1. Terrible Tactics and the Marriage of Berbarico

Sorry for the lack of coverage of the Birmingham game, I only got to see the first half and I hate doing blogs on games I haven’t watched for the entire 90 minutes. Anyway, what a humdinger of a game we were subjected to (Blackpool and United fans alike) last night, one of those classic United games which admittedly from a Man Utd perspective we’ve seen far too often this season and can’t be good for the old ticker.

Before we get too carried away with the result, its clear to see from last night’s first half performance and from a great body of evidence throughout the season thus far, that we just look a very mediocre side when playing in a certain set up… that set up being a 4-3-3, it works remarkably well against the top premiership sides away from home but we never look comfortable in such a performance, it doesn’t suit any of our more forward-minded players put bluntly apart from Nani, Scholes and possibly Carrick from a defensive perspective. We just don’t have the technically proficient players in the centre and the archetypal Torres/Drogba number 9 forward to make it a resounding success, however what Rooney did last year was elevate his game to such a level that we were finally getting to grips with Europe’s in vogue formation before that fateful night in Munich.

As he is at the moment, i.e. dire in front of goal, Fergie feels as if he has no choice away from home but to play Wayne on the left and puts Berbatov through the centre, a recipe for disaster and a plan that I just dread to see put into action in the Champions League against tougher opponents. Berbatov is just not penetrative enough when pushed up alone, he becomes predictable and is forced to hold the ball up under pressure and win things in the air, which isn’t his style… neither is it Rooney’s, but the latter has the pace and movement, to still make him a genuine threat when played up alone.

As for Rooney on the left, he works like a dog up and down the flanks, never neglecting his defensive duties (great anticipation in the 15th minute to snuff out a lofted-ball from Adams) but he just doesn’t possess the requisite agility and dribbling ability in wide positions to be a real threat, he crosses in to Berba who’ll usually be isolated in the centre, or he’ll cut in and easily be shackled. Both players benefit from playing alongside each other in an unorthodox two man partnership, where both can interchange with regards to who’s the deeper lying forward and who’s the one inclined to get in behind the defence. Not only does this allow them to be less isolated, it makes them less predictable and harder to stop.

Enough tactics, back to Berbatov – many had questioned whether he had enough cajones to be a ‘leader of the pack’, well this year he has delivered a blistering riposte (26 goals in 20 games, 3 assists), rather effective I’d say. His touch yesterday from a Scholes pass meant for Nani was nothing short of orgasmic, and the fact the winning goal was struck with his left foot tells you all you need to know about his current frame of mind, he’s hungry for goals and he feels super confident. Last year he’d have controlled that ball and either looked to pass it, or predictably look to finish it with his favoured right foot and watched it get blocked, but Berbatov is a different beast these days, expertly controlled, dribbles into the box, moves it onto his left surprising the defender and hits through it confidently into the back of the net.

As for Hernandez, he came on in the 66th minute for a rather shell-shocked Rooney, and the substitution set in motion the chain of events that would culminate in a memorable victory. Instantly his pace and alertness caught the Seasiders with their pants down and he almost put them to the sword with his first real sight of goal, perfectly timing his run and then uncharacteristically failing to put it away past the oncoming Kingson. However once United equalised through Berbatov, we were then treated to the sight of Hernandez being found after some majestic football from Giggs and then demonstrating precision where earlier he had shown hesitation, 2-2 game on.. and it set the stage for Berbatov to rifle home the third.

His game apart from the goal was lively, full of class and aerially he is a lethal threat, which gives the side something different to the on-the-floor style of Berbatov and Rooney. There are shouts now to give him a first team slot, I personally feel Rooney was suffering due to the formation played and his performances in the past few games in open play merit him a place in the side. Hernandez must remain patient, he still has a big say in the sides fortunes this season, even from the bench… but in the future, will he be content being Solksjaer mark II, well we’ll wait and see.

2. Defensive Despair

Paddy Paddy Paddy can’t you see, the way you were defending last night frightened the bejesus out of me. I used to be one of Evra’s staunchest defenders, to the point where I’d constantly argue with those who thought he couldn’t hold a candle to Ashley Cole, but recently I seem to be rather critical of his performances and I hate to do it. He’s just not as precise about his work as he used to be in my opinion, don’t get me wrong, still good enough to be a mainstay of the United defence and a pivotal figure in the way this side goes about its football.. but there is something not right, its like a clouds still hanging over him from the World Cup.

Offensively and defensively at times he is being outshone by Rafael Da Silva, which is more of a credit to the Brazilian but Evra at his best, is gold and an established world class full back and physically there is no reason why he shouldn’t still be operating at an exceptionally high level. Positionally there were lapses last night, especially in the first half and sloppy moments in possession, he can do alot better.

As for Vidic, that back header was a genuine ‘What The Feck?’ moment, I didn’t know whether to laugh or grunt in relief, thankfully for all of us we had the cool Van der Sar between the sticks who did his best to make it look like a run of the mill cushioned header back to the goalkeeper. Our organisation from set pieces was in disarray, Berbatov losing his man entirely and Rafael not really putting his head on the line ironically for the second Blackpool goal.

Its hard to form an opinion on Smalling’s performance, as both goals were from set pieces and it was Vidic if anyone who looked uneasy with Blackpools fast flowing football. As for Rafael, he was lucky once again to avoid giving a penalty, shoulder-barging is fine but he overstepped the mark and didn’t seem to be entirely going for the ball… Reckless Rafael is not a tag he wants to be associated with. The remainder of his display before the unfortunate injury was typically tenacious (4 successful clearances, 7 successful tackles, 1 interception) and he was the one defender who seemed to enjoy the challenge Blackpool were bringing to the field.

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