Remember the feeling! Manchester United finally stopped the rot or at least temporarily halted it with victory over Swansea City at Old Trafford yesterday. Again, United were ponderous, laborious, predictable and resultantly boring throughout , only this time, they managed to claw themselves to all three points for the first time in over a month....42 days to be exact!
Louis van Gaal made just the one change from the game against Chelsea, Phil Jones replacing Matteo Darmian. The expectation therefore was that the team would pick up from the Chelsea game and play with as much effort and endeavor. Perhaps we underestimated the import of a big fixture to the mentality of the players.
United went about the assignment in the perplexing business as usual mode. Suffice it is to say that Louis van Gaal was most pleased with the proceedings in the first half that tallied a scoreline of 0-0 as opposed to the slightly more entertaining second half that tallied a scoreline of 2-1. It says a lot about watching United in the first half that the last time the club netted at the Scoreboard End was in September.
United were inspired by great individual performances by Anthony Martial and Ashley Young. Indeed, the pair combined to finally give United the lead just after halftime. If the argument is true that United's strikers are stifled by the absence of chances owing to Louis van Gaal's tactics, then Martial ought to be credited with 8 goals so far in a straight jacket. It's mouthwatering to imagine how many he could bag without the hindrances he's had to deal with at United.
There was a feeling of de ja vu when the Swans got level having changed their shape to a diamond. It's a trick that worked back in August and looked destined to plunge United into further misery until Wayne Rooney intervened via Anthony Martial.
The young Frenchman tore into the left, and squared into the path of Wayne Rooney. The captain's improvisation to flick it in with his left foot side-heel turned out to be the highlight of the game. There was still enough time for United to sit back and allow pressure from the visitors that could have easily ended in Lukas Fabianski leveling for the Welsh side at the death.
United seemed knew to the idea of holding on for a win. Such are the confidence levels in the team. At least though, Old Trafford managed to empty at the end without a chorus of boos. There was finally something genuinely positive to look back on.
On the Sub-Plots
It might have been difficult to notice in the monotony of United's passing but Louis van Gaal changed formations in-game on more than two occasions. Whereas United set out in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, they ended the half in a disguised 3-2-4-2 and played majority of the second half with a 3-1- 4-2. Louis van Gaal confirmed this when he claimed that it was risky to go with three defenders as it exposed the side defensively.
Indeed, it is noticeable in the second half how United seemed all at sea when Swansea came forward. The players genuinely looked confused by the chopping and changing of systems, so much so that it was painful to watch at times. It baffles that van Gaal still struggles to get a settled modus operandi even at this stage of his tenure.
The Captain's winner set him up for 188 premier league goals, second in the all time list behind Alan Shearer. It remains unlikely that he will get the 73 required to worry the Geordie about that record. Rooney however, remains within range of Sir Bobby's all time record for the club of 249 goals. Just the 11 left to net to achieve that.
On the Bottom-Line
It was damning on United's form over Christmas that they were merely playing for 5th place yesterday. Increasingly, it appears that only a measure of consistency will get United a top four place. Such is the level of competition for the elite places.
For Louis van Gaal, his next task is to negotiate an FA Cup third round tie next week and a tricky trip to St James' Park. Momentary reprieve.