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United hit a blip but crisis talk is premature

20 Aug 2009 11:16:00

United hit a blip but crisis talk is premature

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is wrestling with the problem of how to replace the irreplaceable after watching his side lose 1-0 at Burnley in the second match of their Premier League title defence. The alarm bells will not be ringing at Old Trafford just yet, but on the evidence of the opening games of the season Ferguson has some work to do to prevent them from going off. United have often started slowly, but that has not stopped them winning the Premier League title 11 times in the last 17 seasons -- including the last three in succession. They have looked unimpressive in their two games so far, against promoted Birmingham City and Burnley. They beat Birmingham 1-0 but lost 1-0 to Burnley on Wednesday and although Ferguson is wrestling with a number of problems, talk of a crisis at Old Trafford would appear to be premature. Although it is too early to form any conclusions about how the next nine months will pan out, there is no doubt United have started looking far less intimidating without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the side following their departures to Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively. United have also been suffering something of an injury crisis with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and midfielders Owen Hargreaves and Darren Fletcher all out of the side. Although Ferguson has battalions of superb players to call up, some are simply irreplaceable. Ronaldo scored 70 goals -- and helped create plenty of others -- during the last two seasons when he was voted World Player of the Year and European Footballer of the Year. Tevez might not have made the same impact at United but usually had a hugely positive influence when he came on as a substitute. LOSING RONALDO There is no doubt United will miss both players especially as Dimitar Berbatov has failed to reproduce the goalscoring form he showed at Tottenham Hotspur and former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle striker Michael Owen is still trying to re-establish himself as one of England's top scorers. Graeme Souness, the former Liverpool player and coach who enjoyed plenty of battles with United, said on Thursday that the full impact of losing Ronaldo was yet to be felt at Old Trafford. "With 70 goals and about 30 assists in the last two seasons he was responsible for about 100 Manchester United goals and how do you replace that?" Souness said on Talksport radio. "He was the difference in so many games for United, once he grew up and grasped what the game was all about. He was the best player in the world for two years. "But if Michael Owen can keep fit, he will score goals for United. I might upset a few people by saying this, but Michael Owen has never played in such a good team with such good players as he will do this year." With Ferguson making six changes from the United side that beat Birmingham to the one that lost at Burnley, some of them enforced, there is an air of transition surrounding the side which is not just about Ronaldo and Tevez. The midfield lacks pace and creativity at times with the once huge impact that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes brought to the team visibly on the wane. Wayne Rooney remains their most potent player and is one goal away from scoring 100 times for United, but some of the 80 million pounds the club received from Real Madrid for Ronaldo needs to be re-invested in the side. The fortunes of teams often go in cycles linked to great players coming or going. The last thing Patrick Vieira did in an Arsenal shirt was convert the penalty in the shootout that won the 2005 FA Cup final. He then left -- and Arsenal have not won a trophy since. When David Beckham left United in 2003, they did not win the title again for another four seasons. United may well be in a period of transition, but few people should bet against Ferguson solving the problem quickly. (Editing by Alison Wildey)


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