- Missed Opportunities
- Champions League Elimination
- Van Gaal’s ‘Improvements’
It hasn’t been a good week for us United supporters, where after shooting more blanks at home to West Ham the side got knocked out of the Champions League. Let’s see how that panned out…
The big news from Saturday’s pre-game press conference was that Rooney was ‘ill’ and would miss United’s game at home to West Ham. Many saw this as good news as the way our captain has been playing, he’d be no big loss to the side.
Then the game started and it was more of what United have been dishing up for the past couple of months. Though they were pretty much in control for the bulk of the first half, they hardly created anything decent. It was actually West Ham who had three excellent chances to score. First when Victor Moses went one-on-one with De Gea, who thankfully was up to the task and saved, then they hit the post twice in a matter of minutes.
The second half was much better from United, though that might not be saying much as they have been quite average performance wise. But this time they were turning possession into chances. Unfortunately none of the players seemed to have their shooting boots on as apart from Fellaini who saw his shot saved by Adrian from two yards out, nobody else hit the target from the twenty one shots taken. Mata, Lingard, Martial and the same Fellaini had more than enough chances to win and move to the top of the table. Instead we were left to rue another goalless draw, making this seem like a case of ‘Groundhog Day’.
Though a lot more chances had been created in this game, more chances than usual were given to the opposition, which was a sign of things to come in the next game…
On Tuesday, we were somewhat hopeful when facing Wolfsburg, as though it would be a difficult game, United’s destiny was still in their own hands as a win would guarantee progress into to next round of the Champions League, where most of us think United should belong. For once the shackles seemed to be off as United went out on the attack, and when Anthony Martial put United ahead after only ten minutes we were in seventh heaven, only for Naldo to burst our bubble when he made it 1-1 just three minutes later. Vieirinha made matters worse as he put the Germans in the lead with half an hour gone, and that’s when we knew that United had a mountain to climb, especially with many inexperienced players being on the pitch.
The second half was more of the same as United attacked to try and find what we thought would be a qualifying equaliser. The excitement grew when news came through that CSKA had taken the lead against PSV, meaning United would go through even if they lost. Or not, as PSV equalised straight after. No problem, as United’s pressure paid off and they managed to make it 2-2 when our trusted friend ‘own goal’ made a rare appearance on the score sheet. Oh look, we can go through if it stays like this! And it did, for a mere two minutes, when Naldo got his second goal to put Wolfsburg into the lead again, with the final nail hammered into United’s Champions League coffin just a minute later as PSV went 2-1 up against CSKA Moscow. The final whistle just confirmed United’s elimination from Europe’s top competition and entry through the back door of its much poorer relation, the Europa League.
Looking quickly at the Premier League, leaders City lost 2-0 at Mark Hughes’ Stoke-lona; Arsenal beat Sunderland 3-1; Leicester’s Mahrez got a hat-trick in their 3-0 win at Swansea; Tottenham drew 1-1 at West Brom; L’pool lost 2-0 at struggling Newcastle, just a few days after many deemed them to be the new title favourites after scoring six against Southampton in the League Cup; Watford beat Norwich 2-0 to climb up to mid-table; Villa got a point that takes them nowhere when they drew 1-1 at Southampton; Everton and Palace also played out a 1-1 draw; and Champions Chelsea lost 1-0 at home to Bournemouth, a defeat that leaves them nicely poised just two points off the relegation zone.
All this means that United drop down to fourth in a league that some are dubbing the ‘one nobody wants to win’. Yeah, tell that to City’s Pellegrini, whose job could be saved by winning it. Or to Arsene Wenger, whose team hasn’t won it for the past TWELVE YEARS; or to Van Gaal, who now knows it could be his saving grace with the way things are going. It seems more like ‘the one nobody is good enough to win’, so United still have a chance of winning it as everyone else is faltering as much as them (in Chelsea’s case, even more).
Thinking about Europe, unfortunately we won’t be hearing the lovely Champions League theme tune again at Old Trafford this season. It’s a pity that the English don’t take the Europa League seriously, as German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese clubs all see it as a big thing. Not saying I’d be ecstatic of United go on and win it, but this could be a massive chance for Van Gaal to bed the youngsters in in a few tough games.
What happened in Germany does give us much hope for the future, though Van Gaal has a lot to answer for especially about taking Mata off and putting Powell on in a game that United had to win. Powell in his pomp can be an asset for the team, but against a tough German side, after not playing since the 4-0 defeat at MK Dons? The mind does boggle sometimes.
What both these games have shown us is that United have an excellent defensive set-up that goes awry when they attack like we’d like them to. It’s Van Gaal’s job to find a balance in that, and quickly as he needs to bring the fans back on board while winning a lot more often than drawing (and sometimes losing).
As for Van Gaal saying that we have improved from last season – United had beaten Wolfsburg in all three games played previously before Tuesday’s defeat, and have now gone four games without a win, so it’s all about twists and turnabouts.
It’s slightly disappointing that many more fans seem to have gone against him and the team after the defeat in Germany, as though much of it is justified, there’s enough anti-United people in this world that revel in every slip our club takes, so though things are looking bleak at the moment, it would be nice to stay United, batten down the hatches and support the team at every corner (and shot, and free-kick).
With just one game being played in the next week, away at Bournemouth on Saturday (5:30pm UK time), we will be hoping that we’ll be able to write a more cheerful post next week. Until then, and as always…COME ON UNITED!!!