Wednesday’s 5-4 defeat to Chelsea in the Carling League Cup, only days after their 3-2 victory against the same opponents in the EPL at the weekend, perfectly exemplified Manchester United’s apparent penchant for frustrating and delighting their supporters in equal measure in all competitions so far this season.
The match followed the similar switchback pattern that has characterised the Reds' performances since the season kicked off in August.
History tells us not to be surprised at this phenomenon. United have long had the reputation as entertainers; playing the game as many of us believe it should be played with calculated abandon and a strong emphasis on attacking play.
However, their cavalier approach appears to be going off the scale this season. More often than not, they have been left needing to score three or more goals to ensure victory.
Just a glimpse at their domestic results so far this season tells us that they have scored at a rate of nearly three goals per match, but have conceded at a rate of nearly two goals per match.
Compare this to the statistics per game last season when the averages were just over two goals for, and less than one against.
Sir Alex Ferguson, whilst being delighted that his team are only one point off the lead in the Premier League and sitting comfortably on top of their Champions’ League group, must be concerned at the regular haemorrhaging of goals from his leaky defence.
To be fair, the manager has been lumbered with an unusual amount of injuries to key defenders since the beginning of the season.
His top five central defenders—Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans—have all spent time on the sidelines, forcing Sir Alex, on occasions, to play senior players (e.g. Michael Carrick) in unfamiliar positions to cover for their absences.
Currently, Sir Alex is having to ‘mothball’ Evans and Ferdinand for the games considered less difficult or less important, whilst the other regular defenders regain fitness.
Fortunately, United’s inspired signing of Robin van Persie, and his current rate of nearly a goal a game, has compensated for the at-times calamitous defending and has enabled his team to more often than not come up trumps and secure victory.
I am sure that passionate United fans would not want their heroes to change their style of play, as the banner displayed at Wednesday’s match emphasising the club’s mantra of ‘Attack! Attack! Attack!’ would seem to confirm.
My feeling is that if he can get four of his five central defenders up and running, Sir Alex will really begin to reap the benefits of his attacking philosophy.
Add to that the possible signing of a creative midfield player in the January window to replace the aging (some would say ageless!) Paul Scholes, and the future would start to look very rosy for the Reds.
One thing you can say for certain is that life will never be dull as a Manchester United supporter, and the majority wouldn’t have it any other way.
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