A fixture at Old Trafford so early in the season was a good opportunity to show that we had learned the lessons of last season. It was regarded as our first real test of the season and judging by the fixtures we’ve had so far I would have to agree.
The focus of our new style of play is our work rate and what we do without the ball. The reward for this was 4 wins out of 4 and 15 goals. What more could you ask for and never in so long have I felt so confident going into a game with the champions of England. I felt we could match them and beat them and without Ronaldo, who was a regular thorn in our side, their attacking threat was not going to bother our new found defensive strength. Fergie also knew this and it was no surprise when he changed his formation to match ours. Fergie never changes his tactics for teams,especially at Old Trafford. He knew as much as the rest of us that we were the favourites.
The game started of nervy, with both teams showing off their attacking skills and taking it in turns to launch attacks at each other. If their was ever a test for the Gallas and Vermalaen partnership this was it and with Song anchoring the midfield and offering the pairing protection, our new found defensive strength this season was as strong as ever. Man Utd looked out of ideas, they couldn’t break us down and if anyone looked like scoring it was going to be us, and score we did.
It all started after Arshavin was hacked down in the penalty area by Fletcher, who proceeded to commit a double foul by handball. It looked a definite penalty, in real time and on the replays but decisions like that are hard to get at Old Trafford, so it was no surprise that the appeal was turned down and Fletcher had got away with it. Or had he?? Minutes later with frustration running through his veins, Arshavin picked the ball up in space and blasted a screamer from 25 yards that almost ripped through the back of the net, taking Fosters finger tips with it.
For me that was the game. We had it won. Man Utd were offering nothing when they were going forward, our back 4 were solid and this was emphasised by the fact that the Mancs didn’t get a shot off in anger in the first half.
We started the second half the much better side. creating an early chance when Arshavin scurried into the box and cut a cross back across goal only for Robin to force Foster into a good point blank save. With Man Utd still not offering anything going forward, that was the chance to put the game to bed, but chances like that always come back to haunt you,especially in the big games.
Until the hour mark, Man Utd still hadn’t forced a save from Almunia. So where did it all go wrong?
The answer? We have big game bottlers in our side and they reared their ugly heads once again in another big game. The main culprit was once again Almunia. Giggs slipped a hopeful through ball into Rooney’s path. Rooney was going nowhere, he was heading into no mans land on his weaker left foot with a defender up his backside. Almunia had a rush of blood. He came rushing out,sliding across the floor offering his whole body for Rooney to fall over. We’ve seen Rooney do this before so it was no surprise when he took and early tumble over the outstretched Almunia and won the penalty. Yes it was a dive. Yes there was contact. Yes it was a penalty. A cheap penalty, but a penalty. Rooney proceeded to blast the ball home and once again a mistake had cost us a lead.
Not happy with just that. Giggs once again looped a hopeful cross into our box from a free kick. It lacked pace and had plenty of height. It was a perfect opportunity for any commanding big game keeper to come and collect and ease the pressure, but Almunia failed to see the chance, once again leaving it to a defender to clear and from only yards out and the helpless Diaby got himself in a muddle and headed the goal into the back of his net.
We had self destructed. We were the better side and Man Utd were 2-1 up without having a shot on goal still. it was very disappointing, we didn’t deserve to lose in such a way but at least we showed what we can do. We were unlucky and it was mistakes that cost us, but you cant make mistakes at Old Trafford and expect to come away with the three points.
Almunia..4..oh dear oh dear. The two mistakes against Barca in the 2006 final gave us insight into Almunia’s big game bottle. Last year he let a 45 yard free kick squeeze past his near post and yesterday he made two mistakes we all know he’s capable of making and lost us the game. He was at fault for Everton’s goal, he shouldn’t have been beaten for the Celtic goal and he’s made two major cock ups again. Our keeper is a good shot stopper but every other aspect of his game is suspect. What was he doing taking a free kick 40 yards away from his goal out on the touchline for??? Did anyone notice that? We have an eccentric goalie who’s a big game bottler and that’s why hes never played for Spain.At any level. Should he be dropped?? Hes making mistakes already, but then again, who do we replace him with?
Sagna..7..solid and strong. how many times do we say that?
Gallas..8..good display again. Solid and dominating. He’s back to his best.
Vermanator..8..hes formed a formidable partnership with Gallas and hes a great defender. Along with Gallas we need him to stay fit if we want to challenge for honours.
Song..7..good strong display. the defensive triangle in the middle of the park of Song, Gallas and TV is becoming a giant brick wall. He’s another who we need to stay fit all season. Good display.
Denilson..4..a bad game. Regularly lost the ball, never tracks back. Useless going forward. Song was a one man army yesterday in the middle and Denilson is another big game bottler. Good against the Pompey’s but a liability against the big teams..but we said this last season too!!
Diaby..6..an enigma, with quick feet and deceptive pace,he still cant get the hang of this midfield position. Weak in defence and some sloppy passing. Hes better further up the pitch. He got himself in a terrible kerfuffle in our own box, forgetting which way he was supposed to be shooting. Then missed a perfect opportunity to put it right at the other end. Operation Vieira mark 2 should have been abandoned last year. Big game bottler.
Eboue..6..always tries hard and gets himself in some good positions but never knows what to do when he gets there. His games based on heart and desire and as we saw with Kolo it only gets you so far. A decent display but the dive let him and us down.
Robin..6..found it hard to get into the game. The main battle was in the midfield, but without Cesc we lacked creativity and Robin was constantly coming back into the midfield to search for the ball. Opened up a few doors with good quick passes but he should have scored too.
Arshavin..6..he never ceases to amaze me. Hes one of those players who can do nothing all game and then hit 4 goals or a 25 yard screamer. Alot of sloppy play but hes capable of changing a game in the blink of an eye.
In retrospect. We were brilliant. The result has left me crushed but the performance from certain players leaves me with no doubt that we have enough to challenge this season. We were unlucky and we threw the game away, but we really do need Cesc, Rosicky and Nasri back quickly. We need the big game players back. Its early in the season so we have plenty of time to recover from this.
Lets get the Citeh game out of the way and then go on one of those 20 game unbeaten runs.
Have a good day guys,I know it will be hard but chins up.