Date: 14th April 2010 at 10:11am
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Once again, we are back to square one and the papers are gleefully reporting what a mistake Fergie made when he did not sign Tevez when he still had the chance. Of course any reasonable United fan knows that Tevez scored 5 league goals in 29 games last season so it would have been foolish to pay huge amounts of money for such an underachieving and limited player. He’s going through a purple patch right now, just as Bobby Zamora – but neither is good enough to feature in a team expecting to challenge for the biggest honours.

The question of Cristiano Ronaldo is a much more exciting one because he’s a player of true quality, whose efficiency and astonishing skill helped to mask Tevez’s limitations in 2007/08 and made the Argentine look like a player of United standard. But was he missed this season?

Not really. United scored 77 goals in the league so far this season which is nine more than last season’s total and there are four games to go. Just to compare: we scored 83 and 80 league goals in the first two title-winning campaigns of the current run which is set to end this season. So we can still outscore our most prolific campaign under Ronaldo.

But what about the Champions League, you may ask. Well, we cruised through the group and then scored 11 goals in 4 games in the knockout stages. Last season we scored 9 in 7, the season before we scored 7 in 7 after the group stage. Can anyone argue, having watched last Wednesday’s game, that our attacking play is to blame for elimination? I don’t think so.

There were games when Ronaldo could have made a difference, yes. I specifically think about the defeats to Villa, Burnley and the draw at Blackburn: in these games we were dominant but lacked cutting edge up front, something he would have provided. But overall statistics indicate that we did not miss him at all.

What changed, then, why shall we end up empty-handed apart from the Carling Cup? Well, first, the injuries to the defence played a massive, massive part. The Ferdinand-Vidic duo played together in less than a third of the league games. Edwin van der Sar who is still a frighteningly important part of the team missed months due to injury and his understudies never lived up to his abilities.

Last season and before that, even when the midfield did not work well and the attackers were misfiring, we could rely on the defence. Not this season though when not just Ferdinand and Vidic but Jonny Evans, Wes Brown and John O’Shea were all blighted by injuries. And having to play every single game did not exactly do Patrice Evra a world of good.

Then there is the midfield. Paul Scholes had a better season than last year but the limitations imposed by his age are all too apparent, just as in the case of Ryan Giggs. Anderson showed promise but missed half of the season due to indiscipline then injury. The Owen Hargreaves gamble failed for this season but that should have been expected. The main reason, in my opinion, for the midfield’s inferiority compared to the past three seasons, is the significantly worse form of Michael Carrick.

Carrick still has his doubters but they should have been convinced by this first three seasons at United when he proved himself to be a top-class midfielder. He has his faults – who doesn’t? – but he was part of the backbone of the decade’s most successful English club. This season, however, he was a mere shadow of himself, a few giddy weeks apart (around the Arsenal game in January). He never recovered from the Rome final where he had to play with a fractured toe and it showed…

So there you go. The attack was certainly good enough with Rooney, Valencia and in the latter part of the season, Nani but central midfield and the defence failed to live up to the high standard expected of them. In my opinion, this is the number one reason for our comparatively poorer season, not the departure of Ronaldo. And don’t even mention Tevez, please.