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Still flawed, still fabulous, Manchester United comes back again

Jan 5, 2013, 3:10 PM EDT

FBL-ENG-FACUP-WEST HAM-MAN UTD Getty Images

It wasn’t the same level of comeback that spawned our fledgling #FlawedButFabulous meme (that I’m starting right now), but Manchester United was still up to their old tricks today at Upton Park. Though Tom Cleverley claimed the opener against West Ham United, the Red Devils still managed to fall behind. And with a confounding level of predictability, they still managed to come back, Robin van Persie coming off the bench to claim a stoppage time equalizer. The teams will replay their third round tie at Old Trafford after Saturday’s 2-2 draw.

The game exhibited so many of the qualities that make Manchester United the best European soccer’s most entertaining team. Like them or not, the drama crafted from their excellence and shortcomings creates a near-perfect balance of watchability and incredulity. You ask how can a team with this midfield and defense be first in England, but when the game starts, you stop caring. There are always too many goals for too many explicable reasons to turn away from a Manchester United match.

Consider the ones they conceded on Saturday. Joe Cole, making his first appearance since rejoining the Hammers, had a part in both, each time given too much room to get a crosses into the box. And each time, poor marking allowed James Collins to head past David de Gea.

Joe Cole had two assists. James Collins had two goals. Both balls served in from the left. Both headers redirected from around 12 yards out.

They (and their teammates) deserve credit, but these are not the type of things that should happen often against title-contending teams. Against United? It’s become a type of expected surprise.

But this being Manchester United, the 2-1 deficit wasn’t going to stand. Even as the clock struck 90:00 you knew West Ham was unlikely to maintain their lead. So it was that Ryan Giggs launched a perfect long ball from well within his own half right onto the shoelaces of Robin van Persie (one of the best long passes you’ll seen in a long time). And of course, Van Persie takes a perfect touch with the outside of his left foot, brings the ball down for a sharp angle shot, and beats Jussi Jääskeläinen to salvage a result:

Had the 90 minutes that came before been a replay of West Ham versus West Brom, that goal would have justified watching the entire every moment. That it capped the typical Red Devil theatrics only reinforced this double-edged sword they’ve crafted from their season. They are extremely flawed at the back: unable to prevent a double from James Collins; unable to prevent a Joe Cole revival. And they are spellbindingly fabulous in attack, able to contrive a 91st minute goal of the year candidate.

They’re why the Premier League (and today, the FA Cup) is great. They’re also an example of why Premier League is slipping. But on Saturday, they were as advertised: Flawed by fabulous.

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