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United once again had to launch ‘project comeback’ against QPR at the weekend – results meant that United would go into the midweek games top of the league despite a far from convincing season thus far. Opponents, West Ham, have had a very good start to the season, aided by a kind fixture list. They shouldn’t be taken lightly though, Big Sam has a knack of getting the most out of players and knows how to grind out the points. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
Three in the middle
There is an internet code among some fans – one is not allowed to question or be critical of Fergie. Fans may not know better than Fergie but that’s something that could only be proven if they were to be given the reigns of our great club – still, supporters shouldn’t be criticised for having an opinion that may not sit comfy with the sheep. As it goes, many have called for a midfield of Carrick-Anderson-Cleverley. A mix of a very good holding midfielder with two young and energetic players who are likely to be more effective than some of the traffic cone combinations that we’ve tried lately.
Shock of shocks, after some strange two man pairings, Carrick, Anderson, and Cleverley were selected to start together. The system, referred to as the diamond didn’t necessarily always look like that. As is the case with United sides, players drift around the pitch and it wasn’t uncommon to see any of Rooney, Cleverley, Hernandez, Van Persie or Anderson take up wide positions for brief spells.
Did it work? There were positives and negatives. On the plus side, United weren’t overrun in the middle as has been all too common lately. Diame, a player who’s had an excellent season, was good but nowhere near as effective as he might of been. West Ham certainly missed Noble but Tomkins did a good job shielding his defence. Going forward, United were quick and crisp when passing with some of the midfielders linking up very well – they either hit a wall of West Ham players or lacked some width though. One gets the impression that finding a place for Kagawa in this system will be key.
Individually, there were mixed results. Cleverley seemed rusty – it was his first league start in nearly four weeks and it showed (even though he started in Turkey). Anderson carried the ball forward well and seemed to add a physical presence that’s often missing. Carrick was as reliable as ever and was often freed up to play some superb passes (like the assist) because of the two ahead of him.
It feels important that United persist with this system and these players even if it didn’t quite click. Too many times have the midfield been overrun and it’s open for debate as to whether we truly have the right central players to make a two man midfield work.
Clean sheets, those most precious of things. It had been ten games and nearly two months since United last kept one, away to Newcastle. It’s been difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is but with centre backs returning solidity shall hopefully return on a regular basis.
After the game, Fergie was quick to sing the praises of his defenders – singling out Evans, Smalling and Rafael in particular. The centre backs had met two very physical challenges from Carroll and Cole superbly, particularly in the last 15 minutes of the game when they had to head numerous long balls away. As well as the heading, tackling and blocking, both defenders were great at bringing the ball out of defence. It’s becoming a bit of a trait of Evans’ to go and beat numerous men in mazy runs!
Unquestionably, the star of the game and possibly of United’s season to date, was Rafael. Errors he’d have made in the past have been eradicated and the defensive side to his game is now on a par with his attacking. He looks fit and sharp despite playing nearly 250 minutes more than any other player in the squad so far this season. On form, you’d be hard pushed to find a better right back in the league at the moment. The maturity he’s showing, like Evans, is silencing the numerous doubters that have existed in recent years.
Form is temporary…
Evans and Rafael should be cited as two fine examples as to why patience with a footballer is required. Players mature and learn at different rates with the amount of exposure they get to first team football playing a big part. It’s incredibly disappointing to see that fans are starting to get on Welbeck’s back.
Some fans seem to assume that if a player isn’t a world beater, he isn’t good enough. The reality is that Danny may not become the best forward in the world but he’s going to be a player who’s good enough to offer a lot to United. Sure, there are plenty of things he has to improve but let’s not overlook that he’s most certainly not a winger and currently that’s the only place he’s getting picked.
To quote the ever-excellent @ManUnitedYouth:
DW’s a lad every Red should be rooting for. He’s a Manc, a good kid, loves the club, works his arse off and is a massive talent.
— Nick (@ManUnitedYouth) November 29, 2012
Wingers will play their part
Whilst United played without natural width against West Ham, wingers will play their part like they always have done. It doesn’t help that Valencia, Nani and Young are either injured or out of form but they remain vital players who have a track record of making telling contributions.
Having options is certainly a good thing. For now, the diamond system is worth further exploring so the players are more familiar with it but without signing new wingers, we’re not in a position to get rid of those we have just yet as width remains key.
One solitary goal after just 31 seconds was enough to see off West Ham in a dour game. Carrick’s superb ball got the treatment it deserved as Van Persie flicked it up and saw his shot end in the back of the net via a fortunate deflection. In truth, neither side created anything else of particular note but for large parts both sides were comfortable both in possession and defending against their opponent.
United stay top of the table and travel to Reading next in the late game on Saturday. Chelsea’s further dropped points means a 7 point gap has opened up between the two sides and for now, it’s the two Manchester sides leading the way once again.