A (non)Emotional Defense of Hating Van Gaal’s Philosophy

“It’s hard to recognize my club. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true. It’s like Leicester are United of old and United are Leicester of old! I don’t understand!” As we chatted about United’s latest failure, a terrible showing against Liverpool in the Europa League, emotions started to run high. This, after all, is football. It’s an emotional experience.

“Then, Van Gaal has the audacity to tell me that if I look back at his time in charge I can see that his philosophy is working?! Seriously?! If his goal is playing terrible football and draining the hope and life from the players and supporters, then he’s absolutely right!”

Ah, football…bloody hell.

There’s no point in sugar coating what Louis Van Gaal has instilled at Manchester United, no point at all – even if you are a ‘top red.’ The uncontrollable Dutch legend, with a resume of trophies any manager would kill for, seemed the perfect fit for a United side still sick from the loss of the greatest football manager of all time. The David Moyes experiment died from multiple complications while still in its infancy. A, now, trigger shy Woodward was just the opposite 8 months into the Scotsman’s tenure at United as he was unceremoniously shown the side door at the AON Training Complex. In truth, especially after the Netherland’s display at the World Cup under Van Gaal, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich man seemed the perfect appointment.

But it has been anything but that.

Claiming to want to train the brain of his players, Van Gaal has used multiple daily sessions, even during the season, and the same few drills over and over to instill his philosophy into his players. An eye-catching first summer tour in the United States proved what we now know – the less you know of the Dutchman’s philosophy the better things tend to go. A 7-0 drubbing of a poor LA Galaxy side in California was literally a mirage. Wins over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool taught us nothing about the greater picture. The wins were preseason friendlies but everything we needed to know was right there, we just didn’t realize it yet! The Dutchman’s philosophies were still new and his players weren’t firmly grasping them as United ran, somewhat, riot on their preseason tour. Van Gaal’s philosophy would begin to sink in, and just in time, for the opening day of the Premier League: Manchester United 1 – 2 Swansea at a packed and hopeful Old Trafford.

Four wins out of their first 12 fixtures in all competitions saw Van Gaal scrambling to ease the Moyes-like unrest growing through the United faithful. “He needed to get the dross out of the club,” was the excuse after United were battered like a beach in a hurricane at League 1 side MK Dons, 4-0. A ten match unbeaten streak followed this horrendous beginning to Van Gaal’s tenure and fears were put to rest, even if only for a while. Wins away at table toppers Southampton and at Arsenal sandwiched a 3-0 win against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

But never ever forget, it’s the hope that kills you.

Only 3 losses out of the next 12 matches saw United sitting in a good position in the table, but the final loss in that stretch saw Dat Guy, Danny Welbeck knock United out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford with his new Arsenal outfit. The results were going United’s way but the football on display was the kind of stuff most of United’s supporters had never seen before – alarm bells were already beginning to ring. The final 10 matches saw four wins in row to lock up 4th spot but 4 losses from their last 6 matches reinforced the fear that had already been planted early on – Louis Van Gaal is not right for Manchester United.

Match results are one thing, but player performance and man management are a completely different story under the Dutchman. Rafael gave away a penalty at Leicester and was sold. Chicharito missed a penalty, and a couple sitters, and was loaned to Real Madrid for the season. Tom Cleverly found greener pastures at Aston Villa, and eventually back with Roberto Martinez at Everton permanently. Darren Fletcher followed Jonny Evans’ lead and headed for West Brom. He even sent his own son, Robin Van Persie, packing and Nani joined him in Turkey.

The philosophy was in full play.

Wingers became strikers and visa versa. Backs were moved in to central defense and midfielders’ passes, backwards and sideways, per game tripled. Keep the ball. Poke and prod the defense for openings. Don’t take chances! Take a touch before shooting – you’ll be more accurate. Everyone was over trained. The squad was thinned out. Youth were brought in to fill the gaps – which is how it should be! But at one point 16+ injured showed Van Gaal’s naivety to a long English football season. He now uses youth to cover his failing tracks – ”fill in the blank name’ part of the squad for tonights match.’ Meetings were scheduled for those players to explain themselves when they missed a penalty or an open goal; they were then pulled from that duty. The confidence of each and every player on the pitch was greatly diminished and the world could see it. New players would quickly succeed only to be eventually influenced by Van Gaal and lose their way. The players, and fans alike most likely, like the Dutchman as a man but his football was the stuff sleep is made of.

The Dutchman’s second season was worse but why bore you with the details. Let’s just say United were top of the league at the end of September, 1 point off the top at the end of November, but a disastrous December decimated the club as far as 7th place. In a Premier League season when Sir Alex Ferguson would have walked the league by 20 points, Van Gaal is fighting for a Europa League spot.

The humane thing to do would have been to put the sick and dying animal down in December, giving United the hope (there’s that word again) of turning things around, but that highly necessary move never materialized.

Instead, the Iron Tulip, once feared in football, now only scares his players and supporters every time he has a press conference. Once a highly respected football man, Van Gaal now trolls his own club with his statements, his lineups, and his offerings of hope.

I hate myself for hating the man and the philosophy that has turned our club into a footballing joke, and this cancer goes much higher and deeper than Van Gaal’s office, but I hate it nonetheless.

In the words of my friend, “Make it stop. Please…make it stop.”

Man United Performance Offers Hope of Top 4 Finish

Van Gaal's Press Conference: Southampton

As Man United faced up to Stoke on Tuesday night many fans feared they’d witness another boring, high possesion, few chances type of game but we couldn’t have been more wrong.

The stats show it’s the small, defensive teams United have struggled to break down this season, making Stoke possibly to worst team for us to play. Our slow, possession based football is easy to defend against, so The Potters, who are known for being notoriously difficult to break down, will have been confident they could leave Old Trafford with at least a draw.

From the start Man United showed great intent with shots at goal, quick passing and over loading our attacks with players wide and through the middle.

Our first goal came from a brilliant low cross by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson which the Stoke defence were hesitate to touch, with fear they could knock it in themselves, only to be met by Lingard at the back post.

The Man United we’ve seen this season may have rested with the lead until half time but this was a team which were out to prove a point and eventually it paid off.

The second goal will surely go down as one of the goals of the season, it was quick, decisive  and everything we’ve seen throughout the years. A quick ball from Carrick eventually reached Mata on the wing who managed to take out two Stoke defenders with a slick pass to Rooney who crossed it to Martial, leaving the French youngster to curl it into the top corner.

Two goals in the first half? Man United fans couldn’t believe this was the same team they’ve been watching all season, a team who haven’t scored a first half goal since September.

The second half was always going to struggle to match the intensity of the first but in the 53rd min another great passing move ended with Rooney tapping the ball in to make it 3-0.

Are Man United Back?

I know Man United fans don’t want to hear or answer this question but there’s a reason we should at least consider it. The performance against Stoke wasn’t a one off. Consider how well the team played against Liverpool and Derby, quick, attacking, using width, it’s almost as though van Gaal has learnt how to get the best out the team.

We started the season with a strong defence but poor in attack, however due to criticism from fans, media and club legends, he began focussing on playing more attacking football. This left us short in defence, often conceding unnecessary goals but in the last few weeks we appear to have gotten the balance right.

We are able to break down defensive teams using quick passing and width, while also not getting caught out on the counter attack. I know we could say Southampton proves otherwise but could that just be a one-off?

I’d like think these performances will continue and with Arsenal and Chelsea coming up it’s going to be vital we win our next few matches if we want a top 4 finish.

Louis Van Gaal Talked Out Of Quitting Yet Again

According to Jamie Jackson at The Guardian, Louis Van Gaal tried again (a third time reportedly) to resign his position as manager of Manchester United but was rebuffed by Ed Woodward. Woodward would like him to see out this season, at least, as he does not want to make a managerial change mid season. The meeting ended with Woodward asking Van Gaal to reconsider as he spoke with his family on his trip back to the Netherlands to celebrate his daughters birthday. Another meeting is planned for today for Woodward to receive Van Gaal’s answer.

The madness of this story is simple: if it is true and Van Gaal has tried to resign once, much less THREE times, we should allow him to move on. His resignation is his admittance that things aren’t working and it would be best for the club if he moves on. Woodward may be grasping at straws to try and keep the beleaguered manager for a few more months as the football only seems to get worse each time United take the pitch, but that is exactly what it appears he is doing. If there are other moves being made (ie., Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola) that cannot come to fruition until the summer, this would show how little confidence Woodward has in Ryan Giggs, the man originally slated to take over from Louis Van Gaal at the end of his contract.

Whatever is happening, Woodward and the club look like daft fools grasping at things that are not there.

 

Van Gaal’s Press Conference: Southampton

Van Gaal's Press Conference: Southampton

After last week’s 0-1 away win at Liverpool, United will be looking to continue 2016’s improved run of form. Before our next game against Southampton, some big topics were covered by Van Gaal in his weekly press conference.

Injuries

The first news to break early this afternoon was that Ashley Young has sustained a serious groin injury after the match with Liverpool, and will need to undergo major surgery that will keep him out for “a very long time”. During this season, Young featured early on at left and right wing, but, more importantly for us right now, has also featured at left back and right back, leaving us with only one first team player to play there – Darmian.

Van Gaal also confirmed that Phil Jones and Bastian Schweinsteiger are also set to miss our upcoming game against Southampton, while more positively, Adnan Januzaj is back to full fitness and is eligible to play.

Full-Back

As a result of Young’s injury, which leaves very few options at full back, Van Gaal was questioned whether he had left his squad too small this season. “No, that is not true, I think when you see how unlucky we have been in the full-back position. I have started with Valencia, Shaw, Rojo, Darmian and Young, sometimes, and they are all injured – only Darmian is now back.”

With only Darmian as a first team regular at full back, Van Gaal was subsequently asked about youth players filling that position comfortably for the rest of the season, to which he responded, “you have seen how I have used youngsters like Borthwick-Jackson and Varela who are doing great but the level of Manchester United is high. To give a high performance every week normally is very difficult for youngsters, which is why we have to look always in this transfer period for replacements.”

Transfers

Our full back positions need strengthening, and Van Gaal was asked about his likelihood of dipping into the transfer market in what remains of this month. “The difficulty is that we ask for a level and the clubs do not want to sell in this period and that is our problem. We are looking, but it is not so easy. Nobody can understand that because [they think] it is easy and it is not so.” From both these comments and the ones around our young full backs, it would not be surprising to see us exploring the market for another full back, but the question is whether we would be panic buying, overspending, or generally not getting the level of quality the summer transfer window offers.

Rooney

After Wayne Rooney’s recent form, Van Gaal was questioned on his influence on the team’s performances. “It is a fact that since Rooney is scoring we have won our games, or at least we draw against Newcastle United away. There is a parallel and I have said that always that he is not only important as a player but as a captain, so I am very happy with him.”

Liverpool

At half time during our 0-1 win over Liverpool, reports began to emerge of a very heated debate in the changing room in order to raise performance levels. Asked on Rooney’s part in that, Van Gaal said “not only Wayne Rooney is doing that, there are several players doing that and that is what I want because the players are self responsible and it is not only the manager which is why I have made this approach to the players. Responsibility for the result and commitment for the result is very important and that they are showing.”

Difficult Period

December 2015 culminated in one of our worst runs of form for 40 years and set new unwanted records for the club. Since the turn of the New Year, we have seen improvements in our record. Asked on whether the difficult period had come to an end, Van Gaal responded, “it is not interesting for me, it is only interesting for the players. The players play the game and have the resistance in the game, so I think the pressure is a little bit gone, but it would return if we lost against Southampton. It is always the same pressure for Manchester United – we have to win. Our fans are always expecting us to win, especially at home.”

Let’s hope we can do exactly that against Southampton, which you can catch at 3:00pm on Saturday 23rd January.

Match Review: Liverpool 0 -1 Manchester United – Smash and Grab

Like a thief with no business making off with the goods, Manchester United somehow found three points as their reward after their latest trip to Anfield. David DeGea saved United’s blushes, and Louis van Gaal’s job, with Wayne Rooney grabbing his team leading 12th goal this season in all competitions making wasteful Liverpool pay with United’s only shot on goal.“Why can’t we play Liverpool every week,” quipped United fans post match as Louis Van Gaal completed his second double in a row over the red half of Liverpool. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination.

MATCH REVIEW: United’s starting eleven, excluding DeGea, were completely absent in a first half that saw Liverpool have the better of the possession, chances, and they looked the most likely of the teams to score. Their only shot on goal fell to Adam Lallana who placed a tame header right at DeGea. Firmino could only fire wide from the rebound. Jordan Henderson and James Milner both had poor volley’s fail to trouble the second best goal keeper in the world as voted by FIFA.

On the opposite side, United failed to trouble the error-prone Belgium keeper. The mistakes Simon Mignolet has committed this season made this a huge mistake from United. Right before the half, 18 year old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson came on as a sub in place of the injured Ashley Young. His display the second half would prove he deserves more of a run in the first team.

DeGea continued to show why he has been voted as United’s Player of the Season two years in a row. With Liverpool continuing to play with the initiative into the second half, a brilliant double save kept them at bay. First from Emre Can and then the rebound effort from Firmino, the Real Madrid target showed again why Manchester United loves the fax machine in the office’s at Real Madrid City. The Spanish International keeper was relieved Henderson’s later effort, after a cut-back from Firmino, was drilled straight into his arms.

With Liverpool still prodding and attacking the United defense, the smash-and-grab was truly on. As has been their downfall numerous times this season, Liverpool would concede yet again from a set piece.

The corner was taken short and Juan Mata was allowed to cross the ball into the box.  Although he was being marked by 4 defenders, Maraoune Fellaini headed the ball onto the frame of goal. The rebound found Rooney, who wasn’t marked, and he lashed the ball home being forced to wait on the bounce and keep the ball under the bar. This was Rooney’s fifth goal in the last 4 matches – what a 2016 Rooney is having so far!

Jurgen Klopp immediately brought on striker, Christian Benteke and newly signed defender, Steven Caulker (whom he played up front for a second match in a row) in an attempt to find an equalizer, but it never came.

Football can be a cruel game, and in a matchup of two very poor teams, Liverpool, again, was the poorer of the two struggling sides.

NOTES: Wayne Rooney’s goal at Anfield was only his second in the red half of Liverpool in the last 11 years. His quality strike brings him to within 7 goals of Sir Booby Charlton’s record of 249 goals for Manchester United.

Louis Van Gaal has yet to lose to Liverpool as the manager of Manchester United in the Premier League. In the 2015/16 season United has had 4 shots on goal against Liverpool in two matches and all 4 shots have found the back of the net.     

FINAL THOUGHTS: Louis Van Gaal is not out of the woods yet. The United display at Liverpool was eerily similar to what has been on show this season and doesn’t bring hope to many United fans grasping to the belief the Iron Tulip has turned a corner. United managed only 7 shots during the match with their only shot on goal scoring past Mignolet. The three points may keep the boo-boys at bay, for now, but his job at Manchester United hangs on the edge of a knife. Losing another match could see the end of Dutchman’s reign at Manchester United, and rightly so.

Liverpool Vs Man United: Which Team Has Improved Most?

Liverpool v Man United - Anfield

I’m Looking forward to the weekend, Manchester United travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool. Come Sunday the team will need to be in top form with Liverpool scoring 3 in their draw with Arsenal. As you may recall United have been in better attacking form, coming at the cost of the defense. Many of us have been hoping to see some news regarding Fellaini being sold, or even just seeing some news about how he will be at least starting out on the bench and not in the first XI. Sadly I have yet to see any news about this, which sadly has me believing that van Gaal is still planning on starting him.

Man Utd Starting XI

In a 4-2-3-1 Formation I predict that van Gaal will have De Gea Darmain Smalling Blind Borthwick-Jackson Fellaini Schneiderlin Mata Herrera Martial Rooney. But rather that I’m sure that many of you like me would rather see something such as in a 4-2-3-1 as well. I wish that van Gaal would let us see De Gea Varela Smalling Blind Darmian Schneiderlin Herrera Martial Mata Memphis Rooney.

Playing Varela as the right back against Liverpool is a must. They attack with pace from their left, our right, and as proven Darmian does not have the most pace about him, so bringing in Varela would prove to give us a better defense against their best attacking threats, especially with Martial tracking back to help. On the other side we have Darmian who is the better defender of the two, and will need to be when Memphis rarely tracks back.

If Memphis doesn’t play and Januzaj can, I would love Januzaj in front of Varela (the two built some amazing chemistry in the youth set up since Varela was bought), and Martial in front of Darmian to protect him with some pace. In the center of the park Ander and Morgan give what has been wanted in the center for years.

The defensive prowess of Morgan combined with the attacking of Ander make a wonderful midfield pair, with both having an eye for both a tackle and an incisive pass. The attacking three with Martial, Mata and Memphis bring up pace, a desire to take one on, and combined with the great vision of Mata can really help out supply the newly found form of Rooney to finish the ball like his old self. Lingard will surely start amongst the substitutes due to his poor performance and the missed shot he had against Newcastle United.

Key Matchups to Watch

Roberto Firmino vs. Daley Blind and Chris Smalling:images-7

Assuming Klopp plays a similar eleven against us as he did against Arsenal Firmino will have a much harder matchup as the lone striker. Against Arsenal he could use his pace to sneak through gaps between Mertesacker and Koscielny, neither of which posses the pace of Smalling or Blind.

Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial vs. Liverpool’s defense:images-5

As seen in the reverse fixture this season, the speed of Martial can torment a defense, with his first appearance for the club coming against Liverpool and scoring a magnificent solo effort goal in front of the Stretford End. It will be a large task for Clyne to see if he can slow down Martial. More towards the center there is a battle sure to be fought between Rooney and the center backs of choice for Klopp. Against Arsenal Klopp sent out an aging Kolo Toure paired next to Mamadou Sakho. Rooney will surely try to play closer to the aging Toure with whom he can out pace and find space behind, as well as combine swell with Martial to get behind Clyne and attempt to recreate the goal he scored at Old Trafford.

Morgan Schneiderlin vs. James Milner:

The name James Milner is one United fans are fairly common of, when he played for cross-town rivals City. Milner has been an important cog in the center of the park for Liverpool and it will be interesting to see how the battle between he and Schneiderlin ensues.

Final Prediction:

Manchester United 3 – 1 Liverpoolimages-6

Manchester United goals by: Martial Rooney Smalling

Liverpool goal by: Firmino

 

 

Disagree or have any thoughts? Be sure to leave a comment below.

Newcastle, Liverpool & Planning Failures

Twenty Four hours on from Manchester United’s most thrilling encounter in months, the Premier League table looks much clearer. Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham all dropped points ahead of United in the table, while Liverpool dropped points behind them. If December was ground zero for United’s time with Louis Van Gaal at the helm, our trip to 18th placed Newcastle may have more signs of promise than a petrol station just down the road when your car is already on fumes.

United players all felt like their work at St. James Park was two points lost rather than a point gained. A win was desperately needed for the underperforming Red Devils against a poor Newcastle side who drew 0-0 at the beginning of the season at Old Trafford. This was not that match.

The football was a different brand. The pitch? Open and expansive. Rooney found the fountain of youth. Van Gaal found emotion on the bench no one in the Red half of Manchester has ever seen before. But the manager’s defensive frailties were exposed again in the harshest of ways. As many United fans quipped after the match, “I’d rather have 3-3 than 0-0 any day,” this loss still stung. Had Rooney and Lingard been even more clinical than they already were, United would have been 3 goals clear early in the second half. As it turned out, the chance fell to the much ostracized Fellaini to seal the three points. With the goal gaping his powerful header found the keepers grateful arms when it was easier to score. United took only 2 points from Newcastle in the 2015/16 season.

United’s owners, Executive Vice Chairman, and manager must now travel down the dark tunnel of brutal honesty and soul searching. Why were young defenders not purchased when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were a season or two away from leaving United? Was the plan for Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, and Chris Smalling to be the next world class defenders at the back for the famous Manchester United? If so, only Smalling has come close. Evans and Jones have massively underperformed leaving United’s player development and performance grading system in serious doubt.

Whatever the reason, United now must dip into the transfer market yet again. Promoting from youth while purchasing the best up and coming talent around used to be how things were done. Now United must spend big to cover the gaping holes left by failed planning and proper investment. No less than two quality defenders must be purchased. The names of Athletic Bilboa’s Aymeric Laporte and Everton’s John Stones come immediately into mind. Young, fast, strong, dynamic, and ready to take the next step – United should throw 45-50 million at each of their respective teams to ensure they end up in the Northwest of England.

After a couple of goal filled days in the Premier League in the second week of January United sit only 2 points outside of the top 4. This surely can be their only goal for the Premier League yet again. Louis Van Gaal’s failings in seeing the problems clearly developing with his squad through the early part of the season and making little to no changes in formation, tactics, and player selection are mainly at fault. Since Van Gaal’s first season in charge it’s pretty much always been a dreary sort of United performance each time they step onto the pitch. Van Gaal has them setup to defend without attack or attack without defense. There seems to be no middle ground.

Next up is a trip to Liverpool. They seem to possess many of the same issues under Jurgen Klopp that United do under their Iron Tulip, but with squad talent vastly favoring the Red Devils. Last season’s trip to Anfield gave us one of the more dominant United performances against our hated rivals – Juan Mata beautifully on the double that day. United may be looking to Liverpool hater, Wayne Rooney to lead them to victory. His resurgence has seem him score 4 goals in 3 matches in 2016 – more goals than in the last two months for the Evertonian. An on form Rooney coupled with an incapable defense could see United score some goals and ship some goals.

At this point, your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen at Liverpool on Sunday. But one thing is for sure, with ground zero behind us there are few expectations with the United fans any longer. Three points could push us back into the top 4 while another draw, especially a loss, could see Louis Van Gaal shown the door at Old Trafford.

Match Review: Newcastle United 3-3 Manchester United – The Talking Points

Wayne Rooney Celebrating

What a game. We, as United fans, have clamoured for a performance that would see us score 3 goals away from home, including a thunderous return to form for our captain Wayne Rooney. If only it were a 3-0 win, eh?

Rather than give a step by step review of the game (because frankly the whole article would be nearing on a short novel), I thought I would give an opinionated overview of the big talking points from the game instead. And well, where else could I possibly start…

Poorest Man United Player?

People say it’s easy to jump on a bandwagon and blame one particular player for a result. That’s true. But when a performance is that bad from one particular player, they’re making it even easier. For those that criticise the negativity constantly centred on Fellaini, I want to give you a few statistics.

Against Newcastle, Fellaini had: 0 interceptions, 1 yellow card, committed 5 fouls (3 inside 20 minutes), 1 clear goal scoring opportunity missed.

Beyond the Newcastle game, Fellaini has missed his last 6 clear goal scoring opportunities in the box.

Even further beyond that, Fellaini has started 11 games, from which we have 10 points. Fellaini has not started in 10 other games, from which we have 24 points. For someone who relies so heavily upon statistics like Van Gaal, it’s not rocket science is it.

Tuesday’s performance was one of the worst I have seen yet from Marouane Fellaini. His positional sense was most worrying. He was supposed to be a footballing partner for Morgan Schneiderlin in that defensive midfield area, yet very often he was found straying onto the left wing, into attacking midfield and even into centre-back, which is where the first goal comes from. Taking up Smalling’s spot, Fellaini tries to head the ball clear, but instead heads it straight into Wijnaldum’s path, who finishes brilliantly. If Fellaini stays where he should be, then Smalling is able to attack that header, and if it goes wrong, then the partnership of Schneiderlin and Fellaini can either clear the ball, or block off Wijnaldum’s run, something I heavily mentioned needs to be watched out for in my preview of the game.

The guy was wreckless elsewhere on the pitch too. Before 20 minutes he had given away 3 fouls, and was booked soon after for his 4th. He continues to make a further foul after that, for which he was given his final warning. Later on, knowing he’s on that last warning, he has a kick out at Coloccini, which luckily for him was missed by Mike Dean. Fellaini was a walking red-card against Newcastle, and rather than be sent off, if we’re all honest, Van Gaal should have taken him off before that.

However he didn’t, and late in the game, we are 3-2 up, and Memphis whips in a glorious ball, inch perfect, onto the oncoming Fellaini. Pick a corner lad, definite goal if you do… Straight at the keeper. Would have been 4-2, game to bed, and we all go home thinking ‘United are back’.

Why Van Gaal is sticking with him is beyond me. I won’t even attempt to explain it.

Mike Dean

Mike Dean had a tough, but good, game tonight. There were many debateable decisions, and there will be no absolute answer to whether they were right or wrong. But for my money he had a decent game, and it’s refreshing to see a referee that doesn’t shy away from making big decisions, as every week in the Premier League we see at least one referee shirking off making a controversial call. I think the handball of Mbemba was a harsh call upon reflection after seeing the TV angles, but the referee only has his own angle to go by, and in that case, it would have looked like an unnatural position for the arm to be raised to whilst blocking the header of Fellaini.

The second big decision was Jesse Lingard’s tackle from behind in the box. Again, from our luxury of the TV replays we may say it could have been a penalty. But once again it’s a case of from the referee’s angle, he cannot give that as a penalty as the ball looks to be won and the players look like they simply go shoulder to shoulder.

The 2nd penalty of the game came from a playground wrestling match involving Smalling pulling Mitrovic’s shirt half off, and Mitrovic ripping Smalling’s shirt down the middle. I cannot decide on this one. Smalling makes the first contact, but Mitrovic makes the worse contact. For me, I think we see every defender holding their opposing attacker from all set pieces in that way, and it’s only because of the escalation from Mitrovic that the incident gets seen. But from Mike Dean’s point of view, Smalling starts it, so Smalling concedes it.

Overall I think Mike Dean had a commendable game by showing authority to make big decisions the way that he did, and it’s more than welcome in many more games to come.

Boring, Boring Manchester United?

Tonight Manchester United played a high pressing team that conceded possession to the home team, intercepted the ball, and broke with width and pace. There was much to be said for us tonight in a negative light, but truth be told, we looked more like the United of old. As I also said in the preview, we needed to pull Newcastle out of position with wide stretching wingers, and Martial/Lingard performed that brilliantly. It was summed up best by our counter-attack for the second goal. A pass out of our half from Herrera, to a strangely pacey Rooney who held it up brilliantly, whilst then sublimely backheeling for the onrushing Lingard to slot through the keeper’s legs. Old skool.

So why is it we can play this well going forward, but as a consequence have to see goals go in at our end?  Or, why is it when we stay solid at the back, we can’t buy a goal? We heard many times from LVG in the summer that we need to have a ‘balanced selection’ – one that can attack and defend simultaneously. So why can’t it? For me, it can, but only when a very particular group of players are available. I look to the 3-0 win away at Everton as proof that this so called ‘philosophy’ can work. It doesn’t work so often because Van Gaal has a habit of tinkering too much with partnerships, overtrains players into injury or ‘the red zone’, and left the squad too thin in a mismanaged summer transfer window. On the flip side, Van Gaal’s system created several chances to bury the game against Newcastle, with Rooney missing a couple of one-on-ones, Lingard missing a glorious opportunity, alongside Fellaini’s previously mentioned header (the only reason I’m not slating Rooney and Lingard is because both actually scored elsewhere, and had pretty decent games all-round unlike Fellaini). My point is the system does work, Van Gaal has just left the squad too poorly managed for it to be able to do so on a regular basis. I don’t think our squad is too far away (in terms of players we can buy and current selection) from something that can compete; it’s whether Van Gaal can manage that correctly to make it work.

Rooney

On a more positive final talking point, Wayne Rooney – wow. What a performance from the captain. It’s the Rooney we all used to pay good money to watch; the Rooney that bullied defences; the Rooney that actually looked interested in putting a shift in. When we won the first penalty of the game, we all thought, ‘he’s lucky to be getting penalties to keep his tally up’, be honest. But the match progressed, and Wayne did with it. He bullied defenders and midfielders off the ball, he ran in behind, he ran more directly at defenders; and it all culminated in a beautifully powerful but cultured strike into the top left corner to bring the game to make it 3-2.

2 goals and an assist – is Rooney ‘back’? Who knows. One thing with Wayne is he always scores in spurts; let’s just hope he’s only at the start of this one.

Player Ratings

DDG (7); Young (7), Smalling (6), Blind (6), Darmian (6); Schneiderlin (8), Fellaini (3); Lingard (7), Herrera (8), Martial (6); Rooney (9)

Subs: Memphis (7), Mata (5)

Liverpool (A) are up next. It will be completely down to Liverpool’s updates on squad injuries as to whether we can expect anything out of the game; but if it’s anything like last year’s game at (Ju)Anfield, then quite frankly, I can’t wait…

Match Preview: Newcastle vs Manchester United

Hope you all got home from the Sheffield United FA Cup game okay, I heard there was quite a bit of traffic?*

Next up, we play Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Tuesday 12th January, with kick off at 7:45.

So, What Can We Expect?

Right now it’s anyone’s guess as to what type of performance we’re going to get from United under LVG. Are we going to get another performance like the game against Sheffield United, or are we going to get a performance like the games against Swansea and Chelsea?

Quite frankly I expect the former. Newcastle are currently in an early relegation battle in 18th place with 17 points, and will therefore likely want to settle for a point as a minimum, and if the opportunity to counter arises, try and nick a goal to take all 3 points. This will likely mean that most of the game will be very similar viewing for United fans – prepare to have the majority of the possession, and have to work through 9 or 10 men to get a chance on goal.

With that said, Newcastle have been doing well against the ‘bigger’ teams, with their away performance at Arsenal catching most attention. For decent portions of that game Newcastle controlled the flow, and threatened a fair few times through Mitrovic’s aerial presence and Wijnaldum’s finesse and vision. Quite frankly, they were unlucky in that game and deserved more. We, ourselves, drew 0-0 with Newcastle at Old Trafford in the 3rd game of the Premier League, where after an explosive first 20 minutes, Newcastle grew into the game and could have easily stolen the 3 points.

Beating Newcastle United

47% of Newcastle’s Premier League goals have come from Wijnaldum this season (7G, 2A), with him operating across the flanks and number 10 roles in all his appearances. Everything goes through him. In order to limit his creativity for Newcastle our team selection simply has to include Morgan Schneiderlin. His game is nullifying players of this sort, and with so many teams relying on number 10’s to make them tick in the modern game, it’s no wonder we have only lost 1 game when he has played. Play him and you limit Wijnaldum’s shots, passes, and general influence such as feeding a hungry Mitrovic up front.

Focusing on ourselves, width could play key in Tuesday’s game. Newcastle’s full backs and wingers (in tracking back terms) are not the greatest (Jaanmat potentially excluded from that). Therefore rather than the narrow team selection against Sheffield United, a selection with Memphis, who made a real impact last Saturday aside from the penalty, and Lingard may be more appropriate. To make this work further, our fullbacks must overlap to give Newcastle’s defenders a split-second insecurity about who to go with, allowing the wingers to conjure something up. There is no secret as to why Memphis was better earlier in the season – Shaw’s overlapping runs made the full-backs question where they were going, allowing Memphis to get a shot off, cross the ball, make an incisive pass and so on. Therefore I’d like to see either Varela or Young deployed at right back (as much as I prefer him on the wing – needs must) and Borthwick-Jackson at left back after his impressive game in the FA Cup.

If we nullify the threat of Wijnaldum whilst stretching Newcastle out of position with our wingers/full-backs, then it’s more than possible that we may well see a welcome improvement on Saturday’s game!

Team News

United:

Schweinsteiger looks set to miss the game, with Jones also unlikely to feature due to his recurring ankle problem. Valencia, Shaw and Rojo are all still out.

Young, Schneiderlin and Carrick are all likely to return to the squad after being rested in the FA Cup.

Newcastle:

Thauvin (winger) and Mbabu (defender) are likely to miss out, along with Krul (GK), Haidara (defender), Obertan (winger) and Anita (midfielder) who are all sidelined.

Captain Coloccini (defender) will face a late fitness test before the game, while Colback (midfielder), Aarons (winger), Cisse (striker) and Riviere (striker) could all be seen to return to the squad.

My Personal Team

GK:                                De Gea

DEF: Young, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson

DM:                    Carrick, Schneiderlin

AM:              Lingard, Herrera, Memphis

ST:                                 Martial

Let’s hope for something positive and inspiring to lift us all after Saturday’s FA Cup game and push on to better and greater things through the rest of the season!

*If you haven’t got this joke yet, please go and look at the pre-Newcastle press conference…

Bored. – Manchester United v Sheffield United Match Review

Man Utd v Sheff Utd Stats

“I thought football was supposed to be entertainment?” questioned Jake Humphrey on BT Sport’s coverage.

“It’s supposed to be, and it used to be at this place. I don’t think anyone’s surprised at what we’ve seen in the first half. The players are bored, the fans are bored; everyone’s bored. You look at the manager and he looks bored as well” Scholes ranted in reply.

Unfortunately, he’s right. Saturday’s 1-0 win over Sheffield United was yet another chapter in the drab novel of the 2015/16 season for Manchester United. Fans were restless, the players looked restless, Giggs looked restless. Once again we struggled to perform, struggled to excite, and struggled to score. It’s a story we’ve watched and read about over and over again this season, so why is there still no change? This is nothing new, after all.

Sheffield United are, for a League One side, a very decent cup team, reaching the Capital One League Cup semi finals last season, and the 5th round of the FA Cup a year previous to that. However, they are still a League One side, and when you field a strong team featuring the likes of Rooney, Herrera, Mata, Schweinsteiger, Martial and so on, a plethora of chances and opportunities should be being created. Yet, it took until just before the 70th minute for a shot on target (which even then was a scuffed toe-poke from Darmian), and took the introduction of a currently inconsistent Memphis Depay after 60 minutes to spark the tiniest ray of light into the game with two off-target shots. Most telling about the game was that these shots were ironically applauded as if they were actually goals scored, simply because he had a go.

So why are we so blunt in the final third? I am no football coach and I don’t claim to be. But it isn’t a case of footballing knowledge or coaching ability in my opinion, it’s simple common sense.

On deadline day we brought in a 19 year old striker from AS Monaco called Martial. Nobody expected much from him, but since his thunderous introduction at home against Liverpool, he has become our most direct, potent attacker at the club. Yet where is the prolific finisher played? Left wing. In the early part of the summer transfer window in 2014 we bought a dynamic, exciting, creative attacking midfielder from Athletic Bilbao called Ander Herrera. What happens at half time? He is pulled back to defensive midfield and Fellaini is moved forward. Mata – a number 10 at right wing. Rooney – (while more debateable) a number 10 at number 9. Pereira – a number 10/winger at defensive midfield. Fellaini – umm…

You get the point.

All these attacking players, goal-scorers and creators alike, are all played in unfamiliar positions, and we wonder why things don’t naturally click in the final third? Rather than instinct, these players are second guessing what they need to be doing at any given time, and are reverting to the safe option of a sideways or backwards pass each time. Mata is a passer, not a dribbler or a runner, so rather than instinctively doing what a winger should do – get to the by-line and whip in a cross, he has to think, cut back inside, and pass across. Martial through the centre offers the midfielders a forward pass in behind the defence, but instead the midfielders must pass sideways toward the wing in order to get him on the ball. This is why we get an over-thought, over-worked, drab way of playing football with so very little penetration that quite frankly would work well as a good way of sending a crying newborn to sleep.

That said, Sheffield had 10 men behind the ball at all opportunities, and naturally this would be hard for most teams to break down. However it still doesn’t forgive the lack of both intent and risk shown by seasoned international stars at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Play the players in their natural positions with the freedom to go and create in a fluid formation, and those two things will return naturally.

Negativity aside however, this is the football we signed up for as Manchester United when signing Van Gaal, in return for the building process that comes with him. At Bayern he frustrated fans with the very same style of football, but he was key in the laying of the groundwork for them to go onto great things in years to come, and it was the same with Barcelona before that.

Look forwards for a moment at our team in 5 years – a developed Martial up top; behind him a selection from a (hopefully) more consistent and developed Memphis, Pereira, Lingard, Herrera, Januzaj; fed by Schneiderlin in his prime; in front of a back line containing Shaw, McNair, Smalling in his prime, and Varela/Darmian; and potentially if we can keep hold of him, De Gea. This is why, even though we all likely dislike the football played under Lucky Louis, we must back him while the board do, as disgruntled as it obviously makes us.

Here’s to hoping for a potential improvement at Newcastle on Tuesday.