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Ole For United

by | 28th, August 2002

‘FROM the moment Ruud Van Nisterooy slipped the first goal under Sasa Ilic, there was never any doubt that Manchester United would cruise into the Champions’ League proper.

Paul Scholes takes the news of his injury well

In fact, the 5-0 victory over Zalaegerszeg had all the features of a typical United victory – a David Beckham free-kick, a dodgy penalty (including dodgy sending-off) and a late – and beautifully taken – strike from Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

But it is certainly true that United will not play a worse team in Europe this season nor that they will have to play a lot better than they have done in the first fortnight of the season if they are to reassert their domestic supremacy, let alone claim European glory again.

Despite drawing 2-2 at Upton Park at the weekend, it is Arsenal who have started the season better of the two, their 5-2 victory over Premiership whipping-boys West Bromwich Albion taking the Gunners to the top of the league.

And amazingly for the richest club on the planet, United’s squad is looking threadbare in places.

The injury to Fabien Barthez has shown up the club’s lack of cover in goal and the departure of Andrew Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham in the past 18 months has left them depleted up front.

Of course, while they can afford the luxury of Solksjaer on the bench, this is not much of a problem – but injuries and suspensions could easily conspire to leave Sir Alex Ferguson embarrassed by his lack of cover in certain areas.

The injury to Paul Scholes last night just emphasises this, for Scholes can cover in midfield as well as up front. He was replaced by Diego Forlan, who is a decent player but still has not scored in a competitive game for his club.

Apart from Forlan, Ferguson’s options are limited. He can play Ryan Giggs up front, but that often tends to unbalance the side by removing United’s most potent weapon down the left, and – besides – Giggs is not a great goalscorer.

While all the talk has been about United’s defence, it is perhaps going to be their attack that lets them down this season unless Ferguson can bring someone in before the end-of-the-month transfer deadline.

Even after going 3-0 up in the first 20 minutes last night, United did not press home heir advantage as they might have done a few years ago.

This may seem like quibbling in a game that had already been won, but it could pose problems for a team that has traditionally thrived on its ability to suffocate opposition defences, especially at Old Trafford.

The problem stems from the fact that both Roy Keane and Juan Sebastian Veron like to play quite deep, thereby allowing opposing midfields some breathing space.

Whether by dint of team strategy or the fact that he is getting longer in the tooth, Keane does not get forward as much as he used to, and Veron’s style of play does not make him a substitute for Scholes in the more advanced midfield role.

Of course, United still have a formidable first team and high-class cover in many areas of the field. If they are lucky with injuries, none of this might matter. After all, the last time United had to pre-qualify for the Champions’ League, they won it.

But it would only take a bit of bad luck for United to end this season as they did the last – trophyless. And then the pressure really will be on Sir Alex…



Posted: 28th, August 2002 | In: Back pages Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink