They say you have to crawl before you can walk. It’s probably emblematic of both the Louis Van Gaal era and the struggles of Memphis’ so far in his time at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils got themselves out of jail with a frantic finish to the game at Vicarage Road via a late Bastian Schweinsteiger strike (yes Troy Deeney helped it in but an own goal is an unfair description). The scenes after the goal were reminiscent of more successful times at the club. We all missed that feeling.
It was a superb Ander Herrera cross that broke the deadlock, Herrera again providing the magic that saw United take the lead early into the game. Memphis calmly latched on to a brilliant first time ball, putting it high into the net giving him the clear confidence boost he needed.
Whilst at times he was still wasteful and forcing things a bit too much, but it was a promising performance from the Dutchman who scored so many wonderful goals last season for PSV Eindhoven. He was bright and energetic on the ball whilst working hard off it.
Memphis combined well with the flourishing Jesse Lingard, who put in another promising display. Both caused the Hornets backline difficulty, combining well as a front two after Herrera departed with an unfortunate hamstring injury.
The injury crisis continues to strike every season at Old Trafford, after a good start to the season on that front. Up to 9 first teamers are now out for various periods of time, although it’s hoped Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney will be back in the squad for the Champions League clash midweek.
There were nerves around the striker position all season long with a lack of depth in the front line, but this was exacerbated when Martial limped off in this week’s International friendly. The upside is that at least it is not a major injury, which was naturally hyperbolised by the English press.
Memphis eased these concerns however with a solid display. His ability to get in behind defenders and challenge them offered something only Martial can do currently and it’s certainly something Rooney has not offered for quite a while.
On the whole it was a mixed display by United, who started brightly then seemingly got worse as the game progressed. Fans are quick to blame the formation change, but the lack of understanding around the 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2) formation causes a lot of this anxiety.
The players have gone through a lot of change in the last year and a half, and it’s also worth remembering that it’s very difficult to learn new systems that can be foreign, let alone switch them during a game on the fly. Ashley Young’s defensive struggles were the most likely reason for another defender on the park rather than a like for like Herrera replacement.
The bright spot from the game though was the promise of Memphis. All those watching know that the talent is there, but perhaps the confidence hasn’t been since his arrival. Champions League goals aside, it’s not been an easy adjustment for the youngster.
Although clearly talented, fans and pundits have been overly quick to jump on his back for his social life right down to his dress choices. Frankly that is ridiculous. Most players have active lives outside of football, Memphis is no different.
He is not troubled, he is not a problem. He’s young. How wise were we all when we were 21? These things do not happen overnight. Louis Van Gaal likes to talk about his players as human beings as much as they are footballers. It’s why he rested Memphis and Daley Blind after their Dutch qualifying troubles.
Nowadays patience is thinner than ever with players in every aspect of their play. Youngsters are expected to made an immediate contribution, while new signings are expected to hit the ground running. The Dutch forward of course fits both categories.
Whilst Anthony Martial has fulfilled both of the above expectations, he is an outlier and not the standard that should always be expected. That’s simply heaping more pressure on the player. What does that really achieve? That’s setting them up for failure by doing that.
Even the best in the world take time to become what they are today. It’s a terribly unfair comparison to use Cristiano Ronaldo’s early days at Old Trafford, but they were not short of frustration. They shouldn’t be compared too much, but allowing the same amount of patience without labelling the player a flop is most likely wise.
Despite his struggles he has still delivered 6 goals and 3 assists so far this season. The Dutchman can and will get better, if he is allowed the time to do so.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
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