United’s platform for greater feats to come

September 28, 2014 Tags: , Reads 8 comments
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Manchester United will come good this season, there is too much talent at Louis van Gaal’s disposal to fail, although from the standpoint of another near car crash performance on Saturday it is impossible to predict when, let alone where. Old Trafford certainly holds no guarantees these days. For the moment this remains United, but not quite as we once knew it. On the cusp of turning it around, or of another dismal season? The next five weeks will say much.

Who would have thought that £150 million spent over the summer would have so little immediate impact, with United having lost twice in the Premier League already this season, including a humiliating 5-3 loss at Leicester City. Not to mention that Carling Cup defeat at Milton Keynes Dons.

Leaving aside Wayne Rooney’s dismissal in the 59th minute, United’s performance at home to West Ham United this weekend rarely achieved a level above the mundane – at least in aggregate even if there were moments of brilliance. Indeed, prior to the Scouser’s moment of insanity in kicking out at Stuart Downing it was the visitors who had begun to dominate proceedings as the second half opened. Momentum swung to the Hammers long before Rooney hit the showers. Something is just not quite right with Van Gaal’s outfit.

There were certainly mitigating circumstances on Saturday. Injuries to Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling left United with Marcos Rojo as the only available first team central defender. Hardly ideal in any circumstances. Though even this excuse was unavailable as United conceded five to Leicester last weekend.

Positives? The Reds passing in the first half against the Hammers was crisp and the side’s attacking movement reflected the quality available to United’s Dutch manager. Rooney’s goal was exceptionally well executed, while Radamel Falcao enjoyed a fine game even without a strike of his own.

Van Gaal should also feel more secure in his young defenders after the performance. Rojo was, at times, commanding in central defence, although the Argentinian World Cup star has some work to do on positioning.

But it was the Dutchman’s two young attacking full-backs that impressed most. Rafael da Silva was all energy and enterprise in the first half and, without exception, solid defensively in the second. He hasn’t always been that reliable. Meanwhile, Luke Shaw enjoyed a positive début for the club – attacking in tandem with Angel Di Maria down the left, while playing an almost immaculate defensive game during the second.

“It was a tough début, I would say,” said Shaw. “Obviously, we went down to 10 men and it’s never easy but we all fought hard and showed how much we wanted these three points. It means a lot to us. Overall, I’m really pleased with how my début went but the main thing, for me, was to get the win.”

There was kudos too for Patrick McNair, the patently raw 19-year-old, who completed a game-saving defensive header late in the game that would have been impressive from the most celebrated of centre halves.

Yet, at no point did the result feel secure either – not even as United led 2-0 lead with 11 men on the pitch. West Ham’s policy of  attacking United’s fragile defence with long balls had a significant effect on a youthful rearguard. After all Rojo, at 24, was the elder statesman of United’s defensive unit. That David de Gea looks anything but his completely secure self is also concerning, although surely a symptom and not a cause of United’s defensive malaise this season.

Still, the Reds held out for the win, reorganising into a solid defensive shape after Rooney’s dismissal and resorting, sometimes crudely, to launching the ball forward in defensive situations. Sensibly too some might add given the result last weekend, even if the tactic was anything but ‘the United way’.

Van Gaal called the win “very important,” while Robin Van Persie lauded victory as “more than three points.” That it was. Holding out to claim a 2-1 win while fielding 10 players for more than half an hour – even at home – is a level of robustness that has not always been present since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

“After the red card, we had to fight for the victory and I have said to the lads you have been rewarded today because you fought until the end – and more than that,” Van Gaal told MUTV.

Rooney, United’s captain and leader, let the group down. It has been five years since the former Evertonian saw red in the Premier League. Yet, somehow, this didn’t surprise either. Rooney’s is rarely a calm head. Captain material? Pull the other one.

“I could imagine why he did it,” said Van Gaal somewhat magnanimously. “But I think you have to do it more friendly and that is the only thing that I can say. You can ask if that is a red card. I think you see what you want to see and I believe [the referee] could have given a red card. In professional football, you make these faults.”

For the rest of the group this victory is a platform, with Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea to come over the next five weeks. Rooney will miss the first of those games allowing Juan Mata to once again take up a role a ‘number 10’. Whether the Spaniard’s re-introduction will help or hinder United’s attacking play is a debate to come; some team-mates will enjoy United’s greater balance with Rooney out of the side.

Results are key though and with difficult games on the horizon United’s victory over West Ham may well be a turning point. It certainly feels like a pivotal period in the season if the Reds are to build some momentum before the turn of the year.

“It was absolutely vital to get the three points for everyone’s belief and the fans’ belief,” Van Persie added.

“I thought we played really well in the first half but in the second it was a completely different game because of the red card. At times it was a bit nerve-wracking but we did ever so well and everyone fought really hard.”

Good things do sometimes come to those who wait and, in this, United’s supporters have played a long game of patience. Not with Van Gaal per se, but in the near 18 months since Sir Alex announced his retirement there have been few moments of levity. West Ham wasn’t really one; Chelsea and City in the weeks to come. Now there would be a real platform.


Hugh Mullen - September 28, 2014 Reply

they sneaked past west ham,I think feat may be stretching a point

Farhan Ahmed - September 28, 2014 Reply

I worry DDG’s form is a cause of yet another change in GK coaches… one whose emphasis seems to be saving with feet not hands

Mike Wilce - September 28, 2014 Reply

Best independent UTD site I’ve ever come across.

Ray - September 28, 2014 Reply

Very measured comments…our lack of CDs is ridiculous as it was clear that the successors were never going to be good enough

conordom - September 28, 2014 Reply

i think if we can stay injury free, then the second half of the season we will be fine, look how long it took vidic and ferdinand to build an understandin, jones and rojo in the centre of a back four, shaw and raf rb/lb. blind or herrara cdm. be alright. just need t see more of januzaj

Pelican Tangerine - September 29, 2014 Reply

Thanks for the article, always a good read.

I usually agree with most points you make and, even when I don’t, your points are always well articulated and persuasive. For some strange reason though I feel quietly optimistic about this season. The shirts just need to get their confidence back and a backs to the wall, scrap for every ball result could be just what they needed, for the spirit of brotherhood and togetherness. Remember how much of a culture shock it must be for the likes of Falcao and De Maria to end up in a blood and guts, 90 miles an hour battle at Leicester with cloggers trying to kick lumps out of them. If they can get stuck in, get on with it and are still up for it on a cold February night in Stoke, then maybe we can surprise the naysayers.

If nothing else, this season won’t be dull. The press will keep on begging for scraps from United’s table, the haters will hate, we have an unbelievable front four, we’ll either get walloped, or wallop others, we’ll play some unbelievable attacking football and some shambolic defensive play, but I don’t think it’ll be mundane.

As for Rooney, as odious as he can be, surely he was the only choice as captain. Throughout the league, and certainly within our team, there doesn’t appear to be any players of Keane’s standing, or Robson, Buchan or Bruce, players who could both frighten and cajole teammates within minutes of doing one or the other. He simply comes across as a bully, picking on the weak. However, I don’t know him and away from the pitch he may inspire and lead. I have my doubts, but what can we do other than offer support.

To a degree, I feel sympathetic towards LvG, who must surely be gobsmacked about how shambolic the whole situation is. He inherited a team of former champions who had become a group of snidey, spiteful greedy, precious arseholes who would get the face on about what night they had their low fat chips. It’s a relief that LvG has an ego the size of a house so he can deal with them. Poor Moyes never stood a chance. SFA knew what he was doing picking him because he knew, if it went tits, his legacy would remain intact, and if Moyes flourished his standing would be further enhanced. But pick Mourinho, who would certainly have soared and kicked up the pricks, then SFA’s European standing and his tactical know-how would surely have been questioned. But of course that’s just a conspiracy theory. As is 9/11 was an inside job. And Oswald didn’t kill JFK. And I’m a conspiracy nut.

Anyway, thank you for the podcasts and articles. Always look forward to them as they make the cold and lonely nights on C-wing bearable.

Must dash, off to slop out and have a game of ping pong.


Lucas_mutd - September 29, 2014 Reply

De Gea is not being helped by constant defensive changes in front of him. Imagine if he had a defensive line like Chelsea or ManCity in front of him. Still, it was an error for the WHam goal and could have been a costly one. Our inability to have the same starting XI every game due to injuries is certainly not helping us. Looks like Herrera is injured now, and if he doesn’t start against Everton, we will do well to get a point from that game.

I think RVP and Falcao make a terrific duo upfront…better than RVP and Rooney. However, Falcao has to start scoring goals…soon. Mata has a great chance to show LvG he is a better number 10 than Rooney is.

subterranean steve - September 29, 2014 Reply

As a fan who likes a punt on United games i have, for the time being, given up backing United to win. Rather I bet on there being several goals scored in a game regardless of the outcome. After the QPR game I thought United had turned the corner and backed them to win at Leicester with Di Maria scoring, at the ‘generous’ odds of 7/2. When it was 3-1 to United I was counting my cash. The rest is history.

Against West Ham I bet on there being three goals or more scored in the game regardless of the outcome. Consequently, Nolan’s offside effort twitched only at my heart strings not at my bank balance.

Predicting the result of a United game is currently fraught with danger. We start the games like world-beaters and finish them hanging on (resolutely or otherwise). Our degree of dominance is so short-lived, indeed precarious, as to be undermined by any Tom, Dick, Clattenberg or free Mason.

The optimist in me says this team can only get better. Crikey, how many teams can have two teenage defenders making their debut, get reduced to ten men with over half an hour to go and still win, beating a team which had deservedly smacked the scousers the week before?

If we must drop points in some sort of rebuilding process, then it’s preferable to drop points against Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley and Leicester (frustrating though that is), if it helps us become stronger when we eventually face serious top four opposition. If United get the better of the scousers and the arses, then a top four finish can be in sight and the punting less of a challenge.

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