Usually the month of December offers up a congested fixture list for Manchester United, but that was not the case as two of the Reds’ games were postponed.
Due to some skeptical playing surfaces away from Old Trafford, United only played four matches during the normal jam-packed, festive month, however, that did not stop the Reds from retaining the top spot in the Barclays Premier League and winning Group C in the UEFA Champions League.
Even though United did not taste defeat in December, the Reds still continued to stutter, and could not find that killer instinct that Sir Alex Ferguson wants as they drew two of their four matches during the month.
Both of United’s matches at Bloomfield Road and Stamford Bridge against Blackpool and Chelsea, respectively, were called off due to unsafe playing conditions, so now the Reds are forced to make up these two games later in the season when they should be resting for their other significant fixtures.
The disruption in their schedule has certainly effected their ability to find the target, because United only scored five goals during the month – 12 less than November’s total – for an average of just 1.25 goals per game.
But to their credit, the Reds kept two clean sheets and only conceded two goals in their four matches, which was a far cry from their defensive woes to start the season.
The Reds finally kicked off their month seven days in when they hosted Valencia in a decisive game in their Champions League group.
United needed only a draw from the match, but if they lost to Los Che, they would have finished second and had the potential to face some of the biggest European clubs in the Round of 16.
As they have done throughout the 2010/11 season to date, United was forced to come from behind after they conceded their first goal in their six Champions League matches.
Michael Carrick gifted away the ball to Alejandro Dominguez, and he was encouraged to attack the heart of the United defense, and with both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand doing well to contain his run, he slipped the ball to a wide open Pablo Hernández, who slotted the ball under Ben Amos to give the visitors the one-nil lead.
On any other day, Dimitar Berbatov would have notched a hat-trick, but he was left frustrated by some very poor finishing or some very good saves from Vicente Guaita Panadero.
It looked as though United were heading for another night of misery, but following another very good attacking move, Panadero could only parry Ji-Sung Park’s blast, and Anderson was quickest to react to poke the ball over the Valencia ‘keeper to level the score.
United did well to keep Valencia from getting a winner, and they were able to see out the draw and earn the top spot in Group C, which got them a Round of 16 dates – home and away – with Olympique de Marseille.
United’s next match was one that many of the supporters look for when the schedule is released prior to the start of the season – Arsenal at Old Trafford.
For obvious reasons, there is always added hype around this match, but, like in the last five meetings between United and Arsenal, only one team showed up – and United was well worth their 1-0 victory over the Gunners.
Ji-Sung Park scored in the 41st minute to provide the difference in the scoreline, but Arsenal did not offer much resistance – unless one considers how many fouls they conceded (17), and yellow cards they picked up (4).
To prove their dominance, United could even afford an awful second-half penalty miss from Wayne Rooney, but apparently Arsene Wenger was displeased with the pitch – even though both teams played on the same pitch.
Due to Chelsea calling off their game prematurely, United had to wait nearly two weeks for their next match, which was against Sunderland on Boxing Day.
The Black Cats has been one of the surprises of the season with their current league position, but Steve Bruce’s side did not offer much as United cruised to a 2-0 win at Old Trafford.
Berbatov, who was an unused substitute against Arsenal, scored both goals against Sunderland, which gave him seven goals in his last two games – following his five against Blackburn at the end of November.
The match was completely contrasting from the one that saw United steal a point at Stadium of Light in October, because Sunderland only managed one shot on goal.
The Reds closed out the month two days later with a trip to St. Andrew’s to play Birmingham City, which ended their month, and year, on a sour note as the match ended 1-1.
Berbatov gave United the lead within 15 minutes after half-time, but Lee Bowyer slid in to equalize for the Blues in the closing moments of the match.
United felt a little cheated by the way the Lees Mason allowed the goal to stand, because there were three infractions on the play, but, nonetheless, the goal counted and the Reds’ road curse continued.
There were quite of few Reds that put in very good performances throughout the month of December, but the way Ji-Sung Park contributed gave him the nod above the rest.
In the last couple of months, Park’s contribution has been vital to United’s resurgence and climb into first place, but it’s not just the goal he scored against Arsenal, either.
Unfortunately, Park missed the draw with Birmingham, which clearly showed how much his presence was missed, and United will be without him for the majority of January due to his involvement in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup with South Korea.
Before he left, Park claimed that United would still be top when he returns, which will be determined how well South Korea does in the pointless tournament, but, either way, his energetic performances will be missed.
Due to weather and the heavy pitches, December normally sculpts the Barclays Premier League race, but this year it was not the case, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be best pleased that Manchester United has retained the top spot at the end of December.
07 – Valencia (UCL) – Old Trafford – D, 1-1 (Anderson)
13 – Arsenal (BPL) – Old Trafford – W, 1-0 (J. S. Park)
26 – Sunderland (BPL) – Old Trafford – W, 2-0 (D. Berbatov 2)
28 – Birmingham City (BPL) – St. Andrew’s – D, 1-1 (D. Berbatov)
GP 4 W 2 D 2 L 0 GF 5 GA 2 GD +3
D. Berbatov – 3
Anderson – 1
J. S. Park – 1
Anderson – 1
D. Gibson – 1
Nani – 1
W. Rooney – 1