Written by Andrei Dobrogeanu
Last season Manchester United furiously rose to the top of the Premier League table within the first few weeks. They did it then by scoring a flurry of goals, playing beautiful football and getting points where they were expected to. This season, however the story has been a bit different: there is no flurry of goals though there is only a small quantity of pretty football, but expected points have definitely been dropped. And despite a run which saw them win seven out of their last eight games, many Manchester United fans might feel a little bit frustrated about their team’s current situation.
Looking back on a summer which seemed to prepare Sir Alex’s team for the glory that would be the treble, one would have to wonder what went wrong. But while most of us have no real clue as to what happened that resulted in this inability to score, it would be extremely entertaining to speculate.
The first logical possibility that comes to mind is the absence of Gary Neville (yes, I am serious) through injury. It is not his outstanding goal-scoring capabilities (five career goals) which United miss from him. Rather it is his support on the right flank. While Wes Brown — Neville’s replacement — provides stability in defence, his offensive qualities are severely limited. His charges up and down that wing are mostly ineffective as he does not provide Ronaldo with enough support and his crosses are usually aimed in the general direction of the goalkeeper.
The captain, on the other hand, provides both. He is as solid as a rock in defence and the support he gives to the wingers is outstanding. On top of that his experience, of over a decade, on the right touchline enables him to make intelligent plays and put his teammates in good positions. While he has scored less goals than legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel (eleven career goals — if Wikipedia can be trusted), his presence seems to be a major offensive boost for Manchester United.
The second, equally logical explanation for the drop in quality of play is the arrival of several new players — four to be exact. It seems that Nani and Anderson have had no problems adapting to the English lifestyle (or at least that which Ronaldo adheres to) or the Premier League for that matter — exception Anderson who has not played as much. However it is not unlikely that the other players failed to adapt to the new faces. When a team has such a wonderful balance as Manchester United had last season, it is unwise to meddle with the formation, selection et al. but Sir Alex had no hesitation in doing it and he might be paying the price as he now has to watch the same games the rest of us do.
The way in which new arrivals could disrupt the style of a team, rather than be quickly assimilated in it is if there are too many of new players which will result in many changes. This seems to have happened at Old Trafford as three players were quickly put into the starting eleven. Having not played with their new teammates much before being given starting roles, and not being given time to adapt to the team, the players did not develop an understanding with each other and thus they were ineffective.
The final possibility I could think of which would account for poor performances is that the desire to win which propelled Manchester United to the top of the world last season might have been silenced. Whether Sir Alex introduced his troops to the finest single malt Scotch or the players simply feel that they have achieved their goal is disputable. Last season they had something to prove, they wanted to show the world that they were among the best. They succeeded, but having done that, what do they want next?
The passion seems to have faded just a shade from their game, and the players are less focused and less effective than they were most of the time last season. If they indeed believe that they have accomplished their mission and now just play to protect the reputation of a frightening opponent rather than build on that and become the absolute best, then the team is in trouble.
Having listed my three personal hypotheses about Manchester United’s poor recent form, I wonder whether any of them are even near the truth. But only time could tell if I am partly or wholly wrong. Hopefully, for the sake of football and its suffering fans, Manchester United will resort to playing the type of football they did in the early stages last year and make us forget these very forgettable performances.