At best, Manchester United can be currently described as inconsistent. Defeat in the Champions League on Tuesday has been masked by the unfortunate leg break suffered by Luke Shaw, so much so that the club has given a 'bye' into their next fixture without so much as a column dedicated to an inquisition into why the club failed on their return to Europe.
No doubt, the wave from the win over Liverpool will ride the club into the weekend's premier league action where the expectations will be for an immediate response from the mid-week lull. United let themselves down in Europe but victory over Southampton Sunday would be a major shot in the arm.
Having dropped premier league points on the back of their first away trip in Europe, there will be another examination of United's credentials as a two games a week side when they make another away trip, this time down to the South coast.
Louis van Gaal must have been hard at work on the training ground this week attempting to work out the best possible formula to neutralise the absence of Luke Shaw. Marcos Jojo and Daley Blind are the candidates. Blind deputised in midweek but it left United short of the understanding he and Smalling had developed already this season.
On the other side of the coin, Rojo has generally not been trusted enough by van Gaal to execute duties of a left back despite him playing there regularly for his country. Elsewhere, the manager is likely to prefer Wayne Rooney in attack if he makes his expected recovery from injury. What the fans would undoubtedly want to see is Wayne playing a withdrawn role and allowing Martial to keep his place upfront. His pace and movement up top is something we cannot get from any other player and so it would be amiss not to use him.
Michael Carrick seems to have played himself into the form that made him such a vital cog last season. He was immense against Liverpool and he was missed in midweek. Whereas we cannot play him twice a week often, it is increasingly becoming the case that we shall require one of him or Schneiderlin beside Shweinsteiger in every game. United were so easy to get at in midweek largely because van Gaal went against his instincts and had United fairly loose in the middle to allow for more attacking intent.
As it is, United remain short of clear cut goal scoring opportunities. The score against Liverpool masked the reality that United had just the three shots on target despite their dominance of play. As such, it feels like United need to score from the couple of good chances they make in the game to stand a chance of winning it. It gives little margin for error to a forward line that is anything but firing on all cylinders.
There is a mixture of frustration and hope among fans because United on pitch look like a side that is just a couple of twitches away from being a great team. Whether that is a result of having many young players in the team remains up for debate. Certainly, Louis van Gaal feels the league table vindicates his argument of progression.
Ronald Koeman and Louis van Gaal renew their rivalry again after another summer in which United had to pinch a player from the Saints. The relations between the clubs were strained further by the deliberately leaked news from United that they were after Sadio Mane on the morning of their failed pursuit of Pedro Rodriquez.
Southampton have since endured a difficult start to the season, winning just once all season at home to 10 man Norwich City. Having survived loss of major players to bigger teams for the last couple of seasons, it seems to finally be catching up with them. They no longer overwhelm teams with disciplined possession. Certainly, it feels like Morgan Schneiderlin was much more important to them than we ever imagined.
Ronaldo Koeman, however, will have been alive to the couple of games United have lost this season. Swansea and PSV Eindhoven played worked a similar game plan to exploit the weaknesses of United in full. The problem the Saints have is that they only have a few decent personalities left to execute a perfect game plan. Still, there is plenty of venom to hurt United between Tadic, Mane and Pelle.
Daley Blind or Marcos Rojo? Logic dictates that United should keep the central two that have done well so far this season but van Gaal appears to have a different mindset to his idea of a left-back. Indeed, it was lost on many people that Daley Blind, while at left back provided the assist for Memphis Depay's goal in midweek. A goal made by Dutchmen, scored by a Dutchman in Holland!
Now that the captain is back, it will be interesting how Louis van Gaal juggles his attack having seen what Anthony Martial can give the team.
United's form at the moment is leaning towards a pattern of WLWL. There is no reward for being sublime one week and then clueless the next. Consistency must improve and it is already, and indeed yet again, the away record that is letting the club down. Sunday is an opportunity to address that.
Labels: LOUIS VAN GAAL, LUKE SHAW, PREVIEWS, WAYNE ROONEY