On The Match
Fifteen games into the league season and it is arguable that the worst league results for United so far have been the pair of 0-0 results at home against Newcastle and yesterday's against West Ham. It is not that United have been at their worst in those fixtures, but that these are the sort of fixtures you gobble up if the target is a title.
Perhaps the biggest frustration is that for all United's 'transitional problems' they could easily win the league if they simply win the winnable games. Yesterday was one of them. The fat that the result was anything but a win leaves our season yet again trailing on the margins of success and failure.
Again, United will benefit from the general sickness in the top tier of the league that keeps them within a win of top spot despite dropping four points in their last two games. Indeed, it is far from a crisis as far as the league is concerned.
The worry though is that there is a growing disconnect between the manager and the fans. In his post match brief, Louis van Gaal was at a loss of cause behind the fans' calls for attacking football when to the Dutchman, United were attacking with every fibre in their system. It culminated in volley of boos from those who bothered to wait for the final whistle.
According to the manager, possession is a subtle form of attack, simply because in absence of it, you are essentially on the defensive. Secondly, the boss feels that the elaborate procedure of working out the space to create a chance is part of an attacking philosophy. It's therefore easy to relate with the Dutchman's confusion about calls to attack from the fans.
From the stands however, the fans work with percentages and not margins. It is the unrelenting push for balls into the box, at times with reckless abandon, that translates into an attacking philosophy.In van Gaal's book, that exposes the team on the counter-attack and is therefore a no go. The irony though is that for all the impressive clean sheets United have racked up at Old Trafford, United were carved open by West Ham yesterday almost at will. Indeed, that the Hammers came closest to scoring on numerous occasions defeats the manager's approach.
Ironically, United were better than they've been recently. A case can certainly be made that they were just unfortunate on the night not to convert one of the 20 attempts they had. On another night Marouanne Fellaini scores from three yards out. United did show more will to score than we've come to expect lately and so unlike the PSV performance, there is a ray of light therein the grey.
Slaven Bilic could also rightfully point out that on another night, they would have converted one of the break away opportunities to snatch all three points just as they did at the Emirates, Anfield and the Etihad.
In theory, United could do with more attacking resources, but even that is no guarantee if the approach remains to be a margins game and not a percentages game. Perspective could be drawn from happier days. In 2009, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez in the side, United managed just 68 league goals---one of the worst totals in the Sir Alex era, certainly the worst since the first premier league title.
Like that side, van Gaal prefers that the source of his goals is more diverse than a pair of strikers. Yesterday, anyone among Martial, Fellaini, Mata, Lingard, Schweinsteiger and Smalling could have walked away as a match winner. Its what makes it a tad unfair to generally criticise the side for a failure to attack yesterday.
Intricacies ifs aside, United should be winning at home to West Ham regardless of the circumstances. That was always going to be the frustration that cannot be cured by any rationalisation.
On the Bottom Line
United have a matter of hours to regroup before arguably the club's biggest game of the season on Tuesday in Germany. Win that, and secure progress in Europe and the mood quickly changes. This time, a clean sheet will be of no use to United's cause if the goals don't come at the other end.