Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dead Zone: Manchester United 1 - Newcastle United 1

the virus
Photo by neoliminal on Flickr

Just One of Those Days – Sometimes you can do everything right and it just doesn’t work out in the end.  I’m not saying United did everything right yesterday – far from it, in fact – but the game had the feel about it that United could have played another 90 minutes and not breached the goal mouth. Off the line, off the bar, off Tim Krul’s hands, offside – every chance denied, every opportunity thwarted.  

It seems as if the team is stuck in neutral at the moment – not bad enough to fall off the chase, but not good enough to stay in it.  Saturday’s problems can’t really be blamed on midfield creativity – there was plenty evident in the persons of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick.  And United created plenty of chances -- more so than in most games the team has recently played.  No, Saturday just has to be laid off at the feet of “Just One of Those Days" – you can’t win them all.

Tim Krul was Outstanding – A flying Dutchman back in between the sticks at Old Trafford?  Too bad he was on the wrong team....  What can you say about the Magpies Dutch ‘keeper except that he’s at the top of his game right now?  Krul singlehandedly kept Newcastle in the game yesterday, especially during United’s late second half onslaught, denying United on more than one occasion from all angles and distances.  And when Krul was finally beaten, there was Danny Simpson on the line in the 86th minute to save his bacon.  Several United shots could have tested Krul a bit more -- I'm thinking of Vida's point blank second half header -- but the game had about it the feel all along that it would take a special effort to beat the Dutchman.  And the Reds didn't create anything nearly special enough.
Where Have You Gone, Ashley Young?   Where are the early season goals?  What's happened to the threat from the left flank?  Where did the inch perfect left- AND right-footed crosses go?  Instead, what we’re left with is exactly what I feared when Manchester United signed him – a decent but ultimately not great player who drifts in and out of form from game to game – sometimes hot, sometimes not, sometimes not even present.   I lost track yesterday of the number of times that Young missed a shot, took one too many dribbles in the box, failed to deliver a quality ball, or just helped fizzle out the final attack.  He’s become the Dead Zone, the walking dead of the United offense, having taken over the mantle from Patrice Evra: any chance Young takes turns into nothing.
Nani is Invisible -- Young's issues would be okay if United were firing on the other side of the pitch, but they're not.  Nani is invisible lately -- and I'm not talking about the cloak of inivisibility that allows Chicharito to sneak in -- wolf among sheep -- to the goal unnoticed: I'm talking about the kind of invisible that I didn't notice he was on the pitch yesterday until about the half hour mark. It's as if the problems in central midfield have moved like a virus -- now United has issues on the wings, as well.   And it doesn't seem as if the introduction of Antonio Valencia would do much to change things, either, based in his early season form.  How three best-in-the-EPL wingers have turned into a batch of mediocrity is something that bears some serious study.  And quickly. Remedial crossing school, anyone?
The Final Ball is Lacking Quality – It was notable that the only goal the Reds scored on Saturday carried more than a hint of luck about it, with Chicharito knowing very little about the score until the ball had fully settled into the back of the net.  But that was only fitting – if he'd had more time to think, it might not have gone in.  Time and again Saturday United were in dangerous positions, cutting through Newcastle like an electric carving knife through a Thanksgiving Turkey, only to have the attack sputter out in the final third.  With quality deliveries United could have scored five goals.  Instead what they got was a building frustration.  That really cost them when there was a...  
Terrible Decision by Linesman John Flynn -- The ref got it wrong.  Again.  Not a lot to say about this one, as repeated replays of Rio's sliding tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa did nothing to change anyone's opinions as to the quality of Flynn's call.  The linesman blew it -- big time.  I know there aren't supposed to be any "make up" calls in sport -- although there seem to be plenty, mind you -- but United didn't even get the slightest benefit of the doubt on Chicharito's late "winner."  

If ever there was a wrong that begged to be set right, this was it, a gift to Flynn wrapped in a bow, the attacker dead even with the defender, the ball in the net, the fans celebrating another stoppage time winner....  Until they weren't.  Offside was the call, and with it, the refs had cost United again -- and with it the chance to take two more points in the title chase.  Let's hope theses two points don't come back to cost the Reds big time -- or there will be more said on this blog about the aforementioned hapless loser, Mr. Flynn.

This is farlieonfootie for November 27.

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