Nick Powell: What the actual f**k?
Prior to Tuesday’s game in Wolfsburg, Powell’s last Manchester United minutes came in the harrowing 4-0 defeat to MK Dons in August 2014. You have to go back to December 2012 for the one before that, Powell playing 73 minutes in a miserable 1-0 home Champions League defeat to FC Cluj.
Powell’s inclusion on United’s bench can be blamed on injuries, but his introduction must be blamed on the manager. If Juan Mata looked as astonished as United’s supporters at his withdrawal, Andreas Pereira must have been seething. Still, at least Powell’s cameo went well. Thirteen passes in 21 minutes – of which five were completed – and two shots, both off target.
‘Louis van Gaal boosted as Man United midfield ace looks better than ever after injury,’ was the Daily Star’s headline on Tuesday. Nailed it.
Why is Wayne Rooney Mr Untouchable?
There are rumours regarding Rooney’s current absence from United’s team that we are not stupid or rich enough to print, but there are still questions to ask regarding the striker’s immunity to criticism.
Rooney’s form has been appalling. It is not that he looks disinterested, for that would be a redeemable situation; he looks incapable. In the league this season, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard have scored goals at a quicker rate, Lingard and Memphis Depay have had shots on target more frequently and Herrera and Marouane Fellaini have created chances more often. The conclusion is clear: Rooney is no longer a key player.
Yet Rooney is still He Who Must Not Be Named, the elephant in the United dressing room (take that description however you want). Has Van Gaal tied himself to a sinking ship?
Why are you trying to change Bastian Schweinsteiger at 31?
Schweinsteiger has been a wonderful central midfielder for over a decade, but there are no secrets to his style.
“My style of play is to control a game,” he said upon arriving at Old Trafford. “To do that you have to be smart and fast in your brain. Of course, you need your fitness for sure, I know that. But for me it is very important to control the situation, especially in defence. You can always score goals with the players we have but you have to have stability in the defence.”
Which all makes Van Gaal demanding Schweinsteiger to press high up the field all the more bizarre. It didn’t work against Arsenal, and it didn’t work against Wolfsburg on Tuesday. Furthermore, without the support of Michael Carrick in defensive midfield and with United throwing more players forward than has become custom, Schweinsteiger was overrun.
To compound the German’s frustration, he is the new lightning rod for Van Gaal’s ire, criticised twice in the last week by his manager. Having decided to “try something new” in the summer, it’s unlikely that Schweinsteiger meant the Europa League and public defamation.
What has Ashley Young done wrong?
It’s hard not to sympathise with Young. Having dug Van Gaal out of a hole last season with his excellent form on the left wing, he’s been used as a jack of all trades during this campaign. Right wing – check; left wing – check; right back – check; left back – check.
In recent weeks, things have got worse. Rather than being back-up in three positions and an impact substitute, Young sat on the bench for the entire 90 minutes in Germany. He did the same against West Ham on Saturday. When Matteo Darmian was injured, it was Cameron Borthwick-Jackson who got the nod.
With Anthony Martial far better as a central striker, is it not worth at least trying Young back in his most natural position on the left wing? He has become cruelly undone by his own versatility.
How do you treat the Europa League?
The contrast was easy to make. In Manchester sat a team from Germany, cursing missing out on the Europa League. In Germany sat a team from Manchester, cursing qualification for the Europa League.
It is difficult to know how Van Gaal will treat his booby prize. There will be a temptation to shun the rigours of Thursday-Sunday football with an injury-hit squad to concentrate on a title assault. That will be justified should United mount a meaningful domestic challenge, but decisions cannot be made with hindsight.
Sacrificing European football is a gamble for Van Gaal, for it only increases the pressure to succeed at home. Winning the only trophy missing from United’s collection of honours would at least add gloss to an infuriating campaign.