Friday, November 7, 2008

United: Quarter Review

The season is well underway, enough for propositions and speculation to have some foundation; certainly enough to argue over trends and forecasts.

The table is set for an exciting season on all fronts. Liverpool have achieved above expectation, Arsenal (mainly their fans) are floundering comically, while Chelsea are somewhat of a powerhouse. It is the London club, the blue variety, that is the bookie's favorite this season to lift the same famous brace of trophies United did last campaign.

United themselves started off this season ambivalently. It's understandable; the competitive blaze in each belly was surely soaked with celebratory glasses of champagne throughout what small sections of the summer such undertakings were convenient.

Sure, several United players didn't have a chance to celebrate at length, having to compete in Euro 2008 after a grueling club season. Even without an arbitrary tour or tournament throughout the summer, any player on a club competing in Europe and domestically can't expect then more than two months break out of twelve.

So, as the new season began, you could forgive some players for being tired; some others being unfocused. But as soon as the normal routine resumes, eventually so do the results.

The first two league games of the season were quite dreadful: United ended a dire home draw against Newcastle with Rafael, Possebon, and O'Shea comprising our hopes for a winner. Darren Fletcher twice paid overdue fees for his sometimes aimless run in the club, scoring twice in two league games for four points.

United fans waited patiently for Sept. 1st and the arrival of Dmitar Berbatov. It was then, although not immediately, that their side began to play with flowing enthusiasm.

Looking back on last season it's hard to fathom how United won with Rooney and Tevez up front, such is their dysfunctionality so far this season.

The problem is likely more so Tevez, who affects a frustrated visage during his sparse playing time, overcompensating for the pressure; trying a little too hard.

In either event, Rooney started slow but had a huge October for club and country. Berbatov, no stranger to European nights, plucked four goals in four games in Champions League play, casually dishing out numerous assists along the way, almost for nothing.

United's midfield has been misshapen and patchwork at times. Though, with vindicating, consistent performances from Fletcher, and Ji-Sung Park with, bless him, Ryan Giggs slotting in appropriately during times of need, United worked hard enough to usually get satisfactory results.

Anderson, however, has yet to show the form this season that made him the most underrated talent on United's squad in 2007-2008. His best form lies in the future, and the young Brazilian should play another monstrous role this season.

Young winger Nani is still maturing, with a tendency to dwell on the ball too much.

Carrick spent most of the season thus out injured, playing unremarkably when able. The Englishman has his fans, but it's a wonder where they come from when he feigns so flimsy in midfield so often. He appears to play with squeaky boots.

Ronaldo has taken a month to play through the final stages of the ankle injury sustained at Euro 2008. He still has a penchant for complaining, which is too evident, and hopefully more a sign of his frustration than his actual personality.

For what it's worth, away to Celtic midweek Ronaldo parted the seas of class between the two teams and ran, on water, over Celtic for the second half, producing a wondrous 45 minutes—and a solid Biblical metaphor—as United ultimately equalized.

Backwards again to United's defense, where two of its most consistent players reside.

Patrice Evra has had one definitively poor game for United; his first. Since then and into this season, Evra has balanced defense and offense humbly and effectively. Every month he reminds us over interview how much he loves the club and wants to remain at United for his career.

Nemanja Vidic came quickly from obscurity into dominance in his short United career, and his form has continued into this still nascent season, as the Serbian has been customarily strong in the air and generally unyielding.

Elsewhere, Rio Ferdinand has lost the plot on several occasions recently, despite coming into this season on the heels of perhaps his best in United colors. Brown, Neville, O'Shea, and Rafael have deputized at right back.

In goal Van der Sar inspires particularly no-one, while Ben Foster inches sideways closer into the spotlight.

Individual performances have varied, consistent with the physical and emotional range of each player, but collectively United have put themselves in an attractive, offensive posture for the rest of the season.

In Champions League play, United are level on points with Villareal and will be fighting for top spot in the group next game away to the Yellow Submarine's tiny stadium.

In the Premiership, United are third on 21 points with a game in hand, five points behind both Liverpool and Chelsea.

For United fans, those always expecting to compete for football's greatest trophies—being quite accustomed to winning, this season is as primed as many others.

Ferguson's side has put the club's perfunctory bad start, which wasn't horrible, already into hindsight, with a long season ahead of them, motivated at the prospect of repeating as European champions: a feat never before accomplished.

Although unfavored to win either competition, with new signing Berbatov, they are a better side than they were last year.

The same can be said of other European giants: Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, and Chelsea.

But having the right emotion from which to draw focus, bolstered by their own success last season, led by Ferguson and feeding off the climate and culture of the most successful club in the last decade, Manchester United surely will compete on multiple fronts into Spring, as is expected, with results they nor we can ever expect, only hope.

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