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Damn It, United…

Last season Manchester United rarely looked their team-devouring best. They often struggled against the stubborn brick walls put up by sides they used to rout. They didn’t dominate so much as scrape out the clutch wins. Loads of late goals in tight matches. Loads of slim margins. It wasn’t a season of pure stellar performance, yet points are points and United still won the league.

Most United supporters credit this to athletic diligence. Most of the rest of us credit it to perpetual, well-timed luck.

For me, the two determining factors were:

1) A defense that was less penetrable than the Death Star in Episode IV. (Hey, at least Luke Skywalker didn’t have Edwin van der Sar guarding the thermal exhaust port.)

2) Cristiano Ronaldo’s inexhaustible ability to turn a match around in roughly three-tenths of a nanosecond.

It seemed whenever United were struggling, one or both of these elements came to the rescue. When United’s attackers struggled to find the goals, the back line and a record number of clean sheets kept such needs modest. One was often enough to win. When United fell behind, Ronaldo was there with the decisive spark to bring them back. Most notably against Aston Villa and Tottenham. He scored the equalizer against Villa (setting the table for Macheda’s late winner) and he converted the penalty to set the comeback against Spurs in motion (with a little help from Mr Webb). Ronaldo also scored the goal that put United ahead in that eventual 5-2 win.

So, with Ronaldo gone and the defense struggling with injuries, I looked to the opening fixtures to ratify this theory of mine.

An eked-out win against Birmingham and shocking loss to Burnley made me feel I might have something. By half time in the Wigan match, I was all but certain. A dominant but uninspired United flubbed chances and wasted possession. Their only saving grace was Wigan attackers seemed to forget where they were every time they broke into the attacking third. Get out the GPS, boys: the goal’s around here somewhere.

Then, in the second half, using all his neck muscles, Wayne Rooney smashed my theory to pieces.

Former Wigan Athlete Antonio Valencia curled a beautiful cross into the box. Rooney was ten yards out but he still managed to rise at the perfect time and meet the ball full force. I hate being dazzled by a United player, but it really was a fantastic goal.

And Wigan collapsed.

Minutes later, Berbatov got through the gate with a clever lob pass to himself before smacking the ball into goal.

And Rooney would put the game out of reach (if it wasn’t already) with a patient close-range strike in traffic.

Two more goals went in for the Red Devils. But by then Wigan had nothing left in the tanks. They had staved off conceding for a good stretch, but Rooney undid them. He cracked the safe. He knocked the right rock out of the damn and the floodwaters came a-crashing.

I’d wondered if Rooney would step up his presence with Ronaldo gone, and his Wigan goals look like a sure sign he will. Like, Ronaldo, he is a player who can utterly change the match with little notice. He is the type to make the difference if the rest of the parts are struggling. Injuries and position shifts kept him from being his consistent best the last couple years, but he’s always had the stuff and this looks like his season to prove he can be United’s most influential player.

It is still a long road to May and United have yet to face their toughest opponents so I’m still clinging to hope that they’ll struggle some more, drop some more points and ratify my theory before Ferdinand and van der Sar come back to full fitness. But the second-half onslought against Wigan worries me.

Last season wasn’t won or lost against the best teams. Liverpool beat United and Chelsea twice each and still didn’t win the league. The difference was United’s ability to break down the defense minded-sides and put home that decisive goal while Liverpool struggled with draws against sides like Stoke City. If Wayne Rooney can crack the defenses of the sides who come to play for a draw, Ronaldo won’t be as missed as I’d hoped and United can still fight for the top despite not being at their best.

Damn it, United…

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  1. anton

    August 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    manchester is better this year than last year. arsenal too. reason? they got rid of the dead weight people rely on : adebayor and ronaldo. with them gone, everyone is actually expected to pull thier own offenisve wieght instead of relying on one man.

  2. Cam

    August 27, 2009 at 5:53 am

    What about Sir Alex?? He is the master mind behind everything! In my view he’s the one United will go badly without..Not Ronny or the defence, they can always be replaced! SAF cannot…If he starts losing his mind I will then start being worried. Until then “GLORY GLORY MAN UNITED!”

  3. wititdonig

    August 26, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    hears a podcast that gives WSD the respect it deserves

    • kiddo

      August 27, 2009 at 9:14 am

      cohen is a cnut! i dont like lfc, but he put his foot in his mouth time and time again. i loved the program but could never understand why he couldnt just give the charade a break. i am sad that its gone, but if there is any anger from me i direct it at him not the lfc crazies that he continued to bait and taunt.
      we focus on the deat threats from the crazies but ignore that there was rational discussion taking place behind the scenes. cohen could have dealt with it quietly and wihtout the false pride and false bravado. imo he has no one to blame but his own dam self.

  4. eplnfl

    August 26, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Brian, well let’s forget the Cubs but you understand why I’m eplnfl perfectly. Sunday’s are great come the fall! I would hope that in the near future ESPN will add a Sunday morning EPL game before we take in the Bears!

  5. Brian Chicago

    August 26, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Wow, tough crowd! I’m a big united fan and must admit I do not have the same comfort this year as the past three. This weekend should be a good early measure, and can’t wait to watch! Also group stage draw tomorrow, always interesting. It’s just great to have the epl and NFL back with my Cubs playing like…..well the the Cubs! Can’t wait for my epl morning and NFL afternoon! Wife hates it though….

  6. Jables

    August 26, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    “Nor does the phrase “record number of clean sheets” say “United hold the record for clean sheets in a Premiership season[?]”
    So you have done exactly that which you are now criticising. aah irony, i just love it…hypocracy? even better.”


    • Tyson

      August 26, 2009 at 4:17 pm

      LOL! You guys are mean

  7. oliver

    August 26, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    for all the talk of Man U’s defence last season, the conceded the same amount of goals as Chelsea and just 3 less than Liverpool

  8. Marc

    August 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    “can united score? they always score”.
    “and Solskjaer has won it.”

  9. Del Coro

    August 26, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    “When United’s attackers struggled to find the goals, the back line and a record number of clean sheets kept such needs modest.”

    United hold the record for clean sheets in a Premiership season?


    You sure about that?

    • Del Coro

      August 26, 2009 at 1:07 pm

      Hint: they don’t.

      • Sanj

        August 26, 2009 at 1:29 pm

        Hint: they have the all time English and European record for most consecutive minutes played without conceding a goal. So yes, they have a record number of consecutive clean sheets. Thanks for pointing out a technicality.

        • Del Coro

          August 26, 2009 at 1:51 pm

          You’re right. The phrase “record number of clean sheets” and “most consecutive minutes played without conceding a goal” mean the same thing.

          No, wait, they don’t.

          • Me

            August 26, 2009 at 3:52 pm

            Nor does the phrase “record number of clean sheets” say “United hold the record for clean sheets in a Premiership season[?]”
            So you have done exactly that which you are now criticising. aah irony, i just love it…hypocracy? even better.

          • Del Coro

            August 26, 2009 at 11:45 pm

            Sorry I’m a complete Idiot. I always try to point out mistakes and sound smart, but in the end I fail miserably.

          • Sanj

            August 27, 2009 at 4:03 pm

            Hence, why i said “thank you for pointing out a technicality”… meaning the original statement wasn’t exactly correct.

  10. Paul(No1Fan)

    August 26, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    bloomin Utd. They have the ability to really pile in the pressure when needs must. But this season I’m not so sure.

  11. NewtonHeath

    August 26, 2009 at 11:00 am

    fair points indeed, defense has been a huge part of united’s success past few seasons. sure ronaldo rooney tevez all contributed on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense is what really won it.

    also interesting to point out that not past season but the one before, tevez was the one scoring lots of late equalizers and winners (blackburn, liverpool off the top of my head) which helped that season. so yea definitely agree with your points.

    reminds me of the commentary from a champions league final “can united score? they always score”. risky business relying on goals so late though that’s for sure!


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