Cleat Geeks

Manchester United, ‘Luck’ and ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ La La La

In the press conference after the home match against Everton on Sunday April 3rd, which Manchester United won 1-0, a journalist asked Louis Van Gaal if “that was one of United’s better performances?” Which in itself was a strange question because for most of the observing public, including Van Gaal, it clearly was not. Van Gaal’s answer took a few by surprise in its candor and honesty, “We were lucky to win” he said. Van Gaal knows in the last seven remaining games of the season if United are to finish in the top four, (and possibly save his job) his team is going to need their fair share of luck.

BobbyCharltonIt was perhaps ironic that pre-match Old Trafford celebrated in style one of their former heroes, Sir Bobby Charlton, naming a stand in his honor. I say ironic because anyone who saw Charlton play in the 1960’s and 1970’s was indeed fortunate. I count myself in that group of supporters who are able to say they watched Charlton, along with Denis Law and George Best in their heyday.

The three players are now immortalized in a stone statue outside Old Trafford and called ‘The Trinity’ and it is a measure of how poor the present team is that none of the players today would match up to these former greats. When Denis Law was asked recently how he thought the European Cup team of 1968 would fare against the present team he delivered an excellent answer. Law said, after some thought, that the 1968 side would win 1-0. When asked why only 1-0, he answered “well, most of us are in our 70’s now, you know’, nice one Denis.TraffordTrinity

On Sunday April 10th the luck Van Gaal spoke of seemed to evaporated even before the away match at Tottenham Hotspur. The Manchester United travel bus somehow got stuck in a tunnel on its way to White Hart Lane, the home of ‘the Spurs’. The match was delayed 30 minutes, kicking off at 4:30pm, and after the first 25 minutes to use the old metaphor, ‘the wheels on the United bus came off’.

It used to be that in the glory years under Sir Alex Ferguson, Spurs were often there for the taking and usually they got took. Back in the day a game which saw Spurs needing points for the Premiership title and United needing points for fourth place would only happen in some parallel universe. How times have changed for both clubs, Tottenham second only to Leicester at the top of the pile and United now effectively five points behind Manchester City in fifth place in the table.

In the match United played reasonable well for the first 25 minutes after which they looked clueless and without inspiration. The only highlight for United’s travelling fans was a dribbling run and shot from Antony Martial, unfortunately United’s only shot on target for the whole of the 94 minutes. The match was won by Spurs in the space of six minutes as Deli Allie, 70m, Toby Alderweireld, 74m and Erik Lamela, 76m wrapped up a convincing win. In truth, as in most games this season, the score would have been greater had it not been for David DeGea in the United goal.

Photo by Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Photo by Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Van Gaal has a habit of playing his men out of position, in fact I suspect if he were a horse breeder he would try to win the Aintree Grand National with a donkey. Van Gaal has made some strange decisions in his time as Manchester United manager but nothing comes close to his second half substitution of Marcus Rashford. This latest debacle in Van Gaal’s philosophy took place at half time when he brought off Rashford and replaced him with Ashley Young. Was it a move to allow Martial to play centre forward and Young on the wing, no. It was to keep Martial out wide on the wing and play Young at centre forward, a staggering choice even for Van Gaal at his wildest.

Young, just back from a long term injury with only a reserve game under his belt was expected to ‘run behind Spurs back four’ according to Van Gaal. However as expected Young had no significant impact on the match, apart from being booked and doing one of his now infamous ‘dives’.

So the day that started with a long wait in a traffic jam for United ended with one way traffic in the shape of a Spurs team who claimed three well earned points.

For all intents and purpose United now only have a slight chance of finishing in the top four and will therefore miss out on a Champions League place. It is a measure of how far they have progressed or rather not progressed under Van Gaal that it would be seen as a backward step. In his first season Van Gaal managed to claim forth spot and entry to the Champions League, even if United were not good enough to progress out of the group stages and got knocked out. Eventually even being knocked out of the Europa League by Liverpool.

United’s ‘travelling bus’ will find its way to Upton Park on Wednesday  April 13th for the FA Cup replay against West Ham United. The match now takes on greater importance because it is realistically United’s only chance of joy in a poor, poor season. If they win the game they will progress to the FA Cup Semi-Final and face Everton at Wembley on Saturday 23rd April. With West Ham’s stirring come back against Arsenal last weekend and United lame and dysfunctional effort at Tottenham, it does not look healthy for the Old Trafford outfit.

FA-Cup-previewYet the FA Cup is the FA Cup and it is littered with upsets, what might be classed as the football equivalents of David beating Goliath. For a United side that proudly remembered and dedicated a stand to one of their former heroes at the Everton match, it is a sad reminder of how things have changed. Beating West Ham United in the FA Cup is all that will keep the season alive at least for a short time.

Van Gaal sets up his team to play the way he wants, and as a manager that is acceptable but only up to a point. Playing players out of position and expecting them to develop new skills often ‘in game time’ amounts to arrogance and mis-management of the highest order. Should United progress to face Everton questions will still be asked about Van Gaal’s style of management. It is now about time that the United board, including Sir Bobby Charlton, take a long hard look at where they want the club to be heading in the next twelve months, the final year of Louis Van Gaal’s contract.

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