Sunday, 26 April 2015

WEAKNESSES IN THE PHILOSOPHY EXPOSED


Let's get a few things straight: In playing 'easy on the eye' football, United are not different from the Arsene Wenger model. Yes I said it! Arsene prides himself in pretty football that is supposed to be winning football against any opponent that dares comes at you without a plan or with an unsure backline. It is the model against which his and one of the greatest sides in football history was built. The Invincibles of Arsenal in 2004 had the combination of grit and flair to such optimum levels that in games against them you were never sure where you lay in terms of wining either battles.

Fast forward to Louis van Gaal and his philosophy at United and you get the immediate idea that what he intends for United's style is not far different from what Arsene has been preaching all along in England. In dominating possession in just about all their fixtures this season, United have all but mastered one of the facets to winning a game of football.

There are a maximum of five different ways of scoring a goal in this sport: Eye of a needle pass, set-piece, pile-driver,counter-attack or simply absolute luck. In whatever style you choose to arrive at any of these means, you must be convinced that your favored style is supremely efficient so much so that you can always rely on it to produce for you. It's why Barcelona and by extension Arsenal will patiently pass the ball around you in the final minutes of the game still chasing that goal even when you 'park the bus' against them. You have to be an excellent side on the ball to rely on the eye of a needle pass. United are not YET there. You need a physical presence to make set-pieces count. Bar Fellaini, United not quite a physically accomplished side and van Gaal acknowledged as much recently. However, United are blessed with a few who can hit the target from range. In fact all forwards in the full squad can achieve this but it is, unfortunately, rarely seen as an option and so the pile-driver option often fizzes out as well. In getting acquainted with LVG;s style of play, United have the advantage of mixing it up to cause plenty of problems for the opposition. They can still score the perfect goal as games against tough opposition have shown and they can still get physical when they play to Fellaini's strengths (which at the moment amounts to having a good game on his behalf). United also have Ander Herrera and occasionally Wayne Rooney who can have a go from range. It is variety that United failed to explore at Goodison Park today.

LVG is not alien to the Ajax-cum-Barca Academy that invented tiki-taka football at the dawn of the 21st Century. When he talks about 'the philosophy', he is therefore not far from a school of football he perhaps invented or at least helped develop. It is no wonder then that United are currently playing the best football since they were last held as European and then World Champions. Easy on the eye if effective and a joy to behold once effective. Except that the kind of football United purport to play going forward is not alien to the Premier league. Arsenal have been here before and there is no need going through their decade long search for a league title before we realise a twitch to it may be necessary to get United faster to the target.

In winning the possession battle and yet failing to find a way past 2 banks of 4, United were no different from the away days we have been treated to this season--Nobody willing to roll their sleeves up for a dog-fight in a league where you shouldn't come off the pitch with clean shorts. In the preview, I clearly alluded to how United had previously struggled to deal with Everton on a tight pitch that enabled them to easily play on the counter-attack. United had to be sharper in their passing and faster at that too. United had to respond to Everton counter-attacks with their own counter-attacks. As it was however, Everton always had their shape intact whilst United struggled to muster chances of note. It was a blatant failure of countering the opposition game plan. The worry is that United had at least 6 days to work on this.

Anyhow, the pattern of the season of dropping points at teams in the bottom half of the table was in full flow from the opening minute when United sought to pass their way through Everton. By having Fellaini in the starting XI, United are blessed with an ability to have two systems at play at the same time. However, none of the creative nous of Mata, Herrera, Young and Fellaini came to the fore. The 'working system' has so far depended on those midfielders getting goals and yet none of them seemed close to one today. Perhaps the absence of Carrick is more crucial to the system than we imagined. The big Belgian missed a sitter in the opening period whilst Mata got his contact horribly wrong in the second half.

Whilst it could all be dismissed as a bad day at the office, the question will linger this week as to where United go from here. Robin van Persie certainly has a look-in again especially after injury to Wayne Rooney whilst you feel Di Maria can now build a case for starting against West Brom next Saturday in what is now a must-win game. What is for certain though is that LVG has a decision or two to make, and they are big ones. Very big ones.          

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