I sat utterly bemused Saturday as I watched Manchester United altogether inept in front of goal away to their current bogey ground, Craven Cottage. Manchester United lost their second out of the last three matches and fifth league match of the year to Fulham 3-0, a scoreline that flatters the current champions as it could have easily been more. Fortunately for United supporters, top of the table Chelsea were unable to secure all three points at Upton Park on Sunday in what ended a 1-1 draw with the Hammers. Chelsea’s lead at the summit of the Premier League is now at a manageable 4 points.
Shocked I was though at United’s lack of any cohesion going forward. Wayne Rooney seems to still be trying to do way too much in a floundering United attack that appears with little to no creative flair when Rooney is off his game and Professor Giggs is off the pitch. Michael Owen was physically present, but that’s about it, Paul Scholes had a massive stinker and Antonio Valencia was average at best. The injury crisis at Manchester United has proven to be more serious a problem than first thought as two of United’s first choice central midfielders (Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher) continue to deputize in central defense. Darren Fletcher has arguably been one of United’s best and most consistent players all year long. He hunts for tackles, and his work rate is first class – miles ahead of what Paul Scholes has been capable of this season. I understand Ferguson has been left with no other choice at the back, but Fletcher’s presence away from the center of the park is nothing short of a waste for United.
Only when Ferguson finally saw fit to make a change, substituting Dimitar Berbatov for Darren Gibson, did United start to threaten. The now three-headed United attack was a far-cry in terms of ambition and outright chances as the same three-headed monster of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez from a year ago. It’s recently been reported that Ryan Giggs seems to think United haven’t missed Cristiano Ronaldo. As much respect as I have for the United legend, I think he’s grasping at straws on this one. United haven’t come close to replacing the Portuguese winger this year. Ronaldo, love him or hate him, was a player that could change a game in a split second with his pace, free kicks, and overall goalscoring prowess – the type of player United so desperately need right now to inject a spark in their stuttering attack.
All credit to Fulham as they were superb going forward. Throughout the match they maintained their poise, shape and weathered the few United storms with confidence. If United’s first choice defensive back four cannot get fit soon, Manchester United will continue to leak goals which will ultimately lead to a lackluster United attack. Even Sir Alex seems to agree, “We have to get our defenders back to give us a proper chance of going for the league.” Ferguson as well seems to realize the bandage that is Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in central defense is a temporary fix at best.
So, to answer my own question: This current Manchester United team can win the league this year. They’ve been average at best for the majority of the season but only find themselves 4 points behind Chelsea in second. Wayne Rooney has been in fine goal scoring from thus far, Antonio Valencia has proven himself to be a fine purchase, Fletcher has been a Goliath in midfield, Patricve Evra is the best left back in the world and the evergreen Giggs, when playing, has already proven he will aid United’s attack. To further United’s chances, the 3 or 4 clubs knocking on the Champions League door seem ready to battle it out – fist fight style – which could ultimately lead to more dropped points from Arsenal, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool.
This all goes without saying that if the champs can’t get Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic fit and at their best, United will find themselves off the pace of whoever the Champions will be come May.