Another season, another defeat at Old Trafford. The experience might be familiar, but we did learn a few new things last night (or at least had our memories jogged).
1. Age is merely a concept
The most pleasing aspect of last night’s game was the performance of our geriatric goalie Brad Friedel. The American flung himself around, as if he was half his actual age, making some outstanding saves and generally looking much more secure than Heurelho Gomes.
Friedel is clearly not one for the future, but it looks like he can at least do a job this season. It will be interesting to see if Harry tries to keep Gomes happy with appearances in the Europa League, or whether Friedel will start again on Thursday.
2. We still need a strong lone striker
The performance of Jermain Defoe against Hearts and the way he linked with Rafael van der Vaart in that game, might have made some optimistic souls think that he could do a job as our lone striker all season.
Against more testing opposition however, Defoe found himself isolated, as Van der Vaart dropped further back to help the midfield and the England striker struggled to hold the ball up. I think that Defoe has a part to play this term, but he’s never been a prolific scorer against strong teams, away from home. We still need someone with height, strength and mobility. Right now I’m willing to accept a certain ex-Gooner mercenary with open arms.
3. ‘Have a go’ Harry is no tactical genius
If you’d have told me back in the summer that we’d be facing Manchester United away with a central midfield duo of Jake Livermore and Niko Kranjcar, I’d have said that we’d lose 5-0. As it was, the pair performed admirably in the first half, but were overrun after the break.
When we went 1-0 down, Harry waited too long to make any changes, considering that it was evident that something needed to be done before we conceded. After 74 minutes we brought on Pavlyuchenko and Huddlestone for Kranjcar and Livermore. This left Van der Vaart to drop into the centre of the midfield, while we reverted to a 4-4-2. Harry probably saw this as a way of having a go at them, but in truth it was suicidal.
Within two minutes of the substitutions we were 2-0 down, after Anderson was allowed to make a run into the box with no one tracking back. A far smarter change would have been to switch VDV to the right of the attack at the expense of the ineffectual Lennon and to bring on Huddlestone to form a three man midfield alongside Livermore and Kranjcar. This would have allowed us the numerical advantage over United’s midfield of Cleverley and Anderson, forcing Rooney to drop back, or for them to sacrifice a forward for another midfielder.
4. Have faith in youth
Both Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore showed their naivety during certain moments of the game, but both ultimately did a decent enough job in extremely tricky circumstances. They will only be stronger for the experience and I hope that it makes Harry less cautious when it comes to throwing the kids in at the deep end.
Our young players will get a chance in the Europa League this season and like Livermore, they will hopefully show enough of their ability to be given a chance in the less forgiving Premier League.
5. Kaboul deserves a run in the team
Other than Friedel, I thought that our standout player was Younes Kaboul. He hasn’t really had a prolonged run in the centre of our defence since returning from Portsmouth, due to injury, his versatility and the presence of Ledley King and William Gallas.
The time has come for him to be given a few games to form a partnership with Michael Dawson. He has everything needed to be a top central defender, but he won’t fulfill his potential if he only plays every other game.