Another annual defeat at Old Trafford has come and gone. I’m not too downbeat but our record there is particularly horrid. Our record against Manchester United in general in fact is downright rotten.
Here are my conclusions after yesterday’s game:
We have secured one win in the last thirty-nine meetings with Manchester United. Some of the reactions to the defeat that I have seen on social media sites have been crazy. What did people expect? I thought we made a decent fist of the game. Fans can knock Sherwood if they please, although knocking him for a defeat against a team we never perform against seems odd to me.
Unfortunately, we caught Manchester United at a bad time. They are riding the crest of a wave and Louis Van Gaal seems to have stumbled upon his best team and system just as we rode into town. It might be paranoia but I do feel that we always seem to catch teams at completely the wrong time. QPR have been god awful – up until yesterday – and we play Rangers on Tuesday off the back of them picking up their best result of the season.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank West Brom for yesterday… We really did not need that result. Tuesday’s game was pretty big before yesterday’s fixtures. It now takes on the tag of our “biggest game of the season”. We simply must not lose and a win is almost paramount to our survival. I have to be honest and say I’d pretty much naively ruled out any possibility of QPR and Leicester staying up. Yesterday changed that. A defeat for us or Rangers would be critical at this point of the season, as this is a genuine relegation six-pointer. Two seasons ago we faced a similar situation and dispatched the Rs 3-2. Let us pray for the same score line – or at least another winning one – this time round.
One issue that is slightly irking me currently, and others a lot more, is the continued non-usage of Carles Gil. Undoubtedly, in his short time here the little Spaniard has looked like a flair player, the only one we possess, but for whatever reason Tim Sherwood doesn’t want to use him at the moment. Fans are clamouring for him to start, taking offence to the fact that Weimann started over him yesterday and Joe Cole came on ahead of him. In my opinion, Weimann performed fairly well yesterday and helped nullify Mata down the Manchester United right-hand side. Joe Cole came on and got an assist as well. I can understand the clamour for Gil but I think Sherwood doesn’t fully trust him tracking back after the Stoke game and I also think that our manager wants players who are fully bedded into the Premier League at this stage. I am sure Gil’s time will come next season, providing we stay up. I trust Sherwood, although I do think there have been previous games where Gil’s introduction would have helped.
Ander Herrera is a good player, isn’t he? Tidy on the ball and blessed with great technique, he also gets around the pitch well. I’m in no way saying Tom Cleverley is as good as the Spaniard but we missed his energy and snappy passing yesterday. Sanchez was a bit of a passenger and, although it was a case of needs must yesterday, I don’t think he is capable of playing in a midfield two at the moment. If Westwood had been fit, I think he would have started ahead of the Colombian.
It bodes well that Benteke got on the score sheet again, even if his all-round game yesterday was below par. The QPR defence offers a big chance for the Belgian to add to his tally on Tuesday, when we need him to be at his best. If he is, I think we will win; his form is vital to our survival.
Under Sherwood, we seem to be in the bad habit of shipping costly goals at the end of halves. Against Stoke at home, we conceded in the last minute of each half and we followed that up by conceding at St James’ Park in the thirty-seventh minute. Our last two matches have seen the Swans score the winner with three minutes plus stoppage time left and we let United score a late goal yesterday in each half. I’m aware that we won the West Brom game in stoppage time but we really need to snap out of this habit. It’s quite feasible that up until yesterday we could’ve been unbeaten under Sherwood but for these lapses. The way Sherwood sets up his team to win is obviously a breath of fresh air for us but the players need to show more nous in general, as not getting draws with Stoke and Swansea could prove fatal at the end of the season.
Guzan’s kicking is starting to upset me, amongst other things. He made a couple of decent saves yesterday but I think his positioning was off for the first goal. Does anyone else think his standards have slipped this campaign? Admittedly, they were set fairly high in the previous two seasons but he does seem to worry me far more than he ever has done in the past.
I know we shipped three but I thought Clark was superb once again. Okore had a good game too. We had to do a lot of defending, particularly in the first half, as you would expect. It’s pretty hard on Alan Hutton but I believe that Clark is our player of the season. The Irish defender’s improvement has been incredible, even if last season he was never as bad as he was made out to be. He’s become my favourite player this campaign with his no nonsense attitude, leadership and tough tackling.
In Sherwood’s first six Premier League games in charge our record reads: LLWWLL.
We are due a couple of wins then so let’s be having them!