Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stoke-United: Player ratings and recap

Agility trumped strength today as Javier Hernandez nimbly saved Manchester United from drawing with Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.

If any side deserved to win, it was the visitors. But neither team could produce spells of flowing football. Most of the match was spent retrieving balls gone out of bounds.

United struck first. Evra implored Nani to play him the corner kick short. One wall-pass later and Nani was crossing in left-footed. Vidic powered up and headed it across the box. It was barely near Hernandez, but the jumping Mexican twisted in midair like a thrown cat to head in from close range on 26 minutes.

The match remained quite open for the rest of the half. Neither side was overly dangerous. That trend continued into the second half. The game slowed down, somehow, as Manchester tried to edge out the narrow win.

In the 80th minute Stoke equalized after Scholes turned over under little pressure. Even more, Tunjay equalized for Stoke. He cut inside Evra with surprising ease before curling in from 16 yards out at 81 minutes.
It was déjà vu all over déjà vu. The Red Devils lacked bottle with the lead and gave it up like chumps.
But, suddenly, our hero emerged from the din of doubt.

Berbatov controlled, stalling smartly before chipping into Stoke's box. Scholes rose importantly and headed on to Evra. The Frenchman half-volleyed somewhat wildly, but it deflected onto Hernandez who plundered heroically!

Chicharito must earn around six-times less than Wayne Rooney, but who's really more valuable? Certainly Hernandez was today, just as he was against Valencia last month, and just as he was for his national side throughout the World Cup. Meanwhile, Rooney is on vacation in Dubai after demanding, and receiving, an additional 60,000 quid-a-week from a Manchester United club currently relying on his alternate.

United saw out the final 10 minutes to mercifully hold onto the victory beating Stoke away 2-1.
Gary Neville got his 600th cap for the club, but lasted only 45 minutes. Stoke managed to score against the Red Devils for the first time in their Premier League history.

Player Ratings

Manchester United

van der Sar: 6. What do goalies earn when they've saved one shot all match but didn't screw anything else up egregiously? A six! But seriously, Stoke sent in a lot of throws and free kicks. Most were cleared by Vidic, while the rest were split between VDS and Ferdinand.

Neville: 4. Did not look at the races again. Should have been sent off, technically, but his first yellow card was dubious anyway. He didn't last past halftime, when Brown came on for him. Poor game, so let's assume he's still not at full fitness. The 600th cap for United ('Grats bro—Ed).

Ferdinand: 7. Quite solid. If this means his fitness is improving, then the Red Devils might not be out of the Premier League race yet.

Vidic: 9. So imperious. Vida had everything to do as City's aerial attack from set pieces was relentless. The Serb was an absolute rock and remains the best center-back in the world over three years' form.

O'Shea: 6. Actually played well today. Importantly, the Irishman performed within his limitations on offense thereby not betraying his inability. On the other side of the ball, he was desired and required as Stoke hammered in on attack.

Nani: 5.5. Dribbled well, passed poorly. He must improve his decision-making and passing ability if he is ever going to evolve further.

Scholes: 5.5. After starting the season in great form, Scholes has fallen off the wagon a bit. His maturity and generalship were useful today, but he turned the ball over needlessly on more than one occasion. The second occurrence led to Stoke's equalizer, but, it may have been Carrick's fault.

Fletcher: 6.5. Better today than in his last few matches. The Scottish captain was United's best player last season, but he has yet to regain that form. However, even playing averagely in an important role makes a huge—and positive—difference for his club.

Evra: 7.5. Employed on the left wing proper for the first time in his United career. Coincidentally, I called for it in my last article (Yes, Fergie reads my editorials). The Frenchman did well in the role, swung in many crosses, showed his good engine, and contributed directly to both goals.

Berbatov: 8. Very good match from the Bulgarian after possibly slipping off form in the last month. His cool touches were vital to retain possession going forward. He was simply masterful engineering the second goal and his overall open play was very good, displaying confidence, awareness, and a range of passing vision and technique.

Hernandez9. Huge brace from the Mexican. He's paid a fraction of what Rooney makes but is worth more both on and off the pitch. His first goal was simply awesome. He twisted like Neo in midair and headed home almost impossibly. For the late winner, Chicharito was right where van Nistelrooy would have been, and performed much the same, slotting home in a crowded box to save a near-death United. Hernandez will become a world-class striker in his time: evidence already exists for club and country.

Subs: Brown (reinforced the back line), Carrick (emasculated his own team), Obertan (came on late)

Stoke City

Sorenson: 6. Could do nothing with either goal and had little else to deal with. United only had three shots on goal. Two scored.

Huth: 6. Stoke's defense was solid today despite losing...

Faye: 6. ...leading to United not being exactly fluid nor dominating in the final third.

Shawcross: 6. City lost the match, but its defense escapes great rebuke.

Collins: 5. However, this guy didn't do much and got subbed.

Pennant: 6. Did a few things going forward before being subbed late.

Delap: 6. Several long throws led to some danger but no goals.

Wilson: 5.5. I don't know anything about this player and never really noticed him. It's likely that Fletcher outplayed him, in general, though Wilson probably shackled Scholes at times.

Etherington: 7.5. One of few players to shine offensively for Stoke today. Provided good, natural width on the left and sent in many crosses.

Jones: 6.5. Thankless task against Vidic, but the former Sunderland striker did pretty good on those 10/90 balls that would be 50/50 against most other central defenders.

Walters: 5. Anonymous to my eyes.

Subs: Tuncay (scored a fantastic individual goal), Higginbotham (null), Gudjohnsen (cool)

Manchester United ended its away malaise all thanks to cult hero Javier Hernandez.

Whatever crusade he is leading, I am on-board. The Mexican was a godsend again today. Hernandez has flat-out saved Man United in each of its two most important competitions this season.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Selection hurting United more than Rooney absence

I know, it's so very interesting: Wayne Rooney decided not to re-sign at Manchester United. (He's since changed his mind.)

But let's be honest: It's within his right. He signed a mutual agreement with Man United until 2012. Then, it'll run out. It happens. Did he misrepresent his desire to stay at United? Perhaps. Or perhaps it just changed. That happens too.

Frankly, as poor as he's been playing for the last seven months, and even considering his average over his United career, he may be better off elsewhere; and the club, as well.

It's not unreasonable. Rooney is a good striker. He's probably a better footballer, but his manager plays him almost solely up front, where his talents seem to naturally befit a central midfielder.

Regardless, at the moment, the saga between club and manager and player only helps to overshadow how bemusing Alex Ferguson's selection has been recently.

The Manchester club are not the same one they were two or three years ago. Form varies, players age, Ronaldo and Tevez are elsewhere, and United's most improving player, Antonio Valencia, is a long-term injury absentee. The United manager has been over-reliant on the fringe players he has left, players he overvalues against teams he underestimates.

Michael Owen, Park Ji-Sung, Kiko Macheda, Gabriel Obertan, Bebe, Darron Gibson and Nancy Carrick are each either simply not good enough to consistently feature—much less player better than their opposites—in the top flight; at worst, yet, for most, period.

Park's form this year has been nothing short of horrific. Carrick couldn't carry my own boots. Gibson, though young, does not particularly inspire, nor portend greatness. Macheda and Owen should be entering—not leaving—games late. Obertan and Bebe are for the future, yet, here we are needing them in the present; not a coincidence given the first team's depth.

Ferguson's lack of self-awareness about the tenability of his squad, and his over-reliance on unworthy or unproven players has been trending all season, but especially relevant in United's last two domestic outings.

Away to Sunderland two weeks ago, Ferguson opted for Macheda and Owen up front, though, one or the other was shoe-horned at left-wing, at times, as United floundered with its manager's nebulous tactics. Both were dreadful.

Rooney was "injured," while Dimi Berbatov—arguably United's best attacker until then—and Javier Hernandez, who'd just heroically defeated Valencia late, away in a crunch Champions League tie, sat the bench. The Scottish manager thought any ragtag team he put out would suffice for three points away. United only managed one in a dire scoreless draw.

When United returned last weekend from international break, hosting West Brom at home, Ferguson rested two players his side cannot—does not—perform without this season: Paul Scholes and Berbatov. Neither player had international duties; each was fully rested. Ferguson didn't even start Darren Fletcher, a player with an immense gas tank who's been the core of his side's midfield for two seasons now.

When Giggs went off injured against the Baggies, Ferguson introduced Darren Gibson. This is a player who is essentially a poor man's Michael Carrick, who was also on the pitch, equally strangely. Calling someone a poor man's Carrick, for those who don't realize, is a scathing insult.

Ferguson could have put Rooney on the left wing then, in an unnatural position he's nevertheless somewhat accustomed to, but he was ignored for the Irishman. Rooney would be introduced later in the match, belatedly, in futile endeavor for an equalizer than never came. "To prove a point, Ferguson dropped two," as Norman Hubbard wrote.
Without a natural left-winger (having chosen, or been forced to sell Zoran Tosic, a promising left-footed winger never given a real go at United) Ferguson should consider moving Evra up into left-wing. Fabio can deputize in the Frenchman's usual position. But one thing is certain, with so much talent on the side proving not talented enough, he has to play his best players elsewhere.

Darren Fletcher, Scholes, and Berbatov must start every game going forward if United are going to have enough attacking verve to finish games instead of drawing them. It's understandable to grant each a rest now and then, but the old bloke must realize that it's more practical to put them on the bench after you have the lead, instead of taking them off the bench when you need one.

Rooney being injured or unruly, or both, isn't a pleasant problem for the club or most fans, but, as Roy Keane agrees, Man United can survive without him. However, they won't survive if their manager continues making fundamental errors in the valuation and application of the talent in his squad.

It's a great time to write articles about Wayne Rooney. But it's a bad time for United regardless. The paucity of talent at the squad that is the claimed harbinger for Rooney's departure is very real, to a point where you'd almost not blame him.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rooney sale enables regrowth

Not for the first time, and not for the last, necessity forces a difficult, but correct decision.

Presumably Manchester United don't want to sell Wayne Rooney, but with admissions from the Englishman about his "adamant" desire to leave presently, it looks like they'll have to.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Wayne Rooney is worth more to Manchester United in the transfer market than he is on the pitch. Javier Hernandez is already a more effective out-and-out striker, with far more potential, less worth on the transfer market, and a much better disposition. With at least ₤30m for Rooney's signature, United can buy five players who might already be better than him, or at least may evolve to be.

But Rooney, at 24, has already plateaued. He may be the oldest 24-year-old player in Europe. He started playing consistent top-flight football eight years and many injuries ago. The growth we all hoped for has manifested in only modest goal returns for club and drastic, dreadful failures for country.

Frankly, the only stylistic trademark Rooney has is one he rarely uses: dropping his shoulder and shifting his weight to deke past a defender. He used to have a penchant for long-range belters, but no more. We hoped he might evolve enough skill to beat defenders one-on-one, but he hasn't. He always dribbles to his right, like a schoolboy.

He is fast, but not very. He has strength, but less than most central defenders. His proclivity to drop deep and spray long balls doesn't really befit a striker. Oh yeah, and he's seriously emotionally troubled.

What is the big deal, here? Oh, right: millions of people around the world are deeply emotionally attached to a player they've been conditioned to adore.

That same marketing appeal will garner an absurd fee on the transfer market. Other European clubs will either also believe the hype, or, more likely, simply want him to sell more jerseys to those who perpetuate it.

Furthermore, it's obvious United have been reluctant to replace Giggs and Scholes as the heart of their side. Cashing in on Rooney will mercifully quicken that process, as it may just as mercifully assuage its manager's departure.

Alex Ferguson's recent selection and tactical decisions have been bemusing at best. When Rooney leaves, a new chapter will begin, and it's unlikely Ferguson will be around long enough to be its author in full.

It's possible Rooney may grow into a better player. But, as a bitter, rich, adulterous, troubled 24-year-old, I'd say the signs aren't very good. But they certainly—and hopefully—lead out of Manchester.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

United-West Brom: Player ratings and match recap

Manchester United went up 2-0 and then let it all crumble away. Again.

It all started so brilliantly. Hernandez niggled home after a deflected Nani free-kick after just five minutes.

United controlled easily. Later in the half, they scored again after some interplay between Nani and Berbatov, with the latter setting up the other for a pretty simple slot. Two to the good, home and dry.

But the second half was all hairy. West Brom scored luckily with some pinball after a low-cross from a shallow free-kick. That was early in the half. Five minutes later, van der Sar howled ridiculously, dropping a blasé cross so Tchoyi could pass it home. Barthez-esque from the Dutchman.

So, United gave it up, again. At this point, let's just hope they compete this year, much less win anything. After such a dismal match, what'd you expect, a detailed recap? Come on! Onto player ratings.

Player Ratings

Manchester United

van der Sar: 1: Only had to make one or two real saves. Otherwise, his gaffe was atrocious. Sure, it's just a gaffe, some mistake that belies how good he usually is; but, it changed the game for the worse, and he was mentally at sea from then on. Maybe he deserves a four, but that's boring.

Rafael: 5.5: Added some impetus down the right. Usual stuff. By that, of course, I mean he doesn't play the most fundamental defense, but the end justifies the means. Nice to have him when United go forward, and besides, every game is an improving one for the Brazillian, unlike O'Shea or Brown who've already plateaued long ago.

Vidic: 6.5: Pretty quiet. West Brom weren't exactly besetting United's backline. Two crap goals weren't really anyone's fault. Wears the armband with pride. Vocal. Good enough for me.

Ferdinand: 6: Not too much blame to assign here. Rio surprises me with how consistently he's starting playing only just returning from injury. Good tidings, despite the suicidal result.

Evra: 5.5: Wonky back-tracking sometimes. Buccaneered forward enough though.

Nani: 5: Wasteful. Dove a bunch. Scored after some nice play with Berbatov, though. But, it doesn't matter how skillful you are when you don't apply it correctly. Looks good more than he plays well.

Carrick: 4: Absolute Nancy. Too scared to try to be above average. Content to pass the ball and hope no one notices him. Waste of space. If only United bought Huddlestone instead, way back when. Hated him then, still do; at least he rewards me by reinforcing the narrative that he is completely effing useless. Inevitably subbed.

Anderson: 6: Did a good job in the middle in the first half hour. Sadly he was again lampooned on the left-wing when Giggs took a knock. His drive and impetus in the center was not coincidentally paralleled by United's best patch of the game.

Giggs: 4: Came off just prior to the break with a little knock. Didn't have much say in what was going on, but did some good things here and there without overcommitment. Sadly, United needed his creativity, a dour indictment of a would-be elite squad.

Berbatov: 6: Some market correction going on here. Berbatov was in positive form in the beginning of the season. Looks to be equaling out a little. Granted, his form was over-stated by his Liverpool hat-trick. Still, some nice touches, good through-balls, and important headers were still hallmarks. A little wasteful here or there, though. Still fun to watch, still a great footballer.

Hernandez: 6.5: Portends well. Scored nice and early like a good poacher. From open play, he didn't have much influence. Unfortunately he didn't' make as many vertical runs behind defenders as much as his speed may allow. Got shifted to the left-wing when Fergie got desperate—since the mule gaffer sold Tosic and has no natural winger on that side, and the Mexican did alright there too.

Subs: Rooney (as poor as he's been lately), Scholes (briefly ineffective), Gibson (too much like Carrick)

West Bromwich Albion

Carson: 5.5: Parried Nani's early first-half free-kick right onto Hernandez. So that was a big of a gaffe. Couldn't do much with United's second. Otherwise, he didn't have a lot of work to do, because the Devils weren't getting many shots on target. Carson got better as the game went on, but his punting was poor at times.

Shorey: 6: Misplayed a cross here or there. Otherwise did pretty well snuffing out Nani's play.

Ollsen: 6: Presumably handled Berbatov and Hernandez for the most part. United weren't overly dangerous in the final third of open play, so, I give this guy a six without being able to spot him in a police line-up.

Tamas: 6.5: Another player I was studiously tracking throughout the match. I don't know where these guys come from, but I know they leave Old Trafford with a big point after shutting down the immensely more expensive team for the last 45 minutes.

Jara: 6.5: Got beat here and there by Hernandez and Giggs. Got forward really well, though. Didn't always work out, but when does it. United afforded a lot of space, and this bloke obliged.

Brunt: 7: Bluntly blunted the free-kick into the danger zone for the first goal, like mushrooms growing from a pile of dung. Got stuck-in, and such, and enjoyed space in the middle.

Mulumbu: 6.5: I predict West Brom turning a profit on him in a year or two. Athletic holding midfielder. Explosive too. Well, not really, just making an inside joke. This guy played pretty deep today. Hey, can't fault him.

Scharner: 5: Quiet match for one of the few Baggies I was familiar with. Where's Jonathan Greening? Yeah, that's all I got.

Tchovi: 6.5: Played soccer.  Scored when van der Sar spilled his milk.

Morrison: 7.5: Nuisance. Good on the young lad. Not awed by the stage, played like he was on the home side. Good stuff. Deserved the result more than anyone

Fortune: 6.5: Able to befuddle his defenders sometimes, which is enough for a striker. Even if you're successful a third of the time squaring up and beating your opposite, you're doing alright. Got space, fired some shots; not bad for a visiting forward at Old Trafford against a supposedly elite side.

United should have won this game. The heart of the team quivers, pumped by no one. Ferguson would be sitting on three points if he starts Fletcher, but hey. In the end, they should have won, regardless, but totally gave it up. The vacancy showed by Carrick throughout personified United's lackluster drive to take back the lead once squandered. Who sees them beating Chelsea domestically or abroad this year? Not I, nor anyone else.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Five Reasons Why Chicharito is More Valuable for United than Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney has done too little to get so far. His stature as world footballing icon is assumed, but unearned: His actual skill with the leather has never been of the highest tier. It's time for the facade to end.

Luckily for Manchester United fans, Javier Hernandez is the white knight. At 22, he's faster, hungrier, and more polygamist. And those are only three reasons why, despite being less "experienced", and having less and less-prestigious winner's medals, Javier Hernandez is already better than Wayne Rooney, and more important to United.


Hernandez is 22 and ridiculously good-looking. He's not dumb enough to get married just as he's becoming one of the most popular footballers in the world. It shows more character to intelligently remain relatively single than to marry presumptuously, cheat repeatedly with prostitutes, and lie about it. Even Cristiano Ronaldo has enough sense to stay untethered, paying off any girls he impregnates. Rooney's personal misgivings unfortunately have a lot to do with his current professional malaise. It's systemic, and it's not the first time.


Wayne Rooney is a midfielder playing forward. His most lauded attributes relate more to a buccaneering tackler than a finesse finisher. Rooney has a great long ball as well as a penchant for incisive chips or driven passes through the middle. Unfortunately he's plays in a position that necessitates him being the receiver, not the passer. He loves to drop deep and track back, two tendencies which are fine in a vacuum, but can be counter-productive to the larger picture.

As a more direct striker, Hernandez fits United's scheme better, better complimenting striker partner Dimitar Berbatov's creative style. The Bulgarian takes more joy in the final pass than scoring the goal itself. He also loves to drop deep to instigate play and express himself on his side's build-up. Hernandez supplements this perfectly, having the speed and inclination to be the first man darting into the box once his side opens up opposing defenses.

Rooney and Berbatov, though, often get their lines crossed, as both may abandon forward and drop deep; one out of frustration and impatience, the other from penchant and necessity. Hernandez is a more suitable yang to Berbatov's yin and quite simply plays more like a striker than a grumpy, roaming Rooney.


Rooney homers used to rely on his potential as a crutch. But now, having played eight full seasons in the English top flight, he is a very old 25. He looks more like Danny Glover than a mid-twenties British lad. The period when most of his improvement would have occurred is over. He has now plateaued.

Wayne hasn't added or changed his game for the better in several years. In fact, he's picked up some bad habits, losing the abandon and naivete that actually helped his earlier style. Having trained at the same camp for six years, in addition to the complacent influence of stardom he's projected, among other factors,has homogenized his current style. And quite frankly, he's not as good as people hoped.

Hernandez, a much fresher 22, has only begun to mature. Only last week he entered his first UEFA Champions League game, away to Valencia, and scored clinically on his first two touches. The Mexican international has netted against Spain, France, and Italy, among others, this year. He plays happy, as opposed to Rooney, and shows none of the stress and disturbance than mars Rooney's displays.

Hernandez might already be better than Rooney. At the very least, though, he has plenty of growth ahead of him during which to prove it, while the English pugilist looks every bit his 431 senior appearances.

United aren't going to outlast Chelsea domestically, nor numerous better clubs abroad, throughout the long season, so there's really no reason why Hernandez should continually sit the bench at the profit of Macheda, Owen, or even Rooney.


Over eight years, Rooney has proven that he isn't a world-class striker. His moderate goal-scoring exploits over the years have rarely met expectations. His goal tally averages to 13 each season as the most forward player on one of the world's most dominant football clubs. Many resulted more from finishing a team-worked attack than creating through personal brilliance. His individual ability has ever warranted promotion into the elite "world" class, despite the hopeful projections of so many.

Theoretically, the Englishman uses a mixture of speed and power to beat defenders. In truth, he can rarely get past or behind defenders. Wayne is definitely faster than some players, but he's smaller than more. He also doesn't use his body as well as he could. His current striker partner Berbatov is wiry, but shrugs off defenders easily because his body control and balance are both impeccable. Wayne usually fires himself like a dumbfire missile between or through defenders, using blunt-force trauma over agility, and can only rarely create by himself running at anyone.

Running is Hernandez's specialty. The Mexican was the fastest player in the World Cup according to FIFA. Their guns clocked him running at almost 20 MPH. That's one asset Rooney no longer shares and perhaps the single most important attribute of a through striker. Hernandez also shows a decent turn with his back to goal and an ability to finish with both feet. He is taller than Rooney and jumps higher. With speed, athleticism, ambidexterity, and prowess, he has raw natural ability upon which more skill will continue flourishing, besides being the more effective of the two players on current form.


Wayne Rooney is undoubtedly very marketable. Just as David Beckham's did when he unwittingly became a footballing advert, Rooney's own image has long since surpassed his footballing ability. In other words, it's a seller's market.

After winning little with an incomplete and aging squad again this year, United should be able to garner around £60m for Rooney next offseason. Quite basically, that's a lot more than he's worth. United could buy several younger, better players with that money—enabling the paradigm shift necessary for Alex Ferguson's final retirement—as "Chicharito" assumes the forward-running striker role for many years.

Hernandez is quickly becoming a hero for Mexico, naturally displacing the aged Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Rafael Marquez rabid footballing country's darling. Furthermore, his best years are ahead of him instead of behind him. Mexico is fervorous about soccer, yet remains untapped by British clubs. It's a completely new marketplace of opportunity for United, and don't think they don't know it.

Most casual United fans—those that occasionally buy jerseys and such—will be interested in anyone who plays striker for United, as long as he's good. Hernandez is better than Rooney, in addition to having stronger character, being more consistent, better-mannered, and a far less hesitant star.

United, for better or worse, are more or less shit-broke. Even the most simple man knows money is the fuel that drives most clubs' decisions, making this (arbitrarily) the number one reason Hernandez, not Rooney, is United's future first striker.

Sell Rooney High

In "Chicharito", Manchester United have an emerging star who, despite being worth less on the transfer market, is arguably already better than Wayne Rooney—certainly on current form. Yet, the Mexican still possesses a much larger gap in which to grow, instead of the Englishman who, after almost 400 senior appearances, looks like a 35-year-old drunkard and hasn't added anything salient to his game in years.

Hernandez represents a sector of the world with little connection to English soccer, presenting a unique marketing opportunity to United's globalizing brand. His direct attacking style more befits a striker, particularly one next to Berbatov, than a player who's most celebrated function is tracking back and yelling "fack off" at referees. The Mexican is also one of the fastest players in the world and has little history of injury.

United still need Rooney to find some form, eat some minutes, and bang in some goals this year. Along the way, Hernandez should be used here and there, starting more, always growing. Once the year ends, if a cannibalistic Spanish giant are again inclined to offer an egregious amount, tight-wads United would be fools not to sell.

Because the bottom line is this: We already know Wayne Rooney won't be what we hoped he'd become. It's time to place our hope in someone else while Rooney's appeal is still inflated among nations and clubs who don't yet know better.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ferguson's Sundered Arms

It's hard to figure out what was going through Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson's mind when he made the starting lineup away to Sunderland last Saturday.

Away to a burgeoning, physical side, against a motivated protege, the legendary gaffer opted for two strikers up front, neither of whom really belong in the starting 11 of any Premier League side.

Both Federico Macheda and Michael Owen have profiles of an impact substitute, as neither display enough ability from open play to create flowing team football throughout a whole match. Not yet, at least, for one; not likely ever again for the other. 

Macheda too embryonic as top flight feature

Federico Macheda's greatest contribution to Man United was in his first appearance, when he netted heroically against Aston Villa in the late spring of 2009. It's a testament to a players' value when his first action a year-and-a-half ago remains his greatest display of striking intuition. Unfortunately, the 19-year-old has subsisted largely on reputation since that day.

Macheda simply isn't that good—yet. What are his assets? He's not especially fast. He's not tricky, doesn't drive at guys. His passing is, at best, average. His finishing is nothing to write home about. He's not particularly strong and doesn't contend greatly for headers.

His touch is too loose to inspire great hope. His style belies a footballing intelligence easily rivaled by better players who never made the grade at United. The evidence exists on video and we've all seen it; this is not merely cynicism.

Macheda's growth has seemed to stagnate already
Michael Regan/Getty Images 
Given time, he may grow into his body and become more useful. But now, at 19 years old, he is another of many starburst prospects at United that deserve to be on loan or playing for the reserves. 

Owen a super sub, not serious starter

Michael Owen does not belong for different reasons.

His fitness is not only historically suspect, but obviously mediocre on more present testimony. As simply as possible, he is far too poor from open play to be a marquee striker. He has the "experience" and enough guile to niggle in for a goal late in games, but not after already playing 85 minutes.

Owen has proven his worth on large occasions during his United tenure, netting very late against Man City last season and equalizing nicely on a precious header recently away to Bolton. Both came after being introduced late in each match (It bears mentioning that a hat-trick away to Wolfsburg last season is an exception to this norm).

Despite being a sympathetic figure that we'd all like to get behind, Owen has little business starting up front regularly, especially with an unproven striker like Macheda. From open play, he is positively horrible. He can't outrun anyone, he can't out-muscle anyone. He can't dribble past anyone. His pacing has never been his hallmark.

In other words, he's just a bloke you throw on late to sneak into the box and steal a late goal, not someone you'd want involved throughout a grinding match. Of the two players, at least Macheda is young and may possibly improve, while Owen's hayday is long past and was short-lived. 

Owen: More useful in a suit than a kit?
Pool/Getty Images

Ferguson's tactics bewilder again

Ferguson's decision to start either player—much less both—away in the top flight, as he did against Sunderland, was extremely curious. As United's best footballer this season, most assumed Dimitar Berbatov would be a shoe-in. Who'd partner him should have been an academic choice: Javier Hernandez.

The two form a complimentary pairing. Berbatov likes to drop between midfield and defense to harry play intelligently through the final third. Hernandez is inclined to make these vertical runs by utilizing his outstanding pace (The Mexican was the fastest player at the 2010 World Cup, clocking in at 20 MPH at full trot).

Furthermore, Hernandez finishes with both feet, something far underrated among top-tier players in England and abroad. He has scored against the Netherlands, Mexico, Argentina, and France in the last six months.

"Chicharito" had just scored epically away to Valencia in midweek, stealing two important points. He's shown better finishing instincts than Macheda, and more athletic ability to enforce them than Owen. He was primed for his second league start.

But against Sunderland—matching wits with his friend and former charge, Steve Bruce—Alex Ferguson seemed to take it easy, on some level. Bruce must have been elated when he saw United's teamsheet. Throughout the match, Ferguson uncertainly tarried between 4-4-2, with Anderson on the left, to 4-5-1, with either Macheda or Owen up front, at different times.

Hernandez scored awesomely against Valencia
Alex Livesey/Getty Images 
The result was domination, and it was United wearing the gag-ball, getting spanked, and screaming the safe word. Thankfully, Vidic and Ferdinand prevented an ultimate penetration the rest of their outfield players were so passive to enable. Berbatov and Hernandez both appeared in the second half as United feigned to compete, but Sunderland had long since established control.

With two weeks of international break ahead, there was no reason to rest Berbatov, and little reason to protect Hernandez. Berbatov has two weeks of nothing ahead of him. Hernandez was rested more than enough to deserve participation Saturday.

At least the Mexican's class is not suppressed on his national team. There he'll likely continue to perform like he did in the World Cup, and could have against Sunderland: A dynamic pistol of a striker with reasonable prospect to evolve into a world-class player.

It's important to remember that Alex Ferguson's reputation is built more on motivating men and spotting and weening talent than for being a celebrated tactician. He proved that again Saturday.

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Letting van der Vaart go to Spurs proved paucity

Ever summer, every fall, United fans like you and I wonder and whine aloud why Sir Alex Ferguson hasn't bought any number of attractive players on the transfer market.

Each time, ultimately, we are assuaged and affirmed by the old gaffer, claiming a complete squad is the reason for inactivity, not fiscal restrictions from up in the ivory tower.

But if there was proof that the Manchester side is being strangled by their owner's surfeit, it existed plainly when they let Rafael van der Vaart transfer from Real Madrid to Spurs for just £8m.

On form, the 26-year-old Dutch dynamo is one of the most creative left-footed attackers in Europe, and he is already in resplendent form (he needed no time to "adapt" to the Premier League, a rationalization reserved for less-focused players fumbling through the transition).

Sure, his form will vary and go down—presumably, but his mean should prove much higher than two players United have struggled to replace: their mid-30s stars, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

On the wing, "Vaartman" is far quicker than Giggs, with much more pace and a far better strike. In the middle, his movement, passing, and vision rivals Scholes, being more like the ginger prince at the turn of the century, not 10 years since. Van der Vaart is younger, fitter, and has more gas than either.

He may not fit perfectly in a two-striker system, but his worth on the wing for United, or filling in as a second striker, would have arguably fixed two of the Manchester side's most impending problems with one player (it also would have helped plug the gap left when United have to sell Rooney this summer).

There were no reasons they wouldn't have wanted van der Vaart, especially at such a low price. United have sold most of their best players to Madrid, so there is a clear relationship. Real were desperate to off-load players players that didn't fit Jose Mourinho's vainly projected image.

These factors, and the Special One's sycophantic affection for Sir Alex, insures that roaming texts and calls were relayed between the two superclubs at some point before Tottenham's last-minute grab.

Ferguson has a history of buying and selling, but since Ronaldo's departure two years ago, his hand has been forced out of the transfer kitty (that's why John O'Shea, Michael Carrick, and Federico Macheda are starting in the Premier League).

The United gaffer may be forced to recite the company line, claiming that money is plentiful, and his recent, uncharacteristic miserliness in the transfer market is by choice. But we all know he'd have fancied van der Vaart, alas, just as he fancied Adam Johnson.

It was a lack of money—not desire—that decided glaring inaction, thereby providing more persuasive evidence of it's dearth.