We finished last week’s post hoping that United would still be in the top three when we write this one. By hook and by crook, and a few long balls in between, they’ve managed it. It wasn’t as plain sailing as we’d hoped for though, as has been readily pointed out by many.
At the weekend United travelled to London to face West Ham, a team that have been much improved this season, and though we knew it would be a difficult task, we didn’t think it would be such an uphill struggle especially with the players that United had out on the pitch. After a goalless first-half, the Hammers went into the lead early in the second-half, and it could have been worse if De Gea hadn’t made a few important saves. Thankfully United pressed more once Fellaini came on with twenty minutes to go, and they reverted to playing the ball into the box to him and hoping it works. That it certainly did, when in injury-time Rojo’s cross was cleared by West Ham’s defence, only as far as Daley Blind, who saved the day by scoring to make sure that United ‘stole’ a point.
That left Sam Allardyce coming out sounding bitter when claiming that United should be criticised for their long-ball game, though he did admit that it’s a plan that worked on the day. Cue the media and ABUs coming out with statistics and numbers to show that United are indeed a long-ball team. Most of them just counted long passes forward as long-balls. I’d imagine that if Scholes was still playing he’d be seen as a long-ball merchant by a few of them. I’m not saying that United were not ‘lumping’ balls forward, but passing it around West Ham’s defenders wasn’t working, so Van Gaal had a plan B and succeeded in saving a point by using it.
On to Wednesday evening, when United were at home to Burnley, another team that plays in claret and blue (though they looked like they were covered in foil on the night). It started very well for United as Smalling, who had replaced an injured Phil Jones after just five minutes, had been on the pitch for just a few seconds when he headed United ahead. That joy lasted a whole six minutes, when Burnley equalised, then were the better side for the rest of the first half. Luckily Smalling scored his second of the night just before half-time to make sure the players and fans could sort of relax during the break.
In the second half, United improved as time went on, and due to Burnley seemingly getting tired, and Di Maria playing well on the wing, with Herrera keeping things calm and moving the ball forward nicely, the performance was a lot better than that of the first forty-five minutes, though that’s not saying much. With less than ten minutes to go, Di Maria was tripped in the box and United were awarded their first penalty of the season. Robin Van Persie coolly slotted home his tenth league goal of the season to make sure we could relax before the final whistle went, knowing that another win was in the bag.
Though we had hoped for six points from these two games, getting four is not to be sneered at, especially as United seemed out of sorts for about 90 out of those 120 minutes. And Van Gaal does need to make sure things improve as other teams are breathing down our necks, but for a few to start saying that he’s not good enough for United? Who is good for our club at present, if not a manager that’s won trophies at some of the biggest clubs in the world? A ‘journalist’ even went as far as to say that he thinks that Van Gaal is a fraud! He’s won SEVEN domestic league titles AND the Champions League in his managerial career, how can he be dubbed as someone who deceits people into thinking he’s something else? One defeat in the last eighteen games (12 wins, 5 draws), scoring 32 goals and conceding 10 (8 clean sheets). Not too bad a record for a ‘fraud’ eh?
Anyway, looking quickly at other games… Chelsea huffed and puffed their way to two more wins, first at Villa and then at home to Everton; City nearly lost at home to Hull, drawing 1-1 with a very late Milner equaliser, but then won 4-1 at Stoke to stay seven points behind the leaders; Southampton got a late goal to win 1-0 at QPR, then couldn’t find a way past West Ham and could only draw 0-0; Arsenal lost their North London derby 2-1, then won with the same score line at home to bottom club Leicester; Steven Gerrard’s Merseyside derby testimonial was just a damp squib, much like his own Premier League career, though he did then score one of his specials, a penalty against Spurs in a 3-2 win for L’pool; at the other end of the table, Steve Bruce’s Hull beat Villa 2-0 to go above them and push them into the bottom three, just above Burnley and Leicester.
In other news, Aston Villa have sacked Paul Lambert after a dismal season so far. I suppose it was the best thing to do for their owners, as they’ll need to try and stay in the cash-cow that is The Premier League.
Sky and BT have paid over £5 BILLION pounds between them to keep showing Live Premier League football for the next few years. As many have pleaded to the Premier League to help out with grass-roots football and ticket prices, chief executive Richard Scudamore showed what they think of hard working fans by saying that they’re not a charity. Maybe somebody should tell him that it’s the fans that make football what it is. Talk about someone with his head up his own butt!
Back to United, Van Gaal came out with a dossier after being criticised for long-ball tactics. Though we think it’s excellent that we now have a manager that comes out fighting, it would probably have been better if he had kept quiet and got the players to do the talking for him on the pitch, as this will only seem like he feels a little perturbed by the criticism.
In the latest financial update, the club has announced that revenues are down by 14%, mainly due to being out of the Champions League. Debt has gone up a bit too, though the wage bill has been reduced by nearly £3m in the past three months.
We now look forward to the fifth round of the FA Cup, where United travel to Preston for a game that is being played on Monday the 16th of February (7:45pm UK time). Here’s hoping that we will be talking about progress to the quarter-finals with more finesse and less long balls in about a week’s time… COME ON UNITED!!!