Friday, 7 November 2008

Let's Catch Up - Some Random Thoughts

OK, here's a series of random musings about the events of the last couple of weeks which I haven't been able to blog about.

Firstly, Ronaldo. It seems commonly accepted that he is not yet back to his best, in particular because he missed a hatful of chances at Everton and also because he is losing possession more often than he did at his peak. Well, given that he's scoring at just under a goal a game (7 in 8 appearances), with a couple of assists on top of that, most forwards in the world would kill to be playing that "badly".

Also, as I've made clear in the past, am I a Ronaldo sympathiser, and as such I'm pleased that the fans' attitude towards him seems to be thawing. I'm also pleased that it looks more and more likely that he'll be with us next season as well - crunch time will be when Fergie leaves.

Next, Berbatov. I could watch that piece of skill at West Ham for hours on repeat, and it's become clear that we've signed someone who is going to create as many goals as he scores. Which, of course, is once of the main reasons why Fergie signed him rather than a Huntelaar type player. His contributions to build-up play more generally have also been eye-catching. I'm really excited about how good this guy could be for us over the next five years.

In no particular order, Carrick will make a real difference to us. Good to see his name on the scoresheet, but the scraps of the Celtic game I saw last night also provided ample evidence of what we've been missing - effortless retention of the ball in midfield and sharp, quick, incisive passing going forwards. Fletcher has been our player of the season so far, but his skills don't lie that way. I'm really looking forward to a Carrick-Fletcher partnership for a while - with all due respect to Anderson, Fleth has more than earned a long run in the team.

Which leads me neatly onto Hargreaves, whose injury problems have gone from bad to worse and are now likely to require an operation which will see him out for half the season. I feel sorry for the lad, and am pleased that Fergie came out and publicly said that he wouldn't be sold. But he missed most of the season for Bayern before we bought him, and I do worry that we were so keen to complete the deal we'd negotiated in 2006 that we overlooked or underestimated a problem that was evident before the transfer went through. £20m buys you a lot of defensive midfielder (in the world, probably only Essien is out of that price range), and we haven't had much return on that yet from Hargreaves. Still, he's not that old, so if the op sorts him out then we've plenty of years yet to get value for money on him, and in the meantime Fletch has ensure we won't miss him.

What else, what else? The defence is concerning me. Again, I haven't seen all of any of the recent games, but the lapses that have led to goals or chances (of the type which end up on MOTD highlights) have not been consistently of one type. This is good and bad. In one way, it's not as though we can't defend set plays or we can't hold a line - this is good because it doesn't suggest one weakness that can be targeted and exploited. On the other hand, the fact that our poor (relatively) defensive record seems to be down to a general lack of sharpness is worrying, because it's hard to target a particular area on the training ground to improve. It seems just a case of everyone in the back line needing to raise their game by 20% - hopefully a kick is delivered to the correct part of their collective arse sooner rather than later.

Related to that point, we have started to see the goalkeepers being rotated recently. Both TK and Foster have got a game, although neither had much chance to distinuguish themselves (or otherwise) in what were two quiet games defensively. I approve of this policy, and I agree that we're well off on the keeper front, but it is interesting that Fergie and co seem not yet to have a preference for eithe TK or Foster, and are going to give them both a chance to make a case. This is fine, and competition is healthy etc, but that is a second position in a defensive unit of five where there is going to be a merry-go-round of three players - this is bound to be unsettling.

The first, of course, is right back, but not much change there from what I've said before - Gary Neville is good enough but not as good as he was; Wes is the best choice for now but seems to have lost Fergie's trust somehow; Rafael will be better than either in the future, but for now is defensively suspect.

Right, enough for now. Apologies once more for my long absence - I can't pretend I'll be fully back for a couple of weeks, but I've enjoyed writing this and am hoping to enjoy the Arsenal game even more. There'll be a preview up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning.


Chafe89 said...

On the right back front, I feel that I've already seen enough evidence to suggest that Rafael's future is as a winger rather than a defender, obviously he can be trained to defend but his tackling so far looks to be sub-Scholes, which is worrying. On the flipside, I thought he was, and has been in the few games he's played, a far more effective attacking presence than Nani. Any thoughts on this?

Penguinissimo said...

Well, it's the Brazilian model of full back, isn't it? Roberto Carlos, for example, was never a great defender (he was trained to be an adequate one), but he was primarily picked for his abilities going forward.

Rafael could be the same - after all, look at Evra's transformation within his first full year...

Nukeleus said...

Great to have you back, Penguin- it's been too long! I'd suggest that using Rafael exclusively as a defender would even be an underuse of his attacking ability- I'm not sure that he has much natural defensive sensibility, from what little I've seen...

MoYa said...

Great to read one of yuor articles in a while Penguin.

I'm pretty sure Ando was rested for the Arsenal game.
I'm a huge Ando fan and he does seem to be finding his form back lately... He always appears to give us that "something extra" in our game.
Think it will be him and Carrick starting.

Also not too sure who will start on the left... I'm thinking Park will start, which will be extremely useful.

Gapi said...

Nice to see you back Penguin. For the midfield against Arsenal I would pick Carrick and Anderson. Maybe Park on the left with Ronaldo on the right and Rooney, Berbatov up front.

Andrew, Esq. said...

I'm glad Penguin brought up the Rafael/Evra comparison, because I began to see that too. Evra began really strong as an attacking wingback, but his defense was pretty poor. Take a look now; i'd put him top against any left back in the world. I think Rafael has the build and speed and attitude that perfectly fits our right back spot. He's also extremely tenacious and fights to get the ball back. In a way you can see the comparison to a young Gary Neville, who was no slouch making runs forward and putting crosses into the box.

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