Manchester United lose for the third time on the spin with a single goal for WBA.
Guest Author: Doron
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Oh United, you never make it easy for us, do you?
Back to the 80s
Last season David Moyes’ side wound back the clock to allow many sides to beat us for the first time in ‘x’ years and now Louis van Gaal has joined the party. Not since 1989 had United lost three consecutive league games and drawn a blank in them too. Back in 1988/89 United were on course for a high finish but a run of just two wins in the last eleven games ruined any chance of that happening. This time around it all seems a bit irrelevant. United should still get a top four finish and that’s ultimately been the aim this season, even if it’s a bit underwhelming.
Replay the game with the same teams another ten times and West Brom probably don’t win any of them. That’s not to belittle them or indeed any team that wins at Old Trafford in the manner they did yesterday but it was certainly one of the more fortunate victories.
Not only did the solitary goal come against the run of play but it went in via a huge deflection. It’ll be something Paddy McNair hopefully learns from – his foul on Fletcher was clumsy and unnecessary. It’s been a good season for McNair but moments like that serve as a reminder that he is still some way off being good enough for United (which is fine, given he’s only just turned 20). For as long as United play this possession football he’ll continue to do alright, as a former midfielder it suits him. But when it comes to proper defending, he’s much still to learn.
At the other end of the pitch, United should have scored a few goals. Van Persie’s penalty was poor but it could have easily been one of three awarded in the game. There were plenty of chances created, 26 of them in fact but Myhill had an exceptional game and some of the finishing was a bit tame. The general pattern of the game – attack vs defence – is something we’ve seen a lot at Old Trafford this season and most of the time United have found ways to score and win. It’s rare a team that come to get a draw does so, let alone win, so in that respect it was a rather strange afternoon.
The game panned out mostly as van Gaal had predicted at his press conference on Friday. He said West Brom would sit deep and make it very difficult for United to find or create openings. He also said that space would open up later in the game, although he hadn’t anticipated West Brom having a lead to defend and therefore going even more defensive.
The social media masses were critical of a lack of a ‘Plan B’ but this couldn’t be more wrong, unless they thought that ending the game with a back three of Valencia-Smalling-Young was still part of ‘Plan A’. There was a change of tactics at half time, it’s just that it was rather weird. Fellaini went up front and van Persie dropped deeper. I’ve no issue with playing a more direct game to Fellaini, it might not be what some want to see us play but if it works, and it has done numerous times now, then so be it. What was strange was the use of van Persie. Of course van Gaal wanted to keep his players most likely to score on the pitch but it did impact how quickly we circulated the ball. Although a gamble, it would have been far better to see Pereira come into the midfield, he’s at least used to playing there.
The substitutions didn’t really help much either. Falcao came on too late in the game and no one could have foreseen di Maria being as poor as he was. There’s definitely something lacking in the final third of the pitch. For me, it’s movement. There are enough creative players in the team to make something happen but they’re also reliant on their team-mates to make the runs to give them something to create and that’s where we seem to fall down. Javier Hernandez for example is always on the move, running across defenders or beyond them. He’s not necessarily the answer and it seems that United will still part ways with him in the summer but Fellaini as a focal point standing in one place is all a bit predictable. If James Wilson isn’t injured then it’s a shame he wasn’t on the bench as it might have been a good game for him.
There’s no doubt this style of playing works against the better sides who don’t just want to defend against United but van Gaal needs to find a way of making it easier to beat the sides who are content to just ‘dig in’, as Mr Boycott might say.
Do United miss Carrick?
Is a 33 year old Geordie really holding this United team together? Against Chelsea he or Blind would have helped in that they’d have allowed Rooney to go up front. Against Everton the team was so complacent he’d have made no difference. Yesterday with all the possession it’s debatable if his own adept passing would have changed a great deal. Three more games that he’s not played in and yet his stock has somehow risen. At least that’s how it seems on the face of it.
The simple answer is that United do miss him. I could tell you that United’s win percentage with him this season is 72% and without him it’s 35%; I could tell you that he plays more forward passes than any other midfielder in our team, but those stats don’t really mean or prove a great deal. The things he does to help this team aren’t quantifiable. He’s the fulcrum of the team, in possession he’s excellent at changing the focal point of the attack, moving the ball quickly from one side of the pitch to the other or into the feet of a forward. He relieves pressure on his team-mates and knows where the space is, even when it’s tight. And that’s where he’d have made a difference yesterday. It’s not that he’d have been scoring or assisting but that he’d have been stretching West Brom more than we did. He’d have also allowed Herrera to get higher up the pitch too
Of course the real issue with Carrick is that he’s 34 this summer and starting to pick up injuries. United haven’t got a direct replacement for him and badly need to find someone who’s as good, if not better because the current options aren’t up to it. Some will chortle at this but finding his replacement is becoming as important as finding the replacement for the man he inherited the number 16 shirt from.
Maybe I’ve too much misplaced faith in thinking we won’t mess up the top four from here, but yesterday just doesn’t really bother me that much. On another day we win and keep a clean sheet, much like we did against Sunderland two months ago. Back then everyone moaned about the fact we were dominant but the game was a bit turgid, yet a few days after the game and it’s all forgotten about because at the end of the day we won.
As for all the anger and pessimism being built up amongst United fans on social media, well it’s just a bit weird. The club should still get a top four place and it’s pretty much the summer. We’re all well aware of our shortcomings and that the squad will once again be strengthened suggests so are the staff. There will be a new look team again next season and our ambition will be to win the league. It’s frustrating that we’ve given Liverpool something to cling onto going into the final three games and a shame we’ve not managed to push either Arsenal or City a bit harder. After last season, I’m happy to take a top four position however it comes, I’ll raise the crisis alert system if things aren’t improving in 6 months time.
Oh, and I’m not really sure where it fits into this piece but a word on Darren Fletcher. What a man, what an absolutely top class professional. It’s still painful to think he’s not a United player any more, even if parting with us was the right thing to do. It’s a shame there weren’t more fans left in the stadium to applaud his lap of honour at the end.