Manchester United v. Sunderland: Red Devils Showcase Unimpressive Performances
Manchester United returned back to Old Trafford for their BPL matchup versus Sunderland on the eve of the silver anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure as MUFC manager. Sir Alex Ferguson and the Red Devils celebrated the affair the only way they deserved—with a victory.
Although the winning goal was from former Mancunian turned Black Cat, Wes Brown, Manchester United were still able to keep their title run alive through keen defensive work by Vidic, Ferdinand and Jones. Sir Alex Ferguson's experimental lineup was at work, playing a 4-3-3 at the beginning of the game into a more comfortable 4-4-2 by the second half. However, the boys of Old Trafford were found wanting, putting up a performance that could barely get past Sunderland, especially with the heroics of goalkeeper, Kieren Westwood.
The Sunderland matchup did not show much improvement in the way of Manchester United's overall form nor with the performance of several key players. However, the visit from the Black Cats provides another insight into the dynamics of the Red Devils and their illustrious Sir manager as they try to invigorate their proficiency on the pitch.
MUFC First-Half Performance Is Becoming Pale Shadow of the Recent Form
Whether Manchester United won or lost, at the end of the first half, United had tried to execute many chances and apply pressure on the ball where it was needed and where it would bring the greatest impact. Recently, I had noticed that the Red Devil attacking form had diminished; it was replaced by frenzied attempts and indecisive tactics that bordered on apprehension. The case had remained the same at Old Trafford today.
Although the passing was good (they were not dispossessed as often as in previous games), that could be attributed to Sunderland's easing up on United through the midfield. When United could make a break through the midfield, the attacks seemed flat and near half-hearted.
Whether it was a bad touch on the ball or off the weak foot, United fluttered through the first half with the desire to make Alex Ferguson and their fans proud, but came up a little wanting. Suddenly, all of their goal chances seemed as if they could only be possible from the cleverly-placed set piece and that, unfortunately, became the case.
United played almost as a 4-3-3, which did not work offensively against Sunderland. It was difficult for Rooney to move the ball forward and find the attentions of Chicharito or Welbeck. Manchester United's collective performance seemed weak and distracted, even though they were attacking the ball when they needed to and trying to make plays. The silhouette of Manchester United was there, but it was flimsy and unimpressive.
The Red Devils are known to win games late in the second half. However, lately, because other teams have been effectively steady throughout the 90 minutes of play, it would seem a strong first-half performance would go a long way to ensuring three points at the end of the day.
Wayne Rooney's New Position in the Central Midfield Is Still a Work in Progress
Rooney made his central midfield debut this season versus Group C UEFA Champions League opponents FC Oțelul Galați on Tuesday with very positive results. He was able to instigate play and move the ball forward for Owen, Chicharito and Berbatov. However, during the Sunderland match, his depth seemed to prove problematic for the strike force of the team.
Many players have found themselves put back into a midfield position, or moved forward into striker position with assurity, as with former Red Devils David Beckham and Crisitiano Ronaldo. Even Phil Jones' movement between the back line and the central midfield has yielded positive results. When Alex Ferguson decides to rearrange the strike force, especially with his leading scorer, one can only think he has two aces up his sleeve.
In previous matches, Wayne Rooney has fallen back to create chances for his other teammates and some have turned up successful. Possibly in light of positive results, placing Rooney deeper into the lineup can only strengthen the attacking force of Manchester United when everyone is at their best.
This movement should allows Rooney to do everything he does best without compromising the midfield, especially since the midfield has been under much scrutiny these past weeks. Manchester United can introduce more striking options without muddling the makeup of the team. Or at least that's the theory.
With this fixture, however, Rooney is struggling with the depth and unable to deliver the ball forward cleanly enough; it creates difficult shooting options regardless of the Sunderland defense. But to the credit of the Black Cats, they worked hard to keep the deficit as it were.
Personally, these alterations can open up new chances for Manchester United as they continue through the BPL this season. Although issues still rest with finishing, accuracy and taking chances, it is very comforting for any Manchester United fan to see team dynamics at work to produce another championing lineup.
In the case of Wayne Rooney's new bearing, hopefully a new balance can be struck that produces both chances and goals for the Red Devils.
Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand Were the Most Valuable MU Players of the Match
Sunderland could have given the Red Devils a run for their money if the defensive duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were not up to snuff. The two most experienced defenders in the Manchester United starting 11 had not had many simultaneous appearances on the pitch this season due to both being beset by injury for several weeks. But their coupled return also revealed a welcome return to form.
Vidic had excellent command of ball clearances and offensive pressure, while Ferdinand was very calm in taking care of Bardsley's run at goal. Although Lindegaard struggled with his own line, Vidic and Ferninand, with welcomed assistance from Jones, worked to keep the Black Cats at bay. Things might have been different if Sunderland striker Conor Wickham had not been replaced due to a sprained ankle mere minutes into the game.
The composure and experience the duo carried throughout the fixture paid off and hopefully the two will be making side-by-side BPL appearances in the coming weeks.
Kieren Westwood Was Sunderland's Most Valuable Player
The Sunderland goalkeeper had exceptional saves that possibly made all the difference in deficit between the two teams. His reflexes were quick and his instincts did not desert him in his attempts to stop a barrage of shots on goal in the space of one minute.
Although United did not get as many shots on target as they would have liked, Westwood kept his composure against the Red Devil attack. Maybe the lack of pressure was due to Rooney's depth or United's few goal attempts in the first hour of the game, but regardless, Westwood was convincing in the air, at range, on the ground and was only defeated by his own defense in the extra minutes of the first half.
Late into the match, Westwood flung himself at balls and into shots to ensure the home side would not double their lead. He was able to defend Wayne Rooney's stunner and return to reflexively tip Patrice Evra's shot over the woodwork.
Regardless, the Greater Manchester-born goalkeeper was an inspiration for his teammates both defensively and offensively. The only possible way United could have beaten him would be with consistent and constant attack. Without that offensive tension, United would have to have an incessant reliance on set pieces to win games.
The Early Season Form Has Diminished for Several Players
At the start of the season, many people could not stop talking about the unstoppable force Manchester United had become. The Red Devils scored goals comfortably and beautifully, making some teams look less than their worth. Now as Sir Alex and his boys head deeper into the November weeks of the League, the tide has seemed to be turning.
I do not want to concede to a regime change, but there are definitely footballing powers at work here.
With Manchester City sitting pretty at the top of the league table, the Citizens can only be admired for their consistency in the past weeks. Several other teams have fallen by the wayside, with an impressive visit from the Magpies in the top three of the table. Manchester United find themselves holding on to their position by their bootstraps very unconvincingly. Much of their diminished quality can be attributed to a decline in form for several players.
Rooney had become the leading league goal scorer up until the Manchester Derby when Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko joined him at the top. And with Robin van Persie's hat-trick at Chelsea last week, he has overtaken all three. Rooney hasn't scored in a BPL match since September 18 in their home fixture against the Blues of Chelsea. He has tried for chances, but it seems something is a bit off.
As is the case with Nani, Danny Welbeck, and Chicharito, who have all shared in exceptional goals early on in the season.
Chicharito has been beset by several small injuries that could have influenced his ability to penetrate, but he is still scoring goals off set pieces, which have helped to keep United in the upper ranks of the table. Despite his smart headers and quick thinking, Hernandez seems to ghost through the pitch. His technique seems paler than in previous weeks and has affected his effectiveness in front of the goal during plays. But to his credit, he still finds ways to place the ball into the back of the net.
Nani's form has also been lackluster, only impressing on set pieces. In earlier weeks, against more difficult opponents, the Portuguese winger could penetrate tough defensive lines and would takes shots at goal even when it would sail far off the mark. Now, he's constantly shut down through the middle and cannot seem to win or keep possession as well as he did in the past.
Now, Danny Welbeck, I find, has been giving the Red Devils the most offensive trouble. During the Sunderland game, I saw an improvement in his tenacity and willingness to score, but it is still nothing compared to his starting weeks of goals and assists.
Coming fresh off a contract renewal with pay increase, specifically for his exceptional form, I would like to see him work back to a high-performance striker. As if some fear has crept up into the back of his mind and down his legs, Welbeck's efficacy and performance has been flash-in-the-pan and subpar at best.
These things can also be said for Dimitar Berbatov in BPL play as well. However, even with all this, Man U still display a strong footballing IQ that is just muddied by either psychological or physical hindrances. Sunderland did not exploit these Red Devil hitches like previous teams had done, which probably helped Manchester United leave Old Trafford with the victory and second place still in hand.
The Honor of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Comfort of Latent Possibilities
Sir Alex is known for building players and changing teams. In his quarter-century of management at Old Trafford, he has modernized English football and brought a stability to MUFC. He has created a footballing identity many have tried to copy but only few can rival. The future of the season seems very unclear for Manchester United and Ferguson, but the gears are still turning in his head for ways to bring home another trophy.
Either through grooming domestic talent, exploiting transfer windows, rearranging lineups or tough and determined coaching, Sir Alex Ferguson always effectuates ways to be the best even if the desired result is not instant. Having said that, Manchester United might not be able to convincingly defend their BPL championship trophy, if they are able to defend at all.
Regardless of the season's outcome, it can always be said that Alex Ferguson looks to the bigger picture as well as the current scene; his choices and his decisions create a wake that follows the Red Devils into several other seasons. If they don't win this year, you can be assured that Alex Ferguson is making sure they will be a force to reckon with in coming seasons.
It is always a sign of greatness to carry the title of Sir and to have an eponymous stand in one of the greatest stadiums in club football. Although Manchester United did not produce a performance and result that truly commemorates the 25 years of the Scot's hard work and perseverance with the team, hopefully they can bring about the more deserving end result.
With the upcoming transfer window that Sir Alex himself has said he is keen to exploit, and less injuries on the team compared to the early weeks, United can take solace in the possibilities to come.
Maybe with all the celebrations in the past, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson no longer have to be distracted with silver jubilees and ''remember whens'', and they can fully concentrate on rejuvenating the Red Devil form.