Harry Houdini failed to manifest himself as Manchester United one more time, as a pedestrian first half gave the Reds too much to do.
How many players can be culpable for just one goal? For Dempsey’s goal, Spurs’ third and ultimately decisive strike, I count five. All of whom could have been saved by Gareth Bale’s selfish and totally unrealistic attempt at goal, itself an initial but brief reprieve given the options he had square.
1 – Ferdinand overcommits on the far side and fails to hold Defoe up, who turns him like he’s not even there and heads towards goal.
2 – Rafael fails to track Bale’s run in behind him, taken out of the play by his commitment to mimicking a statue on the edge of the 18-yard box.
3 – Jonny Evans is sucked to the ball in an attempt to corral Bale, leaving the channel in between he and Lindegaard without a United player in sight.
4 – Carrick is static and unaware Dempsey has casually traipsed into the box, as such the Spurs striker is on his own.
5 – Lindegaard parries a shot hit more or less at him back into the danger zone. Sure, he wasn’t to know Dempsey was standing on his lonesome waiting to sweep home a tap in, but keeping 101 is turn the ball over or around.
Of greatest concern to me was a lack of leadership on the pitch during a first half in which we were overrun. The names on the park have played together long enough, are talented enough and have wealth of experience enough, but did nothing to arrest the malaise creeping across the pitch and terraces. It was like they were as shocked as us. At what point were they going to switch on if not for kick off? Or after Vertonghan’s opener? Or after Bale’s second? They shouldn’t have had to wait until half time to have Fergie yell at them; they should have taken stock and arranged themselves, taking ownership of the performance.
During the call there was an allusion made to the strong characters of yesteryear, the posters in the press box of Keane, Ince, Schmeichal, Cantona et al; players who wouldn’t stand for the sort of rubbish we served up in the first half. They were players Fergie could depend on to dig in and fight back with more than just an increased tempo. We really, truly do lack physicality in more or less every position on the park. Worst thing is everyone knows it and is going after it. I lost count of how many times we meekly conceded a contest or were run away from by a Spurs player. There’s only so much guile will give you when being pushed over.
Our dearth of options out wide was telling, with virtually no one stationed on the left hand side for most of the match. Nani, our only recognized winger, could be watched with greater focus and intensity because of it. It was Ashley Young who won us the day last term at White Hart Lane, his willingness to run, carry and shoot doing precisely to them what they did to us. Both he and Valencia were sorely missed when what we needed was industry and versatility out wide.
The most frustrating part isn’t even the first half, as that was disappointing and disgusting beyond words. Its that in spite of a turgid, completely unforgivable opening 45 we could have won the match, or at least got a point. Penalties were turned down, we struck the post twice, Rooney shot just wide on the turn, van Persie chose the wrong foot to shoot on and fired wide… we had the chances. Again we started slowly, only thing is this time we were made to pay.
Bottom line is we went into battle with the wrong army; one completely ill-equipped to handle the opposition threat. Spurs are nothing if not pacey and direct. Why then would we play a midfield trio of Giggs, Scholes and Carrick, three players who collectively possesses the pure speed of a subtle breeze? I’d be confident of outrunning them with a blister. This exposes them, our defence and our weaknesses. Furthermore, the decision to again start van Persie on his own with Kagawa in behind impresses indecision how to fit his best players into the one line up. Rooney mightn’t have been fit enough the play the full 90, I’ve no qualms accepting that, but Hernandez and Welbeck were available, too. Simply put, I never want to see us play a lone striker at home ever again.
Lindegaard – 3/10
We’ve kept two clean sheets in eight games, one apiece for each of our goalkeepers. His technique cannot be blamed for the first, which caught an unlucky deflection that took it right when he went left, even then just squeezing inside his post. The others, however, I think he could have done better.
You cover the near post to make them shoot to the far side, why then are you surprised when Bale does? Everyone watching could see the Welshman shape to shoot, with his body angled to go far post. The third, as touched on earlier, required a cooler head than what he provided. I doubt in Bruce Grobbelaar’s ‘Goalkeeping for Idiots’ he advocates parrying ball back into the kill box as an acceptable method of diffusing the danger.
Just a disappointing outing by more or less everyone associated with the rearguard, with the Dane not excused.
Rafael – 4.5/10
Was lost against and in the surging tide in the first half, but popped up to present and threaten in the second. Tried to get involved, but his delivery was stilted and ineffectual. He had a few good moments to deny and contain Bale and was on point and in position to hold down his side in the second half.
Our work from wide positions this season has been decent, with Rafael one of our most improved. His combination with the absent Valencia has ben cause for great excitement, but the danger has been often been softened by poor delivery. And so it was yesterday far too often.
Ferdinand – 2/10
His limit takes considerably less to reach than it once did. The pain and strain etched across his face during his pursuit of Gareth Bale is something I haven’t seen since his attempts to run down Craig Bellamy in 09/10. We’ve been linked with a number of highly rated continental defenders recently. Narrowly missing out to Real on Varane last summer and keeping tabs on Zouma at St. Etienne and Ogbonna at Torino this past transfer window. The latter was likely viewed as an option to start the campaign, given injury concerns to pretty much everyone who plays in defence, but an eye has to be cast to the future now.
I praised Rio’s recent efforts, when his anticipation and concentration more than covered his shortfall in pace. When at the top of their games Vidic and Ferdinand were the perfect partnership of intensity and precision, speed and power. Vidic would stay at home, track the beasts and Ferdinand could surge forward and distribute, read the play and cut it out with his pace. Maybe it’s now a case of making sure players around them know their limitations and protect the pair. This is something we failed to do conclusively. The failure/reticence to affect a tackle on Vertonghan as he approached the goal, too, was decisive, showing an early hesitance that would be costly a further two times.
Don’t even talk about the aforementioned effort to contain Defoe that lead to the third. He won’t want to see it.
Evans – 4/10
Struggled. Did as well as he could given the opportunities and avenues they were afforded to attack and, really, was a spectator in the second half as we pushed and pressed. Felt compelled and was required too often to cover the failings or faults of his teammates, which then drew attention to his own performance. At least he attempted to cover his teammates when they were out of position or out of the play, I suppose. A few of the others refused to leave their direct opponent for fear of their man getting involved. Insomuch they shifted into self-preservation mode.
Our defence (any defence, really) isn’t built to withstand or counteract pacey, counter attacking football. Centre backs by design can be big, lumbering beasts with wide turning circles and the 0-60mph time of a lorry. If you let teams run into space and with not much opposition they’ll experience some joy and reveal the weaknesses of certain personnel. And, with little resistance in midfield to stifle or slow this avenue of attack, so it was with Evans and co.
Evra – 4/10
Lennon had him betwixed and between, petrified when running at him, with Patrice doing pirouettes in an effort to stay with the little guy. He was one of too many defenders that didn’t attempt a tackle when tracking back or opposed to an attacker. Instead he, and others, opted to stand off. And weren’t we made to pay. You have to make the attacker get around you, to make the play, which is something we just didn’t do at all.
Like the others his job was made a lot easier when those ahead closed the lanes and retained possession, but even when right up against it I expected better from those we had at the back. Their performance in the first half was as poor as I can remember (having chosen to forget the City game last year).
Carrick – 5/10
Just completely overrun when we were up against it. Held the ball and controlled possession with Scholes as the game wore on, but was little better than passable. Speaking of which, Scholes and Carrick completed more passes than the entire Spurs team. That should give you an indication of just how hard we were pressing.
I’ve made mention of the dynamic of our midfield a few times in the first part of this season, with last night another example of how the match was lost at selection. Carrick shouldn’t be expected to get stuck in and combat the more physical spoilers of our opponents, its not his role and never will be. He needs a worker to create the space for him to play to the best of his ability, something a Anderson or Cleverley would have done better than, well, probably Giggs.
In the first half Carrick was all the evidence we needed of our best players not being given the system or line up conducive to playing their best football. The second was a completely different story. It was all a case of too little too late, unfortunately.
Scholes – 7.5/10
A sluggish first half in which he had plenty of possession but little influence transformed into a rather tremendous second. He ran the show, knocking pinpoint 40-yard pass after pass out to Nani and Rafael, in addition to the countless relieving and creating balls he played in midfield.
Looked like the Scholes of old when we were operating at that incredible early tempo after the break, with him being a danger and threat whenever he touched the ball. His calm was key, as he looked unflustered and oh so composed as he mounted the long overdue salvage mission. Even at his age the younger players just couldn’t live with the rhythm he operated at.
He and Rooney looked well up for it, like they had listened and taken onboard the ungodly rollicking that would no doubt have been meted out in the change rooms, taking it upon themselves to turn the tide and get us back into the contest. He even found the opening to rifle in a typical Scholes rocket; sadly it would come to naught.
He’s figured in the United line up on six occasions so far this season, featuring in my best times. It’s been a quite remarkable start for Paul.
Giggs – 2/10
My ratings for Ryan this season have been 2.5/5 (sub appearance v Fulham), 4 (v Wigan) and 4 (v Liverpool). Today he had zero intensity and, if possible, even less influence. With young bucks Cleverley and Anderson looking on Giggs looked every bit his age in comparison to what they provided on Thursday morning in the League Cup v Newcastle.
He was bypassed in midfield, lying far too deep to do any damage with the ball at feet and unsighted when Spurs went on the attack. Physically he couldn’t stem the tide and mentally he couldn’t provide any mettle. It was very disappointing from the most experienced player on the pitch. His substitution at half time was as unsurprising as his initial selection was counterproductive.
I get the feeling he’s being both protected, but in a strange way sort of exposed. So far his four appearances have been every other week, a break in-between each engagement. Anfield was entirely the wrong fit, just as Spurs was today. At the moment it feels he’s missing continuity in his football, hoping to just drop into the first team and do the business. I don’t intend this to be taken as an overreaction, its simply an observation, but I hope he hasn’t gone on one season too many.
Nani – 5/10
As tends to be the case Nani will likely be made the scapegoat for a poor United performance. By no means was he terrific, ok would be an apt appraisal if anything, but when he’s once again expected to beat a man every time, isn’t offered support when advancing or has no options in the box of course he’ll look ordinary.
He had more joy as the game wore on opposed to Vertonghan, with the spoils likely shared between the pair who each scored a goal and largely negated one another. His inability to curb the Belgian’s run early on was costly, with Carrick and then Ferdinand following suit.
He played on his favored right hand side and did little to suggest to Fergie he be given the role when Valencia returns, struggling to find the space and time to put crosses into the box.
He poked Rooney’s lovely cross into the net to give hope of another comeback for the ages, but was obviously inspired by the opportunity to be hero, pulling the trigger a few times (skying one hopelessly somewhere into Greater Manchester and not quite connecting with another) when discretion and teamwork was probably the best option.
Kagawa – 6/10
As with most he came alive in the second period. We lacked drive and incision in the first, attacked by a pacey and lively Spurs when our players were too advanced. Something we couldn’t replicate at all. When in advanced positions players like Kagawa were given far too much to do, with not quite enough movement or options being provided ahead.
Took his goal smartly, poking a little right footer past the oncoming Freidel into the net off the post, something enjoyed as much by the Japanese media as it was the United support. He moved well, linked well and deferred possession to Scholes and Carrick in midfield as we pressed and probed for more goals.
With Rooney back in the side I hope to see both drop into holes behind van Persie and alternate with one another in higher positions to support the Dutchman. Both possess the requisite creativity to find and feed players in dangerous places, as well the ability to finish opportunities when presented with them.
Van Persie – 5/10
Played a lovely ball for Kagawa’s goal, lifting his eyes and threading a pass through feet and bodies to find the Japanese. Should’ve done better with a chance presented to him just a little bit later but opted to shoot on the left when a curled effort on the right would’ve been better; I think he tried to drill it but pulled the shot well wide. He was able to find some good space at times when there were 20 players deep in our half, moving intelligently and linking up to retain possession and keep the pressure up. Scored when flagged offside (was the right call) and tried all day.
Looked a million times better when he was given some support after half time. I feel it a waste to have a player like RVP hopelessly chasing across the front line. For one it just tires him out. Secondly what happens if he does win the ball? He’ll have to turn back into midfield and find a release, thus slowing the play down and sucking the rhythm out of that attack. Thirdly, it makes us a bit one-dimensional across that front line. Defenders know he’s on his own and will have to find a teammate, I think it makes him less potent. The return of Rooney should see them strike up that long awaited and highly regarded partnership once and for all.
Thankfully he wasn’t injured in the Gallas tackle that felled him in the first half, that would have made a disappointing day perfect.
Subs (bearing in mind players who figure for less than half an hour are rated out of five)
Rooney – 7.5/10
Replaced Giggs at half time and it didn’t take him long to get involved. He was on the pitch for just 150 seconds when he took control and played a lovely reverse ball for a surging Rafael, at that point our best pass of the match. Shortly after he took up a dangerous position out wide and centered our best cross for the match to assist our opening goal, his perfect cross finding Nani’s intelligent run.
His intensity was a breath of fresh air, his presence giving the Spurs line-up all sorts of problems. Could have been on the score sheet himself, but for the left post being one inch too close to the right one. He also turned smartly in the box and sent a low right footer just wide when we were charging. He was everywhere and doing everything as we turned the screws, letting everyone know in no uncertain terms that a system that doesn’t include him his not in the best interests of Manchester United.
Simply, he was the catalyst, the spark and the life of our every move. His introduction inspired his teammates and the crowd and had his free kick found the net (or we kept them to two goals) I have no doubt he’d have won it for us.
Welbeck – 2/5
I’d advocated bringing him on at half time to play out on the left, with Rooney playing more centrally. Which is what he did following his introduction late on. Couldn’t get in behind because of the camped nature of Spurs manful defence, spending most of his time back to goal knocking the ball to outlets like Scholes, Carrick, Evans and Evra. If anything I think his introduction was probably fractionally late.
Hernandez – N/A
Came on so late giving him a mark is a wasted exercise. I’m pretty sure he didn’t touch the ball in what the gaffer could have only intended to be a belated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer impression. Given the lack of space he mightn’t have been the best fit to find a goal anyway.
3 – Scholes
2 – Rooney
1 – Kagawa
9 – Scholes
7 – Kagawa
5 – Valencia, Rooney
3 – Nani, van Persie, Ferdinand, Anderson
2 – Welbeck, Rafael, De Gea
1 – Carrick, Buttner, Evans, Cleverley