Date:Saturday November 22 2008
Well guys, it is quite definitely stinking now. All our favourite hunting grounds - Anfield, Goodison Park and now Villa Park - seem to have lost their charm. We are dropping points here, there and everywhere.
Team selection was fairly straightforward. Berbatov, Scholes, Hargreaves, Fletcher, Brown all injured, Anderson, Nani and Ronaldo travelled from overseas - we barely had 11 fully fit and ready players.
Still, including Giggs was just asking for trouble. Villa were bound to press us, to harass us and Giggs is known to be prone to be marked out of the game completely. It happened here and once again his midfield partner, Michael Carrick should have held the midfield together all by himself.
Carlos Tevez provided no ammunition for those who want to see him dislodge Dimitar Berbatov: the Bulgarian's link-up play was badly missed and I must admit I was cringing as Tevez's 472nd heavy first touch saw another attack breaking down.
Park looked dangerous in the first half and he could have given us the lead when he was sent clear by Rooney but hesitated too much and he was tackled before he could have shot. But he also faded badly in the second half and became totally anonymous.
We defended well and reduced a spirited Villa side to half-chances but with Chelsea and Liverpool drawing a win would have been vital. However, the players seemed to lack the urgency, like it wasn't clear to them that we could have cut the gap to six points with a game in hand. Looks like it's not sufficient motivation.
Rooney was also poor and seemed lost among Villa's defenders. He spurned the best chance of the game: Carrick's instinctive lob behind the defence fell in front of him but he fired into the sky from 5 yards - unbelievable miss.
Replacing Tevez with Nani with 20 minutes to go wasn't a bad idea but in truth Giggs shouldn't have been on the pitch by then yet he played the whole game. O'Shea who looked shaky on the right and offered nothing in attack was not replaced by Rafael though the game was screaming out for the skills of the little Brazilian.
And then of course there was Ronaldo's injury which forced Fergie's hand. Not that Ronaldo was any good: no. His dribbles never came off, he always took the ball into crowded areas where he duly lost it. Apart from his rasping effort in the first half he was poor.
We were suffering in attack and were too often outnumbered in midfield. Once again, as so often this season, the difference was that the opposition's players were prepared to run that extra yard, to cover a bit more ground. They fought for every ball while we shirked away from the challenges. It's just not good enough. We had a fair stinking away performances this season but it was worse than the Goodison or the Emirates: we had chances in these games. Not today.
We're still good enough to beat almost everyone at Old Trafford but we need to start getting results away from home or the season will quickly become a stroll to third place - and while many teams would happily accept that, I can safely say that no United fan is longing to experience 2004 and 2005 all over again...
Date:Saturday November 22 2008
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