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Manchester United created a number of chances in the 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on Monday night – but missed a number of glorious opportunities in the process.
United have now not conceded a Premier League goal since the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates in November. However, United have only scored nine goals in the seven Premier League games that followed – five of those coming in the same game against Stoke City. United’s defensive record will please Fergie, however the number of chances that are being missed will most surely have the gaffer concerned.
United created a number of glorious opportunities against Middlesbrough but failed to take a number of them with Ronaldo being the biggest culprit. For the second time in two games Ronaldo has failed to deliver, although it should be said that the treatment dished out to him was extremely harsh and Emanuel Pogatetz needs to realise that he can’t grapple people around the throat.
Ronaldo appears a shadow of his former self in front of goal having scuffed a left footed shot past the keeper’s near hand post whilst absolutely miscuing a low cross that trickled out for a throw on. There is no doubt the European Footballer of the year will be back to his best during the business end to the season but against Stoke and again against Middlesbrough he was well below his usual standards.
Rooney also had a superb opportunity to opening the scoring at the end of the first half with a sublime left foot half volley which was superbly saved by the Middlesbrough keeper. Berbatov also looked lively, constantly creating openings and showing close control when under pressure from a number of defenders. The United defense was rarely tested in the first half with the only threat coming from free kicks on the half way line – not something you would call a goal scoring opportunity at Old Trafford.
The second half saw the introduction of Scholes and Neville for Fletcher and Rafael. A good move by Ferguson to withdraw Fletcher, who wasn’t having a poor game – however the creative guile and skill of Scholes was needed. Scholes made an immediate impact laying off some beautiful passes and showing why his recovery from injury is like signing another World Class midfielder. Scholes plans to retire in 2010 – hopefully he can play for as long as his legs will let him.
The goal came in the 69th minute when Berbatov played the ball in Park who had to check back inside and back heel the ball into the path of the overlapping Carrick. Carrick tried to cross the ball, which was blocked by a good defensive tackle. The ball dropped just outside the area on the left and Carrick then proceeded to swivel and drop the ball on the six yard line which was comically dealt with by David Wheater. The ball then bounced and fell into the path of Berbatov, who had started the move, before being lashed into the goal on the half volley.
United could have scored a second had Ji-Sung Park not missed from a yard out. The Korean international was saved by an offside flag – however television replays show that the midfielder was actually on side. Fergie famously said that leaving Park out of his Champions League final squad in place of Nani was one of the hardest things he ever had to do considering the honest displays the Korean always puts in. However, he also stated that he felt ‘Nani had a goal in him’ – which isn’t one of Park’s strong points. He will be hoping that his impressive displays, bar goalscoring, will be rewarded by a new contract. Carlos Tevez on the other hand won’t be so straight forward.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be pleased with his sides defensive display, even without the influential Rio Ferdinand – who will also miss the Southampton trip through injury. However, he will be concerned with the fact that, bar the Stoke City home game, the side have scored four goals in the last six Premier League games. With Chelsea coming up on the 11th, and United needing to beat the Londoners to close the gap on Liverpool, the gaffer will be hoping Rooney, Berbatov and especially Ronaldo can rediscover their goalscoring form.