Man United: Evra's Past It, The Team's Stale & We've Got No Leaders
Manchester United's performance at home to Tottenham Hotspur yesterday was reminiscent of many a New Year's Eve party; it started promisingly, got pretty messy and appeared to be in danger of petering out altogether in the middle, contained a few fireworks towards the end, but was ultimately a disappointing and depressing event followed by a tiresome trudge home through the driving rain.
As the hordes made their way into Old Trafford to watch their first home match of 2014, there was a sense of cautious optimism in the air, which was further enhanced when the teams were announced. David Moyes' selection looked positive, and the fans sensed an opportunity to build on a successful Christmas period with a good result against one of the league's recent top teams.
Alas, it wasn't to be. The chance to make a statement to our rivals was squandered, as we fell to an unprecedented fourth home defeat in a title-defending season rapidly unravelling before our eyes.
For all the talk after the final whistle of penalty appeals not given and United 'bossing' the match, for those of us not paid to conjure up such bland, predictable excuses for the Sky cameras, it was just another poor home performance, full of blustering, cheek-puffing endeavour, yet painfully devoid of the guile and craft one should expect from the current English champions on their own turf.
For their part, Spurs offered little during the first twenty minutes or so, happy to sit back and soak up United's pressure in the hope of catching us on the break. Their new manager, that most footballing of football men, Tim Sherwood, had clearly done his homework, which must have taken all of five minutes in between toasts the previous night and consisted of a hastily scribbled note on the back of a napkin that simply read 'Attack down the right cos Evra's past it.'
He now joins an elite list of tactical geniuses to have out-smarted Moyes at Old Trafford this term, and can count himself in the exulted company of Messrs Pardew, Clarke and Martinez. With the likes of Pulis and Bruce still to come, heaven knows how we'll cope.
Since Howard Webb put us out of our misery, there has been much wringing of hands amongst the United faithful, as well as the inevitable glee from those that have longed for this day for years.
Yet it is the same old story, and one that stretches back to long before Moyes became the fall-guy.
I was struck, once again, by the scarcity of leaders in United's ranks. Having recently watched 'The Class of '92' and ITV's 'Keane vs Vieira,' this lack of leaders appeared even more stark.
Watching those two documentaries, the inevitable nostalgia was also pierced with a sense of deep concern and frustration. The team that won the treble was flooded with leaders. Roy Keane was the physical embodiment of a leader, yet we also had Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Beckham, Butt and Stam.
Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Denis Irwin, Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes are just a few of the names that fitted the leadership bill from earlier in Ferguson's reign.
Yet, watching the team struggle yesterday, there appeared to be no one willing or able to take the game by the scruff of the neck and drag his teammates, kicking and screaming, to victory. Imagine the rage that would have coursed through Roy Keane's veins had he been involved in a season of such pallid performances.
This, of course, is not the only issue. The team looks stale after years of under-investment, and it's not just the midfield that is woefully lacking. It was a dizzying spectacle when Moyes made a double substitution, with square pegs frantically trying to squeeze themselves into round holes all over the pitch, the players seemingly as baffled by the absence of cogent plan as the mortified crowd.
We have become hopelessly dependant on the natural brilliance of the eighteen year old Adnan Januzaj, one of very few positives we had to take home with us from this debacle. Yet he's just that; an eighteen year old. He cannot carry one of the world's biggest clubs on his tiny shoulders.
The season is far from over, and things could quickly take an upward turn once Van Persie returns from injury. Yet, having written about my new-found hope that United could mount a late push for the title after our recent wins on the road, those hopes, like the Christmas tree smouldering in the back garden, are fast going up in smoke.
Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulGunning1
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