The statistics from the first five games of the season don’t make for great reading and neither does our place in the Premier League table. However, after five games it is far too early to make any judgements but that’s not to say we can’t draw some conclusions as we head towards the back end of September.
The first is we lack a strategy to attack teams and we may lack the personnel to do so too. The way we have been set up at Swansea and West Ham perhaps belies conservatism in McClaren’s approach which isn’t going to win him many friends in the longer term. The combination of Colback and Anita in the centre of our midfield isn’t about to whet the appetite and it’s a fair criticism in my opinion that both players combined aren’t doing the job of one good player at present. Cisse as our lone striker was completely cut-off from the play and I wonder why De Jong, who I’d have imagined would have been ideal to work at the front of our midfield and just behind Cisse hasn’t been selected to do that. Is he still not fit?
There are those of course who have wondered why Ayoze Perez isn’t on the pitch and after last night I think I’ve just joined their ranks. I was of the view we should have started the game at West Ham with lots of bodies in the midfield – Sissoko-Colback-Anita- Wijnaldum and De Jong pushed ahead with an instruction to link the play, hold the ball up and bring in attacking players including Janmaat and Haidara with Cisse the man to be running ahead of play and a threat in the box. We didn’t have the team-selection or tactics to do that and we looked all round as bad as we did for much of that traumatised period we had under John Carver (from whom a long period of silence would be most welcome). Now however, I can’t begin to understand why Sissoko is a shoe-in to start every game he’s fit to play in. Not for the first time, the player who wants to play Champions League and be the first name down on the France national team-sheet, Moussa Sissoko was again, missing in action, utterly anonymous and providing none of the leadership he should be as one of the team’s established and senior players. Ayoze Perez should be in the side ahead of Sissoko for Saturday on the simple basis he’s shown more about himself than the Frenchman and isn’t as likely to hide when the going gets tough. I’ve been of the view I was quite happy Sissoko wasn’t sold in the summer and was looking forward to see what he’d do with better players alongside him but after the first five games I think the lad should be required to prove he’s worth a place in the team because he currently he just isn’t doing that for me and hasn’t for a long while.
It wasn’t just tactics and team-selection however. We are playing far too many safe balls sideways and backwards and if I see Anita or Colback picking the ball up off Krul and then proceeding to play a 10-yard pass sideways to a full-back, I’ll go mad. Let Colo bring the ball out and push more players into midfield ready to receive the ball with the intention of playing the ball forward and attacking.
Then of course there is the tempo we are playing at – it’s just far too ponderous. We just have to raise the pace of the game and do everything more quickly if we want to take the game to teams of the standard of West Ham and that is something we should be able to do. Of course it’s not just that we need to be quicker to get the ball forward, for me we have to press much more quickly, make the right decisions defensively which I didn’t see at West Ham.
Those of you who have been reading this old toffee for any length of time will know how often United’s lack of ability around corners and free-kicks has had many of us stotting our heads off any available wall for more years than anyone cares to mention. The early signs are that we still don’t have anyone to deliver a half-decent corner and there’s no-one who can offer a threat from a free-kick in a dangerous position. After last night I’m wondering if we can defend one of our own free-kicks.
The fact we’ve only scored in one of our five PL games this season will inevitably raise criticism the club failed to deliver its number one priority in signing a time-served, proven striker. When a team isn’t scoring goals it’s not unreasonable to assess the attacking talent at the manager’s disposal and it’s obvious the powers that be have left McClaren short. That is something I’ve heard Charnley accepts from those close to United insiders. That’s fine accepting it but he had all summer to remedy it and it’s not like it has come as a surprise given Cisse looks like he’d rather be anywhere other than at Newcastle United and Mitrovic at 20 is raw and only with the experience of playing in the Belgian Juniper league. Riviere is injured and hardly encouraging anyone he’s up to snuff. Neither Perez or De Jong aren’t centre-forwards. If we struggle for goals much longer then I think as the nights draw in, the glares towards Charnley and Carr in the director’s box will become icier.
What this of course means is that Saturday and Watford at SJP has MUST-WIN written all over it. And MUST-WIN with a half-decent, convincing performance. Not that I’m expecting Watford to see a visit to St James’ Park as any kind of daunting test of their Premier League credentials. Our arena lost that aura quite some time ago and there’s little doubt the subject of frustration in the stands once more bubbling under the surface will be a subject of their team preparation. Watford have played for some time together and I think they will provide obstinate opponents but frankly we have to beat them with a disciplined performance but one which will require the support to remain patient and work for the team rather than the opposition. If we fail to beat Watford the following two games at home at Chelsea and away to Man City, all of a sudden start to give our season a desperate look about it.
Of course United didn’t have the best of preparation for their last ever league trip to the Boleyn Ground. Traffic delays meant the team only had the shortest of warm-ups and a call to the Premier League requesting a delayed KO was expectedly refused. This raises several issues – should United have left earlier and why didn’t they? Who is responsible for that? Does anyone think if that had been Chelsea phoning the Premier League their request would have been declined and what impact did SKY expecting the game to KO at 8pm have upon those who gave United a blank? Please enter all of your wholly unsubstantiated and rolling-eyed conspiracy theories below.
Well, we are back on familiar ground and it’s not great. McClaren needs a win. The team needs a win and we need one too. Let’s hope we get it on Saturday.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Follow Michael on @tfeditor1892