Friday, 18 December 2015

BACK TO BASICS


Forget the performances and desired tactics, Manchester United seem to have forgotten how to win a game of football! It's five games since United last won a game of any kind--a pretty damning statistic considering the kind of football fans have had to sit through.

Five winless games with breathtaking entertainment would be bad enough, but that they have tallied up without so much as the impression of an effort by the team has made match going fans feel cheated.

It's a period that has seen the manager's position come under severe scrutiny from fans who had since ridden on the results as justification for progress this season. Now that the results have followed the performances out the door, it has left pretty little for defenders of Louis van Gaal to work with.

The arguments for van Gaal's tenure are largely, if not entirely, premised on a reputation that he has been buillt throughout his 25 years in management, but mostly in his first decade as a manager. Ironically, the case for his defence has it that what is happening at Manchester United is not entirely unexpected. Indeed, if anything, it was always going to be part of the job.

The Dutch media for instance remain amused at the amount of bile and abuse that has been directed at the Dutchman 20 months into his tenure. Indeed, only this week, former Arsenal midfielder Marc Overmars launched an impressive defence of the beleaguered Manchester United boss.

Overmars essentially pointed to the youth of the squad LVG has chosen to use as a mitigating factor in his quest for results. Indeed, from a distance, it appears van Gaal is moulding the 2017 premier league champions. Without hindsight, it seems a laughable proposition but the future is not really the concern for those calling for van Gaal's head. It's the present.

For the amount of money spent at attempting to rebuild the club from the image of Sir Alex Ferguson, it seems a reasonable demand that United are at least competitive on the pitch. Too often this season, United have appeared laboured when the opposition shuts up shop or been easily turned over when the opposition have a go at them.

United were certainly lacking in effort and endeavour last week on South Coast, so much so that AFC Bournemouth picked them off easily at pace. Perhaps the suspension of Bastian Schweinsteiger mitigates because it effectively left a young team without a vocal leader but if the players on show last week required inspirational leadership to beat Bournemouth, then it says a lot about their mentality.


In his post-match briefing last week, van Gaal pointed to the need to win the next three games in a row to make up for the surprise defeat to Eddie Howe's men. Whilst winning three league games in a row wouldn't have merited more than a few column inches in the past, for this United team, it would be quite something considering how difficult they seem to make wining any game of football, let alone three.


How else should fans feel after failing to pick a win in a run of games involving West Ham at home, Leicester City and newly promoted Bournemouth? Whereas United have conceded just the one goal at Old Trafford in the league this season, Norwich City are entitled to fancy their chances of coming away with a result this weekend. Certainly, 0-0 would do them just fine.


United on the other hand have seen themselves move from the summit of the league to six points off it in a matter of weeks. The irony is that the last minute win at Watford was supposed to have galvanised the side with confidence ahead of very winnable fixtures, but quite the opposite seems to have happened since.

Suddenly, any win of any kind would provide much needed soothing of the soul that fans have yearned for. It has been, afterall, five weeks of unrelenting frustration at the club.

After this weekend, Louis van Gaal will have left himself with a run of tricky looking fixtures ahead of the festive season that will further test the strength of his squad. Perhaps more crucially, the relative comfort of top four is no longer a certainty for the club starting this weekend. Spurs have now come to within a win of overtaking us on goal difference.

Indeed, United's failure to win since Watford means that 4th place is the best they can achieve even if results go our way this week. Louis van Gaal may retain the board's backing but what could really tip the scales is if United start to descend outside the top four. The failures of the rest have so far aided our cause in keeping it top four so far, but the rest can only slip up for so long. Sooner or later, United are going to have to get going, with or without an injury crisis.

Saturday, in a rare three o'clock kickoff, at Old Trafford, against Norwich City, is a start.      

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