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.

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.

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…

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.

Sheff Utd Shows How Far United Have Fallen

Rooney - Sheffield United

Manchester United scrape a 1-0 win against League 1 opposition, Sheffield United, thanks to an injury time penalty.

It was a game we were expected to win, although nothing can be taken for granted in the FA Cup, however Manchester United’s style and tactics made it a much harder task than it needed to be.

The first half ended just as ever other half has this season, possession, cross which no one meets and few chances with no shots at goal.

If someone dared to do something special it may have come from Martial, however even he is wasted out on the left.

The second half wasn’t any better and when Memphis came on with the audacity to shot from distance the United fans responded with ironic cheers.

When the Dutchman went down inside the box to win a penalty in the 93rd min we knew a goal would only paper over the cracks. Rooney scored from the spot kick and United went on  to win but this wasn’t a game which was supposed to be just about getting a win.

How Low Have Man United Sunk?

The biggest criticism of Louis van Gaal and his style is….well there is no style to it, it’s boring, slow and even League 1 teams can defend against it.

We required a penalty to win because Sheffield United found it ridiculously easy to defend against a team which are supposed to be challenge for the Premier League.

Louis van Gaal, Rooney, Fellaini and many others have said “it was just about getting the win”, no it  wasn’t, this is a team who have been told by fans to play more exciting football. If they can create chances or have shots a goal against Sheffield United how are they supposed to do it next season when we are expected to challenge for the league?

If the Man United board decide to stick with Louis van Gaal he will have to get busy in the January transfer market because the team desperately needs a striker and right winger.