Friday, August 29, 2008

United fall to Zenit

Zenit St. Petersburg owned Manchester United today in the Uefa Super Cup. The Russian side outclassed United, interchanging throughout midfield and attacking collectively and individually with real class. Carlos Tevez was the only bright spot for a dire United side that lacked width and flair.

United appear planning to rely on Ronaldo for another season, without cover for the player who single-handedly determined over a dozen contests for the team last term. United lack a left-sided winger, as Nani has not matured enough to finally (and mercifully) relieve Ryan Giggs. Giggs himself is injured and cannot meet the demand of the increasing quality found in the top teir of European football. Regardless of which side Ronaldo returns to play, United will have a void opposite him.

With players like Djibril Cisse and Shaun Wright-Phillips making transfer headlines, United are dormant thus far in the transfer market with only two days remaining. Chelsea are on the verge of signing Robinho, and United will need more than Berbatov to contend with the level of football in the premier league.

Berbatov himself would provide the presence and style in attack that United have lacked since selling Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid two years ago. The Bulgarian would immediately become the most complementary partner to any of United's current three strikers, Tevez, Rooney, or Campbell. Without Ronaldo constantly counter-attacking and penetrating, United now rely on crosses from the wings and full-backs after belabored build-up, unsuited to a partnership between any of the 3 current strikers. Berbatov has great aeriel ability, with an intricate footwork style similar to french legend Zinedine Zidane.

Rooney could see his role change to central midfielder in a creative ploy to replace the aging Scholes, the former tending to play deep and spray passes much like his elder countrymen. It would be an imaginative tactical shift which could see Rooney supporting Berbatov and Tevez.

However, if Ferguson continues employing Rooney as a striker, Campbell might feel begrudged at being denied the opportunity he may be deserving of to better compete at the position. Rooney simply does not look the part yet this year as he did throughout most of last season.

Even with Berbatov, United will be relying heavily on heroics from Ronaldo to repeat his form from last season. Scoring 42 goals is unlikely, but it is not against his track record to be an improved player this year as he has in each new year at United.

Last year, without Ronaldo, United were tenuous and often unconvincing. Expect more of the same until he returns. The effect he had on the team, despite all the praise he has received, is still underestimated. It will get better if Berbatov arrives, but each year our competition is improving and the squad must be full in order to contend, without voids in attack, on the wing, or on the bench.

The substitutions of O'shea and Park in the final today does not inspire belief in the strength and depth of a squad that will be hard-pressed to defend on two fronts this season.

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