Continuing from part one, Richard Cann’s review picks up from the visit of Liverpool….
Things were to get even funnier as Pragmo-United pretended to want Brendan Rodgers to gently caress their face and look deep into their eyes from an uncomfortably short distance away before bitch-slapping him three times around the chops. Glorious. For the first slap Valencia held the Liverpool manager’s head perfectly still, allowing Wayne Rooney to deliver the perfect open palm wallop, the first time the Ecuadorian had managed to do so since circa 2011. The Scousers were in crisis. Rodgers’ faux-Shankly voice betrayed the pressure he was under. United fans were right behind him, willing him to keep his job and undermine from within. We were in third position in the Premier League. Acceptable.
But the sexy six game fun disguised a multitude of sins. United’s slow possession game was at times extremely frustrating to watch and the football was, short positive periods aside, rather dull. United were winning without ever controlling games, not enough chances were being created and the defence was still at times hopelessly fragile. Injuries continued to rain down and Van Gaal had not yet recovered from his nasty looking post-Leicester twitchy ass. These flaws were fully exposed in 1-1 draws at Villa and Stoke and the 1-0 home loss to Southampton, whilst the increasing profligacy of Van Persie and LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO Radamel Falcaoooo prevented what could have been a comfortable win at Spurs. With the undroppable Captain Wayne Rooney marooned in midfield as he was for much of the season, exposing the paper-thin squad, the huge decline in two once great goal scorers was laid bare. LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO Radamel Falcaoooo scored in both of the draws, a towering close range header and a predatory close range finish, but the all-round game for which he was once feared was sadly MIA. Once a force of nature, known for his power, movement, technique and range of finishes, the Colombian was struggling with the basics. His defenders cited his injury, a lack of fitness, confidence and a team which didn’t play to his strengths, but as the season progressed these mitigating factors were not enough to explain his malaise. He looked a forlorn figure as United huffed and puffed and staggered past Yeovil town in the FA Cup. Also notable that day was the thunderb*stard of an opening goal from outcast Ander Herrera, excluded from the first-team for an extended period for failing to adapt sufficiently to Van Gaal’s demands. Presumably those demands were to not pass forward or dribble with the ball. It’s all about the ‘balansh’, innit fam.
The Dutchman continued to fiddle with his thingies, erm formations, and make remarkably funtime decisions. At QPR United played a dismal first half in the infamous 3-5-2 formation before switching to a back four at half time, bringing on Fellaini (who scored) and winning 2-0. Regardless, it remained a muddled and at times incomprehensible team, an assessment confirmed rather by the sight of Phil Jones taking corner kicks. Phil f*****g Jones. Perhaps it was an attempt to keep him as far away from the action and his teammates as possible, thus preventing him from maiming them or himself. Van Gaal is a wise man. A draw at West Ham, in which United showed just how desperate they were at defending set-pieces (actually, just defending in general) and resorted to lumping balls to Fellaini, Allerdici style, when the sterile passing didn’t work, was sandwiched between home wins over Leicester and Burnley. The latter, won 3-1 thanks to two headers from Chris Smalling and a Van Persie penalty, featured a first half performance as bad as any witnessed at Old Trafford in recent years. Unable to pass the ball, retain possession, defend simple balls over the top or do anything at all remotely competently, this was another LOLFEST at Burnley’s expense. Matters improved in the second half and with the introduction of the increasingly out of favour £62m Di Maria stretching the game United dragged themselves over the line.
This was supposed to be United’s ‘easy’ stretch of games, before a daunting run-in, a chance to mount up the points and moon out of the back window at Liverpool, Spurs and Southampton as we motored off into the distance. It took two games to beat Cambridge in the FA Cup and a late comeback to see off-Preston. In the league things started to get a bit didgy. At Swansea Van Gaal’s side passed and passed and passed and passed and passed and passed, took the lead through the returning Herrera, passed, conceded immediately, passed, passed, passed, mostly sideways and Voldemort scored a deflected winner. Scheiße. Double scheiße. A dark time, when Champions League football suddenly started to look like it might not happen. What sort of ‘philosophy’ was this? Tears. Stamping feet. Pillows bitten, sorry punched. Maturity in the Cann household reached a 10 month low. Bad, bad, bad times. Liverpool were on a run and picking up momentum. Even Jordan Henderson was playing well. Hope started to fade, but in the back of our minds there was still an image of Dejan Lovren to hold on to. And Emre Can. And Adam Lallana. And Rickie Lambert. And Alberto Moreno. And Simon Mingolet. And Joe Allen. And Mario Lolatelli. Sweet baby Jesus, how were we not out of sight? Scheiße. A routine home win over Sunderland followed, in which LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO Radamel Falcaoooo demonstrated how it’s possible for even the most ungainly Sunday League player to do something special just once. After an hour of ignominy, over came a cross which was behind him, but he stretched out a foot, brought the ball down and swivelled past the defender in one movement. Desperate, the Sunderland defender yanked him to the ground and it was a penalty. The referee promptly sent off the wrong man. Standard. Wayne Rooney surprised everyone by actually scoring it, immediately after which LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO LO Radamel Falcaoooo got the hook for being terrible, having just done the classiest thing in the match. As Master Yoda often said to me, “One swallow does not a summer make, young Cannwalker.” And he was right, it was the correct decision. Rooney got another, just to rub salt into the Colombian’s wounds, but it was a laboured performance. Thoroughly deserved mind. The Mackems didn’t event try to score.
From one inadequate North East team to another. Hello, St.James’ Park and another frustrating 90 minutes. I won’t describe what came before one of the most significant moments of the season, apart from to say that it was again a performance which tried the patience of The Saints, against a terrible opponent. Angel Di Maria was a particular shambles and was substituted, a bag tied over his head, bundled into a waiting van and dumped in the river. That top four thingy was looking a bit dicey again until, in the 89th minute, Rooney closed down a Geordie defender and the ball fell to goalkeeper Tim Krul. I have no clue what he was trying to do, but what he did do was pass the ball to Ashley Young, who slotted home into an empty net. Spawnus extremis. Three points. Without a shadow of a doubt one of the most important moments of the season.
Before United could resume in the League with a run of matches which would leave Floyd Mayweather with a nasty case of Delhi belly, there was an FA Cup tie at home to Arsenal to get out of the way. United, unfortunately, misunderstood and decided to get the whole competition out of the way instead. The first half was actually very fun, tempo and passion overflowing from a team from whom both had been sorely lacking all season. Then that pesky half-time came, after which it all went a bit wrong, Welbeck (obvo) scoring the winner from a mistake by Valencia and Di Maria got sent off for laying the ends of his teeny tiny witch-pinkies on the referee. Splendid, just splendid.
Part 3 tomorrow will look at the run of games that made LVG’s tenure a success…just.