5 Things We Learned: West Ham United 1-1 Manchester United

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By Alan Brennan

1) Poor defensive organisation

Coming into the game it was evident that one of the biggest threats West Ham posed was from set pieces, however we looked disorganised in our set up throughout and struggled to deal with the threat, conceding numerous chances. We have De Gea to thank that those chances were not converted. That last statement is one that could be applied to numerous games this season and it points to poor defensive organisation, contrary to what Van Gaal has claimed. Van Gaal can refer to the stats where we have the 3rd best defensive record in the league but this overshadows the fact that teams are consistently creating numerous chances against us.

It can be argued that the problem stems from our defenders not being good enough, however I feel it’s more down to poor defensive preparation. Philipp Lahm recently described how Bayern had similar defensive issues under Van Gaal with opposition sides often creating “too many goalscoring opportunities” which sounds all too familiar.

Although having better quality defenders would certainly help, regardless of who you have in your back 4 (or 5), poor defensive organisation is always going to lead to chances and goals and that for me is the main problem at the minute rather than the individual defenders.

2) Front two dilemma

Jamie Carragher questioned the merits of playing both Falcao and Van Persie up front in his half time analysis on Sky Sports. He compared Falcao and van Persie to West Ham’s two front men and the contrast was staggering, with Sakho and Valencia causing United’s back four all sorts of trouble with their pace and movement. Although the second half saw an improvement from United’s front two where they combined well on a couple of occasions, the point remains that there isn’t enough pace between the two of them for the partnership to continue. This point was discussed on the forumDecision time: Van Perise, Falcao or both, with the question being posed as to whether either or both should be dropped.

Personally I feel it should be a case of one of the other, with form dictating who starts. The next question would then be do you stick playing two up top? If so the pacey James Wilson would be the probable choice, however as good a talent he is, his first team performances to date suggests he still has a way to go before being a regular starter.

What then of scrapping the two up top? Both Van Persie and Falcao have played a lot of football leading the line alone, and have done so successfully. Although another change of system is far from ideal at this point in the season, having one up top would allow for more natural wingers or attacking midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 or Van Gaal’s traditional favourite 4-3-3. We could then see more players being played in their more natural roles rather than trying to shoehorn everyone in to accommodate the front two, which seems to be the case at the minute.

3) ‘Long Ball United’

So says Sam Allardyce. Although he is only referring to the final 20 minutes of Sunday’s game, the stats would suggest long balls have been a recurring pattern in our play this season. As discussed on the forum – Long-ball United, only Metz and Burnley have attempted more long balls than United in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season. This is a staggering statistic but is the price for playing without any real link between defence and attack, which is what Van Gaal has done for much of this season to accommodate our attacking options.

This was mostly prevalent during the days of the great 3-5-2 depression, with a big emphasis on our centre backs to play it out from the back and in turn reverting to long balls when being pressed by the opposition. However the number of long balls may have been avoided had we had a proper link to the attack from midfield. We often lined up with a midfield 3 of Carrick, Rooney and Mata. However Carrick was effectively positioned as another centre half and Rooney and Mata were pushed on top of the forwards which left a gaping hole in the midfield and long balls being the only option.

The diamond formation has changed the dynamic somewhat with the increased width in midfield giving the centre backs more options and perhaps the statistics would read differently had that been our formation all season. However the plan b with this formation still seems to be centred on long balls, or as Allardyce eloquently put it “It was just, thump it forward and see what they could get”.  He did add that in the end it paid off, and that I suppose is the bottom line. I’d give a penny for the thoughts of Sir Alex Ferguson watching on however. Total football I think not.

4) Blind blossoming

Of all the summer additions Blind was the least inspiring in my eyes at the time. However he has probably been the most important addition so far. Although a relatively quiet showing on Sunday, he still stepped up when needed with his late effort salvaging a very important point. This isn’t the first time he’s stepped up with an important late goal this season, with another late effort away to West Brom earlier in the campaign.

Stepping up seems to be a habit Blind has developed throughout his short career to date. In his early days in the Ajax first team he was nearly sold to Groningen for only €1.5 million following a loan spell in 2010. The following season back at Ajax, Blind struggled for form was even booed off in one game following a poor showing. He overcame these hurdles remarkably well however and was named Dutch player of the year last season, helping Ajax to the title. He was subsequently an important cog in Holland’s World Cup run. He’s carried this on at United and has cemented himself as a key man and one of the first names on the team sheet.

He has taken everything in his stride so far and his composed presence belies his years (24).  If his career continues to form and Blind continues to push on, he could well be a very important player for years to come.

5) Good point, good position

Despite the wave of negativity following Sundays game regarding our style of play, formation, player positions and so on (which I have added to with my first 3 points), it was still a very good point to get. Every time Manchester United don’t get 3 points questions are asked, and although a lot of those questions are valid this time around, I feel Sunday’s recovery and fight back has been overshadowed. We came back into the game very well after conceding, and could have scored twice or three times before finally breaking the deadlock.

The points comparison between Moyes and van Gaal’s reigns at the same points in the season keep cropping up, recently it was brought up that the points tallies were the same…. But things are very different. Had we conceded first last season, like we did on Sunday, heads would have dropped. This season however there is a fight, a confidence. Although we the fans aren’t sure what’s going on with van Gaal’s methods, the players at least seem to be buying into it and are behind it, which is all that matters.

Despite the Champions League race tightening in recent weeks we are still in a good position. The mood seems good and the focus is clearly there. Although a few issues need ironing out, I don’t think they will get in the way. We will finish in the top 4.

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