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Time for new faces at Old Trafford

Sport
Time for new faces


Paul Flynn
Red Devil


IT’S easy, this prophecy lark. In my last article, I warned against planning any trips down Wembley Way to see United contest another European Cup Final, and sadly, we witnessed our plucky United put in their place after a five minute spell of irresistible football and masterful tactics from Mourinho.
Of course, United were swatted aside by the imperious Real Madrid. But all the good work at the Bernabéu and in a pulsating hour at Old Trafford wasn’t undone by a theatrically inadequate referee; United lost because they failed to match Madrid’s recalibration in the five minutes after Nani’s red card.
Too many players stood off the visitors, and one or two allowed the injustice to dilute their focus. Add to the mix the epic irrelevance of introducing Ashley Young to the fray, and you can see how United just don’t measure up to the top lads in Europe.
I have no complaints. United had a go and fell a bit short. Mourinho found his noble core and decided to use it to make his audition tape for the United job. Fergie got in some finger-jabbing exercise for the inevitable Premier League banana skin to come. Ronaldo got to do his thing. Then we have poor Nani. What words of comfort can we offer this proud fighting scion of footballing greatness? Don’t tempt me.
So, having managed to slapstick our way out of Europe, minds are turned to the Premier League run-in. The title seems nailed on, but until we’re on the far side of the Arsenal and West Ham fixtures, I’m keeping my megaphone under the bed. United have dropped only 11 points this season, which is hard to credit when recalling some utterly middling performances. But that’s what a conscientious group of players can deliver to a manager who will not let up. Shape and focus remain, and as long as it’s Fergie pinning up the team-sheet, our 11 will work harder than your 11. The artisan ethic must rule until the wizardry returns.
If we can keep Rooney away from the pies and RvP away from all sharp edges, there should be a few smiles come May, but I can’t escape the feeling that United have reached a developmental plateau.
A midfield of odds-and-sods cannot deliver performances of note. Those delightful and devastating spitfires, Scholes and Giggs, will surely soon be crated up and packed away in liniment. Does the production line end here? This summer must see a radical overhaul at the heart of the team and if we’re not making them, we best go out this summer and buy.
Zaha looks a likely lad, but there’s room for more. Carrick toils manfully every week, but is a diminishing force. Cleverley is just a shirt-filler who hasn’t even reached the pitch of performance of the likes of Nicky Butt, and Ashley Young is a horrible mediocrity.
Phil Jones is a player, but his desire to contest every ball means he’s going to see an awful lot of the doctor’s ceiling. Rafael will do. The most welcome surprise has been Danny Welbeck. He’ll never be a world-beater, but give him a job to do and he’ll do it with a smile and get you a goal. Hernandez is just a delight.
How will City treat the run-in? For a club rich in flagellatory self-doubt, there may be a note of welcome in watching their vainglorious neighbours perched atop the league, a sense of the world righting itself after the cataclysm of their triumph of last May. Will a Mancunian dust-up in the cup assuage their thirst for our destruction, or will there be a final surge? They come to Old Trafford soon enough, although it looks like poor Tevez will be basket-weaving in Strangeways by then. Enjoy your football.

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