Wednesday, 12 November 2008

United v QPR, Hargreaves and Ronaldo

Mission accomplished last night, in that we're through to the next round. But at the same time, it was hardly the performance we were hoping for from our young stars and squad players against (an admittedly miserly and unambitious) Championship side.

I didn't see the game myself, since it wasn't shown live anywhere in the UK, and there weren't any decent highlights even. If you found a feed from somewhere, then lucky you. Frankly, all the newspaper reports of the game seem to be written by people who only watched a replay of the goal and listened to the burbling of the "expert pundits" on Sky Sports News, so I won't link you to any of those - the most useful things I can point you to are:

- a report from the Manchester Evening News
- two sets of player ratings, here and here

The main thing I have to add is two unfavourable comparisons with Arsenal, which is probably the last thing you feel like reading, but I think it needs to be said:

1. Wastefulness - it really is becoming a theme of this season that we dominate possession, create countless chances but don't score the number of goals we should. This is very reminiscent of Arsenal in recent years, this lack of cutting edge and inability to shut down games which we are bossing. By all accounts, last night was another of those - and this trend need to stop, now.

2. Shining young stars - whilst I firmly believe that we have a very good crop of youngsters coming through, many of whom could become mainstays of the first team squad for years to come, they certainly didn't set the world on fire in comparison to Arsenal's young guns last night or in the previous round. Arsenal were playing a full strength Premiership side and made 11 changes to the team that beat us - and Jay Simpson, Carlos Vela and Jack Wilshere really made names for themselves. If you want to console yourself on this point, reflect that Arsenal's lack of trophies (not likely to change anytime seen) means they are in danger of becoming the ultimate feeder club - a superb finishing school for young talent, who then go on and actually win things with bigger clubs.

The bigger news from yesterday is obviously that Owen Hargreaves is out for the season after having the first of two major operations on his knee in the US. This is a big blow for us, because not only does he have the potential to be one of the best screening midfielders in Europe, but also has the versatility to play at right back and on the right of midfield, making him a valuable squad member. Also, he is probably our second best free-kick taker behind Ronaldo.

The biggest beneficiary, of course, is Darren Fletcher, who has been sensational all season and is now our first choice DCM. Fletch's form this season, where he has been doing the job Hargreaves was signed for to a very high standard, really softens the impact of this news - but for the first time, well, ever an injury to Fletcher is now a really big problem for us. The other potential winner is Possebon, back from injury last night - we will really see how much Fergie rates him by how many opportunities he is given during this busy season.

The obvious other question is should we go and buy a replacement, or at least loan one during the January window? There are no guarantees that knee operations of this seriousness will be successful first time round, and it may well be even longer than this season before we can hope to call on a fully-fit Hargreaves again. If you had to ask me for candidates, I would reel off names like Lassana Diarra and Scott Parker as interim signings, or you could go back to the drawing board with more expensive premium signings like Marcos Senna. No doubt plenty more central midfielders' names will be bandied around over the coming weeks.

Finally, Ronaldo is sitting down to discuss a new deal with the board. Great news, as far as I'm concerned, and if signing an extended contract is not enough to shut up the boo boys at Old Trafford, then nothing will be.

Lots to discuss here - what are your views?


RedJack said...

Hopefully hargreaves can come out of this surgery and play a full season next year. With a decent run of games he will be a crucial member of the squad.

Every season I have bemoaned the fact that Fletcher plays for us, and would have considered paying Everton to take him off our hands. However, the season he has had is proving me and alot of other people wrong. Saying this with Carrick fit I would prefer the Anderson/Carrick combination this season and Carrick/Hargreaves next.

Penguinissimo said...

I do think, and have said before, that in the long term the Anderson/Carrick axis is more balanced and covers more bases more effectively than any other.

That said, Fletcher has earned the right to a first team spot with his performances so far this season, and I can see him being rotated with Anderson quite a lot, with Carrick a lot more ever-present (at least until Scholes is fit again).

redjack said...

I have alot of arguements with non-united fans about Carrick. They can't see what he adds from game to game, but his ball retention, passing ability are fantastic

PO13 said...

I recently caught some of the rant-fest on RedRants, and ended up getting a huge headache. While some of those posters make valid points from time to time, the constant doom and gloom nonsense starts to get to me. If it isn't one thing it's another: Ronaldo is going to leave and a cheat! Our midfield is weak and useless! Nani and Anderson are nothing without Quieroz! People just need to chill out. We support one of the finest teams in world coached by one of the best managers of all-time. Grognard made a post about he supports all kinds of teams for 40 years blah, blah, blah. Well, I'm from Cleveland, Ohio in the States and I've seen my share of awful sports over the years. It's a privilige to support United, as I chose them when I lived for a bit in London when I was a teenager. Yes, I was a front-runner at the time, but I'm happy I'm now a fan for 10 years running. I like your blog more and more because you make calm and careful comments that make sense. In this manner, if something gets really bad, you will say so and it will have more weight. Folks like Grognard are very well-spoken and knowledgable, but the constant "it's the end of the world" nonsense gets old and I struggle to take them seriously any more. I'm by no means an optimist, but I do know a good situation when I see it. For the next few years, United are going to be a force with a chance of winning major trophies. A lot of clubs would kill to be in our place and we should realize that. Thank you for your continued excellent blogging and thanks for reading my post.

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