Manchester United vs. Barcelona: Missing Chances on and off the Pitch
The new season approaches and these are telling times for the Red Devils. The next 11 days could decide the outcome for the whole season.
While Wednesday's match could be read from the scoreline as something of a triumph (even I had expected a beating), it belies some troubling challenges that must be overcome.
The key to the season is to start turning chances into goals, and I don't just mean on the pitch.
United must now make at least one marquee signing to kick-start their season.
No, I'm not changing my view that they can win the title and progress to at least the Champions League quarterfinals. That will be a struggle all season, however, unless some things start to change.
The good news is that Shinji Kagawa looks certain to make a major impact this season—one that could be pivotal.
Also, it looks highly likely that despite many subjective opinions against, the initial public offering will be a success, with forecasts in some places of an oversubscription.
The club needs some inspiration most of all on the pitch and, at the moment, that seems most likely to come from the old stager Paul Scholes and the return of Nemanja Vidic.
Wednesday in Sweden, United missed too many convertible chances and there is an emerging matching pattern off the pitch.
Let me make clear: I do and always have supported Sir Alex Ferguson's firm stance on avoiding financial profligacy.
Yes, it's a major disappointment that Lucas Moura is not coming to Old Trafford, but paying over £40 million for a 19-year-old—including side payments—is plain daft. The economics of PSG, Chelsea and City are increasingly coming into question.
There may be some suspicion that Roberto Mancini's waved white flag on Robin van Persie is an early sign that the money men want to balance the books at City.
Whatever the reason, that appears to leave the way clear for Ferguson to steam in and make what would be a transformational signing for United.
He still has to overcome the understandable reluctance of Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board to sell yet another star player to a Premier League rival. But Fergie must drive this one through.
Lucas Moura's escape may look like a missed chance for the Scottish knight—with the previous suggestion that United baulked at paying the add-ons for a lower fee than PSG have paid. I admire the principles. Fergie hates paying agents, let alone players and family.
United supporters could be forgiven for thinking that Sir Alex has missed just as big a chance as Wayne Rooney's penalty last night.
Many supporters have questioned why you would buy van Persie when United have Rooney and Danny Welbeck. On this summer's showing, I would start the Dutch striker ahead of everyone at United.
It just might have the effect of getting his new colleagues' shooting boots back on.
Nani and Ashley Young compounded the felony by missing penalties. Although it is still early in the return of the senior players to start worrying about where the goals are going to come from, Javier Hernandez is woefully out of form like Rooney, Welbeck looks rusty and only Kagawa looks sharp in front of the posts.
No doubt this can be turned round in the next week and a half. Elsewhere on the pitch, United showed that they are still charitable with possession when they play Barcelona, who should have made more. The jury is still out whether Tito Vilanova has the ability to emulate his predecessor and mentor.
The good news is that Sir Alex will have seen enough last night to encourage him in two very different ways.
His midfield is working well and the evergreen Paul Scholes can be pivotal again with Anderson also finally showing signs he can produce a return on United's investment.
Second, he will have been hugely encouraged to get his newly fattened cheque book out to sign at least two players: Van Persie for one—spare no expense! (You won't often read me saying that.)
And a left-back. Patrice Evra was woeful, and given that he was single-handedly responsible for losing the critical City 6-1 drubbing and conceding to Everton, together with the title, he needs replacing, not augmenting right now.
Time to turn those chances into goals on and off the pitch, guys! Get to it.
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