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Fergie Goofilicious as Grant wields the Chelsea Dagger

articlePaul returns with his latest article bemoaning our poor form and tactics of late. I suppose I should firstly explain my absence from these hallowed pages. Well, I had a dissertation which I left sort-of last minute, though I got it done to a pretty good standard, and assorted essays and exams as well as other annoying accoutrements of University life aside from pot noodles and late nights. And I’ve been drinking fairly heavily and hitting Guitar Hero hard. So I’ve been busy, kinda.

So have my team; busy chucking away a season’s worth of work, that is. It seems in recent weeks United have lost all sort of form, belief and fluidity, not to mention their sangfroid, which disappeared with as much velocity as Rio’s foot missing the wall and clattering that lady steward on Saturday afternoon (It must be worthwhile to comment that how can a player as undoubtedly accomplished as Ferdinand miss a wall?). Every team is entitled to a dip in form, but this dip is gaining momentum with every result, and comes at just the wrong time. Our whole season could go up in flames this week, and the way United have rocked their way through their recent fixtures it would be a brave man to bet against it happening.

I prefer to pretty much ignore the Barcelona result last Wednesday, as nerve-wracking as it was. So nerve-wracking in fact that I commenced build-up drinking to the game approximately six hours before kick-off. I proceeded to then squirm through a shockingly negative, Liverpool-esque European performance in which we stuck square pegs into round holes all over the pitch (Rooney right-midfield?), defended as though we might die if the Catalans had entered our box, and looked toward our star man to pinch one. Pardon for me the histrionics, but that’s not the Manchester United way surely? We should have gone at Barcelona and their rickety defence, and instead we let them have the ball and ceded ground time and time again. Though we defended well, Lady Luck didn’t grant us all the fortune of the game, with the normally unflappable PFA player of the year (x2) lifting his kick against the post in the embryonic stages of the game.

However, I can live with failure in Europe. I can, and I can because our bread-and-butter, the thing we work week-in week-out for is the Premiership, for me the most important trophy that we should aim for every year. I am probably just a grump, but I fail to see how a team can claim to be the best team in Europe, and yet be second, third or even fourth in their own league. It’s stupid, but there’s the old problem of money again in football and it’s not likely to change any time soon.

Apropos of what Ferguson called “unquestionably the biggest game of the season”, he made the mistake of looking at the Catalan monster on the horizon too much and tripping over a large West London boulder right under his feet. Now, I never, ever blame or question Sir Alex Ferguson, because history often proves him correct, but his team selection was so ineffably stupid on Saturday that I wanted to cry. I’m not interested in Barcelona in the week when our greatest rival, one whose momentum exponentially grows with every game and needs to win the game, is first up. Admittedly we lost Vidic again (surely the most unluckily Magoo footballer in our squad this year) and then proceeded to lose Wayne Rooney to a hip problem that led him to back his team mates away when he scored, but it does not gloss the fact that we were almost universally inept, tired, tactically all-at-sea and basically shit. Shit is how I would describe our performance. Admittedly, we also had a ridiculous amount of time to recover from our exertions in Spain, but this can still not excuse the team selection. Ferguson dropped his “big players”, a group which now quite perplexingly contains one Park Ji-Sung, a moderately talented and undoubtedly honest player but not one outfitted for the biggest stages. Nani, who flickered so well this year, was truly, truly awful, and so profligate in possession that if I had had to have played on the same pitch as him I’d have probably punched him in the face. The rest of the team ceded ground and you could count on the fingers of one hand the amount of second balls we got to. Whenever the ball dropped it appeared as if our midfield was invisible, such was the unmolested ease with which Essien, Ballack and Mikel strolled around the acres of uninhabited turf in the middle of the park.

Cue the manager, who did nothing but exhort, puce-faced in the harsh April sunlight, his team to do…well I’m not sure. We played well for twenty minutes before the break and still conceded and had a fifteen minute spell where we did OK second half but we were not ourselves. Ferguson then exacerbated his frankly laughable team selection by pulling off Anderson, the one person who I thought was showing any verve, any invention, any type of interest in the midfield battle and replacing him with the doughty John O’Shea; the writing was on the wall from here on in. Attempting to keep a fortuitous draw with 25 minutes to go of a titanic clash against a forceful, relentless team like Chelsea was absolute suicide and we paid the price, though I do think the penalty was a tad generous. Whilst we were unlucky in the final stages not to get something, we reaped what our manager, in true Manchester United, never-do-things-easy style, sowed when he gambled and lost so heavily. The luridly photographed contretemps after the game is beyond comment really; if some boneheaded jobsworth at Chelsea wants to throw his weight around racially abusing people then I’m afraid I can only stand by and condone Patrice’s reaction, though looking around and seeing the mulleted Piqué and the frankly lightweight Park as his backup he probably thought he’d better get his retaliation in first.

So to a couple of huge weeks. I don’t want to leave this article sounding too bitter and sore. If we win our next two Premiership games we’re Champions, and that is a position to be pleased about after all. Also, we can only hope that a fervent crowd at Old Trafford on Tuesday can rouse the players again against Barca. Though many were disgusted by Rio and Owen Hargreaves’ behaviour on Saturday I took great pleasure in it; they were hurting, and when you’re hurting you care, and that can only be a good  thing for this team.

In four wins time this article could appear to be the moanings of a sore Manchester United fan who had no faith. But I have faith, I truly do. I just hope this week does not stand to be remembered as the one where the most promising team in Red for many years met it’s Waterloo. To quote George Orwell, “I let this opinion stand, and take the chance that time will do to me what it does to most prophets”.

I truly hope I’m wrong about the doom and gloom, and it is so quintessentially Manchester United to pull this out of the fire. I for one, am keeping the faith.

 

Paul M

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