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. Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus fined $665,000 for driving without a license

    Dec 18, 2014, 8:19 AM EST

    Germany Press Conference & Training Getty Images

    Reus has been speeding around in his Aston Martin without a license. Gets biggest motoring fine in German history.

  2. Ashley Cole might be returning to the Premier League

    Dec 17, 2014, 11:13 PM EST

    AS Roma v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League

    Could Cole be returning to the Premier League?

  3. Club World Cup Roundup: Real Madrid set to play San Lorenzo in final

    Dec 17, 2014, 8:40 PM EST

    Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale

    Real Madrid cruised past Azul 4-0 and will be the heavy favorites come Saturday.

  4. Report: Houston Dynamo the front-runner to land Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres

    Dec 17, 2014, 8:01 PM EST

    Erick Torres 2

    Huge coup for the Dynamo, if they can pull it off.

  5. China to require every kid to play soccer

    Dec 17, 2014, 6:02 PM EST

    U20 Women China Germany Soccer AP

    China making a big, big play into soccer.

  6. League Cup Semi-Finals: Liverpool vs. Chelsea and Spurs vs. Sheffield United

    Dec 17, 2014, 5:09 PM EST

    Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United - Capital One Cup Quarter-Final Getty Images

    Three Premier League sides make the semi-final along with League One’s Sheffield United.

  7. Liverpool 3-1 Bournemouth: Reds avoid upset, head to League Cup semi-finals

    Dec 17, 2014, 4:39 PM EST

    Raheem Sterling Getty Images

    Liverpool shook off their poor form to beat Bournemouth and qualify for the League Cup semi-final.

  8. Radamel Falcao wants Manchester United stay, unsure if it will happen

    Dec 17, 2014, 1:50 PM EST

    Can Falcao star for United? AP

    Falcao wants to stay at United. But should the Red Devils splash the cash on El Tigre?

  9. Men in Blazers podcast: Man United’s romp, Arsenal’s form and more

    Dec 17, 2014, 12:56 PM EST

    meninblazers

    Rog and Davo talk Manchester United’s shaming of Liverpool and Arsenal’s return to potency.

  10. American lawyer Michael Garcia resigns as FIFA’s ethics prosecutor

    Dec 17, 2014, 11:06 AM EST

    64th FIFA Congress 64th FIFA Congress

    Garcia walks away from FIFA after his appeal against how his own work on alleged corruption in the World Cup bid process was represented.

  11. Report: New England Revolution, Orlando City battling it out for Robinho

    Dec 17, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

    AC Chievo Verona v AC Milan - Serie A Getty Images

    Are two MLS teams fighting it out for the Brazilian winger?

  12. Liverpool’s injured Daniel Sturridge to link up with Boston Red Sox

    Dec 17, 2014, 9:20 AM EST

    Manchester City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Liverpool’s star man to spend time with medical specialists from the Red Sox.

Featured video

Man United thrash Liverpool