Fergie's Recipe For Disaster
It's been a bad day. Watching Arsenal knocking the ball around with the City players not even making a token effort of closing them down... it was obvious that they were saving their energy for the derby at Old Trafford.
Of course the Gooners still needed a lucky deflection and a goal that was clearly offside to claim the three points... but never mind, we always win at White Hart Lane, I thought.
The starting line-up was predictable. I voiced my doubts about the wisdom of starting Scholes in a game which was surely going to be fast and furious but Anderson watched from the bench as Scholes ran out onto the pitch.
The madness did not quite bite in from the start. We were reasonably good early in the game, keeping our shape and stretching Spurs. One particularly fine ball from Ryan Giggs found Tevez in the box but as he pulled the ball back from the byline, nobody arrived to fire home. Why Giggs did not follow the attack is a mystery.
But as the match went on, the full scale of the weirdness of the tactics hit home. It seemed that BOTH Giggs and Ronaldo were instructed to move in behind Tevez to act as playmakers while Rooney (the second best playmaker in the squad) was shunted out onto the right wing where he was laughingly ineffective.
It meant that we had no left side, thus allowing new signing Alan Hutton a very easy and relaxed afternoon, since we could not reasonably expect of Evra to deal with Lennon and provide attacking thrust at the same time. Another effect of the line-up was that the positioning of Giggs and Ronaldo totally nullified Scholes who had no space to exploit with his wonderful passing ability.
Therefore, Fergie managed to take United's most important quartet out of the game. Our only hope was that the defence would be as impenetrable as usual and that we would somehow nick a goal. Well, it was not to be.
We usually have no luck with deflected shots - opposing players' efforts usually go in or at least deflected for a corner while ours are completely blocked. So the consequences were predictable when the impressive Hargreaves lined up to shoot.
His effort was blocked by Dawson (how could he play? He was sent off with a straight red at Old Trafford, how that did not earn an automatic three-match ban?) and it deflected out, right to a Spurs player (of course, such is our luck). Jenas was released into our box a few seconds later where he theatrically tumbled. No yellow card for the dive nor for the handball that allowed Lennon to continue the attack. His cutback was palmed away by Van der Sar... to none other than Berbatov who rolled the ball into the net.
Not spotting the handball was only one of baffling decisions that Clattenburg made, all of which helped Spurs. Van der Sar got a yellow card for indicating the handball whereas Jenas avoided the booking after he hacked down Ronaldo mercilessly and then complained to the referee. Not to mention that somehow all the dubious (and some of the obvious) incidents were all judged against United...
But we could still have won, had Fergie made the right substitutions at half-time. Yet he brought on Carrick for Hargreaves... I was struggling to see why. Hargreaves was our standout performer in the first-half and though Carrick did well, the system did not change, he practically wasted one substitution.
In the meantime, Spurs did very, very well to exploit our stupid tactics. They were keeping possession cleverly, launching counter-attacks, trying to exploit the unusual uncertainity of Nemanja Vidic. Yet their good performance does not explain while we were watching with open mouth as Berbatov advanced from the touchline, then feeded Robbie Keane who stabbed his shot at Van der Sar, fortunately.
So it could have been game over but that would have been unjust. Fergie, in the 60th minute, finally did what he should have done at half-time: brought off Giggs and Scholes, and introduced Anderson and Nani. They did not make an instant difference, taking their time to settle in but finally, Ronaldo was sent out to the left, Nani did his job on the right, Rooney was allowed the freedom of the middle, ably supported by Anderson and Carrick.
The last 20 minutes were simple: United battered Spurs and as the chances and half-chances went, we were screaming in frustration, mainly due to the baffling question: why did we reserve this kind of football for the last 20 minutes? Clattenburg improved after the break but kept on making outrageous decisions: Rooney got a yellow card for diving, deservedly, but Berbatov and Jenas got away with the same offence. Ronaldo got yellow for dissent yet all Spurs players were allowed to complain to the ref whenever they felt necessary...
But Wayne, apart from that stupid piece of diving, started to demonstrate why he is regarded a great player and why is it a crime to keep him in exile on the right. Working together with Tevez who was United's best player along with Hargreaves (the latter only until the break, obviously) he looked threatening every time he touched the ball in that final period of the game. But the breakthrough still did not come and I was beginning to accept another frustrating 1-0 away defeat.
Fortunately, the players are made of tougher stuff than me. Our last attack of the game, orchestrated by the impressive Anderson, brought a corner. Nani swung it in low, Tevez lost Dawson at the near post and poked it home. He got a yellow card for celebrating by taking off his shirt but we did not care: it was a wonderful goal, another proof of the Argentinian's predatory instincts.
Credit to Tottenham for their spirited approach, good tactics and fast football but we deserved a point, even if the equaliser came in the 94th minute. I still believe we are the best team in England but it will be bloody difficult: teams keep on surrendering to Arsenal before kick-off, as City have shown again, whereas they are fighting against us as if their lives were on stake. I would say that's the lot of the champions, but it's not true: I start to believe that the media hype of Arsenal cause teams to fear them and not exploit their obvious weaknesses.
But we'll fight on and hope that Tevez's strike will prove vital come May.