…Yet we’re still mostly disappointed, even if United have gone undefeated in both games played in the past week, making it four games since the last defeat on Boxing Day.
On Saturday it was Sheffield United visiting Old Trafford for the third round of the FA Cup. In one of the most boring performances the team dished up since Van Gaal took over eighteen months ago, it took an injury-time penalty to make sure that a replay was avoided, as Wayne Rooney stepped up and duly scored to make it 1-0 and put United through to the next round, where they’ll be meeting Derby County.
Not much to say about this game, apart from the fact that though United had over 70% possession, they hardly created anything as the Blades crowded their area and defended for the whole game. It was their aim to frustrate the home side and supporters, but surely United should have been good enough to break them down, it’s not like Sheffield United were the first side ever to come to Old Trafford and park the bus? If the players who represent United can’t find a way to get through a defensive League One side, what chance have we got? This was similar to when Middlesboro played United in the League Cup, only the Championship side didn’t blink first and avoided making any silly mistakes that United were waiting to pounce on as happened with the penalty in the FA Cup on Saturday.
On Tuesday evening it was back to the Premier League as United travelled to Newcastle to face a side that though playing quite well lately, were in the bottom three after having lost the last four games 1-0. It all started well as a Fellaini header was handled in the box by Mbemba and Rooney stepped up to put United in the lead after just nine minutes. Things got better half an hour later as Rooney this time assisted Lingard who placed the ball neatly into the corner to double United’s lead. Unfortunately Newcastle pulled one goal back as Wijnaldum made it 2-1 just before half-time.
At the start of the second half, United were under the cosh as Newcastle pressed for an equaliser, and when Jesse Lingard missed a very good chance to extend the lead again, it was backs to the wall for a while. Twenty minutes after the match restarted, Smalling wrestled Mitrovic to the ground in the area and the same Mitrovic scored from the resulting penalty. Both teams kept attacking, and when Rooney scored his second with an excellent shot from outside the area, it seemed like United might win this game after all. Fellaini missed a sitter that would have confirmed the three points, but instead it was Newcastle who scored again in the last minute, this time when a Dummett shot deflected in off Smalling to make it 3-3 and a share of the spoils.
Though United had played well in a very entertaining game, this was two points dropped in the race for a top four place. It was great to see the team, lead very well by Captain Rooney go for it away from home, but it was also disappointing to see the defence all over the place. Just like the game at Wolfsburg last month, whenever the team goes looking for goals, they lose shape and become very vulnerable at the back. This is where Van Gaal has to show his ‘expertise’ and find a balance, otherwise his much talked about ‘philoshophy’ will never come to fruition, no matter how long he stays for and what players are brought into the club.
I genuinely think that United are still well-placed to finish in the top three (as we predicted at the start of the season), and if they play like they did at Newcastle they’ll win more games than lose, but clear chances need to be scored while the defenders have to do their jobs better, otherwise more silly points will be dropped along the way. Another positive is Wayne Rooney’s return to form, as with his three goals in the past week he’s now only eight goals behind Sir Bobby Charlton in the all-time goal scorer list at the club.
In other games in the Premier League, Arsenal and L’pool played in as thrilling a game as the Newcastle-United one with the same 3-3 result; Leicester won 1-0 at Tottenham to go top with Arsenal; City missed the chance to close the gap as they could only draw 0-0 at home to Everton; West Ham won 3-1 at Bournemouth to climb up to fifth in the table; Stoke beat Norwich 3-1 to climb over L’pool into seventh place; Chelsea failed to win at home again as they drew 2-2 against Pulis’ West Brom to stay fourteenth, six points above the relegation zone; Southampton won 2-0 against Watford; Jermain Defoe got a hat-trick in Sunderland’s 4-2 win at Swansea; and Aston Villa won their first game since August when they beat Pardew’s Palace 1-0.
Although the table doesn’t make for good reading at the moment as United are down to sixth, these midweek results mean that they’re still only two points from fourth place, and just six points below third-placed Manchester City. With seventeen games still to play, there’s every chance that United can have a good end to this season, especially if they go on a good winning streak (yes, I know they’ll have to improve a lot for that to happen).
In other news, Lionel Messi won the Ballon D’Or award for a fifth time, while American Carli Lloyd won the women’s version and Barcelona manager Luis Enrique won the manager of the year award; and FIFA have sacked secretary general Jerome Valcke for a second time (he had already been sacked in 2006 before Sepp Blatter made him his right-hand man months later).
Meanwhile, FIFA have also banned Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from registering players for the next two transfer windows, starting from this summer. They’ve been punished for breaching rules over the transfer of minors, same penalty given to Barcelona in 2014.
Back to United, the BBC brought their ‘magic of the FA Cup’ mantra to the fore by announcing that United’s trip to Derby will be moved to a Friday evening just so they can show the game live on TV. Who cares about the travelling fans when there’s millions to be made, irrespective of when and what time the game is played eh? Magic of the Cup indeed.
United’s next game is one of my least favourites of the season as they travel to Anfield to play Klopp’s L’pool (Sunday, 2:05pm UK time). The sooner the game is over the better, as the tension starts building up from days before, and doesn’t subside until after the final whistle. Here’s hoping that the team turn up for this one and give it their best shot as the United fans travelling for this one certainly will… COME ON UNITED!!!