Manchester United perpetuated their reputation as the big teasers of the English Premier League on Saturday, lulling Queens Park Rangers into false dreams of a famous victory before the now familiar late Red rally dashed the Londoners hopes like many before them.
It is tempting to believe, as a United supporter, that this is all part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s master plan.
Conserve their energy early on, lure the opposition into believing they have a chance and then strike quickly, leaving their opponents shell shocked with no time to respond.
Brilliant! It works every time. It cannot fail.
Except, it has failed a few times already, as Everton, Tottenham and Norwich City will testify. In those games, United either put their feet on the throttle and nothing happened or, in the case of Tottenham, came up against a side that refused to be browbeaten into submission.
It is, unquestionably, a dangerous game to play and, of course, despite the temptation to believe, it isn’t planned.
Statistically, United have conceded the first goal in nine out of the 15 competitive games they have won this season.
On the one hand, this demonstrates a resilience and self belief to be admired. On the other hand, it shows a carelessness and lack of focus early on in games that could ultimately prove to be their downfall.
Saturday’s frightener will probably reignite the weekly crusade for a serious foray into the January transfer market. Perhaps, however, the problem lies in the mindset of the players and the approach they are taking to matches, rather than simply the composition of the squad.
How come they can turn on the style later on in games when they find it so difficult to blast teams away in the first 45 minutes?
You cannot, of course, ignore the fact that, because of their awesome reputation and record, United very often evoke a cautious approach from their opponents .Consequently, we see teams sitting deep early on in games, not wishing to find themselves battered and bullied out of the game by half time.
United’s response to this is to play a possession game, waiting patiently for gaps to appear and trying to thread slide rule passes through the opponents defence when they do.
Despite scoring the first two goals on Saturday from corners, they have often relied on teams tiring late on in games and leaving gaps that can be exploited.
This Barcelonaesque game plan is alien to many of the current squad. Most of United’s success this season, and in seasons past, has been with a more direct, dynamic approach from the start.
This is also what the majority of their fans expect and want to see.
Attack! Attack! Attack! Say the banners around the ground. It has been United’s mantra for as long as I can remember and maybe it needs to be employed earlier in games.
Unfortunately, there is a very strong counter argument to this reversion to their roots.
It is that, despite early elimination from the League Cup (a blessing some may consider!), United are, as I write, sitting on top of the Premier League and have already comfortably won their group in the Champions League.
The adage “if it ain't broke don’t fix it” appears to have relevance in this case, although I am pretty sure Sir Alex would like a slightly easier ride than he is getting at the moment on his quest for a major trophy this season.
United are allowing their style to be dictated by the opposition rather than vice versa, and until this is remedied, we are possibly doomed to suffer the agonies of watching Fergy’s boys playing “catch up” in matches for the rest of the season.