Two second half goals from strikers Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney secured what would seem a solid away win for Manchester United over Tony Pulis’s Crystal Palace side. Once again the question is raised as to whether this is the start of a good run of form for David Moyes team and on Saturday there were signs that for once a good run looks a real possibility rather than yet more disappointing results against teams the fans would be expecting their boys to comfortably brush aside.
Firstly, Uniteds recent stumbles can hardly be blamed on ‘a tough run of fixtures’ or any excuse of that nature, the simple fact is that they have been their own worst enemy this season, with inconsistency and complacency costing them many points. In fact the Red Devils currently have one of the worst defensive records in the premier league regarding goals conceded in the last 10 minutes of games. This is unprecedented for a team so famed for raising their game and punishing opponents late on to have had so many woes when trying to close a game out. Granted, the club are in a re-building process under David Moyes. We can expect to see several changes in the summer and I have full faith that the right man is in the hot-seat at Old Trafford. Quite simply, it has been a few years, possibly since the departure of a certain Portuguese no.7, that United have been a technically superior side to many of the premier league sides. Of course they are still formidable and have world class players at their disposal, but when compared to Chelsea, Arsenal and their neighbours City you can’t help but feel they lack that flair and ability to demolish defences in a way that their rivals can. Just take a look at Tomas Rosicky’s goal for arsenal at the weekend, and try to remember a United goal that seemed so fluent and sharp.
Essentially the word associated most with Uniteds play this season would be dis-jointed. Flashes of obvious quality are just that, and the team rarely seems to show that ruthlessness that saw them clinch their 20th Premier league title last term. I’d have said the same last season about the lack of creativity and technical dominance from the team, relying on the skills of a formidable striking duo in particular to provide the moments of brilliance. Yes, those two players had both been absent for periods in this campaign but the main difference is simply the determination and concentration. The only difference in United this season is simply the loss of their ability to grind out results. They were certainly not the flashiest side last season, with many regarding the football played by city and arsenal as far more pleasing to watch, but they got the job done. Shutting out teams at the death when they were ahead, and attacking relentlessly if not. You only need to look to the game against arsenal at the Emirates for an example of that lost confidence. Three united forwards given the ball to run at an exposed Arsenal defence in the dying moments with the game locked at 0-0, and yet a few passes later and the ball was back at the feet of David De Gea much to the displeasure of the fans and of manager David Moyes.
However the game against Palace seemed, in a word, comfortable. At least in comparison to recent games. Injuries to defenders Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in recent weeks led to the re-instatement of the teams most recognised defensive partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic, and the pair looked ever the formidable duo as they once had. Ferdinand’s recent problems with fitness and Vidic’s worryingly variable form seemed forgotten and the team had a solid defensive line to work from. David De Gea must have been over the moon.
Only two more changes from the United’s recent line-ups were made with Marouane Fellaini returning alongside Michael Carrick to the midfield after a lengthy spell on the side lines, and young Adnan Januzaj coming back into the side in place of Ashley Young. A poor effort at goal was the only blot on what could otherwise be considered a much improved performance from Fellaini on his return to the side as the big man looked comfortable going from box to box and proved an effective physical and aerial force that united tend to lack in midfield. More performances of this nature will surely earn him first team first team football for the majority of the seasons run-in with Cleverley continuously inconsistent and Fletcher still getting back up to speed after his prolonged absence. Januzaj was also a welcome addition the only united player to try and get beyond the defence with the ball in the relatively flat first half. In my opinion an obvious starter over Ashley Young, and so I was very pleased with his inclusion.
Yes, while it is true that it took a while for the breakthrough, which came through a penalty for a foul on Patrice Evra, it was deserved. United for once looked comfortable at the back and though it took time, the united attack started to settle and started loading pressure onto a very well organised Palace side to force the result and the 3 points. For me, the side need belief and confidence, They are not the best team in the league right now, there is no question. But they certainly can perform better than they have done of late and this was the kind of performance that reaffirms that belief. It may be that 4th place is out of reach, but a strong finish to the end of the season would certainly send a message ahead of the summer that this United side will again be a force to reckoned with, next season. So in my opinion United fans should prepare for a year without champions league football. However, as we’ve seen so many times in the sport, anything is possible.
In short, Mata has shown he is a top class player and is starting to settle into the team well as can be seen by his excellent link up play with Rooney in particular. Fellaini, while not having the best start to his united career, showed he can certainly be an effective midfield force and simply needs to keep this consistency which will lead to better performances we have seen from him in the past at Everton. Finally, Wayne Rooney. The striker signing a new contract will be a massive boost to the club. There will be debate over the wage packet, people will mention his previous contract issues and there may be suggestions of him holding the club to ransom. Simply, I believe he is too valuable to see any negative in the situation. He is a world class player, a game changer, and I agree with what has been said that it would indeed cost the club a great deal more to replace him. He has been the driving force behind much of what United have done well this season with only Adnan Januzaj coming near to that. Many regard him as a potential captain when Vidic departs at the end of the season, and even so a leader in his own right. His new contract secures his services for another five and a half years, and if he continues to produce top performances and goals like his strike against Crystal Palace, then who can argue with it?