1. Sensational Smalling

Fast running out of superlatives for this supremely gifted young United centre-back. The question is not is this lad any good, its fast becoming how good… twice now in quick succession he has featured live on ITV and they’ve certainly not (despite the channels many flaws) failed to realise just how blessed they’ve been to witness the next potential English defensive superstar. It’s not ridiculous hype, this kid is very much looking the real deal and today’s coming of age performance in a potential cauldron of fire was immense.

He put his body on the line today – Numerous blocks from thunderbolts on the edge of the box were met with barely a flinch and his anticipation/bravery when going in for headers were amazing. When you then take into account this lads fast developing distribution, (actually more positive on the ball than most of our midfield) it becomes clear that this lad could arguably be the perfect modern centre-back, although he has to continue putting in this level of performance against much better opponents than Marseille.

Signs are he is more likely to get down and dirty than Rio and that he is superior in possession. He  is purposeful with the ball, likes to keep the game moving forwards and attempts to find team-mates with long raking passes rather than just dwelling on the ball to appear skilful and then just laying it back to the goalkeeper under pressure. What he needs to demonstrate is that he has the same defensive prowess of Rio against high calibre opponents and that his reading of the game is as good as the guy he is meant to replace, one can’t argue with the fact that the signs are looking good at the moment.

2. Midfield Breakdown (Literally)

After an initial 20 minutes in which some of our midfield play was reminiscent of that away leg against Inter a few years back at the San Siro, we were soon found wanting once again as we have so often been this season in the centre of midfield.

It was painful to watch and the culprit wasn’t the much maligned Darron Gibson who is so prone to blame that even if he was selected on the bench and the team lost, many detractors would find a way of producing evidence the lad produced a fart which distracted the players on the pitch and therefore he should be sold. I personally thought he did very well in the initial stages, was forward thinking both on the ball and off it (good movement to support the lone striker and made sure Nani always had an easy pass inside). He looked sharp and up for it but sadly his partner’s were so off the boil that the possession required in order for him to make a success of his role was non-existent and he was rendered ineffective for the majority of the game. It doesn’t matter how good a goalscoring attacking mid you are, if your game relies on others feeding you with possession… you are going to suffer, if they’re not up to their job. Lampard is the most similar player to Gibson and as they are both not play makers, they suffer in a team that is not cohesive and rely on their colleagues to run the game whilst they go about scoring goals… clearly after the 20th minute, that did not look like it was going to plan and he was unfortunately hooked off for Scholes.

Fletcher started off brightly, full of archetypal verve and dynamism. Once a few errors were made on the ball, almost trying too much… he went into his shell on the ball and relied on his industry off it to mask what was fast becoming a mediocre display. He was over-hitting long passes and when running with the ball unable to release players in forward positions with his weaker foot instead having to go back and forcing his defenders to retain possession for him.

That said he wasn’t as bad as Michael Carrick who put in a dreadful dire display. I’m a big fan of Carrick ‘s usefulness in the premiership and yet I’ve always questioned the scope of his ability with regards to being an international class creative midfielder due to his lack of footwork in tight spaces and general lack of mobility on the ball. Despite these shortcomings its been clear that many misinterpreted or misunderstood what his role was at United; that of a defensive midfielder who would read the play, break it up and keep playing moving forward through a simple efficient pass forward to a more creative player nearby. This latter definition is how I measure a good Carrick game. If he does that, I’m more than happy and it is down to the likes of Scholes & Anderson to provide the creative input.

Tonight however, he put in a non-shift similar to that night in 08/09 when we were destroyed by Barcelona. Completely clueless, always passing it back, scared of the ball and relying on the likes of Vidic and Smalling to bail him out. His defensive positioning was generally sound as per usual but with Anderson out for a potentially lengthy period.. I am rather worried with regards to our aspirations in the Champions League if the likes of Fletcher and Carrick don’t get their act together.

Click here for the second part of our 5 points

6 responses to “‘Smalling Shines In Stalemate’ 5 Things I Noticed – Marseille v United (UCL L16 – 1st Leg)”

  1. robroy says:

    honestly, the worst thing was the PITCH….it was awful, the ball was bobbling all over the place absolutely terrible !

  2. JB says:

    I disagree with your comparison of Gibson with Lampard, While Lampard is not a playmaker in the direct sense he does provide allot of assists and a good level of creativity for his team. To be fair to Gibson he was one of the better midfielders last night but still didn’t really do enough for you to think that he’s the current or future answer to our poor midfield problems. Berbatov like any striker needs decent service and that was severely lacking due to the poor midfield display, theres nothing wrong with his pace or his ability but he was just feeding off scraps last night. Rooney just done a job for the team due to lack of options out wide so I wasn’t really expecting him to be all that great. The trouble is that our midfield isn’t going to change much from now until the end of the season, we basically have to cope the best way we can.

    I would like to ask a question though, Scholes looks like he’s going to sign a new contract to play for another season. Do you think that this is good news or bad? Will the manager over rely on the likes of Giggs and Scholes for another season instead of bringing in new players?

    • Reece says:

      If you check on the home page there was a blog addressing this yesterday, I worry we may do just that

    • RedRae7 (Rae M) says:

      The Gibson/Lampard comparison is a valid one in my opinion, although the former is clearly not at the level of the latter.

      If you’re to ask my personally, I don’t rate either of them particularly highly as I don’t think they perform the role of an attacking midfielder which is in my opinion to be responsible for distributing the ball and to create chances on a regular basis, as well as go for goal.. whereas the aforementioned players are pretty one-dimensional.

      As for Scholes signing a new contract, I would be pleased.. who doesn’t want to see Scholes in a United shirt, it’ll be a sad day when he doesn’t feature for us but I also share your sentiment regarding the fact we need to seriously invest in new talent and if the older players are blocking that path, then its in this clubs traditions to go with Youth first and always look to the future rather than get sentimental.

      If Scholes is signing a contract with a view to being guaranteed alot of games and as a result we are less likely to bring in a player like Modric or a playmaker of that ilk, then the Ginger Prince is becoming more of a hindrance rather than an elder statesman who appreciates the fact his role is to take a step back and aid other players with regards to taking over from him in central midfield.

      I do think we need a fresh approach in midfield, I’m bored of watching us be so stale in the centre.. its harming the effectiveness of our forwards.

  3. jonathan says:

    Very encouraging display from Smalling, and it looks like we have the real deal. The timming is crucial given that he’s Rio’s natural successor who is likely never going to return to consistent fitness.

    The final verdict is still out on Gibson, but at least he’s shown some positive signs the last couple games – albeit only in the first half in both cases. He even looks like he can pass too, so I wouldn’t write him off as one-dimentional yet. We only hope he continues moving forward.

  4. Yosh says:

    I’m sure Cleverly will provide the perfect tonic to our midfield woes.