Since I last blogged, little has changed in light of the criticism Manchester United have faced recently, but this weird season moves on with United sitting pretty in third place in the league, albeit under considerable pressure, and now within a game of making an appearance at Wembley in the FA Cup.
Preston North End was always going to be an awkward fixture, but the expectation was that regardless, United had to win to avoid the humiliation of having no trophy to play for with three months of the season left for the first time in 28 years.
As it were United somehow rode the storm to win at Deepdale in the unconvincing fashion we have come accustomed to. Therein lies the check though. This season was always about the results, not the performances. That United are being criticised for their performances and not their results points to something being done right at Carrington. Louis van Gaal has not made much of this Manchester United team and but he has certainly made them devilishly hard to beat.
Admittedly, we're not in many competitions this year, but counting 5 defeats in all competitions since the season started despite all our problems is quite something. Since City narrowly beat us at the Etihad at the start of November, United have now gone on a run of one defeat in 19 games. Even more remarkable is that since Berainho raced clear to score West Brom's second in a 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns in late October, United have not conceded more than one goal in a game since.
It is in the above two statistics that LVG's pragmatism comes to the fore. In climbing up to third in the table with a 3-5-2 system, the manager ensured that in the games that United would ordinarily lose given their limitations this season, we've picked up a point. That is largely because we've not been in the predicament of being more than just a goal down often. Admittedly, the pragmatism has also meant that we have not been able to entertain on a weekly basis and that we have not been able to win games when we fall behind because we've remained to cautious for our own good. Monday night at Deepdale was the first time United had won a game under Louis van Gaal after having comes from behind. Ironically, the type of ponderous football that has become synonymous with us this season is suited to the Champions League and not the helter skelter premier league.
Thankfully though that in all our struggles this season, the manager has managed to learn a lesson or two whilst keeping United above water. He is know fully acquainted with the demands of English football, so much so that Fellaini is now very much a part of his plans going forward. Contrast that with a manager who privately asked Ed Woodward to sell the big Belgian in August because he was not a Manchester United player. Suddenly, we have a weapon on our hands to use in desperate moments that most defenders in the world would rather not face.
The FA Cup sixth round draw pitted us against Arsenal at home in early March. The Gunners are in some kind of fearsome form that has seen them blink only n the North London derby recently. We would definitely need to be at our best either defensively or in attack to nullify their threat and make the last four with a Cup final against Liverpool looking very much the possibility.
We've been due a defeat every 7 straight wins against Arsenal in the recent past and this Cup tie falls exactly 7 wins since our last defeat against them. Fingers crossed superstition has has nothing to do with it.
This weekend is defined by a trip to Wales to face Swansea City. It seems like ages ago but it's only this season when the Swans marched into Old Trafford and burst the aura surrounding the tenure of LVG. Gary Mowbray has got his side playing a mixture of the passing game and the pragmatism of the old Wimbledon. United have got to make the most of the fatigue that will hinder top 4 rivals after a week of European football. If things are not going according to plan with 20 minutes to go, get Fellaini up top!
Labels: MANCHESTER UNITED, PREVIEWS, REVIEWS