United's Home Form Is Cause For Concern
Yes, I'm aware of the fact that United played 8 league games at Old Trafford and have won six, drawn one and lost only one. But that does not tell the whole story of our home form which was the backbone of the three consecutive championships.
Only twice we could win with two or more goals at Old Trafford: against Blackburn (2-0) and Everton (3-0). The away form got us through in the Champions League as at Old Trafford we registered a win, a draw and a defeat. And for some reason we usually look shaky and uncertain when playing home which never used to be the case.
Our best home performance was the City game and even then we allowed them back into the game three times and needed a 96th minute winner to clinch the victory we deserved. Why is this? Why do we lack confidence at Old Trafford?
Obviously Foster's performances played their part but the Villa defeat can hardly be blamed on the substitute goalkeeper. Defensive injuries and the generally mediocre form of Ferdinand and Vidic also contributed but the biggest issue is that we have serious trouble with breaking down resolute defences.
Away from home, when there is usually more space, we are more efficient even though we lost three on the road. But our counter-attacking demoralised and destroyed Spurs, Wigan, Portsmouth and West Ham and we outplayed Chelsea. At home? We almost gave away a two-goal lead against Bolton after missing gazillions of chances; we could not seal the win against Rovers until the last minute; we almost let Birmingham City back into the game; and of course we lost to Villa and drew against Sunderland and in both games we ran out of chances when they parked the bus.
With Giggs, Rooney, Valencia in attack we have enough pace in the side and we used it to devastating effect away from home. However, at Old Trafford teams don't open up even when a goal down and we're struggling to break them down. We are not clinical enough at home (our goals-to-chances ratio is surely a lot better on the road even though I do not have the stats available, it's only a gut feeling) and we have trouble in finding our way through the packed midfield and the overcrowded penalty area.
The reason? I think it's the pressing. We are not efficient enough in harassing the opposition. Especially when Fletcher is absent we can't retrieve the ball early enough which gives the opposition some breathing space which they don't get at, say, Stamford Bridge. Besides, if only the defence can get the ball the midfielders will be way too deep to launch another attack and they will be cut away from the attackers. The only central midfielder in the squad who is capable of running with the ball and changing rhytm is the most unreliable one: Anderson.
Therefore we often encounter the problem that the gap between attack and midfield is way too big and we're not incisive enough to pass our way through. We need to get the ball earlier, to keep the midfielders closer to the box - or we have to hope that the likes of Wolves will attack us and we will have space to hit them on the break. Somehow, I don't see that happening...
So, as I said, our home form is worrying because we beat Arsenal only with luck; we needed a last-minute equaliser against Sunderland; a 96th-minute-winner against City; and we lost to Villa. Every decent, in-form team that came to Old Trafford, had a real chance of taking points. Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham are all due a visit here in 2010 and of course we'll have at least one Champions League game at home, too. So the problem needs to be addressed; we have to become clinical and ruthless at home again. 4-0 and 4-1 wins on the road are useless if we keep dropping points in our own backyard.