Despite winning their biggest derby match of the season, Manchester United has continued to show their frailties as they threw away another lead, which is the third time this season they have done that.
A lot of attention from the post-match press has been positive for United, because they defeated their long-time domestic nemesis, Liverpool, but it could have very easily ended so differently if it wasn’t for the late heroics of Dimitar Berbatov.
The question that needs to be asked and answered is: Why is this happening?
There are three things leading to the shaky team defending and they are: lack of focus, disorganization and over confidence.
Yes, over confidence. Meaning that the players think that they will never give up a goal or lose after they are in the lead. Confidence is definitely a good thing, and a manager wants confident players throughout his squad, but as we all know, there is a fine line between being confident and being cocky and ignorant.
Some critics are wrongfully suggesting that the defenders are suffering from a lack of confidence, but a player at United should never suffer from this, because they are chosen to play one world’s greatest clubs.
If anything it is a lack of nerve they are referring to, because as we have seen, once United concedes, they become a bit panicky and then become very susceptible to conceding again.
When a team with United’s quality is up two goals to the good – like they were in their last two Barclays Premier League matches against Everton and Liverpool – they should be closing the game out quite comfortably, but instead they are giving their adoring fans agita and for no good reason, either.
Pundits are only pointing their fingers at the matches that United have tossed away points in – Fulham, Everton and Rangers – but the warning signs have been there all season long.
The focus has not been their in either the Newcastle United and West Ham United matches as well, but fortunately for United, those teams did not take their chances and let Reds off the hook.
Even after completely outclassing Chelsea in the FA Community Shield, United gave them a a chance to get back into the match, but thankfully, they were able to hold on to claim the first piece of silverware.
If Sir Alex and his staff do not find the underlying problem, it will surely be the only trophy that United will hold this season.
So, where and who are the problems?
The problem is not with the defenders, because as many football purists know, you defend from the front and as an entire team.
Everyone needs to be doing their part, because a team needs to performance like a well-oiled machine, and United are simply not doing this.
It has to be a great concern for Sir Alex Ferguson, because United are going away from the basics of defending, and showing a real lack of focus – and its not just a select few. The majority of his players are showing that there are deep issues and could realistically lead to long-term problems.
Let’s take a look at the two goals that United conceded yesterday, many fingers would have are aimed at Jonny Evans for his reckless lunge on Fernando Torres, but the ball into the Spaniard should have been better defended by the midfielders.
Then when Torres got the ball in the box there was absolutely no weak – or strong – side help for Evans. The young, immature defender thought he had the confidence tackle him fairly on wet, slick surface, but he wiped Torres off his feet, and ultimately gave Liverpool a lifeline to get back into the game.
The build up to the second goal was diabolical as the both the midfielders and defenders again seemed to be out of place and unorganized, and United were very lucky because they could have been down to 10-men for the last 30 minutes of the match.
Raul Meireles threaded a through ball to Torres, and for some reason Nemanja Vidic was not marking the ineffective forward, so a trailing John O’Shea was forced to pick up his run. Torres had inside position – as well as a yard advantage on the Irishman – so O’Shea was left with no choice but to foul him.
What happened on the ensuing free-kick, because the set piece defending and the organization of the wall was awful to say the least.
People will obviously say that Darren Fletcher should shoulder the blame for the goal, which he should, but what some fail to recognize is that he should have never been in that place of the wall to begin with.
On the opposite side of the wall that the goalkeeper is standing, managers want their tallest players, and it should angle down from tallest to shortest.
The reason for this is that you want the player to have to bend the ball up and over the wall, which should allow your goalkeeper the chance to get over to the other side of the goal.
That was certainly not the case in the wall against Liverpool, because the order of the wall (right to left) was: Fletcher (6’0″), O’Shea (6’3″), Ryan Giggs (5’11”), Berbatov (6’2″) and Wayne Rooney (5’10”).
Meireles’ little nudge on Fletcher got him to move move off the end of the wall, which exposed Edwin van der Sar’s far post, and Steven Gerrard struck the ball and gave the big goalkeeper no chance of saving his well-placed shot.
Paul Scholes is very well known for his vision and ability to pick out a teammate with a superbly place pass, but he has never been a very good defensive midfielder. Scholes has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season, but he is lacking the ability to be the holding midfielder that United need at the moment.
Either you have it or you don’t, because it is not something you can learn, because its all about positioning and timing.
Scholes’ new role is to sit front of the back-four, and to create to be transition between defense and offense, and he does that better than any other midfielder in England.
However, is only able to sniff out some of the dangers, because he is unable to run and recover against more powerful, athletic attacking midfielders, which ultimately pulls defenders out of position.
A player that could eventually provide the organization and fill this role admirably is Owen Hargreaves. But the well documented problem with him, is whether or not he can ever regain match fitness is the concern.
In the mean time, the fit-again Anderson could be the one to help close this problem, because he has the speed, energy and enthusiasm to help out.
Manchester United should have an easy mid-week encounter with Scunthorpe United in the Third Round of the Carling Cup, so the first choice players will have a chance to rest and refocus themselves before their away match with Bolton Wanderers.