In the third and final part of his season’s review, Richard Cann takes a look at how LVG’s philosophy achieved what it set out to, starting with the visit of Spurs…
So to that testing league run. It was hard to expect much. Fingers were hovering over keyboards, ready to inform social media that top four was a pretty pathetic target anyway. Who are we, Arsenal? But something really odd occurred. Bananaman ate a banana. Oh, and Carrick was back and Di Maria suspended. LVG lined up against Spurs with Maroane Fellaini in a totally unique position, the lanky f****r inside right role, as it will now forever be known. With Mata on the right, Young on the left and lovely little Ander mirroring the Belgian’s role United purred like cat having its nipples tickled. Fellaini, Carrick and Rooney scored before half-time and then neither side could be ars*d any more, which was fair enough. Regardless, stone the crows, this was flaming bonzer Sheila. Where did that come from? Beats me Geoff.
But knock me down with a feather, that was only the hors d’oeuvres. Off to Anfield, where United never play well and Liverpool were ON FIRE, for a top four SIX POINTER. SIX! Same formation, same personnel and, in the words of the great Tancredi Palmeri, “BOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM”. Mata gave us a thoroughly deserved lead following a sexy pass from Herrera, sent with a big, sloppy, French kiss. United continued to play well. At half time Liverpool brought on Gerrard to continue his totally cringey farewell tour. “Hi”, said Steven. “Bye”, said the ref. 45 seconds. 45 SECONDS. Literally, Jamie, one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed on a football pitch. It meant so much to him, his last chance to slay his greatest foes in a game that was slipping away from his team, and, as the song goes, “You f*cked it up.” Even funnier was when substitute Di Maria chipped the ball behind Juan Mata in the Liverpool penalty area, only for the Spaniard to do something unnatural with his body and scissor-kick it home. Goooooooooooooooollllllaaazzzzoooooooooooooo. This was fun. Until Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back. Then it was torture, then relief, then celebration, then mirth. It was a victory which knocked the stuffing out of the host’s Champions League push, another defining moment.
The satisfied glow from that performance and result had not passed, even after a two week international break, as Villa were comfortably and confidently dispatched at Old Trafford. A win the following week against City would all but seal a return to Europe’s premier competition. And win United did, despite going a goal behind. More wonderful, positive, incisive, penetrative football and goals from Young. Fellaini, Mata and Smalling. “Fuc*ing hell!”, said Joe Hart. Quite. This was United of old. Six straight wins and direct rivals vanquished. Who could stop the Old Trafford locomotive?
Mourinho, of course, the self-satisfied genius-c*nt. United went to Chelsea without the injured again Carrick and with Rooney back in midfield (sigh), passed the ball a lot, could have scored but didn’t, the home side sat deep, nullified Fellaini and pounced on the counter. Hazard, 1-0, goodnight. But we won the passing, said many. And we did, like Arsenal do every year. Go us. Next year we can make our season target to steal the Golden Gloves from Pepe Reina. Still, we were sure that normal service would be resumed at Goodison Park. If ‘normal service’ related to the f*cking Moyes era then yes, it was resumed and United were gubbed. Same story. Everton sat deep, soaked up pressure and countered. Three-nil. Back to the drawing board. Had Fellaini not missed a fine opportunity to make it 1-1 perhaps things would have been different, but he did, the clumsy f*ck, and they weren’t.
With Van Gaal’s accidental-on-purpose winning formula found out the rest of the season became a wash-out. United lost again, at home to West Brom, in a match that made many people very very angry indeed. From total safety and a fight for second place to a scrap for fourth, via a Chris Blunt deflected free-kick. The laborious, toothless, powder-puff United was back. Over 80% possession and no goals in over five hours of football. Suddenly we had to go to Crystal Palace and win, which we did, thank f*ck. Once again we were garbage, but this time the Gods were on our side. Thankfully, so was David Please Don’t Go De Gea and his spider appendages, a frankly stupendous save from Glenn Murray at 1-1 helping to seal a 2-1 victory. Finally we could breathe. And relax. Draws at home to Arsenal (promising for an hour, but ultimately disappointing), featuring Phil Jones’ remarkable ground level head-tackle, and Hull (somebody fetch the razor blades) closed out the season. Fourth. Break out the Chablis and reflect.
And so reflect I shall, if I must. It was a season in which few expected a title challenge. Clearly too much work needed to be done in one rushed summer. Van Gaal had told us that at first things would be difficult and that it would take three months to educate his players to his ways. 10 months later and the penny still doesn’t seem to have dropped, that short, wonderful run excepted. United were cautious, obsessed with retaining possession over positivity, lacked pace and quality in attack and defence. At times it was bone-crushingly dull. Regardless, there was progress. Largely, competency was achieved, which is a big step up from Dave and the Gang, and minimum targets were met. Van Gaal took his team around the course in par. But he had the good fortune to face a far weaker Liverpool than his predecessor, as Brendan Rodgers continued Liverpool tradition by replacing quality with quantity. In the end £150m bought United six more points than last year. So many questions remain unanswered and we go in to another summer knowing that the club need to pull off something big to make a push for the title next year. Can Van Gaal get a tune out of Di Maria and can he and Woodward make the five signings (should David Please Don’t Go De Gea leave) that will be required? Memphis Depay is a great start. You know that Dithering Dave’s imprint on the club is finally gone when Ed and Louis can wrap up a transfer in 24 hours. Depay has pace, supreme self-confidence and wonderful talent, but needs to improve his decision making, as all young footballers do. United still need a right back, at least one centre back (for the sight of calamity Jones and Evans on ice have left me permanently scarred), a dominant midfielder and a world class striker. Basically a spine, for currently it has none. Anything less then this summer will have been a failure. The flaws have been obvious for months and there has been plenty of time to work on lining up targets. They need to come in early to have time to adapt. If the transfer window goes anything like as well as Van Gaal’s sh*t faced awards night speech then there will be sex wees aplenty.
We may also need a new goalkeeper, with Spider-Dave looking likely to return to Madrid. Some hate him for it, but can you blame him on a personal level? Some of you reprobates will say yes. That’s why you’re reprobates. I’d want to share my boudoir with Edurne every night too. It would make a pleasant change if United made him stay for the final year of his contract though, as Dortmund did with Lewandowski. He’s been the difference between the club getting and not getting £70m+ of Champions League revenue next year (if qualifying ignominy is avoided) . Retaining him could actually make economic sense.The club also need to look at their fitness methods to prevent the frankly absurd number of injuries which have decimated the squad all season. And they need to jettison the crap at the earliest possible opportunity. I nominate Jonny Evans to take the first turn in the ejector seat. I’d like to send Antonio Valencia in next, but alas it appears that the victim of the Ecuadorian’s muscle and fast running thing will be ickle Rafael, our favourite inconsistent Brazilian dwarf. I’ll miss you buddy. But we’ll still have Juan and Ander, so there’s plenty of loveliness around the place. Time, tides and Louis Van Gaal wait for no man. So it’s onwards and upwards. I still think we have the right man, but he’s got to do better. Much better. Finish fourth again next season and I’ll be vewy, vewy, cwoss. So there. Ed, Louis, time to shine.