Adaptability, they say, is key to survival and success in every endeavour of life. Those who can bend to fit the shape of the challenge will always find a way past it. This season, Manchester United have shown different sides at different moments this season to face the things that have been thrown at them.
Of course, to a lot of fans, Manchester United always win with pace, direct play and style. It is what we have grown to expect and love over the years. Best, Charlton, Cantona, Beckham, Ronaldo have been the torchbearers of the cavalier style associated with the Red Devils but sometimes, it is wiser to tamper purity with pragmatism.
Doing what counts when it is needed is always better than doing what is pleasing to the senses and this season, Manchester United have shown that practicality always gains.
Adding The X-Factor
Purchasing Robin Van Persie at the start of the season proved to be the first display of wisdom on the side of the manager. Last season showed that the team lacked a certain “something” in its attack.
The likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez contributed their bit to the campaign but it was obvious that they could not provide Wayne Rooney with the perfect mix of experience, skill and pace that would bring in the goals. Van Persie has given exactly that and even more.
His skill set of crossing, movement, and scoring instinct have made the difference at key moments of the campaign. Strikes against Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Man City have given the team four wins and a draw whereas last season United’s trips to Stamford Bridge, Anfield and Etihad Stadium produced two draws and a loss.
Winning The Hard Way
Another side that the team has shown this season is the gritty, unpleasant side that has turned losses into draws and wins and has contributed to the 12-point gap at the top of the league. It may not be what the inherent quality of the team should give off but it has done the business all the same. The games against Southampton (home and away), Newcastle (at home), Aston Villa (away), Liverpool (away) and Reading (away) highlighted the need to dispense with the fancy and embrace the important values.
All those encounters were not the best displays from the team but they emerged winners nonetheless. They did not dominate those games but when character oozed out in the right amounts, the goals came and clinched the points.
Perhaps, the most important shade that Man United has shown is the renewed tactical awareness of the manager Sir Alex Ferguson. For everything that he has achieved with the team, the gaffer has made mistakes in terms of team selections and tactics and some of them have been very costly. Last season saw a repetition of delayed reactions to challenging situations that the team faced. Players were introduced too late in games to replace the tired, ineffective legs negating the team effort on the field.
This season, however, the manager has been very proactive with making changes and he has shown improved reaction time to worrying trends.
At Aston Villa, he introduced Javier Hernandez to devastating effect and he turned a 2-0 score to a 3-2 win. At Southampton, he hauled off Tom Cleverley and let Paul Scholes loose on the Saints to push Man United from 2-1 down to a 3-2 victory. At Liverpool, Scholes came on for an ineffective Nani and he contributed to the Red Devils gaining an important 2-1 result.
The Right Tactics
Tactically, the gaffer has understood his team and his opponents to a large extent and in the most important games this season, he has found the right disposition for the team to very beneficial ends.
A natural approach of pace with two wide men in Valencia and Young laid the foundation for wins at both Chelsea and Manchester City. The move was even more apparent at Chelsea where United’s first two goals were direct consequences of some good link-up play between Rafael da Silva and Antonio Valencia down United’s right to isolate Ashley Cole.
The decision to use a diamond formation away at Newcastle was not the most popular among fans but it stifled a Magpies team that had smashed the Red Devils in a 3-0 only 9 months earlier. It used Rooney’s energy in midfield and employed Cleverley and Kagawa in wide areas to help their full-backs out. It did not afford Newcastle the chance to pose huge problems to Man United and even more refreshing was the fact that Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra scored on the day.
The season still has twelve or so games left in its sleeves and there are many tough tests ahead. Home games against Chelsea and Manchester City and a trip to Arsenal are top priority games no matter the position of the Red Devils on the league log and gaining good results should be high on the agenda.
There should be no room for complacency and the effort in each game should hundred percent and even more.
However, with the way the team has evolved over the course of the season, one can be sure that a few more shades are left to be seen and perhaps, come the end of the season, the team will show the most important. The red shade that will grace the Premier League title as it lifted for the twentieth time.