What a disappointing fall from grace. Champions of England for a 19th time crash out of champs league at the first hurdle in a group most accurately described as a “the easiest group draw of them all”. I feel sick to my stomach.
Europa League. Say it again with me, Europa League. The competition is both embarrassing and a huge hassle for a club with our history and stature. Thursday night football. Never in my life, and throughout Fergie’s glittering career, have we had to endure such a disgraceful spell of form which has resulted in us relegated to the ugly sister of the Champs League. We can only hope that the harsh realisation of our situation will propel Fergie, and the players, to action.
Unsurprisingly, the writing has been on the wall. We couldn’t beat either team (home or away) in our group and when you don’t win your home games, you can have no complaints. But in truth, we have not played a great game of football since Arsenal in the 8-2 mauling, and that was a very long time ago.
Since then we have seen our team be embarrassed on more than one occasion. City 1-6. Knocked out of the League Cup by Crystal Palace and now failing to qualify for the last 16 (from making the final last time round) against Basel. Basel?! It’s not Madrid, Barca, Munich or anyone remotely in with a chance of actually winning the competition. Remember a few years back when we needed to WIN against Porto away from home and we did it. We didn’t even need to win last night but still we could not do the job. These embarrassing performances have become more and more frequent, rather than the occasional slip.
Team selection sincerely worries me. Fergie selected the midfield consisting of Nani, Giggs, Park, Young & Jones. That is 4 wingers and a defender. No proper centre midfielder. Why not start Fletcher, the branded “big game player”? Has Fergie lost faith with him? Surely alarm bells should be ringing which make SAF realise we are deeply lacking in this department. It was spoken about all summer, the need for a “Scholes replacement”. No-one arrived and now we must suffer the consequences. Even if we want to rectify it, we can’t. January is not the time to buy the kind of player we are looking for. We needed someone from the start and panic buying is not Fergie’s style either, so the chances of anyone coming in are slim. Also, the ideal player would cost a fortune and most likely still be playing Champs League football, so why would he move now?
I understand injuries and suspensions play their part, but the truth is even with a fully fit midfield we have nowhere near the quality of players which grace most other top teams in Europe. We have no heartbeat. No X-factor. No Match winner. And last night, on a night where only a draw was needed to progress, United could not find the goal. No moment of brilliance was created when it mattered most. It really is just so poor and in years gone by we would have found it.
I’m not talking about dismantling the team and getting rid of everyone. We have a great, youthful foundation to work with. We have plenty of good players, however many of them have not performed in the past few months. But we are missing the gel which COULD HAVE brought the team together. That experienced bit of genuine quality to see us through the transition and teach the youngsters. But now it is too late.
We could have bought a game changer. We could have bought that moment of brilliance. We could have instilled that fear factor once again. But right now, the fear is gone. Palace came to OT and knocked us out. Basel & Benfica earned draws at OT and Basel ultimately knocked us out. City ripped us apart. We couldn’t even break down Newcastle at home. Teams believe that they can beat us, where in years gone they might have not fully believed they could do it. It’s worrying and honestly we are just not the team of old.
Looking forward, how can we salvage the season? We face City in FA Cup which I don’t see us getting through. Then it’s just the League because there is no way I will take the Europa seriously. I don’t care if we win it; I do not consider it a true trophy. Winning the league would make up for the disappointment of this season so far but who honestly believes we have enough to it? I still do. But with City looking extremely strong with strength in depth, Spurs in the form of their life and if Chelsea put a run together we are going to have to buck the fuck up, and quickly.
I leave you with quotes from former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane: "I think [going out] reflects what United have done in truth – they haven't scored enough goals and they haven't beaten Basel or Benfica. "People have talked about the young players - you've had [Phil] Jones, [Chris] Smalling, [Ashley] Young coming in, everybody building them up but they've got a lot to do, it's a reality check for some. I'd be getting hold of some of those lads, saying 'you'd better buck up your ideas'. "I think their best player tonight was Ryan Giggs. That sums it up - he's 37 or 38, you can't be depending on him. United got what they deserved tonight. "It's a reality check for the Premier League and I wouldn't look beyond the Spanish teams Real Madrid and Barcelona this season.