1) Improvement but still no win
It has now been 8 games without a win for United. Despite this the performance against Chelsea was much improved and should we have been more efficient in front of goal our winless streak would have ended. I feel that inefficiency in front of goal has been a recurring problem throughout the season – the Chelsea game felt like déjà vu with similar dominant showings at home to PSV and West Ham of late yielding the same result.
Therefore blame has to fall to our attackers. Van Gaal has stated on numerous occasions that we need more in attack and we didn’t strengthen that area sufficiently this summer. For that I agree and sympathise with him. However, Van Gaal also has to share blame on this point as he got rid of a lot of attacking options in the summer that could be finishing these chances at present, none more so than Chicharito.
I do wonder with better finishers and attacking options whether our dominance in these sorts of games would lead to 2 or 3 nil victories, but we may never know.
2) Martial, best out wide?
Yet again, Anthony Martial proved to be our biggest threat against Chelsea. Not many players get the better of Branislav Ivanovic, but Martial dominated the battle between the two. Given Martial’s pace and power many have been calling for him to be our regular number 9. However, in my opinion his best performances in a United shirt have come on the left flank. He gave Seamus Coleman a similarly torrid experience during the fixture at Goodison. Coleman, like Ivanovic, wouldn’t be used to those kinds of experiences.
While Martial has also had impressive showings through the middle, it is clear that he is still learning in the role. He played the majority of his football at Monaco on the left and it shows. His movement, particularly in the box as a 9, isn’t good enough yet. I have no doubt down the line he will be a real asset through the middle but at present we are better served with Martial standing up and taking on defenders from the left.
3) Schmidfield importance
The Schneiderlin-Schweinsteiger midfield partnership was restored for this game and for the most part dominance ensued. Matic had good spells but United won the midfield battle. The duo have been greatly missed, particularly against Stoke where we struggled to assert ourselves on the game at any point.
Their absence from the side has highlighted a lack of alternatives for the duo. Carrick is coming towards the end of his career and it is showing. Herrera and Fellaini are better suited to more advanced midfield roles. Therefore another holding midfielder might have to be targeted in the summer. Although far from conceivable at this point, should we qualify for the Champions League next season we can’t leave ourselves in a situation where Schweinsteiger is playing 2 games a week again next term.
In terms of who we could target, Youri Tielemans of Anderlecht has been strongly linked, although competition would be fierce for the Belgian. Internally Timothy Fosu Mensah is emerging as a very exciting all-round midfielder at youth level, converted from centre back, however next season might just be too soon for him. Whatever happens we can’t leave ourselves relying on ‘Schmidfield’ to the same extent next season again.
4) The real Wayne Rooney?
A few weeks ago following his showing against Leicester, I wrote a piece in which I stated how I felt Rooney was finished… I’m not about to back track on that now. That said, Rooney’s showing against Chelsea was much improved. Rooney was rightfully dropped against Stoke but responded in the best possible fashion with his second half performance that afternoon and the 90 minutes against Chelsea. His touch and link up play was far more assured and he looked a real goal threat.
I’m still not convinced that we are going to see the all firing, 20 plus goal a season Rooney again at United but should we continue with Martial on the left we will need to see this kind of showing more regularly from our captain if we are to get back into the top 4.
5) What now for Van Gaal?
In what has been a confusing and muddled couple of weeks, this result won’t have done anything one way or another to clear up what will happen with Van Gaal. The performance suggested that the players are behind him, however given our poor run and a figure such as Mourinho out of work question marks will remain.
My take on Van Gaal all along has been that he has instilled a style of football that could allow United to be all conquering if we had the right attacking players. The possession based game has allowed us to dominate pretty much every side we have faced this season, but we have lacked the strike force to always take advantage. I held the belief that we should wait until we strengthen that area sufficiently to properly view how effective his methods are. However given the results of late and our attacking options likely to remain the same even after the January window, I would understand if the United board felt we needed a new man and new ‘philosophy’, especially with Mourinho available.
Personally, I’d prefer if we steered clear of Mourinho. Short term he may be a great success and he may revive our season. However it’s what follows that that worries me. His appointment would signal that the board and money men are worried about not qualifying for Europe next season and the knock on effects.
For what it’s worth Guardiola would be far and away my preferred choice should we decide to replace Van Gaal. I wouldn’t be averse to Giggs as an alternative. He showed during his short spell as manger his faith in youth and in attacking football, two things Mourinho has rarely shown. Ultimately I would prefer a change to occur at the end of the season if at all. For me any appointment mid-way through a season represents a huge gamble. I trust Van Gaal in the mean time to get us back in the top 4, had it not been for the recent injury crisis I believe we would still be competing at the top.