Manchester United fire blank in 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace

Louis van Gaal looks on as Wayne Rooney fails to find the back of the net
Louis van Gaal looks on as Wayne Rooney fails to find the back of the net against Palace

With Manchester United legend Paul Scholes openly criticising Louis van Gaal’s approach and “philosophy” – the best response would have been to play with an open attacking display against Crystal Palace and throw caution to the wind. Sadly, for van Gaal, the United fans and Paul Scholes – the legendary midfielder was proved right as United struggled to find any momentum that would suggest come May, the club will be challenging for the league title.

With the exception of the Arsenal game, United have become difficult to beat and breakdown, although Yannick Bolasie was unlucky not to open the scoring with a thundering shot parried on to the bar by David De Gea. Wayne Rooney, who is continuing to come under fire from United fans for his below par performances the season, should have opened the scoring following a superb through pass by Anthony Martial.

United will struggle to keep up with title chasing Manchester City and Arsenal – both of whom won yesterday – with performance that are laboured, sluggish and lack any real cutting edge. United are not creating chances, which is one of the main problems outlined by Paul Scholes. Will the philosophy come good or will United slowly see any title challenge slip away?

Manchester United’s lack of chances this season

Scholes was extremely critical at the lack of creativity under the Louis van Gaal regime. United’s former midfield genius is 100% right in his assessment, and the stats back it up. Below is a tweet from SkySports earlier in the day, highlighting just how low United are in terms of creating chances per game:

Yes, it is true. Manchester United, on average, keep hold of the ball more than any other team in Premier League – but have one of the lowest chances created ratio in comparison to the number of passes per game. There is ball retention and there then is boring, labouring football that is all too predictable for the opposition. Once the opposition have all men behind the ball, it becomes very difficult for United to create chances for the forward players.

There is no element of surprise, no high pressing to win the ball with the opposition out of position and no taking on of players. It is this that has the United faithful frustrated. The chants of “attack, attack, attack” are in response to what is playing out this season and if Louis van Gaal isn’t careful – any title charge will be extinguished, even before we get into the new year.

In 2010, Jose Mourinho set out his Inter Milan side in a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona to not attack. In the full ninety minutes, the Italian side managed zero shots on goal and amassed a mere 24% possession against the reigning European Cup holders. Of course, Mourinho’s side were down to ten men following the dismissal of Thiago Motta – but the Portuguese manager set his side up to not lose shape – which was the key fundamental focus against an opposition that will tear you apart if a number of players are out of position.

It was pure anti-football, catenaccio if you follow your Italian football history – but yet effective to get his side through to the final against, ironically, Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich. Currently, Manchester United make it far too easy for opposing sides to defend, get players back behind the ball and to regain their shape.

It is all clear to see with Manchester United on the football pitch. Side to side passing, backwards passing and lack of creativity to open up defences – but what do the stats say so far? Manchester United have notched up 1.36 goals per game so far this season (both home and away), which if you compare to the other teams in the top four – pretty low. Manchester City have scored 2.36 goals, Arsenal 1.91, Leicester 2.09. Looking at Arsenal, it is away from The Emirates where the Londoners are scoring the majority of their goals.

There’s a big concern but I already said that after the match against Middlesbrough”

– Louis van Gaal on lack of goals

Home goals per game for both United and Arsenal are exactly the same – 1.40, however looking at goals per game away, it is a very different story. Arsenal have notched 2.33 goals per game, with United hitting a paltry 1.33 goals per game – less than struggling Chelsea (1.40), relegation fighting Bournemouth (1.40) and Norwich (1.50). Plain and simple – despite having the most expensive teenager in the history of football, £37.1 million Juan Mata and £25million Memphis Depay – United are struggling to create a decent amount of changes that would have been in abundance in years gone by. With the attacking talent on display, you would expect United to have notched up more goals – but van Gaal’s philosophy promotes ball retention, which can become routine and quite mundane to watch.

Defensively, no one can argue that van Gaal has done a superb job to ensure United are very difficult to beat. Goals at Old Trafford for opposing teams are very hard to come by, with United only conceding a single goal in five matches – a superb overhead kick by Christian Benteke in the 3-1 victory over Liverpool. United have had the most clean sheets in the Premier League so far this season and have conceded the fewest (with Arsenal) goals per game at 0.73. Perhaps following the downfall during the David Moyes era, United need to first start with stability before the swashbuckling open attacking football returns that United fans have come accustomed to.

In his first season (2009/10) at Bayern Munich, Louis van Gaal managed to get to the Champions League final – two better than the quarter final the Bavarian club managed in 2009. They managed to score one more goal in the league than the previous season, but conceded eleven less. A number of defeats were turned into draws, but the most successful German club were able to notch up three more points than the previous season (when they finished second behind Wolfsburg) – to win the title. There is no doubt that the Dutchman is looking for defensive stability and has sacrificed United’s creative threat, which could eventually come good for the club – however, this is quite clearly not Sir Matt Busby’s nor Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

Play Antony Martial through the middle
Anthony Martial has been a revelation since he signed from Monaco in the summer, despite United firing blanks in the previous three fixtures – the first time since notching up three nil-nil draws against Spurs, Exeter City and Chelsea in the 2004/05 season. This could well have something to do with United’s young French starlet stuck out on the lefthand side of the pitch.

The decision to deploy Martial on the left of a front three was justified in the 3-0 victory over Everton, which helped nullify the home side’s attacking threat from Seamus Coleman. But why not against a side that have conceded seven goals in six games (at home) play the youngster through the middle? His pace, movement and composure could well have been the difference at Selhurst Park.

That’s not so simple, so I have to decide every week dependable on the game plan and qualities of opponent, and so on. In Monaco he played more or less always on the left wing.”

– Louis van Gaal on playing Martial on the left

Ashley Young deserves a run at left wing after the lacklustre start Memphis Depay has made, whilst Wayne Rooney – who was defended by Paul Scholes in the week – would surely make more of an impact dropping off Martial into the number ten role. Juan Mata still looks uncomfortable on the right hand side and should surely be given a chance to operate through the middle; potentially at the expense of Rooney. The Spaniard, for all his gifts – really does not offer any pace to get in behind the fullback.

United welcome CSKA Moscow to Old Trafford in the Champions League and really must pick up all three points if the club is to progress to the next round. The next Premier League fixture doesn’t bode well for goals. WBA come to Old Trafford next Saturday – having only conceded two goals away from home – the fewest any Premier League club has done thus far.

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