10 man United hold on to beat resilient Hammers
Manchester United were forced to grind out a 2-1 win at home to West Ham yesterday as captain Wayne Rooney was sent off for lashing out at Stewart Downing. The captain flung his leg wildly as Downing looked to break out of his half, and in doing so placed his team under severe pressure for the final half hour, as West Ham besieged the United penalty area. Everton, West Brom and Chelsea are the games he will miss, with Juan Mata now able to prove his worth to Van Gaal as a versatile no. 10.
Attacking Impetus Needed at Old Trafford
With Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Sunderland, Manchester United registered not only their first point of Louis van Gaal’s reign but also another abject and lacklustre display. The game saw Robin van Persie make his return to action, starting for the first time this term alongside Wayne Rooney. Despite the Dutchman’s return, an injury ravaged United side were missing Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard from last week’s defeat against Swansea and things only got worse when Chris Smalling bowed out with a hamstring injury just before half-time. Juan Mata kept his place behind the two strikers in Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 system, however, despite the attacking quality on paper, moments of actual quality were few and far between in the final third.
Mata grabbed United’s only goal after some clever play from Antonio Valencia but it is hard to think of any other real positives from the front three. Perhaps the club’s most technically gifted player, intelligent interplay is expected from the Spaniard but little of that was seen and Rooney and Van Persie were forced to come deep in an attempt to get involved in play. A lack of urgency in the build-up and an alarming deficiency of attacking penetration from the midfield made it difficult for all three attackers to play the way many supporters would like.
Van Gaal’s system has been one of the main talking points during pre-season and has again come into question following two disappointing competitive results. Earlier this month the Dutch boss called for a world-class winger and it looks, surprisingly, like the club are striving to make that happen. Angel Di Maria’s arrival is expected imminently and could lead to a shift in formation, likely back to Van Gaal’s preferred 4-3-3. Whether the use of a back three is to get the best out of a shaky defence or to allow United’s best attackers to start remains to be seen but it may become clear with the signing of a few more new faces.
Questions have been asked of Rooney and Van Persie as a front pair before and the question is likely to be raised again unless the tandem can show something else in the coming weeks. As a trio Mata, Van Persie and Rooney have started together just six times and may still be taking time to gel. Not to mention the fact that Van Persie spent much of last season out injured and Mata was a January panic buy forced into a system and position that didn’t play to his main strengths. There are reasons to be positive though, especially when it comes to United’s record signing – he’s chalked up 7 goals in his last eight Premier League appearances. Tellingly all of these goals have come when he’s played centrally.
This isn’t the first time Van Gaal has had to find a way to fit three top players into a side despite a massive lack of quality behind them, during the World Cup a similar system was put in place to get the best out of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Van Persie. The rewards were reaped as the Netherlands finished in third place with some emphatic displays along the way. The experienced manager has remained true to his vision throughout a long career and has mostly been proved right, so despite a less than ideal start there is no reason to doubt him yet.
As the transfer window draws to a close it is heavily rumored that three new players will be arriving at Old Trafford. Should this be the case and Van Gaal does prefer a shift to his usually elected 4-3-3 a big call on United’s front two may have to be made, assuming Mata retains his place. As newly appointed captain Rooney’s position would appear safe but the Dutch boss isn’t afraid to upset big names for the benefit of his teams. A familiarity with Robin van Persie could see the Netherlands captain favoured, a move that would likely agitate the club skipper. Beyond that the roles of Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck are unclear and United may have to move quickly to resolve one or more of their futures.
United’s World Cup Winners and Losers so far
As the first round of matches draws to a close, United’s representatives have had a mixed start to one of the most exciting World Cups in recent memory. With no shortage of goals on display, it has so far been a victory for free-flowing, attacking football and, after the season United fans had to witness under Moyes, it has been a welcome change.
Plane Stupid Stunt Fails To Dampen Moyes’ Men
A hard fought victory and encouraging performance saw David Moyes respond to a week of criticism with a 4-1 win over Aston Villa. Given the week that has seen him face questions over both his future, and the commitment of the fans, it was an important result- especially amidst the chaotic and frankly stupid decision to hire a plane with the slogan “Wrong one, Moyes Out.” Moyes himself opted to take to the pitch a minute before the teams and the reception was admirable. All four corners of the stadium took to their feet to support the man currently trying to recover from a very challenging period.
Forget the Premier League, We’re off to Brazil!
With all the doom and gloom surrounding Old Trafford at the moment, it is easy to forget that the greatest show on Earth is just around the corner with the World Cup due to kick off in just a few months in Brazil. Packed with flair, excitement and the inevitable English disappointment, the summer months should hopefully be a healthy distraction for players and fans alike after the torrid time they’ve had this season.
Unfortunately, United’s form this season will not have helped many player’s cause when it comes to securing their place in the national squad but there should be enough players on display to keep it interesting for every Reds supporter.
On the Plane
Captain Wazza will be the first player on Roy Hodgson’s team sheet in the summer, sure in the knowledge that tenacity, work rate and bulldog spirit are exactly the attributes that are likely to prosper when you make a man renowned for fitness problems chase around for the ball in 30C heat. Joking aside, Wayne Rooney will be one of the few genuinely feared England players in the squad and will be looking to finally show that he can perform on the world’s biggest stage. Alongside him, the young trio of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck will all likely be selected for their versatility and exuberance after all playing an important part in qualification.
Elsewhere, Robin van Persie will be hoping to lead the line for Holland if his strained ligaments manage to recover in time. As his country’s main talisman, he faces a race against time to make it to Brazil- compounded by the fact he has always been one of those players who tends to return later rather than earlier than the initial prognosis. If he does make it however, he’ll be hoping to better his tally of just 1 goal at the 2010 World Cup. Similarly, Shinji Kagawa will be looking to set Group C alight and should be very fresh considering his lack of game time this season.
In Group E, Antonio Valencia and Patrice Evra should be facing directly up to each other when Ecuador face against France in June. Considering the amount of times they must have come up against each other in training, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top of the battle with both players having had moments of weakness this season both offensively and defensively. Finally, Fellaini can rest assured of his place in the Belgium squad but will be increasingly worried that he may find his contribution limited to bench warming with the likes of Witsel, Defour and Dembele currently ahead of him in the pecking order.
Bags Packed, Waiting for the Call
Despite being an ever present in Roy Hodgson’s squads so far, the thousands of people who signed a petition to stop Tom Cleverley going to the World Cup may have their wishes answered. Based on poor form and limited opportunities, the young midfielders stock has fallen over the last few months. Meanwhile, the likes of Henderson and Barkley have improved their prospects drastically with their performances.
Both Nani and Javier Hernandez will also be nervously awaiting phone calls from their national managers after hardly featuring at all in 2014. Whilst the former has been plagued by a bad hamstring injury, the latter has simply not been selected. Regardless of their historic importance to both Portugal and Mexico, there is no room for sentiment at a World Cup and there is no guarantee they will be thrown into the squad without the requisite match fitness.
Finally, after the unfortunate injury to Victor Valdez, David de Gea will be crossing his fingers and hoping he has done enough as United’s one shining light this season to secure a place on the plane to Brazil. With the likes of Casillas and Reina seen as certainties to go, he will be battling it with Diego Lopes for the final keeper spot and will be hoping his youthfulness and potential are enough to hand him a place.
Left a Gap in the Diary
After being dropped for the latest friendly, the experienced due of Michael Carrick and Ashley Young find their position in the squad under scrutiny. Whilst both are more experienced members of the squad, they have failed to set the world alight when given the opportunity for England with the likes of Gerrard and Townsend being preferred.
Meanwhile, the dancing duo of Rafael da Silva and Anderson will be in Brazil in the summer, regardless of whether or not they are selected for a place at the World Cup they’ll be plenty of bookmakers offering short odds on a Brazilian victory. Despite a controversial run out in the Olympics, when he was blamed for their final defeat to Mexico, Rafael may harbour some hope if either Dani Alves or Rafinha goes down injured in the next few weeks but the case for Anderson looks bleak (see Kaka, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Sandro, Luis Gustavo, Oscar, Ramires, Lucas etc).
Sadly, Juan Mata will be delaying the planning of his inevitably cultured holiday this summer in the hope that he can finally find some form for Manchester United and secure a place ahead of Santi Cazorla in Spain’s squad. After forcing a transfer in the hope of making it to Brazil, he will be more disappointed than anyone if he misses out.
The tattooed trio of Buttner, Bebe and Zaha will most certainly find themselves on a beach somewhere this summer, wistfully exchanging notes on bad defending, kamikaze runs and atrocious crosses. Be warned, if you see them, beach balls hurt
Coming to a TV Screen Near You
Intent on ruining your ear buds for the first time since Rio’s World Cup Wind Ups, Rio Ferdinand will be sat along side Thierry Henry and Gary Lineker this June in an attempt to provide insight and analysis of England’s matches this summer. Good luck with that! #Merked
Which Manchester United player are you most interested in watching in Brazil?
It’s Time for Wayne Rooney to Justify his Pay Cheque
In van Persie’s absence, Wayne Rooney ensured that Manchester United secured victory against West Ham with two goals in the first half and whilst one was more spectacular than the other, they were equally important to the team’s growing confidence. Leading the team out, Rooney was the figurehead of the side in more ways than one and took the edge off the pain of van Persie’s injury.