United much better against Chelsea but still winless in eight

Manchester United’s Anthony Martial takes on the Chelsea defence in the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford

Manchester United finally put in a performance under the troubled reign of Louis van Gaal, however could only muster a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea. The home side started with a flourish and hit the woodwork following a great layoff from Wayne Rooney to Juan Mata, who smashed the ball onto Thibaut Courtois’ crossbar. United were a lot more mobile and quicker with their passing compared to the horrendous performance put in against Stoke City on Boxing Day. Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger bossed the middle of the park, with Chelsea playing deep and looking to counter through Eden Hazard, who was operating as a lone frontman.

Anthony Martial, United’s brightest spark all evening, gave Branislav Ivanovic a torrid time on the left hand side and also smashed the woodwork, this time the inside of the Courtois’ post – before bouncing away from danger. The second half saw an improved Chelsea performance, however – it was United who were most likely to score and Ander Herrera saw Courtois pull off an unbelievable stop to deny the Spaniard the opener. However, it was Nemanja Matic who had, arguably, the best chance of the match but blazed the ball high and wide of the outrushing David De Gea. Willian was also lucky not to concede a penalty, when he handled in the box midway through the second half.

Wayne Rooney, who was voted the man of the match, had a great chance to win the match after Cameron Borthwick-Jackson put in a superb cross from the left hand side. The United captain, who is level with Denis Law on 237 goals for United, smashed the ball high into the Stretford End. He was also lucky to stay on the pitch following a nasty tackle on Brazilian Oscar late on.

Chelsea, who were poor, will be delighted with a point away from home in a game that they were very much second best. United on the other hand will be pleased with a much improved performance, but it is the same result for Louis van Gaal.

Anthony Martial a shining light in a stop start season

Anthony Martial was scintillating against Chelsea in the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. The youngster, who signed from Monaco in the summer for £36 million, gave Serbian Branislav Ivanovic a torrid time on the left hand side for United and was unlucky not to put the home side 1-0 up when he struck the post in the first half. There was clearly a game plan for United to get the ball wide to Martial:

First half passes against Chelsea
Manchester United passes in the first half against Chelsea 28/12/2015

This of course showed that at least there was a strategy in place, unlike against Stoke City (see diagram below) – which clearly highlights United’s direct approach to capitalise on the physicality of Marouane Fellaini, whilst Memphis Depay has been abysmal since signing from PSV Eindhoven in the summer and was hauled off following a dire contribution:

First half passes against Stoke City
Manchester United passes in the first half against Stoke City 26/12/2015

There is a debate as to where Martial should play, whether it be up front or out wide. He is versatile to play anywhere across the front, whether it be as the number 9 or as a wide forward. His pace terrifies fullbacks and combined with a close control dribbling style, it makes sense to put him up against a fullback like Ivanovic, who is arguably on the decline. The issue is where does Wayne Rooney play if Martial plays through the centre?

Rooney played as a number ten against Southampton – when Martial scored a brace, however – Louis van Gaal usually opts to play with a more advanced midfielder, rather than with Rooney deeper. On the basis of his first four months at the club, Martial is going to be a top player for United and will eventually be the club’s main forward through the centre. However, due to lack of quality wingers at the club – he has be deployed wide in some games. Rooney may have been the official man of the match, but many reds are delighted with the talent of Martial that deserves much more at present.

Louis van Gaal continues to be defiant after a much improved performance

It has been a tough couple of weeks for the Manchester United manager, which hasn’t ended just yet – but confidence will be lifted following an impressive performance against Chelsea. United remain bottom of the Premier League form table having lost game after game following the 0-0 draw with West ham at Old Trafford. The dismissal of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea ensured that the rumour mill went into overdrive and the attention was shifted to the under performing United boss and how long he has left in the United hot seat.

I think it was a very good performance but you have to score a goal and we didn’t. We hit the post twice when the keeper was beaten, then had a big chance in the second half and two penalty cases – one handball, one foul on Mata – but didn’t receive a penalty.”

– Louis van Gaal post match

You could argue that this has been a tactic of Mourinho for years, shifting attention away from his team (or in this instance; himself) onto another subject to mask a disappointing performance. There is no doubt that Mourinho wants back in to manage a top club in the Premier League, but it is quite clear that some board members are uneasy with the Portuguese taking charge at the club. Mourinho’s conduct, lack of youth investment and pragmatic football are all negative attributes associated with his management. There is no doubt he would win trophies, but is that a sacrifice United are willing to take? Sometimes the criticism aimed at his style of play are unfair as in 2004/05, his Chelsea team were very exciting to watch and when 1-0 down – they threw the kitchen sink at the opposition. It was more when his side are 2-0 up, he would sit on a lead rather than look for more goals.

Louis van Gaal looks to have saved his job for the time being, but he still has critics to answer regarding United’s slow and pedestrianised approach. United were better, a lot better, in the 0-0 draw with Chelsea – but that type of performance needs to result in a win or at least more goals. There is a notion that United fans are perhaps searching for something that isn’t there in a quest to find a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson or Sir Matt Busby and continue playing the United way – but you still expect, especially with the talent on display, United to produce a more entertaining brand of football. The Dutchman will be fully aware that although he was up against the English Champions, Chelsea lie in fourteenth position having had a dismal season defending their title.

The game against Swansea City is crucial. Can Louis van Gaal kick start 2016 with a good win against a manager-less side? United fans want to see the same level of performance that was put in against Chelsea, but with a result that matches the display. Another 0-0 draw, which would stretch United’s run of games without a win to nine, ensures United lose further ground on the top four. In order to show progress under his tenure, the Dutchman knows the club needs to finish in a Champions League spot, add a few more signings to strengthen the squad (whilst welcoming back Luke Shaw from injury) and in his final season – go for the title. His United are some way off that vision yet, but having won a Champions League trophy (in 1995 with Ajax) and numerous league titles in different countries – van Gaal has the pedigree and track record to deliver.

Screeshots taken using: http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

1 Comment on United much better against Chelsea but still winless in eight

  1. Was an improvement but still not good enough. No wins in 8 will not get us into Champs league. LVG must surely be living on borrowed time. Things need to improve fast

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