United finally have the firepower to match the class of 99

by Charlie Coffey

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Manchester United’s win at Valencia was the first time in ten years or so that we have seen such success. No, not a win in Spain, rather Alex Ferguson throwing on two strikers who go on to win a game for him at the death. Ferguson’s ability to successfully rotate four strikers was key to United’s success in the late 90s, culminating with Ole Solskjaer getting his toe to a Teddy Sheringham header for United’s second late, late goal in the Nou Camp in 1999.

While another treble looks beyond the class of 2010, this season may offer hope that once the young guns of Kiko Macheda and Javier Hernandez (who scored his excellent winner in the Mestalla from the young Italian’s astute assist) mature, United may have a strike force to rival that of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and co. While Rooney are Berbatov have established themselves as top strikers, the intrigue for United fans now lies in how far 22-year-old Chicharito and Macheda, who has only just turned 19, can develop. If they can do that against the current La Liga leaders now, what will they be capable of in a few years?

Only one man in a United shirt may have been disheartened by the goal against Valencia, and that is Michael Owen. Having scored three in his last game and a half, Owen will be wondering how he is still fifth in Fergie’s pecking order. After scoring the winning goal in the thrilling 4-3 Manchester derby last season Owen must have felt it was the start of his resurrection with United, but once again injury hit just as he was finding his form.

The time Owen spent off with a hamstring tear was even more damaging for his chances at Old Trafford as Wayne Rooney also had to sit out because of his ankle, leaving Berbatov to lead the line on his own as the Premier and Champions League titles slipped away from United’s grasp. As a result Ferguson bought Chicharito, a player in the mould of the old Michael Owen; a single-minded poacher with lightning-fast acceleration and instinctive finishing. In effect Michael Owen has become the jilted divorcee, replaced by a younger, fitter model.

Having had success with a more cautious 4-5-1 in Spain Ferguson may choose to play Berbatov alone at Sunderland tomorrow. The classic United 4-4-2 has resulted in three 2-2 away draws on the trot and might be considered as showing a lack of respect to Fulham, Everton, and Bolton. If the cliché that there are no easy games in this league is valid then it is certainly true of away fixtures.

Sunderland have drawn with Arsenal and Liverpool in their last two Premier League games, so they will not be as phased by facing United as they might usually be, and in Steve Bruce they could not hope for anyone with a greater knowledge of the way United and Alex Ferguson work. If United do stutter in the Stadium of Light though, it will be encouraging for United fans to know that in Macheda, Chicharito and Owen fit and in form, their team have ammunition should they need to dig out a result late on.  Bruce will be ready for that, but weather his players can stand United’s firepower is another matter entirely.

Read Charlie Coffey’s brilliant blog at my11.com.

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