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Tears of a clown: Barthez’s blunders prove costly to United

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joe Behan

Manchester United, after losing 3-2 to Deportivo, can thank Olympiakos for beating Lille 2-1, thus keeping the Red Devils in second place in their Champions League Group G.

In the domestic scene over the years, the premier league has often times seen Man. U. slip, but their closest rivals, Arsenal, Leeds and Co., unable to take advantage. Now we see it in the Champions League, where Lille could have grabbed second spot.

United more than slipped up. The Super Reds do not look so super anymore.

When the final whistle blew at Old Trafford, cameras were all over Fabien Barthez, who just about battled back the tears of a clown after his comedy of errors against Deportivo La Coruna.

After 8 minutes, Ronny Johnsen was on the sideline sending a loud message to Alex Ferguson that he may well be finished due to recurring injury. Pity, he is the best defender at Old Trafford. It was perhaps an unlucky start for United, losing Johnsen, but it was a great opportunity for substitute Wes Brown to make a name for himself – and, sadly, he did not disappoint. Caught up right in the thick of it with the Barthez blunders was Brown himself.

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Against Deportivo, United came flying out of the traps with Ryan Giggs causing a lot of trouble with his weaving runs. He was getting the bounce of the ball, too. Eventually, his good work paid off as he set up Ruud van Nistelrooy with the deserved opener.

United were doing well and it looked like Ferguson had got it right, but 8 minutes before the half Roy Keane lost concentration on a throw-in and Deportivo’s brilliant Diego Tristan capitalized by putting Sergio goalward bound. Brown’s effort to tackle Sergio may not have been clean enough, but for sure Barthez’s attempt to intercept was muck. He came off his line and he simply lost his bottle. It did seem obvious that he did not trust his defender. Indeed, he seems to think he has to cover defenders all the time. Barthez loves to get on the ball and send it right down the field, and it looks good. However, it’s not good all the time. This Barthez play has become too predictable for United, and to make matters worse, a minute after the calamity Tristan headed home to put Deportivo 2-1 up.

On the 40th minute, van Nistelrooy came to Barthez’s rescue with a superb finish to bring the teams in 2-all at halftime.

The second half got off to a flyer and Tristan set up Juan Carlos Valeron with a shot on goal. Barthez made a brilliant save, world class, in fact. But too many of his saves have to be world class. He was a little bit too far off his line and he has a tendency to tempt opposition to test him. This was the case with Valeron’s shot. Ferguson should have changed his goalkeeper.

It was just on the hour when Tristan controlled the ball as Barthez slid past him. Tristan threw a small shimmy that had Brown all over the place — 3-2.

Ferguson thought he had control of Barthez after some serious chats early on in the season. It did seem goalkeeping matters were sorted out after that Blackburn episode, but it’s now obvious that Barthez feels the need to release the clown in him too often.

While Brown and Barthez were the weaker links in this game, there is a reason why they were exposed. While it is important not to take anything away from Deportivo, who have now beaten United home and away, the jury is out on United and their new look. Laurent Blanc is like the Statue of Liberty when United’s defense is under pressure, especially when the ball comes in from the wings. While he is brilliant on the ball and clever at reading interceptions, it is amazing that he can get caught so flat-footed right in front of his own goal. Thing is, when it happens, he’s still the same casual self and he does not seem to be fazed by it. Like Barthez, he may think that his teammates are not world class. Blanc needs to work on his box game and that’s Ferguson’s job to get that right.

Juan Sebastian Veron does not work defensively as far as getting behind the ball. Perhaps that is not his role, but it should be. At times he simply does not slide in with the numbers. While he may be a great player, he is not a Roy Keane, a Paul Scholes or a Nicky Butt.

Ferguson has not stuck with his midfielders. He has taken away Keane’s game by using Veron in the middle in a 5-4-1. Gone is the attitude that United can score more than the opposition. If Ferguson thinks he can play a cat-and-mouse game by using Veron, he may need to rethink this ploy. Perhaps Sir Alex should reconsider building Veron and the team around Keane and Scholes rather than building the team ahead of Barthez and Blanc at the back, around Veron in the middle and behind Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Sticking with the shape backedfired on Ferguson. That is an away shape. Veron does not complement the shape. Keane is not playing his effective self. Keane has to be the man in the middle, end of story, and in this formation he is not.

United were beaten 2-1 by Bolton over the weekend and confidence must be at an all-time low. Nonetheless, as usual, Leeds could manage only a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea, Arsenal drew 3-all with Blackburn, and Aston Villa were beaten 3-2 away to Everton. The only team to take advantage of United stumbling was Liverpool, who beat Leicester 4-1 on the strength of Robbie Fowler’s hat trick.

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