Belfast Telegraph

Alan Green: Manchester United just got a major wake-up call

For the second weekend in succession Sir Alex Ferguson made some dubious selection decisions: not playing Vidic, not starting with Hernandez and, most of all, thinking that Fletcher and Anderson could cope in midfield; all wrong.

Perhaps the Manchester United manager was slightly carried away, as many have been, by his team’s continued run of good results without giving due consideration to the fact that they actually haven’t been playing that well of late.

One of the most disturbing aspects about the Champions’ performance was the number of times they gave the ball away unnecessarily. ‘Profligate’ is arguably a kind description of the contribution of Fletcher and Anderson in that regard. I forgive the Scot who’s only beginning to recover properly from illness and injury: unfortunately, the Brazilian is only good when he’s going forward. How many times does Anderson tackle?

And, of course, Nani and Young can be exhilarating when they’re over-running opponents but what do they do when they don’t have the ball?

Their defensive work is negligible and, boy, did that show against City. Too much, far too much, was left for Fletcher and Anderson to cope with.

Maybe they missed Cleverley and it was unusual for Ferguson to leave Park out of a big game: another error?

Where he was right was in pointing out that, however bad the result, league titles tend to be won in April or May and that we’ve still got three-quarters of the season to go.

I am on record as to thinking Manchester City will be champions but I’m not going to hand them the trophy on the basis of what happened at Old Trafford.

Last week, considering the importance of the games that faced City, I wondered: “how bold will be Mancini be?”

The truth is they got away with it against Villarreal to retain hope of making it into the Champions League knock-out phase. That Aguero goal was massive in its consequences.

But I applaud the Italian for the team he sent out on Sunday. Going with two strikers was certainly bold and few would have queried his team had it NOT included Balotelli.

Look, I live near to Mottram St. Andrew and, before the other night, I knew of no-one crazy enough to set fireworks off in a bathroom in the rather posh houses of that neighbourhood.

Balotelli IS crazy and this was just two days after telling everyone that he is “maturing.”

But I’ve never said that he doesn’t have talent and that he can’t play!

His finish for City’s first goal was exquisite and he’d have scored a second earlier than he did had it not been for Evans’ stupid challenge. A less than fully-fit Vidic would have been better than either of the central defenders Fergie chose.

However, it should not be forgotten that City were already clearly the better team before the red card. The scoreline attracted the headlines but, had it finished 3-1, I’d still have been equally impressed.

Milner was, quietly, outstanding and why isn’t Richards uppermost in Capello’s mind as right-back for England?

Yet, once more, it was the magnificent Silva who had us gasping in admiration.

I know by that time City were show-boating but has there been a better pass this season than the one that led to Dzeko’s second goal?

It was, all in all, the mammoth statement that I wondered if City could deliver but I would urge caution. The football planet shuddered but did not shift on its axis.

I remember Newcastle, under Keegan, hammering Manchester United and seeming set to become champions: they didn’t. Football can be as crazy as Balotelli. I’d also point out that, already, United have played against all the better teams in the division: Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal as well as City.

They’re entering a more comfortable run in the fixture list whereas Mancini’s side have to visit Anfield and Stamford Bridge as well as play Arsenal before Christmas.

Five points seems quite a gap but it can disappear quickly.

City will be many other people’s favourites to become champions now, as well as mine, but the trophy stays in the cabinet.

United? They’d better lick their wounds, however severe they may be, and come out with all guns blazing. They’re at Everton on Saturday – I’ll be there. It’s usually a very awkward fixture but nothing less than a win will do.

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