Cleat Geeks

Manchester United, Back To The Future, CSKA Moscow and Derby Day

On ‘Back To The Future Day’ October 21st 2015 an interesting mind experiment if so inclined was to ponder the fact that due to the earth’s time zones Manchester United kicked off their Champions League match against CSKA Moscow at 9-45pm. Why is that fact of interest you may ask? In Manchester it was 7-45pm so in one sense the match was being played in time, in the future.

However what took place in the ‘future match’ was not a quantum leap or even significant progress unless you count the point collected on the night. It was in some ways a backwards step in the art of the game which no flux capacitor could ever fix. Time zone or no time zone Manchester United on the night as Rio Ferdinand remarked on BTSport “United have become a team you’re not sure who will turn up from one match to another”.

The meaning of this is obvious when you consider the last three matches United have played before and after the European Championship break. On 4th October United were blown away at Arsenal in the first 20 minutes with manager Van Gaal admitting that his players showed “no will to win”.

muvsmoscow2On 17th October United went to Everton’s Goodison Park where they have not won for the last three seasons. It was a sombre day for the home supporters with the announcement prior to kick off of the death of former Everton player and manager Howard Kendall. It became an even more sombre experience for the Everton fans as United raced into a 2-0 lead in the first twenty minutes. Playing with speed and energy and the desire to win United were comfortable victors at the end of the match, with Wayne Rooney netting a third in the second half on his return ‘home’.

United then headed for Moscow and turned in a flaky performance in the Arena Khimki stadium in front of 18,000 spectators. In a first half where United looked tired, jaded and out of ideas CSKA took the lead roll getting into their attacking game early on.

There was a touch of luck in the final execution of a CSKA penalty but no luck in its award given by the referee Carlos Carballo. Turning from saint to sinner Anthony Martial found himself in the penalty area as the ball went past shoulder height, inexplicably he raised his arm, touched the ball and thereafter the penalty was a forgone conclusion with no complaints from United.

Initially De Gea pushed the spot kick onto the post and then showing great agility cleared the rebound with his feet. However Doumbia was quickest to respond to the loose ball, successfully scoring in the 15th minute. The Manchester United defence, especially Jones, were very slow to read and react to the situation and United went 1-0 down.

In the second half especially with the addition of Fellaini United played with more urgency and intent and it was fitting that an equaliser eventually came. Martial who in the first half had been mainly playing on the wing found himself once again in the penalty box. This time as the cross came over from Valencia, Martial dispatched a diving header intercepting the ball from between the CSKA defenders.

It’s arching trajectory took it past the diving goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, off the post and into the CSKA net in the 65th minute. Martial atoning for his mistake in the first half reclaimed his saintly status once again from the United faithful in Moscow and those watching around the world.muVSMoscow

The rest of the match saw United have greater possession without troubling goalkeeper Akinfeev too much. United seemed happy to play more across the park or backwards rather than running past the opposing fullbacks sending in good crosses for the likes of Rooney, Fellaini and Martial.

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes questioned Van Gaal’s side, pointing out the lack of quality and movement in their performance. Scholes on BT Sport said “You look at the United team, there is no quality, no movement. People are not running”.

PaulScholesThen questioning Van Gaal more directly Scholes added “Is it the way they are told to play”? It’s all safety playing across the pitch. I can’t remember a pass in to Wayne Rooney”. Scholes summed it up by saying that in his view “There is no movement”. “You’ve got midfield players who can run, Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingaard, Anthony Martial, stick the ball into Rooney and run but there’s not one of them even thinking of running.”

Louis Van Gaal not surprisingly saw his glass half full in his post match interview with the press arguing that, “We now have two home matches and you can say we are very strong at home and I hope we can win these games so we are nearly qualified or qualified, but we also have a game away to Wolfsburg” Van Gaal also remarked “We are on schedule after the PSV Eindhoven defeat, which was a very strange defeat for us.”

From the freezing temperatures of Moscow, Manchester United’s next match is on Sunday afternoon in Manchester when their rivals for the title Manchester City come calling. Which United will turn up is the question every United fan including Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes will be asking, rightly concerned that the ‘noisy neighbours’ as Sir Alex Ferguson labelled them, from across the city are preparing their own match day battle tactics for the Old Trafford showdown.

The Manchester Derby is often a match which promises a lot only too disappoint in spectacle with both teams eventually sharing the points. What adds spice to this encounter is that a United win will take them above City and a potential top spot depending on the result of the Arsenal match against Everton. A City win will put five points between the two Manchester teams keeping City top of the table and giving them the bragging rights until the next encounter at the Etihad.

In ‘Back To The Future’ Marty McFly eventually understood that actions set in the present determine future consequences and events which are impossible to undo.This will not be lost on Van Gaal as he looks for future success from his topsy turvy United team of the present.

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