To say I was disappointed with the way Man United played yesterday is an understatement. It was really disheartening to watch. United played hopelessly all over the pitch and were well beaten by a team that showed hunger, tenacity and desire – all characteristics previously ascribed to United teams of old.
United recorded no shot on target for the whole game. A game they had to get something out of to win a record 20th title. Like they’ve done all season at pressured games, they bottled it – yet again. Again, not only did the players bottle it, but the coaching staff as well – yes, Sir Alex Fergusson (SAF) bottled it and set his team up to go for a draw. By starting with Nani on the right, it showed that SAF had looked at the City team and considered their weakest point in defence. Nani, in recent games had had the better of Gael Clichy – so it made sense to set them against each other. SAF should also have looked at his team to ascertain which players, for whatever reason didn’t play well together this season, especially in crunch games. He should have looked at the weaknesses within the United team that could be explored by City. On the evidence that played out before all last night, it was clear he didn’t appraise his team in the same breadth he did City.
There are not many games both Scholes and Giggs started that ended being a win for United in the league this season. There have been eight games they’ve both been involved in. United won six out of those eight, they started in 3 out of those eight together, winning two and losing one. In the other games one started and the other was on the subs bench with Scholes enjoying more playing minutes than Giggs overall. This showed that for some reason, not starting both in the same game worked better for United – and for good reason – as the team can retain both players’ valuable experience when one is substituted out of the game. This approach had worked wonders to put United in with a great chance of winning the league title.
For some reason, SAF decided to go against this convention. First tactical mistake. Hunger trounced experience. SAF should have gone for players that had the hunger (as much as City’s players), will and legs to win. City have only one driving force – hunger to defeat United and take back the destiny of the league title in their own hands. SAF should have matched them hunger for hunger. Whilst Scholes and Giggs may have arguably had the hunger and will to win, they definitely don’t have the legs to effect such desire considering the opposition they were up against. Second tactical mistake. JS Park had not started a game for United in the league for close to three months. Whilst his talent is open for all to see, putting him up against Yaya Toure – a player in form and athletic, was always going to be a gamble lost. Physically JS Park was no match, form wise, he already lost before the game began.
SAF, if he wanted to spring a tactical surprise, should have gone for Valencia in the middle behind Rooney so as to counter Yaya Toure’s athleticism. Going with a European away game 4-5-1 formation I thought was right, but he used the wrong players. SAF should have gone with this line-up:
Jones Smalling Ferdinand Evra
Nani Carrick Scholes Young
For weeks Valencia had been United’s best player. He was the player in form, and United’s most athletic. He should have been used to counter Yaya Toure. As gifted as Giggs is, he was never going to be a match for Zabaleta’s energy and industry. Some may argue that Scholes and Giggs cover as much ground as other City players, but coverage isn’t really the crux of the matter, but the effectiveness of such coverage. Yaya Toure single-handedly dominated Scholes, Carrick and JS Park – but was that a surprise? Was it unexpected? I argue not. None out of those 3 United players had the athleticism to cope with Yaya. A lot of United fans took inspiration from the 3-2 FA Cup win United had at City’s stadium but they forgot that City played most of that match with 10 men and had the game gone on for 5 more mins, United would have either drawn or lost that game – City against United this season had always had the better of their celebrated neighbours.
It was really disheartening to watch United set-up and playing for a draw. I know SAF will disagree that he set his team up for a draw, but that was the reality of it.
I had limited hopes prior to the game of getting anything from it. But I still expected that if we were going to lose, we should lose with our identity intact, playing the United way. We failed to do that, and that is what pains the more. Not the loss, not even the probability that City may now win the league.