In part two we look at the in-form side of Manchester – United. Before January, the Reds had lost one and drawn four of the previous 12 games in the league and whilst that form didn’t look disastrous, the statistics were hiding some very poor play from Van Gaal’s men.
Attempting to move past a difficult opening to the season, the team began to ‘win ugly’ and whilst criticism began to fall on their style of play, an effective albiet boring recovery period began. Fans had to become accustomed to underwhelming but efficient points being won by the Reds but there was a feeling this acceptance among fans wouldn’t last forever.
Fast forward to this year and 12 Premier League outings have brought eight wins, two draws and two losses. Again, looking at that and seeing only a point increase (25 before to 26 after) by comparison doesn’t scream improvement but like before that again doesn’t tell the full story.
United are playing fluid, attacking football that van Gaal promised when he took over after the World Cup. Along with the team doing better, individuals within the side have exceeded expectations and improved their all round play.
Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling have all been frozen out of the side at certain points in the past two years but now all four couldn’t be in better form and all look near ‘un-droppable’. Herrera especially has fought hard to win his place back in the side and his link up play with Juan Mata, who has found a comfortable right-wing role in a new system, has been a major factor behind the tireless and attractive football being played this year.
Historically United have always played better in the second half of the season and that history is repeating itself once again. An ever changing system from van Gaal saw 3-5-2, 4-4-2, and 4-1-2-1-2 formations all used before the turn of the year and the unsettled tactics had many fans predicting that the team’s luck would soon run out and the better teams would catch them out later on in the campaign.
In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the 12 games before New Year, the Reds won 61% of points against the teams in the current top seven they played and in 2015 that figure has jumped up to 75%. Everyone associated with the club seem to be finding both their feet and their nerve.
The lead up to the derby has been positive for United. As mentioned in part one, form means very little in these sort of games but surely going in more confident than your rivals can only be a good thing? You’d like to think so. Then again, a mix of over confidence and a still shaky back four could spell a fifth straight derby defeat against City, the general feeling though remains that that won’t be the case on Sunday.
With the two managers in highly contrasting situations before the big kick-off, van Gaal will no doubt be justifiably hopeful that he can put a possibly knockout blow in Pellegrini’s managerial position with the Blues.