Is Champions League worth this agony?

Date published: Saturday 7th May 2016 3:51

‘Another year of this?’ we asked on Friday as Manchester limped towards the dubious double of FA Cup victory and Champions League qualification that looks increasingly likely to keep Louis van Gaal in his job.

‘Another year of this?’ we ask again after watching yet another insipid, one-toothed performance which boasted a grand total of two shots on target from a United side that looks woefully short on pace, invention and dynamism.

Assuming most fans care little about the financial rewards of getting ousted from the group stages of the Champions League, have we reached a point where many supporters would rather United stumbled, missed out on the top four and replaced Van Gaal than sit through another season of tedium? Is it sacrilege to hope your club fails just enough to oust a manager who is making you cry exhausted tears?

Once Matteo Darmian had exited the game against Norwich after 15 minutes, handing Van Gaal an excellent opportunity to tick a full-back substitution off his to-do list, United did not have a single player on the pitch who had scored in their last 12 games. Marcus Rashford had been rested but inexplicably not even included on a bench that looked incredibly light even before Anthony Martial injured himself in the warm-up. With the menacing Marouane Fellaini suspended, United’s hopes rested on Wayne Rooney. Should we now say he was playing out of position as a striker?

In the end, Rooney – isolated for swathes of the game – delivered, holding up the ball and squaring for the onrushing Juan Mata to finish. 1-0. Job done. An 18th clean sheet of the season. A record of just one defeat in seven. It sounds impressive until you have to actually sit through this sh*t.

For this Manchester United side have averaged just 3.8 shots on target this season. Prior to Saturday afternoon’s 3pm kick-offs, that figure was exactly the same as that of Newcastle and Bournemouth. United spent £60m on attacking players last summer and dropped from 4.7 shots on target per game to 3.8. Van Gaal says they are a club in ‘transition’ but that sounds awfully like a downward trajectory.

“We are still in business,” said the Dutchman after the game, using language that exactly fits the mood of Manchester United fans. They are indeed still in business but there is no longer any semblance of fun. Which – call us old-fashioned if you will – is supposed to be the point of supporting, if not running, a football club.

Another year of this? Van Gaal may say he is “more or less, an Arsenal fan” ahead of Sunday’s clash at the Etihad; are there United fans who are “more or less, Manchester City fans” just so escape from the ennui can edge just that little bit closer?

Sarah Winterburn

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