Having won 5 of our last 7 league games, we headed to Old Trafford for the game against Man United in full confidence. The importance of games against our fiercest rivals needs no explanation here because our fans already know that these fixtures are like no other in terms of atmosphere, pride and passion. Form is irrelevant and the rewards of winning these games go far beyond 3 league points. A win would have been amazing; it would have kick started our season and gave the lads a massive confidence boost ahead of our impending trips to the Emirates and the Etihad in a few weeks’ time.
This did not happen and it’s a shame that our players did not turn up with a passion similar to those who were sat in the visiting section of Old Trafford….
I always try to take the positives from our games and I tend to write my articles in an optimistic manner wherever possible. However, on this occasion, I believe we were completely responsible for our 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford. We cannot blame bad luck and we cannot blame Howard Webb because the simple fact is we did not turn up for the first half. We didn’t look hungry enough, we were second to every ball, we gave the United players far too much time and space, we failed to apply any pressure and as a result, they completed outplayed us. The stats at half time were embarrassing; 1 shot in the entire half and it was off target. The only positive factor we could have taken from that woeful first half was the fact we were only 1 goal behind when it could so easily have been 3.
Although everybody underperformed in the first half, I think Joe Allen in particular seemed out of his depth. His weaknesses have been exposed somewhat recently and it’s a shame after the promising start he made to the season. He often crumbles under pressure and gives possession away far too cheaply. He has struggled in other games against the bigger clubs and with this in mind; I think Brendan Rodgers probably should have started Jordan Henderson instead, especially given Henderson’s recent improvement. He made far too many mistakes again at Old Trafford and how he managed to remain on the field until the 80th minute I really do not know because for me, he had to come off at half time.
Andre Wisdom struggled a bit too and got caught out of position a couple of times. He gave Patrice Evra far too much space to deliver the cross that lead to Robin van Persie’s goal. However, injuries to Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique meant that we didn’t have many other options. Jamie Carragher’s strength, determination and passion would have been useful for a fixture like this but he would have struggled with the pace of United’s attacks so I can understand why Rodgers stuck with Wisdom. We have to remember that Wisdom is young and inexperienced and he will, no doubt, improve in time.
Martin Skrtel conceded the foul that lead to their second goal and some might say he was fortunate to stay on the pitch. On another day, Webb may have given him his marching orders. Looking back at the challenge, it seemed a bit unnecessary because Reina would have almost certainly got to the ball ahead of Danny Welbeck. However, we cannot blame Skrtel entirely for that goal because we had a chance to defend their free kick and failed miserably.
Although I’ve just singled out mistakes made by Joe Allen, Andre Wisdom and Martin Skrtel, it would be unfair to blame those three completely because everybody was poor in that first half. Pepe Reina made a couple of poor clearances, one of which could easily have gifted Man United a goal; Stewart Downing was completely ineffective, as was Raheem Sterling. Even Lucas was quite poor. Our contribution as a team was nothing short of a horror show and definitely one to forget. These things occasionally happen in football so we have to forget about them, continue to support the lads and focus on the positives. Believe it or not, there were positive factors to take from Old Trafford too.
The spirit we showed in the remaining half hour was excellent. We put United under all sorts of pressure, created a few decent chances and could have salvaged a point had we been more clinical. Still, nobody can expect to travel to a place like Old Trafford, turn up with half an hour to go and expect to get something from the game. It is very frustrating that at times, we only seem to turn up once we’ve gone behind and that is something Brendan Rodgers will have to address with the squad because at the minute, this trait is costing us far too many points. Had we turned up at the beginning of the game and performed in the way that we did in the last half hour then we could have left Old Trafford with all 3 points.
The introduction of Daniel Sturridge changed the game completely. He gave Luis Suarez, who was isolated for the entire first half, some much needed support. He gave the United defenders something else to think about and was a constant thorn in their sides. He gave us some much needed pace, his movement and positioning was excellent and he was rewarded with a goal; it may have been a simple tap in but far too often in recent seasons we have hit the woodwork or forced the keeper into a save and had nobody there to finish off so hopefully, Daniel Sturridge can be that player and grab us some crucial goals. Sturridge had a glorious chance to equalise and make himself an instant hero but blazed it over the bar. Still, the early signs were very encouraging, particularly his link up play with Luis Suarez. Some fans were complaining that Rodgers did not start Sturridge but we have to remember that he isn’t completely match fit yet. Had we started him then it’s likely we would have had to take him off before the end and we all know how strongly Man United tend to finish games…
Another positive factor was the return of striker Fabio Borini. His game time in a red shirt has been very limited since signing from Roma last summer and many fans appeared to have written him off already. He looked very promising yesterday though and the prospect of a Borini/Sturridge/Suarez link-up is fascinating. We have to get Sturridge and Borini back to full fitness first though so we will have to be patient.
I know we’re all extremely disappointed with the result at Old Trafford but there’s no point moping over what could have been; we have to try and move on now and focus on our game at home to Norwich on Saturday. The four teams directly above us in the league all dropped points this weekend so our loss was perhaps not as damaging as it could have been, in terms of league positioning. However, we need to ensure we start taking advantage of other teams’ slip ups starting with Norwich on Saturday; this game is an absolute must win. Luis Suarez has scored a hat-trick in our last two fixtures against the Canaries so it would be great if he could make it a hat-trick of hat-tricks!
On a serious note though, the 3 points are essential if we are to regain our momentum in preparation for our visits to the Emirates and the Etihad. If we turn up at the start of the game and perform for 90 minutes in the way that we did for the last half an hour at Old Trafford then I’m sure we will be in for an exciting afternoon. Only time will tell…
Keep the faith.