Only caught the brief ‘Match of the Day’ highlights of United’s 2-0 win over Stoke yesterday but it actually looked surprisingly comfortable, given the problems that other teams have had at the Brittania.
Nani’s inability to make the right decision a lot of the time has many United fans foaming at the mouth and all the talking heads have been quick to eulogise over Ryan Giggs’ substitute appearance. According to the resident Scousers on ‘MotD’, Giggs transformed the game, whilst Pulis felt that Scholes was the best player on the pitch ‘by a country mile’.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that this is a selective view of proceedings. Sure, if you give the 34-year old Scholes and the nearly-36 year old Giggs time and space, they can pick you apart and that is where Stoke lost the plot, but both of these eminent elders are a lot less effective if you crowd them out, which better teams than Stoke are going to do this season.
Giggs still has enough natural athleticism and wingers’ skills to run out of/away from tight situations, but Scholes has been made to look pedestrian in the extreme when denied the few seconds of extra space & time he needs these days.
All of this merely obscures a much more worrying set of issues, namely the fact that none of the new arrivals have been able to truly supplant Giggs and Scholes in Fergie’s thinking. Both of them are still key performers at a time when they might reasonably expect to be winding down their United careers in the Carling Cup (like Gary Neville) or with the odd 10-minute cameo from the bench.
I’m sure that Ferguson must be concerned about the failure of Carrick, Anderson, Nani, Tosic and Gibson to truly nail down the centre/left of midfield on any lasting basis. Personally, I’ve always had a lot of time for Michael Carrick, but I know that many United fans find him too diffident – and I can see why. He seems to be out of favour now and at 28, you have to wonder if he’s ever really going to cut the mustard at Old Trafford. His passing skills are tremendous but he never really seems to impose himself on a game. Anderson remains an enigma – at least he’s got the goalscoring monkey off his back now, but am I alone in thinking he should be encouraged to push much further forward?. Nani remains a frustrating player. He has great skill and trickery, but his decision-making and delivery are often appalling. Tosic looks lightweight in every sense.
Despite all the Ronaldo cash, Fergie has elected to go with what he had last year in this area of the team and I can understand that, but I feel it’s a big gamble. Giggs and Scholes are pulling a few rabbits out of hats for him, but only Anderson of the ‘newer’ boys seems to have made any progress this year and Carrick seems to have gone backwards. It’s fortunate that Fletcher has been playing so well and that our senior citizens are still able to contribute.
Ultimately, where we finish in the PL and in Europe are likely to determine the destiny of this current crop of players. Personally, I think Fergie is thinking very seriously about retiring at the end of the season and if he does, I would not expect Giggs and Scholes to stay on. The incoming manager (David Moyes? Capello?) will no doubt have his own ideas and midfield is one area where I would expect United to acquire a marquee player like Ribery or Silva. Much as I like Carrick and Anderson, the fact is that the clock is ticking for both of them – and that’s probably just as it should be.