If Manchester United’s 4-0 loss to MK Dons yesterday was an isolated incident, one might be more inclined to let it pass without comment.
Unfortunately, it was not.
Instead, it was another reminder of how bereft of confidence the players are, how shallow the squad is and the lack of even a basic understanding of the new game plan being instilled by Louis van Gaal.
The latter is understandable.
While it is concerning that our players seem so incapable of playing anything approaching a reasonable standard of football in a new system, it is fair to say the 3-5-2 van Gaal wants to implement at the club is a world away tactically from what many of these players know and have been developed playing.
Defenders in particular need to make big changes to their game and become a lot more involved in the attacking transition and be brave enough to hold a high line with relatively little cover.
A lack of true wing-backs – or at least fit ones – further complicates the transition.
As van Gaal has said many times already in his short tenure, you don’t get instant results with such a big change straight away.
Given the new manager only had limited time to work with the squad after his World Cup commitments with Holland; it makes sense that the players might be struggling to adapt tactically.
However, whatever the system and no matter how big the change – the fundamentals don’t change.
You still have to be able to make a 15 yard pass stick, you have to win your one-on-ones and 50-50 battles and you have to want the ball and be comfortable receiving it no matter where you are on the pitch.
Almost of all of those characters or attributes have been missing for large period of games this season and particularly so yesterday.
[su_box title=”Another broken record” style=”noise” box_color=”#cda33c” title_color=”#29322a”]Last nights defeat means that for the first time since 1962, United will play only League football in September, October, November and December.[/su_box]
Perhaps this comes down to a lack of confidence, which was apparently “smashed” in the opening day loss at home to Swansea. Maybe for a number of the players who started the game yesterday, it’s a lack of motivation given their futures are seemingly decided.
That seems fair enough for Anderson, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez and maybe even Danny Welbeck, who were amongst the senior players and full internationals that played in the game, but how low can you allow yourself to sink before a bit of personal pride kicks in?
Jonny Evans is not one whose future at the club is currently questioned and given he has been United’s most promising defender ahead of the post Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic era he should be given a chance to redeem yesterday’s performance, but it was truly one of the worst individual performances of the last five years.
Tactical systems have absolutely nothing to do with over-running your challenge and giving the opposing striker a clear run at goal as a result. That’s just embarrassing.
The lack of leadership shown was similarly concerning, particularly when United needed him so desperately to stand up and lead the teenagers –Michael Keane and debutant Marnick Vermijl – who flanked him.
Seemingly, as United and its fans are quickly learning after two decades at the top, there is no such thing as the ultimate low. It can always get worse.
Thankfully, it can also get better, and while the much-changed line-up is hardly an excuse for losing 4-0 to a League One outfit there is no doubting there is plenty of improvement to come from van Gaal’s strongest XI.
In both Premier League fixtures to date, there have been flashes of good play and the sort of football van Gaal is trying to achieve and logically players should get better, more comfortable and more confident in the new system the more they play in it.
The addition of Angel Di Maria is a significant boost to that XI and the proposed signing of Arturo Vidal and Daley Blind would instantly transform the team’s prospects.
The rate of improvement is obviously the key but even after just two Premier League games and a Capital One Cup fixture it is clear the speed of that improvement needs to step up and quickly.
While the line-up was changed, yesterday’s performance suggests competition for places will not be a big factor in driving that development without further significant signings.
Few of the players – Evans included – are really as bad as their current form suggests on the back of what they have done and achieved for the club in the past, but it is clear there is a crisis of confidence amongst some of the players.
One can only hope some more positive results and transfer business are just around the corner to restore some spirit and ensure another 4-0 loss against MK Dons does not happen for quite some time.