The elderly gentleman I sat next to at Old Trafford yesterday summed it up perfectly:
“I thought we were f*****g past this.” He muttered feebly. Manchester United had once again failed to beat a mediocre team at home.
Unfortunately not, Sir; even the supporters who had been around long enough to see their team get relegated back in the 70s didn’t think that this could possibly happen. It just shows how everybody (including myself) was convinced that Manchester United had rediscovered the form that had so often eluded them in the previous season.
The 100% record in pre-season turns out to be nothing but a sick practical joke that Manchester United had been playing on their supporters. Needless to say we’ve all been duly deceived. The club continues to have major problems that need addressing quite promptly; these issues will invariably be very well documented following defeat. So instead of going into a major rant I’m going to assess yesterday’s events from a glass-half-full perspective.
The glaring positive from yesterday was undoubtedly the endeavors of a certain Belgian. Having been handed the illustrious number 11 shirt after 20 years of it being in the possession of Ryan Giggs it was questioned whether possessing the coveted title of Manchester United’s number 11 would have the desired effect; would it weigh too heavily on his shoulders? Or would he blossom and move to the next level?
If yesterday is anything to go by the bestowment of the infamous 11 shirt has resulted in the latter taking place. Januzaj wreaked havoc whenever he received the ball against Swansea, if the midfield managed to engineer the ball a little more decisively and efficiently then it would have found its way to the right hand side a lot more often, subsequently resulting in a higher chance of Manchester United drawing level.
Januzaj may not be able to play every game this season. And the way he was played into the ground by Moyes last season puts more emphasis on the necessity to utilize him smartly and sporadically. If Louis van Gaal can do that he can be a real asset. The occasional ill judged decision can certainly be dealt with through experience.
‘Watch that space’
The actions (or maybe lack of actions) by Ed Woodward this summer have been a reliable source of amusement for football fans that don’t support Manchester United. If you’re a Manchester United fan its bloody painful.
Although Louis van Gaal claimed that his mindset ‘hasn’t changed’ regarding the necessity of signings I’m sure that yesterday’s defeat was a real eye opener for the manager. Although I can’t possibly depict what goes on inside the skull of Ed Woodward I can just hope that the defeat has shown even the simplest of football minds that Manchester United need further reinforcements.
An experienced and level headed centre back is required; a defensive minded full back wouldn’t go amiss either and the inclusion of a world class central midfielder has been something Manchester United fans have been crying out for since the days of Scholes and Keane were well and truly over. I wouldn’t get your hopes up, though.
Louis van Gaal doesn’t show any fear
Louis van Gaal has had much better days in the football business, but his actions yesterday illustrate that he is willing to make bold decisions in order to achieve success. The Iron Tulip handed debuts to two youngsters yesterday in the form of Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard, his philosophy partly revolves around the conviction to invest in youth. Although you could argue that yesterday was potentially a game too soon for Lingard and Blackett, he manager had very restricted options and it does show a statement of intent and trust by Louis van Gaal.
Changing to 4-3-3 in the second half allowed Januzaj to run riot on the right hand side as well as encourage the team to play a more forward thinking brand of football, which did result in drawing level, unfortunately it also made us realise that Nani is nothing short of being spectacularly atrocious, but that’s another story. It was just a pity to see Ashley Young playing left back, but again, that’s another story.
Manchester United supporters seldom saw formation changes under David Moyes, so a complete reshuffle at half time was a refreshing sight as it meant that the boss had noticed that Swansea were able to get men behind the ball and play out from the back against the 3-4-1-2 formation. The counteraction of this discovery ought to have reaped better rewards.
Following defeat Louis van Gaal admitted that he was “at fault” for certain things that happened during the match, admitting you made a few poor decisions is wrongly perceived as a sign of weakness. Taking the blame primarily shows the manager understands what he’s done badly and will not repeat the same mistakes in the future.
He also made it clear that his players didn’t perform to the required standards against Swansea. He did it in a far more discrete manner as opposed to the way his predecessor threw some of his players under the bus last season; the Phil Jones handball at Everton is a relevant example. The confidence issue is something that has been prominent ever since the defeat to Real Madrid back in February 2013. This is the first time that the issue has been addressed by a Manchester United manager. Nobody can dispute the fact you need to ‘handle pressure’ at Manchester United and that particular issue had been clumsily overlooked repeatedly. Now that Louis van Gaal has brought it under the spotlight it can finally be addressed properly.
The team was far from full strength
The encounter with Swansea came too early for Evans, Shaw, Valencia, Welbeck, Anderson, Carrick, Rafael, Kagawa, Van Persie and James Wilson due to injury or fitness. In 7 days time Manchester United travel to the Stadium of Light where they meet Sunderland. I can strongly say that having these players available (with the possible exception of Anderson) will give a more accurate impression in regard to the strength and quality of the squad.
Yesterday proved that the 3-4-1-2 requires a certain type of player for a certain position. It is a lot more demanding and what Louis van Gaal was forced to field yesterday wouldn’t have been anywhere near the starting 11 he originally hypothesized when he first walked into Carrington; Welbeck would have started ahead of Hernandez, Shaw for Young, Valencia for Lingard, Carrick for Fletcher and Evans for Blackett, maybe even Kagawa for Mata (Anderson still wouldn’t have played). The depth in that squad was unbelievably scarce for a so-called ‘top four team’, but that will be rectified in the next two weeks, hopefully.
Not necessarily the start that I spent 9 hours on a train for. But if Manchester United are to have a string of results that evoke memories of last year then I’d much prefer that it happens now rather than a sudden Liverpool-last-season-esque or Tottenham-esque capitulation that takes place during the months of April and May. So don’t despair too much right now, but if we lose to Sunderland and Burnley along with Woodward signing nobody then that’s your cue to start contemplating committing arson. Until then, keep the faith.