Injuries Threaten To Destroy United's Title Hopes
What a weekend. I was in bed throughout, not because of my inherent laziness but because some bugs attacked my stomach and I found it difficult to digest just about anything throughout the weekend. United's performance at Fulham was no different in this sense; indeed, we could say this was the icing on the cake that never really got down.
Let's face it: this current United side are no world beaters, even in full strength. We lost the best player in the world, our world class oldies are showing their age in wildly fluctuating form, with performances alternating between sublime and ridiculous, we have only one reliably brilliant striker and we have tons of good solid soldiers who are not the type of players who light up your dreams.
But the nature of this current Premier League season is such that even this patchy side has a realistic shot at the title (we have five defeats already yet are only four points off the pace!) - or would have, at least, if it weren't weighted down by injury problems of steadily increasing improbability. At Fulham, we had seven defenders absent again, we only had Evra, Ritchie de Laet and a half-fit Fabio. In the circumstances, I would have gladly accepted the draw before the kickoff.
And that's why the Fergie bashing that's been going around is frankly ridiculous. Yes, he tried 3-5-2, a system we are not totally familiar with. But excuse me, didn't the same system bring a 3-1 victory at German champions Wolfsburg a few weeks ago? The formation itself wasn't inherently wrong though I do not like it and I don't think our squad is particularly well-equipped for it when everyone's fit. However, that's the key: if everyone's fit.
With all the injuries in defence, Fergie opted to use his two most intelligent midfielders at the back. They did not do particularly well there, it has to be said but it's not a big surprise: they are NOT defenders. Vidic would probably be a pisspoor right midfielder but that does not mean he's not a great player. So yes, Carrick, Fletcher and the inexperienced (and basically full-back) De Laet all struggled. But what could Fergie have done?
Actually, there's one thing he could have done and this is where I feel he should shoulder some of the blame. Removing both Carrick and Fletcher from the midfield against a well-organised, physically strong, clever Fulham side was asking for trouble: everything hinged on whether Scholes has one of his better days. Well, the little Ginger Ninja had a mare and we were swamped, no doubt. I believe that Fletcher should have been in midfield instead of Gibson. Gibson could have been right-back in a 4-4-2 or the third centre-back in the 3-5-2 or he could have been on the bench and Fabio could have started at right-back - it would not have been worse. Our defence was at sea anyway but Fletcher would have brought steel and drive to the midfield.
In that case we would have had a chance. This way we did not have because Fulham played a much more clever game than Wolfsburg when facing a similar back four, they pressed Scholes hard, they did not leave space for Gibson to shoot (and he's not exactly a master of anyting else - he can barely be called a jack of any trades bar shooting...) and harassed Anderson into hurried passes and stupid mistakes. Anderson is a huge talent, of that I'm still convinced but he needs direction, needs a leader around him and he sorely lacked that at Fulham. Fletcher could have provided that 'backbone'.
But it's all crying over spilt milk now. I actually did not feel that his defeat was such a disaster. Okay, losing 3-0 at Fulham is embarassing but the current injury situation is unreal. We might talk about the necessity of signing a defender in January but the funny thing is that we are supposed to be adequately covered all over the back four. You just can't make plans for seven defenders being injured at the same time, our first team squad is one of the biggest in the Premier League, we can't have 50 players on the books so that even when 15 is out we still have enough senior pros to put out a competitive side...
Did the Scholes-Anderson-Gibson midfield fail? Yes. Was it always going to fail? Yes. As soon as it became clear that Fulham would not commit the same suicidal mistakes that Wolfsburg had, it also became clear that we'll lose this game. Would a Fletcher-Scholes-Anderson midfield have given us a better chance? Probably but our joke of a defence might still have collapsed under the slightest pressure so... the moral of the tale is that any side aspiring for the title should have some defenders in its matchday squad. Not a great bit of wisdom in itself but it is the injury situation that is doing the most for ruining our title challenge.