1) No Carrick = No party
Since Carrick left the field with an injury at home against Manchester City, things have gone downhill pretty fast. We have since conceded 6 goals and not scored ourselves. Our win percentage with him is over 70% while our win rate without is around 30% after this latest defeat. For years now many of us have said that “if Carrick gets injured we’ve got problems, we don’t have a replacement for him”, we were lucky he wasn’t injured often while Fergie was manager but he’s had a few lengthy spells out in the last 2 seasons now and those spells have been costly for us. We cannot continue to rely on him as heavily as we have done anymore. He can still be an important player for us but he’ll be 34 next season and with us having more games to play next season, his game time will need to be managed better, a replacement who we can rely on to play over 40 games a season needs to be found.
2) Goal drought continues
3 weeks ago, a top 4 finish looked in the bag and we were targeting 3rd or even 2nd but since then we’ve lost 3 games and haven’t scored a single goal. It’s become a real worry now and 4th place now hangs in the balance again. Despite convincing wins over Spurs, Liverpool and City we have struggled since to break down sides who have been happy to sit back, defend first and try to score on the counter. We need to do more to break these sides down as at present it is too simple to defend against. Our passing has reverted back to being slow and ponderous, when it was quicker against sides who were more open. The speed of passing needs to be much higher to beat these sides. When we have created a clear-cut chance we haven’t taken it. Chances don’t get any more clear-cut than getting a penalty either. If we’re going to continue to struggle to create chances this season we need to take what we’re given if we’re to finish in the top 4.
3) Di Maria struggles continue
Di Maria has been one of a few disappointments this season, arriving as one of the best players in Europe from the season before and a man of the match performance in the Champions League final, his signing was a massively exciting one. He started off very well but since coming back from injury that he got in November, he’s looked a shadow of the player he is, a player lacking in confidence and struggling to adapt to Van Gaal’s ways. Fans getting on his back aren’t helping his confidence either. At Real Madrid, he played on the wing for many years, consistently crossing the ball accurately and assisting goals, yet against West Brom his crossing was very poor, often resulting in Myhill, the WBA keeper claiming the ball unchallenged or getting a goal kick. In his final season at Real Madrid he was played more centrally, and it was in this position he became one of the best players in Europe, it is this position I’d prefer to see him play in, providing a quicker method of getting the ball from the defensive third to the attacking third as at present this transition is too slow and allows the opposition to re-organise defensively. However, there have been no signs of this being likely to happen and Di Maria’s performances off the bench are unlikely to convince Van Gaal to include him in his starting line up anytime soon.
4) Subs not pushing starters
When the starting XI for the West Brom game was announced I was a little bit surprised to see that more changes hadn’t been made after 2 defeats in a row. Van Gaal is known to be a manager who prefers to stick with the same line up rather than rotate but will change if performances aren’t good enough. After this latest defeat, changes surely need to be made, players can’t be rewarded for a third defeat in a row. However while the starting 11 isn’t firing neither are those on the bench and there is maybe also a lack of options to change because of injuries and a lack of squad depth. Di Maria would be an obvious choice to be brought in but as I’ve already stated it seems unlikely given his apparent lack of confidence and poor cameos of late. Januzaj could be another option but it also seems unlikely. Maybe it’s time to give them a chance from the off though. Carrick is still doubtful to return from injury for the Palace game too. Van Gaal has a choice to make before the next game, stick with his under firing players that have started recently or give an opportunity to Di Maria and others to do better from the start.
5) Still a work in progress
After wins against Spurs, Liverpool and City, some were saying that we only needed 3 signings to mount a title challenge next season, I disagreed as it seemed clear there were more than just 3 areas of weaknesses in the squad even then and that has since been confirmed I think. Injuries have further highlighted this with a severe lack of depth in midfield leading to Rooney being played in midfield when Carrick has been unavailable. Valencia has done OK at right back but a better RB is needed. A top class centre half is needed to partner the much improved Smalling or Rojo. Midfield needs adding to as do the forward positions, perhaps both centrally and wide. 5 maybe 6 areas if De Gea is to leave. It’s not just in the transfer market work needs to be done either, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the pitch too as I’ve pointed out above. There have been encouraging signs though in the past 3 months that we shouldn’t forget, we are in an ongoing process and it will take time.
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