Friday, 1 January 2016

THE BOOGEY MEN ARE IN TOWN


On the whole, 2015 was a mish-mash year for Manchester United. The club appeared to make progress under Louis van Gaal by March, going on a run of convincing wins in succession against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City. Suddenly, it looked like the much vaunted 'philosophy' of the manager had kicked in.

Perhaps we should have paid more attention to what followed after that run of results because between late April and May, United managed to lose three straight league games including a 3-0 hiding at Goodison Park. In managing to achieve the season's target of a Champions League spot, the club's form in the final month of last campaign was brushed aside.

Since then, and despite getting the balance of the squad right over the summer transfer window, Louis van Gaal's side still appear no different to the side that scrapped through last season. Indeed, the argument can be made that despite the manager's impressions, United remain an unbalanced side. It's a predicament that is backed by an inability to perform the two basic jobs on the pitch in tandem. United appear vulnerable defensively when they attack and look blunt up front when the line-up defensively.

More astonishingly, despite the variety of lows that United have endured in the past three seasons, the club have managed to post their worst run of form in the league for 54 years. It's an epochal period in the club's season that dates back to the home draw against PSV Eindhoven in November. That failure in front of goal effectively ended the club's progress in the Champions League. Since then, the confidence has been shot.

Indeed, such has been the negativity in the camp and in the stands that Monday's goalless draw against a striker-less Chelsea was greeted with a touch of relief. Thirty points from 19 games is United's worst return at this stage in the premier league era. It means the club has to have an impressive second half of the season to trump up a tally that would, in the least, defend the club's status in the Champions League.

Louis van Gaal couldn't have picked a more nagging opponent in his bid to turn the club's fortunes around. Swansea City have beaten van Gaal's team on each of the three occasions that he has come up against the Welsh outfit. They were there to ruin his managerial debut and returned to remind him of his limitations on the occasion of his 50th game in charge. For good measure, the Swans have already had the better of United this season, losing 2-1 in Wales in August. They are now manager-less having got rid of Gary Monk but you'd imagine that they wouldn't have much to prepare for Saturday. The last three DVDs of this fixture would suffice.

Having slipped to 6th in the league and four points off the top four, United are in danger of drifting into irrelevance in mid-table. Louis van Gaal knows as much and said as much in his pre-match brief. Whether his players can retain the levels of effort on Monday to win for the first time since November 21st remains to be seen.

What is for certain is that the doom cloud that has been temporarily lifted by Monday's heartening performance will surely return if the club extends their winless run to eight games.

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