Winning when you don’t play well is the sign of a good team… or so they say. From my perspective Wednesday night’s win despite a dire performance was the sign that we still only have half a good team. Each area of the pitch (except the goalkeeping position) is now suffering from the undeniable fact that they are comprised of both good and bad players. Not one single outfield unit is able to boast a complete, performing cohort. Whether it be in defence with Evans scuppering the good work of Smalling; midfield with Rooney giving the ball away persistently despite the best efforts of Blind or Herrera; or Falcao not being able to control any ball being played up to him despite van Persie’s attempts to hold the play up and offer respite to the rest of the team. Every area has a saboteur.
Following the disgust I had to the whole set of players after the West Ham draw due to a display of pure gutlessness, I at least saw effort against Burnley, maybe not much talent from some individuals but definitely some effort. It is clear to me now more than ever who the next batch of players are who should make that journey through the exit doors. Players such as Falcao, Jones and Evans have had chance after chance to show what they can (or more suitably can’t) do, whilst Wilson and McNair have never disappointed when called upon. There will be more changes coming in the summer and I have not got any issues with that at all regardless of how big a name player they are. Louis van Gaal might not be clear in his mind about the formation or tactics to be employed, and though I don’t entirely agree with that sentiment, what cannot be denied is that he is crystal clear over how to build this squad into one that can challenge in the very near future. He is half way there in my opinion, and one more summer transfer window will see him have every unit in his team cleared of underperformers, ready for us to challenge again. So here are my three heroes and three villains from Wednesdays victory over Burnley.
There can no longer be any debate that Paddy McNair should walk into this Manchester United defence every week. I have to say that I thought he was brilliant in the centre of defence earlier in the season, but I have been even more impressed with him on the right hand side. Though media pundits tried to place the blame on him for Burnley’s goal, that accusation is ridiculous. The responsibility was clearly that of Smalling and Evans, one of whom was completely absent from the scene for no good reason. The confidence he shows on the ball is astounding considering his age and height. He makes all the right runs when not on the ball and makes all the correct passes when he has it. Unlike many of his teammates, especially in the second half, he was passing the ball ahead of his teammates to get them moving forward. These forward passes were most notably for Angel Di Maria. This is exactly what the Argentinean wants and needs, to run with the ball from a standing start is not his preference, he is much more confident running onto the ball and McNair knows this. Why do players who are more experienced not see what McNair can? I see it as no coincidence that Angel Di Maria had the best game he has had in quite some time despite playing on the right hand side of the pitch for the majority of the game.
Angel Di Maria:
This is much more like it. For all the good that Di Maria did on the ball, my favourite moments of the game were the events that occurred following a clear foul on him. Keeping in line with what was one of the worst refereeing displays I have seen at Old Trafford since a certain Turk sent Nani off against Madrid in 2013, Kevin (I wish I had at least one) Friend didn’t award our number 7 a free kick. His reaction was magic. Having had enough with getting lumps kicked out of him he got up, dusted himself down and launched himself into Michael Kightly, letting him and the referee know he had had enough. He got a yellow card for his troubles but it was worth it, he showed he will not be messed about. This was just one part of an overall solid display however. He attacked whenever he could, putting in 10 crosses, one of which was a beautifully placed left footer after cutting back in on the right hand side of the box, resulting in Chris Smalling’s second goal. He tried to dribble past players on nine occasions and was always a threat on the counter attack. That threat was put into reality when with ten minutes to go Angel ran through on goal, only to be brought down by the already booked Arfield… who the referee didn’t send off.
He came on and scored after 22 seconds… not bad. He also bagged another goal from a set piece. Should we play him centre forward against Preston? The reality is that his overall defensive game was not perfect, but he did have a profound impact on the game. Ings got away from him rather easily for his goal, and there was a shocking piece of defending in the early stages of the first half allowing the Englishman to have another strike, only for De Gea to stop him from adding another. Smalling and Herrera contrived to get in each other’s way when a bit of simple communication by Smalling, the centre back who should really have taken command of the situation, would have solved any issues. Despite these two incidents Smalling showed why it should be he rather than Evans that should partner Marcos Rojo in the centre of defence for the remainder of the season. His passing accuracy was 3% above the team average which was comfortably at 84%, with only 6 misplaced passes, all of which were in the middle third of the pitch and resulted in no negative consequence. He made 3 interceptions, 14 clearances, 4 blocks, won 80% of his 10 aerial duels and even took on his opponents with the ball at his feet in midfield twice successfully. Well done Chris!
Without a doubt the worst player on the pitch and the worst player this season. I have had a nice break from Jonny Evans bashing for a few weeks, but that is because of his absences rather than an improvement in performance. Back again was the cluelessness, the horrendous passing and the terrible positioning. Why he was stood nearly 5 yards further up the pitch than all other defenders throughout the move that led to Burnley’s goal is confusing to say the least. He was even further ahead than Rojo despite the fact that the attack was coming down our left wing. That resulted in Chris Smalling having to defend nearly the whole penalty area by himself when the ball got crossed into the box. And media pundits had the audacity to blame McNair for not covering in behind when Ings lost Smalling before scoring?!?! McNair had his own man to look after! All of this is avoided if Mr. Evans is back where he should be at the beginning of the move, rather than going walkabout into the midfield. Speaking of walkabouts, this was not a one-off, he did it again in the move at the start of the second half that led to Smalling and Herrera getting in each other’s way. He was stood too far forward by the time Ings flicked it into the space behind him and into the path of George Boyd. I would say it was an all-round shocking display… but I wasn’t really shocked.
I try really hard week after week when writing these pieces to keep them as impersonal as possible. I have placed Rooney on a number of occasions in the good list this season even though I pretty much despise him, but allow me to break from that on this one occasion. There was an absolute turd sat a few rows behind me on Wednesday evening talking absolute shite, so I have to address it. The target of his abuse was Robin van Persie. Granted, he has not had a great season, and he is a shadow of the player that won us a league title single handed… but the nonsense I had to put up with for nearly 2 hours was mind numbing. I won’t list the expletives that he was shouting when Falcao’s number was CORRECTLY held up when Wilson came on because the next few lines will just be asterisk covered. Robin van Persie was not amazing, but he was decent. Unlike his Colombian strike partner, when the ball got played up the pitch to him a real attempt was made for it to stick and he generally controlled the ball well. HE DID RUN and he challenged successfully for the ball, displayed by his 9 areal duels, winning 4 of them. Falcao in comparison won only one of his 9. Falcao showed absolutely nothing once again, to justify the fee that is expected by Monaco, whereas van Persie HAS shown us what he can do, too bad some people have such short memories.
It might seem bizarre that in a game with so many underperformers to choose from that in my top three villains I pick a player who had only played 5 minutes. But it is the same old story with Phil Jones, a few games back starting off with a dodgy couple of performances… getting slightly better… starting to look half decent… bang… gone again. It is the typical life cycle of “the next Duncan Edwards” that I simply have no further amount of will to indulge in. Two decent games and the hype was back again, only for him to shatter the hopes and dreams of every moronic fan who yearns for the season where Phil Jones will escape unscathed. YEARN IT ELSEWHERE! It may come one day, but I hope that by the time that season comes around he will be far, far away from Old Trafford, having frustrated some other club’s fans for four sodding years; in the meantime we will be talking about another great Manchester United central defensive partnership of the ever impressive Marcos Rojo and a superstar summer signing.
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