While a knee-jerk reaction in the aftermath of yet another defeat for Manchester United – an eighth this season – benefits nobody, some players have underperformed this season. This much is glaringly clear to the Old Trafford faithful. Defeat to Leeds United serves to highlight the problem, with three players in particular failing to do the shirt justice.
Despite Darron Gibson’s goal tally this season and threat from long-range – something desperately required in the current side – the Irishman has become a luxury United cannot afford right now. The Derry-born midfielder’s overall game simply lacks the basic features expected of any United player.
In recent fixtures Gibson has been United’s worst performer, with no better example than the team’s 3-0 defeat away to Fulham recently. At 22 there is time for the Lampard-esque player to improve but if Fulham’s Jonathan Greening, ditched by Sir Alex Ferguson at a similar age, wasn’t good enough for the boss, then Gibson certainly isn’t either.
Dimitar Berbatov’s transformation from one of the Premier League’s finest strikers at Tottenham Hotspur, to an under-performing waste of space mystifies many United fans. The £30 million Bulgarian’s talent is obvious, yet he offers the team so little. At international level Berbatov is a record-breaking goalscorer. It’s a feat he looks far from matching at Old Trafford.
From day one in Manchester, Berbatov conjured memories of the King, Eric Cantona. But just five goals in 23 matches this campaign says it all; Berbatov is no Cantona. Instead, United is desperate for the goalscoring central striker that the team has lacked since Louis Saha’s departure.
Michael Owen is now billed as as an ‘impact’ substitute since his free summer transfer to Old Trafford. Yet, when United is down – a common occurrence this season – Owen adds so very little to the picture from the bench. True, there are few better finishers than Owen from the six yard line but if a malfunctioning team fails to create the simplest of chances for the striker, the player adds little to Ferguson’s squad. Much as it is painful to say, perhaps United is missing in-form Carlos Tevez after all.
Despite the problems the trio’s malaise might not be terminal. Within the current squad there are constant reminders of players who have struggled, only to blossom later in their United careers. Take for example Darren Fletcher, transformed from a the much derided midfielder dubbed ‘The Scottish Player’, to one of the first names on the team sheet.
Then there is Patrice Evra, who endured a nightmare start to his Old Trafford career, but is now both a fans’ favourite and one of the few United players to emerge unscathed this season.
Gibson, Berbatov and Owen may well come good and prove central to United’s cause this season. For the time being the trio sum up the malaise within the club at the moment. The club faces a crucial couple of months in the Premier League, Carling Cup and Champions League. Can the underperforming players up their game?