Monday, March 5, 2012

The Sucker Punch: Manchester United 3 - Tottenham Hotspur 1

photo by greylochvia PhotoRee

Some brief thoughts on United's crucial victory at the Lane yesterday:

o No Parker, No Bale, No Van Der Vaart: Did United get lucky?  The answer is "I think so." United were a clear second best for a good portion of the match, and overrun in the midfield for the first 60 minutes or so. I don't know what the game may have looked like if those three had played, but I'm betting it would have been different.

o Have United found a replacement for Paul Scholes?  I believe they have: and his name is...Paul Scholes. The Ginger Ninja is just so damn impressive on the ball, a steady, calming influence in the middle of the park, and deadly vision and  passing combined on the ball. When a pass fromScholes appears to be hit to no one, you don't blame Scholes, you ask why the other player didn't make the proper run.  Scholesey also seems be making way fewer rash tackles than he made the past couple of seasons. Perhaps the secret is to give him half the season off, and then use him like hell in the run-in. It certainly appears to be working so far....

o United were wasteful in possession early on yesterday, and appeared more than a little lethargic during a very long first half. It seemed as if they were beaten time and again to most of the 50/50 balls in the game's first 20 minutes.  Im not sure the formation and/or personnel worked, either: Carrick and Scholes played under control, but they got little to no first half support from Nani and Ashley Young, who were complete non-factors in the opening 45.

o United were clearly missing Chris Smalling and Rafael at right back.  And despite his playing there today,  I'm fairly certain right back is not Phil Jones' best position. Sure, Jones is passable there, but you don't get the quality combination of defense and offense that you get from the other two.  Instead, what you get is a bit more muddled: mazy offensive runs that end up a bit long-legged, often with a turnover, and quick tracking back on defense that more than once or twice ended in fouls. After conceding a free kick in a dangerous spot that was ultimately squandered by Spurs, Jones went down away to easily when beaten by Lennon, and only Emanuel Adebayors's handball on the line spared United's blushes and a 1-nil deficit at the half.

o United's first half goal came from nothing, absolutely nothing, completely against the run of play. What a sucker punch, and what a huge haymaker from the Champions, a blow struck by none other than Wayne Rooney that will have definite implications on the title race.

o Spurs picked right back up where they left off, and appeared to be targeting Phil Jones at right back. They also began looking for a penalty, with Adebayor flopping embarrassingly before being told to get up by Rio Ferdinand and Referee Martin Atkinson.  Which made all the more devastating what happened next:

o How Spurs managed to let Nani -- completely anonymous for most of the game -- just stroll through their back line en route to United's second goal is still something I've got to see again to believe. The doubling of United's lead came from even less of a chance than the first score, as Luka Modric completely shut off on a throw in -- during one of the few times United had the ball in the offensive end.

o But if Young's first goal could be called soft -- more from the buildup than his fine volleyed finish -- the Englishman's second goal was pure class, almost Van Persie-like in its upper corner curl.

o Modric' free kicks left a little to be desired Sunday. He'll need to work on those over the summer if he wants to secure a starting spot at Old Trafford next season.

o Sunday was a massive three points gained by the Champions, who must have Manchester City looking over their shoulders at this point. From here on out, the difficulty of schedule swings in favor of United, with the April 30 game now looking more and more like the title decider.

o Jermaine Defoe's 87th minute strike was meaningless, but upsetting nonetheless. It's been a damn long time since the United defense has handed in a shutout, and they deserved better than to give up a needless score. So did I, as I managed to see Jonny Evans six Fantasy points in the evaporate into one when he was also carded -- all during the game's final 3 minutes.

o And in closing, it's funny to note how the David De Gea boo birds have been quieted of late. The Spaniard was imperious once again on Sunday, denying Spurs on more than one occasion, none more notable than when he firmly palmed away Jake Livermore's deflected shot, displaying the cat-like reflexes that caught Sir Alex's eye in the first place. I can't tell you how many people who follow the game have come up to me recently and said something along the lines of "Well, De Gea is starting to look better."  Yeah?  Thanks for noticing. We knew it all along....

This is farlieonfootie for March 5.

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