After such excitement in the build up to the season, Monday night was a huge disappointment.
I’m always asked before games, “what do you think will happen”, but I always say I can’t answer that until I’ve seen the teams. When I saw that Tony Valencia and Michael Carrick in defence, my first thought was, “well they were arguably our two best players last year, and one’s playing right back with the other centre half.”
Even though Carrick was steady at the back, he did get caught out a few times and when you’ve got someone coming up against you like Fellaini, you need to be relying on Vidic to be picking him up. David Moyes isn’t daft, they would have told Fellaini to target the other three players in defence to cause a problem. When you’re putting two players at the back who aren’t used to playing there and they’re playing directly alongside one another, it doesn’t help matters. It might have at least been better to start Vidic on the right side of central defence – particularly as that’s where he’s likely to be playing more often than not. And let’s not forget, it was Vidic’s first game back too. I thought he did very well, but the absence of Carrick and Valencia from midfield meant that we were forced to rely on players who were all very similar to play further up. My worry with Scholes this year is that away from home, against teams who want to get at United, he might get caught out a few times like at Goodison. Tom Cleverley is a push and run player, and one of the best at doing it, but is not the type to dig in as was probably required.
Although at times it looked like we kept the ball well, we seemed to be having problems as soon as we gave it away. Everton still had to work though; everyone raved about Fellaini and rightly so but the two centre halves for me were just as good, Phil Jagielka was fantastic, as was Distin. We did get in a couple of good positions but those two provided a couple of great blocks. I wasn’t too dismayed about the performance – Shinji Kagawa was bright, but I would have liked to have seen him try and keep the ball for longer. He seemed to be having a fuss-free debut, not wanting to try anything daft, but the football became a bit “tippy tappy” and if I’m to be honest, it reminded me of Arsenal over the last few years and I don’t think that it’s positive enough.
David De Gea looked good too – I’ve never questioned his agility, and although I would have liked to have seen him come back with a bit more meat on him, I thought he did fantastic. He’s coming through and punching balls now which is encouraging – I have full confidence that he will go on to become a really top keeper, if he isn’t already. He needs to make sure that his confidence doesn’t drop if he makes mistakes because all top keepers make them; Joe Hart isn’t infallible, neither is Petr Cech who made a mistake this week – these mistakes get mentioned yet not scrutinised anywhere near as much, or criticised, but that’s the problem that you get when you play for Manchester United.
Wayne Rooney disappointed, as did Danny Welbeck and Nani – but these players were off the pace because they started training later than the others. I don’t think some realise how important pre-season is; it was obvious to me on Monday, and it’s a bit of a shame that those players are probably now going to have to get their fitness and sharpness by actually playing. The difficulty is we’ve already started the league; so Robin van Persie comes on in the same fitness position as the others who were at the European Championships to try and save a game. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting him to when he was brought on. I was glad he came on because he needed to play and get the game time.
I would start van Persie on Saturday too, as he needs the time, and I’d play him alongside Rooney. Rooney is the prime example of a player who needs games and can’t afford to miss them; whenever he does, he needs a few games to get back into the swing of it. There is talk of Evans maybe being fit for the Fulham game but if you dismiss that and accept that Carrick will probably continue at the back, then the one thing for me is that you have to play Valencia further forward and play Rafael at right back, because it’s his natural position. That’s so important, and might even tempt me into saying I’d start young Scott Wootton in the centre. I haven’t seen enough of him to give a fully convincing “yes” to that opinion, but he’s done well in pre-season and scored for the under-21 side last week – people might say he’s only twenty, but so was I when I was thrown in! He’s good enough to have a contract, we’d be better with Carrick in midfield, and being at home helps a great deal, particularly for a young player with a crowd encouraging him to do well. If he can be picked against Barcelona, even in a friendly, why can’t he be picked against Fulham?
I expect us to be better going forward than we were on Monday – I tweeted that I thought we were poor in the final third, and though Everton defended fantastically well, with the likes of Nani and Young off their game when we needed someone in behind, it was an off day all round. With all the new players, fitting them into the system or creating a new one is bound to be a bit of trial and error, though I expect that to come in the home games – different combinations of players working van Persie will be tried, and I would perhaps try him with Rooney, Kagawa and Nani behind him with Scholes and Carrick in midfield. The full backs are good enough to be your wingers – and there’s enough talent in that side to beat Fulham. It would take some stopping, despite Fulham’s good result against Norwich City last week. At this stage of the campaign you expect to see a lot of results you wouldn’t perhaps see normally; Norwich of course have had a pre-season of transition while Fulham have managed to build on what they had, and they’ll certainly be up for the game.
Another new player who might be involved is Alexander Buttner; apparently there was a street party thrown for him to celebrate his move. Maybe they didn’t like him! In all seriousness, Patrice Evra has needed the competition – on Monday I noticed he tried to be a normal full back and defend more than he usually does, but he looked lost. His positional sense is poor for me, and we conceded quite a few goals from his side last season. Going forward there aren’t many better in the world – he has improved defensively from when he first arrived, but I can’t believe how ill disciplined he seems to be positionally. As soon as United go forward, he’s bombing forward, and receiving passes in areas that the wingers should really be occupying. Full backs, to me, are supposed to be the supporting act, not the main event. Though I confess to not knowing much about the new lad, the first thing I’ll be looking for is to see if he can defend!
Defenders like Arthur Albiston and Denis Irwin are missed who rarely made errors. But Gary Neville was a great example of a full back in the modern game; he built up a great partnership with David Beckham but rarely went past him – when he did, it meant something. When I was at full back behind Stevie Coppell, I’d encourage him to go on. Ashley Young can be predictable but is still a good crosser; Evra doesn’t make many goals, so I’d like to see him improve positionally or at least in his decision making going forward. It might have been more simple back when I played – it’s certainly not these days, with ten physios and fourteen kit men, it’s so different! Getting back to basics might be exactly what United need to get back on track – and having players in their proper position is the perfect way to assist it.
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