Five things we learnt from United away at Bolton

Elmander tries to protect his barnet from Nemanja Vidic

Elmander tries to protect his barnet from Nemanja Vidic

Another United away game another draw, it’s becoming something of a tradition this season for Fergie’s men. However unlike the previous two away games United didn’t throw away a lead- but don’t worry there were still the usual defensive errors to talk about.
While it would be fairly easy to copy and paste the last two ‘things we learnt from United’s away game’ there were still a few new realisations to talk about- or maybe just a reiteration of what we already knew- or how about a revision of previous thoughts seeing as were on words beginning with ‘r’.
It’s becoming increasingly frustrating having to see the same mistakes and obvious faults go unaddressed and this weekend would have -finally- been a chance for United to take full advantage of a Chelsea loss.
However although from a United point of view it is disappointing, it’s not all doom and gloom, there were still some positives to take from the game although the faults cannot be ignored.
So what did we learn other than the fact even in a brand new multi million pound stadium standing up can cause problems?

The two Jonnies cannot play in the same back four. While Patrice Evra is not quite back to his best and other players make mistakes, messrs Evans and O’Shea are becoming something of a worry, in fact that’s a bit like saying Malcolm Glazer isn’t on every United fan’s Christmas card list. Let’s start with my personal favourite John O’Shea, for many years now he’s been a fringe player used sparingly and only brought out for special occasions -usually against poor teams- a bit like putting away the nice china and bringing out paper plates for guests you don’t really like. Due to injuries and a case of mild insanity by Sir Alex Ferguson O’Shea has found himself as United’s preferred choice at right back. Now while I loved the last minute winner in front of the Kop a few years ago, I’ve always thought O’Shea is quite simply not good enough for United. I know that may seem harsh after all he’s been at the club since his youth and I don’t know if I mentioned it but he did score a winner at Anfield but for me its true.
O’Shea just seems to be a six out of ten player at best- giving the ball away needlessly, failing to meet passes and being a general weak spot in what is -usually- a reliable United defence. Against Bolton his lack of ability came to the fore once more.
It’s not O’Shea’s fault he’s not up to it,  he’s United through and through but unlike some players who have the ability but struggle with the consistency, O’Shea seems to actually not be very good at football. Just ask yourself how many top teams would O’Shea walk into compared with the rest of the United side? Not many. It’s got to the point where I’d rather see Owen Hargreaves wheeled out and dumped in the right back position than be forced to endure O’Shea again. Surely its time to hand the spot back to Wes Brown on a regular basis- or even give Rafael a chance.

That brings me on to Jonny Evans who really and truly needs ‘resting’ or ‘dropping’
if were not going to sugar coat it.
Unlike O’Shea I feel Evans is a naturally gifted defender who is good enough to play for United. Let’s not forget that between him and Gerard Pique, Evans was considered the better prospect and seemed to progress quicker. The problem for Evans is that he’s been thrown into the United side almost regularly when by rights he should only be playing the minority of games. If Rio Ferdinand hadn’t had his injury problems we’d probably be commenting how Evans is a reliable back up and a future United starter. Yet because Evans has been forced to play week in week out for practically two seasons, his failings have been exposed. Unlike a young striker who can score a goal then miss a few chances and still be praised every mistake Evans makes comes under scrutiny and is often costly. Teams now seem to target him as a weak spot, against Bolton he didn’t have the worst game but with him and O’Shea both in defence it looks dodgy to say the least. There’s even been rumblings of giving Chris Smalling a start which says it all really, of course if Fergie had played Rio Ferdinand instead of resting him then it would be a totally different story. However with question marks still remaining over much United can really rely on Rio -I do love the letter ‘r’- Fergie may have to consider another option in central defence before its too late.

United need a real plan B on the left wing. Ryan Giggs on his day is still one of the top performers in the EPL and despite his age can still do a job against any team. The problem is that if Giggs is injured or needs resting United don’t seem to have a truly viable replacement on the left. We saw it against Bolton when Giggs went off, part of the problem is the injury to Antonio Valencia has now given Nani the right wing position whereas in the past Fergie was partial to sometimes playing him on the left allowing him to cut inside. Now though- and I realise its only been a couple of games, its seems as though Nani is being deployed exclusively on the right. While I actually prefer to see him in that position it does mean a lack of alternatives on the left. One answer may be to put either Ji-Sung Park on the right and Nani on the left when Giggs is out or even try Anderson on the left wing. However Anderson hasn’t really been a winger since his Porto days and Nani performances on the right are at times awesome. Maybe Park could be used as a straight replacement for Giggs but I doubt it. My suggestion would be to actually roll the dice and let either Gabriel Obertan or even Bebe have a go when Giggs is out. They may be young and fairly untried in the first team- especially Bebe- but why not just give it a go? If it doesn’t work then other options can be examined but throughout the years Fergie has often gambled on a youngster to reap the rewards now may be another time to give it a try.

It’s time to give Rooney some real time off. Before you start screaming either ‘United need him!’ or ‘He’s been rested he’s got a job to do!’ allow me to explain. Rooney’s ankle has not been right for several months now- in fact you can take the word ankle -and the ‘s’ after Rooney- out of that sentence. He’s struggling and while a couple of weeks ago I thought he may have turned the corner it’s become obvious he hasn’t. The sight of him with an ice pack on his ankle a the Bolton game said it all, against Rangers he seemed to pull up because of it and you could almost hear 70 odd thousand gasps. What I’m suggesting is actually a couple of weeks rest and recuperation not anything to do with his extra-curricular activities and shielding him from those nasty mean opposing fans but simply get him back to real fitness. Dimitar Berbatov has picked up Rooney’ mantle and United also have Michael Owen, Kiko Macheda and Chicharito – not to mention the option of returning to a 4-5-1 formation with Anderson or Michael Carrick- remember him- back in the side.
Don’t get me wrong I’m aware of how valuable Rooney is and how resting players at United has often backfired but I fear if Fergie doesn’t give him a break it may take a lot longer than a couple of weeks before we see him back to his best.

United gained a point. With all the usual hyperbole I’ve been hearing- and spewing- about shoddy defending, points dropped and over-reliance on Paul Scholes -again-it seems something has been forgotten. While a draw at Bolton is nothing to get a tattoo about, it’s not the end of the world. Chelsea lost. United drew. Unlike the previous weeks where Carlo Ancelotti’s men have moved a little bit further away from Fergie’s, this time United made up ground. Okay it’s frustrating to fail to win a third away game on the bounce but at least there were some positives in the fact that United were able to twice come back from behind and show some fighting spirit rather than throw away a lead. I know it’s not much to hang on to but we’ve got to have a little bit of positive thinking -after all it could be worse, United could have been beaten at home by West Brom.

2 Responses to “Five things we learnt from United away at Bolton”

  1. September 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Some decent observations – But I would have to say its far too easy to lay blame with the Jonny’s. Whilst I agree that O’Shea has never been my favourite player (for reasons you outline well), he seems to come in a do a job when necessary. This season it has been a case of needs must with Wes still regaining full fitness and Rafael seemingly not trusted fully as yet (whether this be down to fitness too or simply because Fergie is not seeing the progress he would expect in training I dont know). I’m convinced Fergie is preparing to relinquish JOS of a regular starting berth either way as we enter a busy winter period so ill move on to…

    Evans: Quite simply the abuse has been startling. I too was writing of his poor display versus Fulham and how he allowed Zamora way too much space and was in essance “bullied” – but since then I have seen a vast improvement – v Liverpool he was solid and overcame the threat of Torres with ease until the penalty which was largely unfortunate; v Everton i would pin greater blame on JOS and Evra – who has not hit top form since February for me! Likewise, at the game yesterday, having thought he would start ahead of the luckless Rio (who was still recovering from a virus lest we forget) I thought he was superb, winning the majority of his head-head battles and completing 36 of 38 passes (see GU chalkboards). In fact Vidic was outmuscled far more often than Evans from the imperious Elmander – and I cant agree more about JOS’s positional play causing us issues at the back..

    In short, we are revisiting the 4-4-2 system of old in recent months, which essentially becomes a 4-2-3-1 when in possession with Nani and Giggs pushing on and Berba dropping deep in a False 9 role which he has perfected in recent years – this is bound to cause defensive headaches which is why Fletcher and Park will be vital to our system in the coming months. Im with you on Rooney (who, like Evra hasnt been right since long before his ankle injury), and I fully expect Anderson to come into a 4-5-1 system on Weds night.


  2. 2 thomas
    September 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Ditto on the O’Shea, he’s always been that, scored some great tap-ins for us but in the bigger picture, he’s like you say.. Crap! I’ve been saying for probably the past two seasons now, watch closely when he gets the ball – it’s the weak link, he’ll give away passes, running back attempting tackles he looks lazy, especially compared to a world class defender like Vidic.

    Hopefully Giggs hasn’t ‘past it’ yet, the first injury was an arm one and unrelated but hamstrings never seem to be good, particularly at older ages I’d imagine. Then again Giggs is the Terminator of football almost! Nani I still feel won’t be the player to replace him, I still don’t think he’ll be that much of a ‘great’ player. Admittedly I didn’t see this last weekend’s game but looking back at the BBC online text updates summed it up, amazing goal.. Last kick of the game, Nani standing over the ball for a freekick outside the box. I didn’t need to read the following update to guess it went no where. Sure play him but I wonder if he needs some discipline or harsh words… He got his new contract towards the end of the last season, which I don’t think eh deserved though I have no idea how long left we had him, during the period when he pulled off some great football, but the bigger picture – it was combined with a lot of awful football. He’s like the younger Ronaldo, too wasteful, too cocky and full of himself – though I don’t see this really changing, hardly seems to have in recent seasons. I remember that amazing goal against Tottenham his first real announcement at OT and thinking wow… And then the patience wears off. I do wonder if the contract extension was Fergie worried someone might poach him if he wasnt on great wages and thinking he didn’t have the money for the transfer market. The problem is there’s a gap now between our ‘upcoming’ youth and top senior players, now we’re risking a hole when Giggsy and Scholes go, and the past few years of youth havent been very successful in getting themselves promoted. Obviously signing a load of players will do a squad more harm, but not doing a thing is just going to make us appear like we’re just getting old and are going to gradually decline, which it’s gradually looked more and more like since we beat Chelsea in Moscow unfortunately.

    Anyway, rambling now.. Pretty pessimistic after that result though I guess I am looking at it from a purely statistical pooint of view. But look at the start of the season to now. Hopefully we’ll make the most of the big four (or five/six/seven it’s looking like now) games this season and can laugh off these early flops… Still a long way to go but with Chelsea recording such strong results (admittedly against pretty weak opponents at home) there’s a lot of hard work to do and already we seem to be losing that same regular number to playing football/injuries.

    Rooney just needs a breakthrough, that click. I still love him, and he can come to sleep with me for free if he’s still lonely at night!

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