Tuesday, 27 December 2011

United just keep rolling on

At this time of year the one thing we all seem used to and need is familiarity and the feeling of expectation being met. Whether it is that pair of socks from a relative or a sibling rolling in drunk after Christmas celebrations, we are all accustomed to it and expect it somewhat. In terms of football it has become almost guaranteed that we find Manchester United approaching their peak at the midway point of the Premier League season.

Since United began to dominate domestic football almost two decades ago it is now commonly accepted that the side get better as the season continues. After a sluggish autumn period for the reigning champions they sit joint top of the English Premier League with their new title challenges Manchester City. Although we are still yet to reach the halfway stage it appears that the title battle will be between the two teams from Manchester.

Although United dominate rich lists and are not exactly short on funds it is clear that the club are not as affluent as they once were. There have been less big money purchases in recent seasons as Ferguson continues to buy promising young players. When compared with their City rivals United almost appear to be frugal in comparison but yet find themselves level at the summit of the Premier League.

The start of the season had promised much after a scintillating pre-season had prompted comparisons with Barcelona. Some of the one touch football between the attacking players was extremely good and it appeared that Ferguson had once again constructed a side that would compete for all major honours. However, the club then failed to qualify for the knock out stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2005 and suffered the humiliation of losing 6-1 to Manchester City at Old Trafford. It appeared the early season praise had been very premature.

There appear to be several holes in the current Manchester United squad that needed to be addressed. The lack of a quality central midfield is the main element missing; Michael Carrick has not been good enough for a long time and despite some sporadic displays of promise his consistency at United has not been good enough for many years. The fact that after a handful of games United fans were missing Tom Cleverly showed how ineffective their engine room has been for the last few seasons. There has also been no real improvement from Anderson who has stagnated at the club since his early promise. The Champions League final last season demonstrated that United need to find someone to protect the back four and then someone to begin their attacks; playing Rooney in there a few weeks ago highlighted their shortage in that position.

Another huge problem is the injury to Nemanja Vidic who will now miss the remainder of the season. His partner Rio Ferdinand lacks the authority and composure he used to have and his body simply doesn’t look capable of surviving until May. There have however been huge positives in the emergence of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who will surely be the future pairing once the current set move on.

These facts allied with City’s dominant displays appeared to suggest that United may have lost their status as the country’s leading club. However, if you doubt Ferguson he has a habit of coming back and proving you wrong again. Their recent run now sees them level on points with City and approaching their historically best part of the season. I for one thought it was City’s to lose a month or so ago but with United now level few would back against them. The experience and know how to win the league simply cannot be bought and Ferguson has that in abundance. It is still December and there are far more twists and turns to come but it is beginning to look a little ominous for Roberto Mancini and his side and I am sure they are thinking that too.

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