Sunday, 13 September 2015

MARTIAL ARTS


It's the headline that has captured the imagination of the Sunday press, so why not?

Manchester United recorded a third straight victory over the arch rivals Liverpool on Saturday. Goals from Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, via the penalty spot, and debutant Anthony Martial sealed a memorable victory over the old enemy.

On The Match
The post-match euphoria has ensured that it has gone unnoticed but Louis van Gaal is the only soul in world football that was pleased by the first half. United set about in their now routine sterile possession game, keeping control of proceedings, without doing so much as ruffle a hair strand on Liverpool.

Wayne Rooney's absence incredibly meant that Marouane Fellaini would play up top. Whereas the Belgian excelled in linking up United's play further up the pitch, United's deficiency in that department was exposed by the failure to get anybody in behind Liverpool. Fellaini's ineptness at the articulate touch required of a striker merely confirmed what we knew all along. It is a truth that tempered frustration when the Belgian was presented with a poor clearance by Simon Mignolet and failed to hit the target.

The game eventually came to life in the second half when Ashley Young's directness offered United more zest down the left hand channel. He won the free kick from which United crafted the opening goal in what was a training ground rehearsed set piece. The advantage van Gaal retains in playing Daley Blind at centre back is that it disguises his qualities as a natural ball passer and, as Liverpool were reminded, he does pack a punch from distance because of his excellent technique on the ball.

The versatile Dutchman didn't look like he posed any danger to Liverpool when he stood sheepish wandering around the edge of the penalty area. With Fellaini firmly in the thick of the Liverpool defence awaiting a cross, it would have been a blatant wastage of human resource picking out Daley Blind miles away from the rest of the group. The cross never came, or at least when it did via Blind's boot, it was heading straight for the top corner of the net.

The story of the game however would not be defined until six minutes of normal time were left on the clock. Anthony Martial might not end up winning the Ballon D'or as one of his 'add-ons' clause suggests, but his finish last evening, at a time when the game seemed to be moving away from the grasp of United, will be remembered long after he is gone.

Most intriguingly is that the finish had everything about Thierry Henry written all over it. The blitz past Clyne, the dummy he sold Skirtel to leave him for dead and the placement in the far corner. All done in a waltz of a few seconds! Given the infrequence with which United score goals these days, the goal of the month competition might have been sorted at the first attempt.

On the Sub-Plots
Aided by the tactical ineptness of  Brendan Rodgers, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind could have played with a cigar yesterday. Indeed, it had to take the Belgian forward to pull off a goal as extra-ordinary as he scored. He barely had a sniff of the conventional. An improved showing from the display in South Wales a fortnight ago.

David De Gea didn't have as much to do as he did in this fixture last season but he did make one crucial intervention. Danny Ings effort on the bounce was the kind that Sergio Romero couldn't keep out last time out. At 1-0, it was a crucial intervention that was not remembered in the end because of the margin of victory.

Memphis Depay got hooked at halftime by the manager because the boss was looking for a 'better final pass'. Like Angel Di Maria, the young Dutchman is developing a pattern of discarding the simple things to pull off the more complex. Ashley Young merely provided directness and caused Clyne more problems than Memphis did in the first half. Admittedly, he is still only 21, but we now know that Louis van Gaal is not one for sentiments when you are not doing a job for him. Careful Memphis! It will be interesting how that left-forward battle between the two wide men progresses.

On The Bottom Line

Having dropped five out of the last six points available, yesterday was a must win if only to address the storm that was being artificially engineered by the media around the club. More than anything though, Louis van Gaal has yet again bought himself credit in the bank with the fans by registering a third straight victory over the old enemy. It's results like this that afford him a stay of execution at a time when his expenditure is birthing a degree of expectation among fans.    

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