Manchester United: How Blackburn Were Able to Spoil Sir Alex's Birthday
Yep. I was there. Sir Alex Ferguson will have been spitting blood on his birthday for a number of reasons, but he has some responsibility himself.
With Wayne Rooney added to the injury list and Ryan Giggs nowhere to be seen, it looks like United had 12 players out, including four centre-backs.
In addition, Anderson had to be added to the bench as a shock call-up after not featuring at all for two months; Rafael was pressed into starting, fresh back from injury; and Phil Jones wasn't given any recuperation time from his illness.
So, to say United were a scratch team was an understatement. What is worse, they will have had virtually no chance to practice with the most bizarre back eight they've ever fielded:
Evra; Jones; Carrick; Valencia
Welbeck; Park; Rafael; Nani
So What Happened?
To be fair, Blackburn had their fair share of injured players, with Hoilett and Dunn added before the match.
Steve Kean deserves credit that his team played to win throughout. A highly dubious penalty in the first half which Yakubu converted gave them the option to shut up shop but, despite Bunn's efforts in goal to give Fergie a heart attack by taking an age over every goal-kick, Blackburn pressed forward when they could.
Sir Alex will not have been impressed by United's arrogance in the first half, as they played as if Blackburn would simply roll over. There were precious few chances created and there wasn't the zip seen in recent matches.
The manager can blame "a pudding of a pitch" if he wants, but Chicharito continued his indifferent form and the bizarre midfield didn't seem to know how to light the spark.
The most frustrating performance of the lot came from Nani. His claim that he wants to be the best player in the world looks like outrageous arrogance now. He didn't make enough happen, hit a string of poor crosses and passes until late in the second half and persistently blazed optimistic shots well over the bar.
Phil Jones was not at his best but Michael Carrick put in a fair showing until the central defence melted and De Gea was missing again for the third goal.
Lighting the Fuse
Blackburn had very few attacks or attempts on goal, but they always looked likely to score, so shaky were United under pressure.
Sadly, it was no great surprise when Blackburn scored a second and De Gea must take some of the blame for that as well. While Rafael looked rusty, when Yakubu wormed his way through from the left, you would have expected Edwin Van Der Sar to stay big, advance and force the error.
Unfortunately it was error prone De Gea in the way. He looked like a rabbit in the headlights as the man mountain (reinvented since his move from Everton) slid the ball nonchalantly through the United goalkeeper. Bet he wishes he was somewhere else.
On this showing, Lindegaard should have the gloves for the rest of the season. Fergie has given his "fantastic" goalkeeper plenty of chances, but he does not fill us with any confidence at all. So what his defence must think, we dare not think.
Two things lit the fuse. Anderson returned to start the second half—two months early! The fans had to blink and adjust their bifocals because it looked like Nani's twin brother. The "dreadlocks" had gone, he was lean and mean and had an immediate effect on the match.
We may never know, but it looks like Anderson has been to Nike in the US, like Wayne Rooney did. On this form, he's going to be a factor and may save United some cash in the transfer market.
The other thing was going two goals down. United were in shock and hopefully ashamed. Suddenly, they swarmed forward like a horde of angry bees.
In just seven minutes, Berbatov put them level with two world-class strikes and, with just over 20 minutes left, United had to be favourites to win.
It is fair to say they had a dreadful referee and not much luck in the second half. They utterly dominated Blackburn. Shots cannoned off bodies on the line. Will Keane could have scored twice in his debut; Valencia and Rafael were on fire.
How It Was Lost
As we've already mentioned, the third goal was an utter mess in which the defence looked like they'd never met each other.
It could be said that United have ridden their luck during possibly their worst injury crisis ever. However, they have looked the attacking force they were at the start of the season in scoring 16 goals and conceding one in the last four matches. Also, they've had an easy run of matches.
They missed Rooney today and Berbatov must start alongside him until Hernandez rediscovers his form. The Bulgarian has now scored six goals in his last three starts.
You could not say that Blackburn won it: a dodgy penalty and two defensive errors; but United definitely lost it.
But the bench today summed up why such a defeat was all but inevitable:
Lindegaard, Cole, Fryers, Pogba, Keane, Anderson, Diouf.
United are down to the bare bones. Ironically, they may soon have an avalanche of players returning, giving Sir Alex the sort of headache he likes.
What Does Fergie Do Now?
This was the worst possible birthday present for the septuagenarian. What he needs now is Gary Cahill—pronto. He may not see value in the market, but £7 million and probably £50k per week wages are petty cash for United. Ferdinand is unreliable; Vidic may never come back; the cupboard is bare.
If everyone gets fit, Jones can play defensive midfield when required. Get Cahill bought, Sir Alex.
And the only consolation? Chelsea were thrashed and Spurs could only draw, but City have still to play tomorrow.
Twice this season, United have had the chance to go clear top and twice they've blown it. The boss has had his birthday ruined and it's time for him to shake things up.
United may be shocked into action yet again because this home defeat is almost as bad as the City humiliation, but how many more times will they need a wake-up call, before Sir Alex and his key players decide this just isn't good enough.
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