Friday, 9 January 2015

THE NEED TO WIN

It's fast becoming a given that we cannot win away from home. The victory over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup was only our third away win in all competitions this season. It means everything good about United this term has been down to our home form. At home, regardless of the formation, there is such a lot more composure and ruthlessness about the side that in quite a short space of time Old Traffford has become the fortress that it once upon a time was.

We shouldn't therefore be too worried that that the 4th best side in the league is coming over on Sunday evening, right? Unfortunately football doesn't quite work that way. The evidence on paper is that Southampton have the tools to undo United even on their own patch if what we witnessed against them a month back is anything to go by.

That one of our 2 away wins in the league this season has come at St Marys is still one of the mysteries of this premier league season. At the time I was very defensive for United because the media reaction was as if United had to issue an apology to Southampton, the FA, UEFA and FIFA for coming away with all three points. With that negativity past us, I can now give the honest conclusion that if we play as poorly as we did on that night in the South Coast, we'll get beaten. The manager post match pointed out how we made our luck that evening but in truth, cats would be envious of the amount of luck that came our way in those 90 minutes. I mean it's all good praising Robin van Persie's insticts in being alive to that back-pass to put us a goal up with our first shot on goal, but it's a mistake that is made only once every 15 games.

Salvation on Sunday though could be from the fact that Southampton are a one dimensional club in terms of their strategy. Having had front row seats to assess them that December evening, you feel that Louis van Gaal will get it spot on this time against his modern foe Ronald Koeman.

This game is much more significant than just the three points. Having deposed of Arsenal last time out, Southampton have emerged as the club that will threaten our hitherto comfortable third place in the league. Forget Champions League football, this is a down right battle for third place. The psychological edge that the victor in this one will have on the loser will be crucial heading into the third quarter of the season.

For United, Sunday marks the start of an 8 winnable games run. It goes without saying that the last 8 games of the season are difficult on paper. Everton, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, City, and Liverpool feature in our last 8 games of the season. Therefore, much of our points total in May will depend on how many points from the next 24 available we shall have collected before that trip to Anfield in March.
We're currently on an 11 match unbeaten run but the couple of draws over the festive season have somewhat taken the shine off the current improvement in form. Because we've done underwhelmingly in the victory column away from home, it is imperative that we get back to winning ways against the Saints.

Finally, this week the club have announced the signing of former Barcelona stopper Victor Valdes on an intial 18 month deal with an option of a further year. It's a brilliant move whichever way you look at it. I think De Gea's progreess has been a little hampered by a lack of competition in his role. Despite how good Dave is, I think he can only get better with an able deputy, moreso a mentor in Valdez. The other way of looking at it is that United have insulated themselves considerably in the event our Number 1 moves on to Real Madrid as is rumoured in the press. I do get his importance to the club and would love him to stay but with Spanish speaking players, you cannot quite buy off their desire to play for the big two sides in Spain. It therefore comes down to the player's desire to stay where he is. Secondly, contracts mean little more than monetary compensation these days. Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez both signed contract extensions at Spurs and Liverpool within a season of being sold off reluctantly by their clubs. Therefore as and when Dave signs that new contract is not a bar to him moving on if that is his wish. The stage is there for him to become our all time greattest goalkeeper if he commits the rest of his career at the club, because at his age, he could eclipse the achievements of Schmichael and Van Der Sar by time he is 35 at the club.

The ball is really now in his court, but with or without a new contract, there was always the possibility that we would be forced yet again to search for an able goalkeeper when David moved on. I think in Valdez, the club can now safely negotiate De Gea's contract from a reasonably strong position. Let's not forget that he is not the worst goalkeeper to have on the bench especially when you look at the goalkeeping situation at a couple of top EPL clubs.

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