After Manchester United’s abject 3-0 defeat at the hands of Everton last weekend, some fans have raised the question as to whether or not their good recent form was just a flash in the pan, and if Louis van Gaal’s side have been found out.
Against Everton, United were uninspiring, to say the least. The skill and expertise provided by the likes of Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney during a recent six-game winning streak just wasn’t on show at Goodison Park.
United fans will readily admit that their team deserved to get beat as they were second best all over the pitch. Although there was no sign of the grim reaper, who made an appearance at the same fixture a year ago, his spirit certainly lingered as van Gaal fell to his heaviest defeat as United manager so far.
Everton adopted the same tactics Chelsea had used only six days earlier by giving United as much of the ball as they wanted. Boasting over 65% possession and 17 shots, it’s not as if United weren’t short of chances. What they were short on however, was ideas. Roberto Martinez abandoned his usual tiki-taka style of play and instead instructed his rejuvenated Everton side to stay tight at the back and quick on the counter. The tactic worked to perfection.
United were left frustrated as an organised defence nullified every attacking manoeuvre they made. The likes of Mata and Rooney were left scratching their heads because, for large parts of the game, they weren’t actually doing that much wrong.
To be fair, injuries to Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo did make United’s job more difficult. Carrick has been talismanic in United’s form this season, providing a crucial stabilising role in the heart of midfield.
However, injuries cannot solely be blamed. An away fixture at Goodison Park wasn’t a game that required attractive football. It required the three points. During the Sir Alex Ferguson years United would often have a plan B. A plan B that didn’t always deliver the most eye-catching football, but secured the three points nonetheless. These types of games were often crucial to United nicking the title – something which van Gaal will come to learn.
So have United been found out? No, but sometimes winning the game with a strong backup plan must be prioritised over style of play. However, there is no need for concern. The Dutchman has introduced some of the most exciting football seen by United fans in recent years, while the team sit fourth in the league with Champions League football all but secured.
United fans may have witnessed one of van Gaal’s biggest footballing lessons in the Premier League, but he is a man who has won a title at every club he has managed. Supporters needn’t worry too much. Exciting times lie ahead.