Cleat Geeks

FA Cup 3rd Round : MU vs SU

“The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before, it always leads me here
Leads me to your door ”

(c) The Beatles

I suspect if you took a poll of Manchester United supporters at the moment a good percentage of them would like to take the long winding road leading to Louis Van Gaal’s door. Once there I also suspect many supporters would ask the same questions of the Manchester United manager.MUstadium

After the latest game at the Theatre of Dreams, fast becoming the Theatre of Daydreams, even a 1-0 win was not be enough to silence the ever growing voices of dissent. The match against Sheffield United in the F A Cup Third Round was a poor spectacle for the home supporters only enlivened by the award of a penalty in the 93rd minute. For the travelling Sheffield United supporters it was almost the perfect day ruined at the last by a fair decision by referee Jonathan Moss.JonathanMossReferee

Van Gaal is keenly aware that the FA Cup now represents Manchester United’s most likely chance of winning any silverware this season and sent out a strong team for the occasion.  Any hope however that the new year would bring a new style of play, more attacking, more adventurous, soon dissipated as the first 45 minutes of play slowly came to an end.

In the first half Sheffield United were resolute in their defensive duties without any serious attempt on the United goal. This was to be expected from a team in League One attempting to at least get a replay from the tie. Manchester United however showed few battling qualities with their major players seemingly lacking confidence and team cohesion.

As in previous matches the team stuck to a rigid formation showing little adventure and looking impotent in the final third of the field. According to the BBC analyst Mark Lawrenson ”At the moment the teams are playing cautious and have an extra defensive player in midfield and pass the ball sideways. It is just not the Manchester United that everybody knows.”

In the second 45 minutes Van Gaal introduced Memphis Depay, who so far has had an indifferent start to his career at United, however for a change Memphis showed why he was acquired by Van Gaal last summer. Running at pace against defenders it was his play in the 93rd minute that earned the penalty from which Wayne Rooney scored to win the tie sending United into the draw for the forth round.

The win itself however did not stop the criticism of the manager and the team and its style of play. One of the most vocal, Paul Scholes, had this to say on BT Sport directly after the game.

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It was not the first time Scholes had spoken out against Van Gaal’s methods and most likely it will not be the last. Scholes conceded that Van Gaal would probably be happy because United won and that their possession game and were successful. However it is not difficult to understand why he used words like ‘bored’ because that is how most supporters feel in watching the team at the present time. Perhaps in including the players and the manager under that term, ‘bored’, was a little mischievous by Scholes, perhaps not.

On the clubs own televison channel MUTV the pundits were perhaps understandably more careful with their choice of words. However the phone callers on the day did not suffer from the same political parameters and many were very vocal in their assessments of the match and the style of play at the moment.

Lou Macari once again highlighted the fact that the players seem at times to be strangers. “There doesn’t seem to be a team out there that goes forward, that takes people on, and knows how to win football matches. I just can’t believe it. When your playing premier league football you can make allowences for that, but this is Sheffield United. League One, sat back, with most of the team in the penalty box and we (United) did not look as if we had any idea how to break them down. The only good thing about today is we are on the road to Wembley, how far, how close we can get to Wembley I dont know but we’ve got through.”

David May, Macari’s co-pundit added, “disappointing, really disappointing, it took 60 odd minutes to get the first shot on target or at goal, your are playing a team 47 places below you and you know that they are going to come and park the bus which they did and played one up front. But, you know what, we are Manchester United and we’re at home and we should be doing better than what we have done today.”

louis_van_gaalReportersWhen asked in his post match interview if he understood the frustration of the fans at the moment because United did not create many clear cut chances in the whole 90 minutes Van Gaal was in reflective mood. “Of course” he said, “but it is also frustrating for the players and its also frustrating for the staff, because we are seeing in this match they (Sheffield) are wasting time.” Van Gaal also added , “it is like that, they are coming here to frustrate us and everybody can see that it is difficult, but in the end Manchester United have won and for the second time in a row.”

Perhaps Macari summed up the day when asked if there should be complaints by Manchester United about how Sheffield United played in the game. “There should be complaints about the way we (Manchester United ) played, not about Sheffield United, I have no interest in Sheffield United whatsoever.”

The fact that Manchester United are still in the FA Cup, at the end of the day, is at least something for the team and supporters to hold on to. United will find out their next opponents on Monday evening 11th January about 24 hours before their next premier league match away at Newcastle United. If United put in another lackluster perfomance at Newcastle and the following match, away at Liverpool on Sunday 17th January serious qustions will be asked of Van Gaal.

Perhaps it will not only be the supporters taking the long and winding road to Van Gaal’s door but also the United board, the CEO and the Glazer family. If that happens, and it might, Van Gaal might be looking for his own long and winding road leading away from the Theatre of Dreams.

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