Manchester United’s dramatic and late win over Watford had the potential to be a galvanising turning point for us this season. The return of Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney for the PSV game should have served as another confidence boost as it gave us an extremely strong team on paper going into a very important UEFA Champions League tie under the floodlights at Old Trafford.
Yet, the second half performance in the 0-0 draw with PSV on Wednesday night was arguably the worst we have seen under Louis van Gaal. The players were statuesque, the football was dire and the game ended with United fans’ heart-rate having never risen above 70.
It’s uninspiring but, unfortunately, not at all unsurprising. Out of our last seven games, four have finished 0-0. This is Man United – a team famed for its goals and attacking prowess – which is now setting up not to lose, and the frustration among fans is really starting to show.
Louis van Gaal is an advocate of two words – philosophy and balance. While nobody has any idea what one is, the concept of balance is simple and one which Man United have still failed to find.
We currently have the best defence in the Premier League and have only conceded two goals in the last eight games. That’s fantastic, nobody has any criticism aimed at the defence.
Yet, during that same period we’ve only scored five goals. Sorry Louis but that’s not balanced. Is our conservative approach responsible for both our excellent upturn in defence and equally so in our cumbersome attack at the same time?
Where does the blame lie? Undoubtedly, van Gaal is ultimately responsible for how he sets his players up and tell them how to play so it falls at his feet but in his defence, we could be having a whole different conversation today if Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial scored their chances against PSV. Instead, they missed and here we are – that’s the small margins of football.
The wider issue is this: United fans experienced this exact same style of football last year but it was easy to justify because the goal last season was merely to return to the UEFA Champions League, which we did. Our objective was achieved.
This season, it is becoming disheartening and harder to justify the fact we can hardly create goalscoring opportunities at all. We’re 18 months down the line from when van Gaal became our manager and Marouane Fellaini is still our plan B having spent substantially during that time. Where’s the progress in that?
What’s the overall goal, to finish in the top four again? No, that wouldn’t be progress. We should be aiming for silverware this season and you can’t win silverware simply by not conceding. Yes, our improved defence has become the cornerstone of our season but that needs to be matched with an improvement in attack for it to really work properly and prove fruitful.
It’s a very strange time to be a United fan. On the one hand there is an almost overwhelming sense of frustration at seeing us play so poor in comparison to how we know we can play but on the other we are nearly top of the league and are one win away from qualifying for the Champions League knock-out stages.
So long as we are near the top of the league and competing, van Gaal is likely to continue what he’s doing and refuse to be influenced by any outside forces – no matter how much fans disagree with him.