1, 2, and 3 – the sequence of number of goals scored in our first 3 champions league games.
0, 1, and 2 – the sequence of goals conceded in our first 3 champions league games.
We’ve got 9 points from a possible 9. Happy, top dogs. Certainly not domination Just a really random observation.
Anyway, once again, we had to recover from a goal down. Then two goals down. I wasn’t too bothered about us scoring – we’ve scored in our last 57 (now 58) home games, a truly outstanding record. My fear was that we’d just keep conceding.
Conceding that goal in the 2nd minute was disappointing yet almost unsurprising. Then we conceded again. The first from a cross from the left which Alexander Buttner (pronounced BOOT-ner; ignore yesterday’s commentary) was beaten to by the impressive Alan.
For the 2nd, Eder – tall, rangy and fast – ‘did’ Carrick in the left corner with a brilliant piece of skill (reminded me of a Kanu special) before playing the ball across for Alan to poke in once again. Carrick, playing out of position, initially struggled with the striker’s movement. De Gea was apoplectic, Old Trafford was stunned silent – the scoreboard read ‘0-2’.
Now I’ve got the rubbish out of the way, I’ll talk about the positives. We battled back, as has been our way this season, and grabbed a goal a couple of minutes after Alan’s second. Van Persie pulled off a lovely bit of Marseilles roulette magic on the left wing only to be scythed down. Ref played advantage, kagawa picked up the ball just inside the box while Hernandez made a move in the shoulder of the last man. Dink + header = 1-2. We’re back in it, it seems. We get called offside, erroneously, when Hernandez puts the ball in the back of the net at the end or a very sweet move.
I’ll break down the rest of the game (the 2nd half into positives and look at what went wrong in the first half).
He was electric. Never thought I’d say that of Hernandez but he was magnificent. I like to think that goals should never characterise a player’s performance except that is all he has to offer. Hernandez was like that before; no link up play, no first touch, no dribbles, no passes…just his lethal movement and finishing in the box.
Last night, we saw a different player. His link up play has improved remarkably since he first arrived. Fergie noted how excellent he is in training; a very hard worker. It’s clearly paying off. He receives the ball under pressure and keeps it, lays it off; in one sequence, he receives the ball and with the defender bearing down on him has the awareness to backheel the ball into space before linking up with Rafael. In the second half, he set Nani up with a beautiful trivela pass after fantastic hustle and dribble play from the left flank. He could have grabbed two more were it not for wrong offside decisions. He played a fantastic game with some variety yesterday. His goals, classic Hernandez goals, were the least he deserved for a very, very good performance. He hasn’t played that much this season (his 4th start incidentally). He’s got Fergie thinking, Sir Alex saying, following his performance last night, that he “really does not know what to do with them (Rooney, RVP and Hernandez)” – the kind of dilemma a manager wants to have.
7 fathoms deep
Our defence is probably as deep as the Mariana trench. The difference is that, unlike that legendary trench, ours has been visited by lots of opposition attackers. Sometimes it’s easy to blame the system and say “oh, with two men in the midfield, we always get swamped” but that would be self defeating.
Our main problems are these – our defensive line plays TOO deep TOO often coupled with our laziness at winning the ball back and pressing the opposition. It has a couple of effects – there ends up being too much space between our lines which allows average opposition to look very dangerous and it also makes constructive build up play difficult as our players are just too far from each other. As I mentioned in the last post, Barcelona didn’t become a great team by standing off opposition and allowing them to play; stop them playing and dictate the game on your own terms.
The 2nd half was particularly marked for the higher defensive line and more diligent closing down. Braga couldn’t get a sniff and one felt the goals were eventually going to come. One from a corner (again!) And a cross (again!). They arrived in what is now familiar fashion.
Diamonds are forever?
Is the midfield diamond the way to go for us? It needs work, certainly and the right personnel but we’ve won all our games with it.
Wayne Rooney, I thought, was superb in his role just behind Hernandez and to a lesser extent, Van Persie. He picked passes, evaded his markers with ease and generally dictated our play. Robin Van Persie, dropping off as well, had a good game and was particularly prominent in the first half as shown by some delightful interplay with Rooney. He should have scored though and I must say, I’ve seen him miss some very good chances for us in his time so far. A class act, he will still bang in the goals though.
However, we saw some defects elsewhere.
Shinji Kagawa sadly had to go off injured, a move which actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. Although he had set up the first goal, one still suspects our style does not quite suit him just yet. At Dortmund, he played in a faster, more vertical team with less of an emphasis on patient possession. Simply put, he’s a brilliant player in transition. One suspects he’d have been excellent in our counter attacking teams of 06-09. Furthermore, playing deeper, he has more defensive responsibilities. He was not diligent enough, as was Cleverly, in protecting the fullbacks in the first-half which allowed Braga to look dangerous down our sides. Bringing Nani on allowed for some width which we had lacked while also giving Rafael the chance to combine and become more of an offensive threat.
Fletcher played at the base of the diamond and while not possessing the range of passing that Carrick would have offered us, kept things tidy and simple. He’s still recovering so can’t be too harsh on him. Cleverley impressed, particularly in the 2nd half as his energetic game seemed more in tune with our increased tempo. His cross to Hernandez? Exquisite.
I’m not sure the midfield diamond should become our default shape but it’s clearly got the manager thinking. We did create enough chances to be good value for our win and our attacking play was delightful at times. The defending, as a team collectively, still needs sorting though. That’s 8 times we’ve gone behind this season. 6 of the 8 times, we’ve won the matches eventually but we should not have to be in a position where we’re struggling out of self-dug holes early on.
Chelsea’s next on the cards. I’ve got a friend who says he wished Chelsea had drawn yesterday so they won’t have a point to prove on Sunday. They have a point to prove anyway. In 90 minutes, football teams nearly always do. Oh, make that three points actually.
Rio was ‘rested’ for the game last night. ‘Rested’, yes; yesterday morning, he tweeted something along the lines of “don’t believe all you read”. Footballers can be cryptic but do so daftly at times. It only serves to add more controversy to the weekend’s fallout. He should return for the weekend along with Evra.
With Chelsea’s attacking trio; Hazard, Mata and Oscar, we have our work cut out. They have been very impressive in the league and combined to demolish Spurs over the weekend. If we don’t stay compact and close down the spaces between the lines, we screw ourselves. Simple as. A doppelganger of our first twenty against Braga will be fatal against a team with Chelsea’s quality up front.
Enjoy the rest of the week!!