This United Side Is A Mystery
On Thursday I launched a defence of our unfairly criticised team as I felt that our performances merited the first place we currently occupy in the league. I maintain my position that so far we've been doing quite well, unexpectedly.
However, it looks like we have a penchant for disaster time and again. After a very professional display at Stoke and a good win over Wolfsburg United plunged into despair: today's game against Sunderland was as bad as they get.
Granted, we got a point in the end. But to be frank it was barely deserved: for long periods Sunderland were the better team. They did not park the bus, passed the ball well and created chances while easily holding us at arm's length. They were impressive, no doubt.
But that does not excuse our desperately poor performance. So many players were below par that it's difficult to decide where to start. First, Ben Foster had another howler, coming out to challenge Jones with the worst possible timing, costing us a goal and the momentum we had been building up. I think he and Vidic were actually fouled by Jones but that does not excuse Foster.
Vidic is also culpable for the goal even though he probably expected his keeper to be more decisive. Jonny Evans had one moment of madness late in the second half but he was otherwise flawless, Patrice Evra had a poor game but the equaliser is a credit to him and O'Shea put in a pinpoint cross to Berbatov for our first equaliser but his lack of pace and technique is a problem in these games.
Midfield. That was a complete disaster. Scholes looked blind in the 45 minutes he spent on the pitch, failing to complete the simplest passes. Fletcher was nowhere near his usual authoritative self but he had to do too much covering for Scholes. Earned himself a booking but could not stop Reid before the second goal.
Danny Welbeck failed to live up to his potential: looked ponderous and slow in thinking. And don't even get me started on Nani who was shocking. Again. No wonder we could not get a grip on midfield.
The Scholes-Anderson substitution at half time was a good one, it seemed: Anderson injected some energy and pace, we began to control the proceedings, equalised and looked like we would swamp Sunderland. But then they scored again and we fell apart. Anderson and Fletcher lost the harmony that looked like developing, Nani and Welbeck disappeared again and Rooney simply refused to do anything useful: he could not even beat a defender or create a shooting opportunity or pass the ball...
So yes, apart from Dimitar Berbatov, who scored a spectacular equaliser, was usually available and passed the ball well, it was a complete disaster. Bringing on Carrick changed nothing at all and only when, with about 7 or 8 minutes remaining, defeat began to look like a real possibility, did we start actually pressing and harassing Sunderland for the ball.
Richardson's sending off helped: bless him, he never had much brains and kicking the ball away was so incredibly silly that I actually laughed even though the situation was pretty grim. Finally we managed to exert some pressure, got the equaliser and almost snatched the winner with a late flurry but it would have been absolutely undeserved and horribly cruel on Sunderland.
Why were we so poor? I just don't know. The same Fletcher-Scholes partnership totally outpassed Stoke and Spurs yet they were horrible today. How do you know whether Scholes will be brilliant or won't be able to complete the simplest passes? Really, just how should we guess which face of the team will be on display? How is it possible that a team that's brilliant at White Hart Lane, totally batters Manchester City, puts in such a desperately poor performance against Sunderland? There is no rational explanation for today's appalling display.
We'll be in for some ride this season. We'll see a few scintillating performances, that looks certain - but these will be spiked by the occasional inexplicable disasters like today. The big fat joke is that we could have won this game, even with a display like this but for some heroic defending by Sunderland at the end. I guess it's no surprise they could throw their bodies in front of every shot though: they had a quite easy, relaxing first 90 minutes, they were well rested...