United struggle at home again as Ajax crash out in style

by admin

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Manchester United’s home form in Europe is becoming a real problem for Sir Alex Ferguson and a better team than Ajax would have put his men to the sword in last nights Europa League 2nd leg.

It all started so well for last seasons UEFA Champions League finalists with Javier Hernandez splitting the Dutch defence to slot home after just five minutes, but that was about it for the home side as Ajax showed real heart to claw the tie back to almost grab an unlikely win.

However, as good as Ajax were, United were bad. Without a real spearhead in attack – Wayne Rooney missing out with illness – it was down to the languid Dimitar Berbatov and sometimes headless Hernandez to fill the void. The Mexican was his usual bundle of energy and at times left the Ajax defence for dead, but lacked any conviction when it mattered – besides his goal. As for the Bulgarian Berbatov, he once again flattered to deceive. Its fine scoring five goals in a game against teams like Blackburn, but at a club like United, you need to perform when it matters. Some people call him classy, I just think he’s lazy.

The rest of the United team was full of players returning from injury or lacking games and it showed. The early quick tempo continued throughout, but the end product wasn’t there. Berbatov was guilty time after time of under-hitting the final pass, leading to dangerous Ajax counter-attacks. Last seasons player’s player, Nani, was up to his usual tricks of promising much but delivering nothing, other than a customary rocket shot crashing against the bar and as for Ashley Young, well he is beginning to look less and less like a United player every time he plays.

At £16million, everyone thought he was a snip – me included – but since the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal his early promise has diminished.

It just shows the weakness of Sir Alex’s new young squad when it comes to knockout competitions. They exited the Carling Cup early to Crystal Palace with a 2-1 home defeat. They were out played by Basel and Benfica in the Champions League and subsequently knocked out. Now the Europa League has flashed up more warning signs that United’s inability to play at home could mean an embarrassing early exit from a competition they really should be going all the way in.

The United manager came out after the game and shouldered the blame for picking an inexperienced defence and yes this was a problem. Perhaps Patrice Evra should have started instead of one of the enthusiastically wasteful twins and as good as Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are, their swashbuckling style leaves a lot of space behind without an experienced head along side them.

The Red’s midfield is another worry. Tom Cleverley’s return from injury is a blessing but his match sharpness is lacking right now, whereas Park Ji-Sung just isn’t a central midfielder despite his tireless efforts. If United ever want to challenge in Europe again, they are going to HAVE to bring in a creative midfielder in the summer. Paul Scholes’ introduction last night was a case in point. At 37 he is no doubt a massive cult hero at Old Trafford, but he should be left on the training ground. His passing is becoming ever more erratic and there is a distinct lack of pace in those old legs to recover. An England call-up has been discussed – get a grip people.

United look very much like a team in transition at the moment but their make-shift team still managed to get them through – although unconvincingly – to the next stage against Atletic Bilbao. Fergie will hope to have some of his bigger names back by then, with Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and in-form Antonio Valencia all set for comebacks. Maybe then he can stop this European hoodoo and return to their dominant ways at the Theatre of Dreams,


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