Cruising at 3-1 at Goodison Park on Saturday, Manchester United were creating plenty more chances on the counterattack and had the possibility to emphasize their victory and at the same time send a message to the rest of the league.
Unfortunately, the message sent at fulltime was a very feeble one.
Instead of punishing opponents, United are merciful.
Presuming the game was already over, United’s complacent forwards were guilty of wasting every single chance, and for that sloppiness alone they deserved to lose the three points that, for most of the game, they had earned convincingly.
Giggs, Berbatov, and Nani let Everton off the hook in a manner suggesting they believed 3-1 was enough. Why on Earth would they think that, though?
In their previous away game, United had found themselves fortuitously in the lead with a penalty opportunity to make it 3-1 and game over. Nani missed, and in the last minute, Fulham equalised. So again, why were the players so cocky on Saturday?
An extra goal or two (which, on the overall performance, would have been deserved) would not only have made the three points certain, it would have bumped up the goal difference.
Goal difference which already makes for pretty miserable reading when compared to Chelsea’s.
While United are taking their boot off the throat of beaten opponents and giving them second chances, Chelsea are humiliating theirs into oblivion.
Granted, United are still doing pretty well in the Goals For column, averaging just shy of three goals per game. But why settle for three when you can have four, five, or six? Everton were there for the taking. United of old would have finished them off.
A lot of Chelsea's goal difference has been bumped up because of late goals: cruising at 3-0, they step up a gear in the last five minutes and run up the score. The Red Devils ought to be doing the same.
If a game is close and nervy, then I understand the reasoning behind sitting back and playing it safe. But at 3-1 and coasting, and knowing Everton are still going to push forward, it’s obvious you'll get plenty of opportunities on the break.
Once Wayne Rooney went down injured towards the end of last season, we struggled to finish a lot of teams off, and today was the same. An unpleasant pattern is emerging.
So, what could they have done, short of players just finishing their chances better?
A substitution by Sir Alex wouldn’t have been a bad idea!
With Macheda and Owen both sitting on the bench waiting for their chances, you’ve got to wonder what on Earth was going through the manager’s mind as he watched United waste chance after chance, with two proven forwards eager to get on the pitch.
Up two goals in what should have been a tough away fixture, with the opportunity to knock more goals in—this is the perfect situation for a replacement forward, especially one who is desperate to remind everyone how good he is.
If Macheda and Owen aren’t going to be used, why even have them on the bench? Just sell them if you don’t want them to contribute.
Berbatov played excellently again, but a personnel change wouldn’t have done any harm. If anything at all, it’s a pair of fresh legs, and Berbatov gets a bit of a rest before the Rangers game.
Giggs, Scholes, and Neville all played the full ninety minutes, an astonishing decision in its own right. You could see their energy levels drain as the game wore on. This was almost as self-destructive as the strategy against Fulham to play three central midfielders in a four-man midfield.
In fact, the only change Ferguson made was to bring on Park for Evra in the 80th minute, in what was presumably an injury decision. But if that was a tactical decision, then Ferguson should be ashamed.
Where has the killer instinct gone? Why be so negative in these circumstances?
The strategy to try and shore up the midfield and contain Everton in the closing minutes instead of going for the jugular backfired in the most horrible way. The only thing it shored up was Chelsea's grip on first place.
Let’s hope from now on United are more ruthless, starting tonight against Rangers, because if we throw the next couple of games away, we could be in danger of being out of the title race before we even reach October.