We played well for about an hour but then conceded a goal and finished up, not very successfully, just trying to keep the score down. In crude terms, good work at the back wasn’t matched at the front and was completely undermined by a double substitution just after we’d gone behind that diluted the centre of the midfield just when it needed strengthening.
In the first half – Friedel was more than competent in place of the dropped Gomes, Dawson and Kaboul strong and decisive in the middle and Walker and Benny just about coped with Nani and Young. Kranjcar and Livermore gained and kept possession well but we rarely looked like doing anything with it as Lennon and Bale were forced into blind alleys and Defoe’s lack of pace meant that he was unable to take advantage of any space created for him. Any attacking threat came from Van der Vaart who, mostly from range, forced the nervous De Gea into moments of slippery handling, but unfortunately nothing of Roy Carroll proportions.
After the break we were the better team for ten minutes but still toothless up front. The home side always carried more threat when going forward than we did especially in the shape of the newly carpeted Rooney. They had more pace pretty much everywhere. We conceded when Wellbeck flicked home a good header after a period of pressure. At one down we needed to regroup and start trying to get the ball back. Utd were dominant in the centre and Harry’s response of taking off Niko and Livermore and filling the middle with Huddlestone and VdV ensured that we never challenged it. Two more goals followed as United’s midfield made the most of the extra time and room.
Lessons learned from our opening game? Only that little has changed and obviously given the lack of new players you wouldn’t expect it too. Our powder puff attack is still a major concern. Lennon and Bale achieved little of note and although he hit the post at 2-0, Defoe also. Jermain has always been about pace, a thunderbolt shot and a voracious appetite for goals. He might still have the last of these but the other two were certainly missing last night. The number of times he was second to, or in a couple of cases didn’t even challenge for, a ball that he should’ve won should cause concern. The midfield is obviously suffering due to injury, some bite is needed soon. Sandro was missed as much as Modric. On the positive side, Friedel looked assured and much less likely to cause stress amongst the back four.
All a bit depressing by the end, which is a shame after a first half that gave cause for optimism. Another stern test awaits at the weekend.
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