Normal football interrupted the international break and Stoke visited Old Trafford to try to end a barren run of results in the red part of Manchester. United’s last game had seen them win confidently at Newcastle but many days had passed since then and plenty of players have been with their countries so while on paper this looked like a home-banker, things are never that simple. With Chelsea winning at Spurs in the early kick off the pressure was on United to get the win and keep the gap at just four points. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
Fergie rests a few
After the international break it’s always tricky to predict what kind of a team any manager in the league will put out. Players need to be fresh enough and fit enough to play – at United the likes of Valencia, Kagawa and Hernandez have either travelled far or played a lot and hence may be candidates for sitting this game out. With Smalling not yet ready to return, the back four picked itself but there were some changes in front of the defence.
Quite sensibly, Cleverley was left out of the 18 altogether – Fergie’s good at knowing when to take a player out of the limelight and for both positive and negative reasons, pundits have spent much of the past 2 weeks talking about Tom. Kagawa also missed out as did the fit again Young. The selected team maybe looked a tad lopsided with Valencia wide right and Welbeck, Rooney and van Persie rotating to try and provide width on the left but against Stoke United just had too much talent in the end.
One of the bigger decisions was to decide who to play in goal. De Gea has struggled on high balls, something Stoke have become synonymous with. Yet, Fergie stuck by the young Spaniard and he generally had no problems – confidently punching the one cross he really had to deal with. Arguably he could have come for the cross for Stoke’s opener but given how many players were on the near post, holding back seemed sensible. Ultimately, Charlie Adam’s free kick was excellent and almost impossible to defend. Such is de Gea’s ability that he nearly kept out Kightly’s shot for Stoke’s second goal – a fantastic attempt and another goal conceded that he couldn’t really do much about.
We’ve seen it a few times in games now where Fergie has opted for three strikers. Against Stoke, Welbeck started left with van Persie holding a high line and Rooney a tad deeper. These positions weren’t fixed though and all three rotated with each other quite a bit. Welbeck’s not a winger at all but he’s becoming more comfortable wide as he uses his power and pace on the counter; Rooney as we know can play anywhere; and van Persie likes to be the furthest forward. All three though are able to play in other areas and the natural interchanging has been great to watch and suggests that understandings are being formed. As things would go, all three strikers would score a goal and assist a goal via some great heading or crossing or finishing.
Danny was excellent, a real live wire who physically scares defenders. He cuts in from the left well and carries the ball superbly. Fans are rightly critical of his finishing but those who are most vociferous tend not to appreciate everything else he brings. Additionally, it’s worth noting his Ashley Young-esqe bending shot that hit the bar was nearly something very special.
Since joining United, van Persie has mentioned a few times that he’s required to get much more involved in the build up play rather than simply put the ball in the net like he did at Arsenal. It’s maybe for that reason, that we hardly saw him play like this at Arsenal, that I find myself surprised by how good he is when he’s deeper on the pitch. His vision is excellent and he has quicker feet than I thought. His performance oozed quality and his finish for his goal was so much harder than it looked – opening up his foot as he fell over to direct a speeding cross past Begovic.
As for Rooney, well he just looks happy. United fans will always have an issue when it comes to him after his transfer request but he genuinely seems to be enjoying his football right now and when he does that, he plays well. His goals were well taken (minus the own goal) and his overall contribution played a big part in getting three points. Goals, it seems, won’t be a problem for United this season.
The Ginger Master
It’s nothing you won’t already know, but watching Scholes is just a privilege. To think he actually went and retired is crazy – he remains the most gorgeous user of a football in the league. Couple an extraordinary passing range with the most amazing peripheral vision and it’s football pornography.
Yet again, he was masterful on Saturday. It’s an obvious thing to say but when he does actually retire, replacing him will be impossible unless Xavi or Iniesta decide they fancy some rain.
Some players thrive when they have competition for their spot in the team. The challenge of retaining a place tends to raise performance levels and that’s been the case for Rafael in the past. However, right now, with Smalling and Jones both unfit he’s been pretty much guaranteed his starting spot. The regular football seems to have not just brought the best out in him but at just 22 he’s playing with incredible consistency and maturity.
It’s not just in attack either that he’s becoming invaluable. His Brazilian DNA means that his natural instinct is to get forward and make goals – the challenge therefore has been to get him to defend as well as he can attack. And, well, it’s happening. Not only is Rafael doing well to keep left wingers out but he’s also covering for centre backs with crucial blocks and tackles too. When Smalling and Jones return, there’s a chance Rafael may sometimes be rested but if he keeps up this level of performance, they won’t be getting many games at right back.
Rio, Fergie and a t-shirt
Rio Ferdinand was the only Man United player not to wear the ‘Kick it out’ t-shirt in the warm up at pre game. Ferdinand’s stance was reflected by the actions of his brother Anton, Kenwyne Jones, Jason Roberts and many other footballers across the country. Roberts had bee criticised by Sir Alex Ferguson in his Friday press conference for ‘being different’ to other players trying to back the campaign. The big problem for Sir Alex now is that one of his longest serving players, who would have been well aware of his manager’s comments took exactly the same action as the Reading striker, which would indicate he too believes that the organisation isn’t doing enough to tackle racism.
This has made Sir Alex look foolish and, as he said himself, the Scot will be extremely embarrassed due to the nature of his comments about Jason Roberts’ and his media career. But surely, Rio Ferdinand has the right to wear what he wants? If he believes that the ‘Kick it out’ campaign isn’t working or doing enough, then he has every right to demonstrate that by not wearing the t-shirt. Both Sir Alex and Rio are no doubt fighting for the same thing and want to eradicate racism from all areas of football, both in the stands and on the field – but Ferdinand’s decision to take the same stance as Jason Roberts is a problem for Ferguson. We believe that Ferguson will have a private word with Rio Ferdinand but will not drop him or fine him for his actions. Ferguson’s tone when speaking to the media was one of calm rather than anger and given the reaction to his comments maybe he’ll even begrudgingly apologise. What do you think? Ferguson has history with players who go against him, but surely this isn’t the beginning of the end for Rio?
A win, three points and a load more goals – entertainment and the right result. Still, there would have been a time when conceding two goals at home was unthinkable. Going behind again and the sloppy nature of the second Stoke goal means there’s still work to be done defensively. At the other end of the pitch, strange things are happening – United are scoring loads of headers and entertaining football is returning. Van Persie in particular is proving to be a superb acquisition whilst all the other strikers are not only scoring but setting up goals too. In fact, so far this season 19 of the 26 outfield players to play for United have either scored or set up a goal – Vidic, Vermijl, M Keane, Wootton, Brady, Giggs and Tunnicliffe are the seven who haven’t.
United will try to make it three wins from three in the Champions League when Braga come to town on Tuesday but after that, there are three big games in a row. A double header in London against league leaders Chelsea in the league and Capital One Cup before Arsenal come to Old Trafford in November’s first game. In two weeks time, this season will really start to take some shape,