This is so confusing. I’m so confused. This is what you’ve done to me Louis. I’m torn between two unpalatable stools. United went to Norwich City last weekend and did what this United do best – stink. It was one of the dullest games you could ever wish to see, although there has been plenty of competition for that particular accolade this season, and the first half in particular from United was painfully pathetic. Cameron Jerome almost scored, and he hasn’t netted since dry-humping us at Old Trafford. After the break things improved marginally against a truly dreadful opponent and Juan Mata, probably the best player on the pitch, won the game.
Yay. Or nay. That’s the quandary. The odious Mourinho acolyte Duncan Castles reported in the Sunday Times that United had delayed talks with the Portuguese until the season’s end. You have to be careful with Castles’ stuff, mainly because his only role as a journalist is to do the bidding of the world’s most powerful super agent, Jorge Mendes, and thus a large proportion of what he writes is nonsense designed to pressure club/manager/player x into doing y. But his Mourinho story surely serves no such purpose. If the job were already in the hands of the ‘Special One’ none of the recent ‘hurry up’ stories would have been necessary and news that talks will not reopen until May is a line unlikely to change United’s behaviour. Thus, in the Castles’ Bullsh*t Bingo drinking game I’d call this one ‘true’. Down half a pint of absinthe. Assuming it is true, the only possible reason for such a delay is that the club suits still haven’t made up their tiny minds about replacing LVG and if it’s not decided that rather suggests that performance in the last three games will play a large part in the decision. Which is depressing.
So here is the terrible dilemma I find myself tormented by. I can’t face another season of LVG’s United. I long since stopped looking forward to most games and spend the majority of them cursing the manager and several of his players and wishing it would be over so I can go and creosote a fence or something. In the long run not making the top four in the Premier League would be for the best. Besides, getting excited about a ‘race’ to finish as third loser is so Arsenal it hurts. Change is needed and whilst he may not be the ideal candidate so to is Jose Mourinho. To that end we need to fail to win at least one of our last two matches and for City to win away at Swansea. Things would have been so much easier if The Citizens were vaguely competent, but they seen hell bent on letting Pep Guardiola have a first taste of the Europa League, which is thoughtful of them. So the course of action seems simple – just hope that United don’t win.
Except that my mind just can’t allow itself to succumb to that type of behaviour. A battle is raging in my bonce, Dr Short Term and Private Long Term are having a right old slapping match. I watch United and just can’t want them to fail, to not score, to lose. I can’t do it. And whilst I curse and groan about proceedings on the pitch and rarely celebrate goals with much vigour, my heart nearly jumps out of my chest when the oppo create a chance. And if that chance is converted I feel sick, just as I always have. At full time I look at the Premier League table, eye those top four positions and yearn for Champions League nights at Old Trafford once again, for that is where we belong, where this enormous behemoth of a club should be.
But then my brain remembers this year’s Champions League experience, the painful drudgery ending in gross incompetence and embarrassment. LVG doesn’t deserve another crack at that trophy. He doesn’t deserve another crack at any competition with United, even the one he may win in May. We’ve not been good enough or aesthetically acceptable and our manager has fallen deeper and deeper into a giant black pit of self-delusion. Any man who says that expectations are too high when his absurdly rich club are 6th in the Premier League should be professionally executed on the spot.
So what on earth do I genuinely want? For United (and City) to win or lose? The Norwich game had me reaching for the rat poison once more, but on Tuesday I’ll probably find myself unable to stomach anything but an away win and a shot at overhauling City on the last day. The thought of Guardiola starting at a side out of the Champions League when that would not even have been countenanced during negotiations is a proper sniggerfest.
This is all too hard. To his credit Van Gaal did do a few things right at the weekend. Giving Marcus Rashford a rest made sense after his anonymous performance against Leicester. Similarly, taking no chances on Anthony Martial after the Frenchman felt a tight muscle was the sensible call. However, Ander Herrera was very good after he came on in Martial’s stead and one wonders why he wasn’t starting anyway. Ditto Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, left on the bench after right-back Matteo Darmian was preferred at left-back. Obviously. Darmian picked up what looked like a serious injury early on and CBJ did well after replacing the Italian. With Varela and Fosu-Mensah ‘disappeared’ it looks rather like Van Gaal only favours youth when his senior players are missing or when he has no other options. The idea of having a small squad to give youngsters a chance is a noble one, but it is only worthwhile if it doesn’t cost you the team’s ultimate objective and if that trust extends to favouring them over senior players if they perform to a higher standard. As for Herrera (and Morgan Schneiderlin) it continues to appear that the manager has favourite and not-so-favourite players and the rules of selection are applied inconsistently. Jesse Lingard, for example, appears undroppable despite rarely rising above the very mundane.
Off the field Marouane Fellaini was given a three match ban for attempting to decapitate Robert Huth for pulling his very pullable hair, to the dismay of no-one. Fortunately for the Belgian he will return for the FA Cup Final. Yay.
So it’s on to West Ham on Tuesday, another night of not knowing what I want and why I want it. United will probably win, because Louis Van Gaal has more lives than any non-feline in this or any other universe, but it would surprise no-one if United then drew 0-0 at home to Bournemouth. Still, even then this City side would probably contrive to lose or draw at Swansea. No team seems to want fourth place and I’ve no idea if I want us to get it either. How has it come to this? Would two more Premier League wins be good, bad or very very ugly? United had two shots on target against Norwich. Van Gaal that.
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