Sunday, 29 November 2015

LEARNT NOTHING, FORGOT NOTHING


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.

Friday, 27 November 2015

THE UNLIKELIEST OF TOP OF THE TABLE CLASHES


Whilst Manchester United are wallowing in a sea of criticism for their style of play under Louis van Gaal, they sit highest among any of the traditional big names in the premier league after 13 games. If United are misplaced in second place, then Leicester City are nothing more than a mirage in first place.

In the one million permutations of the narrative if the premier league title race this season, Claudio Ranieri's team lifting the big silver in May would rank at 1,000,001. Not that they're least deserving of their lofty position. Heck, it is arguable that Jamie Vardy Leicester merit top spot ahead of Manchester United if only for their good old fashioned English style football in a squad of United Nations members.


The Match
Saturday's most unlikely top of the table decider is a stark contrast of styles. Where Leicester play and attack with abandon and expression, Louis van Gaal has his United side well protected defensively and and cautious if not conservative in attack. Indeed, whilst Ranieri's side retain a loose defence because of that approach, United boast the meanest defence in the top division.

So what happens when a tornado meets a volcano? Deuces maybe. What is for certain though is that there is more chance of David De Gea scoring the winner than Louis van Gaal approaching Saturday's fixture in the same way he did a little over 12 months ago. In that game, a United side set up to play to its strengths in a very attack minded formation led 3-1 into the second half before losing 5-3 eventually. Three strikers started for United that day alongside a cast of attacking midfielders in Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. No marks for predicting that those attacking resources will not be reflected tomorrow.

Perhaps it works against Leicester that they are now so deep into their unbelievable run of form that they'll now be respected more than teams have been affording them. Jamie Vardy for instance will be a marked man from the warm up tomorrow.

United's supposedly 'boring style' football has been abated by teams that sit back and defend deep against the Reds. It's hard to imagine that Leicester will do the same when their strength is in attacking with abandon.Whether that plays into United's hands or causes them to step off further back will make for great Saturday evening viewing.


The Sub-Plots
As fate would have it, Jamie Vardy will go past Ruud van Nistelrooy's premier league record of scoring in successive games if he scores tomorrow against Manchester United. Chris Smalling, already with an impressive campaign, will see his ratings soar even higher if he can do what no centre forward has managed to do so far: keep Vardy out.

We know they'll probably keep a clean sheet, but will Manchester United score? They used to always score.

Ranieri sets up his side to play a more traditional 4-4-2 to exploit the width of the King Power Stadium. This is what will make van Gaal' selection in the wide areas interesting. Ashley Young is used as a point of attack on the flank when he plays full back but the manager might elect to go with a more conservative Matteo Darmian to double up on Leicester's plan of width. Ditto on the left flank with Marcos Rojo and or Daley Blind supported by Jesse Lingard. Certainly, the 3-5-2 used last season that allowed Leicester plenty of space out wide should be a non-starter.

The question however arises as to whether United should be making contingency for Leicester City or whether it should be the other way round!


The Bottom Line
With no point in this fixture from last season, a point gained tomorrow would technically be an improvement but United look desperately short on confidence. If ever there was a game that they needed to restore that then its this one. A game that stakes the leadership of the league. Win that and the confidence levels will soar again after the soul sapping episode on Wednesday night. Lose, and suddenly Louis van Gaal will have an even harder job convincing fans of his methods.

The manager has so far succeeded in putting up results when mutiny seems to draw near. Tomorrow would be a good time to offset mutinous sentiment for another week.    

Thursday, 26 November 2015

ON BENDED KNEES IN PRAYER


There was always the chance that Group B would end in the mathematics of a Matchday six in the Champions League after the second round of group fixtures had all teams on three points. Following last night's dour draw with PSV Eindhoven at Old Trafford, United have left themselves in dangerous territory as they bid to get out of the group.

Certainly, VfL Wolfsburg, for all their impressive results in the German Bundesliga are no world beaters and United have it in themselves to get an away win in Germany but the method of the current crop under Louis van Gaal has no guarantees. Indeed, the only near certainty about United at the moment is that they will more likely than not keep out the opposition,


On the Match
The trouble however stems from an attack that often times appears decidedly short of ideas. The biggest indictment on United last night was that Eindhoven did not have to defend particularly well on the night. Indeed, United did manage to create chances in the first half to win the game but the finishing, as it were in Holland was poor. 

Ironically, it is not that United were not attacking the Dutch Champions at will. Indeed, often times Chris Smalling was past the half-way line into the PSV half but United hardly played a ball in behind the PSV defence to rattle the visitors.

On a night when Old Trafford paid tribute to the legendary George Best on the 10th anniversary of his passing, the football on display was simply not up to the edge of your seat dazzling stuff of the Northern Irish legend. 

Perhaps more hurtful was the apparent manner in which United seemed to give up as the match drew to an end. There was no will to win the game that was at least evident in the CSKA Moscow game or more recently in the Saturday win at Watford.

The round of boos at the end were perhaps merited but these are strange times at United. A win on Saturday takes this United team top of the league and Louis van Gaal could argue that qualification from the group remains in their hands. United's second season under van Gaal is shaping up to be one giant paradox. 


On the Sub-Plots
Ironically, the return of Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial did not really better United's attack from the weekend. Memphis Depay and Lingard were much more fluent on Saturday than they were in wide roles last night. How to solve a problem like that.....?

Louis van Gaal bemoaned the failure of his substitutes to have an impact on proceedings. He will shudder at Phillip Cocu's revelation that United's Plan B in Marouanne Fellaini gave the Dutch side an easier time defensively than Plan A. How depressing!

Whilst on the subject, it must also be pointed out that Cocu has long running unbeaten streak against United and indeed Louis van Gaal. For the superstitious, that should explain events last night.


On the Bottom Line
The last thing United need right now is Thursday Europa league football to derail an otherwise solid foundation in the premier league. The importance of the final group fixture in Germany cannot therefore be overstated. 

It's ridiculous that it has come to this, but for Louis van Gaal and his current set up, its getting to a point where they'll have to turn in more than 6/10 performances to keep the campaign alive on major fronts.

Saturday at Leicester City is a good place to start!


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

UNITED REDISCOVER THEMSELVES IN FERGIE TIME WITH A LOOK AHEAD TO PSV


Manchester United recorded an important 1-2 away victory over Watford on Saturday in the premier league to move up to second in the standings. In a rare occurrence of events lately, United rallied after conceding a penalty with just five minutes left to haul themselves into the lead in stoppage time---the first time it has happened in four years!

When taken in context of the rest of the fixtures at the weekend, United's result was all the more important. Whereas United had created enough chances to win the game comfortably, the circumstances by the end of the game were more in tune with two points saved than anything else.


Injuries appear to be stretching Louis van Gaal's resources and Ander Herrera and Phil Jones joined what is an ever growing list. Not that Louis van Gaal is going about it in predictible fashion. Memphis Depay, restored upfront where he spent pre-season, appeared much sharper with the freedom  that came with playing up top. His failure to adapt to the restrictions of van Gaal's dossier out wide means that he could retain the false 9 role from hereon. Certainly, the manager indicated as much post match.

The underlying fear surrounding the Watford game however is that the adopted 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2 formation after the injury to Ander Herrera will not be common in the future. Whilst United remained strong going forward in the system, Watford were gifted a number of chances late on in the system. David De Gea produced yet another fantabulous performance to keep Watford at bay--in open play at least.

The performance on Saturday did not deviate from the narrative of boring football under Louis van Gaal. The pragmatic Dutchman undoubtedly has his faults and few fans, but he will have looked at the league table in his office on Monday morning and seen that after the first third of the season, United are ahead of all their traditional title rivals. If the old adage is true that the the league table does not lie then we can fairly conclude that United are so far the second most consistent team in the league at picking up points, It remains true that nothing is won in November let alone this side of Christmas but the trajectory at the moment points to progress in the right direction, at least in terms of results.


Sky will not have known it when they picked fixtures for next weekend but they've suddenly got the a top of the table clash for game 14 on Saturday when United return to the scene of their darkest day under Louis van Gaal. Win that, and United will claim league leadership again this season.


Before that though is a crucial Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven at Old Trafford. PSV can rightfully wallow in the confidence of being one of only three sides that have beaten United this season in all competitions. United are also yet to feel an element of closure since the horrible injury suffered by Luke Shaw in Holland. One feels that victory today will all but see to that.

Three points will see United through to the last 16 which would be half the target in European competition achieved, Given the close nature of the Group, United cannot afford to put themselves in a position where they'll need a win on Match Day 6 in Germany. The plan was always to win the home games and nick a point away. Half of that plan has been achieved, the other will be determined tonight.

United at least will have Anthony Martial available for tonight to ease the injury nightmare up top. PSV, as we found out in the first leg are a very fit side that will come out to attack United even at Old Trafford. It's a modus that leaves them exposed at the back. In Holland, we failed to take the numerous chances we had to kill off the game. Tonight, the finishing simply has to be better.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

INJURIES THREATEN STRAIGHT-FORWARD TRIP TO VICARAGE ROAD

It's non-stop from hereon. International football takes a four month break to allow for clean run of club football until March next year. As it stands, United have performed somewhat to expectations so far this season. The performances might not have been as Old Trafford is accustomed to, but the results have been coming in with more-or less regular frequency.

Indeed, that United could hit top spot by full time of Saturday's lunchtime fixture is testament to the improvement in results Louis van Gaal has engineered from his team. This time last year, title talk was firmly off the table. In a way probably nothing has changed since in that regard. Few, if any, would bet their bottom dollar on United coming out on top in May but it helps that the club is in a position where title talk is at the back of the mind, as opposed to completely out of it.

Having come through a sticky run of fixtures with one defeat---albeit a bad one, United can now look ahead to a run of winnable games between now and the end of the festive period starting with newly promoted Watford at Vicarage Road.

The premier league remains philistine to any complacency but these are games you feel United have to win if they are to lay a stake of the title battle in the second half of the season. Indeed, Saturday's trip to Watford is already under considerable threat after a couple of first team injuries whilst on International duty.

Louis van Gaal though does have an incredible tally of results after International breaks. United have gathered a total of 16 points from 18 available in the week following International breaks under Louis van Gaal. Fingers crossed there's three more to add to that this weekend.


The Opposition
Watford are the best performing of the newly promoted teams managing 4 wins and 4 draws from 12 games. That form is largely down to the free scoring Nigerian Odion Ighalo who has found the net 7 times in the premier league already. He and Englishman Troy Deeney are the offensive threat that accounts for 99% of the goals Watford have scored so far
in the top division. Suffice it is to say then that keeping the pair neutralised will effectively keep the clean sheets coming.


United
Anthony Martial will form the headline news at Louis van Gaal's Friday press briefing as the faithful await an update on the teenager's bruised foot. In the event that he fails to recover in time for the match, Memphis Depay could be restored to the starting XI having been frozen out since the defeat at the Emirates.

Michael Carrick is the other casualty from the International break. Whereas it is not known the length of time he will be absent, ankle ligament damage doesn't sound like he will return anytime soon. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin should comfortably keep midfield duties though.


The Sub-Plots
Wayne Rooney returned to scoring ways in midweek for his country causing many to yet again hold their breaths about his possible return to form. In the event Martial fails to make the cut, the captain will have to shoulder the goalscoring burden on Saturday. No pressure then Wayne.

Jesse Lingard is enroute to cementing a place in the first team after opening his account for United last time out. A possible return of Memphis could see him pushed central, another position he is comfortable in. How van Gaal manages a possible shuffle of his attacking options remains to be seen.


The Bottom Line  
United's rivals for the title will win at Vicarage Road. Arsenal have already won there. It is imperative that United pick up momentum ahead of the festive schedule and pick up the points that they should pick up. Watford away are three of such points. Anything else would be unacceptable for a title challenger.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

THE STORM IS OVER?


Manchester United got back to scoring ways, let alone winning ways, in the premier league yesterday with a 2-0 home victory over West Brom at Old Trafford. Second half goals from Jesse Lingard and a late Juan Mata penalty kept United in touch with the league summit.


On The Match
Predictably, Tony Pulis set his side up to sit back and get the nought that United usually grant opponents these days. The point would have done for West Brom so it was up to United to earn more for themselves.

As the Red Devils went about patiently looking for an opening, there was not much dissent from inside the stadium. Only till the end of the first half did the first chant of ''Attack. Attack. Attack'' ring out. United were in fact attacking but with what you could describe as ''solid football'' and not the ''liquid football'' that the fans perhaps meant.

Still, and very much like Wednesday, the goal, when it arrived, was worth the wait. In the 52nd minute, Academy graduate Jesse Lingard took advantage of the space left by Yacob and curled a brilliant finish into the bottom right corner. It was a genuinely lovely finish. Having grown up in Warrington, supporting United all his life and come through the ranks, you could see what the goal meant to player and fans. That it came at the Stretford End will add personal joy to Jesse.

Perhaps what will please Jesse is that it was not a goal in a 4-0 triumph but the much needed breakthrough that United craved for yesterday.

United's rearguard was largely untroubled but Sadio Berahino scores on another day having been granted the freedom of the six yard box in the 75th minute. It sobers up perspective on how good United are defensively despite the impressive figures racked up by the individuals in the back five.

To think that this week could have gone differently if Doumbia makes it 0-1 on Wednesday for CSKA Moscow or Berahino equalises late on for West Brom. Such are the margins that Louis van Gaal's approach attracts.


On the Sub-Plots
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson joined the list of Academy players to make their debut for the club under Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman can rightly be accused of many things but he has stayed true to the club's ethos of bringing through youth.

Having sold/released a large chunk of the players that kept United's impressive record of an Academy player on the bench in every game since 1937, this was the season in which that record was bound to come to an end. As it turned out, two of them are permanent members of the first team whilst Borthwick-Jackson and Axel Tuanzebe have been involved in the side this week alone. Great stuff!


The Bottom Line
When the fixture computer did its thing back in June, October was the month we all looked at with a shiver down the spine. It's not been great but it's not been a disaster either. As Sir Alex always said, the target this side of the season is to stay within five points of the top come New Years Day.

United now have a run of very winnable games between now and when Chelsea come to Old Trafford on December 28th. You could say the proverbial storm is over and the house is still standing. Of course the premier league remains one in which games are always far from a foregone conclusion but neither can the upcoming games be said to be too difficult.

16 points from the next 18 available would see us in a great position for the second half of the season. Perhaps even top of the league by the start of the new year. Anything less than that and we'll have left ourselves with too much to do when the next round of games against sides in the top half of the table comes round.      

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

UNITED SCORE

.....And win!


Group B remains ever tight but up until the 79th minute at Old Trafford last night, Manchester United were in real danger of leaving themselves with no margin for error ahead of the last two group-stage fixtures.

Predictably, CSKA Moscow sat back and allowed United plenty of the ball. Except that United failed to make much decent use of it. Perhaps the biggest surprise from the visitor's team news was the omission of Ivory Coast striker Doumbia from the starting XI. The problems he caused United when he eventually came on made it an intriguing decision to keep him on the bench. Indeed, the big Ivorian could have won the game in the moments preceding Wayne Rooney's opener.

As it were, a combination of heroic goalkeeping and defending from David De Gea and Chris Smalling kept United within a goal of the victory. When Michael Carrick found Jesse Lingard with a lofted pass, the otherwise dynamic Englishman cross-volleyed into the path of his captain. With every neck muscle he could summon, the hitherto ineffectual Rooney powered a close range header past Igor Akinfeev to send the Stretford End wild with joy and relief.


On The Match    
Unfortunately, for the neutral, CSKA Moscow came off the bus with the same mission United had in Russia, to get a point. It made for a 90 minute contest of Attack vs Defence. Somehow, United fans in the stadium didn't seem to see it that way, calling for the team to Attack at the halftime whistle.

It's almost impossible to fathom how Louis van Gaal could have set up this United team in a more attack minded way. Anthony Martial was effectively in a twin striking role with Wayne Rooney. Ashley Young at right-back in place of Darmian was an attacking change. Rojo was essentially an auxiliary left back, getting in plenty of crosses and being on the end of four chances to score. It doesn't get more attacking than that!



Indeed, United were much quicker and slicker on the ball than on Saturday at Selhurst Park. The downside was that too often United were limited in their ability play through the middle of the CSKA defence. With Ander Herrera sacrificed to keep the captain playing, there was almost no invention down the middle. Too often, United sought the width of the energetic Jesse Lingard, the overlapping Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo. It didn't take long for the Russian Champions to figure it out and when they did, United were reduced to hoping for mistakes from their guests rather than forcing the issue.

In the end, it was combination of accuracy in the air that undid the defensive shift of CSKA. From the moment that the ball was lifted off the turf off the boot of Michael Carrick, 40 yards diagonal from goal, it did not hit the turf again until it was in the back of the net. Lingard did well to read the pass well enough to divert it mid-air and accurately into the path of an unmarked Wayne Rooney.


On the Sub-Plots
Ashley Young dived for a penalty. Thankfully, he did not succeed in getting United to benefit from his dark art.

Louis van Gaal was the target of dissent from the Old Trafford crowd when he elected to take off Anthony Martial for Marouanne Fellaini. He almost made it to 18 months without so much as a boo from the stands. That Wayne Rooney grabbed the winner will have served his decision more legitimacy given that the fans no doubt would have wanted the England captain off instead.

Jesse Lingard did not set the world alight with his performance yesterday. At times he was rash, at times his first touch and decision making failed him but goodness me, what energy and commitment levels! He is now 22 years old and has earned his shot after being patient for a couple of seasons and already, it appears Memphis has a job on his hands to get his place back.

Lingard, despite his limitations when compared to the Dutchman provides directness that complements the otherwise tentative approach of Louis van Gaal. For a young lad growing up a few miles from Old Trafford, it was pleasing to see him collect a Man of the Match award in the Champions League.


On the Bottom Line
Make no mistake about it, Wayne Rooney scored a big, big goal for United last night. The dynamics of the group are such that all four teams could still qualify for the last 16 with just two games left. The win however puts the Red Devils within three points of European football after the winter. With PSV Eindhoven to come to Old Trafford at the end of the month, qualification should be assured before the tricky away game at VfL Wolfsburg in December.

Now that the clock has stopped ticking up that goal drought, perhaps Saturday will see a more ruthless United in the final fixture before the last International break of the year.  

 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

OF BORO, PALACE, LVG & A LOOK AHEAD TO CSKA MOSCOW


Manchester United have not scored a goal since I last visited this column. It's fair to say that there's not much to debrief about what has happened since.

This self-proclaimed cleansing blog seeks to 'qualify' the media narrative about the plight of the club, affording events what yours truly thinks would be a more 'balanced' yet red tinted perspective. So what has happened since?


Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup
Perhaps the club's biggest opportunity to win their first post-Sir Alex trophy went begging when United failed to score against a Championship club and lost out on penalties. So how much were the usual suspects responsible for the result?

In the third round fixture against Ipswich Town, Louis van Gaal came under considerable criticism for playing virtually the entire first team in what was eventually a comfortable 3-0 home win. For this tie, the manager did what was, on a scale of reasonability, reasonable. There was a healthy blend of our brightest Academy prospects as well as seasoned regulars of the first team. Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard and James Wilson will certainly not weaken a United side against Championship opposition. 

Indeed, United were as fluid as they could possibly be under the straight jackets of the Louis van Gaal system. In football however, there are occasionally 'one of those nights' games. United could have played that game for five hours with chance after chance without scoring. Admittedly, Boro did have many chances to score themselves but it adds to the narrative of the evening that even they couldn't score despite probably having the better chances.

For that particular result, it would be harsh to come down too hard on the usual below par suspects even though it's damning that players of that level cannot score even from 12 yards. A determined Boro side would have definitely been brushed aside if van Gaal had started his strongest side. We need, though, to examine ourselves on how we would have felt if the manager had named an unchanged line-up from the team that drew with City for this game. 

Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. We can now convince ourselves that we wouldn't mind an unchanged team now.


Crystal Palace in the League
I did mention in the last blog post that the point against City will be a great one if we could go on to win at Crystal Palace. The 0-0 drub draw effectively marked the City game as a poor result. United have now failed to win two fixtures that they won last season. So how do we apportion the blame for that one?

The buck stops with the manager and so he shall be evaluated. His methods and decisions invariably bring back the captain, Wayne Rooney into unwanted spotlight. This is not to suggest that no other player was poor on the day (Matteo Darmian for instance had another stinker), but if we are to believe that the captain is a representation of the manager's philosophy on the pitch then its hard to fault other players when their leader is consistently the worst player on the pitch.

Wayne Rooney's troubles have already been well documented this season. There is little need going over them again. Because of his position both on and off the pitch, United's success is intertwined with his form. In a way both he and club can rightly claim that they've imprisoned each other and swallowed their respective keys.

Louis van Gaal
However, it is the Louis van Gaal side that I feel has not yet been understood by many United fans. There are managers in world football who you can employ and expect that they abide by the existing structure and ethos of a club. There are those however, who feel that they can only get the job done if everything is done their way, to their taste and modus operandi. Louis van Gaal falls in the latter category.

Almost 18 months into his regime, fans still yearn for the day Manchester United will turn out and play like a Sir Alex Ferguson team in the 1990s. I think it's time fans made their peace with the new man's idea of football. In fact, when it is ripe, Louis van Gaal's style tops the thrill of Fergie's style, for both results and entertainment. Whether he can achieve it in the philistine environment that is the premier league is another debate.

However, just like an unfinished building, the build up to that style is quite the ugly. The modest United fan is increasingly growing frustrated with a building project that looks like will never be complete whilst also sporadically showing signs of the beauty that it could become when it is done. Baby steps, albeit in the right direction. Frustrating considering the investment.

It has led to calls, especially from the away end at Selhurst Park to rip it apart and just go for the jugular (Chants like ''We don't often score, but we seldom score none'' were audible). To force the issue if you like if only for the entertainment value that would come with it. 

There is no harm in yearning for that but if that is the genuine feeling among most fans then they are probably backing the wrong manager. I feel there is a disconnect between van Gaal's methods and what the fans thought he will bring. And while we're at it, it might serve a couple of fans to pause and rethink their choice of manager after LVG because of all the names thrown about regarding potential replacements, only Ryan Giggs would set up the side to play the way fans want the club to play. 

I digress.

 Louis van Gaal's methods seek to eliminate risk by upholding positional play and carefully working your way down to a certain conclusion. Just like a composed mathematician would go about solving a complex equation. The 'luck' van Gaal refers to is the same luck the mathematician would need to carry down the 'x' and 'y' and correctly compute his digits so as not to make the error along the way that will render the whole equation a failure. 

It's the Louis van Gaal way. 0-0 is the default result, especially when the opposition work out that you need to sit back against United and hit hard on the counter-attack. For van Gaal, in his cosy little world, that is a small victory.

Manchester City under Pellegrini, for instance, never change their game for anyone. This is a side that feels that they can play 4-4-2 against Barcelona and get away with it. Stupid, but slightly admirable and yet they came to Old Trafford in a shape that fully adjusted with the sole aim of not losing the game. Pellegrini, like any manager should against this United side, opted to hit United on the break. 

Louis van Gaal probably privately feels that he is being let down by the players he has shown faith in and none is bigger than his captain who he has backed strongly since the start of the season. He felt that Ander Herrera should have stabbed that first half chance in and approached him at full time to ask what had happened. The Dutchman's style is rarely comprises a chance after chance game. The three half chances created are expected to be put away by the player the chance falls to with no margin for error because the elaborate process used to arrive at that chance has been free of error. 

The point is, it might be slow, boring, energy sapping, difficult to watch, but that has been the man in charge's way of ding things for over 20 years. That it has worked elsewhere makes it all the more difficult to change it for Manchester United. It has cost him his job at clubs of similar stature and so there is but one option the fans are calling for if they have failed to buy into the manager's style of football. At the moment, it feels like there is a lot of love for LVG and his idiosyncratic press conferences but little for it on the pitch. 

If fans would have their way, they would like to keep van Gaal and change the way the team plays. The best of both worlds if you like. A Chelsea mate of mine recently told me he would prefer to keep a Jose Mourinho that had the personality of Manuel Pellegrini.  Unfortunately, it never plays out that way with managers that big. It is, usually, what it is.

Since the powers that be made their decision regarding choice of manager ahead of other available options, United fans need to get themselves accustomed to the possibility that the club's style of play could be subject of change as often as they change their managers. Louis van Gaal, however, and rather unselfishly is attempting to build a style of play that would out-last the reign of any domestic or continental manager after him in a way that the English helter-skelter style wouldn't survive if say United appointed a Pep Guardiola or a Diego Simeone in future after Ryan Giggs. 

This, mind you, is not an official backing of the manager, but an explanation of a disconnect that i felt was prevailing. As usual, you can express your opinion in the comments section below.


CSKA Moscow
Which brings us to this evening's entertainment, or lack of it, against the Russian Champions at Old Trafford. I guess it helps that our last goal was against them. We should be a shoe in for another goal, right?

CSKA manager, Leonid Viktorovich Slutsky, has in his pre-match presser let loose his approach to the game. They will play as compact as they did in Moscow and hit United on the counter-attack. Hmmm... I wonder where he worked out those brilliant tactics from?

The onus is squarely on Louis van Gaal to, A) Set his team up to score on the night, B) Nullify CSKA on the break and perhaps more crucially C) Find a way to win the match to stay on course for qualification.

The Bottom-Line
Group B is shaping up to be a fine case for the calculators come Matchday 6. However, two straight home games before the difficult trip to VfL Wolfsburg should see United qualify before then. Win today and the result in Russia is a good point. Fail to do so and United will have left themselves a 'rat race' to get out of what was not the most difficult group when the draw was made.