Gosh, I’ve been away for ages. Guess that’s what uni does to you sometimes. Or maybe having to report on dross all the time disenchants this writer. Perhaps both…you tell me.
West Ham was dispatched of by a lone goal in the 33rd second off the wand of Robin van persie. If you’re wondering what I mean, the left leg can only ever be a wand in football. If you didn’t know, c’mon! Get with the cliches. The left foot is a wand, Anderson’s fat (he could go on a hunger strike for a month and come out looking like Paris Hilton but he’ll still be ‘fat’ to some) and Reading is not the club, but the activity. One of the three is right, the other two not so much.
Okay, cutting the crap, it was a psycho first half at the Madejski. 7 goals in the first half, only the 3rd time that has happened in Premier League history, followed by a goalless 2nd half. Clearly both managers had told their players to seek control; indeed the first was bereft of such, goals flooding in, leads accomplished and relinquished with an almost absurd sense of scornful one- upmanship.
From a personal perspective, it’s been a while since I was this excited watching a Manchester United game. Perhaps it was down to Reading’s willingness to attack us at the expense of defensive soundness but cutting through them was like the cliched ‘hot knife through butter’. Robson-Kanu, the very exciting right winger with a wand of a left foot (apologies), gave Reading the lead (apologies; another cliche – that’s 14 times in 22 games this season) with a rocket volley after some shoddy defending from Evans.
We got back in it a few minutes later when Anderson blasted one into the top corner after a flowing one touch move involving evra and young. Anderson, on his game, brings drive and purpose to the midfield and is increasingly showing a deftness in attacking positions I initially thought had been coached out of him.
Swift concession from two Shorey corners followed before Evra set Rooney up (3-3) and Rooney set Van Persie (4-3). It really could, and should, have been 6 for us by the end of the 90.
An interesting aspect of the game was our shape. We played with what were effectively two sitters, Carrick and Fletcher, in front of the defence while Anderson was given licence to bomb on and combine with Van Persie. He played very well until his substitution with injury (cliche again?) and it is reported that he will be out for a few weeks. However, Wayne Rooney seemed to have started from a nominal right wing position and moved inside to combine. It created for some really good passing exchanges but left Rafael incredibly isolated against the pacy Reading captain, Jobi McAnuff. It said something of the rather torrid time our young right back had that he was taken off on 30 mins. Chris Smalling came on and McAnuff went quiet (a result of him tiring + a fresh Smalling + Wayne Rooney deciding to track back more).
The Positives –
Wayne Rooney –
In a week that Sir Alex publicly expressed his slight disappointment at Wayne’s goal return, our number 10 promptly responded with two well taken goals allied to a top quality performance. His move into deeper positions is increasingly looking like a long-term one but his ability in those positions has never been doubted. His cute flick to Robin Van Persie moved him into double figures for assists this season. While he might not be banging in the goals, he’s certainly creating them in droves. Not to mention overtaking Teddy Sherringham on the all-time EPL top scorers list. That is quite some achievement and he’s not up to 8th on the list.
Effective Labour down the Left Wing –
With Antonio Valencia’s dip in form and unfortunate injury, productivity from the right has unsurprisingly dipped. Valencia + Rafael = Best right wing in the country. That is when they are on their game. As seen against Reading, Rafa can still have a bad game once in a while and the Ecuadorian robot can actually miss games through injury. If anything, our left side stepped up. Ashley Young has taken a lot of flak this season (and rightly so) but here, he was impressive. Despite one or two hit-the-post…no, the cornerkick-post crosses and shots, he did provide a telling assist and some good delivery and, in tandem with the impressive Evra (going forward at least), provided thrust and incision down the left. Although our captain suffered at the hands of Robson-Kanu, he eventually got to grips with the Reading wide man who became a simple decoration to proceedings in the 2nd half.
Michael Carrick is seriously underrated –
A man who played a massive part in 4 Premier League winning teams and is a starter in 3 champions League finals, one wonders what Michael Carrick has to do to gain the recognition he deserves. Perhaps he never will, but for a player like him, that hardly matters. I thought he was magnificent against Reading. There’s a reason he’s our most used player in the league this season. His calmness in possession, his positioning and his decision making when passing are top notch. Yes, we conceded 3 goals against Reading but they were all from wide areas (in fact, two were from corners) and one cannot pin any blame on him. He made 3 tackles in midfield, 1 interception and a whopping 96 passes (95% completed). He steadies the ship, and although it looks like we get swamped at times, often playing with Scholes or Giggs would swamp anybody. Another underappreciated skill of his has to be the driven forward pass to feet he plays. Over 20, 30, even 40 yards, he seems unerringly accurate in playing the pass right to feet off either foot. Van Persie’s goal v West Ham was evidence of this and against Reading, two incidents stand out – his pass to Van Persie from which he backheeled the ball to the overlapping Young and secondly, his pass to Rooney in the build up to Van Persie’s sweet finish. He’s a lovely midfield player, he controls the tempo and the flow of our game and for that, Manchester United should be grateful – we’re lucky in having an English midfielder that can actually do that.
No case for the defence –
That it did not surprise me that we conceded first is a sensation I am surely not alone in feeling – we are that team that lets the other guy take the first punch and then guage what seriousness to approach the fight with. In some ways, I think it is almost a prompt to our players to start ‘playing’. I’ve said before that this approach is not sustainable. Not all teams would let us back into a game, certainly not in the Champions League. We have conceded 21 goals this season, a horrible return. In 2004-2005, Chelsea conceded 15 goals all season (excuse me but partisanship aside, that is the paradigm of defensive excellence) and while it would be unreasonable for us to mirror that, a run of clean sheets would be welcome. Rio Ferdinand does not marshall the defence well enough and as noted by many, he still remains unwilling to put his head where it hurts. The pain of concession from setpieces could be tempered by the fact that the boy, Morrison, was recently described on whoscored.com as being “more effective in the opposition box than in his”. That he won 4 headers in our box (including scoring from one) should be a warning sign that we need greater authority at the back, but at the same time, nobody apart from him has dominated us so much in the air this season. Thank God we don’t face monsters like him every week.
DERBY, DERBY, DERBY!!
The DERBY is next week at the Etihad! City are undefeated, we don’t do draws…I’m tempted to draw conclusions from that but no, I’ll hope for the best. The key to beating the turds will be how structured we play as a team. Our defensive slackness is unforgiveable and City being the outfit they are will inflict ruthless punishment. Of course, we are three points ahead of them, a cushion which means nothing at this stage of the season. Furthermore, their goal difference, at 17, is one better than us. Having lost the title on goal difference last season, Fergie would be loathe to let goal difference become a decisive factor once again.
We beat them in the FA Cup last season by playing tight between the lines and hitting them quickly on the counter. Unfortunately, Anderson will be unable to provide verticality to our play with his much needed drive and energy. We still have more than enough strength in depth to worry Manchester City. Furthermore, reports say that Vidic might just be in with a chance of starting the game having made a quicker than expected recovery from knee injury. I reckon the game has come too soon for him but still, it is good to know that all our defenders are back fit.
In midweek, we face Cluj at home. Expect reserves to feature with top spot already secured and City to play at the weekend. Till later, folks!! Adios!!
Oh yes, a parting quiz – Who set up Daniele De Ross’s fantastic consolation goal against Manchester United in the 2007 Champions League quarter-final?