After two games with lots of goals, both games including a comeback and United wins, I have to say that my glass is “half full” this week as opposed to half empty. However, as we learned against Tottenham, it won’t always be that way…
I worry that making the same kind of mistakes or playing the same sort of way against Chelsea might be fatal; I don’t think we’ll come back against them if we fall two goals behind (despite what happened last year!). I don’t know why we’re starting games as poorly as we are but it’s something that the manager needs to deal with; he knows what’s happening, but it’s down to the players. They need to be on the ball but in the last three home games we’ve started slow, as if the games were nice and easy. Look at the difference with the Newcastle game away.
I said last week that we needed to push Stoke up and avoid giving away silly set pieces, and what did we go and do? Sir Alex is always going on about it – concentration. We seemed to be lacking it early on, and the players seem to be needing the opposition to score to actually provoke United into playing. We’ve always played with a high tempo but we don’t seem to be playing with a regular, consistent midfield who can do that. I tweeted on Tuesday night that United didn’t care so much about defending even when I played, but there’s a difference between having an attack minded philosophy and just defending poorly.
Rafael and Jonny Evans have been playing well as individuals but collectively there has been something lacking; the difference between now and the time I played was that we defended as a unit and attacked as a unit. Players need to be working for each other and defensively it just doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment. I feel a bit sorry for Alex Buttner who you could possibly say was at fault for Braga’s goals, but he left a couple of players free at bad times for us, and those are the kind of goals you concede without a settled back four. With a smaller squad when I was playing we sometimes had no choice but to play with the same team but it’s still not an excuse for the bigger squads today; these are the things they’re aware of, and working on in training, all of the players should know their roles. While rotation is a part of the game, you rarely see bigger sides rotate their best defence when they’re all fit and available. You can normally pick Chelsea’s back five, suspension aside, and at the moment, owing to the fact they’re the only five we’ve got fit, you should be able to pick ours! I know Sir Alex said he needed to rest Rio and Patrice but he had the League Cup to do that; five days rest between Europe and Chelsea would have been sufficient. I know the game is quicker – particularly since the change of the pass back rule – so I understand the need for rotation, but I felt Tuesday was a must win game. We did, but we were put through it… I just felt we should play our strongest side in Europe, and send a message by getting 18 points in the group. We’re on course, just, but I want us to make a statement and on Tuesday we looked vulnerable.
There should be some competition, in defence, of course. But I was asked on Tuesday night whether I thought United would play Scott Wootton, and I replied that I thought Carrick would play at centre half (as proved to be the case). That was the kind of game, that if you are to make changes, then you would expect Wootton to be playing, and to me the fact he didn’t indicates that perhaps the manager doesn’t yet trust the lad. The reason I thought we would play Carrick was with it being Europe and him being such a good footballer, that we might get away with it, but he of course got rolled for one of their goals – that’s not to heap blame on him, but that’s what comes of playing a midfielder at the back. You’re either versatile or you’re not; you have to be comfortable playing different positions. I was like that, and John O’Shea was the same. Michael Carrick never strikes me as a comfortable centre half, he looks so much better in midfield. And when it comes to rotation anyway; Carrick deserves a rest as much as anyone. Playing at centre half and making a mistake might have an adverse affect on his confidence which is the last thing that anyone wants. He’s been filling in at centre half for three years and he’s hardly going to say no when picked to play, but it just looks like a continuous experiment that’s yet to work. This is exactly why, when asked in pre-season who I wanted us to sign, one of my first choices was always Javi Martinez. He’s one of those who can naturally play in two important positions, and in Europe, as proved, that kind of player can be valuable.
Back on the positives; we have looked going forward. Tom Cleverley’s cross for the winner on Tuesday was a fantastic effort, and his performance in the second half was very good. He’s neat and tidy, keeps things moving and going forward, which is exactly what I like to see. He’s a player who’s really growing on me, I just want him to have a full season free of injury. But it was a midfield colleague of Tom’s who was my main plus – Darren Fletcher. I thought he was absolutely outstanding, a real plus point to take from our European campaign so far. He always comes to the party when it’s a big game and we missed him desperately last year – he’s getting close now to the point where Sir Alex will have to pick him for the league. It’s a bit of an odd one, I must say, a player getting his fitness through playing international football and European football in order to prepare for the domestic league!
Javier Hernandez, too, played his best game for a long while. He seems to have cut out the offside nonsense, and you can tell he’s worked very hard to time his runs better – it was that which turned the game for us in the midweek. Sir Alex said it’s given him a problem for Sunday, though I’m not sure it has, I don’t expect him to play, but he should play in the League Cup – he’s got a good record against Chelsea, mind! That provokes the question of how best to play the forwards and where to do so; Welbeck seems comfortable down the left at the minute, but whether or not Danny starts, I just can’t see United starting with both Hernandez and van Persie on Sunday. Chelsea play with an advanced three playmakers and we need more bodies back; I’ve said it before that against an energetic midfield, I’d like to see us play with Fletcher, Cleverley and Anderson. Three busy players, quick players, who would get stuck in. Carrick should start in midfield, though, and taking that into account, I’d like to see two of the three I’ve mentioned alongside him. As long as it’s not Scholes and Giggs together – Chelsea’s high tempo will leave them burned out in no time at all, and we need to match it.
With the inconsistent shapes we’re playing, and the fact that we’ve got Valencia, Nani and Young, you just have to wonder how we’re going to line up. Valencia is another with a good record against Chelsea, and he could keep Cole quiet as he has in the past.
Results in big games are always important; Chelsea have been in front by more than this before and have been clawed back, but that was a different side. This new Chelsea side has more flair than it has had for quite a while, the two boys Hazard and Oscar look like top prospects while Juan Mata is showing the benefit of experience in the league. Victory or defeat is not the be all and end all, yet it would send out a statement – the primary thing for me is that it’s an absolute must that we are concentrating and working hard from the very first minute, because if we keep starting the way we are, one day soon we’re going to get a right doing. I just hope it’s not on Sunday!