CFR Cluj 1 (Kapetanos) Manchester United (van Persie, van Persie)
1. Terrible start once again – Evra especially. That makes it six out of nine games that Manchester United have failed to score first in. The only games this season we have managed to score first in were Newcastle, Galatasaray and Wigan Athletic.
Now, Manchester United are perennially known as slow starters to the league but this is on an entirely different scale. It isn’t the mere fact that we are conceding goals but more in the fashion we are doing so – the overwhelming majority of them are preventable if the defence wakes up.
Patrice Evra in particular. Last season, he was pretty poor and this year he has started off awfully. He seems to have completely lost all of his positional sense. CFR Cluj exploited that by attacking down Evra’s side consistently, a smart move by their manager, and they reaped the rewards of it.
There have been so many “wake up call” moments already this year but I thought the Tottenham loss at the weekend was the clincher – evidently not. We are really struggling with our defensive injuries this season and if we don’t sort it out soon, we are going to leave ourselves a massive task to get back into the running after December.
2. Rooney and van Persie. Finally, we got to see them start a game and I was mightily impressed. Two assists for Rooney, two assists for van Persie – the perfect combination.
The second goal in particular was sublime with van Persie somehow sweeping in a sweet 40 yard pass from Rooney with the outside of his left boot without letting it touch the floor. World class.
Although, I would like to see them line up differently. Rooney dropped into the Kagawa number ten role and was playing very deep in order to feed van Persie up top. What I cannot wait to see is Rooney and van Persie playing as out-and-out strikers with Kagawa just behind them.
I feel that trio will be our ‘holy trinity’ for the season. We might be free scoring so far this year but implement that combination and I think we will be firing on all cylinders.
3. A different, dynamic midfield. The formation we played last night is what we should have played against Tottenham. Fletcher sat in front of the defence as their protection – he played fantastic and was biting at the heels of the opposition, shutting space out and doubling up with defenders where possible.
It gave us more presence in the middle and allowed Anderson and Cleverley to bolster the attack safe in the knowledge that Fletcher would be there in case of a counter.
We didn’t have that against Tottenham. Carrick and Scholes would move forward but when Tottenham broke, there were huge gaps between the midfield and the defence that they were easily able to exploit.
Having that deep lying midfielder stops that from happening or at least makes it infinitely more difficult to penetrate. Although it nullifies the use of wingers as it promotes a narrow style of football, it is playing to our strengths right now and is a formation Sir Alex needs to use more often than not.
4. Quick moving football. Manchester United completed 844 passes (92% complete) to CFR Cluj’s 233 (76% complete). Anderson, Fletcher and Cleverley alone had 350 between them. It was the sort of pass-and-move one touch football that we saw at the beginning of last year when Anderson and Cleverley were in the team – and it is fantastic to see it return.
Whilst I am still a huge fan of a central midfield pairing of Carrick and Scholes, it is simply too pedestrian now. With such pacy and creative players in the team now, playing quick moving and fast flowing football is simply more effective.
CFR Cluj might not have been the toughest of opponents but it is still a midweek fixture away in Romania, nothing to be sniffed at. It was Tom Cleverley’s debut in the Champions League but he looked absolutely superb and was always looking for possession. Even when he lost the ball, he was instantly running to try and get it back. That sort of midfield commitment is what we are crying out for.
5. Back on the horse. Losing to Tottenham really knocked the stuffing out of us. It was one of our longest standing records at home and we all expected it to continue really – but it is the wake up call that everybody in the team needed.
We are struggling for consistent form right now. We might have won six games on the bounce prior to the Tottenham loss but that was out of sheer grit and determination than top quality football.
The defensive instabilities of the team are being felt throughout the whole squad and with Vidic and Jones still long term injuries (Smalling is set to return after the international break), it is not going to get any easier soon.
Opponents are not afraid to play us any more because they know there are weaknesses they can exploit. We need to start firing out some warning shots, starting with Newcastle next weekend, that we are still top dogs in the Premier League before we lose our aura.