At half time on Monday night I logged on to twitter to see what my fellow reds were saying about the game. Needless to say I was astonished. Had I been watching a completely different game? As far as I was concerned the passing was snappy and with purpose, Di Maria was running at opponents, the defence was virtually untroubled and everyone got what they want with Rooney up front and Herrera doing a decent job in central midfield. I was watching the game with my dad whose demands of United when it comes to fast, free-flowing football are always at a maximum, a result of standing in the Stretford End in the 70s and 80s watching the likes of Georgie Best, Sammy McIlroy and Lou Macari among others. If he wasn’t complaining (for the first time in months) then I certainly had no reason to. I won’t sit here and say it was ideal, I even noted things that could be changed to improve the performance, but let’s not just gobble up everything propagandised by the BBC! Sure we didn’t create 50 chances, but guess what, we didn’t ever do that under Fergie either.
Manchester United have traditionally been a second half team, passing the life out of teams of lesser quality, and when it matters late in the game the goals tend to flow. At half time I did callfor the removal of Falcao, but I wanted us to keep playing with fast passes and to keep wearing them out. If that was to continue I predicted a 3-0 score line in the last 45 minutes, specifically in the last half hour. Granted, when they scored within minutes of the restart I was worried, but the lads just picked up where they left off, and from the introduction of Young onwards we were unstoppable. Who would have thought that a big man, little man combination up front, flanked by two wingers could be a working tactical method! Though the formation changed and became more effective, the purpose was always there from the beginning of the game. The team were not bullied at any point, THE PASSING WAS NOT LONG, and the speed was there. Additionally, I just want to highlight the role of van Gaal against Preston. He saw the formation wasn’t working as he wanted it to, he saw that a multi-million pound player was not pulling his weight, and he changed it. More importantly, he was willing to put a midfielder on for a striker when we were a goal down, know that failure would mean criticism from the fans for being negative. Sometimes you just need to take one step back to be able to go forward. When teams have been bemoaning a lack of a plan B in recent years, I am delighted that we have a manager who is not afraid to make the necessary changes to get results. People need to stop freaking out when we don’t score in the first half of football matches, that has never been what we were about. So without further ado, here are may 3 heroes and 3 villains against Preston.
My man of the match. He was awesome from the get go, always looking to run at wingers and fullbacks. What van Gaal has done with Antonio is nothing short of a miracle, he has turned a rather meek looking, quiet guy into someone who looks like he has confidence and feels like he actually belongs at Manchester United. The imposter who used to wear the number 7 shirt is gone. He won 88% of his duels, 100% of aerial duels, made 3 interceptions and 3 clearances, and he was generally up and down the touchline all night. Everything was FAST from him. It was a great all action display. We have suddenly gone from having no good options at right back to being in a situation where McNair and Valencia are favoured over Rafael Da Silva. Perhaps we should wait before dishing out more cash for the likes of Clyne and Coleman and focus on the centre of defence and midfield.
I wanted him to play in every away game from now until the end of the season, and against Preston he showed me exactly why. He got a busted nose for his troubles but it is his ‘will not back down’ attitude that offers so much against the lesser teams. Teams like Preston know they do not have the talent to compete with Manchester United so they use their physicality to bully us, Fellaini will not be bullied by anyone. His goal was just reward for his four goal attempts, his battling spirit and his willingness to do a job for the team. After the game Louis van Gaal said it was the first time he played with Fellaini in his favourite position… maybe it shouldn’t be the last time! It isn’t pretty but it is effective. I personally do not mind where he plays, but he needs to be utilised more by the manager, he offers something on the pitch that nobody else does and the team is now benefiting.
Angel Di Maria:
The signs were there against Burnley in the second half, and his performance on Monday night was good from the outset. He was direct, he was fast, and he ran right at defenders from deeper positions. In the second half he found himself on the wings a lot more due to our formation change to a flat 4 in midfield and he, Young, Shaw and Valencia never looked back. It was like watching the old United again in the last half hour, and he played a big part in that. He had the second most number of touches of United midfielders, 3 attempts at goal, one shot assist and made 8 crosses for his teammates. He has been sub-par for a while now but this was yet another improvement in performances from our number 7, slowly but surely he is getting his mojo back.
Before I get bullets posted through my letterbox let me explain. I don’t think he was bad at all, but I hold Daley Blind to the high standards he has set for himself. The comical, Mr. Bean like fall aside, his attacking influence on the game was minimal. The statistics will dictate that he was the most influential of the midfielders, with 89 touches of the ball and 74 passes (more than any other red in both categories) to go with 3 tackles, 3 clearances and 3 interceptions, but against opponents like Preston he needs to provide something on the attacking end too. The feeling I got when I was watching was that things tended to slow down when he got on the ball. Perhaps he provided the composure that the side needed, or perhaps he was the embodiment of the slower tempo that many United fans have been upset about. I repeat, I think Blind played very well defensively, but perhaps he could have offered a bit more in terms of urgency going forward, particularly in the first half.
How long can this go on? If the fans who have been calling for him to start over Robin van Persie before the game needed MORE evidence that the team is better off without Falcao we got it against Preston. What exactly is it that he offers? His first touch is akin to that of a brick wall, he doesn’t dribble with the ball, he cannot hold the ball up and bring others into play, he doesn’t provide killer passes… and he doesn’t score! He is the rich man’s version of Chicharito! At least Chicharito was fast! I don’t know why one of the world’s best strikers has turned into this mess, but that isn’t United’s problem, it is his. He has to deal with his injury recovery if he truly wants to remain in Manchester, all his excuses are gone now, he played with that mobile striker all the fans were clamouring for pre-game in Wayne Rooney and he still didn’t deliver. Perhaps it is time United fans stopped blaming Robin van Persie for Falcao’s shit performances and started looking Falcao. If you look at the run of wins we had before the Christmas period, including Southampton and Arsenal away, it was Robin van Persie who was playing as the striker without Falcao, NOT the other way around. Ever since Falcao’s reintroduction results have not been as forthcoming and performances have gotten worse. It’s just not working.
Where would United be without at least one shaky performance in defence? It wasn’t a Phil Jones or Jonny Evans level of calamity, but it was far from assured. Often the ball was found stuck under his feet, and for the goal he was late in getting out to Garner who provided an assist for Laird who smashed the ball past De Gea. One mistake like that is acceptable… but the warning signs were there less than one minute earlier… FROM THE SAME COMBINATION OF PLAYERS! Just 45 seconds before the goal a cross came in from our left hand side that ended up at the feet of Garner on the edge of the box, only for Smalling to arrive late, unable to prevent a pass to Laird in the box! On that occasion it was read by Antonio Valencia who ran the ball out to the touchline and cleared, but he could do nothing about the goal a few seconds later… Smalling could have!
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