With hope lost in the league, Reds look to Wembley for salvation

April 13, 2016 Tags: , Matches 13 comments
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“The challenge was bigger for me at Manchester United. I am sorry for Tottenham, but Manchester United are a bigger club.”

Louis van Gaal doesn’t regret choosing United over Spurs despite his side’s humiliating 3-0 defeat at White Hart Lane on Sunday. Van Gaal may not regret choosing United, but United fans are certainly ruing his decision. There us little doubt Spurs supporters must have chuckled at the suggestion Van Gaal is “sorry” that the London club missed out on the ‘genius’ veteran manager.

As predictable as it was, United’s performance last Sunday was nothing short of embarrassing. Despite controlling possession for large parts of the opening 60 minutes, the Reds never looked like scoring against a Tottenham side struggling to reconcile slipping 10 points behind Leicester City in the race for the title.

United had a chance to put out a statement of intent to top four rivals. Instead, within five miserable second half minutes, Van Gaal’s team raised the white flag on any remaining hope of making the top four.

As it turned out United’s back four was held together by 18-year-old Tim Fosu-Mensah until the young Dutchman’s injury forced him off, and to be replaced by Matteo Darmian. What followed was an embarrassment, with United torn apart by a Tottenham side that did little more than turn the screw ever so slightly.

While United’s defending was appalling, the blame lies more closely with Van Gaal’s disastrous tactics. Van Gaal started with Jesse Lingard at number 10, who neither has the technical ability nor the eye for goal to play in the position, while Juan Mata was again wasted on the right. It got worse. As the game progressed Mata, United’s most creative player, found himself at right wing-back, tracking Danny Rose, as Fosu-Mensah was sucked inside by Christian Eriksen.

The second half for worse – Van Gaal withdrew Marcus Rashford for Ashley Young, only to inexplicably deploy the substitute at centre forward, with Anthony Martial remaining on the left. It left all four forward players out of position. There is little wonder that United has struggled to score goals this season, or why Van Gaal’s philosophy remains a mystery to everyone but the arrogant Dutchman.

Van Gaal, of course, has previous with baffling tactics, including withdrawing Juan Mata for Nick Powell when chasing the game in Wolfsburg, playing Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie in midfield with Marouane Fellaini up front when losing a home to West Bromwich Albion, and employing Phil Jones on corner-taking duties. No supporter should be surprised at what the Dutchman serves up – and most will be relieved when he is inevitably shown the exit in May.

West Ham United has been proven justified in the decision to dismiss a manager who was holding the club back from reaching its potential. The Hammers are flying high thanks to a combination of positive, quick, attacking football and Dimitri Payet’s genius. The French magician has been hugely influential for West Ham this season ahead of the club’s summer move to the Olympic Stadium. It should be the platform for the club to finally hit the next level.

There have been similar success stories at Watford, Bournemouth and of course Leicester City, although the Irons seem best set to sustain success as a result of the London location, committed owners and large stadium.

On the pitch, the difference between the two Uniteds  has been minimal this campaign, with West Ham just a point behind the Reds in the league, and Bilic’s side having held its own at Old Trafford in the first game of this cup tie. Yet, Bilic remains cautious, despite his side having lost only twice in its last 24 games.

“Wednesday’s game is massive for them and massive for us,” Bilic said. “Ok, they lost their last game 3-0, but they are Manchester United and they have great players.

“For their standards, of course, they have not been very consistent but they are still above us in the table, and they are very capable of beating any team on their day.”

Van Gaal seems more concerned with the Irons than his own side, discussing the threat that Andy Carroll carries at length. And the manager concedes that Wednesday night represents United’s last chance at success this season, with a top four finish now looking unlikely.

“It is our last chance at a trophy so it is very important for the players, for the club, for the manager and for the fans,” Van Gaal said, before offering up excuses. “Still, we have one day less than West Ham to prepare and that is also important.”

Team news and line-ups

West Ham United v Manchester United, FA Cup, Upton Park, 13 April 2016

West Ham subs: Randolph, E Valencia, Obiang, Moses, Eminike, Hendrie, Oxford
United subs: Romero, Jones, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson, Rojo, Carrick, Fellaini, Pereira, Rashford, Rooney

With Van Gaal’s job prospects now firmly teetering on the edge, the Dutch manager cannot afford another defeat, especially with a trip to Wembley on the line. Wayne Rooney, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Phil Jones all played in Monday night’s under-21 fixture, with all three in with a chance of making the matchday squad.

At the back, Tim Fosu-Mensah was forced off by injury in the second half at White Hart Lane, meaning the inconsistent Matteo Darmian is in line to return to the team, although he may play at left-back after another poor display by Marcos Rojo. This leaves Antonio Valencia, only just back from injury himself, likely to fill in at right-back.

In midfield, Michael Carrick’s performance on Sunday has all but confirmed the end of his United career. Carrick has been a wonderful servant for the Reds, but the veteran struggled against Tottenham’s midfield in the second half. This could mean Ander Herrera’s return, with the Spaniard partnered by Morgan Schneiderlin, who was one of United’s better players on Sunday.

Herrera and Schneiderlin formed a good partnership in the midfield earlier in the season – the hope being that Schneiderlin can neutralise Payet.

Marcus Rashford is set to be rested after being hauled off at half-time last weekend, leaving Anthony Martial to return to his favourite role at number 9. Memphis could return in Rashford’s place despite the Dutchman’s poor form and questionable attitude.

Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata are likely to play, despite a disappointing attacking performance at the weekend, although Van Gaal would be foolish to continue with the failed experiment of using the pair in each other’s position.

“I think the players of Manchester United have to cope with the pressure,” Van Gaal concluded ahead of Wednesday night’s game. Quite how the Dutchman can say it with a straight face amuses considering the pressure is on him more than ever.


SP - April 13, 2016 Reply

Arsenal still have to visit the Etihad. One or the other will lose or they will draw and both drop two points. United/fans shouldn’t be giving up on the league just yet!

denton davey - April 13, 2016 Reply

“mathematically” top-4 is still possible. Amazing.

It’s just impossible to predict how TheLads will fare from game-to-game – very Jekyll/Hyde. Where’s the consistency ?

Marco - April 15, 2016 Reply

Yep. You just never know which United will show up on the day.

Julian - April 13, 2016 Reply

I hope you noted what Bilic said about the prospect of Rooney playing!

Aethion - April 14, 2016 Reply

I cheated on you Ed and Paul, I did something bad. I downloaded the reserves podcast and listened to about 20 minutes of it before I angrily deleted it. What a load of shite! What a bunch of self-entitled amateurs. They were fucking stuffing their stupid faces while doing it and one moron was just complaining, in very american fashion about how the players get paid so much money they should just go out there and win…just ’cause. And when another fucking goon opened his mouth to give him arguments, sound arguments against that, that they weren’t set up to play properly and Van Gaal’s tactics were, to say the least bizarre, that first one just kept shouting over him that he doesn’t care, they should show some spirit. Do these idiots watch that team every week? Is it just that typical american spirit of “I’ve paid you lots, I don’t want excuses I want results” corporate fuck-off and make-it-happen attitude? You two gents are doing a fantastic job. Professional, smart, truly funny and genuinely passionate. By the way I’m american of European ancestry so please don’t think I’m a bigot. Although if you despise americans on the principle that they’re the world’s bullies is that still bigotry? Those wretches make us look very bad indeed. Off to the tip jar! Thanks for all your hard work!

Subterranean Steve - April 14, 2016 Reply

It’s obvious that there is talent in this United side, better in some areas more than others. It’s just pathetic that the team under-performs more often than it should. The lack of consistency has much to do with van Gaal’s incessant fiddling and chopping and changing, all this square pegs in round holes nonsense. The players get fed up with it and that doesn’t help moral.

At a time when the Premier League is as weak at the top as it has been for years, it’s disappointing that van Gaal has had the team punching below its weight for so long. In truth, a top four place is not much of a target. Chance of a Champions League place – yes, but 19 points (currently) behind Leicester is nothing to get excited about.

bobbynoble - April 14, 2016 Reply

The top four spot goal is really to keep the sponsors happy. Champions League qualification is fine, but when we have a team that this season failed to get out of the group stage from one of the easiest groups, there is no footballing success to be proud of.

bobbynoble - April 15, 2016 Reply

Could Timothy Fosu-Mensah be the new Paul Pogba?

Opti - April 15, 2016 Reply

He has Essien written all over him… exciting prospect!

Ed - April 15, 2016 Reply

Not Pogba. Pogba’s a great attacking talent. Always mistaken for a defensive one because he’s tall, black and therefore the ‘new Vieira’, etc.

TFM could be anything though.. central defender, full-back, defensive midfielder, box-to-box.

denton davey - April 15, 2016 Reply

TFM and Luke Shaw would – if they can stay fit – be huge upgrades for a first-team that has used six right backs and 8 left-backs. If LvG stays on as UTD manager – and, let’s be honest about this, we don’t have a clue what’s in the cards as-of-now – then it’s relevant to note that his system is built on attacking prowess from these positions.

Marco - April 15, 2016 Reply

I thought Borthwick-Jackson did well too. darmian has been a let down and if Jose rocks up at Old Trafford, I can see him being shown the door.

denton davey - April 15, 2016

“if Jose rocks up at Old Trafford”

A total re-set ? or tweaking what’s worked with “the kids” ?? Who knows but one thing for sure, it would be a wild ride.

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