1) Rooney: Dip or Decline?
Wayne Rooney’s difficult season and poor form has been well documented over the past few months and although I don’t want to add to this, his form has gotten to the point that serious questions will have to start being asked. One of the main questions that need to be posed is whether this is in fact an issue of form or if Rooney’s best years are behind him.
At 30 years of age most footballers would either be in their peak years or would have just experienced that stage. One big aspect that is different with Rooney to most footballers however is that he started playing regular Premier League Football at 16 and made his full international debut at 17. It seems that this has taken its toll and that in fact what we are now witnessing is a decline.
Saturday was further evidence of this decline, with Rooney looking very sluggish in his touch and movement. So, what is keeping him in the side? Other than lack of alternatives at the minute you would have to say it’s his captaincy and leadership that is keeping him in the starting 11. He is one of the only leaders in the current side – Chris Smalling and Michael Carrick being vice captains emphasises that. However if we significantly add to our fire power this summer as expected, it would be hard to see Rooney remaining a key figure in the United side.
2) There was a reason we stopped playing 3-5-2
Saturday evening saw the return of our old foe, 3-5-2. Van Gaal pointed to the threat of Jamie Vardy as one of the reasons we deployed the system on Saturday. He tried saving face by naming Paddy McNair as being the reason we conceded a goal to… Jamie Vardy. For me, if we had a flat back four I’m not sure Vardy would have had the space to run into to create the chance to score. McNair certainly could have been tighter to Vardy but I feel that that type of situation would have been avoided with a back 4 rather than a relatively unfamiliar system at the back.
Going forward we looked even more regimented than in previous weeks. For the system to work you really need a maverick in attack, the way the Dutch had Robben at the last World Cup, as there is very little space for attackers to operate. Unfortunately we really don’t have that maverick, which brings me to the next point.
3) Lack of cutting edge
Although the tone of this article has been pretty miserable so far regarding our performance on Saturday, we still controlled large parts of the game. This has been a regular feature of our season to date. There seems to be a recurring debate as to whether the reason that we aren’t converting this control into chances and goals is down to Van Gaal’s system or the attacking options.
I stand somewhere in the middle on it. I certainly feel that we could move the ball quicker under Van Gaal from back to front which would help find better attacking positions, however if you look back on the last few games we have been in many good attacking positions and created very good chances that we simply didn’t convert.
As previously mentioned, there will be a big focus on adding to our strike force over the summer. However, until then we will have to be more efficient in front of goal or perhaps become a bit quicker in our play to create more space up top.
4) Darmian: Confidence hit or just not very good?
Matteo Darmian made a very bright start to his United career, showing enthusiasm to support in attack and solidity in defence. However the Darmian we have seen in recent times is a shadow of that player. On the ball he doesn’t look assured of his touch or what he wants to do, this was apparent on a number of occasions on Saturday. Also his execution was seriously lacking with a few horrendous crosses.
The reason I ask whether this is a confidence issue or whether Darmian the player isn’t actually all that good, stems from a couple of things. Firstly the defensive solidity he displayed early season was given its first very big test against Alexis Sanchez at the start of October. Up to this point Darmians performances were very good and confidence sky high, however he got a roasting from Sanchez.
In terms of Darmian the attacking outlet, Van Gaal has chosen to play Young or Valencia at right back over Darmian against the lesser sides which would signal that he doesn’t have total faith in his ability to add to the attack. There had been murmurs in the summer that United scout Jim Lawlor advised Van Gaal against signing Darmian however this advice wasn’t taken on board. Whether Lawlor or Van Gaal proves to be right remains to be seen.
5) Perils of small squad being seen
3 of United’s 7 substitutes on Saturday were Andreas Pereira, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Marcus Rashford. This in itself points to how light our squad is at present. The bizarre aspect about it is that Van Gaal has made the squad light by choice. You can see the logic in having a smaller, tighter squad however it’s when injuries occur that problems arise.
Even with a fully fit squad however, there are still issues with an over reliance on the likes of Schweinsteiger and Martial, both of whom at very different stages in their careers and both of whom I expect didn’t envisage having had this amount of game time in the first few months of their United careers.
Don’t get me wrong Van Gaal has done a good job getting rid of a lot of deadwood at the club. However, perhaps he has wielded the axe on a player or two too many. Javier Hernandez’s success at Leverkusen points to that, particularly when we are having such problems up top ourselves.
I’m going to end this downbeat article by pointing out that we are still in a very strong position at this point in the season and a win tomorrow against West Ham would be a great boost ahead of very winnable fixtures against Bournemouth and Norwich so it’s not all doom and gloom!