In many ways, Manchester United's much anticipated fixture against Leicester City yesterday was supposed to answer many questions about this current United set up. Would United's rigid approach flourish against a side that trust their attacking game and don't sit too deep? Would United be forced to speed up their game by a side that plays at pace?
In the end, we didn't learn much from proceedings yesterday. Louis van Gaal managed to eventually draw the hosts into his lull, if only to avoid the kind of collapse that befell the team in this fixture last season.
On the Match
True to the fears of fans, Louis van Gaal lined up United in the much despised 3-5-2 system partly because Marcos Rojo withdrew from the team due to injury but also because the three at the back provides an extra man to mark the scoring sensation that is Jamie Vardy. A tribute to the Englishman perhaps because there's not many strikers United make contingency for.
As it turned out, it proved to be a false sense of security because Vardy managed to stroll through United's defence on the break to slot in his record breaking goal. The Dutchman was livid largely because one of the 7000 team meetings the squad has during the week centered on stopping Leicester on the break.
I do feel though that to afford Vardy's goal too many column inches from a United perspective is to succumb to the LVG spell. It's not entirely uncommon for United to concede a goal or two in a game of football. It would make no difference to United's cause if Kasper Schemicheal had been the one to score it. The question that had to be answered was whether United would recover to get the couple of goals they needed to win the game from that point.
In drawing level through a thunderous Bastian Schweinsteiger header just before the break, it appeared United were on course to seal another important league win. When United got absolute control of the game after recess, the attack seemed to become even more blunt. There was hardly any meaningful chance to write home about despite the dominance and the hosts could rightfully argue that they had the better chances to win the game in their sporadic counter attacks.
In the end, United appeared to make the game easier for their hosts, seemingly inhibited by the straight jackets of their manager and perhaps envious of the freedom of spirit in Leicester City's ranks.
On the Sub-Plots
Louis van Gaal will argue that injury has forced his hand, but you cannot help but shudder at the possibility that the three at the back system is well and truly back. When executed perfectly, it remains the best system that guarantees defensive security whilst allowing attacking play. United however, despite training in it for a number of months, have not yet mastered it to thrive as a unit in it.
Got to feel for the finger nails if the manager keeps using it.
Leicester City are hardly the best defensive unit in the league and yet between Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, there was barely a moment of attacking invention and thrill up top. Martial's mazy run in the first half perhaps stands out and then nothing else of note.
Louis van Gaal says that the squad has been training how to play in the final third of the pitch a lot but there was little to suggest an improvement from the midweek performance. Strange times indeed at Old Trafford!
On the Bottom-Line
There would have been calls for United to be seen as favourites for the title if they had won the game, however, the failure to achieve that does not necessarily rule them out. It is so congested at the top four are separated by just two points! Indeed if Arsenal displace us to 4th by the end of the weekend, that gap reduces to just one point between four teams!
It's that close fought battle that makes it all the more difficult to evaluate United's domestic season so far. In essence we're no wiser about it yesterday than we are today. Louis van Gaal is a slave to repetition of drills. It appears we're caught in a time-warp of the effects of his methods. Whether its for the better or worse has not yet been determined.
But if we're strictly speaking numbers, a point gained where we lost all three last term plays into the positive column. United remain a tough side to beat but that is as good as it gets at the moment.
Labels: LOUIS VAN GAAL, REVIEWS