New season, same old story. Good possession and passing wasted because there’s nothing going on up front. Unprotected defenders stretched out of shape, eventually reaching breaking point. Free-kick routines that would be laughed off the pitch at an under 10s tournament. After coming back into the match before and just after half-time, by the end it’s relief that it wasn’t more.
Previews on the game focussed on the inexperience of the two sides in key areas. The game was won and lost because United exploited our weakness, centre midfield, whereas we put little pressure on their new back five.
Talking of previews, my pre-season effort implored Redknapp and his players to adopt a formation that gave the back four additional protection. Every other team in the Premier league does so. If it means a more cautious approach, so be it, especially away from home. It shouldn’t matter – we have the perfect players for a counter-attacking game.
So forgive me if regular readers have heard this before. I’m a fan of Bale, Lennon and Kranjcar in their different ways but their indolent approach to defending was inexcusable. Strolling back when United got past them high up the pitch, they left Livermore to do his best. Walker and then Corluka in the second half were more often than not left one on one with Young or Nani, two of the best wide men in the business, or else were outnumbered two against one as Evra raced past. Both did well, considering, Charlie turned this way and that but made four or five tackles to block Young. It was noticeable that our best period came in the second quarter when someone had obviously had a word. They worked back and we looked better prospects, the solidity at the back offering a platform for our best passage of play.
Up front, well, the preview said we need a striker or two. Revolutionary insight, huh. You know it. Defoe demonstrated why. Kind of him, not that any further evidence was required after last season. Maybe Harry put him up to it as another dig in Levy’s ribs to spend spend spend. I can’t think of another explanation as to why he was so lame. Even then, there was a might-have-been, unlucky with a volley against the post that could have given hope out of the blue.
I’m not too down on myself or the team. I can’t say I’m disappointed because I had low xpectations beforehand. We’ve learned nothing new – the only problem is the same old same old – but I’m happy to give them time and new players to sort that. It’s the first game of the season away to the best team in the land with our 6th and 7th choice central midfielders. At least we’ve got it out of the way.
Positives too. I realised Friedel was likely to be first choice not on pre-season displays but when Paddypower made him odds on to have more first team appearances than Gomes by the end of the season. Straight away there’s an air of assurance and command of the box, plus several excellent low saves that kept us in the game. I don’t know how Gomes communicated with his back four, or perhaps the question is whether he communicated in ways other than fear-laden grimaces, but the super new Sky effects mikes picked up Friedel’s stream of encouragement and authoritative instructions.
The back four did better than I expected. Kaboul had an especially good game. Every defender looks unsure at times against United and given how exposed he and Dawson were, I’ll give them the benefit. Daws might have come for the cross as Welbeck came in for the first but overall credit to United, there’s a limit to what a defender can do if a forward comes between two centre backs at pace and the cross is that good. Some goals are just good goals, this was one of those, although we gave the ball away needlessly further up the field in the build-up. The second was an example of what I’ve been saying about defending as a unit, centre half unprotected has to come out, they switch the ball one way then another, so quickly. Brilliant move. The third, Daws might have put in a better challenge there, on his heels as Rooney came in.
Rafa looks fit and eager, lasted 90 minutes and as the game progressed can be excused for all the long shots as he had nothing ahead of him. Livermore is a fine prospect with impressively quick feet, good control and enough poise to hold onto the ball when required, at Old Trafford, on his debut. Before he tired, his application was an example to more experienced team-mates around him.
United remain the benchmark in the Premier League and we could learn a thing or two from them. Much of what they do is comparatively simple. Our movement and passing was good when we could get on the ball. However, in advanced areas sometimes the easy ball is best. Cleverly had options, slipped it easily out wide for the ball before the cross that provided the goal. Time and again we held on to it in those situations, Defoe, Bale and Lennon jiggling around, waiting to be closed down.
Let’s leave it and move on. No time to bemoan our tough start. City on Sunday, let’s get on with it.