superiority for United before they claim a title that would mean as much, if not more, to Alex Ferguson than any of his others. More likely he will approach that game with a similar caution to how he did last Saturday's.

He will be leaving Question 6 above to be answered in the transfer market during the summer, and, if the Premiership trophy does return to Old Trafford in May, will not care in the slightest if he hasn't satisfied question 7 either.

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Anonymous PaddyC said...

If manyoo beat Boro in the Cup this weekend, the Chelski game will be pushed back... could become either an irrelevant foot-note to United's title, or a last day of the season grand-slam-super-mega-title-decider-saturday. Something like that anyway.

I predict that if the latter scenario comes about, Jamie Redknapp will spontaneously combust live on Sky Sports from the excitement of it all, in his only useful contribution to the pre-match build-up.

By the way, congrats on the blog award win Tom, good work!

8:35 a.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Thank you Mr.C, a certain movie review blog will no doubt be scooping the honours next year.

I sense a twist or two yet in the title race...

6:13 p.m.  

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