Keeshaanan Sundaresan examines Manchester United's performance against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, and decides to issue Sir Alex Ferguson an ultimatum
The combination of Anderson and Tom Cleverley against Newcastle in the Capitol Cup last Wednesday was exciting. However, despite both players scoring, neither of them featured against Tottenham Hotspur. Sir Alex does have the tendency to prefer a three man midfield of against the bigger teams, and a trio such as Giggs, Scholes and Carrick does have experience oozing out of them. But the time has come for a change, and it all depends on the manager himself.
United were shambolic in the first half against Tottenham Hotspur. Two surging runs from Jan Verthongen and Gareth Bale resulted in a two-goal lead and Spurs were well positioned for a brilliant win at Old Trafford by half time. Sir Alex yet again opted for an ‘experienced trinity’ with Scholes, Giggs and Carrick taking up the central midfield spots, but they came up short against the robust midfield of Tottenham. The Red Devils may have crumbled under defensive pressure as well, but they were hardly helped out by those in front of them not being allowed to play football.
Such was the calamity of the situation that the great hairdryer treatment was imminent as we approached half time. The look on Fergie’s face spoke for itself and a response was needed after the break. A major response was needed. And they got one.
Wayne Rooney was brought on for Ryan Giggs and United began to build a camp in Spurs half. Wave after wave of attacks were launched and it wasn’t long before Nani pulled a goal back for United in the 51st minute. Before the rapturous United crowd could even settle, a fast-paced counter attack saw Spurs restore their two goal lead through Clint Dempsey. Just when you thought the game was done and dusted for Sir Alex’s men, Shinji Kagawa immediately reduced the deficit again with a deftly executed finish from inside the box. Three goals in three minutes and it was game on.
Old Trafford was burning with passion and United began seizing the initiative. Wayne Rooney was boisterous, Robin Van Persie glowing in exuberance while Paul Scholes was hitting diagonal passes to the left and right wing effortlessly. The confidence and tempo was more than enough to keep Andre Villas Boas’ men pinned to their half as they defended their socks off. As for United, they had 80% possession of the ball, drew out save after save from Brad Friedel and rattled the post and bar on several occasions. They tortured Spurs and while the North Londoners were not ultimately beaten, the manner in which United came back strongly was more than encouraging.
But it took a hairdryer and most importantly a change in personnel to inspire such a comeback. There is no denying the fact that Giggs, Scholes and Carrick provide a wealth of experience in the middle of the park, but the pace of the modern game doesn’t suit such a line-up. Rooney replacing Giggs at half time made a vital difference as he added an element of pace into their style of play, something that is crucial in the Premier League.
While it’s easy to be content with United’s second half display, the catastrophic performance in the first half mustn’t be ignored. Their flat performance was begging for some pace and enthusiasm. Cleverley and Anderson could have done the trick, but Fergie felt otherwise. Surely a change is required.
Anderson arrived at Old Trafford with plenty of promise, with many even billing him to be the next Ronaldinho. But he has never been close to performing at such a level and the Brazilian has often struggled to perform consistently. However what he does do is bring a different dimension to the United midfield, a dynamism that was lacking against Spurs. Spurs had it. Dempsey was surging forward whenever possible, while Dembele was industrious against Carrick and Scholes. Cleverley is another player that is being dogged by consistency issues but his flair would have aided the team immensely as well.
There was a time when Scholes and Giggs were the cream of the crop for Manchester United. But it’s inevitable that both men aren’t the players they were a few years back. Age is catching up to them and their pace is slowing down. Their experience is certainly valuable but lining up both men at the same time against top class opponents is more of suicidal mission. We have underdeveloped talent in the form of Cleverley and Anderson and it is now up to the gaffer to allow them to buff up United’s midfield. Sir Alex Ferguson, the ball is in your court.