Date: 14th January 2007 at 2:36pm
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It became clear yesterday that United had been out of form during the Christmas period. Mediocre performances against West Ham and Villa, a first-half struggle against Wigan, shaky defending against Reading, two points dropped at Newcastle and last week’s FA Cup tie against Villa… we’ve achieved quite good results without playing anywhere near our best form.

Yesterday, with Villa in town again, United showed signs of a team returning into form. In their case, it meant that the Reds absolutely hammered and outclassed their opponents in the first half and never came out of first gear in the second but still could have added more goals.

Of course, our first goal was more than lucky: it was a gift, as Villa defenders failed to clear the ball at any of their 437 attempts to do so before Park struck it into the far corner of the net. The second had nothing to do with luck as Park became provider for Michael Carrick who scored with a fine volley, the ball landing at precisely the same place where two minutes before.

It was actually game over as Villa were unable to threaten us, and United’s every attack seemed dangerous. We were always likely to score a third goal but the two strikers had a very quiet day.

OK, in the case of Rooney this is an understatement. He hardly got a kick on the ball in the first half, he couldn’t control passes and his attempts at dribbling were terrible. His confidence is suffering badly and I believe there’s way too much pressure on him to deliver.

This pressure comes from the media as on the field he’s not irreplaceable. That was clear yesterday as Michael Carrick, Ji-sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo all gave very fine performances, not to mention Paul Scholes who was brilliant once again. He did not play a part in any of the goals but his efficiency meant United had the lion’s share of possession throughout the game. Creating and scoring goals were Park’s and Carrick’s job and they delivered again before the end of the first half, as Park retrieved the ball close to Villa’s box, Carrick curled a fine ball to the far post where Ronaldo arrived to head home his 13th league goal.

That’s what makes us the most annyoing team currently: you don’t know who will deliver a hammer blow. OK, it was only Aston Villa, with injuries, suspensions, desperately out of form after a hell of a period. But they managed to keep Larsson and Rooney quiet so Park and Carrick stole the show: they even scored goals and needless to say, that’s not their strongest asset. I was often complaining about Fergie’s insistence on 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 when a 4-4-2 is the best formula he can apply to this team. The fact we do not seem to be able to play in a 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 suggests a predictable team but that’s far from the case. We are predictable when we experiment with a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 – predictably bad and lacking imagination.

Having said that, I admit it’s possible we’ll give a stinking performance at Ashburton Grove next week. We will need Rooney there, we cannot afford him having an off-day against the gooners. But here’s another thing that annoys me seriously. Let me explain.

You surely read articles in different papers about how worrying Rooney’s bad form is. These pieces usually imply grave predictions about what would happen to us if Ronaldo lost his form. I’d like to ask a simple question: if that’s so evident Ronaldo’ll have a dip in form, then why are they so sure Rooney will be playing badly throughout the remainder of the season? He single-handedly demolished Bolton and saved the team against a gutsy Sheffield who later defeated Arsenal so we can still expect him to raise himself when it’s most important.

By the way, poor Wayne was desperately unlucky in the second half, his magnificent 18-yard effort would have deserved a goal instead of hitting the crossbar but hopefully he’ll put it right against Arsenal.

Park’s performance may force him into consideration for the Emirates clash but I believe Ryan Giggs who sit out yesterday’s triumph will be back, as Louis Saha who came on for 30 minutes to gain some match sharpness. Fergie won’t risk fielding a 35-year-old striker who hasn’t even gelled with his team-mates against Arsenal, in a very important weekend that will see Chelsea take on Liverpool at Anfield. Let’s pray Benitez won’t field Paletta and Dudek.