Due to the holidays I was a little late getting last weekend’s Swansea v Manchester United post completed before yesterday’s match with Newcastle, so today we’ll conglomerate the two into one post.
Saturday, December 23rd: Manchester United v Swansea
I sure hope we won’t need those two points we left at Liberty Stadium on Saturday come May 19th. They were there for the taking, but it just didn’t seem like anyone in red wanted to bother putting them in the bag.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Jones – Evans – Vidic – Evra
Valencia – Carrick – Cleverley – Young
Swansea Starting XI:
Tiendalli – Chico – Williams – Davies
Dyer – Britton – Agustien – Guzman – Routledge
One of the reasons that this entry was as late as it was is that I found it hard to describe this game and the Manchester squad. I started by saying they were a step slow, but that isn’t accurate. They played with pace for the most part, and the Swans didn’t really speed by them during the match. Then I tried describing them as not taking the Swans seriously, but that is not right either. The best I could do is to fall back on another car analogy…they appeared as if they were trying to drive with a missing tooth in one of the transmission gears.
When you have a problem like that, the car hesitates every time you want it to do something. When you step on the gas, there is a hesitation before the gears catch and the car starts moving, or when you want to get into passing gear it hesitates – almost like having to think about it first. THAT was Manchester United on Saturday. They knew what they wanted to do, but instead of just letting instincts take over, it seemed like they had to think about the ‘how’ first.
And it did not take long to see what kind of a match it was going to be. 13 SECONDS into the match…13 SECONDS…Evra was called for a foul and he was lucky it didn’t result in a yellow card. The referee seemed reluctant to pull the cards from his pocket in the first half and only issued one yellow. In the second he didn’t have much of a choice and ended up flashing it 5 more times.
The good news for the Mancs: Swansea seemed resigned to their fate (at least for the initial 20 minutes) and did not put much pressure on the Manchester defense. Once they got rolling however, they decided to take the game to the Devils and from that point on Manchester had its hands full. For the second match in a row, Manchester scored first. Swansea has given up the most goals from set pieces in the Barclay’s Premier League, and the Devils took advantage of that in the 15th minute as RVP took a corner that Evra flicked just inside the far post of the Swansea net. Manchester led 1-nil.
Even with the one goal lead, however, the Devils never looked comfortable – and 13 minutes later Swansea had the equalizer. Guzman put a shot on net that De Gea made a good save on, but it fell right to Michu, and he doesn’t co-lead the league in goals scored by missing sitters. Manchester United 1, Swansea 1 – and that’s how it would end.
That is not to say that there were no chances in the second half – van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez, and Young all had great opportunities – but that hesitation offered Swansea time to react and keep the ball out of the net. I guess if I had to sum up my feelings…it feels like we lost 1-1.
And for all us United fans that see the glass as half-full (or half-empty, for the cynics): United have won the Premier League four out of the eight times they’ve led at Christmas.
I sure hope we won’t need those two points we left at Liberty Stadium on Saturday come May 19th.
Manchester United Scorecard (0-10)
Patrice Evra, 6 – Although Evra gets my man of the match, none of the Devils deserve much of a score for this one. Evra got the goal that gave us the one point, but along with everyone else, no one really distinguished themselves much.
Everyone else, 5 – I’m not sure if they were excited about Santa coming or what, but the Devils never really made it all the way onto the pitch mentally. This is one of those matches that is best hidden in the back room and not mentioned again.
Wednesday, December 26th: Manchester United v Newcastle
This match was weird. Just plain weird. From the announcement of the starting eleven to the final whistle – it was just plain weird.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Smalling – Ferdinand – Evans – Evra
Valencia – Carrick – Scholes – Giggs
van Persie – Hernandez
Newcastle Starting XI:
Simpson – Williamson – Coloccini – Santon
Anita – Perch – Bigirmana
Cisse – Ba – Marveaux
Ok…I’m going to be a bit presumptuous today. I have only questioned Sir Alex one other time in the past ten years or so, but I’m headed that way again. I mentioned that this match was weird from the announcement of the starting eleven? Well what the heck is SAF thinking putting both 38 year old Paul Scholes, who by the way has already retired once, into the same midfield as 39 year old Ryan Giggs who, by the way, is the oldest outfield player in the Premier League? It was a recipe for disaster, and he almost paid for it.
It has been 40 years since Newcastle has beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford, and it sure looked like that streak was coming to a close through much of the match. I don’t know if Alan Pardew looked at the United starting lineup and changed his tactics or not, but it is not out of the realm of possibility. Newcastle gave Manchester a taste of its own medicine and attacked. And attacked. And then attacked some more. And it paid off.
If United had any doubt about what they were in for, those were assuaged in the first minute when Demba Ba took a shot just wide. And then for the 11th time this season, United gave up the first goal of the match. Three minutes after Ba’s first attempt, Carrick made perhaps his only mistake of the entire match when gave up the ball way too easily to Ba who relished another opportunity to shoot. He put it on goal from distance forcing a second mistake, this time from the United keeper. De Gea could have parried Ba’s shot much better than he did (if not smothered the attempt all together). Instead, the 22 year old left it on a platter for a simple James Perch tap-in. It was Perch’s first goal in 64 matches for the Magpies – United had just given up a goal to the least likely scorer on the pitch.
Have you ever noticed that Hernandez is really just a one trick pony? This match was a perfect illustration of his ineffectiveness over a full 90 minute period. He tried passing, but he rarely found his target. He tried dribbling, but he forgot the ball at one point then tripped over it. He tried setting up van Persie in the box, but he ended up handing it over to Newcastle and wasting a terrific scoring chance. And by my count he was whistled offside five times for the match (a modest count by his standards).
On another note, Jonny Evans is making up for lost time in the goal scoring department and managed to net two. Unfortunately, one of those went into his own net. He scored for United in the 24th minute and then scored an own goal three minutes later.
So at this point we are at 2-1 Newcastle, and the game is still up for grabs.
It was pretty obvious as the teams came out for the second half that Sir Alex had seen the replay of the own goal…and he was not a happy camper. You would think that at almost 71 years of age, after 26 years at the United helm, after two Champions League titles, 12 Premier League titles, and even a Manager of the Decade award, that he might mellow out a bit. Yeah, not so much. Sir Alex felt that Evans had been interfered with and that the goal should have been disallowed due to Cisse being two yards offside (a call made at the time by the linesman, overturned by the official), he was livid that it wasn’t and he let the head referee, the linesmen, and the fourth official know it. He was so upset, his gum popped out of his mouth during the tirade.
In the 58th minute, Evra snuck a goal past Krul to equalize. Ten minutes later, however, Cisse made the Manchester defense look like high school freshmen in the 68th with an easy run through the middle of box. No less than three United defenders could have been bothered to mark him.
Having lost the PL scoring lead against Swansea, RVP re-joined Michu at the top of the list in the 70th minute. Valencia played in a beautiful pass to the Dutchman on the counter who put a shot on goal that Krul blocked out to Carrick. Carrick laid off maybe the most under-appreciated assist of the season back to RVP – and Robin does not miss twice.
For some reason that goal seemed to turn the tide. Although the Devils had still not led at this point, it seemed inevitable that they were going to score another. In the 71st Carrick put an inch-perfect pass into RVP who pushed it just wide. Eight minutes later, Hernandez would start squandering the bulk of the remaining United chances.
Finally in the 90th minute (when else?) our one-trick pony did his trick on yet another great pass from Carrick, and United led for the first time. It is obvious from this match that Hernandez, although talented, is best suited coming off the bench and picking his spots during crunch time. He is actually a liability until after the 75th minute, but there is no one better when it comes to scoring late winners.
The Toon put on a furious rally all the way up to the 98th minute, but it was not to be.
Final score: Manchester United 4, Newcastle 3.
The result coupled with Manchester City’s loss to Sunderland means that United are now seven points clear of their noisy neighbors at the top of the table.
Manchester United Scorecard (0-10)
Michael Carrick, 9 – is my man of the match this week and would have earned a perfect 10 if he hadn’t played such a crucial role in Newcastle’s first goal. He was terrific for the remainder of the match, and his control, composure, and passing were nothing short of magnificent.
van Persie, 7 – the hardest working guy on the pitch, save for maybe Carrick. With Rooney out with an injury, he shouldered the burden on both offense and defense, and he displayed the never-say-die attitude that pulled everyone along for the ride.
Hernandez, 5 – as you can see, the differences in the ratings for this match are striking. Hernandez seemed lost until the 90th minute when he, as per usual, scored the winner.
Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, 4 – I understand that SAF can’t necessarily start the same four every week (especially when you’re playing three matches in a week), but we’ve been seriously lacking consistency at the back for…roughly the entire campaign thus far.
Valencia, Scholes, Giggs, 3 – I am personally going to miss Scholes when he is gone and there are more rumors than ever that this really will be Paul’s final season. Unfortunately, he looked in this match as if he had already turned in his papers. There was a lot of standing around watching from these three while Magpies ran by them in attack. Giggs did what he could, but it was more evident than ever that his 987 matches have taken a toll on his legs. He doesn’t have the cutting ability he did even two or three years ago, and his legs looked to give out on him on more than one dribble Wednesday.
De Gea, 3 – reverted to his early season, 2011 form – inconsistent and nervous in the box whenever it got even a little crowded. The conditions weren’t great, but there were several opportunities for him to do much better than he did. The first goal was a rookie mistake.