Another day, another humbling home defeat. With Swansea beating us at Old Trafford, we’ve now realistically got nothing but the Capital One Cup to aim for this season in terms of silverware. 4th would be a massive, massive bonus given the way we’ve played. It was a fairly unlucky result, with Moyes being forced to make an unwanted substitution and then seeing that substitute sent off four minutes later, but the truth is that we should beat teams like Swansea comfortably at home.
Why aren’t we?
If you listen to the troglodytes on Twitter, it apparently because the players lack determination and commitment. It’s because they don’t have “pride in the shirt” and don’t “want it enough”. This upsets me greatly. Such incredible ignorance about exactly what’s wrong with the side shouldn’t be given a platform; unfortunately with every sycophantic click of the retweet button such brain-dead opinions propagate yet further. You think Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia and Chris Smalling don’t want to win the games of football that they’ve trained their entire lives to play in? Ok then.
If all that’s needed from our players is an excess of tub thumping partisan fury, wouldn’t football be so simple! Find eleven crazed United zealots that can kick a ball roughly straight and send them out against Europe’s best! Unfortunately many supporters and, worryingly, our management team seem to think that “wanting it more” is the be-all and end-all to the problems we’re seeing this season.
The reason this kind of thinking is so damaging, and so ubiquitous, is that it completely ignores the real problems with our team. It instead resorts to the kind of Neanderthal thinking that’s plagued British football since the halcyon days of Euro 96. Unfortunately, it’s also greedily gobbled up by fans who seem to think that the only qualities required to play for Manchester United are that you work hard and try your best. Apparently we’ll win games of football just by wanting to win them more than the opposition. Sorry, what?
The real issues with our team are both tactical and technical. We’re playing in a hilariously predictable way, and a way that isn’t to the strengths of any of our forwards. We’re not playing through Welbeck and Chicharito. We’re completely ignoring Shinji Kagawa when he presents himself 22 yards out in space, preferring instead to go wide again and ping endless crosses in to the head of Chicharito. The lad has struggled for form this season, not in part due to the fact that the only service he has of note comes floating in three feet above his head.
I worry that Kagawa is turning into Veron all over again. He’s a player of real, obvious quality. Comfortable on the ball, never selfish, never doing too much. He gives, he goes, he finds space. He plays with verve and pace and incision. Unfortunately, the rest of the team aren’t on his wavelength and aren’t trusting him with the ball. Look how many touches someone like Valencia takes every time he receives it on his flank. Six, seven, eight. Spinning round and round trying to find some space. Kagawa almost never takes more than three unless there’s space to run into. He pops it off and moves intelligently into pockets around the edge of the area, then waits for it to come back. But it never, ever does. It finds its way to Valencia, it gets aimlessly punted in towards Hernandez and we invariably lose the ball.
Pick Kagawa, play the lad centrally and give him the ball. Get Rooney to either sign a new deal or sell him in January. If he signs, play him up front with Van Persie. If not, give the gig to Welbeck. Stick three across the middle with Carrick or Fellaini sitting and Rafael and Evra playing as wing-backs, and play through the middle. We’ve tried this blind-alley winger business. It doesn’t work. Try something else.
Whatever we try, it runs deeper than just “trying harder” or having “passion and belief”. We actually need to play a system that makes sense with players in the correct positions first, then worry about that afterwards.