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Again, United Fell Apart After Going Behind

Again, United Fell Apart After Going Behind

So, Sir Alex Ferguson is happy with a point at Birmingham City. Well, in a certain context, we can be pleased: we have plenty of injury problems, we are in poor form and we faced formidable opposition who were unbeaten in 11 Premier League games. An away draw in these circumstances is no disaster.

Looking at it from another aspect, though, and there are danger signs. United had the chance to leapfrog Chelsea at the top of the table as their game at Hull was postponed for safety reasons. This should have been an added incentive and combined with a desire to put things right after the Leeds embarassment we should have seen a hungry, motivated United, fighting like lions.

However, we did not see that. The players worked hard in the first half but there was no edge, no steel to their game. Still, it was more than enough to keep Birmingham pegged back in their half for the first 38 minutes (Carrick was particularly excellent) and though our attacks lacked creativity, I wasn't unduly worried: sooner or later, I thought, they would finally fail to throw a body in front of a shot and then we would take the richly deserved lead.

It wasn't to be, though, as their first corner wreaked havoc in the United box and eventually the ball broke to Jerome who poked it home from close range. Sucker punch indeed but this should not have mattered too much: United should have kept playing the way they did. But, again, we totally fell apart after going behind.

That is not a first. Against Aston Villa, we started well, created chances then conceded a goal on the break and though we managed to keep a reasonable level of performance in the first half, the second half was a total disaster again, we could barely string two passes together and Villa held us at bay with only a little luck. Or the home game against Besiktas which was written along the same lines as the Villa game. Or the Leeds catastrophe: same thing, again. Not to mention the Fulham defeat.

The conclusion is that we are utterly horrible when we go behind, the only real exception is the fantastic win at Spurs. This side seems to lack resolve, even though we fluked an equaliser in a desperately poor second half where the frighteningly pair centre-halves (remember Evans and Brown keeping Drogba comfortably at bay at Stamford Bridge?) lost every header or simply gave the ball to the opposition so we were saved at least three times by Tomasz Kuszczak. But again, we could not string two passes together in the second half, Scholes was diabolical, Carrick disappeared, even Fletcher was poor, his afternoon culminating in his ridiculous dismissal - but that should have been expected from Mark Clattenburg, the man who allowed himself to be convinced by Steven Gerrard to give Tony Hibbert a red card instead of a yellow.

This lack of resolve is a greater worry than lack of quality because the quality is there: when we click, we can play very good football (yes, we can: Spurs away, City home, both Wigan games, Wolfsburg away, Everton home, West Ham away). But we simply cannot react to falling behind which is a greater worry than anything. It is down to mental things, I'm sure, because when Carrick and Scholes, two of the finest passers in the league, cannot complete two passes in succession, you can't say they lack the ability. There's something wrong with our mindset - maybe it's simply down to natural decline after a sustained period of success.

Of course there are plenty of problems with the squad as well, not least that with Berbatov out, we could only throw on an untested 22-year-old when we wanted to play with two strikers up front (I prefer 4-3-3, in all honesty: at least it gives us stability in midfield which, with a proper defence, could be used as a springboard for a string of 1-0 wins which were the bedrock of our success last season. But we do not have a proper defence, not with Ferdinand and Vidic forever absent). It was nice to see Fergie preferring Diouf ahead of Owen but the poor lad had no chance: minutes after his introduction, Fletcher was sent off and he spent the last 10 minutes in increasing isolation. What we have learnt about him is that he's devastatingly quick but that's all, he hardly even touched the ball because, I don't know if I mentioned it, but we could not string two passes together.

Arsenal are no better than us though so second place should be achieved (and it's largely irrelevant whether you finish second or third anyway) but I suspect that even this inconsistent and frankly, mediocre Chelsea side might be beyond our capabilities this season.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Date:Monday January 11 2010
Time: 1:39PM


I thought our play was woeful all game...valencia aweful...even rooney very disappointing...I know i will probably be alone on this but lately he makes me feel like he has hunger to succeed and he def is a fighter but he doesn't have the talent to back it up... I also wouldn't blame the ref for this loss....even before they scored we had lots of possession but no real chances....where is our ability to break down an organized defence...we always have to break down defences and with all due to respect to birmingham there defence is not the toughest we will come up against...
11/01/2010 14:26:00
Look, Rooney easily gets frustrated, that's his main weakness. He played as the lone striker for 80 minutes, not getting any good service so, as his wont, he started trying to do everything: retrieving the ball, dictating play, creating chances and scoring goals. This is simply too much for one man and of course therefore he failed to do any of them properly. We need to get the midfield behind him working - I would have liked to see Anderson, at least he can run with the ball with pace, a useful thing in central midfield.
11/01/2010 14:45:00
Oh, and: "I also wouldn't blame the ref for this loss". You're aware that it was actually a draw? :)
11/01/2010 14:45:00
i do agree with you zae...medfield does need sorting out and perhaps rooney was trying to do too much on his own upfront... i must admit i wondered why we didn't play 4-4-2 again...and why the insistence to play scholes..........
11/01/2010 14:49:00
For a 4-5-1 to work you have to have at least one midfielder who can get into the box to support the striker - Scholes used to fulfil this role, but he's too slow nowadays, and none of your other midfielders seem capable of doing it. As talented a player as Rooney is, he can't score with no service whatsoever. That's why he gets so frustrated, and why he'll probably be totally burnt out by the time WC 2010 comes around.
11/01/2010 14:53:00
You're right fcb - I would say that Fergie was right to earmark Carrick for that attacking role on Saturday but Scholes' slowness is a serious problem when he's in poor form and when the opposition is as mean and hard as Birmingham. But Carrick is not an ideal solution for that attacking midfielder role, obviously, because of his lack of pace. Giggs can do it but he's very inconsistent because of his age and Anderson can do it but he's very inconsistent because of his age. Good, huh?
11/01/2010 14:55:00
ibrahiy: 4-4-2 did not really set the world alight, either. And with Berbatov out, we did not really have options: playing Owen in such a game is essentially a numerical disadvantage as he contributes nothing at all apart from scoring goals and I doubt he would have had chances among the 45 players Birmingham had in the box at all times in the first half.
11/01/2010 14:57:00
Wow, fifthcolumnblue has made a statement that I agree with entirely!!
11/01/2010 17:28:00
Our failure to create a squad which can comfortably play a 4-3-3 is one of the major reasons for our style of play getting worse over the last few years. If you look at the best teams in europe (Us, Barca, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Milan - all the champions league finalists in the last 5 years) we are the only ones who havent successfully played a 4-3-3 consistently. We kind of cheated when we had Ronaldo as he is so far ahead of most players in the world, his moments of brilliance up front covered up for the fact that no body else was comfortable. Wayne Rooney has been a magnificent player for us, even more so now - but you have to consider that he is essentially the cause of much of our failure as well as success. His unique abilities are best served playing behind a target man who plays off the shoulder, as that opens up the space for him to operate in. But to allow him that partner we have to play a 4-4-2. This means that whilst the other top teams can comfortably afford to have 4 or 5 top class midfielders in their side - we can only accomodate 3; before players start moaning about a lack of games. This is why hargreaves' injury has had such an impact on the club - we dont have adequate cover for his qualities, yet the constant promise of his return has meant buying someone seemed to be a bad idea. It also means that when we do try and play a 4-3-3 we invariably end up with more unhappy strikers than the other clubs would, as Rooney is our best player and will always be our first choice up front. Whilst Rooney has been scoring this season, the lone front man is clearly not his ideal position, but then again he is wasted on the wings. With the 4-3-3 almost certainly superceeding the 4-4-2 (any two midfielders would struggle to handle a midfield three of xavi, inesta, toure or gerrard, masch, alonso or pirlo, gattuso, seedorf in their prime etc) we've been forced to either accept losses to the teams that can afford to assemble top quality midfield threes or match their formation and accept that our front three will look uncomfortable and have to get lucky to succeed. The only way I can see us overcoming this situation is to find two central midfielders who have excellent all round games ie gerrard and de rossi and then find a perfect partner for rooney - except I cant really see where these players exist. Or we play two disciplined, dynamic midfielders like hargreaves and fletcher with rooney in front of them in midfield, and then hope berba finds the confidence to be a more clinical target man. Then we just have to worry about how to get valencia to run past people and making sure obertan doesnt waste his talent. By building the team around rooney we are getting the best out of our best player, but putting our team at a disadvantage against the teams that play 4-3-3. By putting out a 4-3-3 we are more competitive but are playing against the strengths of our front players. Rock. Hard place. Us.
11/01/2010 18:08:00
first all i got say is wow tuscan ... i thought i write big messages
11/01/2010 19:27:00
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