This Manchester United side that Alex Ferguson is running with this season is a strange hybrid of atrocious defending, a goalkeeper that defies logic, no midfield play whatsoever, wings that keep on pushing and one Robin van Persie, continuing a two year stretch of being the best goalscorer and player in the Premier League.
Only one goal to his name in the 3-2 win over Chelsea, taking his tally up to 7 in 9 matches, but he was behind all three of them. In the first one it was his shot that bounced off David Luiz and gave United the opening goal. In the third, it was his shot that began the whole mess that led to the Chicharito goal from offside.
Just like Ferguson has with Wayne Rooney and his ability to play either striker, the man behind or even midfielder, he found a perfect way to complement his winger and get an added bonus of not losing a player while Ashley Young drifts into the middle. There’s no midfield for Manchester United, or there’s an attempt to use it as little as possible against good teams. Simply play to your strengths, which is through Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
Young is so comfortable moving into the middle, which created so many problems for Chelsea in the first half, because United don’t lose a skill player on the wing, as Van Persie simply switches places with him. Javier Hernandez is a fantastic poacher of goals, but he doesn’t add much when it comes to build up play or any kind of variety you expect from a more modern striker. In Van Persie, Ferguson found the perfect way to complement Rooney, and even upstage him.
But the problem with his 4-4-2 is once the team is forced to defend. David de Gea simply refuses to address any cross in his box, remaining glued to the goalline. It does result in some acrobatic saves, but Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand have proven this season more than once that they’re struggling with handling crosses on their own. Having a keeper who’ll have none of that isn’t exactly promising for the future in other tough matches.
Referee help? It’s always nice to have it. United could also say they should have gotten a penalty in the first half off a David Luiz handball, but the events of the second half clearly went in their favor. All of their awkward attempts at defending, as this team is clearly not meant to be holding back and waiting for teams to come at them with wave after wave of attacks, were forgotten once they had a two man advantage.
Ferguson keeps looking for his midfield duo or trio to make it work. Wayne Rooney shifted between second striker and being the link up man to Tom Cleverly and Michael Carrick. Is that what will satisfy Ferguson? Probably not. Cleverly is the fastest player he’s got in his midfield crew, but he can’t dictate pace as well as Paul Scholes can. Carrick, Scholes, Giggs. All good players, but with too many flaws that look very bad once they play a quick and quality team.
The road ahead? The defense problems seem fixable, once Ferguson has Jones and Smalling come back. In the middle is a different story, and he’ll probably have to keep doing this rotation, while both Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa (once he returns) having to play a more withdrawn role to help both with the ball and without it. In a Premier League title race along with two other flawed teams, it just might be enough.