They destroyed Tottenham. Destroyed Arsenal. Destroyed Chelsea. Then the red team in Manchester lost to the blue team in Manchester, Manchester City, and the va-va voom, flair and excitement has disappeared. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team stumbled to a victory against Everton at Goodison Park, they got over the line against Norwich, just about beat Sunderland and then defeated Swansea by one goal without impressing anybody at all. This evening they drew with Benfica 2-2 and now face a final day challenge to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League.
To compound matters the team is unlikely to finish top of their group because Benfica face Otelul Galati in Portugal and the Romanian side have little incentive to achieve a result. Otelul Galati are already destined to be bottom of the group. Benfica, if they win, will finish as group winners and therefore avoid a tricky tie with all other group winners. Manchester United, who will not even qualify if they lose in Switzerland, are therefore likely to be group runners up, suggesting they might well have to face Barcelona, Internazionale or Bayern Munich.
The major issue for Sir Alex Ferguson at the moment is that his side have lost their verve. When the defence has been functioning they have been pedestrian offensively. When the offence has been exciting, fluid and impressive then the defence has tended to fall to pieces, as evidenced tonight by Phil Jones unfortunate own goal and then David de Gea’s naive clearance. Manchester United are not winning games comfortably or with any convincing margin. At the moment the red devil’s appear a long way short from the team that started the season so admirably. The absence of Tom Cleverley, because of injury, is part of the reason the team has lost much of it’s early season fluidity. The fact that Danny Welbeck is currently injured has also not helped as the gangly striker offers a multiple threat, offering skill, goal scoring ability, pace and strength. Others offer far less, even if they are far more advanced in one particular area. Javier Hernandez, for example, is a far better goalscorer and certainly quicker but offers little in terms of build up play, skill or strength. Dimitar Berbatov excels in build up play and offers tremendous skill but relatively less goals scoring threat and certainly far less pace. Wayne Rooney, obviously, is the number one striker but the teams reliance on him is not healthy, either for the club or the striker himself. The constant changing in defence, with each of Chris Smalling, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Fabio, Phil Jones, Patrice Evra and Johnny Evans finding themselves out of contention at various times for a variety of reasons, has not helped at all.
Man Utd, the swashbuckling, charismatic and exciting one, have disappeared of late. Football wants them to return as soon as possible.