Date: 13th December 2009 at 7:43pm
Written by:

It was one of those days, I’m tempted to say: United lost 1-0 to Villa in a game where the damn ball just wouldn’t go in, despite our best efforts. However, I cannot help but feel that we were handicapped by the blunders of our own manager.

First and foremost: fielding a Carrick-Anderson central midfield pair is very risky against any team. Carrick’s positioning and anticipation is excellent but his lack of pace and aggressivity prevents him from being a really good ball-winning midfielder. So our effectiveness in retrieving the ball rests on Anderson: if he’s got a good day the midfield is working, if he’s off his game then we’re chasing shadows when the opposition has the ball.

And Anderson had an off game yesterday, no doubt. He was ineffectual and that meant the gap between midfield and attack was way too wide, especially in the second half when Villa did a great job of packing the midfield and not letting anything go. Carrick wasn’t bad but he would have been a lot better with Fletcher alongside him and considering how woefully Darren did at right-back, Ritchie de Laet could not have been any worse.

Then there was the withdrawal of Giggs. The old man, admittedly, had a horrible first half by his own standards as nothing he tried came off but at least he stretched the defence with his runs, with his passing, he gave them some work which allowed Rooney to excel up front. To replace him with Owen was madness: Owen is good when we are A) looking to hit the opposition on the break or B) in absolutely total control, when there’s a relentless pressure on the defence. But Villa kept us at arm’s length for most of the second half, precisely because Owen’s introduction totally screwed up the shape of the team.

It was somewhat rectified by the introduction of Berbatov and then Gibson but by then Rooney’s efficiency was eroded by frustration (a mental weakness, yes) which was characterised by a very sluggish, overhit pass when he could have put Berbatov through on goal. By then he was playing on the left – but he always cut inside and drifted towards the middle which deprived the team of any width we had.

It would have been better to make two substitutions at the break: Obertan for Park, Berbatov for Giggs. That would have given us a really good attacking four and we might have got something. Another possibility would have been to send on De Laet for Park, move Giggs to the left, and Fletcher to the midfield to dominate Villa in that department with the Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson trio which played a massive part in outplaying Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Fergie did neither and thus we never looked like getting a goal in the second half – and this after a first 45 minutes when we defended horribly but carved Villa open time and again only to miss every single chance that came our way. And it would not be fair on Fergie if, as a conclusion, we didn’t admit that luck played a huge part because despite all the tactical blunders, we could have won this game. We certainly had enough chances – but it was one of those days. Congratulations to Villa while we’re left rueing a golden opportunity to close the gap on floundering Chelsea… it seems it’s simply not gonna be our season.