Well at least it happened at all. That six-game spell of wonder and joy ended with the defeat at Chelsea last week, although at least we could write it off as a step too far for a developing team. After all, we did win the passing and normal service would undoubtedly be resumed against twelfth placed Everton.
So much for that optimistic theory. Instead, United turned up at Goodison Park and not only reverted to their former selves but plumbed new depths of pointlessness and ineptitude. It’s impossible to blame any one player in particular because every single one, to a man, was out-fought, out-thought and out-classed by an Everton side full of energy, verve and tempo.
Roberto Martinez, a man no one would turn down the opportunity to punch, had no doubt looked at the Chelsea setup and mimicked it perfectly.
Louis van Gaal’s brave new world has, it appears, for now, been built on sand. With opponents in consecutive games preventing Fellaini from dominating the game from his innovative inside-left position, pressing high against Mata and Herrera and without Carrick prompting and probing and controlling the tempo this side runs out of ideas very quickly indeed.
As Rob Dawson of the Manchester Evening News opined on Twitter, “No surprise United look limp without Carrick. Possession like having bunch of keys without knowing which one works. Could be there all day.”
Teams now know that the way to play against this side is to invite pressure, defend deep as a compact unit and use pace to counter. United have neither the cutting edge or pace to tear well organised defensive units with good defenders apart or the defence to cope with the breakaways by players with pace and talent of their own.
Rodgers and Pellegrini had misplaced faith in their sides to beat us playing their game and came horribly unstuck. Mourinho and Martinez have discovered that by playing to nullify Van Gaal’s train can be derailed.
The performance at Stamford Bridge was at least a little unfortunate. This was just embarrassing. A shambles. It stank of complacency, particularly after Liverpool’s uninspiring draw at West Brom, something which the manager said his staff had identified as early as the warm-up.
Ninety minutes of monotony, futility, fragile belief and humiliation. For all of the recent strides in the right direction, which I’m confident will continue into next season, other managers have adapted to LVG’s new Plan A and as yet he has been unable to respond. To a degree this is not his own fault.
The personnel he has still have the same failings as before, and despite the remarkable upturn in form and performances, there are few if any who could prevent them from being exposed consistently.
Injuries have also struck again, but the Dutchman’s in-game changes on Sunday suggested that he was drawing a blank. Falcao came on and immediately demonstrated why van Gaal has now clearly implied that he will be returned from whence he came with a size twelve boot-print on his a*se (although some will continue to blindly defend him) and United’s clearly failing approach and game plan didn’t change in the slightest.
Pass, pass, pass, sideways, sideways, sideways, wait until Everton had their entire team behind the ball, run into a brick wall, get exposed by the counter-attack and panic.
Some of the individual defending was lamentable. Daley Blind and Paddy McNair, the somewhat over-hyped young Northern Irishman, parted like the Red Sea for McCarthy to score the first. McNair has coped well with being thrust into the firing line before, but at times looked utterly out of his depth.
He’s now on a tidy wage and probably has his pick of some seriously fine skirt, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that in 7 or 8 years he’ll be the captain of Oldham Athletic. A lack of concentration at a set-piece, a failing all season, led to the second and the third saw the entire United defence stand still appealing for an offside against Lukaku as Mirallas trundled through and scored. It was Sunday League stuff.
With Liverpool dropping points we still have some leeway in our Arsenalonian race for a top four spot, but it’s hard to have total confidence in United to finish the job. They should, but they’ll have to play a hell of a lot better than this.
Of course, we know that they have that in them and it is hard to imagine anything but three points at home to West Brom next week, but then there are two away games and Arsenal at home.
City continue to stumble but spawned a win at home to Villa thanks to a linesman with glaucoma. Where there were glances up at second spot we now find ourselves glancing down at fifth again. We should have enough, but this has been an enormous wake-up call.
The hope is that Hislop has been squirrelling away behind the scenes lining up some fine talent to address the deficiencies in the squad. One will surely be a box to box midfielder. Friday night brought massive Twitter “ bantz” and “lols” as German media outlets and then our own Sky Sports ‘sources’ claimed that United had as good as signed Borussia Dortmund’s fine but fairly recently very injured German international Ilkay Gundogan.
By Saturday morning it looked more and more like the gun had not so much been jumped as hurdled. The destination of Memphis Depay is even more mystifying. First he’s in Manchester, then he’s in Liverpool, then he hadn’t been in Manchester. We were favourites, because Van Gaal knows him well.
A Hummels deal was on, then off, they half on and half off, whilst Danny Ings doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. Has this bobbins ever enveloped us earlier?
I usually try to be funny, but to be honest I can’t be right now. I’ve got a huge cob on. The performance at Goodison wasn’t remotely good enough, from the players and from the manager.
Thankfully their own post-match quotes suggest that they’re more angry than I am. Van Gaal’s brilliant innovations in recent weeks have been rather exposed, as have some of his players. Everton deserve great credit for their performance and the execution of their game-plan and United had no answer.
As we’ve said all season, possession is no use without penetration and unless a manager has a squad of truly world class players then they need to be able to apply some tactical variation. Innovation becomes old hat very quickly and this team needs to evolve again.
Just as important it needs Carrick back as soon as possible along with the return of at least one of Jones or Rojo. As imperfect as they may be they are an upgrade on a young kid being asked to perform consistently at a level which is beyond him. And Blind needs to be returned to left back as soon as possible, because crabbing about in midfield he often may as well not even be there.
Unquestionably an in-form Angel Di Maria may have helped, but with Van Gaal trying as hard as he can to ignore him and with the Argentine stinking up the few minutes he gets its clear that there is no trust there. He could well leave, which would be an epic shame given the celebrations I expended over his signing.
The tussle with Liverpool and City for fifth, fourth and third can’t end soon enough, then we can concentrate on making the improvements to the squad that should allow Van Gaal to really earn his money. As with Mourinho at Chelsea last year, a year’s grace to build is fine as long as positive steps are taken.
There has been progress this year at United, although not as much as there should have. Regardless, this season is a sighter for the Dutchman. Next year is when his reign will live or die. I think it will live, but not playing like this. Goodison Park was just embarrassing and so, from this moment forth, I shall forget it ever happened.Published 28 Apr 2015, 09:38 IST