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Manchester United Fixtures

United Prove Rudderless Without In-Form Rooney

There are times as a Manchester United supporter when trying to understand what makes a team succeed or fail can be a challenge.  The match at today at the Britannia Stadium against Stoke was indeed a match that challenged my thinking as it forced me to ask many questions but also find trouble answering as many.

There are times when United’s play creates such a conundrum in my head trying to really understand why we play the way we do at times on the road?  Yet again we have failed to enforce our will on the road while falling pray to caution and overrated respect for the opponent.  Don’t get me wrong, Stoke is a decent team that is well managed and oh so physically dirty.  They get away with constant poor tackling and shirt grabbing.  My issue is with the tactics we use in these kinds of games more so than the effort given by the players or the squad that was picked.

Today we learned that this club lacks a lot when Wayne Rooney is not in the line-up.  We missed his finishing but above all, we miss his presence and his runs into space that open things up for others and create chances.  His work ethic can never be underestimated especially when one compares it to the lack of energy willingness to chase a ball or really get dug in.  In fairness, he got very little support but he also never worked himself into space the way Owen tried.

As for Michael Owen, I really felt that his running was great but his first touch betrayed him on a few occasions and credit to Stoke for just doing a great marking job on both forwards.  A shame we lose Chicharito so early to an injury but for me that play leaves me wondering what exactly happened to the Little Pea?  Personally, I did not feel that was a penalty and more of a dive and yes he was contacted by the keeper but after the keeper got the ball.  Still, I cannot believe he got hurt via that minimal contact.  Talk about fragile.  Is Chicharito heading in the same direction as Michael Owen, Louis Saha and more recently, Owen Hargreaves.

Certainly this season Chicharito is spending way too much time in the infirmary and far less on the pitch.  I attribute a lot of his injuries to fatigue brought on buy playing too many games as a rookie and then being used to death by Mexico at the Copa.  He is too young to be abusing his body so much.  Still, I hope he isn’t going to suffer more missed games due to what looks to me to be a severe case of the sophomore jinx.

Now let me offer up some thoughts about the game.  What a terrible performance to be sure.  We did at no time deserve to win this match.  David De Gea saved our bacon on at least four occasions with great saves and our defending especially on highballs into the box was nothing short of shambolic.  Even Phil Jones found it hard to defend against the strength of Stoke, which were set pieces like crosses Rory Delap throw ins.  De Gea had an outstanding game but he was equally to blame with Jones on the goal because he should have come out aggressively and made that ball his.  Jones was often caught flat- footed and to be honest as well as fair, is it really reasonable to ask of him to win the aerial battle against a seven foot bean pole like Crouch?

The fact is that ever since Harry Redknapp took over at Spurs, he worked hard on changing Crouch’s approach in the box.  Rather than just stand and wait for a high ball, he often starts out of the box and makes a dashing run to a spot.  This is hard to defend when the defender is not getting the same kind of head start nor the spring needed to meet the ball at it’s highest point.  United never prepared well enough for this threat and to be honest, we were fortunate to not concede more goals from these type of plays into the box.

For me no other player but David De Gea can be named Man of the Match.  Nani started out like wildfire but he offered very little in the second half.  De Gea on the other hand made at least five great reflex saves and for the most part handled high balls well except for the goal and another occasion where being fouled by a Stoke player landed him on his ass.  He needs to be more physical himself and fearless and this will take some time and working out to get his body to the point of handling this kind of imposition.

As for the match and how we played, let me just say that although the squad selection left me scratching my head, it was the tactics that disappointed me most.  Now before people jump down my throat for expecting us to play attacking football at Stoke, that is not what I meant.  A trip to Stoke means that champagne football has to take a week off because Stoke are a tough, tall and physical opponent that can hurt you in attack.  So playing attacking football would be a mistake.

What I have issue with was our lack of counter attacking, lack of energy and movement off the ball and most of all, our traditional capitulation of the midfield

While sagging back to play this antiquated and rubbish induced zone defence the Fergie loves so.  My question to all of you but mostly to Fergie is how long must the team continue to give up midfield and thus concede possession and control to an opponent by forfeiting the midfield?  It boggles my mind trying to understand the role Fletcher and Anderson were asked to play today.  At times I felt we were playing a 6-2-2 because Fletcher and Anderson were playing so deep and not challenging Stoke players when the ball was circulating in the middle of the park.

When exactly did Darren Fletcher go from terrier and pit bull to a sloth paced fat bulldog who would rather sit on the couch and sleep?  And as for Anderson, well playing him this way makes him completely useless so playing Carrick instead would have been better.  I honestly have no answers over how this problem can be solved unless the manager changes his tactical priorities.  Fact is we need better quality midfield players and we never went out and bought any.  But even if we had, these tactics would nullify any positive influence these players could inject into the squad or game.

As for high points and low points, it was not really hard to find the low moments.  Nani’s goal and De Gea’s saves were high points but nothing else grabbed me as particularly outstanding.  Low points were way to many for my liking.  Capitulating midfield position and supremacy is major.  Losing the aerial game in the box cost us three points, Phil Jones looking merely human hurt a bit as did Antonio Valencia getting skinned numerous times doing nothing for my belief that he can man the position even though he got away with his mistakes today. Add to that our forwards inability to create space and chances to score left me numb and frustrated.  Above all, our tactics left me cold and frustrated trying to understand why a team as potentially great as this feel it necessary to approach a match against a clearly inferior club with such fear and respect?  Well for me it comes down to injuries and Fergie’s force of habit.

As for Fergie’s post match comments, I thought he would be as predictable as bread going dry and stale in the hot sun.  As usual it was an opportunity to blame the officiating crew whom to be honest were rubbish but who I do not feel cost us victory.  I fully expected Fergie to show outrage in post game interviews, but very little came other than his feeling that Chicharito was fouled in the box but because it was so early he felt the referee decided not to call a penalty so early on in the match.  Other than that small evidence of referee bashing the Boss had nothing but praise for his club who he felt played like champions thus making him out to be awfully tolerant of their performance.  Here’s what he had to say to MUTV;

“I was pleased with the performance from the lads – they battled really hard and played like real champions,  If Stoke were going to score it was probably going to be from a set-piece. They’ve got some big lads in their team and they do keep you under pressure that way.”   No shit Sherlock.  That’s stating the obvious.

He continued to add the following insights on our play when he added the following;

“In terms of the attacking part we showed some good play and maybe should have scored more. We’ve always done well here, but all the changes we had to make today [with injuries to Evans, Hernandez and Rooney] maybe just unsettled us a bit for parts of the game.  A draw is probably a fair result. It’s a difficult place to come to. I was pleased with the performance. They battled really hard and played like real champions in every sense of the world.”

When it came to making excuses, instead of picking on the officials today, he pointed a finger of disapproval towards Stoke’s lone goal scorer and thorn in our side, Peter Crouch by adding these comments;

“He fouls all the time. He gets off with it because of his height but he jumps on top of defenders all the time,” said Ferguson.  He has been doing that for a long time. Referees know that. Even with the goal he has maybe caught Phil Jones, but he is right above him.  He is a handful in the air, there is no doubt about that.”

Very true and as I said before, very hard to combat that kind of aerial presence unless you add a few well placed Nemanja Vidic elbows in the scheme.  Crouch always places his hands on defenders shoulders but I wouldn’t say he always gets away with it.  I have seen numerous games when he was caught and where goals were called back due to his infractions.  Lets just say he got away with it today and be done with it.

Fergie then went on to rightfully praise David De Gea for his performance by offering the following thoughts on the Spaniard’s Man of the Match performance;

“He made a great save in the first half, knocked it round the post,” said the United manager. He was very confident. He sailed through and showed terrific composure. Nothing disturbs him.”

So in closing, did we learn anything from our first major hiccup of this season?  I personally expected the performance we gave as I knew Stoke would be a difficult and hostile environment to play especially since our injuries to key personnel reduced our effectiveness to keep Stoke defenders back and concerned wholly by our speedy forwards as well as losing the height war in our own box due to injuries to strong aerial players like Vidic, Smalling and Evans.

We learned that Nani although quiet in the second half has really come into his own and is playing with incredible confidence.  Add to that the fact that Valencia at right back is not an option other than in desperate times like today.  I would also like to add that after watching Phil Jones play again today, I am more than convinced that he should be given a chance to play midfield due to his comfort on the ball and his terrier form in pursuit and tackling which is something that has gone missing in Fletcher’s game and is not part of Anderson’s.  Finally and above all, we learned that without Rooney and Cleverley on the pitch, we begin to look very ordinary at best.  Their return as well as Chicharito’s and Vidic’s is something that I think you will all agree with me when I say, it cannot come soon enough.




  1. Traverse

    25 September 2011 at 19:07

    Thank god we only have to wait til Tuesday for our next game.

    • Moscow is my heaven

      25 September 2011 at 20:00

      Amen to that

  2. colver

    25 September 2011 at 19:21

    Good game report. The game certainly raised a lot of question marks. While many still laud over our early performances when we face decent opposition suddenly we don’t look that good. I thought we were poor defensively against Chelsea, Benfica and Stoke and not as dominant going forward. I really hope we are not just turning into one track bully boys.

    • Grognard

      26 September 2011 at 09:13

      What gets me is two people clicked dislike regarding your comment for stating 100% truth. I honestly do not get people sometimes. Just because you love a team I guess you are just not allowed to criticize or say anything derogatory in the face of hard evidence that supports your feelings. I suppose what I am talking about is that I am really getting annoyed with the tribal nonsense that supporters live by that helps them cope with their own lives. Blind obedience and allegiance to any team is not a mantra I live by, and I feel so very sorry for those who do. Football is entertainment and not military service for plebs.

  3. john44r

    25 September 2011 at 19:41

    Anderson can’t play with Fletcher or Carrick because they don’t anticipate his passes or movement. Neither of them seem able to keep up with the play these days. Fletcher simply doesn’t have technical ability, while Carrick is so used to making the safe pass and depending on Scholes or Giggs that his role is reduced to a minimum. Carrick has a calming effect, and can play the ball under pressure, and so could remain as a third midfielder in games like this one with Anderson and Cleverly in front of him. Surely everyone has noticed that the early stunning play came to an end when Cleverley was injured?

    On another note, it was a tad disappointing to see Young disappear from the match on Saturday. Seems he didn’t have a stomach for such a physical game. He went missing…hopefully, just a problem of playing with new team mates, but…

  4. Jay wire

    25 September 2011 at 22:00

    I’m glad you pointed out Jones’ faltering here. Every game he plays he can’t do no wrong in people’s eyes. He has a very visible way of playing and seems to put extra effort. But he seems to struggle with trickery and height. But then again, he’s young. Very young in fact. I was watching Real Madrid’s young defender, Varane last night. Good game, but nervy moments. Young players will learn from these types of experiences.

    The other thing is with the tactics as you point out. Starting from a defensive point of view, I’m not happy about recent developments. Sometimes our coaches can be so unbelievably daft. It is now abundantly clear that in this modern game, pressing is normally not an option. In fact, the more you respect the opponents, the intensity of the pressing goes up. I can’t explain why they’ve recently decided to revert to more of zonal marking. We beat Barca, yes in a friendly, but we pressed them like crazy. Same as City, West Brom, Spurs, Arsenal and Bolton. Against Chelsea,we tried being Italian. In fact since Benfica we’ve been going back to this zone nonsense. Do those guys honestly never learn?

    With a lack of pressing, we lost possession and when we did, we decided to defend the zone. How stupid is that esp against the most direct team in all of football? You defend your zone, they just long ball it wide or central. They don’t care about passing it around, just the quickest route to goal.

    If a formula is winning, why change it? I have zero respect for Stoke. Who are they in the halls of football? Nobodys, who deserve no respect. They’re physical. So what? So are Bolton. We were busy striking fear into the hearts of teams, with OUR football. So why do we have to respect anyone? Why change tactics for such a lowly team as Stoke? The problem is pre-match, Ferguson is busy waxing lyrical about the opponents. “Oh Stoke is such a difficult place. Oh we’ve had to specially train our goalkeeper. Oh their set pieces. Oh oh…” rubbish. Imagine what he’d be telling the players. They’d be scared out their wits by kick off. Teams should respect us and adjust their own tactics, to try and contain us.

    • Grognard

      26 September 2011 at 09:03

      I totally agree. If there is one thing I hate about Fergie it’s constant fear or respect for clearly inferior opposition on the road. Who are Stoke? They are physical and are dangerous to a point on set pieces into the box but in all reality they should not concern us and above all, should never force us to play outside of our system of comfort. Fergie has fallen into the classic trap of fearing physical trapping teams who work hard but have very little talent. Onh occasion a team like that will have a good day and beat you even whewn you are playing your style, but I’d sooner lose to them knowing they got lucky rather than give them an opportunity to beat me by falling into their trap and capitulating the midfield. So they have height, big deal, we have pace and flexibility. Pace should always beat height because big players cannot keep up and they get tired sooner. So what does Fergei do, he lets his insecurity and fear take over his game plan simply because he has injured starters. Hell our reserve team should beat Stoke if they just played the proper United way.

  5. Johnsom33

    25 September 2011 at 23:15

    This site is getting to a point where I can’t tell if people are serious or joking anymore. Everybody has their one or two guys that they cheer for and everybody else is rubbish after one or two games. We beat city, arsenal, Chelsea, spurs and Bolton but now that we draw away to stoke we are found out as flat track bullies?

    • [OPTI]Madschester United

      26 September 2011 at 02:38

      Johnsom33 is the best!!! So screw you all h8rz!!!

    • Stephen

      26 September 2011 at 08:58

      Great point, I think we are all guilty of that, we have had a sensational start to the season and a point away at Stoke is a good result.

    • Grognard

      26 September 2011 at 09:08

      Sorry mate but I for one am not sure why you are annoyed? I was disappointed with the performance and squad selection but I also understand that we had injuries. What bothered me more than any single performance was the tactics we employed. Like I was saying to Jaywire, we have no need or reason to be scared of teams like Stoke if we play our style of football. They need to be scared of us. Yes certain players had poor matches but that’s not a big deal. What is a big deal is allowing misguided and overly cautious strategy and tactics to rob us of points.

      • Stephen

        26 September 2011 at 09:25

        That had nothing to do with the result. We had a lot of injuries and Stoke played well, lets not always blame Fergie for not winning on game..
        People seem to expect us to win every week, if we don’t all the toys get thrown out of the pram.

        • Grognard

          26 September 2011 at 18:22

          I blame Fergie for my sore back and when my hemorrhoids act up. 😀

        • Stephen

          27 September 2011 at 11:09

          😆 😆 😆

    • Stephen

      26 September 2011 at 09:51

      Agreed I am as guilty as anyone with regards to that! We have had a great start to the season and some of the football has been fantastic, some people like moaning for the sake of it……

  6. Stephen

    26 September 2011 at 09:26

    That had nothing to do with the result. We had a lot of injuries and Stoke played well, lets not always blame Fergie for not winning on game..
    People seem to expect us to win every week, if we don’t all the toys get thrown out of the pram.

  7. Craig Mc

    26 September 2011 at 10:46

    Well NOW I guess we are going to see how this team do without Rooney! If we are a one man essential team, then we are right up shit creek without a paddle, and especially because Ronn does tend to have a time every season when he is out due to injury (not criticising Rooney by the way – he can’t help it.) Other players are going to have to step up their game and get the goals we need, especially as latest news from Fergie is that he expects Rooney to be out several weeks and miss the games against Norwich, L’pool and there’s a slight chance the Mcr derby. So lets see if our other strikers are going to be worth their salt and get the goals. I am more worried about our lack of fit defenders – especially with Rio not being able to play 2 games a week now!

  8. colver

    26 September 2011 at 11:07

    CraigMc, the problem is that we do not have a like for like replacement for Rooney so when he is out it breaks our rhythm. When Rooney was out for a few months early last season we adapted and managed a slower more measured approach built around the talents of Scholes Nani and Berbatov which got us through those times. But for the most of our players a slow pace just doesn’t suit them.

    CraigMc I agree that Rooney has his technical failings. So perhaps on an individual level he is not an elite forward. But few players are capable of giving their teams such a lift. He is like the heartbeat of the side and without him in the team we are in desperate needs of a life support machine.

    Jay Wire I agree that this zonal BS of giving up the middle of the park and sitting back is ridiculous. It seems to be our default strategy whenever we are in a panic and having to endure long spells without the ball. Even when we win the ball we are so deep in our own half it is difficult to launch any sort of meaningful attack.

    It is probably why we do so badly away from home. We have a default defence mentality and we suck at that. Our best football always comes from an attacking mentality with the emphasis on winning the ball high up the field and launching an attack.

  9. Craig Mc

    26 September 2011 at 12:08

    Colver Rooney is an elite forward mate – albeit and eliteforward who is prone to seasonal time out with injuries. Rooney does have a rolls royce engine and is a great runner, and IF his 1st touch was improved and his conceding possession a bit too often he would be bloody untouchable Colveer. I agree that he is the dynamo in the team, but the players can’t start thinking oh Wazza is missing we are fucked. That kind of mentality is not on, some of them have to think right, we will man up and play up and we will make sure we still win games without Rooney. I think Fergie has to try Young on the righ5t and Nani on the left, mainly because Nani does at least have a left foot and can get to the bye line and cross, whereas Young can’t and cuts in every time so its easy for opposition teams to know his sole movements.

    • Stephen

      26 September 2011 at 12:18

      Rooney will probably be only out for a week or so, the real concern is Berba who looks well off the pace. Welbeck will play in the week and it would be sensible to pair him with Macheda.

      • Craig Mc

        26 September 2011 at 13:12

        Why Macheda – what’s he done? He is not even scoring for the reserve team no matter all the chances he gets. Diouf on the otherhand i scoring every game for the reserves, and he does well getting back and defending – Diouf should be chosen as form player rather than Macheda!

        • Stephen

          26 September 2011 at 13:25

          Diouf is awful, he has no first touch and should have been sold in the Summer.

        • Craig Mc

          26 September 2011 at 14:25

          Can’t agree with you on that one Bro – soz. Diouf is a lot better than Macheda, and I think he proved that on pre season tour – scoring more than Macheda. I don’t rate Macheda at all really.

        • Stephen

          26 September 2011 at 16:43

          Macheda is still young but I do know what you mean mate, for me Diouf is garbage and was one of those Fergie punts which did not work. Macheda looked quite sharp against Leeds all be it played out of position, but Diouf was an embarrassment. Truthfully if both players were sold I would not bat an eyelid.

        • Craig Mc

          26 September 2011 at 19:43

          Stephen I get feelings about players as you know, that they can do really great with right handling and encouragement. I wasn’t wrong with Nani and I feel IF Diouf had his opportunities I won’t be wrong about him! Fergie needed me to needle him about the Nani and he needs me to needle him about other players I have a feeling about 😉 😆 .

        • RMJ

          26 September 2011 at 15:28

          Diouf plays much better on the wings .ie he at least knows what to do there or rather how to play there as he did a lot for Blackburn. But Macheda doesn’t and is too one dimensional and i for one dont know why he didnt go on another loan to a premier league club at least?

        • Craig Mc

          26 September 2011 at 19:44

          Couldn’t agree more!

  10. Craig Mc

    26 September 2011 at 13:17

    Anybody notice how many times United players are injured by opposing players hatchet type tackling? Refs don’t seem to care about United players getting serious injuries. That ref at Stoke should be hung out to dry for allowing diabolical tackles on our players! Sick of it to be honest. I have not forgotten how Jami Carragher the butcher of L’poo got away with opening an eight inch gash down to the bone on Nani, and yet Evans tackle on the Bolton player which wasn’t intentionally brutal – he got red carded for. Sick of the double standards of referees where United players are concerned.

    • RMJ

      26 September 2011 at 15:08

      @ Craig:- To be fair the tackling in the league and the English culture has a lot do with many players getting way with it. An easy example of it would be when Davies tackled Cleverly from behind, missed the ball completely and had has studs showing in the effort. It was a poor foul and a bad tackle which is unacceptable in the game. Then why did the referee not show a yellow card to him for it? Just because it was the first foul and a typical English one at that does not merit a he gets a free pass? Surely had he been given a yellow, he would not have done the Evra foul or something similar that would have him sent off later on in the game? i personally don’t even think that was a red card offense but rather a yellow and would have discouraged him from doing the same(which he did) on Evra some time later in game?

      I think the injuries we are now suffering was self inflicted. We have an excellent first team but in our plethora of excellent and eye candy wins forgot how much of a war of attrition wining the league is. Why in the world did we go full strength against Bolton? We have a really hard fixture list for the start of the season but Fergie should have been more careful. We have 9 guys missing to injuries Rooney, Carrick, Evans, Hernandez, Vidic, Smalling, Rafael, Cleverley & Gibson(aka dont know if he should be here but he is) and we have Shitty, pool and Everton on the horizon..its a long road ahead

      • Craig Mc

        26 September 2011 at 19:45

        I hear you!

  11. ash is the man

    26 September 2011 at 17:51

    JONES should play full back or fuck it jusy play him beside ando

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