2008/2009: The Season So Far: Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez
In response to Matt S' article, where he questions whether Tevez is worth £32 Million, I made this comment:
"He may be third choice for Alex Ferguson but in my opinion he should be ranked as at least second choice. So far, Berbatov hasn't done anything at all special to indicate that he's going to outperform the Tevez of last season. Tevez, on the other hand, has done well when he's been in the side and scored some important goals... yet again.
He's always shown he can produce the goods when it matters—a very, very rare quality indeed, so the answer to the question is yes, I would definitely pay 32m for him."
Nathan Lowe, who was also commenting on the article, replied to my comment by confidently issuing a challenge:
"Now, Steve, do I have to go back the last 10 matches and tell you every goal that Berbatov was intrinsically involved in the build-up? What about the game-winner against Middlesborough that he scored?
F*** man, you're really gonna make me do this? I have the MOTD highlights. Don't test me.
Reply to this and I'll take an hour to spout all the evidence. Take care."
And since it's now more than half way through the season, as well as accepting Nathan's challenge, it also seems like a good time to review Berbatov and Tevez's performances so far.
In the matches Tevez has played, generally he's done from good to pretty well. And, considering the pressure he's under to fight for his place, he's done extremely well; when he has been given the chance.
In the Carling Cup, where he has been first choice striker, he scored a pressure penalty in the 1-0 win against QPR, and then scored four goals against Blackburn as well as making an assist.
The key thing to note is that the four goals were of his own making too: he battled his way to win a header for his first goal; earned and dispatched a penalty for his second; played a perfect one-two with Anderson, to end a sumptuous move by United, to score his third; and then did this for his fourth.
Tevez has proven that he's still the man for scoring important goals too.
In the first big game of the season, Man Utd v Liverpool, it was, again, Tevez who scored United's only goal in a 2-1 defeat (1:25).
And, more recently, against Stoke, he scored the crucial goal for United in a 1-0 win (6:35). This is arguably his most important goal this season, for if he didn't score that goal United would've been 10 points behind the league leaders rather than only 7, with two games in hand.
On The Other Hand...
Berbatov is slowly improving his effectiveness for United. I certainly don't think he's done bad, but he certainly hasn't been outstanding either.
His first game for United, back in September, was in the 2-1 defeat against Liverpool (the same match where Tevez scored the only goal for United) and, in it, he had very little influence overall to the game.
A week later, in the game Ronaldo announced his comeback with another pathetic dive, he played in the 1-1 draw away to Chelsea. Berbatov main contribution was the shot that directly lead to Ji Sung Park's opening goal. However, for a player of his hype, you probably would've expected him to do better than hit it straight at the keeper. Especially considering the time and space he had.
In the match against Arsenal, in early November, Berbatov was more involved in the game but again had little impact. To a more stricter viewer, you might also say that it was Berbatov's poor clearing header from a corner that directly lead to Arsenal's opening goal (5:55).
In the Manchester Derby, another big match, his only meaningful contribution was a free header inside the box (2:03), which Joe Hart had to stretch to save but, in truth, lacked any real power.
In the Sunderland match, back in early December, United won because of a goal at the death by Nemanja Vidic. However, earlier in that match, Berbatov had a fantastic opportunity to score, another free header inside the box (5:43), but instead put it over the bar. I may be highlighting one miss but it was those kind of chances that Tevez took with both hands last season.
So when it comes to those moments later on in the season, I've yet to be convinced that Berbatov will be the one producing the goods.
Against Tottenham, a week later, where the pressure was on Berabtov for obvious reasons, he underperformed again. The only moment worth mentioning is, early in the second half, he made one semi-threatening run with the ball where he approached the box. Unfortunately, when he got there, he lacked the skill to get away a shot (5:00) or the intelligence to play a simple through ball to Ronaldo who was completely free.
As a comparison, in the same match, Tevez made a great run down the wing into the box, showing good strength and skill, at pace, but unlike Berbatov, he also got a dangerous shot away.
I also noticed that United's dangerous headers in the Tottenham's match were not by Berbatov, but by defenders Vidic (6:13) and Ferdinand (6:46). Berbatov was in the box when the crosses came in—why wasn't he on the end of it?
You could say that the crosses simply fell to the Vidic and Ferdinand, rather than Berbatov. But he's the leading striker. And as a £30m leading striker I would be expecting him, rather than the defenders, to be the one getting at the end of those crosses. By the way, one cross did come Berbatov's way in that match—but he missed his kick (6:40).
Come December we started to see some improvements, but there was still some doubt.
Stoke on Boxing Day. Most United fans will probably remember Berbatov coming on as a second half substitute and crossing the ball for Tevez to score (6:35). I admit, at first glance it did look like he meant to cross the ball to Tevez. But if you consider the position he got himself in (7 yards from goal, at the edge of the 6 yard box) and the fact that his eyes were on the ball all the time (he didn't once look up at Tevez's run into the box) then you'll realise that it's much more likely that he was going for a shot rather than a cross.
But, like I said earlier, he has begun to improve his effectiveness.
Although his cross for Tevez was actually a miss-kick, I don't deny one bit that he played a major part in the goal against Stoke. And, of course, he scored the only and winning goal for United in their last league match, against Middlesborough (7:16).
His confidence is visibly growing too. He may not have scored, or played a major part in the goals scored, in the last FA cup match against Southampton, but he did play some really nice through balls. He also kept the ball well under pressure, and I would say that his overall performance was one of his best so far.
Don't Test Me
However, unlike my friend Nathan claimed, Berbatov's improvement has only been visible in the last three games. Not the last 10.
However, I could be completely wrong. Maybe I'm not seeing things correctly. So go on mate...test me.
You have one hour.
p.s a word of advice: you might wanna look back (link to bbc website) a bit further than 10 matches, because I analysed all 17 matches that Berbatov played in(discounting the ones in the World Club Cup). And except from the ones he scored plus that great bit of skill against West Ham, I did not see Berbatov as the major reason for the goals in those games.
p.p.s here's a starting point: BBC Sport | Football | Man Utd | Results
Update: Interesting poll results. Thanks to those who voted.
I also just wanted to highlight this fantastic comment from Danny below, which really brings to light what an underrated player Tevez is.
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