Date:Monday January 11 2010
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.
Date:Monday January 11 2010
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