Date: 20th January 2009 at 2:25pm
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It is fair to say that United are not firing on all cylinders this season. Though early on the defence was the most problematic area, putting chances away also proved difficult. The trend has changed since November: we create fewer chances than before but the defence turned into a perversely unbreachable unit.

Amid all this, the attacking players failed to shine. Berbatov did better than what I expected, Tevez is a big disappointment while Rooney was consistently useful but showed his brilliance only in spurts. Ronaldo is of course nowhere near his last season form but still contributed in a very real way.

The one attacking player, though, who finally has to stand up and produce something is Nani. Nani, who’s been downright terrible for most of this season despite a promising debut campaign.

He received much criticism last season even though he had fantastic games and quite a lot of good games as well. His goals against Spurs, Boro and Liverpool were sublime, he was a constant threat against Barcelona in the semi-final second leg, he absolutely battered Arsenal’s full-backs in the FA Cup… and so on. The most impressive moment, though, came in Moscow.

Introduced for the tiring and frustrated Wayne Rooney, Nani had little time to settle and do anything else than to keep the ball safe which he did. However, he had the least envious tasks of all in the penalty shootout: he had to keep United in the race. The fact that he walked up there calmly and put the ball exactly where he meant to told a story of great mental strength – because, in case anyone forgot, if he hadn’t scored, United would have lost it. Huge pressure but he dealt with it.

For this reason I expected him to rise to new heights this season, given that his talent is undeniable. He’s quick, his technical skills are fantastic, he’s got a good shot and he’s an accurate crosser of the ball. However, he’s having a very bad second season syndrome it seems. Constantly running into blind alleys, taking the ball into crowds, dribbling unnecessarily when a pass would be the better option – he keeps making the wrong decisions on the pitch all the time and it is immensely frustrating now.

Nani is expected to start tonight against Derby County and as this is a cup semi-final which we start trailing by one goal the time has come for him to stand up and be counted. His future is in the balance tonight, particularly as the United management is reportedly impressed with what they’ve seen from Zoran Tosic since he’s arrived so time is running out for the Portuguese. He needs to buy himself time by starting to perform to his abilities.