Belfast Telegraph

Alan Green: Manchester United far from great, but still best of a very average bunch

I can’t be the only one thinking this way, can I? Hasn’t this been the most ‘ordinary’ of seasons populated by forgettable football and matches to miss?

Yes, the game between Spurs and Arsenal last week was magnificent but how many others have been like that?

Just think: the two footballer of the year awards went to Gareth Bale for a couple of inspiring performances against Inter Milan — back in October and November, weren’t they? — and Scott Parker who plays in a team likely to be relegated.

Then we have Rio Ferdinand. I gather he thinks the current Manchester United side could be the greatest of all time, an assertion that would be laughable if the ‘twitter’ didn’t take himself and his views so seriously. I’d back each of the 11 previous championship-winning teams under Sir Alex Ferguson to beat this one.

Look, I know: you can only win the league you’re in and United are undoubtedly the best of an average bunch. But how many times have they got you on your feet to applaud this season? I’ve seen them a lot and the only occasion I felt like that was after their first half display at Chelsea and they went on to lose that game!

United claiming a record 19th title — and they will do: Arsenal have imploded and Chelsea have too much ground to make up — should be an invitation to celebrate a great team but, patently, this isn’t one. It’s as well they have a sensational home record because their form away from Old Trafford has been patchy to say the least.

The key elements of their success include an ability to close out games: the continuing excellence of Vidic and Van der Sar (how will they replace him?); the ‘recovery’ of Rooney and an outstanding first season for Hernandez.

Can it be that Sir Alex only paid £8 million for the Mexican? That was an incredible piece of business. Hernandez’ form, goals and all-round effervescence smashes the argument that ‘foreigners’ take a long while to settle into the English game. Who needs Berbatov? If the Bulgarian wants to play as opposed to merely augmenting his bank account, he’ll have to move on.

Certainly, Berbatov is the last name I expect to see in Ferguson’s starting 11 tonight in Gelsenkirchen. With the domestic title more or less secured, you have to fancy United to further their Champions League ambitions by shrugging aside a team that is only mid-table in the Bundesliga.

On the other hand, it would be foolish, and Sir Alex isn’t, to underestimate a side that utterly demolished the European Champions in the quarter final. Schalke have an excellent goalkeeper in Neuer — United must be looking at him — a towering central defender in Metzelder and, of course, the inspirational Raul up front.

Remember Bayern Munich and, before them, Bayer Leverkusen: United have cause to treat German opposition with respect.

Belfast Telegraph


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