It was an interesting week with our games in West London. In the league game at Chelsea, we set off like an house on fire, which is something I’ve been quite vocal about in my previous columns. I thought Sir Alex got the selection right, with a midfield able to play at a high tempo. I think I actually got 10 out of the 11 in a prediction prior to the match, which was unusual!
The first 35 minutes we were absolutely fantastic. Robin van Persie showed exactly why we paid that kind of money for him – he’s a top signing. I was so excited when we signed him because he makes that kind of difference, particularly with the finish for his goal. I remember years back, people asked Jimmy Greaves how he always used to hit the target. His response? “The goals don’t move”. And Robin is that type of player – obviously, the more shots you get on target, the better chance you have of scoring!
There was the story this week that Robin turned down City to come to United and it was refreshing; he picked football over money, just like Berbatov did. If people want to chase the dollar, let them chase it, but I just want people playing for Manchester United who want to. With that desire in players like Robin, I believe it gives us the edge. Just look at the less than harmonious events at Chelsea and Manchester City over the last couple of years.
Last week I also talked about Valencia and Hernandez and the psychological value of their good record against Chelsea; Ashley Cole, as an attacking full back, had his hands full yet again and as quick is he is, he can’t catch Valencia. Hernandez is a player I like coming off the bench rather than starting for the simple reason that he has a goal threat that is comparable to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Last season he was offside way too much, but in the last few games I can’t remember him being offside – apart from the goal! That was touch and go and it was a difficult one for the linesman; I don’t think you can point the finger at him.
Chelsea did point the finger at Mark Clattenburg. With the more serious allegations made after the match, I just don’t see any truth in it, I really don’t. There are certain clubs who react badly to defeats instead of taking it on the chin. Just look at their over reaction to victory on Wednesday against a United side that made ten changes! The gloating was very weird.
Clattenburg has been accused of making bad calls and being too “pally” with players; I can only really relate to things that happened when I was playing, and there were plenty of good referees who you could talk to. Some referees make a rod for their own back in the modern game by refusing to speak to players, they think they’re above the players. Having said that, with all the changes in the game, the players don’t help the referees and they have a responsibility to do so. Fernando Torres is the main culprit when looking back at last weekend’s game. Someone was talking to me this week complaining about the referee and I said “what did he do wrong?”. They said he shouldn’t have sent Torres off, but he should have been off in the first half! You can’t kick people in the chest and stay on the football pitch.
Furthermore, with the incident which lead to his second yellow, in my opinion he dived. He made the decision to go down because he looked at the situation and probably realised that he couldn’t get past Rio Ferdinand – you can’t have it both ways. I’m sure if he’d have been clean through, there’s no way he would have dived, or “decided to go down”. I can’t understand why anyone has any issue with the sendings off; Torres was stupidly seeking an advantage when he was already on a yellow so he knew the risk he was taking.
The crowds don’t help, but I don’t see why they’re baying to get players sent off when it ruins the spectacle. It’s a game of football you’re paying anywhere from £40 to £70 or even more to watch, the game is 11 v 11.. something has to be done to try and keep it that way as much as possible. Perhaps the basketball model is something that could be looked at – if a player is sent off, perhaps a team could use one of their remaining subs to replace him. I do think it needs to be looked at, maybe the managers could even instigate it. It’s just a shame to see Sir Alex forced to have to bring Wayne Rooney off as the referee might have decided to even things up with him on a yellow; though even if he had have been sent off, he’d only have missed Wednesday, and he wasn’t ever going to play anyway!
Some thought Rooney was perhaps culpable for Chelsea getting back into the game, and another player who was held responsible was young Scott Wootton in the League Cup defeat. It was just inexperience – deep into a game against such a strong side, you’d want your old heads clearing it up at the back but having two young kids at the back didn’t help, particularly with Rafael and Fletcher having to move about. Chelsea had put all their big guns on, but even so, I thought Ramires went down very easy for the penalty.
Wootton is a player who I’ve spoke about in the column, and it was a huge shame for him to make those two mistakes in the space of about ten minutes. But, he’ll learn from it and the manager will talk to him about the importance of concentration. Having made the leap from reserve football to first team football at a similar age to Scott, the big difference is the pace of the game. You can’t switch off, that’s the harsh reality. Sir Alex publicly shone the spotlight on Nani and he had a point; Nani is an experienced player and you expected that he should be keeping or using the ball better. You can’t waste a single ball in today’s game. As soon as a ball goes out of play, there’s one of twenty around the pitch ready to be thrown back on, and with the speed of the game you have to be concentrating on and off the ball at all times.
There were positives to take from the game. Anderson was excellent. He worked so hard, a midfielder with energy who made a real difference – and Darren Fletcher was good too when he was in midfield. Again, this is something I’ve spoke about many times, and once again hints to the sparing use of Scholes and Giggs. Ryan was brilliant to be fair – with not being picked as of late, he’s been set a challenge, and when he plays like we know he can like he did on Wednesday, you know that he is still up for meeting that challenge and that is a fantastic example to set to the younger players.
I don’t think anyone could have been too disheartened by the results, and if you had to take a win and a loss, that was the order you’d have taken it – it’s tightened the league right up ahead of us playing Arsenal. It won’t be 8-2, and they’re a different kind of Arsenal than the type of team we’re used to playing against.
Podolski and Cazorla (who is a player I admired very much at Malaga) have done really well, and Wilshere’s return should help them become a lot more solid, as well as a regular back four. They’re still vulnerable though; I’m not convinced on Mannone as a number two.
Arsene Wenger has had to face questions from Arsenal fans who want him to spend big money but that’s just not his way; he’s always bought well and has made the club a lot of money. Without that policy, they wouldn’t be competing on the level they are now as they’d be crippled with the stadium debt. To those saying they think he should be replaced, I’d say “be careful what you wish for”. He’s one of the top managers in the league and up until the takeover of Chelsea was competing for trophies. When you think of the players Arsenal have lost, they’re difficult to replace. Not just Vieira and Henry, but right back to their famous back four which Wenger inherited.
Since the Chelsea takeover, and then the City one, Arsenal just lose their players for money. The players who’ve moved from Arsenal to City are the perfect example, Adebayor, Toure, Clichy, Nasri. It’s all been for money. That brings it full circle back to van Persie and how refreshing it was that he turned down a higher wage at City to play for United. I just hope that he comes back to haunt his former club tomorrow!
It’s a crucial few weeks for United with some tough away games; the Braga game takes on added significance as a win could enable us to have the opportunity to rotate which we have now lost by being eliminated from the League Cup. It’s important to pick up maximum points from the games at Aston Villa and Norwich, both of which were tough games last season, in order to be in a good position for the home game against QPR on the weekend City and Chelsea play each other. It’s a run of games that we’re going to need to play our best players; in order to be able to do so, qualification for the next round of the Champions League as soon as possible is imperative.