At the time of writing this piece, finally it is mission accomplished. Manchester United are guaranteed a spot at Europe’s top table provided they can win a two legged playoff in August against the likes of Fenerbahce, Panathinaikos or FC Krasnodar. With the expected summer signings and more preparation for the coaching staff this should be but a formality. I fully expect to see the name Manchester United popping out of a ball in group 2, thanks to the new moronic seeding implemented by UEFA. A team that consistently makes it to the latter stages of the tournament could now face a fellow contender in the group stages simply because their league had a better team in it. To contextualise this, other likely group 2 members include Real Madrid. Good job UEFA! Anyway… it is nice to think about such trivial things again isn’t it? Now how we got there on the whole was not pretty, bar a 3 match spell in April this has been a United team with a whole bunch of other qualities; ones that were on full display on Saturday evening at Selhurst Park. This was a gritty win, one that reminded me of those we used to see in the Ferguson days, ones that were filled with fight to the bitter end; away day winners at places like Villa Park and the Brittania Stadium. The individual and collective performances from a football standpoint were not great, but that fight and desire to bring the club back to where it belongs was, and it had Louis van Gaal waxing lyrical after the match. With this in mind, here are my three heroes and three villains against Crystal Palace.
He was probably the most influential player in an attacking sense, in a game where so little was created. He provided the dangerous cross that led to a quite clear handball and penalty, despite British broadcasters feeling the need for repeated replays to insinuate it was a dodgy decision. The fountain of wisdom that is Jamie Redknapp even tried to provide reason as to why it should not be given even though he accepted it was the correct decision, claiming the referee couldn’t possibly see it, even though every camera angle shows the referee was perfectly placed! Young also provided the cross for Fellaini’s winning header, a header he only got to because Radamel Falcao pushed a Palace defender into his own goalkeeper… the 43 million pound push, worth every penny! Young also had a couple of shots on target in the second half, created three further goal scoring chances and took opponents on with the ball with a high degree of success. It is the time of year where the fans player of the year is selected and despite the well documented heroics of this next man, my vote has gone to Ashley Young, the turnaround has been that good.
David De Gea
De Gea makes it on the heroes list this week for one save. That save at 1-1 as much as the winner by Fellaini won us the game and he should be recognised for this. However, it should not mask over the fact that in yet another game he has looked very suspect in coming off his line, causing havoc for his defenders. Also, for the second game in a row, his wall has not done its job. People will blame Blind for dipping his head ever so slightly, enabling the deflection to beat De Gea, but this is twice now that a better wall that is commanded properly by its goalkeeper would have saved us a lot of aggro. David De Gea’s development has been well and truly praised because he has improved in all aspects since his arrival from Madrid, but analyse what he was good and bad at then and what he is good and bad at now and nothing much has changed. He is still a world class shot stopper with good distribution, but he still struggles with set pieces and coming off his line. He is far from the finished article we all think he is.
It was an understated performance, and although I highlighted his frailty on the edge of the wall, it shouldn’t go against what was an all-around solid display. Even in ‘wall-gate’ I saw something pleasing. He was taking command of the wall, passing on what were clearly van Gaal’s instructions to the other bricks in the wall, not to jump like in the previous week where it cost us dearly. The ends didn’t really justify what was a good bit of leadership. He had a number of shots, one which cracked off the post early on, was one of the best passers of the ball on an evening where standards in that department dipped considerably, and did his usual reading of the play to protect our vulnerable defence with 5 clearances an interception and a block.
I have praised Valencia recently for his defensive performances, and along with Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini he is a contender for our most improved player this season; simply his ability to remain fit in a defence filled with men made of glass is an achievement in itself. However, he was far from the races on Saturday, providing very little offensively (four of his 5 crosses didn’t find the target… I know… big shock), but what was more worrying was that he just looked very vulnerable defensively, which isn’t something that can be said about him in general this season. Yes he completed 5 clearances and a couple of blocks but it just looked like a combination of Zaha and Bolasie in the first half and Puncheon in the second had him on toast whenever they wanted. That said he didn’t do anything particularly disastrously.
£30 million… injured again. I wonder how many games Patrice Evra has missed this season… you know, the guy everyone was saying was past his sell by date last season… the same guy you will be watching on your television screens in the semi-final of the Champions League this week. What worries me is that Manchester United have seemingly not learned their lesson and are reportedly in the final stages of negotiations with yet another Southampton produced, overpriced English fullback. Ah well, at least Antonio will be happy with the game time.
Ah my good old friend! I would like to say I have missed you but two slips in as many minutes when you came on the pitch extinguished any notion of that, and reminded me why we are so familiar. My only piece of advice for Jonny is for him to enjoy his last couple of games as a Manchester United player, take it all in, the shirt, the surroundings, the atmosphere, and walk away into the sunset with a tear in his eye imagining what might have been had he not been so utterly useless.
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