Dimitar Berbatov scrambled a shot into goal circa minute seventy for an unconvincing one-nil win for Man U keeping them within touching distance of Liverpool. Winning 1-0 and winning ugly are often cited as critical traits of would-be champions, but I say balls to that. Again and again United have come out lucky rather than deserving winners in the premier league in the last few weeks and I don’t care if they end up champions or not, they will need to pull up those socks a great deal more to come close to being the force they were last year.
Of course, the biggest difference is Ronaldo. Given his injury troubles and the missed pre-season, it is unfair to question his goal scoring form which though not as sensational as last season, is still very impressive. It is his overall impact which has diminished. Last year, he was making things happen and when the ball was at his feet, defenders were wetting their expensive chaddis. This year, they tend to be cautious but wait for him to screw it up and so many times he dutifully obliges. Gives the ball away, fumbles in position, makes a bad pass or tries to run through and is bullied off the ball. He will have games where everything will be perfect for him and he will look like the greatest thing in football, but he seems a bit swollen in the head to notice that on days when its not happening for him, he’ll need to be smarter than before to be as effective. As of now, I think Robinho outscores him in the most skilful player in the EPL ranking.
The Berbatov plugin, is the other improper installation in this unit. Last year’s floating front three has been replaced with a more predictable ‘role based organization’ (it’s some organizational jargon that’s being implemented in my company). Which would not have been a problem had Berba been scoring two in three. But he isn’t. He has scored three premier league goals for Man U heading into 2009 and that is a cause for concern. Again he may improve, but then he may not. The thing last year was that it was the team’s responsibility to score. This year it seems more like the strikers’ job and when they are not doing it, the whole team looks sterile.
Which brings me to Rooney. The Dirk Kuyt of Man U? Maybe a little harsh, because Rooney does seem obviously more gifted and dangerous, but he spends way too much time down deep to be a goal threat as often as you would want him to be. Park is another high work rate forward player and in the Englsih league that translates to spending a lot of time chasing balls when you could be waiting to latch on to them.
The other winger is a little bit of an issue. Park is good but no Ronaldo and we had been expecting Nani to be the second Portuguese wonderboy this season but that hasn’t happened. So what could have been a spectacular winger-striker line-up is looking more like Liverpool (Rieira/Ronaldo, Kuyt/Park, Gerrard/Rooney, Berba/Keane) but since that is good enough to be leading the league, it’s not surprising to see Man U close to the top.
Then there is Carrick. Apart from the pass that eventually got deflected to set up Berbatov for the goal, there was very little of value that he provided yesterday. Everytime he had the ball, he passed it to Fletcher and when he joined the attack, it was in positions of least responsibility. He’s no Fabregas and if he weren’t playing for Man U, a few million people across the world would not have known too much off him.
Here’s what I think Man U should do. Play 4-3-3. Settle on 1 right back (any of Rafael, Brown or Neville). Have Fletcher/Carrick as the holding (and not the creative) midfielder. Get Scholes in midfield and pull Rooney in there as well. Then leave Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez up front and let them move all around and see them massacre opposition.