Manchester United: Why the International Break Is a Nightmare for Red Devils

Max TowleAnalyst IOctober 9, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United celebrates scoring his side's second goal with team mate Robin van Persie during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on September 29, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

To tell you the truth, there was a small part of me that was glad to see Manchester United well beaten by Tottenham Hotspur a little over a week ago.

The result was a culmination of some absolutely dreadful performances in games that Sir Alex Ferguson's side were lucky to escape from unharmed.

Some favourable refereeing decisions and fortunate breaks had kept United relatively unscathed through the opening weeks of the Premier League, but it still seemed like they were living on borrowed time—that the luck was due to run out, and a team underperforming in all areas of the pitch was set for a heavy loss.

Don't get me wrong, though; the Red Devils could have easily come back against Spurs for a second time and turned a 3-2 defeat into a 4-3 victory in typical Old Trafford style.

But when the clock ran out and the comeback fell short, I was glad. Glad! A United fan, happy with defeat—have you ever heard such a thing?

The term "wake-up call" is one used far too often for my liking by pundits and fans aplenty, but in this case, there can be no better way of describing the benefits of the result.

The midweek clash with CFR Cluj in the Champions League signalled a long-overdue shift in tactical thinking from a tired-looking 4-2-3-1 to a flexible 4-3-3. Wayne Rooney dropped back and was behind Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher and Anderson in the midfield at times.

Whilst this rather defensive formation didn't yield much in the way of creative, attacking football, what it did achieve was a dominance in the middle of the park not seen up until that point in the season.

On Sunday, in the highly impressive 3-0 win at St. James' Park (or whatever it's called these days), another tactical switch again paid dividends.

With only Michael Carrick to sit in front of the defence, a potent attacking quintet of Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa ran the Newcastle defence ragged with some slick passing and devastating directness.

Ironic as it was that defenders Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra scored the goals that effectively secured the win, the first 30 minutes of the game showed that Sir Alex Ferguson's side are well on their way to getting back to their best.

A pity, then, that the international break has come at exactly the most inopportune time for United.

Whether or not it will kill the team's momentum is a question that will only be answered not long into the following clash with Stoke City.

But it can have no positive effect, either way.

And this is not taking into account that the last break resulted in key players, notably Kagawa and van Persie, returning to Carrington with injuries.

Although the respective problems didn't turn out to be particularly serious, who knows if they, and United's other international representatives, will be as lucky next time.

To think if Wayne Rooney, who has easily been the team's most important player since he returned from his own spell on the sidelines, were to pick up a knock, I would fear the team going back to square one with key clashes with Chelsea and Arsenal looming.

Injuries to other players, even Evans and Rio Ferdinand, United could perhaps afford. But not to Rooney.

But touch wood, all of the travelling Red Devils return to Manchester safe and sound.

Getting them to pick up where they left off will be the most pertinent concern for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Follow @MaxTowle


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