Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester United
The secret, they said, was to contain Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele. Sounded good. Contain those two, every so-called pundit and expert insisted and, just like always, you’ve got the same old weak-willed bunch of North London sob sisters. What every one hadn’t counted on, however, distracted by the obnoxious desire for attention of the club’s abrasive, street hustler/ Spiv Chairman Daniel Levy. is that the club has finally hired a brilliant , worthy manager in Andres Villas-Boas.
Late in the game, with an exhausted Manchester United team no longer able to control the match’s tempo, Sir Alex Ferguson gambled on playing rope-a-dope from the 80th minute on. Knowing exactly what Dembele and Bale do is intellectually do is one thing, dealing with it in practice is something else again. Left to his own devices, Aaron Lennon is the most predictable overrated winger in the Premier League. Carefully marked, he has been little but an ooh-ah distraction against the likes of Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers for years. One on one in a foot race with the stubborn Peter-Panish Patrice Evra, Lennon got his own bit of pay back for at least seven seasons of getting his head handed to him, by rubbing the faded French left back’s nose in a giant pile of poo for final thirteen minutes. Revenge, in the case of Aaron Lennon, is sweetest when served dim-witted and cold!
For those who appreciate footie ironies, both started playing in the Premier League in January 2006. Lennon, eighteen at the time, one of Levy’s usurious bargain purchases from the diseased bankrupt body of Leeds United and Evra to United from Monaco as a replacement at left back for the brilliant, but constantly injured Gabriel Heinze. In combat for six seasons, it was never any contest. The foot race rivalry for fastest-but- least brightest between Jermaine Jenas, Jerome Thomas, Matty Etherington, Ashley Young. Theo Walcott and Lennon was always won by the spring-heeled latter.
Despite the onset of early senility in many athletes, however, Evra at the age of 31, has finally been gobsmacked by the vicissitudes of time and fate. As the French say, “?Cette fille sexy et jeune est maintenant une grosse, négligée femme au foyer!” A team-player of the first order, a hard worker, and a real gentleman, Paddy is much loved by the fans, the Gaffer and most of his United teammates. Unfortunately, although he still succeeds with many aspects of his attacking game, including his admirable leapimg ability for corners, his legs have gone. When you can no longer run with a player who has no more to his game than speed, sudden stops, and step-overs, the end is no nigh. The prospect of Paddy facing the combined switcheroo antics of Angel DiMaria, Mesut Ozil and CR7 against Real Madrid has me reaching for my trusty bottle of Johnny Walker Black!
Consequently, United exposed themselves to the cruelty of a late late dagger into its tubercular defensive underbelly, when United’s thus-far heroic goalie, a partially blocked David De Gea weakly punched a cross towards Lennon and Evra. The speedy little Yorkshire pocket-rocket simply had to skip around the knackered veteran before tapping the ball into Clint Dempsey’s path. Poor De Gea, awesome all afternoon, was totally exposed as the whole back line, petrified of Gareth Bale, shifting right with the Welshman and the one who likes to have himself called ‘The Texacutioner,’ despite being utterly, toothless throughout the rest of the match was there on the spot to spare his club defeat and destroy United’s seven point lead over the Abu Dhabian rent boys of Manchester City.
Sir Alex Ferguson may have barked at the officials and the press about the dreadful refereeing of Chris Foy and his awful assistant Simon Beck, but it just seemed to be more of the same of what the fiery old Scot always does after tight draws and losses. Doubtless United did deserve the penalty call they did not get when Steven Caulker blatantly upended Wayne Rooney to the turf in the penalty box in the 61st minute. The truth is, however, that despite often being surprisingly imperious in midfield and deserving a one goal lead from a superb Robin Van Persie effort in the 25th minute, United just did not take advantage of the scores of counterattacking breaks they had in both halves.
In spite of the incompetence of Chris Foyle, United should have been leading by three or four goals, so dominant and brilliant was their counterattacking play. Unfortunately, chance after chance was squandered. For me, however, despite the dreadful ineptitude of Evra, this was the best team performance by Manchester united this season. If the team’s major weakness on the left flank can be solved, however, the big picture is much improved for the club.
Of course, the obvious will hold true if you look at Spurs’ statistics,. The north Londoners controlled possession for close to 60% of their home match, but their finishing was so repeatedly, inexcusably dreadful that United always looked the more likely to get a second goal throughout. With David De Gea pulling off three fantastic saves from Defoe, Bale and Lennon (and Emanuel Adebayor off playing for Togo in South Africa), striker Jermain Defoe simply never seemed truly up to the task against Rio Ferdinand. After what was probably his worst display ever in a United shirt in the 3-2 loss to Tottenham at Old Trafford in September, the Peckham Kid has learned to keep his perimeter tight of late and the proximity of a fit Nemanja Vidic didn’t hurt, either. The way Ferdinand has adjusted to doing less better of late ought to have been both a lesson and a warning to Patrice Evra, but the Frenchman has not yet adjusted to the cruelties of time.
For one of the few times this season, United played truly well for 80 minutes and were always dangerous. Danny Welbeck, although not much of a scoring threat these days, was a worker-bee throughout, and, along with the twinkle-toed Shinji Kagawa, who was in his element in a winger-less midfield next to a frolicsome Tom Cleverley and a marvelous Michael Carrick who, although he always plays well against his old club, seems to be at a career high level of confidence.
And just how good is Robin van Persie? RVP’s 22nd goal of the season midway through the first half was a little bit of burglary out of Mission Impossible. After Kagawa picked the ball up in midfield, he pushed it into Carrick’s path. Carrick hit an exquisite Pirloesque cherry to Danny Welbeck on his left and the young Manc striker cut inside, seeming to dither a moment about taking a shot before cleverly locating Cleverley. Just how Cleverley’s cross was found by the flying Dutchman, who was double-marked by both Dawson and Caulker, managed to get to the ball is a miracle us mortals can only contemplate upon. Once the cross reached Van Persie there was an inevitability about where it would finish. Shrugging the Spurs center backs aside, Van Persie headed the ball home. Wow! He now has 10 goals in his last 10 league matches.
Just how well both teams performed is the snow is to their credit as professionals. The pitch was only passed fit for play an hour before kickoff. Two of the more amusing sights on the sidelines were Spurs’ boss Andres Villas Boas, swathed in blankets, attempting to remain warm and still and Sir Alex Ferguson, so absorbed in the game’s second half, that he didn’t notice his woolly club tam was then wrong way round on his head.
In the cruel postmortem which has followed this match, the Bury accent of Gary Neville has communicated itself loud and clear. The tying goal is the fault of an eccentrically passive/aggressive David De Gea, he insists in all of his pundit gigs for television and radio. His opinion does indeed count for something and he’s gone out of his way to show how the ‘body language’ of Vidic and Welbeck after the equalizing goal was scored showed ‘anger’ at the Spanish custodian. At the same time, another teammate, Javíer Hernandez, has been Twittering that he and other teammates beg to differ. Coupled with Rumor Mill-mongering from the usual pool of hacks who make their bread and butter out of conjecture, the repeated word is that the Gaffer has fallen out of love with the young goalie. This is inevitably bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy; and, ultimately, perhaps one which will be best for all concerned, if a more seasoned veteran is signed. Mark my words, however, David De Gea will eventually be a superstar! Such is life lived in the goldfish bowl of playing for Manchester United and the need to be in the good graces of a London=biassed, barracuda-like press.
*”That sexy young girl is now a fat sedentary housewife!”