New year, new resolutions! 2011 brought United their long awaited 19th League title, an 8-2 win against Arsenal, a dramatic Charity Shield win versus Manchester City in August, and much, much more. No doubt Sir Alex Ferguson will want to make 2012 an even better year for the club, as the now 70-year old manager looks to build yet another footballing force at the kingdom that is Old Trafford. However, the year did not start well for the Red Devils. Not at all. Despite City dropping points against Sunderland, they managed to ghost past Liverpool just two days later and get a three point lead over their neighbors. A win against Newcastle would be vital for the reds, especially given the unnecessary loss to Blackburn Rovers just this weekend. United usually respond after losses, but fell short to Newcastle who dominated themselves to a 3-0 win.
The loss may have come as a shock to many, but given the starting lineup very few people should be. It is not known whether that team was chosen because of fatigue, injuries, or just to rest players for the City game, but Sir Alex made a massive error with the teamsheet. What was he thinking?
First off, credit to Newcastle who played an absolutely great game. The players were up for it, the fans were up for it, and when you score two goals like they did you cannot really do much. The two first goals were of the highest quality, and despite finding it easy to get to the first shot, it was a strike that no goalkeeper could have saved. It was interesting to see how the Newcastle players chose to strike the ball at every attempt, Cabaye pulling off two or three strikes in the first 20 minutes. This seemed to get the crowd buzzing, and an advantage you get when playing at home. The Newcastle players gained confidence, and there was nothing to stop them.
Rio has not had the best of seasons so far, but did improve following the City loss. Not only did Vida’s return help him, but his position was switched from right centre-back to left and gave him more defensive responsibilities. With Patrice Evra not being the most intelligent of players, the left centre-backs duty is to cover for him, something Rio has done really well. His loss of pace has become a major worry for United, and removing his attacking contribution has definitely helped him. He never goes up for corners either, so you can see Fergie does not want him to do too much running. For the Newcastle game though, he was played on right centre-back. It has been the regular position for most of his career, but we have seen a weaker Rio there. Maybe it was to cover for Valencia, but to be fair the Ecuadorian has proved himself to be a brilliant full back with great power and pace, and intelligent positioning to match. So why on earth did we put Rio on the right to mark Ba? Both Ameobi and Ba are two physical beasts, but if the most powerful is by far Ameobi. Ba has the pace, so putting Jones on him would have made more sense. The Senegalese toyed with Rio, and should have had a penalty when he showed himself to be a little quicker than our experienced defender. Of Jones and Rio, the youngster is the quickest and Rio the strongest, and of Newcastle’s strikers Ba is by far the fastest while Ameobi relishes aerial battles. The marking by Fergie was disastrous, and it cost us the first goal. Ameobi won his header, Ba got away from Rio, and goal. Punished for a defensive mistake yet again!
Offensively, the front 6 raised questions. There was more than enough experience there, and on-form players like Giggs and Berbatov probably deserved a starting spot. But tactically, it was suicidal. Without Steven Taylor, Newcastle have shown themselves to be weak in the air. Both Norwich and West Brom beat them by goals from crosses, and even Liverpool looked threatening whenever they got wide. Despite having the two most defensive wingers in the Premier League(Gutierrez and Taylor), they have not shown themselves to be intelligent and cope from wide areas. Park, for all his work-rate, is never on earth a winger. He is not a wide man, like Ashley Young or Nani, to stay out wide and put in crosses. We would have been better off with Pilkington out on the left! Park’s biggest asset will always be tracking back and appear all over the pitch, and against the two most defensive wingers in the League he was not needed. Our threat became too obvious, it was going to come from the right and thanks to Ba and Tiote they always managed to find themselves three or four against two on United’s right wing. Both Valencia and Nani were stopped, and despite Nani getting to a few crosses they were always off target. The Portuguese had an off day, and seems to need a rest. He looks tired and weak, and he has not had a rest since the game against Everton.
Whenever Giggsy plays it means we will try to double on the wings, but it did not work for United on Wednesday night. He often found himself in the middle of the park, and did not help out the South Korean as much as he would have wanted. He stayed centrally, often leaving Park and Nani isolated. Newcastle have shown themselves to be weak centrally this season, but only against pace. Sturridge, Bellamy, Odemwingi and Aguero have all had a field day when playing against their defence, which is one of the slowest in the League. Collochini looked like a rock, and United did not win a single 50-50 ball against him, but then again it is no wonder. Every top team have exploited their backline with power and pace, but Fergie opted for Berbatov and Rooney. Berbatov has been in splendid form, but in a game like this pace and power was needed, and the Bulgarian lacks both. He got our best chance of the first half, a deflected header that hit the post, but other than that he kept quiet. We were never going to get behind their backline, and with width only on one side we were going to get into few crossing positions, and when we wasted every chance we got you are never going to score. Rooney had a horrible game, but the tactics did not help him. Without a quick, dynamic forward, more pressure is put on Wazza and the space he gets is at a minimum. Newcastle did not fear Berba’s pace, and could press high, leaving Rooney with very little time on the ball. His touch did not help him either, but as stated an off-form Rooney is as bad as any footballer in the country. His determination was not there, he did not looked properly fit, and match that with a strike-partner/tactics that does not suit him at all and you cannot expect too much from him, unfortunately.
Then there is the midfield, who had a terrible evening. Carrick did not have a bad game, not at all, but as a whole our midfield was slaughtered. Have no doubt, as a central midfield the pairing of Tiote and Cabaye is as good as anyone else in the country. Both are strong, both are determined, and where Cabaye has skill and class, Tiote has grit and power. Their energy is amazing, and for a two-man midfield they covered enough ground to stop 4 men. They did brilliantly against United, but again United made it easy for them. Two against two Tiote and Cabaye are always going to win against Giggs and Carrick, so staying out of that area would not have been too bad. United do not have the quality or power in midfield to beat, or even match them in that area, and although people may scream out for a new signing Jones could have made a big difference to United had he played in there. Neither Tiote nor Cabaye are the most intelligent of players, and this was a pure physical battle which Phil Jones could have relished. It is not like Newcastle forced us inside either, they opened up a lot of space on the wings for United to expose but nothing ever happened from it because of lack of width on the left. Rooney did not get enough room in the holding role to drop down and help the midfield out either, so it became easy for them. United did create a chance with Rooney though, again coming from a cross, but just like at Old Trafford Danny Simpson was on the line to block it. It was the day where nothing worked for United, and although the players will get most of the bashing Fergie really made it difficult for them.
Choosing Lindegaard raised a few eyebrows as well. Not because he is not good enough, because he is by far, but relegating De Gea to the bench may have massive consequences for his confidence. Sir Alex usually give players a chance to prove the doubters wrong after a bad showing, so there were shocks all around about the team-sheet. Lindegaard did not have a bad game, and could do nothing about the goals, but it would be better to give De Gea another chance against Newcastle and then rest him for City, rather than the other way around.
From a tactical point of view, the starting lineup is rather obvious. Play Rafa, Jones, Rio and Evra in defence with Nani on the left and Valencia on the right. United would never come close to compete in midfield against Newcastle without Jones in there, but they could have tried neutralizing them by having Park and his energy in there, with Carrick next to him. Rooney was right to start, if he actually was fit, but we needed pace up front so Welbeck or Hernandez should have been a landslide above Berbatov for this fixture. It is rare to see Fergie make such a big tactical mistake in a big game, and you cannot help but wonder whether he underestimated Newcastle or just believed too much in the quality of his own players. He certainly learnt a lot from this game, and hopefully he will use this experience to choose the correct team against City on Sunday.
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