Just three games into the new season and most United fans wouldn’t have expected such an uncertain start to the campaign. Six points from three games is a satisfactory return especially when it could easily have been five less. The three games so far have all had a story to tell, nothing that we didn’t already knew, but reiterating those points just in case.
The game at Goodison was turned into a battle of attrition by David Moyes’s battalion and Ferguson’s United weren’t up for the fight at hand. Belgian Marouane Fellaini was too hot and literally too tall to handle for the United rear guard. Ferguson’s side of distant past – the one with Roy Keane and Gary Neville amongst them – knew that at times one needed to earn the right to play by winning the physical battle beforehand. This one failed to do so and consequently couldn’t impose their game on the hungrier opposition.
Nevertheless, among all the gloom and doom with respect to the dreaded and the perennial injury woes and the hitherto unimpressive displays, one man’s brilliance was enough to put the smiles back and spring eternal among the red faithful.
Lack of Steel
Ever since the departure of the one Keano, United haven’t had a midfield enforcer in the truest sense of the word. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher have both given the role their best shot and with a lot of success at times.
Fletcher with his tireless running and harrying, compelling the opposition into surrendering possession almost perfected the art in his own way and for a season or even two was amongst the best at this role. The Scotsman had become a constant nuisance to the opposition with his attempts at covering every blade of grass to nullify opposition advances; nevertheless Fletcher’s energy was revitalizing and engaging for the entire team but it prompted Arsene Wenger into labeling Fletcher as “Anti-Football”. For what it’s worth, Fletcher’s approach was working. But it’s now almost 2 seasons since Darren Fletcher was seen running up and down the length of Old Trafford with all the gusto and heart of a warrior locked in fierce combat. In December 2011, Fletcher began an extended break from football due to continuing health problems caused by ulcerative colitis, no one knows for sure when the midfielder will be back and surely no one can predict at what level will Fletcher operate if indeed he makes a full recovery.
Michael Carrick is now in his seventh season at the Theater of Dreams and remains the pivotal cog in the United machinery. Although the Englishman is rarely seen tackling or breaking a gut to close down opposition players like archetypal holding players, Carrick has his own way of dealing and negating danger. The role of the holding player has changed and evolved in modern football with the likes of Busquets, Pirlo and Alonso adding some semblance of panache, technique and suave to the role that once required brutal force as the overwhelming quality.
Worryingly though, Carrick has once again begun the season slowly just as he is known to, by even his own manager’s accord. The Englishman has been guilty of dallying with the ball and losing out on the physical fight – two characteristics which have become the demarcating features of an out of form Carrick. The likes of Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini at times man handled the Englishman, although to be fair to Carrick he was being played out of position. Its game like these that make United supporters grab their hair out in frustration, wishing for the days of Roy Keane. Hopefully Michael Carrick will regain his mojo soon enough to calm the jangling nerves.
Erring Full Backs
If someone has seen the former United captain and French full-back, be sure to return him to Old Trafford because Patrice Evra has gone missing for well over a season now. First it was a worry, and then it became a concern which eventually turned into a headache. Rather alarmingly it’s the norm these days. One can no longer say Evra’s form has dipped; it’s been the standard for a while now and almost accepted by the manager it seems. The new recruit Buttner seems an unknown quantity to most but looking at what’s ahead of him in the pecking order should give him confidence of upstaging the established order.
The right back slot has been like the proverbial game of musical chairs. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Rafael da Silva have all featured prominently and with varying degrees of success. Rafael is the one who has often been touted as the long term replacement of Gary Neville and fans have been requested to be patient with the boy from Brazil. Rafael has shown that he has the caliber and the technique and his runs from the right wing add so much to United’s attacking play but at some point of time his defensive side of the game must improve. Ferguson will continue to be patient but Rafael needs to tighten up his game, it’s the balance between when to go and when to stay that has often been missing, and also the tendency to lose his man in an aerial dual. Perhaps an extended injury free run could bring out the best of Rafael da Silva, hopes are not lost, far from it.
Now, Phil Jones was putting up some admirable performances at the right full back berth at the fag end of last season. But injuries have hindered Jones from continuing from where he left of last campaign. Furthermore the use of Jones at right back increases the height of United’s defense; the back four have been frighteningly susceptible to set pieces and diagonal long balls launched in the United box. This ploy of aerially bombarding the United backline will be regularly used by teams up and down the country as it is now being viewed as a chink in the armor. Chris Smalling could also solve the problem but for now Rafael must cope and use this prolonged run to seal the deal in his favor.
Robin Van Persie
24 million for a 29 year old striker with a proven injury record wasn’t the deal most red faithful had pinned their hopes on. However class demands the premium be paid and so far it seems the Van Persie deal is worth its weight in gold. Van Persie has overcome and surpassed the expectations by a long margin so far. While lesser mortals would have been weighed down with the expectations the price tag brings, Robin has looked like every inch a United player ever since swapping the Arsenal red and white for United scarlet.
For the first month of the campaign, Van Persie has single handedly kept United abreast with the other challengers and the doubters both inside the club and outside have been shushed into absolute silence. It’s been a fairy tale beginning for the Dutchman and even the missed penalty added to the drama and the persona the United contingent have started to fall in love with. Well begun and miles to go, but the Robin Van Persie story at United could have hardly begun on a more romantic note.