Well, it’s been an action packed few weeks since my last column. In particular, the form of Javier Hernandez and Anderson has been crucial at United getting back to the top of the table.
Hernandez seems to have found a role for himself as a substitute; he doesn’t quite seem as effective when he starts. I don’t know why; it’s a bit like Dzeko at City in that respect. Sometimes it’s in a players make up that he is better at coming on to change a game; just like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, of course. Perhaps it’s to do with the team as much as the player, in honesty – I’m not sure we can play Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Hernandez together, at least from the start. You want van Persie on the shoulder of the defender.
Anderson seemed to be settling back in and he looked a lot fitter, and it’s a real shame that he got injured again. There was only one game I think in his recent run where he didn’t play particularly well but that was down to where he was being played; his best position at the moment is coming from the midfield rather than off of the front two. Anderson’s major problem is that it always seems to be the same; he gets in to the side, does well, and gets injured. It’s the same with Cleverley, too, and that’s the concern, and why I wanted us to get another player in the pre-season. Anderson now has to prove that he can return from his injury still in the same shape he was in and if he does, he can hopefully return to the same form he was in a lot quicker.
Since my last column my autobiography has been released and I’ve had a couple of events for it – it’s been nice to see people coming to support it, and I just hope people enjoy the book. On Saturday, 15th December, from 12pm I will be at Sam Platts pub near Old Trafford signing copies of my autobiography – it will be nice to see some more great fans!
Since the release of my book my old manager Dave Sexton has passed away. I have gone on record with my view of our relationship; nonetheless, I don’t hold any grudges, and it was very sad news to hear of his passing.
The Reading game was quite a spectacle – I remember playing at Sheffield Wednesday once and drawing 4-4 in a game where big Jim Holton broke his leg, so I know what it’s like to play in a game like that! It was crazy. One thing that Reading did well is attack the ball, and we weren’t really able to defend it. It was disappointing – what was Evra doing standing behind the keeper? He was never doing to beat Jason Roberts from a standing jump, but he was blocking the keeper in. Having said that, Lindegaard hardly covered himself in glory and he will have to shoulder some of the blame for not organising the defence better. I thought the substitution of Rafael was made for two reasons; one for the yellow card, as he looked like he would be sent off, and the second because the manager wanted more height. The second call really worked out, we needed it and somebody had to pay for it. Yes, it may have looked harsh, but you have three substitutes you are allowed to use and sometimes you have to make an early call. In the end, it was a good call as we were a lot more settled and managed to win the game.
That’s more than can be said for us in midweek; before our game against Cluj, we learned that Manchester City had been eliminated from Europe altogether. I would have perhaps liked them to have stayed in the Europa League to give them a little more fixture congestion, but it was funny to see them knocked out of the Champions League so early. They’ve never got past the first round! To not win a single game out of the six was very surprising, though Dortmund look a very good side and we’re all well aware of how good Real Madrid are.
United went off the boil after qualifying – we were very poor against Cluj – and after a fairly easy group it raised the question of whether we’d want a favourable tie in the next round or whether a stronger team would help us concentrate more. I’d like us to get as easy a tie as possible, but who would you call easy from that selection? AC Milan?! Even Celtic have done fantastic to get where they are, as have Shaktar. I just hope we avoid Real Madrid.
Against Manchester City Sir Alex might have given us a glimpse of what he considers his strongest side but injuries have sorted that out for him again. I hoped Valencia would be fit due to his great fitness levels; the right back position is a big question mark. I think he might leave Rafael out, while I’d go with Rooney from the left and van Persie up top. In midfield, Scholes might get a game alongside Carrick. If we have to play a tight three in midfield then Giggs might play, despite most people’s reservations about playing both Scholes and Giggs in the same team, due to the injuries we’ve got in there at present. I expect the game to start very fast and I just don’t want to see it pass them by as it may well do.
It’s an option to play Rooney in midfield for the extra legs, as well as Phil Jones, it’s something that will have Fergie thinking hard. One thing we’ve lacked, with the injuries to the wide players in recent weeks, is a little bit of balance. City will flood the midfield, undoubtedly, but they’ll have something to prove following their European exit. If they win on Sunday, their confidence might come back and having seen the way the league has been turning this season, with no obstacles in front of them in Europe they might think they can run away with it, particularly if one of the European ties for us coincides with a big game in the league – leaving us with little room to rotate, it could take it out of the players. Chelsea have shown how quickly a six or seven point lead can evaporate – and that’s a “facht”!
Selection issues did cost us in this fixture last season; it’s such a hard call this time around with the injuries. It’s a huge shame that we’re missing Anderson and Tom Cleverley as their performance against City in the Community Shield last season showed the best way to play against them; unfortunately we don’t have those type of players available, so we’ll just have to hope that experience comes through. I must say I’m not exactly confident ahead of the game – it will have to be an exceptional performance to get a result. I’ll have my fingers – and everything else, for that matter – crossed, though!