No more crying without wings: Time for Louis to let us fly.
Defeat on Sunday came as a disappointment rather than any great shock. A decent defensive display was undermined by a blunt attack and a solitary goal was too big a challenge to overcome. As the league table shows, Southampton are a good side, but that doesn’t excuse a failure to register a shot on target in ninety minutes at Old Trafford. Sunday was a dismal failure.
I bloody love Louis van Gaal. He is everything I want as a United manager; but that doesn’t mean I don’t disagree with several of his decisions. As I’ve said many times on the pod; one of the reasons I was such an early advocate of bringing the Dutchman to Manchester was the guarantee of exciting, progressive football. We saw an approximation of this in the early season as goals flew in at both ends thanks to a diamond system that sparkled in attack but left a fragile defence exposed. In a nod to his illustrious predecessor (Moyes never happened) after shipping five at Leicester attention shifted to reducing the goals against column. It made sense and paid dividends. For all the criticisms from impatient fans, three at the back was a contributor to a long unbeaten run which saw the ship steadied and the team climb into a comfortable top four position. It was deemed a necessary evil for an injury ravaged squad.
Necessity is no more. Boasting of a near clean bill of health before the match; expectations rose of the football we expect from a van Gaal side. The reality was a ponderous in attack and little penetration down the flanks. The whole experience was deflating. United fans wants to be thrilled again and for that to happen some brave decisions need to be made.
Three at the back is very sensible for a counter-attacking strategy away to a difficult opponent. It should not be our default. On Sunday it provided greater security but crucially left us a man short in attack. Our two wing-backs give their all but are both makeshift in the role. Opponents have sussed this out and flood the middle rather than engage the wide players directly. We need fresh points of attack and for that to happen we must take the ‘gamble’ of removing a third centre back to provide an additional forward. If the trainer-coach’s mistrust in our central defenders really is too severe to risk a back four then the extra millions it might cost to bring in our summer options should be spent.
Shaw, Young and Valencia have put in commendable shifts and rebuilt their relationship with the fans as a result. However none are the quality of wide player necessary to threaten against the better sides. Teams are content to allow our wingbacks to have the ball whilst our talented but pedestrian midfield struggle. We are fortunate to possess a plethora of players who are happiest in central areas yet the inevitable consequence is a congested middle and a slower tempo. Look how often Rooney seeks to play his favourite diagonal ball – increasingly unsuccessfully going by recent games. The switch of play from a deep central position is the SOS of the central midfielder. The Dutch school of thinking is all about making the pitch big when we have the ball and to do that we need wingers. Let Di Maria be our Overmars! Let Januzaj be our Finidi George! Both players are far from conventional wingers but have that blessed ingredient we have so often lacked of late – pace. By providing wide attacking threat we increase the service to both the number nine (Falcao or RvP) and the number ten arriving from deep (Rooney or Mata).
Januzaj has been the subject of speculation over a possible loan move or even a permanent departure in the summer. This would be an error of Pogba proportions. Less football this season will do him no harm physically but it is a legitimate concern at his limited game time in suitable roles. Given the hesitant, lethargic nature of recent displays I see no rational reason not to restore him to the side. He is stronger than last season, is surrounded by better players and if given a run of games to find his rhythm can provide the missing spark to ignite our season.
We should have nothing to fear in this division. The Premier League is populated with good but not great sides. I firmly believe that the benefit of allowing our attacking strengths to flourish far outweighs the risk of conceding more goals. The ‘shock’ defeats will be an unpleasant consequence but the transformation of draws into victories will more than make up for it.
Time to let us fly Louis.
My line up for Saturday:
MATA INTERVIEW WITH CANAL+
After recently moving from Chelsea to Manchester United during the January transfer window, new fan favourite Juan Mata decided to open up to Canal+ in Spain and talk about his relationship with David Moyes, how De Gea harassed him constantly about making the move and much more. Below is a (near) full transcript of the interview.
On Manchester United’s interest:
I knew there was an interest, although I didn’t realise it was true until the two clubs started talking to each other. Chelsea told me there was an offer, an important offer. In the end, I did it due to the situation I was in over the past few months, and the opportunity to be at Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world. When you’re looking from the outside, you think it is, but it’s only when you are a part of it that you realise that it really is one of the biggest clubs in the world. Here I am, very happy in this new city, in this new step in my career, and I hope that everything will go well.
On whether he feels any pressure:
No, no. Simply no. Because when I’m on the pitch, all I think about is playing, enjoying myself and feeling comfortable, like I always have. At the end of the day, the price of transfers during the window is something for clubs to sort out and as players, we have nothing to do with it. What we have to do is turn up, train, enjoy the training and enjoy the football. In the end, everything happened so quickly. I know that I have responsibilities, but this doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and producing on the pitch.
On the club’s objectives:
The objective is to get to the Champions League spots. It’s difficult because Liverpool are doing well, so are Arsenal, as well as Tottenham and Everton, who are all clubs also fighting for them, but I think we have a team who can do it. This is Manchester United. When this club wins two, three or four matches in a row, it has a very important mental strength, a winner’s mentality. We are coming and I think we can do it, but we have to win a lot of games first.
On his first time out at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player:
It was really emotional. It was incredible. I’d already played there as the away team, but playing there as the home team, just imagine. The stadium is huge, the fans are very dedicated to singing and it was all good, because we won, I found myself on the pitch surrounded by top quality players and from the off, the first training session, they have helped me integrate as best possible. Physically, I hadn’t trained a lot the previous week, but I feel good.
On his new teammates:
I’ve known David (De Gea) since we played for the national team at youth level. The week before I arrived, he was hassling me and when I arrived I stayed with him. Everyone has received me well, but he has been the one who has gone out of his way the most.
I didn’t know Giggs, but I had and still have a lot of admiration and respect for him. He’s been really good. He has helped me from the very beginning, made sure everything went perfectly. It’s a pleasure that he’s here and it’s a pleasure for me to play alongside a player like him. To reach 40 and still be playing at this level is fantastic.
Van Persie, Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck. These are all players who always score goals. Playing with them is a pleasure. I got an assist for Van Persie and what’s great about playing with them is that if you pass them the ball, it’s a goal. It’s a goal pretty much every time.
On David Moyes & the club:
More than anything, he made me feel important and I think that’s fundamental when you arrive at such a big club that has made a huge investment in you. It’s nice when the manager tells you “Juan, you’re important to the team and we need you on the ball as much as possible” and that’s what I try to do. My relationship with him is good, friendly and from the off, he seemed to me to be a great person.
This is a club that should always be fighting for the Premier League. I think, in the last 20 or 21 years, they’ve won 13 times. The mentality of this club is to win and fight for all the trophies. Unfortunately this year, things haven’t gone so well in the league, but I believe there is still time this season. With the mentality and the staff that we have, I believe we can climb up the table and win as many games as possible.
There are good people here. First and foremost young people. When you play for Manchester United it’s difficult because you have a lot of responsibillity. I don’t know what will happen in the summer but the manager said the other day at a press conference that he’s going to be signing players. I think this club is at a stage of change, a bit of change in the project, but as I’ll tell you, at this club the best players in the world will always arrive.
On Sir Alex Ferguson and the future:
All he has done here, everything Ferguson has complished is pretty much unattainable. He has won everything possible to win with this club in the last 20-25 years and it’s tough to maintain such a level of excellence. But at the end of the day, it was these players that won the league last season. And the new manager has arrived knowing what this club is. I think he has a great relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and with time everything will get better, the results will get better and we’ll get back to being where this club deserves to be.
On Mourinho and Chelsea:
We spoke and he [Mourinho] said that he thought this was a good option for me, and I told him I thought this was a good option for me. We didn’t speak for long. I wasn’t playing, and to be honest, I am happy when I play football. It’s the thing I like to do the most. He wished me good luck and told me to be good, as did everyone at the club [Chelsea]. I’m very grateful for my time at Chelsea and for all the trophies I have won. We had a fantastic relationship, I had great relationships with several of my teammates. They weren’t just my teammates, but my friends. Fernando [Torres] for example. I was very saddend to tell him I was leaving him. It was tough to tell him I was going because he is a very important person to me, but we’ll keep in touch we aren’t that far away from each other.
I’ve already had a tour around the city! The other day I was having dinner with David Silva and he recommended a couple of places to me. I think there are several beautiful places in this city and now I get to discover another city in England.
Now I’d like to present you to my friend, the one that has welcomed me here. He does everything with me, he’s part of my security team, he takes me to get to know the training ground, he shows me the city, I present to you; David de Gea.
De Gea walks in and sits next to Mata
Mata: Tell them about all the messages you have been sending me!
De Gea: Yeah, I’m sure you had to get a phone and everything was a bit crazy. But it’s good that you are here and we have gotten you here.
He’s a great player that will help the team a lot and knowing him as a person, he will also help in the dressing room and help the whole team grow.
Mata: We are going to be neighbours too, so that’s good!
De Gea: Yeah, I brought him to the nice part of the city
(both laugh again)
Mata: He’s a realtor too!
(Journalist asks if there are any other Spanish players living nearby)
Mata and De Gea both mention that they think Navas and Negredo live close.
De Gea: I think he has come in and played very well. I’m very happy that he is here and I hope he keeps growing as a player and that he continues to improve the club.
Mata: OK, that’s it.. I will pay you that dinner that I promised you!
Transcribed and translated by @sardinetrawler & @CheGiaevara