And they keep winning. Five wins on the bounce in all competitions and another tricky fixture, perhaps the most daunting in terms of the history associated with it, out of the way. On the face of it, Manchester United have made a stellar start to the season and the fans can hardly complain with points on the board. After years of failing to break the Anfield jinx, a win in scouse-land cannot be weighed by just three points. It’s more than just another league win, certainly to the locals and the legions of Red Devils in every nook and cranny of the globe. This was personal and it felt surreal coming back with the bragging rights.
Yet, something was missing. A feeling that has become unnervingly frequent over the course of this nascent season. Manchester United, as a team, failed to deliver on most counts as they have repeatedly in the season till date. Unconvincing with the ball in possession and remarkably subdued without, it was one of the worst Anfield displays in some time and that in itself is a hard feat considering those wretched displays of the previous few visits. With the risk of sounding pessimistic and out rightly dismissive of the performance, one would be hard pressed to find such an abject display by any team drilled by the Scotsman during his stay as the manager of Manchester United.
However, the manager must share the blame and although the end justifies the means somewhat, United as a team cannot continue to perform on similar levels and expect to win with any regularity. Sir Alex has presided over the club for what now seems like generations, built sides, taken them down and rebuilt them to challenge once again. And all this has been achieved while being at the top for an astounding number of years.
The Scotsman has had some great servants on the way who have given their body and soul to the cause and earned the manager’s blind faith. Players like Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Gary Neville et al would run through brick walls for the gaffer and not bat an eyelid. It’s only fair to say that the bond between the manger and players has been one of the secrets of Ferguson’s success at Old Trafford. Sir Alex has mastered the approach of using the iron fist within a velvet glove and players have always responded to manager’s way of handling things.
Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, two of those wonderful servants, have gone from one of those special prodigies to irreplaceable components of every Ferguson side. While the era of the ‘Fergie Fledglings’ is long but over, these ‘twin towers’ of Old Trafford continue to soldier on. Whenever a big European game approaches or a top of the league clash is on the horizon, the United manager perennially looks up to his old guard to lead the Red boat through troubled shores. It’s a norm and almost a foregone conclusion that Sir Alex will call upon Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in the games of huge reckoning.
To be fair to Giggsy and Scholesy, the duo have seldom let their manager and fans down and answered the call of duty with unerring regularity. But the erring has become more regular recently and that is to be expected perhaps with their bodies ageing and reflexes slowing down with every game and season passing by.
Opposition teams playing possession football and pressing hard invariably cause trouble for the Reds as Giggs, more so than Scholes, looks out of his depth in central midfield. Sir Alex though has hitherto ignored this glaring deficiency and although he might have his reasons for carrying on with Ryan Giggs in a two man central midfield against the opposition’s three, United continually get played out of the park in the most important area of the pitch.
Yet again, this weekend, the pattern repeated itself with the Giggs-Carrick axis failing to inspire any confidence. A look at the United bench made for further bewildered viewing. Tom Cleverley and Anderson found themselves on the bench in favor of the veteran former winger, and never looked like coming on as waiting in the wings alongside them was one Paul Scholes. Although it can be debated that United need experience on the field in such games but the presence of Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, and Antonio Valencia and even Robin van Persie should have been enough to calm nerves.
Furthermore, in the past, Sir Alex has had a history of blooding youngsters fearlessly and that was the hallmark of the now legendary title winning side of 95. Games like these turn boys into men, and it was rather surprising to see the likes of Cleverley and Anderson failing to get that vote of confidence from the manager. The Brazilian Anderson has now been at United for over four seasons now and if he can’t yet be trusted to feature in games of such magnitude then perhaps it’s best to look ahead.
Amazingly and quite contradicting is Sir Alex’s refusal to strengthen his ailing midfield by bringing in quality and proven reinforcements. This suggests Fergie hasn’t lost faith in what he has in his armor and ergo, the refusal to make full use of his resources see Cleverley and Ando even more perplexing. What was even more discouraging is the fact that, Paul Scholes was involved for the third time in a period of eight days, starting two of the three, while Ryan Giggs made the cut twice in three games. It wasn’t a coincidence, but a matter of faith and unparalleled conviction shown by the manager towards his longest serving allies and evidently a lack of trust in his young talent.
This close season, Manchester United lost a promising and highly rated teenage prodigy in Paul Pogba to the lure of Juventus. Although United fans can argue that the Frenchman’s greed or perhaps his agent Raiola got in the way and Pogba needed to be more patient, the youngster started for the Italian champions Juventus in the league game the very same weekend. Pogba made a decision which might not be universally applauded but perhaps was the best for him personally, although we will know in shortly how that eventually plans out.
In the end, it can be said that Manchester United and Sir Alex must begin the process of separation from these two legendary figures that have held them together for so long and unleash the new heroes to guide them to a new dawn. Needless to say it’s a ruthless call, possibly the toughest yet that Ferguson has had to make. But if anyone can make that judgment then it has to be the iron-willed Scot. Only time will tell if and when Ferguson’s cuts that umbilical cord. For United’s sake hope Ferguson get’s his timing right, this time, yet again.