On United's win against West Ham
Another average performance; another win; another three points; again atop the table. With van Persie scoring withing a minute of kicking off, United appeared to be heading for a big win. The scoreline in the end, however, was the same as the one after a single minute of play. Some thoughts:
Who is number 1?
For the third game running, Anders Lindegaard has been handed a starting berth in the United team sheet in the Premier League. The first of these three games saw David De Gea out with a wisdom tooth problem and his wisdom tooth has given him a problem ever since – a problem not necessarily related to his tooth but one that is related to his absence from the starting line up. Right from the beginning of the season, the place between the sticks at Manchester United has been something of a roulette wheel selection with Sir Alex willing to go with both Anders and David from time to time. There was a time, however, when it seemed that Anders was clearly first choice and then there was one when David was. It seems to be back to square one. Surely, a wisdom tooth complaint could not lead to such a prolonged absence.
While some might argue that the constant chopping and changing of goalkeepers is detrimental to the balance of the squad, some other might well argue that such a jostling for places could only help keep both goalkeepers on their toes. On a side note, Anders had nothing much to do in the game. He did, however, make a smart save when called upon.
The defence taking shape
Finally, things seem to be looking up for Sir Alex Ferguson on the central defensive front. Evans, Smalling, Jones and Rio all seem to be fit, with Vidic the only real long term absentee. Smalling and Evans paired admirably in warding off the threat of the physicality of Andy Carroll. While it was surprising to see Evans, the shorter of the two central defenders, marking Carroll, he proved to be up to the task, barely allowing Carroll a good sniff. In addition, his ball playing skills are a joy and he constantly instigated attacks from the back, often running box-to-box.
Smalling seems to be as calm and un-flustered as ever, with an excellent ability to read the game and make crucial interceptions. Evra was, again, quite adequate but not stellar. He seemed to be playing more as a wing back rather than a left back, with United’s formation meaning that he was the outlet on the left. Rafael continues to impress with another fantastic display. With the performances of van Persie, Rafael’s form this season has somewhat gone under the radar but that does not seem to matter to him; he just gets on with his game. His tackling is also a lot less impetuous and his link up play with the forward line seems to be improving all the time. Good signs.
With United starting with Carrick, Anderson, Cleverley, van Persie, Rooney and Hernandez, it seemed probable that it was a 4-3-3 with the former three playing through the middle of the park while the latter three interchanging the front three positions. What transpired, however, left West Ham, and indeed, most viewers wondering where the midfield ended and where the forward line started. There was that much motion.
Only Carrick stuck to his position, if you could call being pretty much anywhere in the middle of the part as sticking to one’s position. Most of the time, he seemed to be the last one in midfield but such were the advanced position that even he was playing in that one would be hard-pressed to call him the most defensive of the midfield. Anderson played from the left with Cleverley from the right. This was, of course, the general scheme but this scheme was more on paper than in reality. Anderson and Cleverley both drifted infield at will, exchanging passes with Carrick in the center and driving on.
Hernandez was full of running, as ever. He seemed to be everywhere; left, right and center. He seems to be developing an all-round game, with a left-footed cross to pick out van Persie in the second half being testament to his development. Robin van Persie, again, was here, there and everywhere. He did have a couple of half chances but failed to convert. His goal right at the start of the game (the fastest goal scored this Premier League campaign) was all about his brilliant movement. the finish was a tad fortuitous but the movement did deserve the goal.
Rooney was just about everywhere; in defence, attack and in between. He dropped deep to receive the ball and quarterbacked the entire operation at times. He got into excellent positions but again, could’ve done better with his finishing.
The only gripe was that there was, perhaps, a little too much movement, if that is even possible. What this system did was that it made United a little too narrow and this led to West Ham parking the bus, if it may be called so, making it extremely difficult to thread a clear cut opening. It required eye-of-the-needle stuff and that, as one knows, does not happen all the time.
The signs are encouraging and the system is an absolute joy when it comes off. However, it is very much work in progress and if United are to employ it on a regular basis and against, no disrespect meant, better opposition, United need to fine-tune the system and ensure that they don’t get stuck overrevving in second gear – all torque but no speed.