With all this other nonsense going on in the paper, it would have been easy to miss the fact that we won 4-1 last night, to take the FA Youth Cup Final 6-3 on aggregate against a stubborn Sheffield United side who gave as good as they got in the first leg, but were blown away last night at Old Trafford.
These tight semi-finals, in which we have such a good record, so often hinge on moments. A moment of brilliance, like Ryan Giggs’ winner against Arsenal 12 years ago, or a momentary lapse, like Michael Carrick’s gentle side-foot to Yaya Toure yesterday. Those moments went against us yesterday. We did not do enough to make sure that they didn’t matter.
Of course, it’s a complete cliché to say that semi-finals are always tight. They aren’t. Yesterday’s semi-final was tight because we did not play well. We are superior team to Manchester City, but that doesn’t mean that we will always automatically beat them. That’s football. It can be shit like that.
Speaking of shit, I felt that Dimitar Berbatov had one of this worst games for us for a long while. I am a huge fan of Berba, and I have stood up for him every time he’s been given rubbish by the same fans who loved Tevez and have already forgiven Rooney.However, he started fairly well and had two golden, golden chances within a minute of each other which he squandered. If one of those goes in, we’ll probably win. There was no goal, and it seemed to get to Berba. His touch was lacking, his movement off and he didn’t provide the kind of urgency that Rooney would have.
Of course, this is partly down to Sir Alex Ferguson’s continued desire to play him as a lone striker no matter how obviously unsuited to the role he is. He revels in having a player alongside him, be it Rooney or Hernandez, so to continue to peg him up top and flank him with two wingers is daft.
The wingers can join the list of players who didn’t put in the required shift. Nani is back to his bad self, hesitating on the ball, making the wrong decisions all the time, and he is obviously not a player for the big occasion. If he wants to be thought of as Ronaldo’s genuine successor, then he needs to start stepping up to the plate in the huge games. Valencia just had an off day. Given how well he started after his injury, it’s probably not down to that. Probably just an off day. I hope this isn’t the delayed injury hangover.
Paul Scholes is fucking Paul Scholes. For all his attributes he will never, ever learn. As the ball dropped between him and Zabaleta it almost happened in slow motion. It was inevitable. It wasn’t malicious, but then Paul Scholes never is. He’s just a really, really bad tackler.
So the treble dream is over. I didn’t for a moment think we’d get that close in the winter, but we still have plenty to be positive about. There’s still a league to win, there’s a winnable Champions League semi-final to come in just over a week, and there’s an interesting summer on the transfer front to look forward to.
Lastly, with all the shit City fans are talking about becoming the bigger club, remember this. The FA Cup semi-final was their biggest game in donkeys years. It wasn’t even our biggest this week.
It’s criminal that I have waited until now to pust a reaction peice to this game, given how brilliant it was, and how much there is to discuss. That’s what happens when you get ill, unfortunately. On the plus side, it’s given me a couple of days to chew over the game, and certain performances, and any jerking of the knee has long since calmed.
Without wanting to burst everyone’s balloon, we need to remember that this was just one game against the biggest bottlers of the Premiership era. Even Keegan’s Newcastle team only really bottled it once – Arsenal are serial bottlers, throwing away trophies left, right and center as soon as they are in any danger of winning them.
We will learn a lot more about how much we’re revitalized after the international break. Could it have come at a worse time? I fully expect us to ride the crest of the wave and sweep a crisis-torn Marseille side aside at Old Trafford and Bolton at the weekend, but we’d then absolutely love a run of Premiership games, thick and fast, to keep us interested, winning, and put the league beyond the reach of Arsenal and City.
Instead, we get to add a maximum of three Premiership points to our total before we have to watch a pointless England friendly against, of all people, Ghana, and what should be a walkover in qualification against Wales. Of course, given the privelage of seeing our Captain, Leader, Legend back in charge of the England side, so I should really be holding my tongue…
So, perhaps the most important game of the season now becomes our first game back, away at West Ham on Saturday lunchtime. Win that well, and we’re all set for the run-in. I can’t stress enough the importance of being clear by the time we have to play Arse and Chelsea.
Onto the Arsenal game itself. The first, and most obvious point, is that Fabio and Rafael were both absolutely outstanding. I think the fact that it was Tony who came on has let many people overlook the injustice of Fabio’s withdrawal at half-time, and I have no doubt that if Valencia wasn’t waiting in the wings for his comeback, he would have played most of the 90.
Fabio is showing the eye for goal that we were always told he had ever since Les Kershaw first slapped eyes on them. Both he and Rafael are also showing the versatility which will stand them in good stead at the club (case in point; John O’Shea) with their performance on the wing adding to Fabio’s stint in central midfield for the reserves, a position also occupied by Rafael for the first portion of the second half.
Most importantly, they add the same tenacity to the flanks as Park Ji-Sung does, but without sacrificing any of the attacking threat. Now, Park is far too good a player to consider shipping out, but Ferguson now has options as to who to play out wide when up against a Bale or Nasri figure. In addition, should Nani be injured, the flanks will have fluidity if the da Silvas occupy them, with Evra and Valencia both capable of filling both spots when the da Silvas push on or drop deep.
I can’t stress enough how promising the twin’s performances were, and quite how beneficial the increase in options we now have is.
I don’t want to upset my self by discussing this in too much depth, but Edwin van der Sar was awesome. I fully understand his decision to retire to look after his sick wife, and I’d prefer it if our fans let him be, because these chants asking him to stay can’t be helping.
It’s getting boring having to point this out every week, but Chris Smalling was again absolutely brilliant. Arsenal were restricted to a handful of second half chances, and you had to be paying rapt attention to notice the work of Smalling. Like all the great defenders he got everything done with the minimum of fuss, distributed well and restricted van Persie to just one chance in the first half.
Is it fair to suggest that normal service has now resumed from Wayne Rooney? The goals are flowing once again, his first touch is back, and he looks interested again. Keep it up Wayne. You’ll have to do an awful lot to win my affections back, but you’re certainly going the right way about it.
I’d also like to mention Darron Gibson, who was assured and capable in central midfield. In the absence of Carrick, I was fully expecting him to be scapegoated should we lose (even beyond the ranting that would have awaited Fergie for his team selection). Instead, Gibson looked comfortable on the ball and tenacious alongside the steady John O’Shea, who never looks overawed. Ever.
I was as horrified as the next man when I saw the team=sheet, but once again Fergie proves us all wrong. It was definitely an experiment, but it couldn’t possibly have gone any better. Roll on Tuesday.
I cannot even contemplate losing to Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool within what feels like mere days. FA Cup or not, this one is a must-win for us.
I probably sound like a broken record saying that every single week, but in this case it’s absolutely true. If you asked me normally, then I would say yes, games against Arsenal are always important but in this instance, we need to take a look at the bigger picture. Read the rest of this entry »
The ever reliable Daily Star is reporting that Ferguson is going to get rid of Gabriel Obertan and Bebe at the end of the season.
An insight into the way these papers come up with their headlines can be gleaned from conclusion the Star has jumped to based on the following quote;
“It was a terrible performance from us in the second half. Some players came in and didn’t do themselves justice, no doubt about that. In the second half, we weren’t at the races and it was disappointing. We might have some players who don’t understand what the FA Cup is all about. That is the biggest lesson for
Ferguson clearly stating that Obertan and Bebe are the two specifically he is referring to, and that they will be leaving in the summer.
Now, whilst Gabriel Obertan and Bebe came in and were both poor, he could just as easily be referring to the quiet Javier Hernandez, the pedestrian Darron Gibson, or Wayne Rooney who, in a 45 minutes of football against non-leaguers, contributed nothing but a stupid booking.
Fergie also uses the word “lesson”. This suggests that he is still happy to work with his players, and that he sees this as a possibly positive experience for them in the long term.
After all, Bebe was bought in as a project, and we can’t be jumping to conclusions yet, and whilst Obertan’s lack of progress is a little worrying (as I have previously mentioned), we can’t be making rash judgements on the back of one game.
Let’s see how they respond to this, and give them time to come good. After all, we gave Ronaldo three seasons to come good, and my word, he did.
Our game against Crawley was an absolute waste of time to watch. The non-league side didn’t really have much of a go. They ran around a bit and tried very hard, but their real chances were limited to one header which Lindegaard had covered. Read the rest of this entry »
Crawley Town got a plum draw in the FA Cup, vising us at Old Trafford in the fifth round in February.
Usually, non-league teams such as this one ride on a wave of support around the country. However, those more familiar with the non-league game are likely to hope the Red Devils bomb out – Crawley’s Red Devils, that is. They’re an arrogant lot, apparently, and their manager Steve Evans sounds like a bit of a tosser. Read the rest of this entry »
Reward for fighting back against Southampton comes in the form of a home gimme against Crawley Town. I’m not usually one to tempt fate, but we might as well book our place in the quarter finals now.
Crawley have already seen off Derby County and Torquay to go further than even their wildest dreams expected. The game will be on the 19th or 20th of February, and will almost certainly be on TV.
The rest of the draw looks like this;
West Ham United v Burnley
Notts County / Manchester City v Aston Villa
Stoke City v Brighton & Hove Albion
Birmingham City v Sheffield Wednesday
Leyton Orient v Arsenal
Everton / Chelsea v Reading
Fulham (currently 4-0 up) v Bolton Wanderers / Wigan Athletic
No decent draws.
This competition has been relatively bad to us in recent years. Whilst not enjoying the same success as in the League Cup, we always seem to do OK before going out in some stupid fashion, such as Barthez not trying against Di Canio, or losing to Dirty Leeds last season.
It would be nice to get back on track in this competition, and a win against Liverpool was a great way to start, wiping the smile of King Kenny’s face before it even had begun. Read the rest of this entry »