Second Manchester United Treble?- With This Lot!?

Will We See This in May?

Can History Repeat Itself?

In 1998-99 Season Manchester United won the famous and dramatic Treble.  The Premier League Trophy, The FA Cup, and The UEFA Champions League.  Oh what a month it was, almost two months actually.  The whole season was dramatic, but the run in was epic.  Our League form was a bit dodgy, we finished with 4 wins and 4 draws in the last 8 matches and the final league table looked close indeed as United won the League by just one point over Arsenal.  It was the domestic and European cup runs that made this an epic season.  A draw and replay in the FA Cup semi final against Arsenal.  And in the replay, that last minute red card, Peter Schmeichel saving the penalty, and that run by Ryan Giggs in extra time.  What a run it was.  I can still see it.  I never get bored of watching it.  Then I see him waving his shirt running towards the bench like a mad man.  We were all mad then.   Then the Final against Newcastle.  Only minutes in and Keane gets hurt.  Fergie puts in Teddy, and he scores one of the goals, and assists on the other if I remember correctly.

Then there was the small matter of winning the ever elusive Champions League.  That epic semi final  against Juventus.  We were not great in the first leg at home and took a 1-1 scoreline to Turin.  Went down 2-0 rather quickly.  Keane got cautioned which meant he would miss the Final if we went through.  And then he made himself into a legend and led the fightback to make it 3-2 and off United went to Barcelona to face Bayern Munich.  The Final itself was rather poor as far as football is concerned.  But oh what an ending.  Every United fan knows what happened.  The next thing we knew United were parading the big eared trophy while the Germans were crying.  Epic.

And we fast forward to 2011.  Till recently according to the media and some of the very optimistic United fans we were chasing Arsenal’s unbeaten season.  Then Wolves happened, and Chelsea and Liverpool, and now this silliness finally has ended.  Hell there were some talking about the unbeaten run in November.  As if it was just a matter of getting though a few easy games to finish the season.  And now we’re approaching April and United are still in three competitions.  So of course there is talk of the treble.  We have two months of football left.  8 league games.  5 CL games, and 2 FA Cup Games to play.  15 vital matches in the space of  8 weeks, with all of those weeks but one seeing us play weekend and midweek matches.  And some run around screaming the treble is still on!

Well it is of course.  Anything is possible.  But looking at our possible fixture list its rather improbable.  I would say highly unlikely!!!  I would be very happy with just one trophy, ecstatic with two, and pretty much delirious and completely mad if we did in fact win all three.  Our destiny is of course in our hands and while we still have Fergie leading United I would not count anything out.  However right now, and until we actually win anything I am an avowed skeptic.  Perhaps I have misplaced my red tinted glasses somewhere but i just don’t see it.  I would love to be so very wrong but a number of factors make me think that I unfortunately will be right.  Of course it does not take a sage to predict that we wont win a treble seeing as it happened only once in English football history.  So I am not putting myself out there.  But as each game approaches, when taken one at a time, the hope returns, yes we can get a result today.  And of course each game takes us one step closer.  We are the closest to a record 12th FA Cup.  Only two games to play in that.  And a semi final win would be that much sweater as it would mean that we could go on singing our noisy neighbour’s favourite song till at least the end of February.  That would make me very happy.

Then there is the League.  8 games left.  Away trip to West Ham, Newcastle, Arsenal and Blackburn.  Home against, Fulham, Everton, Chelsea, Blackpool.  Not easy, but it could be worse.  At home I fancy us against anyone.  And away we have actually won a couple of games this year so despite our very poor away form all is not lost.  West Ham, Newcastle and Rovers are all winnable matches.  And depending on the table a draw at Arsenal might be enough.  So the league itself, despite our very indifferent form the whole season, is quite achievable.  And winning that coveted 19th and knocking teams of perches would be special indeed.

Finally we come to the last part of the treble.  The Champions League.  Fergie wants one badly.  He wants to be up there with the other top European managers and win it 3 times.  He wants 5 European trophies altogether.  We don’t have an easy draw, but hell, it could have been worse.  Chelsea wont be easy, but without Luiz and Atkinson we will have an easier time.  And we did show we can play them well, if only for 45 minutes.  If we do go through then either Shalke of Inter await.  Shalke are a decent side, but no one is giving them a chance against the Milan team.  After the Benitez fiasco Inter have found their form and are chasing their local rivals for the Serie A title as well as fighting for the CL.  They wont be easy.  They are last year’s winners after all.  But they are not invincible.  And as with any cup game, anything can happen.  So we do have a shot to go to Wembley for possibly the 4th time in one season.  And then there is just the small matter of beating either (in all likelihood) Real Madrid or Barcelona.  Start paining the bus.  But seriously, as I mentioned, its a cup game, anything can happen.

Looking at each of the 3 competitions separately we do have a decent chance to win each of them.  Unfortunately they can not be separated.  The games will all be with 2 or 3 days rest, there will be considerable travel.  It will be an exhausting run in.  There will be no time to celebrate a victory because preparation will have to start for the next game.  It will be mental.  We can win the treble, but by mid April we can just as easily be pretty much out off all three competitions.  We could do an Arsenal.  And what worries me more than anything is United itself.

Yep, we can be our very worst enemies.  First and foremost there is the squad.  Well, it simply is not good enough.  We are leading the league by default.  And those who protest this should remember how it all looked at the end of October.  Not that it will diminish the joy of any trophy, but hardly anyone picked United for greatness this season.  Even many of the more level headed United faithful.  While Fergie was talking about value in the market we all we screaming for players as Ozil, Khedira, van der Vaart and others went elsewhere for basically peanuts.  Most agreed that we needed midfield help.  On top of the weakness of the squad we have not been spared injuries.  Several very important players have been out for sometime.  Valencia, Rooney, Ferdinand, Park, Fletcher, Nani.  And now our area of strength and depth is tested as many of our defensemen are hurt.  Against Bolton we had 5 defenders fit.  Only one, Evra, was a real first choice.

United throughout the season have been criticized for their lackluster play.  Our shocking away form, our poor displays at home, lack of creativity.  A defence that was one of the best in the world now looked ordinary.  On top of that individual players went from great to average, or from good to poor.  And last but not least there were times when our team selection and tactics could be questioned.  Sure there was the odd Blackburn game, or  Arsenal in the FA Cup when everyone went from scratching their heads to mea culpas for questioning the genius of Fergie.  But mostly it was blah.  Now we may still win trophies, hell, we may win more than one this season, but this team will not be remembered as a great team.  As far as trophy winning United teams go, this one will be quite low on the list.

And there is a reason for the very average displays and lack of the usual United attacking flair.  We’re shite.  Yep, this team is quite poor.  But its not all bad in terms of talent, on paper we’re not as bad.  However the form of some players has been shocking.  Our defence has overall been ok.  We have looked dodgy at times but its not the defence’s fault.  A couple of seasons back Edwin broke the record for minutes without conceding a goal.  It went something like 1300 minutes without conceding.  And during that time he made about 20 saves.  Less than two per game.  This season, despite a couple of dodgy moments he has been one of our best players in several games.  `And I still maintain that its not the fault of our defence.  Yes there is the form of Johnny Evans, who has been simply shocking all season.  Age has finally caught up with Gary to the point that he retired.  And Evra has been quite poor by his very high standards for a year now.  In my opinion Fergie burned him out last season and he still has not recovered.  He looks so disinterested at times.  But the rest have been good.  Vidic has been a rock, he and Rio, when fit, are still the best CBs in the world.  Smalling has been a revelation.  The twins have shown great improvement.  O’Shea as reliable as ever, anywhere he is played.  Brown hardly played, so one can’t fault him for anything really.

So our defence has been good overall.  Our forward line on the other hand is a strange one.  Hernandez is looking like one of the buys of the season.  Berbatov finally started to look like the player we hoped he would be.  He leads the league in scoring.  Of course there were some shocking surprises.  Micheal Owen got injured…  Wayne Rooney.  What a season eh?  He started extremely poorly, and it went downhill from there.  Got hurt, wanted to leave, got kicked by Scholes, signed a huge contract, finally came back, and was shit.  And kept being shit for sometime.  And Fergie kept picking him.  I suppose  its understandable considering how important he was last season and now that United have invested so much money into him it would not be good business not to play him.  But at times I wondered what the hell is he doing on the pitch.  Especially when one considers that at times it came at the expense of either Berbatov or Hernandez who have played well for most of the season.  But Rooney improved, he even had a few great games.  However I still have not seen the Rooney of last season.  Overall though our forward line has been pretty good.

What has not been good is our midfield.  Particularly our central midfield.  Our wingers are ok.  When healthy the duo of Nani and Valencia can give any defence fits.  They both create a lot of goal as their assist stats show.  We do have a worry with our depth there however.  Giggs is a legend and has been great this season, especially in the first half of the season.  But we can not rely on a 37 year old to save our asses.  Park is Park, not spectacular, but a useful squad player who has been missed badly these past few months.  After that we have no one.  Well we have bodies, but I doubt anyone is counting on either Bebe or Obertan to create a couple of goals in the CL final.  The sooner we get rid of them the better.  I am being harsh on Bebe here as the jury should still be out on him considering, but I wont shed tears if we let him go.  Obertan is just shit.

You know who else is shit?  Gibson.  Yes he has a hard shot.  What?  I finished saying positive things about him.  Though he did have a couple of decent games this season, the rest were either very forgettable of shocking.  I have a lot of patience for players who come from the academy and through the reserves ( I defended Fletcher in 2005 and 06), but I have given up on him.  Not good enough.  Cleverly hardly wore a United shirt but is already better than Gibson.  And Gibson is just a small part of the problem that is our central midfield.  The former fan favourite for abuse, Darren Fletcher, blossomed into a vital member of our squad to the point that many claimed that if only he played in Rome..  However Rome is almost two years past, and while he was very good last season, the same can not be said for this  term.  He has not been shit, but great has has not been either.  He went from our midfield dynamo, the man that brought memories of Keane into mind to being bland and average.  Still, it could be worse.  His name could have been Michael Carrick.

Now I was a great admirer of Carrick and appreciated the little, hard to notice, things he did.  On top of that he was one of the best passers in the league.  When Scholes could not play or was poor no problem, Carrick could control the game.  Now, not so much.  Not in any way as a matter of fact.  His positioning has been poor, tackling bad, he losses possession constantly and the only way he knows how to pass these days is backwards or sideways.  There are times when he reminds me of Kleberson.  Anderson has shown only glimpses of the talent he has.  Then he got hurt again.  So now, on top of relying on a 37 year old to beat fullbacks, we have been forced to rely on a 35 year old to run the midfield for us.  And sadly the great Paul Scholes has reached the time when he is no longer capable of running the game all by himself.  Oh he can still do it from time to time, and even when he is not great he still is better than the shite alongside of him, but its time.  We simply can not rely on Scholes’ genius on a regular basis.

And there is the rub.  Our heart, our centre of the team, our brains, creativity, protection, is not good enough.  That is why we did not record a shot on goal against the Wolves for the last 70 minutes of the game.  That is also why we give up so many cheap goals and why our defence is under so much pressure.  When Scholes returned from his eye thingy in 2006 and we got Carrick all of a sudden we dominated teams again.  Our keeper could have come to the game with a book and our attackers simply flooded the opponents goal.  And it was all due to the two men in the middle of the pitch.  Right now though they are either not playing well enough or simply are not good enough.  And that is what is supposed to win us the treble.

Yes, our hopes and dreams of glory rely on a midfield that is not even in the top 4 in quality in the league.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Paul Scholes, he is a legend, and to me, the best midfielder in the past decade and a half.  I love Fletcher too, had faith in him when not many did, and I still do.  I did fall out of love with Carrick.  And I think that Gibson is not good enough.  And I am struggling to decide about Anderson.  Will he be the next great midfielder for United, or did we buy a Kleberson?  But is this midfield good enough to beat Chelsea twice, or even three times?  Or Inter, or Barca?  We may have to rely on our wide players for creativity and on our defence and keeper to save us.  And that is what worries me this season.  Aside from the silly and premature talk of the treble.  There are big holes in this team.  All we really need is for two players to step up, or buy next summer.  But what important players they are.  Because unless we go back 30 years and start hoofing the ball, everything goes through them.

In the end I am pretty confident that we will win something this season.  Just how much and what remains to be seen.  But it will be a strange season.  Full of worry and controversy on and off the pitch.  And after we celebrate we will be left with more worry.  Worry about the future.  Because as much as Fergie can be a miracle man and one can never count out a team managed by him we do need reinforcements.  And how can we get them when there is absolutely no value in the market even though we have 160 million just sitting there, waiting to be spent.  We know its there, Mr. Gill told us it is so, our owners have assured us.  They would never lie, would they?

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Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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