Sunday, 31 January 2016

POST DERBY NOTES & A LOOK AHEAD TO STOKE


Such is the plight of Manchester United these days that when the straws are available, you ought to clutch onto them with as tight a grip as you can muster. Therefore whilst ordinarily a 1-3 victory away at Championship side Derby County would be given the odd indifferent shrug, treated with an air of expectation, United have been afforded a watershed weekend by the media.

There is even talk among the ladies and gentlemen of the press about how Louis van Gaal might have had his Mark Robins moment with that victory on Friday night at the iPro stadium. Indeed, United were much more professional about the job this week. The passing and movement was a bit sharper than we've come to expect lately. It's nice and all arguing that this was merely against second tier opposition but having seen the impotent display against Sheffield United at home, this was supposed to be a much tougher test.

In the end, it turned out to be the most anticipated shock of the round that never materialised. Perhaps the shock was in the fact that United actually scored three goals--(a not so common tally these days). Or that Daley Blind scored from open play despite starting in a centre back position. Certainly, Friday was a much better occasion than last week at home to Southampton.

It is becoming a common theme that United are increasingly looking more comfortable away from home than at Old Trafford. Louis van Gaal has lost the fans and Old Trafford quite easily gets onto the backs of the players and the manager these days as soon as twenty minutes go by without a goal. When compared to the ever brilliant away support that cheered van Gaal off at Stoke City on Boxing Day, you get the feeling that United's decent away results lately are largely down to an easier atmosphere away from home. Little wonder then that many fans are hoping for an away draw in the Cup for the fifth round!


Wayne Rooney came out and confirmed that the manager has relaxed his straight jacket methodology and hence allowed the players to express themselves more. Fans would have to see three or four consecutive performances in that spirit to believe a word of it. For too long this season, they've been under the false impression that United have turned a corner only to appear to return to the old methods as soon the next fixture comes along.

If indeed we get to see more shots at goal from hereon, perhaps the tide will start to turn in our favour. Quite how van Gaal envisages it the other way round is baffling. At one shot on target per match, United are effectively vulnerable going into every game.....because even if that one shot resulted in a goal, we're only one goal up. That is an extremely sorry strategy to carry through a season. It leaves the team exposed to the most minute of challenges/periods of adversity.

Speaking of challenges, Stoke City, visit Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, five weeks since playing United off the park at the Britannia stadium. With Spurs edging five points ahead of us in the race for the Champions League, the pressure couldn't be greater on van Gaal to register a victory that would at least keep his side in with a shout of making the top four.

Victory over Derby in the Cup was but a necessary watershed moment. The real response to going down at Southampton at home will be getting the win at home on Tuesday. More important will be to see a side that tries its luck more often infront of goal. In this league, the odds favour the brave. It's why a certain Scotsman usually reaped much more than he appeared to sow. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

LIMPING UNITED TRAVEL TO DERBY IN THE CUP


It's just as well that Manchester United drew an away fixture for the fourth round of the FA Cup. Old Trafford is hardly home these days for Louis van Gaal and his players. The manager has lost the fans and it takes something special for there to be a turn around in that respect. As it is, van Gaal can do no right in the eyes of many fans. Even the odd victory has been met with a sense of dissatisfaction among fans with fears that every other win lengthens his stay at the club.

It's incredible to note that even at David Moyes' lowest point in charge of the club, there was never an open revolt among fans inside Old Trafford. Certainly, the Scott was never openly booed in that manner van Gaal was last Saturday. If the Dutchman was confused about the light in which he was held by fans, it couldn't have been made more clearer this past week.

The owners, and indeed Ed Woodward are not about to throw in the towel yet. It reflects poorly on the Executive Vice Chairman if the club is looking for its third manager in three years. As such, the communication that van Gaal was looking for a new house in Cheshire after the expiration of his previous four month lease confirms that there is no hint of a change in management in the near future by the club's hierarchy.

Against all odds therefore, the Dutchman will take charge of the Cup fixture at the iPro stadium despite being top of the bookmakers' list for the chop for the best part of a month. If ever you needed evidence that United do not act on the pressures from outside, its this.

The game itself represents shock value for the BBC's audience because it is not inconceivable that United could be sent packing from the competition tomorrow night. They needed a last minute penalty to book their place in this round having toiled to break down Sheffield United (of all teams) on the very expansive Old Trafford pitch.

The FA Cup represents United's biggest shot at a trophy this season but like last season and the Europa League to come, there is a genuine feeling that United will exit the competition as soon as they face the first half decent opponent. It is a feeling that takes justification from the fact that on Saturday against the Saints, United struggled to ping three straight passes together. Indeed, it summed it up perfectly when midway through the second half, David De Gea misplaced a pass, sending it straight into touch.

Derby County are enduring a winless streak in the Championship that has lasted a month and only on Monday went down 4-1 at home to Burnley. They do, however, retain a play off place in the Championship. You would imagine Friday Night under the lights will get the iPro up for the most likely upset in the 4th Round.

Where that would leave van Gaal is anyone's guess.   

Monday, 25 January 2016

UNTENABLE


I've tried looking at it from underneath water, upside down, inside out, but no matter how to twist it, Louis van Gaal's position at Manchester United is boardering untenable. Mind, it's not that the decision to appoint him was wrong, but that sometimes it gets to a point where it just won't work and hence no point in sticking to the prevailing methods. It is a measure of the structural flaws in the hierarchy of the club that the Dutchman retains his job to this day.

Regardless, it makes little sense to go about each week on the same stuff every week. When it has been bad under van Gaal, the weaknesses have been the same. The post match pressers have been equally exhausting but this week, van Gaal almost acknowledged his failure at the job.

It's just as well that the entire post match brief should be about his thoughts on what happened at Old Trafford on Saturday. Make of this what you will.

"You cannot say they (the fans) are not right.They are right, and of course they are disappointed and have the right to boo me, but we have to stick together in this period because we have a lot injuries.

Asked if his relationship with the fans is at a new low he said:

"Yes, because it was very clear."

"It was not good today. We lost and in our defence you could know that our defence at set plays became every minute weaker because I have to change players. That was our problem in the last minute, but it was a poor game. We could not create chances and our opponent had also few chances, so it's more or less a 0-0 game, but at the end we have lost. Our opponents play with five defenders and are very compact but still we have to create chances."

Friday, 22 January 2016

ANOTHER TEST OF CONSISTENCY


Tally the results over the big games, against the top six sides in the game, and Manchester United will come out on top of that mini-table. Include the alsorans in the mix and United will end up fifth, outside the top four, where they currently lie in the log. It baffles that Louis van Gaal and his players only really seem up for it when the opposition is considered difficult.

Unfortunately for United, the reverse scenario would be more ideal than their current predicament. Often times under Sir Alex Ferguson, the club failed in the big games but were always efficient enough to rack up an insurmountable points tally against the lesser sides of the league. United would be much better off this season if they had picked up maximum points from the likes of Bournemouth, Norwich and Newcastle United than labour to draws against Chelsea and, Manchester City.


The reasoning is simple: the lesser sides are more than the bigger sides and so it is a no brainer working out Arsenal's rise to the summit of the league for instance. One such fixture takes place at Old Trafford this weekend when Southampton visit.

The Saints won the reverse fixture last season and there is every doubt as to whether United can escape the same verdict this term. It's not that Ronald Koeman's side are better than last season; indeed they are worse, but the plague of inconsistency continues to blight United's season.

Despite being left with just 16 games and outside the elite positions, even a semblance of consistency from this point to the end of the season would be enough to see United make a decent title challenge. That in itself is testament to how open this years' tittle race is but would also go down as a chance missed to win a very average league.

The suggestion from Louis van Gaal last week that United are back in the title race by virtue of the result against Liverpool would crash straight into his face if United were to drop points again this weekend. For whilst United are 7 points off the top, it could easily be a double digit deficit come Monday. Such can be the folly of believing the gospel of the manager this season.

It only begins to make sense if United can maintain a semblance of consistency. Victory on Saturday would finally raise an eye brow or two about the relative consistency of results since the turn of the new year. United are unbeaten in 2016, which is no mean feat considering the club ended 2015 on a run of four straight defeats and a draw, winless in five!


For as long as Koeman and van Gaal remain employed in the English league, their relationship will always form a sub-plot to meetings between their two sides. The two Dutchmen will always yearn to get one over the other. Louis van Gaal leads in that respect having seen the club win 3-2 at St. Mary's back in September. United would have to be worry of James Ward-Prowse whose dead-ball skills have improved drastically this season. His free-kick technique is strangely reminiscent to that of David Beckham. If United are as meticulous as the manager wants us to believe, giving away free-kicks in and around the box should be cut out.

United remain under pressure to keep pace with Spurs to avoid slipping outside the top four places. Saturday is an opportunity to rack up the pressure big time in that respect.

Monday, 18 January 2016

UNITED COMPLETE REMARKABLE DOUBLE--DOUBLE OVER LIVERPOOL

Morgan Schneiderlin celebrates the winner with Wayne Rooney

 The subject Wayne Rooney will always divide opinion among Manchester United fans. If it is not his form, it will at least be that he twice tried to leave the club, once for our bitter rivals down the road. For the ultra-fans, derbies and rivalry remains a personal subject. And therefore Wayne will have gone some way to endearing himself to more of those he had lost when he supremely lashed one in at the Anfield Road end, right infront of the 3000 away fans.

 ''The goal itself was a glorious little moment of unexpected narrative redemption towards the end of a constipated, rambling match during which the first hour United once again performed with all the unbound attacking vim of a quietly expiring diplodocus'' 
                                                                 ---Barney Ronay for the Guardian 18th Janaury 2016

There was little about the game that was different from what Louis van Gaal has treated us to this season so far. United were ponderous in possession and fruitless in attack, so much so that the club were still looking for their first shot at Simon Mingnolet with 15 minutes left on the clock.  Indeed, nothing about the match report would fall into the category of what we've not been seeing from United this season.

At Anfield though, the performance can always be excused if the result is right. Yesterday was one such occasion. Having thrown away the points at Newcastle United in midweek, United were in danger of falling further away from the Champions League reckoning.

Perhaps it made it sweeter that yet again we dented Liverpool's hopes of making it into the elite competition. For United though, the result provided the 89878767th opportunity this season to get back in the title race. Yes. The inconsistency of everyone in the league this season means that a 7 point gap from the top is not by any means insurmountable. What that will require though is a level of consistency that we've not yet seen from United this season. It's what kills the hope of a late title title bid.

It therefore remains that United's target is a place in the top four. Spurs have so far proved to be be more adept at nicking points more consistently than we've been. Until there's daylight in our favour between us and them, we're not yet in the position to be looking further than that immediate target.

United players salute the ever brilliant away following at the final whistle

Individually, David De Gea pulled out one of his more accomplished displays on the night, deflecting everything (and there was plenty) thrown at him. He was, in many people's eyes the Man of the Match. Often times in games such as yesterday's you need to simply keep in the game for as long as possible to give yourself a chance. David kept United in the game, long enough, in fact to be able to roll the dice and clinch it.

Louis van Gaal has been thrown under the bus by the media and fans alike for his decision to keep playing Wayne Rooney despite the striker's poor return in front of goal this season. There was always the possibility that the captain would come good if only because of the law of averages. At times, he was simply so bad that it couldn't possibly get worse. That it has happened is just as well for the club and the manager whose decision will hopefully go on to be vindicated.

Wayne has had this habit of scoring in bursts over a season. At four in four, here's to the health of this particular run for as long as possible. It means that from a position of oblivion, the captain has given himself a real chance at breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's all time record of 249 goals this season. At a time when he's fast approaching the end, it would be some feat!

It's now 4 wins in 4 straight games for Louis van Gaal against Liverpool since he arrived at the club. If there's one thing he's got going for him at the club, it's that record against the Scousers! It helps fans' misery through this dark period that despite our troubles, we remain (statistically at least) better than the Dippers.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

FRUSTRATING THRILLER


Overdose? Of the entertainment? There's lots of Reds on social media who didn't know what to make of Manchester United's most thrilling league game in a while. A long long while! Therein the mantra of Louis van Gaal's 'boring' regime at the club, it was never the expectation that the club would be ever again involved in a 3-3 scoreline. Not since the 5-3 debacle at Leicester last season.

If last night was the first time a neutral tuned in to watch Manchester United, they'd have been asking what all the fuss is about at the club. In truth, there were many things that were not in tune with how United's season has unravelled to this point. For starters, Newcastle United, the side third from bottom in the log hogged possession against the league's best keepers of the ball. At 44%, United registered their worst tally of time with the ball all season!

It also doesn't fit in the set up we've been used to all season that United played away from home on the counter-attack! Every now and then, albeit sporadically, Louis van Gaal sets up the team in a throw-back to the good old days that keeps you wondering why he doesn't just stick with it! Whilst the Dutchman can point out that it was a lack of control of the game that cost us points, the case can also be made for United that they could've won it by six goals---something you couldn't say about many of the games we've been involved in.

 It also means that finally, the fans can come away from a game looking at the positives from an entertaining game. Value for time and money spent at observing proceedings from St. James' Park in the middle of a working week. That though, is as positive as it gets.


When you score three goals away from home, you simply have to win the game! It is yet to register to Louis van Gaal that the absence of experience within his squad and the presence of many young players with little guidance will continue to haunt United in periods of games. Consistency is not just a game to game phenomenon but also an in-game requirement.

Jesse Lingard for instance could easily be credited with a good performance but his inexperience means that he could lack the nous to fatally stick in the dagger occasionally when presented with the opportunity to kill off the game. Memphis Depay perhaps didn't think it too crucial that he got rid of the ball in an agricultural manner whilst United were defending a 3-2 lead. As such, despite having another positive impact off the bench, he will be called to book when van Gaal does a forensic on events last night.

In fairness, even the more experienced heads of Wayne Rooney and Marouanne Fellaini failed when they were tasked with getting United over the line.Then there was the Chris Smalling moment of madness that saw him wrestle Mitrovic to the ground in the penalty box! There are not many heads of raw character in the current set up at the club, and therefore games like this tend to slip away because of that limitation.

There will be those who will find plenty of irony in the fact that United have slipped further down the log after playing the United way. The real concern is whether the performance yesterday can be a foundation on which the club builds their second half of the season. They'll certainly be more points won than lost if the style remains the same. Chances are though that we shall revert to the usual as soon as the next fixture comes along.


In the grand scheme of things, it is astonishing that United could be as low as 10th after the weekend football. It would be a position that fits a run of two wins in 12 games. The kind that could yet rule out United from the Champions League places having led the league twice this season. Spurs could easily build up an 11 point gap on us over the next few days. That is the biggest indictment of United's season.

The manager has lost the trust of most fans but the club will stand by him until its mathematically impossible to achieve any of the season targets. Quite where that leaves the fans is anywhere but in a state of comfort. 

Monday, 11 January 2016

ENNUI

Manchester United players look a tad hangover during the Cup clash against Sheffield United

It's difficult to come up with a new word every week to describe the state of affairs at Manchester United. At the risk of having no word left in the Thesaurus to use next week, I'll settle for 'Ennui' this week.

There's a sense among fans that we're having our pockets picked this season. Are we seriously more than half-way into a Manchester United season? January and we've not seen the net bulge for thirty times? It'll have to be a hell of a ride from hereon for that Season Review DVD to hit double digits in sales come this summer. Even the, they might have to edit out the majority of the first half.

There was a time when I had sarcastic sympathy for folks that dish out hard earned money to pay for a live performance of an artist who turned up for just five minutes to sing three lines of one of his/her hits. I thought it to be one of the most organised forms of robbery since the Second World War. They would argue that being there could easily earn them a precious autograph from their idols but I'd trade it for 90 minutes of watching my beloved club thrill me over and over again, through the emotions to a climax of effervescent joy unconfided.

Not anymore. And thankfully for match-going Reds, United are not due at Old Trafford until the end of the month. Our away following, being the most brilliant set of travelling fans in the country, will still find voice in themselves to give the team a good shout at St. James' Park and Anfield. Indeed, the nature of the fixtures hardly requires any motivation. Whilst Louis van Gaal goes about his task of diffusing both situations into damp squibs, it should remain lively on the terraces.

Newcastle, as most 'wee' clubs, like to think themselves as 'rivals' to United. North-West connections plus one failed attempt to win the league in the mid-90s are but some of the justifications you'll hear their fans give as to why they loathe the Red Devils. Regardless their reasons, it doesn't take much to hate Manchester United if you are not a Red. Indeed, plenty of fans in the country are still coming to terms with the unprecedented success of United over the past quarter of a century.

Steve McClaren's side though are struggling---in a different way from how United are struggling under van Gaal. They've lost their last four and it keeps registering that they only really turn up when the big boys are in town, to get them live on the telly. Perhaps in hindsight, the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford back in August was the norm, but victories over Spurs and Liverpool were not performances from a side struggling in the red zone of the log. That form book dictates that United are in for quite a game on Tuesday.

The calm after the storm of the nightmare December has led Louis van Gaal to believe that perhaps the worst is over. This week has the look of a possible encore of what transpired over the festive season. With Liverpool (another side that turn it on for the big occasion) at Anfield next after tomorrow, something's got to give! Claim the next six points on offer, and United will almost certainly claw back part of Arsenal's 9 point lead at the summit of the league. Drop further away from the top and van Gaal will drop further into the mire of the media circus and fans' anger.

For the arm chair Red, Tuesday is the 21st straight desperate hope that the ghost of Sir Matt Busby shall be channelled into mindset of the team to get them playing like Busby's Babes. Anything else will be a further dose of listlessness. Dissatisfaction. Ennui. But we'll still love them unconditionally. Defend them to the death in the spite of rival fans. These are the only marriages that are guaranteed to last forever.    

Sunday, 10 January 2016

PATRICIA---MAN UNITED VS SHEFFIELD UNITED REVIEW


It's not a big deal anymore to be late for a Manchester United game. Gone are the days when you could miss an early goal because you had to run off for a quick bathroom break just before kick-off. So it really didn't matter that my mates were 20 minutes late for the game.

Perhaps it's just as well they were because the lovely Patricia, from back in high school, chanced along. It had been long since we last met so whilst Ander Herrera passed to Schweinsteiger to Fellaini to Chris Smalling, to De Gea and repeat, Patsy and I got off to some good old memory lane reminiscing.

We did pause a bit to acknowledge Matteo Darmian's brilliant pass into the feet of Wayne Rooney but as we've come to expect from the captain, it ultimately came to nothing. And just as United got back to passing their way to sleep, so did Patsy and I resume the subject of passing written messages to each other in class. She was amused by the fact that I'm more verbose than 11 years ago. Once upon a time, watching Manchester United play was better than chatting up a pretty lady.

Unfortunately, for me, Patsy had to leave because her take away was ready. Now I really had to watch the football, if only because I needed to have something about the game to blog here today. I needn't have worried though because just then, the boys walked in. Company! It meant we could comfort each other from the hurt that followed Juan Mata losing possession twice in a minute.

It's a comfort that could not be underestimated in the circumstances, for over at the far side of the pub, in a dark corner, a fellow Red sat starring at the screen, cold and coiled by the events being broadcast to him all the way from the M16. There are admittedly bigger problems in this world. Hunger, Poverty, Disease. But for our anonymous colleague in the corner, it seemed nature had dealt him a cruel hand. It seemed so sad for him that it was funny for us!

We did, mind you, pause in our tipsy stupor to acknowledge our first shot on target on the 69th minute! The sarcastic applause inside the stadium got me wondering if the fans who actually paid to watch the game were in a deeper mire than the lad in the corner of the pub. They probably were because Old Trafford started emptying with fifteen minutes still left to play.

When Nigel Adkins got down from his seat to inspire his side to a replay, it finally dawned on us that we had a game of football to watch. The jokes and banter gave way for nervous energy. Odd that we really started following the game in stoppage time. For all of six minutes! Again, you never miss much in between with United these days and so even if you tuned in at the point when Memphis Depay won the penalty, you'd have nothing to regret. Except that at that point, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera were off, leaving the captain with a shot back at penalty duties. There was more fear in the room that he would miss it than there was joy after he scored.

Ask Louis van Gaal about the game, and he will tell you that United are in the fourth round of the FA Cup having dominated the game against the opposition. He will probably add that United have a 100% record of wins in the year 2016 and therefore ought to get much more credit than they are getting.

If he asked me what I thought about the game; I'd tell him that I probably wouldn't have much to blog about this week if Patricia had not walked into the pub!   

Friday, 8 January 2016

LAST SHOT AT GLORY?


It is quite remarkable in the uncomfortable extremes of the scale that Manchester United and indeed Wayne Rooney have not won the FA Cup for a dozen years! Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic have tasted Cup glory more recently than United and the 11 time holders have since watched on as Arsenal have moved ahead of them as the record time winners of the world's oldest cup competition.

It is arguable that one of Sir Alex's biggest failings after the '90s was to win the Cup just once, in 2004 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. United have suffered agonising defeats at various stages in the competition since then and last made the final in 2007 only to be denied by Chelsea and Didier Drogba. At least back then, the club could always count on the league title as a consolation for any Cup defeats.

The current Manchester United under Louis van Gaal have no such comforts. Last year, a terrible back pass error from Antonio Valencia consigned United to defeat at home against Arsenal in the quarter-final with no other serious contender left in the tournament. Whilst United could not be accused of taking the Cup lightly last year, the draw was fairly kind to the club although United needed a replay to get past Cambridge United.

Sir Alex always said that all you could ever ask for in a Cup draw is a home tie. United have been dealt just that in the third round of the 2016 version of the Cup. Third tier Sheffield United will make the 90 minute journey to Manchester to partake yet another televised FA Cup fixture involving United.

There's been an unusual calm around Old Trafford this past week, no doubt because the league victory over Swansea City last weekend has eased the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, once the media and fans have judged you, you merely run on a stay of execution until the next bad result. Indeed, it could all be back to the heights of mutiny at Christmas in the unlikely event that Sheffield get the upset that TV Companies would require to redeem their choice.

Louis van Gaal gave a trio of his most favoured stars including Anthony Martial a much needed couple of days off. Although they have since joined up with the rest of the side, it is expected that the manager will ring the changes ahead of what should, in theory at least, be a straight forward fixture. The visitors are, after-all, mid-table in League One.

Andreas Perreira, Will Keane and Borthwick-Jackson could, in the least expect to be part of the squad having been largely on the fringes of the first team throughout the season. More than anything though, rotation tomorrow will largely be down to a preservation of bones having had to deal with a big number of injuries over the festive period. With a couple of difficult away premier league fixtures to follow soon after the weekend, getting past round three with minimum damage to resources will be more than welcome.

As a side plot, how about Manchester United score at Old Trafford in the first half since September? Certainly, United will boost their confidence if they win more comfortably than we've come to expect recently. A narrow win would not do too much to improve the plight of the club, but it would be a win nonetheless and those have been few and far between lately.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

UNITED WIN!


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!


The Match
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.

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.