It seems the days of Manchester United being the highest scoring team in the Premiership have all but completely faded. Those who have been fans for a while can remember the days of Cantona, Cole, Yorke, Beckham, Sheringham and Solskjaer. The goals seemed to be plentiful in those times, and the wins came rolling in as a result.
The trend seemed ready to continue, with the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo, Saha, Scholes and Giggs still gracing the United line-up. But injury problems have plagued the Red Devils thus far this season, bringing an end to one United player's career, and the goals have since dried up.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson decided not to venture into the transfer market to acquire new stirkers, instead relying on the talents of Manchester's reserves to carry the load. One finds it hard to blame him, as the team appeared to have ample supply of scoring talent.
With the acquisition of the youthful Nani and Anderson, and the arrival of veteran Carlos Tevez, it seemed United had enough firepower to withstand the loss of Rooney and the absence of Saha. Couple that with the presence of Scholes in the midfield, and an experienced defense, and United looked to be able to survive this early rough patch. Survival has proven to be much more elusive though.
The promise and potential of Nani and Anderson has yet to materialize in a powerful way. Tevez has not provided the offensive spark many expected, instead struggling to find his way in the fast-paced Premiership. Wins have been difficult to come by, and United has surrendered precious points with a loss to rival City, and surprising draws with Portsmouth and at Reading.
As a result, United now finds itself trailing in the English League standings. Though the difference between them and the top is only a few points, the gap could become much wider, as both Liverpool and Arsenal enjoy a game-in-hand, and a visit by an ever-potent Chelsea looms at the weekend. It seems Sir Alex's decision could prove to be costly, especially if United finds itself trailing by a slight margin come May.
The good news for United fans is that the goal drought is not likely to last the entire season. The return of Wayne Rooney is not far off, though it seems like an eternity to the Manchester faithful. While it may take him a few games to regain his form, having Rooney on the field is enough in itself to lift the side out of the scoring drought. His presence on the field allows some of the pressure, both literal and figurative, to be taken off of his teammates, namely the youngsters Nani and Anderson. The return of a fully-fit Louis Saha should provide additional speed and skill to a Manchester offense in desperate need of both.
The other good news is that United's defense, which has had some porous moments in recent years, has since taken up the slack. Edwin Van der Sar's group has kept clean sheets in four of United's six league games. And in the other two games, they have only given up one goal in each, both of which came on the road. This should give United fans, and Sir Alex himself, confidence that this team should be able to survive the absence of their goal-scoring titans, and go on to compete for the Treble (though a Treble, like always, does seem unlikely this season).
In the meantime, questions still remain as to how long the defense can sustain their hold. It would be beneficial for the offense to take some pressure off of their back line by providing them with some goals, but that does not look likely in the next few weeks. And the games only get harder from here, though the Red Devils will avoid the teeth of the Barclays Premiership a while longer. Hopefully, long enough for Sir Alex to re-form his team into the force many thought it would be at the beginning of the season.
This weekend's clash with Chelsea should provide some evidence of what can be expected from United for the rest of the season. Regardless, United needs to do whatever is required to take points from the game, as a loss now could prove catastrophic for Man U as they look to defend their Premiership title.
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