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Vindication awaits as Van Gaal’s Reds travel to West Ham

May 10, 2016 Tags: , Matches 8 comments
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In a season of unpredictability, perhaps this could have been foreseen, however unlikely. Unbelievably, Manchester United now has Champions League qualification firmly in control, despite the team’s best efforts for much of the season to the contrary. Louis van Gaal’s side, so often criticised for stagnant football and poor performances, is just two wins away from a seat at Europe’s top table after Manchester City’s draw against Arsenal last Sunday. Pep Guardiola may arrive at City without Champions League football, and United may allow manager Van Gaal to lead the side for one more year.

Despite the top four being firmly in sight, the prospect of another 12 months of Van Gaal strikes dread into the hearts of many United supporters. The Reds have scored an all-time low of 44 league goals this season – level with Bournemouth – and Van Gaal’s men laboured to a lacklustre victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City at the weekend. The 1-0 win means that the Dutchman’s side has scored just seven goals in six games against the bottom three – a depressing pattern replicated against every other team in the division too.

Saturday’s game was what many described as “peak Van Gaal,” with the Reds moving the ball from side to side without any real intent to break down a normally porous Norwich defence. The winning goal game courtesy of a mistake at the back and a clever piece of play, or maybe a miss-control, from Wayne Rooney to slide Juan Mata in. It was a goal befitting United’s season after a period of aimless passing led to Antonio Valencia punting a hopeful ball up field, only for Rooney to capitalise on the error.

Unsurprisingly, Van Gaal described himself as a “happy manager” after the game ,with United scoring one, keeping a clean sheet and boasting over 70 per cent possession. Yet, 1-0  is the Reds’ most common winning scoreline this season. While a top four finish and an FA Cup win represents progress, on paper at least, on the field the team has gone backwards, leaving executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward with a decision to make at the end of the season.

Woodward’s reluctance to sack his manager has been evident since December. Despite supporter clamour for Van Gaal’s departure, it would surprise few if the Dutchman is in the Old Trafford dugout next season. At least Van Gaal’s admission that he only wanted a two year contract offers some hope that the manager may hand in his resignation after becoming aware of the antipathy towards him.

West Ham, by contrast, represents another success story in an unusual season. The Hammers have excelled in the league and were in with an outside chance of Champions League qualification until a 4-1 defeat to Swansea City at the weekend. Slaven Billic’s side enjoyed a good FA Cup campaign and West Ham fans should be excited by what is still to come, with the club moving to the Olympic Stadium next season.

Billic’s side has played positive attacking football this season and Dimitri Payet’s genius has caught the eye in East London. The Frenchman has been hugely influential, offering hope that alongside the new stadium the club is moving to a new level. Indeed, the club has already sold 55,000 season tickets ahead of next year’s campaign – Irons’ fans are certainly feeling more positive than their United counterparts.

There have been other unlikely success stories this season, notably champions Leicester City, however the Irons seem the most likely to sustain success as a result of the club’s London location, committed owners and larger stadium.

Tuesday night is the final game at the Boleyn Ground and after the embarrassing defeat to Swansea, Bilic wants to give the old ground a fitting send off.

"Should United achieve fourth it will be with the club’s second lowest ever Premier League points total – and Van Gaal will become one of the game’s luckiest managers. It’s a position that could not have been achieved if City and Chelsea had performed to normal expectations."

“It is a big game for a couple of reasons, one being that it is the last ever at Upton Park,” Bilic said. “One part of me is happy that we are moving forward with more capacity and everything, but another part of me will miss this special kind of stadium. It’s like a home.

“No matter where you move, even if it is to a fancier house or apartment, still your favourite home is your first.”

Van Gaal, meanwhile, is aware of the occasion, arguing that West Ham has a huge incentive to put on a good performance. However, a top four finish is crucial for United in terms of revenue, stature and recruitment – as well as for Van Gaal’s job prospects. For that alone it is United’s biggest game of the season.

“We have a lot of respect for West Ham. We are not trying to spoil their party, but we do need the three points,” Van Gaal said. “We have to win our matches because otherwise we cannot be in the first four – that’s the pressure we have. We have to fight until the end”.

“West Ham are a very good team – it is not for nothing that they are in the top six of the table. We were lucky in the FA Cup. I think we deserved to win but we were lucky West Ham had a goal disallowed in the last minute.”

Van Gaal’s personal future can be forgotten for the time being though with the club on the verge of achieving the most unlikely finish to the season. Should United achieve fourth it will be with the club’s second lowest ever Premier League points total – and Van Gaal will truly become one of the game’s luckiest managers. After all, it’s a position that could not have been achieved if City and Chelsea had performed to normal expectations.

Team news and line-ups

West Ham United v Manchester United, Premier League, Upton Park, 10 May 2016

West Ham subs: Speigel, Tomkins, Moses, Obiang, Sakho, Collins, Emenike
United subs: Romero, Jones, McNair, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Periera, Januzaj

Luke Shaw is due to return to training with the first team this week and will at least travel with the squad to Wembley in two weeks’ time. Shaw, alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, remain the only long-term absentees, although Anthony Martial and Matteo Darmian will miss Tuesday’s game after suffering injuries at the weekend.

With no Darmian, Antonio Valencia can expect to continue at right-back. The Ecuador captain has played well since his return from injury and linked up well with Juan Mata down the right on Saturday. Valencia’s lack of attacking prowess continues to frustrate, although his pace is useful against the Payet.

Daley Blind returns to the starting line-up after being rested against Norwich and will partner players’  player of the year Chris Smalling. Meanwhile, the inconsistent Marcos Rojo may be rested, paving way for Tim Fosu-Mensah to return to the starting line-up.

In midfield, Wayne Rooney may return to his new role after an indifferent display up front against Norwich. He will probably be partnered in midfield by Michael Carrick, although Van Gaal may be tempted to recall Morgan Schneiderlin. Jesse Lingard will do well to retain his place after a poor performance against Norwich, although Juan Mata may get an opportunity in his preferred number 10 position. With Anthony Martial injured, Memphis gets another chance on the left despite an awful performance against the Canaries. 

After being rested at the weekend Marcus Rashford returns up front. Rashford scored a sublime goal on the Reds’ last visit to Upton Park in the FA Cup.

Match Officials
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: S Long, S Bennett
Fourth Official: R East

Prediction
West Ham 1-2 United

8 comments

Varun - May 10, 2016 Reply

rather bold with your prediction there! 😉

NazManUnited - May 10, 2016 Reply

@danbennett21 scrape 4th & this becomes the best season ever 😂

Fusilli Jerry - May 10, 2016 Reply

Apparently this is West Ham’s last game at that ground – scant mention in the media if this is the case – can anyone confirm ?

Schneiderlin and Herrera start, Old Father Time doesn’t: hurray hurray hurray. Martial starts – either a worrying gamble, or we’ve had some Ferguson-esque injury disinformation the last couple of days. Now if only Borthwick-Jackson and Varela had been picked not Rojo and Valencia, Van Gaal would have actually got his whole team selection right.

Must be why Woodward decided that Sanches should accompany Vidal in Bayern’s Schweinsteiger-less midfield: he didn’t want to overcomplicate things for the manager-genius.

Subterranean Steve - May 11, 2016 Reply

If van Gaal was involved in the decision not to go after Sanches then the obvious conclusion is that the Dutchman is staying next season. Oh dear.

Last game at the Boleyn ground and United defend like a bunch of schoolkids – shambolic

Denton Davey - May 11, 2016 Reply

TheLads were over-powered which is not surprising since West Ham are big guys; what was more surprising was that Daley Blind was so out-of-sorts and was culpable for two of the goals; AV25 {not one of my favourite choices) lost his man for the third goal. However, West Ham could have/should have had three more goals so it’s hard to complain about the result – but, I think, one can legitimately complain about the “prosshess”. If the result gets LvG out the door then I won’t be unhappy although it would be fascinating if he really did have some confidence in “youth” (i.e., kids other than Rashford and Martial for whom there are no alternatives. Why was AV25 preferred to Fosu-Mensah ? Why was RockyRojo chosen ahead of Borthwick-Jackson ?

The truly-weird thing is that TheLads are still in with a chance of 4th (and 6th) or could end up tied with ManShitty and lose 4th on goal-difference.

Dennis Karekedes - May 11, 2016 Reply

Blind has been surprisingly good this year at CB. His calmness and his intelligence has been excellent is 1vs1’s..Also He has not been bullied in the air to my surprise. HOWEVER, in my opinion he lacks a CB’s defensive positioning instincts , today he was pretty bad . Playing Carroll onside by standing 10 yards behind his team mates ? Playing Michail and 4 other Hammers onside for their equaliser ?

I wanted to say good job Daley , good job Louis . But when we trully needed a performance from Daley we didnt get it. Hes had a good season but this performance will delete all the good performances in our memory.

This squad is just not good enough plus thier ‘style’ of play only works to emphasize their individual weaknesses instead of their strengths (I.e Herrera and Mata too small) plus they are playing out of position (Mata on the wing?) The tempo is too slow, too many ‘rolled’ passes instead of being ‘driven’ into feet. Defensively inefficient, depsite his claims of game management we give a lot of chances away

I Think he has been naive to the way we play the game in England, the pace, the physicality, the directness. The results show that the squad is not good enough. The performances indicate that he is a man learning in the job.

The question is … has he learnt enough to warrant a 3rd year of redemption ?

Fusilli Jerry - May 11, 2016 Reply

Schneiderlin’s copping flak for Upton Park but is a player in overall credit as far as I’m concerned. It grieves me to think how often he’s had to watch from the sidelines whilst Fellaini, Schweinsteiger and Rooney got picked in his position ahead of him. No wonder he wasn’t match fit (note to Dutchman: “match rhythm” is not a proper expression in native English, kindly take it with you when you leave).

A 2-man midfield with Herrera will get overrun – the little Spaniard doesn’t give strength and solidity, but does attempt penetrative forward passing – so adds more than he subtracts. Together Schneiderlin and Herrera are two-thirds of a viable central midfield, I’d love to see what would happen if Fosu-Mensah completed that trio.

Mourinho of course is associated with 4-3-3, and with the principle of 2 squad players for every position (if not, sadly, the accompanying principle of rotation), rather than Ferguson’s tiresome practice of 2 positions for every player – derived not from any belief system (see what I did there? there are words/phrases in the language other than fucking “philosophy”) but from necessity as a result of obsessively spunking the transfer budget for central midfielders, on extra strikers instead. Van Gaal meanwhile will never know how many more trophies he would have won by playing players in their best positions – but a less self-correcting football manager never walked the earth.

If Jose could therefore please prioritise getting in another 2 central midfielders and the +1s listed below, might the rest of next season’s squad look like this (assuming that De Gea won’t stay, Rooney won’t leave, and Mata won’t be retained):

GK: Navas; Romero
LB: Shaw; Borthwick-Jackson
RB: Varela; Darmian
CB: Varane; Smalling; Blind; +1 (Blackett/McNair ?)
LW: Martial; Pereira
RW: Janujaz; +1
CF: Rashford; Wilson; +1

Deadwood (sell them, pay them off, just get rid): Jones; Rojo; Valencia; Young; Fellaini; Schweinsteiger
Question mark: Depay

Anthony Battrick - May 11, 2016 Reply

I have always been in the camp that we keep to the plan of LVG for three years with Giggs succeeding. Last night’s match made me for the first time flirt with the idea of Mourinho. I doubt that LVG’s calm, data-driven approach to setting up his team can ever produce one with the sheer balls to win through in situations like last night. Mourinho has proven that he can produce a team which does. While they’re tactically similar managers I think that’s the element we’re missing, and if Giggs as assistant manager is not adding that quality now then I doubt he will be the solution either. We need steely, determined characters (as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson seems to be from his behaviour on the coach) and a coach to match. I’m fed up of football by numbers and players who won’t fight to win a match.

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