Written be Ronan Lee (Follow him on Twitter – @Ronan_Lee)
Were it not for two marvellous Van Persie goals in the dying minutes of the clash with Southampton, the Red Devils would have gone into the international break with just three points from three matches and a lot of unwanted press attention about the reasons one of the world’s biggest clubs has struggled to find early season form.
The UK’s sporting press can be merciless when it smells blood and without RVP’s boot it might well have found plenty to feed on in Manchester. This is just the kind of press attention that can destabilise an entire season, sapping the confidence of players and demoralising management and fans and creating an atmosphere where every future stumble is viewed as a potential crisis. Man Utd’s ‘Fergie time’ efforts mean thankfully it is Liverpool being inundated by press questions about early season performances.
The ‘Fergie time’ phenomenon is one of the most appealing aspects of watching Manchester United play football but it might be time to ask whether this style of playing the game is actually working for the team. Every club has its own distinctive style – some rely on speed, others skill, physicality, defence or attack. But of course for every benefit that comes from a particular style of play there are corresponding risks. Attacking sides are often weaker when it comes to defence and can find themselves at risk on the break if their attack fails.
So regularly has United scored goals close to the end of matches delivering memorable wins it is hard to see any downside to ‘Fergie time’ but many fans and commentators have questioned why the team so frequently seems so relaxed early in matches. I believe some of the careless early goals conceded by United can be directly traced to Ferguson’s achievement in building a team that never gives up and delivers big – but late in games.
Put simply, Ferguson has consistently built teams that simply never give up and have a stunningly good record of scoring crucial goals late in matches to make Manchester United one of the world’s most exciting teams to watch. But it has to be considered whether these achievements have affected the players’ attitude towards their performance early in matches meaning unnecessary goals are conceded and forcing the team to play catch up.
Part of the challenge may be how successful surges late in matches are now affecting players’ attitudes towards performance early in games. The curse of this success is some players may be conditioned to believe they have a safety net and can always lift their intensity and resurrect things later in the game…or the season.
This seemed to the the attitude on display when the boys played Everton to a 4-4 draw late last season and was evident in the Fulham game to start the 2012 season. And of course, in the most recent Premier League fixture against Southampton we could see both sides, positive and negative, of the ‘Fergie time’ coin.
On form Manchester United is the best team in the world and they are always a delight to watch but as a supporter it would be great to watch a match where the team played the full 90 minutes at the level of concentration and determination they so often manage in extra time. If Ferguson can achieve this there is no doubt this season will see Manchester United achieve Premier League title number 20.