|Photo by Creativity103 on Flickr|
Have you ever had the feeling you were watching a game played underwater? I have. In fact, I had it last night.
Slow, lumbering, and far from smooth, the mighty Manchester United outscored but didn't necessarily outplay the tiny Romanian minnow, Otelul Galati, in a fourth round Champions League match at Old Trafford. Fielding a lineup that screamed attack from the get go, the Reds put on a performance that asked more questions than it answered, and relied on an 87th minute Wayne Rooney deflection to claim their final margin. In a game that should have been done and dusted at the 45 minute mark, United were spared the questions and howls of derision an equalizer would have spawned, and were fortunate to gain another three points toward their likely qualification for the knockout stages of Europe's ultimate competition. But if last night's performance was any indication, no serious fan of the club will be making their Springtime hotel reservations for Munich just yet.
o Such is my dismay with Wednesday's performance that I don't even know where to begin. The game started out well enough: Berbatov to Jones to Valencia for the opener in the 8th minute, and the boys in Red were rolling. Or were they? What to make of Anderson's repeated giveaways in central midfield? Made all the more dangerous by the fact they often occur deep in United's own half, turnovers have become such a regular part of the Brazilian's game lately that they shouldn't surprise any longer.... Has Anderson really become so dispirited by the loss of his early season partner in crime, Tom Cleverly, that he is unable to play his position properly?
o And what to think about Wazza playing the role of holding midfielder? Have our midfield options disintegrated to the point that we need to play our best striker as a last bit of protection for the defense? Wayne Rooney played so deep yesterday that any effort he made on goal was -- by necessity -- a long range shot. I've long been an advocate of cutting Wazza loose, and letting him play a more central role and roam the pitch in search of the goal, but the Makalele role was not necessarily how I envisioned that experiment turning out....
o How did United's offensive creativity become so dependent on Tom Cleverly? Is my mind playing tricks on me, or did we look completely unimaginitive, thoroughly down the middle and play a brand of football that could be read by a blind man last night? Playing a style that was as labored as it was lethargic, United created very few real opportunities over the course of 90 minutes. Is this the unhappy state the season has devolved to? Against a team they should play off the pitch, United played at a tempo reminiscent of a Viennese Waltz, and invited the Romanians to sit back and await their opportunities -- which did eventually come. Has the club really come to depend almost totally on a player who's started less than 10 games with the senior squad to provide fluidity to its attack?
o What happened to Nani and Antonio Valencia? Both seem to have been dragged down a level from prior years. Although Nani started off the season well, his performances in recent weeks have been lacking (to be fair, one could say the same for the injured Ashley Young on the opposite wing). And despite his score yesterday (and last week in the Carling Cup), Valencia does not seem to have have reached maximum speed this season, either -- which could still be the result of him missing almost the entire pre-season. Whatever the reason, as the output from the wings has suffered, so too United's offense.... That problem needs to be fixed -- and soon.
o On a positive note, I thought both Berbatov and Chicharito played well. Chicharito provided pace and movement to what little offense we created, and other than too many frustrated shrugs marring his night, I felt Berbatov was one of the only players in Red interested in finding a way through to goal.
A frustrating night to be sure. Continuing a temporary blip, or a sign of things to come....?
This is farlieonfootie for November 3.