I write this a week and a half after Swansea City handed Manchester United their posteriors. I was rather baffled by certain things I saw, but shall try to keep this rational.
Wayne Rooney as the number 9
Before the season started, I was this close to doing a statistical analysis pointing towards why Wazza is the centre-forward Manchester United need right now. Play him there, get him out of that midfield. In came Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, and I saw it happening. Last two times Rooney played as a striker for a full season, and he’s played just two, he scored 34 goals each. No reason to fret. Or so you’d think.
If I have to draw two extremes of first touch in football, I’ll put Denis Bergkamp and Emile Heskey on either side. Rooney right now is within an earshot of the ex-Liverpool man. The way he gave away the ball for the first goal, and his refusal to track back post it, is not something a club captain should do. Well, certainly not on a regular basis. Barring 30 minutes against Brugge midweek, he has been World Cup 2010 level pathetic.
He clearly doesn’t ooze confidence right now and a stint back at number 10 might go a long way in restoring that. We’ve paid a hefty amount for Anthony Martial, someone who you won’t call Manchester United material right now. But what is Manchester United material in the era of drab 0–0s and nervy 1–0s?
Daley Blind as a centre-back
I’m all for player versatility and playing in multiple-positions, but some positions need special skills and strengths. Granted, this is the age of defenders being good ball-players and capable of starting out play from the back, but the good ones are top-class defenders first. Mats Hummels, Thiago Silva, Pique and Jerome Boateng are all fantastic defenders. Their distribution skills are a bonus, not a precursor. I’m slightly afraid Louis van Gaal has got this wrong. The way Bafetimbi Gomis toyed around with Blind made me very sure that against a strong striker, it’s not going to be pretty viewing for Manchester United fans. Blind is a very good passer and can read the game pretty well, but there has been no signs that he can outplay the Lukakus and Bonys. No, don’t even mention Aguero. I shudder to think of what City might do to us.
P.S. We’re up against Christian Benteke next. Jesus Christ.
Manchester United’s Substitutions and long-balls
Our affinity for resorting to punt-ahead-and-hope-for-Marouane-to-get-to-it is infuriating. What is most bemusing is that we’re still doing this after the 180 minutes of champagne we dished out against Liverpool and City last season. Oh, that week! Playing it all along the carpet, strikers and midfielders making runs into the box, fast movement in the final-third. It is proven that this team is capable of doing it well when they get their head down to it. A team boasting of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney certainly don’t need to play hoof-ball to get all the goals. Yes, Fellaini has a physical presence inside the box, but, erm … use wing-play rather than route 1?
I’m at best an armchair critic, and I won’t pretend to understand the nuances of football anywhere close to the gaffer. That said, I’d like to present my perspective and taking off Mata and Herrera against a team who barely ever concede goals from set-pieces didn’t fetch a lot of logic. Ashley Young, when on the left wing, can be a threat with his fizzing crosses, but we already had Memphis for that. Since the Swans’ central midfield was playing an advanced role till the final whistle, it seemed the way to get through them was to have runners receiving the ball between the lines and dragging their defense out of shape. The only chances we made through the match was when Herrera did exactly that. I was a bit baffled as to why it wasn’t attempted more.
The matches against Tottenham, Aston Villa and Newcastle were most painful to the senses, much like the majority of last season. Expecting the excitement of an Fergie team would be unfair to LvG, but I’m afraid our football is neither attractive nor effective at this moment.
It’s the kind of world where celebrity status is no protection from the venom on print, electronic or social media. I’m not sure how long it will be before things trickle over the bounds of acceptable and Louis van Gaal starts facing a solid backlash from the fans. I, like almost every other United supporting fan, whole-heartedly wish that day never arrives. He’s a man of high pedigree and deserves to see out his career likewise.
Come on, Louis. Turn this around.