Manchester United fans have had one performance to hang their hats on. The 4-0 win against QPR buoyed the United faithful who had seen their team go winless in the first three games and get embarrassed in the League Cup. Coming into the game against newly promoted Leicester City, the players and staff seemed full of confidence and a win loomed likely after taking a 3-1 lead. United took control and looked good value for their lead, and there no real signs of a capitulation. However, some abysmal defending allowed Leicester to score four unanswered goals and reiterate the work at hand for Louis van Gaal. So, the question is warranted – how can we rate United’s season so far?
Simply put, it’s been awful. The highlights of the last two months have been pre-season and the last week of the transfer window. United have had the easiest start to the Premier League – playing the promoted sides – and have yet only managed to get three out of a possible nine points against them. The results have been worse than they were under Moyes. Arguably, we are starting to see an attacking style that the Scottish manager never seemed to implement, but the problems at United are still pervasive. The biggest weakness is the defense. A combination of the exodus of defensive stalwarts, a constant barrage of injuries, as well as unsettling tactical shifts have resulted in loads of errors. Even in games when United have managed to keep clean sheets, they have been thankful for the profligacy of the opposition. United are still without a ball-winning midfielder and that continues to allow other teams to dominant the midfield. Marcos Rojo is not comfortable at left-back, and Luke Shaw will need to make that position his own in the coming weeks.
On the other hand, given United’s successful transfer window, the attacking options are incredible. In all three games in a United shirt, Angel di Maria has shown his artistry. It would be fair to say that he has quickly become the most important player of van Gaal’s team. His direct running, crossing, incisive passing and work rate have made him a symbol of the dreamed resurgence of United. Other summer signings Ramadel Falcao, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind have shown promise and will hopefully continue to improve.
After the demolition of Spain by Netherlands, van Gaal’s tactics were rightfully heralded. However, tactical surprises are difficult to sustain over a season, and van Gaal’s constant tinkering of formations has undoubtedly affected the team’s play. Added to that, the manager’s strange abstinence from the touch line – even when his team full of youngsters was being demolished by League One MK Dons – remains unacceptable. An honest assessment is that the improvement in play from the Moyes era has more to do with the transfers rather than with the tactics employed by the boss. However, it is also true that Moyes did not have the man management to handle the players that are now at United.
It would be fair to say that the team is best in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Injuries aside, Shaw, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Rafael at the back should protect David de Gea’s goal. In midfield, Carrick would play the holding role with di Maria and Herrera ahead of him. Juan Mata would sit behind Wayne Rooney and Falcao, with the out-of-form Robin van Persie on the bench. The manager will have a task ahead of him to keep the likes of Adnan Janujaz, van Persie, Blind, Rojo and co happy with limited playing time. However, ‘luckily’ for him, United’s players seem to have taken lessons from the Louis Saha school of fitness.
Team rating – 2 out of 5 stars.
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