Robin van Persie Heroics Mask Manchester United’s Glaring Weaknesses

What else could you really expect from Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,000 Premier League match?

On a waterlogged pitch against a hungry Southampton squad on the verge of a statement win, Manchester United’s most sensational summer acquisition, Robin van Persie, saved the day and his teammates from facing the ire of a disgruntled Sir Alex.

Yet, the two last-gasp goals by Van Persie will cover up what was a truly dreadful performance from United. Just like against Everton and Fulham, Manchester United once again allowed opponents they were expected to win against to completely dominate them.

Just like the follies that plagued United last season, we’ve now seen Sir Alex’s men look flat, uninspired and complacent. Manchester United have now been out-played and out-hustled by opponents who may lack their technical skill but showed more heart and desire on the field.

One can make the argument that besides the first half against Fulham where United emphatically responded to an early Damien Duff goal and the final minutes at St. Mary’s, the Red Devils have been poor and bereft of creativity and nerve.

Granted, Manchester United has certainly not been at full strength as they’ve been stricken with a number of injuries to the center backs. With Nemanja Vidic still trying to regain his form and fitness, the Serbian weathered through with an out-of-place Michael Carrick who was predictably bullied around by the likes of Marouane Fellaini. The return of Rio Ferdinand against the Saints was a major boost but it was obvious that they lacked chemistry as Rickie Lambert and the other Southampton attackers truly got the better of them.

The defense will fix itself as Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones all rush back to fitness. However, midfield issues are something that won’t go away anytime soon for Manchester United.

The inclusion of Paul Scholes into the Southampton match was a clear indicator that United still lacks a creative holding midfield that can win the ball and incisively deliver it to the attacking unit. While Michael Carrick kept turning the ball over as he needed to adjust back to playing in midfield, Tom Cleverley was particularly disappointing as he didn’t move forward enough to support the attackers.

Unlike Scholes, midfielders like Cleverley, Anderson and Carrick have demonstrated that they lack ingenuity and imagination. While Scholes gave a typical man-of-the-match performance where his presence, long range passing and consistency made dividends, United’s other holding midfielders often settle on conservative short passes. United can maintain possession just as well as anyone else in England but besides Scholes, Sir Alex has failed to bring in a maestro who can break down a stingy defense.

Manchester United’s meandering build up play will simply not cut it against the likes of Manchester City or Chelsea who will be able keep the ball and have numerous opportunities to break down the defense. The lack of hustle and will to win the 50/50 balls and to keep opponents on their heels by constantly moving forward will bring on Manchester United’s downfall just like it did last season.

The acquisition of Robin van Persie has already saved Manchester United from humiliating results in the new season so far. As long as Van Persie stays fit (and hoping that a Manchester United player stays fit nowadays seems like a ton to ask for), United will benefit from the Dutch forward’s world class finishing. The return of a fit, hungry Wayne Rooney will form a superb partnership that will be particularly benefitted by ace Shinji Kagawa who can both score and deliver great final balls.

However, this United squad frankly needs to show more spirit and ruthlessness in dominating less-skilled opponents. As the season progresses, United’s players need to stay healthy and build a winning rapport with each other.

Whether Manchester United can reclaim the title will partially depend on whether someone other than Scholes can step up in midfield by relentlessly dictating the match with decisive passing. The remarkable return of Darren Fletcher from his long-term ailment could be very well be a solution to the team’s midfield woes though depending on him to find his form again consistently is a major gamble to take.

Robin van Persie’s Sunday heroics are truly worth savoring but there is no denying that Manchester United has a long way to go before they actually look like a team capable of wrestling away the title back from Manchester City.

18 thoughts on “Robin van Persie Heroics Mask Manchester United’s Glaring Weaknesses”

  1. I would not argue with the majority of your analysis, but in today’s match I truly felt United had them in the bag in the last 15 minutes. I never doubted they would win. Southampton’s panic was almost palpable. Granted, they had better turn on the engine a tad before that in matches with better clubs…….if they can.

    1. Maybe after RVP scored his second goal in the 87th minute would I really agree with you. But honestly, I don’t want to take away anything from the Saints because they were superb and are truly unfortunate to not at least have one point after taking the lead against both Manchester clubs in the second halves. Yet, United shouldn’t have to wait till the last 15 minutes to be able to beat Southampton because with the amount of talent United has, that game should be over by the first half.

      Hopefully the Saints won’t get relegated because they play spirited, entertaining football which is fun to watch.

  2. I agree. Their midfield is sorely lacking. No sense of urgency. Today it seemed especially apparent. Particularly with the lack of a left wing for the first hour. I had originally thought that bringing in Kagawa would be enough, but like you said, Carrick and Cleverly just don’t have the ingenuity to drive everyone else and this leaves Kagawa isolated which in turn leaves the rest of the front line isolated.

    The last 20 minutes or so United did seem to finally realize they needed to do more than just try to pass it around the middle of the pitch. I just hope they can figure out what it is they need to do to win.

    1. I hear ya Todd. The thing that bugs me is that I’ve been left with this feeling many times since last year in terms of matches Utd won but they weren’t anything to be that excited about. Don’t get me wrong, getting the 3 points is all I care about but if Utd can’t hold up against these teams, how are they going to be against the best in England or in Europe. To me, its going to be a repeat of last year if the team in general doesn’t start playing with more urgency. I love Kagawa but like you said, if there’s no one good enough to give him the ball from central midfield, he’s almost useless along with the rest of the attackers.

      In the last 20 minutes, Scholes wouldn’t allow them to lose to Southampton after they passed the ball back and forth to each other for 60+ minutes smh.

  3. Great read and comments. I feel that a majority of the time, United only wants to party when the opponent scores. Your analysis is spot on, especially about lack of creativity and urgency. I felt the urgency and drive only comes when the other team scores and time is running out. It’s hard to watch carrick just stand still and turn the ball over with bad decisions and long balls. As defensive as P. Jones is, I remember when he would play as a DM, even he would like to push the ball up. I didn’t see that with carrick or clevs.

  4. I know, right? Why is it now that Utd only gets motivated to play for long stretches when they are losing?!?! Its so frustrating to watch.

    Normally Carrick doesn’t turn the ball over and I’ll give him a pass for today because he had to adjust back to being in midfield. Jones definitely doesn’t make runs forward but I don’t see him as the answer to the midfield woes. To me, they should have signed Joao Moutinho from Porto but nothing ever happened there. Utd fans have to hope Fletcher can miraculously come back and play well again.

  5. God I hope fletcher gets fit so we can stop with this Michael Carrick foolishness. How many times are we going to allow him to piss around with the ball right in front of the back four before he gets dropped? His selection constantly boggles my mind.

    1. I feel like if Fletcher does play, he would more likely be a replacement for Cleverley than Carrick. And Carrick at his best is a very good holding/defensive midfielder so I disagree about his usage being foolsih. He just can’t be depended upon heavily as a player to set up the players ahead of him.

  6. Good article, I agree completely. When you see Dembele and even Dempsey going to other rivals for relatively low fees I just can’t understand it.

    1. Thanks for the good word. I agree that Dempsey went for a criminally low price but I actually thought Dembele’s was too high. I think he’s good but I still feel he’s a striker converted into a midfielder which has its pros and cons. Dempsey or Dembele are always nice but I feel United needs a player similar to what Yaya Toure does for City (and to me, Moutinho was the player I thought Utd should have focused more on acquiring).

      1. How about Rooney as a true midfielder ? I think it would be perfect if you could make it work but I doubt you really could.

        1. Its been brought up before but I don’t see it happening. Honestly, I felt like Rooney got better at finishing last which was always the biggest criticism against him in his earlier days yet his passing got worse and he made too many runs alone at multiple defenders who took the ball from him. I think Rooney is great but he’s not the answer.

  7. I do hope man utd get that hector herrera guy. Rili need a ball holding DM. The performance against soton left a lot to be desired. But on the positive side good game from chicharito

    1. I hope United get Herrera too. Even though Sir Alex denied the link with him, there were legit reports in Mexico that a deal for him had been agreed to be done in January so I’m hoping Ferguson is trying to play down the link so other teams like Liverpool don’t try to hijack the deal.

      Chicharito didn’t have the ball much but his runs did stretch the defense at the end so it was a good appearance for Hernandez which is important.

  8. It’s been obvious for years that we need someone in the centre of the park. Carrick is a luxury that cannot fit into a first 11. Maybe he could fit into a first 12. Why on earth did we not pick up Moutinho? He was available for 24mil and a decent age

  9. Kagawa needs to drop back more and take the ball. Also Rafael’s height does not do him any justice against tall strikers. He has heart, but IMO Sir Alex should groom him for the midfield.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *