Monday, 22 December 2014

TEMPERING THE TITLE TALK

You just knew it was going to happen. After defying the odds to pick up consecutive wins over two months, it all ends at the ground where we almost always win. That's football. Nothing knew. Obviously it felt terrible not to keep that run going but if we had been offered 6 wins and a draw in October, we'd all have taken it in one breath.

The harsh reality is despite the improvement from last season, United are not yet in the frame of a title victory. Mind you, that does not mean United cannot challenge for the title. The two statements are different. United are still unbeaten since October and can still put on another run of wins to get closer to the top two. The caveat though is that somewhere down the line we shall drop unncessary points, as was the case at Villa Park. Using a template of the last 10 title wins, to be champions only affords you a maximum of 5 draws and 5 defeats over the entire season. It means there is a minimum requirement of 28 wins. As it stands we've already exhausted the draws category with our 5th draw coming last weekend. We can still afford to be beaten twice more, but I think by now you get the task that I'm driving at if we are to still harbour title hopes.

Our objective right now is to mind the gap between ourselves and the chasing pack. Ideally we're supposed to be only worried about Arsenal and Liverpool. However, West Ham's enduring form has now brought them to within a point of us. It means we cannot keep third place beyond another slip up. After getting in the mix of title talk, the last thing we need is to get ourselves in the scrumble for 4th spot that our rivals are currently sucked into.

Therefore for us, the lesson from Saturday is to get up and go again. There's 9 points to win before the league takes a weekend off to accommodate the FA Cup. Given that some of the sides in and around us are against each other in a couple of the rounds ahead, the opportunity is still there to keep our own decent run going. All the above though is in light of the way forward but it doesn't mask the fact that we were decidedly poor on Saturday.

Pre-match, Louis van Gaal was on about how he wanted the side to perform well alongside continuing the results streak. Whereas the Dutch coach's desire for a great team display is to be admired, he will have appreciated on Saturday that the result is perhaps of greater significance than the performance. Overtime, the manager can get to train United to a level of football that he desires, but the now requires winning results whilst enroute to that target.

Individually, I thought Jonny Evans struggled AGAIN. It's a shame that he has been overtaken by Chris Smalling in terms of defensive maturity. He's now vulnerable to replacement as and when United beef up their defensive options in the summer. It's not to suggest the rest fared much better. Ashely Young though did his job. His performance on the left could not be faulted and only tailed off when moved to the right.

The biggest irony of our season is that the three at the back system, designed to give us defensive security, has made us look so defensively insecure. It's  a shame that even with a fit Rafael, the manager is not prepared to ditch the 3-5-2. Now try to work out why when we struggle, we end games with 4 at the back, looking more secure, chasing results that the earlier system put beyond our reach. Whether it explains why the players were lacklustre on Saturday is up for debate. What is for certain is United cannot continue to have slow build up play, and only step up a gear when the opposition get the ball cue a scramble to defend.

In a twisted way of thinking about it, we might have gotten away with it as Falcao managed to salvage a point. Despite our domination, we of all clubs know Villa could have won the game with just the 3 decent chances they had all match. That we got the point in end was perhaps not the worst form of punishment that could have come our way especially given how poorly we played.

With home comforts in the next fixture, there is really only one acceptable result when Newcastle United visit on Boxing Day.

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