Slow off the starting line, regularly falling behind, and just when they tire a little, depend on a surge of energy go past them to win.
Sounds familiar? No, this isn’t a highlight reel of Usain Bolt’s 100m race, but the manner in which Manchester United has been winning this season.
Fans love it when the team they support rallies to victory, and United have done it regularly in their history. But this season, it’s happening a bit too often. It’s good to see it happen against the big teams once in a while, but the Red Devils are making a dangerous habit of winning from behind against almost every team this season.
On the other hand, things may not seem all that bad at present with United sitting at the top of the Premier League table and also having comfortably secured a place in the next round of Champions League. But the truth is that the team hasn’t played to its optimum and has looked off-pace for most of the times.
Saturday’s clash with the Queens Park Rangers was the 17th time in 20 games that United failed to keep a clean sheet. Alex Ferguson himself said: ”We played for 10 or 15 minutes.”
In 13 games, United have fallen behind but this was the ninth victory secured from such a position.
The main reason for this could be a lacking in pace— a main ingredient of United’s traditional style. The masters of counter-attacking are finding it hard to get past the midfield and the attacks break down more often than not with a range of sideways passing. The ‘finisher’ excuse can’t really be used, because they have quality players up front.
This was evident in the first half of the match against QPR and it was only when Anderson and Javier Hernández came on in the second half that United moved on to another gear. Probably, one of the main reasons for this lack of pace is the ageing players in the team. The midfield trio of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick aren’t fastest off the mark.
The striking department may boast Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, but they’re more about technique and brilliance in other departments. Only young Danny Welbeck and Hernandez can rely on pace to beat their markers.
But the one department that has been severely depleted is the wings that have for a long time been United’s traditional mode of attack. Nani has been low on confidence which has affected his performances and Ashley Young is a mere shadow of his own self during his days at Aston Villa. Antonio Valencia is the only decent winger at the moment, and however fast or strong he may be, he suffers from inconsistency.
What United is really missing is a Giggs at the peak of his career when he would fly down the wings, dance around the defenders and either put a ball into the box or score himself. Or Cristiano Ronaldo who would make the seemingly impossible— possible. Even David Beckham wasn’t the fastest player on the pitch, but his tirelessness and pinpoint crosses made up for that.
But having said this, all hope is not lost. The January window will soon be upon us and it is the ideal time to buy someone who can inject that much-needed pace into the United attack. They have been linked with players like James Rodriguez, Kevin Grosskreutz and Tom Ince among others who are more than capable of keeping up with United’s style of counter-attacking. But Fergie will be vary about relying only on pace. He hasn’t quite been able to justify the buys of Bebe and Gabriel Obertan — both players known for their speed.
With the club’s closest rivals in the Premier League going through their own set of problems of either failing to score points or reeling in a managerial turmoil, this is the ideal time for United to move ahead and break away from the chasing pack.
But to do this they will have to stop conceding goals, switch on from the first whistle and most importantly play with the pace they are famed for.
Let’s cruise when we can and let’s save the wins from behind for desperate moments.