Manchester United may be miserly in defence but they are blunt up front

13 February 2009 06:19
Derby County v Manchester UnitedKick-off: Sun Feb 15, 4.30pm; Pride Park, DerbyTV: ITV1, ITV HD, Setanta Sports 2Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live

Fast forward a year, and United's results would make George Graham's Arsenal look exciting and unpredictable. Edwin van ver Sar may be just 64 minutes shy of a world record for the longest run without conceding a goal, but at the other end, United have been blunted.

In the 13 games since Samir Nasri last breached Sir Alex Ferguson's side's back line, eight have been won by one goal to nil. United have scored just 23 times in that period, a figure massaged by 5-0 demolitions of lowly Stoke and West Bromwich Albion, and have managed just 41 all season, fewer than Liverpool, Chelsea and even Manchester City.

That is their joint lowest tally at this stage since the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams, on a par with the 2004-05 season, when Chelsea romped to the title. United will hope that is not an omen.

The downturn could suggest an end to two years in which Ferguson's team cut a swathe through all before them. Or it could simply be a matter of time before United's attacking stars find their shooting boots.

"We think we have another gear to find," said assistant manager Mike Phelan. "You can talk about records and not conceding goals, but that was never our intention. It is a matter of winning games, and if we win 4-3, fantastic, even if the record's gone.

"We believe we can get better, we can score more goals. That's our aim. We've got good strikers and good midfielders here and I think our goalscoring record is good. But we still want to score more in matches and we are working on it.

"But there's another team out there you play against who try to make it more difficult to score, and that's what we've found this season. We've looked comfortable even if we've won 1-0, even if it's unusual for us to have them."

Derby, their opponents in the FA Cup fifth round tomorrow, know their only hope of recording their second shock win against United this season depends on normal service not being resumed.

Nigel Clough's side will at least not have to face Rooney, unlikely to be risked after a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury in the 1-0 win against Wigan in January. Van der Sar will no doubt be rested, his focus on breaking Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Abel Renso's record on Wednesday, but Ferguson is likely to field a much stronger line-up than the one beaten at Pride Park in the Carling Cup.

"We were a little bit surprised first time around but I don't think that will happen again," said Phelan. "We were fortunate to have a second opportunity, so we felt comfortable having the home tie. It's a fantastic arena, a great crowd and a great atmosphere to play in. The players always rise to the occasion in those cases."

Source: Telegraph