Almost everything was restored about Manchester United yesterday, except that they failed to rediscover the route to goal. As such the club remain winless in eight games and slip another two points off the pace from the sides above them in the league. At least though, there was a modicum of something to cling to yesterday at Old Trafford.
On The Match
Louis van Gaal, either in a last throw of the dice or under the impression that he had nothing to lose, set out the side in a no holds barred system. The much missed protection of the back four returned with Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the middle in place of Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini.
The German was returning from a three match ban but it was the omission of the former from games against Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke that left many fans puzzled. Certainly, United would have picked up more than zero points from those three games if the manager had played the Frenchman in just two of them. Indeed, for someone of his importance, 13 starts this season is a very underwhelming stat.
The pair guaranteed United security at the back which they have so desperately missed over the past month. Even before kick-off, the confidence of keeping a clean sheet in this one was much higher than it has been over the past four weeks.
In a rare bit of team selection, van Gaal also went with Herrera, Mata and Martial as the creative three behind Wayne Rooney. It allowed United to have a verve and impetus about their forward play that has been painfully lacking. Suddenly, United were creating chances at will and shooting more, even from range. Quite why it has taken the manager this long to work out such a line-up on a more regular basis remains to be seen.
Ultimately, the story still held root that United's biggest flaw is chance conversion, even when they come at a relatively regular rate like they did last night. Wayne Rooney is a percentages player and given his current plight will not often get you the goal you need from the chance of the game. Martial is always too busy making something happen for the team out-wide to be on the end of balls in the box. It leaves United rather light-weight up top and easy to defend against.
Despite the need for backup in other departments of the team, a striker in his prime is by some distance United's greatest need. The number of goalless performances this season suggests that even with the rigidity in style under van Gaal, United would be much better off if they had one. It remains an indictment on the manager that it was a hole not plugged by the club in the summer despite letting a myriad of forwards leave the club.
On the Sub-Plots
It appears Louis van Gaal has ridden on the minute positive waves of yesterday's game to earn himself a stay of execution. Whether that translates as a vote of confidence until the end of the season remains to be seen. What is for certain is that United have left themselves with a minor mountain to climb if they are to regain a place in the top four, let alone challenge for the title. Spurs have planted a small flag among the elite this season and Liverpool are just a game away from catching up with United.
Louis van Gaal's task, if it is set to continue, can only get harder from here. In hindsight of that performance though, it should, in theory, be easier. All that he has to do is get his players playing with the same levels of confidence, desire, passion and ambition every week regardless of the opposition.
It appears Louis van Gaal is more a slave to sports science than we thought. After an hour or so yesterday, the Dutchman, mindful of the strains of a returning player from injury opted to replace Matteo Darmian with young Borthwick-Jackson. It's a substitution that had sports science details written all over it and was favoured in place of the gambler's trade that Sir Alex had gotten the fans used to. As such, from a distance, it appears that LVG often makes negative substitutions even when United are chasing a game. Overloading the attack for a winner, is not exactly his trade.
Less theatre, more predictability. Just like it was not too difficult to foresee the final score of this one way before kickoff. There are those who yearn for the days when they just didn't know what to expect even when it appeared obvious.
On the Bottom-Line
United need wins, from somewhere, and fast!