Monday, 14 April 2008
Lucky Win Spreads Doubts
Manchester United survived a huge scare from Arsenal yesterday at Old Trafford and in doing so ensured that they have one hand on the title. Chelsea may yet have something to say about that but a big hurdle was overcome.
Arsenal, expected by many to be suffering a hangover from their CL exit, played with energy and skill and put United on the ropes a number of times. Had Adebayor been on form, or Eduardo fit, the result would surely have been much different.
Since Vidic has been out of the team, United have looked very weak at the back. They dropped points at Boro, got a shaky 1-0 win over Roma and prevailed yesterday only through poor Arsenal finishing.
They must get credit, in those circumstances, for winning at the end but fans of Barcelona will have been happier as the match progressed. Even if Vidic returns shortly, there was a covering problem in midfield as Carrick tried to get a grip, while Hargreaves popped up here, there and everywhere - and almost nowhere useful. Scholes was poor and was rightly substituted. Park was decent, but Tevez, a more positive option, should have been played at the start. Anderson added some much needed dynamism when he came on and they slowly got a grip.
At the back, for all Ferdinand's good work this season (and indeed for 95% of yesterday's match) it could have been undone at so crucial a time. Rio claims he heard a shout of Keeper and left the ball, but if VDS did not shout who did? Was it Adebayor? And if so, why was this cunning tactic never seen before on a pitch? Whatever the truth of the matter, Ferdinand was shook and almost scored a beautiful own goal a few minutes later. Wes Brown, also having a fine season, nearly added another, and Arsenal sliced United open time after time. Even the lumbering Bendtner had some good chances at the end and United breathed a huge sigh of relief as they clung on at the end.
Barcelona, with whichever attacking trio play, will be relishing the prospect of facing this. Eto'o will finish the chances and Messi & Henry (or Deco, Inisesta, Xavi, etc.) will create them. Ferguson must be sure to use this game as a wake up call for defense and midfield, while scheduling some shooting practice for the unbelievably wasteful Rooney.
So while United are deservedly top of the league and in the Champions League semi's, there are some fundamental flaws undermining them - profligate finishing, an unsettled midfield and end of season defensive jitters. Last seasons injuries and tiredness was the excuse, should they fail in the CL, what will the excuse be this time?