In the most part it’s usually wise to wait 24 hours after a game before trying to analyse it, whether it be a win or loss. We all miss things the first time around and some issues become lodged at the forefront of our minds, blotting out other no less significant, but less immediate observations. On this occasion I’ve decided to cast aside that rule of thumb. I don’t do so without good reason. The good reason being that the pathetic capitulation at Swansea simply confirmed everything we know about Van Gaal’s 2015/16 United. And there is a lot to confirm.
In the week leading up to the match all talk had been about the deficiencies in the squad and performances: the need for a top class centre back; the painful lack of pace on the right hand side of the attack; the laughable situation created by the sale of Robin Van Persie and the subsequent failure to add striking reinforcements leaving only Wayne Rooney and the painfully lost Javier Hernandez as Manchester United’s only senior strikers; the fact that the club’s world class goalkeeper had been neither sold nor played, banished to the stands and involved in a petty ‘he said, she said’ bickering match with Louis Van Gaal; the former Sampdoria second-string keeper known for being an accident waiting to happen replacing De Gea in goal; the sterile possession based football; the dreadful lack of a cutting edge; the conservative substitutions.
That’s a f*****g long sentence.
There were those, of course, (the wonderful eternal optimists, oh I wish I could be one), who chose to highlight the positives. And there were some. The full backs have been magnificent and the midfield had thus far offered excellent protection for the back four. But then, in Spurs, Villa, Newcastle and Club Brugge, United had so far only faced a carousel of s****. Swansea are not sh*te. They are a remarkably well run club with an excellent recruitment policy and a dangerous front line. Still, sides which aspire to win things should deal with that.
The build up to Sunday’s match saw further developments affecting the potential success of United’s season. From a number of reliable types came the news that Javier Hernandez, so utterly g*sh when coming on as a sub against Brugge that Van Gaal and Giggs tried to liquify each other’s brains using only the power of the stare, would also be allowed to leave. That left Rooney. And a really tall, slow midfielder. This is Manchester United. Jonny ‘calamity’ Evans was allowed to leave, thus bringing the club’s summer net spend to something approaching zero. Zero. The club that can ‘do things in the market that others simply can’t’ spent the first half of the summer making astute, solid purchases to augment the squad, then spent the second half of the window totally forgetting to address the gaping centre back issue, which has existed for a quadzillion years, the need for attacking reinforcements or the ‘doing things in the market which others simply can’t’ bit. So here we were, with Daley Blind at centre back and some people convincing themselves that it would all just somehow be alright.
United tried to purchase Pedro, though how hard is a bone of contention. When it broke that he would be joining Chelsea the most transparent briefing of all time suggested that that was only because Van Gaal didn’t want him. Maybe he didn’t, or maybe Woodward thought he had the player on the hook and tried to get too clever with negotiations. Either way is an epic f*** up, because he’s a terrific player, as he’s already demonstrated (and no, Chelsea struggling does not negate his abilities). Even more remarkably, United then briefed that they had, a week before, bid for Southampton’s Saido Mané. Again, transparent as f***, and a bit embarrassing as Southampton denied the whole thing and the player, as yet, hasn’t joined or even looked like joining.
Anyway, matchday, and Louis put out his best eleven. A very very flawed eleven, but his best one. They’d now just sink or swim. As the game kicked off City announced the signing of Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg, taking their summer spend into orbit and bolstering an attack already laughably rich in top class talent. Three big name signings, all in positions in which United are weak, all acquired by doing things in the market that other clubs simply can’t do. With four wins from four and now five points clear of any of the other realistic title challengers, they must be breaking ribs laughing.
But back to the Liberty Stadium. First half, United started well, with lots of possession and some slick attacking play, always undone by a lack of quality in the final third. Rooney was stinking it up, again. Suddenly Swansea went close twice, as Gomis made a t** of Daley Blind and Van Gaal’s side sunk into ‘control of the ball’ mode. Lots of sterile passing, no cutting edge. Bored.
Second half, another promising start and, praise be to Allah, a goal for Juan Mata. Perfect. How apt that it should come from great work from Shaw and a Rooney air control. The epitome of a season so far. This would be the perfect time for sterile domination. United, emboldened, pressed on, only to be undone by a lightning counter-attack. The sort of counter-attack to which last season’s team were so susceptible. Rooney lost the ball to prompt the break and from there everyone forgot to mark everyone else and Jordan Ayew headed expertly home. At which point United’s collective ar*es fell out. Total collapse. Already all over the place the back four was undone by a fine ball from Ayew to Gomis and Romero made an utter fanny-up, allowing a relatively tame shot to squirm into the net. Who knew he was a f*****g liability, eh? And that was that. Game over. Because the United who looked so unlikely to score all game was stunningly unable to score when it was desperately needed. Even worse, the only Plan B Van Gaal could summon up was throwing on Fellaini and hoofing it to the big man. It was all, I’m afraid, PEAK MOYES. He also brought on Carrick for Schneiderlin in a stunningly unambitious change for a manager desperately trying to drive his team to an equaliser. There would be one great chance, for Rooney, who expertly controlled and beat the last man before taking a touch, and then another touch, having a ponder, then getting tackled fairly and lolloping to the ground claiming a penalty. Rooney of four years ago buries that chance on his left foot after the first touch. Rooney of now is a pathetic, pale imitation of a once great footballer. And yet he is the only striker we have, assuming Hernandez goes, which is a farce. An absolute farce.
Much as we’ve all buried our heads in the sand, a great deal about the state of the club is lamentable. I’ve already laboured that point. There are positives and areas of improvement, not least the midfield and the purging of the dross in the squad, but the job is only half done. There are now two days to resolve this. The issues cannot all be resolved in two days. Unless United are planning something spectacular with a level of secrecy which would put CIA black ops teams to shame, then this is probably it for the season. Tedious, stale, ineffective possession football. A season, at least until January, of cursing at Rooney’s appalling decline, trying to find positives in the team’s compactness, knocking around in third of fourth. Again. I doubt the Glazers would be too ar*ed. Revenues will go up, the wage bill has gone down.
The most frustrating part? Some of the building blocks of a very fine team are in place. They were in place over a month ago. Van Gaal’s system can work, as he’s shown before, but only if the personnel carrying it out are good enough. If you have three or four who aren’t up to scratch, particularly in key positions, then the house of cards will fall. As it is, so much in an attacking sense relies on the brilliance of Memphis Depay. He is a young man of tremendous potential, new to the league and the level of football played in it, who will naturally be inconsistent. In a team crying out for pace and directness he is all there is. It’s all on him. And he’s not ready to carry us. He was desperately poor at Swansea and the lack of an outlet cost the side. Swansea had pace and power. United had lethargy and weakness. Perhaps LVG’s ‘philosophy’ simply won’t work in the hurly burly of the Premier League. He is unlikely to ever accept this.
I’ll get a lorry load of sh*** for writing this. “It’s only one game, ffs.” “Support the team of f*** off and support Chelsea.” I’d rather not. They’re in the s*** too. “Who is there to buy?” Do I look like a scout? “If a player isn’t top class then we don’t want him.” Yep, because Fergie won all those titles by signing only established world-class players. This feels like a watershed. Watching City excel and strengthen whilst seeing United sit on their hands and tediously struggle for the very reasons the fans had identified weeks ago is too much. £200m+ and at a goal down a powder-puff United are lumping long balls to Fellaini after comically falling apart. How very Moyes. How very f*****g Moyes.