So a fascinating game we were subjected to last night and a showdown I would argue was a season-defining one in a domestic context, reminiscent of our 4-0 FA Cup win during the season of 07/08. Many people write off the magic of the cup but for me it provides the best games between domestic heavyweights especially in the latter parts of the competition due to the fact that whilst they might put out slightly weakened sides, the desire to avoid a draw at all costs and prevent further congestion to the fixture schedule leads to a win at all costs approach and less tactical frigidity.
As to the importance of FA Cup encounters, again it is very much underestimated by managers, fans and players alike. A good cup run can boost the confidence of players, provide momentum for the campaign on other fronts and as we saw yesterday it can break the spirit of your closest rivals in the League. Anyway without further ado, here are the 5 Things I Noticed…
1. Double Trouble
One couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for the Arsenal full-backs in the first half having to come to terms with two rabid Brazilians foaming at the mouth, pumped full of testosterone and executing their best Dennis The Menace impressions. If the Gaffer was in a particularly villainous state of mind he may have even been tempted to allow them to… wait for it… switch flanks now and again, bringing further chaos to the already fragile Arsenal back line.
Jokes aside it was a promising performance from the duo and highlights just what natural footballers the twins are, they can fit into a variety of positions and generally excel due to their good footwork, attacking purpose allied to their enthusiastic industry and martyristic commitment to the cause. They have a fair bit to learn but I’d rather see them on the pitch than the likes of Bebe & Obertan for whom it must’ve been a big blow to miss a game of this calibre and an even bigger one to find out they were missing it courtesy of two untested full backs featuring in their positions.
Whether Fabio in particular can excel in this role against superior defensive opposition than Arsenal and provide a genuine alternative to Park rests on quite a few issues. He has to work on his close control and be wary of over-running the ball and overcompensating in the tackle when he loses control of it, it’s a problem that has haunted his brother Rafael a tad and would be more of an issue in congested areas such as the final third. He also needs to work on his left foot, which can produce good deliveries but he seems reluctant to use it consistently which belies a lack of confidence in it. Finally as the wonderful return of Valencia highlighted, the ability to receive the ball on the flank with a full-back stuck tight to you and to have the ability to a) turn him and b) shield it despite the pressure upon are both vital assets which a wide player at United is expected to have, Fabio would be well-advised to improve on these facets of the game and model himself as a goal-scoring version of Park.
2. Rooney In The Deep
Hands up if you’ve been dying to see Rooney deployed in midfield as an experiment for years? Well me too, I’ve been an unabashed supporter of letting him roam across the pitch and just doing what he does best, getting stuck in and stamping his authority on the game rather than being a peripheral figure who comes across more than just a little bit miffed at the lack of service from his less-talented colleagues.
Don’t get me wrong, during 09/10 he proved he can be extremely effective as a lone striker but it’s just not Rooney, there’s no enjoyment in watching him deployed in that manner. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy watching Messi over Ronaldo, the former has the freedom to spray magic across the pitch whereas the latter is now just basically a goal machine with none of the flair he possessed in abundance during his youth. Cristiano is allowed to roam the pitch but only to exploit space from which he can shoot or score goals, not to create and creation is a hallmark of Rooney’s game and an attribute which is thoroughly entertaining to bear witness to.
3. Suuuuper Super Chris, Super Chris Smalling
If they’re not chanting this at the Stretford End already, they better start doing so sharpish. Another imperious display from ‘Baby Rio’. Is it sacrilegious to claim this lad could possibly go on to become even better than the guy he is meant to replace?
At the moment one must restrain themselves from uttering such bold claims but if he continues looking so comfortable against top opposition, then it may not be such a ridiculous claim especially considering his age and the years he has left at the top level. Yesterday he outpaced, outfought and outread consistently throughout the game and whilst VDS was in stunning form (abit of an understatement – ONE MORE YEAR PLEASE!) Smalling did more than his fair bit in preventing us from conceding.