A few of my mates found humour in my reservations about the Crystal Palace fixture. Whereas it was firmly in the category of "possible thrashings" i took issue with the fact that we've dropped so many points against the lesser sides of the league. Caution was therefore advised ahead of a must win game against the Eagles.
By the close of the first half, those fears were justified as Palace set out to sit deep and hit United on the counter. The tactic could have yielded a goal for them in the first half had Fraizer Campbell fully capitalised on an error from the makeshift centre back pairing of McNair (who was otherwise brilliant again) and Daley Blind. In the end though it took Juan Mata from the bench to score what turned out to be the winner. Although the Spaniadd has not lit up Old Trafford in the way he did Stamford Bridge, his goal return makes him quite a handy player to have. Goals win games. More than anything, its a great asset to have.
To be fair to Louis van Gaal, the current crop of players are asking him to make a tough choice between two systems. The first that was employed after the transfer window shut comprisied a free flowing 4-4-2 diamond attack that proved to be a goal-laden system. It thrilled us and is responsible for perhaps what could unfortunately turn out to be the game of the season. 5-3 defeat at Leicester. It's weaknesses were laid bare by in that game though. Bar the 4-0 win vs QPR, we couldn't keep a clean sheet in all the games we used that system.
The system was changed to a 4-1-4-1 system from the visit of Chelsea and has remained the same since. Its report card reads: Less goals conceded, less goals scored. Indeed, United has looked far more defensively assured since that game against Chelsea but have beenngoal starved since. That the system limits supply to the striker has shone unfairly on Robin van Persie who now lacks the constant service that every stiriker craves. All that notwithstanding, that we've conceded a total of just 2 goals since when we've faced both Chelsea and City in that period is in stark contrast to letting in 3 goals in 10 minutes in one match let alone three matches.
So when LVG keeps hammering in the need to get the balance right in press conferences, it is this puzzle he's trying to solve. Against Palace, he went for defensive security ahead of romping attacking football. Not the United way some might say but given the need to start posting results on the board, it is in our best interest short term that we string a few results together. With just the three points separaring us in 7th place and 13th, it is imperative that we build on the two decent performances against Chelsea and City to go on a flawless run.
The change in systems has also confined the creative wealth of Juan Mata and Ander Herrera to the bench and possibly rendered Di Maria a bit subdued as there is less inter-play in the middle where he enjoyed much joy at the start of the season. Fellaini has been preferred to add steel in the middle and act as a decoy to RVP upfront.
It remains to be seen how the manager shall get the balance right in time to get a settled formation for the rest of the season. With an international break coming up, perhaps there is an opportunity to get a few bodies back from iniury so as to allow the manager pick from a complete pool of players.
This weekend, results from just about all the sides around us went our way, allowing us to move to within 2 points of 4th place. The rewards are certainly there if we can muster a run of victories. Next up is Arsenal at the Emirates in a fortnight. If games between relegation candidates are six pointers, this one is such, for the Champions League battle will heavily feature us and them.
Till then though, cheers.