Reasons for optimism despite latest draw

By Adam Joseph

Nil nil is becoming all too familiar. Nobody wants it to keep happening. It’s frustrating and increasingly so. Fans of the Premier League, particularly Manchester United fans, want goals and excitement. Whilst it’s not happening right now, it’s important to keep it in perspective, particularly in light of yesterday’s performance.

Louis Van Gaal once again finds himself in the firing line after another game without goals. Frustration has built over varying periods of time for each fan and the monster that is social media is being unleashed. Or for some, they got to do it in person.

If you’re voicing them based on what you’ve seen in some bland performances this season, that’s certainly justified. Fans are divided on the current state of the situation, but nobody wants to watch boring football.

However, was yesterday really boring football? Put goals in that game and it looks vastly different. Reporters would be writing about the thrilling hypothetical 2-2 draw, rather than what some are calling “more of the same”. Which, in reality, couldn’t be further from the truth.

West Ham United had 4 clear cut chances to score and on most other days would have scored at least one, if not more. The reason they had more than opposition teams have been used to recently at Old Trafford is because United opened up the play more and attacked more vigorously than they have of late.

Sure, it’s not what all fans are crying out for. But it’s worth remembering that while the defence is now strong, it’s strong in the current set up. With all the injuries (from Phil Jones to Luke Shaw or Marcos Rojo), would it really be as impenetrable if United were more swashbuckling and less protective?

The answer is ‘no’. That being said, there was a noticeable difference in United’s attacking play yesterday. Take a look at this shot chart for a perfect example of that. United shot the ball 19 times yesterday. One was on target.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 13.37.53

Courtesy of OPTA and FourFourTwo

Yes they didn’t score, but it’s certainly a big improvement on recent weeks. If Anthony Martial hits Memphis’ cutback on target that’s a goal. Same again if Marouane Fellaini hits truer and puts away Martial’s ball across the box.

Fans are lambasting Van Gaal for killing the players attacking instincts. But he clearly set up the team a bit differently yesterday. There was no long ball play from the outset, despite Fellaini starting behind the striker.

The Dutch manager is the easy target, but he’s not the reason good chances were wasted. He isn’t the one losing composure and blazing shots high or wide time and again.

Van Gaal is creating a young, exciting side and placing foundations in place for the future of the club. It’s for his successor more than it is for himself. Do not forget that. It’s been said time and again, as recently as last week. It’s a rebuild. It’s not immediate and it’s certainly not comparable to what’s happening at Liverpool or anywhere else.

Criticism is always fair within reason, but it’s important to remember what is fair and especially who it should be directed at. In recent weeks and in Van Gaal’s tenure his tepid negativity has cost the club just like any manager, but that again has to be considered in context.

The club actually has no natural right wing option at the moment. In the first half yesterday West Ham knew that side of the pitch had no threat, and forced United to attack wider and wider on the left, eventually forcing their crosses to uncomfortable positions where it would not lead to much.

United brought Fellaini into the game well, targeting him with crosses for knockdowns to Martial (whose chest control and shot was well blocked by Winston Reid, who was outstanding) but his influence waned as the game went on and if Schweinsteiger wasn’t being brought off to save his legs for the midweek Champions League game, he’d likely have been subbed.

Juan Mata put in another drab display, not offering enough in terms of pace and creativity which is what the club is crying out for at the moment. His tendency to drift into the middle did Paddy McNair no favours, and the Northern Irishman had a torrid first half eventually being replaced.

McNair was replaced by a promising debutant, Uruguayan Guillermo Varela who enjoyed a somewhat impressive second half. He was solid enough defensively (for a 22 year old) and got forward well, offering more than the uncomfortable McNair. It won’t be his last involvement for the season, you would think.

It’s also worth noting that the team was significantly better with Wayne Rooney sitting in the stands. In this game United arguably produced more shots and chances than they had in the previous 4 or 5 encounters with their captain on the pitch. The attack was more fluid, faster and frankly more exciting. The end feels nigh for the Englishman more and more with each game.

Memphis also enjoyed an impressive cameo off the bench, and the team looked much better with him on one flank and Jesse Lingard on the other. Despite Lingard’s increasing impressiveness, his composure in the final third killed his club’s chances of taking home the 3 points.

Fans cry out for youth to get their chance, and now they’re getting it. At the end of the day, the price you pay for fielding that aforementioned youth is their lack of experience and composure at crucial moments. We’ve now seen that cost the team against PSV and again with West Ham.

Van Gaal is not free of blame, his choice of keeping a small squad is biting him back now as we speak as another injury crisis hits the team. James Wilson has been sent out on loan to gain much needed experience and has begun to by bagging his first goal against Charlton yesterday.

However to those crying out for his return, do you believe a goal against Charlton in the Championship translates to him being the saviour for the forward woes plaguing the club? The answer is no. Martial for all his talents is in a slump right now, so it’s doubtful Wilson would outproduce the Frenchman.

With Morgan Schneiderlin doubtful for the huge clash with Wolfsburg midweek, United head into the clash needing a win against a team whose 29 game unbeaten streak at home was ironically broken by Borussia Dortmund yesterday.

The Reds are hurting on all fronts and their backs are against the wall. Can their manager (and his players) get it right on the night and whip out some magic? We’ll just have to be patient and see what transpires in Germany.

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.

Follow him on twitter @adamjoseph_27

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