Cleat Geeks

Manchester United, An Early Christmas Party

A Home Win and An International Break

Something very curious happened in a Manchester restaurant on the evening of Wednesday the 4th of November 2015, the night before most people celebrated Bonfire night. The Manchester United squad, wives and girlfriends enjoyed their Christmas party, which as far as I am aware given the timing of the occasion, is a first for the club. Perhaps they were celebrating the birth of Jesus on a cold November night, perhaps not, that is a personal question which I am unable to answer.

PAY-The-Man-United-teamYou might wonder however why Manchester United had a Christmas party six weeks before Advent. Might it be that the club’s chaplain has discovered new theological evidence which moves the date of Christ’s birth from the December 25th to early November? Might it be that United is practicing the old Gnostic tradition of keeping this new found knowledge to themselves and a few select others?

Unfortunately the answer to these intriguing Christological questions is probably much more mundane and pragmatic but shows how Louis Van Gaal is thinking and how he wants his team to approach the forthcoming festive season. The real reason for the club’s pre-Christmas activity is not to be found in any hidden facts about the Nativity but in the premier league fixture list for December to January.

From the 12th December 2015 to the 2nd January 2016 Manchester United play five premier league fixtures, two away and three at home. Of those five fixtures arguably the most difficult will be Stoke City away on Boxing Day and Chelsea at Old Trafford two days later on the 28th. Nothing for Van Gaal will be allowed to interrupt the time spent before, between and after those matches, not even a Christmas party.

Having celebrated the Christmas party there was then the small matter of a home fixture with West Brom on Saturday. The match itself was fairly predictable in that the West Brom manager Tony Pullis, much more of a pragmatist than an adventurer, came with a game plan which to use a common expression, set about ‘parking the bus’. It soon became evident that barring a real upset there was very little chance, if any, of a repeat of the 1-0 victory West Brom surprisingly achieved at Old Trafford last May.

DarrenFletcherOn an afternoon unlikely to be a great advert for the premier league, one of the main interests for Manchester United supporters was welcoming back two of their former players not long departed from the home dressing room. Darren Fletcher who made 342 appearances for United over 12 years and Jonny Evans who made 198 appearances over 8 years both came out in their new unfamiliar colors.Jonny+Evans+Manchester+United

Fletcher and Evans give great solidarity and expertise to the West Brom’s defense and midfield and as if to prove the point Evans make a tremendous defensive tackle on Jesse Lingard in the first half. It was a tackle of such skill and timing that it may have given Van Gaal second thoughts about why he transferred the player in the first place.

Manchester United started with Anthony Martial in the central striking position with Wayne Rooney just behind ‘in the hole’. Their style however was fluid and at times the pair played as out and out strikers in a 4-4-2 formation. West Brom who started with a 4-2-3-1 line up at kick off almost immediately shaped into a more defensive formation with nine men back leaving Saloman Rondon the only player in a more forward position.

The match will not live long in the memory between these two clubs but certain moments from the game will. There was the unusual sight of Wayne Rooney being taken off with Ander Herrera coming on in his place. Manchester United supporters showed their appreciation by giving the United captain who has struggled for form lately a round of applause but will want him back scoring goals again soon.

Manchester United Youth vs Hull City YouthThere was a debut for Cameron Borthwick-Jackson the 18 year old defender whom Van Gaal explained he had included in the squad to face West Brom because of concerns about Marcos Rojo’s fitness. The two defenders exchanged positions in the 76th minute with Rojo leaving the field of play perhaps more as a caution than because of an ongoing fitness or injury situation.
In reply to the Evans tackle earlier in the game came a second half goal from his protagonist Lingard which lit up most of the watching 75,410 supporters. A poor defensive header from Chris Brunt saw the ball fall invitingly to Lingard whose deft first touch allowed him a second one which, using a defender to shield the ball, he craftily curled away from Boaz Myhill in the West Brom goal and into the far corner of the net in front of the Stretford End. Lingard, a talent of the United academy, is now being seen more and more in the United first team and with this, his first United senior goal, his future is looking more secure.

Substitute Saido Berahino missed a superb opportunity to equalise for West Brom late on when he headed over from close range. In the 90th minute Anthony Martial went clear on goal but defender Gareth McAuley brought him down in the penalty area. This resulted in a red card for the defender and a second United goal put down the ‘goalkeepers throat’ by Juan Mata.

Later Louis Van Gaal answered the most obvious post match question regarding the imminent intentional break. In the two previous away matches prior to the last international breaks Manchester United had lost at Swansea City in August and at Arsenal in October. An angry Van Gaal had to wait around ten days before getting the squad back before examining why United had failed to get any of the six points on offer.

Around 5pm on Saturday in the Old Trafford tunnel Van Gaal when asked the same question smiled not only because his team had beaten West Brom 2-0. He knew this time when the squad regathers after their time away reviewing the match will not revolve around how United lost or drew but won it. A much more pleasant experience for manager and team alike as they prepare for their next fixture an away trip to newly promoted Watford.

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