Friday, 11 September 2015

EVERYTHING TO LOSE IN THE NORTH WEST DERBY


Different problems, similar predicament. Little else can describe Manchester United and Liverpool's start to the 2015/16 premier league season. With both clubs starting the campaign with an unconvincing couple of 1-0 wins and defeat in their most recent matches, Saturday's North-West derby, English football's biggest fixture, has taken on more significance than it should at this stage of the season.

 United
Manchester United over the next 48 hours should be box office watch. Louis van Gaal entertains the media at Carrington with a host of questions desperately in need of an answer. Does David De Gea resume his duties in goal after a false-transfer (at least mentally) to Real Madrid? Is he up for it? Does he pen a new contract? Does Martial go straight into the starting XI to boost an attack that is desperately short of pace and diversity? Is the reported 'payer-revolt' as significant as has been played out in the media?

For what it's worth the Dutchman has already tempered many of those questions at an event on Wednesday night with executive season ticket holders. Martial is, but a bit-part player, for the future. Given the consistency of comment, it's hardly likely the fiery Dutch coach will depart from that tune on Friday. It means at best, United's latest acquisition could start on the bench and allow for an 'as you were approach' to the derby. Certainly, he could fare better coming on late to stretch the opposition when fatigue starts to crop in.

It means United will be stuck blessed yet again by the presence of Wayne Rooney up top. The captain needs no motivation in a fixture he grew up relishing from his Everton days. Fresh from record-setting penalty  goal-scoring duties for his country in the week, the spotlight will yet again be on him to score the goals that Manchester United crave. Failure to find the net on Saturday would extend the unwanted record of 11 games without a goal for United. He's just 17 from Sir Bobby's club record of 249 but as it stands, and in this form, getting the 5 goals to level and then get past Dennis Law should be the immediate target, for goodness knows United could do with just 5 goals from him over the next month.
Louis van Gaal rarely breaks up anything until it is disrupted with defeat. The tactical pants-down humiliation suffered in South Wales will have been observed by Brendan Rogers. Post match, the manager said that he couldn't respond to the tactical shift in Gary Monk's side that caused United to capitulate in just five minutes. A similar comment cannot be countenanced post-match on Saturday especially if Liverpool set up to exploit that flaw.

Having played them twice and twice come out on top, Louis van Gaal could reasonably be expected to get the game plan over the Scousers right. Indeed, he put his neck on the line by promising fans victory at tea-time on Saturday. There's no mincing words with the Iron Tulip, so maybe we should just sit back and relax! 

The Opposition
Of the two managers, it is Brendan Rogers whose clock could be set ticking again if he comes away from Old Trafford empty handed. Liverpool were considered defensively astute before West Ham ruthlessly exposed their flaws at Anfield before the International break. Worse, Rogers will have to do without, arguably, his best player Felippe Coutinho who was sent off in that match. Whether Danny Ings comes in as a replacement remains to be seen but he can at least count on Christian Benteke to do the job Gomis did for Swansea against United. The Belgian came under fire for a lacklustre performance for his nation in midweek. Fingers crossed he's just as inept.

The Sub-Plots
Sergio Romero or David De Gea? 

Daley Blind and Chris Smalling were terribly exposed by the directness of a big bully up top last time out. They've  been largely untroubled since. Whether the manager sticks to his working formula or recalls Marcos Rojo remains to be seen, but whoever starts can expect a full time job keeping out the Merseysiders.

Saturday marks the start of a sequence of fixture schedules that more often than not define a season. The Champions League trip to Eindhoven on Tuesday followed by next week's trip to Southampton mans that the club are suddenly in the pressure proper situation of three games a week from hereon. 

Unfortunately, the squad seems a little too thin to allow for much rotation. Ironically, it is a situation artificially engineered by van Gaal in letting so many squad players leave on loan. How he copes remains to be seen.

The Bottom-Line
Part of the reason Louis van Gaal remained tolerated throughout last season was because of the results he posted against United's direct rivals in the league. Unlike David Moyes, the Dutchman almost seems to relish contests against the big boys.

Saturday is another chance for him to bank more credit with the fans over a third straight victory against the old enemy.   

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