By Adam Joseph
Another weekend has passed and another poor result for Manchester United. Bournemouth continued their giant slaying ways with a stunning 2-1 win over a poor Red Devils side. An inexperienced United side created very little and it was one of the most heartless performances of the Louis Van Gaal era.
The Old Trafford club fielded 3 young players in a back four not ready to shoulder the burden of protecting David De Gea, who was surprised by an Junior Stanislas corner in the 2nd minute. Despite equalising when Marouane Fellaini stabbed home from close range in the 24th minute the team never really looked convincing, creating only 2 chances the entire game.
They registered 11 shots in total, 6 of which were either blocked or off target. Quite simply in a game United should be winning despite their overwhelming injury crisis, they never looked like the better side and it was not nearly good enough. Van Gaal’s side may have felt like they deserved at least a draw – but that isn’t what the Dutchman was hired to do.
Lack of experience within the XI fielded on Saturday can be used as an excuse for a thoroughly underwhelming performance, but it wasn’t just the youth of Van Gaal’s squad that struggled. It was one of Juan Mata’s worst performances since he joined the club, and if he wasn’t on the team sheet you may not have known he played at all. The senior members of the team did not stand up at all.
Fans preaching their desire for the clichéd return of “The United Way” have demanded attacking football in recent weeks, and frankly have done so for quite a while now. However the last 2 matches in Germany for the Champions League and down the coast against Bournemouth have shown exactly why United’s manager has chosen to play so cautiously.
The strength of United’s defence at present is that the team generally almost always controls the game through extensive possession and the protection of two defensive midfielders. When they try to speed up the pace and play with more endeavour that aforementioned protection wavers. The result? 5 goals conceded in two games, 3 scored.
Some have claimed that they would prefer to lose entertaining games and at least score goals than be bored with half decent results. Based on the last couple of games, is that really better? The feeling of victory no matter how it comes is always better than the inconsolable pain of defeat. It’s also worth remembering Sir Alex’s later teams were not always the most entertaining, but were about getting the job done. Sound familiar?
That being said, even with goals the football has still been drab for quite a while now with little payoff. The tension between the manager and the fans is at a level it has not been since the disastrous David Moyes era. It’s now 5 games in a row without victory for United, and that win was a lucky last minute own goal against Watford in November.
The most depressing part for fans is that no easy answer at the moment. 50% of fans want their Dutch manager sacked immediately, with only 36% wanting him to be kept till May and an even tinier 14% want him to stay beyond the end of the current campaign. That is damning.
But the question must be asked – what would sacking the manager right now achieve? United would become the club their fans have mocked for years about their knee jerk decisions with managers. That would merely make him the scapegoat of a situation that has a lot more problems than the man in charge. There is problems on and off the field that there are seemingly no immediate fix for.
The current squad lacks in so many areas, despite widespread optimism after a seemingly successful summer outlay. Chris Smalling lacks a suitable defensive partner, particularly one that can carry the load in his absence as was shown in awful fashion on Saturday.
Whilst Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have shored up the midfield, but the current group in the engine room do not seem to blend well no matter the combination and seriously lack drive and dynamism when Ander Herrera is out of the side as he is right now with a hamstring strain.
The problems up front continue, with Anthony Martial going through somewhat of a dry spell at present. Memphis’ struggles continue, but the point of mentioning those two is that it is ridiculous that the club are relying on two players barely into their twenties to shoulder the goalscoring burden.
These issues within the squad are laid at the feet of Van Gaal and especially the man responsible for recruitment, Ed Woodward. Woodward’s policy of prioritising commercial interests seemingly equally as strong as on field interests is now damaging the club on field, and shows serious flaws in the priorities of the Old Trafford decision makers.
Further to that Woodward’s briefs to the press are an insult to the intelligence of his clubs fan base. Briefs are designed to create deniability for the but at the same time to spread good news stories about them without direct links to anybody related to the club.
Following the Champions League defeat, rumours emerged United were working on separate deals for Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. After the Bournemouth shambles, United were apparently stepping up their interest in Pep Guardiola,
Feeding the press stories that have next to no credibility or chance of becoming reality only create more expectation for fans used to only the best. That’s not going to cut it with the fans of Manchester United.
All things considered above were stated without even mentioning the downturn of the youth system at the club, which is now failing to produce the quality prospects it once did. It was more than clear at the end of the summer that the rebuild of the club was still very much ongoing and there were still flaws within the current playing squad. With a chronic injury list they are now fully on show.
United finish the year with Norwich at home, a trip to Stoke on Boxing Day and then they host Chelsea in their last fixture of the calendar year. Then they start the year at home to Swansea, before the FA Cup fixture with Sheffield United then a trip to Newcastle awaits for the trip to Anfield against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
With the transfer window opening, United will have a chance to reload with some hopefully astute signings. The next month could be Van Gaal’s most pivotal yet, as his relationship with the majority of the club’s supporters reaches breaking point.
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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