That's not entertainment

Posted by Mark Payne

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's career in his latter days at Manchester United was characterised by frustration and false dawns. Long after he plundered the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League Final, the Norwegian striker was left to battle a series of knee injuries that saw him flit in and out of the United side.

The current incarnation of United bears resemblance to that period of Solskjaer's career. On a few occasions this season they have flattered to deceive, only for their knees to buckle and fresh anguish to take hold. As we approach February, what hope is left has been fanned by the arrival of Juan Mata.

At kickoff, Old Trafford gave full voice to its repertoire of Solskjaer songs and the new Cardiff manager comfortably fits the definition of what a Manchester United hero should be. If Mata contributes half as much as Ole did to the club, his transfer fee will be money well spent.

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Mata's debut showed the kind of promise a £37 million player should show, but he is not the panacea to United's myriad of problems; a quick glance at the teamsheet drew the eyes towards their primary issue.

The presence of 40-year-old winger Ryan Giggs and centre-half Phil Jones in the centre of midfield just about summed up the imbalance in the squad. And of course, there were starting berths for perennial underachievers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.

In fairness, Young has improved greatly since November and he cut inside to unleash the kind of belter for the second goal that United should be scoring every week. It was this kind of strike that was not present in the League Cup semifinal against Sunderland and made the game against Cardiff safe.

But optimism can turn to frustration in no time when you are playing poorly. Old Trafford has become a theatre of derision recently and there is none of the gusto the Red Devils used to play with. This club has the highest standards possible and they are not being met.

Returning after six and half weeks injured, Robin van Persie took all of five minutes to score and remind United what they had been missing. He could have scored again on the half hour and the side are far more deadly when he is roaming around the final third. One can only hope that the various delicate parts of his body hold together for the rest of the season.

If Manchester United are guilty of a crime at present, it is that they are not entertaining. David Moyes has become the face of this mediocre version of the club and the fans are deeply unconvinced by his methods right now.

It is almost an achievement to take a team with Robin van Persie and Juan Mata in it and convince them to play boring football, yet that is what happened against Cardiff. United's greatest piece of trickery was to record a clean sheet despite defending like an over-60s side.

Despite flashes of competence, United are lacking imagination, guile and confidence. Their problems appear to be systemic and this 2-0 victory against Cardiff was far from convincing. With games against Stoke and Fulham coming up, United could edge closer to the Champions League places that are all they have left to play for.

Unfortunately, the champions have flattered to deceive too many times already this season for those games to be approached with anything other than trepidation.

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