What Did We Learn About United?
United are entering the international break on a positive note but what do we know now after two months about this team?
It was exactly two months ago, on August 12 that United started the 07/08 season against Reading. Now, with memorable games gone, is the time to look at how we did so far.
What do we know now about Fergie's latest team? The new signings introdouced quicker than one might have expected, the old heads still around we had plenty of line-ups, tactics and formations to check and rate. What did we learn?
United have a healthy depth in the squad.
Scholes, Hargreaves, Rooney, Saha, Neville, Park, Foster, Silvestre, Carrick, Fletcher - they all had or have long-term injuries yet we are top of the table now and already qualified to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Pique and Simpson did well when they were needed and Anderson's emergence is a real positive surprise. The only Achilles heel is up front where Rooney's surprising frailty and Saha's well-known powder legs make us seem short on numbers.
We can win while playing ugly.
After a dreadful start (two points in the first three league games) United picked themselves up and produced a memorable winning run consisting almost entirely of 1-0 wins. Sunderland, Spurs, Sporting, Birmingham, Roma - Chelsea the only exception until the trouncing of Wigan. Neither of these games were especially memorable as United were predictable and looked sometimes off the pace but the results kept on coming.
We are capable of playing brilliant football and winning.
Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Dynamo Kiev, Wigan - great performances with 20 goals scored in five games against the aforementioned clubs. Some real quality goals: Rooney against Roma (I know, we played badly in that game), Rooney's second at Villa Park, Nani's thunderbolt and Tevez's breathtaking goal against Boro, any of the last three against Kiev at Old Trafford, Ronaldo's goal at the Emirates the latest one is the brutal counter-attack against Rovers.
Away games no longer terrifying.
They never were in the Premier League but against the big teams and especially in the Champions League we often suffered away from home. While it might be too early to say these days are over, the win at Sporting and Kiev and especially the performance at Arsenal is encouraging. It might be that Fergie mastered the knack of being solid at the back and penetrative going forward in the big games away from home.
The team can play in 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2.
The classical 4-4-2 is of course obvious. The others? A real 4-3-3 was only to be seen at the Emirates in the second half and I think it worked quite well. We dealt with Arsenal's midfield confidently, controlled the game and had dangerous counter-attacks, one of the led to a superb goal.
The 4-2-3-1 is often cursed by United fans because of a simple reason: Fergie is inclined to include Giggs whose fading pace means he's best suited to playing in the hole behind the main striker. But it means Tevez or Rooney shunted out to the wings which we don't like. However, even that worked so far and think about the future: Giggs won't be available for long but with Nani's promise on the left we'll have a team fantastically suited for 4-2-3-1 with Rooney and Tevez linking in the centre, assisted by Ronaldo and Nani from the wings.
One thing can't be denied: this team offers greater tactical flexibility than any of our past sides. It might not be the greatest ever but the ingredients are there.
Rooney and Tevez CAN play together.
Really, just watch the third goal against Boro, the second against Kiev, the fourth against Boro, the second against Villa... All those suggestions that they are similar seem not only wrong but indeed ridiculous now.
The team is extremely unlucky with injuries.
I've already enlisted our major casualties and it makes a staggering read even when those who suffered minor injuries are not included (Evra, Vidic, Brown, Van der Sar, Anderson, Giggs). There are suggestions that sacking club doctor Mike Stone amid the club v country war over Rooney's fracture in 2006 might have contributed to this terrible injury wave but anyone who remembers 2004's autumn will say it seems fairly commonplace at United. Still, I feel something is not right here and it can be either simply bad luck or wrong decisions in the treatment room. I don't know.
And that's it. I've mainly enlisted positive things because I believe the whole campaign has been encouraging and generally decent so far. There were mistakes of course: the defence's tragicomic exertions at Arsenal's goals or the terrible chance-to-goals ratio of the first three games but these are not regularly recurring problems but one-offs. Or so it seems now.