When it comes to defining the United way of playing football, it would always be fast counter attacking moves with fabulous wing play that make the highlight reel. The Devils pride themselves on playing the beautiful game beautifully. However its not only the eye catching, but also the jaw dropping football that wins you championships. There are times when things don’t click on a match-day as one would have expected and the opposition defense has your number. The English league is a 38 game long marathon and during the course of the season there are bound to be stiff challenges that lie in wake for each and every team in the division. Days like those require moments of class, inspiration and at times pure mental fortitude.
At Old Trafford faithful have always had a potent dead ball artist in their side, they have been rather spoilt with expectations. Since the inception of the Premier league, Man Utd have utilized the exploits of Dennis Irwin, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo with deadly effect. With just a swing of their foot these men have changed course of football matches and at times championships. Their dead ball exploits have become part of United folklore; the air of expectancy surrounding OT when a Beckham or a Ronaldo lined up free kicks around the opposition goal was beyond belief. How can one ever forget the UCL Final ’99 when all seemed lost, United accomplished the impossible through composure and perseverance on a couple of set-pieces.
David Beckham swung the 99 UCL final United’s way
with couple of swings of his right boot
However for more than a season now the buzz has deserted the hallowed turf. Ever since CR7 and United parted ways, United have missed a proficient dead ball expert. Ronaldo’s expertise at Free kicks is extra ordinary and well known to all, however his heading ability is probably on par with some of the greats of the game. Along with Vidic, the duo was a real threat on corners. It helped matters even more that the Portuguese was the Club’s assigned Penalty expert.
Season 2009-10 saw the Old Trafford outfit struggling at this less glamorous aspect of the beautiful game. After facing defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the Community Shield on Penalties, United dropped crucial points at Burnley when Michael Carrick missed from the spot. Since then Wayne Rooney has taken up the responsibility and to be fair to him performed admirably. Other than the miss against Liverpool which too he converted on the rebound, Rooney has done all that could be asked of him. However in the absence of the England striker, there seems to be no apparent order in place. After scoring twice from the spot last season against Spurs, Giggs inexplicably didn’t step up to take the crucial penalty at the Cottage. Nani did and missed; problem however wasn’t the miss but the apparent lack of communication between the management and the players as Sir Alex later claimed he expected Giggs to offer his services.
Ronaldo lining up a rocket!
But the major dead ball frailties aren’t really from the spot. It’s quite a shame to think that a club which aspires for top honors in all competitions doesn’t even have a single dead ball expert of world acclaim. A glance at United’s current squad would find Owen Hargreaves as their best bet. The Curley haired England international could bend a few in as he displayed in his first year at the club with stunning goals against Arsenal and Fulham. However Hargreaves can’t be relied upon to even stand, let alone take match winning free kicks. United fans would be pressed hard to remember the look of him; it would be a folly to await his return with bated breath.
Nani and Giggs took the majority of set pieces last season and infuriatingly for United supporters kept crashing them off the wall or in the formers case blowing them high and handsome into row Z. Giggs to his credit scored a couple, one against Tottenham and the other against Portsmouth; while Nani managed one against Wigan. However the depreciating quality is evident for all and sundry. While it would be mad to question Sir Alex’s judgment and tactical know how; has this discipline of the game gone unnoticed?
The situation at corners is even more alarming, there is no real threat other than Vidic. In the entire league campaign United found the back of net once directly via a corner kick. Berbatov doesn’t provide enough aerial threat for a forward of his pedigree, while Johnny Evans is yet to score. Also the delivery from corner kicks has been rather poor with Nani, Giggs, Valencia and Carrick all guilty of failing to beat the first defender. At times like these a short cleverly worked corner looks the best bet because invariably there seems to be no end product otherwise.
So what’s Sir Alex’s and Mike Phelan’s plan to sort this rather neglected aspect of United’s game? Surely the apparent chink in the amour wouldn’t have gone unobserved by the two wise men. Anderson, Nani, Gibson all have the ability as they have shown on their day, but the days have been few and far between. Old Trafford awaits a new artist to once again create brilliant and vivid pictures on the horizon, someone to once again send the pulse racing, somebody to once again Bend it like Beckham.