Friday, 13 March 2015

What next for United?

Once former United player Danny Welbeck latched onto the terrible back pass by Antonio Valencia and slotted it past David de Gea to knock Man United out of the FA Cup I started to wonder what lay ahead for the team this season and beyond.

Now that our last chance of silverware has gone United are now locked in a fight to finish in the all-important top four of the Premier League to gain a place in the lucrative Champions League, failure to do so would mean yet another season out of the European elite competition and even worse United could qualify to play in the dreaded Europa League every Thursday night.

Let's take stock of our current position, out of both cup competitions and fourth in the league and looking ahead to the remaining Premier League fixtures it doesn't fill me with confidence the way we have been playing with Spurs, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal still to play it would take another unbeaten run to come through all those fixtures unscathed.

At the beginning of the season, the manager banged on about his 'Philosophy' which I'm sure like myself most people and the players are still trying to get their heads around. What exactly was his plan and what formation suits the team better because I really believe he doesn't know himself.

Since August, we have witnessed differing setups including his favoured 3-5-2 but more recently he reverted back to the fans favourite 4-4-2. Neither of which have been played with any confidence by the team and the lack of attacking play, which we have been used to down the years and I'm not only talking about the Fergie era, has lacked any conviction and flair.

The manager doesn't seem to know what his best starting eleven is and has changed the line-up too frequently leaving players to sit on the bench for long periods of time. It started with Januzaj then Herrera and now it's Mata's turn to wonder what they have to do to play regularly.

Januzaj's position I can understand as he is still in the learning curve but Herrera and Mata are experienced players that would walk into other sides, and maybe they will in the summer.

Another point about the manager is the way he comes over in the press conferences. Alex Ferguson was a master of manipulating the press and enjoyed total control in the meetings, even though that riled the journalists he still had their respect. The problem with LvG is that he comes over as a stubborn individual who has a total disrespect for the press and treats their questions as a personal attack on himself.

Louis van Gaal was a very animated figure at the World Cup high fiving Robin van Persie but in the United dugout he is the complete opposite, he honestly looks bored. At Old Trafford, I understand it's a long way to the touchline from his seat but even so!

He has said that his relationship with the assistant manager Ryan Giggs is as good as ever, but I'm not so sure. I would like to hear more from Giggs on how he feels things are going.

Van Gaal has spoken of his distaste of back passing but obviously forgot to relay that message onto his defenders as so often this season we have conceded unnecessary goals or given more work to de Gea by playing the ball around at the back.

Speaking of the defenders they have been woeful this season and even the die hard fans, like myself, must be truly disappointed by the performances of the back line, Evans and Jones have to take the brunt of the blame and Smalling has had his moments of uncertainty.

In Blackett and McNair, we have two defenders for the future but you could see how quickly their confidence fell by playing alongside supposedly more experienced players.

When you see the players and manager in training or enjoying themselves out and about at various functions, including this week's Cheltenham Race Meeting, the team spirit can't be faulted but once they walk onto the pitch that all so important togetherness seems to disappear.

A lot of that is down to the captain but when Rooney was stuck in the midfield he found it hard to increase his own level of play let alone the others. Eventually, van Gaal saw sense and put Rooney back up front where he belongs, imagine how different the season could have been if Rooney had been used as a striker and banging in the goals instead of being wasted in the middle.

The six summer signings that gave all the supporters such optimism haven't really delivered on the promise mainly due to injury and lack of form. The biggest disappointments being the two big name deals Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria.

Falcao is just not the same player he once was following his knee injury and Di Maria's confidence is at an all time low especially after his red card against Arsenal. It will take all of LvG's experience to dig Di Maria out of his hole.

Ander Herrera had been left out of the side for weeks then enjoyed a return to the starting team putting in some sterling performances and chipping in with the goals. The other signings,  Blind, Rojo and Shaw haven't let the side down too much but have missed crucial games due to various serious injuries.

Ashley Young has come back after his own injury layoff stronger and along with Fellaini has at least improved on last season. Fellaini has at last started to repay the money that Moyes spent on him but again he is another player being used out of position. In the defeat against Arsenal he played up front and the team began banging long balls up field with the hope that he could use his height advantage. That is not the United way and proved we missed the scoring talents of Robin van Persie.

There is no doubt about the player of the season David de Gea. From the very first match he has performed at a level that is way above his team mates and has become a world class keeper and with Real Madrid circling he needs to be tied down to a new contract sooner rather than later as later could be too late. On many occasions, the Spaniard has saved the points for United as the last line of defence. In the run of unbeaten games, it wasn't the goals that gave us the points it was his saves.

Through varying mistakes by the manager and players, we find ourselves once again unsure how the season will finish. Having said that I am a big fan of the manager, if not of some of his decisions, and believe the club can bounce back and will indeed make the last four but not without some more twists and turns before May.

However, come the end of the season I as many others, expect an overhaul of the team. Let's get rid off the players who are quite clearly not up to scratch and get really stuck into the transfer market for quality players with experience starting with the defence. If not, even if we do qualify for the Champions League with the current squad we could be out of it in the group stage.

In summary, in the last two months of the season I would like to see the players really lift their game and get that top four finish at any costs and for the manager to prove that he indeed is the best man for the job.

I'm sure in the end all will be well but it's how we are getting there that hurts.

Miles Dunton.

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