Wednesday, 16 September 2015
NIGHT OF BREAKS TO BONE & HEART
Manchester United succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Dutch Champions PSV Eindhoven in their opening game of Group B in the Champions League. Nothing about the game though will eclipse the tragedy that befell Luke Shaw. The England left-back suffered a double-fracture from a challenge by Moreno (himself a victim of the injury at the 2014 World Cup) that looked innocuous at first glance.
On Luke Shaw
Shaw has been one of United's most improved players this season and has already been a part of most of the good we've seen from United so far this season. It was therefore heartbreaking to learn that this could easily be the season for him. His recovery period has tentatively been put at 6 months but so often with long term injuries, it takes much longer to recover the spirit of the player. Any comeback this season will surely be with a view to prepare to represent his country at the European Championships next summer.
Admittedly, sport can be cruel at times but for Luke, it feels like he is being sinned against more than he has sinned. His only fault was that he was such a quality player that the club had to pay Southampton an incredible sum for a teenager. Unfortunately, it appears the club will only start consistently reaping from their investment at the start of his third season. It's a remarkably unfortunate injury record for a player who in his final season for the Saints played 35 of the 38 league games available.
United will recover from the defeat last night, but we cannot be certain how the absence of Shaw will affect the club. Daley Blind came in to cover but that also meant that we lost the understanding that he had forged with Chris Smalling in the middle.
On the Match
There were no shackles evident about Louis van Gaal's team when the team news was announced. As far as attacking is concerned, this was as attack minded as United could get. Marouane Fellaini's pre-match illness meant that Anthony Martial was handed his full debut.
True to the selection, United did their part to produce their most consistent attacking performance in a game this season. This time, it was not merely about getting to the edge of the box and spraying the ball backwards. No, United did get behind PSV several times and should have scored at least three goals on the night.
Losing 2-1 in the end was more baffling than the defeat at Swansea. There were plenty of out-of-character performances in the final third. Philip Cocu's team are a limited side but at least they make up for it by having a right old go. As such, United's control counted for little because they were not as ruthless in the final third as the Dutch side were.
United seemed loose in the middle when defending counter-attacks. Given that the personnel in defence will take on new roles in the wake of Shaw's injury, playing two in the middle to hold especially away from home could be Louis van Gaal's go to plan.
Certainly, Marcos Rojo will need more than a sub-appearance to slot in comfortably. He was caught out for the winning goal by Narsingh. With games coming thick and fast over the next 14 days, how quickly United get their act together at the back again could shape most of what's left of the season. Perhaps locking it up again might be the immediate solution for van Gaal.
At the other end, Anthony Martial struggled to get off his one twos and flicks. His movement up top though was good enough to keep United alive in the final third. Whether he was still recovering from nearly missing the bus from the team hotel to the stadium is open to debate. Juan Mata perhaps had the best chance to nick what would have been a deserved point for United but also unusually hesitated to put his foot through the ball when presented with a chance he usually puts away.
Such were the fine margins on the night and so perhaps United can take solace from the fact that they were not beaten by absence of ideas but by the 'bounce of the ball'. The number of instances when the game could have swung considerably in United's favour tell the story: Had United been awarded a penalty for the challenge on Shaw and a red card to Moreno by extension, or had Memphis buried his great chance to put United 2-0 up, or had Chris Smalling been luckier than to find Zoet's limbs, it's hard to imagine a similar score to the one we ended up with.
'Ifs and buts' though count for little at this level. It's the lesson you hope United will take from yesterday.
On the Sub-Plots
Matteo Darmian finally showed his human side last night after being at fault for the opener. Italians get tight and so it was another out-of-character moment for a United player.
Yet again, Memphis Depay seemed very much at home against the level of opposition he has been accustomed to. His three goals so far in Europe speak of a player at another level and yet he seems to hide into his shell when premier league defenders deny him the space he enjoyed last night. It's a good thing that the talent is there. Fingers crossed the consistency rubs on soon.
Losing the opening group game immediately puts you under pressure n the group. United now have a job on their hands with two teams three points ahead in the Group. Beating Wolfsburg at home at the end of the month has now taken on tremendous importance.