Skip to content

Considering conventional wisdom as Manchester United cruise to another victory

Feb 23, 2013, 1:04 PM EST

Manchester United's Van Persie shoots and fails to score against Queen's Park Rangers during their English Premier League soccer match in London Reuters

In this week’s gap between Champions League and the weekend’s league action, the debate resurfaced: How bad are Manchester United?

The discussion’s been a constant in recent years, reaching an apex last season when the Red Devils failed to make it out of their Champions League group. That the Red Devils still nearly won the Premier League was little consolation when their May collapse gifted the title to their crosstown rivals.

It’s a strange discussion given Manchester United’s obvious quality and successes, but when you watch matches like today’s against Queens Park Rangers, you see the point. The Red Devils cruised to a 2-0 victory thanks to an early goal from Rafael and an insurance tally from Ryan Giggs, but given how poor QPR was throughout the match, you’d expect a team of United’s reputation to put them to the proverbial sword. Instead, it was just another day at the office for the mercurial titans.

The curious thing about this round of  discussion is United’s recent results. After a fall where their defense seemed as weak as a severed Achilles, United’s only three goals in their last six games. That stretch includes a surprise draw at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the Red Devils held Real Madrid to one goal.

This is a team that hasn’t lost since Dec. 15. Even if the dissection is apt in general, it’s still ill-timed now.

(MORE: This is a spectacular hit from Rafael.)

The complaints seems to have two foundations, neither independent of the other. First, United generally looks unimpressive, as they did today. Against a QPR team playing that badly, an elite team should put up a number. Second, United’s midfield is not as strong as other European powers. In an era of midfield primacy (at least, as far as tactical analysis is concerned), this is a capital offense.

From the linked piece:

The midfield, however, having been the basis for success of Fergie’s previous best teams, is constantly pinpointed as the weak link of the current crop, and it’s difficult to argue against that theory.

source: ReutersI’d like to offer an alternative: Maybe this now conventional wisdom is wrong. Maybe Manchester United’s consistently stellar results (including in Champions League, where there’s been but one, obvious blip) indicate Alex Ferguson knows something we don’t. Perhaps United’s legendary penchant for timely goals is indicative of a philosophy that prioritizes moments over spells.

Instead of the all-clock dominance we see from Barcelona and (most of the time) Bayern Munich, Ferguson may subscribe to a view that prefers spending most of the match waiting to exploit moments. Seventy minutes of conservations, 20 minutes of power, perhaps? Unlike a typical implementation of catenaccio, United seeks to exploit in spells they define rather than in moments defined by others’ failures.

Whether that hypothesis is correct or not, it at least does a better job of describing United’s success. The constant discussion of United’s ironic faults in the face of their perpetual results only highlights the dialog’s faults.

If you’re continuing to try and describe why something fails to meet expectations, shouldn’t you eventually question the root of those expectations? Why do people expect United to fail?

(MORE: Style points, schmyle points for Arsenal.)

The obvious irony here is the dialog itself. Bellicosely describing a team whose grandiosity should be undermined by an obvious flaw, the discussion’s developed an obvious flaw of its own. It’s not considering alternatives. It’s not allowing for another vision, one that would discard narrowly applied tenants and consider something that would more readily explain unexpected results. While exhaustively examining Manchester United, the tactical Zeitgeist has failed to examine itself.

All of United’s faults where on display today at Loftus Road, but maybe they’re not faults at all. No, United didn’t put up a huge win against QPR, but this is a team that’s now 15 points clear in England, just got a result in Madrid, and has been to three Champions League finals in five years.

We might want to reconsider our wisdom.

Latest Posts
  1. Manchester City 3-2 Bayern Munich: Aguero’s hat trick hands Citizens lifeline

    Nov 25, 2014, 4:46 PM EST

    Sergio Aguero Sergio Aguero

    Citizens grab last-gasp win to boost their chances of making the last 16.

  2. Schalke 0-5 Chelsea: Blues with an untouchable performance against old boss

    Nov 25, 2014, 4:33 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Champions League AP

    Five different players netted as Chelsea picked up its largest road Champions League win since 1999.

  3. VIDEO: Luis Suarez scores first goal for Barcelona

    Nov 25, 2014, 4:10 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-APOEL-BARCELONA FBL-EUR-C1-APOEL-BARCELONA

    Suarez is off and running for Barca with a goal of exceptional class. What else did you expect?

  4. Lionel Messi breaks Raul’s record for Champions League goals (video)

    Nov 25, 2014, 3:46 PM EST

    FC Barcelona v SL Benfica - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    The only other active players in the Top Ten are Chelsea’s Didier Drogba (43) and Thierry Henry (50), who obviously isn’t active with a UEFA Champions League club.

  5. João Moutinho reportedly hands in transfer request at Monaco

    Nov 25, 2014, 3:10 PM EST

    Moutinho Getty Images

    With top-quality players hardly ever available in January, the Portguese international could be a hot commodity in England.

  6. Pele returns to the hospital days after kidney surgery

    Nov 25, 2014, 2:33 PM EST

    Pele AP

    A urinary infection has Pele in the hospital just 10 days after being released following surgery.

  7. LIVE – Champions League: Manchester City vs. Bayern Munich, Chelsea to Schalke

    Nov 25, 2014, 1:55 PM EST

    Can Toure shine against Chelsea? AP

    Follow the latest batch of UEFA Champions League matches, right here.

  8. Toronto FC reveals more details of BMO Field expansion

    Nov 25, 2014, 1:05 PM EST

    BMO Field

    To be completed in two phases,

  9. Chad Marshall wins 2014 MLS Defender of the Year award

    Nov 25, 2014, 12:11 PM EST

    Marshall AP

    “Air Marshall” not only earned his nickname, but helped to solidify an otherwise shaky back line.

  10. Report: Sony will not renew sponsorship with FIFA over future World Cup shroud

    Nov 25, 2014, 11:23 AM EST

    Sony2 Getty Images

    Another major move in the world of money, which is clearly what FIFA is most concerned with.

  11. Report: Victor Wanyama victim of burglary during Southampton match

    Nov 25, 2014, 10:41 AM EST

    Wanyama AP

    While away with the team on a road trip, the Southampton midfielder’s house was ransacked and multiple valuables stolen, including his car.

  12. Wenger says Jack Wilshere has a “big ankle sprain”

    Nov 25, 2014, 9:19 AM EST

    Wilshere AP

    Jack Wilshere will be out “for a few games” and will see a specialist after turning his ankle hard.

  13. Fire ravages building next to White Hart Lane owned by stadium opponents

    Nov 25, 2014, 8:26 AM EST

    Fire Getty Images

    A fire broke out in the one building standing in the way of Tottenham’s proposed new stadium, a fishy situation indeed.

  14. Bottom of the Bundesliga: Stuttgart brings in savior to manage again

    Nov 25, 2014, 8:03 AM EST

    Stevens AP

    Back after steering the club to safety last season, Stevens has a taller task ahead of him this time around.

  15. Copa America draw pins Brazil vs. Colombia

    Nov 24, 2014, 11:23 PM EST

    Brazil v Colombia: Quarter Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    A rematch of the World Cup quarterfinals headlines the draw for the 2015 Copa America tournament.

  16. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week — Round 12

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:30 PM EST

    Stoke City v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    After leading his club to their second straight win, it’s a Burnley man as Round 12’s Player of the Week.

  17. Samir Nasri: Champions League woes could bring in new players

    Nov 24, 2014, 9:25 PM EST

    FC Bayern Munchen v Manchester City FC - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    With a massive Champions League match against Bayern Munich tomorrow, Samir Nasri said Manchester City’s stars must perform to keep their jobs.

  18. Admin error leaves Olivier Giroud unavailable for Champions League

    Nov 24, 2014, 8:30 PM EST

    Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    After returning from injury ahead of schedule, Olivier Giroud found out he was never included on Arsenal’s Champions League roster.

  19. Premier League Team of the Week: Find out who starred on Matchday 12

    Nov 24, 2014, 7:25 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-CRYSTAL PALACE-LIVERPOOL Getty Images

    Find out who made it into the starting XI in the latest edition of Premier League Team of the Week.

  20. Champions League Tuesday preview: City and Chelsea face German opposition

    Nov 24, 2014, 6:28 PM EST

    FC Bayern Munchen v Manchester City FC - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Manchester City hosts Bayern as Chelsea travel to Schalke on Matchday 5 of Champions League group play.

Featured video

Week 12: Premier League recap