We have been very lucky that both Liverpool and Arsenal have been so poor this season – if Arsenal had matched their early-season form from the last campaign, or if Rodgers had bought well for Liverpool rather than waste £100+ million, I don’t think we would be sat in 3rd place.
I’ve argued in previous posts that I don’t think we need to panic buy in January, and would rather see us wait until the summer to get specific targets that can really improve our team, but we also have to hope that Liverpool and Arsenal don’t go on a run and make us struggle or even fail to keep that top-four status.
Watching us yesterday highlighted a number of concerns. Let’s run through a few of them…
The Suspect Back Line
Our defence was dreadful and that’s a compliment – Stoke were definitely unlucky not to have taken all 3 points; they had a definite penalty claim, hit the post, and just looked far more dangerous than we ever did when they came forward and attacked our suspect back line. If we have aspirations to be top dogs again, then no way do we have a defender other than Luke Shaw that fits the bill. Smalling is possibly the best of the rest, whilst Evans and Jones are mid-table Premier League players, not Manchester United first team material.
The Lack of Pace in Attack
The other major problem was the complete lack of pace throughout the team. Arguably we created zero chances, and only poor defending by Stoke allowed Falcao the opportunity to equalize. Of course we have Di Maria to come back from injury, but it’s a real concern that a front five of Rooney, Mata, Carrick, Falcao and RVP have so little pace between them. In my opinion this is making them easy to play against, especially away from home.
Januzaj’s Failure to Seize His Chance
Januzaj came on for a rare appearance, and you could see immediately why LVG has been using him so sparingly. He wasted every opportunity to put a decent ball into either RVP or Rooney, and at this level away from home, you really have to capitalize when you get into space and have no defender left to beat, with time to pick out the right pass. He is young and clearly a talent, but when he gets his opportunities he needs to take them – this is Man United, and you have to hit the ground running when you get your chances.
In-Form Ashley Young’s Injury
I have battered Ashley Young for the past two seasons, but you have to feel sorry for him after picking up a hamstring injury. He has definitely performed above expectations when given the chances this season, and whilst he was also poor yesterday, he was arguably on his best run of form since joining us from Villa.
Our Next Two Games
Well now to the FA Cup, and hopefully an easy win at Yeovil on Sunday followed by a home game against Southampton where we need to pick up the 3 points with a good performance.
It’s going to be interesting – we are 100% out of the title race and our focus needs to be making sure we keep that 3rd place to secure qualification for next year’s Champions League.