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Is this as good as it gets?
So suddenly we’re creating lots and lots of great chances but it’s been so long since that happened, we’ve forgotten how to convert them.
Against Wolfsburg there were many times where I started roaring prematurely only for it to be stifled into an agonised squawk as another chance was squandered. The thing is, it’s been a long time since I’ve been that animated during a match.
Is that a sign of progress? It would be if our defence didn’t suddenly look so shocking I suppose.
I’ve despaired as much as any Man Utd supporter over the boring predictability of our play. There is one thing giving me some optimism but I’ve yet to hear/read it from anyone else, so I’d like to know if I’m being naively optimistic.
I see this state of play (the possession-based frigging philosophy) not as the end but the means. It’s a process we have to go through to get to where we want to be.
First, the defence got sorted out, largely through improvements to the defensive midfield. The phase we’re now in is one of consolidation: learn the LVG way (okay, the friggin drop-dead boring I’d rather watch the grass grow kinda way) so that keeping possession is instilled throughout the squad and becomes a natural, instinctive characteristic. Kind of where Barca have been for about a decade, it’s second nature to them.
Once that is ingrained, then the team can become more adventurous and the goals will start to flow. Right? It’s this last step I’m not too certain about. Is it a realistic hope? Is he building a platform for that?
What’s making me pessimistic, however, are Van Gaal’s comments which to me seem to be becoming stupider and stupider with each game. Singling players out for public criticism (Schweinsteiger the latest), saying that other teams’ strikers would have scored and generally refusing to recognise in any way whatsoever that yes, dammit, this team does play boring football.
Trying to convince fans that his team are playing attacking football simply because they have possession is ridiculous. He’s taking us for fools, certainly, but the really worrying thing is that he isn’t singing the right tune. He’s not pleading with us to be patient, that this is just a platform and he’ll get the team to step up a few levels, that he’ll excite and thrill us a little way down the road. No, he’s arguing with us, saying what we’re seeing is actually attacking football and implying that we’ve reached the destination and this is it.
I ask with tears in my eyes, does he really believe that drivel?
His other big mistake was in the transfer market. Not in terms of players in – I’m mostly happy with those – but with who he shipped out, and declaring pre-season that Wayne Rooney is THE ONE AND ONLY to lead the attack. Apart from that terribly poor piece of judgment, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have Van Persie now? And Chicho? Personally I also think it was a huge mistake to sell Angel di Maria.
I want to emphasise that this is in no way an ‘LVG OUT’ mail. I believe he was the right man for the job and three years will be perfect for him to achieve what the fans want: sort out the mess and establish us a regular contenders for the title.
But there’s been media talk of him extending his contract. Hell no. Hot needles in my tear-filled eyeballs would be more pleasant.
Nebs (If he doesn’t make Mata the regular No 10 I might just join the LVG out brigade), MUFC, Johannesburg
…I know you’ll probably get a lot of these from AUF’s (Angry United Fans) but I couldn’t believe what I was reading in this morning’s Mailbox. People claiming that last night was alright because United were more attacking. Oh well that’s alright then. Let’s forget the fact that they lost 3-2 and are out of the Champions League despite being drawn in what seemed a reasonably straightforward group. Dust ourselves off and look forward to playing Qarabag on a Thursday teatime shall we? No. No let’s not.
First thing’s first, last night looked better going forward. Of that there’s no denying. Looked sharper and Martial was exploiting the space behind the back line that he’s so good at. I do believe that the only reason it was a more attacking performance was because LVG’s hand was forced, they needed to win the game so had no choice but to go for it. Nevertheless, it looked better. Defensively – shambolic. Conceding from two set-pieces (the same player as well, clearly no lessons learnt from the first goal) is catastrophic. Schweini, and it breaks my heart to say this because I love the bloke, was sold way too easily for the second goal meaning Blind had to come across giving Wolfsburg a free pass to play through them. Too often Schurrle drifted over to United’s right meaning that Varela was too often left 2 on 1 and it wasn’t addressed throughout the whole game. Just because they needed to attack and try and win the game, it doesn’t mean they have to abandon all sense of defensive duties, where it’s looked so strong over the past few months.
United aren’t out of the Champions League because they lost last night, they’re out because they dropped five points to a poor PSV side. Now I don’t claim to be an expert on Dutch football. The extent of my knowledge goes about as far as knowing one of the De Boers runs Ajax, Memphis scored loads of free kicks last season, and Alfonso Alves was the Eredivisie’s version of Jamie Vardy a few years back. What I do know is that I watched both of the games against PSV, and they were shocking. Really, really bad. There were spells of the game in Holland where they looked okay on the counter, but across the two games they didn’t show much at all. Was LVG not aware that the group stages is a short six-game format? It’s not like the Premier League where they can play the patient, safe, risk free game and hope it will pay off in the long run. They need to be ruthless and go for the kill. Granted PSV defended well and played for this and executed their gameplan to perfection, but teams have been doing that against United and other big teams for years. Great teams find a way through.
I’m not saying that I’m part of the ‘LVG out’ brigade, purely because quite frankly it doesn’t matter what I think. But I don’t agree at all with the style of play he has the team playing. I genuinely believe, and you might say this is a somewhat biased view, that Man United are the best club in the Premier League. But no way am I arrogant or deluded enough to think that means they should be the best team in the league (although with the players, funds & facilities you’d hope they’re up there). What isn’t acceptable is the fact that Manchester United are genuinely one of the two worst teams to watch in the Premier League (West Brom in case you were wondering).
There have been rumours of player unrest and it wouldn’t at all surprise me. They’ve clearly been instructed to control games and not to risk giving up possession, but this makes for terrible watching and goes against the strengths of a lot of the key players. A caller on a radio phone-in show last night suggested that LVG didn’t have flair players available and was merely doing what he needed to do to win games. I think this caller was forgetting about a certain Mr Di Maria, who had flair and ability aplenty. Shackled down by a strict and disciplined tactical game. This isn’t what the fans pay decent money for. People look forward to watching their club all week, but at the minute it’s in the knowledge that I know I’m facing impending disappointment.
I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve with this mail. Maybe just replying to some of the mails that rattled me earlier, possibly just some form of coping mechanism. All I know is the fact that United gave it a good go and attacked does not make the defeat and subsequent elimination any better whatsoever.
Joe (should be off work on compassionate leave)
No, he will win the league
I know you received a lot of these already but I would like to throw in my tuppence worth on United and Van Gaal.
Van Gaal has put together a solid squad. This is just the foundation, it is not the finished product. I know £250 million is a lot of money, but when you look at the fact that United have nine players left from the 29-man squad that won the League title with Ferguson, it suddenly doesn’t look like that much. Van Gaal has literally had to put together a whole new squad (with some help from Moyes).
This is a squad Van Gaal (or the next manager) can build on. Let’s be realistic, none of the top players were going to join United over the last two years if they had other options. The squad wasn’t good enough, Moyes wasn’t good enough, and players wanted to wait and see if someone could right the ship, or if it was going down. Van Gaal has righted the ship.
Looking back over any of Fergie’s squads, he only ever had a couple of worldclass players (even Fergie says he only managed four). Fergie had solid squad players who could come in and do their job, and had a few top-class players to put the shine on the team. Van Gaal has got the squad full of squad players. The next job is to get the top-class players to come in now. And I think in the summer we will see those players come in. The first goal last night was a glimpse of what Van Gaal wants from this squad.
Give him time. Van Gaal will win a league title.
Brian, Wexford: are you serious? Chris Smalling has been in fantastic form for a year now. Admittedly, he didn’t have a great game last night, his first bad one in a very long time. He doesn’t bark orders as much as his predecessors? Don’t remember Rio Ferdinand being all that vocal on the pitch, truth be told. Considering the team he was playing in last night, I doubt that would’ve had any positive effect at all..
Have a look at who Smalling was playing with in defence yesterday. Guillermo Varela, making his first start in a must-win Champions League game. No way he should have been in that position. Then CBJ comes on for the injured Darmian, who was being played out of position. The level of inexperience around him was ridiculous. Having a moan at youth players in such a high-pressure environment would be detrimental, to both them and him.
Next up, you’re saying that he’s not as good with the ball as central midfielder Daley Blind? Well blow me down. I suppose next you’ll tell me that Hector Bellerin is slightly quicker and better at crossing than Per Mertesacker!
Daley Blind is good to play at centre-back when United dominate the ball because his vision and passing is a huge asset from deep. But he isn’t really a centre-back. He gets shown up against decent players, as he did on the second Wolfsburg goal (though I would argue Schweinsteiger allowed Draxler past far too easily in the first place).
Schneiderlin has been good this year for United. Not exactly set the world alight, but in the current system he does his job well. Smalling has been exceptional for a year. You can count on one hand strikers who have got the better of him in the last year. He’s got about three or four years until he should be hitting his peak, really, maybe a couple more.
At that age, Ferdinand was missing a drugs test, which cost him nearly a year of his career in a time when United went three seasons without a title. He had been signed for big money, but didn’t really show his full worth to United until three or four years later. I’m not saying Smalling will be as good as Ferdinand, but saying he isn’t a patch on either of (arguably) the greatest centre-back pairing in the Premier League, when doesn’t have a strong partner, is not near the peak of his career, and is in a team struggling to adapt from one era to another is staggeringly stupid. Give him a chance, for Christ’s sake.
Man United way? It’s a myth
Judging from this morning’s mailbox, Man United fans rank jointly alongside West Ham fans in their collective delusion that there is a ‘Man United way’ to play football which is exciting, attacking and progressive.
Are they purposefully forgetting the ground out 1-0 wins under Ferguson? The solid defence approach which won several of their titles? Do they realise that non-United fans don’t consider them to have a particularly attacking history, no more so than say Arsenal (post-Graham), Tottenham or Liverpool?
There is no ‘Man United Way’, it’s a myth.
Man United’s issues continue…
The result last night wasn’t overly surprising, we are in the midst of (another) injury crisis, what it did highlight was a number of long-standing issues:
– Van Gaal’s squad management has been ridiculous. We started the season with Darmian, Rojo, Jones, Smalling and Luke Shaw as our only senior defenders. They were backed up by McNair (a midfielder at youth level), Blind and Valencia (two converted midfielders). Add to that Jones has a Sturridge-like frequency of injuries. With the money van Gaal has been given, he should have invested in actual defenders rather than trying to convert spare parts lying about the club.
– He persists with playing Ashley Young out of position (usually at either full-back) for most of the year and then decides to hand a young player his debut in the most important game of the year. I like his trust in youth but there is a time and place.
– Schweinsteiger is being grossly misused. When he was bought I assumed due to his age and injury problems that he was a back-up, a good man to have around the squad or to play maybe 20 games a year or come on and help control the game when we were leading. He’s turning into Tom Cleverly, shaping to hit a 50-yard pass before bottling it and playing a five-yard square one.
– I like Daley Blind, he is a tidy footballer and a great squad player. He gets exposed at centre-half in almost every game he plays. He quite obviously doesn’t have the pace or strength to play there.
– I’m so conflicted on Mata. He does some great things like the pass for the goal but can be easily dispossessed and his contribution to a lot of games is very minimal. He is like Daley Blind, a lovely footballer but his lack of pace and slight frame make him easy to brush off the ball. Ozil and Silva seem to be avoid challenges whereas people can get on top of Mata very easily. He is lethal when afforded a lot of time but that doesn’t happen very often.
– I genuinely feel van Gaal should be fighting for his job now. He made great strides in the last few months but with performance levels and results on the slide then options need to be considered. A lot of the injuries the team has seem to be weeks rather than days, the team is in poor form anyway and we are entering the busiest time of the year…If I was Ed Woodward I would be keeping a close eye on Carlo Ancelotti’s situation.
Dan, Ireland MUFC (Ed Woodward should be under pressure as well)
What Ashley Young has done wrong…
In response to the question, what has Ashley Young done wrong? Personally can’t help but feel that LVG is punishing him for not tracking Vardy’s run for his goal against United. Similar to when Herrera has missed chances in a match and found himself out of the team for the next game, no room for individual mistakes in a Van Gaal team!
Brian (the iron tulip is wilting) Cork
Some Man United thoughts
– As some in the morning mailbox stated, it was a strange decision by Van Gaal to play Fellaini as box-to-box midfielder in this of all games. I know we have injuries and Schweini may miss three games so he wants to keep Carrick fit but the second or third best team in Germany deserve a bit more respect.
– Mata behind Martial with Depay left and Lingard right was far more energetic and creative. The assist from Mata is exactly what he is in the team for. He can’t play that pass from the right wing.
– Martial was beginning to get criticised for not scoring for 13 games or something which completely ignored that he stopped scoring when he was moved to the left wing. After that he has missed some chances in recent games but he never should have been shunted around whilst he was in form.
– Our midfield two should be made up of Carrick/Schweini as the deep midfielder and then Herrera when we are at home or playing lesser teams and Schneiderlin for when we want more solidity.
– In January we absolutely need a right winger. Memphis has shown an upturn in form and his touch seems to have improved in recent weeks whilst Lingard and Young are options from the bench. I’d like to see Mata/Pereira as no10, Martial/Rooney up front, Depay/Young and new RW/Lingard as our attacking options. No more playing Rooney as no10 and no playing Martial left.
– Has Mata ever played as a no 10 behind Rooney? I thought that Moyes’ plan when we signed Mata due to RVP’s injuries.
– Really promising displays from Varela and Borthwick-Jackson. It was great to see Nick Powell back around the first team. When he made his Utd debut he scored a cracker from 20 yards against Wigan and never got another chance it seemed. He is incredibly talented and I really hope he gets his career back on track. He shouldn’t have replaced Mata last night as Fellaini should have gone off but still great to see him back.
– For those saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ I would respond by saying that was the first signs of life we have seen for weeks. The passing and movement was much improved. Did we look a more frail at the back? Maybe a little but we did concede two goals from set-pieces which was possibly a bit to do with so much disruption due to injury. Wolfsburg’s second goal was simply a joy and the kind of football I’d love us to be playing.
– So Europa league it is and I don’t think that is necessarily a disaster. Chelsea won the Champions League the year after winning the Europa League. Atletico Madrid reached the Champions League final the year after winning the Europa League. It could be just the experience our young team needs to develop and grow.
Is he p***ing off too many players?
I’m not quite in the LvG out camp. I must acknowledge that he’s done a brilliant job in setting up United’s defence far better than Moyes could, and of course the team are higher up the league than last year.
But one thing that does worry me is the way he’s treating certain players. The debate over Herrera’s inclusion has been covered many times, but now Schweinsteiger’s taking abuse from King Louis as well, whilst Andreas Perreira and James WIlson are being denied playing time (although Wilson’s now been granted a loan, in fairness).
Basically, I’m really concerned that his behaviour could result in United losing some of the players who could be most crucial in the next step forward (because even Schweinsteiger at 31 will mentor and guide younger players for the future) leaving the squad full of Rooneys and Fellaini – players who are clearly not good enough but who will never complain because they’re getting far more playing time than they ever should.
Now is not the time to boot out Mr. van Gaal, but I really hope the directors have already started weighing up potential successors with next Summer in mind if things don’t change…
Alex (this time last year, United had three left-backs plus Reece James…now they need cover there), Leeds
Did the baby need to go out with the bathwater?
Adriano from Warrington states that whoever is responsible for building the Man United squad over the last two years has done it in a misguided, negligent manner and that LVG cannot do any better with what he has at his disposal. Allow me to give you a (not necessarily comprehensive) list of his signings that are still at the club – Shaw, Darmian, Rojo, Herrera, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Blind, Memphis, Martial. Most of which would be part of a first choice 11. So who do you think is the man responsible?
Also, while I cannot agree with Michael Owen (maybe one day it’ll happen), that the ‘Players United Sold XI’ would beat the current first 11, what is difficult to deny is that LVG might have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in his attempt to clear out the squad. With due respect to young Borthwick-Jackson, when we needed a left-back last night would you have not preferred to see Evra fill the gap? Someone who is still good enough for Juventus? Would Nani be any less effective than Memphis? Would Hernandez have been handy to have when chasing a goal?
The point is that this isn’t FIFA or Football Manager, you are unlikely to have the perfect squad and the aim of a good manager should be to create something that is more than the sum of its parts, much like Klopp seems to be doing at Liverpool leaving aside the brain fart at Newcastle. LVG is doing the opposite at the moment I’m afraid.
For Manchester United fans who want to think about anything other than how their team is doing: very quietly, at West Bromwich Albion, Jonny Evans is turning out to be one of the signings of the season. He’s been outstanding from the first day: composed, decisive, comfortable on the ball, a leader on the pitch. He’s also played quite competently at left back and holding midfielder. I don’t know if he’s good enough for a title-contending team, but he’s one of the big reasons Albion are moving toward midtable stability.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA
He’s not even trying, is he?
The thing that would annoy me most about Long Ball Loius is he’s clearly taking the f*cking piss. Admittedly I find it hilarious but at the same time how dare he treat England’s second most succesful football club in such a way!? At least the Moyesiah looked like he was trying and cared. This is very similar to Wenger in Europe. The abject failure matters not a jot to him as he’s unsackable. Same With LBL. After the astronomic investment and the fact he’s retiring soon means that the Glazers are unlikely to pull the plug.
I’d be livid if I were a United fan…
Gregory Whitehead, LFC
Must win? United can’t win…
Could have gone top against Arsenal, City and Leicester. Could have progressed against PSV and Wolfsburg. Van Gaal doesn’t seem to know how to win matches that should be seen as ‘must win’ games. But hey, at least he’s convinced Fellaini is Luca Toni and that playing inexperienced youngsters in massive games will make everyone forgive him.
Gaaavie (Rio, Scholes and Owen should retire from all things football related), Cape Town
At least City and Chelsea got returns…
United fans in the morning mailbox seem to be saying that it’s better to lose this way than win in a boring manner. And that Van Gaal is doing well to still keep a poor squad in the title race.
None of them seem to question why after an investment 250 million this is still a poor squad, and why for a team that has invested enough to put Real Madrid to shame, their only available choices seem to be losing with decent football or winning with boring football.
The same fans cried foul when Chelsea and City spent to be competitive. At least Chelsea and City achieved something with their investment.
The Sturridge stretch/celebration…
I think we can all clearly see now the Sturridge celebration is in fact him trying to stretch out his muscles to avoid an injury. Think about it, in the “nearly” season he scored lots of goals and didn’t get too crocked. Didn’t score at the WC, didn’t celebrate and therefore got crocked. After that the rest is history!
Sam, LFC (all I want for Christmas is an injury free Danny) North Yorks
Sickening praise for Storey
I just wanted to email in to commend DS on a superb piece of football journalism with his report on Paul McGrath and his long battle with addiction and mental illness. I’ve never been one to use the earnings of a player as a reason why they should be happy and content with everything in their lives as I am only too aware of the pain and suffering caused by addiction and depression myself. I hope that his informative and sensitive article goes a small way to changing the mindset of some football fans who are completely ignorant to the internal pressures felt by a professional sportsperson. Well done Daniel. Take the rest of the year off.
Marc, too serious for brackets, Norn Iron
…Excellent piece on the man. A more recent theory of addiction proposes that the substance abused substitutes for a relationship. The bond that you require as a human with say, your mother, is instead formed with a substance.
As an orphan estranged from his family, nurture would dictate that McGrath would have been/still is more susceptible to succumb to addiction than those who have the relationships he never had the opportunity to form.
Furthermore, to compound his fragility, it is difficult to comprehend how alienated he would have been for: 1. Being black 2. Illegitimate 3. An orphan, in 1950s Roman Catholic Ireland (where shame was used to consolidate the church). The 50s and 60s in Ireland were villainously archaic in the public attitude to mental health, it was stigmatised and taboo. There would have been no resources or counseling to resolve any issues McGrath would have add, especially from his position.
There is be so much more to footballers as humans that we often forget. The success of his career is a testament to his mental strength against a world that did its best to absolve him of opportunity.
This video is a brilliant mechanism for understanding addiction.
…What a poignantly beautiful Icons piece on Paul McGrath this morning. While I am too young to remember the halcyon days of his career, with my impressions of it limited to hazy-eyed archive footage, his autobiography is still the most evocative, and heartbreaking sporting tome I have ever read. Retirement has seen the big fella move down to rural County Wexford (about an hour south of Dublin for those of you unfamiliar with Irish geography), so fortune has seen me encounter him in everyday life a few times. While I remember the first time I met him he was unfortunately going through a set-back in his illness, he was nonetheless friendly and accommodating to what amounted to an awe-struck fan lost for words. A gentle giant even.
He has taken to the local sporting community here without even any persuasion, and is a regular attendee to Wexford Park, the home ground of Wexford’s hurling and football teams (and is indeed an honourary fan). Of course, he always has time to stop for a photo and have a chat. Will always be a legend.
Undoubtedly Ireland’s greatest ever international too, and should be comfortably regarded as one of our greatest ever sports stars in general.
Brian (oh ah, Paul McGrath. Oh Ah Paul McGrath), Wexford
I am not sure why F365 and Mediawatch keep misquoting Bellamy about Ramsey and Ozil.
Reading what he actually said, he clearly states that he feels Ramsey is better suited to be one of the midfield three, while Ozil would be better as the left forward.
Regardless of whether you agree or not, this is not a case of him trying to ‘prove he is English football’s most ridiculous pundit’.
Or as Mediawatch would put it: ‘Times in which Bellamy stated he would start Ramsey over Ozil: none.’
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva, Switzerland
Further to the every day’s a school day item on today’s Mediawatch.
While I concur with The Sun that Cameron Borthwick-Jackson is a highly posh and amusing name, in the interests of accuracy I feel I must point out that the magnificently-monikered Barrington Belgrave is still plying his trade in English football and in my opinion is insurmountable in this regard.
Unless any mailboxers care to prove me wrong?