Date: 20th February 2011 at 11:30am
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A brief look at Crawley’s journey towards this encounter told us pretty much all we needed to know with regards to expectations for today’s game.. a tight-knit unit prepared to stick at it for 90 minutes and a side not prepared to leave Old Trafford as mere tourists, content to just be passive participants.

On the 7 December 2010, Crawley pulled off a giant killing feat by beating Football League One side Swindon Town 3-2 in the FA Cup 2nd round replay match at Swindon’s County Ground, taking them into the third round of the competition for the second time in their history.This was followed by an exciting home tie against Championship side Derby County which was played on the 10th January 2011. Goals from Craig McAllister in the first half and Sergio Torres in injury time guided Crawley to a 2-1 win, to set up a 4th round tie with Torquay United. On 29 Jan 2011 Crawley beat Torquay 1-0 to reach the last sixteen of the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Their only goal of the match happened to be scored by Matt Tubbs after 39 minutes, and thankfully despite going on to miss two second half penalties and having a player sent off they held on for a memorable win. This also happened to be the first time that a non-league side had reached the fifth round since Kidderminster Harriers F.C. in the 1993–94 competition.

So a fantastic run and they were pretty close to extending it tonight. Anyway on we go to the 5 Things I Noticed during tonights game…

1. Blundering Bebe

  • 4 – Bebé completed just four passes in the opening 45 minutes of this match, attempting just eight overall (excluding crosses).

Must admit, one simply couldn’t fathom why on earth we brought this non-league player from Portugal for the money we’ve supposedly paid in order to acquire his services. Not to mention the fact that apparently Sir Alex hadn’t even attempted to watch the player in action, a practice nearly unheard of in all his lengthy managerial career at United. So despite being a guy who is always excited about us signing new unheard of talent and watching them grow with our club, the fact he was so unproven, and the fee we paid for him… made me unsure of whether this deal was going to be a success rather than another botched deal Manucho Stylee.

Anyway as to his first few games as a Red Devil, what became apparent was that whilst this lad is quite a physical package in terms of Pace and Power, the rest of his game was incredibly raw and in need of serious fine-tuning. So we waited for a while to see if there were any immediate signs of progression, and there were.. an immense goal in the reserves against Wigan, one which provided hope to supporters who had retained faith in the mantra Fergie ‘Cannae do nay Wrong’ and that this lad was a diamond of extreme promise, waiting to be refined. Since that goal, the detractors had largely been silenced, biding their time, waiting for the latest glimpse of Bebe for the first XI to assess whether or not.. they had been quick to judge and that once again Sir Alex had dumbfounded his critics, like he so often does and then today’s game happened…

Hard to know where to begin when assessing his performance, well I’ll attempt to begin with his delivery from wide positions, which arguably had progressed from his last performance for the seniors, where he wildly over hit his crosses on numerous occasions. Today whilst he wasn’t too occupied with locating a team mate, he at least seemed to understand the value of the penalty box and landing the ball within the confines of the white lines. A sign of genuine progress, though when you take a moment to reflect and realise we’re discussing the ability of professional footballers at a World Class club here, it hits you.. just how much we’re clutching at straws. Another attribute of Bebe’s which impresses me ever so slightly is his vision when running with the ball. I know it sounds laughable, but whilst his execution is not there and may never be there depending on how quickly he can progress, you get the sense when watching him he can spot the runs of players, but he just doesn’t have the tools to find them.

Now on to the negatives of which there are quite a few… firstly, I’ve read a lot of rubbish with regards to fans citing the likes of Ronaldo/Nani as players who struggled to mature when first breaking through at United, can I just say categorically that Ronaldo’s début was the most electrifying non-scoring Man.Utd. début I’ve ever seen, we all knew we were in the presence of a serious talent and whilst it took a while for everyone to get to grip with Nani, what was clear to see for the ones in the know, was that Nani possessed arguably even more natural technique on the ball than his predecessor, not to mention physically both were extremely fit (run all day, extremely supple, pacey). What the coaching staff had to do with these kids was rein in their talent, mould it into a way in which it remains entertaining but effective in terms of winning matches. Furthermore, especially in the case of Nani, they had to instil basic football fundamentals of pass and move, knowing when to run at players and when to release to a team mate when put in an uncompromising position. With regards to Bebe.. it is like there isn’t no outstanding natural talent to hone, his footwork on his admittedly limited showings thus far has been rather average, his agility is decent but nothing spectacular and his ball striking technique isn’t good enough to compensate for those shortcomings. Another feature of his performance which caught the eye for the wrong reasons was his lack of effort off the ball a result of his lack of stamina. You can forgive a player for poor fitness when that lad is evidently talented, but if you’re not really providing the fans with flair, the least you can do to compensate is run yourself into the ground and make up for your lack of penetration going forward in other ways.

2. Ober & Ober Again

I’ve been a staunch supporter of Obertan, praying this lad converts that blessed combination of pace and trickery into something more substantial, adding elements to his game and becoming a complete wide player, one capable of breaking through into the first team. Before we go into tonight’s performance, can I just say from a tactical viewpoint… I don’t think this lad can play on the left, his best performances for me have come down the right where he looks more comfortable and dangerous when taking on players, taking advantage of his pace and running his fullback down the line, rather than having to cut in where he comes across rather predictable and is knocked off the ball. Today’s performance was a re-run of what I was subjected to when I watched him down at the Hawthorns, where he enjoyed a miserable first half on the left, making no impact and unable to take a player on let alone deliver a decent ball to his strikers.

If we are to get the best out of Obertan its going to be in an attacking midfield role, utilising his ability to get past players with pace, rather than isolating him on the wing, where he just doesn’t have the wits and strength about him, to constantly get past a man. In the middle he is a lot less predictable and instead of being subjected to the sight of him attempting to cross a ball, we could have a look at whether his through balls are better and if it is the position to best unlock this kid’s undoubted talent.

At the moment, he looks haunted. Out of his depth, running into blind alleys and losing possession at an alarming rate. He seems to have regressed during his time here and there are still zero signs of him having worked on his ball-striking technique, a fundamental flaw in his game. I’m fast losing faith…

3. Contrasting Fortunes Off The Bench

I was happy to see Wayne being introduced at half time, not so much when I found out it was for Anderson (one of our stronger performers in the first half). Nonetheless after that ‘Goal That Shalt Be Named At Every Given Opportunity’ last weekend, one was hoping that this would a second half cameo reminiscent of his strolls against Portsmouth in the FA Cup, or his terrorising of Middlesborough all those years ago – basically a demonstration of why he’s one of the worlds elite and how much these non-league footballers still have to do to merit being on the pitch with such illustrious opponents. Sadly this wasn’t to be and Rooney if anything added to the slight malaise which was evident in the first half. Instead of bring Hernandez into the game and servicing his team mate, Rooney’s utter inability to bring the ball down neatly and his lack of execution when delivering killer passes meant that Hernandez was driven to roaming on the wings in order to seek possession and make something out of nothing, the story of his game tonight.

Whilst Rooney faltered, one man who entered the fray and immediately went about his game like an effortless virtuoso was Chris Smalling. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how much I hope this kid does well (good vibe about him), and he didnt disappoint again today, adding to his growing catalogue of composed displays in heated atmospheres, most recently the small matter of the Manchester Derby. He just didn’t seem fazed, put himself about, outmuscled the Crawley players on a number of occasions and even had the time to make powerful surges going forwards in an effort to provide some spark to the malfunctioning forward line.

Click here for part 2

17 responses to “‘The Truth Hurts’ 5 Things I Noticed – United v Crawley Town”

  1. JB says:

    Good article and many good points raised. With regards to Bebe I think that although he was one of the worst players yesterday the manager will give him time to see if he can turn it around. As you say he is very inexperienced for a 20 year old and it’s a massive step up to be playing for the first team. I hope that once he gains experience and becomes more settled that he might show signs of improvement. With Obertan however i’m not as hopeful, I don’t think he’s improved at all and at times he just looks clumsy and lacks the right mentality to ever be a success. He also doesn’t look as mobile since he bulked up and I think he should be sold in the summer. Gibson wasn’t great despite being one of the better performers but the player who disappointed me the most was Carrick. What has happened to him over the last 18 months or so? He just seems to have regressed in to a really average and ordinary player. Where have those 30-40 yard defence splitting passes gone? Where have the forward runs and the goal threat gone?. Sorry but for me he just doesn’t add much to the side anymore and the fact that he couldn’t even manage to show any real quality against a conference side tells me it’s time for him to move on in the summer. I really hope that the manager has a sort out in the summer and not only moves a number of players out but brings a few in. With the amount of quality although unproven young players at the club we have the only way there going to get there chance is if we get rid of the dead wood first.

  2. Jacob says:

    I don’t know if Fergie still does his hairdryer anymore. Seems like some of these players don’t give their all when given the chance. Bebe and Obertan can deliver in reserve games but first team performances are usually mixed. Gibson, well I think he should drop a level down and go away. If he is only effective against lower opposition, then he should definitely go somewhere else. Rooney was boring too. He tried to do too many fancy passes that got tended to by the Crawleymen.

  3. John Tring says:

    Evans,Gibson,Bebe,Obertan,Park,O’shea, Carrick et el are not Utd-class players and never will be. Scholes and Giggs are what they are: legends and also, the past not the present. I , like millions others, are truly worried about Utd’s immediate future let alone medium-term. When SAF said in January he’s “happy” with his squad, wonder if he was mistakenly looking at the picture of 1999 team. Age can confuse you, narturally.

    • JB says:

      Totally disagree with you including Park in that list. I think he’s a fantastic player in terms of his contribution in work rate and desire which all seems to go unnoticed by many fans.

    • Jacob says:

      Park is class. Even his teammates recognised his contribution. He’s a prime example of someone who doesn’t have a fancy name but does the job brilliantly.

  4. ErictheKing says:

    The thing that worries me the most is that United now have a startling lack of quality on the left wing with Giggs being the only reliable left Winger, Fergie really should have recalled Cleverley. Cleverly has really been hard done by this Bebe business as on current form Bebe is not good enough to tie Cleverley’s laces

  5. james holden says:

    I disagree with you on cleverley, just look at wilshere for an example. Not that I’m comparing the two, just they had similar experiences. Loaned to bolton and did very well, now an integral part of the arsenal first team. Cleverley has really impressed me at wigan and although I don’t think he’ll become the ready made article that arsenal have with wilshere his time surely has come with a decrepited midfield and an aged giggs. On bebe and obertan I would like to see one more season on them, however for gibson, he’s gotta go. He’s completely out of his depth and could free up some space for the youngster.

  6. RedRae7 (Rae M) says:

    JB – I think you’re right about Bebe being given more time due to the fact he’s had less time here, but can I just say.. they just don’t look premiership class at the moment let alone capable of featuring for one the world’s best teams. I just hope fans, pleading for patience ain’t afraid of saying what they see if things don’t improve. As for Carrick, that wasn’t really a game which highlights the best parts of his games and he’s never really been reknowned in his time with us for his defence-splitting passes or his creativity.

    John Tring – Park is a underrated asset to this United side and some of our best performances this season have involved him on the left, putting in an industrious shift which brought the best out of Nani on the opposite flank.

    On a final note, I just want to say I was rather disappointed at not having a chance to see how the talented youngsters on the bench have a run out, they couldn’t have done any worse than the lads on the pitch, that’s for sure.

    • JB says:

      I always like to give a player the benefit of the doubt because it’s so easy to just dismiss or write a player off too quickly and say he’s no good and won’t make it,sometimes you just have to be patient as it can take time. Having said this I have no problems in saying a player isn’t good enough if after this they still fail to show any signs of improvement. The thing you have to consider with Bebe’s background is that despite being 20 he’s probably at the same development stage as a 16-17 year old, add to the fact it’s a new country and he doesn’t speak or really understand the language yet. Thats why i’m prepared to give him some time rather then just saying he crap like so many fans have done already. As for what I said about Carrick check this video out . Look at his passing and creativity, thats what he used to offer but doesn’t seem to anymore. I share your disappointment with regards to not getting to see some of the young players having a chance to play, but under the circumstances I don’t think it would of been fair to just chuck them on with the way the game panned out.

  7. jonathan says:

    Great article and you articulated quite well what I was thinking, especially regarding Bebe and Obertan. A few weeks ago, I may have been 50/50 as to whether I realistcially believed they’d eventually work their way into the first team. Now I’d simply leave it to a faint wish as virtually no part of me can see it happening.

    I think you’re right about Obertan’s effectiveness being either on the right or behind the main striker. Perhaps we’re in a scenario of a putting a square ped in a round hole simply because we’ve determined our need is on the left but that’s not where he’ll thrive. That being said, he’s making mistakes that have nothing to do with what position he’s playing on the pitch and as you mentioned, has not shown any growth.

    As for Bebe, the only option is to put him on a season-long loan next year and hope for a miracle. Perhaps he’s not as far to being a developed player as feared, but the signs aren’t promising.

    On a positive note, at least we saw a few things from Gibson (in the 1st half) that can give us a bit of hope. Fergie stated in pre-season he saw him as a Scholes-successor, but I’d never seen what he meant. However, he looks capable of being a great passer so let’s hope this game signals a step forward.

  8. deaz says:

    carrick is useless, when we had ronaldo alot of players got away with it cos he was papering over the crack, but since he has left it has highlighted just how bad they are.

  9. Di Emperah says:

    Players to be sold

    obertan – was hoping that he would make it
    bebe – the fact that we could have gotten him for
    a mere 250000 makes me weep. Why didnt SAF
    didnt just add 5 mil to the 7 spent on bebe
    and buy hazard?
    gibson – not a great passer nor greater shooter
    (accuracy is poor)
    carrick – i am sorry but players are suppose to
    improve at man utd not regress
    owen – a world class plsyer but at his age, i’d
    rather welbeck or macheda be our 4th striker

    seeing that morrison and pogba were promoted recently, I would love to see them get some games in. Would also love to see petrucci given a chance.
    evans will be reborn next season

  10. A says:

    Regarding Morrison read Daniel Taylor’s piece on the Guardian website.

    • Chudi says:

      I’ve read that.
      I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Taylor so I’ve removed the link.

      • A says:

        Sorry about that Chudi, I’ll note it – I won’t be linking Taylor and his writing in the future!

        • Chudi says:

          Ha no problem, nothing against his writing just seems like an ambulance chaser. Remember him saying that Vidic was a dead cert to leave the club then a couple weeks later he resigned!