… And one shot was all Manchester United needed today, a lone goal from Dimitar Berbatov was enough to beat back Middlesbrough and give the Red Devils a 1-0 win. The victory left the defending champions 7 points behind leaders Liverpool, despite having the ever popular 2 games in hand. United controlled most of the play, and their patchwork back line of O’Shea-Evans-Vidic-Rafael wasn’t put to the test too much by a Boro side that got a bit of good early work from Afonso Alves, and decent play (as usual vs. United) from Stewie Downing, but not much else.
It was a game that a team with championship aspirations has to win, but it’s not a performance that would be acceptable to a championship side. And in watching the Premier League this season, that seems to be the story with all four teams at times this season and I think to some extent, it’s made the campaign less interesting. Liverpool seems to have broken out of that malaise a little bit with their 5-1 win over Newcastle on Sunday - and while I’d always take a shot at Liverpool where possible - United only drew with Newcastle this season, so I’ll keep my mouth shut.
Though, you have to think there’s no way Stevie Gerrard was actually involved in the night club fracas that led to his arrest in the hours after the win over Newcastle. Any hint of contact in that situation, and Gerrard would have hit the floor looking to draw a penalty. He couldn’t have punched anybody.
OK, I lied. That was a shot.
But the bottom line is, at least Liverpool looked somewhat like a title-winning team vs. Newcastle (and their 3-0 win vs. Bolton Friday). Chelsea suffered a draw a Fulham Sunday thanks to two goals by Clint Dempsey. Arsenal were two clear of Aston Villa on Friday in what would have been a massive haul of three points, but a penalty and then a goal by Zat Knight at the death drew Villa level and kept them well in the battle for fourth place.
It’s not that I think a 7-point deficit right now is insurmountable. Past seasons have proved this not to be the case. And I know that 1-0 wins over Stoke, Sunderland, and Boro count for the same 9 points in the standings that say 3-0 or 4-1 wins would. But what will happen to United on Sunday, January 11, if they can only muster single goals against these teams, and Chelsea comes to town? Say what you want about the Blues, but one goal isn’t going to beat them - as was proven earlier in the season when United held a 1-0 lead for more than 60 minutes before Salomon Kalou equalized and each team had to settle for a point at the Bridge.
With all their talent, United have but 29 goals in 18 games. Some teams would be more than happy to score more than 1.5 goals per game, but remember this is a team that scored 80 goals in 38 games last season, more than 2 per game. And they added Berbatov to the roster (letting the human injury machine, Louis Saha, go).
Sir Alex Ferguson has already stated that the club won’t be buyers during the January transfer window. I’m tempted to believe him. I don’t think this team needs more goal-scoring talent.Though, given their midfield injury situation throuh the season, I really would like to see a bit of spending there.
But as the manager turns 67 on Wednesday, he should be well aware that if his club are to make up this deficit, the goals simply must be more plentiful, or it ain’t gonna happen. The positive, perhaps, is that United has matches against Southampton (FA Cup) and Derby County (Carling Cup) prior to that Chelsea match to get the offense tuned up.