Tuesday, 30 December 2014

GOAL SHY?

Manchester United have well documented problems but scoring a goal is not one of them, or at least should not be one of them. Therefore quite how to explain the scoreless stalemate at White Harte Lane on Sunday is rather incomprehensible. With a forward line that betters all but 2 in world football, finding the back of the net is supposed to be our go to for any failings of our defence. For once, it was the defenders that could shamelessly cash their cheques for Sunday's work.

Perhaps the biggest irony was that all our forwards had at least one good chance to score and yet none of them managed to. In fairness Hugo Lloris had a blinder of a performance but Juan Mata for instance has no business skying that second half sitter. That is not to take anything away from the Spaniard because I thought he had his best away performance with us this season. What's for certain is that the focus at Stoke will shift from how well the defence plays to whether we can find the net this time.

In isolation, a point against Spurs away from home is not the worst result to come away with but the context of this particular game means that it was 2 points dropped for us. Therein the last 4 dropped points at Villa and Spurs lies the reason why we cannot win the league title this year. Louis van Gaal made that point clear to the players in the dressing room post match. Again, that is not to say that we cannot make a title challenge of it. Because our result was suprisingly matched by the 2 sides above us, Sunday was not as bad as it could have been. However, the frustration is that when you factor in the 4 dropped points at Villa and then at Spurs, you wonder how close to the summit of the table we would have been if we had turned those draws into victories, as champions often do.

The biggest positive from the game was that for the first time since pre-season, we played the 3-5-2 and looked relatively comfortable. Whether that is down to doing the same thing over and over again or naming an unchanged line-up for the first time since November 2012, time will tell, but there was a risk in going to London and using it. Spurs, like most sides we shall visit in London always come out to attack us. It means games against them are squarely down to strength of the 2 sides on the day. It's why we've never lost a game there since the dawn of the millenium. With the Arsenal game in recent memory, I wondered how we would cope with them coming at our three centre backs regularly, exploiting the space between our wing backs and centre backs. As it turned out, Ashley and TonyV did well enough to track back at speed and cover their areas as well as denying Spurs any form of width. With Rafael and Luke Shaw making substitute appearances, it will be interesting to see who the manager goes with on New Years Day at Stoke.

The game at Stoke is now a pressure game for us in a different way. Our latest slip up has allowed the chasing pack to claw within 3 points of us. The one saving grace is that of the lot, Southampton and Arsenal are in direct competition next matchday so victory at the Brittania will have definite rewards. There's going to be some agricultural football and challenges on Thursday and a bit of blood will have to be spilled enroute to the final whistle. You hope that 3 days' rest should hold the players in good stead to start 2015 on the right note.

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