Monday, 18 May 2015

STALEMATE

The performance was good. The result was not as. Where have we heard that before? Louis van Gaal bemoaned the fact that Manchester United are yet to muster a formula for killing of games after losing a lead yet again this season. The boss was modest enough to admit that it is the sole difference between his side and Champions Chelsea.

After dominating Arsenal for the best part of an hour, the boss was critical of his side for remaining open in the final stages of the game when instinct should have been to close out the game. In truth though, United would have even seen out the game in their open state had the manager not bizarrely brought on Tyler Blackett for Marcos Rojo. Rojo was not injured but the boss claimed a lack of 'match rhythm' forced the substitution. Surely he could have lasted the final 10 minutes without requiring an oxygen mask. It was another case of van Gaal over-thinking and over-qualifying situations. It usually leads you to 'fix' things that are not broken and perhaps therein lies part of the reason why United have not been able to close out games.

The boss also bemoaned a lack of taking of chances by his side to kill off the game. Chance conversion has been a bit of a bother this season as a whole. Perhaps the genesis of the problem is the lack of a reliable 20 goal striker. For different reasons, Wayne, Robin and Radamel have not been that for United this season. As a result, the midfield has taken up goal scoring duties. In fact, so reliant have we been on our midfield for goals that over the past two months, I can only recall Wayne's goals against Tottenham and Aston Villa as the only goals scored by a striker for us. Quite a damning verdict.  

Thankfully though, that was as bad as it got for United yesterday. It was a party atmosphere at the ground on the final home game of the season but not short of sub-plots. You do not need to read in-between the lines to interpret from the manager's comments that David De Gea could have played his last game for the club. How apt then that Victor Valdez made his home debut, albeit for just the closing stages. Old Trafford might have just witnessed a ceremonial hand-over. A passing on of the gloves if you will.

Radamel Falcao also took opportunity to 'wave goodbye' to the fans that have supported him throughout a nightmarish season for him. It will be a minor shock if the club exercise the option of keeping him given what we've seen this season. At the moment, it feels that only a drastic re-negotiation of his transfer fee would salvage his United career. Short of that, he was the right player at the wrong time.

In terms of individual performances, Ashley Young topped the lot. He turned it yet another 8/10 performance that backed up why he is this blog's player of the season. I honestly hope that he gets some form of recognition at the Player Of The Year Gala on Tuesday evening. Imagine how dire our season would have been if he hadn't stepped up to absorb the shock of Angel Di Maria's dip in form.

Ander Herrera took his goal well to make it 8 for the season, a decent tally given the amount of time he has been out of the team. United should be desperate to get some defensive midfield cover to allow this lad to thrive further up the pitch. A midfielder with an eye for goal, with that level of accuracy has no place mopping up at the base of midfield. Not that he doesn't do that job neatly as well. He has been the signing of the season, quite a remarkable feat considering that names we got in on the back end of last August.

Chris Smalling captained the side to mark the long way he has come since that dreadful decision at the Etihad in November. A fine defensive performance to go with the honour on the day confirmed that he has really matured into the role this season. If he can remain fit, there's every chance he can make the number his own ahead of a summer that should see United add at least one central defender.

There's not much cheer you will hear for Phil Jones after another nervy display but I though that crawl and breast-stroke clearance onto the sheen of Olivier Giroud to divert imminent danger is up there with my wacky moments of the season. Right up there with an image of Phil waving up at the corner flag ready to take a corner-kick. What a defender he would be if he takes the nerves out of his game and the injuries. He puts his head where some would be afraid to put their feet. Again though, it's probably because of such battle front bravery that he gets himself injured a lot. What he cannot be faulted for though is 100% commitment.

The most important take from yesterday though was that United will have to contend with a Champions League play off in August for the first time in a decade before confirming a place in the August 27th draw. It is a bit of a shame in a way that we have had the beating of the City and Arsenal above us. We've let ourselves down in very winnable games against some teams bottom half of the table. Finishing top of the mini league against the top 6 teams points to what needs to be improved before the start of next season.

Cheers!




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